—Yo no digo esta canción sino a quién conmigo va. (xenoamorist) wrote in bittersweet_ink,
—Yo no digo esta canción sino a quién conmigo va.
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"Chiaroscuro" - ch. 3 (Avatar: The Last Airbender; Zuko, Katara; Zuko x Katara)

Title: Chiaroscuro
Chapter: 3
Chapter Title: "A Reel Adventure"
Fandom: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Characters/Pairings: Zuko, Katara; Zuko x Katara
Rating: K+/PG at the moment
Warnings: It's an AU.
Word Count: 2,870
Challenge: 30_dates; #03: Movies
Summary: [AU] December, 1939: In Germany, there was war. But in Florence, Italy, all was quiet. An unsuccessful artist attempting to carve a path through life was immersed in this quiet, and so was a young university student struggling to find her place in the world. December, 1939: Their paths converge, and in each other they find the light in the rapidly deepening darkness.
Chapter Summary: A collision in the movie theater results in a date of sorts at a coffee shop.
Author's Notes: I think that they're starting to become OOC. XD You tell me if that's true, yeah?

CHAPTER III
A Reel Adventure

Working at the coffee shop had its downsides—being eternally busy, for one, especially now that the weather was really getting chilly; always getting a slightly betrayed look from Uncle every time he came home; being eternally slave to people who just popped in and out for a drink, rarely ever saying “please” or “thank you”. (And that was just the tip of the iceberg.) But, on the other hand, it did have its perks: he now had a steady wage (even though it was rather low), and he had a bit extra for pocket money and wasn’t quite so pressed to scrape by the rent for every month.

And that meant—movies.

It wasn’t so much that he was a big fan of movies as it was a way for him to pass time and to find some art and order in this chaotic life. Being Chinese, he never really identified with the “Italian pride” that the movies all glorified, but he could at least understand what the government was trying to do—boost up the ego of its people so that they’d be more confident in this tense time and whatnot. Of course, he was grateful that he was in Italy—people said that movies in Germany and the Soviet Union were censored, of course, but Il Duce Mussolini had a bit more appreciation for the arts and let movies go by, for the most part, uncensored.

(Not that there was, really, anything to censor in the movies… Everything that came in these days was propaganda, sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant.)

As the credits began to roll, Zuko got up and made a move to leave. He fumbled his way around in the dark, cursing as his foot caught on the edge of one of the seats. As he tumbled forward, he flailed his hands around, trying to grab whatever was nearest to him so that he wouldn’t fall flat on his face—and his left hand closed itself around a soft lump of flesh, round and with a decidedly feminine quality.

He let go quickly, as soon as he regained his balance, and bowed deeply and stiffly, his face glowing red. He said the first thing that came to mind:

S-Sumimasen!

“…What the hell are you doing speaking Japanese? I thought you were Chinese!”

If it were possible, he froze even more. He was afraid to straighten up out of the bow for fear of the face that he knew that he would see. Of all the movie theaters… he began to think, but was interrupted by her voice.

“Well?”

He straightened up, carefully avoiding looking into her eyes. “Erm, I am Chinese, yes.”

“Then…?”

The theater began to light up again as the lights above and around them flickered slowly to life. It was getting more and more difficult to ignore her, and he focused instead on staring intently at her brown boots, which were tapping impatiently on the floor.

“It’s a Chinese thing,” he said after a moment’s pause. “You make a fool out of yourself—you pretend to be Japanese. It’s a natural reaction. Because, well, the Japanese are bastards.”

A faint glimmer of a smile passed over her face, and he dared to look at her. Her hair was still brushed back into that elegant bun and braid, the stray strands still framing her face. Her sharp blue eyes were glaring at him, narrowed into venomous slits that all-too-uncomfortably reminded him of a poisonous snake poised to strike. Her arms were crossed over her chest, which he made sure to avoid even glancing at.

A moment’s worth of awkward silence passed between them before it was broken by the sharp crack of her palm colliding with his unscarred cheek. He stared at her in shock before he reached a trembling hand up to his throbbing flesh. Before he could even begin to mouth the word ‘wha—?’, she had already turned her back and begun walking away from him. Zuko ignored the stares of the few other people who were in the theater before he lowered his hand, clenched his fists, then decidedly began pursuing her. He reached out and grabbed her by the shoulder; she quickly shrugged off his hand and whirled around to face him, her finger poised and her mouth open, ready to shout, but he neatly cut in before she could say a word.

“What was that for? Do you always go around slapping people like that?”

She shut her mouth, and he could almost see the steam rising up out of her ears. Then, she retorted, “Oh yeah? Do you always go around grabbing girls’ breasts, then pretending to be an innocent Japanese foreigner to get away with it? Huh? You think it’s cute or something?” She whirled around, slapping him again with her braid. “Well, it’s not.” She glanced back at him, then muttered, “Pervert.”

