DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT OWN AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, NOR DO I CLAIM ANY RIGHTS TO IT, ANY OF THE CHARCTERS, OR LOCATIONS IN THIS FAN FICTION STORY. I ONLY OWN THE PLOT.
Zuko was very angry.
"I asked you not to leave the grounds Toph!"
"So you were going to keep me locked up?"
"It was for your own safety!"
"What do you think I'm still weak and helpless?"
"I didn't say that. I told you Toph, I want to protect you. Don't you understand?"
"Look here Princess, I captured her again, all by myself! Since you seem to be hard of hearing, I think that should be enough to tell you I CAN TAKE CARE OF MYSELF!"
"That's not the point! You could have been killed! Do you know what that would do to me? Do you know just how much you mean to me Toph? DO YOU?" he asked yelling at her. They had been arguing non-stop for the last half hour, but that question made Toph go quiet. Zuko ran a frustrated hand through his hair and took a deep breath trying to calm himself.
"I just wanted you to be safe. I don't want anything to happen to you," he said in a softer tone of voice.
"I... I know," she said slowly and went towards him. He turned to face her and took her hand. Her wounds had been bandaged and the doctors had told him that she would be fine. He stroked her cheek lovingly with the back of his hand then hugged her to him gently.
He had gone crazy when he came back early in the afternoon and found Toph gone. He had the entire house and village searched, but nobody had seen her. Then, when it got late, he had gone to the beach, the only place left to look and found her tired and straining to keep Azula in a strange glass case.
The guards had restrained her and he had taken a very exhausted and rather bruised Toph into his arms hugging her for dear life and thanking the Spirits that she was alive.
"Zuko, there was something Azula said about Mai that I think you should know," she said and sat down.
He sat down beside her. She had called him by his given name and that meant that it was a serious matter. She only ever did when she was serious. She took his hand and told him what she had learned from Azula. Zuko listened and felt himself flare up with anger. Toph could tell that the heat in the room had risen substantially and tightened her hold on his hand in an attempt to calm him down. They sat in silence for a moment then Zuko rose and left the room.
Toph sighed as she felt his footsteps fade down the hall. He needed some time alone. This part of the journey to healing that wise Uncle Iroh had spoken of was going to be the hardest. He would need her there, but he would also need her to understand when he had to have some time to himself. She worried that he might do something to Azula that he would probably regret later, but she had to trust his better judgement.
Zuko went to the mental facility and was taken to Azula's cell. She had been restrained to keep her from destroying her room. She had also been given some medicines that the doctor had said would keep her calm. He walked into the room with the doctor who left but said he wouldn't be far away if he was needed.
"Zuzu?" she asked in a strained voice as she opened her eyes slowly. He said nothing, just stood there and said nothing.
"Are you angry at me too? Are you angry at me like father always is? He doesn't listen to me any more. He says I let him down. I suppose you don't care about that..." she said turning away from him.
"You killed Mai," he said evenly. His tone was cold and filled with hate.
"I had to. Father told me that I had to hurt you like you hurt him. Mother told me not to and now even she won't talk to me..." she said slowly. She looked tired and defeated. He stared at her, feeling nothing for the sister he once knew. She was a monster to him, perhaps more...
"But she is still you sister, the only family you have left," said a voice inside him. He shut his eyes and ground his teeth together. She was still his sister.
"You hate me, don't you? Everyone hates me. Even Ty Lee wouldn't see me. She blocked my chi and left me for dead. Mai wouldn't let me see her. Mother hates me and father won't look at me. I should die..." Zuko breathed deep watching her continue babbling. Maybe if he'd paid a little more attention to her, she would have gotten better. It was true that she had nobody left in the world to be there for her. It was his duty as Fire Lord, and as her older brother to take care of her, no matter how difficult it was. He turned to walk away and she spoke up as he reached the door. There was panic in her voice.
"You're leaving me again?" she asked. He said nothing and she knew he was. "Will you come and see me some times? I'm sorry about Mai. Mother wants me to apologise, but really Zuzu, nobody will talk to me..."
He turned and looked in her eyes. There was so much sincerity in them that he no longer felt angry at her. Yes, she had killed Mai and she had tried to kill Toph too, but he was partly responsible for the way she was now.
"I will come visit," he said and left the room.
"So you'll go and see her again?" asked Toph leaning against Zuko.
"I promised I would. She doesn't have anyone left besides me. The doctors tell me she's worse than she was when she left. I have to be there for her. Maybe she'll get better or maybe even change..."
