Disclaimer: I do not own the intellectual properties depicted herein. I do not own the characters portrayed. I make no claim to own any part of 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'. All intellectual properties depicted herein belong to the creators of 'Avatar: The Last Airbender.' and Nickelodeon.
"And then, she soaks him! Splash! Just like that!"
Zuko groaned, rolling his eyes at Sokka's retelling of their journey. Or rather Sokka's choice picks of certain points of their journey.
"Do you have to keep telling that part every damn time?"
Not waiting for a reply, the re-crowned Prince turned to another of his companions,
"Does he really have to keep telling that part every damn time?"
A muffled snort and clear laugh from a waterbender were his replies,
"But it's such a nice story. Not everyday you get to hear the tale of how the great Prince Zuko sets his own pants on fire. Besides I was the one who had to save you from your own burning pants...and patch up the hole in the butt."
Barely concealed mirth and snorts of suppressed laughter gravely darkened the Prince's already annoyed demeanor. He responded in the only way he knew how.
A stern one at that.
Not that it had any effect on the gathered nobles, friends and family.
"Yeah. Toph almost wanted to change your nickname to Hotpants." Smirked the Water Warrior, "But I guess Princey-kins does sound a whole lot more...you. Speaking of which, there was this time at our camp..."
Dipping his face into his palms, Zuko rubbed the bridge of his nose,
"How do you put up with him?" He asked Katara almost exasperatedly, "How do you shut him up?"
"Food works." Piped in Toph, "So does sleep...and oh yeah...Fan Girl's tongue."
Zuko grimaced, "Yes well, he already ate most of everyone's dinner, all that tea Uncle's pumped into him isn't going to make him hit the hay anytime soon and Lady Suki of Kyoshi Island hasn't arrived yet. And no, I'm not going to try being a substitute."
The little Earth bender simply shrugged her shoulders, while snagging a Crab-Fish cake off one of the few untouched platters,
"Meh. Don't say I didn't try to help."
A devilish grin graced her facial features,
"Though...you could get back at him another way."
A well groomed eyebrow arched in question,
Toph said nothing and simply pointed in the direction of Sokka, who was currently being waylaid by the amorous attentions of the daughters of various Earth Kingdom Nobles.
To which Zuko merely smiled,
"I do believe I have been inspired."
Of which Katara did not share,
"I'll go get the first aid water ready."
Sunsets, in Aang's opinion, were very...calming, to say the least.
A time to mellow out.
Relax and chill.
Reflect on the day.
And reflect he did.
A smile of contentment soon grew as he stretched, popping a few sleepy joints back into place. Though mildly uncomfortable, the buttressed tops of the Earth King's palace provided a great view of the setting sun as it dipped below the desert horizon, its fading rays washing over the tops of the houses of the great city.
"I could just stay up here all day." Mused the young Avatar, tucking his hands behind his head.
"And skip out on your so called Avatar Duties?"
Not turning to look at the new arrival, Aang replied back,
"Saving the world, deposing tyrants, being to friend to children and helping little old ladies across busy cartways. It's in the job description. Nope...don't see making a lemur of myself at parties. Call me when the world's about to end."
Toph wrinkled her nose, "Oh really? A bunch of girls down there have been asking for you. They wanna see your air marble tricks."
Smikring, the Avatar shot back,
"Is that jealousy I hear? Oh my, the mighty Toph Bei Fong. Say it isn't so."
Scoffing as she sat down, rather unladylike I might add, she punched his shoulder,
"Yeah, like I'm jealous of missing out on some flying rocks. I can make rocks fly too." She compounded the statement by ripping a nice chunk of the roof and lightly flinging it at his head.
A slight rumble and falling dust brought King Kuei's attention to his royal ceiling,
"Oh my. Are we having another Rock Termite infestation?"
Aang lowered the wall of roof tiles and mortar after Toph's ball of brick and shale shattered harmlessly against it,
"King Kuei wouldn't like having his roof torn up like this."
"He can bill me." She said, "Seriously, aren't you going back down? Everyone's expecting you."
Aang took in a deep breath and shook his head in the negative,
"Nah. I like it up here. It's quiet. And the sunset's just amazing."
"Yeah. Amazing. The colors. Oh the colors."
Aang grunted, "I'm older now Toph. I know what sarcasm is."
"Oh good for you. Twinkles. About time you learned a new word. And for your information, I know when its sunrise and sunset."
His interest piqued, "And how do you do that?"
"Simple," She replied, "The ground gets warmer as the sun rises; it gets unbearable during the afternoon and cools down at night. A baby could tell you that."
"Yeah well, babies can't talk." He corrected.
