whitelotusmods: Suki from Avatar smiling and coming to the rescue (Suki smiling)
whitelotusmods ([personal profile] whitelotusmods) wrote in [community profile] white_lotus2011-02-03 11:44 am

LNYE Fic: to live deliberately for phantom

Title: to live deliberately
By: [livejournal.com profile] dropsofviolet
Recipient: Phantom/[personal profile] rosabelle
Length: 3890 words
Prompt: I combined elements of all three prompts, so this fic features Zuko reuniting with Ursa, Sokka/Suki/Toph friendship with hints of more, and a small amount of Mai/Zuko.
Pairing: Story focus is mostly gen. Sokka/Suki, hints of Sokka/Suki/Toph, and minor Mai/Zuko.
Rating: G
Content Notes: None.

Summary: Zuko asks Toph to look for Ursa. Toph recruits Sokka and Suki to help, and madcap adventures ensue.

Toph Bei Fong, of the notable Bei Fong family, graced the Court with her presence on on the eighth day of summer in the sixth year of Firelord Zuko's reign. At least, that was how it was recorded when she climbed off of Appa, dusty travel bag at her side, and said, "Hey, Sparky -- fine, Firelord Sparky -- I'm going to crash here for a while. I know where my usual room is." But those aren't the kinds of statements that get recorded in official documents.

Three weeks later, after she'd entertained the noblewomen with tales of her adventures through the Earth Kingdom, and scandalized them by revealing that she'd cut her hair short to keep it out of her face, Toph had a private audience with Zuko. He was at the end of his rope, although not because of his guest. (In fact, he'd secretly been quite impressed with the rearranging she'd done in the royal rock garden. The small cliffs and jutting buttes were a nice touch in his opinion. It might actually be a useful sparring ground now, instead of just ornamental.) In any case, he was well used to Toph and her generally-unannounced visits. She almost always came in late fall, when she wanted to escape the cold weather and her welcome elsewhere was wearing thin. Toph traveled the most out of any of the Avatar gang, excepting Aang. She'd spent twelve years in one place, and seemed to think it was necessary to make up for lost time.

Zuko had been considering parts of next year's budget, as presented to him by some of his advisers. Paperwork was an awful but necessary bane in his job. At the point that Toph blatantly ignored his secretary and stepped into his office, the numbers were all beginning to blur together, so he honestly welcomed the interruption.

Toph dug her toes into the carpet and remarked, "I don't know why anyone would need so many books." She wandered over to his desk and picked up a small bear figurine that had been a gift from the Earth King, turning it over in her hands.

"Don't touch that," Zuko snapped out of habit.

Toph huffed, and with a dexterous twist of her fingers, shifted the shape of the figurine so that the bear was standing on its hind legs. She set it back down on his desk with mocking care.

"Okay, so everyone around here has been walking on eggshells for the past week. More than usual, I mean. They weren't even this nervous when I told them the Firelady was pregnant."

Zuko counted Toph among the very small group of people that he could trust to always tell him the truth, even when he didn't like it. That group included the Avatar gang, his uncle, and none of his advisers. She had no stipulations about lying to other people, however, and that had made last fall's visit all the more awkward when Mai had traced the rumor back to its source.

"So what gives, Sparky? You seem more uptight than usual. I can feel the heat from over here."

Zuko scowled, although he knew Toph wouldn't notice. He was silent for a long moment, contemplating his mother's birthday, which they had very carefully not celebrated six days ago. They never acknowledged it, but Zuko remembered when it was. He remembered every year.

"You're early, you know," he said finally, an obvious attempt at distracting her. "You never come until fall."

"Yeah, but usually it takes my parents nine months every year to find a suitor who isn't scared away by my reputation. This one must be stupider than usual. I wasn't going to stick around and be sold like cattle. I have more plans for my life, you know?"

Zuko contemplated exactly how stupid the Bei Fongs had to be if they expected their daughter to go along with an arranged marriage, and then swiftly banished the thought for being undiplomatic. Still, he wasn't surprised that she'd left. He was more surprised that she would spend even six months at a time at home.

"Anyway, I dropped by Ba Sing Se and your uncle said that he hadn't seen you in forever, so I figured something must be going on here. And apparently it is, although you won't tell anyone. Well, probably Lady Boring knows, but that doesn't do anyone else any good."

"Don't call Mai boring," he muttered, irritated.

If Toph had been a sighted person, she would have been leaning over his desk, staring pointedly at him. As it was, she was just standing there, back hunched and eyes blank, but it was still effective. Zuko leaned back in his chair and sighed.

"What do you know about my family history, Toph?"

(It had been six years, and he still even hadn't had time to look.)

