The sounds of birds chirping and wildlife going about their daily routines had long since quieted down as the four teens approached the seedy bar. Located in the middle of an Earth Kingdom forest the large wooden building was a refuge for those from any nation, provided they didn’t mind the near constant brawls, foul language, and smell of alcohol.
“Three years…” One of the girls said, her grey eyes betraying her inability to see conventionally.
“Hmm?” One of her female companions grunted inquisitively. Ty-Lee like Suki beside her was dressed in the green combat robes and white face paint of the Kyoshi warriors. Intially Ty-Lee expressed some concern that she wouldn’t be as nimble while wearing the grey armor that covered her torso, but after some time training with the other Kyoshi warriors her concerns were quickly alleviated.
“It’s been roughly three years since we last saw June and Nyla.” Sokka with a smirk on his face continued. “You could say June left quite the impression on Toph.”
“Hey I “saw” her throw a guy twice her size into the wall! It was awesome!” Toph exclaimed as she threw her hands up into the air.
“It was rather impressive.” Suki said with Sokka nodding in agreement.
“So if June is the bounty hunter with the shirshu, then I suppose that is Nyla?” Ty-Lee asked as she pointed over to the large creature slowly walking towards them.
“Heeey Nyla, you remember me right?” Sokka exclaimed as he outstretched his arms. Nyla let out a menacing growl in response before moving over and nuzzling Toph affectionately. “Aww come on!”
“It’s a blind thing. So I take it June’s inside?” Toph asked as she scratched behind the shirshu’s ears.
Letting out a small growl Nyla shook his head in the direction of the tavern, and as if to further confirm that yes the mercenary was in the tavern, a large, burly man was unceremoniously ejected from the building.
“Huh, the sun hasn’t even set yet.” Sokka shrugged walking around the prone man. “Guess they’re starting early.”
The instant the four teens entered the tavern, the overwhelming stench of alcohol, despair, vomit, and blood hit them. Toph in particular was hit hard due to her heightened sense of smell. “Man I know it’s been years, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that smell.” The blind girl wrinkled her nose to further emphasize her point.
“Ugh…” Ty-Lee groaned. “It smells worse than that time the Unagi threw up on the beach.”
“I don’t know, I kinda like it. It smells manly.” Sokka said as he took in a deep breath, then immediately flew into a coughing fit.
Suki after briefly taking the time to comfort her boyfriend proceeded to look around for June. It didn’t take long to find the familiar figure of June, dressed in the same dark brown robes and arm length gloves she had last saw her in three years ago. June’s long black hair cascading elegantly down her back as she proceeded to lift a guy twice her size over her head and throw him into the wall.
“Still kicking butts and taking names, I see!” Toph yelled over the clamor of the other bar patrons.
Upon seeing the group June let out an annoyed groan before slugging the rest of her drink. “Who do you want me to try and find this time?”
“Ah what makes you think we’re here for that?” Sokka beamed hoping his cheerful attitude would make the following transaction go smoother. After being met with only a blank stare, Sokka tried the simple approach. “Azula.”
“The fire nation princess?” June hoped the surprise wasn’t too noticeable in her voice.
“Yeah, Fire Lord Zuko doesn’t think she’ll be a problem anymore, but I managed to talk him into at least letting us look. Besides she’s tried to kill us one too many times for me to be so trustful.”
“You got money I take it?” Sokka handed her a large bag of money the weight of which caused a genuine smile to grace June’s face. “My, my, the new Fire Lord is pulling out all the stops again. Haven’t seen this much money since he had me searching for dear old mommy.”
“So that means you’ll help us?!” Ty-Lee beamed as she got a little too close for comfort to the bounty hunter.
Gently pushing the other girl away with her index finger June took another sip of her drink before continuing. “Yes I’ll help but on one condition.”
“Oh, come on!” Sokka’s outburst immediately quieted the room, causing him to continue in a much softer voice. “We’re giving you enough money to buy a small kingdom and you want to add conditions?”
“It’s part of another job and it’s pretty simple. All I have to do is give a box to the Avatar.”
“A box?” Toph snorted. “What’s so special about a box?”
June shrugged as she went to go get another drink, Sokka and Toph following her as she did so. “All I know is that some crazy old hermit said it was important that the Avatar got the box and then he gave me his entire life savings to carry out the deed. Now I’m typically not into the business of being a courier but it was a lot of money so I couldn’t refuse. Besides, seemed easy enough.”
Sokka and Toph both solemnly nodded. “Avatar stuff mysterious, but undoubtedly important.”
“All right! You help us, we help you deal?” Sokka extended his hand with a large smile on his face. June couldn’t help but wonder if he had indigestion or this was his attempt at being charming as she took the offered hand.
“Deal.” Before June could go back to her table to finish her drinking she felt a tentative poke at the whip strapped to her side. “Can I help you?”
“You use a whip right?” The blind earthbender asked.
“It’s giving me some ideas.”
June let out a soft a chuckle at that. “Sweetie I’d prefer to know a girl a little better before I did something like that with her.”
The realization of what she’d just said caught up with Toph, quickly turning her normally pale face beet red. “N-no, no, what I mean is that I’ve been working on some metalbending ideas. Specifically an idea for metal cable launchers or something!”
Just than a loud and obviously intoxicated voice shouted; “Figures she’d go for the blind girl! The way she dotes on that thing of hers I bet she’d do any blind creature!” The sudden quiet that descended upon the tavern was almost palpable. Several of the bar’s patrons quickly sidled out of the way, revealing the source of the insult as the man June had tossed aside when the group entered the building.