She squeezed his hand and shut her eyes.
"They'll take good care of her, I'm sure," she said.
"And now that your holiday's almost over, what happens next?" Toph sighed and took his hand in hers.
"I didn't come looking for a summer love, but now that I found one, I don't want it to last just the summer," she said and kissed his hand. He smiled and pushed her hair out of her eyes.
"I don't want that either," he said and claimed her lips in another long kiss. She lifted her hands to his hair tangling them in the dark silk and pulled him closer. Eager to oblige her, he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her closer to him as well. There was more passion in that kiss than any they had ever shared and at that moment in time, they couldn't care for anything or anyone else.
Pulling away for breath, Zuko looked into her pale green eyes and smiled. Toph was his and would be for a long time yet. He pushed back her hair and kissed her forehead.
"I don't want you to leave," he whispered. She hugged him burying her face in his shoulder and smiled. She didn't want to leave either, but in a few days, she would have to. Before she could tell him so, he had leaned close to her ear and whispered with all the emotion he would ever possibly show, "I love you."
It was so simple. Three little words and Toph's world tilted endlessly. She pulled back and raised her face to his once more. She was left speechless. She had known her feelings for Zuko since the first time he kissed her. She had hoped he didn't just need her because he was in mourning, proper mourning, for the first time since Mai died. She had hoped and prayed to all the Spirits she knew, and now, her wish had come true.
"Took you long enough," she said with a chuckle. He laughed and rested his forehead against hers.
"I take it that means you love me too?" he said. She smiled and kissed him again.
"You're not as slow as I thought," she replied.
It had been three years since that fateful summer and the gang was meeting for a very special event; Zuko had a son! Katara and Aang had come with Sokka and Suki and their children to see the newest member of the family.
Suki and Katara went on and on about what the child would look like and all the things they would do with Toph now that she and Zuko had their first child. The children in their arms seemed excited too. They'd never travelled so far before and for their parents to take them all the way to the Fire Nation, and to see the Fire Lord and new Fire Prince no less! They would have many stories for their friends when they got back home. Sokka and Aang watched silently hoping that their wives didn't decide they wanted an entire fleet of children.
A servant came to greet them at the door. They were led up to their respective rooms and then they all gathered in the main hall waiting to be led to Zuko's room.
"I can't wait to see the little guy!" said Katara for the millionth time that day. Thankfully, before she and Suki could go into one of their tirades about babies again, Iroh came to meet them in the hall.
"I'm a great uncle now!" he exclaimed after the greetings. "You should see the little one. He looks just like his mother, but he has his father's eyes." he said leading them up to Zuko's room.
They entered Zuko's elaborately furnished room one by one very quietly, but the silence was broken again when the women saw the new mother and her baby.
Toph was on the bed holding a little bundle in her arms with a little tuft of dark hair sticking out at the top. She smiled as she heard them come in. Zuko had his arm around his wife's shoulders watching their little boy sleep. His little amber eyes were hidden under closed lids as he slept in his mother's loving arms. Zuko hardly ever left Toph's side. She had to remind him at least a dozen times a day that she was perfectly fine, though she secretly loved all the attention he was giving her. Not that she would ever admit it of course...
Suki and Katara rushed forward towards the mother and the baby. Iroh followed them to stand beside his niece and her son. He was so proud of Zuko and Toph and he loved his little grand nephew to pieces. Zuko greeted the other men and the children at the door.
"Glad you could make it," said Zuko patting their backs. The children crowded around the little bundle all wanting to see the little person in Toph's arms.
"Are you kidding? We wouldn't miss this for the world!" said Sokka going to join the women beside Toph.
"Good to see you again Sokka," said Toph with a grin recognising her old friend's voice.
"Good to see..." he broke off catching the joke in her statement and the others laughed. He smiled and said, "Good to see you too Toph."
Zuko and Aang stood at the door and watched the others ooh and ahh at the new Fire Prince, Roku, named after Zuko's great grandfather, the previous Avatar.
"You've changed, Zuko," said Aang after a while.
"For the better I hope," he said.
"Yes, definitely for the better. She's brought a smile to your eyes again. I hope you've found peace at last old friend," he said clapping him on the back and walking over to see the young Fire Prince.
Zuko watched his new family and his old friends and a new joy filled his heart. They had grown up together and now could celebrate all their children together. He truly was happy. He had been given another chance to start over. What more could he ask for?
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