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|More from Azulazulazula||Drama, romance||PG||Three: Three positive, Zero negative||None|
|A Makeshift Cliff|
Life is like a tall cliff.
You're always teetering on the edge, waiting for the next breeze to blow, knocking you tens of feet to the ground, where you'll undoubtedly be injured, if not killed. As the old saying goes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, so I guess the injuries become less and less severe every time you fall off. Still, the risk of death, being paralyzed, breaking bones, or any kind of other injury still exists. I don't know what I think of the old, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" thing. In some cases, it's true; I can say that from personal experience.
Yue's death at the North Pole gave me a reason to fight those monsters...the Fire Nation. But then again, Suki leaving me for Zuko just about destroyed my faith in love, but I recovered. To be honest, though, I don't think Mai ever truly renewed her hope in love. Not after everything that Zuko put her through.
Choosing the Fire Nation over her. Abandoning her at the Boiling Rock. Knocking her up and then leaving her for Suki.
I don't think any of us really forgave Zuko after that; maybe Katara did, because she had a special kind of bond with Zuko I'll never understand, but Aang and I never forgot Mai's long periods of depression. After Zuko left her, she wouldn't speak for months. All she did was sit there, quiet, rubbing her stomach occasionally and then shedding a flood of silent tears while Zuko went out and fell in love with the simple little Kyoshi Warrior.
For the sake of maintaining all of Team Avatar's friendship, I always just pretend to be okay with what Suki did and be all buddy-buddy with her. But I could never truly forgive her; she put me through hell after she broke it off with me.
Four years. Four years, we were together, and I was finally ready to propose to her when she throws the fact that she's in love with Zuko in my face. Apparently, they had a fling a few years ago when Zuko was on the verge of a breakdown, but they both agreed that it meant nothing and that she still loved me and Zuko still loved Mai. I guess that, for some reason, three years later they just decided it was all a ruse; Suki still loved Zuko, Zuko still loved Suki.
Mai and I were left to die.
Am I still in love with Suki? No. After I realized I couldn't trust her and she didn't love me anymore anyways, I resolved to get over her, and it wasn't hard after what she did to me.
I moved on. I don't know if Mai ever got a chance, what with the depression, the new baby, and all the while dealing with the death of her family, who apparently all died when King Bumi destroyed the palace in Omashu, but that's beside the point. After she made it through her depression, I think she had enough other things keeping her busy, so I guess in time she just forgot about Zuko. She's fine now, though. Living in a nice house in the Fire Nation Capital City, with Zuko allowing her to live free of charge in order to pay the debt he owes. He's the Fire Lord; if he wanted to give her control of the entire Fire Nation, he could make it happen with a snap of his fingers.
Mai and I are both still single, and I personally see no reason to change that. Nobody has ever really caught my eye in that light ever since the incident with Suki, which is kind of pathetic, since it was 26 years ago. I'm now 45, and of course, I've been attracted to people since; I've been in relationships, but they've never lasted more than a couple months. Maybe Suki did screw me up, and really badly, I don't know; all I know is that the only two girls in the world who truly matter to me now are my sister, Katara, and my best friend to this day, Toph Beifong. And her daughter, I guess. Her precious ten-year-old daughter, Lin Beifong, whose father died before she was even born.
Toph was briefly married to one of the Freedom Fighters, The Duke, but I don't believe for a second that she truly loved him, nor that he loved her. They were together because they were lonely and, over the years, became good friends, and I think that out of desperation, not love, the two married. After all, I did always think Toph had a fear of dying alone, but I don't know about The Duke. Maybe he did genuinely love her, but who am I to say? I've never been able to understand those types of feelings very well.
Over the years, they had a child, Lin Beifong, together, when The Duke became sick with a grave illness. In a few months, he died, leaving Toph alone with her young daughter. Since, Toph's metalbending school has become renowned worldwide and, eventually, Toph decided to put her students' metalbending talents to good use. She created a police force in Republic City comprised solely of her metalbending pupils, who now work to ensure that the city is safe all the while taking on the responsibilities of instructing up-and-coming metalbenders so that they, too, will one day work on the force.
Even before she founded the academy, before Prince Zuko was crowned Fire Lord, Toph was known worldwide for ending Ozai's hopes of destroying the Earth Kingdom, along with Suki and me. For years, we all were honored with fame and glory, as were all the other members and allies of Team Avatar, but Toph always seemed to stand out. Of course, Aang and Zuko had the most power, influence, and media attention, being the Avatar and the Fire Lord, but Toph somehow always managed to work her way into political issues, and when it came down to it, she always managed to get things done, even before she joined the Republic City Council.
