Thinking Out Loud @jacqstoned
Beach Bums, Part 2

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender.

A/N: This was originally posted as part of Zutara Month 2018, for the prompt "Meeting the Family." This fic hadn't caught up yet to this chapter when I posted it, so if this seems familiar, yes, it's basically the same story I published before. Now that the context is clearer, let's head on to the story!

CHAPTER 16: Beach Bums, Part 2

Of course they follow Zuko. These are Toph and Katara, after all. Nothing could really stand in the way of a meddling, mischievous blind girl and a nosy— no, not nosy, just curious— Mom Friend. Especially not after the phone conversation they heard through his door.

"Think he's meeting with that knife-throwing ex he told us about?" Toph asks, cracking her knuckles as they follow a safe distance away, keeping to the shadows of the stalls that line the beach town's boardwalk.

"Maybe," Katara mutters, idly examining sunglasses on display as she watches Zuko from the corner of her eye. "Isn't he dating that girl from the tea shop, though? Jin?"

Toph shrugs blithely. "Well, he's not married."

Katara opens her mouth to retort when Zuko stops. She flings a hand out and drags Toph into an alley, away from the young man's line of sight.

"What? What?" The blind girl squawks. "What's going on, Sugar Queen?"

"He stopped by the tea shop," Katara replies, peeking around the corner. Yep, there he is, sitting at one of the outdoor tables, facing them and fiddling with his phone.

"Jeez, Sparky," Toph snorts, tucking her hands behind her head as she leans against the wall. "We drag him away from Gramps' place for a vacation and he still ends up in a tea shop."

"Oh, there's someone approaching!" Katara tugs on her companion's sleeve and points at the brown-haired newcomer, forgetting Toph can't see. "She looks way too young for him…"

"Ya never know, Sweetness," the blind girl grins deviously. "Maybe Mr. Hotpants likes shopping in the juniors section. We are near Ember Island U."

"Remind me again why I wanted to apply for a masters degree in a party school." She bats her friend away and narrows her eyes at the stranger sitting across Zuko. "Too bad I can't see her face— from here, she looks barely legal. Or maybe she's just small, like you. I don't know. Toph?"

Toph pushes past her and swaggers into the street.


"You really wanna know, Fussy? Let's just go ask him." Toph trudges on casually, and waves about four feet shy of Zuko and his companion. "Heya, Sparky!"

Zuko slaps a hand to his forehead and Katara resists the urge to do the same. She groans and tries to hold Toph back from Zuko's table sheepishly, trying not to be too obvious as she appraises the girl he was with, who has turned around at their approach and is regarding them with wide olive green eyes.

She is young, young enough to be a college freshman, or a high school senior. Katara narrows her eyes. This couldn't possibly be his knife-wielding ex.

Zuko clears his throat and stands up, muttering a few words to the girl, and meets Katara and Toph before they reach the table. He scowls in greeting.

"I told you not to follow me," he reproaches, arms crossed.

"Since when have we ever done what you told us?" Toph points out with a grin. "C'mon, Hotpants, introduce us to your date."

"She's not my date!" Zuko scrubs a hand down his face, the tips of his ears reddening. "Look, I let you guys drag me here for this field trip, so just— let me have a little privacy, alright?"

"Of course," Katara snags Toph's sleeve, ready to pull her back to their rented beach house, but the petite girl stands her ground.

"All privacy's gone out the window when you agreed to be my roommate, Sparky," she reminds him, milky eyes gleaming. "Whatcha hiding?"

Zuko sighs and turns back to his table. Toph cackles triumphantly and clutches the back of his shirt, pushing him forward eagerly. Katara sighs and follows them.

"Kiyi," Zuko calls out as they approach, "These are my… my friends. Toph and Katara."

"Oh! This is so cool!" The girl beams at them excitedly, hands clasped. "I've never met Zuzu's friends before!"

"Zuzu?" Katara laughs and turns to Zuko, who pinches the bridge of his nose and sits down without answering.

"Nice to meet ya," Toph salutes in the girl's general direction. Then she elbows her way to the table, feeling around for a chair and plunking herself down. "How'd you know Sparky?"

"He's my big brother!" Kiyi replies enthusiastically, bouncing slightly in her chair.

"You never told us you have a sister," Katara says, sitting between Zuko and Toph. Zuko's scowl lightens a smidge.

"I do, but Kiyi's actually my half-sister," he replies, and Kiyi rolls her eyes.

"Mom always said 'halfs' don't exist when it comes to family," she chirps, tucking her short brown hair behind her ear.

