|More from Fruipit||Tragedy & Spiritual||PG-13||Positive||No update page|
30th April, 2013
By the time Toph finally arrived, dragging a grumpy Sokka and a puffing Suki, the rest of the group had already set up the huge serving room. The wooden tables and chairs had been pushed to the side of the large room, and a thick blanket for each person had been laid out. It seemed to Aang—and Katara echoed his sentiment—that after Iroh had told the customers that the shop was to be closing earlier, they rushed to finish their tea. Either that, or they were close to finishing it anyway.
Once the room was empty, save for themselves, the real work could begin. Zuko lit a roaring fire in the barely used hearth, using his bending to ensure it didn't grow too big as Iroh had neglected to buy a guard for it. The four friends had no idea if Toph had anything planned (and, being Toph, they assumed she didn't), so it was up to Aang to organise the sleeping bags and entertainment—not that there was a lot. He ended up writing a list of things that they could do that night, from getting Toph to open up a little (high on the list, but very, very unlikely), to metalbending (towards the top) and pranking Sokka (item number one).
Katara, as usual, had taken it upon herself to cook, and Mai, intrigued by the waterbenders' skill and creativity, had offered to help. This led to a curious blending of traditional Water Tribe cooking techniques, made with Earth Kingdom staples and Fire Nation seasonings and spices. The end result was an exotic meal of roasted ptarmigan-hen for the meat-eaters, and seasoned eggflower for Aang.
Despite having located Sokka and Suki a mere ten minutes after searching for them, Toph didn't return with the couple until a good half-hour after leaving. After pushing the couple into the now thankfully empty teashop, it became apparent why. Sokka was weighed down with a large duffel bag filled with his belongings from the hotel. Just as Katara was about to ask why he had the bag, Toph earthbent herself a small platform and declared, "Fun starts now!" before marching past her friends to presumably go to her room. The group shared bewildered glances whilst Sokka and Suki caught up with exactly what the hell was going on, and shared their own news; Toph had forced them to collect their stuff and check out of the hotel—they could sleep at the tea shop, at least while she was there. After coming to the same realisation regarding the meteor sword that Zuko had inspired earlier in the day, Sokka was intent on marching out the back and demanding his sword back. He never had a chance, because at that moment Toph walked back into the room.
She had changed her outfit, and was finally dressed in something appropriate—but that didn't mean that what she was wearing was any less strange. She had removed her torn trousers and the fabric which could barely be described as a shirt, replacing it with a long green kimono, tied with a beige obi. The fabric was an expensive silk that everyone recognised as being worn only by nobles—and had never expected their tomboyish friend to wear, let alone choose to wear. It was rich with the deep green and yellow colours of the Earth Kingdom; the long sleeves were trimmed with a pale sea-foam colour, and the only patterns were the Bei Fong crest on her lapel, with a second unfamiliar insignia sewn directly underneath. The bottom of the dress touched the ground with only the earthbender's little toes sticking out from underneath it. It was a well crafted article; stylish yet elegant, Toph completed the look with her trademark headband (although she had kept her hair down), and a strange necklace that no-one had noticed her wearing earlier. It was of an unidentifiable creature; it had a face like a camelephant, but the body of a tigerox. Before anyone could question her, she walked further into the room and the ear-scratching sound of metal on stone forced most logical thought from everyone's mind as they saw Toph dragging the sheathed sword carelessly behind her. Aang's hand twitched, and he would later swear he had heard Sokka whimper.
"Here," she said, thrusting the handle of the weapon at Sokka. He eyed her warily, not making a single movement to accept or reject his possession.
"Take it!" She shook the handle vigorously, and finally smiled when he took it from her.
"Uh, thanks Toph..." he said dubiously, quickly checking the sheath for scuff marks before putting it aside on a table.
"So, what did you have planned?" Suki asked.
Toph swung her head and stared at the direction of Suki's voice. She opened her mouth as though she were about to answer, but no sound came out.
"What about dinner?" Katara piped up, looking at her young friend curiously. Toph smiled as her eyes brightened, and she nodded her head vigorously.
"Yes, dinner, good. Sounds like a plan." She stood up quickly, followed by Suki.
"Sugar Queen, wanna help me?"
Suki and Katara shared a glance, looking furtively at Sokka who was chatting with Mai about different whetstones for a variety of blades.
"Sure, Toph..." The duo walked into the kitchen where Katara quickly divvied the food onto plates that Toph lay gently on the bench.
