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Camellias
Chapter information
Series

When Past Meets Present

Chapter

Eight

Written by

Fruipit

Release date

26th July, 2013

Word count

3,274

Chronology
Last chapter

Alien

Next chapter

Two Candles

To make up for my absence, the chapter you've all been waiting for! Well, one of them, at any rate...

Camellias

Toph gradually became aware of several things. The first was how damp her fringe felt, plastered to her forehead as though her sweat was superglue. She felt a hand gently caress her cheek as pressure built up in her stomach. She mumbled something, squeezing her eyes shut as someone began shouting. She heard a name—her name—and suddenly the coldness that had surrounded her was gone, replaced by warmth. The pressure built in intensity and suddenly the muted sensations were thrown into sharp contrast. She threw herself upright so she was sitting as something forced its way up her throat. She heard another cry as whatever was in her mouth was expelled. From the sound one of her friends made, it had landed on them.

"Toph!" Katara's voice appeared from next to the blind girl as she spat, stomach convulsing. This time, Sokka managed to get out of the way as more than just food worked its way up from Toph's stomach. She could taste the metallic tinge of blood and iron, and for reasons unfathomable to the rest of the group, it was this alone that sent her panicking.

"Katara!" she cried plaintively, arms out and searching desperately for her friend.

"Toph! Toph it's okay, I'm here!" Katara called out, grasping the girl currently in hysterics next to her. She pulled Toph into a hug as she continued to gasp, sobbing into her friend's shirt. She wasn't aware of the stares from her friends, or the way Iroh frowned. She didn't notice Aang standing off to the side of the group, looking at her worriedly. All she could focus on was the warm body currently pressed against hers as a hand slowly stroked her back, rubbing circles between her shoulder blades in an effort to still the shaking and trembling.

"Shh... Shh, it's okay, Toph. We're here," Katara soothed, looking at Aang with wide eyes. "It's okay Sweetie..."

"Toph..." Aang approached his friend hesitantly. She took several breaths before turning her head a little, still refusing to let go of Katara. "Toph, wha- what was that?" he asked quietly—cautiously. Toph only shook her head, nestling it deeper into her friend's chest.

"Toph, would you like to be alone?" Iroh knelt down next to her, and for a moment the room stilled as they waited for her reaction. Toph pinched her eyes shut, her heavy breathing the only sound. Slowly, she nodded. Iroh gave a small sigh and delicately placed his hand over hers in a show of support. Zuko offered her a look of pity that she didn't see and left with Mai, a now-shirtless Sokka trailing not too far behind.

Katara sent Aang a questioning look as she noticed he hadn't made a move to leave. Toph's face was still pushed into Katara's chest, and the waterbender continued to rub her back in soothing circles.

"Are you okay, Sweetie?" Katara asked, gently rocking her torso back and forth calmingly.

Toph nodded slightly, murmuring into her friend. "What happened?"

Katara looked furtively at Aang. He swallowed visibly, before muttering in a small voice, "I kinda... got into your dreams..." There was a pregnant pause; no-one moved as they waited for Toph's reaction.

For her part, the blind girl merely sat there, unable (or unwilling) to allow Aang's words to sink in. It was impossible—he couldn't have.

"You can't do that- you didn't do that. You didn't get inside my head." Toph shook hers rapidly as Aang took a tentative step forward.

"Toph... what happened? In there..." Aang bit his lip, but it was too late.

Toph roughly pushed herself away from Katara, stumbling to her feet. "What did you see?!" she demanded. Katara and Aang shared a glance as Toph paled again before swallowing it down. Her arms felt like lead, quivering like a tuning fork that had recently been rung. "Well?! Why were you in my head?"

Her breath came hard and fast, chest heaving with the effort not to turn hysterical again. She counted twelve breaths before Katara spoke up.

"Toph, you were having a nightmare... you were crying out and we couldn't wake you up. Aang, he put his hands on your head an-"

"-we don't know what happened. It was like I entered the Spirit World, but there were no people, just... memories. It was just black and I heard you..."

Toph looked towards Aang, her usual jade eyes still clouded over. "What did you see?" she repeated venomously, a bite in her tone that the couple had forgotten existed.

Aang glanced nervously at Katara, but Toph either didn't care or realise that she was listening.