Zuko's face softens into that expression that Katara saw before he'd left the beach house earlier, that expression that prompted her to agree with Toph and stalk him all over the island.

"Isn't it enough that I prefer you over my actual sister?" He attempts to joke with a slight grin, but Kiyi's face falls into a pout.

"Hey, Azula's mean, but she can be nice when she… calms down," the young girl awkwardly traces patterns on the table. "I haven't really gone to visit her after…"

"I know," Zuko nods and sips his tea, and the two lapse into silence.

Katara squirms uncomfortably in her seat, silently cursing Toph for talking her into intruding on Zuko's private life. She glances around for a way to break the tense pause, but Toph beats her to it.

"No wonder you didn't want us to follow ya, Sparky," she chortles. "Hell, when Gramps said your family was complicated—"

"So, Kiyi," interrupts Katara, "Tell us about yourself. Do you live around here? Zuko didn't tell us he had family on Ember Island, otherwise we would've had an easier time convincing him to come."

"Oh, no, it was just great timing," Kiyi grins cheekily at her brother. "I'm just here scouting colleges. Dad's an Ember Island alum, and Mom and Zuzu studied at Roku's Academy, so I wanted to check them out for myself."

"Wow, that's great! I'm actually here to apply for their graduate program," Katara says, leaning forward in her chair. "We can check out the campus together, if you'd like, since Zuko already graciously agreed to show me around Roku's."

"Only because you were hopeless!" Zuko rolls his eyes and addresses Kiyi. "Don't follow her example if you want to get into Roku's. She wanted to bring the dean cookies and yell 'honor' in her interview."

"I told you I was just kidding," Katara crosses her arms over her chest. "I'm not that hopeless! I know how academic bureaucracy works. I graduated top of my class at the Northern Institute!"

"You got your undergrad at Northern?" Zuko's brows raise to his hairline, and Katara smiles with vindication. "I thought… there were reports of professors favoring— I thought they didn't treat girls fairly there."

"They didn't," she says with a grim smile, "Until I forced them to."

"No wonder you chewed me out on our date," Zuko says in quiet realization. "Remember? I tried to pay for dinner—"

"And you didn't even ask me if I wanted to split it with you even though we both ate, all because you assumed that all girls just pretend to reach for the check." Katara lets out a bark of laughter at his guilty expression. "Right after you made fun of my low-paying job."

Kiyi clucks her tongue at her brother. "That wasn't very nice, Zuzu."

"Sorry," Zuko rubs a hand at the back of his neck. "You were right, calling me a sexist jerk."

Toph laughs deviously. "Sweetness can give sexist jerks the ass-kicking of a lifetime," she punches a fist into her palm, rare pride seeping into her tone. "Back at Northern, she just went all the way up against the old guys and proved how much better she was than the dudes. They had no choice but to give her the grades she deserved. It was awesome."

"Thanks, Toph," Katara tells her sincerely, but Toph rolls her head lazily in her direction and kills the moment.

"Yeah, but you're still a huge nerd for wanting to study again. We had to bring in Sparky here to calm down your obsessive school-hunting."

"It's not obsessive," Katara mutters under her breath, and Zuko coughs disbelievingly beside her.

"You did apply for four schools." He says flatly, and Katara throws her hands up in frustration.

"I wanted backups in case I didn't get into Roku's!"

He just raises his eyebrows at her. "You seriously doubt your abilities after you fought your way through the Northern Institute?"

She frowns at him and doesn't respond, because yes, she still doubts if she is good enough to get into her dream school, and it is just unfair that he is the one to point that out.

Kiyi leans her elbows on the table and cups her face in her hands. "Your girlfriend is so cool, Zuzu."

Zuko and Katara both flush scarlet.

"She's not—!"

"I'm not his—"

"Why does this always happen?" Zuko groans into his hand.

"Like I'd know!" Katara cries out indignantly. "I get it when it was Bo and Mako 'cause they're kids, but—"

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Kiyi waves her hands frantically at the two while Toph laughs in the background. "I just thought— you mentioned a date—"

"It was just one date!" Katara squeaks, her voice several octaves higher. She points an accusatory finger at Toph, who is still cackling. "Toph set us up on a blind date! I didn't even want to go—"

"Me neither," Zuko says, glaring at the grinning blind girl.

"Aw, it's such a shame, though," Kiyi says, glancing between the two. "You guys seem really great together."

"Oh, um, we're friends now," Katara inches away from Zuko discreetly. "But we don't always get along— I mean, your brother's not as big of a jerk as he could've been, but— but the date was a disaster and— um, he went through my stuff!"

