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|More from Krazykid51||Drama|| Lite PG|
(dialogue, brief use of coarse language)
June 29, 2013
This is the first time I've written a fanon for a while, so... enjoy!
While the gang stays in Ba Sing Se to search for Appa, Toph grapples with a single choice she made that resulted in serious repercussions. Meanwhile, Avatar Aang appears to have had a change of perspective due to the loss of his oldest friend. What will it take to resolve the burdens of these children, to make them truly happy again? Can Aang and Toph find a way to fix each other?
Prologue / Introduction: Toph Beifong
Ba Sing Se — "The Impenetrable City." One could find many flaws in this imprecise translation, no? The city is by no means "impenetrable"; people come into and go from the metropolis as they please! To be fair, the term "impenetrable" in the sense Ba Sing Se uses was almost certainly chosen to refer to the impossibility of enemies piercing the thick coats of brick that encase the city (but that definition has proven false as well, hasn't it?). What I'm actually curious about is this: how happy were the residents of Ba Sing Se during those declining years of the War once they finally made it into this promised land?
If the city's motto had anything to say about, anyone within the walls would enjoy a constant state of ecstasy! After all, it is said that Ba Sing Se has something for everyone. Although the "better" rings of the city are said to offer more, it is the Lower Ring that I believe has the most to work with. Refugees have to start somewhere, right? The Fire Lord (at the time but a banished prince) and his esteemed uncle began there and ended up the finest tea makers in all of Ba Sing Se! Despite their royal origins, they were made to earn their happiness, while people of more affluent city-living were born into a sort of perpetual, ignorant bliss that leads them to nothing.
Then there are the people who don't wish to endure one day of stagnant city life and cannot seem to find the joy promised to them. What kind of people are these, the ones who find that Ba Sing Se's "something for everyone" agenda has fallen flat? They are the kind who never wanted a "something for everyone" solution to their problems, of course! Those are the ones I wish to dwell on: the ones who have been burdened with so much that nothing within the walls of a mere city will bring back their spirits, their happiness — the ones who may never be fixed.
There were at least a few people in Ba Sing Se at the end of the War who suffered this seemingly endless, burdened state. They held the world on their shoulders, and you doubtless know their names quite well by now: Avatar Aang and his friends Katara, Sokka, and Toph Beifong. Avatar Aang was literally the world's only hope. Losing his flying bison, Appa, set him over the edge: no matter the facade he displayed, there would always be an emptiness within him, the core of which was his burden not to save the world, but to find his oldest friend. Katara and Sokka took up the role of, in a sense, parenting the young savior, which stole away from their innocence just as Aang had been robbed of his.
But what about Toph Beifong, the privileged daughter of Earth Kingdom nobles? What could possibly have burdened such a lucky child whose wish of leaving her parents and traveling to far off places had finally been satisfied by not just any wanderers of the Earth Kingdom, but by Team Avatar, globetrotters whose mission would no doubt serve to entertain her dreams of adventure? How could life in sprawling Ba Sing Se not have further satiated her intense curiosity to see the world? What sort of burden could have possibly held her back from her happiness?
Toph lay on her bed in the Ba Sing Se house she and her friends had been afforded, half-asleep despite the dawn rising to greet her through the windows. She would never admit it to anyone, but Toph was actually relieved for the familiar atmosphere of the city, for "being handled" as she had put it a few days earlier; it gave her a fleeting sense of everlasting and assured safety from a brand of guilt she had never known before.
Suddenly Katara flung open the door of Toph's room, letting in a stream of early morning light. "Toph!" Katara exclaimed at the sight. "Aren't you gonna get ready for the day?" On the contrary, Toph had a feeling it was pointless to even throw off the covers — she had joined Team Avatar in order to teach Aang earthbending, but ever since Appa had been abducted, nothing was getting done except a fruitless search for what she had decided was a lost cause long ago. On top of everything, it was all her fault! What a master earthbender she was, not even being able to fend off a few sandbenders! If she had known how dreadfully Aang would take the loss of Appa, Toph might rather have saved the bison and chosen to dig the library out later.
As if to remove this sour taste from her mouth, Toph sat up and spat at a nearby vessel. Upon standing, she uttered one of the greatest lies of her life: "I'm ready."
