Fandom: Avatar: the Last Airbender
Characters/Pairings: Suki, Toph, Katara, Ty Lee
Word Count: 10,719
Summary: Three years after the war four old friends reunite on Kyoshi Island.
Suki has washed, dressed and put away her bedding before the sun is more than a thin shard above the horizon. Her parents are. still asleep in the other room; she can hear her mother’s snoring and the deep breaths of her father, perfectly synchronized. Without the crackling. from the kitchen fire, the doors to the storerooms opening and closing and the voices of customers from the shop downstairs the house seems much different. The silence fits badly, like an oversized robe with sleeves that are too long. She barely recognizes her old home in it. It’s been a long time since she left to stay in the dorms by the dojo and she mostly makes her visits over dinner or during shop hours.
Between patrols and the training of new recruits she rarely has mornings off like this. She should treasure it, but she’s too restless to sleep, too restless to stay inside. They’ll have breakfast together some other day; her mother will have to understand. Slipping socks onto her feet and tucking her golden fans into her belt, Suki carefully pushes the door open and makes her way downstairs.
Kiyohiko sleeps in the small chamber at the back of the house, facing the yard. Her parents adopted him a few years ago, after she came back from the war.
“Because my daughter is set on using her sword to slay the family business,” her father had said, clacking his tongue over his weights and scales, but there was a smile in his eyes and never once did either of her parents try to steer her from her own path. Suki is grateful. The life of a merchant wouldn’t have suited her. Yet sometimes she gets jealous, though she has no right. She’s the one who left, and Kiyohiko is both competent and kind. He will make a good successor. To have a warrior daughter is a great honor, but honor won’t keep the accounts in order or care for you when you’re old and gray.
Next time, she promises herself as she tips on her toes past Kiyohiko’s door. Next time she’ll stay a full day and she will greet him like a true brother. Next time.
Outside, the air is cold, almost biting. Suki rubs her hands together, tries not to shiver. Winter is drawing near. She can smell snow on the wind. It’s early this year, they usually have another three weeks before the harbors begin to freeze.
The main street lies empty, the ground hard under her sandals, sprinkled with quickly thawing frost. All the storefronts are barred close but on a few windows are open on the second stories. Here and there she hears voices from inside, senses the smell of cooking or sees bed clothes hung out for airing. The village is slowly waking.
Suki walks almost all the way down to the shore then turns back the way she came. She tries not to squint out over the water, searching for ships in the distance, but can’t help herself. It has been days of waiting now. This time of year the winds are unreliable and the roads on the mainland are difficult to travel. The simplest journey can take much longer than anticipated, but even taking that into account she thought they would have arrived already.
On the other side of the village where the road becomes thinner and eventually disappears into the forest, she stops and squints. Isn’t there something moving between the pines? As the shape gets closer, comes clearly into sight, the little ball of impatience in her stomach bursts and floods her insides with happiness.
It has been too long.
Travelling far south this time of year was a bad idea, Toph can feel it in her toes. They’re really freaking cold.
The earth is less responsive to her touch, frozen as it is. The difference is barely noticeable, but combined with the numbness that sets in if she stands still for too long, she could be a lot happier about the weather. The seasons were distinct where she grew up – the place she’s careful not to think of as ‘home’ – but winter was wet and windy and never this cold. Toph has her cloak snuggly around her, wraps of leather and fur around her legs, specially crafted covers on top of her feet. It works. She can deal for now.
Kyoshi Island smells like pine trees. The hills are covered in them, whispering softly in the breeze high above her head. Their needles cover part of the thin, winding road, stinging the soles of her feet. Underneath the soil is packed tight. The path is well traveled. She can’t feel much movement where she walks, and what she does pick up on flees long before she comes near. Could be mouserabbits. The woods must be hunted often to make them this cautious. There are lots of birds, though. The shrieks from the seagulls by the shore follow her into the forest to be accompanied by other, more melodious chirps.
It isn’t very long until she reaches a village. There is smoke, but little sound. Too early for that, she supposes. She’s walked all the way from the western shore to the northern without meeting anyone.
Toph senses Suki before she hears her voice. There are footsteps you just don’t forget, their weight and feel, the shape of the person making them. Toph doesn’t speed up – well, she doesn’t mean to speed up, anyway, but somehow they end up meeting much faster than she intended.
“Why are you coming this way? I thought you would be taking the ferry to the main port!” is how Suki greets her. Her voice is a little out of breath and slightly confused, but otherwise just the way it should be. Light and smooth and familiar. Toph scoffs in response, even though her chest is filled with warmth.
“Fine, I’ll go back and do it over,” she says, and Suki laughs, putting a hand on her shoulder.
“You know that’s not what I meant.” She pauses, then pulls Toph into a hug. Her hair is loose, reaching all the way down to her shoulders where it whisks Toph in the face. She doesn’t puff it away.
When they break the hug, Suki keeps her hands on Toph’s shoulders.
“It’s so good to see you again. I don’t even know what to say.”
“You can tell me there’ll be food at some point, that’d make my morning.”
“Don’t worry, there will be plenty.” She starts walking down to the village and Toph follows. “I still don’t get why you didn’t wait for the ferry, though.”
“Didn’t feel like hanging around. And there was this old fisher guy who was going back so I hitched a ride and ended up in the western village.”
“That must have been old Sugimoto. But he’s such a grump, I’m surprised he agreed to take you across.”
Toph flexes her arms, making the earth rumble.
“I’m real persuasive.”
“Ah. You don’t change, do you?”
“Nope,” Toph says cheerfully. “Is Katara here yet?”
“Any time now.”
“So in other words: no.”
Suki stops in her tracks, leans a bit forward, then continues walking at a much faster pace. “No, actually!” she says, voice filled with excitement.
“Uh, you’ve lost me. Is she here or not?”
“She’s just coming in! I can see the ship.”
They’re walking as fast as they can without breaking into a run. It’s tempting to just create a mudslide to ride all the way down to shore, but the villagers probably won’t appreciate having their roads turned upside down. Besides, if she hurries too much Katara might get ideas. There’s no reason for her to know just how much Toph has missed her, in case she decides to get all smug about it.
Almost there, Toph gives Suki a nudge.
“By the way, Sokka told me to deliver a kiss and a tender embrace for him, but I’m not going there today, just so you know.”
“I’ll be hoping for tomorrow, then.”
