The sun was peaking over the mountains, it was early morning, the bright rays of light illuminated the mountains, the air was cool, it was windy as they walked out and loaded the ship.
"Teo, must you leave today?" Shan asked as Teo wheeled himself up the ramp of Zuko's airship.
"Shan, I must." Teo said, turning his chair slightly, "They are sentencing the men of two crimes that I have been directly related to. The second this mess is sorted, I will be back." He said. The authority and reassurance in his voice could not be missed by anyone. "Help keep the temple safe until I return."
Shan hesitated but bowed respectfully, before stepping off the plank and waving good-bye with the rest of the Northern Temple population. They had sent many scrolls out to various parts of the world requesting assistance in helping the Northern Temple get back together after the tragedy of losing The Mechanist and various others.
Zuko showed Jin and Teo to a spare room on the ship while Katara showed Haru and Ty Lee. They were to gather at the meeting room in half an hour. "You should let me look at your ribs, Haru." Katara said, gesturing to the room across from Aang's and her own.
"Maybe in a bit. I just want to get settled first." He smiled, dumping a bag on the floor of the room.
"When you are ready, I will be in the meeting room with Aang." She said, smiling and walking down the hall towards the room.
"Are you okay?" Ty Lee said, stretching and bending down to touch her toes.
"I am fine." He said, grunting as he lay down on the large bed. Ty Lee placed her hands firmly on the floor and kicked her feet into the air, standing on her hands. She held the position for a second, the airship rocked as it properly took off. This caused Ty Lee to fall onto Haru, he cried out.
"Ah!" he shouted, grabbing his rib.
"I am so sorry!" Ty Lee squealed, quickly moving off him and gently caressing his bandaged abdomen. "Forgive me." She smiled softly, knowing that he wouldn't be mad, the outburst was more from surprise than anger. She quickly kissed along his bandages, he reached down and his large, warm hand cupped Ty Lee's face, he pulled her gently up and kissed her softly on the lips.
"Forgiven." He smiled.
Toph sprawled herself out across the mattress, she had he eyes closed as she felt the airship jolt after take-off, she curled into a ball. Must be windy outside, the take-off usually wasn't ever so wobbly. Zuko knocked on the door before entering, he smiled as he saw Toph curled in a ball, her hand touching the wall. He went and sat beside her, "Are you okay?" he said, placing his hand on her shoulder.
"Mmmhmm." She said, focusing on the metal of the airship. "What is the weather like?" she asked.
"Windier the higher we go." He smiled, he often forgot that Toph had weaknesses, it was nice to see she had normal fears like everyone else.
"Thought so." She mumbled. Urg, I hate flying. She sighed again, hoping that the flight would level out soon. Zuko sat with her, eventually he huffed and kicked his feet from the ground, laying beside her. She was facing away from him, he didn't think as he reached his arm around her and pulled her body against his.
Her eyes opened, "What are you doing?" she said slowly.
Zuko hesitated, he opened his eyes and looked into her hair, "Hugging you…" he said cautiously.
"Err, why?" she said.
"Because I want you to be comforted?" he replied, awkwardly moving his arm down to her waist, preparing to remove it if she asked.
"Oh." She whispered. Toph bit into her lip, she hadn't been held since her night of weakness after defeating Miko. She reached back out for the wall, the second her fingers touched, she could see every aspect of the airship and the people on it. She could feel all of her friends, she felt Aang and Katara in each other's arms, simply standing in the war room. Ty Lee and Haru were together on the bed, she could feel that they were kissing. She felt Teo, Jin and The Duke sitting in a small circle, they appeared to be talking, Teo's hand rested on Jin's. Moving down to Sokka's room, she felt Suki and he tangled on the bed. Longshot and Smellerbee were against each other in their room. Mai and Jet were on the deck of the airship, he was trying to hold her hand. Couple behaviour is… strange.
She removed her hand from the wall, letting herself become blind again. She rolled over, facing into Zuko's warm chest, Zuko's eyebrows furrowed, he wasn't expecting her to do this. She moved her head against his chest resting her forehead against it, she focused on his heartbeat, a warm feeling crashed over her, she focused on that.
Zuko looked down at her, only seeing the top of her head, he moved his arms up and wrapped them tightly around her. He traced his fingers up and down her back, he started to think about what everyone thought about the punishment for Loou and Shi, not to mention the General and Jo-Lou, he looked down at Toph.
"Toph?" he asked gently.
"What?" she said slightly annoyed, she just wanted to sleep.
"I want your opinion on something." He said, he looked back up at the wall, Toph moved her head away from his chest and moved her eyes up to where she assumed his were, Zuko looked back down and saw her looking blindly at his nose, close enough, he smiled. He lingered on her face and slowly leant down, pushing his lips to her nose.
"Is that a clue?" she said, feeling blush spread across her face, she sighed. "Yes, you are good at lovey-dovey stuff."
Zuko almost chuckled, "No, I wanted your opinion on what should happen with Loou and Shi."
Toph's eyes tightened for a second, she really didn't want to talk about them when alone and warm with Zuko, her feeling of warmth disappeared, she was about to express her further annoyance when, she realized. You are kind of in this together, her inner-voice sighed, he wants your opinion, help the man out. She thought at herself. "Loou and Shi are shitty people." She blew some hair out of her face and sighed, "They kidnapped Smellerbee and trapped her in a cage, like, who the fuck does that?!"
Zuko waited for a second for her to continue, but she didn't. "Is that all?" he asked after a while of silence.
"My opinion is," she thought for the words, "You know how those fuck-heads back home wronged me?" she asked.
Zuko's heart sped for a number of reasons, first, the memory of finding her, the anger that washed through him at that point in time and continued now. Second, realizing what she was about to say. But the third reason was the one that had him the most, she referred to the Fire Nation as home. It took him a second to answer, he just stared into Toph's sightless eyes, all the emotions crashing over him, all her unique beauty distracting him. He was brought back to reality when she raised an eyebrow at his extended pause, "Y-yeah?"
"Why not let Smellerbee and Longshot get them back? The way you let me get Miko back?" she said, shrugging her shoulders like it wasn't a big deal.
"They would kill each other." He said, his eyes narrowing at the idea, it appealed to him. But he couldn't just let people kill each other. "What if Longshot and Smellerbee are the ones that get hurt?"
"You asked for my opinion."
"I did." He said, he continued to let his eyes trace over her face. There was a longer period of silence, "You have changed so much." He whispered.
"What? How?" she said, she felt as he moved his hand up under her chin, across her jaw and into her hair.
"You aren't the thirteen year old girl I rumbled with and wanted nothing more than to strangle." He said, he traced his fingers from her hair down to her back, drawing circles.
She scoffed, "You want me to go back to that? Hate to disappoint you, Spa-"
"I like you now." He interrupted, "You aren't the thirteen year old girl I rumbled with. I am just bewildered by the sixteen year old woman you have become." He whispered.
Toph felt herself blush. "Where did that come from? I mean I know you are prone to strange outbursts of softness and epiphanies… But, gees."
Zuko pursed his lips into a smile. "You aren't the thirteen year old girl I rumbled with." He said, "But, sometimes I wish I could just strangle you!" he laughed, hugging her tightly.
"If you say the line one more time, I-" she started to threaten, but Zuko just smiled widely, he bent his fingers against her back and pushed them into her softly, her face lost all humour and she glared at him. "Don't you dare!" she growled.
He began to tickle her, she tried to hold it back but she couldn't, she writher around, but he held her close. "You are now the," he tickled her, she squealed and wriggled, "Sixteen year old woman I rumble with!" he laughed and started to bite her softly.
"Stop it! Stop!" she laughed. "Help! HELP!" she laughed and tried to get away.
