Thinking Out Loud @jacqstoned
Open Bar

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


CHAPTER 21: Open Bar

"Hi, my name is Joo Dee, and I'll be your server for tonight." The receptionist smiles at them with a too-huge smile that makes Katara more uncomfortable than she already is. "Can I get you two started with some drinks?"

"Uh, yeah, whiskey on the rocks for me, and an Ember Island Sunrise for her," Zuko responds almost immediately. Joo Dee nods and leaves with another big smile, and Katara raises an eyebrow at Zuko.

"You know, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with you ordering for me like that," she says jokingly, trying to diffuse the tension that came with confusing feelings and sharing a tiny table in a fancy, candlelit restaurant at sunset.

Zuko sputters on his lemon water.

"Sorry! It's just— I heard you say— you said you wanted—"

"Relax, I'm just teasing," Katara says half-heartedly, fiddling with her napkin. She clears her throat and glances around. "This place is fancier than what I expected."

"I know," agrees Zuko, looking equally uncomfortable. "Are we sure we're in the right place? I haven't seen Sokka or Toph around."

"They're probably out there," Katara points behind him, where most of the other patrons are enjoying the ocean breeze on the cozy outdoor lounge area on the beach. Zuko looks over his shoulder and nods.

"Yeah," he rubs the back of his neck self-consciously, "Yeah, that makes sense. It's a bit… stuffy in here, right?"

"Yeah, I know what you mean," Katara laughs a little too breathily, hoping beyond hope that their drinks would arrive soon. She mentally smacks herself. Just when we're beginning to be actual friends…

"How's Jin, by the way?" she blurts out. Friends can ask about their friends' girlfriends, right? "Did she get mad that we dragged you here?"

"Uh, no, not really," Zuko winces. "I don't know what Uncle said to her, but she wasn't mad."

"Oh, well, that's good," replies Katara, not meeting his eyes. Why was it suddenly so hard to look him in the eyes?

You know why, Katara, and you better snap out of it, fast.

"So, um, what are you going to get her? For her birthday, I mean," she tries to say casually, but her mind keeps interrupting her with flashbacks of what could have happened if Zuko didn't remember his girlfriend's birthday. She shakes her head with another weird, breathy laugh. "You better get her something nice, you know, since you forgot."

Zuko blushes deep red and Katara wonders if she inadvertently put the same could-have-beens in his head.

"I'll, uh. I'll figure something out," he says, tracing the rim of his glass. "I don't actually, ah, know what she likes, aside from that loud death metal band."

"Which death metal band?" Katara asks sincerely now, remembering liking a local one that headlined the benefit concert that Haru organized.

"The Xirxus, I think," Zuko replies, and Katara brightens in excitement.

"Oh my gosh, I've met them!" she gushes, forgetting her discomfort for a moment. "They played at the concert that Haru and his friends set up, and we had drinks with them afterwards."

"Wow, Jin would have killed for that," he mutters, a slight smirk on his lips. "She entered this contest to win tickets to the show, but she didn't get the VIP ones with the meet and greet. She wouldn't stop talking about it for weeks."

"Oh, I get it. June was so cool," she laughs, "Too bad I was so hammered; I barely remember any of it, just that she teased Haru a lot about his mustache."

"It was a weird mustache, to be honest," Zuko says, and Katara nods in agreement.

"I know! I mean, I don't know if you knew this— I met him on a dating app—"

"You tried one of those?" He asks, aghast. "You don't seem like the type."

"Well, I tried being set up on a blind date, but that didn't go so well, didn't it?" she teases, and he coughs uncomfortably. Maybe not the best joke at this time, Katara. She bites her lip and shakes her head. "Anyway, Haru didn't have a single hair on his face in his photos, so imagine my surprise when I met him for the first time."

A flicker of annoyance passes over his features suddenly, but before Katara could puzzle it out, it has already vanished, only to be replaced by an expressionless facade.

"You must have really liked him then, if it didn't bother you enough to date him for a few months," he says carefully, and something in his tone and his demeanor makes her hackles rise.

"Of course I did," she retorts, ignoring the warning bells in her head telling her she is getting angry really quickly for no apparent reason. "I'm not some shallow girl who only likes people for their looks, you know."

"Then why—" he stops himself, almost forcefully, snapping his mouth shut and looking away, jaw clenched. Katara doesn't know why the sight bothers her, but it does, and it fuels her anger even more.

