Black Dog
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9th January, 2013

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Black Dog

If Toph were to try and describe the last few months of her life, the word 'hell' would have sprung to mind. She then would have laughed, a short, shallow bark that let you know exactly how pathetic the word really was, as 'hell' would have been a gross understatement in her opinion. Perhaps adding a few more adjectives, such as 'torturous' or 'twisted' would suffice, although it still would appear weak to the earthbender. The only word which she believed could sum up how she had felt was one she hoped never to think again—suicidal. She knew for a fact that if it weren't for the tiny, fragile heartbeat inside her, it was probable that she wouldn't be here. Then again, it was because of that little life she had been harbouring those thoughts. It was ironic, really, and if she had been in the right frame of mind, she would have found it rather humorous. It was because of the child growing within her that she felt like ending it all, but then it was only the little life inside her which stayed her hand. And she hated herself for it, for thinking such thoughts. The shame would creep into her mind, ensuring the never ending depression would continue in a cycle. It was caused by an external force yet continued by her own mind, and to her, it only succeeded in making her feel guiltier.

She had thought of asking her friends for help, especially in the beginning when she still had her whole mind, but they were busy with their own lives—she would only be a hindrance. That, and although she would never admit it, she was scared. Terrified, of their reactions. She knew that Katara and Zuko especially, being raised as they were, frowned upon children born out of wedlock. Although they never voiced it, Toph knew the type—she had been raised around them. Sokka would give her that pitying look, the one he reserved only for her after he had learnt of her... Infatuation... with him as a child. She couldn't see his face, but she hated the look anyway. Really, the only person who she felt had any chance of accepting it was Aang, and he was definitely too busy with Avatar things. Not to mention that it was he whom she was most afraid of judging. She knew it wasn't in his nature, but he was still just a man, a human being. He was her first friend, and she was ashamed of the predicament show found herself in. Shew she wouldn't be able to stand the pity she knew he had for her. She didn't want pity, she wanted it to be over. Toph could remember, almost 5 months ago, the actions which lead to her current state. She also remembered just over 3 months ago, when she figured out the consequences of her actions.

It was supposed to be a quiet Sunday breakfast at Air Temple Island. Well, a breakfast at least—the quiet was optional when there was a screaming toddler in the mix. Well, Kya wasn't really a toddler, being almost five years old, but it was easier for Toph to not get attached—not want to get attached to her—when she thought of her as just a dependent baby. Toph always just shook her head, a small smile playing on her lips. She did love Kya, but she had no idea how Aang and Katara put up with her antics half the time. She was a loud, stubborn, confidant person. It reminded Toph a lot of herself; she giggled at this. The greatest earthbender in the world, stubborn and unyielding, couldn't stand to be around someone so similar in nature to herself. Toph could only spend a great deal of time with the girl if she were sleeping, or tired. Or really, really quiet; the precocious attitude became too much if she had to deal with her entire personality at once. Smiling, she questioned how the Avatar and his wife could be looking forward to yet another dribbling, crying, dependent human being. She preferred to throw herself in her work. It was dependent on her, but at least it didn't dribble. This week, the earthbender had been called into work, and judging by the wails of the five year old, still incapable of bending even though both her parents could, Toph was beginning to count herself lucky. She hadn't been feeling very well lately, and the last thing she needed was to hear a child vomit up food because she had cried too much. It wasn't her fault; emotions were running high on the island, from Katara being pregnant to Aang being overworked. Her own moodiness probably wasn't helping either. It had started several days ago, about the same time as a new vibration was picked up by her sensitive feet. Both of these lead to the earthbender being more temperamental and more likely to blow up at the littlest thing. She had no idea why she felt like that, and she personally didn't care. The plaintive cries of a small child probably would have pushed her over the edge.

Arriving outside the headquarters, Toph had a reasonable idea what was wrong. After all, with all the new recruits, it kept happening. They learnt the secret to metalbending, and all of a sudden they thought themselves invincible. She was tired of it.

"Who is it this time?" She asked wearily, sick of the problems the untrained metalbenders were causing.

"Uh, a new officer called Qiang. He wanted to ask Mr Cabbage something, and accidentally locked himself in the interrogation room," the young recruit told her.

"Yeah, I know Qiang. Good officer, mediocre bender," she told the messenger.

"And one of the best. I should know, I trained him," she thought to herself.

