Title: Sokka Saves the Day!
Disclaimer: I don't own anything below that anyone recognises from elsewhere.
Summary: You know things are bad when Sokka's paying attention to romantic relationships. Zutara.
Notes: I don't think this has been done much, if at all. So here's another crack at a post-series Zutara fixer.
You'd never have guessed it would be Sokka behind things.
After all, Iroh was the great romantic, so if anyone would believe in the Power of True Love and righting the course of all the wrongs to be committed by duty-based relationships. The thing was, that maybe Iroh not being the one to do it made sense too. After all, the man was living in Ba Sing Se, running his tea shop. While he always had time for his nephew's letters, let's be frank, there's only so much one can tell from a letter, especially when the writer is determined to make everything seem fine.
One could certainly suspect Toph might have been determined to fix things. She was the great believer in truth, could always tell when someone was lying and was bound to notice that Zuko and Katara's heartbeats ran in synch and never seemed to indicate interest in their significant others. The thing about that is, she was only a kid. What did she know about romantic love and lust? Maybe a little more than most kids her age, but not all that much. She'd barely even hit puberty herself. She might know something was off, but how to tell what?
There was Suki to consider, of course. But she had only joined their little group late, in some ways she was only an adjunct through Sokka. Zuko may have been chasing them, but he was there from the beginning and all the way through their adventures. Love of Sokka's life or not, it wasn't really her place to interfere, especially if Katara and Zuko were determined to believe they were where they were supposed to be.
Ty Lee was Mai's friend, was a kind, often insightful and genuinely interested in the happiness of others. She was a flake, however, and was living on Kyoshi Island anyhow. Not much was going to happen from that part of the field.
Hakoda didn't trust anything male with his daughter except Sokka, as was a father's duty, and the idea of his daughter with a prepubescent boy was actually rather attractive to him. After all, the kid was barely even aware there existed more than kissing in the realms of affection, Hakoda could get behind that. Certainly far better than the virile, handsome, well-muscled and probably experienced young Fire Lord. It was a father thing.
So what about Aang? Perhaps he had noticed there was something wrong with his relationship with Katara and would speak up for both their happiness. Nothing worse than having a girlfriend who's in love with someone else. Particularly someone you saw every other week. But Aang, like Toph and as noted by Hakoda, was just a kid. He didn't know much about romance and relationships. As long as Katara kissed him often and declared herself to be his girlfriend, he couldn't see anything wrong with that.
Maybe Mai would do something about it. She was in a similar position to Aang, with a boyfriend who didn't truly love her and was sticking around out of duty and a sense of "What ought to be." The thing about Mai, was that she was a pragmatist. As far as she was concerned, it was ridiculous to go looking for 'true love' when you had someone who understood you most of the time, was affectionate and supportive, never abusive, helpful and interesting. Zuko was all those things for her, and she tried her best to be those things for him. Maybe they could do better, maybe not, but breaking up because there wasn't 'a spark', whatever that meant? Silly.
Who did that leave? Sokka.
He held out for a good long time. After all, he was with his father on the matter of Katara and male specimens. She should never be with anyone who might put the moves on her. The problem was that he was frequently travelling and meeting up with Katara and Aang, Zuko and Mai, Katara, Mai, Zuko and Aang, it depended on the situation. He couldn't help noticing that when she was left alone with Zuko, it was like she just brightened up. It was the difference between Katara's, "I'm going to be cheerful to keep everyone else cheerful because someone has to keep morale up," cheer, and her, "I'm truly happy right now," cheer.
When Aang came along, she looked like she was smiling because someone had done something to make her face freeze that way. It was the smile you give to the great-aunt you kind of hate when she comes to visit. It was dutiful.
He ignored it. Katara never wanted his help with her relationships, and there was the nothing-more-than-kissing factor to be considered.
Zuko also lit up when he was left with Katara. The normally unsmiling face would break out into a soft (pretty mushy, actually, let's face it) smile and he'd stand close to her, turned to face her so that she was the centre of his attention at all times. When Mai was there, Zuko would face her that way, but he always looked like he was concentrating to do it. Like he knew he was supposed to make her the centre of his attention, but he was a reluctant and erratic planet to her sun, while with Katara his orbit was close and constant.