On the twenty-fifth day the vast blue expanse is stained by a small dark spot just where ocean and sky meet. It grows bigger by the day, then by the hour, and the seamen are revitalized, the ship buzzing with activity. After the stop at Whale Tail Island, Kyoshi is only a week away.
Katara is as relieved as the others to finally reach their destination, but she has cherished this trip. To be at sea again, to smell salt and seaweed and have her hair tousled by a wind as rough as sandpaper. To be lulled asleep by rolling waves. To always be surrounded by water, to have it near and feel it eagerly respond to her very thoughts.
She hasn’t been unhappy in the Fire Nation. There has been so much to do, so many to help and fight, and she has poured her soul into it. Never alone, always with friends new and old by her side, and for the first half of her stay she had Aang there wih her, too, and how could she be unhappy then?
But the days are just as long all year round and the heat is heavy and humid, impossible to escape. The crickets keep her awake at night as she tosses and turns on sweat-drenched sheets. There is very little food that isn’t spicy. Everything is red, from the fire lilies on the meadows to her embellished hand mirror. There is so much of it, that color so much like a warning sign, like blood on the ground, like lava spewed from the center of the earth. There is so much beauty in the Fire Nation, so many friends and fond memories, but when she shed her precious rose colored silks to put on her old well-worn robes from home, she breathed a sigh of relief.
Katara is going south again, and she feels it with every fiber of her being. The climate getting colder. The nights growing longer. She has stood on the deck at night and watched the stars, the right stars, the stars she knows like the back of her hand, seen them wink down at her and tell her their stories, legends as old as her people. She’s going south, and she didn’t know how much she longed for it until she did.
Even before she’s off the ship, even before she’s hugging Toph and Suki as tight as possible, even before she’s wiping embarrassing tears of happiness off her cheeks, Katara is overcome by a sense of comfort she hasn’t felt for a long time.
On Kyoshi Island, they dress themselves in blue.
Hotaru has golden eyes. They’re not as bright as some people’s, but if you look closely the color is unmistakable. Ty Lee hasn’t asked her about it. Golden eyes in the Earth Kingdom almost never came out of a happy story. Ty Lee would much rather think about happy things.
They’re having breakfast, her and Hotaru and Mari with the husky voice. They’re her best friends now and she is theirs - or so Ty Lee thinks. She knows things like this aren’t necessarily true just because you believe in them, but she would like to think so anyway. It makes her happy.
The main sleeping chamber of the warrior dorm is aired out, sliding doors open to the porch. A few other girls are seated in front of their table trays, inhaling their food hungrily. They pick the trays up from the kitchen after cleaning out thedorm. Sometimes they will have had morning practice first, depending on their schedule for the day. If they’re on night patrol it’s the last thing they eat before bed. Ty Lee is used to the food by now. White rice, soup, fish and vegetables. At first it tasted unbearably bland, like eating cushion filling, but these days she knows how to appreciate the subtle flavors, even if she has frequent cravings for chili and smoked meat.
“I’m so glad we won’t be on night patrol for another two weeks. I hate night patrol,” Mari says with a grimace. Mari hates a lot of things. It makes Ty Lee feel oddly at ease.
“It all depends on your attitude,” Hotaru replies, putting a piece of mackerel in her mouth and chewing thirty times. No one eats as neatly as her, and every fold of her uniform is razor sharp. “If you set out to hate it, you will. But if you don’t see it as a chore but as an opportunity to train and exercise mental self control, it can even become something to look forward to. Don’t focus on the negative!”
“Positive thinking. You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“I kind of like night patrols,” Ty Lee says. “It’s sort of exciting, don’t you think? Like something’s going to happen. Everything’s so different in the dark. And if the moon is out, the light is really, really pretty.”
“See? Ty Lee gets it.”
“In that case I won’t be a killjoy,” Mari says. She gets to her feet, takes her tray and leaves in the direction of the kitchen.
“She’s hopeless,” Hotaru sighs, but the grin doesn’t leave her face.
They keep eating in companionable silence. Ty Lee doesn’t get as nervous when her friends go quiet anymore. She’s gotten used to silences that only mean that the other person doesn’t have anything to say right now. Here, there are no double meanings.
When Mari returns, sans tray, it’s with a whole new energy to her movements. She kneels down quickly, almost eagerly. It’s strange to see in someone usually so phlegmatic.
“Ship at the harbor,” she says and Hotaru looks up with a start.
“What kind? From where?”
“Trading, Fire Nation.”
Hotaru drops her chopsticks on the tray and balls her fists in a victory gesture.
“Yes! We’re going! Right now.”
“We should wait until after patrol,” Mari says, her usual calm returned.
“No. We’re going right away before they sell out of the good stuff. Early birdamarillo, Mari. Early birdamarillo.”
“You sound like an old man, talking like that.”
“I do not!”
Ty Lee hesitates before raising her voice. There is a clump of anxiety in her throat, rising like bile from her stomach. If this is the ship Suki was talking about, she doesn’t want to go. She isn’t sure if she’s ready.
“Actually, I don’t know if I’m-“, she starts, but Hotaru interrupts her.
“You,” she says and points straight at Ty Lee, aiming her finger like it’s a practice sword ready to pummel Ty Lee’s reluctance into the ground, “are going shopping with us! And you’re going to have fun. And if you’re a good girl I’ll braid your hair for you afterwards.”
“What Hotaru is trying to say,” Mari adds after an exaggerated eyeroll, “is that it’s been weeks since we hung out all three outside of training, and we need to remedy that.”
Ty Lee nods. She does it so fast, before she has time to come up with an excuse. Suddenly she has agreed, just like that. She doesn’t really want to do anything but put on her makeup and get outside, but her friends’ faces look so eager and somehow she ends up stuffing her mouth full of food instead of arguing.
“So,” Mari says, appeased. “What are you going to buy?”
Ty Lee swallows her last mouthful of rice. “Fire salt,” she says with emphasis.
Mari and Hotaru both wrinkle their noses.
Well, it’s nice when they agree on something for a change.
“You couldn’t have gone in a metal ship?” Toph says.
Down by the water, the sound of waves is an uneven mat of sound underneath everything else; continuous and calming. She’s not a big fan of oceans in general, but as long as she has something bendable under her feet, she’s pretty much okay with it. The feel of the air is nice. Different from what she’s used to. Different is good.
Katara shifts her weight from one foot to the other, her robes rustling. She smells like the sea. The sea, then a faint undertone of pickles and sweat. She smells like a traveler. They both do, though Toph’s scent is more dust than salt.
“I don’t like them as much. Not for long journeys,” Katara says.
