Zuko was alarmed, at first, at how Toph seemed to always know when something was wrong with him. His world was one of masks and pretend. The idea that she could somehow sense the turmoil in his head made him uncomfortable.
He figured it out slowly. A twitch here, a turn of her head there, and occasionally, when it got really bad, he could sense her watching him. He had no idea how she did it, but he soon realized she could tell when there was something up with the others, too. It unnerved him. He needed his calm, unbothered facade. He depended on it.
Toph was interesting. She seemed to trust him more than the others did. But she was also curious. Zuko could feel the interest, the unasked questions, whenever he was near her. To some extent, he was glad that someone seemed to care, a little, for whatever reason. But much more than that, he was scared. Scared of the thought of having to talk about his pain. Scared of the thought of someone knowing.
Zuko wasn’t sure what time it was when he woke up with his fists clenched tightly and cold sweat on his face. He had to get away. He didn’t know what he had to get away from. After all, his mind with all its dark shadows and orange flashes would follow him wherever he went. But still, he felt trapped. He just needed to get away.
He slipped on his robe and boots as quietly as he could and walked softly through the clearing and into the woods. Part of himself argued that he should keep track of where he was going so he could find his way back, but the louder part of him just needed to get away and would worry about other things later.
So he walked. And walked. And he tried not to think about what he was attempting to walk away from. Family. No, look at the trees. No, listen to his footsteps. Fear. No, look at how the first rays of sunlight are started to pierce through the canopy. No, listen to the birds beginning to awaken. Pain. No. No, no, no. No.
He sank to the ground and pulled at his hair, trying to stay grounded. Those are some leaves. That is a plant.
He couldn’t help but curl into a ball, wrapping his arms around his knees and putting his head down. He did not cry. He just squeezed his eyes shut.
“Sparky! Where are you? Z- Zuko?”
Zuko sat up, limbs aching. Distantly, he could hear a worried voice calling. Toph. He blinked at the bright sunlight. How long had he been here? He wasn’t sure whether he’d fallen asleep or just completely zoned out from reality. He shook his head and tried to clear it.
“Zuko?” Her voice was getting closer, and then suddenly she stopped yelling. Zuko tried to take a moment to breathe, but then, suddenly, Toph was barreling towards him out of the trees. Zuko jumped up and held out his hands to steady her.
“Oh thank Appa’s three-fingered toes,” Toph muttered, pulling back. Her face turned from one of relief to one of anger quite quickly, though.
“Sparky, you idiot,” Toph only punched him lightly, but to his horror, he could see that her eyes were a little glassy. Toph made a noise of frustration, stomping her foot. “I’ve been worried.”
“I’m sorry,” Zuko said quietly. He knew Toph wanted more of an explanation, but he couldn’t bring himself to offer one.
“They all think you betrayed us,” Toph said. Zuko drew back, more out of surprise than anything. He hadn’t even thought about what his absence might make them think.
“Did you think I did?” Zuko asked after a moment. After all, why would Toph be roaming the woods looking for him if she didn’t think he’d stayed?
“No,” Toph said firmly. “I knew you didn’t.”
The words hung in the silence for a little while. Zuko didn’t know how to continue. He’d just been found in a forest because he’d panicked in the middle of the night by a kid he’d just met a week ago. He didn’t know what there was to be said, at least without revealing much more information than he wanted to.
Toph looked deep in thought. Zuko just felt awkward.
“Zuko,” Toph said abruptly. “I just think you should know, if you didn’t already-- I can feel your heart beating. I can tell when it’s beating faster than normal.”
Zuko was both glad for an explanation of Toph’s weird perception and even more nervous by the fact that he hadn’t been imagining it. And by the fact that she was telling him that she knew, so matter-of-factly. “I--”
“It’s alright, Sparky,” Toph said before he had to scramble to find words. “Just wanted to let you know.”
Zuko could tell when he got back. The stares. A few whispers. Aang’s unguarded face of surprise when Toph led him back into the clearing. He swallowed the hurt that they’d thought he’d betray them. It was stupid to feel hurt by that. He’d hurt them. Of course they didn’t trust him. They shouldn’t.
Toph sat beside him at dinner, glaring back at Katara when she shot a nasty look in his direction. He didn’t know why Toph seemed set on defending him. If he was honest with himself, he’d admit that it was nice to feel like there was someone on his side. He knew Toph cared fiercely about her friends, and would kill him at a moment's notice if she thought he was going to hurt them. And he knew she’d abandon him as soon as she got to know him a little better. But for now, it was nice.