Sokka actually had a little harder a time ignoring that. Zuko was his buddy, and he was supposed to help and support the guy with his girl problems. It was one of those guy friend code things. It just put him in a tailspin, because Katara was Sokka's sister and, well, Zuko was a lot more threatening to Katara's virtue.
He finally broke one evening, sitting next to Suki at some ball, watching Zuko take a supposedly dutiful turn around the floor with Katara. The pair looked as though they were the only people in the world, staring into each other's eyes and generally making googly romantic faces at each other. The Water Tribesman was forced to admit, he was going to have to do something about it all.
Naturally, he approached the matter the way he had the invasion plan for the eclipse. Methodically and strategically. First, he had to lay some groundwork. This would all be for nothing if he got the pair together and everyone declared it to be unfeasible for political, social or other, unrelated to a relationship, reasons.
"So, what's a Fire Lady's job, anyhow?" Sokka asked Iroh casually one day at the tea shop. He needed information before he even started planning his campaign.
Iroh frowned, considering. "She is, of course, to bear the children of the current Fire Lord," he began. "But she is also to take on traditionally womanly areas of administration. Charity work, administering to the hospitals, orphanages, schools, museums and care for the poor – those sorts of things." The former Crown Prince to the Fire Throne added thoughtfully, "She is also to handle the cultural heritage of our people and provide the gentler face of the Fire Throne."
"Huh," Sokka said. "I'm not so sure that's gonna be up Mai's alley. Boredom she can do. I'm not so sure about 'gentle'." He left, taking this information with him.
The Fire Nation's library was a treasure trove of engineering texts, so Sokka had wangled permission to dally about in there from Zuko. It meant that he was not bothered, even if he wandered from the sections about coal-fired engines and into the history and statistics. A few judicious words to Katara, and she started a campaign with Zuko to improve the Fire Nation's houses of healing. Then the orphanages. Then the schools. In no time at all, he'd placed Katara and Mai on the same dossiers to deal with those issues.
For all that Mai was trained and willing to do the work, she didn't like it. So she quietly ceded her responsibilities over to Katara one at a time. Katara didn't notice, because once she had the bit in her mouth, she'd run away with things if you let her.
Sokka smiled to himself. Stage One, complete. He started on stage Two.
"Sokka! How are you?"
"Not bad, not bad," Sokka said. He frowned a little. "I have to admit, I'm kind of worried about you."
Her smile flattened a little. "Why?" she asked cautiously. She'd come to appreciate that she should at least wait until he said why he was worried before exploding at him.
"All these court things," he said, waving a hand around. "You spend all this time with Aang at them and I just worry about all the girls being snide about your manners and . . . stuff."
"My manners?" she asked, disbelieving. "You're talking about manners?"
Sokka hastily backed up. "I didn't mean your manners are bad," he said quickly. "Just that some of the noble stuff that happens with manners can be . . . weird."
Katara seemed about to object, then she deflated. "You're right. People keep whispering about the clumsy Water Tribe girl." She glared at nothing in particular. "But the Avatar can stick three fruit pies in his mouth and once and spit crumbs everywhere, and he's just charming."
"Eh . . . don't you worry, sis!" Sokka exclaimed. "You don't need their fancy manners. They had to get tutors to teach them. Doesn't that mean they have too many manners in the 'upper crust'?" For the last two words, Sokka put on his best, 'upper crust' accent, which, as he'd planned, made Katara giggle.
Then she paused, looking thoughtful. She wasn't thinking so hard that she didn't retort, "I suppose that anyone with a tutor has too much knowledge about what the tutor's teaching?"
"Pff. Manners and real knowledge aren't the same thing," retorted Sokka.
They chatted a while longer, then he took his leave for the afternoon. As he left, he heard Katara asking one of the servants assigned to her about etiquette tutors.
Stage Two of the plan, complete.
Stage Three needed some time to take, so Sokka got started on stage four while he waited. After all, there was groundwork to be laid there, too. He was on Kyoshi with Suki, who was training up a replacement as the leader of her warriors; since she was needed so much in diplomatic circles she couldn't be around to make the day-to-day decisions for her girls any more.
