Sorry it took so long to get something to put up, Taangers. To be honest, this one just popped up out of nowhere last night and demanded to be written (albeit poorly), so I was a slave to its demands. It turned out completely different than expected. And, as luck would have it, you guys finally get a happy Taang story! ENJOY :)
If anyone has ideas or requests for this or a Zutara fic, I will take them into consideration!
When they were twenty-five, they had created a new world. They stood, along with Zuko, Katara, Sokka, and Suki, joined by the hand in front of a cheering crowd.
"—without the tireless effort of the many men and woman who put forth the effort to help us turn our dream into the metropolis that you see before you. It is because of them, and the visions of our revolutionary mechanics that we are able to be here today, thirteen months ahead of schedule." Another wave of applause rose, but Zuko held up a hand to quiet them. "We can never fully express our gratitude towards all of you for helping to bring this goal into fruition, nor will we forget those whose lives were lost to the cause." Zuko's voice rose above the hum of voices, his sheer presence as equally commanding as his title.
To Toph's right, Aang gave her hand a light squeeze. While she was simply trying to find a calm center to distract her from the adrenalized heartbeats of the crowd, Aang's mind was thrown back to a night only a few months into construction when the first life had been lost during the primary stages when the earthbenders had been clearing the area and digging tunnels for sewage. He remembered Toph tensing, telling him to shut up as she took a wider stance on the ground. As soon as he realized what was happened, the two of them put up a strong effort to keep the walls and ceiling from collapsing, but it was too late. The young man—he was only a boy, younger than Aang himself had been at the time (and his nineteenth birthday wasn't until later that year in the fall)—had fallen flat on his back, crushed under the weight of the stone that dropped straight onto his chest. At first, the young Avatar had been too shocked by the crimson sight to move, but Toph was determined not to let him, or any of the others, join the boy. She quickly blew a tunnel straight up to the surface, shouting at a terrifying decibel for immediate evacuation, and Aang pulled the fallen boy from the wreckage out into the air.
She'd yelled at him for an hour after, all the while vigorously pounding the ground with her feet and punching rogue boulders with her fists angrily as she helped repair the collapsed area, but Aang never regretted going back for the boy. When he handed him over to his mother, he learned that his name was Kiều. So many had been lost in the war whose families would never be able to give them a proper burial and though it didn't ease his guilt, he was glad that at least Kiều's mother had her peace.
A sharp elbow to his ribcage shook Aang from the memory. He looked to the small woman beside him and though she appeared the perfect picture of innocence, she cocked her head a fraction in the direction of the Fire Lord and very quietly cleared her throat. Aang hadn't even realize that Zuko had fallen silent and was staring expectantly at him, as well as the gathered congregation and the amused faces of the Water Tribe siblings (at least Suki had the decorum to pretend that nothing was amiss).
"Avatar Aang," Zuko repeated pleasantly as he gestured to the red ribbon that separated their small group from the flashing cameras and cheering crowd, "if you would do the honour?"
Desperately hoping that the pink rapidly spreading across his cheeks wasn't too obvious to the people who had come to witness the historic event, Aang thanked Zuko—with only a very quiet chortle from both Sokka and Toph. With a stream of air as thin as a wire, the Avatar sliced through the bright ceremonial ribbon with a garish display of bending.
Zuko's voice boomed, "Without further ado, we are proud to welcome you to the capitol of your new United Republic; Republic City!"
The crowd exploded into cheers. Following Sokka's example, each of the old friends grabbed each other's hands and thrust their clasped fists high into the air in celebration.
Aang looked around him at all the people gathered and at his friends and when at last his gaze settled on the porcelain face of Toph Beifong, smirking proudly at his side, his own face split into a wide, elated smile. It reminded him of the feeling he felt after the war had ended, when they were all gathered in the Jasmine Dragon and he looked out on the new world with old eyes and a young heart. Thirteen years ago, that world had given him hope and now that he was older and had seen in depth the world as it was in and out of war, this new republic gave him faith in the future.
