a/n: What is this? Is this… AVATAR?! AND CHAPTERED? Why yes. Yes it is. Granted, I haven't read much Avatar fanfiction. So I apologize if they aren't in character, or if this just plain sucks. So, enjoy. (p.s. Much thanks to Suki for reading and approving!)
disclaimer: Nope, I don't own Avatar. Nickolodeon. Mike. Bryan. Thanks.
dedication: To ANA! Happy Birthday, love!! You are too kickass for your own good.
Toph was getting close. She knew she was getting close.
Her pale green eyes were poised to the horizon, her skin taking in all that her eyes couldn't. It was no longer the warm, gentle air that she was so familiar with. The Earth Kingdom had been way too easy on her these past four years. She had grown too used to the ground, warm and inviting, below her feet. Everything about her homeland was warm.
The air nipped at her face, causing her eyes to water. Even the slab of rock beneath her that she was bending towards her destination was cold. And it was only going to get colder.
The harsh air was so unfamiliar. It scared her.
No- she wasn't scared, she was just… nervous.
She twisted her ankle slightly, her toes digging into the rock underneath her, sensing the currents of the lapping water. She was still heading in the right direction. South.
The give and take of the rock was comforting. Her parents had wanted to supply her with a full fleet of ships, each employed with an ample staff of both warriors and servants. She had politely refused, preferring to ride in style- on a big slab of highly bendable rock.
It was hard for her parents to give up their… overly protective nature, despite the fact that Toph was a war hero (and the undefeated champion of Earth Rumble VI… not like she was bragging or anything.) She had even left home for four years. It was not to spite her parents; she just needed to travel, to explore, to snatch all the independence that the world so eagerly offered her.
Aang had even told her once that she would have made a good Air Nomad if she hadn't been born into the Bei Fong family. Toph liked to think that he was right.
She had returned home, albeit briefly, after traveling all across the Earth Kingdom with brief stops at the Air Temples and a visit to the Fire Nation. But after a few seemingly endless weeks, she had to flee yet again. Flee from the wealth and the constant barrage of suitors going after her hand. Earth Kingdom tradition stated that at the age of sixteen, young women were eligible for marriage. And in the eyes of many young Earth Kingdom men, Bei Fong Toph wasn't just eligible, she was a trophy equipped with good looks and an outrageously large dowry.
But Toph didn't want to get married.
So she left. She left for the only place she hadn't visited on her four-year journey.
The South Pole.
It wasn't like she had planned on not visiting; it had just never happened. And now it made her nervous. What was their reaction going to be?
For a brief moment, Toph had shameful thoughts about turning back. She didn't know if she was able to face them. It was almost as if the longer she waited, the more she wanted to see them… but the harder it was to bring herself to do so. But before she could make the decision, she heard a voice. Not just any voice…that had to be Katara.
"Welcome to the Southern Water Tribe," she began, the ocean water bending itself around Toph's makeshift boat, pulling her slowly closer to the island. The era of peace was so refreshing. Instead of being attacked, Toph was welcomed. "Who goes there?"
"Don't pretend like you don't know me, Sugar Queen," Toph retorted jokingly.
Katara's eyes grew wide.
"Toph!" she exclaimed, and the current underneath her rock rushed underneath her, speeding her towards Katara. The rock slammed against the coast, and Toph dug her feet into the earth to keep her balance. She wasn't going to be making her entrance into a faceplant.
"Katara! You didn't have to pull me closer; I can bend myself over here just fine!" Toph snapped as she lowered the earth that encased her ankles.
"Oh, shut up with your whole 'I can carry my own weight' thing and give me a hug!" Katara said as she jumped onto Toph's rock.
The vibrations from Katara's sprint were hard and strong. But they felt good to Toph. They felt really good. The excitement. The joy.
Their bodies crashed together, and Katara held Toph so tightly. It had been too long since Toph had been hugged. Her parents had given up on touching her a long time ago. She buried her face in Katara's shoulder, inhaling her essence, but her arms remained firmly at her sides.
"I missed you, Toph," Katara said, lifting Toph in the air. Toph squirmed and punched Katara in the arm. She dropped her without a second thought. "Hey!"
"It's how I show affection."
Katara laughed loudly and clearly, and Toph smiled.
"So, yeah, here I am!" Toph began. She didn't know why she felt so nervous, so out of place. Katara did help her feel a little better… but she couldn't shake that feeling in the back of her head (or was that her heart?).
"Took you long enough!" Katara teased, grabbing Toph's wrist. She didn't even try to wriggle her arm away. Toph knew Katara better than that. Just don't resist her, and everything will be okay.
Toph stepped down off her rock, and instantly regretted doing so.
She had felt the cold, but nothing like this before. This was too much.
The snow bit at the skin on her feet, gnawing away at her sight. The cold overpowered everything. She could hear Katara jabbering on about something, pulling her along towards the village happily, but Toph couldn't even focus on her words. She couldn't focus on anything but the cold, the light crunch beneath her feet. She tried to ignore it, but she just couldn't.
