A/N: Punny chapter title - we have a little moodiness going on here, but...there's another reason. Sometimes I hate coming up with chapter titles when there isn't a single unifying theme. Oh, well. Just some more character development during Thanksgiving break, starting off with a very important plot event.
What I Learned at SRU
Chapter 34 - Moody
- Friday, November 25th, 2010 -
Toph forced the lump in her throat down with a hard swallow as she stepped onward, her feet shoved into tight shoes. Madison and some other servants had tidied her hair into a tight, round bun and suited her into one of the formal dresses she'd wear for family affairs. To Toph, all of these dresses seemed the same: stiff, binding, uncomfortable. The walk to her parent's chambers was long and distressing. Madison led her by the hand, while Meng clasped the other one for encouragement.
A single thought kept pounding at Toph's skull from the inside, aching to be let out: I don't want to be here.
Over and over the idea consumed Toph for the duration of the journey across the mansion. It was eventually joined by regret, anger, and fear. By the time they had arrived, she had to take a slow breath just to calm her body, her heart pounding from the inflated emotions. Aggravation with herself for feeling these things in the first place set in.
"Tophie...Are you...OK?" Meng muttered from her left. "Your hand's shaking..."
"Oh." Toph quickly unclipped her tightened fingers from both girl's hands and locked them together before her waist. "Nervous."
"It's fine, Lady Toph," Madison's ever-assuring voice claimed. "Be calm."
"Take the time you need." Madison's dexterous, calloused hand rubbed Toph's bare shoulder gently.
Toph breathed. That was all she focused on for a few moments. Taking air in and releasing it - nothing more. Moments passed - maybe a minute or two. When the trembling in her hands had ceased and her heart no longer thundered, she lifted her head.
She could hear the sound of the heavy wooden doors being shoved open as Meng grunted from their heft, and Madison led her through.
"Master and Madame Beifong, your daughter is here," Madison announced.
"Thank you." The sound of Toph's father stung like icy water. "You may go, Madison."
Uneasiness was rapidly settling into Toph's stomach again as the sound of Madison's familiar footsteps disappeared behind her and the doors closed. The room was warm and dry, but the presence of her distraught parents prevented Toph from being at ease. She recognized the smell of this room - it was kind of a lounge area beside her parents' bedroom. This always seemed to be the room they'd call her to whenever they needed to talk with her about something serious. The familiar scent of cigars wrinkled her nose, instantly setting her off a bit. The smell was unpleasant to start, but inherently reminded her of all of the other times she'd been here to be scolded at or argued with.
"Come forward, Dear," her mother requested. She obliged, boldly moving forward with larger strides that she'd normally partake without use of her cane. Her parents didn't like her using her cane - it meant she was trying to rely on herself to get around, and there simply wasn't a need for that. No need to even risk hurting herself.
"Are you enjoying time with your cousin?"
"Yes, Mother," Toph quaintly informed. "We've been spending time working on my music."
"Oh, splendid. That sort of hobby really does take quite a lot of work, doesn't it?"
"It...it's not my hobby, Mother. It's what I want to do for a career."
"Yes, yes, of course." And there it was, the 'That's nice, Dear' tone. That dismissive way her mother would put her down that drove Toph insane.
"And have you decided what it is you wish to do with that career, Toph?" Father's more careful tone immediately pressed its weights on her brain.
"I-I'm still working that stuff out," she admitted. "But cousin Meng is assisting me in finding ways to promote my work."
"So you wish to perform?" Father sounded blatantly skeptical.
"I believe she does, Dear."
"And how, precisely, do you intend to manage that manner of lifestyle with your condition?"
Toph contained her irritation behind the well-worn mask of courtesy.
"Every musician has a team of assistants," she explained simply.
"Hm." Argh. That obnoxious habit of his. He'd just 'hm' his way out of consideration. "What of the Beifong family business?"
"Wh...-? Mom, Dad..." Toph huffed, her locked hands tightening. "We've already talked about all of this..."
"Yes, and we assumed you were just being rash, Toph. You're truly going to ignore all of the hard work your family has put into building this company?" Now Mother was getting worked up.