"Toph?" asked Katara.
"Mmm?" Toph stopped what she was doing and looked at Katara, her green eyes peering out from beneath her hair
Katara looked at the girl and wondered that perhaps she didn't realise.
"Do you have a problem with Suki?" She saw the blind girl's eyes widen, though whether it was shock or guilt she couldn't tell. Toph furrowed her eyebrows and looked at the waterbender curiously.
"No. Why would you think that?" She seemed genuinely confused, and she gave the waterbender a quizzical look before picking up two plates laden with food and taking them to her friends.
"Grubs up! I dunno what it is, but it smells yummy!" she cried, putting the food on the ground before going back into the kitchen and collecting more plates.
"Come on, Katara. Let's eat!" She offered a smile before exiting the kitchen again with more food.
Looking through the archway, Katara shook her head to rid it of the thoughts that swirled there. It was nothing.
Tapping the surface of a small pond, the Spirit erased the window she was using.
So picturesque, isn't it? She raised a fine eyebrow at the small figure standing dutifully by her side. The person gave a sharp nod, and she smiled again.
I'm so glad I brought you back... It was a mistake letting you continue on, wasn't it?
The person bowed his head and uttered a small grunt.
I thank you for your kindness, Suìmèng. It is a privilege to be in your company.
Only half that statement was true—all of it false from an outsider's perspective; however the poor soul really did believe this was a mercy, bless him. The Spirit flew up to a branch of her tree, leaving the strange being to sit idly by the pond. She ruffled her head and puffed out her feathers, watching the individual. She saw him look up to her, and she made a great show of yawning and closing her eyes. Peeking through the long lashes, she watched as he sat by the edge of the pond. He was swishing the water around with a forefinger, murmuring something that even the spirit couldn't understand.
Perhaps I should let him go back. The Winter Solstice approaches, hmm that would be best... Oh, Auspicious One!
She smiled a perfect grin as the boy turned his head, never taking his hand from the water.
How would you like to visit Her?
His eyes lit up, the excitement warping the tree and pond into something colourful and enlivened. It would take weeks to kill the tree, but if he got this excited, the Spirit could only imagine how She would react. It sent tingles up her spine, and she grinned back at the boy. She couldn't wait.
"Wow, Sugar Queen, have you been practising or what?" Toph exclaimed, putting her chopsticks down on her plate. "She's a keeper, Twinkletoes. That is, keep her in the kitchen!"
Sokka laughed before a harsh glare from his wife silenced him.
"You barely touched it, Toph!" Katara argued, peering over at the girls half-finished plate. Toph merely shrugged.
"A lot more than I normally eat," she responded, standing up. "Is anyone else done? Oh, I know!" Without giving anyone time to respond, she ran into the kitchen with her plate.
"Do you want some help, Toph?" Suki called out to her, but the only reply she received was the banging of pots and pans, and a rather loud "oof".
"I'm okay!" she called from the kitchen, before anyone could ask her what happened.
Shrugging, the rest of them finished their meal. They had grown used to Toph's quirks whilst travelling with her, and despite how much her attitude had changed it was easy to fall into old habits; that included ignoring any cuss words that so far she hadn't seemed inclined to say, not asking her if she wanted the help she so obviously needed, and leaving her alone if she didn't ask them to be with her. After having seen her reactions the previous day, and what Aang had told them about earlier, they seemed reluctant to leave her to her own devices; however, for something so trivial as strange happenings in a kitchen, no one seemed too worried.
It was only after Katara cleared the dishes that they realised they probably should have been worried. Walking into the kitchen, the waterbender nearly dropped the plates when she caught Toph kneeling on the bench, stirring a small pot of what appeared to be burning water.
"What are you doing, Toph?!" she screeched, terrified the blind bender would burn herself on whatever was in the pot. Putting the dishes clumsily on the bench, she turned back to the girl to find her sliding off the bench top.
"Shush, Katara. I'm making something." She pulled the pot from the stove and poured whatever was in there into a bread tin that had been bent into a shallower container.
"What's that?" she asked, fear subsiding as her curiosity was piqued.
"I wanted to make dessert, so I did. It's called 'toffee'."
"Are you sure it's safe?" the waterbender asked dubiously.
"Totally. Just, not at the moment—if you eat it now, you'll burn yourself." Putting the now empty pot on the sink, Toph tugged on the waterbenders sleeve, pulling her from the kitchen.
