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|Män Som Hatar Kvinnor|
30th November, 2013
Män Som Hatar Kvinnor
She could hear movement coming from the house. There was a slamming door before silence fell over the street. Toph remained in her seat on the path, the cool concrete chilling her. She had heaved her knees up under her chin, capturing her arms between her body and limbs. With her hands fisted against the flesh of her chest, it didn't take her long at all to realise that the excursion hadn't succeeded in making her feel better. It had just made her feel... sad. Wrong. Dirty. Stupid.
Sighing, she pulled her hands up, holding the small digits in front of her sightless eyes. She could only imagine what they looked like, although that train of thought wasn't one she wanted to travel that night, instead opting to put her head on her knees. She still hadn't made a decision as to what she should do, and she was in no mood to actually try and do anything. She just wanted to go home. Wherever that was. She didn't really care anymore, either.
Toph lost track of time as she sat outside, trying not to think about anything except the stillness of the air and silence of the street. Her musing (or lack thereof) was broken by the slight screeeee of the front door. There was no other sound for a few seconds before the sound of soft footfalls over grass reached her ears. Toph didn't move to acknowledge the person, and it was only when they began to talk that she relaxed.
"Toph?" Aang's voice carried to her, and she let out a breath she hadn't known she was holding. "Toph, it's time to come inside..."
Perhaps one of the main reasons Toph had become friends with Aang was that he never pried, and he gave her an outlet for her anger. He was a distraction for her own problems. But that was years ago. They weren't children anymore, and she didn't have childish problems. Neither did he, but at least he was a functioning human being.
"Look, Aang. I just wanna be left alone right now," she said, keeping her voice level. If Toph was good at anything, it was acting. He fidgeted on the lawn, chewing on his bottom lip. She could tell he was.
"Well, everyone's gone to bed, and you can't stay out here all night."
Toph didn't really know what to make of him at that moment. He was actually... telling her to go inside. He never told her what to do, probably because she usually punched him if he did. Tonight she just didn't have the energy to bother.
"Fine," she said sharply, pushing herself up from the floor and walking towards the house. She could hear Aang following behind her, a light ghmghmghm on the lawn.
Stepping through the door, Toph found herself face to face with Katara. The older girl pushed a bundle of clothes towards her. "These are some old pyjamas you can wear," she said stiffly. "They should fit."
Toph opened her mouth to respond, but found she didn't actually know what to say. She was perfectly content to sleep in her own clothes, and Katara's kindness was only serving to make her feel guiltier—and anger at said guilt—for her earlier actions and words.
"Toph, don't you have anything to say to Katara?" Aang asked pointedly. Toph turned to him and scowled, muttering under her breath,
"Thanks for the pyjamas, Katara."
"You're welcome..." There was silence for a few moments, and Toph had the distinct impression that both Katara and Aang were waiting for something else from her. When nothing was forthcoming, though, Katara kissed Aang on the cheek and said her goodnights.
"Aang is sleeping on the lounge. There's a spare bedroom that you can crash in. It's the third on the left," she said before making her way to her own room. As soon as she left, so too did Aang, although he didn't even bother to say good night.
Toph knew Aang was angry with her. It was in his tone, the way he moved. He was tense and slow. Sad. Probably annoyed with her, although she expected that; not that she could do anything about it now. Sokka had probably told them all exactly what he saw; exactly what he saw and with whom. If she had known he would come after her, would she have done it? Perhaps. It was no secret who Jet was to the other kids her age. He was the stoner—the gang leader. He would never amount to anything in life. Neither would she, but people didn't see that. They always played her off as the victim to Jet's antics and attitude; she liked to think of it the other way around.
Following the instructions Katara gave her, she walked silently down the hall. One hand was on the wall to count the number of doors, though it took her a few moments to find the doorknob. Opening it silently, she let herself get acquainted with the layout of the room before she stopped next to the bed, putting down her cane.