*

"He really doesn't like it when you call Mai boring," Sokka observed when Toph was retelling this story a few weeks later. She was sitting in her room at the guesthouse at Kyoshi, the only person staying here in the off season. Well, besides Sokka, who was just across the hall. She'd shown up too late for his wedding to Suki, but just in time to interrupt a fight between them. Sokka had been packed to leave for the South Pole the day after the ceremony. Suki hadn't even considered leaving the island, and Sokka had forgotten to mention this plan. They'd been in a frustrated stalemate for almost ten days, which Sokka considered practically criminal, given that they were newlyweds.

Toph shrugged. Mai was either boring or incredibly dangerous, and Toph preferred the boring side.

"But my point is, this will totally help mend your relationship," she said. "I'll talk Suki into coming with us too. We'll find Zuko's mom, you two will talk blah blah and you can go back to mooning over each other like you do." She rolled her eyes.

"Do you think?" Sokka sounded disgustingly hopeful.

"More than you," she retorted, hitting him in the arm. "But yeah. Is she really going to turn down a sacred mission from the Firelord himself?" She waggled her fingers.

"Probably not," he said, rubbing at his shoulder. He sighed. "I can't believe how mad she is," he mourned.

"I think you need a drink to cheer you up," Toph announced, getting to her feet and hauling him up with her.

Sokka smiled for the first time in ten days.

*

"So you want me," Suki said, pointing to herself, "to go on a mission with you and him," and this time she thrust her hand in Sokka's direction, "to find a Fire Nation woman who hasn't been seen in fifteen years? Somewhere in the Earth Kingdom?" And this time she gestured in a wide circle above her head, as if appealing to someone who understood the ridiculous proposal that this was.

"That pretty much sums it up," Sokka said cheerfully. He was doing a pretty good job of not slurring, but he was leaning pretty heavily on Toph for support. Toph didn't mind. The ground always did a great job of holding her up, even when she was more than a little tipsy.

"That's ridiculous!" she said, scowling at the pair of them. "And it's past midnight! Go home!"

"But Suki, this is my home," Sokka whined. "You're my wife."

"You're my husband," Suki said firmly; this seemed an important distinction. "And we'll talk about this in the morning. Don't you know better than to go drinking with Toph? No one that size should have the tolerance of a wolfbear."

Toph grinned at the statement, which she took as a compliment. She lifted her head and howled. Suki stiffened with irritation.

"Tomorrow!" she said. And then she smiled a little in a way that made Sokka shrink a little.

"Very early," she said. "Show up for morning practice. That seems sensible."

"Sensible? That's in -- " Sokka squinted at the moon, " -- three hours!"

"Then you'd better get some sleep," she said firmly, turning away and shutting the door.

*

Toph hated the feel of the makeup on her skin. It felt like she was being dressed for presentation, and she told Suki so. Suki was humming as she applied the color to Toph's skin.

"You are," she answered. "You are showing your alliance with the Kyoshi Warriors. We present ourselves as one fighting unit."

"I'm one fighting unit by myself," Toph muttered. She blinked when Suki touched her eyelids with the brush. Suki laughed. After the initial awkwardness of the accidental kiss, they'd developed a healthy respect for each other, and a quiet friendship.

"I'm mostly making you do it because I wanted Sokka to," she whispered, and this time Toph barked a laugh.

"You don't have to tell me about what you two do when you're alone," she said, and the paintbrush went wild, brushing her ear.

*

It was a long morning. Toph and Sokka were both trying to ignore their headaches, and Toph attempting to resist the urge to scratch at her painted face. When Suki decided that her husband had received enough punishment (for the moment), she called for a break and sat down with the two of them under a tree outside the practice house.

"I still think it's a ridiculous idea," she said when Toph explained. "How are we going to find this lady? The Earth Kingdom is huge."

Toph fished around in her pocket and found the piece of paper that Zuko gave her. He had told her that it was a portrait of his mother and so she held it up for Suki and Sokka's inspection.

"This is her. Her name is Ursa," she said. "So we go ask people. Start in the villages closest to the shore, and hope there's someone who remembers seeing someone who spoke with a Fire Nation accent. It's worth a try."

Sokka and Suki said nothing for a long moment. Toph sighed.

"It's upside-down, isn't it?"

*

Although Sokka was usually more of a recorder than Suki was, after a few days travel, she found it necessary tomake a list. She stole a page out of Sokka's travel journal and spent some time writing, which she found cathartic.

Tips for Traveling with Sokka and Toph

1. Toph accepts all dares, no matter how ridiculous. Do not dare her to do anything.

2. Sokka will invent any occasion for a romantic moment. Any occasion. The word "ridiculous" is not in his vocabulary.

3. Do not send Sokka or Toph into a village to ask questions by themselves. Sokka gets distracted in the market and Toph gets into fights.