Of course, she had no official political power, as she wasn't even an adult for much of it and had no desire to hold a position when she had the means to do so. Instead, she was able to rally people everywhere to join her side, and eventually, every issue for which she ever campaigned in favor or against, she managed to get everybody to agree. When the Harmony Restoration Movement controversy arose, everybody just fell in line with Toph's belief, because she was so persuasive. When people contested the creation of Republic City, Toph rallied the undecided group of people to join her side, and soon, the four nations held an election on the issue.
Favored creation: 64%
Contested creation: 36%
Favored creation: 77%
Contested creation: 23%
Favored creation: 61%
Contested creation: 39%
Favored creation: 100%
Contested creation: 0%
All in all:
253,987,215 in favor of the creation.
Before Toph went around campaigning, both sides were worried that they would lose because the polls were so close. One week later, the day of the voting, no one even questioned that the City would be built; in one week, the scale was tipped so severely by words—not logic, not threats, not bribery, but none other than Toph Beifong's ever-persuasive words, with the power to turn any situation in her favor.
It was no surprise to me that, when the City Council was created, Toph was elected to the position with no contest. Of course, there wasn't much of a competition; no other truly prominent earthbenders were on the ticket. Who would there be, anyways? There was Bumi, and Earth King Kuei, too, but they both had their own cities to deal with, and I doubt they'd have been elected, anyways. Toph saved her country from meeting a fiery end. Bumi and Kuei let their cities fall to the Fire Nation. Logic can only suggest that the heroine of the Earth Kingdom would blow any other challenger out of the water.
Of course, as the only other man up for the job was an arrogant, up-and-coming politician who hoped only to largely gain control of the city with his "decision-making skills", Toph won the election in a landslide. He had ideas, but no charisma or ability to persuade anyone, and eventually faded into the background as far as politics is concerned. I think he's dead now, but I would have no way of knowing, so I just shrug the thought away.
I was on the Council with Toph for four long years. The decisions the Council made back then were minute and somewhat childish. Should we build such and such skyscraper, should we begin growing some new type of crop, should we build a new wind power plant on the outskirts of town, and other unimportant decisions were among those made when the city was first built. Of course, they were minor issues, but the Council often heatedly debated the issues, which, in retrospect, was probably just a ruse to keep us from dying of boredom. But in the debates, Toph had the ability to win people over, and nine times out of ten, if Toph thought we should vote one way, that's usually how the Council voted. Our votes usually seemed to end with a 4-1 score.
The noble waterbender from the Northern Tribe, the esteemed Fire Nation political dynamo—Mai—Aang, who was the only airbender alive at the time, and Toph Beifong herself all voted with the latter, usually. I was always the odd man who stuck to his guns, even though Toph's arguments were extremely convincing. Mine were too, but I just couldn't articulate them as well, so the Council voted with Toph. I almost never followed suit.
The most important decision we ever made, however, was probably that to officialize the sport of Pro-Bending, and ironically, we all voted in favor of the notion without any further debate.
In 126 AG, Toph presented the idea of creating a Metalbending Police Force out of the students of her Metalbending Academy, and we all once more supported the notion. Toph promised to remain on the Council, as she anticipated that the Police Force would be small, with only the most elite Metalbenders admitted, but soon, all of her metalbending students proved equally qualified, and most were permitted to enter the force. The task soon overwhelmed her, and she was forced to leave the Council. The next guy to join was the mayor of Yu Jin, Kashi, who really had no strong opinions at all. He was just there to be there, and usually, the Council made their decisions just fine without his input. Rarely was he a swing vote.
After Toph left the Council, the original five members agreed to meet once each month in a place secluded from any media attention, where we could all just sit, debate the issues, and have fun as friends. Sure, some of us disagree with each other a lot (in fact, 2 of the living members of the Council are registered to the Advancement Party whilst the other two belong to the Atarian Party, which strongly oppose each other. The dead member, Yakka from the Northern Water Tribe, was registered to the Atarian Party, but really was rather neutral on the issues.), but we've always had a special bond with one another that really can never be broken.
