***Tales of Ba Sing Se***
The Tale of Toph, Katara and Lia
It was a morning like every other in Ba Sing Se. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping and Katara, Sokka and Aang were getting ready for the day. Looking around, the waterbender realised that Toph wasn’t up yet. Smiling slightly Katara went to the other girl’s room. She must have overslept. Opening the door she felt the smile leave her face.
“Toph!” she called at the sleeping girl. “Aren’t you going to get ready for the day?” Toph stood sleepily and dusted herself.
“I’m ready,” she said groggily.
“You’re not gonna wash up?” Katara asked, feeling very much like a mother. “You’ve got a little dirt on your…” she took a second look, “everywhere actually.”
“You call it dirt. I call it a healthy coating of earth,” Toph argued. Katara gave her a sceptical look.
“Hm… You know what we need? A girls’ day out!” she finally proposed enthusiastically. Toph didn’t seem so happy.
“Do I have to?” she whined.
“It will be fun!” Katara insisted. “We could take Lia with us too!” At the mention of the older girl Toph seemed to become a little more convinced.
An hour later the three girls were standing outside an ornately decorated building. Written over the doors was “The Fancy Lady’s Day Spa”. Lia read it out loud.
“Sounds like my kind of place,” Toph grumbled.
“Are you ready for some serious pampering?” Katara asked her. She was in an even better mood after having seen Zuko.
“Sure Katara,” the youngest girl said hesitantly. “Whatever you say. As long as they don’t touch my feet,” she warned. They followed Lia inside. The Spirit had been a little hesitant too about this girls’-day-out idea, but she admitted it did sound like fun. Besides, what’s wrong with spoiling yourself once in a while?
Much to Toph’s distress the first part of pampering package Katara had booked was a full pedicure. While Katara and Lia were relaxing, three of the strongest women working at the spa were needed to keep Toph still and clean the dirt that had gathered on her soles. Finally the girl resulted in earthbending to free herself from them.
Next they moved on a room with stone bathtubs full of mud. As soon as she felt her element surrounding her Toph brightened up. She was even in a mood good enough to scare the lady that came to give them towels, making the mud mask on her face move and forming the face of an insect.
When they moved to the next room Lia’s faced literally glowed. It was a sauna, and a high quality one at that. She checked behind her shoulder for any eavesdroppers before motioning to the other two girls to move ahead.
“Finally some pampering for me! Take your seats ladies.” Katara and Toph did as asked and saw her concentrating on raising the temperature. Soon steam had covered everything. The three girls sighed contently.
“It’s nice to have three benders at the same room,” Toph said. “This may be a little fun after all.” The older girls high-fived.
“Soooo…” Lia said rubbing her hands. “How about a make-over next? I haven’t worked on a face other than my own for almost ten years. This would be refreshing.”
“Are you good at this?” Toph asked hesitantly.
“Not to tut my own horn but yes, yes I am.”
“It could be interesting to try.” Katara said intrigued. The few times she had tried to put make-up on she had found it challenging to say the least.
Once they were out of the sauna – it had taken quite some persuading to convince Lia to step out of the hot cabin – they moved to a brightly lit room with huge mirrors. Lia took a look at the different kinds of make-up and sighed.
“I’m in heaven,” she whispered in a giddy voice. Hearing Katara giggle next to her, she turned threateningly to the waterbender. “Tell Zuko I said this and I’ll do something unspeakably horrible, like cause bad weather when he finally asks you out!” she hissed. Katara just shrugged.
“You’re not very convincing,” she said taking a seat in front of a mirror.
“She can be if she wants to,” Toph warned her thinking back at the angry vibes the Spirit seemed to emit whenever the name Agni was mentioned. She silently listened to the explanations Lia gave as she applied the different powders on Katara’s face. Fifteen minutes later Lia stepped back.
“What do you think?” she asked Katara. The colours she had used were next to invisible, yet they brought out the waterbenders eyes making them look like a pair of sapphires.
