The One Where I Accidentally Walked into Your Drug Den
Muttering angrily, Katara opened the door at the end of the alleyway.
"This had better be a damn fine dance club-"
It was not, in fact, a dance club. Katara had opened the door to a room lit only by the lamp on the desk with a few bookshelves about the walls. A young man sat behind the desk, pen in hand, his gold eyes narrowed at her.
"What are you doing here?" he growled.
"I- I was looking for- My brother told me about this dance club at the end of an alleyway, and this one matched the directions he gave me, but I mean, I might have gotten lost."
The man stood up, and Katara swallowed thickly. The dim light made him all the more menacing. Now, reaching his full height, Katara could see the taunt muscles straining against the shirt and suit jacket. She inadvertently bit her lip, before the lamp flickered, throwing shadows across the scar that dominates half his face.
She takes a step back.
The man crosses from around his desk - oh god he's thrown into silhouette but his eyes are practically glowing - and crosses his arms as he regards her, drawing her eyes away from the bags of white power piled on his desk.
"Only 'might.' This only 'might' not be a dance club. You get through the men guarding the place and what? They're aggressive bouncers?"
"Hold on! There was no one outside at all. Maybe you ought to-"
He's suddenly two steps forward, hands roughly on her shoulders, shaking her. "There was no one outside? At all? You didn't see anyone?"
"I saw no one I swear!"
He lets out a string of curses so foul; Katara opens her mouth to reprimand him before she remembers she has no authority. Just as that has finally sunk in, the man has shoved the two of them into a door painted to blend into the wall in the dim light. He uses so much force, the jacket ripples back and she sees the pistols tucked on either side of his ribs.
He shuts the door behind them and throws on the lights, revealing a small room with enforced steel on all sides and small circle on the floor. Oh, and an improbable amount of guns.
"No one knows about this room. If you tell-" A pistol off the wall was swiftly aimed at her forehead. "I will kill you. Now lift up the plate in the middle of the room. It leads to a sewer. Follow the red chalk marks out."
He whirls on her from loading the empty threat he'd brandished at her. "My sister is coming to kill me. I'd like you to leave before she arrives, as she plays with her food before she eats it. Now go or I'll kill you myself."
He turns back to his work in a huff, but Katara straightens. "Then why didn't you kill me when I walked in? I know you already were armed."
The light in this room is good, so Katara can instantly see when he blushes bright red. She's in an impossible, improbably, deadly situation but he likes her. She picks up a pistol from the wall and turns it over in her hands.
"Don't touch that!" He lunges at her, freezing when she brings the weapon up to bear and point dead on his chest. Her feet have slipped into a defensive and steady stance and her hands don't shake as she stares at him. He's wide-eyed, panic already setting in from attacks on two sides.
"Too many people in my life are cops-" His eyes are almost all whites now. "-so I know how to handle a gun. I could shoot you, but then I'm left with a dead body and your sister on the way. Besides. You've clearly done everything to protect me instead of the easy contrary. So grab your guns. Your sister is expecting you to be defenseless and unsuspecting. You've got yourself an Academy trained ally and a very dim room."
"You're not a cop," he asks, taking a step back as tension releases, though it seems more like a statement.
"Oh no. I'm a med student. Daughter of a cop, so self-defense was mandatory. We should spar sometime." He looks at her like she's crazy as she lowers the gun. "Come on. Your sister monologues, right? Figures. You said she likes to play with her food so don't act like I made a groundbreaking prediction. So just sit at your desk. I'll take out her support, and you deal with the family business."
He starts muttering again as she shoves him back into the original room. "Your compliance means I've got a good plan, or there is no good plan and I've just got the best."
She slips into a corner, shielded by the bookshelves that are not up against the wall - seriously, only someone expecting to take cover in his own office does that - as he sits. When he looks up, he meets her eyes instantly. She wonders, briefly, how exactly he manages to so deeply unsettle her when the door bangs open.
An impeccably dressed woman walks in with two men flanking her. The man starts to rise, but his sister cuts him off. "Kill him."
Instead, Katara fires her gun twice, and the bodyguards dropped with holes in their chests. If the stranger was perturbed at all, she didn't show it as she lunged for the man, wrist flicked as a knife flew from it.