She didn't have any friends on the force (it was difficult when she was the boss), but she did consider Qiang closer than most—he was one of her first recruits. Despite not being the best at earthbending, Qiang had charisma that she just couldn't ignore. Sighing, Toph blew some hair from her eyes. She just wanted to go home, she didn't want to have to deal with this kind of rubbish at the moment. She was sick of the new recruits thinking that just because they could bend the handcuffs shut, that they were ready for bigger things. She was the master, she decided when they progressed to the more difficult forms. Marching away from the novice officer, she followed the vibrations to the third interrogation room, which was currently surrounded by close to 20 officers. She could feel them all, she knew exactly who was there, but she was feeling nice today. Well, she was feeling nice at the moment. From what she could hear, they were taking bets on what kind of punishment she would deal out. She smiled slightly that they knew her so well, but quickly frowned, marching into the middle of the group. She was vaguely annoyed that they hadn't realised she was there yet. Also, she could feel the gentle thrumming, as she had for the past few days, and as usual was unable to pinpoint the source. It was annoying her to no end.

"Alright, lily-livers, you've had your fun. Get out of here!" The twenty-four year old yelled at her subordinates, shooing them away. They all promptly left, not wanting her temper focused on them—especially because they were gambling. About her. Sighing, she opened the door to the cell, just to come face to face with one of the more stranger sights. The ever volatile Mr Cabbage Man, or whatever his name was (she was Chief, she had more important issue to worry about than a lawsuit plus dangerous driving charge), was sitting, and talking, calmly discussing his options regarding his cabbages future.

"...and he'll drop the lawsuit if I agree to change the wheels to prevent my cabbages from flying off?" She heard the old mans incredulous voice.

"Yep," Qiang replied. "After they nearly hit poor Hiroshi, his father said as long as you make the vehicle slower, he didn't have a problem. He agreed that he should have been watching the boy more closely." Toph was impressed with the way her officer had handled the situation. Most of her men, had they been trapped in here, would be pulling the hair out of their scrawny faces by now. Not Qiang. He realised the futility, and put his entrapment to good use.

"Ahem," she coughed to get his attention.

"Chief!" The older man bowed to her, his knuckles facing one another in typical Earth Kingdom fashion. To his credit, she could feel his heartbeat speed up, knowing he should not be in the room, no matter how much progress was made.

"When you finish here, come to my office. Sir," she addressed the other person in the room. "When Qiang is finished, you are free to go, but report back here a... A week from now. We can't just wipe that dangerous driving with cabbages from the record." With that, she turned on her heel, making sure to leave the door open. Qiang was impressive with his words, not so much with his bending. She retreated to her office, well aware of the shocked gazes following her.

"Where was the punishment!?" Laughing to herself, she knew that more than half her officers would have lost a significant amount of money.

Sitting down ant her desk, she could feel the thumping again through the floor. Before she could try and locate the source, she was interrupted by a knock on her door.

"You wanted to see me, chief?" His words betrayed no evidence that he was nervous, but Toph knew better. She could hear the anxiety in his voice, his heart was going so fast she thought he was going to have a heart attack. She smiled inwardly—it was always fun to torture her people.

"What in the Spirit World made you think you can just waltz into an interrogation room and sort things out for yourself!" She sounded angry, but she was enjoying herself too much to add any venom to her words. Anyway, any person who took initiative, especially around her tough and brisk manner was a good person in her book. He bowed to her, trembling profusely.

"I apologise chief, it won't happen again," he sweated.

"You better believe it won't happen again! I'm stripping you of your position," she could feel how horrified he was. She smiled, deciding that she had tortured him enough.

"I'm stripping you of your position," she repeated. "Because I'm promoting you to my second in command! I need someone to run this place when I'm not here, and I like your style. You saw an opening and you took it. I'm proud. I fully expect you to take the initiative in the future." She offered him one of her rare, genuine smiles.

The change was instantaneous. His heart didn't slow down, but it was lighter than it had been before, less erratic. She smiled again, before realising another heartbeat had entered her sight. It was a young one, and that above all else confused her.

"Qiang, you didn't bring Saikhan into work again, did you?" She asked, fully aware that this heart didn't belong to the raucous 15 year old. She felt him shake his head.

"No, ma'am, not after last time," he told her with a slight smile, remembering when he had accidentally encased his father in a mix of earth and metal. Toph was proud of the young bender, and she had found the whole debacle hilarious. Shaking his head of the memories, Qiang moved slowly into the room, seeing how distracted she was—it was weird. Strange. Unheard of. Toph Bei Fong did not get distracted.

"Are you okay chief?" He asked, before she shushed him with a wave of her hand.

