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|Blood and Spit|
6th March, 2013
She should have expected it, she didn't time herself very well. But then again, Toph had never been a patient person. Katara had known, and had helped her, sort of. It was the duty of a friend to help a friend. It was a duty of a sister to set a brother up with a nice girl—and his current girlfriend, Azula, wasn't a very nice girl. Sure, she liked Sokka, anyone could see that, but she was also Queen Bitch, Ruler of the World (aka tables 8-23 in the cafeteria), and she didn't love the boy—just his skill on the football field. Katara didn't like her much, which was why she offered to help Toph. The blind girl appreciated it, it was just that her method was really slow. Toph didn't really consider the "give it time—if the universe wants it to work out, it will" approach to be a very good one. She liked Aang's better, even if he was a wimpy high jumper—whom she had never really had an actual conversation with. He had just overheard her telling Katara (and had received a kick where he really didn't want one, for his troubles).
Tell them. If you do, you can only gain. If you don't, you've already lost.
It was the best and worst piece of advice she'd ever received. Perhaps she should have followed it to the letter, the first part being the "telling" part. She had never been good at articulating her feelings. She glared to show she was angry, punched to show someone she liked them, and occasionally placed a hand on the shoulder to show she cared. That was about it. Maintaining a conversation about, ugh, feelings didn't really appeal to her. So, as always, she let him know through action.
Unfortunately, it was during a timeout of his soccer practise, in front of several talent scouts, and his current, very territorial (possibly crazy) girlfriend, who also happened to be cheer captain. Toph had walked blindly into the middle of the field and called out his name. She couldn't very well make the mistake of approaching the wrong person, could she? He came, as he always did; Toph, what are you doing? Do you need help? The touch, the feeling, well, it only lasted a few seconds, and in the several more it took him to realise what had happened, she had made her way off the field and into an abandoned hallway of the school where she proceeded to break down at her own stupidity.
She hadn't faced him since then. She had embarrassed the both of them, but she couldn't work up the courage to apologise. Thank whatever deity anyone believed in (thank all of them) that she couldn't see the looks people gave her, the stares. She could hear them, though, and that was just as bad. So for the rest of the week she stumbled through school, ignoring everyone, and everyone ignoring her. She couldn't face her friends; it was too embarrassing. Anyway, he was always there, hanging around. She may not be the best at thinking things through, but she wasn't going to deliberately sabotage herself. It hurt more than she let on, being separated from her friends, but she was used to it. She had been alone most of her life, and it was only in the last few years since she hit high school that people had bothered trying to talk to the small girl with the blank stare.
Stumbling into the pizza shop that the students from her school frequented, Toph shook out her damp hair and wiped down the handle of her cane. It had been raining (the Universe apparently had a clichéd sense of humour) and it was better to wait inside the warm parlour than under the bus shelter; it smelled better, too. Maybe a slice of Hawaiian pizza would scare away the rain? She took a few steps into the room before she heard them; heard him. Laugh. About her. A side effect of being almost completely blind was that she had very good hearing, and was very quiet so she didn't deafen herself. She wished she could drown out his conversation, but she couldn't; she heard everything.
"I wish a chick would walk up to me and slobber all over my face during a match!"
"No, you don't Haru. You really don't. I felt like Aang's dog Appa had just sneezed on me and then licked it off. And did you guys see the talent scouts glaring?"
"I totally saw them staring at you! Guess they don't like PDA by random chicks. I feel really sorry for you."
"Hey, when I want pity, Jet, I'll go to anyone but you."
"Woah, calm your tits. I'm just saying, I would hate to be face raped by the school cripple. Did you see her run into the locker outside science today?"
They guffawed, and she decided that she had heard enough. Taking extra care to not run into the door as she left the crowded parlour, she walked past the wet bus stop. She just wanted to get out of there. Taking out her phone, she flipped it open to call her parents to pick her up. Well, send one of the maids to pick her up. Bringing it close to her face, she couldn't hear the inbuilt voice that should tell her what button she was hovering over. Shaking it, she realised with a sigh that it was out of battery. Turning her dulled eyes to the sky, she knew it would rain again long before she got home. She didn't really have a choice anyway, she wasn't going back into the pizza shop.
