Zuko had been mentally kicking himself for the rest of the afternoon, for how he had just left Toph after their spar. He never said anything like that, ever. He had never in his entire life acted this way around Toph; she'd been one of his closest friends for years, why now was he getting nervous around her? Yes maybe his feelings towards her were changing, but he didn't think that he would start acting like this.
"Stupid, stupid idiot!" He muttered to himself, pacing the length of his rather large study back and forth. He was still in the clothes he had worn to spar in with Toph, (Well, the ones that he had been left in), And desperately needed to have a bath. What was he going to say to Toph now? He felt like such a fool. He was so angry at himself by this point, after having gotten so worked up about it, that he didn't realise his mood was affecting the torches that lit his study, until one of the tapestry's hanging near one of the torches, set alight, due to how big the flame had become.
Zuko stopped pacing after noticing the smell of burning, his eyes immediately on the flaming tapestry. He quickly jumped to it, pulling it off the wall and throwing it to the floor, before immediately stamping on the flames until they had died out, too distracted by his thoughts to remember that he had the ability to bend fire. He sighed as his looked down at the burnt tapestry, before walking over to his desk and slumping down in his chair. Another sigh and he slammed his head onto his desk, just as a knock sounded at the door.
"Come in," He called, which was much more like a loud grumble, not lifting his head from the desk. He really wasn't in the mood to care what he looked like or how he acted right at this minute in time.
The door squeaked open, Zuko heard the sound of footsteps enter his room before the door shut again.
"My, My, surely being the Firelord isn't this bad," Zuko immediately looked up to see his uncle grinning down at him from the other side of the desk.
"Uncle!" Zuko exclaimed, his solemn look now a beaming smile. He stood from his chair and practically ran around his desk to hug Iroh in a tight embrace. Iroh chuckled and hugged his nephew back just as tightly before making a face and stepping back a bit,
"Being Firelord may be hard work, but I didn't think it would completely take over your life so much as you couldn't bathe, you're worse than me," He said, a huge grin on his face as he eyed the dirt on Zuko and also on his clothes,
"That bad?" Zuko asked, smiling, forgetting about everything that he had just been thinking about. He was so happy that his uncle was here; he had missed him terribly and had, had no idea that he was coming. Iroh's grin turned into a kind smile as he looked at his nephew,
"You have grown into quite a handsome man … Much like me!" He laughed and Zuko couldn't help but laugh with him. Zuko then gestured to the small table and a couple of chairs, situated at the end of his study. He kept a game of Pai-cho on it always ready to be played, just in case his uncle visited. Iroh went and sat down in one of the chairs happily, eyeing the game of Pai-cho,
"It's been far too long in the time we haven't seen each other nephew," He said as Zuko sat in the chair opposite him, Zuko sighed,
"I wish I'd have more time to visit, then we'd see each other more often," His face saddened at the fact he hardly ever got to see his uncle that much anymore, and he used to spend so much time with him. Sometimes he wished it could be like the good old days, minus the war, his father and his lunatic sister. Iroh put his hand on Zuko's shoulder and smiled,
"Cheer up Zuko, I'm here now, so let's make the most of this time we have, we have a festival to celebrate after all," He said.
Iroh hadn't changed much, he still had his muscular physic he had acquired from being locked up during the war, he still had his sense of humour and love for tea, his kindness and his jolly smile that could cheer anyone up. The only thing that had really changed was the colour of his hair, having gotten a little whiter over the years, and he had gained a few more wrinkles, other than that he was still the same old Iroh, and still the man that Zuko saw as his father, even though he wasn't, as Iroh still thought of Zuko as his own son. Another knock sounded at his door,
"Come in!" Zuko shouted from across the room so that they'd be able to hear, remaining sat down. Again the metal door to his study squeaked open before Cho walked in shutting the door behind her and then bowing to Zuko. Zuko smiled,
"What can I do for you Cho?" He asked kindly, watching the auburn haired girl in front of him as she stood back up straight,
"I was just wondering if there was anything specific my lady would need to wear tonight, your highness,"
"Cho! What a lovely surprise to see you here!" Iroh smiled getting up to greet her before Zuko could answer her question. Cho smiled and bowed to him, before Iroh gave her a rather tight hug. It didn't faze her, she was used to it.
"That means Toph's here?" He questioned gleefully,
"I'd really like her to be the first to try my new blend of tea, it's made with jasmine and the most beautiful plum blossom!" he grinned, getting a little too carried away with himself as he talked about tea,
"I'm sure my lady will be happy to try it, and to see you, it's been quite a while," She said smiling, Iroh nodded,
"Yes, we have a lot of catching up to do, perhaps tonight will be a great opportunity to have a nice talk over some tea!" He exclaimed smiling, before sitting back down,
"Now what was it that you wanted from my nephew again?" He asked, looking over to Zuko who had been quietly watching, happy that old friends would be able to see each other again.
