For Zutara Week. Prompt three: Smug.
I. Love. Zutara Week. So far, I've had the most fun on this story - of course, it was the biggest bitch of a thing to write, but I am totally happy with it. Yes, the ending's corny, and yes, the idea is probably overused, but I'm still satisfied with it. Besides, I couldn't resist - when I think smug, I think Toph.
So, fair warning, there's Tokka in this. And yeah, I know, it's kind of the same thing as Kataang, but for some reason I absolutely adore the pairing. I mean, Toph's badass, and she deserves someone equally as awesome, am I right? (Though, I still love you, Aang). So, it's not as much Zutara as you all are looking for, but I tried my best to cram it in. I hope you all enjoy!
Disclaimer: No siree. Don't own it.
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"It isn't up for negotiation, Zuko!"
Toph listened as Aang gave a weary sigh and flopped backwards on Appa's fur, exhaling a deep breath of wind. Sokka, at her side, leaned forward with an aggravated grumble, slapping his face as the two continued to bicker. She shared their sentiments, too, watching the fight with her feet settled comfortably on the ground, her cheek in her palm as her choppy bangs brushed in and out of her face.
"The Water Tribes need protection. I don't care if you have a lot on your plate, being the big, bad Fire Lord and all. When you signed up for this job, you swore--!"
"Signed up, huh?!" he retorted angrily, finally leaping to his feet to face her as she brandished her soup ladle. Whenever the group reunited now, disaster inevitably followed. It was as if they were cursed to go against the times – when there was war racking all four nations, they sought for peace.
When relative peace finally blanketed the world, Zuko and Katara fought enough to cause another uprising.
"I wasn't aware that my assuming the throne was such a thoughtless decision!"
"Oh, please." Toph rolled her eyes as Katara threw away the ladle, listening to it clink against the side of the pot before it was swallowed up by the frothing liquid. That was real smart. How on earth were they going to eat now? "You've wanted this since before Aang even erupted out of that ice cube."
"Hey. Don't bring me into this, guys! I'd rather not be the sole reason for your argument. Again."
"I'd can it, Twinkletoes," Toph drawled with boredom, letting her shoulders slump as she lifted her left hand to also cradle her cheek. Eyes straining through complete darkness to find where Zuko and Katara continued to bicker, she let out a soul-reaching sigh that stirred the edges of her bangs. "You may be the world's beacon of peace, but there's no way you'll ever get them to stop screaming like wild banshees."
She blinked when Sokka nudged her with his elbow, goosebumps lightly peppering her skin as she shifted her head and flicked sightless eyes towards where he sat. "I bet you Katara's gonna win," he muttered under his breath. "She won the last one, and she's damn scary."
Toph's interest piqued at the proposition of a gamble, as well as the fact that the person challenging her was none other than the boy she'd been hopelessly in love with since she was twelve. Not bothering to hide her wicked smirk, she tilted her head and leaned closer. "You're on, Sokka. What're the stakes?"
"You have to do my laundry," he drawled with a simple shrug, and she felt him shift back to watch as Katara threw her hands up and started pacing in a circle, talking a mile a minute. "And I have a lot of laundry."
Rolling her eyes, Toph turned her head back. "Fine."
He hesitated, and she felt her lips twitch yet again when the silence stirred between them, signaling that he was fumbling for words. "Well, Toph? What do you wager?"
"You'll find out," she stated simply. "Just remember, Snoozles. I never lose."
"You're unbelievable!" Katara screeched, cutting off anything that her brother might have hoped to say. "These are my people. They're completely helpless. Sure, we have Sokka in the Southern Tribe, but come on!"
"Hey!" he protested shrilly, causing the couple to stop bickering for a moment. "I'm a much better fighter now, I'll have you know."
Toph could practically picture Katara rolling her eyes as the girl stiffened her shoulders and turned back to the Fire Lord, who'd managed with his uncle's help to win himself a day off and rejoin their pack while they were in the area. They all attempted to reunite every so often when their respective nations – or, in Aang's case, the entire world – wasn't so dependent on their presences. Unfortunately, every time Zuko and Katara came within several feet of one another, their personalities clashed and they couldn't help but fight. So much for relaxation.
She blamed the sexual tension, though.
And at that thought, Toph maliciously grinned, and her toes curled into the earth beneath her feet.
"Sokka, please. You're just one guy. Meanwhile, Mister Fire Lord here," there was a rapid rustle of fabric, and Toph imagined Katara brandishing her arm to viciously point at Zuko, who drew himself up in both surprise and indignation, "can control entire armies with the wave of a pinky, and he isn't bothering to put men on our borders?"
"You have to understand!" he pleaded beseechingly, but Toph knew Katara wouldn't understand. As the girl whirled around and crossed her arms, her back the only thing she would allow Zuko to attempt to extract pity from, Sokka elbowed her again. The earthbender had no doubt that a cocky smirk rested on his lips. "The Fire and Water Nations have been at odds for years. They're just too different. Your people won't take kindly to my putting guards and barracks on land we promised we'd leave alone!"
