title: no place like
fandom: Avatar: the Last Airbender
characters/pairings: Toph, her family
rating: G
warnings: none
summary: Toph goes home, post series.
notes: yes, this is destined to be jossed. also, i'm sure there are a million of these out there. i just felt like i needed to explore this. also, i adore toph.

It took her nearly a year.

Peace didn't come easily to everyone, after all. Those that cheered for Firelord Zuko at his coronation were the ones who supported them all along; those they fought and those whose hearts were still filled with anger had to be dealt with in diplomatic and occasionally forceful ways. And she had to find Sokka's space sword. She had to defend her title as reigning Earthbending Champion!

It wasn't as if she'd been dilly dallying...

Not much, anyway. That trip to the hot springs was a bit of a time-waster, but she had kinks to work out! Saving the world and helping peace to reign over all was hard work!

She could have gone on more travels, too. She could have gone with Katara and Aang to survey the world, and continue his studies. Suki and Sokka went with the water tribe ships back to the Southern Water Tribe, presumably so Suki could meet Sokka's grandmother and people. Toph... didn't want to go with them.

Too much water.

She could have done a lot of things, was the point, but she did head home. Maybe not by the most direct route, and maybe not with any great haste, but she did, and she thought she deserved some points for that. However, when she found herself outside the all too familiar walls of her family's home, it was a bit of a shock. Those walls had, for most of her life, been her universe. And now... her feet had seen everything! She'd done amazing things!

And the walls were exactly the same. They didn't even feel smaller. She'd feel more confident if they felt smaller. Proof of her growing up, maybe. But the walls were the same, and so maybe so was she... and worst of all, maybe so were they.

She clenched and unclenched her hands into fists over and over again. What was she going to do? Just... just go up and knock? She kept her shoulders thrown back out of sheer stubbornness. She could... crush this entire wall in one movement! She could bend the metal of the gate! Nothing inside should give her pause for fear!

Should was an awful word, though.

She contemplated going into town and spending the night in a tavern. She could prepare, and come back the next day, washed up and... and maybe she could get some nicer clothes. She'd been wearing the same things for a while, and they were starting to smell like Zuko's uncle's sandal. She could wash her hair, maybe even... even go in and get it styled. She could go back looking like a lady. Katara said she was pretty. Katara wasn't lying then, either. That stayed with Toph. It was... it was too cowardly, though. She had to face her parents as herself. She knew that. But wouldn't it just be showing them consideration? They weren't horrible people.

Maybe... if she wore the right clothes and smelled ok, her mother would even... hug her or something.

She took a step back, but she kept facing the gate. She could just walk away and make herself more presentable... She could.

She went up to the gate, and found the chain to pull to ring the bell. She took a step back, and put her hands behind her back, and her feet shoulder-width apart, square with her body. She was ready.

The gate opened after a few minutes wait. That was Bak's footfalls, right? Toph bowed to him. He was about to give her the family's standard greeting, but then he recognized her. "Mi-Mistress Toph?! Is that... is it really you? Oh... it's been so long, Mistress. We've all been worried."

There was obvious affection and concern in his voice, which definitely helped to set her at ease. It was still strange to be home, though. She had to remember her manners. It was easy, though, when she could remember them out of actual respect for the person to whom she was directing her efforts. "Thank you, Bak. It's been a long journey, but... I'm glad to be home."

"Come in quickly, Miss, come in, come in." he urged her, laughing cheerfully. He stepped aside of the gate, and blew into the horn there, three short bleats.

That was her signal.

She kept a sedate, ladylike pace to the house. Though... she could just surf a stone there. But no. Everything in their household was perfectly arranged. She didn't want to upset her parents' perfect house.

As soon as they were within spitting distance to the house, other servants came out as well. There were many footfalls on top of each other, but she recognized guards, maids, and two cooks. They were all rushing to see her. She stopped short of the house, and waited for them to come out.

"Miss Toph!"
"Young Mistress!"
"Our Lady has returned!"

Toph smiled, and ducked her chin down a bit. "I'm home," she said softly. They were keeping a respectful distance from her, but she could feel them bowing to her. They were laughing and grinning. Their hearts were beating peacefully and happily.

It made her own heart quicken.

"We heard stories, Mistress. You were really traveling with the Avatar? You were there... when the Firelord was defeated?" That was Fuu, her personal maid. Toph wondered what her job was now.

