Disclaimer: I still don't own Avatar or Beauty and the Beast.

The Beauty and the Beast

Interlude I.

An Offer You Can't Refuse

"This isn't good."

Jet took a large draught and put his emptied glass back down on the table. Restlessly, he glanced around the tavern. No, things were definitely not good. Actually, things hadn't been good for quite a while now.

It had all started at that story night in the tavern. One of the elderly villagers had brought up that crazy story about the beast of the castle again. An argument had broken out about it, which had finally resulted in Katara slapping him, of all people, and stomping out furiously. Not only had the spot she'd hit him still been throbbing the day after: He hadn't seen her ever since. No one had.

He'd cursed himself at first, angry for having blown their first date (although the word didn't quite fit the situation). But when she hadn't been seen by anyone for over a week, he started to worry. Was she still upset, or was something wrong? Maybe she was sick? But now it was nearly three weeks since the last time he saw her, and he could only draw one conclusion: Whatever was going on, couldn't be good.

"Take it easy, Jet." Smellerbee threw him a side-glance from behind her bushy hair. "It's probably nothing. So what if she hadn't been seen for a while? She's just angry."

Jet bit his lower lip. "Three weeks isn't just a while, Smellerbee."

Smellerbee only shrugged. "Hey, if she really hates you, you can count on not seeing her for a lot longer," she said. "She's just avoiding you, or trying to freak you out. No big deal."

"That's a bad thing as well, y'know." Jet groaned and leaned back in his chair. "How can I ever marry her when she hates me?" he complained. He just didn't understand. How could he ever have messed up so badly?

"Then find another girl," Smellerbee opted. "I don't understand why you're so keen on getting her, anyway. She's weird."

"She's the most beautiful girl in town!" Jet exclaimed indignantly. "The whole world, probably. I don't want anyone else." He let out an exasperated sigh. Why couldn't they just understand? The most beautiful girl in town needed to marry the most handsome guy in town. It was a simple rule. So why was Katara trying so hard to avoid him?

On the other side of the table, Longshot gave him a stern look and shook his head.

"He's saying you can't judge by appearances," Smellerbee clarified, nodding her head in agreement.

Jet merely shrugged. "I can always get to know her once we're married," he mumbled.

"Still having big plans, I see?"

Jet looked up. In all his concern over his and Katara's fate, he hadn't even noticed Zhao approaching them. "Good morning," he said, perhaps more coldly than he usually would have done. After all, Zhao had been the main reason for Katara leaving the tavern.

Zhao didn't pay attention to it. "I haven't seen young lady Katara around for quite a while," he said, seating himself at their table. "It must worry you."

"She'll come around," Jet grunted. "I'll go visit her some time soon to see if she's cooled down already." He glared darkly at the man, but he ignored him.

"You can save yourself the trouble," Zhao replied. "I looked in on the matter a few days ago. The house is lit at night, but the door is never opened – not even for me."

Jet couldn't blame them, but refrained from speaking his mind. Annoyed, he played around with the glass in his hands. "What do you want from me, Zhao?"

Zhao smirked, obviously pleased with the question, and leaned his arms on the table. "I came to ask you what you want, Jet," he said. "I believe you wish to marry Hakoda's daughter?"

"Yes." Jet gave him a suspicious look. "Why?" he wanted to know.

Zhao's smirk broadened. "I can help you to get what you want."

Jet's face darkened. He pushed his chair backwards and got up. "I don't need your help, Zhao," he said curtly. "Come on, Smellerbee; Longshot. Let's get out of here."

But Zhao got up as well, blocking his way. "Oh, I think you do," he said icily. "Because, you see, at the moment, she doesn't exactly… ah, like you. She never has, for that matter. How do you plan on winning her for yourself?"

Jet hesitated, and Zhao's lip curled into a satisfied smile. "I have an offer to make you, Jet," he continued. "A very fine one, if I may say so myself."

"What offer?" Jet asked sharply. He didn't like where this conversation was going.

"Oh, it's very simple," Zhao said. "Of course you know I've been attempting to get Hakoda in one of my cells for quite a while. As you must know, he is a danger to our entire village."

"Hakoda is harmless," Smellerbee cut in, frowning.

Zhao continued as if he hadn't heard her. "You must also know that Miss Katara is very fond of her father. So fond that she might be willing to do certain unusual things to keep him out of jail for as long as possible."

"Come to the point, Zhao," Jet said impatiently.

Zhao gave a short nod, his cold smile widening. "I need you to testify against Hakoda," he stated. "If you do so, he will finally be thrown in jail, and I get what I want; and I can get you what you want. You can make her a proposal: Should she be willing to marry you, her father's time in prison will be shortened. It's simple. She won't refuse you."

Jet's eyes widened. "That's crazy!" he exclaimed. "I'm not that desperate!"

"I think you are," Zhao smirked. "Because right now, she hates you enough to stay inside her house for three weeks."

"Why do you need me to testify?" Jet demanded, feeling both agitated and embarrassed for being thought of in such a pathetic manner. "There are so many villagers thinking Hakoda's a fool. Why not ask them?"

Zhao shrugged. "You are seen as one of the most respectable and important men of our village, both by your birth as your skills. As such, your testimony would be of more value than that of any other villager. Also, you would be surprised to see how few villagers really want to get rid of that old fool."

Jet shook his head. "You're crazy, Zhao," he said.

"Am I?" Zhao grinned icily. "I'll let you decide that for yourself. My offer still stands, Jet; it's one you can't refuse."

A/N: YIKES! I am so, so sorry for the long delay! I never meant to, but then again, I never meant to get sick either. To keep things short: I've been sick to the point where I couldn't read because my head was killing me, and though I'm practically all better now, I still have a good half year of schoolwork to catch up with. Which, as you might be able to imagine, leaves little time for typing. I'm so sorry to keep you waiting for so long!

I originally intended for this to be part of chapter 6, but because I won't have time to work on that until spring break (which isn't until May or so) I'm posting this as an interlude instead. I planned to do this earlier, too, but I accidentally deleted it from my pc. Luckily, I made a back-up on my father's laptop, but it took me a while to get access to that. Also, I didn't really check this for spelling- or grammar errors, so... well, you might run into a thing or two.

Thanks for sticking with me so far!

EDIT: Oh, crap. It seems has decided to remove any kind of storybreaks, except from their great, big, ugly horizontal line. Now everything just runs together. What kind of crap is this?!