"Why what?" she asks hotly, hands curling into fists. "What are you asking, Zuko?"

"It's nothing," he mumbles, still not looking at her. "Forget I said anything."

"Well, it's clearly not nothing, if you're acting all—"

"Here we are!" A voice behind them trills, and they both look up at Joo Dee, who was carrying a tray with their drinks on it. She sets down their glasses on the table, still wearing that uncomfortably huge smile. "You'll be pleased to know that your order has already been paid for by that lovely young woman over there."

"Who—" begins Zuko, but his question is answered as Toph swaggers into the restaurant, bumping into two other patrons as she made her way to their table. Sokka trails after her, apologizing to the customers with a sheepish grimace.

"Hey, lovebirds," greets Toph blithely, feeling around for an empty seat in the next table and grabbing it without asking for permission. "Why're you all cozied up in here instead of partyin' out there with us?"

"We're not 'cozied up' in here," responds Katara, glaring at Zuko from the corner of her eyes— he still wouldn't look at her, and part of her really wants to get to the bottom of the argument they were having before Toph intruded on them, but it seems like a moot point now. She turns back to Toph. "We couldn't find you, so we decided to have dinner first, but this place is packed."

"Yeah, I know, it's amazing!" Sokka exclaims, plunking himself down beside her. "Toph just totally schooled a bunch of huge, rich guys at arm wrestling!"

"I knew it," groans Katara, placing a hand on her forehead tiredly. "I knew you were scamming money out of strangers."

"Hey, not my fault they underestimated a blind girl, Sugar Queen," grins Toph, tucking her hands behind her head. "You're welcome to drink your weight in alcohol, by the way."

"Wouldn't say no to that," mutters Zuko, gulping down half his whiskey and standing up suddenly. "Are we going out to the beach, or what?"

"Alright, that's what I'm talking about!" Toph claps her hands together and shoves him to the outdoor seating area. Katara gapes at their retreating backs before Sokka tugs her up and shoves her Ember Island Sunrise into her hands.

"C'mon, sis, even sulky Sparky's down to party! Let's go!"

Sokka goes ahead and swings open the doors with a flourish, and the blast of music almost sends Katara reeling back, but not before her brother slings an arm around her— he probably knows she wants to leave— and leads her to where Toph was lounging barefoot on a couch with Zuko beside her. The low table in front of them is already littered with empty shot glasses and bottles of Sokka's favorite beer.

They settle down beside the two— Katara is now acutely aware that she is squished between a sullen Zuko and a hyperactive Sokka. Her previous conversation with the former still niggles her, especially when she remembers the events that transpired before they went out to this bar. She blushes and drowns her discomfort in her drink.

"Oh, hey, I never got to ask!" Sokka says over the music, "How did the interview go? You had me pretty worried when you wouldn't answer my calls!"

Katara rolls her eyes at her brother.

"It's not exactly rocket science, Sokka," she replies. "I've been through interviews before. It went okay, I think."

"She did great," says Zuko beside her, and she turns to him in surprise— she certainly did not expect that, not after… well, she just expected him to withdraw back into his shell, honestly. His eyes meet hers for a split-second before he addresses Sokka. "She passed the entrance exam and the dean said her undergrad credentials were top-notch."

"Awesome! I knew you had it in ya, sis," Sokka clinks his bottle with her glass and ruffles her hair. She laughs and tries in vain to move away. "After all, you're related to me, and I'm a genius."

"You're not a genius in anything but food, Snoozles," Toph pipes up from Zuko's other side, and Sokka leans forward to pout at her.

"I invent stuff!" He cries resentfully, jabbing a finger at Toph. "And I got higher grades than you guys ever did back in high school!"

"You invent stuff?" Zuko coughs into his whiskey, and Katara rolls her eyes exasperatedly at her brother.

"Oh, please, the only thing he invented was that football helmet fused with a beer bong," she chuckles, and her brother gasps in indignation. He stands up and gestures wildly with his hands.

"Hey! I also almost made a perpetual motion machine, but I just couldn't get the water balloons to balance right!" He waves his beer bottle in their faces, and his companions try not to laugh. "And, might I remind you, I also made that remote-control food delivery service!"

"Oh, right," Toph says in mock reverence. "How could we forget the greatest invention known to man— a toy helicopter with a basket of food attached to it!"

Katara bursts into giggles and Zuko huffs in amusement beside her. Sokka draws himself up to his full height and scowls at them, his hands on his hips.

