|Of Spirits and Bandits
Author: Cadence PM
Dragging herself to the Fire Nation, tricking Aang into earthbending lessons, and playing Blind Bandit to interfere with the mission Iroh handed down to Zuko seemed like a good idea to Toph at the time. Zuko disagreed. TokoRated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Adventure - Toph & Zuko - Chapters: 4 - Words: 17,716 - Reviews: 18 - Favs: 43 - Follows: 23 - Updated: 01-31-12 - Published: 12-09-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7621102
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Sorry about the extended delay in posting. I got really gunshy about posting, but I'm trying to force myself to get over it.
Zuko woke with the dawn. Light streamed in from the shutters, dutifully opened by now-absent servants only minutes before sunrise. The light was a warm orange on the horizon, falling as a bright yellow across the rumpled sheets of his bed. And the woman in it.
Toph's hair was a mess. It had been difficult to get the liangbatou out of her hair and by that point, she'd been in no mood to comb out the mess. The high collar of her qipao was twisted uncomfortably in her sleep – for her, anyway. It was still pretty comfortable to Zuko to see confirmation that she was dressed.
It'd all been her fault. After returning to the palace, antiquities, treasure, and tea well in hand, she'd demanded to know just how he'd won that pai sho game. Last she'd noticed, they were fairly well screwed. And when a couple of pai sho tiles fell out of his sleeve, neither her glee nor Aang's shock could be contained.
"You giant cheat!" she'd crowed triumphantly. She jumped up, hugging him around the middle and dragging him down for a kiss. "I knew I played that piece."
"Where did you learn to play like that?" Aang had wanted to know.
And the answer was simple. Uncle Iroh. As well as every other backstabbing court functionary he'd ever played against his entire life.
Toph, however, thought it was a big deal that Zuko would both decide to dishonor himself and actually have fun on the same night, so celebration had been in order.
It was a good thing she didn't yet know where the strong booze was hidden in the palace.
He stretched, easing out of bed. His eyes felt sandy and his mouth was too dry, with a sour taste in it, but otherwise he felt fine. He smiled to himself, looking back to the bed. Toph grumbled something in her sleep, flinging out an arm. It was nice to be with someone again. To be with her.
After his morning exercises, the daily notes with Zhang, ablutions, and a lengthy argument with his servants over what he was going to wear for the day – for some reason they still thought he should be formal with Aang and Toph, her presence in her bed apparently not withstanding – Toph began to wake.
She jerked upright, blinking rapidly in confusion before flopping backward onto the bed. She threw her arm over her face and then frowned up into it.
"Crap," she said. "I slept in my makeup, didn't I?"
The green blush was smeared across not only her face and arm, but all of Zuko's bedding. He'd found a fair bit of it on his face in the mirror while he shaved, actually.
"Made a real mess on my pillows. Good thing I'm rich."
"Good thing I'm blind."
"Yeah. That's just what I like to hear from a girl in the morning."
"You know what I mean," she huffed out. Finally, she dropped the arm off her face and sat up. She picked at her qipao. "So, did we…?"
Zuko frowned at her. Being dressed wasn't evidence enough? Great, now he was having thoughts about her and that qipao.
"You were a perfect lady. My honor's still all intact."
She threw him a thumbs up.
"But if you want…" he started.
Toph fell out of bed, tangled in the sheets. Zuko walked over to her, pulling the sheet off of her. He held out a held and she took it, levering herself up against him.
"Do want," she said, exhaling a deep breath as she pressed her face against his chest.
He wrapped his arms around her.
"Then it's a good thing you're staying at the palace."
Zuko was just beginning to enjoy the moment when Toph jerked away. Her feet were planted, face lit with an excited expression.
"Old Guy!" she exclaimed.
Zuko's eyes went wide, heart stopping for just a moment. Heedless of his reaction, Toph pushed away from him. She was already out the bedroom door before he could even manage a strangled protest. She wasn't even dressed!
Warily, he followed her out. Unerringly, she walked a direct path not to Uncle's room or the dining room, but to an imperial receiving room. The one, coincidentally, where they had dropped off their well-earned gambling hall winnings. Toph plowed into the room happily, throwing herself at Iroh for a hug. Zuko, meanwhile, peeked cautiously around the door. He hadn't exactly lived up to the terms of Iroh's letter, after all.
The room was stacked wall to wall with recovered artifacts. Urns, vases, scrolls, and texts lined the walls, while large drums full of something were wedged in against a small table. A pot of tea rested on the table, steam gently curling off it. Two cups had already been served, while two more were unfilled. A few red bean cakes rested on the table – one half eaten on Aang's plate.
Iroh gave a charmed, indulgent smile down at Toph and she pulled away, crossing her legs to sit next to him. He redirected his attention back to Aang, sitting on the other side of the table, but it was clear to Zuko his Uncle was pitching his voice for him to hear, "In my opinion, honesty is always the most honorable course of action. Secrets are a burden and forgiveness can only be given in the light of the truth."
Zuko cringed at the words. He hung his head, accepting his destiny.
Taking a deep breath, he stepped into the room. Aang startled, head whipping around to stare at him.
"I've got something to say," Zuko started, looking Uncle in the eye. Iroh seemed confused. He jerked his head toward Aang, which Zuko ignored. Who the hell cared what Aang thought? In a rush, he said, "Toph and I are together."
"Katara and I got married!" Aang blurted at the same time.
Iroh rose, putting out a placating hand before Zuko fully processed what Aang had said. He looked from Aang to Toph – she had a wide, amused grin perched on top of a fist as she watched – and back to Aang.
"You did what?" he asked blankly.
Aang turned big, pleading gray eyes on him.
"Katara and I got married and I wanted you to be there, but it was all so quick, not even Sokka came!"
Zuko exhaled unsteadily – and yes, it did come out a little smoky. He clenched his hands into fists, trying not to get too angry, or too hurt. It stung that Aang hadn't even told him when Toph obviously knew. That he'd told Uncle Iroh first and he'd just gotten here!
But... it did help that Sokka hadn't been there. Especially because it meant they had to do it again.
Iroh smiled broadly, somehow thinking the same thing.
"Then it's settled," he said. He put an arm around Aang and then Zuko, pulling them close as if in congratulations. "I'll officiate the double ceremony."
Zuko squirmed in his grasp. Toph dropped her cup directly back onto the table, shaking her head as if she hadn't heard right.
"The what now?"
"The double ceremony," Iroh repeated merrily. "My nephew would never spend the night with a woman he was not engaged to – what a scandal that would be. The rest of the Earth Kingdom delegation should be here soon. What a stir you three managed to cause! All of the leaders of the world want to be a part of the peace negotiations that brought the Avatar here. Such a lucky coincidence that they will be in time for the wedding."
Zuko glared down at the top of Uncle's head. There wasn't any way he could have known what would happen when he sent Toph with that letter.
Iroh eventually disengaged from the hug, letting them go to putter off with the large containers of whatever. Aang sent Zuko a desperate, sidelong glance. Emotions warred within Zuko. He had no sympathy at all for Aang at the moment, but horribly enough, he thought they might be allies in this.
Iroh dug into the container, making a sound of disgust at what he found.
"This isn't tea. It's just leaves!"
Aang grinned, nudging Zuko in the side, and even he couldn't suppress an amused snort. Taking advantage of Uncle's distraction, Toph slowly and quietly made her way to them. She slipped her hand into Zuko's. Her face was fierce and grim and covered in a mess of terrible makeup. She looked beautiful.
"Don't worry," she told him. "I'll get us out of this. I'm not called the Runaway for nothing."