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|Day the Second: Music|
2nd January, 2014
The last note of the little flute (piccolo, the name was. Toph had to be sure to remember it, for Mother would be upset if she didn't) petered shrilly into the cool air, and after several seconds of silence as Toph gave a small curtsy, there was a smattering of polite applause.
"That was wonderful, Sweetie," Poppy Beifong told her young daughter. "Wasn't that just gorgeous, Lao?" The woman turned to her husband, who was wearing a slight frown. He looked down at Toph before leaning forward and addressing, not his wife nor daughter, but the tutor standing off to the side.
"She needs to work harder," he said. "I do not like the way she plays that instrument, as though it were a common tool." He turned to his daughter. "Try harder, Toph. Use the senses you do have to make me proud..."
"A long, long, long, long time ago, way back in history-" Sokka was howling loudly at the top of his lungs, only to be cut off by an equally loud Zuko.
"When all there was to drink was nothing but cups of tea-"
Toph groaned, rolling over in her earth tent for the umpteenth time as she attempted to stifle Sokka's drunken singing. Unfortunately, the Fire Lord had joined in that night, and she hadn't been able to escape with Katara and Aang (not that she particularly wanted to be subjected to their oogieness, but if it was a choice, she would go for the lesser of two evils). There were a few unintelligible lines, a thump that resonated all the way through the ground, and a sudden encore by an extremely drunk Water Tribe warrior who had chosen to spend the last of his air on screaming out the end of the chorus.
"Spirits bless Seishu-sama – the man who invented sake!!"
Silence echoed through the campsite, the stark contrast unnerving after the solid hour of drunken singing Toph had been subjected to. She lay back down on the ground, breathing slowly as she attempted to go to sleep. She had just struck the moment between the two states of awareness when there came a rapid thundering across the ground, and a solid thump echoed against the wall of her tent.
"Toph!!" Sokka's hysterical cry jolted her; kicked her into full consciousness when she was just about to doze off. Her breath came in deep, surprised gasps, her heart hammering in her chest. It was only drowned out by Sokka rapping on her door again.
"What?!" she hissed as she forced the earth down. He was trembling, and she heard a sniffle.
"Zuko's dead!" he cried, almost sobbing in a pathetic display of drunken confusion. Toph almost laughed; she could feel Zuko, not ten feet away, snoring peacefully.
"No, he isn't. He's just asleep," she said, before adding, "Something I want to be doing." Sokka moved, wiping his nose or eyes on the back of his hand (Toph couldn't tell), before he finally plonked down in the entrance to her tent.
"But that's no fun! We were singing and having... fun!" he waved his arms around, seeming oblivious to the small grazes that appeared as he wiped his hands across the stone. "You're more fun than Prince Lightweight anyway," he muttered darkly. Toph could only groan.
Of course, that wasn't the real issue. She had no idea why Zuko was encouraging this behaviour, but Toph felt that the last thing Sokka needed while nursing a broken heart was to get consistently drunker each night. She was losing her best friend to his constant pitying, and she couldn't even help him because he refused to help himself.
"Or F-fan... girl..." he cut her off, stuttering a moment before desolate tears began to roll down his cheeks once again. Sighing sadly, Toph lowered the walls of her small tent and, with the barest hint of hesitation, moved to wrap an arm around his shoulder. Chances were that he wouldn't remember this the next day, and even if he did he would likely be unwilling to bring it up.
"I'm sorry, Sokka," she murmured, truthfully and sincerely. He put his head on her shoulder, nodding jerkily against it.
"I just... miss her..." he said honestly, and in an unprecedented display of soft familiarity, Toph began to rub his back.
She knew what it felt like to have a broken heart, ironically by the very man she was comforting. A teenage girl's fantastic dream. But that was all it was, a dream, and if she recovered, so would he.
Toph thought back to her father, memories she had since forgotten and ignored suddenly springing to mind in an urgent bid to help her friend, if only for the night.
The hall echoed with the fading note, and for the first time, Toph smiled. It was not the wide beam she would use later in her life; it was a small, polite smile, as big as she could make it while still conforming to the certain rules of etiquette that had been drilled into her since she was but a babe.
"You chose that, Tophy?" her mother whispered, voice hushed. Toph nodded, although before she could speak, her tutor stepped forward with a small bow.
"My Lady," she began, "your daughter created it." Poppy uttered a small gasp, before glancing at Toph. The girl was blushing a faint pink, smiling.
"How did you do it, Sweetheart?" she was asked, and although Toph wanted to cry out how much more beautiful it was to her, she refrained.
"I like the way it echoes around," the small girl began to explain. "I can... feel it in the air. It buzzes in my chest and... and I like it," she finished, somewhat lamely. She wished her parents knew just how much she could feel, but alas, it would remain a secret. Poppy nodded, and looked at her husband.
"Very good, Toph," he began. "You will no longer learn any instruments; your class will be devoted to your voice." Her bright face smiled up at him, although he did not notice it fall a little as he uttered the next words. "You will make your husband very happy one day..."
She was roused from her thoughts as Sokka gave a particularly violent cry, shaking against her slim frame. Perhaps her father had been right, but it wasn't her husband. At this stage, shutting Sokka up would make her happy. Taking a breath, she cleared her throat before letting the words flow from her lips to fill the space around their heads.
The song was slow and melodious, and Sokka ceased his tears to listen as she whispered the words into the air.
"In the North, there's a lady," she murmured quietly, gently stroking his back. "Stunning and singular, one look confounds a city..."
Sokka's breathing was less shakey, a little deeper, a little calmer, and she felt him grow even heavier as his muscles relaxed against her.
"...A second look dooms an empire..."
There was another small sniffle, but it wouldn't take long. The lullaby had been sung to her as a child whenever she was upset; one of the few interactions she and her mother had shared. Now something to share with another who was hurting.
"Rather not wishing to know the ruination that may follow." Her voice was even quieter; not that Sokka could really tell. His heartbeat had slowed, and the alcohol in his system had already paved the way for his body to sleep. Toph had merely calmed him down enough to allow it to happen. It almost seemed wrong to complete the song, especially regarding her former feelings for the young man, however it took only a moment for her to remember that it wasn't really about her, and despite the fact that Sokka was not really listening to the words, concluding the song would be better than just leaving it. In any other instance, it would alert him that something was wrong, or different.
"Rare beauty is here and now..."
Oh, spirits. This is an idea I've wanted to use for soooo long, but it was never really working out. Then I read another amazing story abut how Toph would love singing because of the vibrations that would build in her chest. The two songs aren't mine (unfortunately). The first is a slightly altered version of Charlie Mops, sometimes called Beer Beer Beer, while the second 'lullaby' is the English-language version of Jia Ren Qu, also known as the 'Beauty Song'. It really is a gorgeous song.
For the collective works of the author, go here.