Disclaimer: Sadly, I still don't own ATLA.
AN: And now, for something completely different! From me, anyway. I've never written anything like this... O.O It's darker than what I've done before with a lot more adult themes. It started out as a short oneshot when I was thinking about Chief Bei Fong, Toph's daughter in The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra, but then this happened. I'm a little nervous about it, so if anyone has anything they'd like to say (be it good or not, but hopefully good!), please let me know! Otherwise, enjoy! :)
Oh, and it follows ATLA canon and what little I know of Korra.
It had been a day like any other autumn day when Suki and Sokka were present as Toph's daughter was born. The Kyoshi Warrior was very helpful as were the healers they brought along with them, but the Water Tribe Warrior passed out like the little old lady he'd always been. They had been waiting anxiously for Katara to arrive, but the tiny, little girl was in a hurry to come into the world. She was healthy and like her mother, very loud for her small size. Her cries could be heard all the way outside the large Bei Fong Estate.
Toph smiled as she held her baby girl in her arms and tears filled her eyes. In all her life and all the important milestones Toph had lived through, there was none - not a one - where she wished her eyesight functioned more than in that moment. She could feel the baby's strong heartbeat, she could kiss her tiny head, and hold her unbearably soft hands, but what she wouldn't give to be able to see her daughter at least once.
"She's beautiful, Toph!" Suki gushed.
Sokka was getting up from the floor. "Did I pass out again?" he asked, cradling his head in his hand.
That day had taken place years ago, but Toph could remember her daughter's birth with such clarity, it could have happened only hours ago. The smells in the room, the feel of warm, gentle air currents against her skin, and the crying baby in her arms. Katara had shown up the following day, disappointed beyond belief that she had not been there for the actual birth. Zuko arrived a few days later with enough gifts for the baby to last her many, many years. Aang, who had not been welcome in Gaoling, was the only one of their friends, who did not show up to dote on the pretty little girl.
That newborn was a toddler now, chasing her favorite uncle with a boulder twice her size. It was dusk in Gaoling, not that it mattered to Toph, but both her friend and her daughter had begun to complain of the drop in temperature. Sokka dodged the boulder lunged at him and ran to picked up the tiny girl, making her giggle in delight. Together they appreciated the vivid colors that filled the evening sky. He asked her if she knew their names and she did. Some, anyway. Boo, gween, wed, and owange. She pointed up at the colorful sky with her chubby hands and Sokka had the urge to paint the landscape on parchment paper. The rolling hills to their left, the lush green forest to their right, the heavenly sky up above, and the grandeur of the Bei Fong Estate in the middle. Then to complete the image, a rainbow high above it all. Because in his mind, no picture was complete without a rainbow.
That's when he turned to Toph, remembering something.
"You know that the last time we were all together was here?" he smiled, then looked up at the sky again. "That was a good day."
Since the death of Toph's parents a few years back, the sole survivor of the Bei Fong family received only a handful of visitors throughout the year. Sokka of the Water Tribe was one of them. He considered himself lucky to be counted among the earthbender's friends. As did those who came together that spring day to celebrate Toph's twenty-first birthday.
As Sokka had watched his sister and friends eat and laugh and drink (and did they ever drink!), he couldn't help smiling at the scene before him. They were simply six friends, now in their early to mid-twenties, who had joined together in their youth to end the hundred year war and restore peace to the world. The world, however, saw them differently; they were the Avatar, the Fire Lord, the Leader of the Kyoshi Warriors, the Water Tribe Ambassador, and the wealthiest woman in the world (she, of course, preferred the title of World's Greatest Earthbender).
"C'mon, Sokka," Toph yelled, downing another glass then wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, "You gonna let all these lightweights outdrink the future Southern Water Tribe Chief?"
"Hey! I'm not a lightweight," Suki objected as she stood. Just as quickly as she got up, she fell back in her chair. "Oh..." she groaned, covering her mouth with her hand, "I think I drank too much..."
Aang, the young monk who rarely (read: never) drank, was on the ground - practically under the table - giggling to himself while Momo tried to feed him bean curd puffs.
Zuko was busy serving one more round of Fire whiskey because there was no way anyone, especially not a rude and crude tiny earthbender who barely reached his shoulder, was going to outdrink him, the Fire Lord, the Avatar's firebending teacher, and nephew to General Iroh, a man who no one, living or dead, had ever been able to outdrink.
Katara, who did not drink as much or as often as her friends, was trying to secretly heal herself out of her drunken state in order to keep up with the others. If she was the first to pass out, who knew what heinous (and probably hilarious) prank Toph would inflict upon her.
For the week they were gathered in Gaoling, they laughed and laughed. A few shed tears remembering their losses, but being only the six of them together again, it didn't matter because ultimately, they had a blast being able to pass those few days as though they didn't have a worry in the world.
"Yeah," Toph half-smiled, "I remember." It was back when life was still simple.
"But I guess having important people as friends," he winked, then remembered Toph couldn't see, "Means we're all busy most of the time."
The little girl in his arms wiggled and Sokka put her down.
"Zuko's been here recently, right?"
Toph shook her head. "Couldn't get away."
"Oh. But, Katara was here a few months ago, wasn't she?"
Sokka sighed. Obviously Toph wasn't in a very talkative mood. Well, he was going to get her to talk to him one way or another. After all, he promised Suki he would do it.
"Look, Toph, we're not kids anymore."
"I am? I mean, yeah, I am."
"You're all wrinkly now, Snoozles. And all that white hair doesn't do a thing for you."
"What!" He ran inside the house in search of a mirror. Halfway there, he stopped. He couldn't believe he was still falling for that. But just to make sure...
When he found the mirror, he smiled at his reflection. He looked good for his age. Rugged and handsome - it's what everyone said - just like his dad. Running his hand along his long goatee, he pondered the best way to get Toph to open up.
When Sokka stepped outside again, the little two-year old nearly knocked him over as she ran past.
"Sowwy," she giggled and continued on her way. Sokka smiled after her, then sat down on the ground next to Toph.
"She's a handful," he said.
"Sure is. She drives all the nannies crazy! And before you say anything, the nanny was your sister's idea."
"Really? You actually listened to something Katara suggested?"
"Sugar Queen made a good point. For once," Toph emphasized with a smile. "She said I could teach my girl all the earthbending, metalbending, and sandbending I wanted, but since she has the ability to see, she would need a broader education than mine. Why do you think she knows her colors? That wasn't my doing."
"Wasn't sure," he shrugged one shoulder. "You've always been might-y impressive though." After watching the little girl for a few more minutes, he turned to Toph. "You know, you don't have to do this by yourself."
Toph's smile faded until her lips were set in a straight line.
"I can help you," he added. "We could raise her together."
Toph's palm met her forehead. "Suki put you up to this, didn't she?"
Sokka was going to argue, but his late wife had made him promise to help their youngest friend. "Yeah, she did, but I would have had this conversation with you even if she hadn't."
