Story: Hidden Inside (chapter 1)

Authors: Nomad Skye

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Chapter 1

[Author's notes: Takes place in a theoretical after the series.]

Toph sat inside her new home, pondering why she was now sightless. When Aang had defeated the fire lord, a period of political unrest, both in the Fire Nation and the areas the Fire Nation had once ruled, began. Originally helping Aang in his quests, Toph and Aang's other close friends soon discovered that they were targets. Why? Simply for being friends with the Avatar. "Easy" targets, as compared to one who had mastered all four elements. Getting to one of them appealed to those who wanted to cripple the Avatar, who would surely be devastated at the death of one of his friends.

Toph and her girlfriend Katara had found themselves having to defend themselves around any corner, and eventually agreed to "lay low." Sokka had "lay low" in the ranks of the water tribe's army. Much to Toph's displeasure, Katara had decided that they should "lay low," as in way low, in the South Pole. "It'll be nice for me to see everyone again. I can't wait for them to meet you," Katara said.

Part of not drawing attention to themselves had been Toph putting on water tribe garb. The clothing itself she didn't mind so much, it was just... the boots. "You know I can't wear these, Katara," Toph had said, pushing the items away as Katara explained how to put them on.

"No, I know you need to wear them in the south pole," Katara had said.

"My feet are tough, how cold can it be? If I don't wear them, I won't be able to get around."

"I'll help you. So will everyone else. Don't worry about it," Katara had assured. "Besides, the ground is icy all year round. You won't be able to see much with all the snow."

Toph had only scowled at the idea of having to rely on others for help, hating it even more than not being able to see. But she'd only be there for a little while, until things cooled down. "A while" turned out to extend to several months, and now an indefinite amount of time. They were in the middle of winter, as far as Toph knew. Katara said that Aang was probably busy, and it would be difficult for him to get down in such cold. The sea was also too icy to sail, and also too dark, with the few hours of daylight they had. She was stuck there.

She remembered the first time she walked off the boat onto the frozen land. Katara had held onto Toph's arm tightly, as if she were an actual disabled person. Toph was surprised, not being able to use her earth bending skills at all here. She got a feel for the texture of the snow, shooed Katara away, then began to walk by herself, and almost immediately slipped flat on her face.

So, this wasn't a place where she could be self-sufficient. That was really because it wasn't a place where she could bend in, or even blend in. Everyone in the small community knew about her. Despite her and Katara's silly story of Toph being a water tribe girl from the north pole, she stuck out. She didn't look like the rest of them, she also didn't act like the rest of them. With every new person Katara had cheerfully introduced her to, Toph only felt further and further ostracized, feeling them scrutinizing her.

Katara herself never really treated Toph any different. She always treated Toph as competent, always expecting the same of the blind girl as she would of anyone else. But, Toph hated to admit, she was at a disadvantage here. She failed, even doing simple chores. Rather than be humiliated, she took to making excuses, hiding in her and Katara's small shelter. She hated being cramped up there, but she hated even more having to call someone to help her around, even if that someone was Katara.

So one day Toph decided to head out on her own. She had memorized the area nearby. She just wanted to have a walk around, and get some fresh air, even if it was freezing cold. She had dressed tightly in the warm clothing Katara insisted on, and kept insisting on even more when Toph had blown it off. Fine Katara, I'm safe, Toph thought. She followed one of her mental landmarks to another. She heard children giggling nearby. The giggling came closer. Toph turned around to the source. "All right, are you looking at me?" Toph asked.

"You can't see," a young voice said. Toph couldn't tell if it was a boy or girl.

"That's right," Toph said, having not much else to say to a kid.

"You're a great bender, right?" another child asked.

"That's right, we heard everyone talk about it." The voice continued after that. Toph was surprised at just how many there were.

"We aren't supposed to say anything."

"Can you show us some waterbending?"

"I'm NOT a waterbender. I'm an earthbender, so I obviously can't," Toph explained. The children were then silent. She could almost feel their disappointment. She sure wished she could show off a little.

"Well, why not?" someone spoke up.

"Because there's no earth here, just ice." Toph said.

"That's not true! Underneath all this snow, there's earth, just like anywhere else."

"Really," Toph said happily. "Why don't you show me it then. If you do, then I'll give you a show," she bargained. The children now chattered among themselves, excited. "So are you going to do it or not?"

"Yes!" the children instantly agreed. Then brought her to a secluded area, bringing digging materials. Toph heard them enthusiastically working on digging through the snow. "We're almost there!" they eventually said.

"Move aside," Toph ordered. "Are you all back pretty far?" she yelled.

Toph heard more feet crunching through the snow before they shouted back, "Yeah!"