"You're still on that?" Zuko rolls his eyes exasperatedly. "I told you, I had to make sure that binder was yours— you never forget stuff so I wasn't sure— I wouldn't have read your essays if I knew you'd be so—"

"Calm down, Sparky, she's just looking for things to be mad about 'cause she doesn't wanna admit she was wrong about ya," Toph interjects, and Katara bristles.

"Okay, fine! I was wrong, you were right, you win." She glances at Kiyi, who is looking at Zuko reproachfully. "I'm sorry. Your brother and I just started off on the wrong foot, but he's really sweet and helpful and he'd do anything for his friends."

"Well, I'm glad!" Kiyi bounces in her chair a little. "Zuzu's never had a lot of friends. Mom was really worried about him. But I knew he'd be okay! It's just really sad that she didn't get to meet you guys."

Toph tenses beside her and a memory surfaces in Katara's mind— she and Zuko, making frozen margaritas for Toph and Sokka and Suki, complaining about cleaning up after their drunk friends, Zuko laughing for the first time around her, asking her why her mother put up with Sokka's sloppiness.

"We lost our mom in an accident when we were kids."

"Oh. I'm sorry. That's something we have in common."

"I'm sure she would've been happy to meet all of us," Katara tells the young girl earnestly. "And I'm sure we would have loved her."

Kiyi smiles shyly at her and Katara smiles softly back. Zuko clears his throat uncomfortably.

"Uh, it's getting late…" he starts apprehensively. "Is Ikem going to pick you up?"

"Naw, Dad's probably fallen asleep at our cottage in this heat," Kiyi giggles.

"Do you want me to walk you there?" Zuko stands up, hands in his pockets. Kiyi shakes her head merrily.

"You go on ahead! I wanna check out some souvenirs first before heading back." She stands up and swings her backpack over her shoulder. "Besides, you'll have plenty of time to walk me around when you give me and Katara a tour of Roku's Academy, right?"

Zuko smiles and shrugs. "Alright then. I'll just text you where to meet us. Don't call again, these two like to eavesdrop."

"Hey! We weren't eavesdropping!" Katara shoots up from her seat, hand on her hip. "We were— we were just overhearing!"

"Oh, give it a rest, Sugar Queen, we were totally eavesdropping," Toph says, stretching as she gets up. "Led to pretty fun stuff though, I gotta say."

"Yeah!" Kiyi pulls the two girls into a hug, and to her credit, Toph only squirms a little. "I'm really glad I met you guys!"

"Us, too, Kiyi," Katara laughs as she pulls away. "If you get into Ember Island or Roku's, we can hang out more."

"I'd love that!" She bounds over to Zuko and hugs him tightly from the side. "If you're here, I'd get to see Zuzu more often, too, right?"

Zuko pats her hair bemusedly. "Of course. I promise. I'd visit all the time."

"Yay! See you guys around!" She squeezes him one last time and runs down the boardwalk, disappearing into the crowd.

Toph smirks at Zuko. "Your sister's so precious, Zuzu."

He groans and trudges back to the direction of their beach house. Katara falls into step beside him.

"For the record, I'm sorry we followed you," she murmurs quietly, so Toph wouldn't protest her sentiment, "But I'm really glad we met Kiyi. She really looks up to you."

There's that soft expression on his face again. Katara wonders if she has to bring up his half-sister every time just so she could see it.

"I wasn't close to my sister— Azula— when I was growing up. Not like you and Sokka. We took sibling rivalry to a new level, and I wasn't a good big brother," he says softly, slowing down so they could keep an eye on Toph, who is confidently walking down the road like she could see where she is going, "I just want to do right by Kiyi. I only reconnected with her when Mom was already gone, but it didn't stop her from treating me like I was really her brother and like we'd grown up together. She trusts me completely, and I don't want to ruin that."

"You won't. I know you won't," Katara takes his hand and squeezes it reassuringly. It was warm and calloused, but not unpleasant. Quite the opposite, really, but Katara decides not to deal with that thought. "You're already a better big brother than Sokka, anyway. He locked me in the fridge once because he wanted 'intel' on what the inside looked like when the light's out."

Zuko's laugh rasps around the edges, and Katara realizes she still hasn't let go of his hand.

"Well, I'm glad you met Kiyi," he tells her before she could do anything, "Now she can bug someone else besides me."

She finally lets go of his hand to cross her arms over her chest. "Hey! I'm a little sister, too. Bugging people is how we show affection."

"Hey, slowpokes!" Toph yells from a ways away. "C'mon! I'm starving. And tired. Sparky, carry me to the house."