"You're both crazy!" Toph yelled. Her daughter stopped running and turned to them. Toph lowered her voice when she spoke again. "I appreciate what you're trying to do, Snoozles, but you can relax, okay? We're fine. It's true, my daughter won't be conventional by any means, but neither was I and I turned out great! Better than great!" she grinned.
Undeterred, Sokka took her hand, but she snatched it away out of habit. He took it again and placed something in it. A small gasp escaped Toph's lips as she ran her fingers over the smooth material first and then around the carved stone in the middle. She couldn't believe that Snoozles had just given her a betrothal necklace.
"I know I'm just Uncle Sokka to her now, but I do love her like she was my own and-"
"I know," Toph admitted, her voice unusually soft. All her friends loved her little girl. It was something she had always been grateful for.
"-and I know you don't need any help, but I would like to be there for her. Oh, and you, too, of course," he added as an afterthought.
"I know that, too, but I can't take this, Sokka," Toph said, giving the necklace back. The twelve-year-old in her wanted to argue with that statement, but as much as it pained her that Sokka and Suki were never able to have children of their own, she wasn't going to marry Sokka simply for that or because of his warped sense of duty. Who cared that she was unwed with a daughter? Toph certainly didn't. And anyone who had a problem with it could go complain to Koh for all she cared.
Sokka didn't take the necklace, instead gently folding Toph's fingers over it and placing her hand down to her lap. "Just think about it, okay?"
"It's not gonna happen."
"Ugh, Toph!" He was trying to be patient and behave like he thought Suki would have wanted him to.
"You know, you're not the first person to propose hoping to make an honest woman outta me."
"I'm not?" He sounded genuinely surprised.
"Nope. Sparky beat you by two years."
Sokka cursed and Toph laughed at the colorful language.
"Relax, Snoozles," she punched him. "You don't actually want to marry me anymore than he did. You guys are simply two of the most honorable men ever. Idiots, but honorable idiots."
"Hey! We're not idiots! Well, I'm not. Say, did Aang ask you, too?"
Toph hoped he didn't see the way her smile faltered. "Your sister's still alive, you dunderhead!"
"Oh, yeah, right."
"Speaking of Aang... Can I ask you something?"
"So long as you're not gonna ask me to marry you again."
Sokka rolled his eyes, but continued. "I've been wondering... What did Aang do that was so terrible, you guys don't even talk anymore?"
Toph's good mood evaporated and she sighed quietly. She followed her daughter's movements for a while before answering his question.
"You'd have to ask him."
After the initial hellos and a quick hug, Toph punched Aang's arm.
"How'd you know to find me here?" she asked, smiling.
"I just knew," he admitted with a shrug.
"Stinkin' Avatar mumbo-jumbo," she muttered.
"No," Aang corrected her, "I remembered that it was your mom's birthday a few days ago, so..."
Toph turned from him. "Oh."
Since the carriage accident that took both her parents, Toph was hardly ever in Gaoling, choosing to spend most of her days in the earthbending school she started while they still lived. It was located miles from the outskirts of the city, far enough that her parents couldn't hound her on an everyday basis, but close enough that Toph could be home in a few hours time if she needed to be. She still traveled, mostly throughout the Earth Kingdom and on a rare occasion, to the Fire Nation. The North and South Pole she avoided at all costs.
But, things were different now. Twice a year she did return home - on her mother's birthday and her father's. She'd never been a spiritual person, but on her parents' birthdays, she visited their gravesites. She didn't update them on her life, her school, her travels, or anything else like that. Some years, she simply sat there. It was a way to feel close to them after they were taken away so suddenly.
Before the accident, Toph and her parents had grown close enough to be called a real family. Her mother still doted unnecessarily on her, but she also listened like a friend would. The time they spent together was surprisingly pleasant for both and they even shared a secret or two. Her father, who insisted Toph meet with at least one suitor per month to keep up appearances, had become quite the Earth Rumble enthusiast, deigning to travel underground to cheer on his daughter whenever her title was on the line. Always in disguise, of course.
Toph missed them. A lot.
"I'm sorry," Aang apologized, "I didn't mean to make you sad."
"I know," she sighed, forcing a grin to her face and changing the subject. "So, what's up? What are you doing in my neck of the world?"
Aang walked alongside Toph through the garden they walked as children years ago when they first met. "I was heading over to Ba Sing Se. Figured I'd stop here first."
"Perfect timing, Twinkletoes."
"Oh, yeah?" the grin on her face made him smile, "For what?"
"For this!" she replied and sent him flying into the air with a sharp earthspike.
It was as simple as that and the visits began. If Aang wasn't in the Southern Air Temple with Katara, working with the Council, or helping one of his other friends, he was in Gaoling or Toph's earthbending school whenever he could get away from his responsibilities. Earthbending, laughing, training students, just having a good time. Many days at a time they spent like this for the first year. Sometimes he wondered if it was wrong to spend so much time with her when he had Katara back home, but he reasoned, it was nothing remotely like that, so it was okay.
Until one night, when even that changed.
They were at the Bei Fong Academy, the students were all fast asleep, Toph made sure. Still, Aang probably shouldn't have drank as much as he did.
"How can you be so tall, with all those lean muscles, and still be unable to hang?" Toph teased before finishing off one more glass of the ice cold Water Tribe vodka Sokka and Suki had given her as a gift the last time they visited.
Aang hiccuped making Toph giggle.
"Did you just... giggle?"
The earthbender shook her head vehemently. "I don't do giggling, Twinkletoes."
He hiccuped again and she giggled again.
"Yes, you do!" he teased.
Another giggle threatened to break out and Toph forced it away. "Whatever," she said, standing from the earthchair she bended just for the occasion. "I'm hungry. You hungry?"
"I don't think I can move," he groaned, trying to stand and failing. It made Toph giggle again until she fell to the floor laughing. She snorted very unlady-like, her laughter getting louder because of the sound she made.
Aang managed to crawl over to her. "You look so cute when you're drunk," he said, tucking her bangs behind her ear.
"You do, too," she replied, still laughing uncontrollably. She was so drunk it didn't even bother her that he called her cute or that she just said he was, too, or that she kept giggling. It all seemed hysterically funny to her.
"You really think so?" he asked, then hiccuped again.
"Oh, yeah!" she managed through bouts of laughter, "You're hot stuff, Twinkletoes!"
He watched her clutch her stomach as she practically rolled on the floor laughing and he couldn't help laugh, too. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew she didn't think he was cute or hot stuff - she couldn't see him - but just hearing her say the words made him feel something he shouldn't. He had his wife back home, they were trying to get pregnant with their first child, and he was happy. He was. But, as he continued to watch his earthbending friend rolling on the ground with no inhibition whatsoever, Aang couldn't seem to focus on anything other than the beautiful woman she had become.
