Explanation: Because every other Avatard has written a spar fic with their ship and I felt pathetically left out.
Warning: I wrote the dialogue before I even had any semblance of a plot and I liked it so well that I couldn't bring myself to change it. Alert me immediately if you think it seems too patchy.
"First to fall." Toph announced a little too loudly, a challenge in the set of her mouth, the quirk of her eyebrow.
They were perfectly fair terms, of course. It was her expression (gleeful, superior, restless) that made Zuko hesitate.
"Let's go." He said, his suspicion leaking into his words. Her smirk was dangerously close to a sneer; something she knew aggravated him (she had the terrible ability to imitate Azula-esque expressions). He twitched in irritation. Toph replied by slipping into a full-scale sneer, complemented by her infamous eye-roll. Of course. She was goading him. He took a deep breath and settled into his stance. He would win this time.
"You sure you're ready for this, Sparkbender?"
"Bring it on, Pebble Queen."
Sparring was always fun for Toph, but after fighting musclemen with inflated egos time and again, it became… well, routine. A word Toph had sworn would never describe her lifestyle. That's why when Zuko asked if she wanted to "practice" she found it so hard to contain her delight. The royal families of each nation were only able to maintain their thrones by being the best. Iroh had told her all about the Fire Nations' royal lineage during their weekly tea after she'd asked, "Okay, so I'm obviously the best earthbender in the world. Duh. And Katara and Aang are both pretty much prodigies. But who's the greatest firebender in the world?" After his three-hour history lesson she'd come to the conclusion that Iroh himself was the best but, hard as she tried, she could not convince him to spar with her. Even after she'd employed her very best persuasion tactics; accusing him of trying to shelter the little blind girl, being afraid of a little blind girl, etcetera. He insisted he was "retired" and asked her if she'd like to try a new flavor of tea.
So with Iroh off the list, she'd turned to the only other non-psychopathic member of the royal family. Zuko. He was perfect for the job; vain, temperamental, easy to goad and best of all, insecure. Not insecure in a weakling pathetic way, just inconsistent, less sure of himself than all those hyped-up major-league benders. He was open to learning, and he wouldn't totally flip out for messing up a punch or something, because it wasn't wrong to him, it was just new. He didn't have a routine. Each fight with him completely unlike the last.
But this time was unlike the others on a different level, not only did he seem to know where he was going, he jumped straight into the fight. He was completely focused on attacking. Someone had switched on his offence without her even noticing. And damn, did he make a good offence. He played dirtier than anyone she'd ever met in the rink. His steps were light and fast, half the time she couldn't even tell where he was (she knew the general area, of course, but she couldn't get the full picture. He was just a fuzzy blob hopping from tree to tree). Worse than his tree hoping was where he aimed, always low, so she could feel the smoke curl around her toes. He was taunting her. Every move of his was all but screaming at her, "You feel this, Toph? This is you loosing." He wasn't even hitting her! It was the most humiliating spar she'd ever had. It made her incredibly angry. Fine, she thought with a real wickedness rising from her blistered toes and settling in her gut, I can play dirty too.
She bent forward into a running stance and plunged her hands into the ground, feeling the wet earth harden around her fists and forearms. Once her gauntlets were complete she sunk the rest on her body into the ground and tunneled her way to Zuko, who had finally settled on the ground. Big mistake, buddy, she thought, trying not to laugh and give her position away (or end up eating the dirt). When she had gone far enough underground (about twenty yards) she guessed she'd be directly in front of him. She was right.
When she surfaced from the earth, she found herself in the circle of his arms, her dirt-smeared face in embarrassingly close proximity to his bare chest. They both stood still long enough to make the situation awkward. Zuko stunned, Toph annoyed and slightly flustered. Her embarrassment acted as a drain for her anger, leaving only a little trace of her earlier wickedness. But it was enough.
