Title: do you want a cookie?
Rating: PG, for cursing and the fact that it's a mafia AU.
Characters/Pairings: Zuko, Katara, mentions of other characters; slight/pre-Zuko/Katara but mostly just half-hearted antagonism.
Summary: Prompt from likexaxdove: Zutara -- bullet wound. Newly minted M.D. Katara Nerrevik, with a dying mother and ten years of student loans sucking at her shoes, is in desperate need of money, and the Yenrai family, with a criminal background and a list of people who need elimination, silencing, or profound suffering, need a doctor to clean up their injuries and messes. It would work for both parties, except both parties loathe the other.
A/N: Oh, jeez. I don't know how I got from that prompt to this story. My theory is, there's a madcap mafia AU in every fanfiction writer, just waiting for the chance to escape. I was also going for tragedy when I started, but it ended up humorous. Also, this kept trying to be less Zutara and more "Totally Definitely Serious Crime Boss In Training Zuko’s Shenanigans With His Lovably Crazy Uncle Iroh In Which All Parties Involved Admit That The World Would Be A Saner Place If They Were Permanently Separated But Alas They Are Inseparable. And Also Azula Has Projectile Weapons."
This also wants to become its own series of inter-connected oneshots, in which Aang is a rookie cop assigned to take down the crime families (which means that he's literally the only one who isn't being paid off to look the other way) and Toph is the shadow-king unholy offspring of Bruce Wayne and Kyouya Ootori who runs the Bei Fong crime family (officially the Yenrai family's rival, but Zuko and Toph are basically Crowley and Aziraphale) and Iroh is a Retired Badass who volunteers at inner-city schools to teach the poor, disadvantaged youngsters how to use the fine arts to achieve inner peace and also reminisces fondly about the summers he spent in LA in his youth, courting the famous movie stars of the 50s and 60s (with photographic evidence that makes Zuko seethe with jealousy). It would basically be an Avatar Mafia Fanfiction AU version of Evadne's Once Upon a Freakin' Time: Zuko tries to do bad things, but mostly just does things badly.
— do you want a cookie?
She works for them, but not by choice, or even really for them -- they simply have, as Azula calls it, an "understanding." Newly-minted M.D. Katara Nerrevik, with a dying mother and ten years of student loans sucking at her shoes, is in desperate need of money, and the Yenrai family, with a criminal background and a list of people who need elimination, silencing, or profound suffering, need a doctor to clean up their injuries and messes.
It would work for both parties, except both parties loathe the other.
Katara is too good to be involved with criminals, and the Yenrai family are too wealthy and powerful to put up with a wet-behind-the-ears physician. But Katara is only one of many general practitioners in the city and her skills -- while certainly top-notch -- aren't particularly needed, and more established doctors with more established practices aren't desperate enough to take any of the Yenrai family's deals.
Azula constantly tells them that they should just threaten or blackmail the good doctors or medical examiners into helping them, but Zuko (and Iroh) feel like it's an unnecessary risk.
"If they're smart and powerful enough to have a high-ranking job like that, what do they have to fear from us?" he challenges her... or, he would challenge her if he didn't know exactly what her response would be -- that is, "let me show you what they have to fear from us," and frankly, Zuko has already cleaned up more of Azula's power trips and temper tantrums than any half-sane person should have to; inviting Azula to commit more crimes against humanity is officially the absolute last thing he needs to do right now.
So mostly he grumbles under his breath and tries, with increasingly dismal results, to keep her in check.
"I'm starting to think you do this on purpose," Katara mutters darkly, suturing yet another bullet hole caused by yet another fiasco involving matters that are far too secret and important and complicated for the little doctor-barely-out-of-training to understand.
How is it, he wonders, that routine sibling disagreements with Azula somehow always end in bloodshed? (Usually his but occasionally innocent bystanders', depending on the severity of the argument and type or number of weapons currently in Azula's possession.)
"Right," he sneers, wincing and looking away from the wound, "I deliberately get shot so I'll have to put up with your condescending attitude at Ass AM."
She actually stops what she's doing and looks at him, incredulous. "It's ten o'clock in the morning!" she cries, like this is the worst thing he's ever said to her.
"Which is early when you work all night," he replies snottily.
(Or when you stay up all night with your crazy uncle, a family-size box of movie theater butter popcorn, a small province of China's weight in tea, and Audrey Hepburn's entire filmography. But he would, quite literally, stab himself in the eye than admit that to the doctor.)
"You want to hear about tired?" she snaps, throwing several alcohol swabs to the floor. "Tired is staying awake for eighty-four hours at the charity hospital because there's a flu epidemic and over a hundred patients are coming in per day! Tired is trying to study for exams while waiting tables and taking calls from doctors about your mother's condition! Tired is working two jobs and being a full-time medical student! I don't want to hear about tired from you!"
He'd be more sympathetic if he hadn't heard this exact rant -- word for word, he remembers the part about the flu epidemic -- several times before. "Do you want a cookie?" he asks sardonically, because they've almost reached the point of having a script.
