Like a Little Brother
"Where'd you go, Toph?" Aang wondered between bites. He dunked his spoon into his bowl and chewed on his meal, continuing to speak through his food. "Yuhr foof's ahl cohhld."
"Heyheyhey," Sokka spat out indignantly. "What's all this stuff about manners, Aang? Ya hypocrite."
Aang forced his food down in one huge gulp, coughed a bit, and laughed.
Toph crawled onto her wooden chair, admiring its evenly sanded, smooth surface, and sniffed in the delightful scent of her dinner.
"I was at the Jasmine Dragon getting some tea before dinner," she explained. Ohhh man, that chicken, the rice, and what were these spices she was smelling? A merry melody to her nostrils, that's what it was. Sokka's doing, no doubt. He was pretty good with spices, that Meathead.
"Oh, yea, that fancy tea place in the uppity part of town?" Sokka wondered from Toph's left.
"That's where Zuko's uncle works now," Katara specified from across the table. "Remember?"
"He's the guy who owns it," Toph proudly added before scooping up a clump of sticky rice and chicken and chowing down. The savory flavor of the pepery spices hit the spot for a hungry tummy, the juicy chicken and boiled green beans serving as a delicious combination. "He's my uncle now, too," she quietly slipped in after swallowing her first bite.
"Huh?" probed a curious Aang from her right at the end of the table. Toph savored the clink-tinkle-clat-pak-soof of the dinner table as everyone fiddled their tools around to eat.
"He said he'd be my uncle," Toph bragged, slightly louder, before chewing into some more chow.
"You're just surrounding yourself with a whole new family, aren't you?" Suki cheerfully pointed out.
"Sure," Toph flatly agreed. What are you, then? My fancy-pants ninja cousin? No thanks.
"That's great," chimed Katara.
"So how are you liking this stuff?" Aang wondered. "It's good, isn't it?"
"It's yummy," Toph voiced with glee.
"I'm glad you like it," said Suki. "It's an old recipe my mother passed down to me."Seriously? For Spirits' sake...
Toph refused to acknowledge that statement and continued to chew down her meal.
"Sooo tomorrow morning," Sokka began, breaking the pregnant pause. Oh, here we go again with his planning everything out. "Suki and I will get some food in town for the trip. Katara and Aang, you guys should make sure we've got water and clothing 'cuz it's gonna get cold - obviously. We'll probably need to get some stuff as soon as we touch down but I don't think that'll be a problem."
"Well, what do I do?" Toph wondered.
"Have you decided that you're going?" Katara eagerly wondered.
"Why not?" Toph casually replied. "I've never really been anywhere with snow and ice all over. Should be different. And I'll get to meet a real Water Tribe!"
"Awesome," Sokka cheered in a goofy tone.
"So how can I help tomorrow?"
Sokka replied by slapping her shoulder with the back of his wrist.
"Hey, Rockie, you can just sleep in and relax, you've had a rough trip," he advised. This was his way of trying to make her feel better, if Katara was to be believed. Little Sokka, planning this whole trip just for her sake...Wasn't he just a sweet guy, trying to play it all cool?
After dinner, Aang coerced Toph into some earthbending practice.
For the third time, she swirled her arms around, rotating a smal tornado of pebbles and sand around her, only to lose her concentration and have it spill out across the ground. Earthbending was often about controlling single, large masses with great strength and focus, but an exercise like this could be tricky since it required precision to move every separate piece of earth together in tandem. Air was a continuous mass, like fire, and even water often was, but earth could be be tricky when broken into little separate pieces. If you weren't sharp, it'd fall apart and you'd lose control. Like she just had. Three times now. In a row.
"Urgh, what the hell?" she growled at herself.
"It-it's OK, Toph," Aang shakily assured through his own tornado. She could sense that he wasn't cheating with any of that airbending of his, and was controlling it entirely with his index finger. A frown crawled across her face and Aang immediately flopped down his finger, cascading his tornado into the ground. "Uh, shoot," he mumbled. "Y-yea, I guess this is harder than I thought it'd be." His heartbeat was a dead giveaway.
"You're a horrible liar, Twinkletoes," she seethed between grit teeth. This was not how things were. She was better than him at earthbending. She could move a damned mountain if she wanted.
"I-I'm sorry," Aang meekly stuttered. "Maaaaybe you're just off today. Have a lot on your mind?"
