Sorry for the delay. Hockey season has been too fun. Enjoy!
After first period Zuko and Suki went their separate ways. He would see her again in the class before lunch. Zuko now slowly made his way down the hall, the whispers and sideways glances that followed his progress were beginning to wear on him. They had been quiet, in the background when he said his goodbyes to Suki. Then as she left, Zuko could feel it crescendo, like a wave forming. It swelled and grew until it was about to crash upon him. But it subsided almost instantly when he saw her. In this whole insane, teenage hormone filled, fucked up situation the one true victim. Gone was the prideful strut, her steps were small and pigeon toed. Her pale, exuberant eyes were shrouded behind her midnight bangs. All of Zuko's self-pity disappeared, it was shamed out of him. He was shamed to think of how he didn't try to call her, text her, anything. Had anyone spoken to her since Friday? It must have been the loneliest weekend in the history of weekends. The sea of students parted for her, their eyes following her every move. These halls must have never seen her this way before. Zuko didn't part, he stood in his place and let her head bump into his chest. She must have been startled because he saw her body jump a bit at the contact. Then she let her weight fall forward and leaned into him.
"Nobody else wears $300 jeans in this town." Zuko chuckled at her answer to the question he never asked. He patted the top of her head softly and sighed. Toph was such an amazing kid. Her small frame hid the heart of a lion. Everyone underestimated her, until they knew her for two minutes. She was as sharp as a tack, and had a wicked tongue. But Zuko had never seen somebody as loyal to her friends. Toph was exactly what Zuko imagined an amazing little sister would be.
"You should really learn to watch where you're walking there kiddo," Zuko fake chided. "What if I was some no good street thug?" She rewarded his weak joke with a halfhearted chuckle. She still hadn't looked up at him, she buried her face in his hoodie. His hand slid from the top of her head to her shoulder, then he wrapped his arm around her. Even in her current state, Toph's pride wouldn't let her make eye contact. Because if she did look up, Zuko would see her tears, her weakness.
"If you were a street thug I would've beat the shit out of you." A soft smile crept across Zuko's features. He looked around and saw that they had become the center of attention. Everyone was ogling them, nobody moved. A teacher would be along shortly to see why nobody was making their way to class. Zuko looked back down at Toph and a crazy idea began to form in the back of his head.
"Fuck it." Zuko swung Toph to his side, arm still around her shoulders, and started walking her briskly down the hall. Her back stiffened at the sudden movement, but her short legs somehow kept up with his quick strides. He heard her mumble some kind of protest but he ignored it. They made a right, then a left, then walked right out the front door.
Katara was not in the mood for second period math right now. Everything was wrong. Zuko was mad at her, Aang was mad at her, and Toph probably wanted to kill her. On top of the people she cared about hating her, everyone in the school was giving her weird looks. She ran into Suki in the hall, and the older girl explained that everyone thought had Zuko quit the team. And since she was the temptress he ran off with Friday night, the feeling around school was she must have done something. Katara found it somewhat funny that schoolyard gossip had gotten it right for once. She was going to be demonized forever. The best player that this town full of hockey nuts has ever seen waltzes in out of nowhere. He joins the team, and in his first game helps beat their biggest rival. Then she went and ruined him.
The bell rang and Katara got her notebook out, then she realized the classroom was mostly empty. She had been so deep in thought about how she would be run out of South Point for making Zuko quit the team, that Katara had no idea only five students were in the room. The other students exchanged glances, obviously as confused as she was. Then their teacher went out into the hall to search for his missing class. Everyone around her immediately started yammering on about what could be happening they were all missing out on. The door then burst open and what looked like every student that had been missing stumbled in. They were all going on about something but all their voices together just made a mashed up mess. But Katara did make out two names, Zuko and Toph.
The girl that sat next to her had been one of the students that just entered. She leaned over and whispered to Katara.
"You must have done a number on him, because he just ran off with Bei Fong." Katara's eyes must have been as big as saucers. The girl laughed under her hand, and continued. "He held her in the hall, and then they went rushing out the front door." Katara couldn't believe what she was hearing. They ditched school? She knew the romantic undertone the bimbo next to her was implying wasn't true. Toph had become Zuko's de facto little sister. But them just bolting from school was quite the shocker. That big city delinquent was going to get Toph in to all kinds of trouble.