"You're not gonna wash up?" Katara asked in confusion. "You've got a little dirt on your... everywhere, actually." Following a few morning pleasantries between them and the men of Team Avatar, Toph and Katara set out for what the ever-perky waterbender had decided was just what the two of them needed.
"Are you ready for some serious pampering?" Katara asked with a grin upon their arrival at the Fancy Lady Day Spa. Now Miss Beifong has never been one for such stereotypically female establishments as this, and she was quite sure that tea sandwiches and a face mask were not going to cheer her up; however, she could also tell that this was just Katara's way of being kind, as the waterbender was aware of Toph's guilt regarding Appa and wished only to make her cheeky, wisecracking friend adorn a real smile again. If that was all Katara asked for, how could Toph refuse to at least try?
"Sure, Katara, whatever you say," Toph answered offhandedly. "As long as they don't touch my feet."
* * *
"Well," Toph began after an exhilarating, though not-quite-reliving, spa experience, "that wasn't so bad. I'm not usually into that stuff, but I actually feel... girly." She and Katara walked the streets after their outing with faces coated in makeup as they spoke quietly amongst themselves. "Have I ever looked like this?" wondered Toph curiously, her mind suddenly far away from the thought of the Avatar and his flying bison. "Hard to guess considering I don't even know how I look right now, but I'll bet I haven't; I'd probably remember the feeling of all this makeup–"
"I'm glad," Katara replied, breaking Toph's train of thought and shoving her right back into the cold reality of her remorse. "It's about time we did something fun together."
"What am I thinking?" Toph thought as she and Katara started to cross a bridge above a gently flowing creek. "I'm here strolling around town with Katara after a spa day while Aang is at the zoo looking for Appa. If I had been good enough to protect his flying bison, we'd all be doing great, but instead Aang's become a wreck and it's all because of me!"
"Wow, great makeup," a teenage girl within a party of three commented, once again pulling Toph out of her inner monologue.
"Thanks," Toph said distractedly, mind still on other matters. "Could I really bring myself to apologize for what I did? I mean an actual apology, not me blubbering for forgiveness like I did in the desert. What would I even say? 'Sorry, I let your best friend get sold on the black market for five-hundred gold pieces'? Yeah right! And how would he ever forgive me?"
By some cosmic coincidence, Katara, who had stopped walking in order to comfort her friend when one of the other girls had mocked her, put her arm around Toph's shoulders at this exact moment, at which time Toph had encountered her greatest inner turmoil yet. "Don't listen to them," Katara muttered consolingly, "let's just keep walking." Toph heard this no more than she had the insult that preceded it.
"There's at least one way of getting him to forgive me... Why am I standing here like some carefree kid when there's a two-ton flying bison waiting to be rescued? Who cares how little a chance there is of finding him? I could be– no, should be out there looking for Appa right now! How else can I ever make it up to Aang?"
"Good one, Star!" said the last girl of the trio with a snicker, replying to another affront that Toph did not hear. Katara, furious with the treatment Toph was getting, urged Toph to continue forward, but the earthbender had something else in mind.
"Katara," she almost whispered, face turned sternly toward the ground, "I can't stay here."
"You don't need to take that from them, Toph!" her friend began, attempting to upturn Toph's chin and look instinctively into the girl's eyes despite the ineffectiveness of such a tactic on a blind girl. "There's no reason for you to believe a word they say!"
"Oh, come on!" The girl named Star relented with a sigh. "We were just trying to have some–"
"I need to go!" Toph interjected, raising her head suddenly and running past the trio of mean-spirited teenage girls, her tears slowly but surely smearing her makeup.
"Toph, don't leave!" Katara yelled as she attempted to follow. Star grabbed Katara's wrist and stopped her in her tracks.
"You could have way prettier friends than that shirshu," Star said with a smirk, the waterbender glaring back in contempt. Katara was momentarily disturbed from her first instinct of stopping Toph, instead rationalizing that the earthbender would rather have those girls run out of town than hear her speechify about self-esteem.
"Toph is more beautiful than any of you trash-talking brats will ever be!" Katara exclaimed in full-out, uncharacteristic rage, thrusting her arms into the air and commanding the water from the creek below her to accumulate into a huge wave behind her back. Her opposing trio could do nothing but stare at the spectacle before them, thinking nothing of what would come next. Katara pushed her arms downward and forward toward Star and her friends, dousing her adversaries with a powerful blast of water and watching in triumph as her new enemies flew into the creek and flowed downstream.