She took a step, then gave a start when she looked up and realized that he was before her again. “Look,” he said, his temper rising, “it was an accident. Sorry. Sorry. There, I said it. And I’m not a pervert, damn you!”

She turned her back to him. “Nope. Not good enough. You didn’t thank me for the coffee—”

That was two weeks ago!

“It’s the thought that counts, Zuko. Then, you grab my breast—”

“It was an accident!”

“—and try to play it off like you were some innocent little boy. Moreover,” she said, raising her voice over his protests, “you tried to blame it on another group of innocent people.”

Innocent?” he roared, garnering the startled looks of the few people who were exiting the theater. Even Katara turned, surprised. “Innocent? The Japanese can hardly be considered innocent, for your information. I’ll have you know—“

Katara quickly muffled him by putting a hand over his mouth, smiling sheepishly at the inquisitive people around them, then dragged Zuko out of the theater and into the open air, muttering under her breath as Zuko resisted against her. She pulled her coat tighter around herself, then turned to face him.

“Are you trying to get us in trouble? Huh? Trying to get the police on us?”

She glared at him, and he opened and closed his mouth wordlessly a few times before sputtering, “What?

She shivered as an especially chilly breeze blew. “Look, I’m not saying that the Japanese are innocent people, but like hell the Chinese are innocent. And, look—Japan’s been getting friendly with Italy and Germany lately; do you really think it’s a smart idea to go spouting off against them in public?”

He clamped his mouth shut, then turned his head to the side and muttered, “I guess not.”

“And I won’t pretend or anything—I’ll have you know that I’m still kind of hurt that you were being a bit of a general jerk to me. I don’t claim to know you and, since I’m not taking psychology or anything, I can’t even pretend to know you—but the least you could do is give me a well-meaning apology, no?” She raised an eyebrow. “Or is chivalry really dead?”

Zuko frowned, then opened his mouth and took a breath. He paused, then began to say something, only to have the word catch itself in his throat. Under her sharp glare, he cleared his throat, then pulled out his wallet.

“Oh no, mister. Don’t even think about bribing me.”

He looked up, eyes narrowed. “Yeah, who said I was going to bribe you?”

She rolled her eyes as he opened his wallet and took out from it a slightly bent, somewhat wrinkled sheet of paper. He held it between them.

“It’s a coupon,” he said. “Good for one free drink at the coffee shop.” He raised his eyebrow. “Join me?”

Katara raised a single eyebrow, and Zuko braced himself, readying for the outburst that he knew was coming. Instead, Katara rested a palm on her forehead, then burst out into uncontrollable laughter. Stunned, Zuko stood before her, watching her laugh until the tears came to her eyes; she clutched her sides before taking a few unsteady steps. Laughter rang in the cold air, and Zuko carefully averted his gaze from the passersby that were looking inquisitively in his direction.

What is so funny?” he finally said as Katara’s laughter began to fade away into little hiccups.

“Well,” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes, “most guys, you know, would treat the girl to a drink. Like, pay for it himself. And you have this little… coupon thing,” she said, waving her hand in his direction. “Are you just trying to be cute, or are you really this clueless?”

Zuko stiffened. “I’m not clueless.”

She raised an eyebrow, then took the coupon from his hand. “Not clueless, huh?”

“…Well, maybe a little bit.”

She smiled, then tilted her head as she looked at him. “You’re an odd guy, you know that?”

He furrowed his brow. “Is that a good or a bad thing?”

She shrugged. “I’m still deciding.” She looked at the coupon in her hand and smirked. “Well, I’m not busy right now,” she said, looking back up at him. “And it is kind of cold. Shall we go?”

“What, now?” Zuko said, then, seeing the disbelieving look on her face, said, “All right. Let’s go.”

She shrugged her shoulders as she walked beside him on the narrow sidewalk, the cars bouncing past them over the cobblestone streets. “Not that clueless, then,” she said, sneaking a furtive glance up at him and attempting to mask her smile.

Zuko chose not to respond.


“The Fountain of Neptune,” she said, gesturing vaguely in its direction as she looked at him over the brim of her coffee cup. “What do you think of it?”

He sipped at his cup of tea. “It’s nice.”

She rolled her eyes. “That’s all you can say about it? It’s been through so much, you know.”

He shrugged. “I don’t. Know about what it’s gone through, I mean.”

“Well,” she said as she sipped her coffee, “pretty much everyone hated it when it was finished. It was supposed to be a really noble statue, you know—Neptune towering over the water, kind of like the Florentines and their grasp and conquer of the seas.” She paused, blowing on her coffee a bit before she took another sip. “I don’t think many people got that, though. Everyone just called it Il Biancone—the white giant. Even Michelangelo told Ammannati that all he did was ruin a perfectly good piece of marble.”

