First things first: I am NOT anti-zutara. In fact, I like it quite a bit. It's just that some of the methods authors use to bring the two together (or, in later chapters of this piece, keep them apart) make not one iota of sense with the characters.
So, without further ado, I bring you "The Arranged Marriage."
The world was changing. After a hundred years of war and genocide, one year of new hope and desperate struggle for survival, and two glorious years of fighting to maintain a new and fragile peace, the world was about to be pushed off its axis all over again.
Everyone in the vicinity of the event bringing the end of the world knew immediately of their coming doom, even if they could not pick up on the quiet words: nothing less could have caused the booming laughter to spring from the seemingly delicate lips of Toph Bei Fong.
"What do you mean betrothed?" Katara stared in horror at her increasingly uncomfortable father.
The man glanced nervously at the other old men behind him. Bumi sat with a glint in his eye; he seemed most proud of his cunning for coming up with such a clever, simple solution. The retired General Iroh gave him a warm, supportive look that was one part "You can do this" and two parts "Don't wimp out now, man!" The earth king, old Pakku, and the other obligatory dignitaries and ambassadors from every corner of the globe that had gathered for the peace talks just stood by smugly. There was only one way this could go.
"What did you mean," Fire Lord Zuko wheezed out, "betrothed?"
"Well, as a sign of good faith between nations-"
"I already have a boyfriend!" Katara cut in with growing anger, "What exactly does "good faith between nations" have to do with alienating me from the Love of My Life? You know, the Avatar?" At this she gestured emphatically at Aang, who seemed to be mouthing nonsense to himself and shifting his wide-eyed gaze between Katara and Zuko in some obscure form of deep-seated horror.
"Mai!" This seemed to be about the only word the young fire lord could force past his lips as he vacillated rapidly between rage and flustered disbelief. The aforementioned girl stared coolly at those gathered before her, but upon closer inspection seemed to be quietly caressing the knives concealed under her long sleeves.
"No one's marrying my baby sister off to Fire Nation Scum!" Sokka declared hotly, then turned to glance back at Zuko, "No offense."
Pakku shook his gray head in disgust. "You children know nothing of treaties and establishing lasting peace."
"Considering the hundred years of war, apparently neither do you." Katara muttered under her breath.
Hakoda looked at his daughter sharply, "That's enough, Katara."
Pakku cleared his throat and began again. "War is hard. Maintaining peace is harder still." He paused a moment to let this sink in. "There is no family, no person, who did not sacrifice and dearly pay the price of this war. And yet when war again looms on the horizon, you are selfish enough to refuse to do your duty to the world?" He turned condemning eyes on the young fire lord, "Your duty to your people?"
When Zuko turned to his uncle and saw that he would gain no support from his usual bulwark of strength, his shoulders drooped and all the fight drained out of him.
The tea enthusiast watched the youths before him with something very much like disappointment. "This is a sudden and jarring step on the road to peace. Perhaps we did not prepare you enough for this eventuality. In any case, I think it's best if you children stay out of the conference room while we discuss the finer details of this arrangement.
"But Uncle!" Zuko's eyes were wide and lost, "I should be there. I am the f-"
"Zuko!" At the sharp reprimand the boy flinched and lowered his head obediently. As he turned and walked away, the others reluctantly followed.
Even Toph had stopped laughing.
"Shut up. I'm not in the mood."
"I'm serious!" Sokka turned to face the rest of the group where they were huddled loosely together in one of palace gardens. Aang and Katara were sitting close: shoulders touching, legs in a tangle, and hands in a desperate grip, as if daring anyone to come and try to pry them apart. Mai was sitting close by on a stone bench, the very picture of detached calm, except for the arm she had wrapped tightly about Zuko's shoulders and head as he rested with his face pressed to her neck. Toph was hunched over on the ground, looking mutinous.
"I'm with Snoozles on this one." Toph announced, "Let's show those idiots who they're messing with."
Aang looked up from Katara's face for the first time since the news had sunk in. He turned hard eyes on Sokka. "You're right. This isn't fair. Katara and Zuko deserve better than to be forced into something like this."
"Yeah!" Sokka enthused, "We'll show those old codgers they can't push us around!"
Katara tightened her grip on Aang's hand and dragged both of them to their feet. "No one's taking me away from Aang," her face darkened farther, "or taking Aang way from me."
"Count me in." Came Mai's voice from where she sat, Zuko still wrapped around her. She gently pushed him back and climbed to her feet, once again caressing her hidden knives.
"So," Toph said as she jumped up and wandered over to where the others were gathering, "What's the plan, Snoozles?"
"Well, I was thinking-"
"It's not that simple." Zuko's quiet words cut like a knife through the growing excitement. He covered his face with tired hands before continuing, "As much as we hate it, they're right." An angry mummer went up at this.
"How can you even say that, Zuko?" Katara asked, scandalized. "You don't care if you have to leave Mai?"
"Of course I care!" At the shout the young fire lord uncovered his face: it was obvious he was on the brink of tears. "But this is bigger than us, isn't it? The peace talks haven't been going well. No one is willing to compromise, and no one trusts anyone else. If this could help prevent war, we are honor bound to go through with it. " He took a deep, shuddering breath. "I won't let any more people die because I want to be selfish." And just like that, the small uprising was cut down.
That is, until Aang pushed to the front of the group and smiled. It was not a smile that any of the group had seen grace the Avatar's face before. "Don't worry about that Zuko. There won't be another war."
Zuko snorted, "How can you be so sure?"
"Because I'm the Avatar." Looks of confusion passed over every face in the group. Just when it seemed Sokka was about to question his meaning he continued, "I've been going really easy on everyone, but I'm beginning to think a firmer hand may be required." His nasty smile morphed into an outright leer. "Don't you remember what I did to the last guy who attempted open war?"
Zuko's mind quickly flashed to the last time he had seen his father. The ex-lord Ozai had been ragged, huddled in a dark corner of a dank prison cell, not the smallest hint of bending to his one glorious name.
The fire lord lunged to his feet, unsheathed the duel broad swords on his back with a ring of metal on metal, and raised one high over his head. "To battle!"
The old men of the world quickly realized this was one group of teenagers not to mess with.
Thanks for reading (assuming you have...)! Now leave a review! I know what I'm doing for the next chapter, but I would love more ideas!