"No," she matter-of-factly spat. Yes, she had a lot. So much her head was about to freaking explode. Twak! Ow.
"Looks like we're both liars," Aang teased, tip, setting his foot back on the ground. He must have kicked a pebble at her now throbbing knee. Damn. She really was out of sorts. "Maybe we should stop - I don't wanna stress you out."
Toph sighed a deep and drawn out sigh. "I guess. Sure."
"Ya wanna go for a ride on Appa?" he offered, gently disappearing somewhere above.
"Isn't it kinda late?" she doubtfully inquired, observing the chilled air and cold ground.
"If you're too tired we can just go to bed," Aang complacently suggested, his voice coming from the air like a ghost.
"Let's go for a walk," Toph suggested, mashing the side of her fist into her palm. "We're gonna be on Appa all day tomorrow, right?" There was something she had decided she wanted to ask him.
"Krititit," Momo growled, landing on Toph's shoulder and swisle swis-ing his wings around. Her shoulders were stiff and sore from their trip and her strained attempts at bending, so his presence wasn't welcome - it was painful.
"Sorry, Momo," Toph grunted, grabbing his squirmy body and dropping him on the ground. She scrunched up her toes, bending the dirt to cushion his landing.
"Graaaap," he groaned irritably.
"Haha, it's all right, Buddy," Aang empathized, ti-tip, sciff-scaff. Pfftit. "There ya go. C'mon, let's take you inside." Tip. tip. tip. "I'll be back in a sec, Toph, just gonna drop Momo in and let everyone know we're gonna be out for a bit."
His tips faded away into the house behind her. Toph sucked in the thick city air through her nose and exhaled slowly. Somehow, Ba Sing Se just...seemed so much different after everywhere she had been, after all that had happened. She couldn't help but find herself wondering how long this would last: the bunch of them all living together like this. After this trip was over, would they still be together? Would she end up alone some how? It wasn't like it was all too unlikely: Katara and Aang could disappear in one direction, Suki could steal Sokka away somewhere else...Where would she go? Stay here with her new Uncle or something?
"So!" Tppph. Aang appeared at her side. "Where we off to?"
"I dunno," Toph shrugged. "Just...wherever. C'mon."
"What do you wanna talk about?" Aang immediately wondered.
"Wh-? I didn't say I wanted to...-" she trailed off.Lies. He isn't stupid and why else would you be going for a walk with him?
"Did something happen tonight when you were out?" he asked with a hint of suspicion.
She stammered a bit as she attempted to decide. She wasn't sure if something 'happened' so much as she had come to understand more fully how unhappy she was with this 'boy' situation.
"N-No, just...I'm still confused about stuff."
"Uh-huh," Aang muttered, as if he knew something about what was going on. "I don't blame ya," he then conceded.
"So...you're a boy," Toph bumbled about suddenly.
"Uh, yea," Aang agreed, perplexed. "I mean, I'm pretty sure-"
"Sometimes I wonder, Twinkletoes," she cracked.
"Yea, yea," Aang groaned through a laugh.
"Anyway, but, like...How did you and Katara...end up, like...-"
"Like we are now?"
"Hm..." As Aang pondered his answer, Toph enjoyed the cool, smooth stones of a small bridge as they passed over. Aang stopped at the middle, and she could feel his weight leaning over its edge. The air moved a bit quicker there, above the blblblbl-ing creek below. "I don't know...At some point I just decided that I really liked her, and that I wanted to always be with her. And I just...I kissed her. I wasn't sure if I would ever see her again and I felt like she just needed to know how I felt."
"So you just...kissed her?" Toph repeated, shocked at the idea of Aang having the balls to do such a thing.
"Y-yea," Aang murmured, as if he were in awe with himself. "Wow...I can't believe I did that." Yep, he was totally in awe. "Twice."
"Twice?" Toph giggled. "Are you serious? She didn't get it the first time?"
"Uh, or the second time," Aang sheepishly clarified. "The first time was kind of weird, I don't even know why I did it...And the second time...Well...She wasn't ready." Toph grinned, recalling Iroh's remark about seeking Destiny before it was ready for you.
"After the war ended, though...She kissed me. Then, um...Well, yea. We talked about it and decided we would give it a try."
