Worst Field Trip Ever

All She Has

Toph had taken her sweet time finding her way back. She had been in no rush at all and wanted to give herself time to think about what Aang had told her and reflect on it. The world had grown colder beneath her feet, the air was bitter and nipped at her face whenever a breeze picked up. She was planning on putting on more layers as soon as she got back.

Rrrrummmmm...

The familiar and distant sound of an oncoming storm tickled her ears. She loved that sound. It was strong and ominous, and it streaked through the sky - the sky, a world generally painted in shades of white noise to her senses.

Her feet had picked up on the vibrations of her friends, all huddled around in a circle. Appa was resting not far away, probably asleep. A lump in-between their forms was probably a campfire. Mm, fire. She savored the taste of warmth on the tip of her brain. Another gust of wind shook her to react by clutching herself, but it also brought the alluring scent of fish. She didn't recognize its species offhand, but then again, she wasn't exactly big on fish, either. That said, her stomach jerked with delight at the promise of said fish being contained within said stomach.

Crack crack. Snackle krik.Chom chom chom. Munch. Munch.Fssssssssss...

"That last one's almost done, Katara," she could hear Sokka caution. "That one's Tophs, don't let it burn."

"I know," Katara assured. Toph could feel Katara rise and approach the fire. Well, that explained the 'fss' sound, which promptly slowed down as Katara no-doubt removed it from the flames.

"You're sure she was all right, Aang?" Katara wondered.

"She was really upset," Aang informed, "But I mean, who wouldn't be? By the time I left she was fine, though."

"She's a tough cookie," Sokka assured. "You shouldn't worry so much, Katara."

"Sokka, you saw her before she left. She was heartbroken."

Wow. Heartbroken? Did I really look that bad? Meh. Katara's just being a drama queen.

"I know," Sokka conceded seriously through a clump of half-chewed fish.

Oh. I must have really looked that bad, then...

"I'm just not sure if it's really our business, Toph has always handled things just fine on her own."

Katara sighed in response.

"Sokka, of course it's our business. We're all the family she has now."

Toph had stopped walking, opting to hide by a tree about fifty feet away. She leaned back into the tree, pressing her palms into its rough, bumpy bark. Katara's words dug deep into Toph's skull. Her entire family was right there around that fire. Everyone she had grown up with...she might never see them again. She'd betrayed them and run away. No, screw that. They'd betrayed her. They had taken her mighty soul and strength and locked it in a tiny cage. She couldn't live in a cage. This was the life she wanted, out in the world. Touching, hearing, smelling, tasting everything there was to feel. Taking risks, laying back, living large, living small. Whatever she felt like doing, she could go and do it and no one could tell her no. And yet, given that choice, she still chose to let Aang or Katara - even Sokka - tell her 'no,' tell her what to do from time to time. Why?

"And Toph has not handled things 'just fine,'" Katara continued. "Aang's right, she's been like a volcano ready to explode because she's been keeping everything inside. I'm not saying she's some sensitive little girl who needs to be watched over or...or anything like that," she clarified, seeming to jump the 'you act like a mother' gun before anyone said anything. "Toph's strong, confident, determined, she doesn't let little things bother her. But that doesn't mean she has a heart of stone, either."

Strong, confident, determined. I like the sound of that. That's totally me.

"I'm with Katara on this," Aang agreed. "You didn't see what she was like, Sokka. It was like this...big flood of...stuff. It was like she just fell apart right there in front of me, but...like, in a good way."

Well, that was one way of putting it. It had pretty much felt like falling apart, that was for sure.

"A good way?" Sokka wondered. Schlurp. Schmack. She recognized the sound well - that was when Sokka licked his fingers clean, the dirty bum.

"Yea. I think it's what she's been needing - to be broken down so she can build herself back up."

"That...sounds pretty counter intuitive," Sokka skeptically muttered.

"I think Aang's right," Suki piped in, much to Toph's surprise. She seemed so quiet on the matter this whole time. "Remember the teacher who taught you how to use a sword? Isn't that what happened? He refused to take in any students, but he took you on as his pupil, because you were willing to do that: fall apart and let him help you put the pieces back together stronger than before." Pat, pat. "And look how you turned out. If you have any hope, I'm sure Toph does, as well."

What the hell does Suki care about me and 'building' and 'falling apart' and all of this garbage? She doesn't know me. Not really. She just stumbled along into our perfectly fine foursome and messed it all up and is leading Sokka along like her pet.

"I guess." Sokka didn't quite seem sold on the notion. "She never seems all that bothered to me. I just have trouble seeing Toph as sensitive or caring. She acts all tough all the time and...not sensitive and uncaring."

What? I'm totally sensitive and caring! When...I want to be! Really! What a jerk. How could he say that? Like Katara said, I don't have a heart of stone, after all. Sokka knows that. Right?

"Maybe that's because you don't pay attention," Katara snubbed. "I'm not saying she's a defenseless chipmunk-rabbit. I'm just saying that she's hurt, she has problems, and because she doesn't know how to deal with them she just covers it up and acts like she doesn't care. It's not good for her. If we're going to be the family she needs we can't just ignore it all along with her. We have to help Toph out and be there for her."

Normally, Toph would dismiss this as Katara's 'mother syndrome' but after her talk with Aang, Toph's mind was cracked open. Katara sounded like she really cared about this - about her.

The fire crackled in peace, uninterrupted, for a few moments.

"I know, Katara," Sokka responded at last. "I'm not trying to sound like I don't care. I care about Toph as much as you do." Really? He does? "And I feel bad for the girl. That's rough, what she's going through. It's not like we don't know what it's like to lose people we loved. I'm just not sure if your approach is what's best for her."

"My approach?"

Uh-oh. That was a bad tone of voice. Toph knew that tone very well.

"Katara," Sokka pacified, "Has Aang ever gotten into a serious fight with Toph? Have I?" No response. "Nope. But you have. Like, how many times?" She could feel Katara's stomps vibrate over to a place on the ground besides Aang. Whump. She had slammed herself into the dirt. "I'm sorry, I'm just saying. When it comes to serious stuff like this you two just act like...Well...girls. Er, no offense, Suki." Suki snickered out a sigh.

"Oh, so I am a girl now," she chuckled. "I thought I was only a warrior."

"You have a point, Sokka," Katara pouted, somewhat defeated.

Wait, Katara and Toph had their differences, but...Katara cared. She was just looking out for what was best for her. Wow, wait. Why was this usually a nuisance but super cool all of a sudden?

Rrrrummmmm...

That thunder was definitely closer. Brr. Damn wind. Toph's toes were starting to feel numb, so she decided she'd better stop eavesdropping at this point. She'd heard enough, anyway. They were all really flustered, all over her and her stupid problems. She was starting to feel guilty about them all worrying. Yuck. This guilt crap felt like garbage. No wonder she always ignored it when it came up.

"You can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped, that's all I'm saying," Sokka sagely concluded.

"I think I want to be helped," Toph announced to the group as she approached the fire, the group, and the embracing warmth that accompanied both.

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