Disclaimer: Avatar: the Last Airbender belongs to Nickelodeon and Bryke, not me.
"Sokka, please," Katara said softly. She touched his arm lightly. "Please don't look like that."
Sokka glanced back at her. "You know I didn't want to come," he said.
"You couldn't stay there," Katara said. "Not in that empty house."
Sokka closed his eyes. "I know."
"Look who finished her lunch," Katara's husband said. He stepped into the room, his little daughter balanced on his hip.
Katara held out her arms. "Come to your mama," she cooed. "Were you a good girl and eat all your vegetables?"
"Yes!" Yonah said, nodding emphatically. She had her father's dark hair and her mother's clear eyes. Katara kissed her soft warm cheek. "I can play now?"
"You can play now," Katara said, sliding Yonah off her knees. The four-year-old scooted to the floor and made a beeline for the small chest of toys. Katara turned to her husband. "She didn't eat her vegetables, did she?"
"Not a one."
Sokka stretched his elbows. "So are we going to tour the village?" he asked.
"Yonah's not coming, is she, Zuko?" Katara said.
"We'll put Yonah down for a nap first, then we'll leave," Zuko said. "Sokka, do you want to put her to bed?"
Sokka knew without looking that Katara and Zuko were exchanging glances that meant "we should discuss your brother." He stood up "Sure," he said. He pulled his niece up and tossed her in the air, eliciting a loud burst of giggling. "Come on, Yonah, time for a nap."
"No, Uncle Sokka!" Yonah wailed, laughing as Sokka threw her over the shoulder. She pummeled his broad shoulders with tiny thumps that bounced off uselessly. He carried her into the nursery they'd set up in the rented house.
"All right, little princess," he said, setting her down in the crib. Yonah scowled in a manner quite reminiscent of her mother. Sokka pulled off the little girl's shoes. "Sleepy time."
"No," Yonah pouted.
"Yes," Sokka said. He closed the curtains, shadowing the room. Yonah yawned. He leaned over the crib and draped her blanket over her shoulders. "Goodnight, little one." She snuggled into her pillows as he closed the door behind him.
Katara curled up on Zuko's lap, tangling her fingers in his hair. Sokka cleared his throat. "Yonah's in her crib," he said.
"Sokka, I know you didn't want to come, but-"
Sokka waved his sister's hands away. "Let's just go, okay?" he said. "If Aang said we needed to check out this village for ourselves, obviously we to do it. So let's go."
Katara and Zuko exchanged another married-couple look. He ignored them and brushed past. They followed him.
"Aang told me this city has yet to recover from the war," Zuko said. He offered his arm to his wife and she took it gracefully. "Many people abandon their children and spouses in order to start a new life."
"That's awful," Katara said. "What happens to the children?"
"They live on the streets," Zuko said. "Some of them spend their times raiding the farms on the outskirts of town, but there's been a drought. Few of the farms have had decent crops in a long time."
Sokka glanced at their surroundings. They walked towards the edges of the village, through the dirty scorched streets and the cramped filthy alleyways. Thin children in ragged clothing lurked in the doorways. He noticed some wore green armbands, and others wore red bandanas around their foreheads. Gang symbols, he thought.
"The sad thing is, most of these families were once nobles," Zuko said.
"How did nobles get all the way out here?" Sokka asked. "There's no big estates in the area."
"They're Earth Kingdom nobles who aligned too closely with Fire Lord Ozai," Zuko said. "When he fell, they fell too. They lost everything."
The packed dirt streets faded into dusty paths. Fields bleached brown in the oppressive sun stretched on and on, peppered by small tumbledown houses. Sometimes they passed by farmers struggling to gather their meager crops.
"Zuko, I think we should put in an irrigation system," Katara said. "Isn't there a river nearby? We could divert it."
Sokka looked over. A young woman stood in the midst of a sunflower field, standing smaller than the parched flowers. A long thick braid hung down her narrow back, and her slender legs were bare to the midcalf. She strained to pull down a heavy bobbing head and pluck the seeds. He paused. There was something familiar about her.
"Would it hurt the surrounding land if we changed the path of the river?" Zuko asked.
The young woman- a girl, really- tucked a strand of hair behind her in a familiar gesture. She bent slowly to pick up a flat basket from the ground, and Sokka realized with a start that she was heavily pregnant. His chest tightened.
"I don't think so," Katara said. "The river empties into a lake. If we just made the river thinner, the water can be spread further."
The girl turned around. Rosy sunburn spread over her pale cheeks. Her eyes stared past them in a familiar unperturbed gaze.
"Toph," Sokka whispered.
Katara halted. "What?"
The girl in the sunflower field froze. Her small hand went instinctively to her round belly.
"That's Toph, I think that's Toph!" Sokka said. She turned on her heel, heading towards the ramshackle farmhouse. Sokka leaped over the fence and grabbed her by the wrist. The young woman's seafoam colored eyes shone in her small face.
"Let go of me," she said fiercely, trying to pry away from his grasp while keeping her arm wrapped tightly around her round tummy.