The pyjamas Katara leant her were incredibly soft; well worn, but not so much that the fabric became scratchy. They smelt heavily of fabric softener, but Toph could definitely detect traces of the older girl still lingering in the fibres. Sliding her pants off, which were a little tight now, she stepped into the pyjama pants. Katara had been accurate in her guess, because they actually fit fairly well. Taking off her shirt, Toph unhooked her bra and managed to put her arms in the sleeves of the borrowed shirt before she realised she wasn't alone.
For the third time that night, someone snuck up on her. She couldn't even bring herself to care that she was indeed half-naked as they tried to sneak away.
The older boy sucked in a breath, and though Toph couldn't see it, he had his eyes shut tight behind his hands. It was too late, and to anyone else, the fact that they had kept their back to the door would have been a relief. Toph wasn't just anyone, and all things considered, she would have preferred he ogle her chest instead. There was nothing like a guy struck dumb by breasts to give a girl a self-esteem boost—at least, not according to her.
Toph had never stopped to dwell on nudity and nakedness. The only way she would be able to tell was if she touched a person, and most of that awkwardness was usually able to be avoided by the whole 'blind' thing. It was everyone else that had a problem.
"My eyes are covered!" Sokka's cry was muffled by his hands, and he twisted around to giver her even more privacy. "I'm sorry!"
He had walked into the room just in time to witness his friend's bra (plain grey cotton, about a B cup if he were to guess) hit the ground. Sokka's male brain told his eyes to look towards her previously covered flesh, and it took a few seconds to realise what he was doing and that he had to stop. Toph hadn't turned the bedroom light on, but there was enough filtering in from the hallway for his eyes to roam over the flesh of her back. He didn't have time to squint at the strange picture he saw there before his hands were covering his eyes.
"What?" Toph tilted her head so her left ear was facing Sokka. Picking up her shirt, she put her arms through the sleeves as he stammered through an explanation.
"N-nothing." He gulped audibly. "I'll just, uh, be outside, un-until you've finished getting, erm, changed."
Toph had never felt insecure about her body, and she would deny it until her last breath that Sokka made her feel such a thing, but she knew she would also be lying to herself. How much had he seen? Oh gods, that cigarette from Jet hadn't been enough, and the knowledge that she had a packet but she couldn't use made it even harder. Slinging Katara's pyjama shirt over the top of her own, she flexed her fingers, wondering if he had noticed anything else. Toph quickly changed into the pants Katara had leant her and felt around the room for the bed, clambering onto it and sitting cross-legged near the pillow.
"I'm done," she called blandly to the hallway. It took a few seconds, but Sokka eventually walked into the room; she was playing with a loose thread by this stage. She heard Sokka shut the door behind him, although she was surprised that she didn't hear the familiar click of the light switch, and he began feeling his way towards her.
"What are you doing?" she asked, tugging aggressively on the thread.
"Uhhh... nothing..." he said, halting his blind search to stand a few inches away from the bed. "So..." Unlike Sokka, Toph felt no need to fill the silence with empty conversation, and so she just remained silent. "I, um, I kinda.... saw you..."
Toph resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "I know," she said quietly, dropping her sleeve and looking at her lap.
Sokka bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, unsure of what to say or do next. He couldn't see Toph, and while this had been the purpose of closing the door—equal footing and all that—he still wished he could see her expression. Biting his lip, he moved to sit on the other end of the bed.
"What happened?" he asked, voice completely lacking the anger she assumed would be present. He actually sounded kind of... sad. "With Katara..." He trailed off, knowing full well that it wasn't really Katara he was worried about. She could take care of herself. Toph huffed, blowing a strand of hair from her face, before she looked away from him.
"Nothing happened between me and Sugar Queen," she muttered, scowling.
"Toph..." The way he said her name had her heart clenching. He sounded so disappointed. Huffing again, she tried to ignore the sensation. He was probably just annoyed that she had yelled at Katara and he caught her smoking and making out with some random. It wasn't his problem! What she did and with whom was nothing to do with him!