"Come on, lets have some fun!"
"Oh, Toph, this is adorable!"
The four girls had moved to the small space that was Toph's room. There was no bed, save for a pile of blankets on the floor, and the only piece of furniture was a closet that Katara was currently tearing through, trying on anything that might remotely fit her. Mai was being slightly more careful about it, while Suki had set up a small nest to sit in—she had managed to bring her own clothes, and nothing the slight girl owned would have fit her slowly expanding frame.
"Chill, Sweetness! We are going to get your clothes tomorrow, right? I don't have enough fabric to clothe all of you for long."
Mai only looked at the young girl. "These are all your clothes?"
The blind girl nodded as Katara shrieked again, and began gesturing to Suki. Katara was trying on the various kimono's, paying little mind to the symbolism, rather the colours; it didn't mean she didn't know what they meant, having spent a little over two months in Omashu when the old king was ill.
"Why do you have a uchikake?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. Toph's eyes widened before she could hide it, and she looked away.
"I like dancing..." she muttered, hoping that the waterbender would think it was embarrassment. She did, fortunately, because the next thing Toph knew was that she was swept into a conversation about a ball being held.
"-You can dance there! It's going to be really big for the Winter Solstice, and I think the Earth King wanted to celebrate finding a mate for Bosco. Ohh, you can wear this furisode, you would look so beautiful in it!"
She knew Katara was smiling and didn't want to ruin the waterbender's fun.
"Well, I'm sure I'll be able to get in... As long as we get an invite for Iroh too!"
Mai, who had been tying a red sash around her sleeping gown raised an eyebrow to Suki, who rubbed her slightly swollen belly and shrugged.
"But!" the diminutive earthbender continued. "I want to wear my green iromuji. Iroh would never let me live it down if I didn't." She shrugged, turning away from the bemused, confused and suspicious expressions of Mai, Suki and Katara, respectively.
"I'm sure we can figure something out. It goes with your necklace, too!"
"What is that thing?" Mai asked, peering closer at her neck.
"It's called a Baku," Toph explained, gently touching the carved figure. "Iroh gave it to me. It's like your dreamweaver, Katara. They say it changes shape depending on the dreams you have."
The Water Tribe bender looked at the strange animal, unable to comprehend how such a thing caught good dreams and saved them for the owner, but it didn't matter—she knew the trinkets of her own culture were a placebo anyway.
"Are you done wrecking Toph's wardrobe, yet? I'm bored!" Suki cried, hoping the blind girl would agree. To her shock, Toph just looked at her open-mouthed, as though she hadn't realised she was there; it would have been understandable had she been on any furniture, but the pregnant woman had been resting, squirming around trying to get comfortable, the only thing separating her from the hard ground being a few thin sheets of fabric. Sighing, Katara finished doing the buttons on one of Toph's bigger night dresses.
"We can clean it up later," she said, eliciting a smile and a tug from the earthbender.
"Lets go then, this is boring!"
The four girls exited the small storeroom that doubled as Toph's sleeping space, trying to be as quiet as they could when they walked past Iroh's room (which was pointless, considering Katara's vocalisations only a few minutes previous). Walking into the shop, the boys were obviously having a very important discussion if their own.
"No, Katara! She comes from a patriarchal society, and as a strong, independent wom-"
"Suki, obviously, she's pregnant!"
"You guys don't know her, it's definitely Mai!"
"Melon Lord!" Toph cried out, effectively dulling the conversation and announcing to the guys that they had finished.
"Woah, you girls look amazing! I thought you hated girly clothes, Toph?" Sokka said, moving over to Katara and pulling on her kimono. She slapped him away with a huff, as Suki called out, "What about me!"
"Oh, Suki! You're still the most gorgeous, sweetest woman imaginable, and I love you," Sokka told her, pulling her in for a kiss. Aang, Zuko and Toph all looked slightly disgusted at the display of affection, while Katara and Mai both watched, looking at their boyfriend's almost expectantly after a few seconds.
"What?" they asked in unison, almost thankful for the interruption.
"What about us? Aren't we 'gorgeous or sweet'?" Mai asked, her monotonous voice actually containing some form of emotion; on her, though, it was practically unidentifiable.
Zuko and Aang both looked at the other before they moved towards their girlfriends, leaning in for a kiss. The action was paused however, when Toph suddenly yelled, "Sweet!" and ran into the kitchen. They ignored her until they heard a shattering sound, like the dropping of a ceramic pot.