"Don- don't you remember?"

Toph shook her head, the scowl dropping slightly as she murmured in a small voice, "I never remember..."

Aang avoided looking at her as he answered, "I approached you... we were lying in a field..." he coughed here, before continuing in a small voice, beet red, "we... we were naked..."

Katara glanced sharply at him, but he was too preoccupied with avoiding all eye contact with the females in the room. Toph had her mouth curled down, but her eyes were wide and her face had gone awfully pale.

"It didn't mean anything though!" he burst out loudly. "I mean- it did, but... no, wait. It didn't matter. It- it wasn't relevant. I didn't even notice!"

The couple watched as she, without even punching Aang, left the small room with a quiet, "Don't do it again."

Aang held out his hand for Katara, and she grasped it firmly.

"Look, Aang," she said in an undertone, "I don't know what is wrong with her, but if you have any idea now would be a great time to share. She's getting worse, and I can't stand it. She's in pain and she still won't tell us what's wrong. You're her best friend..." Katara looked at him a moment longer before she too walked out, collecting the soiled sheets as she went.

Aang dug the palms of his hands into his eyes before following her out. Sokka had changed clothes and was hugging Toph—presumably assuring her he wasn't angry that she had puked all over him. Suki and Mai had taken it upon themselves to cook breakfast—a meal of cinnamon jook and fresh fruit—and Katara had left to clean out Toph's sheets. Looking back, he noticed the blind girl in question had left the room with Iroh. Aang felt a small stab in his heart as he realised that she still refused to talk to them, but would spill everything freely to Iroh. Even worse was the fact that the tea-maker wouldn't tell him what was wrong with her.

He was still standing at the door when Toph returned, and as she sat at her place he moved sluggishly to the chair opposite her. There was a little dried blood on her lips, and she was still horribly pale. He left the conversation to everyone else while he kept an eye on her. Toph hadn't tried to talk to him at all—she wasn't even opening her mouth to eat. The conversation blurred into the background as he watched her stir the warm rice. Katara hadn't even returned to the table when she pushed it away and stood up.

"I'm going to bathe," she announced, jolting Aang out of his stupor. He blinked several times even as she walked away.

Since when did Toph have baths?

He watched after her stolidly, a slight ache in his chest.


Toph made her way slowly to the small room put aside for bathing, stopping briefly to collect a new dress and placing it in the bathroom before heading off towards the laundry. Katara was still in the small room gently scrubbing at Sokka's shirt with what Toph presumed to be a disgusted expression. The blind girl stripped off her bloodied shirt, leaving her in her bindings, and dunked it in the bucket of soapy water Katara was using.

"Hey, Toph. If you wanna just leave your shirt, I'll get to it after the sheets."

"It's okay, Katara. I can do it. I can do the sheets too if you want breakfast; it's probably getting cold."

She felt Katara look at her curiously, but Toph kept her head low as she worked. "No, it's fine Toph." Toph felt her smiling; she could practically hear it in the girl's nonchalant tone.

"Are you feeling okay?"

Toph glanced up sharply.

"I'm fine. Excited for tonight," she replied, trying to imbue as much feeling into the short sentence as possible.

"Toph, you aren't going tonight. No way."

Toph's eyes widened and her mouth formed the customary smirk that had for so long abandoned her features.

"You can't tell me what I can and can't do Katara. I want to go tonight and you can't stop me."

She heard Katara sigh, and once again had the strange feeling that she was being surveyed. "Toph, you pulled Aang into your head. You vomited up blood this morning!"

"I'm fine!! The worst is over. You can't tell me what to do, Katara!" Toph stuck out her chin stubbornly, still working at scrubbing her clothes clean. She felt Katara move, and suddenly her hand was covered by the waterbender's.

"Toph, no. I can't tell you what to do. I can't force you; I'm not your mother."

Toph opened her mouth, but was quickly cut off by Katara.

"I'm not your mother," she repeated, "I'm your friend, and I'm worried about you. Zuko's confused because you've barely said two words to him, and I know that Suki has no idea what is going on. You run hot and cold and we don't know why."

Toph raised her head, although her eyes flickered to the floor in shame.

"I don't mean to..." she said quietly, her hands stilling. "I jus-..."

