Disclaimer- I don't own Avatar
A/N – This takes place when/if Zuko and Iroh join the Avatar.
It had been an hour since Zuko had stormed out of the camp which was perfectly normal behavior so no-one was worried. And it was Zuko's short fuse which had earned him the nick-name 'Sourpuss' from Toph. Heck, it was practically a relief to see his retreating back and see the stiffness in the camp leave with him. Even Iroh had to admit that Zuko's constantly raging aura and bad temper could become taxing. Everyone could see the prince's scowling face, his brow wrinkled into an angry frown, his golden eyes trying to seemingly stab the all in the chest and his mouth twisted into a permanent snarl as a warning sign to leave the area. Everyone, except for Toph. But she still felt his erratic movements through the earth and the way it trembled with his tension. It had become a constant unpleasant drone and frankly, she was tired of it. It became even more prominent when he left camp since he thought that no-one would know of his slamming his fists into the ground with frustration. The grumbling of the earth remained even when he was asleep. He was forever tossing and turning causing the earth to vibrate irritably beneath him. To sum it all up, the Sourpuss was making Toph tired, touchy and temperamental.
Today though, Zuko's bad mood had been triggered by an unfortunate trip to town. The townsfolk had ogled shamelessly at Zuko's scar. Zuko had glared coolly back at them all and carried on walking with his head held high; arrogance leaking off his body like a bad smell. But the more the people stared, the more agitated Zuko became though he hid it well on the outside. It wasn't until an old man who had been praising Aang in a sugar coated voice (which made Toph feel sick to her stomach) suddenly turned on Zuko demanding why the Avatar had chosen the keep the company of a 'scar-faced, dishonourable traitor'. The whole group had frozen as tension crackled in the air. Zuko had closed his eyes and gritted his teeth while he let the insults soak in as Iroh placed a comforting hand on his nephew's shoulder. However, Zuko angrily shrugged him off and shouldered roughly past the man knocking him into a nearby cabbage stand.
The gang had believed that Zuko was just angry (he had every right to be so) but Toph knew it ran deeper than plain anger, that the words had struck a deep blow. She felt it the way the pace of Zuko's heart had tripled its speed. She had sensed a subtle tremble run through his body as he tried to convince himself that he wasn't a 'dishonourable traitor.' She could feel waves of self-doubt engulf Zuko as he battled against the old man's statement. They had all watched sympathetically Zuko supposedly walk calmly away, his portly uncle hurrying after him, but Toph had felt the muscles contracting in his feet yearning to break into a desperate run.
Her mind set on putting an end to Zuko's omnipresent morbid behavior, Toph followed the exile telling the gang that she'd be back with him by dinner. She shook her head as Sokka warned her about getting anywhere within a twenty foot radius of the Sourpuss and laughed openly as he tripped over himself in haste. Iroh nodded briefly to her and she felt him the warmth of his encouraging smile. She wondered vaguely what his nephew's smile was like.
The sun-baked earth felt good between her toes and a warm breeze caressed her skin lightly. She would have good results, she could feel it. Even old Sourpuss wouldn't be able to mope properly on a day like this.
Toph found him easily. The shockwaves traveling through the ground as he hit it ferociously had been an obvious give away. The heat of firebending practice had was still present and although he was no longer training the frustration out of himself, Toph still felt the ground vibrate as his chest heaved in and out as his heart pumped furiously. The sound of his heavy breathing indicated that he had trained vigorously. 'Good,' Toph thought, smirking. That meant that he would have less energy to argue back to her. Not that it mattered. Toph never lost a fight anyway.
She approached his kneeling figure. His shoulders were sagging and is head hung frustration. His whole posture seemed to scream defeat. He didn't even glance at Toph as she approached.
"You could at least grace me with a response, Sourpuss," said Toph making sure to put heavy emphasis on Zuko's nickname to provoke an angry comment. Zuko however, remained silent hoping that she would leave if he ignored her. Of course this would not deter Toph. In any case, it would just make her job easier if he wasn't going to interrupt her.