4. Love them both very much, or you will kill them.


She added to it periodically as they traveled. And even though some days they walked until their feet hurt and they ran out of water, and even though they chased down a dozen leads that turned out to be dead ends, she still found herself having more fun than she'd had in years. She loved Kyoshi, and she loved being the leader of the Warriors, but it wasn't challenging like this task was. She still wasn't sure that they'd ever find Ursa, but at least they were the right ones for this journey.

It was easier to be with Sokka without the question of their future living space hanging over them. And she thought about it, sure, but there wasn't an immediate need to decide anything more strenuous than where to pitch the tent. She also liked spending time with Toph, who steadfastly refused to visit the South Pole at all, because of her feet, and who rarely came to Kyoshi unless she was looking for Sokka. Toph was a great buffer, whether intentional or not. She defused situations with her usual sharp humor or just straight distraction tactics.

They worked very well, the three of them together, and as the weather grew colder, and their search continued, it didn't feel that strange when Toph left her earth tents behind and began to curl up between Sokka and Suki. It wasn't always the most comfortable arrangement, admittedly, because her elbows were sharp and she'd drowsily punch anyone (that is, Sokka) who was talking in their sleep.

But it became normal enough that on the occasional night that they spent indoors, they only bothered to get one room.

*

Sokka sent Hawky with progress reports about once a week. It usually took the Firelord's men about half an hourto capture the poorly-trained bird and rescue the message from his leg. Each missive was short, detailing which places they'd visited and what leads they currently had. Sokka tended to leave out the more interesting details, which were usually filled in by Zuko's spies.

"Why did he draw an interesting bird instead of telling us about the protection scheme in Mao?" Zuko asked Mai at dinner that night, fuming. He stabbed at his meat as if it had personally insulted him.

(He might have been interested to know that the interesting bird was supposed to be a portrait of Toph in a fighting stance, but probably not.)

"Probably because they took care of it," Mai answered, unperturbed as she sipped at her tea. "You're not the Earth King, and the men who were pretending to be Fire Nation soldiers were actually Earth Kingdom citizens."

"They were bribing people in my father's name!" Zuko shouted, his voice echoing in the otherwise-empty room. He insisted on their evening meal being as private as possible, but had been convinced to have it each day in the usual dining room, which would seat fifty people easily.

"Six years," he muttered, "and we've still barely started."

"At least you aren't the Avatar," Mai said. After a pause, she looked up at her husband.

"They'll find her soon," she said, unflappable as always. "And somehow, they do more good than harm."

"Somehow," Zuko answered, rolling his eyes.

"It could be worse," she said, cleaning her nails with a dagger.

Zuko couldn't argue with that.

*

They were traveling on what Sokka called their "extended honeymoon, plus Toph," or "Mission: Find Ursa Now" (which had the bonus of being abbreviated Mission: FUN), for almost a year before they got a solid lead. They were nothing if not determined, Aang said, on the occasions that he dropped by to see them in-between trying toachieve world peace.

Toph didn't miss her parents. Sokka and Suki didn't miss fighting with each other. (Sokka missed seal jerky, but that was a normal complaint.) Even the occasional note that Suki received from Kyoshi sounded content. Her second had stepped up admirably.

They were determined, and they were happy, and eventually Sokka knocked on an Earth Kingdom door and a woman answered who had Fire Nation eyes.

It was a little out-of-the-way town they might not have visited, except that a White Lotus member in the nearest large town remembered a woman who met Ursa's description. Her hair had been cut short, and her clothes rumpled from travel, but as he explained, she didn't act like the other refugees. She was fleeing, sure, but she seemed almost content, rather than resigned. She gave a false name and didn't stay long before moving on in the general direction of this particular village.

When Ursa opened the door, Sokka was struck by her resemblance to the portrait Zuko had provided them. Her hair remained short now, and she'd aged, certainly, but there was enough of her regal beauty remaining to strike him speechless. Or perhaps it was just surprise that their quest was over.

"Is it her?" Toph demanded impatiently. "Don't leave me hanging here!"

Ursa glanced around nervously, as if expecting others behind them, waiting to carry her off. When Suki began toexplain, she invited them in for tea.

*

Ursa knew that the war had ended. That news had passed through the Earth Kingdom quite quickly. She'd even heard the story of the crowning of her son, although edited by rumor. She only nodded when Sokka told her that Azula wasn't actually dead.

"I knew he wouldn't be able to do that," she said.

She'd taken up sewing when she arrived here, which was one of the few hobbies she'd enjoyed in the palace, and she made a small living from it. Those who noticed her foreign accent and odd appearance never said anything. The village was small and sleepy, and she avoided it most of the time.

She'd been uncertain of her welcome, if she'd returned. She'd left her family by choice, because she considered it necessary, and she wasn't sure what Zuko or Azula had been told about it, or if they wanted to see her again.

