God Amongst Birds
"Yea, yea, she's fine. Toph's a tough cookie," Sokka assured Suki, who had been worried given the accident that had occurred. She was the one who had insisted that Toph join them in the first place, after all.
"Speaking of Toph, where'd she go this time?" Aang wondered, quick-drying himself off with a mini tornado.
"I saw her and Momo up near the top of the waterfall," Katara answered as she awaited her own drying by Aang's bending.
"That seemed like a very strange experience for her," Suki observed. "She could've been hurt, but...She just thought it was fun. She's quite an odd girl, isn't she?"
"You have to understand," Aang explained, "Toph experiences everything differently than we do. It's practically impossible for us to really understand what things like that feel like."
"I know," Suki complied. "I just feel kind of bad. She probably feels left out of a lot of things."
"Maybe so," Aang acknowledged, "But sometimes I feel left out because I can't do the kinds of things she can. She's not any worse off than the rest of us, she's just different. Liiiike...You. Or Sokka."
"Huh? Whuzzat?" Sokka was fumbling around, trying to get into his dry pants.
"Katara and I can bend elements - you two can't. But you've both learned to interact with the world in your own way, with tools and muscles. I couldn't understand exactly what it feels like to fight with a sword the way you can, Sokka, or even how your mind works, with all of the plans you come up with."
"Well, my mind does operate on its own plane of existence, doesn't it?" Sokka poked at his skull with pride, speaking in his 'intelligent' accent, as he put it. Suki giggled and slapped his shoulder.
"Or Suki," Aang continued, "When you jump, and flip all around-" He spun his arms around with a serious look on his face. "-you're doing it all on your own. You're not relying on something else to lift you up or hit the opponent - like I do - you're doing it completely by yourself with tools that become a part of your arms. When I bend, it feels sort of like that, like I'm...kind of asking the world to do stuff for me, you know? But you don't ask for anything, you just do it yourself."
"Aw, thanks, Aang," Suki murmured. "I guess I never thought of it that way..."
"Hey, deep mind-changing stuff," Aang bragged with a joking grin and a shrug. "It's what I do."
Katara snickered, giving him a peck on the cheek.
"Yea, when you're not showing off, Mr. Avatar."
"Spirits, I have get used to you two doing that stuff out in the open now, don't I?" Sokka loudly objected as he made his way to their camping equipment offshore. "Aren't you monks supposed to exercise, like, self-control, and all that?"
"Well, gee, Sokka," Katara mocked, "Based on how you act with Suki, I'm surprised it bothers you so much."
The two girls exchanged sly grins.
"Yea," Suki joked, "Maybe we should just all act civil and restrain ourselves so we can focus our energies in more productive ways."
"Baaaahhhh," Sokka groaned in response, admitting defeat. Suki went to catch up with him and he neared the tents.
"Haha, poor Toph," Aang muttered, "She has to put up with all of us, huh?"
Katara felt like a needle punctured her brain when he said this. He'd clearly meant it in a comical manner, but it made her doubts click into place and make sense. Maybe this was exactly why Toph was spending so much time alone and acting a little...off.
As Aang air-balled his way around, Katara found herself feeling like the only person who had the sensibilities to see through the cracks in Toph's thick wall.
Sokka sifted through their equipment and retrieved Boomerang Jr., the tool he'd been given by his father after the war, and the affectionately named Steelface, his replacement sword. It wasn't made of meteor rock, but it got the job done.
He went to go give Appa some attention as the recently dried beast relaxed in the evening sun, content with chewing on the grass beneath his feet.
"Hey, there, Pal, how ya doin'?" He roughly rubbed his hand on the bison's forehead. A red hawk with piercing eyes of amber was perched on his right tusk, nobly staring at Sokka. If birds could beam pride, this one was certainly doing it.
"Oh, hey, there, Hawky," Sokka casually greeted in the same manner he just had Appa. "How have things been, Bud?" As he spun around to begin his hunt for dinner, he paused. Something was different than usual. He turned around slowly, scratching his chin.
"Whaaa?" he cried in realization. "Hawky?" He instantly grabbed the bird and crushed it into his chest, restraining its awkward struggling. "Oh, Hawky, you little devil," he growled merrily. "You came back, Buddy!"
"Ummm," Suki began, utterly confused. "Sokka, why are you choking that bird?"
Sokka's eyes popped open wide in indignation.
"Choking? I'm loving him!" He opened up his arms and held out the bird, its feathers ruffled. It was convulsing, from the look of it, gasping for air. "It's Hawky!" Sokka cheered, utterly beaming. "Only the best bird there ever was!"
Suki giggled at his ridiculous enthusiasm, one of the reasons she had grown to admire him so much. She scooped the bird from Sokka's extended arms and began stroking it gently in an attempt to calm it down.
"I see," she murmured slowly. "You two are close?"
Sokka glared at her with a narrow-eyed disgust.
"As close as man and bird can ever be," he seethed, attacking the doubt in her voice.
"OK, all right," she gave in, shaking her head with a smile. "Where has he been this whole time, then?"