The next time she looked at the path before her, Katara saw that Toph was long gone.
Introduction: Avatar Aang
This is not the tale of Ba Sing Se that you remember, is it? Well, admittedly, we sometimes like to rewrite history for the kiddies. Happy endings are harder to come by than you might think, especially for a bunch of children who were just thrown into a century-long war as its most valuable asset. Some, like our friend Katara, are quite adept at putting on a sort of veil over their quivering lips and furrowed brows, painting upon that veil a guise of stability. Such people usually have good intentions for doing so; Katara certainly did during her travels. Without her act, Team Avatar wouldn't have been much of a team — without her, things would have fallen apart.
Avatar Aang, however, is much better at putting on actual smiles no matter the circumstances. Nothing the War threw at him was capable of knocking him down for long. Not even the realization of his people's genocide was enough to divert him from his mission of protecting Earth's people from Fire Nation tyranny.
There is one known event through the course of Avatar Aang's journey that was able to channel his every motivation into one goal, a goal that had nothing to do with putting a stop the Fire Lord's plan whatsoever: the kidnapping of his flying bison, Appa. A little background for those of you who are unaware: this flying bison was the one that the Avatar chose as friend for life, as was custom in Air Nomad culture. The two have known each other for over one hundred years — they're probably a little closer to one another than other people are to regular pets.
So what is a child to do when this old friend, the last living being other than himself that he can truly consider a part of his home, is suddenly snatched away from him? I suppose Aang felt just as lost as the unfortunate bison was. His reaction to the event is a common one when it comes to such tragic occurrences: he pushed away everyone around him, everyone he loved.
As we already know, Aang ostracized Toph in the desert by blaming her for what happened to Appa. One must wonder if he truly believed she was responsible for the loss of his friend, or if he had different reasons for faulting the innocent earthbender.
Aang, Sokka, and Katara stood in front of a mirror at their house in Ba Sing Se, Aang shaving his head and Sokka next to him trimming his facial hair. "I'm gonna go see what Toph is doing," Katara announced when she had finished fashioning her hair. In a whisper, she continued to Sokka, "She's been so down on herself since what happened in the desert. I'm gonna find some way to cheer her up today." With that she departed from the mirror and went to Toph's room.
Once she was out of hearing distance, Aang turned his face toward the sink and put down his shaving tool, mumbling, "I heard what she said a minute ago, Sokka, and you know as well as I do that it wasn't Toph's fault."
Sokka was never one for inspirational speeches; that was his sister's thing. He could tell right now that the airbender needed her, but whenever Katara was around, Aang did something Sokka had never known him to do before: faked a smile. "Only around Katara, of course," Sokka thought as he looked down at Aang's hunched body. "I can't believe she hasn't noticed yet."
With a sigh, Sokka began to speak in a hushed tone, keeping with Aang's apparent objective of concealing his true feelings (that is, his feelings about Appa's loss) from Katara. "Why do you keep blaming yourself for this? Does it really matter whose fault it was? The fact is, Appa's gone–"
"You really think he's gone?" Aang nearly yelled.
"Wrong choice of words, wrong choice of words!" Sokka thought frantically as Aang's face began to contort, his lips slowly beginning to quiver. "N– No, I didn't mean to say it like that! What I meant was... well, right now, Appa's somewhere in this city. We don't know where exactly, but he's here! So what's the point of quibbling over who's to blame when we could be out looking for Appa right now?"
Aang, having caught a hold of himself, looked back down at the sink, face returning to its emotionless configuration. "Where do you propose I look, then? This is the biggest city in the world! There's so much to cover..."
Sokka put down his boomerang (which he was resourcefully employing as his own shaving tool) and used his trademark "chin-cradled-in-two-fingers" pose to make it look like he was thinking unusually hard. "Hm... well, why don't you go check out the zoo? Appa would probably be a pretty interesting attraction there–"
"THAT'S A GREAT IDEA!" Aang exclaimed, jumping excitedly into the air and wearing his first true, authentic grin in weeks. Just then, Katara and Toph stepped out of the earthbender's room and walked toward the front door. Something about Toph's face at that moment legitimately frightened Aang. It told him there was something... wrong with her that morning. As a matter of fact, that mug of hers reminded him of the one that had seen staring right back at him a few minutes earlier.