She does finally do something different this time, though. In the same harried, nearly-hysterical voice, she cries, "Yes! Yes, I want a cookie! If you have cookies, I fucking want them."
This completely throws him off-guard: he has never, in the eight months he's known Katara Nerrevik, heard her use a word stronger than "darn." He blinks in surprise and then, because he can't think of anything else, says, "I don't have any on me, but there's a pastry shop on the next block."
So, once his newest bullet hole is patched up, they make their awkward way down to the pastry shop, where he buys her the biggest fucking cookie he can buy that is still considered an actual cookie. It's a monster -- most of two inches thick, the size of a dessert plate, dusted with chocolate frosting and chocolate chips, and he even (in the interest of avoiding adding any further conflict to his already-openly-hostile life) gets the cashier to put it in the microwave for a few seconds so that it's gooey and warm when he hands it to her.
She's sitting at the little table, face buried in her hands, and for a moment, she doesn't even acknowledge that he's sitting right there with the biggest, most amazing-looking cookie Zuko has ever seen -- but then she takes a deep breath, sits up straight and runs her hands through her hair, and finally seems to see the cookie.
"That is a huge cookie," she says blankly.
"You sounded like you could use it," he mutters, glancing away. It isn't that he doesn't like Katara -- actually, he thinks he could really grow to like her a lot, assuming they could somehow get past her complete disdain for him and everything he stands for, and that he could somehow get past her self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude -- it's just that they don't have much common ground with which to make small talk.
"Yeah," she says, wincing. "It's just been... a bad few weeks."
He snorts, and doesn't have to look at her to know that she's sending him a vicious glare (but then again, that's Katara's general facial expression when she's around him). "Tell me about it. It's like everyone decided to air their dirty laundry all at the same time, with as many guns as possible."
"My brother got laid off," she says, digging into the cookie with a spoon and taking a blissful bite with a little groan-and-sigh combination that makes him shift uncomfortably. "He's doing everything he can to get another job, but until he gets one, all the bills are on me. I figure we've got about a week before they cut the power."
Zuko raises an eyebrow, and waits. He isn't sure how to take what she's saying -- is she genuinely just trying to get it off her chest, or is she trying to play his guilt complex so that he'll give her money?
(The tiny Uncle Iroh that lives in his head asks him, does it matter? The correct answer will remain correct, regardless of the reason the question was asked.)
He compromises: "I can help him," he tells her, shrugging. "And before you start -- " he says quickly, before her protests can begin, " -- I'm talking about legitimate employment. I have some old friends from university who always need help. What's he good at?"
She watches him warily for a moment, but her hawk-glare is softened somewhat by the chocolate on her lips and on the spoon that almost seems to be moving from cookie to mouth of its own accord. "He studied engineering," she says finally. "He had to drop out before he could get the degree, so he could work full-time to take care of Mom, but he's better than most people who have them."
Zuko shrugs, deliberately making light of the situation. "Sounds good. Give me his number, and I'll pass the word along."
It won't actually be as easy as he's making it out to be -- by "old friends" he mostly means "people I saved from Azula" and "unwilling roommates" -- but he and Katara have sort of gotten to know each other over the past eight months (albeit mostly via cleaning up bloodstains, stitching bullet wounds, and hurling acidic insults at each other) and, as he's grudgingly learning to accept, he's not the asshole he wishes he could be.
She's trying to pay back student loans and hospital bills and regular bills! He'd have to be heartless to not even try to help.
His uncle would be so damn proud of him, it almost makes him sick. He makes up his mind to never tell Uncle Iroh about this conversation, or, for that matter, the cookie.
(That bit is two-fold; if Uncle Iroh found out that cookies the size of dessert plates existed this close to Zuko's apartment, not only would Uncle Iroh never leave Zuko's apartment, but he would also go into a diabetic coma within the first week.)
Besides, the look of relief on her face -- on her face, on proud, self-righteous Doctor Nerrevik's face -- makes it worth it. Yeah, he'll have to call in a few old favors that he was saving up for rainy days, but she needs the help and he needs her to not kill him or go to the police with all of his information.
(He also, somewhat traitorously, needs her to keep making that sound when she eats chocolate because damn.)
"One condition," he says, leaning over the table with hand outstretched. She looks at it like it's about to explode.
"Oh?" she asks, and it's that tone, the one that Azula uses so well, the I am waiting for you to screw up so I can eviscerate you tone, except in Katara's case, she (probably) means with words, whereas Azula has been known to actually eviscerate people who have angered her.
"Allies," he settles on, because friends isn't a word that really applies to them but fuck buddies is a term that will literally and justifiably end with his head detached from his body. "We stop attacking each other, I mean. I've got way too many people already out for my blood, I don't need any more. So, we work with each other."
She hesitates for a moment, and then shakes his hand. "Deal. I could use fewer enemies, myself."
Well, he thinks. It's a start.