Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: the Last Airbender.
A/N: This is my first one-shot. I hope you enjoy. Remember to review!
The acidic smell of smoke hovered in the afternoon air. Like living tendrils, it danced through the ruins of the estate, effectively hiding the grandeur the homestead had once commanded.
Toph stood at the gates. She took a deep, shaky breath but did not move. The earth cried. The vibrations, thrumming beneath her feet, were sick. She could not see the devastation, the nightmarish turmoil that had ravaged the area like a marauding beast. But she felt it.
"Toph…" began Aang. The Avatar was unable to finish. A dry lump in his throat prevented it. He made as if to reach out to the blind earthbender but held back, unsure what to do.
Sokka growled. He sifted through the ash and debris underfoot. A few remaining flames, hissing as they struggled to remain alive, crept through the skeletal remains of the Bei Fong mansion. "Fire Nation," he said.
Toph made a sound close to a whimper. She still had yet to move.
"We were too late, then," said Katara. A chill descended upon them all.
"Look!" Aang said. "A wanted poster."
Sokka snorted, nearly dropping their merchandise. "Of you? We've seen those, Aang. They're everywhere."
"No. It's not just me," the Avatar continued. He tapped the piece of parchment, placed on a post in the middle of the town square.
Katara joined him. "He's right," she said. "Aang's not the only one with a price on his head now."
"Huh? What do you mean?" Sokka peered at the poster, brow cocked. Recognition flared across his face. "Hey! That's us!"
WANTED: The Avatar and his companions. Alive. Handsome reward for each.
The Avatar. Bounty: 5,000 gold pieces
Water Tribe, waterbender. Bounty: 1,000 gold pieces
Water Tribe, warrior. Bounty: 1,000 gold pieces
Earth Kingdom, the Blind Bandit. Bounty: 900 gold pieces
"Am I really that fat?" Katara wondered.
"Who cares?" her brother cried. "I'm not worth 1,000 gold pieces!"
Toph snickered. "Yeah. More like ten."
"At least I'm worth more than you, princess," the Water Tribe warrior said smugly.
He and Toph promptly began arguing, Sokka that he was worth far more than 1,000 gold pieces ("Ten thousand, at least," he insisted), Toph pointing out that she was worth more than any of them combined ("My parents could hire the entire Earth Kingdom!").
Katara and Aang, however, eyed their pictures worriedly. Their painted counterparts stared wordlessly back at them. There was warning in their otherwise vacant eyes.
"Maybe we should leave," the waterbender said. "If these posters are up, we're really not safe staying in town for too long."
"That's not what's bothering me, Katara." Aang pointed at one heading on the parchment. "This does."
Earth Kingdom, the Blind Bandit. Bounty: 900 gold pieces.
Toph Bei Fong.
They had flown day and night, Appa guiding them through the infinite sky. Bei Fong was a well-known name in the Earth Kingdom. Now that it had appeared on a Fire Nation wanted poster, anyone connected to it would be in danger.
They had hoped to find the beautiful estate they had stayed at weeks before. Toph's home, with its well-tended gardens and sprawling mansion.
What they found instead was a devastated ruin, a blackened skeletal remain that mocked the memory of its former life. The stench of dying flame and brimstone choked the air. There was nothing left, not even the hope of survival or renewal. It was ghastly death.
"We were too late, then," Katara said.
Toph's shoulders stiffened. "No. We're not. They're okay. They're still alive." she said. Her voice cracked.
The waterbender winced sympathetically. "Toph…"
"NO! Shut-up, Katara! They're alive! I know they're alive! And I'll prove it!" Toph stumbled into the wreckage, leaving her companions behind.
A sickening feeling made her stomach turn, made her head swim, as she felt the sobs and pain-filled vibrations of the earth. It struck her like a physical blow but, rock like, she fought back and trudged through the ash and smoking debris.
Her special sight wavered from lack of concentration, and her breathing escalated, as she began to search frantically through what remained of her house. Her cries echoed through the eerie stillness of the day. "Mom? Dad? Where are you?"
"Toph, wait!" Aang cried. He and the Water Tribe siblings raced after her.
They knew the truth. Toph did too, most likely. She was simply in denial. She would come crashing down, sooner or later. But they cared too much about the blind earthbender to let that crash be all the more breaking.
An anguished scream rent through the ruins. It tore fiercely through their last hope, much as the fire had claimed the lives of the Bei Fong family.
Aang, Katara, and Sokka knew the tragedy of losing a loved one.
Now, so did Toph.+
The caw of a bird heralded the coming of night. A steady thrum of crickets and katydids sang, bringing life, however small, back to the raided region. A warm campfire made the shadows play across the faces of the group, highlighting their careworn and exhausted features.