"See?" Toph said to Katara while crossing her arms, a sly grin creeping onto her face. "They're not even ready for their day yet!"
"Yes," Katara replied with a grimace, "but at least they were awake."
"Maybe she's just groggy," Aang reconsidered, taking that smirk of Toph's to mean he had misconstrued the anxious pout on her face for... for what? "Whatever," he thought, shrugging it off.
"Where are you two fine ladies headed?" Sokka asked with his best over-exaggerated eyebrow-wriggle. Before Katara could answer, Toph responded in humorous sarcasm, "I don't know yet, 'cause it's a surprise."
"What about you two?" Katara asked Sokka and Aang. "I hope you'll both try to relax a bit today, after all that's happened recently."
"I dunno yet," Sokka replied. "I'll probably just wander around 'til I find something to do."
"And you, Aang?" Katara prodded, a hopeful smile on her face that said, "Do something that will really make you happy." Although Toph knew exactly the reason for Aang's decision right when it departed his lips, from Katara's standpoint, Aang's response did not disappoint.
"I'm going to the zoo!"
* * *
What did disappoint, however, was Aang's actual visit to the zoo. As he walked down the street lined with cages, grimaces and scowls across all the animals' faces, it was all Aang could do not to slice every bar of each individual cage in frustration.
"Hey there, fella," Aang began, kneeling on one knee and holding out his hand to an irked armadillo lion. "You look hungry." The creature roared, startling Aang into retracting his arm, and curled itself into a ball.
"They are hungry," a man said from behind Aang's back. "The Dai Li won't give me any money because the kids stopped coming. And the kids won't come because my zoo's nasty and broke."
"I wonder if I've been acting anything like that armadillo lion toward my friends," Aang thought absently, now looking into a new cage at an unfamiliar creature. "What kinda animal is that?" he asked the man who was apparently the zookeeper, genuinely empathetic for the animals of the park.
"Oh, that's a rabaroo," he answered, a wistful smile on his face. "I wish I could get her a big open prairie like she likes. I'd let her hop away to happiness."
"I may not be able to fix my issues yet," Aang considered pensively, "but these animals need me just as much as Appa does. I'm their Avatar, too." With his smile quickly growing, Aang said, "Let's do it!"
"Say again?" the man asked.
"There's a big open space right outside the walls of the city," Aang explained. "Who knows, doing this might even make me feel a little better about how careless I was with my own animal guide."
"But how're you gonna transport all these wild critters?" the zookeeper questioned.
Aang, a pang resounding within his heart at the irony, responded, "Don't worry, I'm great with animals."
* * *
"Well, Mr. Zookeeper, how do you like your new facilities?" Aang asked, an infectious, ear-to-ear grin spread over his face. He and his zookeeper friend stood next to each other, marveling at the new zoo Aang had created with his bending. In front of them was one of multiple pens Aang had constructed, containing some of the animals who the Avatar had minutes before been looking at in pity and who now scampered with one another, delighted with the new housing.
"Excellent job, Avatar," the zookeeper responded. "You should think about working with animals for a living." His final remark struck a chord with Aang.
"No, I wouldn't be very good at that." His smile faded so quickly it was as though it had never been. Just as suddenly, he retook his hunched posture from earlier in the day and stared bleakly at the ground.
"Oh?" the zookeeper said in surprise. He knelt down beside Aang and asked, "Why would you say that? You did great with these critters!"
"Yeah, but..." Aang looked gravely into the eyes of this man he'd just met and replied, "Working with animals requires a person to protect them. How am I supposed to do that if I couldn't even save one? I don't even know where that animal is now."
The zookeeper's expression grew serious upon his realization of the Avatar's predicament. "Ah," he began with a reassuring voice, "so you came to this zoo to search for a pet you've lost?"
"He's not just a pet. He's a two-ton flying bison with an arrow running down his back. It shouldn't be that hard for me to find him, but it is. And I didn't lose him; he was taken. All because of me."