"I'll have you know, that invention helped Gran-Gran a lot with carrying groceries, and might I remind you, Katara, that it delivered you breakfast in bed when you had chicken pox!"

"Alright, alright, it was useful," Katara acquiesces, tugging him back down. "Too bad it's not here, then, 'cause it would make getting drinks really easy. The crowd at the bar looks like a war zone."

"Oh, jeez, Sweetness, you really need to go out more often," Toph says, waving her hand exasperatedly. "You're a cute girl in a bar! All the guys in there will buy you drinks if you so much as smile at them."

"Aw, thanks, Toph— wait," she casts the blind girl a deadpan look. "Oh, haha. Very funny. You don't even know what I look like."

"It never gets old!" Toph laughs, slapping her knee. "But seriously, Sparky here said you were cute, and I believe him."

"You said that?" She blushes and whirls on him in surprise, only to see his face almost as red as hers. He tries to inch away from her as much as he could in the limited space they share on the couch.

"I said you'd be cute if you weren't so angry all the time," he mutters begrudgingly. Sokka guffaws on her other side and Toph laughs even harder.

Katara frowns at them, even though she doesn't quite feel as offended as she would normally be. She crosses her arms and sticks her nose in the air haughtily.

"Oh, then I guess we're even, then," she tells him playfully, "'Cause I thought you were cute until you made fun of my job."

"You did?" He sounds so surprised that Katara eases up.

"Of course I did," she responds sincerely. "Why would you think that I didn't?"

Zuko opens his mouth to reply, but Sokka stands up and stretches before he could say anything.

"Ohhh-kay, I dunno what's going on between you two, but this is getting weird," he declares, pointing suspiciously between his sister and Zuko. "Hey, Toph, wanna go see if that Chit Sang guy's hammered enough to arm wrestle you again?"

"You're no fun!" complains Toph, but Sokka grabs her by the scruff of her shirt and drags her away unceremoniously.

A loaded silence descends on Zuko and Katara as Sokka and Toph's bickering fade into the noise of the bar. Sighing at their antics, Katara reaches over and takes Toph's unfinished drink. Zuko follows suit a moment later with Sokka's beer.

"You called me Scarface a lot back then," Zuko suddenly says, chasing his words with a gulp of beer. "I thought… I thought at first that was why you didn't like me. Because of— because of this."

He gestures to his scar and Katara's heart breaks a little.

"Oh, Zuko, I'm so sorry," she says, tucking her legs underneath her so she could face him properly. She tentatively places a hand on his shoulder. "I didn't know. When I told Sokka about our date, I had already forgotten what your name was, and he just came up with the nickname, and I was so mad about the whole thing at that time that I just went along with it. We weren't making fun of your scar or anything— but, no, that doesn't excuse how we made you feel. I'm sorry."

He shrugs his other shoulder, careful not to remove her hand.

"It's okay. I— I guess my ego just got bruised," a half-hearted, lopsided smile appears on his face. She swallows at the sight, her gaze inadvertently dwelling on his lips before he speaks again. "I didn't understand right away why you thought I was a jerk."

"Well, we're okay now," Katara says, squeezing his shoulder and tilting her head to look him in the eyes. "Right?"

"Yeah," Zuko holds her gaze a second too long. Katara blinks and snatches her hand back from his shoulder. He starts and glances down at Sokka's now-empty beer bottle and nods at her empty glass. "Wanna go get another round?"

"Yes, please," she says, standing up and following him to the crowded outdoor bar. She instinctively holds on to his hand so they don't get separated, and if it bothered him, he didn't show it.

A couple of minutes of shouting over the music and bumping and elbowing strangers, they finally make it back to their table with a fresh round of drinks— only to find that another group has already claimed it.

Katara raises her eyebrows at Zuko, who shrugs. She wordlessly makes her way down to the ocean, Zuko following close behind. She sits down on the sand and stretches her feet before her, carefully balancing her cocktail on the uneven terrain. She motions for Zuko to sit.

"It's so much quieter here," she comments. She feels the sand shift as Zuko makes himself comfortable beside her.

"Yeah," he agrees, taking a sip of his whiskey. "That's not really my scene, back there."

"Same here," admits Katara. "I only ever go to these kinds of places because I wanna hang out with the gang, and back when Aang and I were still together, 'cause he really liked to dance."

"The bald guy likes to party?" Zuko asks incredulously, and Katara flicked his arm with a laugh.