"It's been a while," Aang said.
Katara sighed. "I know."
The young Avatar drew his knees close. "Do you think she's okay?"
"No," Sokka replied bluntly. "But she will be. We've all gone through the same deal."
A rare gleam of anger came to Aang's eyes. "It doesn't matter. It still hurts! You should know that, Sokka. Remember Yue?"
The Water Tribe warrior flinched, his blue eyes going distant. Aang winced. "Sokka, I didn't mean…I'm sorry."
The eldest of the group held up a hand. "It's okay, Aang. I know. I know how it feels. Katara and I lost our mother. I lost Yue. You lost Monk Gyatso and your old friends. And now Toph's lost her mom and dad."
Sokka sighed. "I'm not saying it's fair. It isn't. None of this is. But Toph will be okay. She'll heal, Aang. She just needs time."
"But I'm still worried about her," he whispered.
"Then go talk to her," the waterbender said. He started and stared at Katara. She smiled gently and pushed him towards the ruins of the Bei Fong mansion. "Make sure Toph's okay."
"Help her heal, Aang."
He found her in the midst of the destruction. It had once been the gardens, where they had talked about her, her blindness, and her parents. It was here where they had started to become friends.
Toph stood before two massive stones. They were turned towards the sky. Each protected a mound of fresh-turned dirt, actual living dirt and not the ash surrounding them.
She sensed him instantly. Even Aang, light on his feet, was caught in her sight.
"What are you doing here, Twinkle Toes?" Her voice was tired and weak.
It was not the Toph he knew.
Aang hesitated. "I came to check on you. To see if you were alright."
"Do I look alright to you?" she seethed. She did not move from her vigil over the stones.
"I came to help you heal," the Avatar said. He was not fazed by her retort. It was more broken than fierce.
Toph laughed. It was hollow sounding. "Heal me? I thought that was Katara's job. Do you even know how to heal?"
"Go away, Twinkle Toes."
"No, I won't."
"Why not?" she demanded. Her fists clenched warningly.
The Avatar was not daunted by the threat. "Because I came to heal you. And, if not that, I just want to be here. With you."
He waited for the menacing torrent of earth and stone. She had attacked them, when she had found the skeletons, the wretched corpses of what had once been her parents. She had made them leave.
"No…" Katara whispered. Sokka held her back.
Aang was horrified. Burnt, decaying flesh. Silent screams on unrecognizable faces. Death. "Toph…" he said.
The blind earthbender howled angrily. "Leave me alone!" she shouted. An earthquake sent the group violently back. "Go away! Go away!"
"I don't need you! Go away, damn it! Just go away…"
They heard her sobs as they edged away from the pyre.
Now, however, nothing happened. Toph stood, frame resolute and firm, and stared blankly ahead. She gestured at the mounds of earth. "I made them graves. I shaped the headstones myself and found some better dirt. It took me all day."
Aang fought back the lump in his throat. "They're beautiful, Toph."
"They deserved so much more. Even if they didn't understand me, they were still my parents. I loved them, Aang."
A sob erupted from the girl's throat and, forgetting her rock-like and stubborn nature, Toph began to cry. Her tears, hot and angry, flowed from her unseeing eyes. She fought them and scrubbed furiously at the wetness coating her cheeks.
Aang came next to her and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "It's okay to cry…"
She was stiff, unyielding. "They're dead," she said. "They're dead, Aang, and it's all my fault."
"What?" Aang was caught off-guard by her words. He felt angry and was quick to retort, "No, Toph. Don't say that. Don't ever think it!"
She snarled and pulled away. "But it's true!" Toph turned away from her companion, shoulders trembling. "I ran away. I ran away because I was scared. Scared of living the life of the helpless blind girl they thought I was."
Toph was crying again. Aang could do nothing but listen to her harsh, guilty mantra. "All this time, I tell you to be rock-like, to face things head on, when I'm the real coward."
"You're not a coward, Toph."
"Don't you get it?" she spat. He glazed eyes fixated onto the Avatar and he shrank back. In the moonlight, they were eerie and ghostly, almost as white as the stars. For eyes that would never see, they were strangely emotional. "I ran away. I ran! I wasn't here when my parents needed me."
Her tears increased, ever so slightly, the choking sobs echoing and distorting her voice. For the first time, since Aang had known her, Toph did not look like the strong and brave earthbender known as the Blind Bandit. She was a lost, hurt, and frightened girl.
"I wasn't here to protect them," she whimpered. "And now they're dead. Because of me…"
Understanding overwhelmed the Avatar. His own heart thudded painfully against his chest. "I know how you feel," he said.