"Something tells me you believe a lot is 'all because of you,'" the zookeeper counseled cautiously, being careful not to overstep his boundaries. "Maybe that's just what Avatars think about themselves, but there's no reason for you to feel guilty for everything, huh?" The zookeeper reached up and put his hand on Aang's shoulder.
Aang took a deep, uneasy breath, as if he was calming himself down. "Thanks," he concluded after he had done so, "but nothing's gonna help me right now except for finding my friend."
"Very well," the zookeeper finished, unwilling to pry. "Since you're in need of a new place to look for your pet, the Lower Ring would be a good candidate. If that flying bison was taken like you say–"
"He was taken," Aang cut in angrily, shuddering.
"Well then, the Lower Ring is the home of shadiest dealings in the city. You'll want to try there." Aang produced his glider and opened it up, walking a few paces away from his new friend. The zookeeper had one final question, however: "What's your name, Avatar?"
The boy turned around and, with a forced smile, replied, "Aang."
"Kenji," the zookeeper said before putting out his hand. "It was nice meeting you, Aang. And thank you." The Avatar simply nodded, turned back toward the inner city, and flew into the sky. As he brought his arm back to himself and turned to his zoo, Kenji thought, "That's the second kid today who came to the zoo looking for a lost pet. What a shame."
The Lower Ring
At the exact time Aang finished his zoo project in the Agrarian Zone, the sun touched the mountains that marked the western side of Ba Sing Se, beginning what would end up a beautiful sunset. Toph was still scouring the city at that same moment, which was a testament to her determination considering her search started in mid-afternoon. She had begun in the Upper Ring, which was reasonable as the spa she'd just left was located in that ring. Nothing turned up there. The Middle Ring heeded no results either.
But was it not the Lower Ring that I said has the most to work with?
* * *
Toph sat alone in an alley of the Lower Ring. She had dried her tears much earlier in the evening, but her makeup was still visible, smeared and messed as it was. Judging by the chill in the air that was slowly overtaking the heat from earlier in the day, Toph could tell night was approaching. She had no fear of getting lost; her seismic sense was capable of showing her exactly how far away from her Upper Ring home she was and what paths she had to traverse in order to return there. It's not like she was afraid of the dark.
No longer hysterical or arguing with herself over indecision, Toph had returned to her regular state of mind. Even so, her contemplation over the day's search only strengthened her fear that she would not accomplish her goal.
"I must have used my seismic sense to look inside every building of this whole city," Toph thought, "but I still haven't found anything that could lead me to Appa!" She punched the brick wall behind her back, cracking the rock and causing the building to tremble, in order to let off some steam. "Where else could he be? What am I supposed to do?" Her rage built up inside her at a swift pace as her mind assaulted her with each unique, unanswerable question. Finally, with the violent wrath that often accompanies flared emotions at the peak of a tantrum, Toph grabbed the empty trashcan beside her and screamed at full volume into its depths, sending a resounding echo out from the alley to the rest of the Lower Ring.
A few minutes later, after cooling off and getting a hold of herself again, she felt the footsteps of someone entering the alley. While she was on the western side of the narrow passage, the other person stomped in clumsily from the east. Of course, she was not frightened — Toph Beifong doesn't fear bumps in the night. She just wanted to make sure whoever it was couldn't pinpoint her location. On the other hand, she knew exactly where he stood.
"Hey, lady," the man yelled from the other end of the alley, slowly traipsing his way up the path. His voice was slurred, and Toph could feel that he was more than a little overweight. "I heard you singin' real' pretty-like all the way from my bar two streets over and wanted to see your foxy little face! You lookin' for a good time?"
"Ah, great, he thinks I'm a hooker," Toph realized with a groan. "I wonder how drunk he is to think I was singing earlier..." Deciding she'd have a little fun to cheer herself up, Toph stood and walked forward a bit, making out his appearance well with her seismic sense.
He was a tall, shirtless adult, shamelessly flaunting the numerous flaps of fat that cascaded down his chest and sides (Toph was more inclined to their slang term, "man boobs"); his clumsy gait was apparently caused by his alcohol-induced limp. "He kinda reminds me of The Hippo," Toph thought, stifling her laughter in order to make herself sound tougher. "Unless you wanna look even uglier at the end of the night than you do now, you should go back to whatever hole you crawled out of and leave me alone!"