Toph sat on the ground, deliberately in front of Zuko so he wouldn't miss her.
"You know what your problem is," she said loudly as she jabbed him in the chest with a finger.
"What?" snarled Zuko as he caught her hand in a crushing grip before she could jab him again. She could feel something warm and sticky in hands. The idiot had trained until he bled again.
"You take to heart what people say too quickly–"
"Why should I listen to a helpless, little blind girl," interrupted Zuko sharply using the one comment that made Toph's blood boil. Forgetting her own previous words about taking comments to heart, Toph screamed at him in rage and leapt to her feet creating a rock wall and slamming it into him. But Zuko was ready for the attack. He immediately formed a ball of fire using it to cushion the impact of Toph's attack and ride the force it. Vaulting over the rock wall he sent a volley of punches at Toph, all of which she dodged easily. Toph gave Zuko a superior look at him, feeling the thrill of fighting pulse through her. Fighting was her element. It was her love. Whilst she could feel the determination to not be beaten in Zuko's moves she was completely relaxed. He had every right to be giving his all and she would have been outraged if he had not. She, on the other hand could just effortlessly toy with him.
Small columns of earth popped in and out of the ground in a vain attempt at unbalancing Zuko on Toph's command. The Sourpuss was surprisingly light on his feet Toph decided grudgingly. He leapt between the mini pillars, sometimes even using them as springboards to gain extra speed to dodge the next set. But he gradually he slowed down. Toph smiled smugly; she hadn't even broken a sweat yet. After all, the only thing she was doing scuffing the ground lazily with her heels. She was just playing with him; she was in control. She brought her foot down in a hard stomp and a pillar of earth erupted skywards pissing her sparring partner by less than a millimeter. As Toph lifted her foot up, the tower abruptly sank back down, the shockwaves as it did so knocking Zuko over. He rolled away just before she had time to sink him into the ground.
This match would be over soon, thought Toph grinning. Though Zuko's breathing pattern was smooth and even, she could feel the slight tremble of his muscles as he sank into a low stance.
Punching her arms upwards, Toph sent another tower shooting from the earth from directly under Zuko. It propelled him into the air. Readying a large patch of quicksand for the Sourpuss to land in she waited for the inevitable impact. But it never came.
Instead a small arrow of fire shot out at her from nowhere. She only sensed it when it singed her nose and wild fringe before dissipating into nothing. A split second later, a huge inferno surged towards her from the sky. The flames though died down before then had a chance to burn her but still she was knocked off her feet by the wave of heat that followed.
She flew in an arc but flipped in the air so she landed on her feet, fuming that the banished prince had pulled back his attack on her. Did he really see her as weak?
But the quicksand had reformed into firm solid rock as soon as she lost contact with the earth so when she was back on her feet, she could feel the clear outline of the Sourpuss standing in typical Zuko position – feet apart, arms crossed and chin tilted upwards slightly in arrogance. Well if he thought that the battle was over then he was wrong. Toph Bei Fong was never beaten, especially not on the battle field.
Forcing the earth apart with her hands she sucked the arrogant firebender up to his chest into the ground. Toph walked lazily to her victim finding a cruel satisfaction in his pathetic efforts to free himself from the ground.
"Release me!" Zuko bellowed savagely.
"Not unless you ask nicely and listen to what I have to say," said Toph grinning as he continued struggling futilely.
The firebender's body relaxed and his head lowered a fraction in what Toph assumed was defeat. Toph smiled slyly, victory tasted sweet. However as soon as Zuko took an unusually large breath in, she knew that he was up to something. Steam billowed from his mouth scalding her big toe. She yelped in surprise.
"You want to be like that? Well fine!" snapped Toph as she made a pulling action with her had submerging the firebender up to his neck. He protested wildly but they fell on deaf ears.
