AN: Hey me again. Obviously. I'd hope it wouldn't be anyone else but the guy this account belongs to. More story, more interspersed flashback. This'll be the last one before actual action happens in the present versus just the action in the past OH!
The flicker of a flame sparks, lighting up a low-grade cigarette in his mouth. Huffing and puffing on it a little bit before establishing the right amount of ember, the zippo lighter flips shut. It returns to the suit jacket pocket it was taken out of.
"Really Sokka?" Katara asks.
Sokka doesn't glance over at Katara seated across the table from him. She's wearing her usual water tribe garments. Of all the people who haven't escaped the standard and mixed in the other nation's form of attire, Katara is certainly the one that surprises him the most.
"Sokka, please, we just need to talk about this thing with Sato and we'll be good to go," Aang says.
He's seated to Katara's left. Unsurprisingly, he also hasn't adapted to the times, keeping to his old airbending robes.
Instead of dignifying them with an answer, Sokka takes out the cigarette, blowing out some smoke into the air. He reaches into his suit jacket, pulling out a piece of parchment and setting it on the table.
"Here's the contract Hiroshi gave to me the other day. I've looked it over three times before signing it. I also ran some numbers and unless he turns out to be some evil overlord intent on taking over the city, he will help establish some jobs as well as stabilize the flow of money you guys have been weeding through," he says.
Katara is the first to grab the contract. As Sokka places the cigarette back in his mouth, his eyes look towards her. Aang joins her, his right hand on her shoulder as he peers over her at the contract. Both of their eyes fiddle across the page, quickly reading through the damn thing. Sokka leans back in his chair, using the table as a stabilizer so he doesn't fall to the marble floor like a moron…again.
Katara offers the contract to Aang, who takes it. He starts to pace around on his side, actually putting effort into reading the parchment. Katara leans forward, both hands face down on the table. Yue dammit…
"You didn't think that maybe we'd want to talk about the terms of his contract before signing it?" she asks.
With a roll of his eyes, Sokka lets the chair fall even to the floor. He turns his head to his sister, giving her his full attention, barring the piece of tobacco hanging out of his mouth.
"If you want to give it another read, fine. Hell, have Toph take a look at it. I'm sure she'll be willing to, you know, actually have money for the things you guys want to do," he says.
To his right, Toph merely shrugs her shoulders. Her arms are across her chest and she's wearing her standard police captain's armor. She doesn't need to but she says it helps build the image. As if being a blind earthbender who can kick anyone's ass just by shifting a heel isn't enough of an image…
"He's not wrong. Well…on that last part, anyway," Toph says
"Look, I understand that we've been…overly ambitious about what we want to do with the city, but you're basing all of this on the idea that, one, Mr. Sato's inventions actually work, and two, that citizens will actually want to buy them," Katara says.
Sokka shakes his head, taking the cigarette out of his mouth long enough to blow some smoke up towards the ceiling. Using that same hand's thumb, he scratches his forehead, getting some of his bangs away from his eyes.
"Have some faith. Not every fat cat with their parents' investment is in it for himself. Have you ever thought about the benefits or are you just shooting this down to get back at me?" he asks.
"Well I don't know, Sokka, maybe if we actually talked about this like we're supposed to instead of having a meeting with him and then signing his contract behind our backs, we'd be able to think about it together," Katara says.
She pauses after that. Sokka puts the cigarette back in his mouth, continuing to inhale the supposedly toxic fumes into his lungs.
Aang stops pacing, glancing over at his girlfriend.
It takes Katara a few more moments to fully take in what Sokka said.
"Believe it or not, Sokka, the idea that you were sleeping with a former enemy is the last thing on my mind. In fact, I'd rather we get over that little lapse of judgment on your part and get back to the important things…like running this city," she says.
Sokka bites down on the cigarette. It doesn't break through, but it's enough for some of the tobacco to escape from its wrapping. His eyes locate Katara's, the two of them locking eyes. This is nothing new for siblings, let alone these two siblings. But perhaps for the first time, the brother's eyes truly convey legitimate anger at the sister.
"Watch it," Sokka says.
"Watch what? Talking about you having sex with that…harpy? Let alone behind everybody's back. Not to mention that it cost you plenty of your own money," Katara says.
"Yeah…my money. Not the money we secured from the other nation's leaders and private investors to start this project in the first place. The money that—as I stated the other day—you've managed to dwindle down to a quarter of what we had. I'm sorry if I'm more intent on getting out of this pipe dream than I am letting it go down the drain."
