attackfish: Jet and Zuko fighting in the teashop, text "Obviously this is the place to come if you want to get murdered by lunatics" (Jet Juko TDL quote)
[personal profile] attackfish
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: the Last Airbender. If I did, there would be girls dating in that as well as Legend of Korra.

Summary: Mai has a car and Katara needs a ride, or seven firsts for high school students Mai and Katara.

Author's Note: I'd say this was the Maitara high school AU nobody asked for, but somebody did, and I have the ask to prove it. For avatarsymbolism.


I’m an Engine and your Secrets are Gasoline (They Make me Run)

The first time Katara ever saw her, she was twirling a knife. It had a little metal loop for the... pummel? and there she was, standing just off campus, spinning it around and around on her finger, the blade catching the sunlight. She was slouching against her car, because of course she had a car, waiting for her boyfriend.

It was a black Lexus sedan, which really shouldn’t have taken Katara aback the way it did, the way it didn’t fit with the picture she had of what someone like this girl should be driving. It’s not like she’d ever seen her before just then, with the car and the knife, and the haughty rich girl glower. But anyway, it wasn’t a convertible or a sports car, or anything exciting, just serious and boring, and very, very nice and expensive. It looked like the kind of thing someone like this girl’s father would be driving, not someone like her.

Katara’s dad had an ancient station wagon with a dent in the door and another on the back left bumper, and Katara and Sokka were going to have cars when they could pay for them themselves, and it mattered because if Katara’d been the one swinging that knife in front of that girl’s school, it wouldn’t have mattered if technically she wasn’t on campus. There would have been a long talk with the police, and jail time, or worse, and if she were really crazy lucky and got to go home at the end of the day, she still would have been expelled so fast. It didn’t matter if Katara didn’t even know if having a knife out in the open next to a school like that was actually against the law or not. They would have found something, because If Katara’d been the one holding it at the other girl’s school, it would’ve made the rich kids and their rich parents nervous.

But this girl was the kind of person who could play with her knife at somebody else’s school and have a bad boy boyfriend, who really had been expelled from his fancy private school, or his girlfriend wouldn’t have been anywhere near Katara’s school, showing off her stupid knife like nothing mattered and nobody was ever going to be hurt, it didn’t matter what she did.

It must have been something really serious, to get a rich kid like him thrown out. Katara heard he’d tried to blow up the school, Sokka heard he’d tried to kill a teacher, but she didn’t know anybody who knew the real truth.

Come to think of it, having her there, with her knife and her possibly homicidal boyfriend made Katara nervous, but nobody was going to get in trouble for doing that.

Anyway, this girl could have her knife and her bad boy boyfriend, and do whatever she wanted almost, and her future could still be as bright as her knife blade, spinning around and around, flashing in the afternoon sun.

o0O0o

The first time Katara ever talked to her, she had the knife out again, and she was tossing it into the air, turning around, and catching it behind her back, her motions smooth and practiced, graceful even, fluid. She moved automatically, like she didn’t have to think about it. Katara watched it spin in the air and land with a reliable thunk into her hand a few times, impressed in spite of herself. She wondered how many times she’d gotten it wrong and cut up her hands before she got good, or if it just came naturally.

She was still in her school uniform, precisely creased black slacks, white button up shirt with short puffy sleeves, gray pullover vest, and a red and gray plaid school tie, a black blazer with plaid piping, draped over the arm that she wasn’t using to throw and catch the knife. She had little red bows around her two hair buns, and thick high heeled, dress shoes. Her clothes fit perfectly, her hems were all the perfect height, the creases were all straight and clean, and everything about her, except the knife, looked so proper and polished and appropriate, and for a horrified moment, Katara wondered, if she managed it and succeeded like everybody told her she could, if her kids someday were going to dress like that to go to school with girls like this one.

She had to have been roasting in the end of summer sun, but she didn’t look like she cared. She didn’t look like she cared about anything.

The girl must have felt her staring, because she whipped around, still holding the knife, and turned to stare back. Her eyes narrowed, the thick sweep of her black lashes obscured them from view, but Katara thought she caught something coldly evaluating in them. Like she was being weighed and measured, and pierced through.

“It’s not real,” she didn’t so much yell as pitch her voice to carry, but her words, the shock of hearing her speak ran electric through Katara, leaving her furious and breathless.

“What?” Katara called back before she could stop herself.