Toph couldn't believe it, she was walking down Main St. at 9:30 in the morning on a school day. The chilly air and brisk walking pace Zuko was setting had snapped her out of whatever funk she had been in. They were ditching. Toph may have played the bad girl role, but she had never ditched school before. And they weren't even doing it discretely. They had strolled out the main entrance to the school, and were now walking down what the town's main thoroughfare. If she was going to ditch, Toph would have slipped out a back door and taken back streets to get home. Toph had the feeling they weren't going home though. Her theory was proved correct when they made a sharp right into Mr. Kuzon's tea shop. Zuko's Uncle looked quite surprised when he looked up from the Pai Sho game he was sharing with Mr. Piando.
"Hey Uncle," Zuko nonchalantly greeted. "Could you call the school and tell them Toph and I went home sick?" Zuko then herded Toph over to a booth, and they occupied the same side. Toph looked in shock at Zuko's uncle as the old man smiled warmly and returned to playing the board game without a protest of any kind. She then looked to the boy sitting next to her. He was rubbing the back of his neck and rolling his shoulders. They were the mannerisms of a man much older than he was, a man with heavy mental burdens that made him physically sore. Zuko shrugged his jacket off and threw it across the table so it landed on the empty bench across from them. He then slouched until they were at the same eye level. He propped his feet up on the empty bench where his jacket lay, and turned his head to face her. "So how you been kiddo?" Toph broke into a small, sad smile.
"Well, for starters." Toph licked her lips and tried her damnedest to hold back the tears stinging her eyes. "I lost my boyfriend to my best friend, then spent the next two days completely alone, and then was just whisked out of school by you which is most likely to cause even more problems in my life." Zuko remained silent, he was letting her get it all off her chest. "I mean, everyone treats me differently as it is. My Dad employs practically everyone in this town that doesn't have a shop on this street, so everyone walks on eggshells around me. Then once they think I'm out of earshot, they whisper and point. Now the only group of people that didn't treat me like that is falling apart. Aang's still infatuated with Katara, so that's going to ruin my friendships with them. Sokka will avoid me for Katara's sake, and that means Suki will too. So now I'm fucked, just plain fucked. All because I decided to go out with somebody I knew was in love with somebody else." Toph took a deep, shaky breath. She felt the tears she was so determined to keep at bay fall. Before she could reach up and wipe them away, she felt something warm and soft brush them back. It was the cuff of Zuko's shirt, he was drying her tears. She laughed at how pathetic she was being.
"Yeah, quite the pickle I've gotten your little band into." Toph thought he must have been trying a small joke to lighten the mood. But it came out so sincere that it just sounded heartbreaking. Zuko was blaming this all on himself? She raised one eyebrow at him, questioning his logic. "I never start hanging out with you guys. I never get close with Katara. Aang never gets jealous. You and the rest of the gang don't implode." She punched him in the arm, hard.
"Dumbass, how does you joining the group stop me from allowing myself to date Aang." Zuko rubbed his arm where she had struck him. All he did was shrug. She let out a frustrated grunt and slouched like he was. Her feet didn't reach the other side of the booth, so she rested them on Zuko's legs. "Thanks for getting me out of there though. I don't think 2 days were enough for me to come to terms with losing my boyfriend, and the rest of my friends for that matter."
"Well, it was also a but selfish on my part." Zuko replied.
"Got to get out of school for the day?" Toph quipped.
"Got out of deciding if I'm going to stay on the team for another day. Miss School that day, and you're not allowed to practice." She laughed. "And I'm sure the gang will weather this storm. You've all known each other far too long to let a high school romance ruin it." Toph rested her head on his shoulder and silently hoped he was right.
"I noticed you didn't include yourself as a part of the group that would be weathering the storm." She hoped he would stick around. Zuko had become important to Toph. The big brother she never had.
"Yeah, well," He sighed loudly. "I don't think I'll be around once the storm subsides. Best for everyone involved." Toph began to cry again.
Sokka cradled his head in his hands. Even lunch, his favorite part of the school day, couldn't make this day any better. He looked across the table, Suki and Katara were quietly talking about something. Aang was missing, Sokka had no idea where the freshman had gone off to. Toph and Zuko were also missing, but at least he knew they weren't even at school. Their prison break was the talk of the campus. The nerve of those two, they could at least have invited him to skip out too.