Katara peered at her friend as she trailed off. "Toph, we aren't going to force you to do anything you don't want to, and if you don't want to tell us, that's fine too. But we don't want you to think you can't talk to us. We won't laugh or judge. We're your friends, and you're my little sister. We look out for each other..."

Toph slowly felt herself being engulfed in Katara's warm arms. Guilt gnawed at her stomach—soon she wouldn't be able to suppress it. Sighing, she returned the hug.

"Fine, I'll stay here... Just promise me you'll take Iroh. He needs to relax."


Roughly tussling Toph's messy hair, Sokka beamed at her indignant expression.

"Sorry kiddo. We won't be out long," he grinned, and she gave a good-natured sigh.

"Well, perhaps I am a little sick..." she muttered. The Water Tribe warrior gave a laugh and she punched him in the shoulder. "I will hurt you, I'm not too sick to do that," she threatened, effectively shutting him up.

"I'm sorry, Toph, but it's for your own good." Katara's voice penetrated the friendly bubble surrounding the two friends, and Toph's good humour dropped away.

"Yeah, yeah, I already agreed, didn't I?"

She felt Iroh approaching, his weight pressing more firmly on the ground as he was weighed down by his heavy robes.

"Toph, I can stay here. I'm getting too old for parties," he warned her calmly, although the honest smile she gave him was answer enough.

"I'm not a baby. I can look after the shop tonight—everyone's going to be at the party, so it won't be very busy. Now, go and have fun!" she said, shooing him. Iroh gave a rueful smile as he exited the shop, stopping next to Zuko. Toph waved goodbye as her friends turned and left, heading towards the palace.

"We'll be home in a few hours!" Katara called over her shoulder. Toph only kept waving, before turning around and walking back into the empty shop.

Alone, at last.

Again.


Despite the festivities—the beautiful decorations and fluid dancers that made everyone feel gorgeous—Katara couldn't get into the spirit of the party. She smiled and waved and engaged in conversation, but only when she had to, or Aang nudged her. Barely half an hour after they arrive, he was pulling her to the side and asking what the problem was.

"N-nothing," she stuttered, alarmed. "I'm fine."

Aang grabbed her hand, an imploring look in his eyes. "Katara, tell me."

Glancing around, the waterbender sagged a little. She felt Aang rub gentle circles on her hand, and now more than ever she wished that Toph had been more open.

"You're worried about her, aren't you?"

The question didn't surprise Katara, and she nodded. Glancing at Aang, she briefly wondered when it stopped being about him and her, and just started being about her.

"Maybe I should go and check up on her; she probably shouldn't be stressing..." Katara mumbled, shrugging. She caught the confused expression that crossed Aang's face, and her eyes widened as she realised what she said.

"I mean, she was sick this morning, and she didn't eat anything."

Biting her lip, Katara waited impatiently for Aang to give an answer, an opinion. She could see his face twitch and twist in thought.

"Well, I think we've almost finished here. Let's just find everyone and we can go back together."

"Oh, we don't have to do that!" Katara rushed to convince Aang that it wasn't imperative they leave, but he just waved her off with a smile.

"How about twenty minutes. That's about as long as it'll take to drag Sokka away from the food, and Iroh away from the tea, right?"

Katara smiled and nodded. "Thanks, Aang," she said, leaning in to kiss him. He got that giddy look on his face that she loved, and she couldn't help but do it again.

It's not like anything would happen in twenty minutes, right?


The tea shop was empty. Not that Toph had actually expected many people, but surely someone decided to forgo the party? Apparently not, and so instead of brewing pots of tea for people, she had decided to sit in the courtyard.

She had always loved the outdoors—she was an earthbender, after all—but hated the stiff streets and imposing buildings of Ba Sing Se. When she suggested building a small garden (for personal or public use, whichever Iroh wanted), the old General had welcomed the suggestion with such optimism that within a week, a gorgeous little paradise had been built. Iroh barely used it, preferring to play Pai Sho with the customers, and so Toph generally had the little alcove to herself.