The door flew open, "ZUKO! NO MEANS NO!" Sokka yelled, Suki stood in the doorway and laughed. Zuko finally released Toph and she pushed him from the bed. He hit the fall and sat up, laughing at Toph and his friends in the door. "We are heading down to the meeting room. You coming?"
"Way to damper the mood, Snoozles." Toph said, standing up and smoothing her hair back, she grabbed Zuko's arm in a monkey-grip hold and pulled him to his feet, she was about to let go when he caught her hand. He thread his fingers through hers and held her hand firmly, not realizing he did so.
Toph scowled slightly than mentally shrugged, they walked down the long hall together, Suki and Sokka dropped back to knock on everyone else's doors. "How long until we reach Ba Sing Se?" Toph mumbled as she released his hand to walk through the door.
"A day. If the pilot ascends high enough, we will be there a few hours before sundown." Zuko said, holding the door open.
"The King is expecting us." Aang said, spinning a scroll around in his fingers and tossing it at Toph, it hit her in the shoulder and she scowled at Aang. "Shit! Sorry!" He smirked. Toph picked up the scroll and threw it back at the apologetic Avatar.
Zuko stayed at the door and held it open for Teo and Jin, Teo didn't look up at him, he pushed past him with a scowl, Jin smiled half-heartedly. Zuko returned her smile. The others walked in and Iroh helped a young man with the tea trolley, Iroh and the boy were discussing various tea styles and flavours, most of which the boy had not tried.
Teo pulled his wheelchair up next to Toph, sitting on her cushion one side of the table, she turned her head slightly towards him, feeling his heart thumping even through the wood of his wheelchair, "You okay?"
He shrugged, "Not overly."
Everyone sat down, Iroh cleared his throat. "Good morning everyone. How are we all today?" there was a collection of murmurs and grunts in reply. Iroh started to hand out cups of tea, "Begin whenever you are prepared, nephew." He said, smiling at Zuko.
"We need to reach a decision before we confront King Kuei," everyone looked at each other, Zuko cleared his throat and continued, "That way, we can be a united front. We have no say over the sentencing of Earth Kingdom citizens."
Toph felt both Smellerbee and Longshot scoff softly. She looked towards them, not sure whether to be annoyed or not. She completely understood where Smellerbee and Longshot were coming from, but to get angry at Zuko was unfair. Zuko sighed and spoke loudly, "I think life in prison. If I could just kill someone everything I felt like it, there would be an uprising, and Aang would have ended me long ago. In prison, they have to live with what they have done, for the rest of their lives."
Zuko sat down and looked at Katara, she pursed her lips and twisted her fingers around in her lap before speaking. "I, was thinking about this earlier." She looked up at Smellerbee, Longshot, Jet and across to Teo, finishing on Toph. "I think life in prison." Zuko nodded slowly, Katara continued, "Those men deserve worse, far worse, like torture. But we are supposed be promoting our era of peace and love. Murder won't be helping that image."
Everyone nodded or exchanged a glance, Zuko's eyes moved to Sokka, "I say, an eye for an eye. This counts for the General and his shitty son. They would have killed you guys if we hadn't shown up." Sokka said, looking at Suki and Ty Lee, "I can't bear to think what Loou and Shi would have done to Smellerbee if she hadn't escaped. Or those men to Toph, if you guys hadn't shown up." He looked at Aang and Katara, sitting either side of Zuko. "It goes against the new era, but they need to be taught that it is not ever acceptable to treat humans like something less."
Zuko pursed his lips he agreed with Sokka but didn't change his view, two against one, he looked at Suki, she pushed her lips together and puffed, the escaping air sounded like a raspberry, "I am unsure. I would like to believe that I could forgive them if any of it happened to me." She looked at Zuko, "But I don't think I could." She was silent and looked up, "Death."
Jin looked up at Zuko as his eyes moved to her, "You should have seen it, Zuko." She said, "It was a completely unprovoked attack. They wiped out one of the finest minds in the world like he was nothing." She looked at Teo, and held his hand, "Death."
There was silence for a while when Zuko looked at Teo, Teo stared back. His goggles were in their usual spot on his forehead, he still had a young face, but now his eyes looked aged.
"You know I was about to kill myself?" Teo whispered.
Everyone's mouths fell open, except Smellerbee's. "My wheelchair was in pieces, they had my serum, The Duke's fighting sticks could only do so much against Fire Benders and/or assassins that stood over me." He looked up to see a few people with tears in their eyes. "They said they would kill me in front of my friends. My family. My people. They became distracted by something and I crawled towards the balcony. Said my good-byes to you all and pushed myself through." He was quiet, the silence tore through everyone, Iroh even stopped pouring his tea. "Death. It is what would have happened to me if Smellerbee hadn't had shown up."
Katara and Jin had tears rolling down their cheeks, Jin hadn't heard this, "Teo…" she whispered.
"I, I didn't know." Zuko said, the shock passing slowly. "Teo, I-"
"I know you didn't. But that doesn't take back the fact that I am now an orphan." Teo said, cutting him off. "Now you know why I choose death for them."
There was another painful silence, Toph blew her hair out of her eyes and let it fall back into them, she knew it was her turn, "Sparky," she felt as his heartbeat sped, "The second you got that scroll at the Western Temple… Loou and Meei had been on the bottom of every scroll that has caused trouble. Resulted in pain and humiliation. Aren't you seeing a pattern?" she traced the thumb of her left hand over her ring finger, her large metal ring reminding her. Knotweed and rock, strong together, strong separated. "Death."
Zuko's brow furrowed, everyone noticed this, though he just asked for her opinion not ten minutes ago, he hoped that maybe she would rethink. "Don't look at me like that, Sparky." She grumbled, everyone looked at Toph, she knew he would be, "I told you my actual opinion and you didn't like that. This is the edited one." She knew he would be pulling a face at her, even if she couldn't see it.
"What was your actual one?" Smellerbee said, looking between her and Zuko.
"That you, Longshot and Teo take 'em out." She said. "Mai mentioned it yesterday and I think it is genius."
"Execute them?" The Duke said, shocked that Toph would suggest that.
"Pfft, no." Toph said. "Like I did with the men back in the Fire Nation… Let them fight it out, if they die, so be it."
"That was for their jobs, not their lives." Aang said.
"Hey, just my opinion." Toph said calmly.
Mai smirked, "I think it is a good idea."
"That is totally barbaric." Katara said.
"That's Wizard's Chess." Sokka smirked, quoting one of his favourite scrolls from when he was a child, Katara growled and flicked water at him, no one else heard.
"Oh yeah, completely barbari." Jet agreed, "But they deserve it."
"So, everyone is voting death… Yet killing them in a rink is barbaric?" Smellerbee said through gritted teeth.
"Not everyone." Katara and Aang said in unison.
"You haven't let the rest of us say our opinions…" Ty Lee mumbled loudly. Everyone looked at her, "Whether we put them in jail for the rest of their lives or kill them, either way we aren't promoting love. Or peace." She looked at Haru briefly, "Haru and I were discussing last night, aren't you curious why they ordered the attack?"
Haru nodded, "It is obvious that they were against Toph, so the kidnapping of Smellerbee is known and can be punished." He looked at Smellerbee who tightened her eyes, "But why did they order a kill on Teo and his father?"
"I could have told you that." Smellerbee said. "It is fuzzy due to dehydration and exhaustion, not to mention pain." She rubbed her wrists absentmindedly, "The only thought I had after hearing Teo's name referenced and silence in the same sentence was escape, escape, escape. They have been stopping letters getting in and out of the Fire Nation, wanting to crack Zuko, to put Toph and him on edge, to strain the relationship."
There was silence, "Fuck this shit, just drop them from the fucking sky!" the unknown tea boy suddenly yelled. Everyone turned and looked at him.
"It is sounding better and better." Zuko mumbled, rubbing his temples.