"I'm not ignoring it, it's just not what I want to do with-"
"You want to shirk your responsibilities and be a musician."
"Yes, Dad, I want to be a musician!"
"You aren't capable of supporting yourself without-"
"I've been supporting myself just fine, Dad!"
"Don't interrupt your Father, Toph."
"...He interrupted me first."
Toph furrowed her brows in defiance, squirming in her dress during the moment of thick silence.
"How much longer will you keep wasting your life with this fantasy?"
"Pardon?" Toph did her best to contain her rage at the way his question had been phrased.
"Spending your time on this incredulous idea that you will spend your life playing music."
"I love playing music," professed Toph, attempting to garner their sympathy. "And I'm really good at it!"
"For someone with your condition, certainly," conceded her Father.
You just can't fucking admit it when I can do anything on my own, can you?
"With all due respect, Father, I didn't come here to talk about my work."
"Is that so? It seems to be what is most important to you."
"It...is very important to me, but there are other things, too."
"Like this boy at school."
"Yes, that boy at school."
"And these other students who pull you away from your academics."
"Your college friends."
"Yes. But you guys are important, too," she insisted, cutting in before her dad could assume any more. She could see where this train was headed.
"So important that you will go days without returning our calls."
"I-I'm a college student! I'm...extremely busy, and-"
"Busy with your music. And wasting time on mediocre activities with these friends you have."
"You can't expect me to be working constantly, everyone needs some time-"
"We can't expect to ever hear back from you, either."
"Could you stop interrupting me?" Toph demanded. There was a pause before her father slammed his fist against his chair's arm.
"Perhaps at this questionable university your peers don't respect their parents, but in this home you will not speak back to your Father. You are a Beifong lady, and you will act like one within this estate."
His words hammered at her, her face warm and her chest heavy as she took deep breaths, her heartbeat eratic. She didn't say a word, deflecting his anger as best she could.
"We've given you nearly three semesters now to enjoy this phase of irresponsibility, but we won't tolerate it any longer."
"A phase? You think this is a phase? It's who I am, Dad." Toph grasped at the headdress holding her hair in a bun and yanked it out, tossing it to the marble floor as her hair fell over her shoulders in a mess. She let it be, proceeding with her assault. "Growing up in this house? Pretending to be this polite, helpless little girl? That was a phase, Dad!"
"It sounds as if this university is enforcing rebellious behavior, Toph," observed her Mother with some disdain.
"It's enforcing me to be myself for once! I get to make my own decisions! Spend time with who I want to. People help me because I ask them to, because they want to, not because it's their job or that they pity me."
"I see," muttered her mom. "Spend time with who you want to..."
"Ah," chimed in her father. "So as soon as you have freedom - as soon as you're no longer living with us - then we become a burden. We're something to be avoided."
"I-I didn't say that," Toph attempted to recover, pushing fallen hair behind her shoulders.
"These friends at school whom you've known hardly a year - suddenly they are more important than your family," concluded Father.
"You would spend your holiday with them before us," Mother reminded.
The pain in their voices stung like sunburn, making her hesitant to say anything in reply.
They were guilt-tripping her. That was their game. They had done it before, when she had first tried to get into SRU. Yes, that was all this was. Just another ploy to get her to do what they wanted instead of what she wanted. Obviously. And she was letting them succeed, so what kind of idiot did that make her?
She swallowed her regret and choked out an answer.
"They don't act like everything I do is a mistake! They believe in me and let me do things my own way."
"They're your peers, of course they're going to do that! How will they know what is right or wrong any better than you?"
"You make it sound like I'm still a kid."
"You certainly don't yet act like an adult. You've spent two days now pretending as if your own parents don't exist. Even after we've been paying for your education."
"Just gonna keep on waving that over my head? You practically blackmailed me to make me come here!"
"Toph, your father has to work very hard to maintain his business!"
Toph crossed her arms and bobbed her head, far from interested in this lecture over again.
"Yes, I know."
"If you don't want to respect our wishes, and you feel so confident about handling matters without our help, maybe that's what you should do. Is that what you want?" Mother sounded rather disappointed.