Zuko's brain raged with a ballistic sort of excitement, like his mind might explode with the force of his thoughts, leaving them like broken glass that can never truly come together as a whole again. It was stunning to him. As he looked down at her, he realized how stunning she was. He looked harder and found it wasn't hard to focus on the most minute details of her being; the crust of dried tears stuck to her lashes from a restless night of sleep, the dirt smeared across her cheekbones, her eyes reminded him of songs and begged him to keep silent so he could just listen to them sing for her. But it seemed that she was already speaking, those parted petal lips meant for whispers, but used for taunts. He tried to hear but he couldn't seem to draw his mind away from his discovery of her.
It was completely overwhelming. And the strangest thing was, to know that irritable, solid, eccentric, reckless, alive Toph was the one that was sending his mind into a frenzy. She was so unlike anyone he'd met, he's always known that, but now, with her almost in her arms, she was somehow more real (not that she'd been fake before, she was the most down-to-earth person he'd ever met, then and now). But now she was real to him, not out of reach, not an untouchable goddess to be wary of, just a girl who liked to laugh, and prank and maybe even drink a little too much for no reason. Perfectly flawed and here.
He didn't want her in the way most men want a woman (not to say he would turn that down, should the opportunity arise), so much as he wanted to be around her. For longer, for forever, even. He wanted to speak, to tell her to stay with him, so they could spar and laugh and sneak into town to drink and gamble, to make fun of all the pompous ambassadors and wealthy travelers who came to visit the Fire Lord. He opened his mouth to tell her so, but gasped. The most incredible pain was spreading from his middle. He started to stumble backwards but was forcefully tackled to the ground before he could even work out what had happened.
Being so close to Zuko, feeling his heat roll off of him with every heart beat, she started thinking of him… differently. He wasn't just her angst-ridden, oh-so-easy-to-piss-off, firebending friend he was, well, an actual man. It was ridiculous, really. He was the Fire Lord, wasn't he? Busy with Fire Lordy-things and serious duties (ew). Not a very attractive atmosphere. Plus, he still reeked of the whole tragic, angsty war hero vibe. But credit where credit is due, he had turned down the angst level a tad.
She drifted off into less appropriate thoughts for a moment; what his hair feel like in her hands, whether or not he was a good kisser, was he aggressive or gentle… she continued in this state for a few moments before shaking her head forcefully.
Finally, gathering her senses, she punched him in the gut.
He looked up at her, (a confusing prospect, dazed as he was it took a moment to comprehend that he had fallen) at a smile filled with wicked intentions that made him shiver in her hold.
She was perched on his ribcage like a dark crow-hawk ready to nick his cheeks with her quick black beak, her stinging wit. Her teasing was so precise, too close to the truth to be comfortable.
She leaned into him, and for an absurd moment he thought she intended to kiss him.
"I win." She whispered, her lips moving against his cheek. He was gasping for breath, she was laughing. She waited until the threat of him having a heart attack passed, to make her demands.
"Say it!" She shouted in great triumph. He almost smiled at her, at her blushing cheeks and shining eyes. Almost. Then he remembered their deal, and he sighed heavily.
"Toph is almighty, glorious and taller than ten platypus-bears stacked on top of each other. Zuko is an arrogant, snobbish, uptight old geezer. Hey, I'm only 19!"
"You're a workaholic, paranoid, pompous, traditionalist. You've got geezer written all over you, buddy. I bet you even have wrinkles."
"I do not have wrinkles!"
"Liar," She grinned and squeezed his sides with her knees. He groaned and tried to shift under her weight. "S'okay Zuko, I won't tell anyone your little secret," she winked, "Except Sokka."
"Alright, I've paid your price. Now, could you please get off me before something breaks?"
Toph gasped, "Are you saying I'm fat?!" she said, sounding appropriately scandalized.
Zuko winced, remembering the last time he had "insulted" Toph. She took "you look pretty, Toph" as an attempt at sarcasm and promptly informed Sokka that "Zuko said I was hideous. I think he's in need of a good beating, don't you agree?" The Earth Kingdom ambassador had laughed out loud when he saw his black eye at a council meeting, saying "Give Toph my regards" and burst into laughter at random intervals throughout the meeting before Zuko kicked him out. To top it off her co-conspirator (Sokka) had taken him aside for a "talk" which consisted of a not-so-subtle threats and a short lesson on "manners" which made him laugh. This earned him another black eye from Toph who informed him that laughing at "her man" was forbidden.