“If you’d gone on a metal ship it wouldn’t have been a long journey,” Toph points out, but she isn’t putting much effort into her retort. It’s too early to fight, even for fun. Katara is standing close, close enough that Toph can feel the heat from her body. There’s no distance between them and after all this time it isn’t suffocating, only nice.
“We don’t have to go onboard if you don’t want to,” Suki says. “There will be other ships. I don’t have to buy anything today.”
She doesn’t know if Katara picks up on it, but the tiny hint of disappointment in Suki’s tone doesn’t escape Toph’s ears.
“Nah, you two go. I’ll wait here until you come back.”
“Are you sure?” Katara asks, and Toph nods.
“Yeah. Now get our butts out there before I change my mind.”
Katara hugs her again before joining Suki in the yawl that will take them out to where the traders lie anchored. Like they’re about to part for years instead of half an hour. Toph doesn’t protest. She wouldn’t say it to her face, but Katara gives the best hugs.
A small crowd has accumulated on the shore. She’s surrounded by the chatter of voices, young and old. Whispers, too. She catches her name here and there, the vibrations from their movements circling around her but never approaching, curiously skirting her borders. Seems like her reputation precedes her. And who is she to deny an expectant audience a little demonstration of what the mightiest earthbender in the world can do?
Digging her heels into the sand, she makes the sand rise high, then higher, sculpting into a perfect copy of Avatar Kyoshi. The cheers and applause are most satisfying. She’s about to trump herself with a sand replica of the entire Island when she feels footsteps coming close, enter her personal space. Small, strong hands squeeze her arm.
“Hi, my name’s Koko. That was so cool!”
Suki heads straight for the metal ware, putting them under the scrutiny of a connoisseur. Katara watches her out of the corner of her eye. She’s not that interested in what the tradesmen have to offer. After these months at sea she’s well acquainted with the load, and she has enough Fire Nation goods in her own luggage to keep her satisfied for the rest of her life. The thought of what she will be able to purchase on Kyoshi excites her more. Compared to the elaborate, gaudy designs favored overseas, work by artisans on these coasts might seem rustic, almost plain, but there is a sublime quality in the ceramics from around here. Subdued colors where the smallest shift in hue brings out new dimensions. Uneven textures that speak to your sense of touch as well as your sight. Simple lines with a certain boldness, where carefully calculated imperfections bring out an unpretentious kind of beauty, a beauty that only grows over time. She would love to own some cups or bowls.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Suki says and Katara leans forward, giving the things in front of them a closer look.
“You mean that knife there?”
Suki laughs. Her face is warm and open and her eyes alight; like the glow of the hearth in a hospitable home. She’s dressed comfortably without jewelry or any adornments other than the shining fans in her belt. She still keeps her hair short. It’s rare for a woman, but it suits her well. Suki makes any manner of dress look good. It’s that confidence of hers, the way she moves and talks and simply is.
“No. I mean all of this. Everything!” Suki throws her hand out in a gesture towards the small crowd on the deck. “Less than three years ago I never would have thought I’d get to see a Fire Nation ship here. Not on a peaceful mission.”
“Or Earth Kingdom fleets in the Fire Nation. Or Water Tribe ships going anywhere far,” Katara says. “The seas are practically safe to cross now.”
“If only it wasn’t for pirates.”
“But that’s gotten better; too, it’s not at all the same problem it was during the war. We’ve been coming down hard on the ones in the archipelago and as far as I’ve heard the Eastern Sea is thinning out.”
“You would know better, news takes its time getting here,” Suki says. She has directed her attention from the items on display, to fully focus on their conversation. “So you didn’t have any trouble on your way over?”
Katara tilts her head, pretends to think.
“No, not much,” she says, and Suki raises a brow.
“Not much doesn’t sound entirely…”
“Nothing one skilled water bender couldn’t handle.”
She’s bragging a little, but how can she resist?
“I see. Should I be frightened by how much you have improved by now?” There’s a little smirk on Suki’s face, and Katara mirrors it.
“Maybe you should.”
Suki takes a step back, looks her over.
“Hmm, you don’t look like you’ve gotten better.”
“Oh, you’ll be eating those words.”
“Is that a challenge?”
“What if it is?”
“Then it will be my pleasure to knock you down a peg or two,” Suki says.
At this Katara she can’t hold it in anymore: the giggles burst through. Suki follows suit, and for a couple of minutes all they do is laugh at nothing at all, holding on to each other for support. Katara rolls the happiness on her tongue, savors the joy in reuniting with a friend and find that it feels like no time has passed.
“I look forward to that,” she says once she can keep her voice steady. “So, what’s been going on here?”
Suki shakes her head fondly.
“Nothing, really. Kyoshi stays the same.”
For a second Katara wonders if Suki understands how lucky she is to be able to say that. Then something heavy hits her on the head.
Ty Lee loses her grip on the bag of fire salt the moment she’s triumphantly hoisted it into the air. It’s either letting it slide out of her fingers or falling backwards - and Ty Lee takes pride in her ability to always stay on her feet, one way or the other.
She expects a thud; not the shocked ‘ow!’ that follows. She spins around, ready to apologize with laughter bubbling in her throat, but it dies as soon as she sees who she’s just hit.
It’s strange how eyes that are so blue can flare so hot with anger.
“Hi!” Ty Lee says. She sounds cheerful, maybe she is cheerful, too. Being cheerful is always the easiest. “Wow, it’s been so long since I saw any of you guys!”
A few moments pass before Katara speaks.
“Yes. It has.”
Her expression is strange. Ty Lee thinks of milk close to boiling; the way the surface doesn’t really bubble, appears calm at a glance but is seething underneath. There is a tension to it. Any minute it will rise, high and frothy, boiling over with a hiss. Katara’s expression is like that.
She looks pretty. Katara has a lovely face even when her lips are pressed thin and her forehead is creased with tiny wrinkles. Her aura is wonderfully vibrant, it always has been. Every time Ty Lee has seen her, at least.
Ty Lee doesn’t notice Suki, not until she bends down to pick up the bag of fire salt lying forgotten on the deck. She hands it to Ty Lee.
“Here, don’t forget this,” she says, and as Ty Lee takes it from her she feels her cheeks heat.
“Oh, no, I forgot,” she says. “I completely forgot to apologize! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to throw this on your head, it was an accident! I promise. And I’m sorry.”
“Apology accepted,” Katara says.
Her mouth smiles, but her eyes don’t agree.
