Winter Chill
Chapter information

Into the Ink



Written by



Lady Lostris

Release date

21st January, 2014



Winter Chill

A chill breeze gently swept over a small island, invigorating the air with its refreshing scent and crisp taste. The winter sun beat sweetly down on the people who, young and old, went about their daily lives, performing the menial tasks with an air of excitement not often found in their small but pleasant community. Several fisherman had carted their morning load to the markets, thankful to be out of the bright but cold sun, and a group of children were running around, the single bender in the seven creating earthen obstacles and playthings to encourage activity. The Kyoshi Warriors had ceased practice for the morning, allowing the younger–and older–members a chance to rest lazily in the weakening warmth; all but one had taken advantage of the opportunity to relax. As the days shortened and brought closer the looming date of the most anticipated celebration on the island, she had realised exactly how much work still needed to be completed. With an air of desperate optimism, Suki jumped right back into the planning and budgeting, the skills she had developed as the leader of the Kyoshi Warriors' greatly aiding her. It was merely unfortunate that her buffoon (lovable buffoon, to be sure, but a buffoon nonetheless) seemed just as, if not more relaxed about the coming week than he had moving in with her in the first place. It might have had something to do with the 34 crates of fire whiskey he had ordered

"Sokka! How many bottles of fire whiskey did you order? We don't have that many people coming!"

"Aww, Suki!" her fiancé cried, peering around the doorframe into the study-come-battlefield. "You can't have too much fire whiskey! We'll drink it!"

She flashed her eyes up at her soon-to-be husband, the effect somewhat lessened by the hair ruffled atop her head, and he didn't shrink nearly as much as she would have hoped. She could tell when he widened his eyes innocently, and began pouting.

"You've already ordered it, haven't you?" she asked, and without giving him a chance to respond, sighed. "Fine. But you're putting some away for another occasion."

Grinning madly, he jumped up and gave her a peck on the cheek, before she brushed him away with a grin; she could never really be mad at him. Not when he was dancing around like a five-year-old and squealing like a madman. Certainly not when he directed his goofy smile in her direction and his eyes shone for her.

Picking up another jar of ink, Suki wet her brush on the black liquid and began making small notes on a piece of paper, the chicken scratch only decipherable by herself and ol' Foamy (who had not been told of the Avatar's attendance, and hopefully would remain oblivious).

"Just one more week," Sokka sighed happily, his smile becoming softer as his thoughts drifted.

Coughing, Suki looked up at Sokka, eyes wide. "One week?!" she barked, almost in alarm before she began moving papers around. "We had months left only last Monday!" She looked at Sokka, her face paling rapidly as the familiar swirl took residence in her stomach. She wasn't sure if she wanted to kiss him or puke. The Water Tribe warrior took a tentative step towards her, a hesitant smile on his face.

"Sweetie? Do you need me to do anything?" he asked cautiously, both willing to help her and reluctant to actually do anything that might mess with the seemingly random system Suki had employed. After she had absolutely forbidden, under pain of vegetarianism, him from participating in the planning duties (much to Sokka's disappointment; he really wanted the Rough Rhino a capella quartet) he had been quite reluctant to offer ideas.

"Yes. You can get a messenger hawk to your sister and find out when she's arriving. I need some feminine input..." she trailed off as her brow creased with concentration. "This is driving me nuts; I feel like I'm going insane..."

She gave Sokka another look, and he could see in the quivering green of her eyes how much she needed him. He took several long steps forward, only to wrap his arms around her as she held her own open.

"Aww, Sweetie!" he cooed into her cheek. "You're not insane. You're... uhh...." his desperate attempt to find a better word to describe his currently panicking fiancé was cut short by an unexpected laugh.

"Anxious and excited," a voice called from the doorway, and the couple whipped their heads up to look at the intruder. It took but a moment for Sokka to disentangle himself and leap towards the girl standing in the door.

"Katara!" Sokka cried as Suki sighed in relief at the sight of the new female, and raised a slender hand. "Where's Aang?! And Appa? Why didn't you tell me you were arriving today?" he demanded, frowning when all Katara did was laugh.

