Thinking Out Loud @jacqstoned
A New Chapter

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender.


CHAPTER 38: A New Chapter

Summer has rolled to an end too fast for Katara. Between her summer classes and writing her dissertation and applying for grants, the upcoming opening of classes at the preschool takes her completely by surprise. With all that's been happening during the summer, the prospect of returning to her small classroom felt too big to process. Funnily enough, it is Azula who brings it to her attention.

Katara has been practically living at Zuko's place at that point. Toph has also practically moved out— "I am getting sick of you two dry humping all over the apartment!"— and while she claims she doesn't miss them, she still drops by as often as Sokka, Suki, and Aang do.

"Yeah, she's right here," Katara hears Zuko say on one particularly warm summer day when she is flipping through her notecards in the living room. He's holding his laptop awkwardly in front of his face, disgruntled, and Katara knows he is video calling his sister— despite Zuko's apparent dislike of them, Azula is adamant on video calls, saying that visual cues help her read emotions better. Katara also knows it's because she doesn't quite trust herself to figure out if it's a real person she's talking to when she's on a voice call, but Zuko insists that his sister just likes to mess with him. Whatever the reason, he still makes sure to answer every time she calls, and Azula never fails to tease him about it.

Zuko angles his screen so Azula could see her, and Katara waves at her with a grin.

"How are you holding up?" she asks as Zuko sits on the couch beside her, balancing the laptop on top of Katara's papers on the coffee table.

Azula rolls her eyes.

"Convince Zuzu to tell Uncle to stop sending me every kind of tea on this Agni-forsaken planet," she tells her imperiously, and Zuko huffs in annoyance beside Katara.

"I told you I already did!" he argues, settling an arm around Katara's shoulders. "You know how he gets— he thinks tea will solve every problem in the universe!"

"I don't have time to sip hot leaf juice and contemplate my place in the universe."

"That's what I said! Now he's just disappointed in both of us."

"Oh, you're just scared to face the fact that tea is Iroh's way of showing affection," comments Katara, and from the disgusted look on Azula's face, she knows she hit the mark.

"Be that as it may," scoffs Azula, "I hear you are returning to work soon."

"I am," Katara says, surprised that Azula even bothered to remember her schedule. "It looks like I'm not getting any grants soon, so... Yeah. I'm going back to work in about a month."

"I may have some people who can help you out," offers Azula with a magnanimous air. Katara raises her eyebrows and glances at Zuko, but he looks just as confused as she is.

"You're a business consultant," starts Zuko hesitantly. "How could you possibly know 'some people' in education?"

"It's precisely because I'm a business consultant, dum-dum," counters Azula. "It's good to have connections. You know me— I'm a people person. I happen to know a couple of people involved in foundations that give out education grants for teachers."

"I can't just—" starts Katara, but Azula cuts her off.

"Of course you can. How else would you get anything done?" She says, as though it were the most obvious thing. "Do you really want to see if your dissertation would fly in the real world?"

"Of course I do," says Katara, a little miffed. "But I don't want you to just— just hand me the grant—"

"Oh, you and Zuzu really are perfect for each other," comments Azula with a disdainful eye roll. "I wouldn't 'hand' you the grant, Kat. I'm just pointing you in the right direction. You'll still need to apply, of course."

"Oh," Katara deflates and blinks at Zuko's laptop screen. "Thanks, Azula."

"Do keep in mind that you owe me one," says Azula. Zuko snorts.

"You would love my roommate," he tells her. "She still insists we owe her for getting us together."

"From what I've heard, she seems delightful," Azula grins in her sharp, cat-like way. "Had we gotten together, we would've dominated the world."

"You would have," Katara agrees.

"I hope you two will never meet," sighs Zuko tiredly.

"All in due time, brother," laughs Azula. "Now I really have to go. Work awaits."

They say their goodbyes, with Azula promising to text Katara the details of her connections. Zuko props his head on Katara's lap with another tired sigh.

"I'm still not used to her being so nice," he says, closing his eyes as she cards her fingers through his hair. Katara hums thoughtfully.

"Do you think I should take it? The grant?"

"Of course," Zuko opens one eye and furrows his brow. "Don't you want to?"

"I might have to move, for one," she frowns and traces the wrinkle in his brow with her finger. "Depending on where the grant would specify that I do my project. It could be here in the EK, but I'm also considering the Poles."

