|Whisper Into the Sky
Author: DamageCtrl PM
Toph has two choices: Go home and get married or have the family fortune and her inheritence given to a stranger. The problem: She wants to keep her ties to her family, but is quite content traveling with Aang.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Toph & Aang - Chapters: 10 - Words: 87,670 - Reviews: 570 - Favs: 487 - Follows: 110 - Updated: 02-28-07 - Published: 11-10-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3238948
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Whisper into the Sky
All Standard Disclaimers Apply: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or anything related to it.
The heiress shook her head. She was in a completely different state of mind now. Just because she almost didn't win the day before didn't mean those tricks would work again. Her ankle was healed and feeling better then ever, actually. Her mind was focused on the match, not a whistle. As soon as Toph had grown tired of her opponents meager attempts to put stress on her ankle, she finished him off.
"Water!" she shouted as she reached the sidelines. A servant ran to the edge of the ring and presented her with a cup of water as she took a brief rest.
"It's a ten minute break," Katara said as she stood up and began squeezing her way past Zuko. "I'm going to check on the girls. I'll be back in a bit."
"Do you want me to come with you?" Zuko offered, about to get out of his seat. Katara shook her head.
"I can handle the girls. Suki, did you need anything from the house?" The Fire Lady asked her sister-in-law before she headed out the door.
"No, I'm good, thank you." Suki smiled and rocked the baby in her arms as Katara nodded and headed out the door carefully.
"That was a pretty fast round," Sokka mused as he turned in his chair and grinned at the red-clad man seated behind him. "That was maybe…one minute of actual fighting on Toph's end? Looks like you'll be down one Summer Palace."
Zuko snorted and shot a glare at the blue-eyed brunette. "We still have two more contenders and the Avatar."
"Aang?" Sokka raised an eyebrow and looked over at the bald young man beside him. He was currently trying to catch nuts into his mouth, only to have Momo, who was perched on his shoulder, snatch them in mid air. "Does that even count?"
"I don't see why it can't," Zuko retorted proudly. "He is going to fight her as part of the competition."
"But he wasn't one of the original contenders," Suki added. "Did Toph agree to this?"
"Well…no…" Zuko stuttered. He quickly composed himself and scowled. "However, I highly doubt she will disagree if she is as confident as she is."
"I still believe it is a risky bet," Iroh pointed out calmly as he sat on Zuko's other side. "Maybe it is not too late to back out."
"Are you kidding me, Uncle?" Zuko scoffed. "That would be like letting her win and I refuse to lose!"
"Hey, it's your palace…" Sokka shrugged. He turned back around on his seat and looked out towards the ring.
A few earthbending referees had smoothened out the fighting area once more and were leaving the ring. Toph wandered back to the ring stretched her arms in front of her. Just two more opponents and then she would fight Aang.
The corners of her lips curled up into an excited smirk. It had been a while since she had a serious fight with him. It would be a good chance to see how far he's come in comparison to her. Who knew? Perhaps he would actually beat her.
For a split second her heart froze in her chest. If he won, then what? They'd get married, just like her father wanted? Her eyebrows furrowed. She never did get to talk to him about the tournament itself. Did he even fully grasp the reason why it was being held?
Toph shook her head and took a deep breath. Knowing Aang, he'd probably shy away from it when it was brought up. They were close and trusted each other, but marriage was a completely different game. She didn't think he'd even be able to comprehend it in that bald head of his. In the end, they would probably talk to him if he won. If.
A chuckle escaped her lips at the very thought and she shook her head. Like that's going to even happen. The gong sounded and she cracked her knuckles in front of her. She could hear the spectators returning to their seats as her next opponent walked out into the field.
"Representing the Shao Yung family of the Northern Earth Kingdom, fighter number 108!" the announcer shouted.
The gong sounded once more and Toph spread her feet. She slid into her first defensive position and prepared for the first attack.
"Well…how were we supposed to know they'd tie us to a tree?" Jet grumbled.
"I don't know…maybe the rope in Kyoshi's hands?" Katara frowned. She turned around and looked down at her daughter and niece. "Girls, I expect you to behave this time. Do not tie your sitters to a tree or play any more tricks on them, understand? They're watching you for a reason."
"Yes, Mommy." Ai Li Zhen lowered her head as her cousin nodded beside her.
"Haru, Jet," Katara turned her attention to the men beside her. "Bring the girls to the viewing box later. As soon as Toph's finished with her tournament, we're heading to town for lunch."
"Yay! Town!" Ai Li Zhen beamed a wide smile as her sitters nodded.
"I saw this candy store on the way here," Kyoshi informed her cousin. "My mom said if I'm good, we can go."
Big blue eyes went large with wonder. "Oooh…"
Katara let out a heavy sigh and shook her head. "I'll see you two for lunch…we'll keep this incident a little secret for now."
"Thank you, Auntie Katara!" Her niece threw her a big toothy green as she passed.
"See you later!" Jet called out.
Katara looked back once more to make sure the girls were behaving before rushing off to the ring. It had taken her longer than she thought to check up on the girls. Who would've known the duo would've tied their sitters to a tree before wandering off and leaving the two men helpless.
When she found them Jet was yelling at Haru about earthbending them out, however, she arrived and untied them first. Then it had taken a few more minutes to hunt down the girls, who were in the kitchen, cheerfully talking to and charming the maids and cooks, who happily provided them with freshly baked sweet snacks and tea.