Aang places the contract on the table. He puts his hand on Katara's shoulder once more.
"Katara…" he says.
Katara brushes it off, standing up out of her chair. She stares over at her brother, the smoke from the cigarette rising up into the air. Aang leans back in surprise. Ever the pacifist, even in romantic relationships.
"Is that all this is to you? A project? A pipe dream? All of us agreed to make this a reality. This wasn't something we stumbled upon one day and just threw ourselves into it blindly, no offense Toph," Katara says.
Toph shrugs once more, not removing her arms from across her chest. If anything, they've grown tighter.
"From Suki to Zuko to Ty Lee to Mai to you, we all agreed that we'd put everything we have into this. I'm sorry that building a waterbending hospital cost us so much money. I'm sorry that the Air Island premises took out more than we wanted. I'm sorry that Toph wanted a better headquarters for her police. I'm sorry that we managed to spend the money we collected towards advancing the city. But you know what Sokka? At least we've been doing something to make this dream a reality. All you've done is fuck a slut who you can't even trust."
Sokka's jaw clenches. The cigarette falls to the floor below. All that's heard in the stadium of a chamber is Katara's panting. Toph and Aang's eyes are wide. Toph looks over between Katara and Sokka, not sure which sibling is going to crack first. Aang wraps his arms around Katara, pulling her back a bit. Katara breaks out of the gaze with her brother, leaning back and standing up straight.
Sokka looks to his left, spitting what remains of the cigarette to the floor. He looks up at his sister once again.
"Hey Aang…give me that contract," Sokka says.
"Sokka…" Toph starts to say.
Aang slowly removes his hands from Katara's shoulders. He leans over the desk, placing a hand on the contract. He looks at it a bit more, rereading it perhaps to make sure of something. Sokka, however, will have none of it.
"Aang," is all he says.
It was the way he said it that brought Aang's attention back to the water tribesman. He looks into his comrade's eyes, trying to read them and predict what he's planning.
Either finding nothing worthwhile or failing to find anything, Aang slides the contract over to Sokka.
Once it's in front of him, he rips it from the table. Aang barely has time to lean back before the zippo lighter returns from Sokka's suit jacket.
"Sokka!" Toph says again.
Not allowing her to intercede, Sokka pops the top of the lighter. With one movement of the thumb, the blue flame rises out. It hits the contract. Katara and Aang notice too late, the flame having reached the middle of the paper before Sokka throws it back on the table.
"What the hell Sokka?" Katara squawks.
Funny, she's almost indignant. Good.
Sokka places the cap for the zippo back over the flame. He puts it back in his pocket. He stands up out of his chair, causing Toph to do so as well. Sokka looks over at her briefly, moving his right hand just a bit. This calms Toph down enough to lower her hands. Sokka moves his eyes back to Katara, who finishes putting out the fire. All that remains of the solution he had is a charred corner. Flimsy in her hands and already wanting to ride the nearest breeze.
"You think I haven't done anything for this city? Fine. I have a meeting with Hiroshi at one o'clock at his house. We were going to discuss the terms in that contract and how we were going to go about starting it, but since you think that doesn't mean anything, than how about you show up instead? Maybe try and renegotiate with it to get another contract. Or you can ask Zuko for some more money, I'm sure the two of you have gotten real close with all those messages you've been sending him," Sokka says.
Aang looks over at Katara, who responds by folding her arms across her chest.
"We've been discussing—"
"I don't care if you were discussing the size of Aang's dick!" Sokka exclaims.
This causes his three other companions' eyes to widen, as well as some blood to rush to their cheeks. In Aang's case it's more than 'some'. It'd be funny if Sokka wasn't focused on his sister.
"You want to find a solution? Fine. I'm giving you two weeks by yourselves. Hire a replacement, bring in a temporary solution, or hell, maybe you can convince Hiroshi that he can sacrifice half ownership of his company to benefit the city. Considering how much of a roll you've been on lately I doubt you could convince all of those names you dropped to come back, let alone lead this city behind the scenes.
"You think I don't do anything? Prove it. Run this shit while I take a holiday and see how long it lasts. All my paperwork is on my desk as well as the appointments I have to meet in the meantime. I can guarantee you're going to crack within the first three days."
"Don't worry Katara, I'll hel—" Aang starts to say.
