Dinner Parties Galore
One-shot AU - The Gaang meets for the first time during a Fire Nation Gala in a world where Sozin and offspring weren't evil. Hijacks ensue as flirting is attempted, closets are discussed, Princesses are insulted- and who's that making out under the table? Taang and Zutara with implied Sukka.
Since it's AU- I'm totally shoving characters into centuries they don't belong, but trying not to play with personalities too much. I just finished this… I started it almost a year ago, and I'm sure the end is riddled with mistakes. But, if I edit it one more time I will never post this. So please forgive all errors.
"Remember, you represent peace and tranquility. But that doesn't mean you can't have a little fun." Gyatso moved off into the room with a wink, leaving the lanky sixteen-year-old Avatar standing by the punch bowl.
Aang glanced causally around the ballroom. The orange and tan outfit clawed at his neck, the feel was odd, the material smooth but the cut different from his normal outfit. The sultry smell of fire pervaded the air, ornate fire lanterns casting a warm red glow over the baroque marble. Across the room, a band struck up a soft tune, the music mingling in harmony with the quiet murmur of talking. Aang glanced to his left and to his right, down along the long tables piled high with glittering plates of lavish delicacies pulled from all over the world. Tugging at the orange vest, he leaned back against the table to watch the room spin with dancers as they swirled along the marble floor.
"Watch it, Twinkle Toes."
Aang jumped and glanced down in awe at the blind girl. "Ahh, sorry," he stuttered, cheeks turning crimson. "I didn't see you there."
"Yeah, no big." Reaching around him, the girl grabbed a bun from the table and took a giant bite. She was a good foot shorter than Aang, with pale porcelain like skin. Wealth dripped off her in a simple but elegant gown of green and white. The color was a tale-tell sign of her nationality- well, that and the bare foot poking out from underneath the hem. Her thick black hair was up in a decorative bun, ornate white lotus pins accenting the whole hairdo while her long bangs partially obscured cloudy green eyes. "You come to these things often?"
"Ah- no, this is my first," Aang stuttered, eyes glued to her face as he fidgeted nervously.
"Felt like it." Taking another giant bite, she leaned up against the table next to him. "Whose are you?"
"Pardon?" For someone of her stature and appearance she was certainly blunt. The music changed tempo, spiking a high note then softly falling away in an indulgent dying note. Applause greeted the end as the dancers broke apart to mill around the room.
"Whose kid?" the girl questioned before finishing off the bun.
Aang blanched for a second, "Oh, nobody's kid."
"Nobody's kid, funny." A soft fist smacked into his shoulder, sending the Avatar stumbling to his left. Aang caught himself quickly and resumed his original stance. "Then who are you here with?"
"I'm here on my own as-" Aang paused.
"Spit it out, Twinkle Toes."
"Ahh, well, it's my job to be here, I'm the Avatar." A blush crept over his checks, his heart thumping wildly.
"Sweet," her response was so anti-climactic that it almost sent him stumbling back into the table. "Perks must be nice."
"Huh, yeah- I guess." He fidgeted with the orange vest, tugging it into place. The band had yet to strike a new tune, placing an acute emphasis on the long second of silence between boy and girl. Aang peeked down at the small earthbender. "So, uh- do you have a name?" he questioned, stomping down on his heart to quiet the rapid beating.
"Names Toph, Toph Bei Fong. Those two ninnies standing next to the giant fire lily are my parents. Richest people in Gaoling, that's how they scored an invite to this little shindig. I, on the other hand, am the greatest earthbending master alive. King Kuei was even talking about making me his heir."
"Really?" Aang questioned eagerly.
Toph snorted, her fist shot into his shoulder again, "Sure, kid, right after I marry the Fire Lord." Aang felt his face flush in embarrassment as the small earthbender laughed. "Aw, don't sweat it; you were an easy target. You got a name?"
"Nice." Reaching over Toph grabbed another bun, then froze. Tossing the pastry back into the pile, she promptly transformed from blunt mannerisms into the very model of a young woman. Completing the look with a modest blush, she bowed her head in deference to the Avatar. "Please do tell me more of your travels, Avatar Aang."
"Uh-" Aang stuttered, confused by the rapid conversion. A small earthquake shuddered beneath his feet as the girl sent him a subtle glare. "Well, I just recently returned from the Northern Fire Temple where I mastered the art of firebending."
"Avatar Aang, what a pleasant surprise to see you," Lao Bei Fong smiled down at the two adolescents as he and his wife came to a halt before them. "And congratulations on mastering the art of firebending."
"Thank you, sir."
"My delicate daughter has always been interested in the travels of the world." Lady Bei Fong bowed her head to Aang, flicking her fan forward she smiled politely and reached out to tuck a bang behind Toph's ear. "I do so hope our angel is not disturbing you too much with her questions."
"No, of course not, I find her company exhilarating-" another small earthquake erupted below his feet, "that is, I find her company extremely pleasant."
"We are so glad. Toph, dear, your mother and I have just spoken to the Lee family. Dowry arrangements are coming along well. You may soon find yourself a husband." Aang stomach sunk down to his toes as the elder man spoke. His glance flickered over at the small girl next to him. Something seemed to catch Lao's eyes and he once again bowed to Aang. "Pray excuse us, Avatar. Toph, dear, don't stray too far from the tables, I don't want you tripping over anyone's toes."
Aang did his best to keep the disappointment and confusion off his face as he watched the two elders walk away. He glanced back over at the girl and cleared his throat trying to mask his disappointment, "So, how did you know they were coming?"
"I'm blind, Twinkle Toes, but I can see." Toph shoved an elbow into his shoulder. "Ever hear of seismic sense? I see with earthbending; I feel the vibrations of people. Like you; your steps are just like a girls, so soft. It's almost like you're not even really standing on the ground."
"Well, I am an airbender," Aang answered, rubbing the spot where she'd elbowed him. He glanced down at her, noting the way her bangs framed her face. The music spiked and then simmered down. "Aren't you kind of young to be getting married?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Toph's finger poked roughly into his stomach as she glared accusingly at his chest.
"Sorry, I didn't mean anything," Aang waved his hands in front of him to ward her off, "it's just you don't look old enough." He finished lamely.
Whirling away from him, Toph crossed her arms over her chest and snorted, "Don't let the height fool you, Twinkle Toes, I'm every inch of sixteen." For some reason the statement struck Aang as funny, but he held his tongue. "I don't have much of a choice in the marriage." Her right arm struck off to their left, pointing out a brutish looking teenage pawing at a courtesan. "That's Shen Lee, candidate number four. He won't be too much of a problem getting rid of. A subtle complaint about this or that and the parents will freak."
Aang scrutinized the other boy, doing his best to ignore the spike of jealousy that ran up his veins; Shen didn't exactly look like the marrying type either. But, just by observing the clothes he wore, Aang could tell he was from a wealthy family. Even sixteen-year-old air nomads knew that money usually married other money. "That kind of stinks for you."