The Fire Lady reached the gate leading outside of the main walled compound and two Fire Nation guards escorted her back. The soldiers that stood guard at the door of the viewing box opened it for her as she entered.
"I was about to go after you," Zuko said as she slipped silently into the viewing box and scooted past him to her seat. "What did they do this time?"
"Tied Haru and Jet to a tree," Katara admitted quietly. "I had to untie them and then search for them."
Zuko smirked somewhat proudly. "And you thought it was a good idea for those two to watch the girls."
Katara smirked back lovingly. "And you thought it was a good idea to bet against Toph," His smirk was promptly wiped off and Katara turned back to the ring. She leaned forward and rested her arms on the back of Sokka and Suki's chairs. "So, what did I miss?"
"In one word," Sokka sighed heavily. "Nothing."
She jerked her head back. "What?"
"This is the most boring fight ever!" Sokka said, waving his arms exasperatedly in front of him. "Neither of them has moved."
"What are you talking about?" Katara peered over the edge of the viewing box and down at the two figures standing across from each other. "It's probably about five minutes into the fight."
Neither fighter seemed to be moving from their starting positions. Her eyebrows furrowed with confusion. "Maybe he's nervous?" Suki offered. "I mean…Toph did get rid of the guy before him pretty quick."
"He doesn't seem to be shaking or anything…" Aang mumbled. He leaned over the barrier in front of them and squinted. "He doesn't seem tense at all."
They weren't the only ones to be wondering what the problem was. In the rows of spectators before them, whispering could be heard amongst the crowd. Even the other earthbenders who had already been beaten looked confused.
"I see…" A raspy voice mumbled. "I do believe he is buying time." Iroh said behind them. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he narrowed his eyes. It wasn't expected considering what had happened in previous matches.
Immediately, Sokka was to his feet. "He's letting the clock run out!?" he shouted. That would explain why the opponent had yet to attack. "But…but…no! That's not the way it's supposed to go! There are supposed to be rocks flying and big chunks of earth flipping people over and tossing them in to the air!"
"That may be the case, Sokka, but it seems that her opponent has decided to use this tactic," Iroh replied. "After all, there is nothing in the rules that says he can't just stand there."
On the dirt floor, the black haired blind bender stood in her first defensive position, growing impatient with every passing second. She could hear the whispers of confusion in the air. What were they doing? Why were they just standing there? Her lips pulled into a tight frown. She wondered that as well.
"What's wrong?" she called out mockingly. "Too scared to move?"
Silently, she hoped for a reaction. Some sort of rise from him to provoke him into attacking her and allow her to figure out what exactly his game was. To her annoyance, her opponent said nothing and remained rooted in his spot. She gritted her teeth.
"Ah!" Sokka's hands shot out and grabbed his head as he stood up. "This isn't a match!" he shouted. His hands flew down and gripped the barrier in front of the viewing box. He leaned forward and began yelling. "Just do something already, Toph! Kick his butt and get it over with!"
The bender forced herself not to yell back at him to stop ordering her around. Of course she wanted to get it over with, but she didn't know what her opponent had in mind. Her toes dug into the earth beneath her as she focused her attention on the man across from her.
Silently, she searched for a break in concentration; for an ideal moment to attack, if she had to. Her eyes narrowed as she felt the calm, even heart beats vibrating across the ring. Didn't he understand he was up against her? The Avatar's earthbending Master? Why was he so calm?
"I don't understand," Katara frowned as she kept her eyes fixed on the two figures before her. "Why isn't she doing anything?"
"She doesn't have to stand there and take this," Suki added. "We've seen her take down men three times her size in a matter of seconds. She can take this guy easy."
"Which is why I don't know why she's not doing anything!" Sokka exclaimed.
"She's waiting to see what his plan is," Aang told them. His three older friends looked over at him. Aang was sitting up in his seat, his face looking attentive as he kept his eyes on Toph. "She thinks he might be planning something since he hasn't moved and is trying to figure out what."
Sokka crossed his arms over his chest childishly and snorted. "Well, she better figure it out soon or she's as good as married!"
A low growl escaped Toph's lips as she heard the time being announced. In the fifteen minute fight, ten minutes had already passed with nothing happening.
"All right," the female bender growled as she took a step back and shifted her body into a more offensive position. "If you won't fight, I'll just have to make you!"
She threw her arms forward. The earth between them shot up and large, blunt pieces of earth were thrown into the air directly at her opponent. The man merely moved his foot across the ground and earthbended himself to the side, before the attack could reach him.
The crowds began to yell as the action finally began to start. Toph smirked a bit. At least she had gotten him to move. She held her arms at her side and curled in her fingers. With well practiced, fluid movements, she began flipping large slabs of earth towards her opponent.
"Yeah!" Sokka shouted. "Bend that earth, Toph!"
"Sokka, sit down!" Suki hissed. "You're embarrassing us!"
Toph threw her arms at her side and took a step forward with her right foot. With her feet planted firmly into the ground, she sent a wave of earth coasting towards him. Instead of collapsing on top of him, her opponent raised a wall over his head and redirected the attack else where.
The young woman was frustrated. He hadn't attacked once. He had kept to dodging and blocking. "What is wrong with you!?" Toph fumed as she took a step back. Her arms were up in front of her, her fingers ready to bend at a moment's notice. She could feel her opponent's still steady heart beat on the ground. "Do think this is a joke!? This is a tournament! What are you waiting for!? Fight me!"
"Why doesn't she just finish him?" Sokka exclaimed exasperatedly.
"I don't think she realizes he's just waiting for the time to be called." Suki mused.