The important thing when handling fights between her warriors, Suki has learned, isn’t so much breaking them up as preventing them ever breaking out. Just like the greatest victories on the battle field are the ones where you don’t have to draw your sword, her real accomplishments as a commander never required her to raise her voice or use her fists. A good leader doesn’t pull her team along; she makes them follow her. If she demands their full attention, she must be fully attentive to them.
Katara has suddenly turned oddly quiet. Ty Lee’s eyes dart from side to side and she’s chewing on her lip. It’s a nervous habit. One day she’ll draw blood, Suki is sure.
But not today. With her voice smooth and even she intercepts Ty Lee’s stuttering start on a new sentence, putting a hand on her shoulder. The motion puts her between the two other girls.
“What’s in the bag?” she asks, and Ty Lee perks up, focuses on her.
“It’s fire salt! I’ve really missed it, you have no idea.”
“I can tell. You have a lot of it there.”
“I thought I’d share! It’s amazing, I swear, I’ll make you all like it.”
“Now that’s a mission. Good luck; you’ll need it,” Suki says with a laugh. Ty Lee laughs, too, and Suki can hear Katara exhale with amusement behind her. Fire salt is an acquired taste for most. “But if you’re going to buy that you should hurry up and do it before patrol. You’re signed up for the early one, right?” she continues, and to Katara she adds: “Besides, I think Toph has been waiting long enough for us now. Let’s head back.”
Ty Lee goes towards Hotaru and Mari who are hard at work on appearing like they haven’t been trying to listen in on the conversation and Katara and Suki go in the opposite direction. On their way to shore Katara’s turns to Suki as though she’s going to ask something, but in the last second she seems to have a change of heart.
“You didn’t buy anything,” she says instead.
“There wasn’t anything I can say I need. It didn’t feel justified.”
They return to find Toph in the middle of a steadily growing crowd, the beach completely unrecognizable. Just about every wonder of the Earth Kingdom has been faithfully represented in hard-packed, half-frozen sand. Her grin is wide and white-toothed enough to dazzle and her cheeks are a bit red.
“There you are! Almost thought we’d lost you, I was going to start on your mausoleum next,” she shouts over the buzz of the people surrounding her. Despite having enthralled her audience and clearly enjoying their praise to the fullest, she quite readily wraps up the show. On the way back she’s in a fantastic mood, and it’s infectious.
“So now what?” Toph says, scratching her chin. “You’re ditching your noble soldiers to hang out with us and kick back a bit?”
“I’m your host, and I’m taking that duty seriously,” Suki says, then pausing a beat for effect. “And yes, I’m ditching them to hang with you.” Toph snorts and punches her in the arm, too fast for Suki to evade.
“I knew it, you slacker.”
Suki rubs her smarting arm. That’s going to bruise.
“Sometimes I wish you would show affection just a little less violently.”
Toph heaves an affected sigh.
“Love’s not easy, sweetpea,” she says. “Love’s not easy.”
Winter is hard. Ty Lee is always freezing, wherever she goes and whatever she does. Kyoshi is nice in the summer, but when the year turns and the days get shorter the chill becomes unbearable. It follows her around, puffs its frosty breath in her ear and sneaks under her covers to disrupt her sleep.
Ty Lee puts on an extra undershirt and two pairs of gloves. Hotaru can tease her if she wants; Ty Lee is not ready to freeze to death just yet.
Morning patrol is easy. The island is calm and peaceful, it has been since its creation. Suki has told her the stories about Avatar Kyoshi and her long, heroic life, about the many wondrous things she did. It’s all new to Ty Lee. They never taught this history in the academy back home.
They didn’t teach her that many useful things in the academy at all, come to think of it. The knowledge she has found the most use for she learned at the circus or in sticky whispers behind heavy drapes when she was small and always happy and Azula was her best friend in the world.
She tries not to think too much about Azula these days, but she can’t forget what she learned.
Her life is good right now. She covers herself in sweeping layers of cloth and sturdy armor, hides her face behind paint in white and red. She used to think disappearing in the crowd was a terrible thing. Now she finds it a comfort. They’re all the same here.
The reassuring routine of peacetime life suits her well. She worried she would find it suffocating after a while, but has found she cherishes it. With clear direction she can’t get lost.
Coming back to the village she’s met by the sight of Katara and Toph outside the inn, both shouting at each other. It’s amazing. They have only been in the same place for a few hours and are already arguing.
“I don’t understand why you always have to be like this!”
Katara isn’t unreasonable. She knows she’s not. She has a temper, true, and sometimes it gets the best of her, she’s not afraid to admit that, but she can see her flaws and apologize for them. That doesn’t make her unreasonable. She has expectations of people, that’s all. Katara has been working hard her whole life. Ever since her mother died she has been pulling twice her own weight. She doesn’t complain, she carries what she has to because she knows she’s strong enough. She knows she is needed, and she wants to fill that need. ll she asks is for others to see and appreciate her work. That they do their part, too.
“Is it so hard to help out and put in some work for once?”
Toph clenches her fists. It makes the supports of the nearby buildings shake, and Katara wonders if that was intentional or not.
“Whoa, you better watch where you’re going, there. I’ve spent this last year knocking rebels all over, that’s real work. So what if I don’t want to help you chop onions or whatever? You can manage that yourself.”
“That’s not the point.”
Sometimes when she’s angry, it feels like her head is going to explode. All of her is twitching, ready to go off and underscore her words with cutting lashes of her water whip. She reigns herself in, of course, but the pressure around her temples stays.
“The point is,” Katara goes on, “that I thought we could all make lunch together.”
“Why? You don’t have to cook here,” Toph says. A grin spreads over her face. “Anyone’d be happy to do that for the great heroes.”
“You know, I’m not here to be waited on. I’ve had about enough of servants.”
Toph shrugs. “I haven’t. Do what you want, long as you don’t involve me, sugar queen.”
Katara has been called much worse in her days. She has imprisoned generals, she has closed down internment camps, demolished military bases and had every possible slur flung at her in retribution. Her gender, her skin, her eyes, her hair, her art attacked in the foulest language, by men and women who would point to her as the savage. By comparison, ‘sugar queen’ is nothing. Still, it stings.
“You’re hopeless!” she yells. “Was expecting you to grow up and stop being such a spoiled brat so much to ask?”
“Guess so! Kinda like expecting you to calm down and lose the boring nag act, huh?” Toph shouts back, turning on her heel and stomping down the street.
