We were all gathered around the camp fire, watching Toph in earnest. "It's really not that special of a day, guys," she tried to say. "Just my 13th birthday, that's all. Not even that big of one."
I shook my head but said nothing. I hadn't been in the group long enough to go, "Oh, Toph, it was nothing!" like everyone else. The pile of presents in front of her was small but impressive. They were all wrapped in shades from the gift-giver's Nation. Two blue, one yellow, one red. "Just open them," I whispered, knowing she could hear me, as I stared into the fire in front of her.
She nodded mutely and grabbed the nearest one. Yellow. Aang's. The paper and ribbons fell away, but before I could glimpse what it was I heard her exclaim "Twinkle Toes! Thank you!" in genuine happiness.
There was a backpack made of soft hide the color of melted butter. I guessed it would be almost as smooth as it looked. Aang just blushed, shrugging his shoulders as if to say it didn't matter.
The other two presents were opened in much the same manner, only you could see real compassion for the little Earthbender in the eyes of Katara and Sokka. It was almost as if Toph had been part of their family forever.
From Katara there was a set of hair ties. "So I can do your hair like when we crashed the party in Ba Sing Se." This earned a giggle from the new teenager. I smiled to myself, thinking how beautiful they both must have looked, all done up in borrowed finery.
"Thank you, Katara. Can you do it right now?" The Waterbender nodded and moved to sit behind Toph, taking her hair and twisting this way and that.
While this was going on, a very eager Sokka was practically bouncing out of his seat. "Snoozles?" Toph asked in that soft and sarcastic manner of her's that she only used when talking to him.
"Open it!" he rushed out, shoving his package in her waiting arms. "The first one is for when I teach you to hunt and the other is for when I teach you to swim!"
Bundled together was a boomerang like his and a jade green swim suit. Toph made a face, blushing like mad, before looking up at Sokka through white-green eyes. "Thank you." I love you was what I heard in the tone of her voice.
"Eh, no problem." I love you too.
It was inevitable now. There was no way I could get away with taking her gift now and running away to find something worthy of her. I looked into her curious blind eyes and saw concern. "Something wrong, Sparky?"
"Yes," I wanted to say. "You're too beautiful for this." And she was. With her bangs out of the way and the braids, Toph looked…well, very un-Toph like. Instead, I stood up slightly and pushed the box towards her.
"What…?" Sokka asked from beside me. "Why are there holes in the box, Zuko?"
"Just watch," I said, eyes never leaving her face.
The lid was pulled back, the tissue paper ripped away. Her face softened as she sensed the little thing in the box. "It's a tigerbear cub." Awe filled her voice. "Zuko…"
I just lounged a bit more against the log behind me, trying to look like I didn't crave her approval. Though, I really did. I don't know what I would do if the little Earthbender, the little girl who punched her way into my life, the little girl who was a toughness and hard words and delicate features…I don't know what I would do if she didn't like the little tigerbear cub.
Suddenly, much too quick for me to realize before it happened, she was in my lap. Hugging me tightly around the waist, tears fell. "She's perfect, Zuko. She's absolutely perfect. She's…Arie."
And she let herself become more vulnerable, more of the little girl she was convinced she would never be, as she hugged me still and fell dead asleep on with her head on my shoulder.
-- -- --
AN: My birthday present to myself and all of you! Written as I went into my next year. Prompt? Surely someone's bound to have a birthday in the Gaang!
Oh, and did you squint and see the Tokka? I hear it's rare in these parts. xD
I'm not really happy with the ending. (and if there's no such thing as a tigerbear in the Avatar universe, don't look at me. I just made something up.) I wish I had a more climactic end to it all...