"Aang's bribing the ferryman. The Earth King doesn't know we've left early, and we want to keep it that way for as long as possible; Appa had to stay home," she replied, moving on to clasp her soon-to-be sister in a warm embrace. "I know Zuko wants to make it, but he might only be here for the ceremony before he has to go back." Katara pulled away from her soon-to-be-sister-in-law just as Aang walked into the living room.

"Seriously, you guys have to learn to knock," Sokka sighed, pulling the Avatar into a "manly" handshake, before hugging him. "Nice beanie," he smirked as Aang self-consciously pet the orange and yellow striped monstrosity atop his head–Sokka wasn't sure if it was a hat, or some strange Air Nomadic creature.

"Thanks! Katara made it for me so my arrow wouldn't give me away," he chirped happily, oblivious to the Water Tribe warrior's sarcasm. Sokka just sighed and turned to his sister, who was already engulfed in an animated conversation with Suki.

"- The girls are progressing faster than the boys, but they're far too social."

"Oh, I had the same problem with Ty Lee, until we actually began training on other people. She was definitely far too happy about that," Suki laughed.

"Hey, Katara, wher-" Sokka was cut off as a loud knock resounded through the house.

"Knock, knock!" a bubbly voice called through the house. "I'm coming in, so you had better put some clothes on!"

Sokka and Suki turned beet red and refused to look at each other–or Katara and Aang–as the two benders gigged slightly. They were cut off as Ty Lee bounded into the house.

"Ooh, she was right! The Avatar is here!" Ty Lee cried out, beaming as she wrapped her slender arms around Aang. He coughed in surprise, missing the glare that Katara sent towards the Kyoshi Warrior.

"She?" Sokka raised an eyebrow at his sister, and she let out a silly grin.

"Yep," Katara winked, watching Sokka's own smile grow. Without further consideration, he was out the door, followed closely by his rueful friends. They hadn't even made it to the front door when they heard his giant cry.


Filing onto the porch, the four friends watched in amusement as Toph, who was sitting on a rather elaborate earth chair (Katara would call it a throne), gently nudged Sokka with a bare toe. He was, for some reason, lying in the dirt in front of her.

"He tripped," she announced blandly, although the smile didn't stay away for long as he jumped to his feet and engulfed her petite form in a massive hug. She allowed it, momentarily, before the contact began to make her skin crawl, and she pushed him away.

"'Sup, Snoozles?" she grinned, white teeth bared with mirth. Toph's eyes widened momentarily, not expecting her best friend's fiancé to leave the wooden porch and give her own hug, although (to the surprise of Sokka) she reciprocated, wrapping her arms around the older girl and patting her awkwardly on the back

"I didn't know you were coming so early, Toph!" Sokka commented as soon as Toph was free.

"Yeah, neither did I," she replied as they approached the porch. When she seemed unwilling to elaborate further, Suki coughed and, remembering her duties as hostess, began to address everyone.

"Who wants some tea?" she asked as she climbed up the steps, opening the front door and stepping through it. Katara stood from one of the benches and moved to follow her, but stopped when she saw Toph grimace, staring blankly from the path.

"Don't you wanna come inside, Toph?" she asked, and the blind girl laughed a little.

"Nah, I'm fine. I'll just sit out here where I can see properly. I'm not really in the mood for tripping over stuff," she jested with a grin, looking pointedly in the direction of Sokka.

Katara flushed red as she realised Sokka's home was made of wood, and she had completely forgotten. "Well, it's a nice day," she said, quick to try and cover her mistake. "Sweetie, can you tell Suki we'll have the tea outside?" Katara asked her boyfriend, who nodded and leapt off into the house.

The tea was served, and everyone sat comfortably on either the benches, their partners, or in the case of Toph, on the steps with her feet placed firmly on the soil.

"Oh, Katara! Stand up!" Suki jumped up, putting her cup of tea on a small table.

"Ohh... kay.... Why?"

Suki shushed her as she circled the waterbender. "You need to have your bridesmaid dress fitted. It should be pretty good, actually. Hmm, we might need to loosen the bust, but you should be pretty easy to fit." Looking her friend over, Suki was somewhat surprised exactly how well the dress would fit. Sokka had given her approximate sizes (Suki suspected he had just listed off random numbers, and so had Ty Lee stand in for the waterbender). Comparing the two girls, Suki was rather glad. Both were approximately the same height, although Ty Lee was more sinewy, and just seemed to sway in the breeze. Katara was far more muscly,

"I've already done mine!" Ty Lee chirped. "You're gonna love yours, Katara. It's blue with a white trim–it's to die for!" She beamed, and Katara offered a weak smile in return, shirking away slightly at the former enemy and her wildly swinging limbs.