"Get over it babe." Sokka was brought out of his musings by his girlfriend. He gave Suki a questioning look. Sokka had no idea what the hell she was telling him to get over. It was as if she was having a conversation with him that he had not been present for most of. "They ditched without you, get over it." Oh, nope. Not some conversation he was being dragged in to half way through. Suki was just psychic. He smiled at her and gave a little nod to signify he was 'getting over it' as he was instructed.
"I can't believe he's doing this to her." Katara interjected, Sokka rolled his eyes. Ever since the two jailbirds busted out, every single time Sokka had seen Katara she was complaining about Zuko. "They're already rumors all over school about them. He's so inconsiderate." His sister was obviously upset about something more than a couple of her friends ditching.
"I don't think Zuko would do anything to hurt Toph, if he bolted with her then she needed to get the hell out of here." Sokka said to Katara. "I mean, has anyone at this table even talked to her since Friday?" The two girls were silent. "I was taking care of Aang, Suki isn't all that close with Toph, and you Katara were probably the last person she wanted to hear from. Zuko's the one that needs to take care of Toph right now. And if bailing on a very inconsequential Monday was what she needed then fine by me." His Sister didn't have a comeback. Sokka had to suppress his yelp of joy at defeating Katara in an argument, even though it didn't happen often.
"Inconsequential is a big word for you babe." Sokka's puffed up ego was deflated instantly. He silently cursed his girlfriend for keeping him in check. Suki gave him winked at him and Sokka completely forgave her, damn he was whipped. Suki then turned to Katara, "I'll find them after school and see if everything's all right." Katara nodded, seemingly accepting Suki's answer to the situation. "The real question Katara, is what are you going to do about those three in the long run?" Katara got a pained look on her face, his sister must not have wanted to think about the bridges she needed to mend. Suki and Katara began to talk about feelings and stuff, so Sokka promptly zoned out.
Aang skated around and around the rink. He figured a quick skate would help him think better than eating lunch in a crowded cafeteria. The only sounds here were his blades gliding across the ice, and the wind rushing by his ears. Another advantage of the empty rink was the lack of talk about Toph and Zuko. He was also getting sick of the rumors about Zuko and Toph running rampant around the school. Having to listen to everyone in school prattle on about his ex and the guy that stole Katara from him was getting to be a bit much.
But it was his fault Toph was now his ex wasn't it? Whenever he thought about her, Aang got a big pit in his stomach. The guilt he felt about how things went down between them was immense. Aang knew that he never really committed to Toph. Always floating around the subject, he never went all in with it. Always holding back, always tricking himself into believing there was this better thing out there he could have. Katara, he had always imagined her suddenly realizing she was in love with him. They would become the perfect couple, and live happily ever after. Aang used Toph as a place holder, and he was ashamed of himself.
Aang had become lonely. He was watching Katara drift towards Zuko, and it infuriated him. So he drifted towards Toph, and the physical relationship that they had together. It was nice to be wanted, to be held in Toph's arms. But every time they kissed, Aang would think of how it was hurting his chances with Katara in the future. There were even times when he was around Katara, and he would forget that he was Toph's boyfriend. The more he reflected on his actions, the angrier he got at himself. Aang had been a gutless coward, Zuko was right. The fact that the older boy had been correct made him even more incensed. Aang may have come to terms with his fault in the way he handled everything with Toph. But he was still furious with Zuko for stealing Katara. Well, she wasn't Aang's to be stolen from, but his feelings for her made it seem that way.
It was all very confusing for the young boy. The confusions of being a teenager had always belonged to those around him. Aang never had to deal with his feelings for Katara before now. They were just always there. He certainly never had to deal with hurting a significant other. All the crap he saw his older friends go through, Aang was sure he would avoid it. Yet here he was, whipping around an abandoned hockey rink at breakneck speeds, trying to figure out the terrible situation he had fallen in to.
Zuko and Toph sat for hours and just talked. The day went on as they sipped tea, and ate a small lunch his uncle had prepared. No subject was off limits, Toph went in to every detail about how she was feeling. He listened patiently, giving as much advice as he could. When she finished pouring her heart out they were silent for a time. Then Zuko decided she deserved an equal amount of transparency from him.