"Does that make Toph my little sister, too?" Zuko mutters, and Katara laughs.

A/N: Now, I rarely answer questions here, but Waterlily753 brought up some stuff that some of you might be wondering about, too, so here goes:

This is a non-bending modern AU— no Avatar, no special powers, no spirits. I kinda got used to not answering this question because you can see it from the get-go on AO3, but this is FFN, so just making it clear here lol.

Most of the story is set in a modernized Earth Kingdom, somewhere near Ba Sing Se and Gao Ling. (There are no walls in Ba Sing Se. *wink*) I sort of imagine it a bit like downtown Singapore or the less-dense parts of Manila, with a healthy sprinkling of mom and pop shops as well as commercial buildings, and high-rise condos in one place and regular apartment buildings in another.

The four nations still exist, as you will see in upcoming chapters. Zuko's backstory will also be revealed in upcoming chapters, as well as interactions with Aang, because I miss him and he's my favorite cinnamon roll haha.

Now, as with all my fics, I exercised some creative liberty in here. Zuko doesn't know Ty Lee, because the Ty Lee here joined the force with Suki, right off the bat. And Katara may seem too uptight for some, and too goody-goody for others, but in my head, her badassery shows in different ways, and she's no longer fourteen, guys. She has more responsibilities, she's a stressed preschool teacher, and let's face it, being an adult drains the fun out of life. (She's lucky I even give her time for adventures lol my boss doesn't even give us weekends sometimes.) I also imagine Zuko here as a mix of seasons one to two Zuko— I think his awkwardness only shows fully when he actually knows them on a more personal level. He puts up thick walls, that boy, and he's still struggling with keeping his distance and stumbling over himself trying to make friends. I have chapters lined up that totally warrant the "Zuko is an awkward turtleduck" tag tho so watch out lol.

As for the writing— sorry! See, I believe that when you get into the heads of people, they don't naturally think about how the world works— which is why I included it as naturally as I could in this fic. You'll get to know what happens in other places when it enters the Gaang's radar. You'll get backstories as the characters themselves reveal it. Otherwise, it just feels forced (for me haha).

It is also a tendency of mine to shy away from the flowery, emotional writing that is rampant in most fics. The journalist in me cringes every time I try to be poetic in this fic, because it just doesn't match the entire tone of the whole story. My poet self belongs to This War of Ours, and frankly, this fic is the one I turn to for easy writing when things get too heavy in that other fic. So what you're getting here is actually a preview of Jacq the Tired AF Journalist, not Jacq the Passionate Fic Author hahaha.

This started out as light and fluffy and honestly just self-indulgent slowburn Zutara, and now it's snowballed into this whole thing that I'm desperately trying to flesh out as much as I can while still keeping the tone easygoing. I hope I can balance it all out.

Anyway, feel free to ask more questions, guys! I'll try to answer the stuff that's confusing as best as I can, and as always, please tell me what you think!

Anonymous reviews have been disabled. Login to review. 1. First Impressions 600 0 0 2. Second Impressions 568 0 0 3. Scarface 714 0 0 4. Toph Luck 1255 0 0 5. Tough Love 1418 0 0 6. Tea Time 1093 0 0 7. Spa Day 1389 0 0 8. Date Night 1885 0 0 9. Game Night 2680 0 0 10. Casual Dating 2327 0 0 11. Casual Friendship 1099 0 0 12. Pride 1848 0 0 13. Prejudice 1525 0 0 14. Breaks 1819 0 0 15. Beach Bums, Part 1 1962 0 0 16. Beach Bums, Part 2 3173 0 0 17. Beach Bums, Part 3 1970 0 0 18. Ex and Whys 2706 0 0 19. Open Book 3403 0 0 20. Open Eyes 1901 0 0 21. Open Bar 5281 0 0 22. Closed Mind 2536 0 0 23. Closed Doors 3661 0 0 24. Bitter Work 5530 0 0 25. Save the Date 4694 0 0 26. Color Schemes 3621 0 0 27. Cake Tasting 4097 0 0 28. Fittings 6798 0 0 29. Party Planning 4527 0 0 30. Flu Season, Part 1 5379 0 0 31. Flu Season, Part 2 6825 0 0 32. Flu Season, Part 3 5352 0 0 33. Cactus Juice 6109 0 0 34. I Do 8191 0 0 35. I Don't 3356 0 0 36. The Future 3798 0 0 37. The Past 8838 0 0 38. A New Chapter 3284 0 0 39. EPILOGUE: Lasting Impressions 324 0 0