He dodges, and the knife sticks itself into the wall behind him. Katara sees his face twist in dismay, mouth "Mai," and he freezes as his sister brings her arm up to throw again.
She doesn't, of course. The knife tumbles from her fingers as she twists in pain, shoulder blossoming red with a bullet from Katara. The stranger wheels on her, a manic gleam in her eye.
"What a little treasure you've hid-"
She lunges for Katara, but the man is suddenly standing over his sister, one hand pressing on her wounded shoulder to force her to her knees. His other arm wraps around her mouth, and he holds her flailing body steady until her eyes roll up and she collapses.
Katara eyes the moving lungs. "You didn't kill her."
"She's my sister."
"She tried to kill you."
"She's my sister. I wonder if you could do it were you in my place," he retorted, eyes like fire.
Katara tries to imagine Sokka wanting to kill her and can't. She tries to imagine killing Sokka, and can't. In response, she settles for offering him the pistol.
"Keep it. No one can trace it anyway."
"You're offering the daughter of Hakoda South an unregistered firearm under the impression this is the first time she's killed a man?"
His expression goes wonky when she mentions her father's name, like someone gave him sea prunes when he was expecting fire flakes. He relaxes, resembles a professional in order to reply, "Self-defense was mandatory indeed. Keep it all the same. I have no use for it."
"What will you do with these two?"
She's surprised at how calm she is. Perhaps she's crossed some moral event horizon. But they're in each other's debt, and it's too much of a mess right now to sort out who is more in debt to who. She does flinch when he takes the knife from the wall and stabs it into one of the bodyguard's neck.
"Clearly, my sister and I were having a discussion about our differences, guards dismissed so we were on even footing, when these two burst in intending to take out both of my father's heirs. My sister was shot, but struck one of them on the neck. The force spun him around so I shot him, and killed the other when he turned to run. My father might hate me, but he won't let my sister get away with a failed assassination attempt."
"You're father can't hate you; he's your-"
The words died in her throat as he looked at her, turned so she had a good look at his scar.
Katara no longer wondered how he got it.
"You should go, anyway. Your time here is up." He stands at his desk, arms crossed, the way he did before dragging her into the side room. It's final, dismissing, but Katara wants to grab him by the hand and take him far away, keep him forever. She'll be a doctor soon; she'll be able to afford a kept man.
But Katara just nods and moves to the door. "See you later," she offers.
He nods curtly. "See you later," he replies, in a voice more suited to a sad, "No, you won't."
It's three weeks later, and Katara is working one of her last shifts at the coffee shop before residency starts when there's a loud noise from outside. Something feels wrong, but she doesn't know what until someone bursts in yelling about an explosion that took out a whole building.
She calls her dad on her break. It's still an open investigation, but he claims it's just a simple gas line malfunction.
Then Ozai Sozin is arrested for murder and drug trafficking, and rumors spread like wildfire.
As does the news that Zuko Sozin is dead.
Turns out that once he got wind of his father's illegal dealings, the heir to the Sozin fortune immediately began gathering data and squirreling it away. He even spent the last six months as his father's bookkeeper, only to drop off all the records of drug deals - and contacts - at the police office this morning and then vanish. The cops had gone nuts trying to find him as they gathered warrants.
That's when the hit when out on Zuko. His father's men demolished his office in an building. Teams were still sorting through the rubble, and there was no body yet. Based on the small size of the room and the amount of explosives, some doubted a body would ever be found, especially as Sozin's men could have seized the body, too.
Katara spends the rest of her day in a bit of daze, caught in questions that have no easy answer. She autopilots her way through the final orders, shooing people out the door, and starting to clean up.
The bell above the door chimes.
She turns to see a young man in jeans and a hoodie that he does not look comfortable in. His hands are shoved in his pockets as he stares at her with bright gold eyes.
There's an overhead light shining right on his scarred face.
He shuffles his feet, before smiling tentatively and offering a clearly strong hand to her. "Hi. My name is Zuko."
"Hi, Zuko; I'm Katara." She takes his hand happily. "How can I help you?"