DISCLAIMER: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender.
CHAPTER 7: Spa Day
"I'm surprised you agreed to go to the spa with me today."
Toph turns her head lazily, her sightless eyes covered by cucumber slices. "Yeah, well, you're lucky I had a bit of time to kill, Sweetness."
"Mm hmm, sure," Katara mutters, humoring her. Toph would never admit it out loud, but Katara knows she enjoys it. And Katara knows it is easier to get Toph talking when she spends the day knee-deep in essential oils.
They are in their regular spa. They've frequented it so much that the masseuses knew not to scrub Toph's feet after their first few attempts a few years ago resulted in a deluge of profanities.
"Hey," Toph calls out to her beneath her mud mask, "why'd you wanna go out in the first place?"
"Do I really need a reason?" Katara sighs. "I just want to spend more time with you."
"Quit sugar-coating, Sugar Queen. I know you've got a lot to say."
"Fine!" Katara snaps. All the tension that slipped out of her during the massage find their way back into her body. "You disappeared for a year, we barely knew where you were, you barely talked to any of us, and then you just stroll back into our lives like nothing happened? What gives, Toph? We're supposed to be friends!"
"We are friends, Katara." Toph replies calmly. "Sokka and Aang are over it. I don't see why you're putting up a big stink about it. "
"I just…" Katara twists her fingers around each other anxiously. "I needed you there. When Aang and I broke up. Sokka didn't really understand, but I knew you would."
Toph is silent for so long Katara thinks she has fallen asleep.
Toph's voice is barely audible. "I get it. It's why I disappeared, too." She sits up and sighs. "I needed to have my own adventures."
Her words hang in the air as Katara mulls them over.
Her adventures over the year weren't all that exciting, but it is nice to feel like she's in control of her future. She's making her own decisions instead of just going with whatever Aang had planned out for the next ten years. It is nice to find herself and her passions. She's living her own life without any external influences. Except…
"Toph! I still don't know why you set me up with Scarface!"
Toph snorts into her mud mask. "That's a pretty creative nickname, Sweetness. But I think I'll stick to calling him 'Sparky'."
Katara flicks a cucumber slice off Toph's eye. "That doesn't answer my question!"
Toph grins. "I thought you guys would hit it off, since you're both pains in my ass."
Katara realizes she won't get a serious answer from Toph, even with all the pampering she's bribed her with. She huffs. "How did you even end up being roommates with him?"
"I had a lot of adventures when I was gone, Sweetness." Toph hops off her bed and stretches. "C'mon, let's get out of here. I need a drink."
"Wow, Toph. When you said you needed a drink, I didn't picture this."
They are standing outside a small, somewhat rustic tea shop a couple of blocks from the spa. The words "Jasmine Dragon" are engraved on the wooden sign above the entrance, framed by intricate carvings of two bearded, scaled dragons. She's never seen a tea shop in this part of downtown before. Katara is sure she would've heard of it, judging by how packed the place was.
"Is this place new?" she asks. Toph doesn't seem to hear her and merrily charges in.
"I don't think we're going to find a table, Toph."
"It's okay, I know a guy," Toph waves at her as she makes her way to a seat in the corner. Katara weaves her way through the crowded tables, wondering how on earth a blind girl can walk through this place without any assistance.
She settles down on the cushions with a sigh. Toph plops down on the couch across from her.
"Honestly, Toph, I didn't think this was your kind of scene."
"I'm full of surprises, Sugar Queen." Toph tucks her hands behind her head. "Besides, you wanted to snoop around on what I did when I was gone, right?"
"I wasn't snooping—"
"Miss Toph!" A stout, elderly man approaches them jovially, his hands tucked into the sleeves of his traditional robes. "It is so good to see you back so soon!"
"Just checking up on ya, Pops."
'Pops' chuckles appreciatively before bowing to Katara. "I see you've brought a friend. It is absolutely lovely to meet you, Miss…?"
She springs to her feet and bows awkwardly. "Katara. I'm sorry, Toph didn't have the good grace to tell me who we were visiting."
He laughs heartily while Toph snickers from her seat. "You may call me Iroh, Miss Katara." He claps his hands together. "Now! What would you ladies have?"
"Gotta hand it to ya, Gramps," Toph munches on an beautifully-iced cookie. "I didn't think you'd become the best tea-maker in town in just a few weeks."
Iroh blushes. "That's very sweet of you to say, Miss Toph."
"Glad to know I invested in the right place," Toph pops the rest of her cookie in her mouth and reaches for another one.
Katara looks up from her oolong tea. "'Invested'?"
"Miss Toph was kind enough to partner with me in my venture," Iroh explains.
"How did that happen?" Katara leans forward in her chair. "I never knew Toph was so interested in tea."
Toph shrugs. "Met Gramps about a year ago. He made good tea and gave good advice, so I figured, what the hell, y'know?"
"Oh, she is being too modest, Miss Katara." Iroh takes a sip of his tea and smiles kindly at Toph. "She also agreed to take in my nephew when the poor boy lost his home."
Katara's eyes widen with Toph's.
"Pops! You weren't supposed to say that!"
"That's how you ended up being roommates with Scar- with Zuko?"
"Oh no," Iroh says, his tone amused and not the least bit perturbed, "Was I not supposed to talk about your kind heart, Miss Toph?" He then turns to Katara, whose jaw was still hanging from the revelation. "I did not realize you knew my nephew!"
Katara promptly closes her mouth. She clears her throat uncomfortably. "After a fashion, I guess."
Toph snorts into her tea. "She thinks he's a jerk."
"Toph!" Katara worriedly looks at Iroh, waving her hands defensively. "I don't think your nephew's a jerk! Well, not anymore, but he just seems a little- um… condescending… sometimes. But that's just because I haven't known him long! I'm sure-"
"I understand, Miss Katara." He bows his head over his cup. His smile fades slightly. "Zuko may appear aloof, but that is because he is his father's son, and he still has not found his own way and own aspirations. I'm afraid he still aligns his values with what his father believes in. My brother can be… condescending, too, to say the least."
Katara sips her tea quietly, unsure of what to say to this torrent of information. One thing she is sure of, though, is how much Iroh loves his nephew. It seems like he has been taking care of Zuko from childhood. And with the way he talked about his brother, Katara gets a feeling that Zuko's childhood may not have been easy.
"I hope my nephew finds himself soon." Iroh smiles up at them, eyes glistening. "I would have offered to let him stay at my home, but because of the construction of the tea shop, it was not exactly presentable if he decided to bring home a lady friend."
Katara chokes on her tea.
I don't think that's gonna be a problem.
"Oh, I don't know, Miss Katara," Iroh says. Toph sniggers into her cup. "Zuko has been particularly charming to one of our regulars. Jin, I think she is called. Such a wonderful girl."
Huh, Katara thinks, sipping her tea to prevent her from saying her thoughts out loud, I guess I just wasn't 'wonderful' enough to see the 'particularly charming' side of Scarface.
But then again, why should I care?
A/N: Whew, we're really getting a bulky fic here, huh? Sorry. I have a couple chapters lined up, but I may not update this until I finish another chapter. Just so I have back up stuff to publish, you know? Anyway, enough rambling from me. Lemme know what you think!