Katara engulfed Smellerbee's hands, up to her wrists. She cringed as the cold water stung her barely healed scraps and abrasions, Longshot crouched in the corner, he watched Smellerbee's every move. Haru lay on his back, next to Katara, patiently waiting, the healers at the Northern Temple had not done a good job on Haru, Katara was furious. "You would think that healers would actually do their job…" she growled. "Did they even offer to look at your wounds?!" She almost shouted at Smellerbee.
"I didn't tell them I had them." She mumbled, Katara continued to rant. Longshot rolled his eyes, they came to rest on the door, he didn't want to leave her alone ever again, but he knew he couldn't always watch her. He stood suddenly, Smellerbee's eyes snapped to him. Be back in a while.
He walked from the room and down the metal stairs. He knew she had gotten his message.
Longshot had left his bow and quiver in the bedroom, but he always carried a blade that The Duke had made him. He fingered it in his pocket as he walked towards the holding cells, he continued down the flights of stairs, forgetting how big the airship actually was. He slipped past the guards like smoke.
He was approaching the door of the holding cell when he heard something behind him. He paused at the door and grabbed his knife, he turned with it poised to throw. "Pfft, that will hurt you more than me." Toph smirked.
He looked at her, he knew that he couldn't communicate to her without talking, he sighed, "What do you want?"
"You seem to forget I have a pretty good idea about what goes on… Metal and earth talk to me." She said, walking towards him. "What do you want?" she asked, mimicking his tone.
"I just wanted to… Talk to them." He said through pursed lips, disappointed in himself that he got caught.
"Why alone?" she continued, placing her hand on the metal door, she could feel that the men were asleep.
"I don't want Smellerbee near them." He growled. Toph looked at the door, she felt around the airship, they were the only two around. She sighed and turned her sightless eyes towards Longshot.
"Let's make this quick." she said, removing her hand. "But leave the knife."
"You won't like what I have to say." He whispered. "And I would prefer to have it in the room with us."
"For the next however long, I am deaf too." She said, ignoring the comment about the knife.
Longshot nodded and walked quietly through the door he placed the knife on the table behind him, leaning against it. The men slept peacefully, though still in shackles. Toph drew in a deep breath as she closed the door softly. "WAKEY, WAKEY FUCK HEADS!" she yelled loudly. The two men jerked awake, both had looks of absolute terror. Longshot almost smiled, but he didn't want to break his appearance. "Someone very important and very pissed wants to talk to you! And you will listen!" She continued to yell.
Loou and Shi growled at the small woman they were supposed be serving, "Seeing as Fire Lord Push-Over isn't here, are we allowed to speak our minds about you? You little bitch." Shi grumbled.
"This visit isn't about me." Toph said, "For once." She added with a smirk, Longshot took a step forward.
"I want you to listen carefully. The second we step off the airship, regardless of what the Fire Lord has voted, you so much as glance towards any of us I am going to kill you. It will look like an accident, and I will enjoy it." He spoke quietly and deadly.
Toph kept her face blank as she listened to Longshot, she bit her lip and spoke slowly, Zuko is going to hate me. "Screw it, you fuck up once more, we will kill you together."
"The Fire Lord landed, your highness. The servants are leading them to the war room." Mehdi bowed, entering Kuei's room.
"And our other guests?" Kuei asked, standing from his desk and pocketing his glasses.
"The General of Gaoling is in his room, his son should be returning from the markets soon. They do not know that they are under guard." Mehdi said. "Once we hear what crimes, they can be released?"
"Or imprisoned." Kuei mumbled. "I want to see what younger Teo of the Northern Temple says. I do hope his father accompanied him." He walked towards the door and out into the hall, he saw his fat, happy pet bear following him. "No, no, Bosco. This is some serious business. Stay put." Bosco growled sadly but sat down. King Kuei smiled and patted him on the head before walking down the hall, flanked by guards and Mehdi.
"Isn't he just such a good bear?" he chuckled. The guards smiled in agreement.
Ty Lee and Mai walked down the long marble halls. "Green is such a smooth colour." Ty Lee smiled, seeing the beautiful green and gold hanging from the ceilings.
"Smooth?" Mai asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, like easy to look at, no rough areas…" Ty Lee said. Mai pursed her lips, but then realized that Ty Lee's description actually suited. Ty Lee peaked out at Mai, "So, you and the forest savage? I don't blame you, he is pretty cute. And that hair! It's like gravity doesn't apply to it!"
Mai looked at Ty Lee from the corner of her eye and smiled nonchalantly, trying a little too hard to look that way. "Ha ha, nice try. You aren't going to know anything." She said in her monotone.
"Come on!" Ty Lee laughed, skipping in front of Mai, she faced her and walked backwards, Mai rolled her eyes. Ty Lee was about to beg when she bumped into someone who had walked out of a separate hallway. "Oh my! I am so sor-"
She looked up at the person she had bumped into, Jo-Lou was just as shocked to see her. Mai, grabbed Ty Lee's arm and pulled her back to her, she pulled out her knives and Ty Lee took a defensive position at the same time Jo-Lou did. His eyes traced over her and he took a step back. "What the fuck are you doing here, you circus whore?!" he growled with a whisper, his eyes darting around.
Mai tugged on Ty Lee's shirt, "Come on, we will mess everything up if we stay." She whispered quietly, Jo-Lou couldn't hear what she said. Ty Lee straightened up and turned to walk away. Jo-Lou lunged for her wrist, he was about to grab it when a huge force sent him flying into the courtyard. He groaned in pain and looked up.
Haru stood tall with a furious snarl on his face, he walked slowly down the stairs towards him, "Haru! Don't! He isn't worth it." Ty Lee yelled, Mai grabbed her wrist, stopping her from pursuing him.
"Oh, I think he is." Haru growled, pushing his sleeves up to his elbows. Jo-Lou jumped to his feet and defended himself, he watched as the large earthbender moved towards him.
"Who are you?" He said, hoping to distract him. Haru ignored him, still walking towards him, Jo-Lou's eyes flicked back to Ty Lee and Mai, a romantic attachment? "Did she play the poor little virgin card on you too?" Jo-Lou tried again, "Or hasn't she put out yet?"
Haru growled at the lean man before him, he wanted to rip him in half, he flicked his fingers up and two pillars of earth shot up, Jo-Lou dodged them. "Stay away from her." He said.
"If I remember correctly, she came to me in the first place." Jo-Lou sneered, knowing that guards would stop a serious fight, he was walking backwards as Haru slammed his foot to the ground, it shifted a few feet to the right and Jo-Lou stumbled.
Haru flicked his fingers again and this time, the pillars held Jo-Lou tightly. "I won't repeat myself. Ty Lee is no longer someone for you to torment." He squeezed his hands, the pillars constricted slightly, threateningly.
"Why do you care? What is she to you?" he spat.
"Everything." Haru said, growling and walking back up towards Ty Lee and Mai. Ty Lee stared blankly at Haru before grabbing his arm.
"Mai, I will be back." She said, "I need to go make love to this man."
The war room in the palace of Ba Sing Se was huge, there was an extremely large and stone table in the centre of the room. The Nations of the world were painted skilfully on the surface, Aang looked out over the surface of the table, Katara was on the opposite side, she was distracted. Last time she was in this room, they were making plans to attack the Fire Nation. She was turning the pendant that Aang had made for her around in her fingers, her engagement pendant, he watched her for a second before talking.
"Are you okay?" he said softly, his voice carried across the table, Katara looked up and half-smiled.
"Remember when we were younger?" she said, letting the pendent fall back against her wrist, she kept the length of leather tied around it. "Like, we never knew people like this existed. Even though my mother was gone… I still felt innocent. But…"
"Now we are dealing with crimes against humanity?" Sokka said, walking through the door, he walked up to his sister and touched her arm.
