"Dad, what's two times six?" Aidan asked, his face screwed up as he eyed his homework thoughtfully, knees on the floor and elbows on the coffee table in the dingy light of their living room.
Aidan's father sat sprawled in his throne - his armchair - watching the television intently with a bottle of Jack Daniels dangling from one hand.
"Dad?" Aidan repeated, bright gray-green eyes youthful and innocent, looking up to his father.
Elmer David Riker grumbled in his seat. "Shuddup, brat. I'm tryin'a watch TV."
Aidan's brows tilted for a moment before he looked back to his homework and frowned wanly. "But I'm stuck on this-,"
Elmer's foot kicked out, catching under the coffee table and throwing it upside down, through the air, the wood smacking the kid in the face and throwing a pencil case to the puke-green carpet of their shabby apartment. The five-year-old jumped back, a hand on his cheek; looking up to his father, hurt both physically and emotionally.
"Shut'cher trap, y'fuckin' id-jit," Elmer scolded harshly, not even affording his son a glance, "ain't my fuckin' problem if y'can't figure out yer fuckin' homework."
"Aidan. Aidan, wake up."
"Huh?" Aidan grumbled groggily, blinking his eyes open at a voice that reminded him of his mother's. He scowled as soon as he saw … aw, jeez, what was her name again? Either way, it wasn't his mother. He threw an arm in the girl's direction, shoving her away. "Fuck, bitch; I told you never to wake me up!" he yelled at her, barely awake and throwing himself into a sitting position on the lumpy mattress on the floor.
Jenny swallowed hard and blinked at him for a moment. "Sorry," she murmured in a tiny voice.
Sometimes Aidan got tiny moments where he saw himself turning into his father. This wasn't one of them. "What the fuck, then? Where's the fucking fire?" he snapped angrily.
Someone cleared a throat from the doorway. "I happen to be the fire," Daniel explained plainly.
Aidan's eyes widened and he leapt to his feet, grabbing a shirt with torn-off sleeves and pulling it on over his torso. He stepped off the mattress and stalked toward Daniel, who was leading him into the main room of the crappy apartment. Bright sunlight shone through the windows, catching Aidan's gray-green eyes like gems. In the middle of the room, on a dining room table they'd bought at a garage sale held by an ex-divorcee, was a mass of electrics and wires and mechanics.
"This is it?" Aidan smirked, impressed.
Daniel nodded, bringing a hand to his lower lip. "I tested some on Slugger; he's out in the hallway. I don't think he's gonna live," he stated in a nonchalant tone of distaste, "If it gets airborne, it'll affect the whole damn state, if not the whole fuckin' country. I got masks," he gestured to the two gas masks on the table, beside the bomb. "Where do you want to blow it off?" he grinned at Aidan.
"Take a guess, Slick," Aidan grinned right back. "Dahlia Coast Public High School. Where else?"
Katara was grateful for the fact that she hadn't seen Zuko yet today. Each time someone mentioned his name had been followed up with a deep pink blush from her, and that had happened a lot with everyone asking about the wedding she'd gone to the day before. Though, in the back of her mind, she wanted to see him. She needed to talk to him.
She had a bad feeling.
Katara hadn't told anyone about what she'd seen that witch do the night before - she was afraid it was just another apparition. Maybe she had a fucking brain tumor or something nuts like that. Either way, she wasn't about to tell people she'd seen a witch turn water to ice, and ice to dust last night.
She plucked open her locker and the first thing she saw was the picture on the door, of Tomahawk. She smiled thoughtfully and then reached to get her mathematics book, but stopped when she saw a little piece of yellow paper - from a post-it notepad. Someone had put it through the narrow slots of her locker door. She picked out the piece of paper and turned it to read.
'Meet me in hallway D - Zuko,'
Katara pulled a face. He had to have put that in her locker on first break, and then expected her to be caught up with other stuff, causing her to get to her locker after everyone else was already in class. And he was right; she'd been in the library with Suki, trying to catch up on her biology coursework. But there was no way he could possibly have known that. Unless he spoke to Sokka. Ah, right.
She involuntarily found herself moving toward the stairwell toward hallway D. When she got out into the hall and looked around, she saw no one, and heard no one. Maybe he'd taken off, bored of waiting for her. Katara walked down the hall, looking around curiously, wondering if he was leant behind a locker row or something. There was a click and a swing and someone grabbed her wrist, sucking her into a darkened classroom.
Katara gasped in surprise, before she realized what was happening and relaxed into Zuko's grip.
"Excuse me, Miss Marina, but do you have a hall pass?" Zuko teased, golden eyes fixed on blue.
Katara shook her head and chuckled warmly. "You nearly gave me a heart attack, Zuko," she pointed out, enjoying his arms wrapped around her.
Zuko smirked thoughtfully, "You know, this is going to sound like a totally random question, but what happens if you get scared half to death twice?" he nuzzled his lips to her temple, his breath warm on her skin and his hands linked at the small of her back, holding her close.
"I think you've been spending too much time with my brother," Katara tilted her head, her eyes falling shut at the sensation of soft pink lips to her skin.
Zuko smiled evenly and squeezed her gently. "I think I haven't been spending enough time with you," he put his forehead to hers, his own eyes falling shut.
"I think I agree," Katara tugged the corners of her mouth up and then tipped her head back, brushing her lips on his briefly. "But …" she paused, pulling back and looking over her shoulder to the door behind them, "we really shouldn't be sneaking around on school property. We're pretty much asking to get figured out right now," she bit her lower lip.
Zuko whined slightly under his breath - probably one of the cutest noises Katara had ever heard - and captured her lips for a few seconds, brow furrowing reluctantly. He opened his mouth then to say something, but stopped. He wanted to stay with her right now; something bad was about to happen, and soon. "Stay here. With me." He murmured softly.
Katara felt his hold on her tighten for a moment and she considered it; staying here with him. She had to get to class, though, and like she'd said, she didn't want their relationship to get past the door to the gossipmongers that high school students were. "I have to go," Katara felt her hand tighten on the fabric of his shirt. Something was wrong; leaving here, she knew, would feel like a goodbye.
Zuko sighed, one hand coming up from the small of her back and slipping to the back of her neck, into the tresses of flowing brown hair. He kissed her again, this time a little more insistently, as if taking a sample to remember her by. Katara's hand found its way up to the back of his head, winding his soft black locks between her fingers. When they parted, Katara put a hand to his cheek and gave him a reassuring smile, before turning for the door.
