I was a bit disappointed with Zuko in Bitter Work. I don't know why he has such trouble with bending or why he can't evolve. He made some progress but I wish the creators would just get on with his triumph already, his angst is starting to annoy me. So I decided to create a pairing of my two favorite characters, who just truly belong together once Toph gets a bit older. She can help Zuko be all he can be and he can help her soften up just a bit. To me, it's the ideal pairing and I know I am insane, hehe. Just read and enjoy.

Just the Girl

"She's cold and she's cruel but she knows what she's doing"-The Click 5

"If you want to beat up that fire bitch, you are going to have to think like an Earth-bender more and stop holding back," she said, her voice coming out of the shadows, disturbing my concentration.

I turned around, still trying to figure out how to bend lightning. It was that strange girl from the ghost town. "Who are you? Get away or else," I snapped. I would not allow anyone to hurt Uncle, who was sleeping in the shack.

"Who is going to make me? You? I doubt it. Don't worry, angst-pants. I'm just here to make sure Iroh is all right. Then I'll be on my way and you can blow yourself sky high," she said. Her stare was strange, as if she was looking through me.

"He's fine. Now go away and stop staring at me," I snapped, going back to concentrating on Ying and Yang, as well as beating Azula into the ground.

"Don't flatter yourself, I'm not staring at you," she replied, still looking through me.

I raised my eyes to meet hers and realized something. There was a film on her eyes. "Oh." That was all I could say.

"I get that a lot. Usually right before I crush them with a boulder," she replied.

"I'll keep that in mind. Now go away." I really did not need a girl distracting me right now.

"There is a reason you can't master that move. Like Iroh said, you are lost," the stranger said after a long pause.

I glared at her. "I am warning you, shut your mouth before I make you," I snapped. I would not beat up a girl smaller then me (besides Azula, someday) but she was making me consider an exception.

"Listen, you want to master it or you don't? What's there to lose by just listening to me?" she demanded.

"Precious time from practice?" I retorted. How annoying could a little girl be? Oh yes, Azula. Question answered.

"Frankly, Iroh said you are too independent to a fault, but he's too nice to tell you what you need to hear. I'm not. I owe him a favor so I'm going to help you."

"I don't need help," I snapped. Annoying little brat, I didn't need her. I didn't need anyone but myself!

"Mopey, just look up," she smirked. Automatically, I did and noticed the boulder above my head. The chit played dirty. "Now, do I have to pin you down or are you going to listen of your own free will?"

"Are you threatening me?" I asked. I really did not need this. "Just informing you that I have the advantage here and the rocks can keep coming. I can also trap you underground if I wish. Just hear me out and then I'll leave you to fail by yourself," she informed me smugly.

"Just say what you have to and then leave me in peace," I said through gritted teeth.

"You have talent. Otherwise Iroh wouldn't bother with a whiner like you. You are holding back. When you bend, it must be everything in you. You can't have self-doubt. I can feel the vibrations you cause. There is a note of desperation, a sense you will fail no matter what you do. That has to end here."

I rolled my eyes. I have always failed. I failed to be stronger and better then my little sister. I failed to win Father's love. I failed in the Agni Kai. I failed to recapture the Avatar. I failed to protect Uncle. Father was right, I was lucky to be born. "And what would you know about that?"

"Because since the moment I was born, I was the poor little blind girl. Everyone told me I couldn't do anything for myself. I was weak, I was helpless until I learned to shut out their voices. One day, I just said no." "No?" I pondered, in spite of my goal of ignoring the chit.

"I would live up to my expectations. I would not let anyone else tell me who I am. You need to do it too. You will never stop being lost until you say it. Say it to the people defining you. Tell them they are wrong, tell them you don't care what they think about you, tell them who you are. Just try it. Hear their voices in your head."

I always heard those voices.

You were lucky to be born…

You'll never catch up…

She's a born prodigy…

You are not even good at it…

My stance became smaller as I felt my heart fill with fear. They were always winning and I was always losing. I was a failure. I was worthless.

"Stop retreating. Fight back! Stand strong and meet them head-on!" I hear the girl yell.

I couldn't. Father was my lord, my master, my father! And Azula was perfect, she did everything perfectly and wonderfully and easily. Who was I to stand against them?

"Come on, Mopey. Fight back! Fight for your uncle. Drown out their voices and meet the challenge," she continued yelling.


"An outcast, his own father burned and banished him."

"I hate you."

Then another voice pierced through them all. "Never forget who you are!" I concentrated on the voice of my mother. Who was I?

I am Zuko.

I could be strong for Uncle and for Mother and for Cousin Lu-Ten! They had believed in me, that I could fight back! They were with me, one way or another.

I found myself filling with calm, like the rocks were calmly strong. They existed; they fed off nothing but their own strength. I had nothing to prove to anyone but myself. I was my own judge, I was my own master. As these thoughts avalanched down upon him, I assumed a fighting stance.

"YES! Now try that sequence," the girl shouted. Her voice was like a light in the darkness, guiding my thoughts to my task.

I moved my left hand around in a circle. Ying was what was soft and feminine, what was changing and yielding. Mother, who loved me unconditionally. She was comforting and soothing, she had taught him the gentleness of feeding turtle-ducks.

I moved my right hand in a circle. Yang was strong and masculine, active and strong. Uncle was a proud warrior who served his country nobly, who remained a pillar of strength to him when I needed him most.

They were separate, two halves of the same whole of me. I could feel the energy pulsing through my entire body. I was empty of everything but the strength that those people had given him. I was a vessel for their love, I was no failure or prodigy, I was no prince or exile, I was only Zuko.

And that was enough!

With a crack of thunder, I conducted the energy and allowed it to flow to my target, a tree. With a satisfying crack, the flora split in two. It was as easy as breathing, my head felt as clear as the summer skies. I turned around to hear the sound of clapping. That sound was just as satisfying.

"Well, perhaps I have to stop calling you Mopey and start calling you Sparky," the girl said, smirking beautifully. In the sunlight, she looked like a guardian spirit, sent to watch over me.

"My name is Zuko," I said. I was Zuko, son of Ursa. I was Zuko, nephew of Iroh. I was Zuko, I was my own man.

"An excellent nickname, Toph," said another voice. I turned around and saw Uncle walking towards us, a warm smile on his face. "Sparky. It fits him now that he has mastered the move." I was not sure whether to throw something at my relative or preen proudly at my new accomplishment. "Anyway, it is good to see you again, my young friend. Please join us in a cup of tea."

"I have to get back to Twinkle-toes and his merry gang of sugar-kids. I just wanted to see how you were doing and returning the favor. Though I suppose one cup wouldn't hurt," she smiled.

"I'll make it," I said, not wanting Uncle to exert himself. It was strange how utterly calm I felt. It was as if the air seemed cleaner, the sky more bright and the earth below my feet seemed welcoming and comfortable.

"No…no need. We must celebrate your great accomplishment, and that means it will be my honor to make my nephew his tea. Ahhh…have you introduced yourselves?" Uncle asked.

"She tried to kill me with earth-bending. Does that count?" I asked dryly, still wondering how that girl had managed to read my mind. Did blindness come with special skills?

"Ah excellent. That's how I met her. She only beats up the people she likes, right?" Uncle said, patting the girl's head. She smiled smugly. "So now you have the honor of knowing Toph, a most wonderful Earth-bender and a wise one, if I do say so myself."

"Toph," I said, nodding my head as I added her name to the list of people who believed in me. "It is…good to meet you."

"A pleasure shared, Sparky."

AN-Tell me what you think!