Moving from her chair, she sat on the ground, hands and feet placed firmly on the rough stone. She could feel her heart, Qiang's, and that of the unknown heart. Funny, it was a really small one, barely pumping at all. The last time she had felt a heart like this was when she had crossed the Serpents Pass, and that was years ago. Perhaps it was a small animal, she questioned. She then noticed the pattern. It was the same small thrumming she had been sensing the last few days, wherever she went. She realised that it wasn't the Serpents Pass where she had last felt these beats—she had felt the same pattern recently, whenever she hung around Aang and Katara. Especially Katara.

"Oh, shit," the word slipped out, a whisper, startling her new apprentice.

"Toph? What's wrong?" He was comforting her as a friend now, not a colleague. Eyes wide, her face paling by the second, she stood up, avoiding the question. All at once, the joking demeanour she had sported until then was gone, replaced by a blank stare.

"I'll see you later—I'll have a list for you to read. There are a few matters I need to take take care of first," she told him, all professional. If he was confused, he didn't show it, refraining from asking her what she had seen. After that revelation, she just wanted to be alone to think about the implications. Once he left, however, she refused to dwell on what she had learnt. That was for home, she was at work. Anyone could just walk past and see her lose it—that was not going to happen, she vowed to herself. And so, she spent the next agonising hours setting up her affairs. She needed to take time off work. As soon as Katara found out she was pregnant with Kya, and now again with Bumi, she had ceased all bending and stayed home. Her pregnancies had worked out, so Toph planned to follow in her footsteps. At least this would explain the sickness she had been feeling, the earthbender thought. Writing out a list, Toph simply told Qiang to practise his bending, make sure the recruits did the same, and keep them in line. Really, unless the gang wars started up again, she didn't have to do much. Anyway, he was smart, he could figure it out. After that, she filled out a leave form. She had no idea how long she would be gone for, but perhaps she would get lucky, and someone would want the baby. Yue knows that she didn't. She didn't have the time to raise a child—she had never seen herself as the maternal type, and she wasn't going to change because there was a child currently growing inside her.

Despite needing to stop several times to get her emotions under control, by the end of the day, all her affairs were in order. She just had to tell the officers. Walking out into the offices, she noted dully that Qiang was there.

"Good, I don't have to tell him personally what's happening," she thought. Moving to the front of the room, she bent herself a platform, ensuring she would be heard, and listened to.

"Alright! Listen up, everyone. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I need to take some time off. It won't be forever, I'm fine, but I just need to have a short break. Don't worry, I'll still be around. Maybe. Any issues are to be addressed to Qiang, he is now in charge for the duration of my absence. Any questions?" She felt one of the newer officers raise their hand.

"You," Toph pointed to the general area of the questioner.

"Uh, why are you leaving chief? And when are you returning?" He dared to question what was on everyone's mind. Toph sighed; she knew the question would come up, but she couldn't accept what was happening to her yet—as if she was going to tell people she really didn't know.

""I just need some time off." She told him as cheerfully as possible.

"I'm going home now, Qiang, there are instruction on my desk," she addressed the acting Chief of Police. With a hearty wave, she lowered her platform and walked out the door before anyone had a chance to stop her. She didn't feel up to facing anyone yet, and even though she knew that Qiang would be plagued with questions, he wouldn't say anything about her small outburst earlier. As soon as she had left, she could sense the cacophony within the walls of the institute—she had been grumpy lately, half the officers would be glad she had left, the other half would be upset she put Qiang in charge. She no longer cared, though; Toph had only one thing on her mind.

What am I going to do now?

That thought had plagued her throughout the first trimester. What was she going to do? She had planned to tell Aang eventually, but every time he came around to the house, she would lose the courage that she had been building up since the last time he visited. Eventually—inevitably—Katara left to go to Kyoshi Island to help Suki with her third child. It wasn't due for some months yet, however the previous one had been difficult, she knew, and as Toph hadn't told the water bender of her predicament, she had no reason to be jealous. It was only that Katara left as she had begun showing, the time where, had Aang still come around to visit, he would surely notice. As it were, being the Avatar, training Air Acolytes and raising a child, he just didn't have time for her. And still, she made no effort to tell him.