Eventually, though, Mai retired to a more private life and moved out of Republic City with her two children. She has met many men since Zuko left her, but none of her following relationships ever lasted into marriage. Still, she's now a happy woman, whose oldest child has moved to Ba Sing Se to pursue a career in the architectural field while her youngest, now 15, resides with her in the Fire Nation Capital. Meanwhile, Yakka passed away, and Aang, although he still remained on the Council, simply became too busy in his duties as the Avatar to attend such frivolous monthly meetings. That left just Toph and me to sit atop the Council's meeting place—the Shong Medical Center, the tallest building in Republic City.
Civilians are technically not allowed on top of the building, but I think that the local authorities were willing to pull some strings for us, seeing as we're pretty much the most important people in the city. I personally don't see why no one's allowed on the roof anyways, but who am I to contest such a minute, unimportant law? I've never thought it was even worth mentioning.
For the past three years, these meetings have included Toph and me only, and I really feel like we've been able to recapture that bond we had during the Hundred Year War, something that had faded into the background with all of the hustle and bustle in our lives here. In any case, I'm glad the Council agreed with me for once in that we should all meet up here, because that one decision, that one tiny declaration that we would meet up here, brought back a piece of my life I thought I'd lost:
She's late. I know she's probably fled the city at this point, but I'm hoping, if against hope, that she'll still be coming for one last visit before she lives life as a fugitive.
Sort of, a fugitive. I still don't believe she has anything to run from, but if she thinks the prosecution can get a conviction, who am I to question? Toph Beifong hasn't been spotted since yesterday, around 7:30 AM, when she broke out of jail. It was stupid, really, for the Republic City authorities to believe that the great Toph Beifong wouldn't find a way to escape imprisonment, even in a wooden cage.
Now, I guess she does have to keep running and never turn back, because fleeing imprisonment wouldn't exactly help her case if she was ever to be found, not to mention the fact that she's committing a felony in escaping prison.
Then, there's the fact that she had to kill six guards to do it, which will get her indictments on six more murder charges, which would bring the total to seven. Sheesh. If she's ever caught, her sentence will undoubtedly be death by rope. The thought sends shivers through my spine. The great Toph Beifong, who helped save the world from burning, who is an undeniable reason why this nation was created, will be hanged if anybody on the planet ever spots her again. Where will she go?
My best guess is one of the Air Temples, which are all relatively close to water and have already been designed to be inhabited by human beings, let alone the fact that reaching a temple is next to impossible. I can only hope I'll see her one last time before she's forced to abandon public life forever.
I can't even begin to remind myself of the reasons I will never see my best friend again before I hear a loud clang behind me, coming from behind the platinum doors. Immediately, I spring to my feet, and I don't even have time to begin sprinting towards the door before another louder clang reverberates inside the metal box which rest just inside the Medical Center. More and more follow, until eventually they are brought to a brief halt. Before she even emerges from the button-operated platinum doors, I know exactly what that noise was. That was Toph Beifong, wrestling her way onto the rooftop, and before I know it, I'm holding her in my arms, not yet weeping, but making small, squirrely sounds that can only mean I'm too choked up to speak. The pair of us make our way to the lip of the building, leaning back on our hands with our legs straightened, their feet just barely dangling over the lip of the skyscraper. I brought grapes, she brought pretzels, and we both sit there silently for the next two or three minutes, tossing each other one food after another, catching it in our mouths. There's no need for words. In our time together, Toph and I have learned every inch of each other's faces, and if there's even the slightest disturbance, we can detect it and deduce its meaning rather quickly.
After a few minutes of this, Toph breaks the silence. "If they knew you were up here with me, you'd spend the rest of your life in prison. You know that, right?"
I don't reply immediately. If the prosecution really has as much evidence as Toph believes they do, then she's right, of course, but I keep myself composed, calm, and relaxed in my next sentence. "Not considering they'll eventually find you not guilty of the murder charges."
"They have fingerprints and three witnesses. A prosecution can't get much stronger than that. The only thing that would acquit me at this point is a tape recording, and there's no chance at finding that." After she finishes chewing the seemingly magnetic grape, she continues. "It doesn't matter anymore anyways. Even if they do manage to find the evidence to acquit me, they've still got me running away and killing thirteen more people."
"How'd you think I got out here, sweetheart? My looks?" The full meaning of what she said sinks in, and I know that through those platinum doors rest seven dead bodies, dead at the hands of Toph Beifong. Just so that she could see me. She pops a pretzel into my mouth, and I begin talking.