"She probably thinks he's going to attack her at the last moment, when she least suspects it," Katara nodded. "That's what she's waiting for…"
In front of her, Aang's hands dug into the cloth of his pants. He could see the frustration across Toph's face. "He's trying to waste time!" Aang shot up from his chair and leaned forward over the barrier. "He just has to stay conscious until the gong is hit and he wins!"
"He's just trying to buy time!" Sokka yelled, joining Aang against the barrier in front of the viewing box. The duo began shouting as loud as they could; trying to make their words known to the young woman in the ring.
Toph heard Aang the first time. She could feel her blood boiling as she gritted her teeth and narrowed her eyes. Buying time? Did he think that simply wasting time until the gong sounded was a strategy against her? Her eyes narrowed.
She couldn't stand to be taken lightly of. How dare he dishonor her by taking the easy way out? She could only imagine the kind of shrewd men who had hired him to be their champion. Her mind rushed to the kind of men who hired people like her opponent. She couldn't even see herself with one of those fake, conniving boys who used their money and power to buy what they wanted, let alone marry one of them.
And once she was married, she would most likely be forced into submissive duties as hostess to the wives of business partners. Her thoughts and opinions would not be taken seriously. Even if she was the greatest earthbender in the world, that wouldn't matter to them. All that mattered was her name and fortune. Her life as she knew it would be gone.
Toph could feel the excitement bubbling over from where the wealthy spectators were seated. They wanted her to lose. They wanted her to fall in line and take her proper 'place'. They wanted her opponent, who believed he could beat her without even trying, to win.
There was no way she could let a man like him win and trap her in a life she didn't want. No man, no person, would ever treat her like she was inferior to them.
"If you want to stand there, that's fine with me," Toph growled in a low voice. "In fact, I'll even help you."
Her right foot slammed into the ground and she pulled her body down. With a quick movement, she shot her arms up into the air. Earth and stone rose from the ground around her opponent, quickly encasing him from head to toe within a suffocating earthen wrap.
The crowds gasped as they watched the two benders battle for control over the earth around the male bender. Toph focused all her energy into keeping the earth as tightly packed and immovable as possible. She could feel him inside, trying to move and unable to breathe. She could feel his heart quickening as he realized he couldn't overpower her.
There was five seconds left and Toph gritted her teeth. He was weakening; his concentration was almost completely broken.
Then she pulled her arms back and the earth crumbled to the ground. Before he could even get in another breath, a mound of earth shot up from the ground and slammed him against the nearest wall. By the time the gong was hit, he was unconscious in a pile of rubble.
"Winner! Toph Bei Fong!" The crowds cheered.
"The next one!" Toph shouted over the roaring crowds. The confused referee looked over at the young heiress.
"But a break is next Miss Bei Fong-"
"I said, bring on the next one!" Toph demanded.
"But the ring hasn't been prepared yet-"
"It doesn't matter," Toph grumbled. "It's only going to get torn up again, so bring me the next one!"
The referee looked at the others and then turned his head and gave a nod to the announcer. "The next opponent!" The man nodded and ordered in the next opponent to come forward. Toph walked back to her spot and took a deep breath. It had been a risky move with the last match. She had never covered a person's body completely with earth before.
It was a move she'd learned from Katara's waterbending; when Katara bended water all around her body like armor or encased another person's body with water like a liquid prison.
She smirked to herself. There were some things one couldn't learn by just sticking to one bending style. Perhaps that was what made Zuko, Katara, Aang, and herself so strong; the fact that somewhere, subconsciously, they had picked up on each other's styles and incorporated into their own to make them stronger and more flexible.
Toph turned around and took her defensive position. "Don't even think of trying what the other guy did."
Her opponent smirked and held out his arms in front of him. "I wouldn't dream of it, Miss Bei Fong."
The gong sounded and she felt him move. She slipped into a more relaxed defensive position and easily blocked his first set of attacks. "That's all you have?"
"I'm just getting warmed up." Toph narrowed her eyes. She could feel the movements of his muscles as he bended larger pieces of earth before him. He jumped into the air and kicked, sending the dirt straight towards her. His style was familiar to Toph and it was easy for her to figure out what was going on.
With the simple wave of her arms in front of her, walls of earth sprung from the ground. As they tilted over, they brought the dirt attack with them, sending nothing but a cloud of dust into the air. As Toph returned to her defensive position, she felt her opponent move.
An onslaught of attacks flew at her and she began to defend herself. All around her she could feel pieces of earth being bended off the ground and into the air. They were coming at her from different directions and she had to admit, that was rather impressive.
It kept her on her toes. With boulders coming in from the front, behind, and to the side of her, Toph was forced to cover all vulnerable sides quickly. As she was preoccupied with blocking, her opponent collected several large pieces of earth into the air.
The barrage of attacks suddenly stopped and Toph quickly returned to a defensive stance. Her eyes were narrowed as she turned her attention back to her opponent. "Not bad."
"That's not the end of it," he chuckled. Toph narrowed her eyes. "Nervous?"
"You should be, I've watched you fight long enough to determine your weakness," he told her proudly. "You're vulnerable to attacks where you don't know where they are coming from."
Toph smirked. "Really? How so?"
With one hand shakily holding up the half dozen boulders floating in the air around Toph, the male earthbender stomped his left foot into the ground. A pillar of earth shot him up into the air.
"Like this!" he yelled. Toph raised an eyebrow. He jumped on to the nearest floating boulder and threw his arms down. Immediately, the other five flew down directly over Toph's body.