"Toph?" Suki called, breaking away from Sokka. Everyone peered at the dark kitchen, searching for some sign of the girl in the blackness. They heard another sound, this one not something any of them had heard before; it was a gentle scraping or shuffling, not particularly harsh on their ears but unpleasant all the same. Katara took a few steps forward when she reappeared, holding a plate of broken pieces. They seemed to be pieces of glass; only Katara recognised the colour.
"Is that the taffy stuff you made? I thought you made a whole heap..."
"Toffee, and yes, it is, and I did—the rest is in the kitchen. Eat it! Well, not you, Aang, you don't need any more energy." She smirked as she felt the airbenders heart drop and he glared at her.
"I'm glaring at you, just so you know."
Toph smiled and pretended to think about it. "Okay, one piece."
By now everyone had crowded around the short girl, and Zuko was prodding carefully at the hard pieces.
"Are you sure, Toph? This doesn't look very edible..." he said hesitantly. She nodded, a smile on her face.
"Try it!" she said, before taking a small piece and stuffing it in her mouth. "Itsh really goom. Thweet," she told them around the object. Hesitating slightly, they each took a piece, crying out as they all bit into the hard substance.
"Yeah, don't bithe it. Ith boiled canthy." she told them, sucking happily on the sweet. Carefully, her friends took another piece, this time making sure not to bite it.
"Thith thtuff ith really nithe! Juth tho you know, I'm grinning googilly," Aang told her, giggling a little at how stupid he sounded.
"How did you do it?" Mai asked, wisely choosing not to stick the whole thing in her mouth; that is, until she realised how sticky it was making her fingers. Toph took the piece she was sucking on out of her mouth in order to answer the question.
"Apparently my mum made it all the time when she was pregnant with me," Toph told them. "It's made with sugar and water—I always ate it as a kid, and I asked my mum to teach me," she said, before putting the piece back in her mouth. She didn't seem to want to elaborate further, and it wasn't long before everyone was onto their next piece, unable to get enough of the lolly.
The Fire Nobles had never tasted anything so pleasant before; it was curious, not being spicy yet it wasn't bland. Living in the Fire Nation, they had become accustomed to foods bursting with spicy flavours and aromatic sauces—anything less was horrifically boring, generally speaking. Katara and Sokka had for the most part lived on a diet of seafood, and such a strange food was a delicacy. The texture was what had surprised them the most. They had sampled a variety of food—they both lived in the Earth Kingdom—but that being said, the Earth Kingdom was extraordinarily fond of rice dishes, the squishy grain somewhat resembling the soft fish of their homeland.
Aang, being an Air Nomad had an appreciation for food of many cultures, and had been raised on a sweet diet of fresh fruit—the boiled sweet was a new one, and he had never had such a concentration of sugar before. Naturally, Toph regretted giving him the lolly as soon as he began twitching. The only person who had known what to expect of the food was Suki. She knew of toffee, having been raised in the Earth Kingdom (despite Kyoshi Island being effectively a sovereign state), however she had never had the privilege of tasting it—only nobles could afford the refined sugar required for such a dessert.
It didn't take long for the small plate to be devoured, and even less time for the sugar to work its way through their systems. Only Toph seemed unaffected by it—if anything, she just appeared nostalgic. Aang was running up the walls, literally, with Katara suggesting they play a strange Water Tribe game. Sokka agreed, and managed to drag Suki into the fray. Watching curiously, Toph could see how learning the game would be beneficial when living in the icy tundra and faced with a threat of the polar bear dog kind. It involved lying as still as possible, and when one of them shouted, "Safe!", they all had to get up and run as fast as they could to the other side of the room. Suffice to say, Suki didn't play for very long. Even Mai and Zuko seemed especially hyperactive, indulging in a tickle fight that got everyone laughing, and rooting for whomever they wanted to win.
As the night grew longer, the plan to prank Sokka was wiped in favour of sharing humorous tales with one another; reliving last memories and sharing ones that others may have missed out—such as the one of Aang and the Giant Temple Hermit Crabs.
"I swear they were about 5 feet big! They wouldn't let me get close to the Sanctuary for a whole week! I ended up having to throw a smoke bomb in there just to get them to be quiet!"
Toph and Sokka were in stitches over his story.
"An- and then what happened?" She managed to ask, gulping down deep breaths between chortles.
