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10th January, 2014
There was silence.
Not the people-silence, where the ambient noise always echoes louder, forming an incessant buzz. This was pure, dead silence, unbroken by even a whisper of breath—it was being held by each occupant of the room. Finally, Katara moved.
"I need to check with Aang," she murmured stiffly, the pathetic excuse still adequate in getting her out of the room and away from the tension. Sokka swiftly took her place on the bed, although he didn't hug Toph as his sister had done. She didn't say a word, and the two sat in an uncomfortable silence as their thoughts wandered. How much had he heard? There were some things she knew better than to tell others, but what if they found out? If Katara could so easily get her to talk, what was stopping everyone else?
She refused to acknowledge Sokka's presence; after all, he was most likely to get her to say something she didn't want to. Kyoshi once said that everything happened for a reason, and that only with great sacrifice could one chose their own path. Otherwise, their life was not their own. Where had she gone so wrong?
By some complete miracle, Toph had managed to find her way around the neighbourhood without being run over or kidnapped (not that either situation was especially unpalatable at that moment). She had found what seemed to be a deserted park, and after tripping over an exposed tree-root and grazing her knee, she sat on one of the rusty swings.
Toph was never really an advocate for self-reflection, and certainly not one for self-pity or regrets; however, it was certainly difficult to not do any of those when the blind fourteen-year-old had run away from yet another home and found herself alone once again.
Still, Toph refused to cry or lament. It was just one of those situations that she couldn't change, nor would attempt to. She had found there to be little point.
Despite those thoughts, she still couldn't prevent the tiny little bead of fear from forming when she heard the uninhibited cries of several drunkards, swaggering towards the park. Perhaps her blindness made her more reckless because she couldn't see the monsters of her dreams, however she could still hear and imagine them; in six years of running away, Toph had never felt fear of other people. She could concede that she was young, yes, and reckless, most definitely, and a girl such as herself, out late at night made for an easy target for even the most pure of souls. Even the kindest man turns when drunk—something she had learned long ago.
Toph didn't say a word as the men—a group of five or six, by the sound of it—stumbled past, although she let out a sigh of relief. It was destined to be short lived as one of the men unexpectedly caught sight of her, slurring to his friends before tottering over. Toph sneered, her dread hidden behind the sharp expression. They could barely walk, although it didn't make them any less dangerous.
"Mmm, hey there..." one drawled, leaning closer. He reeked of rum and vodka, and Toph couldn't help but shy away. "Yer pretty..."
"You look lost," another simpered. "We'll keep you company..." He laughed, a lewd sound that had Toph almost puking where she sat. If she was able to see herself, she would have been disgusted with how tight she was holding onto the swing, and how pale her face had become.
"No, thanks. Not interested," she said, succeeding only partially in keeping the quiver from her voice. There was a noise she couldn't identify, and then nothing as she was pulled off the swing and onto the ground.
"What was that, darlin'?" one of the men sneered, and even with all her strength, Toph couldn't push them off. "Hey, fellas, look at this!" Whatever Toph had been expecting, it wasn't for someone's finger to suddenly poke her in the eye. "She's blind."
There were chuckles, alerting Toph to the fact that she was surrounded. With a slight choke, she uttered a single word; "Please..."
There was more laughter, and a breath in her ear. "Well, if you insist..."
Toph could only try to struggle against them, ignoring the way they egged each other on. She pinched her eyes shut as though to protect herself from the nightmare, even though she had already resigned herself to what was going to happen. She felt her t-shirt being ripped open, the harsh tearing comparable to a death cry. There was one last, feeble attempt to push the man off as his hands began working painfully on her chest, but her own hands were pinned down by the other men around her. Even her legs were trapped before she could start kicking.
From the back of her throat, a loud cry escaped, and in any other circumstance she would have cursed the tears that had begun to silently streak her face. She tried one last time to plead with them, knowing it wouldn't work.
"Shut her up," one of them hissed, and almost immediately she felt the paralysing sensation of fingers around her throat.
She almost missed the harsh cry that came from the other end of the park before the hands disappeared, and she sunk into unconsciousness.
Jolted back to the present by a slight rustle, Toph cleared her throat, desperate to take her mind off the thoughts that had just plagued her.
"Where's Suki? Shouldn't you be out there... canoodling, or something?"
Sokka heaved a heavy sigh. "Toph, it's not- you aren't-" The fierce glare she shot him shut him up, and he took another breath. Sokka glanced around Katara's room as he spoke; "She went home. It's after midnight, and she has training in the morning." When his eyes landed on hers, Sokka couldn't believe that could become so wide.
"She- she left?!" Toph cried out disbelievingly. "Fuck... This day just keeps getting better and better..." she hissed, lifting her right hand to scratch at her wrist. Before it could make contact, though, it was grabbed by Sokka.
"Why do you do that?" he asked. "And I thought you liked movie night!" He couldn't quite keep the hurt from seeping into his voice as she wrenched her hand from his grip. Toph wasn't sure what to say, so she went with the easiest option.
"Kyoshi's gonna kill me..." she said quietly. "She only let me come tonight because Suki was coming, and she trusts her..."