Almost immediately, the entire crowd surrounding the ring let out a hushed gasp of disbelief. Dirt burst into the air, sending up another blanket of dust. Triumphantly, the opponent landed back on the ground, only to be jarred back into the air by another column of earth.
"You must've seen me at Omashu," a female voice said through the dust cloud. Toph threw her arms down and bended all the dirt and dust back into the ground, revealing her completely intact, uninjured figure. "Not a bad idea."
Across from her, the man stumbled back after his rough landing and shook his head. "Impossible! You had no idea they were all around you! You couldn't possibly have blocked them all at once!"
"I just spent a good portion of my life with the world's last airbender," Toph reminded him. "I think I know a thing or two about feeling air and wind pressure against the ground."
"Impossible…" the opponent mumbled. "I saw you fall for that in Omashu!"
Toph took a step forward and slid her arm sharply in front of her. Another column flew out and slammed him against a wall. "Old Bumi was right, someone did buy that act," she mused. "Guess I owe him a new hat."
"It was an act?"
"Of course it was," Toph replied as she raised some earth in front of her and then bended it forward. "I wouldn't just let some nobody beat me in public!" She slammed her foot on the ground and a coil of earth rose around his legs, keeping him firmly to the ground. She raised her hands and prepared to deal the finishing blow.
His eyes widened as he saw the two pieces of earth ready to fly into his head. He should've known she would figure it out somehow. The day before, he had seen her take the hit of a stone slab full on and still come out on top. He closed his eyes. He opened his mouth and yelled.
The gong rang. Toph allowed the projectiles she had been bending fall lifelessly to the ground as the referees rushed out. The main referee lifted his arm into the air to get everyone's attention.
"The opponent admits defeat and forfeits the match!" the referee yelled. Several spectators sitting amongst the viewing area for the wealthy guests shot out their seats and cried out against it. "The match goes to Toph Bei Fong!"
The gong rang once more and the crowds began cheering. Toph nodded, satisfied as she stood in her spot. The announcer opened his mouth to proclaim the winner. "The winner of the tournament-"
"Hold on a second!" Toph shouted. She snapped her head in the direction of the announcer and frowned. The man went silent and the crowds began to quiet. "I believe I have one more opponent."
She lifted her head towards the viewing box and Aang smiled. Momo jumped off his shoulder and scurried to the edge of the viewing box as Aang stood up. He reached down and quickly shed his shoes so that his bare feet were exposed. "That's my cue."
Katara chuckled and nodded. "Have fun."
"Good luck, Avatar." Zuko mumbled quietly. Aang nodded and jumped over the side of the viewing box.
The door creaked open and two, short, little girls snuck in. "Mommy, I'm hungry…"
"We'll go eat as soon as this match is over." Katara said as Ai Li Zhen climbed on top of her father's lap. Kyoshi hopped into Aang's vacated seat beside her father.
"I bet Miss Toph is going to win." The older girl said as she peered over the edge.
"Daddy, who do you think is going to win?" the four year old princess asked her father.
Zuko put on a self-assured look as he looked straight down towards the ring. "The Avatar, of course."
"Okay," Ai Li Zhen nodded. She raised her hand and tugged on the bison-shaped whistle around her neck. "I'll cheer for the Avatar."
"That's my girl."
Toph could feel Aang making his way through the packed stands; using his airbending to avoid stepping on anyone before jumping into the ring, grinning from ear to ear.
"Before we begin, you do know what this tournament is about, don't you?" Toph asked as Aang wiggled his toes and got used to the earth between them. Her voice was quiet and Aang answered softly.
Large gray eyes lifted and looked at her. "It's not about the tournament, Toph," he stated. "It's about you and me."
He watched as her face momentarily flashed a look of confusion. She felt her heart rate shoot up and forced herself to calm down. "What?"
"Everyone says that the tournament is to make you get married, right? But isn't it also so you can have the life that you want without worrying about marriage?"
Toph scoffed and crossed her arms. "Of course it is! It was my idea!"
"And after you win, what do you plan to do?" he added. Toph narrowed his eyes.
"What do you think?" she snapped. "We're hopping on Appa and getting on with the work we have waiting for us!"
"What about the family business?"
"I can handle that with my arms tied behind my back, but leaving you alone," Toph smirked. "Is not an option..." She lifted her chin proudly. "I guess you're right Twinkle Toes…"
"You can do whatever you want after this is over. I'd like it if you stayed with me," he admitted quietly, his voice almost unheard amongst the crowd around them, "But I won't make you. The tournament is about your freedom, Toph, and even if I win," She snorted out a little laugh and he smiled. "I won't take that away from you."
Toph stood in her spot, motionlessly. No one else understood her like he did and no matter what the outcome was, she would be as free as she wanted. She could live her life as she wanted, with who she wanted. Any worry that was left regarding what would happen if he won was lifted off her shoulders.
She could now fight purely for the fight.
All around them, people were talking at once. The crowds murmured amongst themselves and began placing bets. A few argued good-naturedly about who would win. However, in the spectator area that housed the defeated champion's sponsors, a completely different argument was taking place.
"It is unfair!" Several well dressed men were standing in their seats and directing their disapproval to the man in charge of the tournament, Toph's father.
"He is the Avatar! He far overpowers the girl!"
"Bei Fong, you cannot possibly be considering allowing this to take place, do you!?"
