Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar, because if I did there would be a lot more Toph and Zutara. And no, this is not Zutara. Just saying.
A/N: Not much to say, except if you read this you won't have to wait long for updates!
More detailed summary: The war has finally ended, but there are still bitter feelings in between the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation. To form an alliance and demonstrate unity, Zuko agrees to take part in an arranged marriage with a girl from the Earth Kingdom. Only, he wasn't suspecting that girl to be Toph...
To Set An Example
It was all fine and dandy that the rest of the world seemed to believe that the defeat of former Fire Lord Ozai marked the end of every problem on the planet, and the beginning of eternal, everlasting peace. Zuko knew otherwise; just because the Fire Nation was suddenly 'reformed,' didn't mean that their slate was wiped clean. Bitterness, vengeance, and reparations were bullets under the long list of problems that had to be taken care of, imprinted boldly like the scar on his face.
People came to generally fear the room of council meetings. Angry shouts of protest and serious threats pulsated through it's door, and carried down the hall for all ears to hear. More and more frequently people were tending to lose their tempers, and Zuko was proud to say he wasn't one of them. Though he was close, frustrated, and tired.
There was nothing at all he desired more than to go out and bathe in the light of victory with his friends, but wearing the belt of Fire Lord was very constricting at times. Often he watched in longing as Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph, Suki and many other part-time companions lounged in the palace's courtyard, all housed in the palace until they found their separate paths to take. Zuko was busy attending meeting after meeting, and from time to time, the others would join him, representing knowledgeable warriors for their nations.
All the meetings had one purpose; find a healthy way to punish the Fire Nation for it's past wrongs. Although all the other nations were somewhat mistrustful(despite Katara, Sokka, Suki and Toph's testimonials), the Water Tribes were the first to relent towards the Fire Nation.
It was the Earth Kingdom that brought serious problems. Being the most affected nation during the war, it was the most bitter as well. Now, ninety-percent of council meetings revovled around brainstorms of how to form a proper alliance between the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation.
Zuko was royally pissed off. He felt like the overlooked prince, son of Fire Lord Ozai once again. Why was it, he wondered, that the counsel was holding a meeting in his palace without inviting him? By the time he realized this secret meeting was taking place, it was well underway.
The noise of the meeting grew gradually louder as he stormed towards it to make his angry entrance. By the time he reached the secluded door at the end of the hall it burst open, a crowd of elders and representatives storming out. He turned to yell at somebody, anybody, to demand what was going on when suddenly someone seized his shoulders.
It was his Uncle Iroh, with a firm grip on both his shoulders, that steered him away from it all.
"Zuko," he said in a serious matter, and took him away from the crowd. In an empty hall, he shrugged from his Uncle's grip and demanded answers.
"Why wasn't I invited to this meeting? What's going on?" the young Fire Lord asked.
"Zuko, the council came up with a way to form a proper alliance between the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom," Iroh said gravely. Zuko rather thought his tone of voice was inappropriate for the news being delivered. He himself didn't know whether to be angry or happy; at last, harmony among the two nations, fixed by a solution he had no part of and knew nothing about. He considered this for awhile before replying.
"Uncle... That's great. But why wasn't I there to help? And what is it?" He saw his uncle's features soften, a mingled look of pity and indecisiveness settled on his face.
"Nephew, you aren't going to like it. I tried to protest, but everyone appears to be in favor. The council thought it would be better if they excluded you and the other young ones for just one meeting, to discuss 'adult affairs' and some other nonsense. Believe me, I tried to fight for you but they weren't having it. They're satisfied with their way." He was really beginning to scare Zuko, who felt his heartbeat rise.
"What is it?" he repeated again, more forcefully.
"An arranged marriage," Iroh said at last, studying Zuko's face. "Between you and Earth Kingdom nobility in order to forge an unbreakable alliance, such are the traditional ways." Zuko's face displayed nothing, as the words registered in his mind. He was considering it seriously.
An arranged marriage. He heard of it before, but never thought twice at the possibility of it happening to him. In the back of his mind from the time he was young, he always thought of the slight possibility he would be forced into one. His mother made him dismiss it, and said that that was an old practice used to form hasty, easy alliances, and he wouldn't need it because he would not be marrying outside the Fire Nation.
It was a duty, and he really did consider it. Things weren't going well with Mai, and they decided it was best to go their separate ways. He found it hard to admit but a part of him had a tingling crush on the water bending girl, Katara, but it was something he could release if he found need to. The possibility didn't seem so drastic, even if it was an unorthodox cap on his freedom.
That was the only thing that bothered him, the fact that part of his newly gained freedom would be taken from him, the freedom to be with whomever he chose. But, this was a choice, too. If he accepted this marriage Zuko would profess his love, his ultimate marriage to his nation. It was a duty.
"Alright," he said cautiously, with already a hint of resign. Really, he would have to sleep on it. "With who?" It was then that Iroh sighed.
"Earth Kingdom nobility. A young, mature, princess. Someone you are already comfortable with would be best, they decided. It is our friend, Toph Bei Fong," said Iroh. If he didn't feel so sorry for Zuko, he could have possibly smiled.
"...What did you just say? Toph, who, who is she?"
"The Toph we know. Blind, earth bending Toph Bei Fong."
Zuko just thought about what his Uncle said, how he described his arranged marriage partner. This couldn't possibly be the Toph he knew. Young, Uncle said? Young, yes, Toph was young. Young to the point of barely being beyond a child.
Mature, surely he was mistaken. The Toph he came to know was blunt, non traditional, and tough. Sure, the intellectual age of her mind at times, okay most times, appeared to stretch beyond her years, but mature? In that sense...