By the time she got to her second trimester, a change had come over her. She felt closed in, she couldn't move. So what did she do? She sent away the servants, the guards, even her cooks. She only allowed one maid to remain, Chihiro, purely so she didn't have to leave the house. Toph was sick, constantly, and deep down she knew that something was wrong. She should feel elated, she should have a healthy 'pregnant glow', but all she felt was empty. This feeling was a gradual one, she barely realised what was happening until one day, she couldn't move. Wracked with pain she knew was in her mind, her sleeping pattern disintegrating into naps which stopped the nightmares that plagued her, she could do nothing to help herself. She had pushed everyone away, but all she wanted—needed, desperately—was a friend to hold her and tell her it was going to be okay. Even cursing the spirits for her predicament, yelling profanities until she no longer had a voice, had become a chore, until most days, she just lay in bed, ignoring the world, and the world ignoring her. She knew she should go back to work, she knew they expected her back, but she couldn't work up the courage to be seen outside. She had nothing to keep her company but her memories, and even then they bullied her into submission. Occasionally, she was lucid enough to think, but just barely. Today was one of those days, and the thought on her mind was 'how could I have been this stupid?'

It had been a long week. The gang wars had spiked, leaving the citizens of the city feeling vulnerable and scared. Toph tried to reassure them by placing more agents around the more dangerous zones, but they were too few and too inexperienced. Eventually, she was forced to make a deal with a few of the leaders, just so they wouldn't attack innocent citizens. They would keep to themselves, and contact her should another gang encroach on their territory. They would then be arrested for trespassing. In exchange, the gangs wouldn't extend their territory, and they would not hurt innocent people. While many citizens were angry at her decision, Toph didn't really care. She had done what she thought she had to, and no one would convince her otherwise. Even Aang had agreed that she did the right thing, but then again, he was against all forms of violence. To celebrate her half victory, she had gone down to the local tavern, called Oasis.

She had been there several times, and really enjoyed the atmosphere. It was relaxed, laid back, and no one knew who she was. It actually reminded her a lot like Aang. Except for the excessive booze and swearing. But that was the part of the club that reminded her of herself. While she didn't swear much at work, she had to constantly watch her tongue when she was around Aang's kid. Kaya? No, it was Katara's mothers name... Kya. Feeling the intoxicated youths dance around her, Toph couldn't help but smile. It was hard to believe what the city had become in just over a decade, and she had the honour of building its foundations. Perhaps she was a bit more intoxicated than she thought, or maybe it was the success of her week, but Toph felt less inhibited than usual. Feeling around, she could sense a heartbeat that she hadn't heard before. Sauntering over, drink in hand, she knew it was a guy by the weight, and the way he carried himself. Sure enough, the closer she got, the faster his heart beat..

"Yep, still got it," Toph patted herself on her back. In a new city, most people didn't know she was blind, and by actually looking at people when they spoke to her, she could actually fool them. Grinning, she walked up to the newcomer, leaning on the wall next to him.

"New in town?" she asked innocently, her intentions anything but. She had needs, and constantly hanging around the lovey-dovey Avatar made her crave the close contact that her two best friends shared.

"Yea, I am actually. You're pretty observant for a blind chick," he commented, grinning at his luck. First day in town, and a hot girl was hitting on him!

"You're pretty observant for a meathead," she shot back, her grin as wide as his. She knew what he wanted, and this time she wasn't interested in playing hard to get. Thank Spirits he was a straightforward kinda guy.

"Well, I'm bored here," he told her. "Wanna come back to my place?"

She raised her eyebrow at him. "I dunno, this is moving a little fast. Whatever happened to a first date?" She grinned wolfishly at him, relishing in the way his heart jumped erratically before grabbing the front of his shirt and dragging him down to her eye level, placing hot kisses all over his face, swallowing his lips in hers. Letting him go briefly, she pushed him towards the door.

"Lead the way, Hotstuff!"

Stupid, stupid! That was something Sokka did, or Ty Lee. She was Toph, not one to act on impulse, or do something so reckless. Yet here she was, stuck with the consequences of one uninhibited night. That was what irked her the most. Or, what would have irked her, had she been capable of any emotion above depressive or grief-stricken silence. She knew she had changed, from a healthy, happy young woman to one who felt a million years old. There had been a few times that Aang had come over to visit, but she always told Chihiro to turn him away. She was hurt that he had stopped coming to see her—had he forgotten about her? Perhaps he only ever really saw her as his Sifu. He had, after all, said it was her abilities to see that were amazing, not she herself. And every time he came over, they would discuss his work, his training, his life. She felt like his personal diary. But even after she had stopped accepting visitors, he kept returning, time and time again, trying to get her to see him. Today, after weeks of making Chihiro choose for her, Toph made a decision. Coming to the conclusion that it was unlikely he would return for a while (the last time was almost 2 weeks ago), she let Chihiro leave early. After all, who wants to look after a sick, pregnant blind girl all the time? Anyway, Chihiro would be back that evening to cook her dinner anyway. What could go wrong?

