Worst Field Trip Ever

Listen to Yourself

A/N: Been looking forward to this section of the story for a while. Props to my wife for inspiring some ideas to get parts of this scene to logistically fall into place somehow.

Passing through the satin cloth door felt like diving into a hot spring. The shop was warm and soothing, the many scents of finely brewed teas swirling through her nostrils like a thick, creamy soup. Various chatter filled her ears, and each step she took reminded her of how practically every seat in the house was occupied. She savored the chilled, smooth shards of stone embedded in the tile floor beneath her feet. She knew this type of earth very well - jade. Her mother always liked to wear it. This was definitely the right place. Where was he? She had to find him.

She noticed that there were a couple of people standing near the back, probably tending to various teas. She honed in on their voices as she made her way over.

"...so happy for you!" A girl, gentle but strong-willed.

"Thanks. I'm...glad that you've found work." A boy, gruff and slightly awkward.

"I have a funny feeling some one put in a good word for me," the girl slyly pointed out.

"Hey," Toph blurted out. "Where's your manager?"

"Guh-" the boy choked out. It was subtle, she almost didn't hear it, but there it was - definitely a nervous little grunt before a pause. She tapped her feet impatiently to get a grasp on the boy's figure. She was pretty certain she knew who it was but not one-hundred percent.

"Ih-is there something we can help you with?" the girl recovered the uncomfortable silence.

"I want some tea," Toph demanded calmly, pressing her hands into her hips. "But I want your manager to make it himself."

"Oh," the girl murmured. "Well, that...That can be arranged, Ma'am, please let me fetch him for you." Tippa tippa tippa and off she scurried.

The boy cleared his throat and forced out a deeper voice. "He, uh, he's just...He'll be back."

Toph made sure to point her head up at where she perceived the boy's face to be. She cocked her eyebrow at him, and could hear him shuffling a straw hat around.

"You...you can tell it's me, can't you?" he grumbled in his normal voice, defeated.

"Yeeehp," Toph replied arrogantly. "What are you doing here, Prince Crispy?"

"Hey," he growled. "That's Lord Crispy, and-...Wait, Crispy? What? Is that-? Is it because of my face?"

She nodded, plastering a wide, mischievous grin over herself like a streaking paintbrush stroke.

"That's-" he seethed, trembling. Man, that really got under his skin, huh? Awesome. "I don't think I deserved that," he coolly retorted, his body calmed. Whoa. She was impressed with his temper management.

"Whatever," she dismissed slyly. "What's up, Zuko? Aren't you supposed to be, like...I dunno...Watching over the freaking Fire Nation?"

He hushed her with a "Ssh!" Crickle. His straw hat got fiddled with again. "Be quiet," he commanded in a whisper. "No one knows I'm here." She giggled. This was quite amusing.

"Great job you're doing at being a leader," she whispered, jabbing him in his hip as she leaned against the cupboard at his side. "Up and leave the country right after you-"

"I came here to see my uncle," he firmly explained, silencing her jest. "I needed to see him after everything that's happened. We had unfinished business to take care of. I was going to try to convince him to come back with me, but..." He trailed off, almost with a sigh. It was strange, as Toph couldn't quite tell if this made him upset or not.

"No deal, huh?"

"No," he muttered with a tinge of melancholy. "But that's fine. He's found what he's wanted here with this shop. I'm happy for him."

"You're gonna visit him all of the time like this, right?" Toph checked in what was more of a demand.

"I am," he replied with that rare warmth he was occasionally capable of. "And I wanted him to know that before I started cleaning up the damned mess my father left." A bitter satisfaction resonated from his words. His tone was merely warm - not cold as coal, not flaming like a bonfire, but warm, like glowing embers.

"You guys really care about each other, huh?" Toph mused solemnly.

"Mm," he hummed in reply. "My father and my sister...Puh," he spouted defiantly. "But Iroh...He's the only family I've ever really had since I lost my mother."

Toph felt a knot in her stomach tie up. I lost my mother. I lost my father. They don't want me. They're not my parents anymore. You know what? Screw them!

"That's...better than no one, right?" Toph mumbled awkwardly. She had been trying to mimic what Aang had said earlier that day but couldn't seem to do it right. He was better at this stuff than she was.

"It most certainly is," Zuko agreed, leaning against the cupboard beside her. "So," he changed the subject, "What are you doing here, Bei Fong? Is the Avatar in town?"

"Hmph," she snorted, slapping her arms over her chest. "My name's not Bei Fong. And yea, he is."

"What? I was certain that-"

"You're not the only one who's old man ditched 'em," she pointed out crossly.