"I'll have to think about it." She informed him in a deep mock-serious voice and began to tap her fingers against his collarbone (pinky to ring to middle to pointer and back). His heart was taking a loud, dizzying tour of his chest. Seeking the exact spot where her small fingers were resting. He wanted her to stay there, on top of him, her hand now on his heart. He'd go so far as to say he needed her to stay. That made him even more convinced to get her off. If she didn't get off soon, he would feel all the more empty when she finally did. He let her "think about it" for several minutes before loosing his patience.
"Are you going to let me up or not?" He
"What? Oh, sorry. I'd completely forgotten about you, I was wondering if it was going to rain anytime soon. What do you think?" She said conversationally.
"I think you should get off." He replied, trying to keep calm.
"Oh, Spark Lord, how petty you are. And when I say you are a petty man, I mean it with all my heart."
"Yeah, well, your breath stinks." He retorted lamely.
"Must be the sonic wave residue. I've been trying to get a good look at you ever since they told me about that lovely scar of yours." She bent down over his face and roared (spitting in his eye in the process). Leaning back she gave him a pitying look and shook her head in mock-sympathy, "Just as I suspected. As a friend I feel it's my duty to inform you: you're hideous, Zuko. Positively nauseating, you're lucky I have such a strong stomach. Really, I'm not sure I can be seen in public with you anymore."
"Oh I wouldn't worry about that. I'll look like a beauty queen next to you." He said gruffly, his vanity offended.
"Narcissist" She snorted, unfazed by the insult. She was right. And it sort of hurt, but it also made him want to laugh. So he did. She looked confused. It made him laugh harder.
She poked him in the eye, "Hey! Let me in on the joke Petty One." He scowled and rubbed his stinging eye. She'd probably gotten dirt in it.
"No. You poked my eye." He said in a defiant, almost childish, tone. It was her turn to laugh. Really laugh. She threw back her head and howled in laughter. It was infectious. He tried not to join her, really, he did. He even bit his lip but the chuckle escaped anyways. Once she'd sobered, she faced him with a very serious expression, "Zuko, I hate to say it, but you are a very uncomfortable person to sit on."
"Then maybe you should get off." He growled. Not that he was insulted, she was just teasing him after all.
"The way I figure it, having me squish you is softening you up a bit, like pounding meat. You should be thankful. Your wife sure will be."
"I don't have a wife." He hoped he didn't sound bitter.
"Hmm… maybe that's because you're not SOFT ENOUGH."
"I feel soft now, thankyouverymuch. You can get off."
"But now that you're soft you are a comfortable person to sit on. So I am faced with a dilemma; get off the soft, comfortable man or —"
"That's it! Off, off, off!" He dug his elbows and heels into the ground and sprang upward… with Toph still wrapped around him. Her head was wedged in the crook of his neck, her hair stuck to his sweaty face and her legs wrapped tightly around his middle. He stood there for a moment before trying to speak. Instead, he choked on her hair.
"That…is…not what…I…meant…when I said get off!" He wheezed, wiping sweat and strands of hair out of his face.
"Oops. My bad." She grinned up at him from her spot on the ground. He spat out some more hair and grinned back, knowing she could feel it.
"So much for old geezer, eh?" Toph just smiled and punched the ground.
"We'll see." She said to the Fire Lord now sprawled across her legs.
With his face in the dirt and Toph's knees digging into his stomach, Zuko came to a conclusion: the devil is blind. And he loved her.
I am a fickle being. Sometimes I toyed with the idea of making it more serious, while I still wanted to keep it light and funny. So I ended up writing a lot of different little scenes that I linked together in a way that's newer to me. Drop me a line and let me know if I got it right. Or wrong. Pick and choose. Whatever fits for fancy.