“Are you walking away?! Come back here!”Toph doesn’t turn around. Katara considers throwing something after her, but all she has at hand is the wares of a nearby potter, and even in her rage she knows this isn’t worth destroying art over.
“Fine!” she cries instead.
What wouldn’t she give for a hostile Fire Nation soldier to unleash her fury on.
Toph doesn’t stay angry very long. A couple of years ago it might have been different, but her skin is only growing thicker the older she gets. It’s just one of Katara’s moods. It will pass.
The day is getting warmer. When she arrived, the roads were hard, now she’s stepping in mud. She relishes the feeling, digging her feet into it. Picking her toes later is going to be amazing.
She takes a turn off main street, in between the houses where the ground is still in shadow and the puddles glazed with ice. The chilly air in here smells different. When it’s warmed by the sun it’s dusty and full, but the air in winter is sharp. Neither is bad. They’re just different.
After walking for a few minutes, when the vibrations from the busier streets and shops have thinned out, she comes upon a figure she recognizes. Ty Lee is standing in the backyard of one of the practice halls, rocking slightly back and forth on the balls of her feet..
“I know you,” Toph says as she steps out from between the houses, and Ty Lee gasps and whips around. Not being able to feel people coming up to you must be super tedious.
“Yeah,” Ty Lee says, a little breathless. “Hi!”
Toph feels around the yard a bit, and in the sunniest spot she bends herself a seat.
“Whatcha doing?” she asks once she’s sitting down, feet kicked up, and when Ty Lee takes one second too long to reply, she adds: “You don’t have to tell me. I don’t actually care.”
“Oh. Okay,” Ty Lee says. She takes a couple of steps closer. “Um, your feet are really dirty.”
“I know. It’s awesome.”
Toph’s answer makes Ty Lee giggle. It feels natural to be talking like this, like old friends. In a way, they are. Toph sits up straighter, holds her arms out and calls on the earth to make an additional seat for Ty Lee. The girl makes her way over there in a somersault, or something like it. She briefly loses contact with the ground, is out of Toph’s range. It’s harder to feel Ty Lee properly when she’s moving, she’s always flipping or walking on her hands, so light on the ground. It isn’t impossible to track her, especially not for a bending genius like Toph, but she could do with some practice.
“I like your cloak. It looks warm,” Ty Lee says, legs pulled up underneath her.
“You bet it is. How’s the new gig working out for you?”
“It’s fine, it’s great. Everyone’s so niceand the outfit complements my aura. Pink and green are pretty together, don’t you think?” She stops “Sorry, I didn’t…”
Toph shakes her head. She’s not offended.
“Don’t sweat it.” A beat. “You should have lunch with us.”
“Are you sure?”
Ty Lee’s voice is so happy.
Katara has just finished cooking when Toph returns from wherever she went to cool off after their fight.
“Hi. Your timing is perfect,” Katara says, and then she pauses. “Ty Lee.”
“I invited her,” Toph says, strolling carelessly into the room and sitting down by the table. Suki, already seated, looks up and flashes Ty Lee an inviting smile, gesturing to the seat beside her.
“Hey, Ty Lee.”
If the others are happy having her here, Katara won’t spoil it for them. It’s not so bad. Ty Lee’s smile is nervous around the edges, and Katara feels a twinge of sympathy. It can’t be easy.
“Looking forward to this, I haven’t had your cooking in a while,” Toph says, sniffing the air.
Katara recognizes an off-handed peace offering when she hears one. She answers by taking Toph’s bowl and filling it with rice, patting her friend’s hand a bit when handing it back. Toph nods, once, and that’s that.
She’s made food for cold weather; scallops, shrimp, clams and two kinds of fish boiled with noodles and mushrooms in a savory broth. Steam rises from the clay pot at the middle of the table, enticing. The broth is light and transparent, not cloudy in the least, and the pink shrimps, dark mushrooms and the pale noodles look utterly delicious where the simmer in the hot stew. Katara takes a moment to take in the sight before digging in. Cooking is a necessary chore and a rewarding art all at once.
For the next fifteen minutes all is quiet but the sounds of eating. When her bowl of rice is half empty, Suki lifts her head and says: “Where are you going next?
Not that I’m in a hurry to see you leave, just curious.”
“I’m meeting up with Aang by the Eastern Airtemple,” Katara replies.
“We’re starting the project of documenting what’s left of the Airbenders. It’s something we’ve been talking about for ages. We’re going to restore the buildings and murals, dig out every item we can find and preserve them as well as possible. Ba Sing Se university is lending us every resource they can spare . Aang is there now to start recording everything he knows, and they’ll be sending out scholars all over the world to collect any remaining knowledge about the nomads. You can imagine how important this is for him.” There’s so much more to be said about it all: about its importance, about the effort, about the mixture of light and sorrow in Aang’s eyes when he recounts stories and legends and memories, the last remains of a once flourishing culture, but Katara stops there, for now. Suki understands anyway, she thinks.
“That’s fantastic,” Suki says. “Good luck to both of you.”
“What about me?” Toph says.
“What about you?”
“ I’ll be tagging along. Twinkletoes’ earth bending was coming along pretty good last I saw him, but he doesn’t have the precision it takes to deal with tiny details. And this is gonna be dealing with art. Delicate stuff. You need a real expert for that.”
“Because clearly, the Avatar isn’t enough,” Suki says, eyebrows raised, and Toph leans back with a grin that somehow manages to be haughty.
“Avatar, shmavatar. I’m Toph Bei Fong.”
Suki flicks some rice at her, and right then Katara’s heart swells.
”I wish the boys could have joined us. It’s been so long since we were all together,” she says. “One day I’d like for all of us to settle down somewhere. To be a family again.”
Toph shifts a little.
“We are a family.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah, well. No time to play house yet. People need us.”
There’s something tense in her posture and were it just the two of them, Katara might have pressed on. But as it is, with Ty Lee there and with the good times they’re having, all of them comfortable, happy, she’d rather save it for later. Maybe Suki has picked up on something, too, because she changes the subject.
“What else do you want to do? Do you have any plans of your own?”
“I want to establish a proper bending school for girls in the Northern tribe, help rebuild my home, and- I want to go on a search for other Southern water benders.”
It’s a small chance, but it still exists. If Hama escaped, someone else could have, too. Not by help of blood bending, but there could be other ways. Katara can’t help dreaming about it, about finding someone to teach her Southern style uncorrupted, to tell her secrets thought lost many years ago. She yearns for it, to restore the broken chains and pass the knowledge on to her own students. If there is someone out there, she will find them.