"It'll all be moot if they find out you're innocent. Besides, do you really expect them to catch you, the greatest earthbender in the world? Even if they catch up with you, they won't be able to take you down," I offer. I know it's a lie, but it's hardly helpful to inform a fugitive that if anybody catches sight of her she'll be dead before she can even say the word death.
"Cut the garbage, Sokka. If they find me, I'm dead. You know it and I know it," she says. Short and sweet and to the point.
"Well then, let's just hope that never happens..."
Her eyes light up, and she's suddenly jumping up and down, squealing with excitement. I see no reason why this conversation excites her, and her next sentence only further adds to my confusion. "We could do it!"
I'm puzzled at this remark, but I don't let it show on my face. All I allow is a small smirk, as even in her adult years, Toph still has a tint of sixteen-year-old girl in her. "Do what?" I inquire.
Her gaze shifts to the lip of the building to her right, and I suddenly stand up in protest. "Are you crazy?"
"Why not?! Come on, we can do it! We don't have to take it anymore!" She's crazy. All I can think is that she's crazy. I have to think that she's crazy. If she's seriously making such a ludicrous suggestion, maybe she is crazy.
"Take what, exactly? Look, I don't know about you, Miss Criminal on the Run, but I actually have people to worry about!"
"Who exactly would that be, Sokka?" All happiness in her face drains as does all color in mine, and she continues. "Aang? You lost contact with him years ago. Katara? She hardly even has time in her life for you anymore. Suki...?"
That hurt. That last one really, really hurt, but she's right. I have nobody. But the concept of giving up life is too painful for me to even consider. "I'm not jumping," I say, trying to remain firm in my voice, but it comes out weak and wavering.
"Oh really, then what are you going to do, huh? Live your life as a lonely guy from the Water Tribe? Get prosecuted when someone finally pieces together that you were up here talking to me? Your life would become a wreck, Sokka! Please!" That last word revealed a crack in her voice as well as tears in her eyes, and I suddenly can't help feeling pity for her.
No. I can't go with her. It wouldn't help things.
Her expression no longer shows any emotion: not sadness, not joy, not even slight excitement. It's stone cold.
"And what about me?"
"What about you?"
"Are you going to stop me from jumping?" she demands. I want to, I really do, but if I know Toph, she's not going back on this. It's probably for the best for her anyways, and if she hopes to die, who am I to stop her? It's her life. If she wants to throw it away, I'm in no position to interfere.
"I wish you wouldn't, but I won't stop you." My tone, for the first time, is powerful, demanding, but slightly solemn and cold. She smiles, and I know that she's happy that I knew her well enough not to stop her. Still, her next words are cold, but she says them with joy and pleasantness.
"Then I'll go, Sokka." I nod. I'll miss you, I add mentally, but I have no energy or even a voice to say it aloud. If I even can manage to do it, I'll burst into tears, and I don't want Toph to walk out of the world with that impression of me. I stay silent, and she turns to face the lip of the building, looking at me once more, at which I nod.
Before I can gather the courage to give her a hug before she nosedives over, she runs over to me, throws her arms around me, and kisses me. She kisses me. I don't know what to do, so I begin to kiss her back, and as I do, I feel a warm, gentle, girlish smile creep onto her face. She pulls away, my face bewildered, and I nod once more, this time less noticeably. The shock of the kiss has rendered me unable to make large movements. She smiles at me, one last time, and she leans forward, her head now over the edge.
Her feet leave the ground, and I begin counting.
One Republic City. I move over to the edge of the building, watching her fall. Two Republic City, three Republic City, four Republic City. She just hit the face of the building and is falling onto the sidewalk. And suddenly, words appear in the street, but I can't make them out. Five Republic City, six Republic City, seven Republic City. She hits the ground, lifeless, and I feel myself collapse onto my back on the roof of the SMC. Within a couple seconds, though, I push myself up and I gaze down at the street. Written in the road, big, and in the handwriting of Toph Beifong, are three short words. Names, really:
Hong Ung Ku.
Ugh, sorry, when I copied this from MS Word, italicized and bold words did not transfer, so the writing may seem a bit awkward. I don't have time tonight, but tomorrow, I'll go through and rebold and reitalicize everything that needs it. I could only change one thing tonight. :/ Sorry.Done
- This chapter contains 3,852 words.
- "Cut the garbage, Sokka," is a reference to Lin's statement, "Cut the garbage, Tenzin," in The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra.
For the collective works of the author, go here.