"Katara," he spoke softly.
She looked back.
Zuko met her eyes seriously. "Be safe," he told her, voice wavering slightly.
Katara's brows tilted. "Zuko …"
"I mean it," he swallowed. "If something happened to you, Katara, I don't know what I'd have left," and then, on a small breath, in a tiny voice, "… I love you."
She stared at him for a moment, her bad feeling returning.
"Just promise me you'll be safe," Zuko's fingers twitched at his sides, as if he were anticipating something.
Katara stepped toward him and took his cheeks, pressing another kiss to his lips; just a short one. "I promise," she nodded, hearing her voice crack.
And then she left.
"Useless fuckin' brat!" Elmer reached low and grasped the brat by the back of his shirt. The face that stared at him was red-soaked in blood from a cut on its forehead, and puffing in strange places from blows against hard objects. "Yer a fuckin' waste a space!" he shoved the brat across the room.
The brat stumbled on his own twisted ankle and toppled to the floor, the blood on his face mixing with tears. "I'm s-sorry!" he choked a sob, throwing his hands and broken fingers over his head to protect himself. "I-! I'm sor-ry!" he wailed, pain splitting through his arms from the pain of a chipped bone in his wrist and the twisted thing that had once been a pinkie.
Elmer's foot thumped into the seven-year-old boy's ribs, cracking one in the process and bringing the wail to a shout, "Can't do a fuckin' thing right, you pointless li'l shit!" he kicked again, this time catching his son in the elbow and sending stabs of agony through broken fingers and bruise muscles.
Aidan heard himself crying for his mother, as he always did, but his mother never came. He'd always dream that one day his mother would save him from it, but she never did. She was in the next room with a customer, getting twenty dollars an hour by selling her own body. One day she would run away and leave him with the monster, and he would still wail in his head for her to come back and save him.
"Go ahead - fuckin' cry, y'piss-poor excuse of a boy! Nob'dy's comin' for ya! Go 'head, fuckin' cry!" he grabbed low and caught the kid by his shirtfront this time, breathing out the smell of whiskey and vodka. He slammed the brat against the wall and then crushed the boy's face between the drywall and his fist.
The only thing that ever saved Aidan from his father was unconsciousness.
Aidan looked to Daniel, who was making sure his handgun was invisible under his jacket, as the two strolled through the halls. Slick was looking around curiously, not having been to school since he was twelve. He'd gotten expelled a long, long time ago. He was silent, sometimes tearing certain things off walls like artwork and notices.
"This place is a shithole," Daniel murmured quietly.
Aidan nodded agreeably, but said nothing, just keeping one hand on the strap of his rucksack and his mind on the Glock tucked into the back of his trousers, hidden by his long duster. The two made their way to the reception room, where the school secretary was sitting at her desk, typing up some newsletters for the drama club. She looked up at the boys and blinked for a moment.
"Aren't you supposed to be in class?" she then raised an eyebrow behind her glasses.
Aidan smirked and Daniel drew a gun from the holster under his arm. "Nah," Aidan answered calmly, even as she stared, wide-eyed at the gun Daniel pointed in her face. "Would you be a doll and call the juniors and seniors to the drama hall, and the freshmen and sophomores to the assembly hall?" he smiled sickly-sweetly as Daniel gestured silently to the PA on her desk.
She stared for a moment longer, before she grabbed up the microphone on the desk, her voice faltering.
"W-would all juniors and seniors, and their homeroom teachers, assemble in the drama hall, please - and would all freshmen and sophomores, and the homeroom teachers, assemble in the assembly hall? Thank you."
Then she put down the microphone and eyed Aidan, lifting her hands above her head in surrender. "I-I've done what you asked. Please let me go, I have a family, please-,"
Daniel pulled the trigger and shot her through the neck. She gargled for a moment on her own blood before collapsing to the floor behind the desk.
Aidan raised an eyebrow at his friend, the ghost of a smirk on his face.
"What? She was babbling. You know I hate it when people babble," Daniel stared right back, the gun smoking in his hand.
Aidan rolled his eyes. "I thought we said the first kill was gonna be mine," he glanced out the door and down the hall, where kids were starting to pile out of their classrooms. He swatted Daniel's hand and moved out into the hall, his hand on his rucksack, being sure it was still there; he had to protect the goods.
"You get the blow off the bomb, and I'm stuck with snot-nosed kids. I figure we're even," Daniel stuck his gun back into his jacket.
Aidan glared at Daniel. He'd blow his brains out now if he could do this on his own. "Fine," he answered diplomatically, before turning away and moving down the hall. "Close that door," he called over his shoulder, "we wouldn't want anyone happening upon her," he reminded Slick, referring to the receptionist.
Daniel complied, shutting the door and twisting off the lock, before he moved silently into the hall where the sophomores and freshmen were piling in. Aidan caught sight of Daniel pulling up his gas mask, probably because he wouldn't be able to tell when Aidan let off the bomb. Aidan smirked and followed the seniors and juniors into the drama hall. Kids were standing around because seats hadn't been set up, chatting and murmuring their confusion.
Teachers conversed just the same, not having been made aware of an assembly today.
Aidan waited until the very last of them had gotten in, and then locked the door, using the butt of his gun to knock off the knob. The only way out now was to shoot it open, and he was the only one with a gun here. A regular guy would've gotten antsy by now, but Aidan wasn't regular. Aidan was a top-quality killing machine. It was his prime function. He pushed through the crowd, grabbing a plastic chair from the sidelines of the room as he went, making his way to the front of the room.
He first put the chair up and then hopped onto the stage at the front of the room. Most of them looked when they saw somebody taking the stage, but to get the rest of their attention, he pulled the gun from the back of his pants and fired a shot up at the ceiling. The panic began with loud screams and yelling. Aidan fired another shot to get them to shut up, a grin spreading on his face.
"Good Morning Dahlia Coast!" he exclaimed in a sickeningly nonchalant tone, "It's seventy degrees with a cloudless sky, but it looks like mass panic and a chance of death later on towards lunch time, however this can all be avoided by keeping your trap shut and doing just was the guy with the gun says!" he grinned at the crowd as they stepped back from the stage.
People were trying the door, but it wasn't budging. Aidan could see Zuko in the crowd, with his friends around him, the boy with the scar staring at him from the masses with wide eyes. Aidan made a dramatic bow in his ex-best-friend's direction, before standing straight and pulling his rucksack from his shoulder. He put his bag on the chair at his side, unzipping it and pushing it down to reveal a large hunk of wires and mechanics.