Readjusting the position of her pack, she began the forty minute long walk home. Her parents lived in the richer part of town and they generally had maids or a servant to chauffeur her around. She wished she hadn't told them that she was going to get a slice of pizza with friends. She hadn't had plans to sit with anyone, but they needed the assurances. She hadn't really planned a lot of things that had happened lately.
Swinging her cane out in front of her, she walked down the busy street, rain mixing with her salty tears as the sky mimicked her own inner conflict. She was so distracted she didn't feel the rain falling harder, faster. She didn't notice the streets had emptied, save for a solitary car speeding along occasionally. Sopping wet, Toph didn't realise something was following her until she tripped over it.
"Ahh!" she cried out, landing heavily on her hands and knees. Sitting back, she touched her legs gingerly, bringing her fingers to her nose only to smell blood on them.
Any further thoughts she had were pushed from her mind as her face was assaulted by a slobbering tongue.
Appa? Sokka said something...Was it really like that?
"Aang?" she called out warily. She wanted to get up off the ground and go to him, but the pain in her legs convinced her to stay on the ground. That, and she had lost her cane.
"T- Toph? Is that you? What are you doing?" She could hear him moving closer as he questioned her.
"Yea, it's me, Aang... Help me up, would you? And where's my cane?"
"Oh, it's righ- Woah! Hold on, don't move!"
"Why?! It's raining, I wanna get home!"
She was still seated on the floor, feeling the water going through her clothes. She was soaked through, and quite cold. She just wanted to get home and have a warm shower while listening to something heartbreaking and depressing; just like she'd done every other day that week.
"Hold on. I've got your cane, but you can't walk home like that. Here, you can get cleaned up at my house, it's my fault anyway," he told her, before reaching down and scooping her up in his arms, bridal style.
"Woah, what are you doing, Airhead?! You wanna get the spit punched out of you?" She thrashed in his arms but he held on tightly until she calmed down enough to let him speak.
"Not particularly, but Toph, you're soaked—you must be freezing. And it's my fault Appa got loose... I need to put some salve on your knees and bandage it, otherwise they might get infected. Now, I'm taking you to my house to get you cleaned up, and then we can call your parents to pick you up, or I can get Gyatso to drop you home. Does that seem reasonable?"
"No, it doesn't." She still had an angry look on her face, but she didn't try and escape his arms again. It was pretty warm anyway, even though he was getting soaked fast.
Aang didn't put her down when he reached his house—he had left the door open and walked right in, followed closely by a smelly, muddy, happy Appa. Toph felt herself being placed on a hard surface. She put her hand down and realised it was wood—it must have been a table or cutting board.
"Stay here, I'm just going to get a towel." She heard his voice grow slightly fainter as he walked out of the warm room, before he popped his head around the doorway and added, more like an afterthought than anything, "Oh, I've got your cane, too."
She didn't really want to talk to him, her best friends boyfriend; that was who Aang was to her. She hadn't really spent a lot of time around him before, and never on her own. Katara was always there, and conversation seemed to flow through her better, as though she was a messenger between the two mid-teens. Gently leaning forward, she touched her knees with her fingertips before withdrawing them with a hiss.
"Oh, I'll go get a washcloth too, just a minute. Here's the towel." Toph looked up quickly. Surprisingly, she hadn't heard Aang enter the room—she always heard where people were. Reaching her hand forward, she felt him move the towel forward so she could grab it.
"You better take your shoes and socks off too. I think I have some spare clothes you can change into... Clothes, washcloth, salve and bandages. Back in a minute!"
He was gone again, zipping off around the house collecting things for her. Shouldn't he be annoyed with her? Sokka was his best friend! Sports always brought guys together, and it wasn't really a surprise that they were friends. Dating his sister, both popular and fit; Aang was the best high jumper that the school had ever seen, too. He had even had a thing with Sokka's current girlfriend before the siblings had transferred. He didn't need to help her...