"I'm going to give you some advice and you're going to take it whether you want to or not, okay?" Toph said in a commanding voice.
Receiving no reply she demanded impatiently, "Okay?"
Still she received no reply. Well if he wanted to be like that, she would just squeeze it out of him. She held one hand steadily in front of her and tucked the other one in chamber. Slowly she made fist constricting the earth around Zuko. She felt him try to resist at first, stiffening his muscles in an attempt to brace himself. She had only just barely bent one finger when she heard him let out a sharp breath and grunt. She bent her finger slightly more, just enough so that he'd feel the pressure.
"Fine I'll listen," hissed Zuko, fury etched in every syllable.
Casting Zuko a 'holier-that-thou' look, she straightened out her palm again and made a pushing action. The ground spat out the angry Sourpuss as if he was a bad taste and groaned as it closed back up, almost in relief, it seemed.
Zuko knelt on the ground for a moment or two working the feeling back into his limps before rising slowly towering over Toph. He sent his most intimidating glare which absolutely no effect since she couldn't see it. Toph sat down and motioned for him to do the same. Surprisingly he obey albeit rather grudgingly.
"As I was saying, you shouldn't let people get away from speaking to like that old man this morning did," Toph said, continuing their earlier conversation like nothing had happened. She felt Zuko inwardly flinch beside her at the memory and look away.
"You need to stand up and say 'Hey! You don't know me so don't even try to judge me!'" She made jabbing motions with her hands, as if she was pushing someone aside.
Zuko scoffed loudly but said nothing.
"That's exactly what I'm talking about. When someone insults you, you just sit there and take it like it doesn't bother you. That or you just run away."
"It doesn't bother me," Zuko muttered through gritted teeth, still keeping his back to her. Toph placed a small calloused hand on his shoulder and forced him to turn around.
"I can tell you're lying Sourpuss. Just admit it. You still haven't admitted to yourself that you're not always in the wrong so if someone brings up some stupid comment about being a traitor you doubt yourself," Toph said, each word growing louder.
Zuko stiffened as his heart beat wildly in his chest and his hands balled into fists but Toph ploughed on regardless.
"You hate being rejected. You're scared that people won't accept you."
She felt his shoulders sag beneath her hand. She was right and he knew it. The old Sourpuss was so easy to read.
"Just relax," she told him in a softer voice. "Even at camp you're tense and it drives me nuts. I can feel your anxiety through the ground. It's so loud it drowns everything else out! And I don't know why you're so cranky. It's not like anyone's provoking you. Whether you like it or not you're part of our stupid little gang so deal with it and get over yourself. And don't make go into all that 'we're a family' and all that junk because you already know it."
Toph turned to leave; Zuko still sitting in dirt to mulling over her speech. It had been getting a bit to mushy for her liking but at least she had gotten her point across. After all, Toph always won.
"Wait… Toph," the firebender called after her. The usual arrogance and bitterness seemed to have gone. Toph stopped in mid-step and cocked her head slightly so that he knew she was listening.
"You shouldn't take what people think of you to heart either," he mumbled, barely loud enough to hear.
"I don't," insisted Toph indignantly.
"Oh really 'Helpless Little Blind-Girl?" drawled Zuko, a rare playful note on in his voice.
Toph smiled. He was lying. What the Sourpuss had meant was 'Almighty, All-seeing-Woman'.
She shook the ground beneath him teasingly, making him topple over before offering her own hand to pull him back to his feet and for the first time, Zuko smiled at her. It was a small smile but Toph felt it radiating off him. They walked back to the camp in silence. He never thanked her for her advice, but the smile of the Sourpuss was gratitude enough for Toph.
Written because there's not enough fluff between friends in the world of fanfiction. That and the fact that I can't be bothered to do my history homework, I need some Toko, too many stories have had Zuko as a complete pansy, the world needs a break from Zutara and I need mild angst and lots of friendship fics.
Merry (insert festival of your choice here) and a happy new year!