Author's Note: This fic is a bit on the depressing side, because I'm writing to express my grief over the loss of Mako. For the unaware, Mako was not only an Oscar and Tony-nominated actor, but the voice of Aku in Samurai Jack, and beloved Uncle Iroh in Avatar. He passed away this July, after a long battle with esophogeal cancer, at the age of 72. I just learned about it recently--funny that someone of his caliber would get no coverage...not even a mention of his death on the Emmys or something.

Toph and Zuko star in this. Read, review, enjoy. I hope Zuko doesn't seem too out of character at the end..

Thank you.

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Zuko stared over the ledge, quiet. He didn't give a second glance to the group of travelers behind him, nor the sound that came from the noisy water tribe boy...Sokka, was it? The waterbender girl kept smacking Sokka when the boy tried to say anything to the banished prince. The Avatar...he said nothing. Didn't try to come near Zuko. The young boy simply helped with setting up camp.

Footsteps behind him barely registered. The blind girl. She sat beside him, and drew her knees to her chin.

"Shouldn't you be helping them set up camp?" he meant to snap, but it came out in a painful sigh.

"Already helped," the girl replied. She picked up a pebble from the earth and rolled it between her fingers. Still, she said nothing. Zuko sat still, staring out into the horizon, only to glance back at the young earthbender sitting next to him. After a moment, she pulled the headband from her hair and let it fall loose. She pulled a scrap of fabric from her outfit and tied it around the long hair.
It began to annoy him, her silence, but his uncle's voice echoed in his mind.

Don't be so quick to anger, Zuko. Take some joy in life.

Zuko held back the urge to laugh bitterly. And where had that gotten his uncle? Banished, for helping a shunned little boy.

The girl...Zuko remembered her name. It was Toph. She finally spoke, lifting her chin from her knees.

"...I'm sorry, Zuko. I'm really sorry"

Zuko didn't answer.

"I know how close you were to him, and..."

"And what did he mean to you?"

It was a quiet growl, and it caught Toph by surprise. She, in all previous encounters with the banished prince, only been able to hear him yell. But not now. His voice was quiet. Angry. Broken. Sad.

It took the earthbending prodigy a moment to answer.

"...he didn't treat me like I was useless. Like I couldn't do anything on my own because I was blind. And he said...,"

Toph stopped, her breath catching in her throat. She wondered if she should go on. Zuko's fingers clawing the ground made her continue.

"...he said I reminded him of you. He said how strong you were...how much he cared about you...how much that he needed you."

Zuko felt his breathing grow short. Uncle didn't need him. Uncle could have had a great career in the military back in the Fire Nation. But he chose to follow a lonely, banished, burned young man on a quest for acceptance. And the old man never once had called it a fruitless quest. Never.

Something unfamiliar gathered in Zuko's throat. Oh yes. This was the feeling he'd get before he'd cry.

Evidently, the young man's silence had stretched on, because the young girl was saying his name.

"...uko? Zuko?"

"Yes?"

Toph blinked, and the sadness renewed in her. That 'yes' had come out shaky, and on the verge of tears.

"...I really am sorry. That we couldn't save him."

Zuko stared at the ground.

"I can't believe Azula stooped so low"

" Neither can I."

"The watertribe girl couldn't save him"

"Katara tried."

"She failed!"

Zuko leapt to his feet.

"SHE TRIED! Zuko, she...," Toph couldn't keep talking. She held onto Zuko's arms, quiet. The tears choked her ability to speak. The kind old man who had been nothing but kind to her, to everyone...gone.

By the hands of a maniac who laughed at someone she called weak as he struggled to hold on. Someone who claimed to be the man's family.

The banished prince looked down at the young girl, who he guessed was all of 12 years old. He heard chatter from the camp, but no one came over to 'save' the girl from their 'enemy'. She was shaking, and tears were sliding down her cheeks. The teen softened, and placed a hand on Toph's upper back, and said nothing. The two sat down once more.

"She tried," Toph choked out, and leaned her small self against Zuko. The teen gently rested his hand on the earthbenders arm.

"I know," he whispered.

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"Katara, look, he's going to ATTACK HER!"

This time it was Aang who silenced Sokka.

"Sokka, leave him alone. He just lost his Uncle."

Aang bit his tongue. It had hurt so much to watch the kind Iroh fade away. But that was Avatar pain.

At least, that's what he had thought. And then he had seen Zuko, the person who had tried to kill him on numerous occasions, unable to move. Shaking. In fear. In grief.

And that...that was personal pain.

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Toph looked up; the images the ground gave her were clear, though not in the sense of conventional sight. The prince was still sitting next to her, quietly weeping.

"I'm sorry, " she repeated softly.

The prince was quiet for a moment; then he stood up.

"What are you..."

The prince walked quietly from the camp.

"I'll be back," he muttered; loud enough for Toph to hear him.

"Where's he going?" Sokka asked though a mouthful of meat when Toph sat by the fireside.

"For a long walk, I guess," she responded, taking hold of the fish speared on a stick that was handed to her. "Like he's gonna tell me?" she spoke through a mouthful of food.

She didn't say what she was thinking, and what she had a suspicion that he was doing. There were lotus blossoms farther up the small river that they were camped near. Toph didn't need to guess where a few of those would end up. Toph had left a small stone marker by the spot where they had cremated Iroh.

The young girl wandered by later, and Zuko wasn't far from the stone marker. A few lotus blossoms lay at the base of it. Toph turned and walked a little farther away. She ambled into the river to rinse off her feet. She heard a splash behind her a few moments later. The tall teenager had taken off his shoes and stepped into the shallow river.

Toph was well learned, so she knew why. Ritual washing was a sign of leaving something behind. In this case, for both of them, it was grief. Toph loosed the dirt from her feet, while Zuko used the river water to wash his face.

It was time to leave the grief behind--Iroh would want them to move forward.

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Forever in our hearts, Forever in our Minds.
A talent that will be sorely missed.
We'll miss you, Mako.
Mako Imawatsu (Dec. 10, 1933--July 21, 2006