She had always thought her feet were strong enough. Strong and stubborn like an Earthbender's feet should be. And for all the places she had visited, they were. They were rough and calloused, yet still able to sense everything.
She was a Master. She defied all odds. She was strong and stubborn and powerful.
But the ice pierced through the defenses that her she had built over the years.
It made her weak. It penetrated the Master.
"Toph?" Katara said, stopping in her tracks. Toph grunted her response, cringing at the pain in her feet, her eyes. "Toph!" Katara yelled this time, grabbing Toph's arms. And the Queen finally realized that Toph was standing here, freezing her feet off. Toph tilted away from Katara, away from the shame and defeat.
"Dammit, you need to stop this. I am your friend, and I will help you. Why the hell didn't you tell me that you didn't bring any shoes?" she scolded, lifting Toph onto her back and trudging along through the snow toward the middle hut. Toph clung onto her back unwillingly and buried her face in Katara's thick hair. Her bare feet finally being off the ground cleared her head. "What were you thinking? Honestly, it's the South Pole. It's cold, and I know you know that. I told you countless times."
"I'm sorry," she was able to mumble.
"Toph," Katara said slowly with a low sigh, bouncing the earthbender higher up on her back. "You've always gone on about how you can take care of yourself. This is not taking care of yourself."
Toph couldn't respond. She was too angry. What would the Sugar Queen know about taking care of herself? She was always clinging to some man, always holding to someone, somewhere. Toph had lived alone for years. If anyone knew about independence, it was her.
Toph could feel Katara's arm move as she pulled an entrance curtain to the side. Toph shuddered. The attempted warmth, the fire smoldering in the center of the room, felt so strange to Toph. She missed real warmth. The only warmth that kept her happy was the genuine kind, emanating from the earth.
Katara dropped Toph roughly on a bed draped with furs and stalked off.
Toph held her breath. She didn't know where she was. She didn't know where Katara was. Her hands gripped the furs beneath her, trying to get the slightest feel for the room. But she couldn't. Not a single vibration. She heard rustling, was that clothes? She couldn't tell.
It was so unnerving. For the first time in her life, she was blind.
"Here," she finally heard Katara say from somewhere across the room. Okay, so the hut wasn't as big as she had thought it was. Katara was only, say, ten feet away. Then slam! A thick coat flew onto Toph, burying her under its layers of fur. She slid it on her arms slowly, afraid that Katara was going to chuck more at her.
"That's one of my spares," Katara said. "It'll be a little long on you."
"I'm not complaining, Princess," Toph retorted as she shrugged it on.
"And some boots."
Toph heard a funny clunk as the boots hit the cold floor. She reached out, and her hand grabbed nothing but air. A second try, and she managed to snatch the heel of one. She shoved it onto her ice-cold foot, and the relief was instantaneous, despite the weird sensation of having shoes on her feet.
"So," she heard Katara say as she bounced onto the bed with Toph. She braced herself. "What took you so long?" Katara asked slowly.
Toph cringed. Katara scooted closer to her, though, and she could sense her earnestness.
I couldn't bring myself to face him.
The words caught in Toph's throat, smothered by a heavily staged cough. Katara sighed. "You know, I'm not letting you go anywhere until we have a nice little chat. You need to warm up before I give the grand tour, and… I have all the patience in the world."
"Is this how you always treat your guests?"
"Answer the question."
"Will you always insist on playing mom?"
Katara cursed under her breath, and ran her fingers through her thick brown hair. She had to restrain herself before she lost her temper, which was a usual occurrence whenever she argued with Toph. Katara remained silent, allowing Toph to collect her thoughts. How could she explain it?
That was just it. She couldn't. And no excuses came to mind.
"It's not like… it's not like I planned to not come. I just spent more time perfecting my sandbending than I thought I would."
"I spent the last year and a half alone in the desert, Katara," she said. Truthfully, it wasn't the entire year and a half. Toph just didn't feel like telling Katara about the barrage of suitors attacking her family. Not right now at least.
"I don't buy it."
No. She was not going to tell her the real reason as to why she spent so long away.
"Can we please not talk about it?" she pleaded, her voice soft. Katara groaned as she got up off the bed. She snatched Toph's hand and pulled her up from the bed.
"For now," Katara said, pulling her out the door. "Don't think I'm going to forget either."
Toph laughed nervously. She knew Katara. And she wouldn't forget.
Now that her feet were warmer, she could sense a little bit. There was so much ice caked over the earth that it was hard to tell where everything was, and the shoes just made everything blurry. Toph sighed. She hated feeling dependent on people, but she would have to succumb and ask for help while she was staying.
"So, how're you and Aang?" Toph asked slyly as they were walking to greet Hakoda. She felt Katara's heart rate skyrocket up through her hand.
"Didn't you hear?" Katara said nervously, "We broke up two years ago. It was mutual."
Toph gasped, the air freezing her throat. No, she hadn't. How much else had she missed while she was gone?
It was the first time she had even slightly regretted spending the last year and a half alone.
And it wouldn't be the last.
a/n: Again, sorry if it was mega fail. Review?