"Maybe that's what I will do..."
"And how are you going to manage that?" Father was full of doubt, like always.
"With the savings I have in my own name," came Toph's bold reply.
No response to that one.
"I've gone over it, and there's more than enough there to pay for the rest of my tuition," Toph explained matter-of-factly. "So if it offends you so much where you feel like your money's being wasted on your daughter doing what she loves, then fine. I'll handle it."
"You sound quite serious about this," mumbled her Dad.
"Yes, I am," she solemnly confirmed. "I'm sick of being treated like I can't do anything! You guys are always bothering me and trying to make me do what you want instead of letting me do what I want. I don't care what you guys think!"
"And I feel like I actually have real friends at SRU, instead of all of this fake bullshit I have to put up with here! I finally have a boyfriend I actually love, and you guys don't even care about meeting him!"
"We certainly do want to meet him," Father corrected. "But this was a family holiday and he is not family."
"Why does it seem like no one I will ever be with will be family to you, Dad? Huh? I feel like I'm not family!"
"Calm down, Toph," her mother attempted to settle things.
"Don't tell me what to be calm about! I'm done with all this pretend shit, like we're some happy little family...And nothing I do is fucking good enough for you guys! I'm fucking blind and I can play music for people! Doesn't that seem special to you? In any way at all? You act like it's a curse, like I should be avoiding it, like it's a waste of time. You know what people at school tell me? I'm a fucking miracle. That's what they tell me."
"That's what they tell you?" muttered Father with a sigh.
"Yes!" Sort of. Sometimes. I'm sure some one has told me that at some point... "This is something I need to do with my life! Why won't you fucking understand that?"
"Toph," her mother pleaded. "Could you please not use that language?"
"Oh, and I'm not even allowed to talk my own way, either, right? Every time I'm around you guys I need to...fucking dress up and put on a smile and pretend like everything's all rainbows and shit, just to-"
"Toph, you're upsetting your mother..."
"-make you guys keep deluding yourselves into thinking our lives are picture-fucking-perfect."
Toph could hear her mother beginning to sob. She huffed with irritation, crossing her arms over her chest.
"And then whenever I try to stand up for myself you pull this guilt-tripping crap to force me back into my corner and be a good little girl again."
"You are a girl," Father cut in. "You're acting like a childish hellion."
"Good! Fucking good!" Toph thrashed her arms out, letting hair fall across her face as she shouted. "Raise some hell! Stir some shit! If that's what it takes to break outta this damned cage, then that's what I'll do!"
"Where is this coming from?" moaned Mother between bouts of tears. "We raised you to know better than to-"
"You've raised me like I'm mentally retarded just because I can't see!"
"We've raised you to be a Beifong woman, not a rock star."
"I'll be whoever the hell I want!"
Toph's heart was slamming against her ribs, her head spinning. She felt as if she had opened the floodgates that had been storing all of this anger. She didn't care if it hurt their feelings. They were going to hear her out, and then she'd be done with it and they could just deal with it.
"I've felt this way for a long while," she continued, trying to calm herself. "All the time, you're always treating me like I'm helpless. Instead of supporting me in what I want to do, you discourage it!"
"You're young!" explained Father. "You're full of...aspirations. Ideas. But you have to face the reality that you are handicapped - that there are some obstructions that you cannot overcome."
"Wow, thanks for the pep-talk, Dad!"
"You have obligations to this family! We aren't able to live this lifestyle because we chase dreams, Toph."
"I don't care about this lifestyle!"
"Then I suppose you won't care when you longer have it."
"I suppose I won't!"
"This isn't a wise decision, Toph."
"But it's my decision, Dad."
"And it's not what is best for you!"
Toph pressed her fingertips into her temples with impatience as her mother followed through.
"Toph...my daughter. You are blind, my dear. You need others to help you, to take care of you. With this attitude you have, I'm afraid that-"
"I don't need anyone! Christ! Are you even listening to me?"
"I've had enough," Father spat. "Your ungrateful words, your irresponsible choices, your lack of consideration...I am finished hearing this."
