SUPRISE. A fun birthday ATLA for my fun, awesome ET of a friend, Keke known as blubbergumm over on Tumblr. Sequel to the last birthday, Better Safe than Sorry
A Friendly Chat
There was something very, very wrong with this picture.
Katara felt like she was in one of those kiddie computer games, like something from Dora the Explorer, where the kids were shown several things and asked to locate the much-needed item. Or, in this case, it would be more so figuring out which of the items didn't belong.
She was at the mall on a late Saturday morning, sitting at one of the booths at the mall's food court, near her favorite bubble tea place with her favorite order right in front of her.
That wasn't the unusual part. This was a typical day and setting for her, including her favorite Cocoa Cream Wow that Toph liked to brag to anyone without and out of hearing range that she could polish off ten large suckers of those, no problem.
"How you manage to squeeze into those pinky ballerina tights while chugging for those suckers down is beyond me, princess." Toph joked before she was kicked in the shin. Either by Katara or someone else, a non-devious friend that was kind enough to do the deed for her.
So the setting wasn't the problem. Well the fact she had only taken a few sips of her drink instead of inhaling the thing halfway by now was alarming. She wouldn't lie. But that tied to the real problem.
The person seated across from her, jet-black hair set in its perfect, tight bun with two lone strands framed by painfully pretty her face, pale skin that was so unfairly flawless and smooth, and golden eyes sharp in calculation that narrowed at Katara's frown and straw fidgeting.
"Honestly," Azula scoffed, breaking the awkward silence that hung between them for the past thirty minutes. "For God's sake, it's not poisoned."
Katara put down her straw, her frown deepening. "You can't blame me for worrying." Especially since the girl shared and relished in the idea more times than she can count.
As if she could read her thoughts, that signature smirk knew to erupt frustration and make small creatures cower in fear spread across her face. "I assure you, peasant, if I wanted to do away with you, I can think of ten other ways to get the job done. Fun ways. Well," Head cocked to the side, she shrugged. "At least to me."
Of course. Katara rolled her eyes.
"Not to mention I definitely wouldn't do it in such a public setting. Last thing I need is dozens of witnesses ruining my fun."
If that was meant to be comforting, it had the opposite effect Azula wanted. Then again, knowing her, that was probably the exact effect she was aiming for.
"So is there a reasons you decided to kidnap me?" Katara asked.
Azula rolled her eyes, stirring the irritation building inside Katara. "I see the dramatic flairs definitely run in the family. You're exaggerating. It wasn't a kidnapping."
"Really? What would you call dragging me here against my will? Sending your goons after me?" Because that's exactly how Katara would describe it.
After all how would one explain getting their well-deserved Saturday oversleeping interrupted by the loud, frantic knocking? Being greeted by two stone-faced goons dressed in all black from their shades that masked their faces to shoes outside her door who barged in, dragged her from bed, and forced her into clothes, despite her protesting? Then after being dressed and lugged around like rag doll, getting dragged five miles to the mall, plopped down (hard) at the booth where Azula waited for her with a smirk and two orders of her bubble tea?
Azula shrugged, stirring her tea with a straw. "Decided it was time for a chat."
A-what? Katara resisted the urge to rub her ears and check that all the dragging hadn't messed with her hearing.
The two had known each other for years since their brothers met in third grade and became fast, close friends, forcing the two families together to become better-acquainted. Katara and Azula were close in age and shared tons of classes over the years that a friendship could have happened between them. Not that Katara hadn't attempted inviting the other girl to countless playdates to get refusals and sneers in return. Issue was they were complete opposites, the kind that would sooner combust than peacefully blend. And the fact Azula was a conniving, evil, twisted snake she wanted to behead on a daily basis didn't help with the friendship thing. Along with the fact Azula saw her as simple-minded peasant not worth her time.
On one hand Katara can count the number of times they chatted-most of them forced circumstances due to school or her parents. None which ended pleasantly. "And why may I ask?"
"Several reasons," Azula said. "Number one being since you're now Tonsil hockeying my brother, I figured it was time we chatted."
Of course Azula would use the most embarrassing phase for kissing making it sound dirtier than it should be, just to make Katara squirm. And of course she would say at the exact moment Katara took another sip of her Cocoa Cream Wow, sending her into a near choking fit.
