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This is Chapter 5: A Stranger's Arms

Title
: Virtually a Princess
Author: kaguyathefallen
Rating: E
Summary: AU Katara is discovering a new virtual reality game that Sokka himself invented. Her relationships with her gaming group is complicated enough already, but with the in-game romance and relationships, reality and the game world is starting to mix. When a rogue hacker invades the system and Sokka disappears, Katara must find a way to seperate the reality from the fiction and find a way rescue her brother with the help of her allies from the game world.




 A/N-
This chapter is sort of dialogue heavy. I hope that doesn’t bother anyone. I do hope that all my dear readers enjoy this chapter. It was one of the ones that I most looked forward to writing. Thanks for all your feedback!

As I make so many video game references within the chapters, I’m going to start sectioning off explanations at the end of the chapter for those who don’t play games as this is essentially an Avatar fic.

--Virtually a Princess--

++Level 5: A Stranger’s Arms++

“Katara!” Aang beamed up at her. “Look at what I found!”

When the cut scene ended, the party had been led to the edge of the trees that hid the village of the Returners and had been directed to the road that led to the capital.

Katara smiled at the young airbender who held a necklace delicately in his upturned palms. A small pink flower was the center of a beautifully crafted choker.

“Oh, it’s beautiful, Aang. Just gorgeous,” she responded, admiring the design.

“Here, Katara, you can have it.” The boy smiled encouragingly at her, urging her to take it.

“Oh, but, Aang—”

“It’s a girls-only accessory. Take it. It’ll boost your magic and give you more defense against earth based attacks.”

Toph snorted somewhere behind her and said, “Like that trinket’ll really help.”

Aang shot her a reproachful look over Katara’s shoulder and leaned up onto the tips of his toes. “I’ll put it on for you.”

Katara allowed the boy to hook the necklace, his soft hands tickling the sensitive skin of the back of her neck. When he finished, she reached up to touch the flower on her neck but was surprised when her fingers met only skin.

“If you want it to show up on your character, you have to set it on your options,” Aang supplied happily.

“What?”

Sokka moaned impatiently. “I designed the perfect characters with the perfect outfits so I didn’t want to be forced to change their appearance the first time we upgraded armor.”

Katara’s brows knit together. “So you mean, it’s like older games where even when you change their clothes, the appearance stays same?”

“Exactly,” her brother agreed. “Even when you equipped Cloud with some strange armor, he’s still wearing that crazy purple Lego jumpsuit on screen.” He seemed to stop and consider that statement for a moment. “Except when he wore that dress, I suppose.”

Katara giggled. That was her favorite part of Final Fantasy 7. “Well, is there any way I can make the necklace show up?”

The older boy sighed melodramatically as if she requested he perform the hardest task in the game. He was smiling as he approached his sister though.

Sokka enjoyed showing off his knowledge.

He tapped her moon necklace, and when the abilities menu appeared, he gestured at the top of the menu. In the corner of the menu, there was an arrow which Sokka tapped, and her ability screen was replaced by an equipment screen.

“See, when this box is checked, your default appearance remains intact even when you change armor, accessories, or shoes. If you want to add something to your appearance, you can tap this little box here, and it’ll be added to your appearance.” Sokka touched the box next to the words ‘Flower Pendant,’ and suddenly, Katara felt a new weight on her neck.

“Now,” Sokka continued. “You can equip something and get the benefits of it without physically putting it on. Just put it in your inventory and check equip. But if you find an armor or outfit that you particularly like, you can turn off the default appearance—though I can’t imagine why you’d want to when I made your character so pretty—and use the new armor as your character appearance.” He scowled at her as if the mere idea of changing her lovely outfit was traitorous. “Happy now?”

Katara smiled broadly at her brother. “Perfectly happy, thanks.” She touched her new necklace and patted the blond head of the eager young boy in front of her. “It’s great, Aang. Thanks.” She swept him into a hug which the airbender happily returned. The boy’s breath tickled her neck, and she laughed lightly.

When she withdrew from the boy, she heard her brother sigh overdramatically.