"I told you to stop calling him 'the bald guy!'" she exclaims. "And of course he liked to party; why do you think Toph calls him 'Twinkletoes?'"

"Hey, I barely know anything about your circle of friends," Zuko says defensively. "I only know you spent Sokka's engagement party avoiding him and me."

"Oh, get off your high horse, Mr. I'm Scared of My Knife-Throwing Ex," Katara rolls her eyes and takes a sip of her drink. "I just didn't know how he'd react, okay?"

"Well, I know I said he seemed like a good guy, but really, he was being super cheerful and annoyingly friendly," says Zuko dryly. Katara almost snorts her Ember Island Sunrise.

"Figures you'd be annoyed when someone's being all cheerful and friendly."

"Figures you'd date someone as cheerful and friendly as him," he shoots back, expecting to get a rise out of her, but she merely shrugs.

"Oh, c'mon, I was young and a little bit lonely, okay?" she crosses her arms over her chest and looks to the dark horizon. "I knew he had a crush on me back in high school, but he was just like a younger brother to me. But then I went to college and didn't see him for over a year, and when he got into Northern, it was just… nice to see a familiar face that wasn't my brother, y'know? Still took awhile before we got together, though."

Zuko is silent for a few moments, watching the way the ocean breeze lifts her hair, trying to understand who she was before he met her.

"Why were you lonely?" he finds himself asking. "I mean, your brother was up there in Northern with you."

She shrugs, her smile bittersweet.

"The North Pole made me miss my mom," she answers simply. "I guess it reminded me too much of home."

"Home?"

"Sokka and I, we're from the South Pole," she explains, twisting her hair between her fingers. "We only moved to the Earth Kingdom after… after Mom died."

"Oh," is all Zuko could say.

"Yeah," Katara traces the condensation on her glass absently. "I think all of us wanted a new start— me and Sokka and Dad and Gran-Gran. It was hard at first, but meeting Toph and Aang made the move less lonely. I still miss the cold, though."

"You don't go to the South Pole often?"

She shrugs.

"I used to, when Aang and I were together. There was always something to do there for his non-profit, so they took care of our flights. But I don't really like flying that much and that often. I'd take a boat over a plane, y'know? Besides, Dad's always visiting, Gran-Gran's with her new husband, and Sokka and I practically grew up in the Earth Kingdom. There's not much to miss, aside from the snow, and I got a lot of that back in college."

"Why did you even apply to Northern, anyway?" he asks her curiously. "Everyone knows about their issues with female students. I can't imagine why you'd subject yourself to that."

"I knew I could take them," she says with a triumphant smirk that makes him smile as well. "And, besides, I wanted to learn more about our culture."

"Your culture?"

"Yeah," Katara nods as she swallows most of her cocktail. "Our family's Southern Water Tribe."

"You're Water Tribe?" Zuko freezes as the words leave his mouth, afraid he would offend her. "I'm sorry— when you said you were from the South Pole, I didn't think— I mean, I don't mean anything rude—"

"Why, what were you expecting?" Katara's mouth twists into a teasing smile. "Bones in my hair? Breasts hanging out? Bathes in blood during the full moon? Can't speak the common tongue or have proper education?"

Zuko shakes his head frantically, raising his hands in appeasement. "No— no!"

"Relax, Zuko. Believe me, compared to what I've heard people say about our tribe, you're not being rude," she places a hand on his arm comfortingly before letting it drop in between them. "There's very little Southern Water Tribe left, unlike the Northern one, so our customs are not as pronounced as theirs. I only wear bones in my hair during ritual dances and I only wore the traditional devit and sad-ey when I graduated from Northern. I haven't even gone on an arctic hunt ever." She scrunches up her face and shudders. "Although Gran-Gran did bathe me in seal's blood on the full moon closest to my thirteenth birthday, so not all stereotypes are off."

"That sounds horrible."

She giggles at Zuko's horrified expression.

"I know!" she agrees, laughing into her half-empty glass. "And we were already in the Earth Kingdom then! Can you imagine how much I smelled? And the blood was so sticky! Sokka was so lucky his rite of passage was to learn how to sail a boat!"

Zuko only now realizes that he is grinning fully, but he is beyond caring.

"At least tell me something embarrassing happened to Sokka," he says, angling himself to face her, surprised to find that she already mirrored his actions. She giggles into her hand and Zuko finds himself drawn to the flush on her cheeks.