"Until we were in trouble!" she snapped, whirling around again. "You promised that until we were in trouble. This last winter nearly decimated the Southern Water Tribe. It was all Sokka and I could do to keep them alive. And I've been receiving letters from Pakku and my father, telling me that disease has struck the Northern Tribe. Are you saying we should just leave them to their own defenses?!"
Zuko faltered, and Toph clenched her fists, silently goading him on. She really wanted him to win this on his own. As much to shut Katara up as to help her prove to Sokka that his sister didn't always get her way in an argument. "Katara," Zuko said softly, and Toph blinked at the tenderness in his tone. The mighty and arrogant Fire Lord hadn't used that way of addressing them since he was nothing but an exiled, humiliated prince who'd placed himself at their mercy. "I'm trying."
"Not hard enough." Her voice was flint and steel, and Toph groaned at the hostility in her tone. Katara was just too stubborn and proud. She wanted it her way, and she was going to fight until she got it. "You don't realize it while you're sitting in that plush, lavish office of yours, Zuko, but people out here are still suffering. The world still has a long way to go."
"How dare you!" he shouted, and Toph as well sent a hateful glance towards Katara. Sokka coughed uncomfortably as the tension escalated, and suddenly Aang floated down beside the earthbender with a sigh, leaning his forehead against her arm and muttering something about how stupid the two were. Toph couldn't agree more. "I've been working my ass off! And maybe you've forgotten, water peasant," Sokka stiffened at her side, and Toph worriedly bit down on her lip, "but I was right there with you. Hell, I was in exile for a long time before I joined up with you!"
"Trust me, Zuzu," Katara drawled scathingly, and Toph was painfully reminded of Azula, "we all remember that."
The Fire Lord fumbled for words, inarticulate sounds tumbling past his lips as he struggled against his wounded pride, rage, and remorse, not knowing which emotion to exhibit. Triumphantly, Katara folded her arms to her chest, and Sokka again nudged Toph's arm, a motion that was truthfully starting to annoy her. Sending him an impatient glance, she then turned towards Zuko, who was now running his hands through his hair in defeat, if her ears didn't betray her.
"I'm not trying to hurt you or your people," he said softly, and Toph couldn't take it anymore. Zuko had repented for his sins; there was no call for Katara to hold them over his head until he died. "But I can't give you any special treatment just because I…" He hesitated, and Toph's ears perked up. She could feel the thrum of his heartbeats resound on the surface of the earth, and that was all she needed to know – her suspicions were confirmed. "…because we're friends. People in my own nation are suffering from poverty. People in Ba Sing Se still have to recover from the destruction of their wall and the uprooting of power there. The Air Nomads…" he hesitated, and she felt Aang shift uncomfortably as Zuko turned his attention their way. "There's so much we have to repay. So I can't--"
"You can't let my people die," she snapped, though her voice was thick with emotion.
"I know that. Your people are as much mine as they are yours now."
"Wrong! You will never know the love of my people. You will never understand!"
"Why?" His voice was deadly quiet. "Because Fire Nation is a nation of monsters?"
Silence descended upon the campsite, and uncomfortably Aang shifted at her side, wanting more than anything to play the peacemaker and butt into their fighting. However, knowing that that would only intensify the argument – seeing as, at this point, Aang seemed as though he sided with Zuko, which would only further enrage an already agitated Katara – Toph placed a firm hand on his shoulder and forced him back into a crouch. Sokka, beside her, nervously twiddled with his hands, unsettled probably as much by the tension as he was by the thought of losing his bet.
Katara, however, snapped out of her shock. "That's not what I meant."
"It's what you said," he remarked stiffly.
"What I said was you, who never really knew the love of a family--"
"I had a mother, Katara!" he shouted. "A mother who loved me. I wasn't just some demon spawn, as you tend to believe!"
"I don't believe that!" she shrieked, and Toph groaned as she tilted her right cheek further into her palm, digging her nails into Aang's shoulder. This was never going to stop. The two were going to fight until the next huge war rejoined them as allies. "You don't know anything about me, Zuko! If you did, you wouldn't--"
"Oh, gods," Aang muttered under his breath. In contrast, Sokka was leaning eagerly forward, excited that his sister had, once more, taken the reins in the argument. Toph rolled her eyes in his direction in irritation.
"I'm just asking for help! A little help!" Katara's shrill voice rang through her thoughts, and she switched back to where the waterbender stood, stamping her foot as she clenched her fists and fought to get her way. "I never ask you for anything, Zuko. I can normally do it on my own!" Sokka shifted beside her, slightly offended. Toph didn't blame him. "Just do this for me – for the Water Tribe."
Zuko sighed wearily, and Toph narrowed her eyes. "What am I supposed to do, Katara?" There was still a slight challenge in his tone, but resignation edged in more than anything, and that just wouldn't do for Toph. Katara wasn't going to win again. She tried so hard, the earthbender wouldn't deny that, but when she started selfishly exploiting the softness in Zuko' heart for her, as well as his need to repay the nations for his previous misdeeds, Toph drew the line.
