I can't take this. It's too awkward.Oh, stop being a baby. You're fine.No, I'm not! This is weird! I'm uncomfortable!What, are you scared?Pfff! No.That's called denial.Whatever. I'm not scared. It's just...weird.And you acting strange doesn't make it any less weird.What should I do?This is a battle you've already lost. Admit defeat. Negotiate the terms of your loss.Gaaahhh...That stinks. I don't wanna.
"Toph. Are you listening to me?"
"Y-yea. I'm listening." What was she just talking about? Where did my head go?
"I'm not trying to be a jerk here, all right?"
"But what you did...That wasn't OK."
"Mm-hm," Toph hummed submissively. It didn't feel pleasant but at this point it was a lot easier and lot less painful than fighting it - especially when she knew the girl was right.
"I understand why you did it. But I'm asking you, Toph: can I trust you?"
"Wh-? Can you...-? What do you mean, Suki?"
"I know you really care about Sokka. And he really cares about you - I know he does. I really care about you. I want to trust that you won't try doing anything like this again. Can I do that?"
"Y-yea, Suki. Totally. I won't. I was...I don't know what I was thinking. You don't have to worry about...that. I'm sorry."
"OK, then." Suki took a deep breath, seeming to exhale her stress and her firm tone of voice. "I'm sorry, too."
"I am, Toph. I know how you must feel - like I swept in and stole all his attention. I never meant to do that. Believe me, falling for a...-"
Suki laughed at Toph's comment through her nose and sighed.
"Yes. A complete dork. That was never part of any plan I ever had. Sokka and I really didn't get along at all when we first met."
"Yea," Suki replied, somewhat surprised by Toph's lack of knowledge. "We hated each other. He kept treating me like a wimp just because I was a girl. I sure smacked that attitude out of him."
"Heh, the guy's surrounded by three girls who could all kick his butt in a heartbeat," Toph noted with a smirk. "He'd better have that attitude out of his meaty head."
"No kidding. But really, Toph...I'm sorry things worked out this way, but...I love Sokka, and I think he loves me, too. We want to make this work. But I know you will find someone out there for you, Toph."
"Yea, I guess," Toph grumbled, drumming her fingers in her lap.
Gettin' pretty sick of people tellin' me that.They're just trying to support you.I know.
"But I really do care about you and I don't want a boy to come between us. So, can we be friends again?" Suki wondered, cutting to the chase.
"Suki," Toph muttered with a chuckle. "We never stopped. I just...acted like a jerk." She jutted her arm out into the air in the direction of Suki's voice and shook hard when she felt the lithe grip latch on. "If you're fine, then we're good."
"Well, I'm fine," Suki assured.
"Then...I guess we're good!"
Their handshake broke off and Toph dwelled on how quick and painless that had been. Suki really was like her in some ways. Quick, blunt, no nonsense.
I'm the one who mucked things up by acting stupid and jealous.Yup. That's about right.Even after everything I've done, it's like it's super easy for her to forgive me.Sure seems that way, doesn't it?Yea, and Katara was the same way...How is it so easy for them to just let go like that?Because they love you.
"So, Toph," Suki began, clock-clock-clock, knocking on the kitchen table. "You're probably a little rusty on your earth bending, huh?"
"Pff. As if." Bleck, I kind of am, actually. All this stress, and being stuck in the ice for a while...
"Haha, OK. Well, how about we do some sparring, anyway?"
"Are you serious? I'll kick your butt. I've got the entire ground on my side."
"I guess I can't deny that, but...That's not the point of sparring, Toph."
"Right," Toph blurted out, feeling foolish. She remembered when she was fiercely training Aang to become a better earth bender. He'd get discouraged when he 'lost' the challenges she'd issued but he was a fast learner, always improving. Every loss was a small win.
"So you want me to take it easy on you so you can practice some ninja magic? That it?"
Suki snickered, her footsteps wandering off across the house.
"Something like that," she replied. Toph could hear her gathering her equipment. By now the clinks and chackles of her suiting up were very familiar.
You never said it to her, did you?Huh? Said what?You know.Oh. Right. That.Don't you think now would be a good time?Sure. I guess. Well...Yea. Yea. Ya know, it would.
"Sooo...Suki," Toph called out across the house.
"Don't go too easy on me," Suki advised, still stuck on the previous segment of conversation.
"Ohhh, I wouldn't worry about that," Toph warned, cocking her head to the side. "But hold up a sec."
"Oh, OK." Suki walked over, her armor practically silent now that it all in place. "What is it?"
"I've been meaning to tell you something." Toph sighed, crossing her arms over her stomach as if to contain the knot that was forming. "I never actually said this to you but with all the thinkin' I've been doing lately...-" She trailed off and huffed, blowing bags from her face.