Quickly untying the laces on her shoes, she dropped them on the floor before peeling the sodden socks off her cold feet. Hesitating slightly, she also took off her jumper and over shirt, leaving just a singlet and her bra on, shivering as the cool air hit her wet flesh. Taking the towel in both hands, she tousled her hair, getting the excess water it of it before bringing it lower and patting her face and arms down. She managed to get some water out of her clothes, but it was still horribly damp and sticky. Toph didn't even bother with her legs. They didn't seem to be bleeding anymore, but they were still very sore. She would wait for Aang to do something about it—she would only screw it up even more.
Toph jumped again. Did he have to be so sneaky?
"What? What's wrong?"
"Uh... Nothing... I mean, you're legs... Blood, and the like..."
He was obviously uncomfortable, even if she couldn't see it—and it wasn't the blood.
He's embarrassed because I only have a singlet on?
Had it been anyone else, she would have poked fun at him, but she didn't really know him that well. That, and he was helping her, so she let it slide.
"Yea, blood. I can't clean it off, either, you know, no sight?" She waved her hand in front of her face for emphasis. "You're gonna have to do it. Sorry if you get squeamish. Apparently people don't like it."
She shrugged as she felt Aang wiping away the blood on the lower part of her legs.
"Toph?" She could feel his gaze on her, and she sensed worry and... something else in his tone.
"Yeah?" she asked quizzically.
"I hate to say this, but... you don't have a toenail..." He lasted perhaps two seconds before he burst out laughing, Toph only a few more before she was joining in, shoulders shaking with mirth.
"Yeah," she told him when she had calmed down. "I hate shoes, and my parents would always force me to wear these dainty little things. I kept getting ingrown nails, so the doctor ended up just cutting it out. I have to be super careful not to drop anything on it, though. Man, that was sore..."
"Well, at least you know about it. It makes your toe look like a potato. Get it? Pota-toe?" He laughed, and she giggled along with him. For some reason, she didn't really mind him laughing at her. He only meant it in jest, and to be honest, it was nice that he had forgotten that she had no idea what a potato looked like.
Stifling the rest of his laughter, Aang began focusing on her bloodied legs again, working his way up and around where she assumed it was grazed. He didn't say anything as he cleaned the cloth off and began wiping gently at the grazes, but Toph knew it must have been pretty bad by how much care he was taking. Toph let out a hiss as the cloth passed over a particularly deep graze.
"Sorry..." Aang murmured under his breath. Pulling the cloth away, he squeezed the excess blood and water out of it before wiping his hands on a dish towel.
"Why were you even walking out in the rain anyway? I thought you lived in the expensive estate that's like, an hour away? Shouldn't you have like, butlers and stuff to drive you around?"
"Woah, not so many questions. I was walking home because my phone died. Yes, I live at Gaoling Estates, and we do have maids, but not a butler. I was gonna get a slice of pizza at Omashu Pizza and Ribs, but that fell through, so I thought I would walk... Ouch!"
Aang looked up from applying the salve, throwing her an apologetic smile but forgetting that she couldn't see him. He noticed the look of pain on her face pass into one of relief—the smooth cream was definitely helping.
"I love that pizza place! I know the guy who runs it, so I get free food all the time. The veggie pizzas aren't worth that much anyway. Who were you going to meet? Katara has her CPR course today..."
He finished applying the bandages, but looked at her again when she didn't immediately answer. Toph had managed to keep her face blank but she couldn't prevent the red colour rising in her cheeks.
"Can't a girl go and have a slice of pizza on her own?!" She glared at him, more upset than angry. Unbidden, the memory of Him laughing at her returned, causing tears to form in her eyes.
"No! I mean, yes, they can!" Aang stumbled to find the words that would make her feel better.
Toph looked away from him, hoping to hide the tears she felt brimming on the surface of her eyes. She almost had them under control until Aang spoke up again.
"I haven't seen much of you around this week. Katara won't tell me what happened, and Sokka's been really touchy during all the sports meetings..."
She stared at him incredulously. "Didn't you go to his soccer game?" She felt the table she was on move slightly; Aang had jumped up to sit next to her.