"Well, yeah." Katara mumbled. Aang half-smiled sympathetically, no emotion touched his eyes. Everyone turned as the door opened again, Zuko and Toph walked in with Suki. "Zuko, you aren't actually going to sentence them to death are you? It was a tie…"
"I don't know." He said. "I wish there was someone who could tell me what to do."
"Like a past life?" Sokka asked, "Got one to spare, Aang?" he smirked.
"If I could lend Zuko past experience, I would." Aang shrugged. "I could visit someone…" he started.
"I think this is something Team Avatar can work out." Suki said.
"I always liked Team Boomerang." Sokka sighed, he pulled his sword and swung it around his head, fighting an invisible opponent.
Toph sighed, she let her seismic sense roam throughout the palace, it was huge. She suddenly scowled and jumped from the floor onto a wooden table against the wall, her nose scrunched up, "What is wrong, Toph?" Katara said with a worried expression.
"Nothin'." She smirked. "Mai is about to walk through the door."
"Good, I wanted to talk to Ty Lee." Katara said.
"Ty Lee isn't with her." Toph grinned, starting to pick her nose. After a second, Mai walked in, spinning a knife stuck in an apple in her hand, taking a bite out of the apple.
"You know you hold hands with Zuko, right?" Sokka laughed. Toph smiled widely and flicked her finger at Sokka. "Ewwwww!"
"Mai, where is Ty Lee?" Katara asked, walking over.
"Her and Haru skipped away together to 'make love'." Mai said, walking over and slouching against the large table. Everyone turned to Toph, she swung her feet and continued to pick her nose. Realisation hit them all at once.
"You can see them?" Katara laughed.
"Well, they were on the floor." Toph grumbled with a laugh. Everyone chuckled.
"We ran into Jo-Lou." The good mood disappeared when Mai spoke. "Haru trapped him. I thought Kuei told you he would have them restrained." She looked at Aang.
"I was told that he would." Aang said, standing straight, his forehead furrowed.
"Maybe it was a misunderstanding?" Katara said. Everyone was quiet for a few minutes, Aang walked out towards the balcony over-looking the garden, "Where are the others?" Katara asked Mai, she shrugged.
Toph pushed her foot experimentally against the stone floor, it was all clear, "I am going to find Longshot and Smellerbee. Kuei is on the approach." Toph said, jumping down from the table, as she walked towards the door, she smiled widely, Haru pushed through the door, his hand around Ty Lee's. "That was quick." She smirked. Haru opened his mouth to speak but Sokka's laughing cut him off.
"Fire Lord Zuko," Kuei bowed tensely, "It has been a while." Kuei had walked in and greeted everyone when Zuko went to the bathroom, Zuko was the last person he saw.
Zuko returned his bow and nodded, "I would say a few years." He scanned the room for Toph, where is she?
"My sources tell me you are married?" Kuei said, not yet knowing that Zuko had married an Earth Kingdom citizen. "Who is the lucky Fire Lady?"
"I actually married T-" Zuko started, turning his attention back to Kuei, a General of Kuei's council appeared, interrupting them.
"Your highness, Fire Lord, we really must begin." He bowed, "Will everyone please be seated!" he called. Mehdi rushed to place a cup of tea in front of everyone around the large table, Sokka looked around the room, his gaze rested on Zuko, he mouthed Toph's name and Zuko shrugged.
"I am going to find Toph." He whispered to Suki, standing slowly. She pursed her lips but nodded. Sokka bowed respectfully and ducked out, Kuei cleared his throat.
"I want to start by informing you that under no circumstances do I take the letters I have recently received lightly. To find that my citizens have been accused of crimes such as this has shocked me."
"Accused? They were witnessed doing those crimes." The Duke mumbled.
One of Kuei's general's stood, "As part of our laws, any crime committed on our soil or any crime committed by our people, will be tried our way." He opened an old scroll and read, "As Fire Nation law states: "The Nation is respectful to the laws of the other lands." By this, I can only assume that you will respect our decision when it comes to prosecuting the crimes you claim?"
Zuko blinked twice, "We must agree that the punishment is fair, you mean?" he said.
"That is not what I mean." Kuei's General continued. "Do what you want with your Nation-men whom committed crimes, but ours will be listened to and their side will be taken into account."
The Duke looked across at Aang and next to him at Suki, he whispered, "What bullshit, I have lived in the Earth Kingdom all my life and never heard of that."
Zuko scowled deeply, "I think in this case you need to reconsi-"
"Are you forgetting that the Fire Nation is still in debt to the other nations of the world for at least ninety-five more years?" he interrupted.
"Enough, General Lane!" Kuei said loudly, "Those years are over, the Avatar and the Fire Lord will not let anything like that happen ever again. We are here for one reason," Kuei looked over at Zuko, "Depending fully on the crimes of the men, you may recommend a punishment if we deem them guilty."
"This is rid-" The Duke started, but General Lane cut him off.
"And if you can keep your servants quiet during the testimonies."
"My friends, will keep a lid on it." Zuko said, looking directly at The Duke.
General Lane looked condescendingly at The Duke. "Have the guards bring in the accused citizens." He said, there was silence. "Guards?" he called, walking towards the wide doors, a small man poked his head through the door.
"Apologies, General Lane. They are yet to be brought up." he said, the King raised an eyebrow and looked at Aang.
Aang closed his eyes and let his seismic sense spread out through the palace, he couldn't feel anyone coming this way, "I thought you said you were prepared to have them here. That they were in your custody." he said, opening one eye. He never had to close his eyes, but he can see further with less visual distractions.
"There must be some mistake." General Lane said, "The guards were sent to get them as we headed here." he picked up a scroll and opened it, "My son was leading them." he mumbled the last part.
Aang huffed and felt further, something was off, he found Sokka, running. "What is Sokka doing?" he said to himself, it immediately had Katara's attention, "I can't see that far... Who is that-?" he opened his eyes and stared at her.
"What is wrong?" she asked, already standing. "Aang?"
"Let's go." he said, he grabbed his staff. "Something is up." they busted out of the room and ran towards where Aang saw Sokka and Toph. "Teo! Get your glider ready, I need eyes in the skies."
Teo pulled his serum out and touched his tongue to the liquid, he pulled a lever that opened his glider. "You got it, Aang."
Toph walked down the hall, still chuckling about what she said to Haru. She walked towards Longshot and Smellerbee's room, she slammed her hand against the door, feeling Longshot pacing inside. He walked over and opened the door, allowing the small woman access to his room. She strutted in like she owned it.
"You guys coming?" Toph said, leaning against the wall. "King Kuei is about to walk in."
"In a minute, Shot is just getting his gear together." Smellerbee said. Longshot strung his quiver onto his back and his bow across his chest. His right hip had his fighting sticks, he patted his pockets for his blade out of habit, strange… he thought, he patted the other side, then his breast pockets. He did a small circle scanning the room, he looked up at Smellerbee, and narrowed his eyes, patting is pockets.
"Toph, have you seen Longshot's blade?" Smellerbee said, looking from him to her.
"What blade?" she said, scratching her neck.
"The Duke gave it to him," she said, standing and looking under the bed, "It is small and had a deep green handle. It is engraved with 'Short-shot', The Duke making an obviously hilarious joke."
"That won't help me. The only knife I have seen of his lately is the one I made him leave outside the holding room." She shrugged, not realising Smellerbee didn't know he went there. Smellerbee's eyes narrowed as she glared at Longshot, he was about to explain and throw something at Toph when his eyes widened slightly. The holding cell… He had put his knife on the table. …Inside the holding cell…
"Shit." He said, walking quickly past Toph, before breaking into run towards the back of the palace, he would rather be seen as paranoid in over reacting than not.