Now, as before, she has hope.
She’s trying hard not to feel out of place. It isn’t easy. There isn’t much room for Ty Lee in the conversation, and she ends up listening more than she talks. At first, when Katara raised her voice at Toph, she thought another argument was about to emerge, but she’s starting to understand that this is just how they are. This is how they’re friends, these girls. They agree and disagree. They get mad or they leave it be. They don’t have to be perfectly aligned, a fight isn’t devastating. No one is scared of anyone else. Friendship can be like this. Equal ground and compromises. It makes her happy and jealous and sad all at once.
When there’s a pause in the other’s talking, Ty Lee lowers her chopsticks.
“This is delicious.”
“Thanks,” Katara says. “Have some more if you want.” She’s smiling, a real smile. Ty Lee is already full, but she hands Katara her bowl, regardless. She will eat until she explodes if that’s what it takes.
“I’m the worst at cooking. This is real impressive, like science or something. That how it feels to me,” Ty Lee says. Katara shrugs, not unkindly.
“It isn’t hard if you know what you’re doing.”
“She’s being all modest and stuff, but actually, she loves people sucking up to her,” Toph drawls. “So go on, lay it thicker.”
Katara swats at her. “Don’t be rude!”
But they’re all laughing now, and Ty Lee feels her stomach sink. Then Katara refills her cup and Suki nudges her in the side and she realizes that she assumed wrong. They aren’t laughing at her. They’re laughing with her. She takes a sip of her tea, feels it warm her.
Friendship can be like this. Ty Lee is learning.
The rustle of wind in the dry grass is a brittle sound. The cajoling of the trees soft and sweeping, like velvet curtains.
Toph draws in the air in deep gulps. There’s something about the smell of forest and sea mixing together that is irresistible. She turns her face to the sun and feels its rays on her nose. Despite Katara’s protests, she left her leg wrappings behind, contending with the cloak. The weather is yet a little warmer now, past noon, and if she only keeps up the pace, she won’t freeze.
Suki is right behind her, her steps matching Toph’s own. Neither of them is talking. It’s good to be together in silence like this, so comfortable in each other’s presence that there’s no need to fill their shared space with pointless babble. She’s glad Suki proposed they go for a walk after lunch.
Leading the way, Toph takes them further into the woods. She decided to leave the path almost an hour ago to explore untrampled ground and enjoy the tickle of cushiony moss under her soles.
She feels the clearing through the earth. The treeroots pierce the ground everywhere, sprawling deep and wide, but there is a spot where their web is thinner. Toph leads them there and as they step out from the thicker vegetation, she hears Suki gasp. So it must be beautiful, then.
It feels good, anyhow. Peaceful, secluded, shielded from the wind but not chilled by any shadow. In the middle are some rocks, flat with rounded edges. She lies down there, pulling the cloak over her like a blanket. Suki sits down beside her.
With the sun on her face and Suki’s heartbeats pulsing through the stone, Toph drifts off to sleep.
Visitors disrupt the familiar rhythm of the island. In a place where so little happens, any arrival is a cause of celebration and excitement, affecting the whole community. Ty Lee enjoys the change in the routine – and her afternoon off. After Toph and Suki leave, she helps Katara with the meal cleanup. They don’t talk, but Ty Lee would like to think the silence is friendly. She’s sending lots and lots of friendship rays in Katara’s direction. Hopefully some of them will break through her cloudy sky.
Once they’re done she stays inside for a bit, close to the fire, basking in the warmth. She could go and find Hotaru and Mari, see what they’re doing, but she decides not to. She’s warm and full of good food and her stomach is content. Moving feels like a hassle.
Katara went into the adjoining room to see to her luggage a few minutes ago; when she returns she sits down beside Ty Lee. She has her eyes fixed on the flickering flames before her when she says:
“I want to trust you.”
Ty Lee beams in response.
“That’s so great! I want to be friends. I get a good feeling from you.”
“Did you get that when you used to chase us, too? What kind of feelings did you get from the people in Ba Sing Se when you invaded their city?”
It is as though a cold hand reached in and squeezed her lungs. The air is torn out of her. First she’s speechless, the shift is so sudden. Then she’s angry.
“Don’t say that,” she says. There’s a force behind her words that almost surprises her. “I’ve changed! I know what we did was wrong! I’m trying to be better. Why are you so mean to me? You can be friends with Zuko and Mai. Why am I different?”
Katara still isn’t looking at her, still watching the fire. The sound of it is low yet it fills the space between them, seems to grow louder and louder.
“You’re not,” Katara says at last. She stands up, suddenly, reaching into her robe and pulling out a letter, handing it over. “Mai sent this.”
She leaves then, not another word, not a look back. Ty Lee is left with everything else she wanted to say stuck in her throat, a hard clump pressing against her vocal chords. It hurts, her lips are trembling. But she refuses to cry.
“It’s when Katara starts talking like that,” Toph says. They’re going back the way they came, her and Suki. Through the forest, down the hill, along the path. “Like we’re all gonna sit down and play house starting tomorrow. Makes me feel all trapped.”
Suki is opening and closing her fans. The sound is short, sharp, metallic. “So you’d never even consider it?”
“No. You guys are my family, but it’s like…” She has to search a little for the words. She doesn’t have heart-to-hearts that often. “Not yet. Later. Right now, I want to travel the world. I want to be free.”
“I can’t blame you.”
“What, getting fed up with your life here?”
“Not at all. I’m pretty fond of my obligations,” Suki says with a small laugh. “I’m just not sure if it’s right to stay here when there’s so much to be done in the world. After the war I was desperate to go home, but now…?”
“Hey, what about Sokka?” Toph says. “You gotta miss him lots.”
“I do,” Suki says. She nudges Toph’s cheek with a finger. “At least as much as you.”
Toph grins and punches Suki in the arm, putting enough power in the jab that she’ll wince and stumble, but not so much that she’ll fall. Her old crush on Sokka is long gone, and nowadays it’s a private joke between her and Suki. Once, in the beginning, she considered being jealous of the girl, but she quickly discarded the thought. It seems so unnecessary, and besides: if she were Sokka, she would have wanted to date someone like Suki, too.
“We’ll find a compromise eventually, I think.” Suki adds “I am still hoping he’ll want to live here.”
“You know, I thought that when the war was over, that would be it. We would have done our part. I’m realizing our part has only just begun.”
“Tell me about it.”