"No, Aang. Don't coddle her. Let her realize how wrong she is," Sokka says.
Katara lets the contract's remnants fall to the table. Taking a deep breath in and a deep breath out, Katara's eyes harden once more.
"Okay, fine, take your vacation. I'm assuming if we need you you'll be in the Fire Nation?" Katara asks.
"You know me so well sis," Sokka says.
He reaches into his pocket, pulling out the lighter and the pack of cigarettes. Using the table, he makes one cigarette pop out. Bringing it to his mouth, he takes it between his teeth. After going through the process of lighting the cigarette and putting the lighter and pack back in his pocket, he resumes speaking.
"At least I'll actually have a fucking say in the matter," he says, muffled by the cigarette between his lips.
Sokka turns towards the entrance, his footsteps echoing throughout the chamber, providing more sound to it than there has been in the last three minutes.
After the doors to the room behind him close, Sokka takes the cigarette out of his mouth. He throws it to the floor of the hall, using his boot to stomp it out. A receptionist notices this, raising an eyebrow.
"Everything alright sir?" she asks.
Sokka turns to her, his face enough to cause her regret for asking.
"Yeah, actually there is. All my appointments and calls for the next two weeks are to be given to Katara. If anybody wants to set up a meeting with me afterwards, let my sister handle it. Good day, Joo Dee," Sokka says.
He moves towards the wide array of stairs leading up to the higher levels of the building. As he approaches the bottom rung, he hears the chamber door behind him burst open. He doesn't stop as the figure takes the turn towards his direction.
Rolling his eyes, he stops at the top of the stairwell. He can see Toph approaching, her arms wide open.
"What the hell was that?" she asks.
Sokka shakes his head, continuing his trek up the steps of the building. Toph follows him despite his desire for otherwise.
"A vacation, Toph. I'm tired of listening to all of your unrealistic desires only to be told to do better. What do you think that contract was? A pity paper? A favor? Seriously, does she not know how politics work?" Sokka asks.
"Not as well as you do. You do realize this isn't her forte, right? How impossible the challenge you gave her was?" Toph asks back.
"Absolutely. And when she fails to keep-up, she'll realize how wrong she is. It's standard sibling attitude," Sokka says.
The two of them reach the highest level. Sokka moves himself right towards the door to his room. As he starts to open it, Toph's hand stops him, shoving the door closed and blocking his path.
"That sure as hell wasn't sibling attitude. The last time you were that pissed was when, well…the Princess threatened you with Suki down in the palace tunnels. That's…" Toph says.
Sokka tries to open the door again while she's distracted, but Toph slams it shut once more.
"That's what this is about, isn't it? You're going after her," she says.
"No shit. Why the hell else would I go to the Fire Nation? Zuko's fine to hang out with, but do you think I really want to see Suki so soon? No…I…I…" Sokka says.
He lets out a sigh, lowering his hand from the door. He turns around, kneeling his back against the entrance to his room. Sokka pinches his forehead together in an attempt to alleviate some pressure.
"Yes, okay? I'm just…so tired of fighting. I don't want to let go or give in, let alone let go and give up. This thing with Azula…I don't know what it is, but it sure as shit isn't just a fling or some kind of platonic benefit…thing. This is…god, I don't wanna say it but I think it is," he says.
"Wow…been a while since I've seen you this bad at speaking. Last time you were this messed up was, well…"
"With you," he finishes.
"Yeah…" Toph looks down.
She made it awkward again. Dammit.
Toph shakes her head, looking up at him.
"Well…that says more about what you're feeling than that cobbled together mess of words could, at least. You might not want to say it but it sure as shit looks like it," Toph says. "My biggest worry? You've never done anything this irrational. Since the war you've always thought things through, whether it be Pai Sho or helping the city. Hell, you spend so long deciding on where to eat that we all just leave without you sometimes."
Toph pauses for a bit, letting her words sink into Sokka's brain. He closes his eyes, allowing his shoulders to briefly relax.
"Look, my point is that this is so unlike you that I'm worried. Not only for you but for what this will mean going forward. I'd prefer not to take sides when it comes to you two. Unknown knows getting that's asking for trouble. Only thing worse than that is getting between Sparky and Princess. I mean…that was basically a front of the war," Toph says. "You and Katara fight, I get it, you're related, it's going to happen. But that? That was a new level for you. Does she really mean so much to you that you'd throw this on your sister without thinking about it? Especially when you know she's going to fail?"
