"Ha! Didja see that?"
She knew that voice well. She tapped her feet a few times into the grass to re-associate herself with her surroundings as she felt them approach.
Thip thip thip.Tap tap tap.
It was Meathead and his girlfriend.
He'd knocked a fruit from the tree she had been resting against, startling her from her light nap when it had hit the ground. She yawned groggily, climbing to her feet and stretching out her limbs.
She felt his weight shift as he bent down to grab the fruit he'd knocked loose. She gave the ground a light stomp as she walked around the tree to meet them. The earth beneath the fruit jumped briefly, popping the food into the boy's forehead before landing near the tree's thick trunk.
He was in too much of a state of shock to even cry out in pain as he normally would. She lamented his lack of pouting.
"Wh-?" was about all he could muster as his companion snickered.
"Good job, Sokka," she mocked. "I thought you were an expert hunter."
Before the boy could calculate the most logical explanation for possessed fruit, the one who had tossed the fruit at his head flashed him a devilish smirk.
"Ha ha." His sarcastic laugh spread her grin wider. "Ya got me, Toph," he admitted, rubbing his knuckle into her head before retrieving his prize.
"Wow, that was earthbending?" his girlfriend mused. "I couldn't even tell..."
Toph folded her arms over her chest with pride.
"Yep, Toph's a sneaky one," Sokka confirmed as he ruffled her hair a bit. She appreciated the texture of his rough, slender fingers. They suited him: bony and lanky but with a tough skin. She jabbed him in the side with a sharp punch, which he absorbed with more confidence than she was used to. She regretted having not punched harder. She sensed his weight bending down and as he presented his item to his love in a most dramatic fashion.
"Madame Suki," he bellowed boldly. "I hath struck down the fiersome tree spirit, survived the onslaught of its stone golem guardian, and present thee with thine treasure...the Fruit of Knowledge..." Both girls giggled at his fantastical interpretation.
Stone Golem, huh? That's pretty bad-ass...There's nickname potential there.
"Ohhh," Suki wooed, holding her hand to her head. "Chief Sokka, how noble of you to risk your life for the sake of my kingdom! Surely you struggled in this epic quest."
Sokka nonchalantly dropped the act. Spiff, the fruit hit Suki before tumbling to the ground.
"Well, I mean, it wasn't a struggle for a mighty warrior such as myself," Sokka bragged.
"Why'd ya run away from that Stone Golem, then?" Toph teased with a smirk.
"Sometimes a tactful retreat is the path to victory," Sokka pointed out in that funny way of his - she couldn't tell by the sound of his voice if he was dead serious, overembellishing, or some combination thereof.
"Why were you all the way out here by yourself, Toph?" Suki wondered. "We were wondering where you'd gone. It's past nightfall."
Toph shrugged and blew her hair from her face, slightly irked. What did it matter? It was her business. She must've been napping longer than she had thought. She could detect the crisp, chilled air of night passing over her, the clean scent of grassy hills reminding her of where she was.
"Just needed a break from everyone, I guess," Toph admitted bluntly, strutting past them with her arms wrapped around her head.
"Everyone needs some time to themselves," Sokka sagely acknowledged/.
"Especially when they're traveling with a group of crazy people," Toph jabbed, receiving another snicker from Suki. That girl was in a very laughable mood tonight, wasn't she?
She felt the two warriors approach the tree and the signature sound of Boomerang (Jr.) as it knocked another fruit off. Toph headed back to camp on her own as they continued to make jokes. They didn't ask her if she knew where she was going, and this inflated her spirit a little bit.
Crackle crack pop.Klok. Fwoosh.Crackle snap-snap crack.
Tip tip tip.Twinkletoes.
"Hey, Toph, what's up?"
The voice with the slight lisp welcomed them to their camp. She replied, expressionless, with a shrug.
"Where were you?"
There was no concern in Aang's voice, no worry - just as had been the case with Sokka and Suki. For some reason she was feeling specifically grateful about this today, though she didn't see what difference it made to them where she was.
"Just taking a little nap, Twinkletoes," she explained, passing him by. With each step she took she felt a little more warmth on her face. The tents, the pile of firewood, the tiff-tiff-tiff of Katara's footsteps, the hulking bison...It was making her feel nostalgic. This way of life was no longer necessary, and she couldn't help but wonder how much longer it'd last. They had decided to leave Ba Sing Se and take trip across the southern edge of the Earth Kingdom - do some soul searching, figure out what they wanted to do with themselves now that everything that had brought them together was over.
When this trip was done, where would they all go? Their excuse for traveling together had been fulfilled. The thought kind of scared Toph. She'd grown so accustomed to life in the open world, she wasn't sure what she'd end up doing. She hadn't thought that far ahead - on purpose.
"Oh, hey, Toph," Katara's soft, relaxed tone chimed. "Did you enjoy your little hike?"
"Eh, it was all right," Toph replied, plopping herself down near the flame, extending her feet out. The world blurred with no feet to sense things but the warmth was comforting. She heard another log get dropped into the fire and delighted in the crackling, snapping sounds.
She had once asked her friends why people found campfires so fascinating to look at. They tried to explain how it had a mesmerising kind of effect - that it was alive, dancing a subtle dance. It hypnotised you into a state of near meditation. While she couldn't comprehend exactly what this was like, she was certain she felt the same kind of mental sensation when she sat before one. That lively energy came through in its sounds, its heat.
"Did you run into Sokka and Suki?" Katara wondered.
"Yea," Toph replied dismissively, "those two love birds were gathering some food."
"Great, I'm starving," Aang muttered. She felt the skish-skish of his palms rubbing together and the slight breeze he created. She detected a spike in his heartbeat, as if he had become suddenly aware of something terrifying.
"Wait...Were they hunting animals?" he checked nervously. Toph's brows furrowed a bit.
"No, Twinkletoes," she grumbled. "They were getting fruit. Apple-Mangoes I think."
Man, Aang, do you have to lick your lips so damn loud? Tryin' to listen to the fire, here...
"Everything all right, Toph?" Katara prodded casually. Toph cocked an eyebrow.
"Uhhhh, yea, why?" she spat out. What did it take to get some peace and quiet and appreciate a campfire? For the love of Spirits, it was no wonder she'd left for some time alone.
"I don't know, you just seem..." Katara fumbled for a tactful word. "...Well, it just seems like you're in a bad mood lately, is all." Toph didn't detect any hostility in Katara's tone, and now that she'd mentioned it, maybe she was in a bad mood.
Aang chuckled in spite of the concern.
"Katara, Toph's always in a bad mood."
Toph grinned and sighed appreciatiely.
"Twinkletoes, you know me too well."
"I guess I shouldn't worry so much," Katara muttered thoughtfully.
Tap. Tap. Tap.Thip. Thip. Thip.
"Here comes dinner," Toph announced as Sokka and Suki drew near.