He's not sure when it happened, but the more time he spent with Toph, in her home or at her school, sometimes even in Omashu (where with Bumi's help, the three of them nearly destroyed a quarter of the Omashu Royal Palace), he found himself thinking about her often when he was away. Toph was the same as always, stubborn, with an in-your-face attitude, who knew how to have fun. She was a constant in his life and what surprised him most, she never asked anything of him. And yet, she was also different. She was responsible for an entire school of young, eager earthbenders at the same time that she took care of her family's growing empire. That she could manage all that on her own shouldn't have surprised him, but it did. And, while he had thought her very pretty in her teens, she was positively gorgeous now. She had a beautiful figure she tried to hide away, but her curves would not be denied no matter how hard she tried. Aang couldn't think of a more stunning woman. In that moment and with that thought, he leaned down over her and kissed her.
Toph was so surprised, she stopped laughing and sobered up real quick.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm sorry," he cried, standing on unsteady legs, "I shouldn't have done that."
Toph stood up, too. "Then why did you?" And why wasn't she beating him up for it?
"I don't know! I'm sorry! I should go!"
"Wait," she grabbed his hand, but released it almost as soon as she took it. "Friends don't let friends fly drunk." Aang gave her a half-hearted smile. "You don't need to leave, Twinkles. So you kissed me, it's no big deal." She sounded a lot more casual than she felt, but she didn't want him running off and not returning for who knew how long.
"No big deal?" he yelled. "You're my friend, Toph, and-" She placed her hand over his lips sending a shiver down his spine. "I really think I should go, Toph," he said against her fingertips.
"Why?" she asked, stepping closer. She should have earthbended him out of her school by now. Why hadn't she? It had to be the vodka.
Aang watched her, her lovely face, her disheveled hair, and that grin he'd known since he was a boy. "Because if I don't leave, I might do it again," he whispered, ashamed and alarmed by his honesty, anxious and aroused by her proximity, and still very much drunk.
Her hand fell away from him and she crossed her arms over her chest.
"Who says I'd let you, Twinkletoes?" she challenged. Unsure of the vibrations he was giving off, she played it safe. If he really wanted to leave, he would have already. He was good at running away. But, he had yet to move. His heart beat wildly, yet the rest of him was steady and almost calm. Could have been the alcohol, though. And they were both drunk, so... No more Water Tribe Vodka for her. She was sticking to Fire Whiskey going forward.
When he stepped close enough that she could feel the heat radiating off of his body making her insides tingle with longing, she turned to face him fully. "How badly do you want to kiss me right now?" she asked, surprised that she could say the words with such a steady voice. So much for playing it safe.
For Aang, it was like torture having her so close and being unable to do anything about it. Wanting to kiss her, ravish her, make her his...
"Don't ask me that, Toph."
"Why not?" she continued defiantly, but her voice was as soft as his.
"Because I won't lie to you," he admitted. "You've never lied to me. Not once. Even when I didn't want to hear it, you've always been honest."
Her grin made him think inappropriate thoughts.
She should stay quiet. Let him leave. It would be the proper thing to do. But since when did she care about what was proper?
"How badly?" she asked again, her skin buzzing at his closeness.
And, he told her.
What she did next she couldn't even blame on the vodka because it was something she'd wanted to do for years. Without thinking of the consequences, she grabbed the front of his robes and pulled him down to crush her lips to his.
In the morning, as slivers of the first rays of sunlight shown against Toph's completely bare skin while she was curled up against him, Aang panicked. When he slipped out of the soft bed she rarely used because she could sense no vibrations on it, he watched her for a moment as she slept. She looked so peaceful until she frowned a little in her sleep and Aang had the urge to climb back over to her and hold her once more.
But he couldn't. Shouldn't, actually. He'd already messed up so big.
Grabbing his clothes as quietly as possible, he left the school without so much as a word. An entire two years passed before he would return.
Toph felt hurt when Aang disappeared the morning after, but she got over it. She wasn't the kind to sit around and cry over a guy. So, she moved on.
It wasn't her finest moment, but she had been sad and lonely and The Duke had always been in love with her, so she agreed to go out him. He was funny and nice, but not nauseatingly so, and they had a good time together. They picked fights at bars - it was great! The best thing about him, though, had to be his voice. The high-pitch sound of their youth had turned into a low, sexy baritone. Toph could listen to him speak for days. Sadly, he wasn't the talkative sort, so she had him read to her often.
They were together a few months, but The Duke got serious too fast. When he proposed, Toph let him down as gently as possible.
"Are you nuts! I don't wanna get married!"
"To me?" he asked, meekly.
"No, you dunderhead, to anyone. I don't plan on getting married. Ever."
Knowing that it was nothing against him personally, he asked if they could go back to how things were, but Toph just couldn't do it. They wanted different things. Still, they remained friends and years later, he even invited her to his wedding. Toph didn't go because weddings weren't her thing, but she sent a very lavish wedding gift, which she heard from Suki and Katara that the bride loved more than any other.
Then, one evening without warning, Aang came back. When he tried to pretend nothing happened, Toph pretended he wasn't there.
"Come on, Toph, talk to me," he pleaded. "I know you're mad at me, I just... I couldn't... What happened shouldn't have happened."
"Stop right there, Aang." He flinched at the sound of his name. "You wanna feel guilty, go right ahead. I don't have any regrets." His heartbeat spiked and she could practically taste his confusion, but he'd have to figure it out on his own and she continued. "You stayed away for two years. Two years! And why? Because you felt guilty?" She shook her head. "Nice friend you are." Realizing the hypocrisy of her words, she shrugged, too furious to care. He tried to argue, but she didn't let him. "Just leave, Aang. And this time, don't bother coming back." As she said the words, her hands trembled and she forced them into fists to keep them from shaking.
"Just go," she insisted, turning away from him. She wasn't going to cry. She didn't cry when she woke up alone that morning, she wasn't going to cry now.
"I cheated on Katara!" he yelled.
"Yeah, you did! Deal with it!" she yelled back. Before she could stop herself, she laughed bitterly. "Geez, I don't know how Sugar Queen puts up with you."
"Don't bring her into this."
"You brought her up first," Toph replied, knowing how childish it sounded. It didn't matter. "Did you tell her?" she asked pretty sure he hadn't because Toph had seen Katara recently and the waterbender had not tried to drown or freeze her.
"No. I didn't."
"Good. Don't," she agreed and not because she was afraid of Sweetness, but because Toph didn't want Katara to end up hurt because of it or become utterly disillusioned with the Avatar, which is what would undoubtedly occur. "The way I look at it," she smirked, but there was an edge to it Aang had never seen before, "It happened, so there's nothing to do about it now. Besides, we're both adults and it was just sex."
"It wasn't just sex!" he yelled.
His reaction surprised her. Pleasantly, if she was completely honest.
"If you say so, but it's clear to me you can't deal so let's just forget it, okay? What's done is done," she shrugged, only the slightest bit ashamed that she could be so manipulative.
"I can't forget it," he admitted. "Trust me, I've tried. For two years, I tried."
"Then it sucks to be you, Twinkletoes."
He smiled at the nickname. "Look, Toph, I just...I wanted to apologize," he said, inhaling deeply to calm his nerves. "Because...well, because..."
"Because I haven't... been able... to stop thinking about you."
