Title: Ayo Technology
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender.
AN: So there's a little of everything in this chapter! Please enjoy :)
Zuko's business administration textbook is painfully dull, and no matter how long he stares at the tiny print he just can't seem to absorb any information. His sister isn't home, so he has the apartment to himself, which is always good. Azula's temperament is nasty on a good day and lately she's been especially vile. The last thing Zuko wants is to be cooped up with that crazy bitch in their shared apartment on such a cold and rainy night. Two years ago he had gone for a three hour run in a snowstorm to avoid Azula's foul mood and had ended up with double pneumonia. Zuko has way too much work to do to risk getting that sick again.
Yet he can't seem to buckle down and finish this chapter. Zuko's laptop is open, and he's listening to a CD Katara has given him. It's clear to him that the members of this group, "The Nomads," are drug users. Why else would they being singing about badgermoles? Normally he'd just toss the CD in the garbage but he promised Katara that he'd give it a chance.
Katara is driving him crazy. He knows that he's supposed to be avoiding her. He knows that in spite of his attempts to resist the need to spend time with her they're now essentially dating. He knows that he is in way, way over his head but he just can't help himself. When he's with her he's happy, and Zuko is never happy. She makes him feel like a good person.
The problem is that Zuko is not a good person. He's not worthy of her affections. He's lying to her. Anyone who says that hiding the truth isn't the same as lying is just in denial. Sleep had eluded him the night he had first bought her dinner. That was the night that he realized he didn't care if the project destroys his shot at becoming the next CEO. Ozai has probably been planning on making Azula his heir anyways, and as long as Zuko doesn't openly condemn the company, there's no reason why he wouldn't receive his shares and take his place on the board.
So he's going to keep his mouth shut about Sozin's being responsible for the pentapox outbreak. He likes Katara a lot but it's not worth sacrificing what he's spent his entire life working to achieve.
Though he can't help wondering what it would be like to act on all of these feelings. He can't help wondering what it would be like to spend all night exploring every inch of her naked body and then waking up to find her curled up in bed beside him. He finds himself thinking about it more often than he should, and the thoughts are distracting to say the least.
She's made it clear that she likes him too. The last time they had been out together she almost kissed him. Her lips had been tantalizingly close to his, and he's proud that he didn't give in to the urge to close the distance between them. And in the end, to his relief and disappointment, she bypassed his mouth and instead whispered a simple goodnight in his ear.
He's past the point where he can deny how badly he wants her. He doesn't know what he would have done if she had actually kissed him. He likes to believe that he'd have enough willpower to push her away because he refuses to admit his weakness. That's what these feelings for her truly are: weakness.
Azula is stronger than him in almost every measurable way, save perhaps for brute strength. She would never allow feelings to distract her or prevent her from reaching a goal. In fact, she'd probably shamelessly exploit Katara's friendship and then find away to use the campaign for her own personal benefit. This is why she's Ozai's favorite. If Zuko is going to live up to his family's name he needs to stop giving in to his emotions.
Lately he's been overwhelmed by emotions he didn't know he had the capacity to actually feel. He keeps telling himself that it has nothing to do with Katara but he's never once believed it. Azula would mock him for sure, but then again, Azula is barely human.
After another twenty minutes of trying in vain to study, Zuko admits defeat. He's already feeling a little stir crazy. Or maybe it's frustration? He hasn't slept with anyone since Mai dumped him eights months ago, and before Katara came along, his mind was occupied with thoughts of sex far less frequently than what might be considered normal for a young man his age. Exercise usually provides an adequate release but he hates his neighbors and doesn't want to risk running into them or any other residents who might try to start conversation in the gym.
Just as he begins to overcome his reluctance a shrill ringing splinters his concentration. Someone is calling through the building's intercom system. Zuko and Azula never have uninvited guests – especially at night – so he can't imagine who might be calling. He considers ignoring the call but in the end his curiosity is too strong.
"Yes?" Zuko says, after swiping the pad of his index finger across the tiny control panel screen next to the door.
"Good evening, Master Zuko," a bubbly voice projects from the speaker below the screen. "My apologies for disturbing you."
"It's fine, Joo Dee," he tells the lobby concierge. "What do you want?"
"Several moments ago security detained an intruder," she explains. "And it is our policy to notify the resident with whom the intruder intended to make contact with."
