Author's Note: Big big thanks to my beta Hawkeye116! You're awesome. :)
Reviews are welcome and much appreciated.
Disclaimers: ATLA does not belong to me but to the creators Mike and Bryan. The lyrics I included in the fic are also not from me but from the musical Miss Saigon. The song is entitled "Sun and Moon." So don't sue!
Spring was indeed in the air. Or at least it felt like it. Toph, usually one of the last ones to wake up, started rising up earlier. She was also getting a little less grouchy. And probably the most surprising of all was she was grooming herself more often. Toph finally admitted to herself that she was changing. At just shy of thirteen years old, she readily acknowledged that she had a crush on someone. She was truly growing up!
That someone of course was Zuko – Crown Prince of the Fire Nation. She had hated him at first. She could compile all the wrongs he had done to them in the past. The worst was when he burned her feet. It was an accident, but it still hurt. She was glad though that she had persuaded the rest of the gang to accept him as Aang's Firebending teacher. Because if she did not let logic overcome the collective hurt he caused, then Aang would not have learned how to Firebend, or Suki and Hakoda would not have been rescued, or Katara would still be hung up over her mother's death, or—she wouldn't really realize how good it felt to like somebody.
They were in Ember Island, temporarily staying in the beach house of Zuko's family. It was so obvious that no one would look for them there. Sozin's Comet was going to appear in a few days. Everyone was practicing hard and making up strategies to finally end the war.
Toph was not really that nervous. She was confident in her skills and she knew she could take down more Fire Nation soldiers this time. What she was really nervous about was Zuko. Her little crush was getting to her, somewhat. She was afraid he (or everyone) would notice what was happening to her. She tried to keep her feelings down way, way low.
That morning, Toph was sitting on the porch "seeing"—or rather, feeling—Zuko train Aang. She kept her face neutral but inside she was laughing because Zuko was owning Aang. She heard footsteps behind her and, realizing who it was, she frowned. It was Katara. Probably she was mooning over Aang. Or maybe she was there to reprimand Zuko if he got too rough with Aang. Either way, she was glad for company. She wouldn't look too obvious.
Zuko noticed Katara's presence. Toph felt his movements slip up a little. That slip-up made an opening for Aang's attack. Aang hurled a fireball at Zuko, who tried to dodge it. The movement was too quick for him, and he ended up sitting on his behind.
Aang winced. "Zuko, are you okay?"
Katara rushed to Zuko's side, her water skins at the ready. Toph followed her but got a little annoyed at Katara's concern.
"Are you hurt?" Katara asked. She crouched to Zuko's level. Toph stood behind Katara while Aang meekly walked towards them.
Zuko's eyes darted from Aang's apologetic face to Katara's worried one. His expression softened at Katara's blue eyes as she frowned with concern. He felt all his blood go to his face.
"I'm fine. Aang got lucky," Zuko responded.
"That wasn't luck, I got you good," Aang disagreed.
"Yeah, Sparky. You slipped up. You let your guard down," Toph said, nodding. "What happened to you?"
"Nothing... I just lost focus for a while," Zuko said evasively. He avoided Katara's eyes.
"Well... If you feel any pain, just let me know," Katara said as she stood up.
"I will. Don't worry," Zuko replied.
"Come on, Zuko. One more round?" challenged Aang. He helped Zuko to his feet.
"Yeah, sure. I'll make you pay for that," Zuko cajoled. Aang laughed. "And Katara, thanks for the concern," he added.
Katara smiled. "You're welcome." Zuko smiled back.
Aang, enthusiastic from knocking Zuko off his feet, was eager for another round of sparring. He returned to his previous position and assumed a Firebending stance. Zuko did the same and hid a smile. Katara went back inside the house to prepare lunch. Toph meanwhile was still outside. The three of them were oblivious to her, preoccupied by their tasks. But Toph's mind was reeling. She left the two boys but did not go back inside the house. She went instead to the beach and sat down on the sand. She did not mind the "fuzziness" she felt whenever she stepped on the sand. Her realization was more pressing than her comfort.
Toph was proud of herself for being more logical than the rest of her friends. Her senses of feeling and hearing were better. How she missed that little detail was so unlike her. It was the last piece of the puzzle she was taking care not to solve because that would get her really disappointed. Since she was born rich; she could get things she wanted, although she had not turned out spoiled. But the thing she wanted right now, she knew she could not get.
Aang obviously liked Katara. A lot. But on the other hand, Katara was confused. And the final piece of the puzzle fit. Zuko liked Katara. And Toph liked Zuko.