She closed her eyes, pushing away those old thoughts, those buried emotions that tried to suffocate her with their persistence. That all over again, she didn't want. It was far too complicated. And yet, she could feel herself falling back into this thing with Aang. She had to get him to leave before she did something stupid again or worse, said something that would only lead to more trouble.
"Well, good. You apologized, now off you go. I got a school to run here, in case you forgot."
"Do you want me to go?" he asked and she cursed silently.
"That's completely up to you," she replied. It was getting harder by the minute to remain unaffected, especially with the way the room seemed to be getting smaller by the second as he inched closer.
"Toph, look at me."
Despite everything, he smiled. "Please look at me."
"Twinkletoes, I really can't. Blind, remember?"
"You can," he insisted, taking her hands in his and guiding them to his face. "You taught me to deal with things head on, to be steady and strong, and I will be." While he talked, her hands seemed to have a mind of their own and she traced the lines of his brows and nose, his cheekbones and jaw, his lips... "I'm done running," he spoke against her fingertips. "I'm sorry that I did. I..." he took another deep breath, "I wish I could stay here with you. For the rest of my days."
Reluctantly, Toph pulled her hands from his face. Torn between throwing rocks at him for getting mushy on her or actually having a serious conversation with him about what happened, she chose the latter.
"But you can't."
"But I can't," he agreed, moving closer still. "What I can do is tell you that I wish things had been different."
"There's no place for what ifs here, Twinkles."
He nodded. "I know." She didn't look angry anymore. Resigned was more like it and it broke his heart that he wasn't free for her. Cradling her face in his hands, he bent down and kissed her hair. Then, her forehead. One cheek and the other. His lips grazed hers with a feather-like touch that sent her reeling.
"Stop, just stop."
And he did.
She was out of breath and he was completely calm. When had the tables turned?
"I thought you were leaving?" she said, falling on old habits. Being rude came so naturally, she often forgot she used it as a defense mechanism.
"You never said you wanted me to go."
Toph could almost taste his smug expression.
"Didn't say you could stay either," she snapped. When he took a defeated step back, she growled. "Fine, I don't want you to go, okay?" Earth, she didn't think it would be so hard to say.
"What does that mean?" he asked innocently enough, but she still wanted to hit him because of it.
"I want you to stay!" she yelled. She sounded angry, but she was more embarrassed than anything else. Why did she have to spell it out for him? She hated how vulnerable she felt waiting for him to reply. "And I don't even know when it happened, so don't ask."
Was she saying what he thought she was saying?
She shook her head. "Nothing exists outside these walls," she told him, sounding so certain, but wondering where she was coming up with this stuff. She couldn't believe the words that were falling out of her mouth.
"So... it's just you and me?" he asked, afraid for what this could mean, thrilled by it, too. "Toph?" He was only a breath away. "Are you sure?"
And just like that, they were back where they left off.
"I said it, didn't I?" And it had taken so much to lay it all on the line and sound completely casual about it. She was sure it would mean more to her than him, but that was something she could live with. Or, would try to anyway.
"Toph..." His hands were tentative until they found her waist and drew her against him. She didn't resist. "Spirits, I missed you..." he whispered against her mouth. She blushed as he showered her with kisses. "...so much."
"You done?" she asked, sounding annoyed, but she was having trouble hiding away her smile.
His whole face lit up when he could see her practically beaming. "Yeah, I'm done."
"'Bout time," she muttered, turning to walk away, but he stopped her.
"Wait," he swallowed.
Toph snorted. Same old Twinkletoes, she thought, still hesitant, indecisive. But what he did next, surprised her. Aang wrapped her up in a tight embrace and kissed her senseless.
The World's Greatest Earthbender prided herself on her strength, her capability, and her ability to be on her own, but that changed when he became such a big part of her life. Oh, she wasn't swooning around the place and she'd be damned if she turned into a damsel in distress or ceased to do what she wanted when she wanted, but earth did it hurt when the time came he had to leave and they had to return to reality.
None of that she ever said out loud, of course. How could she put into words that every time he left her, he shattered her heart. Or that when he returned, he found a way to mend it again. Years they spent like this, decades. Hiding from the outside world, in her school or in her home. If they ever found each other in another place at the same time (the Fire Nation, Omashu, or wherever it was) she wouldn't allow herself to be alone with him. Stolen kisses and lingering touches would be their undoing, so she stayed away even when he sought her out. Once, early on, she allowed Aang to kiss her while they were both staying in the Fire Nation Palace and she'd been so distracted by the airbender in her arms, the Fire Lord nearly walked in on them. It was the last time anything like that happened.
Aang didn't like it, she didn't care. Her private business was her own, not for all to see. To remind him of this, she even agreed to go on a blind date (Toph thought the term was coined for her until Katara explained otherwise). It was with one of Sugar Queen's fellow Water Tribesmen. They went to an end of the war celebration in Ba Sing Se. Katara, feeling unwell had not been able to attend, while Aang, being the Avatar, had to. There, he had pretended not to mope, Toph pretended not to notice.
It was still early on and it was difficult at times, but they found a way. Still, a hesitancy colored their twenties. They were not awkward like they might have been in their teenage years, but they were still unsure about themselves and the other. Reaching a balance between what they wanted and dared to give, proved difficult at times and misunderstandings abounded.
Each grew more certain and sure during their thirties. They saw less of each other because their schedules were so full, but used what little time they had wisely. The two to three day encounters involved many conversations and lots and lots of sex. Playful, rough, but always earth shattering. Sometimes literally.
Their forties brought them a rare and deep intimacy. Toph and Aang had fought alongside each other, been friends for years, lovers, confidants, and they reached a point where they only felt whole when the other was near. They could talk about anything and did. Sometimes, just being in the other's presence was enough. Lying huddled close, legs entwined, being able to feel and feed off of the heat the other provided was unlike anything. It was a fascinating thing to experience that neither knew how to explain.
But all good things must end.
When next he visited Gaoling, Aang was like a different man. That infectious laugh was the same, the lean lines of his well-sculpted body were the same, his short beard was the same, but there was an urgency to his kisses that hadn't been there before.
"I missed you, Toph" he whispered along her neck while he removed the tunic and pants she wore, the bindings, everything until Toph was standing before him completely nude. His heart raced in his chest as he drank her in, burning the image into the deepest part of himself where it would remain with him always.
"Done staring?" she smirked, her hands at her hips. "Because it's cold in here."
"I'll warm you up," he suggested and she punched him for being corny.
In between kisses he told her again how much he missed her, how those few months seemed like years because he couldn't get away. For her part, Toph didn't say anything along those lines, she never did. The mushy words, the gazing into each other's eyes (or the equivalent for someone like her) she didn't do. There were other ways in which she showed him how she felt, how strongly, how desperately she wanted him, too.
His robes she tugged on, pulled over his head, and tossed to the ground. Her kisses held so much force behind them, a blush rose to her cheeks when he kissed her with the same fiery desire.
Toph's back was to the wall when he scooped her up. The first time he did so, she panicked, knocking him down to his surprise, but she had grown to love being blind to the whole world and to see him and him alone. To feel him, to smell him, to get lost in him completely. It was as though she couldn't get enough.