It was later that night that he dropped the dish. He was trying to pass out the tea, but he tripped, a little, and before he could balance himself, he let go of the cup, and it crashed to the ground, shattering and spilling hot liquid on the ground. He froze.
“Great,” Katara said, clearly annoyed. “Thanks Zuko.”
Toph, however, stood up quickly. Zuko still hadn’t moved. He couldn’t think. He tried to breathe.
Katara started to make another biting remark to tear at Zuko’s chest, but Toph talked over her. “Shut up, Katara.”
Katara, and a few others in the circle, made noises of outrage, but Toph’s voice was firm and serious. “I mean it. Shut up.”
Toph gently took hold of Zuko’s arm and led him away from the clearing. Zuko could just feel all the others’ stares drilling holes into his back. His eyes stung. He tried to stop from shaking.
Toph didn’t talk for a while. She led him to a little secluded spot, and pulled him down to sit beside her.
He tried to focus on himself. Breathe. But he couldn’t stop his heart from pounding painfully against his chest. He’d broken something important, they would be angry. He tried to banish the thought of breaking dishes from his head. Banish. Breathe.
After a minute, Toph spoke. “So are you gonna tell me why you just freaked out about a broken cup?”
Zuko’s mind raced. What could he say? What was he willing to tell? Should he lie? “I just didn’t want to anger you guys,” he said carefully. Toph frowned. She wasn’t buying it.
Agni, he was tired. It had just hit him, the exhaustion seeping through his body. He couldn’t handle this right now. This jumping around explanations, this trying to decide. “I was afraid you guys were going to hurt me,” he admitted, but before he would have to listen to her pity and her questions, he bolted. He felt childish running like this, running away from his problems like he wouldn’t have to deal with them this way. But he just…
He could hear a call of Sparky! behind him, but he didn’t stop. He just couldn’t go through this conversation. He just couldn’t right now.
Zuko had been waiting for Toph to confront him all day. Thankfully, he’d gotten an okay night’s sleep. Despite the agitated state he’d gone to bed in, he only had one, muddled nightmare, and he was able to fall back asleep pretty easily afterwards. When he woke up, he immediately felt terrible for how he’d treated Toph the night before. Toph, who’d pretty much saved him from a panic attack by getting him away from them.
He was pretty sure that he hadn’t had a reason to worry about the cup. He wasn’t certain, and he really didn’t want to find out, but Toph had seemed confused by his fear, and after reflecting on it for a while, Zuko came to the conclusion that this group was not like… like that. Not like home.
But yeah, when Toph came up to him with a determined expression on her face and told him to follow her, he was not in the least bit surprised.
He followed her to the same spot she’d taken him yesterday. Before she could talk, he started. “Toph, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have been rude, I know you were trying to help.”
She looked uncharacteristically careful and confused. Zuko knew Toph was a deeply kind person, he could just tell, but usually those emotions didn’t show on her face. This was different.
“You were scared of us?” She said. It sounds like a question, a question full of pain, and Zuko suddenly remembered that Toph was a kid. Just a kid.
“I’m sorry,” Zuko said quietly. “I shouldn’t have told you anything.”
Toph stiffened. “Yes you should have. And now you should tell me everything.”
“I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“Please, Sparky, I want to help you,” She said. Her voice cracked a little.
Zuko took a deep breath. “I know,” he said, and for the first time he kind of realized it: she really wanted to help him. “But I can’t-- not-- not yet,” he knew he sounded pathetic. “Please, just... give me some time.”
Toph relaxed a little. “Okay,” she said softly.
Zuko began to get along more with the others. Aang seemed to decide he liked him after their journey to see the dragons (and Zuko would be lying if he didn’t say he thought the kid was pretty funny and pretty smart.) Even Sokka, the blue-eyed, brown-haired boy who made Zuko’s heart beat quickly but not out of fear, warmed up to him a little. But not Katara.
She hated him. He deserved it. But it hurt. Some of her snide remarks just stung too much like Azula’s. He tried not to compare them in his head. They were different, he knew that. But sometimes it was difficult.
The nightmares were still bad. And the fear was always there. Once, Aang had asked him about his scar-- just casually, no harm meant. Toph had saved him once again by launching Aang into the air, to his indignation. Her ability to tell when he was panicking was turning out to be oddly relieving.
But for the most part, he’d settled into a routine-- until he helped Sokka rescue his dad. Suddenly, there was immediate danger again.