"Wow," the man whispered, slightly quickening his pace. This time projecting his voice, he said, "You're a real young'un, ain't'cha? You got some real' nice makeup there; I wanna see it up-close, if you don't mind."
"Well he must not be able to see me at all," Toph extrapolated, scoffing at his error. "My makeup can't look 'nice' by now, not with all the crying I did a while back. Or maybe he's just drunker than I thought."
The man, now only a few feet away from her, stopped walking, but Toph did not alter her stance. She just hid her blindness by staring straight ahead, as he was still twice as tall as her and could not see her eyes from that position; revealing she was impaired would give him more ideas, and she didn't want to kill the man. He put out his hand and offered, "I know a great place where me and you could have lots'a fun. Whaddya say, Lady of the Night?"
"I say this is your last chance to get out of here before I beat you to a pulp," Toph replied casually. "And I'm not a 'Lady of the Night.'."
"So this is how you wanna play it," he returned, voice suddenly gruffer and not at all friendly. The man retracted his one arm and thrust out his other, as if expecting that using both at the same time would distract his prey long enough for him to get a hold of her. Toph sensed his sudden movement and smashed her foot against the ground, pushing from the earth a pillar of rock that made crushing contact with his hand at the exact middle of his palm.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!" he bellowed, falling backward and cradling his hand which, limp and misshapen, must have been broken. "Get away from me, crazy bitch!" he screamed in terror, crawling back in the direction he came from. Toph fell down herself, although she cradled not a broken hand, but her sides as she laughed hysterically.
Then, from the other end of the alley, the earthbender heard a familiar name echo against every wall: "Toph?"
It was not the word, however, that killed her giggles and smacked the smile from her lips. It was not the word that Toph had, ever since the desert, considered judgmental and uninviting. It was not the word that made Toph go out on this day-long search for what she considered at the beginning a lost cause and what she considered at the end a far lost cause. Rather, it was the person who had uttered that word.
Toph, still sitting on the ground where she had been laughing, felt a gust of wind burst at her face, and before she could even sense his presence, Aang had crouched down, grabbed her shoulders, and begun to hug her. "What are you doing here, Toph?" Aang questioned, squeezing her tighter. "Are you okay?" His voice carried no reproach, no distaste. Just apprehension and concern. Toph gasped at the realization that this was really Aang in front of her, embracing her, not berating her for what had, in fact, been out of her control.
Why had Aang come to the Lower Ring? Suddenly the answer to that question was what she wanted to hear most in the world. She could think of no way to get it unless she told the truth, as well. "I... I was trying to find Appa," Toph told him, putting her arms around Aang. Her next sentence streamed forth almost incomprehensibly, the earthbender not taking one breath at any point in her proclamation. "But I didn't go looking for him because I wanted to rescue him, I did it because I wanted you to be friends with me again!"
"She does think it was her fault," Aang reflected in epiphany, having missed Toph's second confession altogether while lost in a sea of sorrowful cognition. "What did I expect her to believe after I said all that stuff in the desert? Now look at what else I've caused..."
"Aang," Toph whispered, eyes closed and a blissful smile on her face, "why did you come out here?"
Aang whispered back, "I felt so guilty about Appa, so I went looking for him. Then I heard that guy yell and came to see what was going on."
Toph's eyes flew open and her breath caught in her throat. Not the answer she was hoping for, but in her heart of hearts, it was the one she had been expecting. Back in reality again, she realized for a second time, "Aang is hugging me."
Toph pulled her arms away from Aang's back and stood up abruptly, making Aang release her. "What are you doing?" the Avatar asked, surprised at the sudden break in their comfortable embrace.
"Toph Beifong does not take hugs," she answered, crossing her arms and leaning against the wall.
"Oh, uh, right," Aang stuttered, getting up and brushing the dirt off his pants. He leaned against the wall next to his friend and began, "So... you've been thinking about Appa, too?"
"I guess so," Toph confided, looking at the ground. The two of them stood in silence for a moment, thinking about what to do next. A minute later, they could think of only one thing worthy of conveying to one another. In unison, Aang and Toph said, "I'm sorry."