"Oh my god he's got a bomb!" one girl screamed from the front of the room.
More screams erupted, and Aidan didn't bother to fire any more shots; bullets were expensive, you know. Instead he breathed in the panic, the chaos … the anarchy. Then he addressed the crowd like a trickster in a circus show. "Nobody try to be a hero," he called over the noise, crossing his arms over his chest, effectively silencing the panic, "You all have until the lunchtime bell goes off, and then this baby goes off, releasing a neurotoxin that will kill every single one of you," Aidan's face was curled in a sick grin, "Don't like it, I can blow your brains out instead."
A jock, wailing like a four-year-old, pushed to the front and plead out desperately, "Pl-please d-don't-," he sniffled pitifully, "L-let me go, I don't w-wanna …"
Aidan's brows went up but his eyes betrayed no surprise. He yawned and raised the gun to the boy, pulling the trigger and shooting him through the hip. He would die anyway, but he could suffer a little until that happened. The jock collapsed, screaming in pain, clutching his hip in both hands, blood staining his clothes, his skin and the floor around him. His friends, who helped him shove freshmen into dumpsters, and laughed when he gave wedgies to nerds, just stepped back like all the others, like a herd culling away a diseased animal. His screamed faded into moans, whimpers, and then silence.
"Enough!" Zuko bellowed from the middle of the room, loud enough that people moved away from him in a circle, including his own friends. He was grateful for this; he didn't want his people around him, in case Aidan wanted to get a shot at him. "Aidan, stop this!" he shouted across the silenced hall. The crowd prepared for another bullet to be fired.
Aidan smirked at Zuko from his high spot. "What are you going to do, Zuko? You want to come up here and take the gun from me? Be my guest."
Zuko stayed where he was, golden eyes fixed on Aidan in a hard stare.
The boy with the gun clucked his tongue condescendingly. "That's how it is with you, isn't it, Zuko? You're all talk, no action," Aidan's eyes narrowed at the Scorsese. "You know, we could've been great, you and I. You could've made this a whole lot more fun. Because you weren't always like this, you see. I remember a time when you would beat a man half to death for saying something you didn't like. Ah, those were the days," Aidan sneered tauntingly.
Zuko stood where he was, staring, trying his best not to show fear, and said nothing.
Aidan gestured to a tawny-haired girl in the front row. "Hey. You with the pigtails," he snapped dryly. "Collect cell phones. If I count one cell phone less than the number of kids here, I'll slash your throat open," he made a threatening slash across his throat with his fingers. The girl stumbled on her own feet and pulled off her backpack, emptying her things onto the floor and going around collecting phones in it.
Aidan stood squarely, arms crossed over his chest, eyes narrowed, mouth shaped in a thoughtful smirk.
Eight minutes earlier.
"Would all juniors and seniors, and their homeroom teachers, assemble in the drama hall, please-,"
Zuko didn't hear the rest, because he was too busy being thankful to get out of his Chemistry class. There were a number of things wrong with intermediate Chemistry, but the worst by far was the girl who sat next to him, doodling little hearts with initials in them (it didn't take much logic to piece together what she meant when she put down 'BMxZS'), and shooting him toothy grins every once in a while.
Zuko tugged his rucksack onto one shoulder and followed the crowds of kids out of the room, but stopped for a moment to check his phone for messages. None. Zip, zilch, nada. There was nothing to tell him something was about to go terribly wrong, but he still knew, in the back of his mind. It was the reason for his stormy mood.
"What's going on?" Sokka came up behind Zuko and clapped a hand on the taller boy's leather-clad shoulder. "I didn't know there was an assembly today."
Zuko shrugged halfheartedly. "Probably some news about the football games, or something."
Sokka's face screwed up in annoyance. "Ah, shit, they're not canceling them, are they? We get to kick some San Diego ass next Monday!" he pouted.
Zuko wondered if Sokka would be as calm if he knew he was sneaking around with his sister. He found a smirk getting on his face; there certainly was a kind of allure to a clandestine relationship behind closed doors, sex or no. "Who knows?" Zuko answered disinterestedly, looking forward to the double doors that the older kids were swarming through.
Sokka sighed and the two pushed into the drama hall, immediately catching sight of Suki and Toph standing together in the middle of the room. The two joined their friends. When Sokka asked where Aang was, Toph snapped that she didn't know and she didn't care. Zuko exchanged glances with Suki, who confirmed his suspicions with a nod. Aang and Toph had broken up.
Zuko frowned and looked around. "Hey, where's Katara?" he asked curiously.
Despite having looked like she'd cringe at Aang's name, Toph suddenly frowned, looking around for him.
Then an explosion shook the entire room and they all gasped, turning to see someone standing on the stage with a gun held high over their head. At the sight of the gun, they all ducked a little, before they stood and stared. His eyes fell on the gun first, and then its holder. Aidan Riker stood on a pedestal, with a sickening grin on his face. Zuko felt the color drain from his face.
Ten Minutes Earlier.
"You know, you guys really ain't as bad as people think you are," Katara murmured groggily, before inhaling a hit of the spliff between her soft lips. Then she grinned, sitting on the floor of the mostly-soundproof projection room above the drama hall and lolling her head on her shoulder. "And why don't you just ask her? The worst she can say is 'no'."
Jet stuck his tongue out at his ex-girlfriend. "No way, Kitty-kitten; I'm not asking Jin to leave home after what happened to her," he shook his head adamantly, his pot cigarette wiggling in his mouth as he spoke.
Katara rolled her eyes. "Jeez, Jet, don't call me that," she chuckled thoughtfully, "And Jin's a really strong person; from what I can tell, she really loves you and I think she'd like to go to college with you but you just need to ask otherwise she'll think you don't want her to come and then she'll feel rejected and that won't be good at all and-,"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Marina," Smellerbee held up her hands in a t-shape to signal a time-out, "don't babble. I hate when people do that," she extended her reefer to Longshot, who was sat next to her, staring at the ceiling in his pensive, silent way.
Aang raised a lone finger sagely, "Clear speech is a sign of clear mind," he quoted wisely.
"Clear," Katara scoffed, "My mind is totally clear. It's see-through."