He slipped away almost as soon as they got back. He only had a few minutes before dinner. He tried to keep his uncle’s advice in his head: breathe. keep focus on what’s around you. But even the thought of his uncle made his stomach twist with shame.
He’d seen Azula. He’d fought her.
And now there was a man in their camp-- an adult-- and he could get angry. Zuko shuddered. There was too much going on. Just too much.
“Sparky? You alright?” Toph was here.
“I’m fine,” Zuko said.
“No you’re not,” she replied firmly.
He sighed, and his eyes stung. He furiously blinked. “Not really.”
“Do you want to skip dinner? It’s okay if you need space.”
Zuko considered it for a moment. He did want to skip dinner. His head was full of pain. He wanted to be alone. But then he thought of the questions and doubt the others might have. No, it wasn’t worth it. “I’m alright, I’m coming.” He followed Toph down to the clearing.
He was jumpy all dinner. Every time Hakoda so much as glanced at him, his palms started to sweat. Breathe. He should have known that he couldn’t make it through the whole meal.
It was when Hakoda went to clasp his shoulder. It was just too fast and too sudden. Zuko flinched. Hard.
He didn’t have to look around to know everyone was watching him. His cheeks burned. He suddenly felt very sick. He refused to look up. He ran out of the clearing and kept running.
He didn’t notice where his feet were carrying him until he was there-- the little secluded spot that Toph had taken him. He sank to the ground, his vision blurring, and he finally let the thick tears fall. His breath was ragged, his body shaking. His scar burned, and he knew he was imagining it, but it also felt like he wasn’t.
He didn’t know whether Hakoda was going to hurt him. He didn’t know what the others were going to think of him. The word snaked into his mind in Azula’s cruel voice. Pathetic. But in his head it was Katara who was saying it.
Pathetic. He was scared. He was lonely. Agni, he was so alone.
He didn’t notice Toph until she sat down beside him. She didn’t talk. She just held her hand out. Zuko blinked and then took it. He used to hold hands with Azula when they were very small. But as they got older, holding hands was just a promise of a burned palm for him and he stopped trying.
But this was nice. Toph didn’t try to talk, and she gave him time to calm down a little. “I’m sorry,” he finally choked out.
“Why sorry, Sparky? You didn’t do anything wrong,” she said in a reassuring tone. Her words confused Zuko a little, but he didn’t try to ask.
Toph turned her whole body to face Zuko, and there was a seriousness in her face. “Did Hakoda do something to you? Because I will kill him.” She was threatening him… for Zuko? That’s what she did for the others. He’d always thought of himself as a target of a threat, not the one she was trying to protect. And then he realized that Toph counted him as one of her friends. He didn’t know how that made him feel. A little warm.
“No! No, he didn’t,” Zuko said quickly, because Toph was looking murderous. They were friends? He had a friend? He didn’t have time to unpack it. But he did feel that a friend deserved some level of truth. Maybe not everything. But something, at least.
“It’s just-- My dad wasn’t always very nice to me,” he tried to keep his voice steady. “He sometimes got, like, angry, and he would get, ya know, like kind of violent.” Zuko tried to say it as casually as he could, but Toph looked horrified.
“He hurt you?”
Zuko took a breath. “I don’t really wanna talk about it a lot right now. But yeah,” he murmured the last part.
Toph hugged him. He was pretty sure she was crying. He hesitated for a moment and then hugged her back. Somehow, even though he could feel the tears sliding down his face, even though he’d just confided something he’d never thought he’d tell another person, he felt a little bit happier than he had since he’d gotten to the air temple. He had a friend.
Everyone was weird around him the next day. At first, he was on edge, thinking Toph may have told them, but he soon realized that it was just about how he’d reacted to Hakoda. Everyone was staying away from him and glancing at him when they thought he wasn’t looking, like he was a bomb waiting to go off at the slightest movement. Hakoda didn’t get near him all day. Even Katara was refraining from the mean comments. He didn’t like it. He wanted them to ignore him again.
Toph was the same as usual. She didn’t give any indication that she knew anything more than the others. She wasn’t slower or quieter around him. She was just her. It made him feel a little better.
Sokka asked him about it when Aang was taking his break from training and Zuko was sitting on the steps waiting for him. He asked gently, and Zuko refused to let the tears burning his eyes spill. He did not want Sokka to think he was weak. He could not let Sokka think he was weak. He avoided answering until Sokka gave up.