"Turns out there was a "mother crab". She did not like me," he said, which brought forth yet another wave of giggling and general hysterics.
They night wore on, and yet no-one felt the need to suggest sleep. Giggling was exchanged for yawning, although no one seemed to want to retire.
The conversations grew nonsensical, tales of pure fancy—much like a mother would read to her child. The only serious topic was mentioned when the conversation strayed to Toph's prowess with the sword.
"How is your hand looking, Aang?" Katara asked him, a frown of worry on her face. Toph looked away as Aang opened his palm to survey the gash. Or, what had been a gash only a few hours before.
"Fantastic!" he said, almost disbelieving. The loose mottled flesh had been utterly transformed—it no longer looked like a dreadful wound, but an age-old battle scar that had faded over time. He wiggled his fingers experimentally, watching the mark move slightly with each motion.
"Good water," Zuko commented drily as Aang curled his hand into a fist and punched Toph lightly on the shoulder. If she was angry, she didn't show it, although the surprise was evident in her wide eyes.
"Nothing to worry about, Sifu T," he told her, before leaning down to whisper in her ear, "I'm still smiling; no harm, no foul". Her own smile formed, and she punched him back, giggling a little at the grunt he made.
"Hey Toph? You have anymore of that toffee?" Sokka interjected, earning himself a slap from Suki. Toph grinned and returned to the kitchen, collecting the rest of the candy. Sokka shoved several pieces into his mouth, having the expected reaction of sending him absolutely crazy for the next hour in a half.
Finally calming down after Zuko made some chamomile tea (which was challenged, and they ended up having a Tea Tournament that Toph promptly won—How can she tell?! She's blind! cried a pitiful Zuko, to which Sokka just patted his arm and replied, "It's Toph. Don't question it."), the seven friends snuggled deep within their blankets, breathing in the company of one another.
Toph was sleeping in the middle of everyone—a low blow, but it was so comforting to have everyone around her that she didn't call them up on it. On her left was Aang, with Zuko sleeping between him and Mai. Katara had claimed the earthbender's right side, placing Sokka on the end so Suki wouldn't be subjected to the chills of the night—the winter air of Ba Sing Se was far less tropical than the Kyoshi Warrior was used to. Sokka was determined not to have her fall sick during the pregnancy, and Toph had agreed, even suggesting she sleep in the very middle. Looks were exchanged between the warrior and the waterbender, and Suki declined politely. It would have been disagreeable had she milked the situation, but the warrior was, well, a warrior.
Kicking out with his leg, Aang nudged Zuko gently, tilting his head meaningfully in the half-light of the fireplace. The Fire Lord's eyes widened with understanding, and he cleared his throat gently.
"Hmm?" The sleepy girl turned her head, focussing on the direction of Zuko's voice and inadvertently staring at Aang. Suffice to say, he was reasonably creeped out and chose to focus instead on the rafters of the ceiling.
"Can I ask you something?"
"Huh-? Ask me tomorrow," she said, yawning. Aang nudged Zuko again, but the Fire Lord ignored him.
"Okay... G'night, Toph."
As the seven friends slowly let sleep consume them, Toph's eyes suddenly widened, and she mentally berated herself for forgetting. Turning over, she looked in the direction of Katara and gently pushed her.
"Hey, Katara, are there any candles lit at the moment?" she whispered.
The waterbender looked at her friend curiously, before shaking her head. "No, but there are a few on the mantlepiece unlit..."
Toph nodded as though she knew that they were there. Yawning, she tilted her head in the direction of the monk lying next to her.
"Min- mind getting that for me... Aang..." she asked between yawns. "Ju- just two will do..." He shared a look with Katara before complying.
"Sure thing, Toph..." Getting up slowly so he didn't disturb the blankets, he tiptoed over the small table which rested the small candles. Tapping the wick lightly with his index finger, his eyes burned a little at the unexpected light.
"Done," he whispered as he moved back to his place, hearing a softly mumbled, "Thanks, Twinks..."
He slid back into his place, a question on his lips, but he as he watched Toph snuggled into her sheets, a tiny, absolutely minuscule smile on her lips, he couldn't break her peace and followed her to sleep, hugging her close.
For the first time in months—surrounded by the company of her friends—the nightmares left Toph alone.
A/N: Would you guys kill me if I said that I planned on having Toph answer the question? The original draft had Toph telling them who Tashi is, but I decided against it.
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