Toph shrugged, "It could be worse, at least I'm not engaged to royalty."
"I still can't believe this is happening," Katara sighed to her companion. Brushing an invisible piece of lint off her white and blue gown, she moved listlessly from buffet table to buffet table with Yue. Around them the ball continued in full swing, the band piling back into their places to start up another waltz. "I mean, I guess it's lucky that it wasn't arranged at sixteen, most earth girls are already married with kids by eighteen."
"I know, but to such a sock puppet." Yue shook her head, swinging an ornamental braid out of her way. "Who would have ever guessed they would have it in them to arrange such a match."
"He's just so rude and obnoxious." Katara dropped her hands to her hips and pursed her lips together. Yue froze in place. "It just makes no sense- two total opposites." Realizing that the white haired northern tribesman was no longer at her side, Katara spun around to send the other girl a questioning look.
Yue bit down on her lip, "Are we talking about my engagement or yours?"
"I thought we were talking about mine."
Yue shook her head and resumed her place beside her southern tribesman, "I know you're still upset about this whole betrothal thing, but Prince Zuko is a thousand times better than Hahn."
It took all the effort she had for Katara to keep her eyes from rolling, "Yue, you've known about your betrothal since birth. I just had this sprung on me four weeks ago- along with this." Katara pointed up at the fire ornament perched atop of her head. "It really doesn't go with the whole water tribe colors."
"It doesn't," Sokka agreed as he joined his sister and Yue. "But I don't think that will matter once you're dressed in Fire Nation colors." Glancing over the buffet table, the water warrior perused the options offered. "I still don't see why I had to come to his party; I'm not the one about to get hitched to some jerk-bender Prince."
"Really Sokka, what a great way to show compassion," Katara glowered at him, wishing for a second that she could break decorum and water slap the elder boy. "You should be happy you didn't find yourself engaged to Princess Azula."
"Dodged a blade there," Sokka grinned as he tossed a couple sugar buns and beef kebabs onto his plate. "But, really, you should have seen this coming months ago. I mean, why would a firebender come all the way to the South Pole just to 'practice' his bending? He's really going to need to be able to firebend in 30 below?" Sokka deadpanned, waving his fork in the air for emphasis before stabbing a piece of meat on his plate. "I have heard they get terrible blizzards here."
Katara's mouth set into a grimace, her eyes shining with malice. Sokka ignored the warning signs and continued, "And it makes perfect sense for the Fire Lord to offer us exclusive trade rights and peace agreement without anything in return."
A nearby goblet wobbled, a spiral of water rising in the air- "Katara." At the sound of Yue's voice, the water coiled back down. Sokka took that as his cue to wander away. "You really shouldn't be so mean to your brother, he's usually so nice."
"Nice, did you just hear what he just said?" The two continued along their way, pausing by the punch table near two other teenagers. Katara ignored the pair of strangers and instead reached to pick up a bun.
"Well, he does have a point. It should have been a little more obvious to you when the Fire Nation started sending their prince to the South Pole. And you did mention that your father was always asking you to escort him around- when there wasn't much to see or do."
"I just thought they wanted me to make sure he didn't drown or something." Katara felt her shoulders deflate, forcing her to turn away from her northern friend. To her right the smaller earth girl was listening intently to her lanky partner talk about the air temples. For a second Katara wished she could join them, just to get away from her current drama. But the two seemed oblivious to her.
Katara sighed, eyes wandering across the room to where the royals stood. She whipped her head back around to Yue, "Can you imagine? Where as you will get to stay in the North Pole, I'm being shipped off to the Fire Nation where I'll be expected to bear fire babies and consort with a spoiled prince."
"I really don't think it will be that bad."
The small figure in green beside them burst into laughter, bending over and slapping her leg, "Ah, Twinkle Toes, that's too funny."
Katara glared over at them again- it was so unfair. Grabbing Yue's hand, she tugged the girl off in another direction, "Come on, let's go sit by the fountain."
"Why must we attend this dreary thing, daddy?" Azula questioned as she examined her nails, adding a dramatic sigh to illustrate her boredom. The royal family stood in their place near the dais, watching as the room moved around them in a dizzy circle of nobility and foreigners. Ozai picked at the plate in his hand while Ursa fussed with both her children; first straightening Zuko's outfit before patting down Azula's hair.
"We are here to celebrate your brother's engagement and the Avatar's mastery of fire," Ozai answered, handing his plate to servant in favor of a sparkling glass of fire-wine.
The fire-princess gagged at the thought, "Can't I just sneak out to practice a little firebending?"
Ozai frowned at his youngest child. "Of course not. You will remain and behave yourself like your brother."
"Zuko, Zuko, Zuko. Ever since Lu Ten abdicated and Uncle Iroh named Zuko as his heir that's all I ever hear about. Zuko this and Zuko that."
"Quiet, Azula," Ursa commanded, reaching out to once again fix her daughter's wayward hair. "Why don't you go find Ty Lee and Mai, I'm sure they're looking for you."
"More like hiding," Zuko snickered under his breath, invoking a glare from his mother.
Azula favored her family with a seething scowl. "Fine, not like you guys were providing stimulating conversation anyway." That said the young princess waltzed off in search of her friends.
Ursa frowned, turning to Ozai to inquire unobtrusively, "Ozai, my love, did you remember to give Azula her medication?"
Ozai's eyes shot wide in panic. "Err, yes, my love." Clearing his throat, the tall imposing man anxiously scanned around the room for an excuse to depart. "Excuse me; I need to go speak to Iroh on a matter of importance." Ozai scooted off in search of some strong guards.
Ursa stepped over to her son, a soft smile slipping over her lips as she gazed at the young man. "Have you spoken to Katara since her arrival?"
"Yes mother, we spoke briefly." Zuko clasped his hands behind his back to keep them from fidgeting and surveyed the ballroom, feigning indifference to the conversation.
"And," Ursa prompted. Zuko remained quiet. "Well, what did she say? It's the first time you've seen each other since the betrothal announcement."
The crown prince hesitated, shifted nervously, and then tried to cover it up by faking a cough. "She said she hoped I was well." Actually, she had growled it and he was quite positive the presence of her father was the only thing that had kept her from burying him beneath a wave of water.
"Oh," Ursa seemed to deflate, "that was not quiet what I had expected. What else did she say?"
"She said she was overjoyed at the prospect of spending her lifetime with me." Again, she hadn't really said it, so much as barely spat it out of her mouth in disgust. "She really seemed genuinely happy at the prospect." Now that was a flat lie.
"That's much better," Ursa sighed contentedly. "I cannot tell you how pleased I am with your selection. For a while I thought you might go with that depressing little Mai. I don't see how a girl of her caliber can be so morose all the time." Silence settled over the pair, when Ursa suddenly perked up excitedly, "Why don't you go and speak to Katara, Zuko. Offer to give her a tour of the grounds; it will give you a chance to speak privately." She seemed to miss the brief second of panic that flashed across Zuko's face, before she gently shoved her son off in the direction of the waterbender.