"Really? Then aren't you supposed to be going goo goo ga ga?"
Aang chuckled, sitting up straight, "I walked right into that one didn't I?"
Sidling right next to him, Toph flicked the point where his brows met,
"Light on his feet and talks words so sweet. Only one to prove him wrong is the mighty Toph Bei Fong."
"Toph...have you been taking poetry lessons from Sokka? You do remember he got thrown out of a class right?"
Toph scrunched her nose indignantly, "That was a Bei Fong original!"
"I said: Right."
"I'm telling you I came up with that off the top of my head!"
"And I'm telling you I'm not doubting you! In fact I liked it!"
Aang rubbed his nose, a little taken a back by her sudden change in tone,
"Well...it was funny...and cute."
Her tough demeanor quickly returned, along with a dash of droll,
"Patron of the Arts isn't in my job description Toph."
Dropping the current line of conversation Toph, tucked her hands into the voluminous folds of her dress sleeves. Sure it was overly fancy for her tastes, but at least it was warm and cozy,
"So why aren't you down there hob knobbing with royalty?"
"Why aren't you?"
Toph growled at the thought of her mother dragging her around, introducing her to the many young men currently in the main dining hall of the palace. Though she did like it when her mother tried to foist her on Zuko which, according to Katara's words, made the prince turn a comical shade of green.
Not that she knew what green was...until she felt Zuko shiver in disgust and fear. What delighted her even more was having her 'big brother' Zuko rail on her father about trying to practically sell off his daughter.
Oh how she wished she could see the looks on her parents' faces as Zuko chewed them out. Taking the opportunity, she quickly made her exit, following the light footsteps and heartbeats of someone very dear to her.
"I got bored." She said, "So I came to find you. You're always fun. At least I thought you were. Now you're just sitting here on the roof doing nothing. Thought you'd be running around town with Momo and Appa."
"I dunno...anything's better than the snoozefest downstairs. I think Princey-kins is going to prank Snoozles. But you know Princey, lord of overly elaborate plans. It'll take him forever to pull it off. I'll go back when I hear Snoozle's girlish screams."
Aang cocked his head, "Well, Appa's sleeping in the stables. The ride here from the Western Air Temple really wore him out. I dunno where Momo is..."
"Would someone kindly get this flying monkey off my face?"
"I dunno Zuko. Momo seems to really like you today. You didn't cover yourself in honey again did you?"
"My nephew wouldn't do that, would he?"
"I'm not so sure. Appa does like to lick him."
"Hello?! Flying monkey. Face. Off. Now...wait...what's Oh AGNI! GET IT OFF!"
"Hmm...Guess I shouldn't have given Momo all those fruit drinks. They go right through him."
"So I'm up here. Just relaxing. You know...thinking."
Casually dismissing at his words, Toph rapped her knuckles on his head,
"With what, Air Head?"
He swatted her mischievous hands away, "Hey. I'll have you know a lot goes up in here." He tapped his temples knowingly.
"Yeah," She snorted, "Goes up in smoke."
"I'm going to ignore that." He continued on, "I was just thinking about today."
"What about?" Toph wrapped herself in her shawl; it was getting awfully cold and no big fuzzy Appa around to snuggle into either.
"About how today's the new Avatar Day and all. I mean you know about the previous one right?"
"The one where they charged you with murder and tried to kill you and then later changed it to honor you? Yeah I know. And now the world leaders' decreed it to honor you for returning to the world and ending the war." Her words simply stated a fact rather than awe. "A hero's reward I suppose."
Aang sighed, "That's just it."
Aang looked at her and stated, "Change. One moment I'm being cursed at, the next I'm honored. I was a human icicle and now I'm a hero."
"You don't like change?"
"No." He shook his head, "I'm saying we've all changed. And it's made me think about life. My life. Your's. Everyones'. It's made me think of all the good and bad things."
Her thin eyebrows rose in astonishment, "Whoa, Twinkles. Since when did you get all Uncle Iroh on us?"
Aang smiled, "Like I said. Change." Grinning he took her hand and tapped her fingers against his skull, "And when you can hear four disagreeing past lives arguing about you, you kinda pick a few things."
Blushing at the sudden contact and his boldness, Toph withdrew her hand like it was on fire,
"Yeah...well...So?" She finished lamely.
"So, I've been going through all the good and bad things in my life. Stuff I regret and stuff I'm thankful for."
Catching his words, Aang tweaked her nose, "Oh no. I'm not giving you fresh rocks to throw at me." He joked, "You go first."
Toph pinched and pulled his cheek in retaliation, "This isn't about me Twinkles."
"Yes it is."
"Nuh uh. I'm not the one going all self discoveries on myself."