Aang did not ask, but he did not try his hardest during training. He wouldn’t fight Zuko properly.
They all thought he was weak. He hated it.
He still kept an eye on Hakoda all day, to make sure Sokka and Katara were safe. From what he saw, Hakoda seemed… loving, even. But Zuko knew how he acted in front of others didn’t mean anything.
After dinner, which was mostly quiet, Zuko made his way back to the secluded spot. He didn’t tell her or anything, but he kind of hoped Toph would join him there.
She arrived after a few minutes, sitting down and silently laying her head against his shoulder. “You alright?”
“They all think I’m pathetic,” Zuko said. He spat the last word. Pathetic.
“No they don’t,” Toph said matter-of-factly.
“Then why are they acting so weird around me?” He couldn’t keep the pain out of his voice.
“They’re worried about you, Sparky. And they don’t wanna hurt you.”
Zuko didn’t respond. He tried to make sense of what she said. They don’t want to hurt him, but they don’t think he’s pathetic? They’re worried about him, but why, if they don’t think he’s weak? He turned the thoughts through his head to no avail as the moon rose.
Toph was there when Hakoda asked Zuko to talk to him. As soon as he started walking over, Zuko’s whole body tightened. His chest didn’t feel like there was enough room for his lungs to expand. He felt a cold hand on his arm, and he jumped a little, but it was just Toph.
“He’s not going to hurt you,” Toph muttered. “Even if he tried, I’d squish him into pieces before he could get close.”
“Please don’t leave me alone with him,” Zuko whispered, and he sounded more scared than he wanted to.
Toph stepped a little in front of Zuko before Hakoda stopped in front of them. He was tall, and intimidating, and Zuko dug his fingernails into his palms to try to stop from shaking.
“I was wondering if I could talk to you, Zuko,” Hakoda said.
“Okay,” Zuko said, focusing all his efforts into keeping his voice from trembling. Toph’s hand on his arm tightened a little. She was here for him.
Hakoda looked at Toph as if expecting her to go, and Zuko’s heart jumped in fear, but Toph made no indication to move and Hakoda looked back at Zuko after a second.
“I just wanted to tell you that I have no intention of ever hurting any child,” Hakoda said. “I apologize for scaring you yesterday, that was not my intention. Noone,” and he emphasized the word, “should, for any reason, hurt a kid.”
Did Hakoda really believe that? Zuko tried his best to decode his expression, but he couldn’t decide. He seemed genuine, but that didn’t really mean anything.
“That’s all I wanted to say,” Hakoda said, and Zuko realized he had been standing there and giving no response. Hakoda inclined his head and walked away.
“He wasn’t lying,” Toph said.
“How do you know?” The words came out sharper than he meant them to, and he shook his head quickly. “I’m sorry, I--”
Toph waved her hand dismissively. “It’s fine. It’s just, I do know. I can tell, with my earthbending superpowers, remember? The dude wasn’t lying.”
“That’s--that’s good,” Zuko said quietly.
Agni, he was so scared when he saw the Fire Nation ships rise over the cliff.
The rest of it was a blur until he found himself on Appa. Toph was next to him, holding his arm like she always did, and clinging onto Sokka with her other arm. Zuko realized she was completely blind with no way to feel her surroundings, since they were in the sky.
The others were discussing where they could go. Zuko wanted to say something, but he felt like he shouldn’t intrude in their personal conversations.
“Um,” he finally said quietly.
“What?” Katara snapped.
“Katara,” three voices admonished. They were… defending him? Huh.
“Oh, so you’re on his side now?” Katara hissed. “Do you know who this is? He’s a murderer.” She was right. Zuko wouldn’t argue that. He didn’t deserve a second chance.
“Can you give him a chance to try to change?” Sokka asked sharply.
“No,” Zuko said weakly. “I get it. I wouldn’t trust me either.” Toph’s hand tightened on his arm.
“Can we not get in a fight right now?” Toph asked annoyedly, and Zuko realized her face was pale. “Let’s just find a place to camp so I can stop feeling like I’m gonna fall off and die every two seconds, and then make a plan of a permanent place from there. Okay?”
“Okay,” everyone mumbled, and Zuko felt a pang of guilt for not paying more attention to how Toph might be having trouble.
“You’re in the middle of us,” Sokka said quietly to Toph. “You’re in the safest place. You won’t fall.”
“I know, but it still feels like I’m gonna,” Toph muttered. Zuko moved a little closer to her and she grabbed his arm tighter, looking begrudgingly grateful.