It started at a time Toph assumed to be midmorning, although knowing her it could really be at any time. She was been lying in bed, mulling things over as she was wont to do. She vaguely realised that she hadn't moved from the bed in 2 days (or was it 3?), and she smelt as though mushrooms were growing under her armpits and something had died in her hair. For all she knew, it she did have mushrooms under her armpits.

"Chihiro," she called to the maid. She felt bad that she had done nothing but clean up after her over the last few days while she braved a particularly bad bout of depression. She heard the reply as Chihiro stood outside the door, not wanting to enter what could only be described as a war zone. Toph ignored her apprehension.

"I want you to go out today. Have... fun. Do something. There's some money..." she tried, she really did, but the fog that had settled on her mind a few days ago had yet to lift. She felt as though she should worry that she couldn't remember where she had put her little jar of savings. Though, it was times like these that she was glad she had someone like Chihiro to help her out.

"The money has been put in a jar above the pantry, Toph," Chihiro interrupted her search through her memories, gently reminding her that at least one of them still had their wits. Despite having misgivings about leaving Toph alone, Chihiro knew that, even through the crippling depression, Toph was independent at heart. She just needed a day to remind herself off that.

"If you're sure you will be fine, I'll take my leave. I don't need any of the money." With a slight bow that the earthbender barely bothered to feel, Chihiro left, calling behind her that she would be back later.

Toph waited until she could hear the front door close to move. She didn't want the maid to see how she looked—if it was as bad as she felt, she must be death incarnate. Rolling off the bed, she landed lightly on the floor, relishing the contact. The smell of the ground, the feel of the dirt between her fingers gave her the strength to stand up. Making her way to the small bathroom joining her room, she barely registered the good job Chihiro had done keeping the rest of the house clean. She had been forbidden from entering Toph's room, but that just meant she worked extra hard to keep the rest of the house up to liveable standards. Not the Toph spent any time there anyway. Reaching the sink, Toph had a passing thought of tying her hair up before she dismissed it.

"What was the point? It's not like I have anyone to please, least of all myself," she thought desolately. Moving through the house, trying to find the kitchen, Toph constantly ran into the earthen walls, not concentrating enough to avoid them. Just as she crossed the foyer, she heard a light tap on the door. Monkeyfeathers! She could sense it was Aang, and for what must have been the first time in months, she felt something other than, well, nothing. A brief flash of annoyance danced across her face before it disappeared.

She was just about to walk away, when she heard Aangs voice through the hard wood. "Chihiro? It's Aang, could I come in?" Toph stopped walking away, and turned to face the door. She didn't really want to, but her limbs had a mind of their own as she walked over to the door and opened it, making sure to keep her swollen stomach hidden. She heard him start to say something before a gasp cut off whatever word had been forming. She knew she looked terrible, but she still didn't care. As it was, she was looking better than she had the last few months—Chihiro had forced her to take a bath just over a week ago.

"Toph..." He said gently, and she inwardly cringed. She didn't want his pity, or his sympathy, or his help.

"What?" Her voice was a bland monotone, and she knew that he had noticed. She wanted to put her usual attitude into her voice, convince him to leave, but she just couldn't summon the energy.

"Are you... okay?" She could sense him mentally shake his head as she softly snorted, too quiet for him to hear. Of course she wasn't okay! Her life was down the drain, she had no idea what she was doing, and her best friend had abandoned her when she needed him most. But, she couldn't say that to him, so she went with the next best option.

"I'm fine. What business is it of yours, anyway?" The words sounded like her, but she knew he wasn't convinced. She must look truly dreadful, she surmised, and for a second all she could feel of him was his heartbeat, a writhing mass of thumps and drums that were so unlike him. She heard him take another breath.

"Toph! We care about you, we're worried! The gaang misses you, I miss you. I miss talking to you. I don't know what's wrong, but something is. I want to help, Toph felt him move, and knew he was about to push open the door. She anticipated his move, and bent a small mound of earth for the door to catch on. She knew she looked terrible, but for the first time in several months, she cared about what she looked like, and she definitely did not want him to see the rest of her. Just like that, all her insecurities came rushing back.