Zuko hesitated and turned back to his mother, "I will, but first I need to speak to Uncle Iroh." Zuko turned in the opposite direction and headed off in search of a strong glass of fire whiskey.
"Nice weapon," Sokka looked up from his plate of meat at the sound of a sultry voice. A young woman smiled down from his side.
"Thanks. The names' Sokka," He greeted, eyes lingering over her form for a second as he scrutinized the handsome woman. She was dressed in what looked to him like kimono armor, her face painted heavily with makeup. "You interested?"
The girl stuttered abruptly for a second, before her eyes narrowed in on him accusingly. "What?"
"Are -you –interested- in- boomerangs?" Sokka questioned, making sure to enunciate each word.
The girl cleared her throat and straightened. "You might say that, though clearly they are inferior to the aerodynamic stealth of a good fan."
"Sure, sure" Sokka dismissed the statement brazenly, waving a hand at her. "Maybe in some twisted dimension where bear-kings rule the world with batty old men."
The fan snapped out, knocking the shocked boy in the head. The meat plate launched hazardously into the air as a swift foot knocked him down. "You might want to test your theories before speaking," the girl stated casually as she deftly caught the plate midair.
Sokka pulled himself up. "Alright, maybe I spoke a little too hastily," he admitted grudgingly, swiping the plate out of her hand. "No reason to threaten a man's plate of meat. You got a name?"
She held her hand out to him, "Suki."
"So, you're the Avatar."
Aang's gaze whipped away from Toph to face the girl that addressed him. She was dressed in the royal robes of a Fire Nation Princess, her beady eyes pinned into them as she waited for him to act. "You must be Princess Azula, it's my pleasure-"
"You don't look that powerful to me," Azula interrupted, red clad arms crossing over her chest. "And who's your little blind friend, your earthbending master?" she snorted with a small laugh.
"One that could probably take you down a notch," Toph muttered as she scowled in the general direction of the remarks.
Azula shrugged off the earthbender, remaining focused on the Avatar. "So, I heard you were pretty decent with fire, hard to believe by the looks."
Aang fidget nervously, "Ah, yes, well I suppose that judging by the looks-"
"Certainly don't look like you could handle the world. I'd put money on being able to wipe that smile off your face anytime of the day." Azula lifted her hand to eye level and causally examined her nails. "Of course, what would you expect from an airbender?"
"What's wrong with an airbender?" Aang questioned, mentally trying to wrestle his emotions back into control.
"What's wrong with an airbender?" The disgust and sarcasm dripped of Azula's voice. "They're only the most worthless set of benders around. I mean, who would continually go on the defensive and follow that ridiculous rule of taking the path of least resistance? It's complete nonsense. Any true warrior would know to take the path of glory is the one of conquest and offense. No wonder you're the Avatar, a weak warrior for a wimpy position of peace and tranqu-"
"Alright, Crazy, that's enough. I don't take kindly to people insulting my friends," Toph interrupted the other girl. Pushing up her long flowing sleeves, she took a defensive stance, all her energy focused on the red princess. "Why don't you put your bending where your mouth is?"
"What are you going to do about it, blind girl?" Azula demanded, lightening crackling in her eyes. The earth beneath Azula's feet erupted, sending the shocked girl flying into the air.
Aang's mouth dropped open as he watched the red princess fly backwards. "I really don't think you shou-" Aang cut his sentence short, and met the oncoming flash of fire with a wave of water, splashing the fuming princess before a quick spin sent a whirl of air. Azula flew backwards into a group of dignitaries with an angry screech, attracting attention as she tried to right herself. "That was kind of rash. Maybe I should apologi-" A hand reached out from underneath the table, yanking Aang to the ground and pulling him behind the cover of the rich red tablecloth. It took him a second to realize exactly what had happened, and another second before he could address the small blind girl in the darkness. "What are you doing?"
"We just pissed of psycho princess-"
"Alright, I just pissed off psycho princess," Toph corrected, only to poke him in the shoulder as she added, "but your little splash and blow dry probably didn't help too much." Azula's loud screech perfectly accentuated Toph's statement.
"She was about to erupt in flames- I didn't think your parents would appreciated a charred daughter."
"Whatever, Twinkle Toes." She punched him gently in the arm, a smile darting across her face before she settled comfortably in the cramped space. "We make a good team."
"Uh, yeah, I guess." Leaning back on his palms, Aang scanned the area. There wasn't much too see, just yards of red cloth interrupted by the branching legs of the wooden tables. The floor was remarkably clean, though the hard marble was far from comfortable. It was dark, barely enough light peeking in through the inch of space between marble and fabric, but just enough for him to make out his tablemates expression. Aang's heart did a triple thump as their situation dawned on him. Alone, in a dark cramped space. "What are we supposed to do down here?" Surprisingly enough his vice did not squeak.
Toph grinned, "Make the most of it." Aang's heart leapt up in his throat.
Sokka grinned, eyes wandering over the decidedly attractive girl, the tension crackling between the two. "There is nothing wrong with building a giant catapult to launch projectiles."
"It's not honorable," Suki answered as she moved a step closer to the boy, her grip tightening on her belt as she stared him down, her fingers itching.
"Right, and I suppose you're against the new airships too." Sokka smirked, plate of meat long forgotten, he moved closer until there was barely an inch of space between them. "Innovation is not dishonorable, it's progress."
"There is nothing wrong with airships as long as they're used for the good of mankind." Her hands dropped from her belt, unconsciously reaching towards his lapels. "But what purpose would a giant slingshot serve besides causing trouble-"
"Move it or lose it." Azula barked. Suki and Sokka leapt back, turning towards the sounds of a disgruntled voice, the two quickly sidestepped. The half soaked, half windblown princess marched between them, pausing only to poke Sokka violently in the chest. "You haven't seen the Avatar and a small blind girl, have you?" Sokka shook his head and the angry beast moved on.
"What was that?" Katara questioned as she and Yue joined the two warriors. "It looked like Azula."
"I think it was," Sokka answered, watching the smoking trail that Azula left before turning to the three girls standing beside him. "I was almost engaged to that."
Suki whistled, "Dodged an Elephant-Koi there." Katara and Yue both turned to give the elder girl a curious glance over. Suki felt her cheeks redden and thanked Kyoshi for the heavy white makeup before bowing in greeting to them.
"Uh, yeah, this is my sister Katara and our northern friend Yue. Girls, this is Suki," Sokka casually introduced the pair. "We were just discussing the merits of innovation."
"Oh, that sounds interesting." Yue perked up at the prospect of a new conversation, anything beside Katara's rambling about Zuko.
"Uh, well, continue." Katara grabbed her friends hand and pulled the girl away, ignoring the plea for help that Yue sent to the two warriors. "Like I was saying, who wants to get married to some Fire Prince."