"Fine! I'm sick of talking about it!"
"Then I suppose this discussion is over."
"'Bout fuckin' time!"
This was great. She had them all flustered and upset, and there was nothing they could do about it. She could finally make a break from this whole situation. No obligations to this family she never cared for. No responsibility to this work her father was trying to force on her. She could go out and make her own life without needig to worry about them. The idea was calming.
"Was that all?" her father inquired.
"I dunno, Dad, you tell me," Toph barked back. "Anything else you need to say about how I can't do anything for myself?"
Toph relished the silence: a victory. Freedom. Soon enough she could do whatever she wanted.
"Great," she called out with snark. "I guess I'll just go back to what I was doing, and soon enough you won't have to worry yourselves about me." Toph spun around and headed for the double doors with bold strides that eventually wore down to inching steps as she slowly reached her arms out.
"What, Mom?" She groped her hands across one of the door handles and tightened her fingers around the cold metal bar.
"We don't understand why you're acting this way..."
"You never have understood me," Toph sighed with some melodrama. They wanted to rub guilt in her face? She could do it right back.
"We just don't want to see you get hurt. You're our daughter."
"You're a part of this family," her Dad added. "Even if you refuse to act like one..."
Toph snorted out air through her nose.
"I've never been a part of this family."
"Perhaps if you didn't insist on removing yourself from it so much, things wouldn't seem that way."
"I remove myself because everyone treats me like I'm helpless and...and can't take care of myself."
"That's because you can't take care of yourself, Toph."
Her teeth grinding together, Toph ripped the door open, bumping it on her toes in her hurry.
"I can. I don't need you guys anymore. I can carry my own weight."
Toph stood, hand holding the door open, back to her parents. Her heartbeat had settled, her emotions had stormed out, and now all that remained was cold determination.
"I'll prove it."
- Saturday, November 26th, 2010 -
"No, I haven't heard back from her yet..." Aang closed his phone and dropped it onto the coffee table with doubt. "I hope everything's OK..."
"No point in worrying," Jane decided flatly. "Not like you can do anything about it."
"OK, seriously?" Jane glared at the television screen. "I'm gettin' sick of seeing this guy's dumb face on pause. His eye is freakin' me the hell out..."
Aang glanced up from his drawing pad to observe the actor's face frozen in mid-speech, his eyes looking in different directions, one enlarged and set in a mechanical monocle. Aang chuckled at the odd expression before going back to his doodle - a wide-eyed creature with enormous ears and webbed skin in the shape of wings growing out of his arms.
"You're drawing that stupid little monkey-thing again?" sighed Sokka from behind the couch as he snuck into the living room.
"Lemur-Bat," Aang corrected. "And he's not stupid. He has a name."
"Oh-ho, excuse me." Sokka plopped himself down on the recliner, a thick ham and bacon sandwich in his hand. "What makes that critter so special? He's dumb." He took a large bite of his meaty meal.
"Sokka, stop picking on Momo," Katara scolded as she entered, carrying a pair of plates. "He's really cute."
"See? Katara remembered his name...He's like my mascot."
"You're such a freakin' dweeb, Twinkle-Toes," Jane picked, rubbing her knuckle on his head as she flashed him a mischievous grin.
"Hey, hey," he laughed. "You're gonna mess me up..." Aang gently nudged her arm off and flipped his pencil around to erase an accidental mark he'd just made. Katara set the two plates down on the coffee table before the two and whirled back around to the kitchen.
"Sorry, guys. Something came up at work and Dad has to stay late, so I tried to make some dinner. There's still some leftovers if you guys want, but I made sandwiches."
"What's in this?" Jane wondered, quizzically oggling the food.
"It's a turkey sandwich, Jane," Katara replied with a raised voice from the kitchen. "With some salad dressing, the way you like it."
When had Jane told Katara that was her favorite? She couldn't even remember - but Katara sure seemed to. Jane immediately scooped up the wheat bread and chowed down without any further objection.
"What's mine, then?" Aang asked with some worry.
"Oh." Katara came back in, carrying her own food. "That's peanut butter and jelly. I wasn't sure what else to make you, since you...don't eat meat."