"What about the Fire Nation?" asks Zuko.

"There, too," Katara nods. "If the foundation that Azula suggested isn't international."

Zuko swallows audibly.

"What about… us?"

Katara looks at him and tilts her head in question.

"What do you mean, what about us?"

Zuko's palms start to sweat. He clears his throat.

"What will happen to us if you have to move?"

"It'll just take a year to set up the program, if I did the math right in my dissertation," says Katara. "Sure, long distance is never easy, but we'll make it work."

"How can you be so sure?" whispers Zuko, catching her hand and pressing a kiss to her palm. Katara smiles at him amusedly.

"Because it's us, Zuko," she tells him with so much confidence that his breath catches in his throat. "We never give up without a fight."

Zuko laughs, but worry still sticks to the back of his throat.

"I'm still… I'm still scared. I've never done long distance before, and even without the distance it was already a little hard with Mai," he admits. "I don't want to mess up what we have."

"Well, I like to think what we have is stronger than something as silly as distance," says Katara, tapping his nose playfully. Zuko scrunches his face and she giggles before sobering up. "Seriously, though? I'm also scared. But…"

Zuko looks up at her as she gets lost in her thoughts.

"But…?" he prompts, twining her fingers with his. Her expression drops.

"I really want the grant," she whispers, as though it were a secret. "Would— would you hate me if I took it?"

"Of course not!" He sits up, scandalized at the very idea. "Why would you think— did I do something that—"

"No, no! It's just—" Katara takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "The last time I made a big life decision, well— it's pretty much the last straw with… with me and Aang."

"Oh." Zuko nods in understanding, but Katara seems to withdraw into herself. He tips her chin up with his finger. "Katara, I'm not Aang."

"I know that, but—"

"But you're still scared. I get it. But I wouldn't hold it against you if you wanted to do something that's just for you," he smiles sincerely, just a tiny quirk of his lips, but it assures Katara more than anything else. "And it's not just for you— you'll be helping other people, too. All those kids and their families."

Katara laughs and slides her arms around his neck.

"That's a far cry from what you said on our first date," she comments, and he laughs in that husky way of his.

"What do you know, I am capable of change."

"So—"

A sudden insistent knock on the door interrupts them. Zuko crosses the living room and opens it to see Aang with a huge smile on his face.

Speak of the devil, Zuko thinks, but with less irritation than he expected from himself.

"Zuko!" Aang greets enthusiastically, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "Look look look! We got some great news from Avatar!"

He reaches into his bright orange hoodie and produces a rolled up newspaper, pushing it into Zuko's hands.

"Uh…" is all Zuko could muster as Aang excitedly flips through the pages for him.

"Here!" exclaims Aang, holding a page up so close to Zuko's face that he goes slightly cross-eyed.

"What's going on, Aang?" asks Katara from behind Zuko, but he has already zeroed in on a particular article.

Scandal-hit FSDC CEO quits real estate empire

CALDERA CITY— Bankrupt developer Ozai and his company First Sozin Development Corporation (FSDC) have given up the battle to rescue their real estate empire.

Issues with FSDC surfaced late winter last year, when advocacy group Avatar Organization alongside the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed wide-ranging allegations of fraud and violations of workers' rights against Ozai and his Chief of Operations Zhao.

The two executives were apprehended in the Caldera Airport after an attempt to flee the country early summer.

Following the incident, the regional court has appointed a receiver to seize control of the properties and operations of Ozai and FSDC.

Faced with court-ordered loss of control over his holdings, Ozai filed a bankruptcy case at the F.N. Bankruptcy Court that's aimed at the liquidation of his and the company's assets, documents show. Bankruptcy Judge Lee granted the motion mid-summer.

The article then lists the properties and debts his father has.

"What— what does this mean?" gasps Zuko, feeling like the rug has been pulled from under his feet.

Aang doesn't seem to notice. He beams brightly at Zuko.

"We don't have to go through a long trial!" he announces gleefully, arms spread wide. "You don't have to face him, Zuko!"

"B-but—" Zuko's knees start to buckle, and he backs into the living room to sit on the couch, nearly bumping into Katara in his dazed state. "He just… he just gave himself up? Just like that?"

"Uh, well, no," answers Aang, perching himself amongst Katara's stacks of notes on the coffee table. "But now the process is already sped up, since he was caught trying to leave the FN. Plus, his current COO turned on him the minute they offered him lesser charges."