In afternoon, they have a sparring session. Katara snatches Suki away as soon as she comes back from her walk with Toph. She’s eager to get some real practice done after all those weeks at sea.
Suki is a good match. She’s fast, flexible, knows her own strengths and weaknesses fully. Her technique is flawless and comes as naturally to her as breathing at this point. The perks of having trained since early childhood. Katara knows not to underestimate an opponent without bending abilities, but even so she’s taken aback somewhat by just how skilled a warrior Suki is. It’s been a while since they’ve faced each other.
With her water, Katara has the upper hand for a while. Suki needs to come in close if she wants to win, and Katara can hold her off easily enough, her longer range working in her favor. But only defending herself won’t do if she wants to win, and when Suki has an unguarded moment, Katara lashes out, aiming to pin her friend in place. But Suki ducks, darts up again and with a quick lunge forward she’s inside Katara’s defense. Surprisingly, she doesn’t strike, instead says:
“You shouldn’t be so hard on Ty Lee.”
Katara freezes, lets her water hang in the air.
Folding her fans, Suki backs off. The sparring session is over, but Katara feels as though it’s still going strong.
“You’re still blaming her. It isn’t hard to tell,” Suki says. Her voice is soft. Her face is, too. This isn’t a confrontation, merely an attempt at dialogue, and Katara relaxes, bending the water into her pouch.
“It’s not like that.”
“Then how is it?” “I hope you’ll take this the right way, I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but putting all that guilt on her isn’t fair. At some point, we all have to move on. Not forget, but forgive. We can’t keep blaming an entire people.”
“I’m scared that all that will do is set fire to wounded feelings and lead to more violence in the future.”
Bending the water back into her pouch, Katara wins herself some time. She’s so close to bristling, to erupting and let out everything that seethes inside her without control.
“I’ll tell you what scares me. I’m scared that this war will be forgotten. I’m scared that all this suffering is going to fade and become something that only exists in history records. Then everything will repeat itself again because no one remembers how easy it is for a country, for anyone, to become a monster.”
Suki gets a little closer, brushes her fingers against Katara’s arm.
“I know how you feel, but-”
“No,” Katara says, pulling away. “No, you don’t!”
“You know nothing. This island stayed out of the war, you have no idea what it’s been like!”
Suki’s eyes flare, briefly. It’s unusual to see her show real anger like this. Her voice is high, hurt.
“How can you say that? I left here to fight! I’ve seen what it did to people, how much destruction it brought.”
“You saw it, but I lived it. I lost my own mother, we all lost-“ She needs to calm down, to explain properly, make Suki understand. She hates having to. This demands fury, this is worthy of nothing less than rage, but for a close friend, yes. She can try. “The statue of Kyoshi has stood in the same place for of hundreds of years. Your fighting style was passed down to you in an unbroken chain. But in my tribe? Water bending is the art of my people, and I didn’t know I could use it to heal.” Grasping Suki’s hands, she feels tears sting in her eyes. How do you explain how it feels to be robbed of not only of your blood, but that of your ancestors as well? “Suki, I didn’t know!”
Katara holds Suki’s hands, looks her steady in the eyes.
“The Fire Nation should carry that guilt. It’s their plight,” she says, and though Suki doesn’t nod, she doesn’t shake her head either.
“I’m not sure I agree.”
“You don’t have to. I don’t hate Ty Lee. Just like I don’t hate Zuko or Mai. I can forgive. I’m not incapable of it. It takes time, though. A person has to prove themselves, and it doesn’t matter if that makes sense to you or not, because that’s how it is.”
“It does make sense,” Suki says, putting her other and over Katara’s. “And I’m sorry.”
Holding Suki’s hands in hers, Katara feels her pulse go down. It’s a strain to talk about it. Few of her friends agree with her here, and that’s fine, she can understand them even if she can’t live their way. She only wishes she didn’t have to argue for her own way, every time.
“Have I been completely unbearable?”
“You could never be,” Suki says. She looks to the sky, measures the height of the sun. “We better hurry and clean up before the feast.”
“You’re throwing us…? You didn’t have to!”
“Did you really think we would give up an opportunity to party?”
The big hall is alive, one big creature, pulsing with life and bursting with laughter. The night is young and Toph is pleasurably tipsy, feeling generally awesome. She loves parties and their smell of sweat and happiness.
Distinguishing separate voices gets harder in loud crowds, and vibrations are fainter when channeled through wooden floors instead of stone. Escaping Koko’s adoring admiration for a while, she gives listening everything she’s got.
When she finds Katara’s voice, it’s deep in conversation. Toph catches sentences like “…considered sending Kyoshi warriors to create female troops in Ba Sing Se…” before diving in and pulling Katara away.
“Skip the politics,” she says, drowning her friend’s protests. “One night, Katara. Do it for me.”
Her complaining was half-hearted to start with, and by the smallest opposition, they break down.
“All right then.” Katara says. The she sniffs. “You have been drinking.”
“Yeah. Why haven’t you?”
Finding Katara something to drink is easy. The hospitality is running high in this place and soon enough they’re sitting becide the improvised dance floor with a cup in their hands – Katara’s first and Toph’s fourth. Katara sighs and leans back.
“I feel bad. We’ve barely talked all day.”
“Except for that fight,” Toph says, and Katara groans.
“Don’t remind me. Now I feel worse.”
Their cups are empty; maybe that’s part of why Katara comes to rest fully against Toph, and why it feels so easy for Toph to wrap her arms around her, hug tight and bury her murmurs in the folds of Katara’s dress.
“I’ve missed you.”
She is warm, happy, held close.
“I’ve missed you, too.”
This, right here, is home.
For some reason the floor refuses to stop moving even when she’s standing perfectly still herself. Ty Lee leans against the wall, hopping it will stop the world from spinning, but the wall is unwilling to cooperate, spinning in a whole other direction. It’s a cunning plot to throw her down, but Ty Lee isn’t an acrobat for nothing. In a marvelous feat of muscle control she stays upright.
Having some more to drink will raise her spirits and make her even better suited for this battle of balance. Yes. This is an excellent plan.
Navigating through the crowded room is no easy feat. So many people everywhere and most of them refuse to behave the way they should. They’re blurred around the edges or swaying back and forth in her field of vision, auras spreading and merging and fluttering in a way that’s decidedly not aura-like. She keeps bumping into people and at one point someone spills the contents of their cup on her tunic, leaving a large stain – or maybe she spilled that on herself earlier. Who could possibly remember?