Straightening, she gently released Aang from her hold and breathed a calming breath outward, settling her hands comfortably on her knees. Her toes gently prodded the earth for a moment as she took comfort in the feel of it on her bare skin, and the airbender at her side sent her an incredulous look as he began to recognize her earthbending preparation. Luckily, Sokka was as distracted as ever.
"Toph," Aang whispered warningly, and she sent him a smirk. Before he could protest, she swiftly stamped her foot down, and the ripple of earth shot across the ground towards Zuko's feet. Her friend groaned and covered his face as he watched Zuko trip, and Toph leaned back triumphantly. She listened to the magnanimous Fire Lord curse like a schoolboy as his hands slipped against Katara's shoulders, and then his body collided with hers by force of the momentum before he could catch his balance.
When Aang squeaked and Sokka leapt to his feet sputtering words of outrage, Toph knew that her aim hadn't been off. She could only imagine the look on Sugar Queen's face as Zuko's hands curled into the sleeves of her dress and he stared with horror into her eyes as their lips remained connected.
"Katara!" Sokka cried shrilly, and Toph's grin widened as the two suddenly leapt away, Zuko's heart shuddering in his chest as he hastily offered apologies, bowing again and again as his hair flopped into his face. Katara, for her part, panted in surprise as her hand fluttered over her chest; a mixture of confusion and pleasure radiated down into the earth through her feet.
In embarrassment, the Fire Lord slowly rose and cleared his throat, pointedly looking away from all four of them. "I lost control of my feet. I tripped and--"
"Tripped, my ass!" Sokka spluttered. "You just threw yourself at my baby sister!"
"Sokka!" Katara interrupted, albeit a bit breathlessly. "I can handle this." Stiffly, she stomped forward and grabbed hold of Zuko's wrist. The poor boy tripped at her heels helplessly as she hauled him behind her, trudging towards the trees and out of eyesight. Again, Toph smirked – she had a feeling that arguing was the furthest from the waterbender's mind at the moment. That was, if the elated skip of her heartbeat meant anything at all…
"I win," she piped up simply when Katara's and Zuko's footsteps had faded from her hearing range.
"You did not!" Sokka protested, whirling on her as she stood to face him, casually brushing at the tail end of her shirt. Brandishing an arm, he pointed off towards the forest, the gust of wind fanning her face, and glared at her while saying, "He just jumped my sister! Obviously she's going to beat the crap out of him!"
"Whatever you say, Snoozles," she said in a bored tone, looking down to idly clean her chewed and ragged nails. "But, even if they do argue, that wasn't the argument we bet on, was it? And clearly, Zuko won this one by shutting her up."
Sokka faltered, his arm slowly falling to his side. "You. You cheated!"
Grinning cheekily, she glanced up. "I don't know what you mean."
"He couldn't have tripped. He was standing still."
"Why, Sokka," she said in a faux-innocent voice, "how would I be able to tell where he was standing so that I could perfectly earthbend him to where Katara was? I'm blind, remember? That's just impossible."
"Forget it. Forget it! I'm not going through with this. You're a rotten cheater."
"Do you have proof?" she asked, and as Aang moved forward she absently punched him in the arm as warning. After yelping, he obediently clamped his lips shut. "Hmm?" Still, Sokka didn't answer, though he folded his arms angrily. "That's what I thought."
"I can't believe you." With a heavy sigh, he uncrossed his arms and set his fingers through his hair, which he'd taken to wearing loose when he wasn't sparring or fighting. "Well, what was your wager? Let's just get this over with…"
Grinning, she reached out and gently grabbed his collar. "You sure you want to do this now?" she asked, pulling him down so that she wouldn't have to stand on her toes to face him.
Sarcastically, he muttered, "That'd be nice, Toph. I'd rather not be humiliated in front of the Fire Nation's most powerful ruler…and my sister." Hesitating, he looked to where the Avatar stood. "Uh, Aang, if you could go, too, that'd be great."
"No," he said cheerfully, crossing his arms. "I'll watch."
Sokka sighed, and his breath brushed against her face, making her cheeks tingle. His hands flexing at his sides, he looked back to her, and her grip on his collar slackened just slightly when her confidence waned. Quickly arranging her expression into one of smugness, though, she curled her fingers tight and decided on pushing up on her toes anyway, crushing their lips together before the Water Tribe warrior in front of her could protest. Aang, the spectator, choked.
Pulling away rapidly, her face awash with a blush, she rubbed her hand against her nose and sharply turned away from him. "Consider us even, Snoozles," she remarked shakily, walking stiffly away. "And next time, think twice before you challenge me?"
Sokka remained as he had been, arms hanging limply and mouth open in surprise. Scratching idly at her neck, she allowed herself a goofy smile, as well as the smug satisfaction that, in one day, she'd forced Zuko and Katara to quit their childish quarrels and admit their feelings, as well as managed to wheedle a kiss from Sokka.
A triumphant grin split her face when Aang's laughter suddenly rang out, clear and true.
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And finished. Please review!