Disclaimer: Sadly, I don't own ATLA.
AN: I originally wrote this as a chapter for Between Heaven and Earth, but it didn't seem to really fit that story, so I'm posting it as its own little thing. Not sure I'll continue with any of these what ifs, but I had fun coming up with what's here, so you never know. Please let me know what you think! I'd love to get some feedback on these! :)
Sokka, Aang, and Toph climbed on Appa. Momo landed quietly next to the young Avatar, who took the reins. "Come on, buddy, we can go back to the Fire Palace now. Yip, yip."
"Suki's not going to believe it!" Sokka cried. Yet again.
"Well, if you say that one more time, I'm going to take back that sword and toss it over Appa's side and I won't find it for you this time," Toph warned.
"Oh, you!" Sokka laughed, hugging the small earthbender. It wasn't like she could do much on Appa, so he hugged her longer than normal. With his other hand, he hugged his space sword. "I'm so glad you invented metalbending!" It's how she was able to pinpoint the sword's isolated location buried close to the shore.
Toph smirked, "So you've mentioned."
"Getting tired of it?" Sokka asked knowing what her reply would be before she made it.
"Seriously though, Toph, I don't know how you found Sokka's sword," Aang yelled over his shoulder, "If it wasn't for you, we'd still be looking for it." It had been Aang's fault they were there in the first place. He lost a bet to the Water Tribe warrior, but Toph took pity on the poor monk and offered to help. Of course, he'd have to be her slave for a week as payment for helping him out. Not that Aang had a problem with spending more time with Toph. Actually, lately, it was kinda his favorite thing to do.
She laid back on the saddle, her hands tucked behind her head. "What can I say? You guys lucked out by meeting me."
"Yeah, we did," Aang smiled. Then a sad thought struck him and he looked over at Toph, "What if we would've never met?"
"What?" Toph snorted, "We were always going to meet, Twinkletoes."
She sounded so sure and Aang couldn't help but remember Huu's words, "In the swamp, we see visions of people we've lost, people we've loved, folks we think are gone. But the swamp tells us they're not. We're still connected to 'em. Time is an illusion and so is death."
"But what if… what if we didn't get in to Earth Rumble VI?" Aang asked. Would they have met then?
"Yeah, or what if Aang found a different earthbending teacher and still defeated the Loser Lord…" Sokka speculated, "How were we all gonna meet in that case?"
Toph sat up.
"A different teacher? Pfft. Like Twinkletoes coulda beat Ozai then!"
Aang scratched the back of his head, "Yeah, I don't know if I could have defeated Fire Lord Ozai without the things Toph showed me."
"You bet your bald head you couldn't!"
"Okay, I got one," Sokka looked at her, "What if…Aang didn't defeat Ozai?"
Aang didn't like that possibility and frowned.
"So Aang faced the Loser Lord and lost because I didn't train him?"
Sokka nodded, "Yeah."
"Sounds about right."
"But how were we going to meet then?" Aang added. Toph wasn't sure how, but she was certain it would happen. "Or what if…there was no bending?" Aang asked, thinking their meeting would definitely be unlikely then. He really didn't like that possibility.
Sokka nodded, knowing they had her. "Yeah, what then? Hmm, Toph?"
Toph shook her head. "You're both noodlebrains!" she yelled and laid down again, with her hands behind her head. Sure, this was a better game than I spy — she really couldn't play that one — but she wasn't in the mood for their silly what ifs.
"We're just passing the time here, Toph, no need to get angry," Sokka said as he chewed on something. "Hey, Aang, have you ever wondered what if someone else found you in that iceberg?"
Toph tuned them out. She was sure they would have met no matter the circumstances. She knew it. She couldn't explain why she felt so strongly about it, but she just knew. It didn't matter if Aang had never gone to Earth Rumble VI and still managed to defeat Ozai without her help (yeah, not likely!), or failed to defeat Ozai because he didn't have her as a teacher (very likely!), or even if there was no bending (what? no bending? shyeah, like that was even possible!). They would have met regardless, Toph was sure of it. She couldn't imagine a world where she didn't know Twinkletoes.
I. Rebuilding the Southern Air Temple
"I tried to get her to stop, but she won't listen to me, Katara!"
"Sokka, I'm trying to help the people who got hurt in that rock slide, I can't go talk to her right now."
"Talk to who?" Aang asked, stepping into the large room that had been assigned as the infirmary. He'd been gone for nearly a week. He and Appa left the others to get some much needed supplies.
"The girl making all that ruckus!" Sokka yelled.
Aang must have not been paying attention, but now that he stopped to listen, there was a steady banging not too far away. "I can go talk to her," he offered. "I'm pretty good with people," he smiled and left.
"He'd have an easier time defeating Ozai again than getting her to stop," Sokka muttered.
"Sokka, stop complaining and come help me with these bandages."