"Zhao," Katara spits the name like a curse. She peruses the article with a sour expression. "He was the one who tried to bribe Arnook during the whole Spirit Oasis fiasco."

"He's an egotistical maniac," mutters Zuko offhandedly. He rubs a hand down his face. "Of course he'd sell Ozai out for his own benefit."

"There's still charges against him, though, so he's not completely off the hook," Aang points out. "Which is good, 'cause all the iffy things they did were under his management."

"I could imagine that way too easily," agrees Zuko. He sighs and looks at Aang. "So, what now? I don't need to fly out there and testify against him anymore?"

"Well, now that the company's officially bankrupt…" Aang scratches the side of his head thoughtfully. "Yangchen said it's pretty much case closed at this point. The courts are just gonna settle how he's gonna pay what he owes, and Avatar's gonna see how many people we can funnel into our livelihood programs, so nope, no need to face him!"

Zuko slumped back against the cushions, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. He'd thought a thousand times about facing his father in court again, and in about half of those imagined scenarios it didn't end well. In some of his particularly bad nightmares, it was him who ended up in prison, not Ozai. Now he has a bundle of unreleased anxiety in his chest that he doesn't know what to do with.

He looks up to find Aang and Katara seemingly having a silent debate. Katara huffs and says she'll make some tea, placing a comforting hand on Zuko's shoulder before hurrying towards the kitchen. Zuko frowns.

"What was that about?" He asks Aang, who just smiles.

"Oh, she's just worried I'm overwhelming you, but…" he scrunches his face childishly before leaning forward, his demeanor suddenly serious. "I don't have too much time until I get to see you again, so I gotta ask you something."

"What, do you need me to testify against another law-breaking relative?" asks Zuko bitterly, but Aang just laughs and nervously scratches his head.

"Well, with what I'm about to ask you, I hope you don't have more law-breaking relatives," he quips, folding his hands together and bouncing his knees.

Zuko raises an eyebrow at him and motions for him to continue.

"See, I'm gonna be the head of the Avatar HQ here, so I have to fly in and out of the country a lot to meet with the other heads," explains Aang. "I need someone to manage the day-to-day stuff in the office— and I thought of you!"

"Me?" chokes out Zuko, bewildered beyond belief. "Why?"

Aang tilts his head questioningly at him.

"Weren't you the Chief of Operations at First Sozin before Zhao?" he asks, as if Zuko missed something obvious.

"Yes, but what does that have to do with the Avatar Organization?"

"Well, you're perfect for the job!" announces Aang, beaming. Zuko continues to look at him as though he has two heads.

"You… you want me… to be your COO?"

"Yep!" Aang replies, unperturbed.

"I don't think that's a good idea," says Zuko bluntly.

A wrinkle appears between Aang's brows as he pouts at Zuko.

"Why not?"

Zuko raises his eyebrow in disbelief.

"Wouldn't your superiors disapprove of someone who was part of the organization you most recently investigated for fraud?"

"But you left way before that," argues Aang earnestly. "And we've looked into the records. You managed both the financial and executive parts of the company well and Ozai didn't get anything big past you, and you were the only one on record to question the Northern Oasis project, and you stood up for a case of unjust termination. That's the kind of thing we like at Avatar. Plus, you were the one who handled the press and presided over the shareholders' meetings, even though those weren't technically part of your job. And I know you manage the suppliers and the budget at the Jasmine Dragon— don't even deny it, I've talked to Iroh, y'know! So all of that means you're more than capable of handling the requirements of the job at Avatar, which is leading, and managing, and strategizing, and, and—oh, and just so you know, it's a salaried position, so it's not like you're a volunteer—"

"Okay, okay, I get it," interrupts Zuko, who had reddened at the deluge of positive information that Aang dropped. "I just— I'll think about it, okay?"

"Yay!" Aang throws his arms in the air and for one horrifying moment, Zuko was afraid he would hug him. Aang seems to sense his tension and just bounces on the coffee table instead, dislodging some of Katara's papers. "Please, please, please tell me the minute you decide, okay?"

"Yeah, sure," says Zuko distractedly, picking up Katara's papers from the floor. "I'll have to talk to Uncle before I decide anything."

"Of course!" Aang replies with a wide, much too innocent grin.

Zuko narrows his eyes at him.

"You've already talked to him about the job, haven't you?"