"You both seem happy," Toph observed, her tongue a bit sour with jealousy.
"It's been pretty awesome," Aang informed her cheerfully. "Katara says that we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously until we're a bit older, though. But hey, I don't care either way. I know it's meant to be."
"Meant to be, huh?" Toph recited to herself in a murmur.
"Yea, totally," he vehemently insisted. "Like, just, a really deep and strong feeling, right? No matter what you do, it won't go away."
She sighed at his excitement and determination and wondered if what she was feeling was actually the same thing or not.
"What's kissing like?" Toph asked suddenly, almost with a cringe. It seemed kind of gross but she couldn't deny that she wanted to try it.
"U-uh, well, it's-" Aang stumbled around for words, and she could hear him rubbing at his head. "It's kind of weird at first but...when you get used to it, it's really great." That cute little lisp melted around his words as he finished his thought, no doubt lost in the memories of the sensation.
"Like coffee? Or tea?" Toph recalled once finding both of those disgusting but she loved them now.
"Y-yea, like that! Kinda." Hm. Well, that didn't seem so bad.
"Does it have to be all...gross?" she winced. "I mean, it just...it sounds gross." She puckered her lips and sucked in air, imitating the sound as best she could. Aang snickered at her mockery.
"I guess it doesn't have to be," he considered thoughtfully.
"When I used to go to bed, my par...-"No. Stop. I'm not going to say it.Why not?I just don't wanna.
"Your...parents?" Aang finished darkly.
Toph snorted through her nose and continued.
"Well, they used to kiss me when I went to bed, like, on the head."
"Yea. That's not the same kind of kissing," Aang clarified. Wow, really? No kidding? Duh.
"So if you wanted to show someone you like them like them," Toph processed, "you gotta kiss 'em the gross way? On the mouth?"
"Uhh...I dunno. That's what I did." Well, he wasn't being very helpful with this. Maybe she should try approaching it from a different angle.
"Well, why'd you do it? How did you know Katara liked you back?"
"Oh...Well, if...If you didn't know, why'd you do it?"
"Like I said, I wanted her to know how I felt. I guess I thought that would do the trick, heh..." He still seemed embarrassed by his own impulsive behavior from a while back.
"So..." She could feel a lump forming in her throat as she found herself conflicted by her own feelings and thoughts. "If I liked somebody-"
"Ha. Knew it."
"Shut up," she hissed before continuing. "If I liked somebody, but I didn't know if they liked me back...What do I do?"
Aang sniffed in some air and exhaled deeply.
"This is someone you're seeing at the tea shop, isn't it?" he quietly accused. "No wonder you were in such a rush to go there..."
"Whatever," Toph dismissed, quite perfectly fine with the fact that he was clueless. "Answer my question, Twinkletoes."
"Agh," he grunted, slapping the edge of the bridge and spinning around, leaning his back against it. "I don't know, Toph," he pleaded with a sigh. "I guess I'd say...just go for it. If you really like him, then it's worth trying for, right?"
Toph gulped hard to force down her sheepish doubt, and Aang continued, oblivious.
"If he's really your friend, then...So what if he doesn't like you? You guys'll still be friends, right?"
Sure, unless I 'burn something that can't be healed.'
"R-right." She planted herself on the chilled rock bridge beside her friend and took a crawling, deep breath as her mind's gears clicked and whirred in an effort to decide how she would proceed with this situation. Uncle Iroh had told her to leave it alone but the more she left it alone the harder it became to hide. She couldn't dismiss his knowledge, but...she had to know. It would continue to eat at her until she did, she just knew it.
"So, what do you think you'll do?" Aang asked eagerly. "Can I help? You want me to try and sneak it out of him?" He offered his services with mischief thick in his voice.
"Pff, I think I'm a big girl, I can handle it myself," she smugly declined.No, you can't. Liar. You can't even handle yourself lately, can you?Shut up.
"OK," Aang conceded, his pitch raised. "You gonna ask him out on a date or something?"Pff. I wish.
"Er, wh-? N-no, dates are pointless. It's all...fake. And junk."Would it be, really, if you took him on one?No, not really, but I don't want to even think about it.Hm. Maybe that's the for the best.
"Nnnot really," Aang slowly disagreed. "It depends on how you go about it. I'm gonna take Katara on a date soon."
"Yea, I'm gonna take her cliff diving," Aang proclaimed slyly.