There was a long pause in the conversation, with Katara just inhaling and exhaling her own smoke, blinking lethargically and grinning like an idiot. Out in the hall, the heard the muffled announcement of an assembly. "… All juniors … seniors … home- … teachers assemble … drama hall … sophomores …"
They considered getting up, but then decided they were way too high to do that. Besides, they could watch the assembly from up here. If teachers came, they'd be well and truly fucked, but in the meanwhile, they could sit here in the smoke of their own intoxication and grin at their reflections in the glass window overlooking the drama hall. Katara yawned, rubbing at her eyes and smearing her mascara across her eyelids and then grinning at her own mistake.
"So, Kitty-kitten …" Jet smirked at Katara, "anything ever come of that make-out session with Scorsese at The Aristocrat?" he poked his tongue out and did a suggestive eyebrow-dance.
Katara grumbled low in her throat. "Seriously, Jet, stop calling me that; I fucking hate that goddamn nickname. And no. Zuko and I are just friends," she insisted calmly.
Jet chuckled. "Whatever you say."
"We are!" Katara swore adamantly.
Jet held his hands up innocently. "I never said you weren't."
"But you were thinking it!" Katara smacked him in the arm. "Why, what do you think might've come out of it?"
Jet just grinned dirtily at her. "I thought maybe you might have hooked up and let him put his …" Jet whistled between his teeth, "in your …" he made a squeaky noise with his lips and shot this self-impressed, dirty look in Katara's direction, earning himself another slap in the arm and a bop over the back of the head.
"That's gross," Aang rolled his eyes, lifting a hit to his lips and dragging in a long breath of it.
Jet eyed Aang for a moment. "I'm being specific. If I said 'did you let him fuck you', it could be construed in a number of inaccurate ways."
"I would've gotten the picture, Jet," Katara laughed.
Then the explosion of a gunshot shook the entire school.
The cell phones were gone. Knives, razors and other potential weapons were also taken from the young hostages. Maybe three or four kids had managed to dial 911 before their phones had been taken; even if emergency services didn't know what was wrong at Dahlia Coast Public High, they knew something was wrong. That was a start, at least. They had to keep hope.
Hope was often the only thing you had in times like these.
Some had plead to call their parents, or to speak to that special someone just once before they died, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. Others cried for mercy; for him to just let them go because they had families and futures and they'd pay big money for their lives, but their offers were declines. Many fell silent, contemplating their own lives and the imminent end of them. Many of these many began to cry, male and female, student and teacher, young and old, Goth and Cheerleader, Jock and Nerd alike.
They sank slowly to the wood-panel floor, heads in hands, eyes wide in catatonic horror, in small groups of those few friends who really mattered. The panic settled into something worse. A dingy, dark gray storm cloud of suspense. There couldn't have been a worse feeling in the world than waiting for your own demise.
Toph sat silently on the floor in a group with her friends, her eyes downcast and her hands in her lap. She was going to die now, the last thing she'd have told Aang being 'it's over'. True enough, it was. Everything was over and coming to an end now, but she'd give anything for one last second to tell him how much he meant to her. But after all that … she was able to smile solemnly. At least he would live. He wasn't here, and at the gunshots, he'd have run. Aang would live. It somehow began to counteract the doom of death.
Sokka and Suki held one another tightly, both biting back painful tears, each with a hand on the soft, subtle swell of Suki's middle. Suki murmured how she'd have given anything to spend the rest of her life with him, and he replied that he would die to save her and his unborn child. The two clutched tightly, unwilling to let go. They would die holding on. They would never, ever, let go of one another.
Zuko sat hunched up, his face in his palms, his fingers slipped past his hairline; his amber eyes squeezed shut, the faintest trace of a tear on the eyelash of his good eye. He himself was unsure whether he was relieved or horrified; his life was over, and yet it wasn't so bad because Katara was out there, somewhere, alive. This was all his fault. If he'd been more vigilant, and instead of avoiding Aidan, had kept him near, he'd have known this would happen. He'd have been able to save so many lives.
"Zuko!" a voice cracked, bringing him to look up immediately. The voice was barely above a whisper, but in the silence, he heard it like a firework on a silent night.
Zuko gave a groan from his chest as his sister collapsed in front of him to her knees and threw her arms around him. He was caught unawares, but he put his arms around Azula in reciprocation. He held her tight for a short moment before she pulled back and met him with mirrored golden eyes, drier than his, but just as concerned. "It's going to be okay," Zuko heard himself promising his sister, squeezing her hand involuntarily. It came so naturally.
Azula shook her head, her voice a shallow whisper. "You have to be able to do something, Zuzu."
His features hardened in futility. "What?" he snapped dryly, "what could I possibly be able to do, Azula?" he frowned wanly, reaching into his jacket and drawing out a cigarette. He looked for his lighter, but he couldn't find it; hadn't been able to for a while now. He needed a smoke like nobody's business. Zuko had picked a bad month to quit smoking.
Azula's hand reared back and she slapped him. Nobody paid attention, caught up in their own hells. "I won't hear any brother of mine speaking that way!" she hissed darkly. "Figure something out!" she grabbed his shirt, trying to be the picture of collected, cool determination and threat, and failing rather horribly.
Zuko stared into his sister's eyes for a moment and just sighed, hanging his head and shaking it. "Like what? There's no way out. We're going to die, Azula."
Sokka snarled from his spot beside Zuko. "What do you suppose we do, captain asshole?" he gripped Suki tighter.
The Scorsese looked back thoughtfully, and then looked away. "Think about our place in the universe?" he suggested hopefully.
Immediately sobered by the shot, with Jet and the others having fled, Katara and Aang crouched in the projection room, peeking through the large window down into the drama hall, where Zuko had just been silenced by Aidan, unable to say more than he already had. They hadn't been able to hear his words, but they knew Zuko had told Aidan to stop, and that Aidan had refused. Pretty fucking obvious, that.
Katara sank down behind the wall below the window, sitting on the floor and glancing to Aang. "Are you sure that's what that bomb is, Aang?"
Aang sat down next to her. "Yes."
"How sure?" Katara mulled over his story of 'benders' and remembered the woman at the circus the other night.
"Positive," Aang nodded adamantly, brows coming down hard.
Katara exhaled heavily. "If I were anyone else, Aang, you know I wouldn't buy your story of being a thousand years old, right?" she blinked at him, managing a tiny smile amidst the chaos. "I'd think you were out of your mind."
Aang nodded again. "I know," he swallowed, and then he glanced away from her. "We have to stop that bomb from going off; it can affect at least half of the population within a hundred-mile radius, and that's the best-case scenario," he grabbed his pocket, drawing out his phone and glancing at it for the time. Lunch hour seemed closer than it ever had before.