"You sure about that?" He smirked, "I bet you've got some things you want to talk about."
"No I don't."
"Tell you what, I'll tell you some of the things I regret and then your turn." Aang offered.
"You tell me your baggage. I make no promises." She huffed.
"Fine." He sighed, he wasn't going to get her to join in, at least he had someone to let this thoughts out with,
"I regret running away all those years ago. I regret not doing my duty, doing what was right. I could have ended the war long before anyone we know now would have suffered. I regret not being there for my friends...my family...not being there when Souzin's troops came..."
Toph felt his heart tremble with each word, she let him continue.
"I regret playing around when I was supposed to be stopping Ozai. I had a second chance and I was wasting it. Sure, I won. But I could have won earlier. And I dragged all of you into this mess..."
Slender fingers on his lips hushed his words.
And then she slapped the back of his head,
"Oh cry me a river. What are you? Zuko junior? Is there a scar somewhere we don't know off?"
"I wasn't finished!"
Toph shoved him again, "See? This is why I hate talking about feelings. Makes people all touchy-feely and stuff. Grow a spine Twinkles!"
"I said I wasn't finished!" He shouted.
"Well carry on Mr. Angst-in-my-pants!" She yelled back.
Aang stopped for a moment, much to her annoyance, "Well?"
"I'm trying to find the words..."
Rolling her head to a side, she palmed her face, "You Air-Head."
"Okay! I got it...I regret a lot of things."
She snorted. "Wussy."
"But, that's all in the past. No point in dragging up bad memories."
The little earth bender smiled, "Now that's more like it."
"I should be thankful for what I've got."
"And what would that be? Hmm?" She chided. Shaking her head with his hands, Aang replied in a sing song voice,
"Your turn now."
"I didn't agree to anything!" She exclaimed, pulling her head away. Turning away from him. "I regret nothing." She hissed.
Aang knew she was lying. But he knew better than to press her for the truth. If she wanted to share she would. He'd wait.
"Well, I'm thankful for a lot of things." He continued on, "I'm thankful I'm alive."
"No duh." She chuckled.
Aang went on, "I'm thankful for ending the war."
"Wait wait. How can you be thankful for that? We should be thanking YOU."
Aang caught her words, "Ha! See there's something you are thankful for!"
"Details!" She challenged back. "Okay fine. I'm thankful for that."
"Like I said, I'm thankful to be alive. If I wasn't..."
She picked up on his melancholy, "Yeah... we'd all be learning how to serve the Fire Lord and stuff."
"There is that. But I'm more thankful for knowing all of you. Can't do that if I'm pushing up Rabbit-Daisies."
"More like Skunk-Thistles. But yeah. I'm kinda thankful I got to meet you too."
Cheeks rosy pink, Toph tried to brush his words off, "Yeah. So what? It's no big deal."
"It is when the greatest earthbender in the world is blushing." He teased.
"Yes, you are."
"I am not! I'm just chilly, that's all!" She made a big show about ruffling her dress around her triyng to create a makeshift blanket, "Where's Appa when you need the big fuzzy lug?"
Her complaints where soon dashed as pair of arms circled her, pulling her against a warm body.
"Wh...what are you doing?" She whispered.
"My best friend is cold. I'm helping her get warm." He said as a matter of fact.
"You could just firebend."
"Nah." He said, "Too cold. Can't do it. Nothing to burn anyway. Unless you really hate that dress."
"Oh yeah, this thing stinks. It's so girly!"
Aang rested his chin on top her head, "Really? I was expecting you to call me a pervert for burning your only clothes..."
A punch to the gut made him choke his words back down.
"Thanks for reminding me." She said, drilling her fist deeper. She could almost hear him wince. "Guess I'm thankful for that too."
Toph repositioned herself better in his arms, "I'm thankful for knowing you Twinkles. I'm happy that I have friends. You know I never had any till you guys came along."
Aang smiled quietly. Toph took his silence to mean to continue,
"You guys really, really helped me out. And coming from me that's saying a lot." Toph tilted her head to one side; Aang's following in suit, "Not to mention you scaring my folks when they tried to have you arrested for 'kidnapping' me. That was gold."
Aang smiled into her dark hair,
"Well, I was cranky that day. And I think the lake of lava looked great in the garden."
Toph sighed, remembering the events that led to his...crankiness,
"I guess seeing the love of your life sucking face with someone else would do that to you."
Aang made a sound of nonchalance, "I'm over it."
She laughed, "Yeah you better be. They are getting married soon. And anyway, you didn't get it that bad. I can actually HEAR Snoozles and Fan Girl swap spit."
