Yet again, Twinkletoes was lost. Zuko and Sokka had deduced that Aang was not on a spirit journey, so they had to search Ember Island to try and find him. A few months ago, she might have thought he was chickening out before his showdown with the Fire Lord, but now that he was an Earthbender, she knew that couldn’t be the case.
She had seized her chance to get Zuko as her search-party partner; surely her epiphany was only moments away, and she could tell everyone her epic story that night, like when Zuko and Sokka has sprung Suki out of Boiling Rock prison, or when Zuko and Katara went bloodbending together.
She told Zuko her life story as dramatically as possible to give him some context. He had probably gleaned some of it through Katara; she had a big mouth.
“....And then when I was 9, I ran away again.”
“Uh-huh.” Unlike Sokka, Zuko usually walked and sat with his back straight, but she could feel his posture worsening as they walked. He must be irritated. His pulse, which had quickened earlier in embarrassment and then slowed, was picking up speed again.
“I know I shouldn’t complain; my parents gave me everything I ever asked for. But they never gave me the one thing I really wanted - their love. You know what I mean?”
Zuko said nothing.
“Hey! You went on epic life-changing adventures with Sokka, Aang, and Katara. Can’t you even have a conversation with me?!” She felt him stop and turn, facing her.
“You want to talk? Fine. You sound like a spoiled brat. You said your parents didn’t love you, but the truth is that they just smothered you. They were overprotective. Don’t say that they didn’t love you; it isn’t true.” Toph’s eyes widened.
“As if you know what it’s like to have parents who don’t love you! Your dad might be deranged, but it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care about you.”
She felt him step forward; she felt his pulse quicken in anger. He grabbed her right hand and pulled it until she was touching his face.
“You can’t see my scar, but I’m sure they’ve told you about it. It takes up this whole side of my face. What kind of father does that to his child? Not one who loves his son. My father doesn’t love me.”
She felt a bit of shame as she pulled her hand back; she’d forgotten about his scar, and more importantly, who gave it to him.
“....Maybe not. I guess your sister probably doesn’t love you, either. She’s kind of....intense.”
“More than kind of. But my uncle loves me. I have....people who care about me. It took me a while to figure that out. But I do.”
She remembered talking to his old man uncle, and smiled. “Yeah. This year I’ve learned how to let other people help me. Sometimes. If I feel like it.”
Zuko smiled, and then stepped away from the beach, toward the forest.
“Let’s look for Aang up here!” He pointed ahead, toward the trees. He held out his hand toward her.
She didn’t need help walking through the forest; she could see the trees and hidden animal holes better than he could. But it was okay. She felt like it. She took his hand, and felt him blush spectacularly, all over again.