"Wow, thinking, huh? Real thinking? I guess Sokka is rubbing off on you."
"Yea, yea," Toph grumbled with a grin. "I set you up for that," she teased. "Don't get too full of yourself."
"I'd never," came a joking concession.
"Seriously, though," Toph continued, "I don't want you thinking that, like...I'm some heartless...idiot. Or something."
"Of course you're not," Suki agreed in earnest.
"Or thinking that I'm not thankful," Toph went on, her tone solemn. "You know. For...For the whole 'saving my life' thing." She drummed her fingers across her arms. "Twice," she added hastily.
"Oh," Suki whispered, humbled by Toph's gratitude.
"'Cuz I am," Toph verified. "Being alive...um, it's kinda nice. Ya know?" She laughed nervously.
"Being alive does have its benefits," Suki acknowledged in a playful tone. "I definitely recommend it." They shared a giggle, and Toph was pleasantly surprised at Suki's ability to let the whole mess go and just laugh with her.
"I wouldn't be doing this 'living' thing still if it weren't for you," she insisted, maintaining her point. "Sokka wouldn't be, either," she admitted in a meeker tone.
That's right. She saved him when even you couldn't.I know. She loves him. Maybe even more than I do.Maybe. But that doesn't make your love any less important.Yea. I just need to...focus it in a different way, huh?Sounds like a plan.
"Hey, Toph," Suki grabbed her shoulder and squeezed. "None of us would still be here if we didn't look out for each other."
Toph nodded, her mind clear, breath steady, heartbeat smooth. The emotional trauma she once experienced in merely approaching these issues wasn't present. Admitting that others had to help her was refreshing and relieving in this new state of mind, rather than shameful and embarrassing. It felt empowering. Like moving a mountain.
So, Toph: you gonna be honest with Suki from now on? She has your back.I was an idiot for even causing trouble with her in the first place. Yea, I'll be honest with her.You promise?Totally.
A merry melody of earth and stone played like strings on a harp in her fingers, a concert rising from the ground at her conducting. Sleek footsteps trailed around like a backbeat, accenting crescendos and harmonizing with the song. Toph played a mellow, therapeutic tune and eventually it ended with an expected tap on the shoulder.
"Not bad, Suki," she complimented, pushing the mounds of earth he'd manipulated back into place. "That was pretty fast."
"Thanks. That seemed like a cakewalk for you," Suki observed. Toph shrugged with pride and rubbed her nose with the back of her wrist sloppily. It had grown a bit chilly outside but there was no way it could've been night time yet if they had only eaten lunch a couple of hours prior. "It just blows my mind how much you can control all at once."
"It's a gift," Toph conceded with a falsely humble tone.
"Really, it is," Suki insisted. "It's just...so amazing."
What's with her being so fascinated with my earth bending? It's weirding me out.Toph, you're a twelve year-old blind girl who can bend metal. That is pretty impressive.Well, obviously, but that's just because I'm so amazing.Ehhhh, you go telling yourself that.What's that supposed to mean?You honestly think your earthbending is all your doing?Wh-? Er...You think you met those badger moles when you were little by accident?I guess I never really thought about it.You think there's no one out there pulling some strings for you?Pff, what, like Spirits from the Spirit World and all that mumbo-jumbo?Is it really that hard to believe?
"Don't you think?"
"It's really pretty amazing, everything you're able to do with your bending."
"Oh. Yea, yea. Right." What in the hell is going on in my head lately? Keep getting distracted.
"You all right, Toph?"
"Squawkaw!" came Hawky's irritable cry from the direction of their house.
"I know! I know!" Sokka's distant voice growled. "I'm getting your food right now. Geez!"
"Hm. I'll bet Appa's getting pretty hungry, too," Aang's voice muttered from inside.
"So did you want to go again?" Suki asked, likely unable to detect the sounds Toph was hearing from afar.
"Nah, I'm good, Suki."
Tip tip tip tip tip.
"Oh, what's up, guys?" Lispy lisp. Haha.
"Just practicing," Suki replied, sheeenk, sheathing one of her blades.
"Where are you going in such a rush?" Toph asked Aang, who was acting antsy.
"I've gotta go feed Appa."
"Can I come?"
"Y-yea," Aang agreed, somewhat confused. "Sure. Come on!"
"See ya later," Suki called off to the two as they jogged away.
"Where's Appa?" Toph wondered out loud, her breath quickening as they jogged off.
"I let him go get some space just outside of town," Aang informed, slowing down. "Here, get in front of me, we'll get there quicker."
Toph realized that perhaps Aang hadn't been anticipating company, so her presence was slowing him down.
Maybe I should just let him go by himself?You promised.Oh. Yea. Right.