"Nope. I had a meeting for the track and field finals, so I haven't really had any time to myself lately, 'cept during lunch breaks. Even then, I'm busy—I'm failing chemistry, so I need to go to the homework centre like, everyday," he explained to her.
"Why, did something happen during his last match? Like I said, Katara hasn't said anything to me... Well, she did seem especially pissed at you, but I figured it was a girl thing. PMS and like, cat-fights or something..."
Toph couldn't suppress the snort that made its way out her nose.
"Hah, do you even know what PMS is, Aang?" She giggled, forgetting momentarily why they were even talking about it.
"Yeah, whatever..." She remembered the question he had asked, and quickly changed the subject. "Hey, do you have any clothes I could change into. I'm really cold now."
Aang looked at her and noticed how blue her lips were. Jumping off the table, he handed back her cane as she followed suit, wincing slightly as she stood.
"We have some fresh clothes in the laundry, it's just down the hallway," he told her, walking towards the desired destination. Toph followed behind slowly, careful not to trip over Appa, who until that moment had been dozing in a corner.
"Soo... Where have you been?" He turned around slightly to look at her out of the corner of his eyes. Toph stumbled slightly at the question, and Aang held out a hand for her to stabilise herself with.
"I uh... I just did something stupid..." She muttered evasively once she had regained her balance.
"Everyone does stupid things sometimes. Only stupid people let it interfere with their lives," Aang responded, eliciting a small look of surprise from the blind girl.
"Di- didn't you say you had some clothes I could change into?" she asked, desperate to change the subject. She hadn't thought that avoiding him was being stupid—on the contrary, it seemed like the smartest option.
Realising that he had said something bad, Aang smiled sheepishly and began to lead her down the hallway again. He hadn't realised that he was still holding her hand, but Toph noticed and couldn't stop the heat that rose to her face. It was more due to the fact that someone liked her enough to help her, even if she didn't really need it.
"You- you won't laugh at me?" she asked him quietly. Aang turned around slightly, leading her around a corner and into a tiled room.
"Why would I laugh at you?" he asked innocently, genuinely surprised that she would ask that question.
"Because I- He did... He laughed at me..." She had managed to keep the tears spilling over, but couldn't keep the tremor from her voice.
"Look, Toph... Sokka can be a jerk sometimes. You know that, you guys were virtually inseparable... unless he was on a date... here," he handed her something dry and fluffy. "Why don't you get changed, and I'll make some hot chocolate, and then you can tell me—only if you want, alright?" He smiled at Toph before making his way out of the room and closing the door. After wiping her eyes and some initial difficulty in establishing what item of clothing was what, Toph got dressed. Walking back towards the kitchen, she could hear Aang stirring something in a pot.
"It's milk," he explained once he saw her questioning gaze. "Gyatso is really healthy—he doesn't believe in microwaves... but he still drinks coffee... huh..." Toph gave a small smile as she felt around for something to sit on.
"So, why is Sokka a jerk this time?" he asked again, keeping his tone light and neutral.
"You know, I never said it was Sokka," Toph replied vaguely, not entirely sure how much she should tell him. This was the longest she had ever spent around the quiet boy who was dating her best friend—who was currently ignoring her. Toph had to be careful, Aang might go and blab everything to Katara.
"Katara hasn't mentioned you, and Sokka has been avoiding us too. It's obvious," he replied with a shrug before turning around to stir the milk again. Toph leaned up against the back of her chair, sighing.
"Yeah, okay, it was Sokka... I kinda... kissed him..."
"Really?" Aang took the milk off the stove and poured it into two mugs of drinking chocolate. Stirring the liquid, he brought them over to the table and passed one to Toph.
"Careful it's hot... So, you kissed Sokka?" Toph blew gently on the drink, nodding silently.
"Why is that a bad thing? I mean, aside from the fact that he already has a girlfriend. You, on the other hand, initiated the kiss and are surprisingly still available. I can kinda see why you did it, too. I mean, he's your best friend, the only guy you really spend any time around... He introduced you to us, but he still spent the most time around you. I don't think he saw it coming, though—the kiss." He blew on his own drink, stirring it slightly with the spoon.