Breathing in the comforting scent of jasmine, Toph carefully placed two small candles and two sticks of incense at the base of a camellia plant, murmuring so quietly she wondered whether the Spirits really could hear her. Moving to a bench, made specifically of wood so that she could truly rest and ignore the world, Toph allowed her thoughts to wander. Not to any particular subject, she let the musky aroma of sandalwood mix with the average garden smells to create a sort of fog to cover her mind.

She didn't hear the impossibly light footsteps that trod her way, nor did she see as she reclined on the bench. It wasn't until the person knelt down and whispered her name that she realised anyone was there at all.

Toph felt her jaw slacken, and her chest tightened painfully. Eyes wide, she sat up and looked straight ahead as the person sat next to her.

It couldn't be real.

It couldn't be true.

Holding her hand out, almost robotically, she felt the young man grasp it. Of course it was a young man. Her young man. Only he would have the gall to appear on a night like this.

Standing up suddenly, Toph was aware of how her stomach had joined her heart as they twisted and convulsed inside her. She could see now, watch as he stood up and moved closer.

Running a thumb across her cheek, he whispered into her ear before suddenly, just like that, her lips were on his in a fierce embrace. Wrapping his arms around her small waist, the young man drew Toph in closer as she held onto his cheeks, desperate for his touch. She couldn't get enough of him, hands running over his face, through his hair as her lips met his at every turn.

Her hands roamed around his face, taking in the details she had tried to forget; she felt him do the same, his fingers gently walking up and down her back. Breaking her lips away, she rested her forehead on his, panting slightly.

"Why are you here?" she whispered, still running her fingers delicately over his face. Eyes, nose, cheeks. Lips.

"Can't a guy come and visit a girl he loves? Especially when she looks this beautiful?" he asked, and she could feel him smiling softly under her resting fingertips.

"A normal guy, yes. You can't," she retorted, before her face fell. "Oh." The little sound was no more than a whimper, when she suddenly threw herself back on the young man. Teeth clinked, noses bumped, but for the two teenagers it didn't matter. He responded with as much fervour as Toph strung her fingers through his hair. This time he was the one who broke the kiss.

"We shouldn't do this, Toph," he said quietly, rubbing her cheek with his thumb.

"Why not?" she argued softly. "There's so much- I just want some more time..." she murmured, her voice cracking at the end.

The gentleman took her hand and gently rubbed it, pulling her back to the seat.

"You know," he said, sitting down and pulling her onto his lap—after making sure that her feet could touch to ground, of course. "I could see you. I'm so, so sorry, Toph." He held her close against him as she rested her head in the crook of his neck.

"It wasn't your-"

"It was! I let it happen! I was supposed to protect you, no matter what—even if you didn't need it or want it, it was my duty to look out for you! I failed..."

Pushing herself up, Toph took her lovers' head in her hands and kissed him, her soft lips brushing away the tears that had begun to fall from his eyes.

"But it's okay now... We're together and everything is going to be fine! It's, it's good. Everything's going to get better and we'll be together and happy. I'm going to be happy..." She said the last part as though the thought had never occurred before.

"Only you can make your own happiness, Toph. Me being here has nothing to do with it," he told her slowly, pulling away. "I can't stay." He looked at her, waiting for the moment that she put the pieces together. He saw her eyes widen as beads of water formed at her bottom eyelids. She shook her head emphatically.

"No- no. You came here to say that you could stay. They let you come back and stay here with me; they let you stay with me. We'll be together again, you and me-" She had worked herself into a frenzy; on the verge of hysterics, Toph could do no more than sob into his shoulder while he stroked her hair.

"Shh, it's okay. Let's just have tonight, okay? Can we just have tonight, Toph? For me?"

Lifting her gaze from his chest, red nose and eyes glistening, she kissed him again, before placing her forehead on his.

"For you, Tashi..."


Notes: Wow, has it really been over 2 months? This piece is not beta read, so apologies, but I've been dealing with stuff lately, and dealing with that by writing. Also, huge, giant, ginormous thank you to Bray, who gave me the extra shove I needed to finish this by nominating it for a fanonbending award!

Oh, I also have to point out that this was written in three different parts. The first section I wrote was the ending, about three months ago, and the second was the beginning, about a month and a half ago. The rest I wrote today (again, thanks to Bray and other undisclosed reasons).

... And yes, the point of a camellia is important, least of all because it's closely related to the tea plant :P

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