"That...sounds kinda dangerous."
"Uhhh, not if you're the Avatar," Aang protested. "It's gonna be great."
"...Right. Yea. Well, you do that," Toph grumbled with a huff, skidding her bare foot along the stone bridge, smoothing its surface as she did so. Stupid. Crap. Hate it. Why? Don't understand!
"What's your problem?" Aang inquired in a tone lacking in hostility.
"Nothing, I just don't know what to do." She folded her arms over her stomach. Can't believe it. Why her? What about me? Why do they get to-
"Stand your ground," Aang advised plainly. His bony hand gently rested on her shoulder. "If it's meant to be, it's mean-" Aang's sentence was cut short with a choking gasp as Toph pummeled her fist into his ribs, which caused him to quickly retract his comforting hand.
There. That's better.Not really. Now it'sworse. Why did his hand have to go? Why'd you hit him?B-because! I just...felt like it.
"Wh-?" Aang coughed, and she felt him squirming around. "What was that for?" he croaked.
"It's real easy for you to say all that crap, Twinkletoes," Toph seethed, standing up. "You already know what's gonna happen for you."
Aang groaned in pain, remaining on the ground, leaning against the bridge's side.
"So you're gonna...hit me?"
"I'm sick of hearing all about you and Katara and how freaking great it is to know you're gonna be so damned happy-"
"You brought this stuff up, Toph! Why are you getting upset with me?"Why, you...Tryin' to pass the blame on me like this is my fault.It is your fault.
"You don't even know what's going on with me!" Toph cried. "So why do you act like you do?"
"Maybe I don't know because you have to keep everything a secret!" Aang countered, his breath still forced a bit. "I don't get what your problem is! All of a sudden you're all mad with me? I'm sorry if I made you upset but I didn't mean to!" Aang clambered to his feet. As his steps vibrated the ground, she could sense he was still clutching his side. Had she really hit him that hard? Tip tip. Wait, where was he going? "You meant to hit me," he clarified. "I know you're mad, Toph, but I didn't do anything to you! You seem like you keep switching around. I don't get why you're...'cooler' than me, when you're such a jerk to your little brother..."
Tip tip tip.No, please. Stop. Don't go. I didn't mean it. I'm just angry! But not at you!tip. tip. tip.
"Hey, w-wait!" Toph called, reaching her arm out at nothing. Tip ti-
"What?" he asked slowly. She could feel it in his voice: he didn't want to leave anymore than she wanted him to.
"I'm..." Sorry. You're sorry. Say it. "I'm sorry...Aang." -ip. Tip.Tip.Tip tip.
"Toph..." Toph could feel her legs wobbling and her head felt light all of a sudden. "Hey, it's all right!" Aang assured in a panic. Why? Oh. That was water running down her face all of a sudden, wasn't it? Damnit! Where did that come from? She simply stood there, unable to bring herself to wipe away her tears, unable to say anything more. Unable to resist Aang's soft arms wrapping around her, hands clenching her back gently, pressing her large braid. "It's OK, Sis," he said in an effort to calm her. She couldn't reciprocate his hug, she was too dazed, her arms heavy. She didn't sniffle, she didn't cough, but her eyes ran wet and her body trembled.
After Aang let her go, she could feel the tears on her face melt away, evaporating in an instant. What the-? Had Aang just bended her tears away? Aw. He was such a little softie.
"What is wrong with you?" Aang asked in a pitiable tone. Not the kind that said 'You poor baby' but the kind that said 'Why can I not help you feel better?'
"I don't get it," she whispered. "I don't even understand me anymore..." She could feel Aang tugging at her clothes, easing her to the ground beside the bridge. She sat down, pressing her hands into the cobblestone path.
"I know how that is," Aang muttered. "Every time I go into the Avatar State, I feel the same way when I come out. It's like all of this...stuff...from inside is trying to break free or something. But it's not what I want to come out...Ya know? It's like it doesn't even feel like me, but I guess it has to be part of me or it wouldn't be there..."
Toph sighed, drooping her head down. She could feel her eyes getting heavy. That cry had made her realize how tired she was.
"I didn't want to hit you," she specified solemnly. "I mean...some times I do," she jested with a grin. "But not that time. I'm really mad though, but not at you. I'm sorry I punched you. Even if you deserved it," she added in a tease, receiving a slap on the back of the hand. "Ow, hey!" she giggled, swatting him away.
