Gaoling was pretty far from Ba Sing Se, all things considered, but seeing as Toph spent her time roaming the Earth continent from one end to another, only stopping in her hometown whenever she absolutely needed her clothes washed and her traveling supplies refurbished, the distance never seemed to matter much. So when Iroh noticed the lamps of the Jasmine Dragon dancing at the end of their tethers, and the floor shivered ticklishly under his feet, he only smiled and put Toph's favorite tea to brew.
"Hey, old man!" she bellowed. A woman of eighteen now, Toph hadn't changed much. She'd been a short kid; she was now a short young woman, with muscles in places unbecoming of a lady. Her trail of admirers didn't seem to mind.
"Toph! A good day to you, my friend. What brings you to my humble tea shop?"
Toph grinned and swung a leg over the chair he'd pulled out for her, straddling it backward. Iroh handed her the cup with engraved flowers he kept especially for her, and her grin widened, became a little less mischievous and a little more genuinely happy. She trailed her fingers along the fine designs etched in the porcelain.
Then she drained the cup in one long gulp, put it back down with a decisive little thwack, and aimed a shark-hyena grin his way.
Iroh paled a little.
"See, it's because of things like that that you're just the perfect guy for this."
"Oh? And what could this ... 'this' be?"
"How old are you? I mean, pretty old, yeah, but how much?" And as Iroh was opening his mouth to answer -- though he wasn't sure why the exact number of his years was even relevant -- she ran roughshod right over him anyway. "No matter. What I really want to know is..."
Iroh braced himself.
"Are you shooting blanks yet?"
The candles flared up and then did a weird little skip over their wicks that Iroh was pretty sure he couldn't have reproduced voluntarily.
"Because my dad's been badgering me to give the Bei Fong family a heir, and..."
Iroh put his cup of tea down very delicately and coughed in his fist. He would have tried to clean his ear, but Toph being Toph, he was quite sure he had heard her just fine, more's the pity.
"Beg your pardon?"
She started laughing; he almost relaxed -- he'd been pretty sure she was joking, but 'pretty sure' wasn't 'sure' -- but he could tell the other lovehippobird had yet to land.
"Purely a business proposal." She pretended to sober up -- not quite convincingly; a smirk kept floating at the corner of her lips. "There's that field with the awesome tea plants in my dowry. The... snapdragon things with the froofy leaves."
Iroh poured her more tea, and then filled himself another cup, just so he would have an excuse not to answer right away. He had to admit he would be ready to do a lot for a steady supply of snapdragon leaves. Just maybe not that.
"I do not think I fully understand your proposal."
"Come on, Gramps. You were old when Ba Sing Se was young. Don't tell me I have to explain the birds and the beetlebees to you."
He didn't bother answering, letting disapproving silence speak for him. Toph huffed.
"Aw, come ON, who else do you want me to ask? I don't want a guy who can't match me in combat, and Twinkletoes is already shacked up. If I wait until his next incarnation I'll be all dried out."
"Surely there are other people?" he suggested, vaguely panicked. "Ah -- younger people?"
"Who, like Sparky? Gloomy would sic her pokey friend on me and urk, never again. Also I'll have you know that I beat Sparky in combat last month, so he's not on the list anymore. Hah."
Iroh massaged his temples with both hands. "This old soldier is very flattered to be placed with the Avatar himself in your esteem, Toph, but--"
"Well, you're badass. And I'm badass. But we're naturally badass! Aang cheats with his mystical stuff. So really if we take away his cheating, we're totally more badass than him. Think about the levels of awesome our kid would reach. We're talking epicness here!"
"Ah." He knew he was getting drawn in her game and yet he was so horribly fascinated that he could not cut it off here. "And what if the child is a firebender?" he pointed out.
Toph shrugged. "I disown 'em and we try again."
Iroh stared at Toph.
Toph scratched her nose and stared back, sort of.
"... Did you know I will be in Gaoling for affairs next week?" He was sure she hadn't known. He hadn't known a minute ago, either. "I am sure I could pay your parents a visit and have a long talk about your readiness for marriage -- or, more appropriately, lack thereof."
Toph beamed at him and slapped his shoulder, rocking him forward. "You're the best, pops!"
Iroh sighed, and then smiled, in approval of a game well played. "Ahh, and to think there are people who believe you are much too direct to know how to bend people to your every whims. Asking me to straighten them up might have worked as well."
"Where's the fun in that?"
What she called fun, Iroh called blunt force trauma. He shook his head and consoled himself with the thought of her field of red snapdragons. Perhaps if he was especially convincing with her parents he might get a good price on shipments...
It was more likely they would be put out enough to hike the prices. But he was ready to make the sacrifice. If only for his peace of mind, so that he might bury this opening gambit somewhere and never think on it again.
"It is almost closing hour," he said with a sigh, and pushed himself up from the table to make his escape. "I will go and make arrangements with my employees."
"Sure thing. I'll wait here. This is good tea," she said as a peace offering, lifting her cup. "I can wait hours and days."
"This is good to hear." Iroh smiled, knowing she could hear it in his voice, and started to turn away.
"But you know," she said, trailing her finger on the table in a coy little pattern. "Our kids would totally be the bestest."
Iroh had the sudden, horrible premonition that, like the badgermoles she was
so fond of, Toph was going to dig that bone back up for years to come.