"Uncle Iroh, I need your help."
"Of course," Iroh excused himself from the conversation with the air nomad and turned to his nephew. "This isn't about your sister, is it? Your father already sent for the guards. We'll have her subdued and her happy self again in no time." The Fire Lord assured, patting his young nephew on his back, he steered the boy away from the crowds of nobles.
"No, it's on another matter," Zuko explained, finding his hands twitching again he clasped them behind his back and straightened his shoulders.
"Oh, what's that nephew?"
The two men stopped beside one of the elaborate fountains, a servant appearing to offer Iroh a cup of tea. "Katara has been acting strangely since the betrothal."
"Well," Zuko began, searching for the right words. "I think the best way to describe it would be angry and hostile."
Iroh choked on his tea, setting the cup down, "But she seemed like such a nice girl." Composing himself Iroh glanced over at his nephew. "With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes silk."
"I'm not talking about mulberry trees, Uncle. I'm talking about Katara and her sudden hostility. I thought that she would be pleased with the engagement."
Iroh sighed, "Maybe she just feels jilted out of her courtship. You two only knew each other for a few months before we announced the arrangement. Have you tried flirting?"
Toph burst out laughing, "Ah, Twinkle Toes, that's too funny."
Shrugging Aang continued, a smile toying at his face, "So then Gyatso-"
"No more please, no more." Her small hand darted over to grip his shoulder, making his heart lurch uncontrollably for a mere second. Taking a deep, gulping breath of air, Toph straightened and wiped the tears of mirth away. "The Southern Air Temple sounds like a hoot, wish I could see it."
The prospect of spending more time with the oddly blunt girl almost made him giddy. "Why not, I've got a flying bison, I could take you sometime."
Toph seemed to think it over for a moment. Aang's heartbeat sped up as he watched her, the nervous fidgeting replaced by a look of total enrapture with the smaller girl. "The parents might be a problem." Toph finally answered, Aang felt his world suddenly began to crash around his feet. "But it's not like I haven't run away before." Grabbing his arm, Toph pulled him closer. "It's going to take a plan though."
Two pair of slippers stopped in front of them silencing the pair. "Water Tribe," Toph whispered. "I don't know these two, but I'd bet that one is southern and the other northern. This one" she pointed at the fur slippers "walks with a little bit of a tough edge, like she can take on her own. And this one" she pointed at the white slippers "walks like she's on ice, not used to getting her way."
"Watch your step other there," white slippers remarked. "That slab has come up." Toph grinned at the comment and nudged Aang.
"Weird, I don't remember it being loose when we were standing over here before." Fur slippers paused, before adding, "Someone spilled water and didn't clean it up." The puddle collected and lifted out of view.
A pair of black boots suddenly joined the two. "Those belong to a Fire Nation noble," Aang whispered to his fellow tablemate.
Toph nodded her head, "Feels like it. This should be interesting."
Black boots cleared his throat, "Ladies, you are both looking lovely tonight."
"Thank you," white slippers answered politely.
Fur slippers grumbled, "Yeah, thanks."
"We are having such a delightful time," white slippers began. "Oh, excuse me I think I see-"
Fur slippers dropped her voice as she scuttled closer to the white slippers, "Don't you dare leave me."
"Never mind, my mistake."
Black boots shifted, "I see you're wearing the betrothal ornament, it looks lovely on you."
"Doesn't really match the colors," fur slippers muttered back.
White slippers laughed again, "Oh, she just said how well it matched the colors." The black boots shifted nervously again, while the fur slippers seemed to be tapping impatiently, as though eager to escape.
"I was hoping," black boots moved an inch closer to the fur slippers. "While you're visiting, we could spar a little. I really enjoyed practicing with you during my stay in the South Pole."
Aang glanced at Toph, "Is that innuendo, or is he serious?"
Toph shrugged, "He's too nervous for me to tell. And if it is innuendo, it's a pretty poor excuse for it."
Aang glanced at Toph and snorted, "Like you could do better." An elbow smashed into his shoulder.
"You two trained together?" white slippers questioned, a hint of confusion lacing her words.
"Ah, yeah," fur slippers answered back hesitantly. "If you could call it training, really it was just a spar here or there."
"But you said-" white slippers began, a fur slipper suddenly smashed down on the white pair, silencing the other girl.
"Are you alright?" black boots questioned the groaning white slippers.
"Oh, she's fine," fur slippers answered back. "She just stubbed her toe on a lose tile over there."
White slippers seemed to recover again, "So, you two practiced together?"
"Quite often," boots answered. "I was there to train after all, and your friend here was a very willing partner." Toph and Aang both snickered.
"Really," white slippers seemed intrigued by the notion. "Tell me, where did you practice? I've only ever visited the South Pole once, and I seem to recall very few places where a firebender and waterbender could square off."
"Oh, well just about anywhere," black boots explained. "There aren't any really requirements to a good location, although I did find myself slipping quite a lot."
Toph laughed loudly, Aang quickly covered her mouth with his hand.
"Did you hear something?" black boots questioned.
"No, so tell me more about these sparring matches."
Fur slippers chuckled nervously, "Really, there's nothing much to tell."
"Oh, but if it hadn't of been for the sparring, I wouldn't have purposed," black boots explained.
Aang could have sworn he heard teeth grinding as fur slippers spoke, "You purposed because we sparred well together. What kind of-"
A new pair of black boots suddenly stepped over to the table. "Excuse me, I need to borrow my nephew. Lovely to see you again, Katara."
Katara and Yue bowed in unison to Fire Lord Iroh, watching as he swiftly guided his nephew away from the buffet table. The waterbender waited until Fire Lord and Prince were out of sight before turning to Yue, "He proposed because we sparred well together? Why that-"
"Calm down," Yue soothed her raging friend with a pat on the shoulder. "If you look at it closely, it's kind of romantic."
"Who does he think he is?" Katara questioned, turning away she began to pace in her spot, fists clenching at her side. "What kind of idiotic moron purposes to a girl he fights well with?"
"Surely that can't have been his only reasoning," Yue comforted with a sigh.
"What was that all about?" Sokka questioned, joining the two girls he stared morosely down at his empty plate.
Katara paused for a second, glancing over at Sokka, "Where's your friend?"
"We were discussing the merits of stealth when Dad interrupted." Sokka sighed, "The conversation was getting interesting too, Suki had an idea about the merits of closets, and we were going to give it a whirl." Moving closer to the table, Sokka glanced off in direction that Zuko and Iroh had gone, "What did the jerk-bender want?"
Yue turned to the elder boy and frowned. "Zuko was talking about his sparring with Katara, apparently it was the defining aspect of his proposal."
"That makes sense," Sokka smirked tossing some items onto his plate. Both Katara and Yue sent the elder boy an inquisitive look. "What, I mean you guys fought for the first two weeks of his visit. But, after that, something just snapped and suddenly your following each other around with puppy eyes, looking for any excuse to toss a wave or blast a flame."