"What do you have to be sorry for?" she asked, voice raised slightly. "I'm the one who let Appa get roped and muzzled in the desert. I could have saved him but I let him go just to rescue a library."
"I'm the one who should have been there to save him, he's my animal guide," Aang said patiently, barely holding his voice level. "What could I have expected you to do, let us drown in the sand and get killed by an owl spirit? The only wrong decision that was made that day was me leaving Appa with you."
"And why was that a bad decision? Because in the end, I wasn't able to protect him, right? If I had been able to do something, we wouldn't be in this mess!"
Aang exploded with a fervor equal to Toph's own, "Appa is my responsibility, not anyone else's! This whole world is my responsibility, Toph! Everything's my fault!"
"Then why did you point the finger at me in the desert, huh? Why did you make me go through all of this remorse for something that you say is your fault?"
Aang clenched his teeth and balled his fists, as if he was trying to hold back the reply that was fighting to break free of his lips. Finally his mouth flew open and he screamed, "Because I needed to blame someone and I was tired of blaming myself!" Aang fell to his knees and whispered, "I had to blame someone else..."
For the first time in her life, Toph had the feeling that she was staring at something, or more appropriately, at someone. She did not experience this through touch; not one part of her was in contact with Aang's stony, crumpled body. It was not her sense of hearing that allowed her to understand his sobs, to recognize the tears that streamed down his face as being so undeniably congruent to those which she had shed only hours earlier. In truth, it was the only time she had ever seen someone without the glare of a cold, muted seismic sense acting as blessing and curse. Toph's eyes took no part in this miracle; she viewed that moment through an entirely different lens.
When Aang had seen Toph in that state, he did not hesitate to comfort her, to wrap her in his arms and let her know everything would be okay. It was time for the earthbender to return the favor.
Toph knelt down just as Aang had done, putting her right arm around his shoulders and pulling him closer. Neither of them had any pride left to shield from one another — Aang had found Toph being mistaken for a prostitute in an alley of Ba Sing Se; Toph had just seen Aang break down upon revealing his greatest guilt. There was no more shame in a hug for the tough-as-nails Toph Beifong than there was for Aang to cry in front of her.
His face buried beneath his arms and knees, Aang said in a muffled voice, "I was never mad at you, Toph. I never blamed you for Appa. I always blamed me. It's always been me, for a hundred years it's been me." He shuddered and hid his face deeper, then continued, "I was responsible for the genocide of my people, I am the reason for all the bloodshed in the past hundred years, and I am the one who didn't protect Appa when he needed me most. Maybe now you'll stop blaming yourself for everything that's happened since the desert and start blaming me, just like everyone else does."
Despite the tense situation, Toph could not contain her sigh of relief in response to the release her friend had finally provided her, thinking giddily and somewhat selfishly, "It's not my fault, it's not my fault, it's not my fault! Appa wasn't my fault! But... it wasn't Aang's fault either."
"I hope you realize the irony of what you just said me, Twinkle Toes," Toph began. "You said I should stop blaming myself for everything, but that's exactly what you've been doing to yourself for who knows how long." Aang sat unmoving, as if he had not heard any of what Toph said, causing her to groan in frustration. Never one to hold her temper for long, Toph continued in a flustered voice, "So what's so great about this 'woe is me' outlook, huh? You must love it, since you don't even seem willing to leave it behind. Maybe if you'd stop pointing the finger at yourself you'd actually be happy for the first time in a hundred years!" Taking a deep breath, in a more comforting tone, she concluded, "You might... You might even feel a little better about Appa, too."
Slowly, cautiously, Aang lifted his head, coming to lock his gaze with Toph's own. Staring wonderingly into Toph's seemingly blank eyes, Aang thought in awe, "It's almost like she can really see me..."
"Thanks," Aang muttered, resting his head on Toph's shoulder. The earthbender gasped with a capriciously joyous undertone; the contact was not unwelcome. "I guess I needed that."
Toph remembered the extraordinary sight she had beheld minutes ago, especially recalling the markings that decorated Aang's arms and his head. Katara and Sokka had mentioned frequently that Aang had tattoos, but this was the first time she could say she'd seen them. Toph had also been told about another member of Team Avatar who displayed a similar pattern on his body. "Aang, do Appa's arrows look the same as yours?"