"Oh erm, just wondering if there was anything you would like Lady Toph to wear tonight if there's some sort of dress code, or something like that your highness," She said, looking at Zuko. He thought for a brief moment, then got up and walked over to his desk, he opened one of the draws and pulled out a bag of money, then walked over to Cho and put it in her hand,
"There isn't really a dress code, but usually everyone tends to wear there best clothes, so take this and I'll get a few of my guards to escort you into the city, to one of the finest tailor shops that I know, please buy Toph a dress from there and tell her I'm sorry about this afternoon, although I shall apologise myself when I see her," He paused the things he had been thinking about before coming back, before shaking his head a little and continuing,
"And also get yourself a nice dress, as a token of my appreciation for you looking after Toph all these years, I know it's a tough job since she's so stubborn," He explained smiling at her. Cho gave him a smile in response and bowed to him,
"It's a job I'm more than happy to do," She said smiling as she stood,
"Thank you very much your highness," She added, looking at the bag of gold pieces in her hand. Zuko nodded with a 'No problem,' before calling in the two guards that were situated outside the door to his study, then explained to them what he wanted them to do. They bowed and with another word of thanks a smile from Cho, they left with her to escort her into the city.
Zuko went and sat back down with his uncle, who had been watching him intently. Zuko looked over at him,
"What?" He asked, a little uncomfortable with the way Iroh was watching him,
"No nothing, it's just if I didn't know any better, I'd say you've gained a little crush on the Lady Toph," He replied with a small smirk on his lips.
"What? You … That's crazy! … I mean…" Zuko trailed off as he felt his cheeks flushing a deep shade of red, and his sudden lack of words. There wasn't really much point in hiding anything from his uncle anyway. I Iroh just gave Zuko a kind smile,
"She's a beautiful, independent and strong woman, but I thought that you two were just good friends," He said watching Zuko, Zuko sighed,
"My feelings for Toph have only changed recently, sure after the war I started seeing her a little more as a friend, with all the letters to keep in touch with each other, spending time with each other when the group met up, but when I saw her the other day when she arrived …. I never thought I would have these feelings that I do now for Toph," He explained, looking back at his uncle,
"I mean, I've never ever felt this way about anyone before, and that includes Mai," He continued. Iroh frowned at hearing Mai's name, he had never really liked her but he shrugged it off and smiled again at Zuko before getting up,
"Well I don't know about you but all that talking made me want a cup of tea, although I do recommend that you go and take a bath before you see Toph," He laughed, looking at Zuko's dirty clothes and skin again, before lifting Zuko up into a tight embrace. He then set him down on his feet and left the study in search of the kitchen to make his tea, talking to himself about what flavour of tea he should have.
That afternoon, after Toph had, had a much needed bath and Cho had been annoyed with her for yet another dress that had been ruined, (She had lost count of how many dresses she had destroyed whilst Eartbending and sparring, all because she couldn't be bothered to change into her sparring gear, saying that she was just fine wearing what she was already in).
She had been wandering aimlessly through the palace, trying to figure out what in the hell was going on with Zuko. He had never acted this way around her before, maybe he was just nervous about the festival tonight. 'Yeah that must be it,' She thought.
She sighed wandering out into the courtyard; she had quite a lot of time to kill before she had to get ready then meet up with Zuko for his speech. She was barefoot and wore a loosely fitting pale green silk dress. As she walked out into the courtyard she smiled a little to herself as she felt the cool summer's breeze on her skin and the slightly wet grass brushing against her feet. She walked over to the pond and sat down on the grass beside it, taking a moment to listen to just how peaceful and quiet everything was. The sound of water from the pond as the Koi fish and turtle ducks swam, the sounds of the birds as they sang to one another, some of which she had never heard before, and the slight rustling noise her dress made as it blew with the breeze or when she moved slightly. It was nice.
She hardly ever got to spend time like this anymore since she was usually working, and she didn't need to worry or think about anything whilst she was here, apart from what had gotten into Zuko. She sighed moving her hand to her hair, to move the few strands away that blew harmlessly across her face as another cool breeze came.
Toph's jet black hair wasn't tied back in any complicated way yet, there had been no need until this evening, instead it flowed down her back, falling to just above her waist, long and perfectly straight, unlike what it had been when she was a child, but she was glad that it had grown into something much more manageable than it was back then. Her bangs framed her face, accompanying its shape, falling just past her eyes, and it gleamed with the light of the dimming sun.