"I don't-' She was interrupted by a cough. "I don't…" Dear god, it was like her throat was closing in on her. Katara sucked in a deep breath and held it, letting it out slowly when she was calm. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Azula raised a sharp eyebrow. A friendly food seller plopped down a water bottle in front of her. Katara ignored Azula in favor of relishing her sore throat, nearly finishing it off in several gulps.
"Aren't you just a fish out of water?" Azula cooed, distaste and entertainment dripping from her voice.
"And aren't you just a nasty viper?" Katara smiled sweetly.
Ignoring the comment, Azula folded her hands under her chin and leaned forward. "I find it adorable that with all the time you and your brother spend at our house, you seem to forget we're neighbors."
"Sure, with your house in front and ours at the end of the road," Katara clarified. "With four houses in between us."
Azula smirked as she hummed under her breath. "I at the front, you at the back. Seems fitting."
It took everything Katara had to put her smile on and not stab Azula in the eye with her straw. "Well, that's one way of looking at it. Or some could flip that around with your front as the opening act and me and my end as the grand finale."
Glee spread through her at the irritation blazing through those smirking eyes. Katara 2, Azula 0.
"Point," Azula said. "Is that you and my brother seem to forget that my bedroom window is directly above our driveway, where I get a front row seat to all the entertainment that goes on below. Including some very interesting face-sucking, frantic-groping pre-procreation ritual I saw happening in Zuzu's Lexus just the other day. Tuesday I think it was."
She couldn't believe she was dragged out of bed, harassed, and dragged against her will just hear Azula slip into another one of her riddles. Seriously, this was craz-
Tuesday. She said Tuesday. Tuesday which was when...
Katara's stomach dropped all the way down to her feet, crashing through the soles, right into the mall's basement.
Zuko managed to find time between fencing classes, Tai chi, and pulling double shifts at his uncle's tea shop to pick her up from a late dance class. To be fair since they were in the midst of midterms and busy with their after-school activities, him with his and her with dancing, it had been nearly forever since they had time together. Even longer since they'd been alone without Sokka hovering over them. So one innocent peck turned into a thorough goodnight kiss. One kiss expanded to five minutes of deep kisses and teasing touches. Then five more, five more after that, then five more afterwards.
Until Katara pulled herself away from Zuko's lips to check on the time, shocked to find it was a quarter to two. In. The. Morning. She scrambled pulling up her leotard that was down to her waist, searching for her sweater and her sports bra, racing home.
To know that someone was watching them that whole time; that Azula was watching them…
"It's a miracle I actually manage to see something with all those fogged-up windows."
Dear God. Groaning, Katara sank into her seat and covered her flustered face.
"Be graceful, peasant, it was me watching and not Mai," Azula said. "I can guarantee that you'd find a dozen knives pinned into your skull."
Mai, Azula's silent but deadly friend, who was so unfazed by it was hard to believe she cared much about anything. Much less had a huge crush on Zuko that darkened to icy rage when Zuko and Katara were found hand-in-hand, pressed close at the mall, a subtle but clear message they were together. In which Katara gained a subtle but clear enemy wanting her head.
"Well she-and you-can mind your own business. Zuko is free to date anyone he wants."
Azula shrugged. "Maybe so," Her eyes examined Katara from her bed-messy, sloppy ponytail (she fought the urge not to touch her hair), her BT21 CHIMMY sweatshirt with the cute animal grinning from Katara's chest. "Still, you can't help but question his taste. Or his sanity."
Especially if he picked someone like you. The unspoken words were heavy in the air.
Anger surged through Katara, hot and fierce. An ache itched her fists, an ache to take her straw, take the napkin box, and throw them into Azula's smug face. However she was better than that. Not to mention the last thing anyone, least of all her dad, needed was for her to be arrested for assault. So she took in a deep breath and said, "Funny. I was thinking the same thing about Ty Lee and her questionable tastes."
The dark laughter in Azula's eyes died down as they flashed dangerously. Katara coolly glared back at her, refusing to back down. If she wanted to play dirty, then Katara had no problems letting her jabs hit below the belt.
"Careful." Azula bit, breaking the word into two syllables, laced with pending danger.
"Right. Back. At. You."
Two scowled at another, jaws clenched, lips tight, hands curled so tightly their knuckles paled. From the corner of her eye, Katara noticed a few people eyeing them warily, bracing themselves for a possible fight. For both their sakes, she decided to break the glaring match.
She stirred her cup, mourning the little amount of Cocoa Cream she had left. "So why did you want to meet up?"
