A/N: This is probably all you'll hear from me the whole way through. Just a heads-up, Avatar is not mine. (Duh.) This story, however, is.
Consider this a snapshot series. I'll be chronicling key events in their courtship, but probably not much more. If you, the readers, have ideas, please throw them my way! More often than not I'm inspired and try to find ways to incorporate them.
If you readers think this needs an actual plot summary here, let me know and I'll add one in. Thank you for reading! :)
"Mom, I already said I'll be there tonight."
"I know, honey, but you always say that and half the time you don't show up until the very end. I need you to get there early this time."
"Why?" The single word came out harsher than he'd wanted, and he amended, "I have a big account I'm working on right now. I'm already taking time out to come to this." Another moment passed, and for good measure he tacked on a dutiful, "Because I know how much it means to you."
"Well, I appreciate that, honey, but you getting there early means a lot to me, too. I met the most wonderful girl and I wanted to introduce you—"
"Mom, no. No, no, no, no."
But Ursa kept talking without even missing a beat. "—And I know you two will hit it off. Can't you make it just a few minutes early just for your darling mother?"
His mind was working at lightspeed. If he came up with a viable excuse, he knew his mother would let him out of the arrangement, but it also meant she'd find every opportunity from that point on to introduce him to the girl anyway. He could lie and say he was already seeing someone, but that would prompt a slew of questions and a bunch more lies.
He hated lying to his mother.
It was probably best to bite the bullet this time. A charity dinner wasn't exactly a date, and if the girl was a total loss he'd be at his father's table. It would be easy enough to slip out after the meal was served without ever seeing a soul.
"Sure, Mom. I'll try and get there early."
He couldn't help but smirk to himself as he armed the alarm on his car and tucked the keys in his pocket. He'd timed it perfectly. Three minutes before people would start herding toward their seats and the meal would be served. He could handle three minutes with his mother's latest pick—as long as she wasn't anything like the last one.
That had been a disaster and a half. Some red-haired thing studying psychology. In the first five minutes of talking to her she asked him if he was OCD and tried to recommend he see her professor for help with his, as she called it, 'workaholic tendencies.' Oh, and she had freckles.
Anything would be better than that.
"There you are, Zuko. Just in time," though the tightness to his mother's smile meant she was onto him.
"I got here early," he said smugly, trying to wipe the smirk off his face. It didn't quite seem appropriate anymore.
Ursa just waved away his nonchalance, other hand on his arm when she circled to his side to scan the crowd. "Since I wasn't entirely sure you'd grace us with your presence, I sent Katara to help some of the guests find their seats. Let me see if I can find her."
He didn't even have time to tell his mother not to bother her little busybee helper before she was already pointing to a young lady across the crowd. The woman's back was to them, so all he could see was a mane of wavy brown hair and the simple silver clasp that kept half of it at bay. Much to his chagrin, Ursa practically hopped up and down to wave the newest prospect over.
But when she turned around, all bets were off.
Bright blue eyes, a gorgeous smile, slender neck, and a burgundy satin dress that hugged her figure in all the right places to make her look elegant and stunning. She was young but not too young, petite, but the stilettos she wore did wonders for her legs. As much as he appreciated a fine pair of those, his eye wandered much more north… and it looked good up top, too.
Just how long it took the young woman to cross the room he never knew, because he was just staring the whole time. Could his mother really have picked such a… winner?
"Katara, I'd love for you to meet my son, Zuko. Zuko, this is Katara."
Ignoring his mother's look that pointedly told him to behave, he offered a hand with a semi-genuine smile. "A pleasure."
"No, the pleasure's mine," Katara bubbled as she gave the extended palm a shake. "Your mother's told me so much about you. All good things, of course."
"Of course," he echoed, fully intent on giving his mother a look of his own—only to find she'd discreetly disappeared into the oncoming crowd. "So… you care about—" he searched the nearest sign to gauge the 'cause' all the donations would be applied to, then mentally kicked himself, "—putting a stop to drunk driving?"
Smooth, Zuko. Real smooth.
He tried to save face. It wasn't his fault, after all, but his mother's for not giving him any information to work with going in. "Sorry, my mom just didn't—"
"Don't worry about it," she said with that same smile. Up close, he could see her lipstick was a charming shade to match her dress, and it suited her well. He'd always liked red. "I know your mother expects you to ask me to dinner or drop down on one knee or—I don't even know," she finished with a laugh and a shake of her head. "Let's just chat for a few minutes and I'll be out of your hair. You can say you tried and I'll tell her that, while you're polite and charming, you're not my type."
His smile froze. First of all, she was the first girl in awhile to catch on to his mother's scheme, and he appreciated that kind of intelligence in a woman. Second, she was even more beautiful up close, and her voice was pleasant and polished, but sincere, certainly a change in his dog-eat-dog business world.
But mostly, he just panicked that he might not actually be her type. "Am I your type?" jumped out of his mouth before he could stop it.
The sudden blush on her face gave her away. It was cute, as was the way her gaze darted to one side before coming back to him above a slightly more bashful smile. "I don't know. I haven't gotten to know you yet."
"Maybe we should," he suggested on a whim. Perhaps it was the businessman in him. He was unable to let such a promising opportunity go to waste. "Get to know each other, I mean. Over that dinner you mentioned."
She frowned, and for a long moment he was sure she was going to refuse. The expression translated more toward perplexity, however, and after another moment of waiting with bated breath, she countered, "Coffee, not dinner. Next Tuesday? My office is downtown and I know this great place on 42nd."
"Café Luna? I know the place."
"Great. What time's good for you?"
He hesitated. His 'workaholic tendencies' usually had him at the office at the crack of dawn, but telling a pretty girl to meet him at five-thirty in the a.m. probably wouldn't bode very well. "Seven?" His secretary might call missing persons but he'd get a good cup of coffee and maybe a chance at getting a handle on this girl.
"Perfect. See you then."
Confident, efficient, Katara was getting more and more intriguing by the minute. For the rest of the night he could barely take his eyes off her and he just hoped beyond hope she didn't notice. She didn't seem to; for the three hours spent listening to everything from testimony to statistics and the final plea for donations, their eyes only met across the crowd once.
And she'd smiled.
It gave him some hope. He wasn't really looking for anything serious, but she seemed like she might be fun—in bed, if nothing else. He was still male, after all.
Tuesday couldn't come fast enough.