She sighed again, knowing that she had to head back inside soon so that she could get ready. She stayed a little while longer, loosing herself in the tranquillity of what was around her, she barely noticed Zuko who had been stood watching her for a while, his mouth slightly agape. She smiled a little to herself,
"Hey Sparky," she greeted him, her voice calm and relaxed,
"What brings you out here? I thought you would've spent ages soaking your muscles in a bath after the pummelling I gave you today," She laughed, tilting her head in Zuko's direction as he walked over and sat down beside her. He had taken a bath so he didn't smell or have dirt caked on him anymore and had changed into some loose fitting clothes just like Toph, and his hair was loose and scruffy just like it had been when he had travelled with them in the old days. He had been too busy looking at Toph that he hadn't heard her before, so he was a little shocked when she jabbed him in the arm,
"What's been with you lately Sparky, you've been acting really weird," She said, placing her hands on her lap,
"Whenever you're around me you act really odd and your heart rate picks up loads, you never used to be like this when we used to spend time with each other," She carried on, lifting a hand to brush the hair out of her face again. Zuko watched her, he wanted to tell her how he felt, how his feelings had changed for her in the time that they'd spent together these past couple of days, and how every time he had gotten a letter from her it had brightened up his day, especially the last one, but he just couldn't find the right words to explain it.
They sat in silence for a bit, Zuko trying to figure out what he could say to Toph, and Toph waiting for Zuko to say something. Finally when she got fed up of waiting for an answer she got up. She wasn't really the patient type. She stepped back a bit and brushed herself off,
"Fine Zuko, ignore me. I'll see you at the festival." She said annoyed, before turning her back to him and starting to walk off,
"Toph, wait," Zuko grabbed her wrist after getting up quickly to stop her from walking away.
"What Zu…" She didn't have time to finish her question, Zuko turned her around to face him and without a second though, pressed his lips to hers and kissed her. Toph didn't have any time to react; completely shocked she pushed Zuko away. She stood there silently unable to comprehend what had just happened,
"I'm sorry," She heard Zuko say,
"I wasn't thinking, I just …" He trailed off not being able to finish what he was saying He was such a fool. Toph just remained stood in silence, she didn't know what to do, and then it hit her,
'Zuko was acting weird because … He likes me? Surely not, we're just good friends … Right?' She thought to herself unsurely. Zuko watched Toph, looking at the expression on her face as she tried to understand things, then he threw his hands up in the air letting go of her wrist, angry with himself again,
"AGHHH! Why do I always screw things up? Why am I so bad at this?" He yelled, breaking Toph from her thoughts,
"I can't do anything right! Including telling you that I think you're extremely beautiful and I think I'm in love with you!" Zuko carried on yelling getting too carried away with himself, until he realised what he had just said and immediately stopped. Toph stood there completely dumbstruck and Zuko froze,
'Way to go you complete utter idiot.' The only words that came into to Zuko's mind.
They stood there again in awkward silence, neither one of them knowing what to say or do to one another, that was until Toph felt Cho coming down a corridor towards the courtyard.
"There you are M'lady, I've been looking everywhere for you," She said as she neared Toph. She noticed Zuko and greeted him with a bow, he nodded his head only slightly in response. She stood and looked at Toph and then to Zuko,
"Oh … I'm sorry … Did I interrupt something?" She asked suddenly feeling very awkward,
'No not at all, just the fact I've told Toph that I think I'm in love with her and made a complete prat out of myself, other than that it's all good!" Zuko thought to himself, furrowing his eyebrows a little,
"No Cho you didn't, it's fine," Toph replied.
"I presume you came to find me so that we could get ready?" She asked. Cho noticed the tone of her voice wasn't like it usually was, she had gotten to know Toph very well in the time she had been working with her, so she knew something was up, so she just nodded knowing that Toph would catch it,
"Then lets go." Without another word, Toph left the courtyard and made her way to her chambers. Zuko and Cho watch her leave, before Cho turned to him,
"Is everything alright your highness?" She asked him. She could detect hints of sadness flickering in his eyes, even though he was trying his best to hide it. He looked at her and smiled slightly,
"Yeah, everything is … Fine," He paused a little and changed the subject not wanting this to get anymore awkward than it already was,
"you should go and make sure Toph hasn't gotten herself lost though," He said, looking in the direction Toph had walked off in, the complete opposite way to which her chambers were. Cho sighed and nodded, giving Zuko a quick bow before hurrying off to find Toph again. Zuko watched her go like he had with Toph, then slumped down on the ground and put his head in his hands,
'What in Agni were you thinking! Can you not do anything right? STUPID!'
This was going to be a very long night.
Awh poor Zuko :(
Sorry for the really late update again, i'm so bad at this -.- I find it really difficult to manage my time and do 10 billion things at once D: Anywhoo, I hope you like the latest chapter, apologies in advance if the next update takes ages v.v I do try my best :)
Please R&R It's much appreciated, and helps inspire me ^^, If you have any constructive Criticism, i'd be more than happy to hear it :)
Until the next chapter! ^^