Sokka decided to brave Ty Lee's frightening cheer, and sat down next to her to chat. "So . . . uh . . . Ty Lee. How are you settling in here?"
"Oh, it's great. The whole place just oozes Avatar Kyoshi's aura," she declared cheerily. "So I'm taking it all in. The girls are really nice too. I get so many coming to me who want to learn about chi blocking, I'm making lots of new friends!"
"That's great," Sokka said. Then he asked, "So how's Mai? I mean, it's gotta be a big change to go from the way things were before to being the Fire Lord's girlfriend."
Ty Lee got her pouty sad face. "Well, I think she's not as happy with Zuko as she wants to think she is. Mai's always had responsibilities and formal things and I think she'd be happier if she could be somewhere she could relax a little."
"You think Zuko's not keeping her happy enough?" Sokka asked.
Ty Lee frowned. "I think she'd be happier with someone who would make her go out and have fun. Zuko's too determined to be a good Fire Lord to make Mai have fun. They won't make each other miserable, but he won't make her happy, either." She sighed. "The last time I saw Mai, her aura was starting to go all grey again. It makes me sad."
Sokka nodded sagely, "I can see why it would."
"Look, when you try to find someone to set her up with, you should try that ambassador, Huong," Ty Lee said. "He's fun and he'd be just right for her."
"What do you mean when I try to find someone to set her up with?" Sokka asked her.
Ty Lee tilted her head, quizzically. "Well, aren't you?"
"I . . . uh . . ."
"Your aura's all purply, you know. You're trying to trick someone."
"Uh . . ."
She was called away by one of the girls, and Sokka just sat there, blinking, until Suki came for him later.
He still took Ty Lee's advice.
Stage Three began with Sokka at a ball, watching his sister as she danced the night away. In between those dances, he saw her delicate and refined new fancy manners put to work. She was delicate, ladylike, and the only things that distinguished her from the other ladies at the ball were her looks, which denoted her to be Water Tribe, and the fact that she was cheerful, open and friendly to everyone there.
It all made Sokka's ploy easier. In no time at all, he was having casual conversations with various statesmen, in particular Fire Nation officials, as he circulated. He eventually found himself in conversation with Ty Lee's recommended suitor for Mai.
"So," Sokka said, "I can't believe my sister's gone and gotten all those weird habits you noble-types insist on as so-called basic manners."
Huong raised an eyebrow at Sokka. "Your sister's the Water Tribe representative that travels with the Avatar, isn't she?"
"She is," Sokka said. "And it was bad enough eating with her before when she'd constantly tell everyone to chew with their mouths closed. Now she's always on about chopstick technique and how to hold the soup spoons."
"I can see how that would be irritating," the man said, noncommittally.
Sokka manoeuvred them around the dance floor, eventually managing to come up on Mai, just as he was telling the tale about the time Azula, Mai and Ty Lee had chased them in that tank. "Mai! I was just talking about you and Ty Lee. This is Huong. Have you met him? He's one of Zuko's roving ambassadors."
The two were introduced, started talking, and Sokka let himself get edged out of the conversation. It seemed Ty Lee was right. For the rest of the evening, while Sokka went around letting people know how sophisticated and ladylike his sister was, and how much she was doing for the Fire Nation administration, Mai and Huong talked to each other, their orbiting of each other a fair imitation of Zuko and Katara.
Zuko and Katara didn't even notice Mai was missing from their evening. Aang was too busy bouncing off the ceiling to notice anything at all.
With the end of Stage Three and Stage Four now begun, Sokka had to turn his thoughts to Stage Five.
It was a delicate task, and one he didn't want to take on, but he couldn't afford to let anyone else handle it. Sokka waited until Aang had been separated from everyone else before he struck. "So . . . Aang," he said. "I . . . uh . . . there was something I just kinda wanted to check in with you over."
"Oh?" the big, guileless grey eyes looked up at him. "What about, Sokka?"
"Well," Sokka rubbed a nervous hand over the back of his neck. "Katara's my sister, so I just . . . uh . . ."
Aang gave a resigned sigh, and said, "I think I already had this conversation with your dad," he told Sokka. "I promise I'm not going to hurt Katara, or make her do anything she doesn't want to do. Although how I could do that, I don't know."