"Why are you really mad? Are you mad at your parents?"
"I guess...that must be part of it." She huffed at the thought. They didn't even deserve to be getting upset over. "But it's also this stupid boy, too."
"Why? Is he being mean to you?" Aang patted her shoulder with a rough tap. "If he is, you tell me, I'll beat him up." Toph chuckled at his attempts at being threatening.
"Whatever happened to solving things peacefully, Twinkletoes?"
"W-well, hey, you're my Big Sis now, I gotta bend the rules for my family."
Bend the rules for your family.
"I see," Toph mocked. "Well, all right. I don't want you to beat him up, though. He's kind of a wuss."
"Really?" Aang seemed shocked. "I'd figure you'd like some tough kid. Like you."
"W-well, I mean, he can be tough. When he needs to," she defended. Why was she defending him? He didn't care whether she thought of him one way or the other.
"So am I gonna get to meet this guy any time soon?" Aang probed with strong implication.
"I'll-I...gotta decide what I'm gonna do," she blurted out. Her face was feeling warm again.
"Don't rush it, then," Aang suggested. "You gotta make decisions like that when you're ready." Zuko and Iroh's voices danced in her head.
I don't feel like I'm ready.We never do.
"I guess," Toph complied.
You're ready to ask your brother that question, though. Right now. You should do it.Yea, sure.
"Hey, Aang," Toph sheepishly muttered.
"Could I...? Well, it's-I just...I'm so used to using my feet that I forget I can feel the world with my hands, ya know?"
"Sure. What about it?" Aang asked, baffled.
"If you guys are gonna be my family, I think...I want to know what you all feel like," she whispered, as if what she were saying was some taboo.
"Huh?" Ugh, he didn't get it. She didn't want to have to explain it...It wouldn't make sense to him. All of the physical contact she'd been focusing on, all of this talk of family and stuff...It made her want to try to understand what her family 'looked' like. They were shapes, heartbeats, voices...She wanted them to be detailed sculptures, she wanted to know if their faces were rough or soft or squishy or hard. She didn't understand why she wanted to know this.
"Y-your face," Toph clarified in a squeak. "I wanna know what your guys' faces are like since I can't...-"
"See them," Aang completed her thought. "OK." What? That was it?
"Wh-? Is that OK?"
"Sure," Aang insisted, as if it were nothing. "I get it." He did? "Go on. Just watch the eyes."
Toph slid her hands along the ground which helped her realize that Aang had moved his face a mere couple of feet from her own. She reached her hands out boldly and without hesitation.
Whoa. What? Why was his head...scratchy? And fuzzy? She thought it was supposed to be all slick and stuff, like her grandpa's head...Right? Wasn't that what bald meant?
"Haha, I know, not all smooth, right?" he admitted. "I haven't shaved my head since we left for our trip, so it's a little fuzzy."
"Heehee. It feels cool," she snickered with delight, rubbing her hands all around his head, overloading her fingertips. Ohp! Wait, what was-? Oh, that was his ear. What a weird feeling thing the ear was, all floppy but hard on the inside. His ears felt like they stuck out a lot, huh? What a goof. His cheeks were squishy, his skin dry and smooth. His mouth was curved into a smile, and running her palms over it intrinsically made one crawl across her own face.
"You probably look pretty goofy," she picked on him as she pulled her hands away. "With ears like that and your bald head?"
"Gee, thanks," Aang sarcastically muttered. "My ears aren't that big."
"Twinkletoes, I just grabbed them - they're huge. Surprised I could fit my hands around them."
"Hey, come on!"
They laughed a bit, Toph's devolving into a yawn, which consequently led to Aang yawning as well.
"We should probably get back home," Aang advised, messing up Toph's bangs as he stood upright.
"Yea, long day tomorrow, huh?" Toph groaned, propping herself up with the stones behind her before setting them back in place.
"You're gonna love the South Pole," Aang guaranteed as they journeyed back. "It's so awesome there."
"That's what I've heard."
"But...you won't be able to do any earthbending..."
"I know," Toph casually shrugged. She had certainly already considered that. Not being able to bend earth could feel helpless, but not near as helpless as she felt at the thought of being separated from 'Team Avatar.'