Okay, this story takes place four years after 'The Final Scar' and follows the events of that story. If you haven't read that one, you will probably have a really hard time understanding this one. For those of you not good at math, it's a total of seven years after season two the show ('The Final Scar' was started before season 3, so the final season of the show is completely disregarded. None of season 3s events come into play here.) You guys know the drill: Of course I don't own Avatar the Last Airbender or any of the characters except for Kelyin, Shaya, Ayash, Amana, Sanyo, Oniara, Netow, the Outcasts, and Ren. I'm going to list the ages from the previous story, and not the show; Zuko was 19, now 23, Katara 17/21, Sokka 18/22, Aang 15/19, Toph 15/19, Mai 18/22, Ty Lee 17/21, Kelyin is 17, Netow is 22, and Shaya and Ayash are both 23.
/. /. / CHAPTER 2: The Timid Wife and the Ruthless Warrior
/. /. / EARTH KINGDOM: NETOW MURAI'S ESTATE
Toph quietly placed her spoon down. One of the servers quickly removed the soup bowl from before her.
"Are you finished so soon, Toph?" Her husband, Netow, asked softly, concern clear in his voice.
"Yes, I cannot eat anymore." She stood, a guard immediately stepping forward to take her arm. "Husband, do you mind if I go to the ladies meeting tonight? I so enjoy hearing the other ladies speak of the books they have read. You know… I have so little to bring color to my world, and hearing them speak of the tales they have read brings me great joy."
"Of course, my love. Anything your heart desires. I could always read to you… if you'd want me to." She smiled, her pale features blushing as she gave a small bow to her husband.
"That would warm my heart. Perhaps tomorrow. Thank you husband." She looked to the guard. "Will you escort me to my room so I may change before I go?"
"Of course, Miss Bei Fong Murai." The guard led her from the dining room, and down the hall. He opened the door to her private changing rooms, carefully ushering her in. "Should I wait here for you?"
"No, thank you, I'll have my handmaiden bring me down to board the coach." She gave a small bow, shutting the door softly. No footsteps retreated down the hall.
"Are you alright, milady?" The young handmaiden, Amana, stepped forward, touching her shoulder.
"Yes, I am fine. Do you have my gown ready for me?"
"Of course, milady. I have made you a new one, milady. A rich green, like the flag of our kingdom. I think it will definitely… impress the others."
"Based on the compliments on the last you made, I'm sure I have nothing to worry about." She smiled at her handmaiden as she untied the band of the outer robe. "May I feel the fabric?" Toph outstretched her hand, coming in contact with the feeling of leathery scales. A grin broke across her face.
"Only the finest silk, milady." Amana and Toph worked in unison, changing from the expensive robes Toph had worn to dinner to the 'gown' Amana had created for her, hiding it under simple green silk robes. "How would you like me to fix your hair?"
"I have a bit of a headache. Perhaps just a loose bun tonight." Amana quickly complied, removing all the pins and jewels from Toph's long ebony hair, rolling it into a loose set knot on the back of her head, where it would be easy to take down at the Dome. The handmaiden gave Toph a once over, making sure none of the green leather was visible, then grabbed her special bag, which contained Toph's other accessories.
"All ready to go, milady." Toph gave her a quick hug, beaming as they went to the door. As if proving how closely he was listening, the guard outside swung the door open for them.
"The coach is waiting at the front gate, Miss Bei Fong Murai."
"Thank you. Please tell my husband not to wait up for me… sometimes the ladies get a bit carried away, and you know I have no sense of time."
"Of course, Miss Bei Fong Murai."
/. /. / SOUTHERN WATER TRIBE
Katara watched the children practice their bending with an unfocused face. They had learned well from her, but she was only able to teach them the basics. They were too young to learn the complexities of bending for fighting purposes.
After being away from home for so many years, Katara thought that things would be very different when she returned with her brother after the disaster on Kyoshi. But everything was exactly as it was when they had first left with Aang when they were in their early teens. Everyone was just a bit older now.
The young bender looked down. She hated it here. There was no hope of excitement or adventure. She was assured by the older women around camp that she would find a nice Water Tribe boy, settle down and have lots of babies. Sokka had already settled into that life with a strange ease. After Suki's betrayal, Sokka only mentioned her once after they returned home. Since then, he'd acted as if she'd never even existed, easily finding a new girlfriend within the tribe. He'd married Koah two years ago, and they were already speaking of starting a family.