And when he looked down at Toph, at her pale, heart shaped face and into those endlessly deep, cloudy eyes…
The future was all he saw.
In the decade since the idea of Republic City was born, it hadn't sprung into a metropolis like Ba Sing Se in the east or Caldera in the west, but based on the number of immigrants that had willingly uprooted their lives and their families in the hopes of a better life in the new United Republic, Toph was willing to bet that in fifteen or twenty years, it would be a city to rival any of the other capitols in the world. Already the bay had become a fairly successful trade port, with new shipments coming in from every nation each day. Neighborhoods emerged, each influenced by their citizens—bender or not, fire nation, earth kingdom, water tribe. It didn't matter. They all melded into the new city, ingraining themselves into what would become the new culture.
Four blocks south of city hall in a basement apartment, Toph sat with her feet tucked beneath her in a plush arm chair sipping from a crystal ochoko. The whiskey had a pleasant smoky aroma, but as she had learned after the fifth glass, the taste burned the back of her throat. She knew that—she'd known that since she was ten and she stole a bottle from her father's private reserve—but that didn't stop her from pouring glass after glass down the hatch as though it were water and she was once again parched while trekking through the desert. The low hum of voices that came and went from the room were but a small piece that kept her cemented in reality and in the quiet lounge.
With the quiet music and her mind pleasantly distracted by nothing, for once Toph didn't sense the presence coming towards her until a pair of large hands clamped over her eyes from behind.
Toph scoffed. "Good one, Sparky, but that joke gets old pretty fast."
Aang withdrew his hands immediately, scorched by her words. "It's Aang."
"I know. I was messing with you, Twinkletoes. I'd know your little pitter-pattering heartbeat anywhere. Even if you did manage to catch me off guard, for once—so kudos." She raised her glass in salute before she threw her head back and finished off the rest of the drink.
Aang chuckled as he ducked in and pressed a kiss to her cheek before sitting in the chair opposite her. Sometime before he had arrived, she had taken her hair down and tucked it behind her ears. It was rare that Toph let her face show, and even with the red flush of inebriation, he swore he had never seen anything more beautiful in his life. She twisted the cup between her hands.
"How much have you had to drink?" he asked, humour lighting his voice.
Toph arched an eyebrow as though she was considering how to answer. "You know, I stopped counting when I stopped being able to see straight."
He shook his head. "You're funny, Sifu."
"Well, it would have been quite a few less if you weren't late."
This time, Aang laughed outright. "I thought you told me not to come." A greying woman came over and handed Toph another glass and he glared at it suspiciously, but Toph seemed to be less interested in the alcohol than before.
"What I said was—" the blind woman cleared her throat and leaned in across the gap between them "—if you're going to keep talking shop, then don't show up because I've got an entire city full of super boring people for that. I keep you around for better stuff."
"Better than hero worship?" Toph had always eaten up the way that the people they helped fell at their feet in gratitude (and though he had hoped that by the time he reached adulthood he would have outgrown it, Aang was still ashamed to admit that he loved it too). The idea that anything could be better than that, for Toph at least, was blasphemous. He followed lead and leant in closer to her until their noses were brushing. His eyes caught on her lips, dark red in the candle-lit room, and he spoke in a low tone. "What could be better than that?"
"Shut up, Twinkletoes."
In the moment, he didn't expect to be punched. As his arm ached sharply, he realized that he should have expected it. He shouldn't have expected anything else, but Aang always was the optimist.
"Ow," he muttered.
Toph leaned back in her chair with her glass and took a long swig. "It's not hero worship, Aang. They're digging for flaws. After enough of both, you get skilled at telling the difference."
"No," Aang argued. "They're just in awe with you and they want to know all your secrets."
She made a gagging sound. "Ugh, no. Not in a million years. Things like the time I spent tunnelling with badgermoles and scamming my way in and out of jail are best kept in a place where only I can see them. All that people need to know now is what happens in the future."
"You did a great job." Toph reached out and kicked him in the knee, and Aang noticed that for once she was wearing shoes (they were the thinnest silk he'd ever seen on the soul, but it was still a shock for her).