Toph looks back towards Smellerbee, standing confused near the bed. "The fuck?" she mumbled, walking quickly to the door and looking down the hall, seeing Longshot flit around the corner.
"Come on." Toph grumbled, bursting into a sprint. She prides herself on being a good runner, Sokka and Aang accuse her of using earth to push her further, but really she just had the right set of muscles for it. They reached the end of the hall in no time and rounded the corner, Toph realised quickly where he was heading. "Why is he going to the landing platform?" she puffed.
"Don't know." Smellerbee puffed back. Then Toph remembered where she had last felt the knife, there was a rumbling in the earth as the ship slowly started to rise. "Who is flying the ship?!"
Toph stopped and outstretched her arms, her hands facing down as she felt the earth, suddenly flicking her fingers up and pinching the air. Pillars of solid rock shot skywards and grabbed the ship, it didn't get very far, she used all her concentration to ease the ship back down.
"Toph?" Sokka's voice called, "Toph?! What the fuck is happening?!" he was running towards her, she turned her head back so he could hear her clearly.
"Get on board and stop whoever it is!" she yelled at him, the ship touched down and she bended the metal to make it difficult to take off again. She felt Sokka breeze past her and ran towards the ship, Longshot was already scrambling up the side of it, breaking and climbing through a window, Smellerbee wasn't far behind. Sparky is going to be pissed if someone was actually authorised to do this…
Sokka drew his club and followed Longshot up the side and through the window, his sword was on the ship leaving him with only his club, the door of the airship was sealed shut. Toph started towards the ship, but she felt two, three, four people hit the ground and start fleeing the ship, she shifted on her feet and launched herself through the air, she flew high and landed not three metres behind them, "Stop right where you are!" she yelled. Loou, Shi, The General and Jo-Lou paused, they turned slowly and looked at the small woman.
The guards helped Jo-Lou out of Haru's restraints, he was escorted back to his room where his father sat, writing a scroll to his mother, detailing his time so far. Jo-Lou walked through the door as his father gave his hawk the signal to fly. "Done exploring?" The General said with a tone of boredom. Dinner was served at sundown and there wasn't anything that required them to attend.
"Sir, they are here." he said quickly, walking towards his father, and glancing out the window. "I have been warning you from the beginning, we weren't just invited for a work/pleasure holiday. The Avatar and Toph Bei Fong's friends are here. They must be too." he looked back towards the door. "It is a trap."
The General stood and walked towards his son, "I have almost had enough of your paranoia for one week. We are free to leave whenever we want."
"Prove it." he replied.
The General stared at his son and sighed, he straightened up and marched towards the door. He opened it wide and was confronted by two guards that were not there last night. "General, w-"
"My son and I need to leave immediately, please pass on our most sincere apol-"
"King Kuei requests that you stay for one more night, as there is a... Final meeting tomorrow he wishes for you to attend." one guard said, it would have been convincing, had the guard not hesitated when thinking of an excuse.
"It is important that we-" The General tried again, this time. The second guard interrupted.
"This meeting needs your input, as it is about the Southern part of the Earth Kingdom!" he said eagerly. The General sighed and nodded, closing the door and walking back inside.
"Paranoid? Or right?" Jo-Lou said smugly.
"Pack your things." The General said. "Kuei told me personally, that the meetings end tonight."
"If we get in trouble for leaving?" Jo-Lou said, he only brought one bag with him and already had it ready to go at a seconds notice.
"... Medical emergency. Your mother can pretend to be sick." The General said, he silently earthed the doors shut, and started to earthbend an escape hole. "The Avatar must have come here somehow. There must be a ship or carriage."
"So, try the airfield first?" his son asked.
Loou had been staring at Longshot's blade for over an hour now. The landing of the large airship caused the ship to jolt slightly, the blade had fallen onto the floor and was close, but not close enough. It didn't help that they wore shackles.
Afternoon came slowly and still he watched the blade, Shi would look at his brother and feel as though he is the only sane person in the room. "Loou, what are you doing?"
His brother turned his head slowly towards Shi, "They are going to kill us. Regardless of the verdict…" he said, "But not if we escape."
"What could we possibly do once we escape here?" Shi said, admittedly, he didn't want to die, and escape seemed a better option, but there was no point escaping to an unfamiliar land.
"I say, we hijack the airship and head to the Nation, the only thing to catch us would be the Avatar, even he would have to rest. Even he can't airbend forever." he thought for a second, "We could convince the council that Zuko is dead and that the King had a part in it."
"And start a new war?" Shi said, the isolation must be getting to him. "We should think about that after we escape."
"So you are in?" Loou said, looking back at the blade.
"Of course, brother."
They didn't speak for a long time, the sun peeping into the room was golden-orange, they knew it must have been late afternoon, their third and final meal would arrive soon. Zuko insisted that they be fed, always during the day, to avoid attacks in the dark.
Shi stood when he heard the door open, he started to walk around the cell, when the guard came in he noted he had the keys, Shi smiled. "Guard, can I request that my shackles be loosened, being so tight makes it hard to eat."
"Sorry Shi, I can't do that," the guard was a friendly person, Shi almost felt guilty, almost. "I have some rice for you guys and a bit of turtle-duck."
"Thank-you, guard. You are too kind to criminals." Shi smiled, "By the way, one of you companions dropped their blade. The inscription should say who." the guard turned and walked towards the knife.
"I can't read well... I will have to find someone who can." the guard said softly, not intending to be heard.
"My brother can read various languages. Show him." Shi said, acting disinterested, this is working out well. The guard stood just out of reach and held the blade up, Loou walked towards the bars of their cell.
Loou squinted, pretending to read the inscription, the name read 'Short-shot', Loou squinted harder pretending to have trouble. "I think it says, Jee-Jong? I can't see clearly." he looked at Shi, "What do you think?"
Shi moved over to his brother and looked at the knife, "Err, could you move the knife a smidge closer, the strokes blend together a bit." The guard edged closer, "There, have another look, brother."
Loou sighed, "What shocking writing, I wouldn't give this inscriber the time of-" the guard had ever so slightly moved forward, wanting to have the fine knife returned to its owner. He forgot who he was dealing with. While focusing on Loou, Shi grabbed the young guards arm and pulled him with great force into the bars, he was unconscious as he hit the ground, "Day..." Loou finished.
Shi reached through the bars and collected the keys, he released himself and his brother. The locked the guard up inside their cell and chuckled as they walked out.
They fought and defeated a few guards on the way up to the cockpit, as they weren't supposed to leave until morning. Zuko had paid them early and extra to go out and enjoy their night, only a few stayed. As they approached the door of the cockpit, they heard voices.
"-well, we don't have these in the Southern Kingdom. Of course I don't know how to-" one voice started, the second interrupted.
"Shhh! Just hurry up, as soon as that idiot King, the Fire Lord and whore earthbender realise we have gone-" the second voice didn't finish when Loou and Shi knocked down the door.
"Take another step and I swear to fuck, I will crush each of you like the vermin you are." Toph growled.
"Vermin? Big words for a-" Jo-Lou had started, Toph said flicked her finger, causing a small rock to hit him in the head.
"So what is this shit, a little club of assholes?" Toph said, distracting them.
"A fan club is more accurate." Loou sneered, raising his hands slowly. "Yours. All of us have common interests."
Toph scoffed, her skin crawled, "Please, my fan club would be more tasteful." she noted that they were all preparing to fight. I can take em, she thought cockily.
She waited, feeling their bodies react to the sounds around them. Waiting and listening for them to make a move, any move. She could hear Sokka calling for her in the airship, realising who was outside.
Jo-Lou saw her ear twitch, he knew she was momentarily distracted, he lunged for her legs, she moved smoothly out of the way, knowing that her legs would be his target. She swiped her hand as if she was slapping someone, the earth threw him into his father, he growled.