Halfway across she has to sidestep to avoid walking straight into a girl with long braids who seemingly appears out of nowhere, and in doing so trips over her own feet (or possibly that treacherous floor). She’s about to take a tumble, already bracing herself for the fall, but strong arms catch her, keep her standing.
Ty Lee has never been so happy to see anyone before in her life. At least she doesn’t think so. If there has been a point in her life where she felt this level of joy at seeing the face of a friend, she can’t recall. She throws her arms around Suki’s neck, clings to her. She isn’t quite sure in which direction she should be searching to find the floor and her foothold again, but it’s all right. Suki can support her for now.
“I love you,” she says against Suki’s neck and feels the soft vibrations in her lips when Suki chuckles and replies.
“I love you,too. Even when you’re this drunk. ”
Ty Lee shakes her head. Suki is missing the point entirely.
“Suki, you’re so pretty. I love you best, d’you know that?
“What about Mari and Hotaru?”
“Oh! I love them, too. So much! But, Suki, I have to tell you.” Ty Lee raises her head, makes an honest effort to focus her gaze on Suki’s eyes. “I love you.”
Somehow, they’re sitting down now. On a bench in a quiet corner, the liquor supplies only a couple of meters away. Suki is a genius and a mind reader. Ty Lee heaves a contended sigh, and feels the smoothness of paper against her chest.
“And I love Mai,” she says, reminded of her oldest friend in a sudden rush of emotions. She digs around under her dress, finds the letter. “She wrote to me.”
Suki puts an arm around Ty Lee’s shoulders. “That’s great. What did she say?”
Suddenly, there are tears running down her cheeks. The abrupt turn surprises her, catches her off guard. Ty Lee blinks her eyes clear but they’re flooded again within an instant. The room isn’t spinning as much anymore. It’s not an improvement.
Suki leans in closer and says, “What’s wrong?”
“I just,” Ty Lee says. “Sometimes I think I should go back.”
After the first sob, she can’t hold back. She’s crying now, face hot, throat aching, gasping for air while her body wrenches the sadness out of her.
“I’m real homesick sometimes, and I miss Mai and I miss her too and then I feel guilty, because I shouldn’t, right? And I feel bad because I’m happy here, I am, it’s just sometimes. And I know some people think I’m bad and I know I used to be, but I’m not, not anymore. I’m trying not to, but I don’t know if it goes away ever and I don’t know if it’s better to go back but I don’t want to leave but I do.”
It’s pouring from her in a long stream of words, threatening to soak all in its way. She hangs on to Suki like a drowning woman.
“And,” she sobs. “I’m sick of eating fish all the time!”
Suki holds her tight, stroking her hair, waiting for the crying to subside. It takes a while, but eventually Ty Lee becomes quiet. Her body is limp, exhausted.
“What should I do,” she whispers, and Suki takes a moment to think.
“I don’t know,” she finally says. “That has to be your decision. You should know, though, that none of us think you’re bad. I won’t make excuses for what you’ve done in the past, but when you had a chance to change, you took it. That’s worth something to me. To all of us. Whether you return to the Fire Nation one day or not. It isn’t where you’re from or where you are that matters. It’s who you are. Who you choose to be.”
“Besides,” Suki adds. “You can leave and then come back. It doesn’t have to be forever.”
The lump inside her shrinks a little. Not much, but enough to make it easier to breathe. She doesn’t know what to do, not yet. Maybe she never will. Maybe that’s okay. Ty Lee nods, licks her damp lips, and then makes a grimace.
“There’s snot in my mouth,” she says. “And on your dress.”
“It’s all right.”
Gingerly, Ty Lee sits up straighter. All this crying has made her thirsty. She reaches for a pitcher, but Suki is quicker, catching Ty Lee’s arm and resolutely returning it to her side.
“No more of that for you.”
Everything is still and dark when Suki wakes up. The party is long since over, everyone has gone home to sleep or continue celebrating depending on disposition. The four of them – herself, Katara, Toph and Ty Lee – are the only ones staying the night at the main hall, bedrolls laid out wherever they fancy.
There is someone moving out by the porch. Suki pulls away her covers and goes to investigate.
She finds Katara by the doorway.
“What are you doing up?” she says. Katara turns to her, eyes glittering with joy, and pulls the door open a little more, holding her lantern up for Suki to see. Outside, the night isn’t as black as it should be. It is moving.
“It’s snowing,” Katara says.
She’s right. A white rain of soft, downy snowflakes is rapidly painting the ground in new colors. They exchange a glance of mutual understanding. Then they get to work.
They make tea, dress up some leftovers, fills pans with glowing hot coal. They spread Suki’s blankets and Katara’s pelts out on the porch, drag their futons out to sit on, build a little nest of softness close to the wall, open out to the yard. From there, from their cocoon of light and warmth, they can watch the snow without freezing.
They have only just sat down when a shadow stretches across the floorboards, Toph following in it’s wake.
“Thought I heard something.”
“Did we wake you up?” Suki asks.
“Yeah.” Toph nudges the edge of the futons with her foot. “What’s this? A lovenest?”
Katara rolls her eyes fondly.
“We’re snow watching,” she says. “You’re welcome to join us.”
“Cause that makes sense,” Toph says, folding her arms. Suki chuckles, tugs at the hem of Top’s nightrobe.
“You’re welcome to give us company, is what we mean.”
“I can do that,” Toph says, and with that she burrows down under the blankets.
“You okay down there?” Katara asks, amused, and Toph’s hand sticks out in a thumbs-up.
When Ty Lee appears in the doorway, peering out and rubbing her hands together, Suki finds she has expected it. Looked forward to it.
“It’s freezing!” Ty Lee says, shuddering.
Suki scoots over a foot or so, making space in the middle.
“Come sit, if you like.”
Her eyes flick toward Katara, and for a second her question hangs in the air. Then Katara smiles.
“Sure. Jump in.” Ty Lee more twirls than sits down, a flurry of , folding herself up like a fan. She’s still shivering a little, even sandwiched between them. Katara picks up a cup. “Have some tea, it’ll warm you up.”
The snow is falling heavier now. If she listens closely, Suki can hear the delicate rustle when it hits the ground. It won’t be long until the island is transformed, blinding white and shimmering, sounds muffled. She breathes in deep, lets the cold, fresh air fill her lungs. Toph’s back is sturdy against her feet, heaving steadily to the rhythm of sleep. Ty Lee is soft against her side, Katara’s voice sings old, silky melodies that carry out into the billowing darkness.
They stay on the porch until daybreak while winter settles silently around them.