Dozens of outraged voices made themselves known as Lao Bei Fong sat in his seat. His eyes were crinkled worriedly as he rubbed his chin. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. With one fluid movement, he stood up and raised his arms. The gong sounded to draw everyone's attention to the leader of the Bei Fong house as the man began to speak.
"I cannot allow this."
"What!?" Toph's shout was a mixture of frustration and anger. Behind her, she could hear the wealthy spectators approving of the decision. She stomped her foot into the ground furiously. "Why not!?" she demanded.
"The Avatar is the most powerful bender in the world. He alone can bend the elements and that would be an unfair advantage to my daughter," Lao Bei Fong explained. "I cannot allow her to put herself in any more danger than necessary."
"What!?" This time it was Sokka's voice laced with disappointment and horror. "You've got to be kidding me! That's like the fight of the century!"
"May I suggest placing the same restraints placed on Toph to be placed on Aang?" Katara asked as she stood up. She turned towards the man two booths away. "Strictly earthbending, no leaving the ring, all bending must take place inside the ring, and a time limit."
Lao Bei Fong frowned and mulled it over. "To be fair, Toph did teach Aang everything he knows about earthbending," Sokka added earnestly. "She is his master in this."
"That is…true…" Lao mumbled. He was still hesitant and Zuko rolled his eyes.
"Why not just blind fold him? Then they're completely even." Zuko grumbled with a hint of sarcasm.
"Lord Zuko! That is an excellent idea!" the Earth King piped up energetically. He clapped his hands together and turned to the Bei Fongs. "Blind fold the Avatar!"
"Ah…" The master of the Bei Fong house looked from his king to his daughter and to the Avatar. He took a deep breath and paused for a moment. "Very well," He looked back at the ring and raised his hands. "The Avatar will be allowed to participate in the tournament providing he accepts the terms of limits place on my daughter and to be blind folded."
Toph frowned and took a step forward. "Wait, that's not-"
"I accept!" She froze in her spot and snapped her head in the direction of Aang's voice.
"I can do this," Aang said as he looked over at her. "You were my earthbending master, after all."
Toph scowled. "Twinkle Toes, this isn't about fighting style or strength. You'll be completely blind. You've never fought like that before and will be at even more of a disadvantage."
Aang chuckled and smiled brightly. "You should have more confidence in me. I am the Avatar and you are my earthbending master." He stressed. Toph rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
"I don't think you fully grasp 'blindness' here, Aang."
Back in the viewing booth, Sokka eagerly rubbed his hands together. "This is going to be the best match ever…"
Behind him, Katara shook her head. She glanced down and saw her daughter examining the whistle. Bosco the stuffed bear was on her lap as she studied the item. She blew on it and frowned when no noise came out. "I think it's broken."
Katara chuckled and reached over. "It's not broken, honey. Do you mind if I give it back to them?"
"Here you go, Mommy." Ai Li Zhen's little hands tugged the cord over her neck and handed the whistle back to her mother. The pregnant woman stood up.
"Master Bei Fong, I would like to volunteer to blindfold the Avatar." Katara said cheerfully.
"Katara, you've been much too active lately," Zuko frowned disapprovingly. "You should rest with the baby-"
"Are you telling me what to do?" Katara snapped as she shot him a glare. Zuko immediately looked down.
"Of course not."
"I thought so." She lifted her chin proudly and looked back at the Bei Fongs. Toph's father gave her a bow as a sign of acceptance and Katara headed towards the door. As soon as the door closed behind her, Sokka let out a sly chuckle and looked over his shoulder.
"And I thought those guys Toph was taking on were whipped."
"She claims that women in your tribe have been known to be doing manual labor up to the moment of child birth," Zuko frowned. "You know she won't sit down and rest unless she wants to."
"You gave in so fast to your wife-"
"Sokka," Suki's voice was sharp and the Water Tribe 'warrior' snapped his mouth closed as he sat up straight in his chair. The corners of Suki's lips curled into a triumphant smile. "I thought so."
In the ring below, Katara appeared with two Fire Nation guards on either side of her. As she approached the two, she smiled widely. The metal object hanging from her hand immediately caught Aang's attention and he smiled widely.
"I'm here to blindfold Aang," Katara said. She patted her sleeves and then ran her hand across her swollen belly. She smiled weakly. "Ah…Toph, can I borrow your head band?"
"Are you kidding me?" Toph scoffed. "You came all this way and you don't even have a blindfold?"
"I usually have something in my sleeves in case Ai Li Zhen gets dirty, but I didn't bring it today," Katara sighed. "So, your head band?"
"No way," Toph told her. She crossed her arms defiantly. "It's my good luck charm."
Katara raised an eyebrow. Aang beamed an even brighter smile. "I'll trade you for it."
"Trade it for what?"
"The whistle Katara's holding."
Across from him, Toph visibly stiffened. She narrowed her eyes and turned her head in the direction of the waterbender. "You had it all along!" She hissed as she pointed at the Fire Lady accusingly.
"No, I did not," Katara told her calmly. "The girls found it last night. Now, hand over the head band."
She lifted up the whistle and placed it in Aang's waiting hands. Carefully, he raised the cord and walked over to Toph. She stood rooted in her spot; completely aware of how close he was as he raised his arms over her head and looped the whistle around her neck.
As soon as it was securely on, he took a step back. Toph slowly reached up and touched the whistle with one dirt-stained pale hand. With the other, she pulled on the edge of her headband and tugged it off. Aang smiled as she held it out for him to take.
"Thanks for the whistle," she mumbled as Aang took the length of green from her hands. "But don't think I'm going to go easy on you!" She added quickly.