Those narrowed eyes of his popped open wide.
"Oh! Eh, um, well, we sent him off to deliver a letter, of course." He jabbed his finger at the cylindrical container strapped to Hawky's body. "To...uh..." He scratched his head. Suki's face dulled.
"As close as a man and bird can ever be, huh?" she mused. "And you don't even remember where you sent him?"
"W-well, I wasn't the one who wrote the letter!" he protested.
"I was," Katara announced, arms folded pensively. "Remember when you guys were doing all of those scams with Toph?"
"Ohhh yea, that was great," Sokka chuckled. "That's where we got the money to buy good ol' Hawky here in the first place." He scratched the bird's chin as it nuzzled Suki's face. Katara continued.
"Toph was feeling bad about leaving her parents, so I wrote a letter for her and we used Hawky to send it to them."
"Riiight," Sokka mumbled. It was hard to tell if he actually recalled this happening or was just going with it.
"Oh, yea," Aang groaned as he floated down onto Appa's head. His attitude was decidedly negative at the thought of Toph's parents.
"How did he find us?" Katara wondered, the thought suddenly striking her.
"How did he know where her parents were?" Suki further probed. They both stared at Sokka expectantly. He flailed his palms around in defense.
"Wh-? Pff! How should I know? I just told him where to go and off he went." He fluttered his hand off into the air.
Aang proposed a theory. "Maybe he has a kind of special link to the Spirit world and can let Spirits guide-"
"La-dee-dah," Sokka interrupted. "Spirit World mumbo jumbo, OK. Or maybe it's just because Hawky is a God amongst birds."
Everyone stared at the still somewhat disheveled animal as it cocked its head to the side, staring in Sokka's direction.
"In...either case," Katara proceeded, "we should see if her parents left her a reply."
Sokka sighed and shook his head.
"Uh, Katara? Why would they write to Toph? She can't read."
She simply stared at him for a moment before rolling her eyes.
"I'm just kidding," he quickly spat to deflect her dagger glare. "Geez, what are you so worked up about?"
Katara popped open the lid on Hawky's satchel and pulled out a small scroll. She waved it at Sokka's face, pointing out the wax seal holding it together - a boar with wings.
"This is important," she clarified. "Toph acts like she doesn't care, but trust me, she's still upset about what happened with her parents. This could help clear everything up for her."
"Orrrr it could be completely demoralizing," Sokka objected, lifting his eyebrows solemnly.
Katara pursed her lip at him, fist clenched. She raised the scroll up again, eyes bursting with some kind of counterpoint, but one didn't come. She sighed and loosened her body.
"You might be right," she admitted. "But do you really need to be so pessimistic about this?"
Everyone else in the group, even Suki, gave Katara a perplexed look.
"Uhh...Yea? It's kind of my thing," he bluntly replied, picking wax from his ear.
"What about the sarcasm?" Aang added. "And eating meat?"
"That, too," Sokka agreed. "Also important." He flicked the wax to the ground.
"And being strategic," Suki added with a grin. He bashfully shrugged.
"Well, ya know..." His pitch steered up as he said this, his eyes squinting with pride.
"Anyway," Katara sighed out in exasperation. "We're going off track here." She whipped out some water from her waist jug and sharpened it into one light but agile slash, tearing the seal apart.
"What are you doing, Katara?" Aang suspiciously questioned.
"I'm going to read it," she plainly responded, rolling open the scroll, its paper clean and neat. "To Whom It May Concern," she began aloud.
"Ohhhh man," Sokka blurted. "'To Whom It May Concern?' This is bad..."
Katara's eyes bounced from the letter to his gloomy face.
"What?" she spat. "You don't even know what it-"
"'To Whom It May Concern' is never a good start," Sokka warned sternly.
Aang leaped from Appa's head to Katara's side. The bison let out a short, cranky moan.
"Appa knows it's a bad idea," Aang taunted, nodding his head to the lovable beast.
"A bad idea?" Katara snapped. "Why?"
Aang could see the anger lighting up in her eyes and raised his palm in an attempt to calm her.
"It's just...That letter wasn't written to us and-"
"Ah-ah!" Katara interjected, spreading the very formalized letter in front of Aang's face. "See? 'To Whom It May Concern.'"
Aang sighed and scratched at his ear sheepishly.
"It concerns me," Katara tartly expressed.
"You know what I mean," Aang grumbled with a huff, but Katara continued to drive it home.
"I just think it'd be a good idea if we read it first," she explained matter-of-factly, "just so we can be prepared."
A rumbling startled them all, directing their attention to the rocky cliffside their camp was set up against.
"What are we needing to prepare for?" Toph's voice inquired as her small, stout frame wandered out of a hole she'd created in the wall. With a flick of the wrists, she sealed it back up and turned her attention to the group. She was still in her bathing suit, her hair tucked into a bunch. A trembling Momo who had been clinging to her shoulder cried out in relief as he soared off, appreciating the freedom of fresh air once again.
Everyone froze up like statues, their glances darting to one another in a panic.