"Sokka," Katara growled in warning as she began to turn red.
"Really," Yue mused, tapping a finger against her arm. "I hadn't heard about this side of the relationship."
"Oh yeah," Sokka grinned, stepping around to the other side of the table, he picked up a fork. "Dad wouldn't have agreed to the match if the two of them hadn't of hit it off so well. Well, that and the fact that Zuko-"
"Zuko what?" Katara demanded, swinging around to face her brother, only there was no brother there. "Sokka?"
"Where did he go?" Yue questioned, glancing around the room.
Katara turned away, "Figures. Come on Yue- I" She paused and turned back, only to see Yue moving quickly and gracefully across the room in the opposite direction. Katara huffed a sigh and turned, "Great, abandoned by friends and family, I might as well just go get friendly with Azula for all the help I get."
Two seconds earlier-
"Oh yeah," Sokka grinned, stepping around to the other side of the table, he picked up a fork. "Dad wouldn't have agreed to the match if the two of them hadn't of hit it off so well. Well, that and the fact that Zuko-" The fork slipped out of his hand, clattering to the floor and spinning under the tablecloth. Bending down he reached to lift up the red fabric, two pairs of hands suddenly grabbed him, yanking him beneath the table.
"What in the name of-" The befuddled water warrior quickly took in his situation. Under a table, plate safe, fork nearby, two strangers staring at him. "You wouldn't happen to be a blind girl and the Avatar?"
"You might say that, who's asking?" The girl questioned, glaring in his direction.
"Names Sokka, I was once almost engaged to that walking fire storm, so you're safe with me." Settling in, Sokka wiped his fork on his pants and took a bite off his plate.
"Nice to meet you Snoozles, I'm Toph," she introduced herself before motioning to the air nomad sitting beside her. "My buddy here is Twinkles Toes."
"I'm also known as Aang." Aang grinned sheepishly.
"So, Avatar uh, I bet the benefits package is nice."
Toph leaned back. "Engaged to psycho-princess? How'd you dodge that rock?"
"Well," Sokka began before taking another bite. "Dad was talking trade agreements with the Fire Nation and you know royalty, they like to throw in marriage to seal the deal. Apparently, if you're related it's harder to break the package."
Toph nodded, "Yeah, there was talk of my marrying some second cousin of the Earth King."
Aang glanced over Toph, a range of emotions playing across his face. "What happened?"
"He got eaten in a freak Elephant Koi accident."
"Freak Elephant Koi accident, sounds interesting," Sokka took another bite from his plate and continued his story. "I didn't really have any prospects for marriage. So, I figured, what the heck, might be fun."
"What is with all these arranged marriage?" Scratched at his arrow, the Avatar glanced between his to compatriots, "Doesn't seem like a great idea from a nomads point."
"It's the latest rage," Toph explained with a shrug of her shoulders. "At least it's better than that concubine era I heard my grandmother talking about."
"Concubines sound fun, in a weird twisted way," Sokka grinned and continued, "Back to my near miss with the crazy lady, a couple of months ago I came up here and met some of the female family. Azula was the closet one in age range. Sorta cute, kind of smart, she seemed like a deal. Next thing I know, I'm being chased around the palace by a blue fire-wielding princess screaming that all foreigners must be eradicated. Apparently they were experimenting with her medication."
Toph snorted at the mental image. "So your sister got thrown in?"
"Well, no, the plan was sort of off, when Fire Lord Iroh suggested sending his nephew down for a few weeks" Sokka paused to take another bite from his plate, "just to see what happened. We never figured that the Fire Nation was going to auction off their number one."
"The Fire Nation is really big on family and tradition. They wouldn't let such an important role go to just anyone," Aang explained.
"My sister couldn't stand the sight of Prince Zuko," Sokka continued. "When bam, suddenly their chasing each other around the south pole and spending all their time acting like no one else existed. Caused quiet a stir with the older generation. The jerk-bender stayed an extra four weeks. A couple of weeks after his departure, he sent Dad a proposal."
"Let me guess," Toph sat up a little straighter, "she didn't take it well?"
"That's putting it mildly. She's one powerful bender, nearly split the entire house in half." Sokka emphasized the words, twirling his fork.
Leaning back on his hand, Aang grinned and nodded, "I wouldn't exactly want to be told I was marrying a prince."
Toph laughed, "Twinkle, I don't think anybody wants you marrying a prince."
"What in the kingdom are you doing Nephew?" Iroh demanded as he dragged Zuko away from the two girls.
Zuko hesitated, "Flirting?"
"You call that flirting?" Iroh pressed a hand against his forehead in frustration, "If I hadn't of intervened you'd be sunk."
"I had everything under control," Zuko insisted, crossing his arms across his chest he glared out at the party.
Taking a seat on a fountain, Fire Lord Iroh motioned to a nearby server. A cup of tea appeared quickly. The Dragon Master took a sip of the soothing concoction, his body visibly relaxing. "Now, what did you talk about?"
A second of indecision flashed across Zuko's face as he turned to his uncle, "Our time sparring."
Iroh moaned, taking another calming sip of the tea, he pulled his nephew over and lowered his voice. "Perhaps now would be the time to enlighten me, what exactly happened between you two in the South Pole?"
A frown worked it way across Zuko's face, "Katara was my escort, assigned to lead me between training areas and the city." The prince shuffled his feet against the marble floors and shrugged, "At first we didn't talk, she just kind of pushed me around, glared, and snapped at me a couple of times. It wasn't until my trainer suggested that we spar that she seemed to give me the time of day."
"And?" Iroh prompted.
"I don't know, one thing just kind of lead to another, the next thing I knew we were bounding over bending. She took me penguin sliding, showed me around the city and we just talked."
The Fire Lord frowned, slightly taken aback by Zuko's words, "That's it, you talked?"
"What are you suggesting, uncle?"
Iroh frowned and shook his head, "I'm just saying, talking won't get you far in the marriage bed."
"Are you saying I should-" Zuko began, staring down at his uncle as if the man had grown a dragonhead.
Waving his hands, Iroh quickly shook his head, "Hold on one minute, nephew, I'm not suggesting you get too far ahead of yourself here, but perhaps a step beyond talking. Why did you propose to her?"
Zuko turned away from his uncle and kicked at the marble floor, "Because I liked her."
"Have you told her that?" Iroh questioned.
"Well, no. I guess it hasn't come up yet."
Sokka climbed out from underneath the table and reached for another plate and fork.
"Sokka," Suki greeted warmly as she hurried over to the table. "How does a warrior exchange program sound to you?"
Sokka paused, "Warrior Exchange? What would you like take a warrior and we take a warrior and mix them all up?" he kidded. Suki frowned, confused by the statement. "I mean- never mind."