"Ah... so, you're a bridesmaid too?" Katara asked, biting her lip. Ty Lee nodded exuberantly.

"Yep! With you and Toph. We're gonna be so pretty!"

"Woah! Wait, hold up! You made me come here a week early just to try on some clothes?" Toph interrupted, raising her eyebrow, and Suki grinned devilishly, and Toph sighed–growled, really.

"You're gonna stick me in a puddle of fabric, aren't you?" she stated, pointedly ignoring the glare she knew Suki would be sending her way.

"Toph, it isn't a 'puddle of fabric', it's a dress." Glancing over at the earthbender, who had somehow managed to get dirt smudge above her left eyebrow, Suki's mouth scrunched a little in a frown. Looking her friend up and down, it hadn't even crossed her mind at the time how the stout bender would change. Instead of the stocky build, and thick arms and legs, Toph had shot up, sporting a willowy frame that belied her true power. She sat with an air of casual confidence, her mouth turned in a small frown. Suki also noted that her face was longer, the roundness disappearing as she grew. With her arms crossed over her chest, lean muscles covertly rippling whenever she moved, Toph had enough of a figure to show the subtle curves sitting on the girl. Looking her up once more, Suki almost missed the Toph's grumble.

"Yeah, because I totally have nothing better to do at home," the earthbender muttered sarcastically. This time, she didn't have to have her feet on the ground to know Suki was frowning at her.

"Well, if you're offering to help, I have something that you can do. The town hall won't fit all the guests, and the bar in town isn't going to be nearly large enough for the reception. You can earthbend tables and chairs for everyone to sit on outside. I don't trust any of the kids here. Plus, Aang's probably going to be too busy smooching with Katara," she added playfully, glancing in the couples' direction.

An indignant, "Hey!" was heard from Aang (high-pitched enough to be Katara, had she not burst out laughing at the sound), and Toph tilted her head towards Suki with a small frown. "Just tables and chairs? No destruction and mayhem?" Katara and Suki traded slightly alarmed looks at how disappointed she sounded at the lack of smashing. "How many people are coming, anyway?"

The question piqued the interest of Aang and Katara, who both leaned forward slightly to hear the answer. "How many people do you know? I thought this was gonna be a little wedding?" Aang asked tactlessly, but with a nudge from Katara wisely decided to shut up.

Suki shot them a good-natured frown as she replied quietly, "Uhh, that plan fell through... about two hundred, maybe?..."

Toph let out a low whistle. "You do realise how pathetic the dirt is here, don't you?" she puffed, standing up and walking on the spot, allowing her feet to sink into the ground as she made her point. "I'm gonna go scout around for a good spot," she said, already sick of the "oogies". It didn't matter that Toph could already sense the optimal place to create the many pieces of furniture; she was the best earthbender in the world, after all. It didn't matter if she were working with sand or metal or pure earth–Toph would be able to bend it. She just had enough. There was only so much couply stuff, wedding planning, and just general feelings of completeness that she could take when not being able (or willing) to participate. Especially when she had to feel it. When Suki made to point Toph in the direction of her desired wedding spot, the earthbender held her hand up. "Nuh-uh-uh, Fangirl. You go and organise everything else. Leave the earth to me. I know what I'm talking about." She shrugged and, without waiting for a goodbye (or an argument), walked off.

"Come on, Aang. I bet the women have some girl-talk to do, or something," Sokka sighed, looking over at his friend's still shocked face.

".... Two hundred?" he squeaked, before being led away by the Water Tribesman.

"Ahh, just us girls, now!" Katara cried out, taking a sip of her now tepid tea and grimacing.

"Well, Toph isn't here," Ty Lee pointed out. Katara just waved her hand, nodding thanks to Suki as she collected the used tea cups and took them inside.