An intruder? Zuko almost laughs when he realizes that he's more likely to be attacked by an intruder than visited by a friend.
"Well, consider me notified," he says with a slight frown. "Is there anything else?"
"This individual appears to be unstable and is currently in the custody of Long Feng," Joo Dee continues. "Would you like us to call the police?"
"Are you sure that it's me he's looking for?" asks Zuko. If this guy has been sent to assassinate Azula, well then Zuko wouldn't dream of getting in his way.
"The intruder is a young woman," Joo Dee chirps. "She asked for you by name."
And that's when it dawns on him. He can think of only a handful of girls who would want to find him outside of classes and off campus. Joo Dee would recognize Mai or Ty Lee, and he can't imagine that either of them would leave the comfort of their homes such dreadful weather. There's only one girl who would brave a nasty rainstorm to seek him out. It's Katara. Long Feng is downstairs harassing Katara and treating her like some sort of deranged stalker.
It doesn't matter that Katara is sweet and compassionate and the most amazing girl he's ever met. That racist Long Feng sees a Water Tribe girl trying to get up to the pent house and decides that she doesn't belong. In an odd way Zuko is personally insulted. Even if Katara's not an upper-class Fire Nation girl she's still incredibly hot. Do they just automatically assume that pretty girl who comes looking for him is either confused or mentally disturbed?
"Her name is Katara," Zuko says through gritted teeth. The effort he exerts to keep from shouting is making him shake.
"Pardon?" Joo Dee says, her cheeriness faltering ever so slightly.
"I said," he bites out, "her name is Katara. Release her immediately and send her up."
"But, Master Zuko – "
"Immediately," he repeats coldly. "And you and Long Feng want to keep your jobs then you will both apologize to her."
"Right away, sir," says Joo Dee, sounding predictably contrite.
After she hangs up, Zuko stares dumbly at the speaker for an entire minute before he is able to fully comprehend that Katara is on her way up to his apartment.
Zuko runs a nervous hand through his hair and surveys the room. The place is relatively clean and presentable but the maids don't work on Sundays so his bed isn't made. Though there is absolutely no reason for Katara to see the inside of his bedroom so it doesn't matter and he shouldn't be thinking about it.
The knock on the door comes just as he finishes changing his shirt.
"Zuko?" Katara calls, her voice barely audible through the thick wood. "It's me, Katara."
Hearing her speak, and knowing that she's close, manages to quell any residual anger. The effect she has on him is uncanny.
Zuko opens the door expecting to find an irate Katara just waiting to serenade him with a glorious and justified rant, but that's not the girl who's standing on his doorstep. Nothing could have prepared him for the sight of Katara in such a sorry state. He had forgotten about the rain.
Katara is shivering, her red-rimmed eyes are watery with tears, and she's drenched from head to toe. Something is clearly very wrong, and all Zuko wants to do is reach out to pull her close.
"Katara…" he gasps, shocked by her appearance.
"I'm sorry," she says. "Your uncle told me where to find you. I had no idea…" her voice trails off and she peers over his shoulder into the apartment. "Should I go home?" she asks uncertainly.
"No!" Zuko says quickly, stepping aside so she can enter. "Of course not. Come in."
"I'm sorry," she says again, following him inside. "I won't stay long."
"Don't be stupid," he snaps, feeling unreasonably annoyed. "You'll get sick if you go back out there. That rain is supposed to turn to ice soon."
"You forget that I'm a Water Tribe girl," Katara counters, though her characteristic stubbornness is noticeably absent from her tone.
"So, what are you doing here?" he asks bluntly, shutting the door behind her. Why didn't she just email him? Or text him? Or call him? Zuko wants to know what's so important that she's willing to risk her health and her safety.
"Well…" she starts, taking a deep breath. "I did something rash, and since this is your project I thought that you should know about it."
"Okay…?" The look on her face already fills him with a sense of nervous dread.
"Sokka is editor of the campus newspaper, and…" Katara bites her bottom lip. "There's going to be a story in tomorrow's issue."
"Come again?" he asks after a tense moment of silence. She can't be serious can she? And knowing Katara… there's no way she'd leave Sozin's name out of her muckraking.
"The people deserve to know about this," she says, crossing her arms defensively. "We're having this whole week dedicated to raising money for a cause. Don't you think it's just a little insane for us to hide the truth from the people we're asking for donations from?"