"Oh, he did embarrass himself, alright," she tells him, leaning forward excitedly, "See, in the South, we usually do ice dodging during festivals. It's a whole thing where the community watches— but since we moved, we clearly couldn't hold a festival with just our family. So on Sokka's thirteenth birthday, instead of the surprise party he was expecting, Dad invited all the boys from his class to watch him sail for the first time."

She pauses to take a sip, her eyes sparkling in the dusk. Zuko realizes he doesn't know much about her, even after he'd opened up to her about his life— he promises himself that he would even out the difference because she is his friend, and not because of anything else.

"What happened next?" he prompts, and he tries to ignore how Katara's giggle makes his heart jump.

"He nearly crashed the boat three times, fell into the water twice, and on top of it all, he was wearing his traditional kuval, which weighed him down and made him sweat buckets because it was made for the cold," she replies, gesturing animatedly with her hands. "Everyone called him Stinky Sokka afterwards— it was hilarious. At least no one had to watch me bathe in seal's blood."

Zuko's alcohol-riddled brain supplies him with an image of Katara bathing, and inwardly he curses and shakes his head. He clears his throat uncomfortably.

"That is funny," he says, mouth dry, but she seems oblivious to his less-than-honorable thoughts.

"It really was," she laughs, "He kept grumbling about wanting to just stuff his face with cake afterwards, only to find out that Gran-Gran made stewed sea prunes instead. He still stuffed his face with it, though, so I don't know what his problem was. Then again, no one could resist Gran-Gran's stewed sea prunes and seaweed noodles."

"What other rituals do you have?" Zuko asks, if only to distract himself from the lingering mental image of Katara's tan, naked back. He carefully sets down his half-empty glass as though it would explode.

"Hmm," Katara hums, deep in thought. She leans on one elbow, the length of her arm brushing his thigh. Zuko swallows. "I guess there are the ritual dances. I didn't really get to participate that much when I was just a kid, though. I only relearned the chants when I was already studying in Northern; Aang and I participated in them a lot, but he didn't take so well to the animals being butchered."

"Why?" He absently relaxes onto his elbows as well, bringing him much closer to her than he expected; a light breeze picks up, and a lock of her hair gently tickles his face. He takes ahold of it and twirls it around his finger; she makes no move to stop him.

"Aang grew up in an orphanage run by monks," she explains, tracing patterns into the sand near his hip— he forces his mind to catch up to their conversation. "He believes all life is sacred, so he didn't really like that we butchered seals, even if it was to honor our deities for providing us everything we needed for the winter. He kept trying to find alternatives for it, even after I explained to him how crucial it was to our culture."

Zuko frowns at that, his hand stilling. He could clearly see just how important her culture is to her, and for someone to try to change that— it makes anger simmer inside of him.

"That seems incredibly close-minded," he says, even though he has other far ruder things he wants to say. "I hope you told him off for not respecting your culture."

"Just like I told you off for being a sexist jerk?" She arches her eyebrows and smiles up at him from underneath her lashes, and his breath catches in his throat.

"Yeah," he manages to reply.

"See, the thing with me and Aang was— well, our friends used to tell me that I coddled him too much," she breaks eye contact and shrugs half-heartedly, playing with the sand again. "It's part of the reason why we lasted three years; I didn't have the heart to tell him off for the insensitive things he did."

"Really? You?" Zuko says incredulously, tugging on her hair lightly. She scrunches her nose and swats his chest playfully.

"Oh, shut up, I told you Aang was like a younger brother to me before we dated. Some habits were hard to break," she says. Zuko scoffs, and she throws sand at him. He laughs and dodges her easily, catching her wrist in the process.

Katara blinks up at him, realizing that she is close enough to feel the heat emanating from him, their bodies a hair's breadth away from each other. His grip on her hand tightens, and for a few heartbeats he seems unwilling to let go. Katara feels herself moving forward, drawn to the intensity of his eyes—

He audibly swallows then drops her hand, rolling onto his back with an exhale. She cautiously drops back on the sand, as well, curling up on her side facing him, not bothering to scoot away to a respectable distance.

The air fizzles with that electric thing between them again, and Katara blames her empty stomach and the alcohol. She clears her throat and scrambles to remember what they were talking about.

"A-anyway," she begins, and Zuko turns to look at her, his unblemished side facing her, and she is struck just by how— how beautiful he is, and she suddenly wants to find his father and do something violent to the monster to scarred his own son—

I am so all over the place right now.

