A/N: Hey everyone, thanks for sticking with me and this story so far, you're all very inspirational so thank you so much. Enjoy!
Hakoda looked at his daughter startled, but not in the least bit surprised that she had guessed.
"What!?" Sokka exploded, jumping to his feet, his face a picture of shock. "When? Why?" His father sighed, massaging his forehead with his fingers.
"Tomorrow morning. I think the reason should be obvious," he answered as evenly as he could.
"Tomorrow morning!" Sokka exclaimed, his eyes growing to the size of dinner plates. "As in tomorrow tomorrow? Like a couple hours from now tomorrow?!" he stuttered. Katara wasn't much calmer.
"So you just decide to drop this massively huge bomb on us and then up and leave!? This is so stupid Dad!" she cried, her hands balling into fists. Hakoda winced but stood his ground.
"I'm doing this to keep you safe, not because I want to. Believe me this is the last thing I want to do but right now your well being is my top priority. Please try to understand," he said. Sokka frowned and crossed his arms.
"What I don't understand is why this is an issue now. From what I hear, you've been a member of this group for awhile so how come Katara and I have never been in danger until now?" he asked stubbornly.
"Because circumstances were different in the past. I wish I could go into more detail but that's all I can say for now," their father responded.
"That's ridiculous!" Katara's outburst surprised everyone. She looked absolutely livid, her fists clenched, blue eyes flashing dangerously. "We're family; we're supposed to be able to trust each other! There aren't supposed to be secrets!" she snapped.
"Katara…" Sokka began, reaching out for her but she was having none of it. Whirling on her brother she swatted his hand away, glaring at him.
"You're no better than he is Sokka! You're keeping things from us too! Stop acting like everything is okay all the time! I know you aren't as happy as you pretend to be!" she yelled. Sokka looked at her a moment before saying quietly:
"Everyone has things that they'd rather not talk about. Even you…" Katara's eyes narrowed and she glowered at him before shoving past her father and storming out the door. Aang watched all this unfold feeling more than a little awkward. Clearly this was something the family needed to work out and he almost felt as though he'd witnessed something he had no business whimpered softly and Aang put a comforting hand on the big dog's head, wondering what in the world was going to happen now. Sokka turned to Hakoda, his eyes unusually serious for once.
"Listen Dad… I understand your need for secrecy and I'm not going to question that. Just, whatever you're doing, please be careful," he murmured. A gruff smile appeared on the man's lips as he acknowledged his son with a nod.
"Don't worry I'll be back before you know it. Look after your sister for me, keep her out of trouble," he said. Sokka's mouth twitched into the slightest ghost of a smile.
BEEP BEEP BEEP! Zuko groaned and lazily stuck a single arm out from beneath the comfort of his blankets, blindly swatting at things until his hand finally connected with the alarm clock. There was a loud crash as he knocked it off his bedside table, the annoying machine hitting the ground with a satisfactory crack before falling silent. Sitting up the teenager rubbed the sleep from his eyes, blinking blearily in the faint fays of sunlight issuing in from his bedroom window.
It had been another late night as he'd stayed up long into the wee hours of the morning, pouring over maps and any bit of useful information he could find regarding the water districts prison. He had decided to bust the woman out that night in order to make a point to Zhao. 'You'd probably need two days to prepare,' the man had said. Well Zuko was going to prove that he'd only need one.
Iroh had been against the idea but Zuko was determined and once the young man set his mind on something there was little anyone could do to make him think otherwise. Yet despite his plans for later that evening, school was still something he was being forced to attend and with that unpleasant thought in mind, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and pushed himself off the mattress.
Opening his closet door he sifted through the various clothing articles, grabbing a shirt at random and yanking it off the hanger. It was a plain black tee with ghostly white skull patterns spaced across the front. Shrugging Zuko threw it on the bed before adding a pair of cargo pants and white socks to the pile.
Grabbing the clothes heap he stumbled into the bathroom, took a quick shower, got dressed, ran a comb through his hair, and plodded down the steps all within a period of ten minutes. Iroh had breakfast ready for him, a hot bowl of oatmeal and a pot of jasmine tea. The old man was wiping down counters when Zuko entered the room.
"Good morning nephew!" he said with a smile while the young man merely grunted in response. He would never understand how Iroh could always be so bright eyed and bushy tailed in the morning no matter how little sleep he'd had the night before. The two ate in silence, Zuko's thoughts preoccupied with plans for that night.