"No," he answers, gritting his teeth. "No, I do not."
Her eyes narrow. "Well, that's too bad because I do."
Zuko clenches his fists until his knuckles are white and fights hard to keep from shouting out in anger. Just who the hell does she think she is? Why couldn't she just have kept her mouth shut? He doubts that she has any idea how badly she's fucked him over. Now his father won't think twice about handing over his birthright to Azula. Hell, Ozai will probably disown him and then he will have nothing, no shares, no place on the board, no family, no fortune.
"How could you do this without asking me first?" he demands.
"I don't need your permission to write a story," she replies scathingly.
"You do when it's about my project." Zuko counters. He had almost said family, and almost blurting out the terrible secret is enough to cause a great wave of panic to wash over him. "What the hell were you thinking?"
"These people are dying, Zuko!" she shouts. "Why shouldn't Sozin's be held accountable for that? Why should people have to suffer and die because no one is willing to stand up for those greedy pigs? You and I both know that absolutely no one in that company gives a damn about anyone but themselves!"
She's right. She is one hundred percent undeniably right. He has been selfish and he wants to laugh because he has been so blind. He's worrying about his family disowning him when he should be worrying about his family destroying her. If they consider her a threat then they'll tear her to shreds. Zuko is not about to let Katara become a martyr.
"You said it's coming out tomorrow," he says, his mind racing. "Which means that the story has probably already been printed, but there's still time to stop the papers from being distributed."
"But I don't want to stop it! What about that do you not understand? I wrote the story for a reason."
Zuko shakes her head. "You have no idea who you're going up against," he warns.
"I know exactly who I'm up against," she says, sounding surprisingly bitter. "Ozai doesn't scare me and I am not going to back down."
"It's not worth it," he tells her, unconsciously touching a hand to his scar
"These people need a voice!" She's too furious at his words to notice his actions.
"But why does it have to be yours?" he asks, almost pleadingly.
"Because no one else is willing to step up!" she replies, eyes blazing. "Why shouldn't it be me?"
"Because I don't want to see you get hurt!" he explodes. "Look at you! You're lips are blue. Venturing out into an ice storm just to tell me about some damn suicide mission? What the hell is wrong with you?"
Katara recoils. "Are you angry that I'm here?"
"Yes!" says Zuko. He hates seeing her this way and he hates knowing that it's his fault. If she needed to see him she should have called him and he would have come to her. He's not worth risking pneumonia for. But he's angrier at himself for even starting this argument when what she really needs are dry clothes and a cup of hot tea.
"Fine," she hisses. "Message received."
Without uttering another word, Katara turns on her heal and marches back over to the door. Zuko stares at her, trying to take everything in, from her shivering body to the puddle she's left on the hardwood floor.
Fuck his family, fuck his pride, fuck her self-righteousness, and fuck the fucking pentapox medicine.
Katara's hand has already closed around the doorknob when Zuko springs into action. She's managed to open the door just a crack before his arm shoots out over her head and slams it shut again.
"I don't want you to leave," he says lowly, towering over her.
Katara whips back around and snarls up at him. "Well, it's not up to you!"
"I won't let you go back out there and freeze to death."
Zuko realizes belatedly that maybe that wasn't the best way to express his concern but he stands his ground.
"You won't let me?" Katara is practically seething now. "I don't need your permission."
"It's my apartment and it's my project." His face is inches away from hers. "Why am I not allowed any say in this?"
"Because you're not! You don't get to decide where I go. You don't get to decide what I write about. I'm a grown woman, Zuko. I don't care if this is your apartment or your project. You don't get to tell me what to do!"
But that's not what he's doing! He's not trying to tell her what to do anymore. He's trying to fix it. He's trying to make it better.
He growls and it's a deep animalistic growl that rumbles in his chest. He feels like a dragon. His anger is so raw and confusing and it's surging through his arms and his legs and he can't make her understand. He doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know how to express this… this fear, this panic. He's so bad at being good, and it's as if he's speaking another language. She just doesn't get it.
"Fucking A, Katara!" he roars. "Why can't you just shut up and let me take care of you?"
She inhales sharply, stunned and silenced by his outburst. She stares up at him for a long moment, and she's so beautiful and it makes his heart clench.