So why wouldn't the shame and confusion leave her? And what right did he have to make her feel that way?
"Who was that?"
Sokka's voice broke through her inner battle, and Toph took a deep breath, finally turning her sightless gaze on him.
"No one. That was no one."
He didn't want to accept that—it was more than obvious that whoever it was meant more than 'nothing'—but there was also a reason why Toph didn't want to tell him. He waited in silence for several moments as she bit her lip. He wondered why she didn't just send him away, and, struck with a sudden thought, leaned forward and wrapped his arms around her.
She stiffened significantly, freezing in place and expecting him to release her straight away. Instead, Sokka only held on tighter, closing his eyes. She had let that other guy put his lips on her—fondle her—but she couldn't stand a hug from him? He didn't want her to go running off again. He wanted her to share and talk to him. He wanted to be there for her because she needed him, even if she didn't want him.
Mumbling into her ear, he asked the most innocent question he could think of; "What's wrong?"
Toph wanted to lift her arms and wrap them around Sokka's torso—hold him just as tight as he was holding her—but something stopped her. Exhaling, she pulled her arms up between them and pushed him away. He was reluctant to let her go, but didn't say anything. Toph paused for a moment, taking a breath. She could have laughed at his question—what wasn't wrong with her?—but chose to hold her tongue. She wanted to let him in a little. It shouldn't be so hard to open up, should it?
Inhaling quietly, she looked in his direction. "Did you see... I mean, on my back..." she trailed off, but Sokka knew what she was talking about. He nodded, a motion she felt through the bed.
"I didn't want to ask," he admitted quietly. "Is it like a tattoo or something?"
Toph shook her head and, before her courage failed her, she turned around. Grabbing the hem of her shirt at her hips, she pulled it up over her head, baring her back while still keeping her chest covered. "It's not a tattoo." Any fears or trepidation she held were resolutely ignored as Sokka's hand tentatively reached out. It was only his gasp that alerted him to the fact that his fingers reached the skin; she couldn't feel it at all.
"Oh my God, Toph..." he whispered. Unable to get through this part without light, he leaned past her, and she heard the click that wasn't there earlier; the one that brought light into everyone's world but hers. "What the-?"
He almost couldn't return his gaze to her skin when he knew he would have to see it. Knowing he owed her that much (he wondered whether she had ever shown anyone else. Had she shown that other boy?), Sokka leaned back and brought both hands up to her shoulders. Toph sat there in complete silence, waiting for him to finish. He couldn't even begin to fathom what was running through her head, but as he finally dragged his eyes up to see her own half-shut, he realised that it didn't matter.
Her back was covered in thick burn scars, heavy with discolouration and inconsistent healing. The leathery feeling that had first told him something was amiss was even worse when he could see it. Beneath the burns, he could see faint white lines criss-crossing, and he suddenly realised that she had two different kinds of injuries. He didn't want to pity her, but even so, the thought of something like this happening caused sad tears to build in his eyes. Who would have done such a thing? The cuts weren't perfect; they didn't seem to come from any kind of blade. Instead of injuring her, someone had let her be hurt? The burns must have been made to cauterise the area, although Sokka had never seen it done; in truth, he thought medical advances negated the need for such primitive techniques.
"What happened?" he breathed, hands still tracing along her back. She didn't turn her head, or even acknowledge his question, and Sokka wondered whether he had stepped over a line that only she could see. She had shown this to him—wasn't it enough? "Sorry. You don't- you don't have to answer that..."
Toph raised her head a little, before letting out a humourless laugh. "A dog. How stupid is that? It was a dog."
She paused, seeming to be debating whether or not to continue. Sokka didn't interrupt her or try to prompt her to keep going, instead just letting his fingers dance along her back.
"That one little thing led to me being here..." His eyes flashed up at her words, but this time Toph truly didn't seem inclined to say anymore. Not that he could blame her.
"I'm sorry, Toph," he murmured, and Toph shrugged against his hand.
"It doesn't matter. It's in the past. I barely remember it."