Azula scoffed, leaning against her chair, folding her arms. "Isn't it obvious? I came to tell you that I am aware, for reasons I cannot fathom nor care to indulge in, despite your poor attempts of covering up your relationship-"
"We are not covering anything up!" At least not from everyone-everyone. Only Sokka, who was a harmless goofball fifty percent of the time and a crazily, overbearingly protective sixty percent of the time. The same Sokka who threatened to beat up any guy who made her cry, and then bury his corpse if he showed the slightest interest in her. The very same Sokka who reacted just the way she and Zuko predicted when he found out (and saw for himself) that his best friend and baby sister were together.
Once again Azula went on as if she hadn't heard a word. "I know you two are together. Perhaps it was inevitable. After all who doesn't love a good friends-to-lovers story?"
Katara's eyes widened, stunned. That was the first time in years Azula said something that wasn't entirely an insult.
"Unless you're me that is and find it downright nauseating."
And there was she. Katara should have known it was too good to be true.
She excused herself from the table to get herself another bubble tea. Then some chicken and shrimp teriyaki from Sarku Japan for her empty stomach that reminded her she hadn't eaten lunch yet. As she waited in line, she wondered how high her chances were to slip out before Azula noticed she was gone.
A quick glance where she noticed goon one standing beside the line, eyes locked on her, and goon two posted by two of the closest exit routes confirmed her chances were low.
Withholding another groan, Katara had no choice to return to her table. She wasn't too surprised to see two trays of sushi laid out in front of Azula and her own plate of chicken teriyaki in between the trays. Goon two must have gotten it for her while Katara was waiting in line. She was surprised when Azula passed over one of the sushi trays without batting an eye.
"Thanks," Katara managed, although it sounded more like a question.
Azula paid no mind and eat her lunch. Katara did the same, letting the sweet taste of chicken, shrimp, and fried rice take her mind away from the tense conversation. When a portion of her plate was gone, Katara looked up to Azula watching her.
"So," Katara put down her fork and wiped her mouth. "Did you bring me here just to say you know about me and your brother just too…what? Blackmail us?"
Azula rolled her eyes so hard, Katara could feel those muscles working overtime. "You think too highly of yourself."
"And you don't?"
"If I wanted to do something that basic, I wouldn't waste a Saturday doing it." She looked down at her nails. "Not to mention I already have several things over ZuZu's head. Your relationship is too boring for leverage."
Well that was almost a relief. Katara and Zuko had been so busy worrying about Sokka and his reaction to the news that there wasn't much room to wonder about Azula's. Katara was sure her reaction would be immediate demand for breakup, but so far she had been pretty neutral. Infuriating but still neutral.
"So why the summons?"
"Three reasons. First off, this." A snap of her fingers and one of the goons jumped from behind, nearly giving Katara a heart attack to place a large silver box wrapped in blue ribbon in front of her. Azula pushed the box towards her.
Katara glanced over at the goon, who was gone before she was halfway turn, then over at the Azula who nodded towards the box. She slowly undid the box and uncovered the box, as if there was a bomb ticking away. A peek inside revealed no bomb but something was just alarming, causing Katara to jump back in her seat, heart in throat, hand over chest.
Pills. Birth control pills. Piled in huge orange medicine bottles. Not one, not two, not three but five. Five huge bottles that could last her half a decade. Along with condoms, condoms, condoms. OF all sizes, all types, in all colors. So many of them packed in that some tumbled from the box, spilling near her food.
"What the-how did-" Katara stammered. "Did you raid a pharmacy?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Azula waved away the comment with a dismissive flip of her hand. "I only snagged a few."
Katara nearly choked on a stammering breath. A few? This was a few? She hated to know what was Azula's definition of a lot. Probably raiding a store's entire stock.
"Although I did stop by Rite Aid to pick up the birth control. Your welcome by the way."
"Don't you need a prescription for that?"
"I snagged a copy of your medical records."
She wasn't even going to question how or comment on the many, many levels of wrongness that statement was.
Azula raised an eyebrow. "Any other questions?"
"Just one. Why?"
Azula's brow rose higher. "I'm sorry, do you wish to be carrying a baby at graduation?"
"Of course not-"
"Because I assure you, the outcome will not be pleasant. My mother will be beside herself. My jolly, old uncle have a stroke. I'll be ill in every sense of the word at the idea of a mini Zuko running around. One is already enough. And our father…" Azula's eyes locked onto Katara's, the most serious she had ever seen her. "Do I even need to explain how furious he would be?"