Shrugging off his comment, Suki latched onto his arm, grinning happily. "We could exchange warriors for the summer. That way both warriors could experience a different culture and different climate." Grinning sly, Suki scooted closer, "Care to be the first volun-"
"There you are, young lady," Hakoda interrupted, joining the two warriors by the table. "Son," he greeted before turning back to the Kyoshi warrior. "I just spoke to King Kuei, Chieftain Arnook, and Fire Lord Iroh. All three are interested in the program. Even Monk Gyatso seemed intrigued by the idea, though the air nomads are not generally into warrior training." Wrapping his arm gently around her shoulders, he motioned in the opposite direction, "They would like to speak to you, excuse us, son." The two moved off, leaving Sokka alone with his plate. The sound of snickering seemed to be coming from the table behind him.
"Oh shut it, table." Sulking, Sokka ambled away.
"So what do we do know?" Aang questioned as he watched Sokka's boots amble away.
Toph shrugged and stretched out on her stomach next to the airbender, "Beats me." Several second of silence ticked by, the band struck up a new melodramatic tune with sweeping notes and loud clashes.
Aang shifted slightly, so that he lay next to her. Resting his head on his hands, he watched the passing feet, trying to spot some he knew. "You think anyone's looking for us?"
"Nope, except for a whack-job princess," Toph sighed and drummed her fingers in time with the music.
The music spiked loudly, the swell of notes echoing in his ears. Aang felt acutely aware of Toph's elbow touching his, of the soft scent of earth that seemed to come off her. Turning his head, he examined the features of her face. Aang gulped down a breath of air, "Uh, Toph, I've had fun tonight."
"Me too, Twinkle."
"I don't think I've had this much fun with anyone else I've known." Aang fidgeted nervously, eyes tracing her face. "I- I like you, a lot."
A smirk gradually traced its way across Toph's face. "I know."
"You do?" Aang stuttered.
"Sure," Toph answered confidently, turning her head towards him, "wouldn't have hung around if I didn't."
The music swelled again in time with Aang's heart and seemed to booster his confidence. Without thinking his hand moved across the space between them, slipping along her neck, gently tangling into the hairs at the base of her neck. His throat suddenly went dry, his heart palpating in his chest, stomach twisting into a complicated knot. His entire body was tingling in anticipation, his mind rapidly replaying every way he could screw this up, his eyes pinned to the soft pink lips. There was a barely an inch of space left between them. Her arms suddenly threw around him, yanking the started airbender down, lips pressing tightly to his.
Zuko stepped out onto the balcony and glanced from one end to the other in search of blue. The stars were sparkling, a cool breeze sweeping across the balcony. Spotting Katara at he end of the balcony, he moved swiftly and with purpose down towards her. Halting a few feet away, he waited patiently for her to notice him.
"Can I help you?" Katara questioned, barely holding her annoyance in.
"Can I speak to you?"
Katara snorted, turning her head away. "Fine, but make it fast."
Zuko stepped forward, pausing beside her he glanced out over the city, trying hard to find the words he needed, "It's a lovely night."
"That's not making it quick." Crossing her arms over her chest she turned to glare at the elder boy.
Zuko hesitated, glanced down again at the city and felt his patience slip away, "This is ridiculous, if we're going to spend the rest of our lives together we need to be able to exchange a civil word."
Katara snorted, and turned her head away again, "If you wanted to speak to your spouse, then you should have picked someone else to spend the rest of your life with."
Zuko threw his hands up in frustration, "If you're so against this alliance then break off the marriage."
"You would like that wouldn't you?" Katara yelled, spinning around to go on the offense. "That way everything falls on our shoulders, we're the ones that back out." She may have been a waterbender, but there was certainly a spark of flame in her eyes tonight.
"Why are you so determined to hate me?"
"Me, hate you?" she snorted, sarcasm dripping off her voice. "Gee, I guess I don't really have any call to hate you, do I? I mean it's just a forced proposal." Spinning on her heels she started in the opposite direction, Zuko following close behind her. "Why did you even choose me?"
"I chose you because your smart, brave, caring, and I like hanging around you." There he had said it. "Is it such a crime to want to spend the rest of my life with someone I like?"
Katara stopped, swinging around to glare up at him, "And a forced proposal really just screams 'I like this girl.'"
Zuko felt his fists clench at this side as he returned her glare, "You're not even giving me a chance to explain."
"I don't need to hear your explanation," Katara started to turn away, but stopped suddenly. "Don't you already have a girlfriend or some Fire Nation lady that you can lord around?" she demanded. "Someone else you can leech onto? Why don't you marry her?"
"I don't want to marry them, I want to marry you," he was definitely shouting now.
"Fine then, marry me," Katara bit back, spinning on her heels she stormed off.
Zuko growled low in his throat as he stormed after her, yelling, "I'm trying."
Gyatso glanced up from his conversation with the Fire Lord, eyes darting quickly around the room in search of his young charge. He frowned, failing to spot the boy. The last time he'd seen Aang was a good thirty minutes ago when the boy had been chatting with two young women over by the buffet table. Glancing back at the table, Gyatso paused, was that foot sticking out from underneath the table? Blinking his eyes, the air nomad glanced back again. The foot was gone.
"Everything alright?" Iroh questioned.
"Yes, yes, just wondering where Aang vanished too."
"Ah, leave him be," Iroh tasked, "He's young, and with such a huge responsibility on his shoulders the boy deserves to relax. I'm sure he's around here somewhere."
"Really, you know, I've never done anything like this before," Aang gushed, face bright red as he stared down at the smaller girl beneath him.
"Really, I would never have guessed," Toph grinned sarcastically, finger interlocking behind his head. "Less talking Twinkle, more smooching." Pulling him back down, Toph kissed him roughly, invoking a startled moan from the boy monk. His face flushed a further red as he awkwardly maneuvered his hand to give himself further support.
Maneuvering his head, Aang's nose bumped with Toph's and the airbender pulled hurriedly back, stuttering, "sorry" Toph's grinned back up, her hand tracing it's way down his shoulder to rest on over his pounding heart.
"Moving too fast for you Twinkle?"
Aang rapidly shook his head, backing away from her and rubbing at the back of his head anxiously, "No, no, it's just."
"It's cool, Twinkle, got plenty of time to make out in the future."
Aang's forehead winkled, "We do?"
"Sure, the plan to skip this town is still on for me. Just as long as no ice is involved you can count me in." A grin twitched across Toph's face. "That's plenty of time for practice."
"Oh," A hint of disappointment skipped into Aang's voice, "I guess we should probably stop-"
"Are you kidding, Twinkle," Toph questioned, her hands locking back around his neck. "You need all the practice you can get." Yanking his head back down, she sealed her lips eagerly to his.
Sokka glanced to his left, then to his right. Clear both ways. Grinning he ducked his head down under the red tablecloth. "Hey I think Azula-" Sokka froze at the sight of the two younger people entangled. "Ah geez, can't you to get a room!" A shot of air and round piece of marble suddenly shot out at the water warrior, sending him flying backwards.