It dawned on her that Zuko really had a thing for Katara. It started out with compliments thrown here and there with the occasional helping out with the chores. At first, Toph thought that Zuko was warming up to Katara's proffered olive branch. But that time she was too absorbed by her own vanity. The real reason why Zuko's heart was speeding up was Katara.
Toph balled up her fists in irritation. Why did those guys like Katara? Just because she was pretty and responsible and kind and.... Toph just growled in frustration. She could never be Katara. She wanted Zuko to notice her for being herself, but fat chance of that. She was still a kid. He only liked her as a little sister.
Maybe she could not charm him as Katara does but maybe she could devise a plan to make Zuko not like Katara anymore. Or make Katara convince Zuko that all she wanted was a platonic relationship. Either way, when Toph was done, there would be no more competition.
'But how?' she thought as she stood up and walked around the beach. But all the pacing did not help – she could not think of a thing. Frustrated, she went inside the house to see if Katara had finished preparing lunch. As she went to the kitchen, she heard a terrible singing voice.
"You are sunlight.... And I moon...."
It was Sokka, singing at the top of his voice, closely followed by Katara's shouts.
"Sokka! Shut up! I'm sick and tired of that song!"
Sokka stopped singing. "How can you be sick of this? You just heard this yesterday at the Ember Island Theater."
Katara rounded on him. "Because you've been singing that since we last left the theater! And you've been singing it until now! Now it's stuck in my head!"
"Aww.. Come on Katara, it's quite a catchy song," Sokka whined.
"Not if it's sung terribly!" Katara retorted.
Sokka was about to reply hotly but thankfully Suki intervened. "I think it's a wonderful song. I think Sokka just has a different interpretation." She smiled weakly at Katara. Sokka was still struggling to yell back at Katara but Suki was already pushing him away before chaos ensued.
"If I hear that song again, I swear I'm going to freeze the throat of anyone who sings it," Katara grumbled.
"So, you really hate that song, huh?" Toph asked, crossing her arms and leaning into the wall.
Katara turned around. "Oh, Toph. I didn't see you come in."
"What? Am I a cipher now?" she asked grumpily.
"No, of course not," Katara said kindly. "I'm sorry I didn't notice you. Sokka was getting on my nerves. He has sung that song a million times already!"
"So, anyway... Do you really hate that song?" Toph repeated, an idea forming in her head.
Katara frowned suspiciously. "I don't know. Maybe... And you care about this why?"
"Oh, nothing. Just asking."
Katara continued to survey Toph. "Okay then. Lunch is ready."
That afternoon, Toph found Zuko brooding on the porch. All she had to now was to lure Zuko into her trap. She approached him and sat next to him.
Zuko glanced at her briefly then turned his gaze away. "Oh hi, Toph. How's it going?"
"I'm alright," she answered.
"Do you need something?"
"Nah, I'm good."
"Well then, why are you here with me? Not that I dislike your company but it's like you're here for something," Zuko said, raising an eyebrow.
"You're right. I'm here for something. I'm just noticing that you like a special someone here in this house," Toph replied slyly.
"No, I don't," he answered flatly.
"Pretend all you want Sparky but I know what's going on." A hint of a smirk was creeping into Toph's usually inexpressive face.
Zuko looked at her and frowned. "Whatever that is Toph, I don't have time for that. And I really don't know what you're talking about," he added, although his voice was losing resolve. That only brought more fuel to the fire.
Toph's curving lips turned into a full-fledged smirk. "I don't know if you have selective memory but do 'Can I help you with anything else, Katara?' or 'Can I accompany you to the beach?' ring a bell?"
"Yeah, so?" Zuko said guardedly, his face turning redder by the second. Thankfully, Toph could not see. "I was just being friendly."
"Riiiight. You, friendly?"
"I don't know how it seemed to you but you're completely wrong. We're just friends."
At that moment, Katara passed in front of them carrying fruits for Appa and Momo. She spotted Toph and Zuko and gave them a little smile. Or rather Zuko since Toph could not see.
Zuko raised a hand to her, acknowledging her smile. Toph felt Zuko's heartbeat go faster. Meanwhile, Toph's own heart sank. It was really true. Zuko really liked Katara.
"Since when?" Toph asked offhandedly. Zuko was taken aback at her abrupt question and her calm triumph. He had thought she would tease him relentlessly or would exclaim proudly.
"Oh... I... I didn't really realize. Maybe when we were imprisoned together in Ba Sing Se. Maybe when I helped her find her mother's killer. Or maybe when we were yelling our heads off at each other. I - I don't really know. She's just so... kind and so nice, and beautiful," Zuko admitted, eyes downcast. He never confessed to anyone about this before, not even to his uncle.