"Toph, it's me," Sokka said. He cupped her chin in his hands. "It's Sokka."
Her blank, hollow eyes widened. "Sokka?" she repeated. She gripped his wrists, then relaxed and flashed a smile. "Well, what do you know. What are you doing here?"
"Aang told us this village needs help," he said.
A bitter look crossed her face. "This village has more help than anyone can give," she said.
"Is that really Toph?" Katara gasped. She flung her arms around the younger girl. "Toph, we've missed you!" She stepped back. "Are you really-"
"I'm eight and a half months along," Toph sighed.
Katara laughed and patted Toph's round belly. "You're almost there," she said. "When I had Yonah-"
"Yonah?" Toph said. "There's a Sugar Princess now?"
Zuko cleared his throat. "A Fire princess, actually," he said.
Toph turned towards the sound of his voice. "Zuko," she said. She flung her arms around his neck. Sokka smiled bitterly. He'd forgotten how close those two had become.
"You're not allowed to have a baby," Zuko said. "You're just…I mean, you're a baby yourself!"
"I'm twenty-two," she retorted. She tilted her head to the side. "Wait…if you have a Fire princess, than that means…"
"We were married five years ago," Katara said, smiling up at her husband.
Toph's smile twisted. "Five years ago," she said. "What have you been up to, Sokka?" He faced her shoulder as she didn't bother to turn around. He'd forgotten about that quirk of hers.
"You know, leading the southern water tribe, keeping those two crazy lovebirds in line. The usual," Sokka said in his old, breezy, off-handed way.
Toph opened her mouth to say something. Sokka's lungs constricted. If she asked him about-
"Toph! Where are you?" a brash voice hollered.
Toph's face blanched under her sunburn. "Who's that?" Katara asked.
"My husband," Toph said.
A short, wiry man ambled out from behind the house. Sokka glared at him. Thin, slack-jawed, and bleary eyed, he had to be at least ten years older than Toph. "What're you doing, talking to strangers?" he asked. "We need to get the harvest in."
Toph rolled her sightless eyes. "First of all, we don't have to worry about the sunflowers getting ruined by rain," she said. "Second of all, this is Prince Zuko and Princess Katara. Shouldn't you show some kind of respect?"
He gaped at her. "You aren't."
"Yes, well, we know Toph," Sokka snapped. Something about this man rubbed Sokka the wrong way. He couldn't fathom why Toph would pick this man.
"We've come to see how we can help your village," Zuko said.
He laughed, a harsh barking sound. "You can torch it," he suggested. "There's not much left."
Toph dropped back, standing behind her husband, her small hands resting on her stomach. "But we want to help," Katara said. "I think we can redirect the flow of the river and provide irrigation for your fields."
Toph's husband laughed again. "Seriously, just torch this place," he said. He took Toph by the elbow. "Now, if you'll excuse us, my wife and I have to keep up with our harvest."
"I'm sorry, we don't know your name," Katara said pleasantly.
"Xian Li Shan," he said. "Formerly Lord Li Shan." He cuffed Toph on the chin; she jerked her head back, struggling to hide her scowl and not doing a very good job. "And I suppose you already know my wife."
Sokka looked at her. He recognized that firm lock of her jaw. Why on earth did she choose him as her husband? What does she see in him?
"Toph, do you think you could come and visit with us?" Katara asked.
"I don't know," she said in a low voice.
"I can't spare her," Xian said. "The merchants are passing through next week and we need to have the harvest done. Besides, Toph, who's going to look after your father? Surely you're not expecting me to-"
"We'd be happy to stay," Zuko said. "Sokka and I can get the harvest in faster than Toph can."
Xian glanced from his small wife to the two strong warriors. "I guess," he relented.
Katara took Toph by the hand. "We'll be at the house, then," she said. They strolled down the dusty street, Toph walking slower than Sokka even remembered her moving.
"There's scythes over there," Xian said. "Pull the sunflowers and scrape the seeds out. Toph spreads them out to dry over there." He pointed to a line of burlap sacks lying in the sun. He turned and traipsed back towards the house.
"Well," Zuko said. "My opinion is not very high."
Sokka gritted his teeth and pulled down a heavy sunflower bloom.
I actually wrote (and finished) this story back in April 2008, lo-o-o-o-ong before they aired the finale. Hence the Zutara, and the Zutarian daughter named Yonah. (Read my oneshot Last Night to figure that one out.)
This is also the first rated-T story I've ever written. You'll see why in…I think it's chapter 12, but I'm not sure.
So yes. Ten years has gone by since the war ended. Zuko is twenty-seven, Sokka is twenty-six, Katara is twenty-five, Aang (who is alive, but doesn't show up very much in here!) is twenty-three, and Toph is twenty-two. Why the age gaps? Because I'm fairly certain that by the time the Gaang met up with Toph, they had already hit some birthdays. And I have the sneaking suspicion that she had just hit her twelfth birthday when they met. So that's how it works.
I'm going out on a bit of a limb with this story, so let me know what you think!