Cold, hard dread crashed onto her stomach like stone. No, no she didn't need a full explanation. She already had plenty of proof of Ozai's great disregard and loathing for his own son. The heavily-scarred, left side of Zuko's face said it all.
"I have a good idea," she finally got out. "And I appreciate you…looking out for us." Azula rolled her eyes again, but Katara went on. "But really we're good. We're taking things slow."
"The fogged-up windows and you running braless says otherwise," Katara opened her mouth to protest, but Azula silenced her with a raised hand. "You say you're careful now, but you keep in mind that's every girl final words before she finds out she's expecting."
Katara thought on it. As much as it irked her, Azula, bizarreness aside, had a good point. Zuko, unlike Jet forever branded as massive mistake, understood and respected her boundaries, never pushing for more, not fussing when they needed to stop. Lately, though, it had been getting harder to stop. Harder not to want those hands dip lower, those kisses somewhere else. Harder to remember where her boundary lines ended and where they can crossed.
If she was being honest with herself, if Zuko had lead them further down that road, Katara wasn't entirely sure that she would have stopped.
"Okay, fine," She covered up the box. "So that little…surprise was the first thing. What's the second?"
Azula took her sweet time cutting her sushi roll into tiny pieces, chewing each piece one by one, caring with care just to spite her. When Katara was ready to escape the table and end the conversation, goons or no goons, she finally said, "As you know, Zuko and I have a…unique relationship."
If by unique she meant undermining and belittling and agonizing her brother to the point of insanity every chance she got, at every turn, with Zuko hotly responding back with his own jabs, then sure. Unique. "Uh-huh."
"I won't pretend that I don't get pleasure from seeing my brother miserable." Her lips lifted into a smile that could have been considered soft if it wasn't for the sharp edge. "His misery is like gifts on Christmas morning."
"Uh-huh." Katara's foot was already edged towards the end of the table, ready to break into a speedy getaway.
"I particularly am happy when his misery is caused by me. And only by me." All traces of dark amusement, lines of cold laughter, was wiped from her face, which molded into hard stone that made her look older, meaner. Deadlier. "Meaning if I get even the smallest inkling that he is unhappy in your relationship, in any sort of way, I will gladly demonstrate those ten different ways I mentioned earlier on disposing you."
It took a minute for Katara to unscramble the message and dig to the core, baffled. Despite all her tendencies, as much as she made people forget she actually had one, Azula did in fact possess a heart. One that cared for her brother in her own way.
"Believe me," Katara said. "I make no plans on hurting Zuko. Ever."
Azula gazed so carefully, so deeply into Katara's eyes that she was afraid to move, sure that a cost would cost her. Whatever she must have read or found in her eyes, she was satisfied, pulling back with a slight nod.
"I believe you and will get along just fine."
She wasn't too sure about that, but if there was less tension in the nearby future between them, then Katara was all for it. She offered a small smile that was returned with a ghost one. With all being said, the two returned to their food, finishing off their drinks. In between bites. Katara ran down the list of Azula's agenda for this conversation.
The box was one, goodies for a long haul of fun, all measures of worrying handled. Second was making sure Katara understood she'd be digested like a frog if she crossed a line with Zuko. But she said mentioned there was several reasons, so- "What's the third?"
"Look in the box."
Opening it once more, Katara pushed through the pill bottles and condoms to find lingerie at the bottom. Tiny, tiny scraps of lingerie that left nothing to the imagination, even the private bits it was supposed to cover.
Katara turned her bewildered eyes over to Azula, who smiled wickedly like the Cheshire Cat that caught Alice into another maddening riddle.
"My mother and uncle will be out of town this weekend, and I intend to use that weekend to my full advantage. However in order to achieve that, I need ZuZu out of the house. At least until Monday, so…" Azula pointed on the box to emphasize her point.
She was…she was…"You're whoring me out to Zuko?"
She shrugged carelessly. "Well you're already doing it. Might as well gain some benefit from it. I get my pleasure from Ty Lee, you two get yours."
If that wasn't a sign from above for her to make her exit, Katara didn't know what was. She got up from her seat and took the box, making a plan to burn the scraps of blue as soon as she got home. "Goodbye Azula."
"Should I send Zuzu to your house by seven?"
"Or does eight work better so you can get ready?"
Katara quicken her steps, ears and cheeks and face burning bright red.
"I'll be collecting that thank you first thing Monday morning."
Katara let her middle finger reply to that last comment.