Toph merely nodded. "You know what Sparky? I'm on your side. I can help you get your girl. I mean, come on! Those lines you're using back there! She'll never notice you like her if you keep treating her like your sister...." Toph paused. "Well, maybe not your sister but your grandma. Right now Katara's dense as ice. She's mothering everyone (honestly it's annoying). And you don't want to be treated like her son, do you?"
"Well, no but..." Zuko heaved a sigh. "I appreciate your support, but don't concern yourself with this. It's nothing, I guess." He started to get up but Toph dragged him down.
"Listen Sparky. All I'm saying is that you should take it up a notch. Tell her that you like her," Toph said matter-of-factly.
Zuko shook his head in disbelief. "Are you kidding me? Even if I do tell her, she would probably thank me for it. She doesn't get it! I'm doing all those things for her – I help her in every chore possible and even help her bathe Appa. I probably complimented her on everything and she just smiles and shrugs. Just forget about it Toph. She doesn't like me in that way."
"There is one thing though…." Toph trailed off, smirking.
"I don't like the sound of that," Zuko said dryly.
"Do you remember the play we saw yesterday?"
"Yes, what about it?" Zuko queried.
"She absolutely loves the song by the two lovers in the play," she lied. "Maybe you should sing that to her. This way, she'll know your feelings," she suggested.
"No way, Toph! Absolutely not! I didn't even sing during Music Nights in the ship before," Zuko refused vehemently.
"Oh come on! You said nothing ever works on her. This is your last chance. I'm really sure this will work," Toph said earnestly. Behind her back, she was crossing her fingers.
Zuko thought for a moment then gave in. He glared at her. "If I do this, will you promise me not to bring this up as long as you live?"
Toph pouted. "That's a hard deal! This is way too juicy to forget! How about I promise not to laugh in your face while you sing? Deal?"
Zuko scowled. "That's your deal? That's unfair!" Then an idea struck him. "Or do you want me to tell Katara that you were the one leaving rubbish on the whole house?"
Apparently, Katara's nagging was too much of a horror for Toph. She crossed her arms and blew her bangs from her face irritably. "Fine. I won't bring it up."
Zuko smirked. "Good."
They shook hands on their deal. "Great, I'll arrange everything for you," Toph said. "Now, do your part and practice your love tune as you've never practiced before." She shoved Zuko away.
Zuko stood up and said to her, "Thank you Toph." He left the porch to find a secluded area to practice his singing.
As soon as he left, a devious smile appeared on Toph's face. "No, Zuko – thank you."
That night, Toph managed to drag Katara away from her Waterbending practice in a shallow pool. Katara of course fired off one question after another as to why Toph was taking her to the other side of the beach.
"Just trust me," Toph answered vaguely, avoiding Katara's insistent questions. She tugged Katara along by her arm.
"O-okay... This better be good Toph," Katara said, rolling her eyes.
They arrived at a small cave just a little further from the beach house. A glimmer of light emanated from the cave. Toph continued to pull Katara towards it but she hesitated at the mouth of the cave.
"Uh, Toph? Why are you bringing me to a cave?" Katara asked.
Katara raised her eyebrow at Toph. "Is this some kind of prank you, Aang, or Sokka set up for me?"
"You have no idea," Toph muttered.
Toph arranged her face to look surprised. "Me? Play a prank on you? I wouldn't dare!"
Katara ignored Toph's sarcasm and crossed her arms instead. "Fine. Then what am I going to do now?"
"Go inside and wait."
Katara still looked wary. "Are you sure it's okay? It looks creepy."
Not as creepy as what's Zuko's going to do, Toph thought. "Yes, it's fine. Just go inside!" she said out loud as she shoved Katara inside, ignoring her protests.
When they were inside, Katara's jaw dropped when she saw what was inside. The light she'd seen from outside of the cave was actually the flickering of many candles that peppered the cave wall. Katara looked at Toph questioningly but she was already leaving her alone. "Toph... wait! Don't leave me here! I'm getting scared!"
"Relax, Sugar Queen. Nothing bad's gonna happen to you," Toph called out to her as she was retreating to the entrance. She did not go out just yet. She hid behind a rock to listen to Zuko getting his throat frozen.
Katara was rooted to the spot although she wanted to run away as far from the candles as possible. Suddenly, a strum of lute emanated from inside the cave. Music reverberated through the walls.
"Hello.... Is anyone there?" Katara called out uncertainly.
A familiar tune was strumming from the lute. "Not that song again," she groaned. Katara realized why Toph was asking her if she hated that song from the play. She was sure Sokka talked Toph into this prank for payback because she hated his singing.
She was about to tell off Sokka's immaturity when a baritone voice floated with the lute's music. The voice was not Sokka's, she was sure of that.