While she was happy for her brother, there was still a tension between them because of Kyoshi. Their time together was usually brief and relatively wordless. Though she never spoke about it, she was worried that it would always be like this, awkward silences and unanswered questions. Sokka never asked her about Kyoshi. He never spoke of it at all. Katara never brought it up either, and she saw no point in apologizing for her actions. At night, when she closed her eyes to go to sleep, she still saw the dark smoke on the horizon in the middle of the ocean. That horrific image was burned into her eyelids, an inescapable finale to her brief, beautiful life with Zuko.
/. /. / BA SING SE, EARTH KINGDOM
She'd watched, hidden in the kitchen, as he worked with the fire, letting it flow from his fingertips and circle him in thin, blazing lines. Even though she'd lived in the Fire Nation all her life, and had been married to the Fire Prince, turned Fire Lord, bending of the dangerous element had always frightened her. But watching her son was mesmerizing. He seemed to dance with the fire, letting it serpentine around him, expanding and contacting. He had complete control over it in such a small area. Ursa had expressed concern over his use of bending in the tea shop, afraid that a mishap could end in ashes, but Iroh insisted it was necessary for Zuko to let the fire out, and trusted him to do it behind the closed doors and shuttered windows of his shop. He explained that benders needed to use their abilities. To suppress them would be agony, especially in Fire benders. She'd learned to tell when he needed to bend. His skin would become hot to the touch and his temper would lash out easily. Finally he kneeled, ropelike curls of fire twisting around him before disappearing into thin tendrils of smoke.
Ursa approached him from behind. His shoulders were hunched and rose with the effort of exhausted breath. His bone straight black hair had fallen lose from the ponytail he'd tied it in. Now it lay about his shoulders, damp with sweat. He'd gained more of the much needed weight he'd lost with Azula. While still appearing thin in the earth toned garments he wore, his muscle structure was agile and compact. He'd retrained his body more for flexibility and speed than for brute strength. He moved fluently with his bending now, as if the flames he created were not just something he controlled and used, but as if he and the element were one. A single, powerful being, much the way Water Benders worked. She moved to lay a hand on his shoulder when his voice softly broke the silence.
"I don't know what to do…" He didn't move from his kneeling position. She stepped around him, sinking to her knees before him. His head was bent, eyes to the floor. His dark hair hid his face.
"I know, Zuko. You are conflicted. While you're happy to be with your Uncle and I… this is not where you want to be." She sighed. "This is not where you need to be. Zuko, you know that I am so happy that you are here, living in peace after so many years. But I know what you long for." She reached out, tilting his face up so their golden eyes could meet. "As much as Mai loves you, you still think of your healer. You won't be happy, not truly happy, until you find her." She gave a small smile as she gazed at her handsome son. She tucked his hair behind his ears, cupping his cheeks. "I must say, I'd like to meet her as well, if for nothing more than to thank her for what she did for you."
"I love you. I love Iroh, Mai, and Oniara… This life is more than I could have ever asked for." His eyes glanced away from hers. "I feel selfish wishing for something more."
"You have no reason to feel that way. You love her, just as you love us. Perhaps even more…" She put her fingers to Zuko's lips as he opened his mouth to protest. "I left you in the middle of the night when you were a child with no explanation and no contact. You were made to believe that Iroh was dead, and I know that you had accepted it and moved beyond it when you were with her. You grew up with Mai, thinking she was merely Azula's spoiled friend, then at the end she slit your throat and ran to the Outcasts. Granted, I know she did it out of love, but as your mother, it still hurts to know…" her fingers absently touched his throat and her eyes glazed with tears before she composed herself and blinked them away. "It hurts to know how close you came to death at her hands. And of course, Oniara has grown up with you as a father figure. That is not your fault. She was born of Mai's lack of caution and you owe the child nothing. As cruel as it sounds, your love for her is a lie, created under false pretenses and a harsh mistake. In a sense all of us have let you down, either of our own choices, or by someone else's actions. Your healer saved you. She found you, nursed you back to health, and continued to care for you and about you even though she knew perfectly well who you were and what you had done. You need to find her Zuko. You love her, and I know she loves you. With the amount of energy and care she put into your wounds, and the phenomenal risk she took in restoring you to full strength when you could have easily betrayed her in the night is a testament to the fact that she loves you. Even though you hardly speak of her, not even uttering her name, I can see how much not being by her side pains you." She leaned forward to kiss her sons forehead. Her eyes filled with tears once more, and she didn't bother to blink them away this time. "I love you Zuko, but you need to go and reunite with her."