"Noooo…"

"Aang, c'mon, you're not fooling anyone," says Katara, entering the living room with a tray of tea and cakes. She sets them down on a side table and passes the cups around. "You can't just go behind people's backs like that, you know."

"But Iroh was the one who suggested Zuko for the job!" protests Aang, motioning at Zuko with his cup and nearly sloshing them both with tea. "I just went to him for advice 'cause everyone says he's great at giving advice. And now I'm following what he told me!"

"And you just agreed with him?" asks Zuko incredulously.

"Well, I vetted you first, of course, but it all turned out great!" shrugs Aang. "Even Yangchen and Kuruk agree!"

"Okay, who are Yangchen and Kuruk?" asks Zuko, blowing on his tea. "Do I still need to interview? What's the process here?"

"Yangchen and Kuruk are the current president and VP of the entire Avatar Organization," explains Aang. "Kuruk works from the North Pole office and Yangchen is more international. You're gonna meet them eventually if you accept the job, but since this is for the headquarters here, only our HQ's HR will be interviewing you— just a quick one for protocol's sake."

Zuko contemplatively sips his tea— black with spices, an inside joke now between him and Katara— before nodding slowly.

"You said Uncle recommended me for this?"

"Yup!" replies Aang, clutching his cup to his chest. "He was the one who listed all your qualifications."

Zuko looks over at Katara, who is perched on the arm of the couch. She gives him a small smile and a shrug, her brows furrowed a little— it's your choice, she seems to say. Zuko takes a deep breath.

"Okay," he says, and Aang begins to cheer, but Zuko holds up his hand. "I need to know more about Avatar before I fully commit."

Aang leans forward, suppressing a smile as he does.

"What do you wanna know?"

Their tea grows cold as they talk the entire afternoon.


Two weeks before the start of classes at the preschool, Katara opens her laptop to find an email.

The email. From the foundation that Azula connected her to.

With shaking fingers, she clicks it open, and there it is—

Congratulations! We are happy to inform you—

She doesn't read anything past that before she tucks her laptop under her arm and rushes into the bedroom, where Zuko was getting ready for his first day at Avatar.

"I got the grant," whispers Katara, holding her laptop out for Zuko to take. Zuko almost trips over himself in his haste to look at it.

"You got the grant," he repeats, eyes never leaving the screen. She could see him reading the letter over and over before finally looking at her. "You got the grant."

"I got the grant," Katara repeats again, the news now truly sinking in. She squeals and throws herself at Zuko. "I did it! I got it! I got the grant!"

Zuko embraces her tightly, her laptop squished against her back.

"I am so proud of you," he murmurs against her hair and she feels like her face would break from smiling so widely.

"I can't believe it," she breathes, pulling back a little. "And it's an international program, too!"

"A year in the South Pole," says Zuko, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. "I'll have to see if Avatar's got some stuff that need overseeing there, so I can see you often."

"Wait, they're giving me the grant for my exact dissertation?" asks Katara, taking the laptop from him.

Zuko's lips quirk into an amused half-smile.

"You didn't even read through it before you came here?"

"No! I was way too excited!" Katara squeals again as she scrolls through the letter. "Oh, Tui and La! They're giving me everything I need!"

"I am so happy for you," says Zuko sincerely, wrapping his arms around her and kissing her temple. "You've worked really hard for this."

Katara peers up at him, concern in her eyes.

"Are you still worried about how this will affect us?" She asks him, already knowing the answer.

Zuko gulps and nods, pressing her closer to him and tucking her head under his chin.

"There's so much changing all at once," he admits, voice barely above a whisper. "I'm starting at a new job, and you'll be moving away soon…"

"Feels like we're moving on to a new chapter of our lives, doesn't it?" agrees Katara, playing with his tie. She's still getting used to seeing him in suits, but it wasn't an unwelcome change. She sighs and burrows her face against his chest. "Half of me is really, really looking forward to this, but part of me is also really, really scared. What if I fail?"

"Then you'll deal with it, because you're strong and adaptable that way," declares Zuko, the surety in his voice calming Katara's nerves. "And that's giving me hope that we can survive this whole long distance thing, y'know?"

Katara laughs.

"I'd hate to say I told you so, but…"

"Fine, fine, you're right as usual," Zuko laughs, too, disentangling himself from her and looking deep into her eyes. "We'll make it work."

"We will," replies Katara, her gaze burning. "I'm sure of it."

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