"Oh, cool." Aang set his partway finished work on the couch's arm to his right and eagerly scarfed down his sugary snack. "Ffankff, Kuhtawha."
"You're welcome," giggled Katara as she set herself down on the left side of the couch next to Jane.
"Katara," Sokka piped in, having just finished devouring his own food. "How many more of these do we have to watch?"
"This is the fourth one, Sokka, so we have two more after this. And then we can see the new one in the theater."
"Geeeeez," he groaned. "Can't we just skip 'em and go see the one that's out?"
"No!" Katara was adamant. "Jane hasn't seen them yet!"
"Yea, Sokka," Jane joined in on the bashing. "You made me sit through the Lord of the Rings movies, now Katara gets to make me sit through the Harry Potter ones."
"Pff." Sokka kicked back his recliner and scratched his stomach. "There were only three of those..."
"Stop your whining." Katara found her way to the remote. "Everybody ready?"
["How do we sort out the liars?"]
"Somethin' is way off with this guy," muttered Jane carefully between bites of her sandwich, observing the crazed man on the screen with the freakish eyeball.
["Another, another. Up, up. C'mon."]
"Neville's such a little sweetie," cooed Katara in regards to the timid boy raising his hand.
["Longbottom, is it? Up. Professor Sprout tells me you have an aptitude for Herbology."]
"Hee." She seemed quite amused by his awkward expression.
["Th-there's the, um...the Cruciatus Curse."]
"Mmfh." Jane nodded, her cheeks puffed.
["Correct! Correct! Come, come. Particularly nasty..."]
"He's such a little dork," Katara observed with a smile.
"Yea, just like Aang," Sokka picked, pointing out a lazy toe at his roommate. Aang frowned with some disdain, his eyes glued to his page.
["The torture curse."]
"Oh, no," Jane groaned. "He's not gonna-"
The squeaking from the spider's pain made Jane pout as she watched it writhe in agony.
"Poor Neville," Katara lamented like one would to a puppy, recalling the character's backstory and why the sight of the spell upset him so.
"I'm not like Neville," Aang grumbled.
"Oh, quit pouting," Katara eased. "You don't know his whole story yet..."
["Stop it! Can't you see it's bothering him? Stop it!"]
"Fuckin' bastard," hissed Jane. "What did that spider ever do to you? Huh?"
"Didn't realize you were so defensive of spiders." Katara scratched Jane's back with affection.
"People act like bugs are lesser creatures. Pisses me off."
["Perhaps you'd like to give us the last curse, Miss Granger?"]
"Since when did you like bugs so much?" Katara mumbled. Jane pointed a finger at her chest.
"Looks like Hermione feels your pain, Jane," Aang mused, nodding a head to the teary-eyed girl in the film.
["Avada Kedavra!"] There was a flash, and the spider squealed once more before it lay motionless.
"Shit, did he kill it?" Jane whispered. "What a bitch!"
Aang and Katara chuckled at Jane's overreaction.
["The Killing Curse. Only one wizard is known to have survived it. And he's sitting in this room..."]
"Whoa, wait!" Jane thrust out her palms. "Why is he staring at Harry like that? There's a reason. I know it."
Katara administered a facepalm to herself, toothy grin showing through as she paused the film again.
"Gawd!" bemoaned Sokka in jest. "Maybe if you paid more attention instead of talking, you would know, eh?"
"Whatever! This seemed important," Jane defended.
"Did you forget?" Katara began the lesson.
"How Harry got his lightning scar. On his head?" Katara poked Jane's forehead playfully.
"When he was a baby, he got hit by the Killing Curse when Lord Voldem-"
"He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!" Sokka cut in. Katara shot him a glare before continuing.
"...When The Dark Lord came to kill his family. His mother protected him with her love, so he only got a scar instead of getting killed."
"Oh." Jane scratched her hair thoughtfully. "'Kay. Yea, I remember now."
"That's what they're talking about."
"Does Neville really like spiders, or something?" Jane wondered out of nowhere.