"I don't want to leave you and Iroh… what if I lose you again? It took so long to find you, Mother. I thought I'd never see you or Iroh again. I can't go… it doesn't matter, I don't even know where to start looking. She could be anywhere. This is the life I want. Living with all of you in peace, with no one knowing who I am, or what happened. Being here… it's like none of those things ever happened."
"We'll be right here waiting, Zuko. We'll be here waiting to meet her when you bring her back. As far as finding her, you know she isn't in the Fire Nation. That's a start, right? I can't believe she would have stayed in Kyoshi after what they did." She stroked his hair away from his face, a tear rolling down her cheek as she smiled warmly. "Please go. I can see the pain of her loss in your face when you think no one is looking. I can see the sorrow in your bending. I know you love us, but the circle is incomplete. The family is not whole because even though we are here, you are alone in love. Go find her. I know you can."
/. /. / EARTH KINGDOM: UNDERGROUND BENDING DOME
"You're making this easy!" Toph laughed as her opponent made a wide shot, sending the massive boulder careening off toward the stands several feet to her left. He was already out of breath and bleary eyed, but the young woman had barely broken a sweat, already on her third opponent. Like most of the men she went against, he'd first been distracted by the fact that she was a petit woman, seemingly discombobulated by her feminine form and he lost concentration, giving her an easy first hit. It had been downhill for the poor guy ever since. He stumbled a little and she slammed her bare foot to the ground, sending a pulse beneath the rock floor that resulted in a column of rock shooting up just beneath him. He flew off, flipping back in the air, away from the stage, where he landed in a heap. A grin spread across Toph's face as the crowd whistled and cheered. She lifted the champion belt above her head once again. It was here she felt Ren's presence. Here, with her bare feet and unpinned hair that she felt like she belonged. Not at home, dressed up like a porcelain doll, with a meek voice and a sorrowful demeanor, married to a pathetic little man who liked to build models of ships and read books.
"That was amazing Toph!" The young blind woman beamed as Amana helped her back into the green silk kimono back stage. "Three in one night and you don't even look tired!"
"It was so easy, Amana. Nothing like that sweet rush of energy that comes with taking someone down." The young handmaiden carefully wiped off the black eyeliner that Toph wore as the Blind Mountain and applied a soft pink lip paint before pulling her hair into a loose bun.
"Just like that, sweet Toph Murai once more." Toph beamed, giving Amana a quick hug.
"Let's go home, Hand Maiden."
"Yes Milady. Your husband will be eager to hear what great adventures the ladies have spoken to you about tonight."
/. /. / BA SING SE, EARTH KINGDOM
Mai hovered outside by one of the shuttered windows as Zuko and his mother spoke. A pain shot through her at Ursa's harsh words regarding Oniara and herself. She retreated away from the building, into the shadows as she heard the two move toward the door.
This life was all she wanted; a family with Zuko. But Ursa was right. This was all a lie, he would never be happy without Katara. She angrily wiped at her tears, feeling stupid at her joyful naivety.
/. /. / POST SCRIPT AUTHORS NOTE:
P.S.A.N. : I am really happy with Toph's outcome here. I originally had her actually be that quiet, timid little thing, thrown into a state of quiet depression by Ren's death. Then I realized that was too far off the mark for her character, so I went with the 'secret life' thing and I'm really happy with it, specially in future chapters. As a little side note, I am aware that Toph was known as the Blind Bandit. I replaced Bandit with Mountain as her homage to Ren, 'a mountain of a man'.
I got a note from someone regarding Sokka and Suki; whether they will get back together, or, if not, will Sokka end up with Toph. I will tell you, Sokka and Toph will not be partnered. As to Sokka and Suki… yet to be decided.