Sokka could see her retreating again, withdrawing back into her shell; though he didn't want her to, he let her. He removed his hands and lowered her shirt, although he couldn't stop looking at her with new eyes. Not that he thought she was weak—Sokka saw Toph as one of the strongest girls he had ever met. She needed to know that.
"Toph... I think... it's still amazing..." he murmured, and Toph turned her head slightly, a sneer on her face.
"What's amazing?" she asked, glaring blindly at the opposite corner of the room.
"Well... you, Toph. You're so strong and independent. And you've overcome all this... shit, I guess. I don't think I could do what you've done. I couldn't go through what you've been through..." he trailed off, rubbing the back of his head with a small smile. He watched as her eyes widened and her mouth opened slightly in surprise.
Perhaps that was all Toph needed to hear. That sometimes it was hard and tough and shit and that she was allowed to feel like giving up. That someone else could at least empathise with her and that there were people willing to listen should she ever want to talk.
As though only just realising the vulnerable position she had put herself in, Toph gasped and turned her head away and began fiddling again with her sleeve. She wasn't entirely sure what to say, or even whether she should say anything at all. Luckily, Sokka noticed her discomfit, and before she had a chance to do anything (not that she knew what to do in the first place) he pulled her in for another hug, letting her back press against his chest.
"You know I'm always here for you, right?" he murmured into her ear, unaware how his words sent her heart racing. Toph wanted to tell him that she didn't need his or anyone else's help but the words got caught in her throat and died there.
She allowed herself to be held in his arms, making no move to pull away or return the gesture. She could lie and say she was too tired to bother, but strangely, Toph found that she didn't want to lie to herself. She found Sokka's presence... comforting. So what? She took comfort in loads of things. Lifting her hands, she pressed them against Sokka's, closing her eyes and letting the tension flow from her muscles. How long had it been since she had felt such an innocent gesture? How long had it been since she let anyone get so close to her?
Eventually, though, he pulled away, and this time she was the reluctant one. Sokka moved back a little to give her room to turn around, and both of them found themselves unable to really look towards the other. Toph had her face hidden behind her thick hair, and Sokka had no idea what to say. Clearing his throat loudly, he stood up from the bed.
"I 'spose- well, we have a big day... I'm sure you're tired," he stuttered, biting his lip. He saw her eyes widen momentarily before it was gone and she was nodding. With a small smile, he left the room, bidding her well with a soft, "Good night, Toph," as he shut the door.
"N-night, Sokka," she managed to call, a few seconds too late. She only relaxed when she heard his bedroom door open and shut, and with a sigh she shuffled down the bed so she could fall back onto the pillow. Flicking the light off, Toph just wanted the day to be over already, but sleep refused to come. Her mind was too full of other things; other thoughts and sensations that she wanted to forget and yet hold onto forever. With one touch of Sokka's hand on hers, she felt greater than hundreds of touches by someone else—by Jet. She felt more loved in those moments too, because she knew that he didn't want anything more than her hand in his. Perhaps she was the one who wanted more from him; perhaps she wanted too much. She wanted something he couldn't—wouldn't?—give. There was one bright spark of hope, though, and while she's never been much of a believer, Toph held onto Kyoshi's words with all her might.
"If a guy is going to the trouble of helping a blind girl watch movies, I'm pretty positive that means he likes her."
Toph held her hands up to her face, letting them slide over the smooth flesh before they wrapped around her sides. He wasn't disgusted. He didn't hate her or interrupt. He didn't pity her or console her. Maybe Kyoshi was right; he just didn't know it yet.
- Yes, the title has been taken from Stieg Larsson's The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. I thought it was appropriate (also one of my favourite movies). This is the Swedish title, though, and it translates to 'The Men Who Hate Women' or something of the like.
- It is both a reference to the scar on Toph's back and her past.
- I was going to reveal something important, but then realised that I actually wanted to do it how I originally planned.
- This chapter was written in about an hour, and then another hour editing.
For the collective works of the author, go here.