The Marina girl grimaced. "What's the worst-case scenario?" she tilted her brows in concern.
There was a pause.
"It could hit the whole world as soon as the canister is opened." Aang's gray eyes fell on blue ones, hardened in a serious stare. "Do you know what that's like? Every other person on the planet being given a kind of power so strong it can take out tens of acres at a time, and not being able to control it? The world is going to fall into chaos if we don't stop that bomb, Katara."
Katara stared at Aang for a moment. "But it's on a timer - how can we stop it?"
"That guy must have a cancellation sequence or something for it. You need to get him to give it up."
"What do you mean 'you'? I thought we were both doing this," the girl with the blue eyes fixed a cold stare in her friend's direction, "I don't know the first thing about deactivating a bomb."
Aang shook his head, his fingers drumming anxiously on his thigh as he considered the possible outcomes of this day. "You won't be deactivating a bomb, Katara. You just need to figure out what makes that guy tick. You need to figure him out and get him to tell you how to turn it off."
"What?" Katara yelped, struggling to keep her voice down. "I just need to figure out a psychopath who's holding hundreds of kids hostage? What kind of moron are you, Aang?" Katara grimaced and furrowed her brow. "Zuko has a better chance than I do at getting that guy to open up. Zuko knows him. Aidan wouldn't be able to stay detached."
"Neither would Zuko," Aang countered reasonably. "What if Aidan managed to get Zuko to help him, Katara?"
Glancing away, the girl with the blue eyes answered the question in her head. It would be her fault. But she didn't know the first thing about Aidan! How was she supposed to figure him out before the bomb went off at lunchtime? All she knew was that he was a crazy psycho, and she didn't really even know the ins and outs of that. She had no idea what fueled his anarchism, or what he stood to gain by blowing up a school full of kids.
"Katara, you have to try," Aang insisted.
Katara glared at her friend. "What about you? Why can't you do it?"
The Avatar smiled wanly at the waterbender he saw in his friend. "I would if I could. But I know you. I know you can do this."
Blue eyes fell shut indecisively, doubting the airbender's wisdom.
"Useless li'l shit!"
"Stupid fuckin' brat! I'll fuckin' rip yer nads out-,"
"Y'fuckin id'jit, a fuckin' retard got more sense than y'do!"
"What'de fuck y'think yer fuckin' doin', y'piece-a crap?"
"Leave me alone," he whispered to himself, "I'm sick of you hitting me. I'm sick of it. I hate it." Thirteen-year-old Aidan Riker stood over where his father was sleeping in his throne, a large knife held high over his head, eyes wide and terrified as he used his free hand to hold a cushion above Elmer's face. He placed the cushion, balancing it on Elmer's nose and brow, the knife shaking in his hand.
The brat swallowed. 'I'm sick of you. I'm sick of you! I hate you!' he chanted in his head, his face twisting into a contorted, feral, primal grimace, as his hand tightened on the handle of the knife. Aidan slowly brought the knife down, touched the cushion; testing the path of the blade. Then he held it above his head again and pushed his eyes as wide as they could go.
"I HATE YOU!" he screamed, putting his entire weight behind the blade, eyes staying wide so he could see it. So he could slay the dragon before his own eyes.
Elmer flinched at the noise for a second before the knife broke through his skull, just above the space between his eyes; right through his forehead through the pillow. His hand found itself clenched on the arm of his chair, before it slowly released and his entire body went limp in his throne. A king he may have been, with his own subject and throne, but he bled the same as a beggar. His body twitched, once, with a spinal reflex.
Aidan panted, staring as blood soaked the cushion over his father's head, the knife still sticking out of it. Aidan blinked in horror at what he had done, and then he gripped his own head, a slow smile spreading on his face. The monster was dead. He would never be hurt again. He wasn't useless. He wasn't stupid. He was free. His smile split to a grin, which broke into coughing fits of uncontrollable, gleeful laughter in which he was rolling on the floor.
When the police found the body, three weeks later, the place reeked of rotting flesh and blood, but the boy lived in it, taking care of himself as if nothing had changed. Aidan even introduced them to his father, sitting them on the couch opposite the throne, serving them cups of coffee and biscuits, as if nothing at all were wrong.
Because in his world, things were more right than they had ever been before.
The Dai Li marched on Dahlia Coast, in swarms of deep green robes and shady hard conical hats, earning stares from the cityfolk and a few 'freakshow' jokes from builders on scaffolding. None of that mattered. The world would be theirs; Long Feng had promised that. The world would be theirs by the end of the day, and the people of this time would be helpless to stop them, just as the Air Nomads had been when their longtime rivals and then-business-partners, The Fire Nation had marched on the temples.
They assembled in the heart of the city; a vast, emptying plot where circus tents were being packed up. Long Feng took center-stage and spoke like a true leader, a fist held high in the air as he addressed his men. "Today!" he began enthusiastically.
"Today our destiny is bestowed upon us, men! Today the world falls at our feet! Today we fight for our divine right to power!"
The Dai Li agents pushed their fists up to the sky. "Strength! Might! Power!" they recited proudly.
'Aang better be putting together some awesome superhero strategy to get everyone out,' Katara heard the devil on one shoulder mutter, and she agreed silently, as she opened her locker and stared into it. The note from that morning was still there, resting on top of a little box she kept earrings in. She picked it up and read it again, a slight smile finding its way onto her face.
'Meet me in hallway D - Zuko,'
Katara remembered his arms around her, his lips on hers, the soft, raspy words he uttered under his breath, as golden eyes fell on blue ones, need and concern and fear all but written on his skin. She put the note back and looked back into her locker, picking up her mother's diary. There had to be something in it to help her with this. If she screwed up …
No. She couldn't think like that! This had to work. She'd survived Jonathan Prescott, and she'd helped the FBI catch a serial kidnapper-slash-rapist-slash-murderer. Then again, maybe there were only so many times in life you were able to tempt the grim reaper; only so many times you were able to play chicken with fate. Katara was reminded of the night she and Zuko had spent laughing about all the crap that happened to them. It was surreal.
"Katara?" Aang asked from down the hall, bringing her attention from inside the locker. "It's time," he swallowed hard, glancing down to the large double doors into the drama hall.
Katara blinked at her friend and then smiled sadly, shutting her locker, with Zuko's note and her mother's diary inside. "I know," she answered, moving toward him, struggling not to drag her feet along. With a small breath to the warm summer air coming in from the windows, she glanced to the flash of blue lights outside; several police cars were pulling up in front of the school.
