(Synopsis was a little bad…)
A/N Just so you all know, this is not a Zuko/Toph pairing or anything. At least, that's not my intention. My intention is just that Toph might give Zuko a little moral help, just like Iroh—she might put him on the right path.
Mostly it's about Zuko making the right choice, and Toph learning that asking for help is not weakness.
That boldness formatting problem up there is weird. And I don't know what's wrong.
I own nothing.
A breeze stirred the trees of the courtyard; leaves glided to the ground, landing silently beside the solitary young man leaning against a tree. He sat on the ground, playing with something metallic in his hands.
It was dark. Dusk had long passed. The only light came from various torches lit around the perimeter of the garden, although the young man's face remained in shadow as he kept his head down. His black hair had grown long; it shaded his eyes almost completely from view as he gazed at the painted object he held. It had bold shades of red and gold, although they had faded with age, and it was shaped like a curving flame. A Fire Nation crown.
He set it aside, looking up, and into the darkness. Now his face was visible to the flickering torchlight: he was young, but his golden eyes showed age. One of them was marred by a large red scar, tearing across the left side of his face.
Prince Zuko was thinking.
He was thinking about what the crown meant, what it represented. Two bloodlines, manifested in him. Two sides of a battle that had lasted for generations. He sighed, combing his hair back from his face with his fingers. He knew his new life—with Mai, his honor, his father's love—was too good to be true. Why was it always him?
He threw an arm across his knee, scowling at the crown beside him. Iroh gave it to him for a reason; to try and tell him something. Something that he had to do. But how could he possibly do it? How could he bring peace without defying his father, without getting Azula out of the way, while still maintaining the dignity of the proud Fire Nation? Wasn't that the Avatar's job?
The Avatar. Even the thought of that boy made Zuko's stomach clench. He was alive, that much Zuko knew. He must be off planning his attack with those two kids from the water tribe and whoever that earthbender girl had been…he had only seen the girl for a moment, and that was while he was fighting Azula. He had only thought of it later, how the Avatar had added another to his entourage. She seemed to be quite skilled at earthbending. Had the Avatar learned from her yet?
This train of thought tangled up Zuko's mind, causing him to place both palms on his forehead. That wasn't his problem now; he needed to focus on the moment…focus on the moment…
The bells rang, their raucous peals shattering the silence of the night and signifying an important visitor. Zuko looked up in surprise, catching sight of several people running towards the main hall. Of course, Azula was walking nonchalantly.
Zuko chose another hallway to avoid them, and began to run.
The first thought through her mind was the pain—always the pain. But she forcefully pushed it away, resuming her struggles.
The guard holding her buckled under her writhing weight, growling in frustration. "Hey! I need help!" he called. Two more guards came, one taking her shoulders, and another taking her feet. She closed her eyes in agony as they touched her feet.
Damn them, she thought with a passion. How did they know to do that?
At the moment, her feet were wrapped in many layers of cloth, secured to her ankles by bands of metal. The girl was tempted to bend the metal, forcing it to release her, but the soft cloth was comforting her burns somewhat. She had no intentions of taking it off. Plus, they held her up in the air anyway; if she had taken the cloth off, she still wouldn't have been able to see.
She didn't even know if she could even walk, at this point.
She fought back tears, biting her lip until blood came. Stupid, stupid, stupid… Toph Bei Fong was feeling several emotions all at once, and had the strange sensation that they were assaulting her one after the other. Frustration, rage, helplessness, despair, hope—not only were they battling with her desire to suppress them, they were also battling with themselves.
"Who do we have here?" came a voice. Male, it sounded like. She felt the guards under her freeze, and stand at attention.
Taking advantage of the situation, she began to buck against her captors even harder. They scrambled to keep hold—she could feel their fingers brushing against her arms and legs, trying to trap her in their grasp once again. She was strong.
But small, and outnumbered. Her earthbending was horribly limited when she was held off the ground, and since she couldn't 'see' the earth she was bending, it would probably have disastrous consequences. This time, two more people came to help. By the end of the struggle, Toph's arms and legs all had their own guards. She was locked in place.
Over the pandemonium of 'hold her! Hold her!' and 'you take that arm!' she heard someone laughing. It was a female voice. High, and cackling. When Toph finally stopped struggling, she smiled grimly and said, "You laugh like a witch."
"Do I?" the female voice said quietly, dangerously. Toph could hear her footsteps coming nearer. "Perhaps I am a witch. You'd never be able to tell, would you?" She turned to the guards: "You fools. She's blind. Why in the name of Sozin would you bring her here?"
"Princess Azula," said a guard to the left. "We conquered an Earth Kingdom town on the southwestern coast. There were wanted posters for a blind girl, and they offered a large reward. It also noted at the bottom that she may have run away with a boy…a boy with a blue arrow tattoo on his head."
The silence could have been cut with a knife. Toph barely dared to breathe, for some reason unwilling to break the dead quiet.
"We recognized her on our way back to the capitol," he continued. "It was kind of hard to miss her; you don't see that many blind girls around, and she fit the description perfectly."
Toph heard footsteps again, this time from farther away. They got closer rather fast—the person was running.
"Zuko," Azula said sweetly. "We have a prisoner."
How did she get here before me? was Zuko's first thought as he arrived, rather miffed that he was the one running, and he was the last one to appear.
His next thought was on the small earthbender held by four guards at once: I know her. He also saw a flash of recognition pass her face at his name, although she masked it instantly. He hid all traces of realization from his expression as well.
"I see that," he said sullenly, looking her up and down like he'd never seen her before.
"They think she was with the Avatar," Azula continued, her sharp gaze now trained on the blind girl. There was something behind her expression…it looked almost gleeful.
"Why does that matter?" Zuko asked, shooting her a mild glare. "The Avatar is dead."
It suddenly occurred to Toph that she should be confirming this adamantly. No one should know that Aang lived, especially not the royal family of the Fire Nation.
"You killed him!" she cried wildly to where Azula's voice had come from, acting the part of a distraught little girl. "You murdered him in cold blood! All he ever wanted was peace! You—"
Azula slapped her. It was a stinging blow, and without her earthbending to see, it caught Toph completely by surprise. She gasped; her head now turned the other way. Her neck felt like it had been twisted to the breaking point.
"Silly girl. Zuko was the one who dealt the final blow. He killed the Avatar."
It took a few moments for this to sink in. No, it had definitely been Azula. Katara had been sure of it as she tearfully told her and Sokka the story, on Appa's back as they escaped the conquered Ba Sing Se. And she had talked of Azula using several very unattractive words. According to her, Azula had hit him with lightning while he was in the Avatar State.
But she might as well play along; pretend she was surprised to be mistaken. There was obviously a reason for the princess to place the glory upon Zuko's shoulders.
So instead of protesting, proclaiming that she was right, she maintained a stoic silence, scowling as if she was thinking. Zuko put in: "You can't expect her to know that, Azula. She is blind, after all."
"Ah, well, I suppose you're right," Azula replied. Toph heard her clothing move like she was shrugging her shoulders. "Why are her feet wrapped in cloth?"
"They're burned, princess," the guard said humbly.
"Burned?" Zuko sounded astonished. "Why did you burn her feet?"
"She was an earthbender," he replied, as if it was the simplest thing in all the world. "She was fighting us horribly. Then Lao here said that earthbenders need their feet to bend, and we all started attacking her feet. Then she tripped—"
Toph remembered the rest. The foolish mistake, the sudden, horrifying realization that she was falling, and then the sharp, roaring agony…
"Take her to my chambers, we'll question her," came Azula's abrupt reply.
Toph shivered involuntarily.