"Ah." Yea, that's right. Don't know what to say to that, huh? "I'm sorry you have to share this burden." What? Share? What the-? We don't share anything.

"Maybe if you had listened to me back when we were on that beach a while back you'd have known," she snapped. This was kind of a lie, since she hadn't known at that point. But she was grouchy about the situation and wanted to make him know damned well that he had been a jerk to her when she had tried making better friends with him. Everyone else got their shot and he had just totally blown her off. "Remember what I told you that day?"

"Uhhh-"

"It was the worst field trip ever," she pouted. "Know what? I was wrong. This trip has been the worst field trip ever."

"I'm sorry," Zuko pleaded, embarrassed and confused. "I meant no disrespect, there were just more important-"

"Whatever! OK? Obviously I wasn't as important as everyone else was. Doesn't even matter 'cuz ya couldn't have even helped."

"My, my," came a slow, slightly raspy voice. "Did you come here to harass my customers, Little One?" She loved his voice so very much. It was mellow, soothing, and wise. He spoke slowly, thoughtfully, like every word he said was important somehow and deserved proper care.

"I-I-" she stammered, standing upright, arms slapping to her sides. She turned herself in the direction of that charming voice. "N-no, Sir, I was, I just-"

"Wahaha!" he belted out in that flaming, thick laugh of his. She could feel his hand pat his stomach. Whoa. Wait. That didn't seem right. She knew that voice, but...That body was not the same as the man she remembered...Ah, that was right. He had trimmed up a bit, hadn't he?

"Calm yourself, Child, I am not upset." He bent down, and the sound of his whisper reverberated from his hand toward her. "But you should not be so hard on Lord Zuko, he has many burdens to bear right now." His very presence was assuring, safe, but also somewhat intimidating in a way - a good way. Like it was just inherently a good idea to listen to him. She tucked her hands behind her back in courtesy and embarrassment.

"Sorry, Mr. Iroh," she apologized, humbled by his grace.

"I am not the one to whom you owe an apology," the man's slow, methodical tone observed. She frowned and knuckled Zuko in the leg - not too hard, just hard enough to let him know she was still upset with him.

"Sorry, Crispy," she grumbled. He could hear him huff through his nostrils.

"Now then." Iroh stepped past them. Fwouff. He ignited a fire beneath a kettle. "You've come to partake in the delights of freshly brewed tea, have you not, Little One?"Little One? What? I'm totally not...Blah. Fine. Maybe I am...

"Y-yea."

She could feel Zuko step off with that girl out to the back of the shop.Tippa tippa tippa.Pad pad pad.She kind of regretted the abrupt stop in their conversation and hoped they could finish it later.

"And what flavor of tea does the young lady desire?"

"Lemon."

"Hm, I believe some Lemon Balm will do you well. Just a touch of minty flavor." Meh, whatever works. She just wanted lemon. Clok. Ffss. Sounded like he had taken some herbs from a jar and dropped them into a tea cup.

"Ahh," Iroh mused. "I can see your mind is very troubled today, my dear."

"Pff, yea, that's one way of puttin' it." She blew at her bangs lazily, plopping herself down onto the cool tile floor. She probably looked odd like that, sitting on the floor in the back of the shop, but, as was usually the case, she could care less how she looked.

"I am sorry to hear that," Iroh sympathized. "Are you in need of counsel, my Child?"

She scrunched her nose up at the pungent aromas of the teas near by. He was a sharp old fart, wasn't he?

"I dunno." She shrugged apathetically.Yes-yes-yes-yes-please-please!

"Mmm," he hummed deeply. "Perhaps some hot tea shall clear your head. The mind is a powerful thing, but even the mighty Sequoia tree requires the same water, the same sunlight, and the same earth to grow - just like every other tree." Huh? What was he getting at, talking about giant trees?

"Uhhh, sure? I guess."

He chuckled at her. She felt kind of stupid somehow. Clearly she was missing the point.

"No matter how strong you may be, Little One," he advised, "you are still human." Oh-ohhhhh. OK. Got it now.

Clok. Ffss. Another tea cup? She could feel the footsteps of a stranger entering the building.

"Jin?" Iroh called out loudly to the back door. Tippa-tippa-tippa "Ah, there you are, my dear. Please see to our customer, would you?"

"Yes, Sir." The girl approached the customer. "Welcome to the Jasmine Dragon," her slightly distant voice greeted. Toph tuned out whatever came after that.

Ffffffffssssss. The fire on her tea went out, and Iroh gently poured the boiling water into the two cups. GLLLLLLllluuupp. GLLLLLLllluuupp.