Toph was about to violently voice her opinion at being compared to an animal when she noticed something that was both unsettling and awe inspiring. Although she could sense June’s reserved and conservative movements, the other woman’s heartbeat betrayed the brewing storm that was about to be unleashed on the poor fool. Evidently the twisted idiot sensed his impending doom as well, since he could only gape as June quickly drew her whip and sliced out the fools tongue before anyone could blink. The offending appendage hit the far wall with a wet slap that put more than a few patrons off of their drink and quickly caused the rest to slug what they had left. “We set out tomorrow morning, in the meantime you can pay for your own rooms here.”
“Yes’m!” Sokka saluted as the group went to go pay for their rooms.
That night Toph lay awake casting her unseeing eyes towards the ceiling, trying to make sense of the confusing feelings swirling in her gut. The way that the older woman defended her honor, and by extension Toph’s was quite amazing, if a bit gruesome. Then again the guy had it coming. All that aside, Toph couldn’t deny the attraction she felt towards the other woman. It was nothing major, a crush perhaps? June was tough, the kind of woman who took charge and didn’t apologize for it. Just the kind of girl that Toph has been finding herself drawn to over the past three years, the earthbender let out a wry chuckle at the thought. If anyone had told her a few years ago that she’d become interested in women she’d probably laugh at their faces before burying them in dirt. Toph never intended to become that kind of woman, but she figured the heart wants what it wants, why resist it? Deciding she wasn’t going to get any sleep at the moment Toph left her room, amused at the fact that she didn’t even need her seismic sense to walk around the unconscious thugs that littered the building.
Hearing a bit of a commotion coming from outside, Toph was greeted to the sounds of a distressed June trying to comfort an agitated Nyla. “What’s up?”
Without even looking back June continued at her task as she explained the situation. “I told Nyla that we will finally be getting rid of that box but apparently I’m not moving fast enough for him.”
“You don’t know anything about this box?”
“Have you opened it?”
“No, and before you suggest we give it a try, there was no discernable way to get it open anyway.”
“Can I have a look?” Toph beamed.
Wasting a moment to glare at the blind girl before retrieving the pack tied to Nyla for the box in question. June removed it and handed the box to Toph, Nyla glad to be rid of the thing let out a soft growl before walking off into the woods. “Snuffly don’t go off to far!” The shirshu responded by letting out another soft growl and nod before disappearing into the brush.
“So this is the evil box is it?” As Toph said this she proceeded to get a feel of the box. As far as she could tell it was just an ordinary box with engravings of dragons on it. Wrinkling her nose she decided to give it another feel. June watched as Toph’s face changed from curiosity to surprise as she noticed what was so disturbing about the otherwise nondescript grey box. “Did… did the markings just move?”
“Yup, get a feel for what shape they are now.”
Doing what she was told Toph attempted to decipher the shifting engravings, but she couldn’t figure out what shape they took now. “What is it just a bunch of swirls and mountains?”
“As far as I can tell it’s a mouth eating a large swirl. What that means, well perhaps the Avatar will know.” As June took back the box and placed it in her pack she noticed the apprehensive expression on the earthbender’s face. “Something on your mind kid?”
Toph scoffed at the designation. “I’m not a kid.”
“It’s just the way you stuck up for me back there… it was pretty cool.”
“I wasn’t sticking up for you I was sticking up for me. What are you smirking about?” June’s relief at the fact that the blind woman couldn’t see her face was quickly dispelled with a single sentence.
“I can tell your lying.” Toph said in a sing-song tone.
“Hmmph, so I may have been defending your honor as well don’t read too much into it. Back in my home town some of the more conservative minded would throw such insults around if they noticed couples of the same gender.”
“There’s more to it than that, isn’t there?” Upon feeling the other woman tense Toph decided to backtrack a little. “I’m sorry if you don’t want to talk about it…”
June let out a long sigh before continuing. “I’ve been interested in both men and women, but the first person I was ever interested was a girl who was only interested in other girls. We were young and in love and it felt like we were on top of the world. Then it all came crashing down when her parents found out. They said she might as well go sleep with animals in some peasant’s barn. They beat her adding injury to insult, I only found out days later that she killed herself. She just couldn’t cope with it, her despair outweighed our love.”
“I’m so sorry.” Toph her voice barely a whisper as she placed a hand on June’s shoulder.
“I wanted us to run off and become mercenaries, just like my father, but her parents were so terrible. It was just too much for her.”
“Is she the reason that you’re a bounty hunter?”
June let out a soft chuckle. “Part of the reason, the other is that I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps. He supported me no matter what, I couldn’t help but look up to him. He even was the one who gave me Nyla when he was just a pup.”
“Thank you for sharing that with me.”
“I had my own parental problems with my parents. Nothing as bad as that but my own father refuses to even acknowledge me, despite all that I’ve done to help save the friggin world!”
“Maybe it’s for the best.” Melancholy permeating June’s every word.
“What do you mean?”
“If they don’t acknowledge you, they can’t lie to you. Everyone you meet tells you small lies, except for those who love you. They tell you the large ones.”
“Well good thing I’m here then!” Toph then brought one of her feet a little too close to June’s face for comfort. “I’ll be your personal human lie detector.”
June couldn’t help but smile at the audaciousness of the gesture. “Oh, and how do I know you won’t lie to me?”
“Ok, how about this if I’m ever going to lie to someone say… as part of a scam to rob them of their money I let you in on it. Deal?” Toph then spat into the palm of her hand and extended it towards the older woman.
June mimicked the gesture albeit reluctantly and shook Toph’s hand. “Deal, now what do you say we go inside and wash up before we hit the sack? We’ll have plenty of ground to cover tomorrow.”
“What about Nyla?”
“He’s a big boy, he’ll be ready to leave by the morning.” June said as she and Toph went back into the tavern.
Unbeknownst to the two women the shirshu in question had happened upon an unfortunate cabbage merchant. The resulting slaughter of the defenseless cabbages would go down in cabbage history.