"Your guardian trusts Suki, but not you?" he asked, and Toph shrugged. It did not pass Sokka's notice that she once again began rubbing her forearms, however he left it for the moment. "Why would she kill you?"
"Didn't you hear Suki earlier? I had to be home early this week," she huffed, pulling her sleeves over her hands and crossing her arms. Sokka fell silent, thinking, and Toph's own mind wandered back to her conversation with Katara. How had she gotten mixed up with Jet? Why was it so hard to believe the older girl, believe that things would get better? Fuck, she was dead meat.
"Hey, you okay?" The voice was soft, and terribly smooth. At least this stranger wasn't drunk, Toph thought, although the usual sarcasm that would have imbibed it was completely gone. Opening her eyes, Toph realised she wasn't in the park anymore. The ground beneath her was soft (well, softer than the twigs and stones from earlier), and the air wasn't quite so thick. Sitting upright, she grabbed at her shirt to close it, only to find that it wasn't even her shirt. Whoever was in front of her seemed to have put one of his over the top of her ruined one.
"What are you going to do to me?" she asked, ignoring his question. She tucked herself into a tight ball, hoping that the man in front of her hadn't just saved her so he could have her to himself. There was the sound of a lighter and a low sigh before she got her answer.
"I'm going to give you a cigarette and a shot, and then you can do whatever the hell you want," he said. "Your guardian is probably looking for you," he added, taking another drag. "But, you can stay here if you want to. I'm not gonna do anything to you."
There would have been a silent pause, had the man not moved closer, handing her a cigarette. Toph put it in her mouth, letting him light it from there. The first few drags hurt, each one sending her into a coughing fit before she got used to it. He took the filter from her just before she burnt her fingertips, replacing it with the cap of a bottle, filled to the brim with some kind of alcohol. From the feel of it, it was about the size of a shot glass, although Toph really had no prior experience to fall back on, so she didn't try it.
"Hey, it's easy. Take a deep breath, and let it out. Then take the shot, and take a deep breath in. It'll burn less that way."
Toph gave a little nod, although she took several breaths before attempting to drink. It still burned on the way down, but it wasn't nearly as unpleasant as the cigarette. She heard the sloshing of liquid in a bottle, and held out the lid. No words were exchanged as he filled it up again, and she downed it with only one preparatory breath.
"Who are you?" she asked quietly, putting the bottle-cap on the ground in front of her. "Why did you save me?"
"You can just call me Jet," he said, retrieving the lid. "And I saved you because that's what any decent person would do. We can't let people who abuse their power have it in the first place," he explained.
Toph bowed her head low. When she spoke, her lips only moved the tiniest fraction, the words barely audible. He heard, though, through the silence of the early morning; he had to smile. "Thank you, Jet..."
The blind girl in question jerked suddenly, looking towards Sokka's voice. "Hmm?"
"I've been calling your name. I can take you home now, if you want?"
Sokka looked at his friend carefully. She wasn't usually so distracted—actually, it was normally he who fidgeted, or was lost in thought. Watching Toph think about something that seemed uncomfortable was strange. He never realised how much expression she had in her face. Each twitch of her lips, or angle of her eyebrows meant something completely different. Even her eyes, incapable of seeing, told others what she was thinking, if only they could read the language. He wondered if she knew how much was written on her face.
"Yeah, that'd be good..." she replied, letting out a slow sigh.
Toph had left her stuff in Suki's car, expecting to be returning home with the other girl. It meant she didn't have anything to pack up (not that she usually had much anyway), but it still got Sokka wondering how Suki could just forget about Toph in the first place. Didn't she just mention something about appearances that night?
Sokka hung back as Toph approached Katara and punched her lightly on the arm. If the elder girl was surprised (or in any pain) she hid it well as she pulled Toph in for a tight hug. Sokka had to rub his eyes as he watched Toph return it with an awkward pat.
The drive home was thick, the tension creating a heavy wall between them. Sokka would be the first to admit he didn't like it, although he also had a feeling that it was his fault. Well, there was probably only one way to rectify it (only one way that could be achieved during the short drive back to Toph's).
"So, what were you talking to Katara about earlier?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Sokka saw Toph jump slightly as though she had been thinking again, and not for the first time wondered what passed through the girl's head. It sounded stupid, but he occasionally wondered if she thought the same as he did. How did she imagine things—using only smell and touch. Where he could envision say, navigational routes, did she have a 'mind's eye' like that? However, he also knew that it wasn't the time to ask her about it.
"We were just talking about... girl stuff," she said, and even though Sokka wanted to call her out on her lie—wanted to shake her until she told him what she did with Jet—he didn't.
"Oh, well, I hope you had a good... talk..." he said, hesitant but sincere in his words. Toph didn't say anything, and when he snuck a glance from the corner of his eye, he saw her 'thinking frown' back on her face.
He wondered why she always frowned when she thought. He had never seen a thinking smile on her features.
"Hey, Girl! Come on, we have to move."