“The knife, it’s a prop knife, see?” She threw it up in the air again, and caught it, this time blade down in her elegant, manicured little hand. Passing it into her other hand, she showed her palm to Katara. No blood.

“Are you kidding me?” Katara demanded. “Why the heck are you standing outside my school playing with a toy knife?”

The look the fake knife girl shot her was infinitely bored as she went back to throwing and catching the stupid thing. Katara turned to leave for the bus lines when the girl drawled, “Would it be better if it were real?”

Katara growled as she squared her shoulders and marched toward the buses. Behind her she could feel the other girl laughing at her, even if she couldn’t hear her. She could feel the smirk curving those too pale too thin lips.

o0O0o

The first time Katara ever heard her name, it was pouring down rain, and the water soaked through her hoodie, plastering her hair to her neck and scalp. She hunched her shoulders, but the cold had already begun to seep into her bones and the very last thing she wanted to do was walk all the way home, where Sokka was probably waiting for her on the sofa to make fun of her for missing the bus.

A car horn blared right next to her, ripping through the background noise of the school parking lot. Katara whirled around to glare at the driver’s window as it rolled down.

The fake knife girl raised an eyebrow. “You want a ride?”

“What?”

“You live on Maple, right? I have to take Zuko that way anyway.”

Katara’s eyes narrowed down even further, and she could feel herself shaking. “How do you know where I live?”

“I see you and your brother get off the bus sometimes when I’m dropping Zuko off.” The fake knife girl rolled her eyes. “I’m not stalking you.”

A rivulet of icy rain water rolled down her back between her shoulder-blades, and the heat from the car’s air conditioner wafted out the window at her. Katara opened the door to the back seat testily. “Okay, fine. Since your knife’s fake, you’re probably not actually a serial killer.”

Something that might actually have been the ghost of a smile tugged at her lips before disappearing. She flicked the side of Zuko’s head. “Back seat.”

“Awww, Mai,” he whined, sliding out of the car and into the back.

Mai looked right at her and patted the front seat. Fighting back a prickle of fear, Katara walked over and sat down. Her hand was numb around the door handle as she pulled it shut behind her. The latch clicked with a strange finality, and after that, the only sound was the dull slap of the windshield wipers. Out the window, Katara watched the fields and red and gold covered trees roll by, blurry through the raindrops. It came almost as a surprise when the car stopped on the corner of Maple and the county road.

It was even more of a surprise when Zuko got out behind her. “I’ll walk you home.”

“No way!” she shouted, walking as fast as possible, but he just scowled and loped after her. “Go away.”

“I wanted to warn you.”

“About what?” Katara demanded, fear pooling in her stomach.

“Mai likes you.” He shrugged. “I like Mai.”

“Are you threateningme because you’re jealous?”

“No!” he yelped. “I’ve known Mai since we were kids. I don’t want someone she likes getting hurt. Look, stay away from my family.”

Katara stared at him. “What the hell?”

“My dad any my sister, they’re scary. They mean business and...” He shook his head. “Azula thinks she owns Mai. Don’t let her find out about you.”

With that, he walked away, leaving Katara alone to puzzle out what he’d meant.

o0O0o

The first time Mai asked her out, it was raining again. Mai rolled down the window. “You want a ride?”


“I don’t know,” Katara told her, walking over. “Last time, Zuko basically told me his sister would kill me for taking a ride with you.”

In the back seat, Zuko tilted his head back and closed his eyes with a groan.

Mai gave him a hard look. “Like I’d ever tell Azula anything.”

“She always finds out,” Zuko whispered ominously.

“She does not,” Mai retorted. “She’d have to be fucking magic to find out, and that’s one thing we know she isn’t.”

A cold chill ran through her. “None of this is making me feel any better about getting into that car with you.”

“How’s this, Zuko used to be in theater at Firecrest.” Mai rolled her eyes. “He’s an overdramatic dweeb and his sister’s fifteen.”

I guess that’s better.” As she slid in, she said, “So how come you got the time to drive Zuko everywhere? You live like an hour away.”

“Half an hour,” Mai said. “And Firecrest starts an hour later. Lets out an hour later too, but that’s what band practice is for.”

“You’re in band?”

Zuko scowled. Big surprise. “I play the clarinet.”

“I tutor for the remedial study group.”

“Ah.” Mai smirked. “Looks good on college applications and you don’t have to learn an instrument.”

“Are you questioning my motives?” Katara demanded.

Mai snorted. “Are you going to college?”

“I’m going to be a doctor.”