He would leave the Dragon around 1:00 a.m, get to the prison, park some ways away before proceeding to bust this Hama woman out, hoping she wouldn't make escaping much more difficult. Even so it would be a miracle if everything went as smoothly as it did running through his head.
Excusing himself from the table, Zuko rinsed out his dirty dishes and set them in the dishwasher before grabbing his backpack and heading out the door. He was avoiding as much conversation with his uncle as possible, not wanting the man to talk him out of going to the jail that night. His mind was made up and he refused to let anyone change it.
Backing his car out from the side of the shop he turned the wheel and headed off towards school. This day was promising to be even worse than the one before as he'd done none of his homework assignments and was bound to get an earful from his teachers. Not that he really cared all that much. Unlike most of the kids his age, school was not his first priority.
Zuko had checked the forecast the previous evening and it was looking to be a beautiful day with clear skies and no rain. It was just his good luck that the moon was waning and would only be a small sliver in the sky that night. If the weather really did turn out to be as nice as predicted, there wouldn't be many clouds in the sky to cover up the pearly moonlight. He almost found himself wishing that the storm of last night would have waited just one more day in order to better cover his escape. Oh well, it couldn't be helped and the wet ground would have made things slippery anyway.
Taking a left at the next intersection he saw the school come into view and inwardly groaned, wishing he could slam on the breaks and go back the way he'd came. Willing his arms to turn the wheel he drove into the parking lot before pulling into a vacant spot near the back corner and switching the car off. It almost took more effort to step out of the vehicle than it had to get out of bed that morning.
The parking lot was alive with students heading from their cars to the building, calling out to each other and waving friendly hellos in the process. Zuko kept his head down, avoiding eye contact with any of them. Despite the fact that he had been there for three weeks already he still was frequently stared at by them as though he was some kind of crazed animal that had just sprouted an extra foot. Aside from the strange looks, the other students had a tendency to steer clear of him and he had every intention of keeping it that way.
Stepping into the building the boy made a beeline for his locker, wanting to rid himself of the heavy textbooks taking up space in his backpack. After depositing said books onto the highest shelf he shut the locker and turned, nearly suffering a heart attack when he saw a girl staring at him standing only a foot away. His heart beat returned to normal when he recognized Katara, the girl from the other day, though she looked none too pleased to see him.
"I have your jacket," she stated bluntly, holding out the black wind breaker and nearly shoving it into his arms.
"O-okay…" Zuko replied, caught off guard by her short tempered behavior. Was she really that mad at him for not giving her a ride the night before? He supposed he had been kind of rude but even so… Taking the jacket back he reopened his locker, threw it in, and closed it, surprised to see her still standing there. "Can I help you with something?" he asked impatiently, kind of in a hurry to get to his next class in order to avoid as many people as he could. Katara blinked and shook her head.
"What? Oh no sorry, guess I kind of spaced out," she replied and Zuko noticed a flash of hurt shine in her eyes for a second before she blinked again and it was gone. "I'll see you in history," she murmured.
"What?" Zuko asked, raising his eyebrows at her. A small smirk found itself to the girl's lips.
"You're in my history class. You know first hour? I sit behind you…" she prompted. Zuko wracked his brains only to find that he had no recollection of what Katara was saying to him. Maybe he really should start paying more attention to his surroundings…
"History…yeah of course," he replied, trying to brush the moment off like it was nothing. The girl rolled her eyes though not before a genuine smile had flickered over her lips.
"You're not very observant are you?" she asked. Zuko scowled.
"Yes I-…" but Katara's laugh cut him off and he flushed, looking away angrily. Great, now he looked like an idiot.
"I'll see you later," he muttered, turning on his heel and stalking off down the hallway, leaving the girl behind him.
Katara watched him go, half of her wanting to call out to him to wait while the other half of her wondered why. He was fun to talk to even if he was a little awkward at times. She knew the boy was from the fire district but that didn't necessarily mean he was a bad person. Most likely he didn't have anything to do with the strange occurrences going on and it wasn't like he could control where he was born any more than she could. Maybe she would try to get to know him better after all.
Hakoda had left early that morning, hence the reason for her foul mood, and though she'd sent him off with a hug and a smile she was still angry and hurt. She couldn't bring herself to be around Sokka right then either as he'd just let their father go without protest and she just couldn't bring herself to agree with that. Suki was tutoring and Aang was receiving his schedule from the secretaries in the office, thus leaving the girl by herself.