"You are sunlight and I moon
Joined by the gods of fortune
Midnight and high noon
Sharing the sky
We have been blessed you and I"
It was the same song but her revulsion towards the song had melted. It was not as if the song itself was bad but the way the actors sang the song was enough to curse it into oblivion. And Sokka's singing did not help either.
She sat down at a nearby rock. Katara smiled and enjoyed the song for the first time. The disembodied voice was actually good. As pranks go, this one was not so bad. She just hoped no water balloons would come after the song.
Meanwhile behind the rock, Toph was glad that her plan was working perfectly. Katara would go ballistic after hearing that song. But then, she realized her plan was not perfect after all. Zuko managed to sing the sing the whole song without Katara demanding to know who the mystery singer was.
"You are sunlight and I moon
Joined here bright'ning the sky
With the flame of love
Made of sunlight
As the singer finished his final note, Katara stood up and said uncertainly, "I.. I don't know if you can hear me. But I think that was beautiful. You really have a good voice. I don't know why Toph gave me free entertainment but thank you."
Katara thought that she was really alone that she continued speaking. "For a moment there, I was hoping you would be him. I wish I could see you but... I don't want to get disappointed. I'm afraid that if you're not who I'm expecting, my heart would break," she said softly.
As she turned to go, she heard feet shuffling behind her. "Wait, Katara."
A hand grabbed her elbow and turned her around. "Zuko?" She gaped as her eyes met his. They stood looking at each other for a few seconds, both too surprised to talk.
"Were you expecting a different person?" he finally asked.
Katara looked away from him. "Zuko... I... I don't know what to say," she stammered. Her cheeks were burning from embarrassment.
"Then hear me out first. I really... really..." he took a deep breath then continued, "....like you. I understand that you just see me as a friend but I hope you'll still treat me as one after I screwed up in front of you, after I made a fool out of myself..." he rambled, his face turning as red as Katara's.
Katara recovered from her initial embarrassment and shock and looked up at him with a bemused smile. "Stop, Zuko," she interrupted him. "How could you possibly know how I feel?"
"I didn't mean to presume to know your feelings but I thought...."
"Yes, Zuko. You thought. You didn't really know."
Zuko braced himself for rejection but was surprised when Katara closed the gap between them, putting her hands on his shoulders and looking him straight in the eye.
"I'm not disappointed. I'm glad it was you. I was really expecting you," she said truthfully.
Katara laughed. "Yes, Prince Zuko. I really like you too. Could I have been more obvious every time I'm around you?"
"I thought you were being dense," he said lightly.
"I thought you were the one who's dense," she countered. "Was that why you came up with this?"
"Well... Uh, I had a little help," Zuko admitted sheepishly.
"Really, now?" Katara smirked. "By any chance, did a twelve-year old girl talk you into this?"
"Actually, yes. She found out that I like you. Although I don't know why she helped me."
"Hmm... I didn't know she was that concerned." Katara was puzzled.
"Maybe I should go thank her now. She's a good friend," Zuko said. He pulled back from Katara but she tugged on his hand. Zuko shot her a questioning look.
"Can you sing for me again? You really have a good voice," Katara suggested coyly.
Zuko laughed and drew her to himself, placed his hands on her waist, and rested his forehead on her head. "Thanks. But maybe later," he breathed as he lowered his head and lightly kissed her forehead, her eyes, and down to her lips. Katara met his lips and they kissed for the first time.
Toph, however was storming out of the cave. Her plan completely backfired! She was counting on Zuko's bad voice. She had supposed it would be horrible since his voice sounded gravelly. She was also counting on Katara's temper. She had thought Katara would explode the second Zuko sang the first lines of the song. But she was wrong. All the obvious things were not what they seemed. She learned that she might be able to feel people's hearts but she could never read their minds. And she could never get Zuko to like her like her ever.
Toph did not go to the house directly. She did not want Aang, Sokka, or Suki to see her tearing up a little. She went to the beach and sat on the sand. She might be a tomboy, but deep inside she was still a little girl. Suddenly, she got mad at herself for being on the verge of tears. She was mad because she did not expect that emotional hurt could make her cry. She was Toph – proud, stubborn, and strong.
Like a switch that was flicked inside her, she decided that Zuko was no great shakes, really. Come to think of it, he and Katara deserved each other. Sparky finally met his match in Sugar Queen. Despite herself, she laughed at the thought of them together. They were actually ...perfect.
"Love stinks. But I'm glad my stupid plan brought two deserving people together. That does it! I don't want to grow up yet!" Toph declared. She stood up decisively and trudged all the way to the house. But in the corner of her mind, Toph realized that she was indeed growing up – whether she liked it or not.