"W-well...I mean, maybe?" Katara shrugged. "His parents were tortured by that spell, when Neville was a baby. They went...crazy because of it...Neville's never really had his parents around because of it."
"Oh." Jane scratched her cheek, unsure of how to respond to the morbid idea.
Katara cast a cursory glance to Aang, whose hardened, insulted expression had softened. She couldn't help but wonder what was on his mind, but knew it had to do with the correlation to the character's history.
"There's somethin' 'bout that 'Arry Pot-eh chap wot makes 'im spessohl," Jane mocked, oblivious of the tension behind her.
Katara shook her head, attempting to contain her amusement, and went to turn the movie back on.
"Somethin' wot makes you special, too, Jane," she teased. "Not sure it's such a good thing in your case..."
Azula lifted a grouchy finger to topple her black king chess piece. She stared at it, her eyes narrowed in frustration.
"You win again, Uncle," she huffed, tapping an impatient finger against her arm.
"Best three out of five?" Iroh offered.
"That's quite all right," murmured his niece with a sigh.
"You are surrendering?" gasped Iroh. He slapped his knee and barked out a laugh. "This must be a first, Azula."
"There's a first time for everything, Iroh."
"Indeed there is. Such as...the first time a woman has led the Kurosawa business. Mm?"
Azula smirked as she watched her uncle's wide, strong fingers carefully place his chess pieces back in their proper slots in his intricate chess case.
"I hear she's doing quite a fantastic job," Azula observed facetiously.
"That is good news." Iroh set his case on the kitchen table and waddled over to the tea kettle on his stove. He took a pair of mugs off of his long rack that ran the length of the countertop's wall, and filled them both with steaming tea.
"It hasn't been easy cleaning up the political nonsense the previous CEO left behind..."
"I am certain that she will manage." Iroh set the mugs on the table. The one he placed before his niece had a cartoony T-rex and the word 'RAWR' printed beside it. Azula's eyelids drifted down halfway as she recollected the past. Uncle had kept the mug around just for her - she had loved dinosaurs as a child. Her mind wandered back to a memory of a rainy afternoon when she had come to visit. She had caught a cold playing outside with her cousin, and Iroh had served them tea with cookies Auntie had made.
She was stirred to the present, her hands wrapped around the mug, as her Uncle leaned over to pour some honey on, mixing it in with a spoon.
"After all," he mused, "I hear those Kurosawas are quite a determined bunch. Very ambitious. You know?"
"So they say..." Azula sniffed in the familiar aroma that wafted up from her ceramic mug.
"Is something the matter, Niece?" Iroh dropped the spoon into the sink and returned the small honey jug to its home on the countertop. Azula perked her eyes wide open and propped the mug up.
"Of course not." She took a sip, letting the warm liquid slide down her throat. "I'm fine."
"I am happy to see you and your brother getting along," Iroh observed.
"When Zuko isn't sitting atop his moral high ground and administers some respect to his older sister, we get along swimmingly."
"Moral high ground, you say?" Iroh repeated with a coy raised brow.
"Oh, really, Uncle," Azula huffed, averting her eyes to her tea, her long fingers still wrapped around the mug, warming her palms. "I have earned it. I am accepting our family's burden while he is still playing dress up as president at school."
"Who is disrespecting who, Azula?"
"Zuko is disrespecting our family with his desires to pursue a career that's disconnected from us."
"Don't you think you are taking this a little personally, Niece?"
"Of course I'm taking it personally! He is my brother."
"And he loves you very much."
"Is that what he tells you?" Azula came back with a snippy retort.
"Do not be a fool. It is unbecoming of you. You are too keen to play ignorant, my Niece."
Azula drank more tea, hunched over in her seat.
"Zuko is the one who treats me like...I am some insane person."
"What do you mean?"
"For instance!" Azula raised an index finger. "He's taken to using nicknames such as...GodZula."
"Waha!" Iroh burst out. He immediately silenced himself upon noticing the fire in Azula's eyes. "That is...endearing," he defended. "You have your own names for him that I imagine he does not always appreciate."
"That...is true." Azula sighed. 'ZuZu' and 'Dum-Dum' didn't exactly have stellar connotations, did they?