"Good," Toph said. She climbed down into the hole. She could feel the earth beneath the ice. She climbed back out, concentrated, and then moved the earth up, shaving off the top, and the final layers of ice with it. She then stepped on the now pure piece of earth. She heard the children clapping and cheering. "You haven't seen anything yet," Toph said. "I have to get more comfortable first," she said, then took off her restrictive boots.

Putting the feet on the ground, Toph felt the frozen Earth. It might be more difficult to work with, and it had been a while, so she'd have to stick with simple stuff first. Not that it would take much to impress these kids. From what she'd heard from Katara, they didn't exactly nurture their benders. Toph waited, listened, with her feet pressed to the ground. She saw, and was amazed. She'd never seen a place like this, it was beautiful to her. A lot of empty spaces, but they must not be exactly empty, probably cracks from cracks from the ice. They continued around everywhere, a beautiful sight for her feet. She only wished she could have seen it sooner.

Before she could continue to enjoy it, she heard Katara stomping up to her. "I told you to always wear your boots!" she shouted. Toph was surprised, Katara had never been so angry with her before. Before Toph could respond, Katara had picked her up, then started walking her back to their camp.

"What's up with you Katara? I'm fine. You don't have to carry me. Put me down!" Toph protested.

"No," Katara said simply. And she didn't, not until they reached their dwelling, she put Toph on the ground.

"I can't believe you, Katara! I'm not a baby, and I don't need to be led around like an animal!"

"Yes you do!" Katara shouted back.

Toph was silent for a moment. So was Katara, realizing she'd just hurt Toph's pride, or rather, brought to light all the hurt she'd experienced since she arrived. "Toph, I..." Katara began softly.

"Don't bother, Katara. It's the truth. I'm basically helpless, useless, and worthless here."

"You're never worthless, Toph."

"Just stop. Right now I am, I know it, and you know it."

"I know you need a lot more help now than you have before. But you're never worthless. You're worth so much to me, to everyone you've helped. I love you, Toph," Katara assured.

"I know you do, but that's not going to help either of us," Toph said.

"Can you feel your feet?" Katara began touching Toph's toes.

Toph wriggled her sensitive feet in response. "Of course I can, what kind of a question is that?"

"Toph, it's dangerous to go out in this cold without footwear," Katara said gently, as if she were explaining it to a small child.

"Stop talking to me like that. What's so dangerous, anyway? It's just a little cold. It's not like my feet have never been cold before. I can stand it, just for a little bit."

"That's exactly why you can't. I know you're more comfortable with bare feet. You'd lose track of time, and before you knew it, you wouldn't be able to feel your feet at all."

"What do you mean?" Toph asked.

"I know people who have gotten frostbite.. Like my childhood friend. She lost her boot when we were playing. Instead of going back home, she played all day. I asked her if she was cold, but she said she didn't even feel it. Before I knew it, she was in great pain. Her foot turned black,"

"Black, meaning?"

"Toph, she had to lose her foot."

"She did?? Why couldn't you guys just heal her?" Toph said.

"We tried, but it was already too late. Not even the best healer can heal what's already dead. So the foot had to come off. My dad made me and Sokka watch it, so we'd know about the danger of being out there."

"Wow. Why didn't you just tell me about that in the first place?"

"I really don't like to talk about it," Katara admitted.

"There isn't anything you can't talk about with me," Toph insisted. Then she felt guilty, because she herself had been hiding something. "Katara... I know this is your home, but I hate it here! It's like a prison. I miss fighting. I miss being able to see. I really don't care if I'm a target, I just say bring it on. You miss your family, your home here. I know you want to be here, and I have to leave. Maybe we just can't be together."

"No," Katara insisted. "I did miss my family. But I also get that it's like a prison here. I felt like I escaped it the moment I first left with Aang. I did miss my family and friends, but I've seen them now, and I don't want to stay here forever. I also miss traveling. And Toph, South Pole, North Pole, or anywhere in between, I want to be with you."

Toph was silent for a moment. She was overjoyed to hear this, she had been so torn between wanting to stay with Katara and wanting to leave. She felt tears coming to her eyes. "You don't have to be so mushy about it, sugar queen," she said. Katara just smiled. She tickled Toph's feet. "Stop, stop!" Toph begged. Katara did stop as she put back on Toph's boots. "Yeah, I really look forward to not having you dress me," she said.

Katara fell down next to her lover. "We'll leave as soon as possible. Spring's starting, you know."

"Yeah? Is there any difference between that and winter? It's still cold, isn't it?" Toph inquired.

"There are some differences," Katara said.

"I'm just starting to notice." Toph contently cuddled with her lover.

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