Shi drew a sword that he had stolen, he ran towards her as Loou drew his, they ran towards her one moving to one side of her and the other ran the other way, trying to divide her attention.
She stretched out her arms and pulled them back to her core, earth came with the gesture, coating her in a stony armour. Toph smiled as she thrust her hand towards Loou, he barely dodged it and charged towards her, bringing the sword down on her guarded forearm. Shi took the advantage and swung to her hip, the stone protected her there also. She punched her attackers away, she turned and exposed her hand, capturing their feet in the stone, they were like that for less than a second as The General snapped his fingers and released his new allies.
Suddenly Sokka was by her side, "Did I miss much of the party?!" he puffed, drawing his sword that he had grabbed from his room.
"Just getting started." Jo-Lou said as they circled them, "So why are you here?" he asked, his father looked at his, not wanting to accidentally give anything away, but Jo-Lou ignored him, sick of taking his orders.
"You don't know why we are here and you are still running? Wow, I didn't think we were that intimidating..." Sokka smirked, he and Toph stood back to back.
"Don't flatter yourself, Water Tribe peasant..." The General hissed.
"Yeah Sokka," Toph grinned, "You aren't intimidating at all!" she felt out for anyone coming to help, she could feel Smellerbee sneaking up, knowing Longshot would be taking an offensive position on top of the airship. Smellerbee charged suddenly, tackling Loou to the ground, he wasn't expecting her to be there he dropped his sword and rolled onto his back, he punched the young woman as hard as he could as he rolled, it knocked her to the ground, he was on his feet in no time.
The General thrusted his hands towards Sokka, Toph saw the attack coming and pushed his out of the way, he ducked behind her as she sent the attack back towards The General, Sokka leapt for Jo-Lou, having learnt from Ty Lee basics on avoiding chi-blocking.
Shi looked around, his brother was walking towards Smellerbee, he knew he could win that on his own, he decided quickly that Toph was the main target. He ran towards that fight, The General saw him coming and vibrated the ground, trying to confuse Toph. Shi crashed into Toph with every bit of force he had, she didn't fall, but wasn't expecting it. She spun to attack him at The General smashed his foot into the back of Toph's armour, he used all the earthbending power he had and it crumbled, she cried out in pain.
She felt her armour crumble from her skin, leaving her unprotected, she felt Shi standing over her with a sword in his hand, The General wiped his forehead and snarled, she rolled onto her back, she couldn't get air into her lungs.
Shi raised his sword high, he saw red, his anger that this girl had shown them up since the beginning, he brought it down when, shonk.
Blood lightly sprayed Toph's face, warm and sticky, the sword dropped next to her, lightly slicing her arm on impact. Longshot had made good on his silent promise of inserting an arrow into his eye socket. He stood tall on the top of the airship, he had no expression he turned his bow towards Loou, waiting for if Smellerbee needed him. One down…
The General stood with an expression of shock, he looked up and saw a tiny silhouette of Longshot, he cried out as he stomped his foot throwing rock after rock. Smellerbee became distracted and Loou wrapped his hand around her throat, he drew Longshot's blade and poised it. There was a flash of brown and khaki and Loou flew across the airfield, the knife slid from where he had been standing to Toph, still lying on the ground.
Teo smiled, partly because he had his chance to get revenge, partly because even though he had serum in his system, he sat in his wheelchair and managed to not screw up the landing, he stepped out of the wheelchair and lost his smile, sliding his goggles onto his head, he pulled out The Duke's fighting sticks, a blade rested in his breast pocket from Mai, and walked towards Loou. The impact of Teo had flung Loou, he lay on the ground cussing and groaning.
Smellerbee recovered herself and ran towards The General who was still throwing large rocks at Longshot. It was when Sokka cried out that she realised Longshot was in a better position than Sokka, she turned and threw one of her blades towards Jo-Lou, distracting him. He had chi-blocked Sokka's right arm, he had gotten cocky with the advice Ty Lee gave him and slipped up.
The General shot a final rock at Longshot, it clipped him hard and he was knocked from the air balloon, no one saw but The General who smiled with smugness at his shot. No one can save him.
Toph got up and felt around her, her seismic sense picked up that her friends were coming, and fast. Aang was distracted and blasted air to catch Longshot, they had no clue what was actually happening until they saw rocks tearing through the airship and an unconscious Longshot falling.
She could feel her own rage radiating out of her pores, she growled as The General turned to face her. She picked up a blade that Loou had dropped when Teo air-tackled him, she marched towards The General. He picked up his long sword and charged at her.
Further away behind the fighting, Teo spun his sticks around in his hand, "Why did you do it?" he said slowly.
"W-hat?" Loou said standing and breathing deeply.
"Why did you want my father gone? He was changing the world. He saved hundreds of lives, puts others before himself. Why would you kill a man like that?" he said just as slow, Loou drew his sword, but Teo knew he would win. He continued towards him.
"Your father..." Loou started, "Killed more than he save. His inventions destroyed lives. He was nothing to us when he ceased his production with us. He was nothing."
Teo walked towards him, "Wrong answer." He bought his sticks up and ran towards Loou, he brought up his sword and Teo knocked it easily out of the way, smashing Loou in the jaw with one of his sticks. He stumbled back and lost his grip on his sword, Teo made it quick.
He pulled his blade from his breast pocket and plunged it into the chest of the man who ordered his father's death. "You will not," he pushed harder, "hurt another family." He kept a firm grip on his blade as Loou fell backwards, "I won't allow it."
He turned and ran back towards the others, but he knew their fights were almost over, the blood on his body turning cold as the breeze hit it.
Jo-Lou had cut Sokka's opposite arm, aiming for his chest, Smellerbee leapt onto his shoulders and secured his head in between her knees, her hands clamped his jaw shut. She looked at Sokka, when suddenly Jo-Lou cried out, he fell to his knees and Smellerbee flipped off, landing next to Sokka. There was a knife in Jo-Lou's back, which neither had put there.
Ty Lee stood, still in the position she was in when the knife left her fingers. Mai had an impressed look on her face. A small sword was clutched in Jo-Lou's hand that neither had seen, he would have done serious damage to Smellerbee with it.
Sokka and Smellerbee's fight finished as Toph's did.
The General swiped down his sword and Toph dodged, she hated hand-to-hand combat, not being good at it, she remembered all the lessons that Sokka and Zuko gave her. He swung his sword wildly, distracting Toph from his other arm, he knocked the blade out of her hand easily, then knocked her to the ground. She gasped loudly, feeling him approach.
She was not accustomed to blades, regardless of size, she felt oout for the blade, it was too far away. But then she realized, I have my own weapon.
She grunted as he brought the sword back up she twisted her body upright with lightning speed, she cartwheeled onto one hand and when her feet touched the ground, she plunged her clenched fist up with all the force she could muster. The General dropped his sword, his eyes were wide.
She had metalbended her wedding ring, into a thick, sharp spike. It had wrapped around her knuckle and plunged deep into his chest.
"Traitor." he groaned. "You-you. Aren't. Earth."
"I can be fire and earth… Lava." she growled with an almost smile. She pulled her spike from his sternum. He collapsed, she lifted her head up to the sky and felt the hot sun from the sunset caressing her skin.
"Toph?" came a voice, she whipped her head towards the sound. She could feel the blood on spattered lightly across her face, a swollen lip and bleeding arm. Zuko a distance away from her, she looked wild, her blind eyes widen in adrenalin and fear.
"You were right, flipping around can be useful." She mumbled loudly, opening her hand and allowing the ring to resume its regular shape. Teo joined her, he was covered in blood and dirt, Sokka and Smellerbee stood wide eyed looking at their friends.