“I bet you really are.”

They didn’t say anything else, not until the car pulled up in front of the Jasmine Dragon on the corner of Maple. Katara opened the door to leave, but Mai put a hand on her arm. “Wait, I’ll drive you home.”

Katara watched as Zuko got out. “Why did you drop Zuko off?”

“Zuko didn’t get kicked out of Firecrest.” Mai said, instead of replying. “He left when he moved in with his uncle.”

“His uncle?”

“Iroh Li.”

“Wait,” Katara sputtered. “He’s my neighbor?”

“I lied, earlier. Zuko’s family is dangerous. His father runs American operations for a triad. Zuko won’t tell me why he left, but...” She gazed out at the road. “My dad has a car dealership. He launders money for the triad. He was going to give Azula a car for her birthday, but Mom convinced him he had to give one to me and Ty Lee too, to make it look less suspicious. If he has his way, I’ll take over after him. If Azula has hers, Ty Lee and I will be her seconds when she runs the triad.”

“Oh,” Katara whispered, too stunned to say anything else.

“They’re not getting their way. I’m getting out. Azula thinks I’m dating Zuko, and that I’ll get him to come back. She doesn’t even know I like girls. She won’t find out about you.”

Katara stared. “Do you think we’re dating?”

“Do you want to?”

Katara got out of the car.

o0O0o

The first time she kissed Mai, it wasn’t raining. It was cloudy and cold, the frost crackling under Katara’s feet. She was waiting in front of the Jasmine Dragon for the bus with her brother when Mai pulled up and rolled down the window. “Zuko’s sick. His uncle asked me to tell you. Woke up with a fever.”

“Great,” Mai said without inflection. “And he couldn’t have just called me?”

Katara shrugged and took a sip of the hot chocolate Mr. Li had brought out to her. “Guess he forgot.”

“Just great.” She gave Katara a sideways look. “Want a ride? Wouldn’t want coming down here to be a total bust.”

“Seriously?” Katara hissed quietly. “Last time I got in a car with you, you told me your dad works for the mob, and you’re supposed to grow up to work for the mob, and then asked me out. I’m not getting in that car with you again.”

“Do you want to know the best thing about this car?”

“No.”

“Azula has never been in it. When she wants me to go somewhere with her, she has her own car, and a driver, and I have to leave my car behind, because everything has to be Azula’s. But that means she’s never been in this car, and someday, she’s not even going to be in my life.”

“Just shut up.” Katara opened the door and sat down, wondering why she was so stupid, what was so good about riding with Mai, that her dad and Gran Gran would kill her if they knew. Mai looked at her, expression almost sweet. Katara ignored her. “My mom was a paramedic. She died in the ambulance attack seven years ago. When some Triad guy was assassinated.”

“Lu Ten.” Mai murmered. “You should tell Iroh. That was his son.”

“Is that why he left?”

“Yeah.” Mai didn’t say anything for a while after that. She just drove, hands clenched on the wheel, face wiped clean of emotion. “The old boss, Ozai and Iroh’s father, died right after, heart failure. Zuko and Azula’s mom disappeared the same night, and Ozai took over. I always thought he had them all killed. I remember everybody being afraid, even Azula. She tried to pretend she wasn’t but... She tried to pretend she wasn’t afraid when Ozai burned Zuko’s face, that she was happy about it, but she was scared. She’s human.”

“Wow.”

Mai took a shaky breath. “I’ve been afraid for a really long time.”

“Hey.” Katara didn’t know why she said it, or why she leaned in close, just that she needed to, just that it felt so right, and Mai smelled like cherry blossom shampoo and clean skin, and she wanted to smell that smell forever. “They don’t know about me. I’m safe. You don’t have to be afraid about me.”

When Katara’s lips first touched hers, they were thin and pressed together, but then Mai smiled against her like sunshine on a cold, dreary morning.

o0O0o

Mai took her on their first date that same afternoon. Shrugging apologetically, she pulled into the parking lot of the Jasmine Dragon. “All the other restaurants I know are too close to home.”

“I don’t mind.”

“I do.” Mai turned off the engine and pulled up the parking break. “Besides, Zuko works here. Not really my thing to take a girl somewhere my ex takes your order.”

“Yeah I guess that would be awkward.” Katara replied, voice heavy with irony. It wasn’t like he wasn’t in the car with them all the time anyway.

“Don’t ever tell him I’m glad he was sick today,” Mai smirked.