“It’s great!” Katara breathed.
“I want the same!” Toph decided excitedly. Lia looked at Toph hesitantly.
“These colours don’t suit you very well,” she explained to the youngest girl gently. “Do you want me to do something similar but use your colours?”
“What do you mean my colours?” Toph asked surprised.
“Each face is different,” the Spirit explained. “Colours that look good on me or you would look horrible on Katara and vice versa.” Toph sighted and leaned back on her chair.
“Then do what you think best,” she said a little sad. She understood what Lia was talking about, but for her all this meant nothing. It wasn’t as if she could see the outcome… Surprisingly the soft touches of the different brushes calmed her. When she felt Lia move back she turned anxiously to Katara.
“You look great!” her friend exclaimed. Toph silently hoped that Aang would think the same if he saw her.
“Well, that wasn’t so bad,” Toph admitted as they returned home. Lia had left them at the train station, from there she’d return to the Lower Ring. “I’m not usually into that stuff, but I actually feel… girly.”
“I’m glad,” Katara said genuinely happy. “It’s about time we did something fun together.” As they crossed a bridge they came along a few fancy-dressed girls.
“Wow!” one of them said. “Great make-up!”
“Thanks!” Toph answered happily.
“For a clown!” the girl finished snickering. Toph felt her good mood going down the drain.
“Don’t listen to them,” Katara said glaring at the girls’ direction. “Let’s just keep walking.”
“I think she looks cute,” the second girl said. “Like that time you put a sweater on your pet poodle-monkey.”
“Good one!” her friends praised her.
“Let’s go Toph,” Katara said noting the mortified expression on the other girl’s face.
“No, no!” Toph said with a false laugh. “That was a good one!” she turned to the girls. “Like your poodle-monkey… You know what else is a good one?” She stomped her foot creating a hole under the three girls. They fell into the river squeaking.
“Now that was funny…” Katara laughed at them before waterbending them away. She hurried to catch up with Toph.
“Those girls don’t know what they’re talking about,” she assured her.
“It’s okay. One of the good things about being blind is that I don’t have to waste my time worrying about appearances. I don’t care what I look like. I’m not looking for anyone’s approval. I know who I am,” Toph said firmly, trying to convince more herself than Katara.
“That’s what I really admire about you Toph,” Katara said quietly. “You’re so strong and confident and self-assured. And I know it doesn’t matter,” she added hearing the little earthbender sniffing, “but you’re really pretty.”
“I am?” Toph asked disbelievingly.
“Yeah, you are. At the ball Aang couldn’t take his eyes away from you.” That seemed to have the desired effect.
“I’d return the compliment,” Toph said sounding more like herself again, “but I’ve no idea what you look like.” Katara laughed. “Thank you Katara.” She added punching her lightly on the shoulder.
The Tale of Zuko:
It would have been just another day on the teashop, if it wasn’t for the fact that Zuko’s suspicions had been confirmed. And it just had to be today! The prince thought annoyed as he approached his uncle. He had to do this discreetly.
“Uncle!” he called quietly Iroh. “We have a problem.” The old man climbed down the ladder he stood on to restock the shelves and looked at his nephew with mild interest. “One of the customers is on to us,” Zuko continued. “Don’t look now, but there is a girl over there at the corner table. She knows we’re Fire Nation.” Iroh felt his slight worry turn into amusement. Even though he was with Katara now – and Iroh had caught them making out on the roof more than once – his nephew was still ignorant on the subject of girls. He turned curiously to give the girl a look, but Zuko turned him back roughly. “Didn’t I say don’t look?” he asked annoyed.
“You’re right Zuko,” he said to his nephew. “I’ve seen that girl quite a lot. It seems to me she has quite a crush on you.”
“What?” Zuko exclaimed horrified.
“Thanks for the tea,” the girl said from behind them. Zuko took wordlessly the coins she gave him and turned to give her her change. “What’s your name?” she asked him, clearly hoping to strike up a conversation.