“You okay, Sparky?” she asked Zuko under her breath. “I can’t tell what with the whole no earth to bend to earthbend deal.” Sokka glanced at Zuko. He had heard her too.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
It was a few nights later that the storm came. Earlier that night, Katara had forgiven him. She’d hugged him, and she hadn’t ended it with a pinch or a cackle or an eye-roll. It had just been a hug, and it was nice. It was getting easier to separate Katara and Azula in his mind.
But when Zuko heard the first crack of thunder that night, his heart sank. He knew logically it was stupid and childish to be afraid of storms. But lightning still made him think of pain. Of his family.
Lightning coursing through his veins, making it impossible to move, impossible to feel, lightning in his blood, like his body could live on without him.
And there was no way to hide from it here, in a tent. The rain began to fall, and it was loud against the tent’s ceiling. Zuko saw a flash of light through the thin cloth, and he shivered a little.
He curled up into a ball, covering his ears and shutting his eyes, and he tried not to think about the bright lighting crackling from the sky, with its power and danger and-- he tried to breathe.
He stayed like that on the ground for what felt like forever, and a vague part of him was happy the rain was loud so that no one would hear him whimpering.
And then there was a cool hand on his arm, and though part of him wanted to be scared of it, he wasn’t, because Father’s hand always burned when it touched him, and this one didn’t. When the hand pulled him to a sitting position, he reluctantly complied, though he wouldn’t open his eyes or uncover his ears. After a minute, the cool hand left, and it was replaced by ones that were bigger, and a little warmer, but so gentle, so he decided not to fight them as they picked him up.
Though he was trying to cover his ears as best as he could, he still heard a loud crack of thunder, and he flinched. Whoever was holding him started talking, but he couldn’t really hear the words, only the soft tone.
And then the person started moving, and he realized he must be out of the tent, but he didn’t feel any rain on his face. And then after a minute, he was set down gently on the ground, and he realized that the rain and the thunder were much quieter. He slowly opened his eyes and uncovered his ears.
He was in what seemed to be a huge room made of stone. There was an opening at the far end where he could still see the rain. And he was surrounded by people-- but he knew these people. Toph was in front of him.
“So you’re scared of storms, Sparky?” she asked. Her voice was uncharacteristically soft.
“Y- yeah,” Zuko said quietly. As if on cue, he saw a flash of bright light from outside, and he shrank back into the wall. “I’m sorry,” he added. “I know it’s pathetic.”
“Wait,” Zuko said after a minute of gathering the fragmented pieces of his mind. “Who carried me here?”
“I did,” Sokka said. “And Katara kept the water off of you,” he added before Zuko could ask. He looked at Katara. She nodded.
There was only one thing that came to mind. “Why? Why did you do that?”
Aang piped up. “Friends help each other!” he said, like it was some obvious thing. Like Zuko was just… their friend.
He could feel his eyes welling up, and he didn’t have enough strength to stop the tears from running down his face.
Aang looked nervous. “Did I say something wrong?” he asked. Zuko shook his head, but he couldn’t form words.
“He’s happy,” Toph said. She took his arm and squeezed it. He squeezed back.
“Can I hug you?” Aang asked, and Zuko nodded. Aang skipped over and knelt beside Zuko, wrapping his arms around him. “Ooh, you’re warm,” he mumbled. “I am not going back to that cold corner over there. You’re stuck with me now.” Zuko giggled a little through tears, and Aang looked pleased with himself.
After a moment of Zuko regaining his ability to talk, he looked up at Sokka, Suki, and Katara. “Are we really...?” he asked uncertainly. Really friends?
“Of course,” Katara said. And it was something about her saying it that made every wall Zuko had built break.
“Oh come onnn, group hug,” Sokka said, and they all surrounded Zuko, Toph still holding his arm.
Eventually, the rest of them fell asleep, Aang still cuddling up to Zuko for his body heat. Toph sat beside him. “They weren’t lying,” Toph whispered, smiling.
And surrounded by his-- his friends, Zuko almost forgot there was even a storm outside.
Zuko hated being back here. At this house.
It made him think of all the good memories that were shadowed by death and pain. His mom was gone. Nothing would ever be like it was then.
He spent most of the first day inside his old room while the others hung out outside. He trained Aang, of course, but then he retreated back inside and thought.
What if they failed? What if Father won? His mind was a whirl of doubt and fear.
The second day, while Aang was taking a break from training and he was in his room, he heard a sharp knock on the door and Toph’s voice. “Sparky? I’m coming in.” Her face was determined when she opened the door.