"I don't need your help. Despite what everyone thinks, I'm not helpless, O Great and Powerful Avatar," she felt ill, but took the time to retort, her inner fire flaring up again before being quashed as bile made its way up her throat. Slamming her hand over her mouth, she threw the door shut and ran to the main bathroom, hearing Aang call her name before following her path through the house. She reached the bathroom just in time to throw up, losing what little food and liquid had been sitting there. She could hear Aang's cries all through the house (Toph? Toph!) and made sure her back was to the door. He wouldn't approach her, that much she knew.

"Toph! What's wrong?! You can't say 'nothing' now." She felt him step hesitantly over the threshold of the room, before changing his mind and sitting cross legged next to the hinges of the door. Even though he didn't approach her, she knew that he wasn't going to leave her, not like this. She wanted to make him leave, but suddenly it felt as though the last few months had become years. She didn't have the strength to make him to go; she was tired, the weight of months of dealing with this on her own finally being felt. While she didn't have the strength to demand he leave, she couldn't just roll over and let him have what he wanted. She still retained some fire.

"Go away, Aang. I don't want to see you. I don't need your help. I don't want it; I'm fine on my own. I have been for the past 5 months," she took in several deep gasps, achieve the result of both calming (slightly) her upset stomach, and controlling the tears which threatened to spill over.

"No, you aren't! Toph, I get that you like your independence, but this isn't about that. You can still be independent, and let the people who love you... you can let them help you." He wanted to help her? But, he didn't even know what was wrong! The blind earthbender looked over her left shoulder so that her ear was facing Aang, half her face concealed. She spoke, and couldn't prevent the little note of sadness crawl into her voice.

"You can't help me. No-one can, I tried," she could tell he had noticed her change in attitude. The way he sat up a little straighter, and leaned forward as if he we going to clasp her shoulder, a gentle reminder that he was here for her.

"Toph, will you please look at me? I won't judge you, nor laugh, no matter what has happened, okay?" She adjusted her position, uncomfortable with how straightforward he was being, while she danced around the issue. It defied the natural order of things. She moved again, allowing more of her face to be seen by her friend, sniffling slightly as though she were already crying. She wanted his help, but she needed a guarantee; a promise that he wouldn't abandon her again, that he would be supportive. A friend.

"Promise? Promise you won't judge me, or laugh or..." she trailed off, fully aware that he couldn't have heard the last part of her sentence.

"Pardon?" He had asked her to repeat herself, and although she didn't want to leave herself so vulnerable, she knew it was pointless—she couldn't appear any weaker if she tried. Or, maybe she could, as the tears she had held back for so one began to streak down her clammy, sunken cheeks.

"Don't... don't leave me..." She had been prepared for his response, but it was nothing like she had expected. She though he would tell her gently that he could handle it, or tell her that he didn't want to know her secrets. It didn't occur to her, however, that he would react with such fervour. It was as if she had insulted his very being.

"Toph, I would never! Can you please tell me what's wrong? Even if I can't help you, I can still support you." Again, he wasn't lying, and she felt comforted by his soft yet steady heartbeats. Nodding slightly, she told him to please close his eyes. She could sense his apprehension before he followed her request. After all, she had said the 'P' word. She vaguely wondered if he was going to use his seismic sense to see what she was doing, and she hoped not. She didn't want him to sense this coming.

Kneeling in front of him, Toph opened her arms before lunging at him, wrapping her arms securely around his middle, stomach pressing on his and her head in his chest. He stiffened slightly at the random nature of the act, before relaxing, rubbing his friend on her back, the way a father would a child. Toph could feel his eyes on her, and hoped he would make the connection Between her appearance and her weight.

The tears were still fresh on her face, and more continued to leak over her unseeing eyes. She felt Aang move his hand from her back to wipe away a few of the fresher ones. While she still looked like Death warmed up, her skin had lost the clammy feeling, and her eyes were now clearer, the fog he had noticed over them lifting. It was then he noticed how thin she was. The baggy clothes she had been wearing had covered how spindly her arms had become, her hair had covered her cheeks. He looked at his friend kindly, but refused to look at her with pity—she would hate that. It was then he realised that despite having the body mass of a corpse, she was actually heavier than he remembered. He could feel a slight bulge resting on his stomach, and it was then he realised what had happened. It explained everything, why she had been absent from work, why she never stopped to visit him anymore, and never allowed him to visit her. She was ashamed.

"Toph, are you—are you...?" He didn't finish the thought, as her slight nods gave him the answer he needed. Gently, he wiped away the tears which had begun to fall again.

"Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere. I'm here for you," he whispered to her softly, knowing that while she said she didn't want his help—didn't need it—it was at this time that she was most desperate for her friend.

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