"A proper tea takes time to brew," Iroh informed her. "Perhaps you should take this opportunity to continue your extremely enlightening discussion with my nephew?" Ohhh, he was a sly devil. She hung her head and dragged herself back onto her feet.

"Suuure," she whined, making her way to the back exit. She could sense Zuko's weight propped against the outside of the building. That crazy Iroh somehow made her feel guilty about being a jerk when no one else could.

"Hey," she grunted, slamming her back up beside him.

"Hey," his gruff voice flatly greeted back. "My uncle sent you out here, didn't he?"

"Sure did."

"He's a wise man. You'd do well to listen to what he says." The way Zuko said it conveyed both a sense of respect for Iroh but also a bit of a jab at Toph for getting scolded at by him. "Part of the reason I'm still here is because I need his guidance before I try...well..."

"Running a country?"

"Y-yea..." That particular word was weighed down by stress and fear and uncertainty, all compacted into one syllable. She kind of felt sorry for him, if only briefly, as Iroh was clearly correct - he did have a lot to worry about right now.

"Gssmmsrry." The sounds were forced between her teeth unwillingly.

"What?"

"I guess I'm sorry," she repeated in exasperation. "But I'm still ticked off at you..."

"Why?" he demanded firmly. "What did I do to you? Was it-? Is this about when I burned your feet? Because that was an accident, I thought-"

"Noooo," Toph moaned, slapping her forehead. "It's...That's...Ugh. I don't care. Accident, I get it. Whatever. No big. I'm talking about how you would ignore me and stuff all of the time!"

Whump. That was his head smacking against the building and he sighed dully. Toph continued her assault. "Oh, hey, let's go to a volcano with Aang and meet freaking dragons. Let's go to the big prison in the boiling lake and break people out with Sokka! Let's go seek revenge on the guy who killed Katara's-"

"We didn't seek revenge! We actually-"

"Whatever! I don't care! When we finally get to hang out, I try and, like..." She was scrambling her arms around haphazardly, to try and express herself. "Try to make friends with you and tell you stuff and you totally blow me off! You took everyone else to go do something awesome and you just ignored me! What about me, huh? Why'd you always act like I didn't matter?"

"Sounds to me like you're just upset and you're taking it out on everyone," Zuko scowled. "Listen to yourself!" He raised his pitch to sound girly. "What about meeee?" Toph would've found his gruff girliness to be hilarious if he wasn't being an asswipe to her. "I'm sorry I was more focused on ending a war with my father and helping find the one kid who could save the world, all right? Didn't realize your life story - what little of it there is so far - was a bigger priority!"

What a fuckin' snot, acting like he's all high and mighty. He's just...Stupid. Yea.

"Hmph." She smashed the back of her skull into the building as well. That was about all she could think to do.

"Are you finished feeling sorry for yourself?" Zuko wondered, settling down. "Trust me, you're never going to feel better until you are. I've been down that road, kid."

"My parents disowned me," she blurted out of the blue, seeming to ignore what he had just said. She had been waiting to tell him this whole time. "So I guess I know how you felt."

"Maybe so," Zuko conceded, without the slightest bit of pity. "I know it's not easy, but you've got to get over it. Stop caring what they think of you. Find your own honor, your own way. Otherwise it's just going to keep eating at you."

"How the hell do I just...get over it?" she demanded, pounding her fist.

"I needed my Uncle," Zuko noted. "You're friends with the Avatar. And what about Katara and Sokka?"

"Yea," she huffed, sliding down and sitting in a bunch, knees tucked in.

"I'm telling you," he insisted, pulling his weight off the wall. "The longer you dwell on it, the more you're doing yourself and those who care about you a disservice."

They shared a moment of tranquility and deep thought, leaving her little choice but to ponder his advice. Freakin' crap. He was right. She hated this. He was being a jerk and treating her like a-Maybe he's just making you see the truth you refuse to acknowledge?Wh-? Maybe. I guess.

Crinkle.PAD. PAD. Pad. Pad."Don't make the same mistake I did, Toph," he warned.pad. pad. pad pad"Listen to those who act like your family, not those who pretend to."Swuf. He passed through into the shop.

Well. That hadn't gone as she had planned. She'd went in thinking she was all ready to put him down, and yet, somehow, she ended up feeling like the jerk in the situation. Wasn't she supposed to be trying to act not like a jerk more often? Grrr. Failing at that. She was feeling quite stubborn and, frankly, confused. She didn't want to care, but she did. More and more each day now.

Maybe he's right and I'm just causing more trouble to my friends than I ought to.Maybe. It's something to consider, isn't it?Yea. I guess it is.

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