"You can sneak into the drama hall from the rafters, behind the stage curtain," Aang told her, walking alongside toward the stairwell nearby.
Katara mulled this over briefly. "And when I get in?"
"Get the guy's attention and get him to let you in."
With a snort, Katara grimaced. "I'll just do that," she murmured skeptically.
Forty-five minutes to detonation.
Some turned to poetry. Some to silence. Some to one another. Most turned to the single clock at the front of the room, watching, waiting.
Aidan Riker paced on his pedestal, eyes rolling over the school of weak-minded fools below him. This was where he always should've been; above, looking down on them. This was his rightful place, he mused, with a smirk on his face; looking down on his subjects. The smirk fell back and he scowled. Subjects. Throne. King Elmer. He glanced to one side of the hall, where his old friend sat on the floor, head hung miserably.
They could've been great together, him and Zuko.
A buzzing began in his pocket and he raised an eyebrow, slipping his cheap cell phone from his pocket. Maybe Daniel wanted to know how things were going. To Aidan's glee, the number was unrecognized and he smacked his thumb into the green button on the phone, gaining the full attention of his hostages again. He put the phone to his ear.
"Aidan Riker?" came a serious, middle-aged voice with chattering in the background.
Aidan grinned, eyes running along the room to see who it was who'd kept their phone to call the police and tell them just who was holding the school captive. "At your service," Aidan answered amicably and diplomatically; he'd have probably bowed formally if he'd been in the presence of the man on the other end.
"This is Officer Kurt Van Pelt of the Dahlia Coast Police Squad. We've been made aware of two gunmen holding a hostage situation at Dahlia Coast Public High School, and are prepared to try to meet your demands, should you have any, provided you release your hostages, unharmed," the voice explained calmly and coolly.
First the boy giggled breathily, then he chuckled heartily, and then he guffawed, just once, extremely amused. "I'll commend you on your cool head, but I'm afraid I can't release the hostages. I have no demands. In …" he checked his bulky watch, "forty-one minutes, a bomb is going to go off, releasing a lethal neurotoxin to the whole school, the whole city, and probably the whole state."
There was a long pause on the other end. "And you're not going to be affected?"
Aidan's calm demeanor changed to snarl. "It's a possibility, I'm sure, but I'm willing to die for a cause," he promised darkly.
Another slight pause. "Riker, I've just received word that I'm allowed to grant you full immunity, a plane out of the country, and twenty grand in cash in exchange for-,"
"I have no demands," Aidan repeated severely, eyes narrowed and his tongue snapping sharply as he spoke. That was all there was to it. He took the phone from his ear and dropped it to the waxed wooden floor under his feet, pointing his gun down at it. The room clapped hands over ears in preparation, and he squeezed the trigger, pushing a bullet through the phone and the floor at once. The line went dead, along with their connection to the outside world.
Then he ran serious gray-green eyes over the room.
"Alright," he snarled viciously, "Who was it? Who made that call?"
"I did," came a calm voice from (what?) behind him.
He whirled around to see a girl in blue standing not far behind him, and he heard kids gasping around the room; more prominently, he heard the choking catch of breath in Zuko's throat, along with a murmur of some kind of negation. Aidan lifted his gun toward her, the surprised expression on his face moving back into a hateful sneer that she met only with serene calmness.
Almost like …
'Mom! Mom, come back!'
'Go inside, Aidan, you fucking … jeez, Aidan …'
'Wh-where are you going?'
'To grammy, hon. Mommy's going to grammy.'
'When are you coming back?'
… 'Hon …'
'NO! No, you can't leave me! Take me with you!'
It took a short while for him to shake off his mother's memory and take a good look at the girl in front of him. He didn't recognize her at first, but then he noticed the defiant stare of Katara Marina and if it had been possible, his features would've hardened. He was unsure whether her calmness made him angrier or calmer, and that frustrated him in itself.
"I'll make you pay for that, you stupid bitch!" he cried out to her, vexed.
'I'll make y'pay fer that, y'stupid brat!'
Katara just shook her head at him and blinked slowly. "I'm sorry," she announced diplomatically, "But … I'm going to die anyway. What good would it do to waste a bullet on me?"
A dead silence fell across the hall.
Aidan stared at her, his arm raised and getting tired from being held so. He snorted defiantly, his mind racing. She was going to die anyway, and he'd need bullets to shoot his way past the police upon his escape. Bah! He wasn't about to let anyone get off with pulling a stunt like that! And how long had she been behind him? He growled under his breath.
"Get the fuck out of my sight," he seethed.
She eyed him as she moved swiftly past him and stepped off the stage, moving in mid-air as she descended the three-foot drop from the stage to the hall floor. The Marina girl didn't shy from his gaze at all. Her stare may have been as cold as his, but somehow embedded in a warm expression of … understanding? Aidan felt his head screaming at him. How did she get in here? Had she always been in here? How did she sneak up on him?
The girl in the leather jacket moved through the crowds that stared at her, and Aidan knew she hadn't been in here before. She'd gotten in, somehow.
If there was a way in, there was a way out.
First they threw their arms around Katara; it was unavoidable. But as soon as the hugs were gone, Sokka grabbed her shoulders and shook her roughly, demanding to know what it was that had made her stupid as to come back here. She could've lived, goddamn it! The fucking idiot! But then again, the kid with the gun had just said everyone in the whole city was going to die …
"Why did you come back?" Sokka hissed, his grip on her so tight that his fingernails would leave crescent shapes in her skin, despite her long-sleeved shirt.
Katara peeled his hands off her and rubbed at where they had been. "To save you, that's why," she glanced over her shoulder up to where the kid with the gun was pacing.
"Are you crazy, Katara?" Suki stared at Katara with wide eyes, a hand still resting on her belly. "How? How the hell do you plan to do that? This isn't the same as-,"
Katara's brows tilted as Toph grabbed her elbow and looked up at her, a mixture of concern and suspicion and worry on her face. "Where's Aang?"
The Marina girl smiled weakly. "Aang's taking care of the sophomores and freshmen. He's fine."
Toph said nothing else. In fact, nobody said anything else. Katara looked to Zuko, who was staring at her silently, his features conveying anxiety and stress, despite the soft and worried way his eyes followed her. His look said all it needed to. 'You made me a promise.' Katara just frowned back and shot him a look that answered, 'I have to do this.'
Katara put her hands together and glanced back to the front of the room. "How long do we have?" she asked quietly.