He kissed her, long and deep, as he slid inside her and she whimpered into his shoulder, "Aang..."
Her hips cradled his as he thrust time and time again. Gently at first, but soon, increasing his speed to her liking. It amazed her every time that he remembered what she liked and how, and she couldn't help but moan into his mouth as he kissed her again.
Hot and sweaty, they slid against each other, her words urging him on. She wrapped her arms around his neck as his hands clung to her hips.
Soon, Aang could feel her begin to fall apart around him. He bucked up into her, trailing kisses along her jaw and down her neck. When he felt her tighten around him, coaxing him to follow her over the edge, he didn't give in. He wanted to ride the feeling as long as possible.
"Toph," he whispered as he watched her. My beautiful Toph, he wanted to say. And then the words he fought back for so long finally escaped his lips. "I love you."
Aang shuddered his release and failed to notice how she tensed up upon hearing those three little words. They were both breathing heavy when he let her down, but she moved away before he could kiss her once more.
A bath, he suggested and she refused. His attempts at helping her dress (one of his favorite things to do), she denied. She grabbed a robe and tied it around herself.
"What's wrong?" he asked her retreating figure. He began to worry. "Did I hurt you?"
She didn't stop to answer him and simply left the room. Aang dressed quickly and followed her out. "Toph. Come on, what is it?"
His pleading voice got a reaction out of her, but not the one he hoped for.
"I need to get outta here," was all she said and her tone brook no argument.
"Sure," he tried to smile. "I'll get Appa. He's not as fast as he used to be, but-"
"No." She needed to get away from him. She needed to clear her thoughts and she couldn't do it with him around. "Just stay here. I'll be back." And she was gone.
By the time Toph returned hours later, Aang had made dinner. "You hungry?" he asked, his voice hopeful.
An awkward silence hung between them and Aang shifted uncomfortably in place. There had never been an awkward moment when it was just the two of them, not since they began.
"Did I do something wrong?" he finally asked.
She tried to play it off. "You do lots of things wrong, Twinkletoes." She reached across the kitchen counter, but stopped short of his hand. "C'mon. You owe me an earthbending battle." She wanted to be distracted. Needed it.
"I do?" The sadness had left his voice. "Why?"
"What do you mean, why? Because I said so."
He chuckled, relieved, that she seemed to be back to her old self again.
The students had been sent home to spend the Winter Solstice with their families, so Aang and Toph had the whole school to themselves. When they reached the middle of the arena, it began.
Earth was shifted, molded, thrown. Aang moved like a man half his age, easily like he had in his twenties. He dodged and flipped to avoid being pummeled. Toph stopped boulders twice her size and with a simple flick of her wrist, sent them flying back towards him. When a cloud of dust rose up, Aang disappeared. Toph waited and listened. He must have been high up because she couldn't sense him anywhere near the ground. Then, the air changed around her and she knew he was close.
Aang was gliding high above, watching her with a smile on his face. She was grinning, but that was more out of habit than lack of focus. He circled above her again, admiring her patience, her determination to get him, but mostly enjoying the way her robe opened at the bottom revealing a well-toned leg and thigh. The love and lust that swirled in a delicate dance within him was a heady combination and he wanted to laugh at how blissfully happy he felt.
Straining to hear something, Toph was taken completely by surprise when she suddenly felt Aang's lips on hers. It was for a split second and then he was gone again. Her lips tingled and though her hand itched to reach up to feel where his lips had been only moments ago, she forced both hands to stay at her side.
Sliding her foot in a half circle, she punched her arms into the air, launching huge boulders up into the sky. They all came crashing down without having hit that sneaky airbender.
"Where'd you go?" she whispered to herself. Then, before she could even scream, Aang scooped her up.
The air was cold across her face as he flew them high above her school on his glider.
"Put me down!" she yelled, even as she clung to him for dear life.
"But I like you here," Aang yelled back, smiling against her hair. He loved flying with her. She rarely let him do it, but it was amazing...just the two of them, together, floating through his element. It was peaceful and wonderful and he relished the feel of her against him while the air was all around. His laughter filled the sky.
"Fine." Unaware of how high up they were, but needing to prove something to herself, she let him go. Her stomach back-flipped as she fell and fear began to grip her when she couldn't sense any earth below. They must have been pretty high up.
Maneuvering himself to cut quickly through the air, he reached her in the time between heartbeats, but it had seemed so much painfully slower than that. He crushed her body against his and held her with one arm, which made gliding somewhat difficult.
"Why did you do that?" he yelled, obviously upset.
"I was getting down one way or another," she replied calmly as they landed near the spot he first carried her off from.
Wrapping his arms tightly around her, he strained to keep his voice level. "You could've gotten hurt, Toph. Please don't ever do anything like that again."
"Alright, alright," she shoved him off.
"No," he grabbed her upper arms, "It's not alright! I - what if something happened to you?"
"What's gonna happen to me? Nothing, that's what." She sounded so sure, he softened his hold on her.
With great care, his hands slid up over her shoulders, past her neck to cradle her face. "You really scared me," he admitted as he pressed his lips to hers gently. "What if you'd gotten hurt?" He kissed her before she could say, "I didn't."
His lips were soft against her cheeks, her eyelids, her jaw, and finally her lips again. The adrenaline of flying, of earthbending was still coursing through her and she wanted him to know it. Though he was usually the one to initiate, that time she kissed him, long and hard. When he broke away, he was gasping for air.
"Trying to prove a point?" he asked, sounding amused.
"Trying?" she snorted, "I proved it."
"Prove it again," he said, sitting down in the middle of the courtyard and pulling her with him.
"You're so corny today," she laughed, "What's with you?"
"You're with me," he replied, voice low, serious, honest. Toph pressed her lips to his to keep him from saying anything else.
He was ready and waiting for her when she pulled her robe open and moved to straddle his lap. She had always been bold, if only to show she could be, but she hadn't always been as confident that she could please him as easily as he managed to please her. But after so many years, just as Aang knew what she liked, Toph knew what he liked, too. And he really liked her on top.
"Earth..." she whispered as she took him inside. Closing her eyes, she began rocking her hips, slowly, ever so slowly, building up their rhythm, and dragging it out. He groaned in her ear and she smiled. Then, his tongue flicked out against her neck and he trailed wet kisses down between her breasts. As his tongue swirled around such sensitive skin, Toph threw her head back, moaning, calling his name, offering herself to him completely.
It could have been minutes. Or hours. Time was lost to them.
Together, they moved as one and the earth trembled as sheer ecstasy washed over them.
Smirking, she rocked gently above him and he shuddered again.
"Toph..." He sounded completely relaxed and her smirk turned to a full-blown smile. In turn, he snaked his arms around her waist and held her tight against him, burying his nose in the crook of her neck. Inhaling deeply, he committed her scent to memory.
"You smell amazing."
She laughed, still giddy in the afterglow.
"I smell like you after we..." she trailed off as his lips and the tip of his nose traveled the length of her chest, from one shoulder to the other, making her shiver.