"Don't make fun. It's really hard for me to snap from being the Blind Bandit into…well, into the chief of police."
He smiled. "You sure loved breaking laws."
"I don't think the present tense works anymore," Aang laughed. Toph rolled her eyes and as she was about to take another swig of the amber liquid, he reached out and swiped the drink from her hand before it touched her lips. "Enough for tonight." He placed it on the wooden table between them and grabbed Toph's empty hand, pressing his lips to them once softly. "For the record, I wasn't making fun of you. This city—it's beautiful already, and with you helping to run it, it's going to be amazing. If we hadn't had you, this couldn't possibly have happened in the time that it did."
Toph sunk into her chair and blew out a puff of air, blowing her dark hair into her face. "Don't make me blush, Twinkletoes.
Aang held up the glass of whiskey, and the alcohol reflected gold in the pale light. "I think your drink here has been doing enough of that."
"Don't give me the credit. You're the Avatar. You could have done all of this by sneezing in your sleep if you stuck your mind to it."
"But I didn't. And honestly, I couldn't have without you." He squeezed her hand and screwed his eyes shut. "You have been my sifu for thirteen years, and in that time, you've taught me more than could ever be put into a lesson. And not only that, but without you, I couldn't have done half the things that I have. I might be the Avatar, but an Avatar is nothing without a master to teach him."
Toph laughed then, the sound loud and out of place in the quiet lounge. The soft sounds of the harp in the background had lulled her into a state of near-sleep, but Aang's long tirade seemed to effectively shake her from it. If for no reason other than to give her cause to tease him for it.
"Are you saying you're nothing without me, Twinkletoes? That's awfully sap—"
"That's exactly what I'm saying."
"Ugh, cut it out." Toph pulled her hand out of his grip, but Aang would have none of it. Sliding off of his chair, he fell to his knees before her and rested his hands on her knees. Absentmindedly, he pulled small bunches of the silken dress between his fingers.
"Just hear me out, okay? If you had never come into my life, I'd still be the Avatar and no doubt I would have found some other earthbender to teach me to throw rocks around. But—without you, I wouldn't have had the whole Toph experience that made my teenage years such living hell. I wouldn't know how to see the world for all it is, like you've shown me. And I definitely wouldn't have been able to save the world. You have made every step of my life an adventure and when I think of the future—you're all I want to see."
As the effects of the alcohol had begun to cloud her mind, Toph started to feel like her world was shrinking and all she could hear was what he was saying. She felt vaguely like a cornered elephant rat. Toph pushed against the airbender's wiry shoulder. "Hand me my drink, would you?"
"You're cut off." Before she could gather what was happening, Aang sprung up on his heels and captured his lips in a kiss. Toph's head was already spinning, but the second his lips touched hers it was as though a shock coursed through her, waking up her sleepy limbs. Though she still felt like she was falling through a cloud, she did the only thing she knew would keep her safe—and wrapped her arms tight around Aang's neck, kissing him back in earnest, all desire for liquor and arguing as invalid as everything else she couldn't be bothered with at the moment.
As he pulled away, she said the only thing that came to mind: "Your hair feels like a peach."
Loudly, Aang laughed but before Toph had time to amend her remark, he had sobered. He pressed his lips against her cheek, lingering there in a long intimate moment where he let his eyes drift closed. "Marry me."
The next morning (well, the next afternoon) when Toph finally arose from her sleep, he finally got his answer.
Her hair looked like a bird's nest made of twine and her face had a vivid red handprint where she'd fallen asleep drooling on herself once Aang had finally managed to get her up the stairs to her small apartment and onto her bed. She stumbled out of her room into the kitchen, her feet fighting with her inner ear for dominance over her balance. Walking up silently behind him, she wrapped her arms around Aang's neck as he sat at the table eating a bowl of jook. She kissed below his ear, whispering her answer so privately that they knew it was meant only to be between them.
Aang turned his face to her, a stupid grin making him look like a teenager again. "Yeah?"
Toph nodded back with a smile of her own. "Yeah."