"Yeah, well, we'll just be a nuisance if we try and make her do girly things. I've tried, believe me. She's my little sister, and I love her, but if there's one thing I know, it's that it's pointless trying to make her do something she doesn't want to." Katara glanced up at Ty Lee, her blue eyes so innocent and sweet, and yet harbouring a challenge–daring Ty Lee to contradict her, to argue her and her knowledge of her friend. The chi-blocker fiddled with her fingers, meeting Katara's gaze until she finally looked away, choosing not to voice her own thoughts, but to instead look towards the direction Toph had walked off too, her eyebrows scrunched in thought and confusion.

"Oh, you'd know all about that, wouldn't you, Ty?" Suki returned to the porch, oblivious to the tension between her two friends moments before, and stood at the doorway, grinning at the chi-blocker who had turned a pale pink colour at the suggestion.

"Well..." she bit her lip, grinning a little before her face fell. She looked away, anywhere but the two girls looking at her, and coughed a little. "It doesn't matter, anyway." She gave a smile that was far too bright, even for the chi-blocker, and shook her head. "I had better get back to the Warriors. It's time for the afternoon stretches." With a wave only slightly less enthusiastic than the greeting, Ty Lee bounded down the steps and began skipping toward the dojo, Suki smiling after her.

"Hey, Suks?" Katara questioned. "What was that all about?"

Suki's grin dropped a notch or two, and she beckoned Katara indoors. "Nothing, really. Ty Lee just has been feeling a little... lonely lately, with all the celebrations," Suki explained as she sat on her tatami mat.

Katara looked at Suki quizzically while the latter pulled out a list of people and a small map.

"Ty Lee? Lonely? But she's the most outgoing, energetic person around here. Plus, she's so social and has no regard for personal space. How is she lonely?"

Suki sighed and shook her head. She waved a hand in the air as though summoning the words needed to articulate her thoughts, and Katara couldn't help but feel as though there was more to the chirpy girl than what she had experienced. "Ty Lee is... complex. There's more to her than just how she appears."

Katara gave an awkward smile, somewhat reluctant to change her opinion of the strange girl. "You got that right." Unbidden, memories of versing the young girl on the battlefield surfaced, and Katara involuntarily shuddered at the memory–the realisation–of the chi-blocker's horrific ability. She knew the girl had switched sides; the war was over, after all, and Ty Lee had been nothing but friendly and helpful, but Katara still couldn't shake the feeling of the chi-blocker's lithe fingers, barely touching her, and yet causing such a feeling of dread and helplessness. She doubted she would ever fully be able to trust the chi-blocker, and had no plans to. After all, it wasn't as though she had constant contact with her.

Suki continued on, oblivious to her friend's lack of attention. "I've just been really busy lately... She needs more friends. Oh!" she cried out suddenly, bringing Katara back into the moment. "That reminds me; did Toph have plans for a plus-one? Because if so, I need to rearrange table two..."

It was Katara's turn to shake her head. "Not that I know of. I mean, she has dated," she elaborated with a small frown, "but I don't think they ever went anywhere."

Suki looked up, eyebrows creasing in thought. "What do you mean?"

Katara shrugged. "She just told me it didn't feel right," she replied, her shoulders lifting again. "Oh! We should hook her up with someone; sit her next to your cousin, uh.... starts with a J..."


"Yeah, him! I'm sure she'll love spending time with someone just as loud as her!"

Looking down at her notes, Suki offered another suggestion. "Maybe it was the guy. She's what, seventeen?" Suki questioned. "I really wish she'd let us do her hair and make-up sometimes, she has such gorgeous skin. Trying to get her into that dress," she sighed, "the seamstress is going to have a field day," she said, ticking Toph's name off and placing Jingo next to her. "I think I'll put Ty next to Toph, as well." Suki grinned, and turned back to her list before noticing Katara watching her. "What?"

"Oh, nothing... I just thought, seeing as how you were getting married and all.... that you might have a nice dress to wear..." Katara trailed off, grinning airily.

"Oh fine, just don't tell anyone," Suki hushed, pulling Katara behind her. It was nice having the gang back together.