"My Sister is mildly insane." Toph looked at him quizzically. "And my Father isn't a very compassionate or forgiving man." He definitely had her attention now. If there was something that Toph couldn't resist, it was the scoop on something. And since Zuko hadn't really told anyone in South Point about his life before moving there, she would be all ears for this. "We all kind of fell apart when my mother died." She looked like she wanted to say something but he waived her off. He'd heard more than enough condolences in the years since it happened. "Azula is my father's favorite. A real genius she is, and one hell of an athlete. But she is also a total psycho. If she didn't have Mai and Ty Lee around to balance her, then I would be really scared." He took a sip of his jasmine tea. "They're her two best, well only friends. People have always gravitated to Azula. She scares them, but they also admire her. So she is surrounded by submissive followers. Ty Lee and Mai are the only ones that have real relationships with her."
"I wouldn't mind some minions." Zuko cracked a smile at Toph's joke.
"My Father, well you know his public persona. CEO of a massive conglomerate, prominent member of New Yorks upper class, all that crap. What you don't know is that's about all I know about him too. We always kept our distance. The only person he ever acknowledged in our house was Azula." Zuko paused as a couple walked by their booth. "It was best that way. We couldn't seem to go a few sentences without exploding on each other. I the disappointing Son, and he the neglectful Father. And even though I hated him, all I wanted to do was gain his approval. I did well in school, but not as well as Azula. I did well in sports, but not as well as Azula. The more I failed in his eyes, the more I hated him. My obsession with gaining his approval, some sense of self-worth made me quite unpleasant."
"So you became a huge jerk?" Man this kid, the subtlety of a sledge hammer Zuko thought.
"Yeah, Azula, Ty Lee, and Mai were the only ones that I hung around. I think my Sister hung around to drive me insane. She always knew how to make me mad, she excelled at psychological torture. Having her angry-at-the-world Brother around also kept her free from dealing with the many guys with crushes on her as well. Azula uses people like tools, I was no different. On the other hand, Ty Lee and I were close." Toph made suggestive eyebrow wiggle. Zuko smiled, he knew what Toph was thinking, but there was no way that would ever have worked. "It wasn't like that," He answered her unsaid question. "Her unabashed cheerfulness was annoying, but she was a good friend. Ty Lee was honest to a fault, and untarnished by the world." A million different memories of he and Ty Lee getting into all sorts of ridiculous situations ran through his head. He chuckled to himself.
"I like when you get that look on your face." Toph brought him back to the present day. She brushed his forehead with her palm. It was such a maternal and delicate gesture, Zuko wouldn't have known it was her hand if he wasn't witnessing her touch him. "All those angry creases go away and you look like a normal guy." He leaned into her hand, a normal guy? That sounded nice. Then, as suddenly as her hand came, it went. "Now continue, your story amuses me." There Toph he knew.
"Mai was the one you can wiggle your eyebrows about." Toph laughed. "We ended up dating at the beginning of High School. She was the opposite side of the coin, if Ty Lee was heads, Mai was tails. She was incredibly intelligent, sharp as a tack. Her humor was dry. She had a quick tongue. But as aloof and cold as she pretended to be, she was just as tender and warm." Some rather passionate memories came to the forefront of his mind, but he figured it was best to keep those to himself. He figured Toph guessed at what he was thinking of, but she didn't let it show, he continued. "It's hard to have a relationship with somebody you've been friends with for so long. There isn't a lot of mystery to them. You know most everything about their lives, because you were there for it. The only thing that seems to be added is the physical. But a relationship needs to be more than that, you need to have that spark for the other person." Toph's head landed heavy on his shoulder. He guessed she was trying to apply the lesson in his words to her and Aang.
"I think I just wanted to be wanted." She was tearing up while speaking, but he didn't interrupt her. Toph needed to get this thought out, she needed to put together how she really felt into words. "I don't think Aang and I really had that spark. We just added making out to the list of things we already did together." Zuko had figured as much. But they were only 14, how could they really know what to do with themselves in a romantic relationship. Toph had the rest of her life to learn and grow, find out who she was and what she wanted from a partner.
"You'll figure it out kiddo." Zuko grabbed her hand and squeezed it in his own. He wondered if he could have ever had this type of relationship with Azula. Where they could talk like siblings, two people that cared for each other whole heartedly. Not like rival politicians, constantly looking over your shoulder, waiting for the knife in the back. It was most likely they could never have that kind of normal sibling relationship, but it was a pleasant fantasy anyway.
Hope you liked it, R & R please!