“Come down and hang out with us,” she said. “We need someone to laugh at all of Sokka’s jokes so he doesn’t get sad.”
“I can’t,” Zuko said. “I can’t think about anything but our plan.”
Toph flopped onto the bed exasperatedly. “Okay, but Aang is still training. There’s nothing else we can do to prepare right now!”
“You don’t understand,” Zuko said. “You don’t know my father like I do.”
Toph sighed. “I know your dad is just… the worst. And we’re going to do everything we can to defeat him, okay? But right now, all this brooding isn’t going to get us more prepared. And Aang trains better when he’s more relaxed anyway.”
Zuko frowned. Some of what she was saying made sense, he supposed. But still.
“Please hang out with ussss,” Toph groaned. “I need another remotely sensible person to balance out everything about Katara.”
Zuko tried to explain. “This place makes me think of my old life. I can’t just hang out while I’m here. Everything here is too connected to my family.”
“Well that was your old family,” Toph said. “Come make some memories with your new one.”
“He hates me,” Zuko whispered. Toph was hanging back next to him as they followed the order of the White Lotus. He was going to see Iroh. He was going to try to say sorry.
There was no other word for it, Zuko was terrified.
“You’ve told me a lot about him,” Toph said carefully. “And from what I’ve heard, and what he said when I met him, he loves you more than anything. I think he’ll understand.”
Zuko shook his head. “He used to love me, maybe. But that was before. I betrayed him. It’ll never be the same.”
“If he’s a good person, he’ll forgive you. You made a mistake, okay? You did something bad. But you realized, and you’re changing yourself. I think that’s the most anyone could ask for.”
Zuko could barely listen to Toph. His mind was full of Iroh’s broken eyes, refusing to look at him. Of the metal bars in between them that seemed to separate them much more than just physically.
If Iroh didn’t forgive him, he would understand. It would shatter his heart, but he would not blame him.
Toph took his arm. “Sparky. You’re gonna be okay.”
“What if he doesn’t forgive me?” Zuko said weakly.
“Then he doesn’t,” Toph said matter-of-factly. “You’d still have us. Your life would still continue.”
Zuko couldn’t imagine a life without Iroh in it, but he didn’t tell Toph that. “I guess,” he finally mumbled. Toph squeezed his arm.
“I know you don’t believe me,” she said sincerely. “But I love you, Sparky, and I know you’re going to be okay. You’re way stronger than you give yourself credit for.”
“Don’t compliment me, I don’t know how to react,” Zuko muttered, looking at the ground uncomfortably.
“You’re also very sweet,” Toph added, giggling.
(Afterwards, Zuko went straight to Toph.
“He-- He forgave me,” he finally choked out in between quiet sobs. “He wasn’t even angry.”
She pulled him into a hug. “I knew he would.”)
Zuko pulled Toph down beside him. “Why did you bring me here?” Toph asked.
“You’ll see!” Zuko said excitedly. He took Toph’s hands and filled them with corn, moving them to the edge of the pond. “Hold your hands there,” he said.
“Am I attracting some wild animal?” She asked uncertainly.
“Give it a moment,” Zuko said, watching a little turtleduck slowly drift towards them curiously.
“AAH!” Toph squealed when the turtleduck stuck its little beak into her hand and started eating. “What is that?”
“It’s a turtleduck!” Zuko said happily. “Like I told you about.” He picked the turtleduck up gently and placed it in Toph’s lap. “You can pet him if you want.”
Toph reached her hand down nervously and started petting the turtleduck’s head. It quacked happily. “Aww, it’s so soft,” she said, smiling.
“I told you they were adorable!”
“I believed you!”
Zuko watched Toph play with the turtleduck for a minute, grinning. “We made it,” he finally said, because for the first time, he believed it. “I made it.”
Toph squeezed his arm briefly before returning to petting the turtleduck. “And I’d say you got a pretty awesome sister out of it, too! Me, that is. I got an okay brother. Kind of annoying. Sort of obsessed with turtleducks--” Zuko poked her, and she punched him playfully.
“I’m a pretty good brother,” Zuko said after a moment. “That is if you still want to still be able to get food delivered to your room all the time.”
“You’re fantastic,” Toph immediately said. “You are the best brother anyone could ever ask for!! You have zero issues!!!!”
“That’s taking it a little far,” Zuko said, giggling.
Toph grinned. “I love you, Sparky.”
“I love you too.”