Once again, the five friends had congregated on Suki's front porch. The moon shone overhead, and a chill breeze gently swept through the small village–not freezing, but cool enough to have a slight bite. The lateness of the evening ensured that most (sensible) citizens had already turned in, although there were still a few people moving about. Aang and Katara were curled up on one bench, the Avatar's firebending ensuring he kept warm as he snuggled with his girlfriend, and Sokka had wrapped a blanket around himself and Suki. The only one who seemed immune to the weather was Toph, who merely had a light jumper and long pants on.

"Why winter?"

The unexpected question surprised the five friends, and three of them looked in the direction of the airbender. The one who didn't was of course Toph, who was lying on top of an old picnic blanket with her eyes shut.

Seeing that his friends needed a slight elaboration, Aang tried again.

"Well, don't most people have weddings in the summer, when it's nice and warm. It's fairly chilly here," he explained, shivering slightly for emphasis. Katara put her arm around him and snuggled closer.

"I don't know. I think it's perfect. All these people cuddling to conserve body heat," she murmured, kissing him on the cheek.

"It's the solstice, isn't it?" Toph piped up, still as a statue save for her breathing.

Aang looked at Sokka and Suki in turn. "What's important about the solstice?"

Sokka frowned a little, rubbing his hands. "Well, I just... I thought it would be nice if Yue could see, you know?"

Suki leaned further into him as Aang nodded, and Katara smiled. "It sounds lovely," she said, earning a small smile from her brother.

"Tomorrow we should light a campfire!" Aang announced, eliciting a light laugh and chuckle from the Water Tribe siblings. "It'll be nice and warm and then we can toast mallows!"

"Aang, this is nothing. Negative forty degrees in winter in the South Pole. That's cold. This, this is just chilly. Just remember that," Sokka chortled, before looking at his best friend, lying on the ground. "Hey, Toph, are you sure you wanna stay out here tonight?"

Everyone looked down at Toph, who was lying with one leg crossed over the other, her foot dancing playfully in the air.

"You forget I sleep on the cold ground most nights. I'll be fine," she called back, eyes still shut.

"Well, if you're sure..." Suki said dubiously, noting the raised skin on Toph's exposed neck. "Katara and Aang have claimed the spare bed, but you can sleep on the couch if you want?"

Toph sat up at this, turning to face Suki blindly. "I'm fine, Suki. I don't need you to mother me," she said with a huff, a little cloud of water rising in front of her. "Anyway, I like being able to see where I'm going. What if I need to piss?"

Sokka laughed at this, while Katara groaned at her friend's vulgarity.

"Anyway, don't we have more interesting things to talk about than the weather? Like, when are you gonna finally tie the knot, Katara?"

Katara glanced at her friend, eyebrows raised that she suggested such a girly subject. She had always assumed that Toph didn't like talking about such subjects. She was correct, for as soon as Suki began discussing the benefits of having less seafood, she zoned out.

It wasn't that she didn't like it, or she thought it stupid. Toph just didn't care. The little ache in her heart when the couples laughed did little to sway her own reasoning as she let her thoughts just drift.

Toph would be lying if she said she didn't occasionally wonder what all the hype was about. How did people realise they were in love? What was it? Had she been expecting something that didn't exist, or was she just incapable of reciprocating? Or had she been in love before, but just didn't realise it? The small mysteries scared her only insofar as she wished for them to no longer be a secret. She knew several of the young men she had seen found her beautiful, and she vaguely realised whether her heart was supposed to beat double time around them, just as theirs did around her. Sighing lightly, she began to fiddle with the space-bracelet, still in its rightful place on her arm, even after almost five years. The shapes she created were vast and varied, and she didn't notice the conversation lull until Katara suddenly announced that she wanted to go to bed.

"Toph, you're sure you don't want the couch? Or a blanket?" Suki offered once more as the rest of the group began to file inside with weary, "G'night"s.

"Nah. I told you, I'll be fine. I have this one," she said, indicating to the fabric she was sitting on. It was only when Suki offered her own goodbye, telling her that she was welcome to come in at any time during the night–the door was unlocked–and the sounds faded into silence that Toph realised how very quiet Kyoshi Island really was.

Rolling onto her side, dragging the earth to form her customary triangle-shaped tent, Toph couldn't help but notice the small pang in her chest. The small tug that radiated cold, and caused her to curl up even further.

Not for the first time, Toph wondered whether her friends ever felt the same, before slowly nodding off to sleep.

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