"Um, excuse me…"
She barely heard his footsteps - they were so light! - but if this was another one of those idiots going to tell her to take it easy, Toph was ready to earthbend him off the stinking mountain.
"What!" she growled as she lifted another slab of earth to use as reinforcement on the lower level of the temple.
"Oh, well, I'm not sure if you heard, but we're done for today."
"No, you're done for today. I'm not ready to stop yet. So leave me alone before this accidentally falls on your head."
With a loud crash, the slab of earth became part of the temple.
"I appreciate what you're doing, we all do, but it's late and people are tired—"
Another loud crash prevented her from hearing the rest of what he had to say. Good. Didn't these people get it? Sure, the idea of helping was nice, but she was there to earthbend! When she heard what they were doing at the temple, well, it's the reason she finally up and left Omashu.
"Hey!" he yelled and had the nerve to grab her arm.
Toph made an earth pillar rise out of the earth and launch the grabby boy up into the air. "Don't touch me!"
It was quiet for a moment while she waited and listened for him to fall back on the ground. She barely sensed when he landed not too far away. He stalked over to her.
"What's your problem?" he asked.
"What's your problem?" Toph yelled back.
"I don't have a problem! Look around, can't you see it's nighttime? People are tired and you're making a lot of noise!"
That's when she turned her face up to his. His heartbeat nearly stopped when she did so. By his startled reaction, she could tell he finally understood that no, she couldn't look around or see.
Aang hadn't meant to insult her. No one would be able to tell she was blind by the way she earthbended, he certainly couldn't. But before he had a chance to apologize, she started talking again.
"Oh, I didn't know I was keeping the poor, tired, little people awake. Why didn't you tell me before?" she mocked, then got into her horse stance again, "I would have stopped sooner."
"Really?" he asked.
"No!" Toph yelled and threw another large slab of earth. The ground actually shook a little that time and the crash echoed in the distance.
"Look," he said, his voice a gentle tenor again. "I think we got off on the wrong foot. Let's start over, okay? I'm Aang. What's your name?"
She didn't want to talk, she wanted to earthbend, so she ignored his question.
"Your wall looks awesome, by the way."
"Of course, it does," Toph smirked, "I built it."
"How are you doing this?" Aang asked, his voice full of awe. Even Bumi, who had been forced to teach him earthbending because they'd found no one else, wasn't like her. "How do you know where everything goes?"
The only reason Toph answered him was because she didn't hear any patronizing sympathy in his voice. There was no pity in his words, just curiosity and something like wonder.
"Even though I was born blind, I've never had a problem seeing," she explained, "I see with earthbending. It's kind of like seeing with my feet. I feel the vibrations in the ground with my feet and I can see where everything is: you, those trees, even that small lemur approaching."
The lemur crawled closer to Toph.
"Oh, and that's Momo, by the way."
"'Sup?" she said by way of greeting.
"Tell you what, you leave the temple alone for tonight and I'll take you the other side of the mountain. You can earthbend all you want there and they won't be able to hear it over on this side. Deal?"
It sounded tempting. But so did a lot of things that had bad consequences. The last time she trusted someone was three years ago when she was fifteen and her parents almost married her off to a grumpy, old, rich man.
"What's in it for you?" she asked, suspicion coloring her voice.
"Nothing," he assured her, "It just seems like you're enjoying what you're doing, which is great, but I need these volunteers to rest so they can help again tomorrow."
He wasn't lying to her, she realized, and she considered his offer.
Ever since the day Aang barely managed to defeat Ozai (and only after suffering heavy casualties- Suki, Chief Hakoda, and Iroh were all lost) rebuilding everything the Fire Nation had destroyed had taken longer than he expected. He needed all the volunteers he could get!
"I can fly us there," he offered as incentive, "I have my glider! Or I can get Appa?"
"Without the flying, you got a deal."
"Alright," he laughed, "No flying. Tonight we can race there, but you'll have to let me take you flying eventually. It's so fun! How about tomorrow?"
"Yeah, that's not gonna happen."
"Aw, c'mon," he prodded, "Flying's the best thing ever!"
"Who says I'm doing this again tomorrow?" she asked walking alongside him. She sounded irritated, but there was a small smile she hid from him with the help of the bangs falling across her face.
"It's just a thought," he said as casually as possible, but he couldn't contain the wide grin on his face.
She couldn't see his expression, but Aang was delighted. He was so excited to have finally found her. Since that day in the swamp when he first saw a vision of the girl now walking next to him, he always wondered when he'd meet her. After things didn't work out with Katara he questioned if it was because secretly he had still been holding out for the girl from the swamp. And now that she was staying in his home, helping to rebuild it, he had no doubt he'd get the chance to get to know her and maybe, just maybe, even take her flying with him one day.
He swallowed the nervousness away and said, "I'm glad you're here."
She didn't look at him when she replied, "Yeah, me too."