I Will Find You
[Disclaimer: Nickelodeon (and all others) own “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” YogurthFrost (yogurthfrost.deviantart.com) owns the art piece and idea this story is based on. I own whatever I write/create. Don’t steal and don’t sue.]
There were few that did not feel the repercussions of the Hundred Years’ War’s final battle. Climactic on a grand scale, the Avatar had confronted Fire Lord Ozai mere hours before the prophesized arrival of Sozin’s Comet, storming the castle with his allies during the waning hours of the night. With each passing moment, the comet’s growing influence had reversed the dampening effects of the moon on the Fire Lord’s strength. Aang faced the man who had come close to conquering the entire world alone, his friends fending off Princess Azula and legions of Fire Nation soldiers.
None of the combatants outside of the Fire Lord’s inner sanctum expected the explosion that occurred, nor the shockwave that followed. The walls of the palace cracked, debris filling entire hallways. In the brief moment of complete confusion, Sokka had taken the opportunity to club Azula over the head, muttering about benders and good, honest strength. Katara had ignored her brother and rushed toward the other room, Toph moving aside what rubble had gathered in front of the doorway. What lay inside the room signaled the end of the war: the burned, broken bodies of both Fire Lord Ozai and the Avatar, Aang.
The end of the Hundred Years’ War had an affect on every man, woman, and child of the four nations. Iroh, with his brother’s death, assumed control of the Fire Nation and immediately ordered the navy to lay down its arms and surrender up all conquered territory. It was not uncommon to later hear stories of soldiers killed for not complying with the order, the oppressed people of the Earth Kingdom finally willing to rise up and fight. The Water Tribes of the North and South Poles rejoiced, knowing that the men who had survived the last few years would be able to return home. Others wept for fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons who had been buried on foreign shores.
For crimes against the four nations, Azula was imprisoned with no possibility of release. Before any judgment could be passed upon him, Prince Zuko abdicated the throne, only asking to be forgiven and to be allowed to return to the Fire Nation as a citizen. The request was granted, the young man having undermined Azula’s plans since joining with her in Ba Sing Se and turning against her in the last battle.
There was little that could be done for the three young people who stood weeping in the inner sanctum of the palace that night, and so the interim Fire Lord left them alone. Katara cradled Aang’s body in her arms as if she were his mother, sobbing over his death and the fact that she did not know what had happened. Toph and Sokka stood at her side, tears welling over in their eyes though they barely made a sound. It was not until the sun rose, the comet streaking overhead in a slow arc across the sky, that Katara opened her eyes and gently laid Aang’s body back onto the floor.
Aang received a quiet burial, his body taken to the Southern Air Temple. King Bumi, fresh from battle in the heart of the Fire Nation, joined Toph, Iroh, Katara, and Sokka in their grieving, helping to coax Appa into the air and to fly the temple. The bison gave great moans as Bumi and Toph opened a space in the ground and the body lowered gently into it. A final groan, mirrored by Momo, marked the closing of the grave. For close to an hour, none spoke. They simply stood in the silence of the demolished temple grounds, paying their respects to the end of the Air Nomads.
It took a far greater effort to persuade the flying bison to leave the mountainous island, Katara eventually pleading with tears in her eyes for Appa to take them back to the palace. He acquiesced, but it was understood without explanation that after this last journey, Appa would carry no more human riders. He departed immediately after Sokka slid from his back, Momo curled on his head.
Some debris in the palace continued to burn, even a day after the battle had ended. The three young people stood close to a fire, hoping to glean from it some warmth to drive away the cold weight on their shoulders. Katara pressed a hand over her mouth, tears still flowing from her eyes.
“Toph,” she whispered, voice rasping. “Come here.” Toph shuffled slowly to where Katara stood, head tilted as though she were staring at the ground. Katara lifted Toph’s chin with her hand, brushing aside the locks of black hair that still hung in her face.
“Can I have your headband?” Katara asked. Toph nodded, pulling the gold and green strap of cloth from its place on her head. Her hair fell out of its loosely constructed bun without the headband, but she held it out to Katara without a word. Katara took it, letting her fingers stroke the soft cloth and the two balls of white puff. She took careful hold of the headband, reaching up to the choker around her neck.
“Hold out your hands,” she murmured, undoing the tiny clasp that held the black cloth together. She placed the choker in Toph’s small, outstretched hands and closed them around it, squeezing Toph’s hands for a brief moment.
