This is an AU story written for Avatar: The Last Airbender. After an extended break from my writing I've picked this story up as my first project to finish! There's been major editing, but I hope you will continue to enjoy this project as much as I have.

Please review! It's my nourishment when I sacrifice sleep and social life as an irrational addict to Zutara!

I don't own Avatar: the Last Airbender.

Mad props to Beanaroony who did the artwork I chose for the story photo. Check it out! gallery/


Back Up Plans

Chapter 1: Surprise Encounters

The usual noise of a Wednesday night in the city drift in and out of the Four Nations. Needing only the smallest reason to visit their favorite pub, three best friends sit around a small table gossiping about their week.

"So have you decided which guy you're choosing?" Toph's blank eyes stare in the direction of her posed question.

"Who said anything about choosing?" Suki replies with a coy smile.

"You can't string along both guys!"

"That's too mean," Katara agrees, though she's not altogether surprised by her friend's behavior. Katara had tested into an upper classman level of biology, which is where she'd met Suki. After knowing her friend for two years, she's become well acquainted with her unconventionality.

Suki continues her defense despite her friends' disapproval. "Who says they don't know about each other? The way I see it I'm embracing my right to a free market. I'm getting the best product at a competitive price." This latest outrageous remark draws an eruption of laughter from the three girls. Irritated customers shoot annoyed glances in their direction, but the young women remain oblivious. "I knew that economics class would ruin you!" Katara moans. "I just thought it would turn you into a bookworm not finalize your descent into hedonism."

"Hedo-what?"

Toph sighs in exasperation. "Just because you're a pretty girl, Suki, doesn't mean that you're banned from cracking open a dictionary now and again." Katara doesn't dignify Toph's trademark sarcasm with a reaction, but Suki harumphs haughtily.

"So," Katara fishes through the dish of peanuts as she speaks. "These guys you're using- are they wildly overconfident or just desperate?"

"Why can't it be possible that I'm dating amazing guys?"

"Have you seen the guys you dated?" Toph demands.

"I think I saw them a little more clearly than you," Suki's playfulness is wearing out as her friend's continue to question her. Toph flicks a peanut at Suki's forehead in response.

"Look, I already told you guys that they're not desperate and not jerks," Suki insists. "And you can quit the judgment Toph. I was going to offer you one, but maybe Katara seems a little more deserving."

"Don't drag me into this," Katara quickly interjects. She'd learned that when Suki and Toph fought they fought dirty.

"Oh please," Toph interrupts. "You and I both know I am not interested in your cast offs. I'm not even interested in your first picks."

This time it's Suki's turn to sigh. "Well you can't keep dating the same person for years on end Toph. It's unnatural."

"Are we really gonna talk about this again? Aang and I have been happy together for longer than all your relationships combined."

Before the conversation gets truly heated a deep voice shouts above the noise of the busy bar. "Suki!" The table full of girls looks in the direction of the unexpected shout. It takes Suki a moment to resurrect her carefree persona, but she rallies admirably despite her friends teasing.

"Haru!" She waves an eager hand at the dark haired man making his way over.

When Suki hops up to go greet the first boy to show up Katara attempts to subtly observe her friend's latest endeavor. "He's tall and broad shouldered." She describes the man for Toph. "Oh wow, with a long ponytail. Definitely the musician type."

"Let me guess- hoody, blazer, skinny jeans?"

"You forgot the scarf," Katara adds with a laugh. "It works for him though."

Toph snorts derisively as she drops her head into her hands. "Unless the other guy is a troll he won't make the cut. Her last three boyfriends were-"

A swift kick in the shin interrupts Toph as the couple reaches them. Katara tries to hide her amused expression behind her drink.

"Girls, this is Haru. Haru this is Toph and Katara."

"Nice to meet you," he offers pleasantly.

"You too," Katara says, noticing the way his arm remains glued around her friend's waist.

"So. Haru." Toph pipes in giving her best imitation of a penetrating stare. "That's a great scarf." Katara snorts into her drink while Suki gives them both a dirty look.

"Uh, thanks," he answers picking up on Suki's tension. His gaze flickers from face to face in confusion.

"And I just love how your blazer brings out your eyes. Can't you see it, Katara?"

"Oh yes. They definitely complement each other," she confirms.

"That's enough girls," Suki hisses without breaking the smile now plastered on her face. "Let me clarify, Haru. This is my blind friend Toph and my idiotic friend Katara."

"O-oh," he stammers clearly unsure on how to respond to this new information. "Cool."

Joke now spoiled, Toph leans back in her chair and belches loudly. "Sorry, Haru. Just having a little fun. But I'm sure Suki loves your blazer."