Toph opened her eyes again, more to let Jet know she was awake than anything. There was movement to her left, although she couldn't identify the sounds. Birdsong was in the air, so it must have been close to dawn. She felt Jet move closer, and her heart began hammering in her chest. There was a breath in her ear, but it was nowhere near as foul as the one the previous night.
"We have to move. It's almost dawn, and I don't wanna get caught here," he said quietly. Toph would have asked him to elaborate, except he had already stood up and was moving away from her. Gathering the blankets she had been lying on, Toph followed the sound of his footsteps, not realising there were steps until too late, and she had tripped down them.
Expecting a very hard landing, it was almost a relief when she found her face not pressed into the cool earth, but rather a very warm chest.
"Careful," he told her. "Don't wanna trip." Clasping her hand in his, the duo walked quickly. Toph felt Jet occasionally look around, although she made no comment on it. She had no idea where she was, or where he was taking her, but at that moment, it didn't matter. Someone had cared enough to help her when she couldn't help herself, and as painful as that was to admit, Toph knew the alternative would have been a lot worse.
After about ten minutes, she felt Jet slow to a stop. The ground was crunchy beneath her feet, and from the weaving they had just done, somewhere in a small forest or a wood. Toph frowned at this thought—they were in the middle of suburbia. Where was he going to get a small forest from?
"Where are we?" she asked, putting the blanket on the ground and sitting on it. Jet joined her, putting his small bag on on corner and lying down.
"The National Botanical Gardens," he answered. "We spent the night in the main gazebo, but there's a wedding today and I didn't want to risk getting caught. Cigarettes, alcohol, and a twelve-year-old girl is just asking for trouble."
"I'm fourteen, actually," she argued quietly, hugging herself tight as she lay back. Toph hadn't realised it could get so cold outside of a morning, even though it wasn't even winter. "How old are you?''
"Really? You look younger. Well, your face at least," he smirked. She could hear it in his voice, and in an unprecedented fit of self-consciousness, Toph crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm seventeen, but I'm not the oldest in my gang. Or the youngest, for that matter." He let out a soft laugh, and Toph wondered why she had never heard such pleasant noises from other boys before.
"You're part of a gang?"
Jet nodded. "The Freedom Fighters. We don't live in the system, or for the system. They can try and shunt us around as much as they want; they never succeed. We fight for our own freedom, to run our lives the way we want. Even though we don't have a home, we have each other. You'd like them."
Toph sat up, bristling. "Why? Because I'm one of those kids, too?" she snarled. There was a shrug she couldn't see and a moment of silence.
"Not necessarily," Jet said after a moment. "They're good people. Good kids. A few good adults who just couldn't make it, too. You can meet them tonight, if you want." He shrugged again.
"What makes you think I don't wanna go home?" she retorted, this time met with a bark of laughter.
"Because we don't have homes," he answered simply, repeating his words from earlier. "You know, you never told me your name..."
Toph fixed her blind gaze on Jet, trying to get a read on him. His voice was low and smooth—calming—and he was talkative enough without trying to get her to talk. He respected her privacy, and even though she had passed out half-naked after the men- well, he hadn't tried anything on her even when she was most vulnerable.
While she was thinking it over, Jet remained silent. His eyes roamed up and down her body, remembering the previous night. Oh, he had looked—of course. What kind of male would he be if he didn't?—however he hadn't touched. He would never sink as low as the despicable men who had led him to her, although what he had seen, he definitely liked. But he wouldn't waste time trying to convince her—she was only fourteen, for chrissakes. He wasn't a paedophile, either. The girl was a strong one (for he was almost 100% certain it had been her first cigarette, and shot, the previous night), and she hadn't stopped fighting the men until she couldn't defend herself anymore.
"Toph. I'm Toph."
The girl broke through to his wandering mind, and Jet shook himself. "Toph. Pretty name," he said, watching closely as a small blush broke out on her face. Perhaps he had a chance after all... "Now, Toph, I don't know about you, but I had a long night. I'm going back to sleep. You can do whatever you want." With that, he turned on his side, facing away. Jet wouldn't go to sleep until he knew what she was doing, although he didn't have to wait long. Mere seconds after the declaration, Toph had curled up on the blanket, back-to-back with Jet.
"Sleep well," he mumbled under his breath.
A/N: Toph meeting Jet was absolutely directly inspired by Jiao (Jen) meeting Lo (Dark Cloud) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This is a two-part chapter, with the next part named the second half of the movie title.
|Part One: Genesis|
Shiny • Love, Actually • Comptine D'un Autre Été • Public Enemies • Män Som Hatar Kvinnor • The Sleepover Club • Blind Date • 50 First Dates • Sin City • The Matrix • Non, je ne regrette rien • The Breakfast Club • Crouching Tiger • Hidden Dragon • The Wedding Singer • Shí Miàn Mái Fú • Dangerous Liaisons
|Part Two: Fall|
|Love for Life • Tiny Furniture • The Broken Circle Breakdown|
Toph • Sokka • Katara • Jet • Aang • Kyoshi
Serenity • Love Actually • Ámelie • The Wedding Singer • House of Flying Daggers
For the collective works of the author, go here.