“Why are you giving me this?” Toph asked, sniffing and frowning when she felt the stone in her palm.
“Because I want you to remember me,” Katara replied.
“I’m not going to just forget you, Katara,” Toph protested. “I mean, you’re not going somewhere.” She paused, eyes growing wide at the shudder she felt through Katara’s hands. “You’re not.”
“I can’t do this anymore, Toph,” Katara murmured. “I’m so tired of the war.”
“But it’s over!” Toph cried, wishing she could take hold of Katara’s hands. “We don’t have to fight anymore!” She bit her lip when she felt the sway of Katara’s body, able to see the dim outline of the young woman’s head shaking.
“I need to leave,” she said in return. “I can’t see any more people I love die.”
“But it’s over!” Toph repeated, voice cracking as new tears followed the wet streaks on her face. “Katara, don’t go! I don’t want you to go!” Katara let go of Toph’s hands, taking gentle hold of one of Toph’s wrists before the girl could speak. She brought Toph’s hand to her face, showing her the faint smile that she had managed.
“You said you wouldn’t forget me,” Katara said gently. “And I’ll remember you with this.” She brushed the headband against Toph’s hand, smile fading as Toph sniffed, head tilting forward again. Katara lifted Toph’s chin again, pressing her lips against Toph’s in a soft kiss. She pulled back, smiling once more at the wide-eyed, tear-streaked face she found turned toward her.
“And we’ll remember each other with that,” she said. “But please, Toph—I can’t stay here anymore. Understand?” Toph swallowed hard and nodded, squeezing Katara’s hands once before letting go. Katara, headband gripped tightly in one hand, turned to her brother.
“Let’s go home, Sokka,” she whispered. The young man nodded, rubbing away the tears on his face. He strode to Toph, giving her a quick, tight hug that she returned before moving to his sister’s side and escorting her away. Toph split her focus between the necklace in her hand and the two that strode away, gritting her teeth as she sniffed once more. She lifted the choker to her neck, closing the clasp and feeling the weight of the stone hanging from the cloth.
“I’ll find you again, Katara,” she said aloud. “I will find you.”
The months and years that followed the end of the war were no less filled with troubles and conflicts than the years that preceded it. Though Iroh had issued the order to fall back, many soldiers continued to claim that it was their right to rule over the territories they had worked so hard to conquer. It took concentrated efforts from Earth Kingdom citizens and soldiers to drive back the rebels of the Fire Nation. Despite Iroh’s benevolent rule, pockets of insurrection remained and dotted the lands of the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom.
Assassination attempts were made on powerful leaders of all the nations. None succeeded, and prominent figures increased the security measures around themselves with each failed attempt. King Bumi, impressed by Toph’s strength, attitude, and complete disregard for her noble bloodline, groomed the girl to become his successor. She took to the idea half-heartedly, only able to stand listening to affairs of the kingdom with Bumi’s snorting sense of humor to entertain her.
When Bumi’s death, brought by his old age, occurred six years after the war’s end, Toph was petitioned to take the throne. It took a gentle request from Fire Lord Iroh to convince the young woman to assume the responsibility, and even then it was more out of respect to the two men than to her own desires. She grew into her place as ruler of Omashu over four years time, the citizens coming to care for her as much as they had cared for Bumi.
As the years went by, however, the young woman could be seen touching the stone on her necklace more and more often. After an assassin had taken advantage of her distractedness and carved a deep line in her right arm, thrown up over her chest moments before the knife had reached her, Toph’s council of advisors insisted that she begin paying attention once more. To quiet their pleas, Toph began wearing light, near decorative armor on her shoulders and chest, and encasing her arms in stone gauntlets, first to protect the bandaged wound, and then simply out of habit.
Her mind continued to wander, hands finding their way to the necklace time and time again. Her focus often turned toward the south, and wondered if the North and South poles had any earth in their lands. When her thoughts came to the poles and the Water Tribes, the woman could only frown. It was unknown if Aang had died while in the Avatar state, but with the lack of news from either pole regarding a possible new Avatar, most people sighed and said that the cycle had finally been broken.
Intermittent fighting continued to break out, often spurred by Fire Nation insurgents. Soon, the people of the Earth Kingdom found themselves fighting with their neighbors and fellows over small insults and petty arguments. The individual rulers did what was possible to keep the in-fighting to a low level, but could not deny, when asked directly by their people, that no peace had truly come with the end of the war.