Katara chuckled and took the head band. She carefully tied it around the young man's head. "Is it on securely?"
"Yeah…I can't see a thing," Aang assured her. At least not with my eyes.
"Good," Katara nodded. "Have fun, you two." She stepped back and allowed the guards to escort her back to her viewing box.
Back on the ground floor, Aang began stepping back. His eyes were closed beneath the blind fold as he concentrated on using all his senses for earthbending. Across from him, Toph rolled her shoulders and neck back before heading back to her spot.
Once the two combatants were in their places, Lao Bei Fong gave a nod of his head and the gong was struck. The noise echoed through the arena and the two shifted into mirroring positions across from each other.
"I've been looking forward to a real fight for some time now, Twinkle Toes," Toph stated as she slowly began to step to the side. She could feel Aang responding to each step, mirroring hers. "So don't disappoint me!"
"I've been waiting for this day even longer…and don't worry about the blindfold," Aang said. "I spent a good part of my life with you, Sifu. I think I picked up everything you could possibly teach."
Her foot touched the ground and Aang could feel the vibrations with each step, each movement of muscle and bone she made. The movements would course up his body through his pale, bare feet. He had figured out how to 'see' with earthbending years ago. It had taken him a while to figure out, but since Toph first told him how a blind girl like her could see, he had been interested.
Once he understood how it worked, it didn't take him too long to master. He would watch Toph and learn from her. In the end, he didn't need a blindfold to fight on equal terms as his young master.
He slid his leg back into a recognizable offensive position and sent out his first attack. As soon as the first wave of projectiles came flying towards Toph, the crowds all around them began cheering like mad. The Avatar was fighting Toph Bei Fong; his former master. He was blindfolded and limited only to earthbending. This was something they would never see again.
Back on the ground floor, Toph easily blocked each of his attacks. She had taught them to him. "Come on, Twinkle Toes! I've seen you fight harder than that!" she yelled across the ring as she came back with an attack of her own.
Aang quickly ran to the side to avoid the piece of earth hurdling towards him before skidding to a stop. He shot his arms forward and pulled them back quickly before directing another piece of earth towards her. Toph merely shot out her fist, bursting the chunk of earth into dust before it even reached her.
She stepped to the side, balancing her weight on her right foot, before bringing it forward. Aang felt the ground beneath him move and he stomped his right foot on the ground to keep himself steady. He lifted his hand and brought it down into the ground before him.
A wave of earth ripped at his touch and headed towards Toph. With her arms crossed in front of her, she easily dismissed the attack and retaliated with pillars shooting up from the ground. Before they could reach him, Aang planted his left foot forward and pushed his arms out; breaking the pillars and directing them back at Toph.
The young woman narrowed her eyes and easily caught the large chunks of earth, but not before stepping back a few steps. At the sight of that, Ai Li Zhen jumped in her father's lap. "Daddy! Did you see it!? He got her!"
Zuko nodded. His eyes were intense as he watched the two battle it out. Every move was easily countered. They each knew the other's movements well. There were times when the attack would be nullified before it was even reached a half way point.
"It doesn't look like the blindfold is holding him back in the least." Iroh chuckled.
"Good," Zuko nodded. "He doesn't deserve to be called the Avatar if he'd let a blindfold stop him."
Katara chuckled. "He's probably 'seeing' the way Toph sees with earthbending."
"Regardless, it is still quite a show they're putting on." Iroh added cheerfully.
The ring floor was completely torn up. Holes where packs of earth had been removed were evident around them, large mounds of dirt, cracks and broken columns lettered the area. Clouds of dust were everywhere.
Yet, the duo didn't seem to pay any attention to that. They would just bend whatever earth was around them regardless of aesthetically unpleasing results.
Aang felt Toph's movements slide across the ground and prepared himself. He could feel the earth beneath him about to rise beneath him and he pulled himself back. Sweat trickled down his head as he focused his attention on Toph.
To his credit, Toph had been pushed back a few feet, but she had easily shattered any on coming attacks. "Not bad," she gasped as she lifted her forearm and wiped the sweat off her brow. "But it's still not good enough."
Aang felt her weight shift. She was kneeling down; bending the earth at her feet. He could feel the strong vibrations caused by their movement. Suddenly, he felt her move. The familiar sounds of earth flying from the ground and towards him were heard, even through the noises of the crowds around them.
Without a moment's notice, Aang quickly shifted into a defensive stance and began blocking the attack. The earth exploded around them, but the onslaught didn't stop. Because neither fighter were using their eyes to see, the visibility factor within the ring didn't matter.
They could feel each other's hearts racing, the sharp gasps of breaths with each movement, and sent one last, mirroring attack at each other.
Sokka was yelling excitedly, unable to contain himself as he threw his arms in the air and loudly cheered on both his friends. Beside him, Suki shook her head.
As the dust settled once more, two heaving bodies were made out amongst the piles of dirt and rock. Aang and Toph were several paces away from each other, their shoulders hunched forward as they gasped for breath. It was fast, powerful, and absolutely exhilarating.
"Not bad for your student, huh?" Aang smiled as he caught his breath.
"Congratulations, Aang," Toph said as she lifted her hands and removed the hair clips in her hair. Her hair had practically fallen out of her bun already; she had no need for the ornaments any longer. As she tossed them over her shoulder she narrowed her eyes. "No one's gotten me to go all out like that in a long time."
"It's not over yet." Aang stated. He pressed his feet firmly against the floor and raised his arms. Toph easily mirrored his position; a look of concentration on her face.