"Do we have good news for you!" Toph remarked cheerfully, stealing the rest of Sokka's tea and drinking it with obvious enjoyment.

"Hey!" Sokka said. Toph set the cup down and smiled.

"I know who taught you to make tea," she said.

*

Zuko wasn't sure what kind of an award he could give his friends for bringing his mother back from exile. He'd intimidated his advisers into finding the paperwork which would allow him to rescind the exile order, so that was good, but for some reason they were reluctant to admit the possibility of honoring foreigners for their service to the crown.

(He seriously needed to find some younger, more open-minded people. Surely they existed. He'd import them if he had to.)

All ideas of rewards and thanks fled swiftly from his mind, in any case, when a woman stepped off the boat and onto the dock, head held high. She wasn't nearly as tall as he remembered, but it was his mother.

He hesitated for a long, painful moment, before he rushed forward, half-falling over his formal robes. She stared at his scar for a long moment before she pulled him down into a hug.

"We're going to stay here a while too, Sparky," Toph remarked comfortably as she debarked behind their reunion scene. Zuko wasn't really listening.

"Thank you, Sokka, Suki and Toph. I'm so grateful to you for all your work," Sokka mumbled sarcastically as he followed, although it seemed more like habit than actual provocation. Zuko didn't respond. Suki gave her husband a sideways look and he became quiet.

"Do you really want Ursa mad at you?" she hissed in his ear. (It wasn't that she expected Ursa to repeat the action that provoked her exile, but the last few weeks' travel with the woman had revealed a not-unexpected protectiveness of Zuko.)

Sokka shook his head. Iroh had left his teashop in the capable hands of his assistants for a few days, and he was at the end of the gangplank to greet them. Toph even let him hug her.

Later in their room, Suki declared that a nice bed was reward enough, and Toph and Sokka were inclined to agree.

*

Zuko drafted the palace blacksmith into making medals for the three. Aang and Katara showed up for the celebration that they had, a fairly quiet one like their usual gatherings in Ba Sing Se, at least until Ty Lee and the Kyoshi Warriors showed up. Everyone eventually drifted back home, however, or at least, Zuko thought so, until he came out into the palace garden and found Toph constructing a scale model of her childhood home with pebbles, smoothing them out with earthbending into tiny bricks. He blinked and sat down beside her.

"Thanks," he said, hesitant, "again."

Toph shrugged. She adjusted the shape of the roof of the main building. Zuko had only visited once, but he was struck by the likeness.

"Someone had to do it," she said, smiling a little. "Your mom is pretty cool. She even wants to see Sister Crazypants. That's some kind of love."

"Yeah," Zuko agreed. He hadn't been to see Azula in almost a year. Every time he went, she pitched such a fit that the doctors took days to calm her down again. He was hoping... well, maybe it was ridiculous. But she'd always wanted her mother's approval.

Toph finished her construction and stood up, wiping her hands absently on her pants.

"We're going to Kyoshi in a couple of weeks," she announced.

"We?" Zuko blinked. Toph always seemed to be a few steps ahead of everyone else, and she only shared her thought process when it was necessary for people to understand. It was a little disorienting.

"Me and Sokka and Suki," she said, allowing a grin onto her face. He stared for a moment. Something about the way she'd said it... He shook his head. Toph went on.

"It's for a few weeks. We might go to the South Pole for a while in the summer." She scowled briefly with distaste for the idea. "And sometime I guess we'll go to my parents' house so they know I'm not dead."

Zuko didn't mention that he'd been in written communication with the Bei Fongs pretty much since Toph had left the Fire Nation. He sent them the occasional report, heavily edited, so that they didn't send someone off to rescue Toph from her mission. (He didn't have much hope for their chances.)

"So, are you happy, Sparky?" Toph asked.

He narrowed his eyes in consideration for a moment before he answered, "Yes." Toph nodded as if that settled something. She punched him hard in the arm, making him yell out in surprised pain.

"You owe us big," she announced, smirking, "but that's okay. I'm sure we'll think of something for you to do for us."

"Hey now!" Zuko protested immediately.

"Kidding, kidding," she said, and snorted. "No, it's okay. If you have any other long-lost relatives, let us know. We're thinking about opening a detective agency."

"That's frightening," Zuko answered.

"I knew you'd say that," Toph said. "I win that bet. Now me and Suki just have to convince Sokka not to wear that goofy hat all the time."

"Good luck," Zuko said, and to his surprise, he meant it, on both accounts (hat and detecting).

"Thanks," Toph said with a swift smile. She stomped hard suddenly and her careful construction separated into a million tiny pieces. Zuko watched the pebbles scatter in amazement.

"You could have left that," he said. It would be art by any standards.

"Building something new," she said, settling back down to work with the rock, and she whistled as she did.

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