Summary: Life is busy even after they all grow up. But Toph is keeping busy for all the wrong reasons.
Author's Notes: This is a fic I wrote for the random quote one-shot contest at atla_library at LJ. My quote was as follows: "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." -- Lewis Carroll
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The thing with war, the thing with living through a war when you're a kid, the thing with fighting a war when you're a kid, is that you never really grow out of the feeling that there's more work to be done. Those years are pivotal for the growth of young adults, they say.
Of course, everyone's got things to do now, even though they're all grown up and the threat of total annihilation isn't looming over their heads. Firelord Sparkypants and Mai have an entire nation that they have to heal and guide towards a better future. Twinkletoes is scouring the world looking for candidates to energy bend into the new Air Nomads. Katara is a busy emissary between the two water tribes and spends every waking moment training the next generation of water benders. Sokka and Suki are lending a hand in the Earth Kingdom, helping to erase the last signs of Fire Nation's past oppression, rebuilding broken homes and stalled lives. They're all still fighting something, fighting against that dangerous future that they narrowly avoided, fighting and struggling and putting up barricades in the hopes that it will never happen again.
Toph can't decide what she wants to do, so she wanders between the bunch of them. Winters with the Fire Nation royal family, summers with the chiefs of the Water Tribe, spring on Appa's back as Aang soars next to her, autumn traveling through the Earth Kingdom so that she, Suki, and Sokka help refugees rebuild their lives. She's still fighting, in her own way, but she's wandering all the same.
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She's visiting Iroh at the Jasmine Dragon, enjoying a chance to drink and relax and just be. They don't do it all too often anymore (the last time was two years ago, at Ember Island, at Zuko's invitation) and it feels nice. Unfortunately, Iroh is as sharp as ever and wastes no time in deducing that something is off.
"You children are all so busy, like you have the whole world on your backs." Iroh comments, brewing another pot of tea for her.
"We're not children anymore." Toph points out. "And I'd say Zuko and Aang pretty much have the fate of entire nations on their back. They've got every reason to be busy."
"And you help them, of course. All of them."
"Yep." Toph drains the last of her tea and holds out the cup to him, smirking. "I'm not the type to settle down."
Iroh pours the tea into her cup, silent for a moment before speaking gently. "There is a difference between being free and being restless. Only once someone has finished writing the past chapter of their life can they move forward, focused on the future, focused on their destiny."
Toph sniffs, propping her feet onto the table and drinks more tea. "Yeah, riddles were never my thing."
- - -
She doesn't tell Iroh the truth, that she knew exactly what he was trying to tell her. His words stick in her mind, rolling around in her head until she's forced to confront herself and why she's doing what she's doing.
Her path is clear, almost inevitable. Must be that destiny thing Iroh was talking about, she thinks as she leaves Ba Sing Se.
A few days later she standing in front of the door and sweating with uncertainty. Their letters to her, the ones they send on her birthday, are burning in her pocket. She doesn't know if she can do this. They must be so much older now. She thinks about how wrinkly their skin will feel, how their hearts probably beat slower and weaker now...
Only later will Toph realize she had nothing to be worried about, that above all her parents loved her more than anything. But when she knocks on the estate door, she's feels like her headstrong twelve year old self, coming home at last.
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