Picking himself up off the ground, Sokka brushed off the small rocks and grumped, "Geez, even the monk gets more action than me."
A blue blur collided into him, knocking Sokka back to the floor. "Hey," He yelped in shock.
"Oh, sorry, Sokka," Katara snapped, storming past, Zuko hot on her tail.
"Hey, where's the fire?" The comment made him laugh lightly as he turned to tell someone. "Get it? Jerk-bender, fire?" The elder man beside Sokka shrugged in confusion and moved away. Sokka sighed, "Where's Suki when you need her?"
Katara swept past Sokka without a second glance, storming across the room. "Why are you following me?"
"Because you're running away," Zuko growled back, persistently following her through the room.
"I'm not running away, I don't want to talk to you."
"Look," Grabbing her arm, Zuko pulled her way from the slightly gaping crowd into a nearby hallway. "Shouting about this isn't helping the situation."
"As far as I'm concerned there is no situation," Yanking her arm out his grip, Katara continued, "why, because a situation implies that both sides are invested. This is not about what I want, this is about what you're taking."
Crossing his arms over his chest, Zuko sighed, not in defeat, but a somehow proud sigh that managed to keep all his dignity, something for which Katara inwardly cursed him for having. "Fine then, consider it over."
"Great-" the shock slowly registered over her face. "Wait, what?"
"I'm not going to force you to marry me. I'll call off the engagement."'
"What? Really?" The concept appeared to be a foreign one to the waterbender.
Uncrossing his arm, Zuko turned slightly away from Katara, his shoulders steeling as he answered her question calmly. "Isn't that what I just said?"
"Then that's what I meant."
"You would do that?" Katara heisted as she stared up at the taller boy's profile. "Wait- what's the catch?"
"There's no catch, woman. What do you think I am some sick twisted psych like my sister?"
"No – I just-"
"Consider the engagement broken, I'll have it announced tomorrow." Zuko turned away from her, his shoulder's steeling. "I guess I was expecting too much." No hint of defeat laced his shoulders, but something about his voice caught Katara's attention.
Zuko took two steps away from her, his hand coming up to rest on the nearby wall. "I thought maybe I could have it all, a great alliance and a marriage to someone I actually liked." For a second he seemed so totally open and vulnerable, a man similar to the one she had spent so many weeks getting to know. "I guess I wasn't thinking, there's no such thing as a happy political marriage."
Katara spun away from him, her arms crossing over her chest as she huffed, "You know your approach wasn't exactly very conducive to a good response."
"What I supposed to do, wait around until you got the hint?"
"You could have asked me, explained the situation."
Zuko slowly turned back around to stare at the girl's back, her shoulders steeling defensively. "I'd already run out of time. I was being pressured to choose or return home and marry a Fire Nation girl. It was either pick or have one picked."
"Think of it from my point of view," she glanced over her shoulder to stare at the boy, "this great guy spends almost eight weeks running around with you, vanishes and then suddenly up pops a proposal." She turned around to fully face him, foot tapping impatiently as she waited for his answer.
"You said yes, didn't you?" Katara's mouth dropped open and Zuko continued. "You could have told me where to shove it. If the method so disgusted you why did you say yes." The waterbender stuttered for a long second, eyes desperately avoiding his. A smirk slipped across Zuko's face. "Why did you say yes?"
It took a second for the girl to regain her speech, "Like I really could say no."
Zuko's eyebrow lifted, "You don't expect me to believe that your father would pressure you into such a marriage, not when he was skeptical from the start. Not when you brother slipped out of the marriage agreement with Azula."
"Azula was crazy, that's an entirely different situation."
A triumphant smirk worked it's away across his lips. "Not really, all you have to do is make up something about me."
"Make up? Please! There are plenty of things I could say that would have my father backing out of this marriage."
"Your little temper tantrums or the fact that your gene pool is so polluted with crazies!"
The grin now stretched across Zuko's face, the boy barely containing his glee, "I knew it."
"What?" It was a word Katara felt like she too often for comfort in this conversation.
"You could call it off if you wanted to, you've got plenty of reason. You do want this marriage."
Once again Katara's jaw went slack. It took her only a second to regain composure, a nervous laugh slipping out as answered back, "Please, stop feeding your over-bloated ego already."
"You just said it yourself, if you wanted to call it off you could, which leaves it pretty obvious that you don't want to call it off." Zuko preened over his victory, smiling down at her as he almost gleefully declared, "You want to marry me."
"Let's add delusional to the list."
"I knew it," Any other human would have been gleefully dancing about the room at this point, Zuko choose instead just to grin down at what he felt was now definitely his future wife. "You were protesting way too much about this little arrangement, and holding back way too much. If you really didn't want this wedding you wouldn't have held back. You're not the type to just submit blindly."
"Make that seriously delusional."
"There's nothing to admit."
"You want to marry me, you want to have my bab-"
"Put a sock in it right there fireboy, or I'll make sure you don't have any."
Silence settled between the two, while Katara stood red-faced across from him, desperately trying to regain her own composure and control the impulse to send him flying down the hall in a splash of water. Zuko stood thoughtfully for a second, watching her seethe before finally speaking, "Look before I go and call off this whole thing, why don't we just give it a chance?"
"What?" Again that damn what word, Katara shook her head to clear her thoughts. "What do you mean?"
"Ever heard of such a thing as a long engagement?" Zuko questioned causally, leaning against the wall he continued to watch her thoughtfully. "I get the pressure off my back to find a bride, you get time to decide if you can live with me, think of it as like a formal dating thingy, if you decide you can't stand it, we'll arrange some kind of scandal and I can fall madly in love with Mai. A good deal of the ministers would probably prefer it if I married a Fire Noble instead." Zuko paused and glanced away from emphasis before driving home his point with, "She's a little more qualified anyway."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Dear have you seen Toph?" Lady Bei Fong's voice broke though the darkness underneath the table, making the two entangled parties freeze.
"No, perhaps we should go look for her. I do worry about her at these functions, someone may spirit the poor girl away right beneath our eyes." Lord Bei Fong answered, before the two pair of feet shuffled away from the table.
Toph groaned, "Alright Twinkle, I guess we'd better make an appearance." Silence greeted the girl. "That means you're going to have to stop sucking on my neck there, Twinkle."
"What?" Aang questioned, blinking back at the girl in a dazed and confused manner.
"Appearance, you know, let the world know we still exist."
"Oh right," Aang pulled away from her, untangling his limbs as he tried to shake the fog from his head, "Uh, I guess I'll go first and make sure the path is clear."
Aang slipped out from underneath the table and causally glanced around, trying to discreetly straighten his clothing and dust any dirt off. No one seemed to notice the airbender, and he quickly reached under the table to help Toph up. "Uh, Toph- your dress." Aang blushed and quickly set about straightening her outfit.
"Thanks Twinkle," Toph smirked. "Looks like no one missed us. Might as well just-"
"There you are," Sokka greeted as he moved over to the pair. "I was starting to wonder when you would emerge from your little love cave there."