"You and your brother are very different people, Azula."
"I know for a fact that Zuko is very concerned about you."
Azula's mouth curved downward slightly in a small grimace of doubt.
"And I know that his well-being is important to you."
"He is my brother. He's a Kurosawa. I won't sit idly by and let him not live up to his namesake."
"Of course. But you two have a troubled past." Iroh intook some of his tea with a loud slurping sound. "But enduring pain is what makes us stronger people, Azula. Take, for example, the way muscles in the body work. They-"
"When you use them to their limits, they strain and tear, only to grow back together stronger than before. I understand."
Iroh slapped his knee with the familiar "Whaha!" as Azula smirked.
"No need to run me through your gauntlet of metaphors, Uncle," Azula assured. "I'm perfectly capable of comprehending what you mean." She glanced at his amused expression and shrugged. "What?"
"You are sharp-minded, headstrong, and confident, Azula. All things your brother would benefit to develop. But there are some things he possesses that you would do well to take in return."
"Such as?" Azula cocked a curious brow.
As Azula absorbed the word with a deep sigh, Zuko entered the front door, a bag of groceries in hand. He entered the kitchen and getting straight to work putting food in its proper place. He glanced at them both, off-put by the gentle silence.
["The Boy Who Lived. How lies have fed your legend, Harry!"]
"I think...I think she's asleep, Katara..." Aang poked out a timid finger to Jane, who was motionless aside from some shallow, raspy breathing.
["Shall I reveal what really happened thirteen years ago? Shall I divulge-"]
Katara stopped the film, craning her neck over to see Jane's face.
Drool was dribbling out from her lips. She was curled on her side, her head nestled in Katara's lap, one arm hanging off the front of the couch. Her feet were pressed against Aang's hip, who was studying another drawing he had whipped up during the course of the movie. Katara noticed that Sokka, too, was sleeping in the recliner, his snores more apparent.
"Heh." Katara turned the movie off and stretched out her arms. "It is getting pretty late, isn't it?"
Aang shrugged, tucking his pencil in his ear as he dropped his pad on the coffee table as he stood up.
"Guess you'll have to finish them tomorrow," he grunted, reaching his arms up and scratching his head as he wandered to the bathroom.
Katara observed the DVD's screensaver for a moment, enjoying the quiet of the dark living room. She ran her hand across Jane's hair, intrigued by how greasy it had gotten so quickly since they'd arrived. Jane was stirred awake by the gesture and rolled over, kicking her legs out groggily and yawning wide as she rolled onto her back.
"Ready for bed?"
"Grrmmmm..." Bleary olive eyes stared up with confusion.
"Someone's feeling snuggly tonight," teased Katara. Jane frowned in response, her freckles suddenly shrouded in red as she lifted her head up from the lap it had been resting in.
"Shit," she groaned, rubbing her eyes. "Mm sorry..."
"It's fine, Hun. We'll rewatch what you missed tomorrow. Off to bed."
"You my damned mother?" chuckled Jane, a hand still held up to her head. "Ah, shi-tuh..." She grimaced, her teeth grit.
"Yeh," huffed Jane. "Fuckin' nightmares aren't helping..."
Katara rose from the couch and headed for the kitchen, continuing her conversation across the countertop island that separated the two rooms.
"When Aang gets out of the bathroom, I'll get you something for your head, OK, Hun?"
"Maybe you shouldn't sleep on the couch tonight?"
"You can sleep in my bed tonight. If you want."
"I-I dunno, Kat...I don't want to make you sleep on the couch."
"No, it's fine, there's enough room, we could both sleep up there."
Jane felt her stomach lurch at the idea, her cheeks flooding with heat.
"I mean, I didn't know if you'd be comfortable with that," Katara quickly added, turning on the sink and filling a glass of water. "If not, I'm really fine sleeping on the couch. I just don't think it's good for you to...-"
"Th-that's fine," Jane piped up. "It's OK. Yea. We can do that. Thanks..." She shrugged, hunched over the couch as Katara re-entered, handing her a glass. "Just don't want anything to be awkward."