“If you’re finished flirting, can we get moving?”

Katara glared venomously at her brother who merely shrugged nonchalantly.

Jet approached Katara with a grin on his lips. In a whisper that she hoped no one else heard, he said, “I hope you’re not quite done flirting actually.”

Katara blushed deeply and couldn’t make eye contact with Jet.

Resuming his normal volume, he asked, “Would you like me to escort you, milady?” Before she could respond, he had pulled her arm through his own and began walking down the road, confidence exuding from every movement. She felt rather comfortable and warm walking with him like that. The others fell into step behind them, but the journey was very soon interrupted again.

A strange buzzing filled the air, and at first, Katara thought that another cut scene was starting. She realized, however, that the buzzing was coming from Axel’s character, and she was startled to find that his character was blinking in and out of existence, his features fuzzy and slightly warped.

When he spoke, his voice was cutting out as if he were on the other end of a cell phone with bad reception. “Someone… messing… helmet.” Even with the distortions, Katara could see the annoyance painting his pale face. His voice became louder, angrier. “—back,” was his last coherent word before his character faded completely.

Katara watched Axel but was distracted by the feeling of her arm nestled comfortably in Jet’s.

“Did he just lose all that leveling up and stuff?” Katara asked, dismayed. As a long-time gamer, losing any time or effort in her games was one of the single worst incidents that could occur to her while she played. She vividly remembered the aggravation and frustrated rage that she had felt when Sokka had ‘accidently’ wiped an entire memory card worth of save data.

“Naw,” Sokka said. “The game is set to autosave after cut scenes.” He sighed. “Don’t really want to continue without him though. He’s pretty important in these first few villages.” Sokka pulled up his menu and checked the time blinking on the corner of the screen. “It’s getting kinda late anyway. And I promised Gran Gran that I’d help with dinner today.”

Katara gagged loudly, and the rest of the party laughed.

Sokka glared at her for a moment before clearing his throat. “I’ll have you know I’m an excellent cook.”

The only response that he received from Katara was another gagging sound, but Tennin laughed. With a playful smile, she said, “I’d love to try your cooking.”

Sokka’s cheeks colored slightly and his features relaxed into an floppy smile. “Um...I guess I’ll see you guys later. I’ve set all the gaming times according to everyone’s schedule. I’ll e-mail them to everyone later tonight.”

“What if Axel comes back?” Katara asked.

“So what?” Sokka responded.

“So what if he logs back on and thinks we left without him?”

Sokka snorted. “He’s a big boy. He’ll figure it out.”

Katara rolled her eyes at her brother. “Whatever.”

She felt Jet’s eyes on her, and she looked up at him. He smiled down at Katara with his scarred eyebrow arched playfully. “Till next time then.” His character faded from existence, and she imagined him fading like the Cheshire Cat, those alluring upturned lips lingering longer than the rest of his body.

“I had a lot of fun.” Tennin’s voice was happy, and Katara could practically hear the mage wink at Sokka when she said, “See ya later, cutie.”

Katara turned just in time to see a fading glimmer of pink near her brother.

“See you newbies later,” was all Toph said before she vanished too.

Aang’s shoulders slumped. “Awww… I wish we could play longer.” He recovered quickly though, and he bounded over to Katara. “It was great to play with you again. Can’t wait till the next log on.”

He grinned up at her, all joy and fun. She leaned down and placed a kiss on his blond curls.

“Bye, Aang,” Katara said happily.

With a pink blush on his cheeks, the young monk faded also.

Sokka mimicked Katara’s earlier gagging sound. She glowered at him for a moment before saying, “I’m going to level up a little longer.”

“Oh, that’s right. You were trapped in the stone during the whole storming the volcano part, weren’t you?”

“That was why we didn’t meet in monsters coming down, I guess.”

“Yeah,” Sokka agreed. “I set the volcano monsters to not respawn. I figured it would be redundant and boring having to fight all the same monsters coming back down.”

“You’re just making up your own rules for this game as you go along, aren’t you?” Katara asked, smiling.

