A/N: I started this story before the finale and it follows canon until (probably) the Boiling Rock and then goes AU. AU of sorts, because I am keeping some stuff from the later chapters and the finale (July 21, 2008). Please remember, the idea is to have fun while reading this.
A/N: I started this story before the finale and it follows canon until (probably) the Boiling Rock and then goes AU. AU of sorts, because I am keeping some stuff from the later chapters and the finale (July 21, 2008).
Please remember, the idea is to have fun while reading this.
This story was inspired by a beautiful drawing in Deviant Art called "Avatards for Life" by arch-nsha in deviant art dot com.
And, of course, I own ATLA. That is the reason why I am writing fanfiction. What else would I be doing instead? (In case Nick's attorneys don't get it, this is called Irony. The Supreme Court says it's OK. Seriously. Go and check it out. Right there next to Parody)
Preface: During the long days of fighting, warriors tend to forget about things. Like being young, carefree, or able to sleep until noon. Warriors are serious minded people. They do not worry about fancy clothes, shoes or jewelry. They do not have time for lazy gossipy afternoons drinking cosmopolitans. They do not confess that besides saving the world all girls, even warrior girls, just want to have fun.
The way Toph recounted the story to her kids years later made it sound easier than it actually was. She sort of did it on purpose. Not telling the truth that was. The truth would have made a lot of people very uncomfortable. Particularly her friends.
It started with that blasted trip to the South Pole. Actually, it started years before, but the trip to the South Pole was the catalyst. Toph hated the snow. For starters, she had to wear shoes. No way would she risk losing her amazing feet to frostbite. Second, she couldn't bend. The greatest earthbender in the world on top of cold, never-ending ice was, to put it mildly, freaking useless. And last but not least, she was blind. Literally. With shoes, and no earth, she was just another, run-of-the mill, typical blind girl. Well, young woman. Teenager? Whatever. Again. Literally.
She bent over the railing of the ship, head hanging over the ocean, in a bad mood. Not only she was seasick, to add insult to injury, she had an escort. No, not an escort. Two escorts. Like she needed an escort. She, who was the leader of, and who could install the fear of the gods into, one of the most fearsome and treacherous group of men. She, who as the head of the Dai Li, was regarded with reverence by everyone. But she had made the mistake of visiting her parents in Gaoling before her trip. And there things turned sour. The conversation with her parents went from dutiful to shouting to earth shattering (factually in this case) to finding herself in a ship bound south with the Pebble and the Hippo. That was the biggest aggravation her father had come up with. She had to baby sit the two morons for the length of the trip and last night, she had to rescue them from a bar brawl at the restocking port.
She was now green in the face, giving her stomach the last rights, while her two bodyguards snored soundly below deck. It was all Sparky's fault. He was the one who convinced her that visiting her parents often to 'make up for the anguish' she put them through when she was saving the world was a good idea. His own words. Dammed Sparky. He was starting to sound like Twinkle Toes and she deserved everything she was going through right now for listening to him. She felt the rush of iced wind in her face. Finally, she mumbled to herself, we are almost there.
When Toph's ship docked on the ice on the brink of the Southern Water Tribe village, she could hear, among the voices that came to receive her, those she cared about. She ran to the voices, almost throwing the captain of the ship overboard, when a rush of wind, arms and legs hit her toppling her to the ground.
They screamed at each other with authentic glee.
"Wow, Twinkle Toes you have finally grown!" She exclaimed, putting both her hands over his bald head. He laughed and she heard him scratch the back of his head.
"You too, Sifu T." He said. "You are almost as tall a Katara now." Before she could ask where Katara was, she heard her scream:
"Toph!!" and felt her light feet running towards her.
"Sugar QUEEN!!" She screamed back just before being swept in an embrace of furs and braids.
"For the Spirits, it's so GOOD to see you!!" Katara yelled on her ear. Toph smiled.
"Yeah, it's good to see you too. You look so pretty!"
"Thank yo...! " It took her a second to get a grip. "Toph!" She said without scolding "It's so good to have you back!"
"It's good to be back! Where is Sokka? And Suki? Has everyone arrived yet or…" She stopped on her tracks. "No, it can't be" She said and then her smile intensified "POPS!! SPARKY!!" She let go of Katara and ran towards the two men. She jumped on Sparky who hold her with his low, soft laugh and twirled her, actually twirled her, around. She then turned and hugged Pops. She could hear the incredulity in Katara's voice murmuring to Aang in the distance.
"She is always nice to them." Toph decided to ignore her. She was busy pushing Pops.
"Fire Lord Pops! You came! I thought you were too busy to attend, you know, reconstructing the world and everything". Uncle Iroh chuckled.
"Ah, Master Bei Fong, it is not everyday that a humble Fire Lord gets invited to a Peace Summit. This is the first time in one hundred and five years I believe. I wonder why?" he added, the old Iroh right there under the Fire Lord's surface "And to crown the negotiations: the Avatar's Commitment Ceremony! I could not say no to such an honor" lowering his voice so only she and Sparky could hear he smiled "It is also a good excuse to let my hair down, away from the Ministers".
"That's the spirit Pops!" She exclaimed, punching him in the arm "Let's get tea-drunk together!" She turned her face to where she could feel Sparky's presence. "You too, last time we went drinking you let me asleep under the table. This time, vengeance is mine!" Sparky pat her on the head.
"Champion, you can't out-drink me. You don't have what is needed." She raised an eyebrow.
"What? A sissy hairdo?" He stifled a laugh.