But he can see it now. In her eyes he sees that vulnerability. She fears rejection just as much as he does and she's just as unsure about the radioactive chemistry that's eating away at his better judgment.
"I don't need you to take care of me," she says stubbornly, still glowering.
"I know that," Zuko murmurs. "But I want to." His posture slackens and he backs away so his body is no longer crowding hers. "Please."
"I didn't just come here to talk about the article," says Katara, eyes fixed unblinkingly on his. "I'm here because I wanted to see you."
"I know," he repeats, just as gently as before, though her confession makes his heart skip a beat. He seriously considers kissing her and the thought is only slightly horrifying. "How does a hot shower sound?"
"Heavenly," she sighs. "I can't feel my toes."
"Let me show you where my bathroom is." Because he sure as hell isn't going to make her use Azula's.
There's a television screen in Zuko's shower. Katara has suspected for quite some time that Zuko is wealthy. Whenever they go out he insists on paying and then throws down his platinum card without even glancing at the bill. At first she thought that he was trying to impress her, but it is clear now that it's second nature to him. Zuko has obviously never had to worry about money.
The shower indeed manages to chase away the numbing cold but does nothing to relax her frayed nerves. Initially it had been Sozin Industries and pentapox that were making her head spin. Self-righteous indignation is an emotion she's more than comfortable experiencing and expressing. She wishes that it were anger that's making her heart beat a mile a minute. Anger is so much simpler than what she's feeling right now.
Katara knows that Zuko is going to insist that she spend the night. Soon the buses will have stopped running, and once the temperature drops another few degrees, the roads will be an icy deathtrap, making it unlikely that she'd be able to catch a cab. Zuko will be overcome with this manly protectiveness that Katara knows she should find irritating but doesn't. Then he'll say or do a dozen little things that will make her want to kiss him, and as soon as she can work up the resolve to go for it, he'll announce that it's bedtime and then stash her in a room with a door that locks from the outside.
It's not like she can't control herself. It's not like he's the first guy with sexy biceps and sexy hair and a sexy jaw to flash her a sexy smirk!
Katara learned the hard way not to expect much from men. Her first boyfriend, Jet, was the boy that parents warn their daughters to stay away from, but she had been in high school, and it is a well known fact that high school girls are especially vulnerable to bad boy charm. They broke up after almost a year of dating when she discovered that he had been cheating on her from day one, though this was probably a good thing. Jet would have wanted sex from Katara more frequently if he hadn't been getting it from other girls. Sex with Jet was tedious and often unpleasant, as he was selfish and inconsiderate by nature. Katara doesn't know she didn't leave him sooner.
Aang is the sweetest and most gentle boy she's ever met, and essentially the antithesis of Jet. After Jet broke her heart it was Aang who put it back together. But as wonderful and caring of a boyfriend Aang had been, and as much as she loved him, all of the hand-holding and chaste kisses left her bored and unsatisfied. This doesn't mean that she wasn't devastated when he broke things off with her. She loves him deeply, and when they had been together she came close to accepting that couples in functioning relationships aren't supposed to be driven wild.
Katara's friendship with Zuko is also rather platonic, yet it feels so much more… intimate. Aang didn't make sexual advances because he was simply uninterested in sex, whereas Zuko seems interested but unwilling to pursue it. The distance between them is calculated – he's always so careful not to touch her or even look at her for too long. And when he does look at her, he does so with such a strange intensity. Katara wonders if he notices how often he stares at her lips. Though Zuko hasn't even touched her, he still manages to make her feel more desired than Jet ever did.
Though sometimes she wishes that he didn't. She doesn't understand why he takes her to these romantic restaurants and spends the entire evening undressing her with his eyes when at the end of the night he's going to shake her hand and walk away. Is this some kind of Fire Nation courting ritual she's never heard of?
He doesn't have a girlfriend. Katara had Suki do a bit of investigating, and apparently he dated this high-class rich girl for a couple of years, but they broke up months ago. So if he's not some sort of love-shy virgin then what's his deal?
By now she's seen that he's a loner and doesn't socialize much, which is more than all right with her. Katara likes that she doesn't have to share him. She likes that he doesn't even acknowledge other girls, but for Katara he smiles. It's a small, reluctant smile, but it's still a smile. Maybe he's not completely inept.