Sokka shrugged. “Pretty much.” He laughed and hugged her tightly. “It’s fun playing together, little sister.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, her smile widening. “Even if you are an annoying twat sometimes.”

“An annoying, loveable twat,” Sokka corrected. “I’ll come get you when dinner is ready.”

She nodded.

“Oh, and make sure that you come back here and save manually from the menu sometimes. You want to start here with the group next time we continue playing.” Sokka’s eyebrows disappeared into his hair, and his voice became quiet and intense, his tone cautionary. “And be careful, little sister. If you die in the game, you die in real life.

She swatted his arm playfully, and he cackled maniacally.

He faded into the air, and for a moment, his presence next to her was sorely missed. She squared her shoulders and looked into the woods around her.

Time to get down to business.

--

The nymph may have been beautiful if its face hadn’t been twisted into a menacing snarl and its hair wasn’t dirty and tangled. The humanoid leapt at her, shrieking. Katara thrust out her dagger, and the nymph’s bloodshot, crazed eyes widened and stared blankly into space as she vanished.

Katara sighed and leaned against the tree. She’d leveled up quite a bit, and at this point, the monsters’ levels were too low for her to gain much experience for killing them. She decided it was time to walk back to the patch of road at which her comrades would spawn next time they logged on.

She heard something behind her, and she shrugged mentally. One more battle wouldn’t change much.

A blur of color and a flash of steel later she found herself parrying one blade with her dagger as another blade hovered a mere inch from her throat. Light reflected off the metal and glinted in the golden eyes gazing quite intensely into hers.

She stared back at him, mesmerized once again by the color of his eyes. Sokka certainly had gotten something right. For the second time in only a few hours, she wondered if Axel’s eyes were this gorgeous in real life.

Both were frozen in place, but no tension hung in the air. Their eyes were locked, but they were assessing and measuring. Wondering and questioning.

This was a good place to start understanding each other, Katara thought. By looking one another in the eyes.

Katara recovered first. She glanced down at the blade hovering above her skin and cleared her throat.

Axel blinked a few times as though he was bringing himself back to the virtual world. His eyes lit up with understanding, and he muttered an almost inaudible, “Sorry.” He retreated a few steps and sheathed his blades.

“No… it’s okay. I sort of attacked you too.”

Katara and Axel looked in opposite directions, an awkward silence filling the space between them. By the sound of it, Katara thought that he was shuffling his feet and kicking at the ground. A pebble flew into her peripheral vision and confirmed her suspicion.

“So…,” she started lamely. She seized the first thought in her head. “Your helmet is okay now?”

There was more shuffling. “Yeah. It was just my sister messing with me.”

“Ah, okay.”

“When I logged back on and no one was there, I figured we’d stopped for the day. I thought I’d level up.” His voice was quiet, and she had to strain to hear him. “That’s what I was doing when I, er, attacked you.”

“Ah, I see. I was trying to level up too.”

Silence reigned again, and Katara wondered if this awkward conversation would ever end.

When Axel spoke again, she was finally able to pull her eyes from the ground and look at him.

“So, have you enjoyed the game so far?” He sounded earnestly interested, and when he risked a glance at her, she smiled.

“Actually, I am. The story seems interesting enough. It’s very romantic too. I love games with good romance.” Katara paused and laughed. “I’m actually surprised that my brother could write such lavish romantic dialogue.”

When he replied, Katara noticed pink tinge his cheeks.

“You like the dialogue?” he asked, keenly waiting for her answer though he was desperately trying to feign unconcern.

She smiled inwardly. So Axel wrote the dialogue.

Katara nodded. “Yeah, I do, but I hope we get more back story about our romance.” His blush deepened, and he coughed. Her heart sped up. “I mean ‘their.’ Their romance. The princess and the emperor’s.”

He nodded in understanding, but his blush didn’t fade. “There is more back story about their romance.”

She was beginning to enjoy this conversation, and she wanted to know more about Axel’s part in the game.

“So you helped with the story and the dialogue, right?”