“My name’s Lee.” Zuko answered evenly. “My uncle, sister and I just moved here.”
Before the girl had chance to say anything else, Zuko’s eye caught something blue outside the teashop. Hastily he gave her her change and rushed to the door. Indeed, outside was Katara, her hand outstretched to open the door.
“That was some timing!” she told him laughing.
“You have no idea!” he laughed back, a little nervous. There was no going back now. “There are a few customers now, so why don’t you come round the back of the shop? I need to ask you something.”
“Sure,” Katara said surprised. She had sensed his uneasiness and wondered if something was wrong. They sat at the back room, which served as storage, or more accurately Katara sat down. Zuko was passing up and down restlessly, trying to find the words to ask her.
Finally Katara decided that there was no way he’d calm down on his own. Silently she walked up to him and kissed him on the cheek. Zuko froze. He had been so deep in his thoughts, he hadn’t heard her.
“What are you so worried about?” she asked him confused. “Did something happen?”
“No!” Zuko hurried to assure her. He took a deep breath. That was it. “I was wondering if you would come tonight. I… I want to show you something I found and it has to be night…” Katara silenced his babbling, placing a finger on his lips.
“Are you asking me on a date?” she asked teasingly. Zuko’s face turned red. Before he had a chance to answer, she kissed him softly on the lips.
“I’ll meet you outside the teashop at sundown,” she told him smiling.
By midday Katara returned to the Upper Ring, while Zuko and Iroh went back to their apartment for lunch. Lia had been feeling a little sick that day – or so she said – so she had taken the day off. She had prepared lunch and now she was waiting impatiently for her brother to return and tell her the news. She was willing to bet her position as a Spirit that he had been stammering for an hour before asking Katara out. Indeed once they were back home, Zuko came right into the bedroom and plopped onto his bed staring at the ceiling wondrously.
“I take that she said yes?” she asked him. He just nodded, still staring at the ceiling.
“I KNEW IT!” Lia said jumping off her bed. She sat next to her brother. “I told you, you had nothing to worry about!” she laughed at his expression of disbelief. “See? There was no point in acting as if you were going to be executed.” At that Zuko switched expressions and glared at her, even though they both knew she was immune to it.
Katara was feeling giddy as she returned home. She couldn’t believe that Zuko had asked her on a date. She knew their relationship wasn’t a conventional one and she didn’t mind, but still it was nice gesture. She laughed softly remembering how nervous Zuko had been until he had finally gathered the courage to ask her. It had been really cute. Then another thought occurred to her. What was she going to wear? She only had her Water Tribe outfits and none of them seemed right for a date. Stopping in front of a shop on the Middle Ring Katara paused. She had a little money with her. Maybe she could find something nice here…
Precisely at sundown Zuko was standing outside the teashop. A thousand questions were spinning through his head. Would Katara come? Would his surprise work? Would she like it? Had it been a good idea to ask Lia’s advice?
“I hope I’m not late,” he heard a girl saying behind him He turned and felt his jaw drop. Katara was wearing an Earth Kingdom dress of deep green – almost blue – and had let her hair down. Smiling softly she approached him and stood on her toes in order to kiss him.
“Uncle is watching us,” he whispered and fitted a flower into her hand. Katara’s knowing smile turned to one of pleasant surprise. Zuko had given her blooming Panda Lilly.
“Thanks!” she said. The prince took the flower back and placed it in her hair.
“You look beautiful,” he said shyly. Then taking her hand he led her away. Once they were away enough from Iroh’s – and probably Lia’s – curiosity Katara paused.
“Can I kiss you now?” she asked fake-pouting.
“If you can’t hold back,” Zuko answered smugly. Katara humph-ed before leaning in and kissing him. When they broke away Zuko told her smiling:
“Like you said, I could get used to this.”
“I think you already are,” Katara told him leaning on his chest.