Toph asked for news from the south, often standing on the coast line in her free time and listening to the waves. She would pace back and forth, tracing the lines carved in the stone pendant with her fingers. Dwelling heavily on the constant, small battles that peppered the land, Toph finally ordered for a ship to be made, bearing the markings of the Earth Kingdom and Omashu. She left the city in the care of her advisors, taking only a hand chosen crew, and set out on an expedition to the South Pole.
“Well—it’s all ice. Very slippery ice and snow. You wouldn’t be able to see anything.” Toph stood at the bow of the ship, tapping one foot to watch the recently returned scout brush snow from her clothes.
“Any sign of the Water Tribe?” Toph asked.
“Not yet, your earthbending highness,” the woman replied, flicking at pieces of snow that had clumped on her dark green shirt. She sighed, and Toph knew that there was a smile beneath the woman’s half-closed eyes. “The first new clothes I’ve had in years, and I keep falling down in the snow.”
“I could always send someone else out,” Toph replied, brows lowered despite her smile.
“I don’t think anyone would be very eager to go looking for your waterbender and her tribe for hours on end,” the woman said with a chuckle. “I’m not good on the snow, but I don’t get cold very much.”
“Remind me why I brought you and Hova along, Kailas?” Toph said, resting the knuckles of one hand against her chin. The woman plucked the last clump of snow from her shoulder, holding it in her palm and feeling it melt away.
“Because you were going to get bored without your rescued-from-the-streets musicians performing for you?” she asked. “Twists of fate? I don’t really know, your earthbending highness.” Toph rolled her eyes, reaching up to touch the necklace. Kailas made no comment, moving to stand beside Toph and watching the glacial coasts that the ship slowly passed alongside. Reaching the South Pole had taken only a week, but the careful search of the country had gone on for just as long.
Each day, Toph sent Kailas out to trek inland to look for the Water Tribe. Each day, the dark-haired woman returned with no news, only stories of her remarkably numerous falls on the ice and snow. Toph listened with half an ear and half a smile as the crew guffawed, both at the stories and at the way Hova shook her head and helped Kailas to dry off from the melted snow. As Toph paced the length of the deck during the hours Kailas searched, footsteps giving her a clear view of every inch of the metal ship, she was wont to scowl. The water that surrounded the ship cut off the world she could feel, her sight already dimmed by the low amount of raw earth in the ship.
“Your waterbender probably won’t like all that frowning, you know,” Kailas remarked, rubbing her hands against the wet spots on her shirt.
“She’s not ‘mine,’” Toph replied.
“Then why are we out here again? You’re probably not any warmer than anyone else is, barefoot like that.” Toph reached up and flicked Kailas’ temple, raising a brow at the quiet laugh that followed.
“Because I said that I would find Katara again,” Toph said. “I want to make sure she’s all right.” Kailas made no response, and Toph saw her turn slowly toward the coast.
“Did your waterbender ever talk about the Water Tribe’s village?” the woman asked, shielding her eyes against the glare of the sun, hanging low in the sky.
“She said it was small,” Toph replied. She blinked, turning about though she could not see beyond the ship. “Why? Do you see something?”
“It’s not the North Pole, but I’m wondering how I missed it when I was out earlier,” Kailas replied. With the return of the men that had gone away to war, the Southern Water Tribe was able to rebuild and repopulate their village, the boundaries of their small territory expanding outward once more. At the sight of the village, the crew halted the ship, hurrying onto the deck to hear Toph’s orders.
“Kailas, I need you to go and find Katara,” the woman said, thumb pressed firmly against the stone pendant. Kailas’ smile twitched to a smirk, and she stopped rubbing at the still-damp patches of her clothes. A gangplank was called for, Kailas striding down its length with little trouble. When she stepped onto the snow the plank rested on, her leg sank into the powdery drift and she pitched forward, vanishing for a moment in the white landscape. The crew roared with laughter, and even Hova, standing at Toph’s side, could not hold back a giggle Kailas eventually freed herself from the snow, finding a safe path to tread.
The crew watched Kailas walk down the slope leading to the village, snickering when her boots slipped against patches of ice. As she drew closer to the village’s walls, two children riding on the backs of penguins abruptly slid down the hills bordering the footpath, rushing by Kailas close enough to knock her feet out from under her. She landed on her back and began to slide down the sloping path, turning as she went. A snowdrift within the village stopped her, though her head and shoulders buried themselves with the impact. Toph found it best not to ask what had happened when the crew began to laugh harder than they had done in months.