He nodded quickly and took a shaky, uncomfortable breath. “I wrote most of the dialogue.” The fact that it was difficult for him to admit this was extremely evident. He squirmed a bit more, and Katara almost felt sorry for asking him. He finally seemed to collect his thoughts, and he continued, “The story is actually based on an old Fire Nation legend.”

“The Fire Nation has legends about the moon and its princess?” she asked, intrigued.

He met her eyes as his eyebrows tugged down in disapproval.

“Of course we do. The Fire Nation appreciates the beauty and the grace of the moon. I thought that since Sokka was from the Water Tribe and that the moon was so important there that he might like to read the story. So I e-mailed it to him. He liked the whole idea of a moon princess.” Axel shrugged. “A few weeks later, he asked me if I could turn it into a video game plot line. So I did.”

Katara smiled at his strange explanation. “Well, you did a wonderful job. I don’t know what Sokka would have come up with if he didn’t have help.”

He murmured a quiet ‘Thank you,’ and they both fell silent again.

“Well, I’m sure dinner is about done, so I’m going back to save over at our respawn point.”

Axel nodded. “It’s about time I logged off too. I’ll walk with you.”

They walked mostly in silence, and they both tried desperately to avoid each other’s eyes. He had tripped once, and she had caught his hand, steadying him the best she could. The touch was brief, but the memory of it hung in the air between them, silencing them more effectively than any taunt of Sokka’s ever could.

When they neared their destination, they saw a blue blur hovering in the air in front of them before it solidified into Sokka’s character.

Sokka’s eyes widened as he looked at them both, emerging from the woods side by side. He smiled coyly.

“So this is why you stayed logged in, Katara. I realized that you were so worried about Sir-Sparks-a-lot, but…,” he trailed off and laughed.

Axel almost visibly bristled. “It’s not like that at all. We just met in the woods.”

Sokka laughed heartily at the other boy’s anger. “I was just kidding. Time for dinner, Katara.”

She nodded at her brother. “Just let me save.” She pulled up her menu and easily found the save function. She was feeling more comfortable with the game menu now. “There. Time to go.” Hesitantly, she met Axel’s eyes. “See you next time, I guess.”

He raised a hand in a wave, and Katara smiled awkwardly at him.

She dropped her eyes and stared at his fingers as they faded. She’d never realized before how significantly being in a stranger’s arms so many times could affect a relationship in its early stages.

As the forest around her faded into her room, she wondered what sort of environment Axel was waking up to in the Fire Nation. She wondered also how much the game’s story would reflect the wants, the desires, and the pain of the perplexing stranger who had written it.

--End Level 5--

A/N- I’m not sure how much dorkier I can get. I made a reference to ‘The Matrix’ in this chapter. lol Extra points to those who can figure out what it is.

“Twat” equals extremely vague-ish Dane Cook reference. “Get the jelly, TWAT!” “Hey thanks man. Twat. That is a great word.” lol Or something like that. Haha.

I realized that I have a ton of Jet/Katara flirting. I hope the Katara/Zuko awkwardness of this chapter makes up for it a little. I do feel strange about praising Zuko’s game plot. It feels guiltily like an indirect compliment though it was not meant that way -.-’

Video game references:

-In Final Fantasy 7, Cloud wears a dress in order to infiltrate a… house of ill repute. So, er, he’s not just a cross-dresser or anything. Haha. Cloud plus dress plus wig minus all of his masculinity equals love. : ) This is Katara’s favorite part, because it’s my favorite part. Simple as that : ) I do tease poor Cloud; I compared him to a Lego, but he really did look like one in the game. Haha.

-Respawn/Spawn- Essentially the character/monster/item appearing/reappearing. A respawn/spawn point is the place where something reappears. I include this note, because although this seems pretty obvious, I’m not sure if “spawn/respawn” is actually what most people refer to it as. So yeah.

- An unrelated, unimportant note on girls-only accessories- These can be very useful when you can’t figure out a character’s gender. In Final Fantasy 9, this was how I figured out Quina’s gender. lol

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