"Katara!" She jumped and turned toward the person who had called her name, her mouth folding into a smile when she saw who it was.
"Jet, hey!" she responded, waving to the scruffy brown haired boy as he walked over to her. The teen was a troublemaker there was no doubt about it. He was constantly goofing off in class, dated a new girlfriend every other week, and had a quick temper to match his quick wit. He and Katara had met last year and become fast friends almost right away. She had to admit the boy had his quirks yet he was a good friend nonetheless. Jet gave her his usual side smirk and leaned up against the locker, his arms crossed over his chest.
"What's wrong with you? You look like your granny just died," he remarked, cocking an eyebrow. Katara rolled her eyes and slumped against the locker beside him.
"Very funny…" she muttered.
"So…" the boy prompted. Katara frowned and threw her hands up in the air.
"Life is just so frustrating right now!" she burst out, earning some odd glances from the students filling past. Jet laughed and shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
"You're going to have to elaborate a little more than that. Despite several common misconceptions, I'm not a mind reader," he said to her. Katara shrugged, quickly deciding to leave out her father being some kind of secret agent from whatever she happened to tell him.
"My brother's being an idiot," she finally complained.
"Sokka's always an idiot." Katara laughed and shook her head at her friend's comment.
"I know but even more so than usual," she responded. "I can tell he's upset about something but he won't tell me anything. It's driving me crazy! How am I supposed to help him if he won't open up to me? I mean we're family! Family is supposed to talk together about their problems right?" she asked, her voice laced with frustration. Jet shrugged.
"Not necessarily," he murmured darkly, all humor gone from his tone. Katara glanced up at him only to see a cold distant look in his eyes that hadn't been there a moment before. The girl winced; mentally smacking herself for bringing up what she knew was a sore subject with Jet. His parents had died when he was young and he'd been raised going from one foster family to another before he'd finally found one that decided to keep him. Even so he still didn't really consider them his parents; that was just the way he was.
"Sorry! I didn't mean to…" she trailed off, shifting her gaze to the ground. Jet shook his head and grinned down at her.
"Don't worry about it. You're fine," he responded. "Moving on, I think you're overreacting about this whole Sokka thing. Not everyone is like you; some of us actually try to solve our problems on our own." Katara frowned.
"I know but-!"
"Just give him time. He'll talk to you eventually, he's just got to figure things out on his own first," Jet told her. The girl opened her mouth to reply but right at that moment an announcement over the loudspeaker stopped her.
"Katara Kuruk to the main office. Katara Kuruk to the main office please. Thank you." The girl harrumphed and lazily pushed herself off the locker.
"I've got to go. Thanks for listening Jet, it helps a lot," she said to him. The boy grinned at her.
"Anytime." Giving him another smile Katara waved and headed off down the hallway, hoping Aang hadn't gotten himself into trouble of any kind. She couldn't think of any other reason why she would have been called to the office. Upon arriving she stepped inside, looking for her brown haired friend though was immediately distracted as one of the secretaries called her over. A small name plate on the desk revealed her title to be Joo Dee Brown. She smiled and addressed Katara.
"Your teachers think very highly of you Miss. Kuruk and because of this you have been recommended to show our new transfer student around for as long as it takes them to feel comfortable," she said to her. Katara blinked. She'd been planning on giving Aang a tour anyway but this just made it official.
"Absolutely ma'am, I'd be happy to," she responded, a warm smile on her face. Mrs. Brown nodded and Katara got the feeling that she seemed rather relieved.
"I'm glad to hear it. She is from a very high ranked family and so is used to being treated a little differently than the rest of us. It will be good for her to have influence from other, more regular students," the secretary said. Katara cocked her head to one side, suddenly confused.
"She? Ma'am weren't you talking about Aang just now? The new boy from the air district?" she asked. Joo Dee stared at her like she'd just grown an extra pair of eyes before bursting into gales of shrill laughter.
"Of course not! We wouldn't go to such lengths for such an ordinary transfer student. No we have to make sure we take care of this young lady's unique needs as best we can," she answered. Katara bit her lip, not sure whether she should feel offended for Aang or not.
"What's this girl's name ma'am?" she inquired. Joo Dee's mouth opened in a huge white toothed smile.
"Toph. Toph Beifong."
Yay Toph is finally going to make her appearance. I've missed having her in my writing and now I finally can! Zuko's infiltration will take place next chapter. Thank you so much to all of my amazing reviewers who keep me writing this story!