helium lost

Author's Note: Well, it's not perfect, but I suppose it's a good attempt after having not written for a few months. Hopefully I'll finish this series before it turns five years old. ;)


To say that she wasn't nervous would have been a total and utter lie. Her heart pounded in her chest; sweat beaded up under her headband. Her hands trembled; she mapped out in her mind's canvas the others standing in the room: some tall, some short, some solid and brawny, some slender and agile... all looking bloodthirsty and ready for a fight.

You're going to kick their butts, she reminded herself, no matter how big or strong they look. You're going to kick all their butts.

She placed one dirty foot before the other and stood at the back of the line leading up to the registration table; she could feel the eyes staring at her, could hear the snickers and laughter.

You're going to kick all their butts, and you'll do it so fast that they won't even know what hit 'em.

She held her head up high, her eyes fixed straight forward. Only a few minutes passed before she found herself at the head of the line. The man seated there raised an eyebrow.

"Now now, little girl, isn't it past your bedtime? Mommy and Daddy must be worried sick wondering where their precious wittle baby is." A slow grin played across his face; he drummed his fingers against the table. "How old are you, even? Seven? Eight?"

Toph shot him a glare; his drumming paused. "Nine."

"Ah. Nine years old. So much more mature than eight years old, hmm?" He shuffled his papers, then waved her off. "Run along now and let the big boys play."

She felt her cheeks burning and her heart beating faster. The man towering behind her grinned.

"Come on, make way, make way," he said. His thigh plowed into her side as he stepped around her; she planted her feet more firmly and held her ground. She glared up at him as his grin spread wider as the others around them guffawed. "Didn't your mommy ever tell you? Fighting's not for girls. This is a man's world—go on, go back home and do whatever it is girls do. Cook. Sew. Go play with your dolls." He laughed, the muscles of his neck bulging as he did. "Go on. Scram!" He stepped forward to the table, his heels kicking dirt up into her face; he scribbled his name on the entries list.

Another man smiled gently and leaned forward, whispering, "Listen, it's not safe for you to be here. This is a rough and tough crowd—brawny guys, most of them with no reservations about hitting a little girl. I'll walk you home. You shouldn't be running around after dark—all sorts of shady characters on the streets here." He reached out a hand. "What do you say? Your parents must be wondering where you are."

Toph balled her hands into fists, her head still held high, her calm exterior masking the blood boiling underneath.

"Thank you for your concern," she said, then stomped her foot on the ground, conjuring up a pillar of earth that rammed into the man before her and sent him flying across the room; he hit the wall with a thud and slid to the ground, out cold. "But," she said as she stepped up to the desk and stared down the man seated behind it, "I can take care of myself."

She leaned over and the man tensed; smirking, she picked up the brush and wrote in carefully practiced words that did not betray the fact that she could neither see nor feel the paper before her:

The Blind Bandit.