He's surprised that I don't have a boyfriend? Is he blind?
Toph took a careful sip of the frothy liquid, catching some on her nose. Wiping it away, she began to talk again. "No-one likes the weird blind girl, Aang. I... I kinda walked up to him in the middle of his soccer game... If I didn't do it then, I wouldn't have at all! I don't talk to people about my feelings... Why don't you think he expected it?"
"You're talking to me," Aang pointed out, causing Toph to smile a little. "I think it's because he always saw you as one of the guys. You never tried to make new friends or do 'girly things'. He honestly didn't think you'd be one to like boys. Hey, even I thought you weren't interested in love and dating and all that jazz."
"Yeah, but I'm only talking to you 'coz I owe you for patching up my legs." She moved them a little so they swayed on the edge of her chair—they didn't quite reach the ground, which made Aang smile. "I'm not interested in dating... I just couldn't help the love aspect."
"No one can..." he told her, sobering up after laughing at her dangling legs. "Sorry that Appa got loose, too. It wouldn't have happened if he didn't. I swear, we've tried to stop him, but he doesn't dig under the fence..."
"How did he get out?" Toph asked curiously, silently thankful that the conversation had turned from her love life into something ridiculous.
"Well, he isn't burrowing, so he must be jumping over the fence... Our very big fence... Oh, dear God, I am the owner of a flying dog!"
Toph laughed again, surprised at how comfortable she was around Aang. She was so used to Sokka's sarcasm, or Katara's bossiness, that being around the joking boy was quite refreshing.
"Well, because he is the world's only flying dog, I'll forgive him—just this once," Toph told Aang before downing her lukewarm drink.
"I should probably be going home now..." she said after wiping her mouth. Toph wasn't really used to this one-on-one bonding, and she knew that Aang could sense her discomfort.
"Alright, just lemme go find Gyatso... Oh, and Toph?"
She turned her blind eyes in her new friends direction, her gaze piercing through his.
"I wouldn't worry about Sokka. You guys are best friends—the world would have to end for the Dynamic Duo to break up for good. And I think that this is the kind of wake-up call that he needed." Aang could see Toph looking at him blankly, and he felt the need to reiterate, simplifying everything he just said.
"Just... now he knows there are more girls out there than just Azula, and girls who like him for him, not his proficiency on the football field. Don't give up, it'll work out" he told her, offering a wan smile. "Everything happens for a reason."
"... Thanks Aang... Do you- do you think I could borrow your phone to make a call?" she asked timidly.
"Sure," he told her, handing her his mobile. "I'll just get Gyatso. Oh, and Toph?" She looked up at him from behind the phone, barely 5 centimetres from her face.
"Speed dial 3." With that, he walked away. Locating the buttons she wanted, Toph clicked 'dial' and held the phone to her ear.
"Hey, Aang! What's up?"
"... Sokka? It's Toph... Can we talk?"
Smiling, Toph could hear his own happiness through the phone.
Don't give up, it'll work out, she repeated to herself. Everything happens for a reason.
Just a few notes, before I send you on your way :D
1. Sokka plays soccer. That was the joke.
I hate Azokka or Sozula or whatever you call it. Obviously. Actually, good characterisation of this ship in a few stories I follow on FFN has made me change my mind.
3. I have had my toenail removed, and yes, it does look like a potato (which my sister loves reminding me about).
4. My mum is also really healthy (but she doesn't drink coffee), and we don't have a microwave. Also, I don't make my hot chocolate on milk—a habit I picked up from a school camp last year, where the only things to drink were water (which had to be boiled first), powdered milk, or hot chocolate. I also don't drink a lot of milk anyway.
5. This is my first AU (hooray!), but I feel the need to tell you people that I take prompts and requests. Seriously, I can't think of new ideas all the time (well, no, I have about 20 one-shots that I've started but never got any further than the first paragraph).
Anyway, I hope you liked it, it was sitting on my computer for like, 2 months while I tried to figure out what to do with it. Thanks to a-dot-fictional-dot-love for beta-ing this. If it seems better than my other stories, that's why.
For the collective works of the author, go here.