Kailas struggled with the snow, pushing at the drift with no avail. A hand took hold of hers and pulled her free. A man, gnawing on fish bones and with only part of his long brown hair back in a ponytail, knelt before her, chuckling as she sat up. He wore a thick coat, dyed a light blue with white fur lining the hood, neck, and sleeves, eyeing her simple dark green shirt and pants with a raised brow.
“And you are?” he asked. Kailas hummed and flicked at the snow on her clothes, still smiling.
“The least dignified messenger Omashu has ever had,” she replied. The man started, his blue eyes widening.
“You’re from Omashu?” he asked.
“And that ship floating over there with its queen,” Kailas said, gesturing toward the ship. “She’s looking for a waterbender. Are there any waterbenders named Katara here?” The man turned toward the ship, jaw slackening enough for the fish bones to slip from his mouth.
“Your queen isn’t named ‘Toph,’ is she?” he asked slowly, and his astonishment remained great enough not to wonder how Kailas could raise one brow while her eyes remained half-closed.
“Yes,” she said in return. “Is there a waterbender here or not?” The man sighed and looked at the ground, crossing his thickly muscled arms over a similarly built chest. After a moment, he looked up, turning toward the largest igloo in the village and jerking his head toward it.
“My sister is teaching her waterbending students,” he said. “I’ll take you to her.” He started away, Kailas following him and slipping every few feet on more patches of exposed ice.
The igloo housed a single large room, roughly circular in shape. Urns filled with water were spread evenly throughout the room, groups of three or four, children and teenagers alike, gathered around an urn. The man went immediately to the woman at the far side of the room, who stood speaking to one young girl with a smile on her face. At the man’s approach, she looked up, the smile fading to a simple look of concern. Kailas watched the students pass large spheres to one another, rubbing at the newly dampened places in her clothes while listening to the young men and women laugh as they played more than practiced their forms. As the man and the woman hurried back across the room, she turned her attention to them, but continued to rub at her clothes.
“You’re Toph’s messenger?” the woman asked. Kailas looked at the woman for a moment without speaking. Her hair was the same dark brown as the man’s, their eyes the same shade of blue. Like the man, she wore clothes that were designed simply, but elegantly, with varying shades of pale and dark blue, and collared with thick white fur with more tassels of the fur hanging from her shoulders. She wore her hair long and loose, large tails tied to the sides to frame her face. A headband dyed the green and gold of the Earth Kingdom held back the bulk of her thick hair, two white puffs tucked gently behind her ears.
“I am,” Kailas replied. “Are you her waterbender?” The woman blinked for a moment before blushing dark red, biting her lip.
“I’m Katara,” she said, holding out a mitten-encased hand. “Is…is Toph with you?” She laughed after Kailas let go of her hand. “Or is ice still bad for her?”
“She’s waiting on her ship for you,” Kailas said in return. “Will you come with me?” Katara paused, staring for a moment. She looked away, eyes falling to the ground before rising once more and turning to the young girl at the far end of the igloo. With a gesture to wait, she went back to the girl, murmuring quietly to her and returning moments later with the girl at her side.
“She—she needs to come with me,” Katara said. “And, Sokka—do you want to come?” The man rubbed at the stubbly beard on his chin, smirking slowly.
“After ten years?” he asked. “I could always use some more sarcasm in my life.” Kailas blinked, but made no comment. She simply turned on heel, nearly losing her footing, and began to lead the trio toward the ship. The small girl took charge of keeping Kailas on her feet, taking a firm hold of the woman’s hand and squeezing tight whenever Kailas slipped. The ship’s crew laughed until tears streamed down their faces when the girl led Kailas onboard, barely acknowledging Katara and Sokka’s presence.
Toph felt the echoes of Katara’s light step in the metal beneath her feet, taking a single step forward before stopping. Katara turned toward her, walking to the other woman slowly. They stood watching each other, Katara gazing at the frown on Toph’s face and the green strip of cloth that she used as a makeshift headband and Toph sensing the vibrations that carried Katara’s afterimage to her. Katara sighed, pulling off one of her mittens and reaching to touch Toph’s cheek. Toph did the same, careful to keep her stone gauntlet from scraping against the other woman.
“The fighting hasn’t stopped,” Toph murmured.