They walked through the alleys, Zuko’s hand around her waist and her head leaning on his shoulder, talking quietly, but mostly enjoying each other’s company. Arriving in a square Zuko pointed to an eating place.
“You like it my Lady?” he asked her smiling. Katara nodded. It was a nice place, where they could talk freely without being afraid of someone eavesdropping.
They sat down and soon their food came. Katara’s thoughtful expression drew Zuko’s attention.
“What’s on your mind?” he asked her curiously.
“It’s silly,” she shrugged. “I was just wondering why you call me your ‘Lady’. Not that it bothers me,” she hurried to add when he shifted uncomfortably, “but I was curious.”
“It was Lia who called you first so,” Zuko explained, rubbing the back of his head nervously. “Back on the ferry. And if the Avatar defeats my father, then I will be Fire Lord. So you’d better be used to people calling you Lady Katara.” The waterbender looked at him confused.
“But shouldn’t we be, I don’t know, married, for me to be considered the Fire Lady?” she asked.
“Well, yeah,” the firebender shrugged. “But the moment a member of the Royal Family is crowned and he is not married, then the nobles will begin pestering him about finding a bride.”
“But if there is a girlfriend…” Katara began, understanding his trail of thought.
“They treat her as the Fire Lady-to-be in order to press the situation. That is if they approve of the choice.”
“You think they’d approve of me?” Katara asked nervously.
“You shouldn’t be worried. The nobles have influence, that’s true, but they can’t directly affect the decisions. And their approval would be the least worry in my mind if we were to get married.”
“What would be your first?” Katara asked him, feeling a little weird that they were talking about marriage.
“Your brother,” Zuko answered. “He’d murder me before I had a chance to finish my sentence.” At the thought of Sokka’s reaction the two teens burst out laughing. A waiter approached Zuko.
“If you and your girlfriend are finished, I will bring the desserts,” he half-asked, half-proposed. Zuko nodded. The mention of Katara as his girlfriend made him feel warm inside. She didn’t seem to have a problem with the term either.
When they had finished eating they started walking around again, with Zuko leading the way. They had nearly reached the limits of the Lower Ring when he paused and turned to Katara.
“Are you ready for the surprise?” he asked her. She nodded eagerly. They approached a fountain in the middle of a big crossroad. Zuko’s face fell.
“It’s not lit!” he said disappointed. Katara looked around and noticed many torches, lanterns and candles around.
“It must be magical to see them all lit,” she said trying to comfort him. “I’m sure it would be beautiful.” Zuko had a set expression on his face.
“I wanted to show you the place as it should be and I will,” he said decisively. Motioning for her to wait, he took a step forward and closed his eyes concentrating. Even though he hadn’t done any actual firebending for quite some time now he felt the fire’s response immediately, as the candles sprung to life.
Katara took a sharp breath. It was indeed a magical sight. The flames illuminating the water making it look like liquid light.
“That’s amazing!” she breathed, walking up next to him. She leaned her head on his shoulder. “Thanks for sharing it with me,” she whispered. She felt his hands creep around her waist and she looked up in anticipation. Zuko didn’t disappoint her. Pulling her closer he slowly met her lips with his.
Iroh had been looking curiously out the window, on the pretext of taking care of his plants. That didn’t discourage a sniggering Lia, who had long ago pointed out that the only reason they were both still awake was that they were waiting for Zuko. As she opened her mouth to tease Iroh once again, they heard the door opening. Zuko entered the room wordlessly although the dreamy look on his face was more than enough for Lia. Iroh on the other hand couldn’t resist the temptation.
“How was your evening prince Zuko?” he asked the boy. His nephew’s dreamy expression instantly turned into a scowl. He marched into the bedroom, slamming the door behind him. A second later the door opened a bit and Zuko’s face reappeared.
“It was nice,” he admitted quietly. The door closed, quietly this time, and the prince missed his uncle’s satisfied expression.