Toph doesn't go home after the war. Katara doesn't outright say that she ought to, but Toph can tell that's what she's thinking - pointed silences after she talks about how much she's looking forward to seeing her grandmother again, vague questions about what Toph wants to do next.
The thing is, Toph does want to go back to her parents again. She has idle fantasies of them showing up out of nowhere, full of joy to see her, and telling her how proud they are, how brave she's been. But after the war, days pass, then weeks, and there's no sign of them, not even a reply to that messenger hawk she sent.
She starts to worry that something terrible has happened - who knows what the Fire Nation could have done? Zuko reassures her that the army had no interest in Gaoling, that they never made it that far. She believes him, just about, but the thought lingers.
Toph knows, deep down, that she's strong enough and smart enough that no one can ever put her in a cage again, not even her parents, but it's hard to shake the sense of fear she feels every time she thinks about going home, with the possibility she might never be able to leave again.
She's travelled so far and done so many things that home seems like little more than a distant memory, sometimes. She remembers the smell of her mother's perfume, the rich sound of her father's laugh, and the way their movements always felt slow and steady under her feet. She used to think she'd drown in their rigid ways, but now the memories fill her with a longing she doesn't know what to do with.
Toph being Toph, she shakes it from her mind and goes to duck an unsuspecting Katara into a lake.
Suki stands in front of the mirror, studying the paint on her face, the lines and colours a familiar badge of honour. She's proud of her heritage, the mantle she took from her mother and the battles she's shared with her sister warriors, but she's not sure she recognises herself underneath the painted mask any more. She's done so much, and proved herself as a warrior a hundred times over, but now the world has changed and there may be no more battles left to fight. What place is there for a Kyoshi Warrior when a hundred years of war have finally turned to peace?
She thinks she might like to teach, to help pass on the traditions she learned at her mother's knee, which still have value even if their purpose no longer exists. The people of Kyoshi Island should never forget the war, and never forget the soldiers that never came home.
She can hear her sisters in arms outside, talking excitedly with Ty Lee as she tells them stories of the circus, and Suki knows she wouldn't give up their friendship for the world. She thinks she might want to give up her arms, though.
She wipes her face, colours coming off in her hands until she finds herself underneath them - older, changed, but still Suki. She smiles, and feels something begin to shift her. Change is hard, but sometimes it's necessary, and the swell of new possibilities feels good.
Afterwards, Katara and Sokka both cling to their father like limpets, and he doesn't seem to mind. They receive word that Gran Gran is coming up to see them, and when she arrives Katara feels like her heart is going to burst as her family reunites. As her grandmother wraps her arms around them, Katara clasps her necklace and thinks about her mother. She misses her desperately, always, but today it feels like a more quiet kind of grief, the ache in her heart easier to carry.
She has no idea what comes next. She wants to go home; she wants to help Aang; she wants to see the world. She knows she's at a crossroads, and she feels pulled this way and that. Her village needs her, her family needs her, but she knows that other people do too, and somehow she has to pick one place to be in at a time.
She meets Sokka's eye and knows he's facing the same questions. She wonders what he'll choose, and wonders how soon it will be before they finally begin to go their separate ways.
They're outside the Jasmine Dragon one afternoon when Toph asks the question the three of them have all danced around.
"So what now?"
"Home," says Suki. "Home, but maybe not yet."
Toph's glad to hear she's not the only one who's putting off her return. "I don't want to go back to just being a little girl again," she says. "My parents never really understood me, and it's not like they're going to start now."
"You don't know that," says Katara. "If they knew everything you'd done, I'm sure they'd be proud."
"Yeah," Toph says doubtfully. "Maybe. What are you going to do?"
"I --" Katara pauses, and then as she speaks it's as though she's figuring it out as she goes. "I think that the world isn't quite saved, not yet. People are hurt, families are separated, villages are destroyed. I think I can help - we all can. I can heal, and Suki, you've travelled all over the Earth Kingdom and the people respect you. Toph, you can bend earth and metal, you could do anything. We don't have to be the Avatar or the Fire Lord to make a difference."
Toph has to fight back a smile, because Katara really does have a knack for speechifying. But she also can't deny the joy that catches in her throat, the thought that maybe she doesn't have to give up another family, and in so doing give up herself.
"Maybe the world still needs us," Suki says, and Toph can hear the grin in her voice.
There's an indignant yelp from inside the tea shop, and Katara smacks a palm to her forehead.
"Looks like the new Fire Lord just spilled tea all over Sokka," Suki drawls, amused.
"So the boys would probably just slow us down," Toph says, and then they're laughing, quiet at first, then peals of laughter that have Aang rushing outside to find out what the joke was.
Toph sits in the shadow of a firebender-run tea shop in Ba Sing Se, in a time of peace, and the world is full of wonders and she has a family, and there is nothing she can't do, and no cages anywhere.