"Mm-hm," Toph hummed in compliance to Aang's request, leaning her back into his bony chest and letting his lanky arms wrap around her waist.
"Grab my arms," Aang advised. Toph did as she was told, wondering what the he-FwofwofwoFwoFwoFWOFWO-The world around her was gone in an instant, a fuzzy mass tickling at her feet with rapid vibrations.
"Hang on," Aang warned, squeezing her tight and tucking his chin on the top of her head. "We're gonna go pretty fast."
"Oh-Okaaaayyeee!" Toph's stomach seemed to collide with her lungs and she squint her eyelids shut to lessen the stinging feeling that had started burning at them. Taking in air was suddenly difficult. Toph didn't appreciate this whole 'going fast' thing - not the way Aang did it. She recalled bending earth below her feet to propel herself along at a steady clip, and that was fun and all, but it was more for efficiency than pleasure. Must've had something to do with seeing the world whiz by?
She endured the rush of air, gasping out for breath as needed through the ordeal. Everything stopped as suddenly as it had started, and like a splash of water on her face, rolling hills met her feet.
"Whoa, that was...that was pretty fast," Toph choked out, hands still tight on Aang's arms.
"You can let go now," he chuckled, arms limp.
"Oh, right," she unlatched herself from the human cockpit and sucked in the aromas of grass and wildflowers through her nostrils. Moreso than she normally would, Toph was appreciating the delicate fragrances of-BOOOOM. The collision almost toppled her.
"Hey, Buddy! How ya doin'?"
So much for those flowers. Whew. Man, Appa, we need to wash you up, Pal.
"OK, OK! I know you're hungry but don't eat me!"
"What are we getting him to eat?" Toph asked plainly.
"We'll need to get him some vegetables from the market," Aang decided. "He's had a really long trip and we need to feed him well, don't you think?"
Rough whisps of air passed through Appa's enormous nostrils and Toph knew this was her time to speak her peace.
"So, Aang," she began casually, setting herself on the ground. "Last night. Did I do anything too stupid?"
"Oh, uh..." Based on his quickened heartbeat, the answer was 'yes.'
"Sorry about that. Whatever it was," she chuckled. "I don't even remember..."
"Toph, I'm sorry for giving you horrible advice."
"What do you mean?"
"Kissing Sokka, drinking that juice...I told you to do that."
"Whoa, whoa, hey, slow down, there, Twin-...Aang." Toph cleared her throat. "You didn't tell me to do anything but...try to take care of myself."
Aang sighed, scuff-ing his hand across Appa's head. Toph continued to establish her point.
"And you were right, Aang. I was...being a hypocrite." She huffed at the hair dangling before her face. Her voice trembled a bit as the stresses of her own decisions washed over her. She confronted them head on. "You gave me good advice. You were trying to help me feel better and support me. I just made...stupid choices."
Good girl. Face your mistakes. That's the only way you can fix them.Yea. I understand that now.
"Kinda," Aang agreed with a weak laugh, as if he was holding back his true thoughts.
"Kinda a lot," Toph clarified, flashing a wide smile she hoped he saw. "I talked with Suki, though, and...we're good."
"What about Sokka?"
"Yeeeaa...I haven't talked with him about yet. But I will. Really soon."
"So you...You like him, huh?" Damnit, I don't need it rubbed in my face...Wait, no, you're not rubbing it in my face.
"I...I do," Toph grumbled, face flushed with heat. "He doesn't like me back."
"Th-that's OK, though!" Aang hastily assured. "I-I mean, even if Katara didn't like me, we'd still be friends."
"Yea," Toph muttered with a nod. "I know. I'm not going to lose Sokka just 'cuz of...-" She took a deep, slow breath.
I know it's difficult to admit it, Toph. But come on. You know it's true.Yea. Yea. That's...really all it is, isn't it?It could be something more, but...that's not what Sokka wants.I have to respect that.Precisely. Call it like it is.
"Not gonna lose him because of some crush," Toph mumbled sheepishly.
"So you think you'll be able to get past it?"
"That's great, Toph. I'm glad you seem to be OK with that."
"I've been doing a lot of thinking lately, sooo...-"
"Have you tried meditating? Letting the Spirits guide you?"
"Oh." Aang seemed a bit disappointed at that response.
Not really, huh?Nope. I'm not so sure how much of that applies to me.It sure seems important to Aang.He's the Avatar, it's like, his job to care about that stuff.Doesn't mean 'that stuff' can't care about you.Uh, sure? OK...
"You, umm...I think you should," Aang advised.
Toph sighed, digging her finger into her nose with casual laziness and flicking a gob of snot into the grass.
"Meh. Maybe later."
"I just...really think it could help," Aang mumbled. "But...I guess it seems like you've been doing good on your own."