His voice was low as he spoke. "You smell like earth-"
"You did just force me flying."
"-you smell like us."
"Then, I need a bath," she complained and he chuckled. The sound was a rich melody Toph reveled in.
Easing backwards, she sat back on his thighs. Aang reached to pull her robe and tie it closed.
"What if I spend more time here?" he asked suddenly.
"My students are coming back in a day or two, but I guess you can help me torture them a bit. It's been a while since we did that." She was grinning from ear to ear, probably plotting the best way to use his airbending against her unsuspecting earthbenders.
"I can help, sure," he offered, "As long as I get to be with you."
Suddenly, it dawned on her what exactly he was saying. She demanded an explanation. "What do you mean by that?"
"I want to be with you, Toph, always."
Was he crazy?
"You stop by, Twinkletoes, but your home is-"
"Wherever you are," he finished.
He couldn't be thinking straight. Anything said after sex was superfluous at best, she knew that. "What about-?"
"It won't be easy telling her, I know, but-"
"Easy?" Was he kidding? Toph shook her head as she spoke, "It'll be a mess! An international one, while we're at it!"
"But it's what my heart has been asking for. What it's been telling me to do for years now," Aang argued. "I love you, Toph. I want to be here. With you."
"Stop saying that!" she yelled, standing.
He stood, too, adjusting his robes hurriedly. "What? That I want to be with you?"
"No! The other thing! You don't love me. You can't! You have Sugar Queen and-"
"Toph," he closed the distance between them. Did she not see that his heart sang when he was with her? "I'm never happier than when you're by my side and I'm by yours."
The words cut through her, making her insides bleed raw. How many times had she dreamed of hearing those very words, feeling his vibrations and knowing he was telling the absolute truth? But, she always woke up chiding herself for harboring such notions, for secretly wanting the impossible.
Through all their time together, Toph chose to believe he loved Katara. The only reason Aang spent time in her school or in her home was because Toph practically threw herself at him. Sure, he was the Avatar and should be above such earthly pleasures, but he was a man, too. In her delusional mind, it worked because Katara had the Avatar, so Toph could have her Twinkletoes. Only he wasn't hers. He had always belonged to someone else. Earth, she was pathetic.
It didn't help that she always knew that what they were doing wasn't exactly right, but as long as no one found out, then no one was hurt, and they could go on as if nothing happened. Sweetness was her friend and Toph never meant... Her heart was supposed to be the only one at stake. Not Aang's, not Katara's, hers. She had to fix this.
Toph chose her next words carefully, picking the ones she knew would hurt Aang most.
"Look, we had fun, Twinkles, but you just made things way more complicated than they had to be."
The cruel words, her dismissal of his feelings stung unlike anything he could imagine. "Fun? Fun! It was more than that and you know it."
"We knew this wasn't a long term thing," she shrugged.
"Don't dismiss what we have because you're scared," he begged. She moved away when he attempted to get close to her. "Toph?" She shook her head and he cracked. "How can you be so selfish, Toph?"
"Now, I'm selfish? Because I don't want you to leave your wife!"
"No," he shook his head. "Because I'm willing to give up everything for you and you're not willing to do the same."
She could feel him slipping through her fingers and it was a horrid, dreadful feeling knowing there was nothing she would do to stop it. "You know what? You're right," she grinned and hoped it was convincing enough. "I'm not." Might as well lie all the way, she thought. "Because there's someone else."
Aang froze. There couldn't be. He didn't believe her. She was lying, she was.
"When you leave, Twinkles, you go back to your life. What makes you think I haven't been doing the same?" When he didn't reply, she added, "And, I'm in love with him. Figured I'd tell you since we're being honest here."
"Honest?" His heart was breaking in two, but still Aang wouldn't believe it. "But you're lying," he cried and he didn't care how pitiful he sounded. He knew she had dated - he'd seen it - but to love someone else? It was too much.
"When have I ever lied to you?" she asked, having forced her heart to slow nearly to a halt because he had to leave completely convinced.
Aang reeled, taking a step back. Toph never lied to him. Never. His expression was one of horror when he finally believed she was telling the truth.
The only reason he and Toph worked out for as long as they had was because she never had to give up more than she wanted. But now that he was asking for more, he could see how wrong he had been about everything. He always came to her, sought her out. Foolishly, he built up what they had into something it wasn't. He took another step back as if that would somehow soften the blow. She had been right so long ago, he really was the blind one.
Tears threatened his eyes, but the airbender kept them at bay. Toph didn't even want him. She called all the days they spend together fun.
After a small eternity, he finally spoke again.
"I love you," he whispered, feeling humiliated and defeated. "And, I truly wish I didn't."
The words were like vicious blows, but one thing Toph excelled at was putting up a front. "You'll get over it," she sneered.
His glider whooshed open as he watched her. She stood there, defiant and beautiful as ever. Her long, dark hair dancing in the wind, her skin, smooth and pale, glowing under the moonlight, and her exquisite face, never again his to hold, caress, or kiss. Even if her heart would never belong to him, Aang couldn't help think of her as his beautiful Toph. She was in love with someone else, she didn't want him, and still he couldn't force himself to leave her. Spirits, he was pathetic.
"Do me a favor, Aang," she called out, "Don't come back here. He won't like it."
The tears finally fell from his grey eyes and he couldn't even look at her as he replied. "I won't," he promised, shutting his eyes and frowning deeply, unable to do anything but clutch at the terrible ache in his chest and will himself to move.
A violent gush of air coupled with the startling absence of his vibrations let her know he was gone. Really, truly gone. Toph walked back inside the school, locked herself in her office, and cried. She was certain she would never see him again, but, but he would stay with Katara. After so many years of deception, it's the least she deserved.
Nine months later, the baby girl that would one day become Chief of Police of Republic City was born.
"Fine, since you won't answer that, can I ask you something else?" Sokka asked. The little girl had crawled into his lap and fallen asleep.
"Promise to answer?"
Sokka raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
"If it's something I wanna answer, no problem," Toph grinned, standing. "I should take her inside. It's getting cold."
The Water Tribe Chief stood, too, picking up the sleeping child with him. Carefully, he carried the little girl to her room. Once Sokka placed her on the bed, he pulled the blanket to her shoulder and watched her sleep for a moment. Then, he followed Toph out, leaving as quietly as they entered.
A few steps away from the door, Sokka stopped his friend. Toph had never said and he hadn't dared ask, but he was curious. He knew Toph had gone out with The Duke and saw her dancing with a waterbender a few times, but he didn't know what to make of either man as the father. Once, shortly after becoming Chief of the Southern Water Tribe, he had witnessed Toph and Aang huddled close, talking, laughing. The intimacy of the moment had bothered him, but Sokka refused to believe that either his brother-in-law or one of his best friends would ever do anything to hurt his sister.
"Whose is she?" he finally asked.
Toph turned her face towards him. She gave Sokka a wry smirk and replied, "She's mine."