Aang chuckled goodheartedly at the question. "Yeah, I guess they do a little bit. Well, his arrows are bigger, 'cause Appa's huge. And they're different colors; Appa's are kinda brown, and mine are blue."
"So that's what blue is," Toph whispered, shutting her eyes. "It's beautiful..." Aang's fixed gape of bewilderment was so overt that she could feel his eyes bearing on her in confusion, so she got back on topic. "Um, anyway, I was wondering why the airbenders gave you those tattoos, if you don't mind telling me."
Aang smiled excitedly, always eager to educate about his heritage no matter the circumstances. "Sure! The tattoos are bestowed on anyone who has been named an airbending master by the monks. To get the tattoos, an airbender must create his own bending move, be adept at meditation, and–"
"That's great and all, Twinkle Toes, but I was more wondering why they chose arrows, not why they give arrows."
Aang blushed (Aang was happy Toph couldn't possibly notice this) and recovered, "Oh, yeah, I knew that! I just figured you'd want some back-story–"
"Yeah yeah yeah, get to the arrows!" Toph said with a sassy grin.
Aang cleared his throat with a touch of irritation and continued, "The arrow design is based on the sky bison, the first airbenders. Why do you ask?"
Leaving her ego behind for a moment, Toph snuggled closer to Aang and rested her head on his shoulder. "I'm not usually the mushy type, Aang, but I don't think Appa will be lost for much longer. You wanna find him, so you're gonna find him. Who knows, maybe he'll find you. After all, your arrows are always pointing at his. Right?"
Aang got to his feet, pulling Toph up with him. He hugged her once more, then answered, "Yeah, I guess they are."
"Geez, I never realized how much you liked to hug!" Toph exclaimed jovially, gently pushing him away. "Maybe... maybe, with those arrows pointed at Appa, we should hold off on the hugging for a while."
"Um, okay?" Aang replied, totally oblivious as he let go of Toph's shoulders. Upon stepping out of the alleyway with Toph, Aang noticed that the sky had darkened except for the countless stars and an incandescent crescent moon. "We missed the sunset."
"How disappointing!" Toph exclaimed jocularly, causing Aang to chortle right along with her (one never tires of Beifong's blind jokes). Overcome with the passion that had built up within her throughout the night, Toph knew of only one way to express her intimate feelings at that moment.
"Ow!" Aang yelled, squeezing his left arm that had just been brutally punched. "What was that for?"
"It's... how I show affection."
As the couple walked in comfortable silence back to their Upper Ring home, one must wonder if they had been lifted of their burdens not by a "something for everyone" city but by each other; if they had found their true happiness not inside a spa or with a lost flying bison but hunched together in an alley of the Lower Ring.
If ever in their lives Toph Beifong and Avatar Aang had fixed the things that had so plagued their overcomplicated lives, it was at that moment when Toph showed her affection for Aang in the moonlight, without a care in the world.
- My prompt out of the seven employed for Fruipit's contest (Regret, Balance, Manners, Family, Tattoos, Lies and Realization) was Tattoos. The prompt does not take stage until the climax, at which time Aang's tattoos are used as a way for Toph to make Aang realize the likelihood of his finding Appa and to subtly express her emotions to an ignorant Aang.
- As most users should be able to recognize, this one-shot takes its outline directly from the episode "The Tales of Ba Sing Se", with Toph and Aang's first portions of the story following the route of the original episode, then veering off into entirely new, intertwined directions.
- As such, the Avatar Wiki transcript for "The Tales of Ba Sing Se" was greatly appreciated. Thanks, fellow users!
- Furthermore, choosing this episode as a focus made it very easy to decide what images I'd pick for the fanon.
- While I was picking my brain for an idea to enter in Fruipit's contest, for some reason, I remembered that I had been dissatisfied with how Kenji (the zookeeper) and Aang's relationship had ended, specifically with one detail: neither ever asked the other his name! They seemed so nice when on the screen together, so I figured I might somehow work them into my plot; from there, the rest of the story sprouted.
- I understand that the screenshot chosen for the imagebox occurs, in the timeline, much later than the Ba Sing Se arc, but I thought it portrayed Toph and Aang's feelings in this story very accurately: Toph with a conflicted anger toward herself, and Aang frustrated and distraught about nearly everything.
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