All around them, the spectators were yelling and cheering them on. However, to the two in the ring, there was nothing but silence and each other.
In their minds, they could see each other standing there; ready and waiting. Aang silently focused his concentration on feeling for any sudden moves. Toph silently praised him. As his earthbending master, she was proud and even impressed that he was able to do so well against her. But she still wanted to win.
"It's about time we finished this up, isn't it, Twinkle Toes?" Toph asked.
"How much time do we have left?"
Silence drifted between them. Aang gave a nod of his head. "All right."
The corners of her lips curled into a smile. She slammed her foot into the ground and held her arms out in front of her. The ground beneath them began to move. Aang could feel the earthquake growing stronger and stronger; steadily. Without waiting, Aang slid back on his left foot and threw his arms out in front of him.
For that moment, they had completely forgotten that they weren't alone.
"Mommy, I think I'm dizzy…" The four year old girl on Zuko's lap stated as she tilted her head to the side, wondrously. All around her everything was starting to shake; a tiny ripple at first, but it was growing stronger.
"Oh, no…" Katara frowned. "Aang! Toph!"
The two couldn't hear her or the screaming and yelling spectators in the crowds as they reached for something to keep them steady. The entire arena was shaking at the power of the Avatar and his earthbending master.
"I think this is going a little too far!" Suki shouted as she clutched her daughter against her chest.
"I have to agree!" Iroh said as he held on to the chair in front of him.
As the crowds began to rush towards the exits, Aang and Toph were thrown into the air by a mountain of earth. With one quick move, Aang sent their pedestals crumbling to the ground. Toph landed easily on the ground and slammed her feet into the ground.
A cloud of dirt exploded all around them, completely hiding them from view. Rocks and chunks of clay and earth could be seen flying out of the earth created fog and into the stands as the two battled it out in their own private arena.
In the stands, Toph's father waved his arms in the air while trying desperately to keep his balance. Across from them, the gong was pounded three times. As the sound of the gong echoed over the arena, the shaking came to a stand still.
The referees flooded the ring and began to bend the dust that had been kicked up back to the ground. The crowds were quiet as their eyes were drawn to the shadowy figures melting from the cloud.
Standing knee deep in craters that spanned no less than ten paces across were Aang and Toph. Their arms were raised before them and their shoulders heaving with heavy breaths. Dirt and soil hung from their bodies and stained their clothes as they remained unmoving in that position.
Hovering above each of their heads were massive slabs of earth.
"I heard the gong," Aang told her. He didn't move. "Is it over?"
Toph narrowed her eyes. "Yeah."
The young could feel all his muscles straining. "So…" Aang gasped out breathlessly. "Who wins?"
He could almost see the smirk on her face. "It's a draw," He felt the slabs of earth being bending to the side by the referees and gladly let them take control of it. Toph took a step forward and Aang pulled off her headband from his eyes. She stood across from him, her entire body caked with dirt as muddy streaks lined her pale face from the sweat she had accumulated. Her long hair had completely unraveled around her. She lifted her hands and placed them on her waist. A triumphant smirk rested on her lips proudly. "That's the best you'll ever do against me."
Before Aang could reply, the gong was sounded once more and the duo turned towards the crowds. The head referee walked between the two and raised his arms.
"Disqualification!" the referee shouted. He pointed to his left. "Avatar Aang!"
"WHAT!?" Jaw hit the floor as both Toph and Aang stared at the referee in horror.
Toph quickly composed herself and took a threatening step forward. "I demand to know under what circumstances he was disqualified!"
"The match was cut short, Toph," her father's voice sounded above them. "It has been deemed too dangerous for you two to continue fighting."
"But why is he disqualified!?" Toph demanded.
"One of the rules was that all bending must be kept inside the ring," Lao Bei Fong explained. "With your last attack, the entire arena was shaking and thus caused the disqualification."
"No!" Sokka's pained wail seemed to override the voices below them as he fell back into his chair and slumped over. "A technicality!? He's disqualified because of a technicality!?"
"No!" Zuko shouted. He picked up his daughter and walked across the booth. "I demand a rematch!"
"I'm sorry, Fire Lord, but the rules are rules." Toph's father said nervously.
Zuko growled and huffed back to his seat.
"Due to the Avatar's disqualification," the announcer shouted. "The winner of the tournament is Toph Bei Fong!"
As cheers erupted through the crowds, Kyoshi turned to her cousin and grinned. "I told you she would win!"
"On a techni…cow…eaty!" Ai Li Zhen retorted. She looked up at her father. "Right, daddy? Daddy…? Why are you crying?"
"I trust everything is in order, Shen Wai." She said smoothly. The old man carefully looked over the paper work and nodded his head slowly.
"It is indeed, young Miss Toph," he said. He reached for his stamp and pressed it down on the parchment, beside Toph's seal. "You are indeed a worthy heir to the Bei Fong business."
"I know," Toph grins. She gave a nod of her head and watched as her secretary rushed over and gather up the paper work. "Thank you for coming this way to sign it." As she walked ahead of him, she fingered the cord around her neck and pulled out a metal whistle.
"No, it was my pleasure," Shen Wai nodded as Toph stood up. He followed her as she lead him out the door and into the hall way. "Your father says that you leave home for long periods of time. It is impressive that you are able to balance that with the work you must do for your family." She lifted the whistle to her lips and blew once before she pulled back and allowed it to rest over her chest.
"I have to make time, but it's worth it." Toph nodded. They began walking down the walk way to the front gate.