She beamed. "Sure. My friend Sokka and I destroyed the air fleet, with some help from his girlfriend. It was awesome! If you've heard the story, trust me, you haven't heard anything close to how amazing it really was! Let me tell you..." She slid her foot forward a pace.

She could feel them, inside. Her mother and father... in the formal parlor, where they received guests. Right in their usual positions.

Where they received guests.

She made herself smile brightly. "I'd like to see my parents first, though. Would that be possible?"

"Of course!" That was Bak again, but they all stepped aside. Fuu scurried to her side, and then jumped back.

"Oh! Mistress... you don't... don't need me to guide you, do you?" she said, worried.

"I think I can find it," Toph smirked.

"I'm so sorry, Mistress," Fuu said, speaking under her breath. Someone hissed at her to be quiet, but she dipped her head down and continued. "All this time... it must have been so hard to be treated like... like..."

"A cripple? It's ok. Really." There was some disturbance amongst the servants, and she could feel it, their discomfort... "It's my fault. I wasn't honest with you all. I'm sorry." She bowed to them, as low as she could with her back and legs straight.

"You have no reason to apologize!" Fuu quickly contradicted her. "You had no choice!"

"Fuu!" Lan hissed. He was her father's majordomo.

They couldn't speak against their employers. But... They understood. She bowed to Fuu once more. "I'm happy to be home again, like this." She walked forward confidently. Of course she knew her way around. She'd lived here all her life, until Twinkletoes danced in to turn things around. She waited, though, for the servants to open the door to the parlor. She nodded, and stepped inside.

Her parents were there, finally. Right in front of her. She should bow. She knew that.

"Toph. You've finally come home," her father sighed, sounding vaguely annoyed.

She exhaled slowly. "Well... we finished saving the world for now, so I thought I'd stop by to say hello."

"Toph, where are your manners?" her mother chided her immediately, sniffling. "Think of how worried your father and I have been! All this time, the only word we've had of you has been a story here or a rumor there... nothing concrete. And we'd hear... you were in the Fire Nation! You were fighting!" Her mother shook her head and sobbed slightly. "Can't you understand how worried we've been? You've always been so delicate..."

"You haven't been listening to those stories and rumors," she said, maybe more harshly than she intended. She dipped her chin down. She thought about Katara... and how she would handle this. Still. There wasn't any point to coming home if she wasn't going to be herself. "I'm sorry that you were worried. But what I was doing was important."

"And you're so convinced that no one else could have done it that you had to rush out and break your mother's heart?" her father harshly returned.

Toph nearly lost her cool. She slid her foot out and spread out her hands.

Her mother's body shook with barely contained sobs.

This was not the time for a battle. Her shoulders dropped, and she bowed her head. "I never had any intention of hurting either of you. I'm sorry that I did. I truly am. I may end up... continuing to hurt you, though. Because I can't be the daughter that I was. I hope someday you can accept me as I am." She bowed low to them, and then she pulled it out of her sachet.

She'd been saving this for so long. And she'd been right to wait, it seemed. She held it in the palm of her hand, and she put her other hand over it. She felt the rock from space, and she turned her hands, spinning it, forming it.

She turned it into a figurine of a dancer with the world balanced on her toe. She placed it on the ground, and sent it sliding over to her mother.

"I have been thinking of you," she said quietly, and then she turned to go. Her father said something, and she wished that her hearing wasn't so good. She wished that even more when she heard her mother's sobs. Her head was held high, though, as she walked out. She smiled at the servants and nodded to them, even as they, one by one, dropped their shoulders as they realized that she wasn't staying.

The plan was basically the same, then. She'd go to a tavern in town, and have some laughs. And... there were always more Earthbending Championships to win. And she could meet up with the others, too. One step at a time.

She might even go visit the badger moles.

The next day, Fuu came to visit the tavern in which she was staying, not even waiting for Toph to come down. She left behind a package from her mother. The paper on the outside was sprayed with the perfume her mother used, and inside, there was a brush with a polished marble handle.

The one her mother used to brush her hair when she was little.

She was very careful with the paper, folding it up neatly and hiding it deep inside her pack. And the brush, too... she took great care with that. Her hair was too short now, really, to use it, but.

She would grow her hair out for her mother, then.