Toph lifted her watch and glanced at it. "Ten minutes tops. Is that long enough?"
"It'll have to be," Katara grimaced. "Are you guys going to help me or not?" she looked to her brother wearily.
Sokka frowned hard at her before sighing and nodding. Suki nodded too. Katara's gaze shifted to Zuko, whose stare had fallen to the floor. He looked up and narrowed his eyes, nodding reluctantly. Katara smiled briefly, putting her arms around her brother's neck one more time, patting him on the shoulder and then moving to hug Toph and Suki at the same time. She knew better than to try and hug Zuko right now.
"Alright. Sokka, Suki, you guys get everyone to the back of the room; as far away from that bomb as possible," Katara pointed to her siblings, and then looked to Toph, "Toph, you stay back, but if I can't get him to turn off the bomb, I'm going to need your computer expertise. Zuko?" she dropped a blue stare in his direction. "You move those columns of chairs; try to build some cover," she pointed to the columns of stacked chairs by the walls.
Katara considered telling them exactly what the bomb was, but she didn't have time. Ten minutes to detonation.
Sokka and Suki left, pushing their way through the crowds, whispering as they went for everyone to get to the back of the room. Zuko took off for the sidelines, readying himself to slide the chairs across the floor. Katara pointed Toph to a sheltered spot not far from the stage, in the nook between two stacks of chairs, and the blind bandit darted toward it. Katara found herself standing in a clearing as the kids moved to the back of the hall, staring forward and taking steady breaths. 'Come on, Aang. Help me out here. Bust in here with some super moves, or something … I don't know if I can do this on my own …'
"What's going on?" Aidan suddenly yelled from the front of the room, probably referring to everyone moving as one toward the back of the room.
Katara stood alone in the middle of the room, and she drew a shaky breath, addressing him carefully, her voice carrying. She ignored his question, approaching a more serious topic. "You have to stop this," she told him firmly, swallowing back a dry feeling in her throat. She doubted this was going to go well. "Before it gets out of hand," she insisted.
Aidan's eyes narrowed as he peered at her from his higher ground. "No. I don't. I don't have to do anything," he sneered, the corners of his mouth tilted up.
"Aidan," she began calmly; that was his name, right? It sounded strange on her tongue. "Turn it off," she heard her voice waver and cursed herself.
Aidan rolled his eyes and lifted the gun in her direction, "You know what, you're really starting to get on my nerves," he told her, his voice bordering on irritated, "You think you can tell me what to do? Are you fucking retarded?" he chuckled this time. "I'm in charge here, alright, little girl? Capiche?" he gestured with his gun a kind of 'get on with it' motion.
Katara put her hands up and stared into the barrel of the gun pensively. Had this been what her mother had last seen before she died? She'd always imagined staring down the barrel of a gun to be more metaphorical; some crap like staring into the pit of your impending doom, or whatever, but in all actuality, it was just a gun. A gun was just a gun. A bullet was just a bullet. If she died, she had no control of it. "Yeah," Katara answered dryly, "You are. You're in charge," she agreed carefully.
Aidan smirked. "Now you're getting the picture," his eyes shifted off to the side, where he saw Zuko, ducked behind the columns of chairs, eyes jumping between the girl with the blue eyes and the gun he held in his hand. Aidan's smirk deepened knowingly, but he said nothing. "I'll repeat it, since you weren't here, Marina; don't try to be a hero," his smirk dropped to a cool look of disinterest.
Katara ran her tongue over her lower lip, calculating her every word. She would've liked to think she was just buying time, but even if this guy took a bullet before the clock hit lunchtime, there was still a good chance the world would get thrown into chaos by a toxin that there was a good chance he didn't even fully understand. "Sometimes …" she paused, swallowing hard. "Someone has to," she answered, feeling some confidence finding its way into her voice. "Someone has to stand up for innocent people."
Aidan giggled at first, and then he chuckled humorlessly, his aiming arm dropping to his side as he turned his back to the Marina girl. "Ah, but it doesn't work like that. Not really," he looked over his shoulder to her, a look halfway between a scowl and a smirk on his face. "Nobody stands up for the truly weak. Nobody stands up for the truly helpless. There is no fucking Robin Hood in this world to steal from the rich and give to the poor."
There was a pause of silence as Katara collected her thoughts, her hands slowly going back down.
Aidan then turned fully and tucked his thumbs into the belt-loops of his jeans. "No. When you're lying in a pool of your own blood, nobody comes to help you. The people you're supposed to be able to rely on to help you …" he heard his voice falter and pushed his brows downward, "… they leave you. They leave you to fend for yourself," he cast his eyes toward Zuko, and screwed up his face darkly.
Katara felt her face soften in understanding. She asked, tentatively, "Who left you?" barely above a breath.
'Aidan, go inside!'
'No! Please, mom! PLEASE! Take me with you! Don't leave me with him!'
Something felt strange in one of Aidan's eyes, and he blinked it away. "Stop it," he murmured under his breath. "Stop talking!" he yelled at the girl in the middle of the room, his fingers twitching on the gun in his hand, at his side.
Katara put her hands back up innocently. "Please, Aidan, just listen to me," she insisted gently, "I know-," Katara paused to swallow, "I know it hurts when-,"
"NO!" Aidan bellowed thunderously, "You don't. You have no idea!" he screamed, his voice echoing around him, coupled with his mother's voice in his ears. "You have no fucking idea what my life is made up of! Don't even pretend you have a clue what PAIN is!" he kicked out at the chair where the bomb sat, causing Katara's breath to hitch in her throat as the chair and the bomb wobbled precariously.
Katara found herself unable to speak.
Aidan marched toward her, hopping down from the stage, and she was frozen to the floor, unable to move. He was a few inches taller than Zuko Scorsese was, and towered over Katara from where he stood, three feet from her, a fist at one side and a gun at the other. "Pain," he strained his voice, eyes squeezed so narrow his brows were twitching, "is when you're sprawled on the bathroom floor, the back of your head bleeding against the tile on the wall, and your face is so fucking swollen you can't even see!" he screamed, despite being only feet before her.
Katara blinked at him, eyes wide and wary, but her heart open to acceptance. She could see it now. In his eyes, she could see everything about him. It was a strange time to be thinking about Star Wars, but she recalled a wise saying from Yoda. 'Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.' He was just a child in a teenager's body, angry and hurt and scared. Nobody had given him the second chance Zuko had been given. Katara lowered her eyes.
