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 had been avoiding her all week. If he wasn't out, he was busy. He was hiding behind his work again. Toph began to worry that she had hurt him too much for him to handle. Iroh had told her that they were on a hard road. Now she saw just how hard a road he meant.
The only time she saw him was for the morning meal and he would say very little. After that, he would disappear for the rest of the day, having left the servants with instructions to give her whatever she needed. Now she was tired of it. She sat on the front steps waiting for him that evening.
Zuko stepped onto the flagstones and saw her. She was as beautiful as ever and seemed to be getting more beautiful as the days went by. He hadn't been able to get their kiss out of his mind, nor could he get rid of the absolute guilt that ate at him every time he thought of her. Toph was becoming a temptation for him and he wanted to avoid making them both uncomfortable. To that effect, he had avoided her any way he could.
"I'm glad I caught you," she said with an edge to her voice.
"You've been avoiding me," she said matter-of-factly and rose slowly. Just watching her was enough to madden him. He swallowed slowly and looked away.
"I've been busy," he said in his defence. He wasn't exactly telling a lie. He really had been busy.
"You're not as busy as you make yourself out to be. Besides, how busy can you be on holiday?" she asked crossing her arms over her chest.
Agni, but wasn't she beautiful! Her fury only served to add to her already impossible beauty. Her hair fell in soft ringlets framing her face, some hiding one of her now bright green eyes from view. What he wouldn't give to... Zuko shook himself and began to walk to the house.
"I've been busy Toph," he repeated as he brushed past her.
"You're lying," she said slowly and walked sadly back to her room. She didn't come down for supper that night so Zuko dined alone.
Sitting in her darkened room, she hugged her knees to herself and sighed. It was a very lonely holiday so far and was going to continue to be if Zuko kept this up. He would have to break his shell to reach out to her now. If he didn't, she would have failed.
The next morning, Toph left her room early. She wanted to feel the first rays of the sun. There was nothing nearly as marvellous as feeling the world come alive around her and she wanted to experience that feeling now when she felt completely lost.
She had sat facing the sea for about an hour when she felt footsteps heading towards her. The good solid ground was much better for telling if someone was coming than the shifty sand, and she was thankful she hadn't gone down to the beach. She didn't much like surprises, but this one was welcome.
"I didn't know you liked to catch the sunrise," said Zuko sitting beside her.
"Didn't you know the very first rays are good for the eyes?" she replied with a smile.
They sat in comfortable silence for a while, something they had not done in a long time, then Zuko took Toph's hands in his and spoke again.
"I'm sorry. I know I'm not being a good companion and I've probably ruined the holiday, but if you give me a chance, I can make up for it, I promise." Toph smiled and punched his shoulder. Zuko rubbed it smiling. She had forgiven him.
They spent the day in the nearby town catching up on old memories and making new ones. Zuko smiled. At least Toph was happy. Now he wouldn't have to feel the double guilt of displeasing her on her holiday and being so fickle in his feelings towards his late wife.
After Toph had showed off her skill in several games, she and Zuko went down the path leading back to the beach house.
"I haven't had that much fun in ages," he said laughing.
"Glad to hear it Sparky," she said laughing as well.
The walk back seemed to take longer than usual, but neither of them minded. It was a while before Toph noticed that they had been holding hands. She squeezed Zuko's hand to make sure she wasn't imagining it.
Zuko smiled and squeezed back.
"This is nice," he said. Toph brightened a bit. There was no quickening of his heartbeat like before. It was a little saddening though. She wanted to be more to Zuko than just a good friend. She paused in her thoughts. Where had that come from? She was only just thinking the other day how nice it would be to be friends again... Now she wanted more.
Suddenly she stopped. They had been walking through a wooded area for a while, and she could hear a foreign heartbeat a little to their left, and not that far behind them. It was the same one she had felt back in the Fire Nation capital! Her guard came up immediately. Zuko stopped and looked at her puzzled.
"Toph? What's wrong?"
"Someone's following us. They have been for a while..."
Zuko looked around cautiously, unwittingly taking a defensive stance in front of Toph. After a while, the person left. Toph sighed slowly.
"Whoever it is, they've gone," she said.
"I think we should hurry back," said Zuko in a slightly panicked tone.
As they turned to head back, Zuko bumped into Toph who fell over, tripping on a tree root as she did and twisting her ankle. He knelt to see if she was alright, apologising every two seconds in between questions.
"Can you walk?" he asked.
"What do you think?" she said in a huff. She was cranky when she was hurt, that much he understood.
"Okay, I'll have to carry you then..."
"Whoa there Sparky. I am not being carried anywhere, got it?" she said defiantly.
"Well, you're not going to stay here, and you can't walk. What do you propose?" he said smugly. Toph frowned and bent a rock at him and he expertly dodged it, almost as if he was expecting it.
"Now is that any way to treat your rescuer?" he asked. She caught the laughter in his voice and eased a bit. Zuko picked Toph up gently as she wrapped her arms around his neck.
"Don't get any ideas," she said with a smirk, but gave a satisfied smile when she felt his heart beat a little faster.
Back at the house, Zuko immediately went to work on Toph's foot. He ordered the servants to fetch him everything he needed as he carried her to her bed. He put her down and lifted her skirt a little to examine her foot.
If Zuko was paying attention, he would have noticed Toph beginning to colour. He took her foot in his hands and Toph bit her lip.
"Does it hurt?" he asked noticing the look on her face.
"Y... yeah, right there, ow!" she said when he pressed her foot.
Then he began rubbing her foot gently. Toph bit her lip as hard as she dared without making a single sound. The pain was almost unbearable, but the embarrassment was even more so. Only Katara had seen to her feet when she was hurt and those horrible people at the spa in Ba Sing Se. Her feet were an intimate part of her and for him to touch them was a little more than innocent for her.
When the water came, Zuko washed both her feet; he said there was no point in washing just one foot. Toph began to get uncomfortable. He was just trying to cause her the least pain possible, she told herself and forced herself to breathe normally. He dried them then he put a cold compress on her foot and she was grateful for the pain easing.
Zuko was so gentle with her, it was unimaginable. He rubbed a sweet-smelling balm into her foot.
"This will help with the pain," he said and looked at her, "does that feel better?"
She nodded and he covered her foot again patting it gently. Toph smiled in his general direction.
"Thank you," she said putting her hand on his. He paused staring at her smile. She was so beautiful... He reached out and pushed her hair out of her face. Toph stiffened just a little, but enough to bring him back to the present. He cleared his throat, said goodnight and left her to rest.
Toph lay back deep in thought. She felt so utterly helpless when Zuko was around her and she hated that. Helplessness didn't bode well with her. The main conflict within her was that she liked the kind of helplessness he made her feel. She curled up on the bed and sighed. Her relationship with him had changed. Whether for the worse or for the better, she was yet to tell.