Many years later, it was early Autumn when Fire Lord Zuko called all his remaining living friends together to honor the late Avatar. Because the airbender had done so much and meant so much, Zuko set aside Aang's birthday as a national holiday. The streets were lined with those celebrating and enjoying the many festivities.
Stories were told and retold of Avatar Aang's many great accomplishments. Art depicting some of his most famous battles (the Siege of the North, the fight during Sozin's Comet, the Rebels he dealt with after the end of the war, and the first defeat of the Equalists), were on display for all to see.
Sokka, Katara, and Toph walked among those celebrating their friend.
"Most of these people have it all wrong!" Sokka complained. "Aang didn't do it all on his own!"
"What do you mean?" Toph asked.
"We're not even in this drawing!"
Toph turned to Katara. "Help your brother out, Sugar Queen."
Katara smiled, "This drawing shows Aang defeating Ozai, taking down the Fire Nation air fleet, and fighting Azula all on his own."
"I know!" Sokka yelled.
"Well, we know what happened," Katara said sagely. "That's all that matters."
"Oh, no, that's not all that matters!" Sokka stalked over to the small booth and demanded to know who the artist was.
"Let 'em have it, Snoozles!" Toph grinned, rolling up her sleeves. "I've been itching for a fight."
Katara shook her head. "I haven't." She grabbed her brother. "We're too old to be picking fights on the street, Sokka."
"Speak for yourself, Sweetness. I'm still in my prime!"
"Yes, well," Katara smiled despite herself, "Just because you don't have any grey hair, doesn't mean you're a teenager anymore, Toph."
"Yeah, what's with that?" Sokka asked, "Why is your hair still all black! I've heard it say that I look distinguished with the white coloring my temples, but Katara's starting to look like Gran Gran."
"I am not!" she smacked the Southern Water Tribe Chief upside the head. "Not that there's anything wrong with how Gran Gran looked. Besides, I only have a few grey hairs."
"A whole lot of white is more like it."
"Who cares what you look like," Toph insisted, "What's important is that if we wanted to, we could kick all these people's butts!"
A few of those around them turned and stared. Sokka waved them off.
"Don't listen to her, folks. She's old and senile," he mock whispered, earning him a small quake with him at the epicenter.
Katara rolled her eyes at the scene before her. Then, reluctantly smiled at the familiarity of it.
Eventually, after they were all pretty much covered in dirt, Katara managed to get them back to the Palace in one piece.
"Where are my favorite nieces and nephews?" Sokka yelled once he stepped inside the Palace. There was no reply and he made a face. "Man, where is everyone? You think they're having lunch?"
"Why don't you go find out, Sokka. I want to talk to Toph."
"All right," he nodded, "But if they are having lunch, you better hurry. I can't guarantee there'll be anything left when you get there if I find them first."
He walked off and Toph turned to Katara.
"What up, Sugar Queen?"
Katara chewed her lip. "There's something I've been meaning to ask you," she replied.
"I...I saw how he looked at you," Katara added and Toph could hear the tears in her voice. This was a conversation Toph had never planned on having, especially now that Aang was gone so that she couldn't even beat him up for it. She was seriously considering finding a way into the Spirit World just so she could make him face this with her. "But I think...I justhoped it was a crush. We've all had our share of those."
Katara took a deep breath, then continued. "I guess I always knew how he felt about you, but I tried to make up for it by being a really good wife to him and-"
"And, you were Sweetness. Twinkletoes talked about you all the time," she lied effortlessly. "Wouldn't shut up about you and the kids. It was kinda annoying."
"Really?" Katara sniffled, "I'm sorry." But Toph knew she wasn't.
"And I know I don't need to tell you this," the younger woman continued, "But Aang loved you. He chose you, Katara. He and I, we were just friends. C'mon, Sweetness, youknowthat."
A sob escaped Katara followed by an onslaught of tears. Toph wrapped one arm around her shoulder. How many years had she suspected, Toph wondered, and felt the guilt weigh on her uncomfortably.
"I'm so sorry, I don't want you to think I've spent all these years doubting you. I haven't, I promise." Toph could tell she was telling the truth. "I never thought much about all the time he spent with you. But the other day..."
"Yeah?" Toph prodded.
Katara shook her head.
"You just accused me of-"
"I know," Katara didn't let her finish, feeling ashamed for even thinking it much less outright telling Toph. The waterbender took a deep breath and said, "It's only that you've never told us who the father is-"
"I didn't think I had to!"
"You don't! Of course you don't. It's just... your daughter, she was talking to Zuko yesterday and when she smiled...she looked so much like him. Like Aang, I mean."
"Because no one else has a goofy smile, right?"
"It wasn't a goofy smile," Katara defended. "It was beautiful. Lighting up her entire face. It was as if her spirit made her whole being shine as bright as a star and," Katara paused and took in Toph's bored expression. "Spirits, that's a really stupid reason, isn't it? I'm so sorry, Toph, I don't know what's wrong with me."
"Lots of things, obviously."
"It's pretty easy to see - even for me and I'm blind, remember? - but you miss him, Katara. And it being his birthday and all this that Sparky's doing in his honor probably isn't helping."
The waterbender nodded. She really did miss him. Their last few years together, they hardly spent a day apart. Aang had returned home one day, looking exhausted and miserable, his eyes red, like he'd been crying, and full of sorrow. Katara's not sure what had happened to him, he never answered when she asked. All he said was that if anyone wanted to talk to the Avatar, they would have to come to the Air Temple from then on. Then, he had meditated for almost two weeks straight, taking no food, no sleep, seeing no one. After that, he rarely ever left the temple.
"About my being a homewrecker-"
"Toph! I didn't say that!"
The earthbender shrugged, "Can't say I wouldn't have been suspicious if things happened the other way around, was all I was gonna say," she admitted. "I think that might be why I never married," Toph added, a hint of teasing in her voice, "Whoever I married would have taken one look at you and..."
Through the tears, Katara chuckled and shook her head, "You don't give yourself enough credit, Toph."
"Oh, I give myself more than enough credit," she said honestly, "But I know what makes me awesome and where I come up short."
"Toph!" Katara admonished, but the crying had stopped, which is all Toph wanted. Every tear Katara shed made Toph feel worse. "You were beautiful. You still are," Katara promised. "Sokka's right, I don't know why you look so much younger than the rest of us."
"Late bloomer?" Toph suggested, grinning. "'Cause I think I'm okay with being a hot old lady."
Katara laughed again as she wiped her eyes dry.
"This is why he spent so much time with you," Katara nodded, reinforcing what she had always believed and squeezing Toph's hand, "You have a way of making people forget all the problems of the world."
"Nah," Toph shook her head, "That's why he had you. Yeah, Twinkles stopped by every once in a while to visit with me - or his other friends - but he always went home to you." Saying the words out loud made Toph's chest ache with that familiar feeling, but she went on. After everything else Toph had done, she could do this for Katara. "He loved you since he was a boy, Sweetness, I'm sure he's in the Spirit World loving you still." Toph could sense the other woman's relief and gratitude. "Why are we talking about Aang anyway? He wasn't all that special," she smirked, knowing he was the one who brought them together.