“How sad,” Zuko murmured, Katara’s words going in one ear and going out the other. He focused instead on watching her lips move. They were nicely shaped, he decided; perfectly in proportion with each other and with the rest of her face. Almost the archetypical pouty look donned by all the statues in the plaza.

“Yeah, I know, right? And then it was vandalized repeatedly.” She took in a long sip of her coffee. “Which is really sad; I think it’s a lovely piece of art. Really adds a certain power and accent to the plaza.” She drained the rest of her coffee and set the cup back down on its saucer. “And you? How are you doing with your work?”

He gave her a pensive stare, then said, “Actually, I haven’t been painting much recently.”

She sat back and crossed her arms over her chest. “Oh? Why not?”

He shrugged. “Working here for most of the day drains me quite a bit. It’s mind-numbing and tiring; I generally don’t have much time to paint once I get home. Plus, this job gives me a much steadier income than selling my paintings on the street; no one really cares for them.” He shrugged. “Might as well wait until spring or summer, when there are more tourists. They usually care for these picturesque, quaint little pictures, and they’re willing to part with an extra handful of lire.”

She frowned. “What a waste! And what about your other paintings, the ones that you didn’t manage to sell?”

“All in a stack in the corner of my room,” he said, shrugging again. Her jaw dropped.

“Just lying there, in a stack?” He nodded. “Ohh, what a waste!”

“Yeah, well, I can’t really do anything about it,” he replied. “I don’t have more space on my walls to hang them up—not that they’re my best work, anyway—and that’s just the most convenient way for me to keep them. I try to sell them again for a couple months or so, and if no one wants them afterward, I just use them to cover books.”

“To cover books?”

“Yeah, I like to keep my books in good condition, so I cover all of them. I used to cover them with just blank paper, but I figured that my unsold paintings are the perfect size for most books, so I just use them.” He took another sip of tea. “Makes for an artsy cover, I think.”

She sputtered, and he looked at her. “You just… Oh, I can’t believe that you’d just let them go to waste like that!”

“Yeah, what a waste; I get it already,” he said, and she frowned.

“I really can’t stand that, good work just being let go like that.” She looked around, biting her lip. The walls of the café were painted over in a warm brown color, trimmed with a creamy white color. Candles flickered on each table, illuminating the rich red mahogany of the tables. She rested her chin on her palm, looking at the walls; Zuko watched her idly, noticing the curve of her jaw. It wasn’t too shallow, nor was it too deep; it was neither too angled nor too round. In fact, it was one of the perfect curves that he preferred whenever he was painting women. He etched the image of her profile into his mind, archiving it for future references.

Katara’s eyes lit up so suddenly that Zuko almost jumped, startled.

“Hey, why not put your artwork here?” she said excitedly, and he raised his eyebrows. “No, listen—the walls are pretty bare, and I’m thinking that they could use some color and some decoration. What do you say? I’m sure the manager will give you a little compensation, right?”

He frowned. “How mortifying.”

Katara frowned right back. “What do you mean mortifying? It’s your work; you should show it off proudly. If I had even half your talent, I’d be flaunting it everywhere.”

He tilted his head to the side and looked at her. “Really now.”

She leaned forward, propping her elbows on the table. She looked at him deeply in the eyes, and he wanted to edge away from her intensely blue eyes, but they compelled him to stay where he was, to move not even a single muscle. His breathing became more shallow until he felt as if it had stopped completely; his heart beat against his ribs as the corners of her perfect mouth curved themselves upward to form a smile.

“Really.”

He took in a deep breath, breaking the spell of her gaze, and managed a small smile himself.

“I’ll talk to him about it.”


Trivia:
• Italy did actually have more creative freedom where movies were concerned, as opposed to Germany and the USSR. Mussolini sought just to control his people’s outside thoughts and support and could, really, care less about what they thought when they were alone, hence why his censorship was less intense.
• The “sumimasen” (which means “excuse me”, by the way) and innocent Japanese bystander thing was inspired by my mom’s Korean friend, who did that once as a sort of reflex, LOL. I won’t go into the details of the embarrassing situation that she was caught in, but she immediately pretended to be Japanese, and, really, for the reasons stated. The Chinese and the Koreans (at least, my parents’ generation and earlier) tend to harbor a grudge against the Japanese for all that they’ve done to them (which was, believe me, a lot). And it’s not helped by the fact that the Japanese, as far as I know, haven’t really issued a formal apology to either of them.
• The stuff about the Fountain of Neptune is all true. Check Wikipedia if you don’t believe me. XD

The other chapters can be found here.

FF.Net: Mirror | Review?

- hl
Tags: @prose, [challenge] 30_dates, [char] a:tla: katara, [char] a:tla: zuko, [fandom] avatar: the last airbender, [fic] a:tla: chiaroscuro, [genre] alternate universe, [genre] romance, [language] english, [pairing] a:tla: zuko x katara, [rating] k+/pg, [status] in progress
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