Part of her is terrified that she's just imagining his attraction because she wants so badly for him to want her as much as she wants him. Katara hates the way he makes her doubt herself. Is it possible that Zuko, like many members of the Fire Nation elite, is prejudiced against the Water Tribe? He's never made her feel inferior – if anything, he puts her on a pedestal.
When Katara is with Zuko she feels special. He talks to her about her interests and actually listens when she speaks. Sometimes they have minor disagreements. Zuko is juts as opinioned as she is, but arguing with him is exhilarating. And if class is overwhelming and she doesn't feel like talking, or if he's too tired to keep up with her, they sit in a comfortable silence, simply enjoying each other's company.
She was legitimately shocked by how he reacted when she told him about the newspaper article. They rarely discuss the project and she was under the impression that he didn't actually care about it. She didn't expect him to flip out and she didn't even get the chance to tell him about Aang's email and the photographs. Though for now, those things can wait.
After her shower Katara takes her time towel drying her hair. Trying to tame the long wavy locks without the aid of a comb and her fancy conditioner is a challenge, but she's in no hurry to exit the safety of the bathroom.
Her clothes lay in a wet heap on the tile floor. Does Zuko expect her to just roll on out in a towel? The lack of dry clothing is obviously an oversight on his part. Katara knows that he has a sister who lives with him. Surely he will offer her something his sister's to borrow? Or something of his own? Regardless of who the clothes belong to, she's sure that the outfit will be shapeless and conservative. In the mean time she'll have to make due with his red terrycloth bathrobe.
The robe absolutely dwarfs her. On Zuko, the hem likely falls just shy of his knee, while on Katara's significantly smaller body, the robe covers half of her shins. She makes sure the belt is tied securely around her waist before she even considers emerging.
Filled with anxious excitement, Katara fishes for her cell phone buried somewhere under her wet jeans, and is grateful for the extra money she had shelled out for the waterproof case. She needed to let one of her roommates know that she doesn't plan on returning home anytime soon.
Me (7:30 PM): I don't think I'm going to make it home tonight so don't wait up.
Suki (7:33 PM): u at sokka's? tell him i got tickets to my kyoshi recital so hes got no excuse not to come this time!
Me (7:34 PM): I'm at Zuko's actually.
Suki (7:34 PM): … sex?
Me (7:35 PM): No! I'm just stranded here due to the inclement weather.
Suki (7:35 PM): uuuuhhhhhuuuhhhh…
Me (7:37 PM): I'm not saying that I'd be opposed to sleeping with him, but I just don't see it in the cards.
Suki (7:37 PM): yea ok.
Suki (7:39 PM): btw u hear back from aang?
Me (7:39 PM): Yeah.
Suki (7:41 PM): u ok?
Me (7:43 PM): I guess. I can forward you the email.
Suki (7:43 PM): look who's apartment you've run to
Me (7:45 PM): He makes me happy.
Suki (7:45 PM): ill say…
Me (7:50 PM): I want sex.
Suki (7:51 PM): use protection :D
Date: 20 November, 2012 5:33:50 PM
I would love for you and the gang to come visit me here in Jang Hui. I miss you all too. It's great that you're having fun with your little project. I'll admit that I'm surprised at your approach. I think it's important that you forgive Sozin Industries for what happened to your mother. You can't allow your emotions to cloud your judgment. Sozin's is responsible for the pentapox outbreak, and the pictures I've attached to this message will prove it. If you try to take down Sozin's you will fail. We don't need to destroy the company we just need to stop the dumping. You can't make this personal. If you condemn Sozin's actions and not attack the people behind them then you won't make enemies. That being said, it's not enough to just raise money to help buy medicine. People need to be informed. Should the sick have to suffer in silence? I know you'll do the right thing.
I never expected you to wait for me, but I won't lie, I wouldn't complain if you did. I can't make you happy and you deserve to be with someone who can. I care about you but I don't want you to miss out on love because of me.
Tell everyone I say hey!
AN: So this was a tad bit longer than usual, which I hope is alright with everyone. A reader asked if Toph is blind, and the answer is yes. Toph is blind but she has one of the speak/text features on her phone. If anything else is unclear please feel free to ask! Thanks to everyone who reviewed. I really cannot express how much joy they bring me to read. The next chapter is... more steamy... and is therefore more difficult to write. Reviews are motivating and this author could use all the motivation she can get! Thank you for reading!