And nobility? He had almost completely forgotten she wasn't a peasant. His mind shuffled through the burnt pages of his memory to the time where the girl unnecessarily told him her life story, about all the times she ran away to escape her life of helpless royalty. He could only imagine how ecstatic she would be about all of this.
The truth slowly began to sink into him, infuriating him. It wasn't fair.
Not to him, not to her.
"They can't do this, they don't know anything," Zuko said angrily, drawing a worried look from Iroh.
They couldn't do this to her, she was still young. She didn't know anything about politics, she wouldn't understand. At least he knew about the sacrifices he needed to make for his nation, but she had a whole life of running around barefoot, of fighting tools ten times her size ahead of her. She wouldn't understand, and besides...
She was Toph, he was Zuko. Clearly incompatible, but apparently the council had decided to skip that part.
"I'll talk to the counsel," he growled with a dangerous undertone. "but who's going to tell Toph?"
"I will," said Iroh, and Zuko raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Her parents aren't here, and I feel an certain obligation..." Zuko sighed, stared hard at his Uncle, and ambled off. There were people he needed to threaten in order to fix this one.
Iroh pulled Toph out of the courtyard, avoiding the stares of Aang, Katara, Sokka and Suki. He brought her into a secluded nook of the palace and delivered to her the same story that sent Zuko on edge. Unfortunately, the girl had a biting sense of humor. On the first try, she simply burst into laughter and asked him if Sokka had put him up to this, because she was going to 'get snoozles back good.' He told her that he was serious, and repeated the case with a dead straight face.
He watched as her light hearted expression transformed, one of her eyebrows twitched. First disbelief, then comprehension.
"To..to Sparky? Zuko?" Her voice was beginning to rise with anger, and she stomped her feet indignantly. "No way. No way, nobody consulted me! Nobody told me! T-they can't just do whatever they feel like, it's my life! This is the exact kind of thing I ran away from home and joined Aang because of! They can't. What about my parents?"
"The council of nations has already dispatched messengers informing your parents of this, and invited them here." Toph went completely blank with shock.
"I am very sorry, I tried to plead both your cases. I'm afraid now it's irreversible."
"It's... not fair," she said under her breath. Iroh frowned and sighed.
"I know." He put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry." Her eyes were usually blank, but even now the void in her glazed pupils looked completely desolate. She moved away from his touch, turning away from the opening that led back into the courtyard. She balled her fists, and started walking in a familiar direction.
Just as Iroh suspected, she headed towards the room of the council meetings. Exactly what those fools need, he thought, someone to bring them so their senses.
When Zuko first heard the loud banging, the cracking, and the crashes coming from the council room he thought they were holding another meeting again, and rushed down the hall to catch them. Before he got there the noises stopped, and he saw a girl dressed in green turn to exit the hall that led to the room. The girl was Toph, and she turned the corner without noticing him. He could only see her back as she stalked away, and he was thankful for it. For the brief moment in which he first recognized her his blood froze, and a prickle of fear and apprehension filled him. He should probably talk to her, and tell her that he was going to do whatever it took to change the ridiculous circumstance they were in.
As he padded along after her, he happened to notice that down the intersecting hall the door to the council meeting room was open. Following a sudden suspicion he stepped in, and poked his head in the door.
The room was trashed. The large atlas table in the center of the room was sliced in half at a crooked angle, it's right half resting tilted against the floor. The countless shelves were destroyed, broken, cracked. The room looked like a hundred bull-tigers trampled through it. Each and every chair suffered a broken leg if it was lucky, but more commonly it lay scattered asunder.
The only thing completely in tact where the pictures that hung on the wall, the pictures of the Royal Family, himself included. Zuko stepped back and quietly shut the door, realizing just how much he underestimated Toph's reaction.
He raced down the hall just to glimpse a hint of green disappearing around the corner. He ran after it, and found Toph's back walking 'calmly' down another hall. In an instant she whipped around, looking straight at him.
She must have sensed his vibrations, Zuko wasn't exactly being stealthy and he didn't mean to be. For someone who was blind, he thought, she looked as if she was looking directly at him, straight through his eyes and into his soul. Not just looking, glaring. The glare froze him in place.
"I'm not marrying you," she said as defiantly as a child. He was quite surprised.
"I don't want you to!" he said, realizing just too late that it sounded harsher than he intended. "Look, Toph-" He streaked after her, but she wouldn't allow him to catch up. He quit chasing her, simply respecting her wish to be alone. After she disappeared from sight, he spent a long time just standing in the hall, thinking.
He could still fix this, before it got out of hand. Zuko began pacing aimlessly, unaware his feet were carrying him in the direction of the palace's courtyard. He could still address the council. He was the Fire Lord, he could still fix this and no one would have to know about it as long as Toph-
Ceasing that thought, the sun of the open courtyard struck him in the face, and he heard a voice. As he walked past to hide in the shade of the indoors, he glimpsed Toph and the others out of the corner of his eyes.
"And they want me to MARRY him!" Toph was saying loudly, with an audience of Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Suki. They were a few cries of surprise, and heads turned toward him before he could make it to the other side. Slapping a hand on his forehead, he pushed his hair back and tried to force this headache to the back of his mind.
How did you like it? Review, please!
(Also, if you're reading this story because you added me to your author's alerts and see that I have not updated my other Avatar fic in a while, don't stress. I'm sorry but I'm sufferring writer's block, even though I sitll have the plot in my head. It won't happen with this fic, though, I have like ten chapters pre-written!)