"Oh it is. It definitely is. It's like the ocean in your ears. But its going slurp slurp slurp." Toph's face screwed into one of disgust,
"I don't get love, Twinkles. What's so great about it?"
"Hmm? Is that a Thankful thing?"
"No. I'm just wondering. What's so good about it?"
Aang pondered for a moment, his affections for Katara coming back to him for a brief moment,
"I dunno. It's a mystery I suppose. Many kinds of love out there. I know at least that much..."
Toph reached back and patted his cheek, "Well, guess you're thankful for learning that huh?"
Hugging her a little tighter, he nodded against the back of her head and neck,
"Yup." was all he deemed to answer her with.
A calm silence fell over the pair. The sun had set a while ago. Yue and her little star attendants having replaced Agni in the night sky.
"Hey. The Moon spirit's out." Toph felt Aang's questioning vibrations, "I told you earlier right? Ground's cool when it's night."
"Yeah. But how'd you know Yue was out in full force tonight?" He looked up at the full moon. He could almost swear the princess of the night was smiling at them.
"Lucky guess?" Was her sheepish answer.
"World's greatest Earthbender and Lady Luck to boot. You'd make some guy really happy Toph."
Toph grimaced at the thought of marriage and the suitors her parents were lining up for her, "Yeah well, not if all the guys are the pieces of..."
"A lady doesn't use foul language." Aang chided, trying to impersonate her father's tone.
Toph snickered, "We both know I'm no lady." She placed her small hands on his arms that had never left her waist.
"And I'm...kinda thankful for that." Laughed Aang, "If you were, I wouldn't have mastered Earth Bending at all."
"Who says you've mastered it?" She joked, "I was doing those tricks I taught you when I was six. You've still got a long way to go Twinkles."
"Yes Sifu Toph." He said softly. Toph shivered slightly at his whisper and moved back closer into him, "The girls are going to go wild over you when you get back down to the hall."
"I doubt so." He said, scratching an itch on the top of his head.
"What's not to like? The all powerful Avatar. Great war hero. Loved by all. Except my parents. And didn't you say Roku was married?"
"Yeah...I'm still trying to figure out how Zuko comes from him."
She turned in his arms, poking his nose, "Point is. Roku got married. You can too."
Looking down at her, Aang sighed, "His wife liked him before he was announced as the Avatar. Those girls down there like the Avatar. Not Aang. Where am I going to find a girl that just loves me for me?"
"I'm sure there's someone out there. Some girl is going to be very lucky to have you, Twinkles." She smiled in reassurance before turning around to rest her back against his chest.
Another silent moment passed between them.
"You really think I'd meet the perfect guy/girl?"
They shared another pause before laughing,
"Yeah I'm sure you will Twinkles. What's not to like about you?"
"Same to you Toph."
Toph smiled and rested her head against his shoulder, feeling all warm and toasty wrapped in her thick dress and Aang's body heat. She yawned.
"Thanks Twinkles. You really know how to cheer some one up."
"It's in the job description."
"Ha. Ha. Very funny." Toph began to fidget a little; there was still a dinner in his name they had to be at, "Don't you think it's time to head back down? Everyone's waiting for you."
"They're waiting for the Avatar. It's just Aang here tonight. Besides you look tired."
Toph yawned again, "That's because I've been talking to you. You always make me want to nod off. Boring little Twinkle Toes." She joked, lightly punching his arm.
"There's another thing I'm thankful for."
"You. For being my friend. And the time I have to spend with you."
The little earth bender snuggled against him, barely holding back a yawn,
Aang smiled at her angelic face as she drifted off to dreamland. Her light snores soon told him she'd made the trip. His eyelids slowly growing heavy as well, he adjusted her shawl around her neck and shoulders,
"How is it that those two aren't together yet?"
Katara rolled her eyes at her personal scarred prince charming,
"You can't rush love Zuko. We didn't rush things."
"You went from, "Breathe wrong and I'll make you a princess." to "I want your steam babies!" I say that's pretty rushing things."
Zuko took a playful swing at his future brother-in-law, "No one asked you Meat Man."
"Meat Man? Is that the best you can come up with? You're not even trying."
The fire prince smirked, "Oh?"
"Yeah I bet you wouldn't know a good comeback if it bit you on the royal..."
A grin quickly plastered itself on the prince's face,
"You were saying?"
"SUKI! You made it!"
"What's this message saying you've been flirting behind my back!?"
"What?! No! No! I wasn't!"
Zuko stepped back and held out his arm, allowing a messenger hawk to land on his gauntlet. He held out a strip of dried meat for the faithful bird,
"I knew you'd never betray the Fire Nation. Right, Hawky?"