"You," Aidan breathed hard, "have no idea what kind of pain I've suffered," and then he cursed under his breath at the strange sensations in his eyes. He swallowed, taking another step toward Katara until he was chest-to-chest with her. "I suffered agony, because …" his voice cracked, "because she left me. Because she left me with him." And he pointed his eyes away.
'But why? Why won't you take me with you, mom?'
'Aidan, get out of the way!'
'Please! I'll be better! I'll do all my homework, and I'll clean my room, and … and … mom, please!'
Katara nodded slowly and looked up to meet his eyes. She spoke again in understanding, barely above a whisper, "It …" she drew a tiny breath, "It wasn't your fault, Aidan," she hesitantly lifted a hand and placed it on his upper arm. He jumped slightly at her touch and snapped his gaze to hers. "She didn't leave because of anything you did," Katara told him tentatively.
Aidan felt his chest heaving and that strange feeling in his eyes getting worse. "But … but she left me … I don't know what I …"
Katara lifted her hand from his arm and put it on his cheek. "It wasn't your fault," she insisted delicately, before she took both his cheeks in soft palms and gave him a soft smile, "She didn't leave because of you; she left because of him," Katara told him, despite not knowing who this 'him' was, and only knowing he was the reason Aidan was this way, "but leaving you, Aidan, leaving you was her mistake. If she'd taken you with her, she'd have known just how wonderful you are; how smart, and quick and strong you are."
Something salty and wet slipped down one of Aidan's cheeks and his eyes searched the blue ones. That heaving in his chest gave way for a monumental lump in his throat to crack his voice, despite the fact that he said no words, and croaked something that might have been 'I'm sorry' or 'help me' or 'don't leave me'. Much to the shorter girl's surprise, he wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in the soft space between her neck and shoulder.
Slowly and soothingly, Katara put her arms around his shoulders as he hunched to clutch her in an embrace tighter than a vice-grip's. She rubbed slow circles with one hand on the expanse of his upper back. "Shh," she soothed, as he sobbed into her shoulder, and she squeezed her own eyes shut, hugging the older boy back.
"Marina!" someone shouted out loudly, causing her to snap her head up to look behind her. A boy was pointing to the back of the room; to the clock.
Katara caught her own breath on a horrified gasp that stopped before it got out of her chest. She fought against Aidan's grasp to get to the bomb in an instinctive, last-breath attempt to stop it. His grip was too tight; too desperate. The bomb made a fizzling noise that echoed through the global silence that had taken the hall by force. There was a click and a hiss, and then … deafening silence.
Zuko had no choice but to shut his eyes from where he was sheltered, as the explosion shook the entire building. He may have screamed her name, but neither he nor anyone else heard it. His own heartbeat echoed in his head; his breathing rasped in his ears. He tried to hear beyond that, but he couldn't.
Some people had told Zuko that Rome hadn't burnt in a day, when he said he had to undo a mistake he'd made. His uncle, for the most part, was the one who told him this. When he asked if he meant that Rome wasn't built in a day, Iroh just shook his head and told his nephew to allow some things to run their course. Maybe Rome hadn't burnt in a day, but Zuko had always wondered if it could have.
A/N: Part two of the two-part season finale of Life Is Like A Metaphor.
I really hope you all enjoyed this chapter, and the whole season to boot. I wanted to pay tribute to Aidan; he's been so good to my writing. You should try it - there's nothing more fun than writing a total psycho and then learning to understand how they came to be that way. Katara's always so confident and sure in this story, and I really wanted to try something new, so she was a bit careful; a little … uncertain … right there. I seriously considered bringing her in as the Painted Lady, but a shootout didn't have nearly the kind of potential as Aidan's breakdown did.
I want to cuddle Aidan now! Aww! :3 His whole make-up and character development was based on 'what Zuko could've turned out as', because of that 'not as big a jerk as you could have been award' thing that came up in The Western Air Temple. Now, for some Q&A!
I rarely answer reviews, but since it is the season finale, I'll have a go.
hopelessromantic : Yep! There will be a third season entitled 'Life Is Like A Lyric', and it will come out in January, on New Year's day, for sentimental reasons relating to the very first chapter of LILABOC (New Years' ^_^). Thanks so much for reviewing!
Punch A Fish In The Face: I love how enthusiastic you are about my story! You might actually be more excited than me! I know; I tried to do the Taang breakup as much justice as I could, because they are so great together. But I have a feeling Toph will be too happy when she sees Aang not to forgive him … ;)
Embers in the flames: Lydia? Oh, I love Lydia way too much to do that to her. (Spoiler Alert) Lydia is going to be a waterbender! I can't even imagine killing her off … someone has to die from time to time to keep a story interesting, but Lydia? No way! She's grown on me now. Thanks for your review! ^_^
Ozuma thy AWESOME Vampanatic 8: Lol, if only men really had that much restraint! :)
Sarcasm22: Thanks! I do try ^_^.
xFantasiix: I believe you requested an update … ? :D Thank you!
PillowPet24: Random bit of Trivia, I gave Sokka my birthweight :P Tubby-babies FTW! Thanks - reviews make my day!
siriusly cool48: I know! Lydia deserves it, though, and Toph and Aang don't get enough drama. Same goes for Iroh. Drama abounding! :3
Zutara-Lova8: Yeah, I was caught between too; I myself didn't know I was gonna stop them until I did it. Boo. And I kind of hate Aidan a little myself, but it's like he's my baby now - OC's always are - and it's hard not to love him ^_^
Medusa': Promise to make it up to you in the next season! Sexytiems coming up! Thanks for your review!
: I was thinking the same thing myself! Like 'omg how am I gonna tie it all up?' but I figured it out. Thanks!
AnnaAza: Ha, thanks! I did actually hope people would catch on that it was Hama without having to actually write it, but it had the right effect anyway. And I love the tarot-card scene. Yeah, that was a lot of the reason I stopped them; even if I totally tanked the finale, I know I can rely on Zutara to bring it back and recover. I had to keep some sexual tension in a jar! And yeah, Lydia is epic! Thanks so much!
Apologies to the other reviewers, but I'm dragging this author's note way too long, and I really need to post this chapter. The Season 3 Premiere will be up on New Year's Day 2012, and a promo for it will be up by Christmas Day, okay? Promise! Btw, karma just brought me cookies. Honest to god! I LOVE YOU GUYS!
MERRY CHRISTMAS! (And happy birthday to Sagittarians like myself!)