Toph growled lightly, "Shut it, Snoozles, or I'll tell the warrior how your heart speeds up in her presence?"
"What warrior?" Suki questioned coming over the small group.
"Yeah, what warrior?" Katara echoed as she and Zuko joined the four.
"No one important." A blush hued Sokka's face as he scurried to move attention away from himself. "What's with you two? The last time I saw you guys you were chasing each other around with murderous looks, now you're standing within two feet of each other without weapons?"
Zuko growled, "Nothing's up with us."
Sokka shrugged and turned back to Aang, Suki and Toph. "This is my sister, Katara, and her fiancé, Prince Zuko."
"We've met." Zuko nodded to Aang.
"Sifu Hotman is my fire master." Aang bowed back, ignoring the shocked group.
"Sifu hotman?" The glee ran rampant over Sokka's face as he watched Zuko fume. "Nice, I like it, extremely embarrassing and it annoys him." Catching the gleam of danger that flashed though the Prince's eyes, Sokka cleared his throat and continued, "As I was saying, this is Suki, Captain of the Kyoshi warriors. Guys, this is Avatar Aang and Toph Bei Fong." Introductions aside, Sokka glanced around at the rag tag group. "So, what do you say we abandon this lame shindig?"
Katara immediately seemed hesitant as she glanced out at the crowd that filled the ballroom. "I think that might be kind of hard, we'll probably be missed."
The water warrior snorted, "Who's going to miss us?"
"Are you forgetting that this party was thrown to celebrate his firebending, and our engagement?" Zuko questioned, starring down at his possible future brother in law incredulously.
Toph added a nod to the fire prince's comment, "Not to mention that you'd also be dragging the Captain of the Kyoshi warriors with you and a blind girl with over protective parents."
"Okay, first of all, said blind girl and Avatar have been making out under the tables for the past hour and no one threw a fit." Sokka stabbed a finger at Toph before turning to the rest of the group, "Zuko's been chasing Katara around the palace and nobody's thought to miss him. Finally, Kyoshi warriors can take care of themselves if their captain decides to abandon post."
Silence settled over the group as they exchanged glances. Toph finally shrugged, breaking the silence. "Convinced me, I'm in."
"If she's in, I'm in." Aang added quickly.
Toph smirked, leaning casually against the taller boy, "Kiss the boy once, and he'll follow you around the world."
"Once?" Sokkka questioned, "Really? Because you were under that table for a long time."
"Shut it or lose it, Snoozles."
The threat bounced off Sokka as he glanced over the remaining group, "Alright, that's two."
"What the heck, this party was boring anyway." Suki quipped as Zuko reluctantly nodded.
Katara heisted, glancing up at Zuko before turning back to Sokka. "Okay, I guess it can't hurt."
"Alright," Sokka leapt into the air eagerly. "Plan enabled, I know of this great barbecue joint just outside the palace walls."
"Fine, I'm leading," Zuko grabbed Katara's hand, pulling her swiftly towards the towering doors.
"Shouldn't we break up a little, try and throw in some stealth?" Sokka questioned, deflating a little as he watched the two stalk towards the doors.
"Nah, like you said, who cares." Toph slipped her hand through Aang's arm. "Come on Twinkle Toes, I'm starving."
"I hope they have some vegetarian dishes." The pair followed after Zuko and Katara.
"Meatless huh, that might be a deal breaker – Kidding Twinkle."
Sokka grinned, offering his arm to Suki. The Kyoshi warrior snorted and started walking, casually calling after the water warrior, "So, does this barbecue joint have any closets?"
"Closets, why would we need a closet?"
Iroh bowed to the departing guest and turned to survey the ballroom. The party was finally dwindling down to its last few guests, leaving the exhausted Fire Nation King alone, "Finally some time for a nice cup of tea." A servant appeared at his shoulder offering him a cup.
"Your majesty," A mixed chorus of anxious voices interrupted Iroh's quiet moment. Glancing up, the Dragon master moaned at the sight of several frazzled looking parents and guardians rapidly making their way towards him. His younger brother was the first to reach him and the first to speak, "Zuko and his fiancé are missing."
"Along with our son." Chieftain Hakoda chimed in
"Our daughter is also gone." Lord Bei Fong added, with an angry flourish. "I demand something be done, she is a weak blind young woman, who knows what foul play may have taken her."
Iroh glanced at the calmer group of Kyoshi warriors in the group, "You're captain missing?" They nodded and Iroh turned to the quiet group of monks, "The Avatar?"
Gysto nodded, presenting probably the only truly calm visage in the group, "Though I am sure there is nothing to worry about. The boy is more than capable of taking care of himself."
"Nothing to worry about?" Bei Fong fumed, "The Avatar was last seen with our precious daughter, something terrible could have happened to them."
Iroh sighed smoothing the air with his hands to soothe the nervous parents. "I'm sure they're somewhere around here-" Iroh paused catching sight of two hurrying young guards approaching. "That's can't be good."
"Sir," The elder of the two young men greeted, bowing before the group. "His Highness Prince Zuko requested I deliver this to you." The young man humbly offered forward a scroll. Iroh hesitantly took the item and unraveled it.
"What does it say?" Chieftain Hakoda questioned eagerly.
Iroh frowned, glanced up over the group, and then began to read, "Dear Uncle, we've gone Elephant-Koi riding. Back in a few weeks. Signed, Zuko, Katara, Sokka, Suki, Aang, and Toph."
Lady Bei Fong threw her hands up dramatically as she fell back into her husband's arms, shouting, "It's as we feared, they've been kidnapped."
"My son is a master bender and superb swordsman," Ozai barked back, glaring at the woman, "He would not go easily. Who gave you this message and where?"
"Prince Zuko gave me the message before he climbed aboard a sky bison outside the palace gates, your highness." The guards fidgeted nervously under the scrutiny of the group.
Ozai frowned, suspecting foul play he glared at the two men, "Is that all he gave you?"
"Uh, no sire," The guard exchanged a glance with his fellow before shamefully adding, "he gave me some leftover barbecue kebabs to share with the night guards."
Ozai perked up, "From Chen's Barbecue and Wings?"
"Yes, sire, there are a few left if you would like me to-"
Ursa glared at her husband, and the tall imposing man quickly recomposed himself. "Uh, no, that's alright"
"Surely this is just a ruse," Lord Bei Fong declared, trying to balance his wife and appear angrily worried, "My daughter would never agree to something so outlandish, she is a delicate and frail child."
"I'm sure it's fine, why not let the children have this little adventure. As you said, Prince Zuko can handle himself, and they have the most powerful bender with them." The group did not seem so relieved by his word, making the fire bender sigh. "Think of it this way, the seed will never sprout into a tree unless it falls from its root."
Gysto nodded his head in agreement, as the rest of the group stared incredulously at Iroh.
"Why don't I just call for some tea?"