Guard's swarmed them, the King had invested in his own chi-blockers, mixed with the guards, they arrested Toph, Sokka, Smellerbee and Teo. The chi-blockers quickly hit Toph and Teo, they fell to the ground and swore. Sokka didn't see his coming and faceplanted, Smellerbee landed on top of him
Toph groaned as she lay blind on the ground, her seismic sense gone. Zuko burst forward, "What are you doing to her?! Stop! Toph?!" he yelled, Haru and Jet restrained him.
"They just murdered four people." General Lane said, "Do not forget the archer." He added.
"You can't just arrest them! They were bad people! They did you a favour!" The Duke yelled, marching towards General Lane, Aang grabbed him, holding him back.
"We can work this out with Kuei, guys." Aang said loudly. "Katara, I think you should go with them, they look like they need your help."
The Duke looked furious. "What the fuck Aang?! If they take one of us, they should take all!"
"You just haaaaaaad to talk, didn't you The Duke." Jet groaned.
"I was sticking up for my friends!" The Duke retorted, sitting next to Longshot. They were all thrown into the crystal catacombs and chi-blocked just in case, Katara only kept her bending for healing purposes, guards watched them carefully. Longshot woke up and smashed straight into a crystal, thinking that he was still in the heat of battle. Everyone who needed healing was healed.
"We could have help Iroh, Zuko, Jin and Aang argue a case…" Mai grumbled.
"I am sure they will take into consideration that they tried to strike first. Not to mention the four deaths on the airship, and that poor guard in the cell." Katara said, her hands massaging Sokka's arm.
"Still, better than being in here." Jet continued.
"Yeah, I am sure our Toph and the others could've looked after themselves for a few hours." Haru said.
"Is this what it is like to get chi-blocked? Ew." Ty Lee said, feeling that her arms were regaining use.
"Fuck! I am sorry, okay?!" The Duke yelled.
Toph sat on the floor, she was starting to get her sight back, Haru walked carefully towards her, he too was chi-blocked. "Hey Bandit." He smirked.
"Come to say you last good-byes?" She said.
"They won't kill you, or imprison you for life. Zuko would never allow it. You saved possibly hundreds of people out there by killing those men. They attacked first." Haru said, he looked across at Ty Lee, she admitted to being the one that threw the knife, but General Lane didn't believe her.
She was the only one with no blood or an arrow linking her to the crime. He looked down at Toph, wrapping his arm around her and holding her tightly. She paused for a second and then returned the hug. "You did the right thing. Justice was served. You should be a person of the law!" he laughed.
"Obeying rules? Do you even know me?" she smiled, hiding the fact that she was close to tears.
"Obeying? No, no! You would be enforcing!" He laughed.
She thought for a second. "Oh wow, I actually like that."
They stood before King Kuei, a line of six. Ty Lee could not handle that she wasn't in trouble and forced them to let her stand trial with her friends. Longshot stood next to Smellerbee, tall and proud of what he did, along with Toph and Teo stood with Sokka and Ty Lee, all in a line.
The King pursed his lips and stood. "I was told of what happened, Teo." He started softly, "Your father was the greatest of men. I am truly sorry." He looked to Smellerbee, "I am sorry for what they did to you as well, Miss Smellerbee, and you Miss Ty Lee." Kuei looked at Toph and Sokka, "Imagine my shock when I discovered that Lady Toph Bei Fong is the new Fire Lady." He almost smiled, but did not.
"You murdered men of my kingdom. You murdered men of another, yet still in my kingdom." Kuei said, "The law states that if a crime is committed on my land, I punish it. There is no denying that you acknowledged that in the earlier meeting, the laws of the Fire Nation back this too." he looked across the line of adolescents. "Revenge is never the answer. Revenge should never be an option!" he yelled. None of the six winced or even blinked. "I thought long and hard about my decision… You expect me to excuse your crimes because they are bad men?! Because you are connected directly to the two other most powerful figures in the world?!" He straightened up in his chair, his face red with anger, "You over looked my authority! You challenged my power!"
Iroh's eyebrows shot up at 'power'.
Zuko whispered to Katara, "Sounds like Aang." Katara nodded lightly, her eyes welling as they were fixated on her brother and one of her best friends.
Everyone was silent. Kuei nodded to Mehdi who walked forward and removed the restraints of the six people, they were confused. "This does not mean you are free to go. You will each give a reason to why what you did was just. Then anyone can speak. After that, I will decide."
This reminded Aang of the Avatar Day Festival. "Just-us…" he thought. But he know Kuei was fairer than the man he had to convince, Pity they don't have past-lives that burst forward and take responsibility… Then again, that almost failed for me…
"When you are ready, take a step forward and speak." Mehdi said, before returning to Kuei's right hand.
There was a long time in silence, after three minutes, Sokka looked down the line and shrugged, taking a step forward. "You aren't going to get any of us to admit that we regret our actions. What had to be done was done." He looked over at Suki, Aang and Katara and Zuko, behind him at Toph. "In this room stand all the original members of Team Avatar and the unofficial members, all as important as each other. We fight to keep the world at peace, we fought for our countries in the war and we fought for yours." He took a deep breath, "We will never stop fighting. While we are in this physical world, we will continue to fight. We will continue to push for something greater. And we will never apologise for doing something that needed to be done! If it makes the world a better, safer place. So be it." Sokka finished, he took a step back to join Toph.
"Well, fuck me, Snoozles. Where was that speech on Day of Black Sun?" Toph smirked.
Kuei sat in silence, not expecting anything like that from Sokka, he thought to himself, Maybe I just don't know him well enough… He cleared his throat, "Anyone else?"
Iroh scratched his stomach and stepped forward, "King Kuei, why do you feel the need to punish these young adults?"
Kuei was taken aback, "Well, because they committed a crime. They didn't respect myself or my Kingdom's laws."
Iroh smiled lightly, "You mentioned power. You almost screamed the word, now King Kuei, I respect you. We all respect you. You are a fair ruler and have taken on a lot of responsibility in the last five years. You will probably be remembered as one of the first King's to actually take initiative…"
Kuei took a few deep breaths to calm down, the whole room was silent for a few minutes. Kuei spoke slowly, "What are you getting at, Iroh?"
"A wise man once said: Recognizing power in another does not diminish your own." Iroh simply said.
Zuko sat with a small smile on his face, he watched as directly across from him a small child made a tiny flame in his hand, proudly showing his mother. He looked down at his own hands, they held a leather folder, he ran his old hands down the length of it. He smiled as he opened it wide, there were official documents from cover to cover, he traced his eyes along them.
He was sitting outside the office of the mayor of Republic City, having been invited on an apparently important matter. A young woman came around and handed Zuko a cup of tea, "Not much longer, Lord Zuko." She smiled.
She left as quickly as she came. Zuko smiled and took a sip out of the tea, eeerrgh! It tastes like hot-leaf juice. He place the cup down and screwed up his nose, he then realized what he had said and smiled at the memory of his Uncle Iroh.
He looked back up as the small firebending child was walking away with his mother, the child smiled and waved good-bye at Zuko, he raised an old, strong hand. Zuko was smiling as he clicked his fingers and a few small colourful sparks flew from them. The child's face lit up as he rounded a corner.
He looked back to his folder, on the underside of the front cover was a square of leather, imprinted with the Royal stamp, he flicked it open to reveal a large pocket, he carefully and slowly removed the papers inside. Parchments that he dwelled on were drawing from children. His own.
Pictures drawn with mud, pictures with singed edges, he remembered spending hours describing every detail of every painting to Toph. Every night a new picture, every night more tears of happiness and love. He never grew tired of it.
He flicked through the parchments, portraits of him and Toph, every five years, the first portrait together had him in a headlock, and she literally held that position for three hours. The next she was pulling a face, for three hours. Zuko couldn't figure out why the artist was laughing so much, each time he tried to look, he would get roused on by everyone present for moving.