"What would be awkward about it? Sokka and Aang don't seem to mind," Katara observed, referring to how Sokka and Aang had been sharing Sokka's (rather messy) bed during their stay. "But I know you're more...-" She patted Jane's shoulder as she sat down. "-...sensitive to that kind of thing. Especially with that nightmare you keep having. Whatever you want, Jane. I just want to make sure you're comfortable."
The flushing sound of Aang finishing in the bathroom relieved Jane of the tension she was grappling in the moment. She couldn't think of the last time she had shared a bed space with anyone beside Johnny. She often needed that space to be hers, not shared by anyone. Even in her time dating Jet, she had never actually slept in the same bed as him. It simply didn't settle well with her.
"Good night, guys," Aang muttered as he walked by, casting a glance at the snoring Sokka as he snuck upstairs.
Katara went to retrieve some pain reliever from the bathroom, leaving Jane to contemplate her situation, reminded of her recent loss and topsy turvy mental state.
As Jane received the pills and swallowed, gulping down the entire glass of water, Katara reiterated, "Whatever works, Hun."
"I-I couldn't make you sleep on your couch," Jane offered.
Katara shook her head with that look that Jane was getting used to. The 'Oh, Jane, you're starting to sound like a considerate human being' look. Jane was growing to appreciate that look, whoever it came from, but especially Katara, who seemed specifically invested in the goal of helping Jane act more 'polite' or 'courteous.' In return, Jane wanted to believe she was helping Katara kick back a bit and not get too worked up over everything.
Jane followed up her previous by conceding, "But I don't think it's doing my back much good to sleep on the couch...You're probably right."
"Let's head up to bed, then. Besides, you seem to be so cuddly tonight." A raised brow. "Wouldn't want to leave poor Jane all by herself..."
"Pfff!" Jane wiped her wet lip with an annoyed glance. She was quite aware of how unlike her that act in question had been, and Katara rubbing it in her face was only maintaining her self-awareness. An intentionally sarcastic "Whatever," was all she could counter with. She noticed the boy in the recliner, laid back, mouth agape. "But what about-...?"
Katara smiled, holding back a giggle, and grabbed a blanket from the head of the couch, draping it with care over Sokka's sprawled body.
"There. He'll be fine."
Jane shrugged but followed Katara upstairs, acknowledging her potential awkwardness matched with a sense of relief. It was terribly difficult to feel at home anywhere at the moment, especially sleeping in the same bed as another person - someone who wasn't Johnny. The idea clung to Jane's mind like a leech, sucking away at her comfort. Why did such a thing even bother her so much? It was quite the frustration.
"You coming?" Katara whispered from halfway up the stairs.
"Yep," Jane nodded, tip toeing behind.
After reaching Katara's bedroom, Jane scooped up her pajamas and retreated back to the bathroom downstairs to change. Just because they were going to share a bed for a couple days didn't mean she was just going to change in front of her friend. It felt too awkward. A moment of respite in the bathroom gave Jane some peace of mind to consider the entire situation. She felt childish, making a big deal of something that her mind told her shouldn't be.
When she'd returned, Katara was already in bed, having changed into a pair of shorts and a white tanktop. She shifted herself to the side of the bed to make room for the red-head, who nervously slid under the same sheets, careful not to touch Katara's body. The uneasiness rapidly set in, and Jane rolled onto her side, back to her bed mate. Her insides churned, her stomach oddly empty.
"You OK?" Katara probed from behind. In that moment, Jane regretted having even explained her history to her friend. It was a double-edged sword. Because Katara knew about her past, Katara helped keep her comfortable. On the other hand, her efforts also served to remind Jane of the very reasons she could be uncomfortable.
"Mm," Jane shrugged. "I'm fine."
"OK. Good night, Jane. Sleep well."
At least Katara was always trying.
A/N: The Harry Potter films are property of Warner Bros. The main scene referenced: http:/www(dot)youtube(dot)com/watch?v=wBFkA9mAlX4
Thankfully I have an obsessed roommate who was able to correctly inform me of Harry Potter backstory because I forget the details. ^_^;