He felt the earth tremble. Toph's face contorted into an unhappy rage. "Yeah right. You're just saying that to make me feel better. Why don't you just shut your pie-hole, Twinkle Toes! You don't understand me! You never will!"
Aang did not mind the cruel words. "I do understand, Toph. Before I met Sokka and Katara, I lost my family."
The face of Monk Gyatso came across his memory and the Avatar fought back his own tears. Toph had always been strong for him. Now he had to be strong for her.
"You know I'm really from a hundred years ago, right?"
"Yeah, of course I do. It's not like it's some big secret. What's your damn point?"
Aang frowned. "Are you going to listen or not? I'm trying to help you."
"Who said I needed help?" she growled. "Can you bring them back? Can you make it so none of this ever happened?"
"No, I can't."
"Then what makes you think you can fix this?"
"Toph, please. Just listen. I don't want to fix it. I only want to help." Could he? He would try. "Please? Listen?"
She hesitated but finally nodded.
"I lived with the monks," the boy continued softly. "One was named Monk Gyatso. He was the father I never had. I loved him. He was my family. He taught me everything I know.
"But I was the Avatar. The other monks didn't agree with how Gyatso was teaching me. They were going to send me away.
"I was scared. I didn't want to leave. They were going to take me away from everyone I had known and loved. I was afraid and confused. I didn't know what to do. So…I ran away."
His voice cracked and he looked away, as the distant memories became prevalent. Aang was living them again. "I never saw Monk Gyatso again."
Toph did not say a word but he knew she was listening. "Appa and I got frozen in the iceberg not long after that. There was a storm and I went into the Avatar State. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in Katara's arms.
"We went to the Southern Air Temple. I was pretty excited. But then I found out about what the Fire Nation did to my people."
"The genocide of the airbenders," Toph whispered. The blind girl knew the story.
Aang nodded solemnly. "Yeah. I was chasing after Momo and I found a skeleton. It was Monk Gyatso. He had died in the attack on the Temple." His fists clenched. "I ran away, Toph. I ran away from my responsibilities and, because of that, I lost everything. My people, my friends, and…"
He rubbed furiously at his eyes. The boy's fingers came back wet. "And my father. They needed me and I wasn't there. The world needed me and I wasn't there. It hurt so badly, Toph. I felt that everything, their deaths, the war, everything… had happened because of me."
"Aang…" Toph was 'looking' at him now. "You can't blame yourself for that. That's stupid."
"I know. I used to. But I'm here now. Katara says I give the world hope. Sure, sometimes I wish I had done things differently. But if I had, I never would have met you guys.
"You say what happened then wasn't my fault. So why do you blame yourself for this?"
"No. Stop that. It wasn't your fault, Toph. If you had been here, you would have died, too. Your parents never would have wanted that. They loved you."
Never had she seemed so broken. "I know, but…what's it matter? I'm all alone now…"
The Avatar smiled weakly. How could she not know the truth? Perhaps even Toph could be blind to some things.
"Katara told me something, when I was upset after finding Gyatso's skeleton. She said I might have lost my family, but I had another one. Katara and Sokka. They were my new family, Toph."
"Aang…" she said again, unable to continue.
"Toph," the airbender said. He came close and took her into his arms. "You've lost your family. But you still have one. Me, Katara, and Sokka. We're your family now."
She trembled in his grip, struggling, refusing any and all help, and he held her all the tighter. "We love you, Toph. We want to help you heal. We want to be your family."
At those words, so simple and yet so powerful, Toph released herself. The girl fell into the Avatar's arms, face burrowed into his shoulder, and began to cry. Really and truly cry.
She held onto Aang tightly, as if he were a lifeline, or that he would drift away if she were too careless. Her tears wet his clothes but Aang did not care. He stroked her back and whispered sweet, comforting nothings into her ear, was more than content to be that lifeline, that rock-like savior, she needed now.
"Everything's going to be okay, Toph," he said. "I promise."
And it would be.
The healing had begun.
A/N: I am well aware that the death of Toph's parents has been done before. This is simply my version. The other in question is "Death" by Malu-Toph. Check it out. It is short but very good.
The quote with the star beside it is in that fic. I typed it first, then realized they were the same. So, I will give credit where credit is due.
Toph may seem OOC, I believe this is exactly how she would act if such a thing happened. I hardly ever cry and yet I know I would be bawling.
Yeah, it's sappy and sad. I apologize. The whole point of the fan fic is that of family, and connecting Aang and Toph to that respective feeling. Forgive me if I failed in that.
Please review. Constructive criticism is greatly appreciated.