I sat on the fraying fringes of Zuko's coronation. The edge of my shawl was about as worn out as I was, and all I wanted to do was go back to my new room and sleep off the sips of cactus juice I had (at least I could hold my own better than Snoozles).
Through sightless eyes I watched the intricate steps of the dances and wondered over how people could move so seamlessly together. I debated against trying to find my way through the labyrinth of hallways and chambers, instead leaning against the wall.
I sighed. I should be showing more enthusiasm, since Zuko was letting us all live in his palace. Anything was better than going back to my family, and staying with my new "family" was a comforting thought. They all had special places in my heart, but none was as close to me as Zuko (and his stupid bob thing in his hair that I made him take out so that his hair was the way Katara liked). Immediately he had taken me under his wing, knowing instinctively that I could (mostly) fight my own battles.
He was sitting on his throne-thing with Mai next to him. I was happy for him since he had loved Mai all along and as just getting the chance to really be there for her. Katara and Aang were out on the dance floor and their steps sounded almost the exact shade of delicate.
So where's Snoozles? I thought, a bit worried I have to admit. I searched the room's vibrations, looking for the one that felt almost as familiar as my own. "Snoozles…?" I called out under my breath. "Oh, Sokka…?"
"Surprise." I jumped up in surprise as he spoke from behind me.
"Don't do that!" I huffed, speaking as much to him as to my frantically beating heart. After calming down, I searched the nearest vibrations. "Where's Suki?"
"I don't know," was his lame excuse, and he knew that I could tell it was a lie.
"Tell me, Snooz…Sokka."
He sighed, settling himself against the wall like me. "Off with Haru. Remember him? The guy that Katara met in the Earth Kingdom before we found you?"
I nodded, remembering the stories.
"Yeah, well they apparently have 'a lot in common'." I could tell from his tone that Suki had told him something along those lines.
"I'm here for you." I said, adding quietly: "I know what it's like to love someone who doesn't love you."
He reached an arm out to put around my shoulders, but it was too much for me. I was sick of this party, sick of being blind, sick of him in some odd way. I shot an angry glare in Zuko's general direction and ran out to the garden, tears streaming down my face.
I followed the now almost-familiar twists and turns until I got to the area Zuko had shown me earlier.
"Here, Toph," he had said, pushing me through a door-like hole in the hedges. "This is an area just for you. Feel the metal pipes in the ground?" I nodded. "Those are the boundary markers. Everything inside them is for you to do what ever you want with them."
It was a huge area, bigger than even the courtyard at my family's estate. "For me?" I asked, still not comprehending what he said.
"Yes, Tophy." He laughed, using the nickname that only he could get away with. "For you." He left then, knowing I had memorized every step from my room to here.
Immediately I set up stone benches and flower pots as a perimeter, and then cleared away loose rocks and pebbles in the middle so I had a training area. Though I couldn't see it, the gasps from Katara when she walked by were encouragement enough.
Now I collapsed in the middle of the training area, letting the tears fall freely and the sobs wrack my body. I stayed that way for a long time, not quite caring that my dress was getting dirt on it. A healthy coating of dirk, I thought to myself with a humorless laugh.
Footsteps outside my sanctuary snapped me out of my daze momentarily. Zuko and Sokka, by the sound of the footsteps. "If you make her cry one more time in the next ten minutes – and trust me, I will be counting down to the very milliseconds – I will personally kill you," Zuko threatened, standing in front of the entryway.
I felt Sokka nod his head and heard the whispered vow: "If I do make her cry, I might just let you kill me."
There was a half-hearted punch to the shoulder, and then Zuko was gone. I tried to hold back the new sobs –for Sokka's sake, I thought- as the footsteps got closer and closer to me.
"Toph?" he called out anxiously. "Toph, are you okay? What happened back there?"
"Go away," I whispered, voice still thick with tears. "Please, Sokka, just leave me alone."
Instead of (wisely) listening to me, he plopped in the dirt next to me. "Toph…" I had to bite my lip harder to stop from crying. The metallic taste on blood was on my tongue, but at that moment I could have cared less.
"Why are you here?" I asked softly, trying to bring the tough-talking Toph back from wherever she was hiding inside me. Come out, come out wherever you are! I called throughout myself.
"For this." He gestured all around the courtyard, finally stopping with his hand to my cheek. "For you. You left so suddenly. Before I could run after you, Zuko burned the tip of my shirt and told me off for making you cry."
"I heard you outside the garden."
His hands now held my face tenderly. "What I said was true. If I make you cry, it'd be a good plan to just let old Sparky hit me with a few fire balls." Gently, he wiped away my silently falling tears and pulled me up beside him.
Hands were on my waist, forehead to mine. "Toph…" he whispered, full of longing and sadness. "May I…?"
I nodded silently, a little afraid myself of what was about to happen. He pressed his lips to mine. After a few moments I pulled back quickly, capturing his hand in mine. "C'mon, Snoozles mine. We're off to be wall flowers together."
If only I could have seen the grin on his face that was identical to mine.
Back at the party, when we walked in hand-in-hand, I heard the sound of Katara's body slumping to the ground and Zuko going to her side to help her. We walked past, and he grabbed my free hand and gave it a warm squeeze. "Finally," he whispered in my ear quickly, "you've both gotten over yourselves."