Damn straight. I'm working all of this stuff out.All on your own, huh?Er, well...Not exactly.That's what I thought. Gotta get that thinking out of your head.
"It's not like I've been doing it by myself, Aang."
"OK. That's...that's good. I mean, like, speaking from experience...Trying to do everything by yourself? Just doesn't go so well."
"Even if you're the Avatar, huh?"
"Yea. Even if you're the Avatar."
"Ya know, Aang, it's...really nice. Don't you think?"
"This whole...I dunno..." Toph scratched an itch on the back of her ear. "Being part of the Water Tribe. Like, a new family. And stuff."
"Oh. Pff, yea. It's really great."
"Now that I'm actually thinking about it, it's really cool, feeling like you guys have got my back."
"Always. We always have your back."
"Yea, I know, I just...didn't know before. Not really."
"Toph," Aang huffed through his nose. "How come you care so much about looking tough, anyway?"
"W-well, ya know..." Toph sighed, rubbing her forehead. "Ever since I was little, everyone always treated me like I could never take care of myself. It was so annoying, not being able to do stuff for myself. But the badger moles I met? None of that mattered to them 'cuz they were like me. And the more I learned about earth bending, the more I realized I wasn't helpless, that I could take care of myself, no matter what my parents thought."
"What's so funny?" Toph grumbled. What the hell, Aang? I'm trying to be sentimental here.
"Toph, when you're earth bending, you're not taking care of yourself."
"You're having the earth help you. You're working together with the earth. Cooperating."
"Wh-? I...guess I don't think of it like that."
"Don't you think?"
"I-I don't know, it's not like the earth does much by itself, I don't see how it's helping me. I'm using it."
"Kind of. But all of the elements live, Toph, in their own way. Fire burns, water flows, air blows...earth shifts. It just...takes a lot longer. I guess earth is just more stubborn. Just like you. Hee."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"During all of our travels, I changed a lot, Katara changed, too. Zuko even changed. But you...it's taken you longer than everyone else to change, just like how earth takes longer to change."
Haha, geez. He's freakin' right.Indeed he is. Earth is solid and stubborn but it can change, just as you have.
"You're right, Aang," Toph admitted with a smirk. "But I am changing a bit, right? In a good way?"
"Definitely. You're letting people help you more these days."
"I just don't want people helping me too much. I can take care of myself."
"Just because you let others help you, that doesn't mean you're weak, Toph. It just means you're not alone."
Aang's lanky arm slung itself around her shoulder and she casually wormed hers around his back, scratching at it slowly.
"Yea," she calmly agreed.
"You just...needed a reason to change," Aang decided. "Katara and Sokka lost their mom, Zuko lost his uncle for a while...you lost your parents."
"You lost your people."
"Yea...I did. But Toph, losing all of that stuff is what brought us all together. I'd like to think we're all better people because of that than we would have been."
"That we're better people 'cuz we're with each other, huh?"
"Yea...Maybe you're right."
"OK, Appa," Aang called. "Sorry, we'll leave in a minute, OK?"
Toph's other arm reached around Aang's chest and she flopped her head into his shoulder and grinned.
"I'm really glad you showed up at my house, Aang."
"Me, too, Toph."
"I can't think of what life would be life if you hadn't come. I'd probably still be trying to make myself feel better punching dudes in the face with boulders."
"That would probably still help you feel better, though."
"Psh, yea, of course it would. But I'd still be with my parents...Ya know, the ones who aren't my parents anymore."
Aang slapped her back and held their embrace in tact.
"You're an amazing earth bender, Toph, and you taught me how to be strong like you. But earth bending, being strong, and tough? It isn't the reason we wanted you to stay with us. It's-"
"No, it's not," Toph interjected, insisting on cutting him off and saying it first. "I'm still here 'cuz you're my family now, 'cuz you're like my little brother, Aang. And I love you. Even if you are a wimp some times."
Aang laughed and tightened his grip before letting her go.
"I love you, too, Toph. Even if you're a blockhead some times."
"That's good. 'Cuz I know I can be pretty stupid some times."
"Well, yea, but we can look past that."
"Hey! You're not supposed to agree with me!"
"Why'd you say it, then?"
"I dunno, Toph, Katara's right - you are growing up 'cuz you're acting more like a girl. You don't make any sense some times."
"This 'growing up' stuff is not easy. Man, if I knew it was gonna be this hard I woulda stalled it a while longer."
"Haha, yea, can we go backwards?"
"Ya know what has been easy, though, Aang?"
"Talking with you guys about...all of this stuff. I never thought it'd be this easy."
"Of course it's easy. We're your friends - um, your family."
"I'll keep that in mind from now on."
He's always going to be there for you, Toph. Are you always going to be there for Aang?He's my brother. Of course I will. I promise.