The Jasmine Dragon was one side of a double barrel shotgun house. Before Iroh Li had bought it from the county, it had stood empty and dilapidated for decades. The rest of the kids insisted it was haunted. Katara’d moved in just as Iroh had been putting on the camelback second floor and the pretty green roof. She had only been inside a few times, when she and Sokka each graduated eighth grade, and when Sokka won his first game on the basketball team, but she had been waiting for the bus there for six years, and she’d never seen a single ghost.

“Ooh, they have grilled cheese and tomato soup today,” she said, scanning the blackboard as Mai opened the door.

“Is that what you want?” Mai pulled her wallet out of her fancy satchel backpack, and at Katara’s nod, marched up to the counter. Trying not to laugh, Katara watched as Mai’s shoulders slumped in an increasingly sullen arch as Iroh grinned. But when she glided back to the table with their tray, her back was straight, her face unperturbed.

“What did you get?” she asked as Mai set the tray down.

Mai didn’t answer. She put Katara’s grilled cheese and soup in front of her, and then picked up a plate of eggrolls for herself. Then she handed Katara a mug.

Their fingers touched.

The silence stretched between them, and Katara’s breath caught in her throat.

“I got us both hot chocolate,” Mai finally said unnecessarily.

“Thank you,” Katara breathed.

Up close, Mai wasn’t as perfect. There was a line of pimples at her hairline, and the hand that had touched hers had a smear of ink, and all Katara wanted to to was run her fingers over all of her.

“I probably should have gotten tea, since this is Iroh’s place.” Mai took a sip. “But I didn’t feel like it.”

“Yeah, you’re a rebel.”

“I am.” Mai looked at her for a long moment. “Were you really going to walk home that day? In the rain? It’s got to be twenty miles.”

Nineteen.” Katara shrugged. “Nah, I was going to walk two miles to Suki’s and have her drive me home.”

“Oh,” Mai said, relieved. “That’s good.”

“Were you worried?”

“Of course not. Walk twenty miles in the rain on the side of the road if you want.”

“Nineteen.”

o0O0o

The first time Katara invited her home was also the first time she thought they might last, and the first time she really wanted them to. It was snowing when they dropped Zuko off, and as soon as he was inside, Mai leaned over and kissed her. Katara grinned and clambered over the gear shift and the parking break, banging her knees on the cupholder. There was something about sitting on Mai’s lap, looking down into her face, pinning her in place. It was really something.

Even better when she could kiss Mai back, and run her hands through her silky black hair. She broke away. “I uh, I thought you should know, my family knows about us. I mean not everything, but they know I have a girlfriend, so if you wanted to come over sometime, you could.”

Mai pushed her seat back and closed her eyes. “Mine don’t. They’re not going to. They still think I’m going to lure Zuko back with my womanly wiles.”

“I know.”

“I’ll come over and let your grandmother and brother inspect me. Tell me if I hurt you, they’ll kill me and make it look like an accident.”

She snorted. “It’ll make Sokka’s whole month, I swear.”

Mai smiled, and pulled her down to kiss her again, unzipping Katara’s hoodie so she could kiss her neck and behind her ear. “Nice place your dad picked out for you.” Mai glanced around at the snow-covered fields. “Isolated.”

“Yeah, he moved us out here after Mom died to keep us safe.” Katara swallowed hard. “And here I am going to school with her murderer's son. And Dad gets coffee from his brother whenever he hits the road.”

“You going to tell him?”

Katara shook her head. “What would be the point?”

“Yeah.”

“What about you?” she asked, tucking her head under Mai’s chin. “How do you plan to get away from this mess?”

“I’m going to law school. Azula knows that, but what she doesn’t is I’m going to get a job with whoever will put her behind bars.”

“You’re going to die,” Katara mumbled against her throat.

Mai let out a puff of air. “Yeah, probably.”

Katara might have said something else if a loud tap against the window hadn’t sent her scrambling back into her own seat. Mai rolled down the window to Zuko’s scowling face. He had an apron on under his coat, and a scarf tucked up around his chin. “Uncle thought you might be cold, since you’ve been sitting out here so long,” he said with a huff, passing Mai a pair of paper cups through the window. As soon as he was done, he turned on his heel and marched back to the restaurant.

“Tell him thanks,” Katara called after him before Mai closed the window.

Mai took a sip and sighed. “Let’s go meet your family.”

Katara answered her with one last kiss before they left. It tasted like hot chocolate, Mai, and a flicker of promise.

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