The next hour is spent in much of the same manner: Toph doing her best to bate Suki with not-so-subtle quips at Haru while Katara interjects here and there to maintain the peace. As Haru proves to be more than he appears- the only child of a single mom he's on scholarship at George Washington studying Law and sculpting in his spare time- Katara finds herself respecting the man who is all but welded to her best friend. However, before she can say so a familiar voice bellows through the pub.

"Suuuuki!"

"Is that-" Toph stutters unable to finish her question.

"Sokka...?" Katara watches with a mixture of shock and horror as her older brother practically hops through the room pushing aside people and chairs until he's leaning over her friend.

"Hello to the prettiest and most amazing girl in the room," Sokka says as he pulls Suki up and attempts to plant a kiss on her.

"Smartest?" Toph echoes.

"Most amazing?" Katara wonders.

"Sokka!" Suki is obviously surprised. "We're not supposed hang out for another few hours."

Ever incorrigible he grins and offers a ready excuse. "Lucky for you, I wanted to come say hello to my baby sister and you just happened to be with her." Katara watches the interaction with numbing shock until her brother turns to face her, at which point she rediscovers her voice.

"Y-You're one of Suki's desperate boyfriends?"

"I'm not desperate!" he says jumping to his own defense. "I'm just being a supportive big brother. Getting to know the people you hang out with."

"Oh spare me, Sokka." Toph says with disdain. "I've been friends with Katara for years, and we've never been such intimate friends."

Sokka rolls his eyes at Toph perfectly aware that she'll pick up on the dismissal despite her blindness. "That's because I was forced to baby sit you two for way too long. After that, I knew everything I ever wanted to know."

The shock of Sokka's relationship with Suki swirls around the group and Katara starts replaying the last few weeks in her mind. Toph and Sokka continue bickering until the third interruption arrives.

"You swore you'd only be in here for two minutes." The stranger places a heavy hand on Sokka's shoulder and pries him off of the girl next to him. Surprised, Katara glances in the direction of hand's owner. For a moment he looks familiar, but his raspy voice interrupts any speculation on the déjà vu. "We lost our cab because I had to come in and get you."

Sokka's grin seems frozen onto his face as he slowly twists his head toward man gripping his shoulder. "Zuko, hey-"

"I'll be outside. You will be too if you know what's good for you." With his command still hanging in the air the stranger disappears as quickly as he'd appeared. Katara finds herself staring after him with several thoughts running through her mind. The primary being-

"Who was that?" Toph voices the question in the everyone's minds.

The newly deflated Sokka picks up his bag. "That's just Zuko," he explains. "We're both interns at that consulting firm up on Capitol Hill." Katara can detect the dislike in his tone, and she can't help feeling the same way.

"Well he's really going places with to those people skills of his," Toph comments.

Everyone at the table mentally rolls their eyes at the poster child for bad people skills. Sokka barks one short laugh before taking Suki's hand and pressing his lips to it. "Until later," he says with exaggerated emotion. Katara watches Suki with budding curiosity. The girl stares after Sokka with an unreadable expression. With their colorful visitors gone, the table finally settles down. A low cough draws everyone's attention to the man next to Suki and all at once, Suki and her friends realize forgot all about Haru. Now, however, his frustrated presence is all too apparent.

"Haru," Suki exclaims in poorly disguised surprise. "I forgot- I mean I'm sorry about that interruption. That was just a-"

"You know what? Don't worry about it," he mutters.

"Haru-" Suki pleads, trying to reason with him, but he brushes her off. Grabbing his bag, he walks out of the bar and doesn't look back. Toph and Katara try to look at everything except the devastated expression on their friend's face until Katara finally clears her throat and raises a glass.

"Well it's a good thing you've got a back-up. I personally don't know what you see in my brother, but best of luck to you both."

"Cheers to that," Toph chimes in and they both knock back a shot.

Suki laughs gratefully along with her friends. Raising her own glass she adds; "And may that Zuko guy get hit by a cab on his way to work!" The girls erupt into laughter once more. As their glasses clink together, they slip back into their easy rhythm of give and take.

The night draws to a close as when Katara insists that she needs to get home and to bed. Dragging her roommate, Toph, along with her she gives Suki a warm good night. "You know if I didn't have lab tomorrow I'd stay out all night with you."

"Yeah, I know. Don't study too hard 'kay, brainiac?" Suki gives her a peck on the cheek as they part at the bar exit.

"No kidding," Toph agrees as they pile into a cab. "Let's grab lunch after you get done tomorrow. I'll be on campus then."

"Okay," Katara says with a yawn. "I'll smell like cadavers though."

"On second thought…" Toph teases. Katara just laughs in response. She gives their address to the cab driver and he pulls into traffic. The girls ride off eager to be home in their small apartment.