"You know he was," Katara replied softly, the reverence clear in her tone.
Toph shrugged, admitting nothing as usual.
"Can we forget I even brought up this whole nonsense?" Katara asked smiling and placing two cool hands on the other woman's.
"Already done," Toph assured her, feeling like the horrible friend she was. "But you're gonna have to make it up to me."
Katara laughed and promised she would. She then talked some more, but nothing to do with Aang, specifically. After he passed away, Katara had returned to the South Pole. Her children were grown and had begun living their own lives. She spoke of her work and her students and Toph listened patiently to her friend share what had become of her life.
The air was unusually cold as Toph stood in the balcony of her room in the Palace.
"That was a very kind thing you did earlier."
Toph had heard Zuko approaching while she and Katara talked, but she couldn't be sure how much he overheard. Apparently, he overheard quite a bit.
"Really, Sparky, what would people say if they knew you had nothing better to do than to eavesdrop on your guests?"
"Don't try changing the topic."
"What topic? I have no idea what you're talking about."
The Fire Lord stepped outside into the balcony, instantly warming the space around him.
"Is there some reason you're here?" Toph asked. " I thought you had a nation to run."
"I do," he replied, "But I can hardly do that if your daughter-"
"Yes," he smiled. He loved the little troublemaker. Though, she wasn't so little anymore. Hadn't she just told him she'd been promoted to lieutenant? She'd be Chief of Police in a year at the rate she was going. "She's torturing the guards again. They're still not used to earthbenders, you know?"
Toph was positively beaming.
"Don't look too proud," the Fire Lord teased, "She lost whatever money she had on her. Even if - like her mom - she's an unrepentant cheat." Not surprisingly, the young woman looked a lot like her mother had at the same age as well. The similarities were uncanny.
"I don't cheat. Don't have to. I'm just that awesome," Toph grinned. "Now, my girl, she's even more awesome than I am, if you can believe it."
Her daughter had been a terror growing up, Toph could admit it, but it never helped that Sparky spoiled her rotten. Whatever money she lost, Toph was sure Zuko replaced it once he learned of what happened. But trying to cheat the guards out of their money was something she rarely did the older she got, especially now that she was a lieutenant. It was probably her last bit of fun before getting back to work.
Their laughter died down and she could feel him turn serious.
"About what you told Katara..."
Toph left the balcony and walked back into her room. "I'm not having this conversation."
"What would the fearless Blind Bandit say that her sixty-year-old counterpart was running away?"
"You really think that's going to get me talking?" she challenged.
"It was worth a shot."
Instead of leaving, Toph sat on the edge of her bed. "I'm staying here because I want to and not because of anything you said, got it?"
Zuko rolled his eyes, but moved to sit next to her. When he reached for her hand with his warm one, she growled.
"Why is everyone so touchy-feely today!"
"Maybe because we haven't seen each other in a while," he said. "Maybe because it's Aang's birthday and we're all a little emotional."
"I'm not emotional."
"Of course," the Fire Lord droned, "The World's Greatest Earthbender doesn't get emotional."
"And don't you forget it."
He broached his earlier topic again. "I know what happened. Between you and-"
"Geez, Sparky, so you overheard Sweetness and me talking-"
"I didn't mean Katara," Zuko explained. He waited a beat before adding, "You and Aang." His voice was barely above a whisper.
"Say what now?"
"I know about you two."
"Okay, now I really don't know what you're talking about."
"I think you do," he said, pressing on. "I think you cared about him for a very long time, maybe even lov-"
She probably shouldn't have reacted like she did. Her outburst was as good as a confession. Damn.
"It was hard not to," he admitted.
Toph sighed. She stomped lightly on the ground with her bare foot, reaching out as far as possible to get an idea of where everyone was. No one could overhear this conversation. "What do you mean?" she asked. It was the closest she had ever come to admitting the truth to anyone.
"I saw the way he looked at you. The way you smiled when he was around."
"You're starting to creep me out, Sparky."
He chuckled. "It was hard not to notice. Plus, you two were hardly ever in the same place if...well, if Katara was there, too."
Toph shook her head. "Yeah, I don't think Twinkletoes could have handled being in the same room with the both of us too well," she grinned. A weight seemed to lift off her shoulders as she continued. It kinda felt good for someone else to know. Still, Toph hid her feelings behind her trademark smirk. Even Zuko almost thought it genuine, but he had known her long enough to realize she was putting up a front and wasn't about to reveal more than she already had. Those years she lived in the Palace to make sure he was okay after his Uncle died and later after he lost Mai, had clued him in on a well guarded secret: how truly caring Toph was. Her fierce loyalty frightened him sometimes and he was often grateful he had never attacked Aang himself after she joined the group. It also made him wonder how she could betray Katara the way she had. And the only answer that made some semblance of sense to him was that Toph must have been as desperately in love with Aang as the Avatar was with the small earthbender.
"Who else knows?" Toph asked, already suspecting the answer.
"I'm pretty sure Suki did. Not much got by that Kyoshi Warrior," he said, making Toph smile. "I only wanted to tell you that I know it wasn't easy to lie to Katara."
"You're wrong," Toph replied, laughing bitterly. Her head was downcast as she continued, "Lying to her was easy. Now, the truth? I don't know if I would have been able to get through that." Her voice was so faint, Zuko strained to hear.
"You're secret's safe with me," he squeezed her hand, reassuringly, and Toph squeezed back. Zuko was going to ask how it was possible for Toph and Aang to have a daughter who wasn't an airbender, but mulled it over silently instead. Perhaps it happened because of the nature of their relationship. Perhaps because Aang didn't have the time to be as spiritual as his predecessors. Perhaps because Toph's earthbending was simply so powerful. It could've been a number of things, but Zuko kept the thoughts to himself.
"Does she know?" he asked. His goddaughter had asked him once if he knew her father. He had suspected, but didn't say so, instead insisting it was a question only her mother could answer.
"No, she doesn't."
Zuko frowned a little, but let the subject drop. It seemed the girl would never know. His frown deepened at the thought that Aang never knew either.
Sensing his thoughts in that amazing way of hers, Toph punched him. "Don't get mopey on me now, Sparky. Let's go find that daughter of mine and teach her how to beat those guards right."
Zuko gave her a small smile as he stood up. Suddenly, he froze. Toph stopped, too, when the sound of carefree laughter swirled around them like a gentle breeze. It was almost as if he was there with them.
"Nope," Toph shook her head and walked on. "I didn't hear a thing," she denied, even as a warm breeze from the window circled her, making her pause again. "You go on ahead," she told him.
Despite the concern etched on his face, Zuko nodded and left as quietly as possible in search of his goddaughter.
The day was cold, but the wind that blew in through her window was deliciously warm.
"Twinkletoes," Toph whispered, grinning.
It felt like his fingers were running through her loose hair and his hand reached for hers...
I should've told you.
I should've known.
Toph closed her eyes and indulged in the sensation. He always had a way of making her feel more than she wanted. Secretly, it was one of the many things she loved about him.