"Breath of fire." Suddenly she shuddered and grabbed both men arms.
"Talking about fire," she mumbled "I'm hanging out with you two for the rest of the event. This place is cold and I need more than smelly furs to keep me warm. Honestly, an entire world and this is the place for a Peace Summit? And a Commitment Ceremony? What's with that? Who was stupid enough to choose this plac..." Sparky hushed her, but she already knew Katara and Aang were approaching. "So" she said loudly "When did you two get here?"
"Hours ago." Sparky answered.
"You missed the most amazing reception!" Katara piped in, almost shrilly. "Delegates from both the North and the South did a performance to welcome the Fire Nation royal delegation! I've never been so proud!" Toph considered this for a second.
"You mean, I missed a performance of waterbenders in ice?" Thank you Spirits! "I am desolated." She said with a straight face. She could feel Sparky's amusement. It had to do with the way he would shift his body, like turning his face so no one else could see him. Katara was in a roll, though.
"You have no idea Toph, how hard everyone has been working here to welcome all the delegates, and friends and guests! Gran-Gran is in charge of an army of people whose only job is to make sure this event is perfect. Dad has been at his most commanding since the guests started arriving a couple of days ago. I never thought my village would be visited by royals and Kings!!"
Aang felt forced to intervene.
"Bumi is here." He said happily. "And he went personally to Ba Sing Se to get Kuei after you left. The Earth King is lost unless you are around. And then, you know how it is, Bosco and Flopsie came along."
"So, your village is full of mad Earth Kings and their animals? Then, wait until I show you my pets. They will fit right in with Bosco and Flopsy. Make sure please that there is enough space in Appa's stable for them. They are sleeping below deck right now, but I will make sure to wake them up before we go." Toph suddenly missed someone. "Where is Sokka?"
"Oh my!" She heard Katara slap her own mouth. "He's going to kill me. Sokka wanted me to tell him in advance when your ship arrived! He's probably livid that we came to get you without him!"
Toph grabbed Iroh's arm.
"So, what are we waiting for?" She said. "Let's go to town! Katara, come and show me this lovely village of yours."
Visiting Katara and Sokka's original Southern Water Tribe village turned out to be a short event. Very short. She couldn't see, but she understood that they were in the original settlement, a small affair of several tents in a semi-circle crowned by Gran-Gran's hut and Chief Hakoda's main igloo. That was it. However, even since before the end of the war, waterbenders from the North and scattered clans from the Southern Water Tribes had been convening to the area to re-built, and sprawling away from what was the original village a entire new city could be felt. Two new ice towers announced the entry to what was now called the outer village. The outer village felt, even if muffled by the snow, like an ant hill. People with all sorts of accents and smells were running from one side to the other. Toph could feel the blasts of ice of waterbenders building and even the heat of firebenders helping, with something. The gods knew what.
Since leaving the ship, Katara had been talking non stop. Going on and on about who was attending the Summit, the guests, the accommodations, the entertainment to be had. Every time Aang tried to pipe something in, she would shut him up and continue with her happy tirade. To the point that he lagged behind and left her to lead the group. Toph, walking arm in arm with Uncle Iroh could feel the older gentleman's warm bemusement. Sparky, always the quiet type, walking at the rear, would mumble something very softly to Aang who would stifle a laugh. She could still make up some of the conversation, though.
"Incredible, uh?" Twinkle Toes was saying.
"Absolutely. It was barely a village." Sparky was mumbling in response. "Now they have buildings."
"And this is Sokka's testing shop." Katara was explaining with pride. "This is where he tests his inventions and where he designs the plans for the city."
Toph assented totally disoriented. Walking on the snow she couldn't see where they were going. Every time someone said something about the surroundings, she tried to turn her head where the voice was coming but more often than not found herself looking the wrong way. She knew this to be true because Sparky will softly turn her head and body the other way. She just couldn't make anything up. Besides, her shoes were too thin and her feet were starting to get really, really cold.
"So, where is Sokka?" She asked. She could hear Katara's smile in her voice.
"He is coming. Be patient. He has a surprise for you"
She couldn't stop herself.
"I hope we are talking about earth filled shoes so I can walk in this place."
"Something like that" she started to say when Sokka's full form invaded the space grabbing Toph and swirling her around. The snow was really getting at her because she couldn't even feel him coming, and Sokka was not known for his stealth.
"Toph! You are here!" He embraced her tightly, and Toph felt her cheeks burning. Sokka's open happy manners always challenged her well placed attitude. "I am so happy to see you!" Suddenly he opened his arms "Gosh, I am happy to see everybody here! GROUP HUG!" Toph was swept in an embrace that included everyone, and that confirmed what she suspected, she was still the shorter of the group. Not by much, but still. She heard Suki's voice in the commotion.
"Let me in, Sokka let me in!" Toph raised her hand when Sokka let go of everyone and touched his face. It was wet.
"You are such a pansy, Sokka." She said endearingly and, suddenly, felt home.
Sokka's surprise was a sleigh, a metal one, so she could feel vibrations when she was sitting in it. It was supposed to be dragged by south pole dog-seals, but she decided that it was time for her two bodyguards to earn their salaries. Besides, just hearing what the Pebble would say when presented with the harness was worth the trip. It was also good because Sparky flatly refused to carry her piggy back during the last half of the tour. She could not earthbend him into submission and, as he said, he had already paid any debt he owed her for burning her feet. So she had to walk in the cold snow until reaching her accommodations and that have not been fun.