Sokka sighs, looking down towards the floor. He shakes his head.
"Yes. I…I might not know a lot of things…about what this is, but I…I know that it's—"
"If you say surefire I'm going to bend a hole in your bathroom wall," Toph says.
Sokka actually lets out a chuckle. He straightens himself out, turning towards her fully.
"Sorry, but…yeah. God it's fucked up, isn't it? My first girlfriend became the moon, my next one left because I was too focused on work, my third one left because of workplace issues, and now this one? I…I can't keep doing this. I…I think this is it, Toph."
"Normally I'd say confiding in one of those ex-girlfriends about that wouldn't be a good idea, but yeah…this is really fuckin you up. Even I didn't get that reaction with you as much as I tried," Toph says.
With an exhale of breath from Toph, she crosses her arms over her chest.
"Alright. I'll do what I can to help her without actively doing the job for her, but you better apologize when you get back. Dealing with the Sugar Queen happy is enough. You throw in a grudge and you and I both know she's impossible," she says.
"Thanks Toph. I'll make it up to you," he says.
Seeing an opportunity, Toph grips Sokka's shoulder with her right hand. The ironclad grip is what causes Sokka's eyes to widen.
"Good, cause you get to be on baby duty for a month," she says.
Sokka begins to laugh. Despite his attempts, it's not fooling either of them.
Her long black hair falls in front of her face. The white cotton bath robe this cheap hotel provides is all that covers her otherwise bare skin. She chews on her well-manicured thumb, pacing back and forth in front of the dirty and noisy bed.
She hears yelling. She can't pinpoint the words despite the paper thin walls, but she knows the voices.
She looks to the window, its blinds open, letting only the brief amount of moonlight through. It's more than enough to cast the worry on her face.
Well, worry…and fear.
As she starts another lap of pacing, she hears footsteps approach the room. She bites on her thumbnail, breaking it in half in her mouth.
The door opens…and Sokka steps through.
As he slams the door shut, she opens her arms. He approaches, capturing her in his embrace and pressing their lips together. Sokka moves his hands up to clutch her face. They deepen the kiss, allowing the two to refuse air for another few moments.
All too soon, he pulls back. They breathe on the other, letting their desire be known. She opens her eyes, looking at Sokka's own.
The two continue to stare at each other. Sokka is the first to break their silence.
"My sister says you can stay here until she can contact Zuko. He'll be arriving here to help judge what to do with you. Despite my insistence, apparently you need to be judged. I don't want to worry you with the details, but…Katara's assuming the worst," Sokka says.
She looks down to the floor, a few droplets beginning to form in the corners of her eyes.
Sokka lets go of her face. He grabs her hands, bringing them up towards his lips, giving them a few kisses for good measure.
"Azula. I will fight for this. For you. Trust me when I say that I will do whatever I can to assure the best outcome out of this. Even if…even if it means ending this," he says.
"I…I know. We both knew this wouldn't last. I just wish it could have lasted a little bit longer," she says.
Sokka places his forehead against hers, bringing her hands closer.
"No matter what happens, I promise you, Azula that I will fight for this, for us. They don't know you like I do. They'll assume the worst and you'll be put in front of them to be scrutinized. I want you to know that I will be there through it all, okay? Please…tell me you understand," Sokka says
She looks up at him. Through her own watery eyes she can make out the own tears forming on his face.
"Yes. I understand," Azula says.
He captures her in another kiss, allowing the moments to last for as long as they can.
He starts to think about the future, using this kiss as an opportunity to let their emotions be known to each other. This might be the last time they ever share these types of things. If this really is it, than she will know how he feels.
She starts to think about him. How he's been there for her for the past year when nobody else was. He's helped her recover. He's helped her realize there is more than revenge, than anger, than rage. There's more to her than being Fire Lord. If it wasn't for him, she'd never understand what it means to share moments with somebody, moments that nobody else can share.
A knock on the door breaks their thoughts. They release their lips. They share one last look into each other's eyes before he lets go.
She watches him open the door and leave. She doesn't notice the glare his sister gives him as the door shuts.
All she notices are the tears hazing her eyesight.
AN: So it begins and so it ends. Time passes are the cusp of this story so expect them to make up a lot of the remaining chapters. As much I would like to, I really can't dedicate myself to a long-running story right now. I'm not Coeur and this isn't Gladiator (those are unrelated references).