The third one was his favourite, it depicted a proud Zuko with a prouder Toph, each holding a child born three years apart. They spent years trying to have children, ten years all up from the moment she learnt she could.
It was twenty years after the war was over when she finally fell pregnant, he could remember crying and holding her.
"Get a hold of yourself, Sparky! You want this kid to be a wimp like you?! Might as well have Twinkle Toes raise them!"
The childbirth was one of the worst things they had ever been through, he was told that she would die, but Katara wouldn't let anyone give up. Toph pulled through, he cried again at her bedside, she had woken up and placed a soft had on Zuko's chin.
"There is no way in the spirit world you are keeping that moustache." Was the first thing she said, Zuko remembered he almost died with happiness. The following words were that regardless of what Zuko said they were having a second child.
Three years passed and they did.
Their first child was an earthbender, a powerful one, a beautiful one. Zuko remembered tell her when she turned sixteen that she may one day have to take his place as Fire Lord as she was the eldest, she replied with a voice so similar to her mother.
"Father, you are a great man. But I am following in the steps of an awesome woman. The Fire Nation should go to my sister." She had spoken, in words that made him laugh loudly.
He remembered days training with his daughters, teaching them flips and sword play, stealth and agility. Watching them train with Toph, teaching strength and patience, being solid and unmoving. Then they would each focus on the bending abilities of their children, one earth, one fire.
Knotweed and Rock. Strong together, strong separated.
He came back to the present as he flipped over the next parchment, Teo and Jin announced their wedding and a year later, the birth of their first child, a little girl called Toph. Toph had left the room so no one could see her cry. A year later a boy was born to them, The Duke. There was many parchments filled with jokes and letters from their friends, announcements and pictures from their friend's children to them.
Many years passed and the group of friends that assembled at the Western Temple reunited as often as they could, that usually equated to once every two years. Each time more children came with their friends. Zuko's reminiscent smile turned slowly into a frown as he remember the year that Aang became ill.
The hundred years in the iceberg while in the Avatar State caused his body to deteriorate as he became old. He took his family and picked up a few more on the way to the Southern Temple to say good-bye. He looked peaceful as he sat cross-legged in the sun, he was surrounded by his own children and the children he considered his family.
When it came time for Aang to leave the world, Toph hugged him tightly. "You were my first friend. I love you, Twinkle Toes."Toph was never the same after she lost him, her first friend, her first real student.
He continued through the pages, each page reminded him of a time with her. Each time they made love, each time they fought… Each time the two of those combined which resulted in broken walls, gardens, tables, pillars and a lot of explaining. The teasing. The laughter. He would do anything to have her back.
He felt a tear roll from the left side of his face, he moved his hand up and touched the scar tissue, I will be with her soon, he thought with a smile, never scared of death when he knew she would be there, waiting. He smiled as he placed his most treasured belongings back inside the pocket and sealed it.
Suddenly someone came crashing around the corner, she skidded and ran down the hall with a laugh, squeaking coming from her arms as she held a small animal there. The new Avatar was a bouncing ball of energy, Zuko liked her, reminding him so much of Aang. Chasing after the Avatar was an earthbender, he laughed as he ran into her and they wrestled against the wall, "Fine! You win! You are the best!" The boy shouted, the Avatar handed him back a chubby Fire Ferret.
"Damn right!" she laughed. Zuko's heart stuttered, those words pulled at a memory of he and Toph, he sighed as he tucked it away until later.
The boy grabbed her face and kissed her quickly on the nose and then the lips. She smiled and blushed lightly. It was then she saw Zuko. "Shit. I mean! Hi! I mean…" she cleared her throat, "Hello Lord Zuko. I am, um…" Korra looked at her companion, "This is Bolin! He bends earth… I mean." The boy looked panicked then bowed respectfully, Zuko smiled, returned the bow and took Bolin's hand, shaking it.
"Hello, Mister Fire Lord… I mean Mister Ambassador Lord Zuko… Sir…" he stumbled over his words. Zuko smiled a little more.
Korra looked around awkwardly, "Oh I don't know if you remember me… We met last year! Um, Korra." She said quickly, looking as though she regretted opening her mouth in the first place. She held her hand out and Zuko took it.
"Being eighty-nine doesn't mean he forgets." Came a familiar voice, Katara walked slowly down the hall, escorted by Tenzin, Zuko released Korra's hand and embraced Katara, kissing her cheek. "I missed you, Zuko."
"I missed you, Katara." He whispered back. They pulled back and looked at each other, both wanting to say something, neither finding the words. "They are probably tearing each other to shreds in the spirit world." Zuko mumbled.
Katara's eyes welled up, "Aang would be winning!" she smiled.
"No way!" Zuko smiled, they hugged again. "Hello Tenzin." Zuko said, Tenzin bowed.
"Lord Zuko." He said with a smile.
The door of the mayor's office opened, "Sorry to keep everyone waiting, please, come in and let us begin."
"Not until my daughter arrives." Zuko said sternly.
"The Fire Lord is coming?" Bolin said, "Wait, since she is a woman, is it still Fire Lord? Or Fire Lady?"
"My other daughter." Zuko smiled proudly.
"You have two kids?" Korra asked with shock, "Do I know the other person?"
"Oh, I think you do." Zuko laughed softly.
"She definitely does." Tenzin laughed. Everyone heads snapped up as two people walked around the corner and out of the shadows. The first was a tall, young man with a red scarf that walked directly over to Korra and Bolin, bowing slightly at Zuko and Katara.
Lin Bei Fong walked into the light, she walked tall and stood directly in front of Zuko in her police uniform. "Lord Zuko." She bowed.
"Chief Bei Fong." Zuko smiled back, Lin waited a second then suddenly hugged Zuko, breaking her usual character, happy to finally see her father after almost seven years since her last visit.
"Father." She whispered.
Korra and Bolin's mouths hit the floor as they squealed in shock.
Weeks had passed since the trail in Ba Sing Se, Toph added it to the list of reasons she hated the city. She lay on the bed in the Fire Lord's room, the windows were opened and the cool breeze washed over her, she had a small smile on her lips. Zuko sat next to her, cross-legged reading aloud multiple letters from there friend's around the world.
"Twinkle Toes always was a sap when it came to… Well… Anything really." Toph smiled as Zuko finished the letter, from Aang and Katara. Attached was the invitation to their wedding, Toph pretended not to care, but she was excited.
Once they returned home to the Fire Nation, Shi's Palace was torn to the ground, many people happy to see it burn. Everyone who worked there that was deemed trustworthy buy Toph was hired at the palace, Zuko didn't want good people to be out of the job.
Toph lay still thinking about the wedding they had just arrived home from, Neii and Lani, she liked them, happy to still have Neii as her personal guard.
They knew it was stupid to think that all their problems were finished, Iroh had said on the flight home, "That was the last of many battles you will all face. As long as you face them together, you will triumph… NOW! Who wants some tea?!" Toph smiled at the memory.
Zuko tossed the scroll onto the bedside table and lay next to his wife, she turned her face towards him, the cool breeze blowing her stray hair around her face, she smiled lightly as Zuko pushed it out of the way. "Toph?" he asked softly.
"Yeah?" She replied.
"I love you." He whispered. "And I don't think I will ever stop."
Toph smiled a heartbreakingly beautiful smile, "Damn right! You better not. I will hunt you down and tear you to shreds, Sparky." She grinned.
Zuko smiled half-heartedly and gazed out the window at the large moon.
"Hey, Zuko." Toph whispered.
He looked down at his wife, his heart almost paused, whispering his name like that made his whole body feel like air. "Yeah?" he barely whispered.
"I love you too."
"Recognizing power in another does not diminish your own."- Joss Whedon
Thank-you all for reading.