Sokka eyed him. "That's great, but it's uh . . . not what I was going to talk to you about. Did anyone . . . um . . . ever talk to you about girls?"
Aang looked confused as he asked, "What about girls?"
"Oh, I hate this," Sokka said. "I mean, uh . . . swords and sheathes, badger moles and burrows . . .?"
"What do badger-moles have to do with swords?" Aang asked, looking more baffled.
Sokka flushed. "It's a metaphor. For men and women and . . . um . . . sex." He bit the crossbow head and spat it out. "Did anyone talk to you about sex and stuff?"
"About what?" Aang asked. This wasn't a, I-can't-believe-you're-talking-about-sex, what, it was an I-don't-know-what-sex-is , what.
This was worse than Sokka thought. "When a man is really attracted to a woman he . . . gets urges," Sokka said. "Um . . . you're um . . ." he grasped for a word that was neither embarrassing nor crude, and came up with, "Manhood. When you're really attracted to a woman, it'll . . . uh stiffen. You've woken up with it like that, right?"
Aang was started to blush too, as he muttered. "Yes."
"Right." Sokka nodded. "That happens a lot when you start going from child to man," he explained. "But uh . . . it also happens when you get . . . um . . . urges about girls."
"Urges?" Aang asked.
Sokka nodded. "Like, when you want to kiss them a lot and touch them and . . . stuff."
Aang asked a lot of questions. Many questions. Lots and lots of questions. Sokka dutifully answered them all, and then some. When the chat was finished, Aang left, looking extremely thoughtful.
A couple weeks later, Sokka got an irate letter from his sister, who declared that Aang had broken up with her because he'd realised, he didn't 'feel urges' around Katara. He felt 'urges' around some other girls, but not Katara. Apparently, he'd come to the realisation after his little talk with Sokka, and he'd told Katara so. She wanted to know what it was Sokka had told Aang about 'urges.'
Sokka vowed to avoid his sister for the next couple months in the hopes that she wouldn't actively try to kill him the next time they saw each other. He also vowed to avoid Aang until he could stop feeling humiliated about his role in the whole thing.
With Katara now hanging around the Fire Nation, since she wasn't travelling with Aang any more, Sokka didn't even need to be there for Stages Four and Six to come to fruition.
He heard in a distraught letter from Zuko that Mai had broken up with him, and that Katara was doing her best to comfort the upset Fire Lord. He heard from Katara, that Mai had viciously dumped Zuko for another man, and she was going to make sure he forgot all about the bitch.
Several letters later, he was hearing agonised worry about whether or not the other one was interested, romantically. Well, he was reading between the lines in Katara's case, but he knew his little sister well.
Finally, he got a letter, at the same time his father did, saying that Katara and Zuko were coming to a formal visit to the South Pole.
It was a family dinner. Just Hakoda, Sokka, Suki, Katara, Gran-gran, Pakku and Zuko around the dinner table. When the meal was over, Zuko pulled Hakoda aside, having a quiet conversation with him. Sokka was trying to pretend he didn't care what was going on up there very hard.
"What?" came his father's sharp voice.
Zuko, speaking loudly enough to be heard by everyone in the room, said, "I said I wanted to ask your blessing for Katara's and my marriage. We will be getting married," he continued, looking quite mulish, "But she – we would like to have your approval."
"Katara?" Hakoda turned to his daughter. "You wish to marry . . . Zuko?"
She nodded, eagerly. "I love him, Dad. I . . . that's all there is to it."
They looked so pathetic, it was clear a stronger man than their father would have given in. "Alright. I give you both my blessing," he told them.
"Thank you, Dad!" Katara leaped at him, hugging Hakoda for all she was worth. Then she grinned at Zuko and kissed him.
There was tongue and Sokka was pretty sure he'd heard quiet moaning and that Zuko was touching her in places he shouldn't be touching her in public. "Knock it off!" he yelled. "Some of us want to be able to eat!"
Katara turned to glare, while Zuko just looked confused at him. "We just finished dinner," he said.
"That's not the point," Sokka told him, pointing his knife at the other man. "There's always room for sea prunes."
Anyhow, just because he'd worked hard to get them together didn't mean he had to see it.