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.
"I can't believe I'm back here," Toph said to her guard. He hadn't spoken a single word to her and she was getting tired of these one-sided conversations. They would get to the port soon. She sighed and took off her shoes. She could 'see' better without them. Besides, nobody had to know she was barefoot under her beautiful jade gown. Her mother had made it her sole aim to drown out any of Toph's tomboyish behaviour under layers of silken fabric and make-up, but only Mei Lee, her personal maid, knew any of her secret disobedience.
She would have loved to make this trip on the back of the Avatar's flying bison, but Appa and Aang were a long way away. She wondered how the new baby was doing. She hadn't been able to visit, but wished she could, if only just to find out what everyone was doing in the new era of peace.
Oh well, she thought, the Fire Lord would have to do. She brushed some wayward curls of her now long dark hair from her face and felt the soft sea breeze. It had truly been a long time. The last time she had come this way hadn't been a happy occasion.
Zuko had greeted her at the door. She had come with her parents to pay their respects to the late Fire Lady Mai. It was almost unbelievable. To think that she had been to their wedding only two short years before.
"I am so glad to see you again Toph," he said. She heard the slight crack in his voice and it broke her heart. She might not have been very good at showing affection, but she had formed a bond with the now Fire Lord Zuko back when he was still the banished prince and was teaching Aang to fire bend. Toph could tell that Zuko had loved Mai. He had been so nervous on their wedding day and she could tell how happy they were to have each other.
"It's good to see you too," she said and smiled. He hadn't even noticed her joke. The funeral had been hard on him. She could tell that Zuko had been uncomfortable during the entire ceremony. When the body was burned as was the only way to send off Fire Nation royalty, he had disappeared and she hadn't interacted with him for the rest of her visit there.
According to Aang who was the last to have seen him, he wasn't the same as he had been before. It was like something inside of him had died with Mai and their child. Toph breathed deep and smiled. She would make sure the hot-headed Fire Lord didn't spend too much time alone or unhappy. If there was anything she had learned from spending time with Katara, it was how to cheer someone up. Even Sokka knew he could count on her, despite her sarcastic remarks.
Turning, she headed for the gang plank without waiting for the burly mute guard. He wasn't of much help anyway. He'd disappeared every night during the voyage. Like everyone else, he had imagined that Toph was a helpless blind woman with little sense.
Toph had followed him silently one night and discovered that he and some of the sailors were very busy drinking themselves into a stupor. She had known he wouldn't be very reliable, but if it made her father happy to have him around, she would bear with him.
Making her way through the port market, the guard at least made himself useful and got her a palanquin for her to travel in. She would have preferred to walk, but she could do that once she got to the palace. It didn't hurt to show at least some of the 'good breeding' her mother had so desperately tried to teach her.
She shifted and tried to get comfortable. If the port was as crowded as it sounded, she would be stuck in traffic for a while yet.
"My Lord, Lady Toph Bei Fong is here to see you. Shall I admit her?"
Zuko looked up from his work stunned. He hadn't seen Toph in while. She hadn't been to see the new children and he hadn't had a chance to visit her and see for himself how she was doing.
"Of course. Please see to it that her things are taken up to the royal guest rooms," he said rising. His work could wait a few minutes. Toph Bei Fong had come all this way for a visit? It was unexpected, but a very pleasant surprise. He followed one corridor then another then went down the steps to the foyer. Nothing in the world could have prepared him for the sight that greeted his eyes at the front door.
Out of a richly decorated palanquin stepped a graceful young woman, all dressed in Jade and forest green with gold trim. Long dark curls framed her face beautifully and the little jewellery she had on only served to stupefy him more. Her sightless pale green eyes were turned in his direction and for a moment, he wondered if she could see him.
"So, are you going to just stand there gawking or are you going to welcome me in Sparky?" came her familiar voice with a mischievous grin he knew only too well. She had caught him off guard.
"My apologies. Welcome Toph. It's so good to see you again."
"Likewise," she said.
He laughed lightly as she bowed and he took her hand in greeting. He had the servants take her things up to her room and offered to take her to his garden. It had been a while since he had been there. He and Mai had fed the turtle ducks together once or twice...
"So, what brings you all the way here Toph?" he asked trying to think of other things.
"Well, you actually. I haven't heard from you in a while and I thought it would be nice to come and see what the Fire Lord is up to," she said with a smile.
"Well, it does get little lonely here. The servants are all rather busy, and I have meetings to attend and documents to sign and send..."
"So I'm not missing much?" she asked.
"No, not much," he said and turned away. If Mai was there, he would have had much more to talk about.
"You're thinking of her again," she said drawing him out of his thoughts.
"What? No, I'm not thinking about her, I just have lot on my mind, that's all." Toph turned to the sunset and smiled hugging herself.
"You're lying. I can tell you know."
Zuko silently cursed himself. Of course she knew. She was the one person he couldn't lie to, even with a straight face. She wouldn't be able to see his face anyway.
"It's okay to miss her, you know. You don't have to push her aside..."
"I really don't want to talk about this Toph," he said quietly, his husky voice beginning to crack again. She understood.
"I should go and freshen up. I'm here if you want to talk. We have the whole summer."
She squeezed his hand and walked slowly back the way they had come leaving Zuko to his troubled thoughts.