“I can see that,” Katara said, tapping the armor with her gloved hand. Toph sighed and caressed Katara’s lower lip with her thumb. When she noticed the image of a child tromping about the deck, playfully dancing with Hova, she lifted her hand away. Katara did the same, but without the sigh that Toph gave. For a moment, the only thing Toph heard was the laughter of the crew and the girl.
“Is she yours?” Toph asked, nodding toward the girl. She grimaced at the silence that followed the question, starting at the laughter that burst forth from Katara soon after.
“Oh, Toph!” Katara said, laughing. She wrapped her arms around the woman in a hug, her continuing laughter reverberating through the armor. “No, no! She’s not! She’s…she was born just after Sokka and I got back here.” Toph blinked at the significant pause in the sentence, brow furrowing.
“What difference does that make?” she asked. “Babies are born all the time.”
“Not every baby grows up to like four special toys over everything else,” Katara replied. “The turtle doll for when she went to sleep, the string propeller after breakfast, the hog monkey doll for a nap, and the clapper drum when she woke up.” She chuckled and let out a low groan, rubbing at the bridge of her nose. “Everyone hated that clapper drum.”
“Everyone hates clapper drums,” Toph said. “Why didn’t you just take it away from her?”
“Because Aang wasn’t in the Avatar state when he fought Ozai.” It took a full minute for Toph to understand what Katara meant. Her eyes widened as she let her focus fall on the girl, jaw going slack. Katara smiled fondly at the girl, who had been lifted onto Kailas’ shoulders and was laughing as the woman jogged about the deck to the cheers of Sokka and the crew.
“At least it won’t be a hundred years this time,” Katara murmured. “Not yet…but she’s still here.”
“Come back with me,” Toph said. She wrapped her arms around Katara from behind and pulled the woman close to her. “Bring Sokka and the girl with you—I’ll put up with Sokka and I’ll train her. Just please come back with me.” Katara lifted her hands to touch Toph’s, the smile fading from her face.
“I don’t want to go back to fighting again,” she said quietly. “I couldn’t stand seeing anyone get hurt again. Not her, not Sokka, and especially not you.” Her voice dropped as she laced her free fingers with Toph’s. “And I don’t want to put her through what Aang went through. I can’t just tell her that she’s the Avatar and that she has to bring the world peace. She’s only ten.”
“You don’t have to tell her yet,” Toph replied. “Please, Katara. I want you back with me.” Katara sighed, squeezing Toph’s hand tightly.
“I can’t go back to the fighting,” she whispered. “No one comes here. No one worries about the South Pole. You’re the first to come here in ten years.”
“We won’t be the only ones,” Toph protested. “The North Pole is starting to be targeted now, along with Earth Kingdom territories. Sooner or later, someone will come here and try to take the South Pole. They’ll find out about her, and then you won’t be able to stop her from learning who she is before she can handle it. Katara—please.” She tightened her grip, pressing her cheek against the side of Katara’s hair. “I promised that I’d find you. I don’t want to have to find you again.” Katara remained silent, but she soon leaned back against Toph.
“Let me talk to Sokka and everyone else about it,” she said. “We’ll talk about it tonight.” She turned about to face Toph, kissing the woman for only a moment. “We’ll know by tomorrow.” Toph nodded, letting her arms fall away. She watched as Katara called Sokka and the girl to her, her faint smile fading when their footsteps left the ship. She turned away to face the bow of the ship, arms hanging at her side and her focus aimed at nothing.
Day turned to night, Toph feeling the sun’s warmth vanish as it set beyond the horizon. The crew built a fire on deck, listening to Hova and Kailas play music while they all ate and chatted amiably about the cold, the journey, and the quaint antics of the girl who had come on board with Toph’s guests. Toph ate without speaking, remaining on deck when all but Kailas had retired to their bunks. The two women did not speak, simply sitting together beneath the moon. Kailas played her flute, and Toph fell asleep to the music.
She woke to Hova shaking her shoulder. The crew hurried to find the gangplank and lay it down to cross to the icy ground as Toph rose to her feet. She felt the men step away from the gangplank and stand in a disorganized line, waiting to sense what was striding up the wooden boards. Three sets of footsteps made the metal beneath her feet vibrate. Sokka, Katara, and the girl stood on the ship’s deck, each of them carrying bags filled for traveling. Toph smiled, and she did not have to touch Katara’s lips to know that there was a smile there as well.