"You know," the old man told her casually. "I have a grandson about your age-"
"Thank you, but no thank you, Shen Wai," Toph said as she lifted her hand to silence him. "I've heard it before and I'm really not interested."
"But a talented young woman like yourself shouldn't have to spend it alone." The guards opened the gate to reveal the awaiting carriage at it's doorstep. A footman opened the door for the old man.
"Miss Toph, your bag." A servant called behind her. A well stocked green bag was handed to the casually dressed young woman and Toph put it over her shoulder.
She gave a nod of thanks to the servant before stepping back. She turned her head back to the old man and bowed her head respectfully. "I know that already," Toph stomped her foot on the ground and the old man watched as a column of earth rose beneath her and lifted her into the sky. His old, crinkled eyes widened at the sight of a hovering beast above them. "And I don't plan to!"
"Hey, Toph!" Aang smiled brightly, a warm flush on his cheeks as he leaned forward and extended his hand. "Ready to go?"
A wide smile graced her face as she grasped his hand in hers. "Always, Twinkle Toes." With one easy pull, he pulled Toph beside him on Appa's head. His arm went around her securely and handed her part of the reins. "Appa! Yip, yip!"
"But it was a draw! That counts as a win!" Zuko exclaimed.
"How many times must I tell you?" Toph shouted as they stood on wide open lawn before the sprawling palace over looking the ocean in the southern coast of the Fire Nation. "The bet was whether or not I get married and I'm not married so I win!"
"Zuko," Katara sighed heavily as she rocked the infant son in her arms. "You've been arguing about this since she won the tournament-"
"On a technicality!" Zuko insisted.
"She still won," Katara insisted. "It's been months and we're already here. You said you'd honor your bet, so deal with it. Now stop yelling, you're going to wake Yukkai." She added as she cooed down at the dark, brown-haired baby boy in her arms. Eyes lined with long, thick lashes were closed over one blue and one gold eye.
Seated in a seat under the shade of one of the large trees on the Summer Palace grounds beside her was Iroh. The old man looked sadly at the red palace and sniffled. He had so many good memories in that palace. His first kiss. His time firebending. Creating Lu Ten…and it was all about to be demolished…
His head turned to the side where a dozen Fire Nation soldiers were handling huge, snorting beasts. Mai arrived next to Katara and bowed her head. "The precautions have been made, my Lady. All things of value from within the palace have been transferred to a holding facility in the capital."
"Thank you, Mai," Katara said. She smiled and looked back at Zuko. "See, it's not that bad."
"Mommy, look! The Avatar is going to ride Fluffy!" Ai Li Zhen yelled excitedly beside her. Zuko's eyes crinkled up and he turned his head away from the two komodo rhinos.
"Did you have to get the biggest ones you could find?" he wailed pitifully.
"I'm sorry, Your Highess." Mai apologized. Behind Zuko, Toph raised her hand and patted him on the shoulder as she chuckled deviously.
"Better luck next time!"
"Toph! Toph, come on! Your rhino is ready!" Aang shouted as he waved his arm in the air.
Excitement immediately filled Toph's face as she whirled around and ran towards the awaiting beasts.
"I can't watch this…" Zuko mumbled weakly. He turned around and passed Katara.
"Where are you going?" Katara asked.
"I'm going to be in the carriage!" he shouted. They watched as he stomped into the awaiting ride that carried them there and slammed the door shut. Katara sighed heavily and shook his head.
"Gods, he is so dramatic…"
"Hey, Katara!" Toph yelled as she directed her beast towards the palace. "What's your favorite part of the building?"
"The inner sanctums."
"You hear that, Twinkle Toes!?" Toph shouted. "Make sure to leave the inner areas in tact!" They could feel the earth moving beneath them as the duo rushed off to play inside the palace on rhino-back.
As they disappeared through the gates of the house Ai Li Zhen perked up in her seat. "Mommy, do you hear that?"
"Yes, I do, honey," Katara said as the sound of glass breaking came from the palace. "Just ignore your father's groaning."
Several hours later, the two benders were left alone to relax as a badly damaged palace remained behind them.
"That was the best bet I ever made." Toph sighed happily. She leaned back against her arms as her legs hung over the edge of the balcony. She closed her eyes as the cool ocean breeze swept through her disheveled hair.
"I'm surprised we didn't do more damage," Aang chuckled as he sat beside her, his arms resting over his knees. "Especially when Fluffy caught his reflection in that mirror."
Toph laughed and nodded. "He went crazy," she mused. A content smile rested on her face. The warm setting sun slowly sank into the horizon. "Thanks for coming along, Twinkle Toes. This wouldn't have been as fun without you."
Aang smiled brightly and leaned back against his arms. A far off look was in his eyes as he turned his head and looked at her intently. "Thanks for staying with me." he said quietly.
Toph smiled softly. This…that very moment…was perfect.
She tilted her head to the side gently. He felt something heavy against his shoulder and tensed up. "Well…it was a draw."
She felt him relax beside her. She felt him take a deep breath as a warm hand wrapped over hers. "Toph…" She could feel his heart beating rapidly and she closed her eyes. "I-"
"It's perfect, Aang," she said before he could tell her something. "I don't expect anything else from you. Everything is already perfect."
For a moment he was silent. She didn't want to say anything more. She didn't want him to say anything either. Her hand squeezed his comfortingly and she moved closer.
Everything is already perfect.
A small smile graced his head as he lowered his head and rested it just atop hers. "Thank you."