"You talked out loud again," Zuko tells her with a small smile, and she wishes he would stop doing that because it was so distracting—

"You were telling me about Aang and you coddling him," he interrupts her, seeing his inner turmoil mirrored in the expressions that flickered over her face. He rolls to his side to face her, actively stopping himself from reaching out across the small space between them.

"Um," she starts again, taking a deep breath, "Aang was— Well, whenever I tried to tell him how I felt when he looked down on our culture… he would just deny he was doing it, because he really believed he was doing the right thing by telling us to change our ways."

"And you were okay with that?"

"Of course I wasn't," she replies with a rueful smile on her face. "But he did let up after a while. That's just how he is, you know? He needs a while to process things that are beyond his control, but when he does, he really puts in the effort. He even helped the Northern Water Tribe shut down this ridiculous project a couple of years back, actually. I don't know what we could have done if Aang hadn't organized people to protect the Northern Spirit Oasis."

A chill runs through Zuko and he sits up, all his other thoughts gone, replaced by fear and trepidation.

"What project was that?" he asks, a little too sharply, and Katara sits up, too, her brows furrowed in confusion.

"This company wanted to build a recreational hub in the Oasis," she explains slowly, warily. Zuko rubs a hand down his face.

"The company— was it—" I can't believe this— why is this happening? he thinks to himself desperately— "Was it First Sozin Development?"

Katara narrows her eyes and hugs her arms close to her body.

"How did you know that?"

"I— it was—" He doesn't know how to explain this. He doesn't know why he feels the need to tell her, even if he is sure it will ruin whatever this thing was between them. "Remember— remember what I said about my sister?"

"Yes." The answer is too curt to give him any comfort.

"That— that was the project," he stammers. "That was what Azula—"

She stands up abruptly, flinging herself away from him. Her glare is heated enough to send him to his feet and back away a couple of paces.

"The Northern Spirit Oasis is a sacred place! Building a recreational hub there would rob the tribe of the most essential part of their culture!"

Katara remembers the protests, the signature campaigns, Aang's speeches, the tribal dances traditionally done on the eve of battle, the undulating songs of the elders as they begged the spirits to cast the evil away.

"I know!" Zuko's voice takes on a pleading tone, but Katara is having none of it. "I mean, I didn't know at the time—"

"Rituals were done there!" She all but screams. "They believe the water has healing properties! And you guys wanted to turn it into a spa!"

"I wasn't part of the decision!" Zuko shouts back. "I told you, I tried to stop her—"

"You said—" she swallows, and he feels his heart drop to his stomach at the sight of her tears, "You said you were Chief of Operations then. You could have— you could have done something!"

"There wasn't anything I could do!" Frustration is building up in him now. He pinches the bridge of his nose and clenches his jaw. "I told you— the project shouldn't have started in the first place! It was out of the way for our clients, it didn't have much of a market—"

"A market?" Katara sneers. "Oh, so that's the only reason why you didn't approve of it? Because you couldn't find enough clients who want to desecrate ritual grounds and feed your corporate greed? Your company didn't even care enough to do an environmental or cultural impact study— you just traipsed in and expected us to lie down and roll over just because you offered money to those who lived there their whole lives!"

"That's not what I'm saying—"

"They may just be our sister tribe, but they've kept their culture intact! Ours faded to memory! And you—" Katara huffs, her hands balled into fists at her sides. "I can't even look at you right now."

She turns on her heel and marches back to the crowded bar. Zuko slumps down forcefully on the beach, grasping a fistful of sand and throwing it angrily.

"How did things get so fucked up?" he mutters to himself, head in his hands.


A/N: This is one hefty chapter, I know, but it's also one that strikes close to home for me. My father is part of an indigenous people called Ibaloi here in the Philippines, and the issues presented here are a reflection of what happens in real life. The prejudice (people still think we have tails), the clothes (the devit, sad-ey, and kuval aren't really made for cold weather, but Ibalois live in the cooler parts of our tropical country), and, most of all, the corporations trying to sully our culture. We actually had to fight off a big company from building an amusement park on top of sacred grounds with one of the oldest trees in the country; unfortunately, despite all the protests and legal remedies, the big guys paid off the local government and won. I wanted to give the Water Tribe the win we never got, but also, I wanted some drama between Zuko and Katara. Anyway, thanks for reading this long chapter, and as always, tell me what you guys think! Cheers!

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