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|My Worst Nightmare|
That Metal Monster
The Sandbenders having helped them out of the Si Wong Desert after Aang had cooled down, Toph and the rest of the group take a break next to a waterfall to cool themselves off. A family of Earth Kingdom refugees happened by the place where they were resting, and quickly informed them that Sokka's way of getting to Ba Sing Se (which Toph had been highly suspicious of) was quite dangerous, and that the best idea would be to come along with them on a ferry ride out from Full Moon Bay. There, they ran into a spot of trouble with a ticket-master, which Toph reluctantly handled with the Beifong family document she had had with her (but would have preferred never to use). As they were traveling over to the ferry, they happened to cross paths with some girl around Sokka's age, who proceeded to openly flirt with him (making Toph feel queasy in the stomach). They were soon interrupted by the same refugees they had met earlier, who had had their luggage stolen! As Aang was unable to convince the ticket-master to give the family any lee-way, he informed the rest of the group that they would have to defend them on the way through the Serpent's Pass; much to Toph's disgust, the new girl (whose name was Suki) came along with them.
As they travel through the pass, Toph begins to feel increasingly annoyed by Suki's presence, especially after the girl causes Sokka to not even thank her after she saves his life during a brief skirmish with the Fire Nation. Other than an irritating prickle now continually present in the back of Toph's mind, after they walked through the pass without much trouble until the next day - where they found that part of it had been submerged under the water. Katara created an air bubble to help them travel under and up to the other side; Toph trusted in her friend's skills, so she kept quiet and didn't complain about this. Suddenly, the bubble was burst by a screaming sea creature, which Toph saved the group from with her Earthbending; unfortunately, this left Toph trapped on a small island while the others ran across an ice bridge Katara made to the other side. Eventually, she left the island at Sokka's coaxing, only for her worst fears to be realized; she was dumped blindly into a watery abyss, with no notion of where the ground was to bend! Sokka promising to come out and save her, she realized what had been the problem all along as she sunk into the water - only for the entire situation to be ruined by Suki's saving her instead, to her great embarrassment. After being dragged ashore (Katara and Aang having defeated the creature), they hadn't gotten very far before one of the refugees (who had been pregnant) told them she would now have to give birth to her baby; Toph helped Katara create a little privacy for the women as she gave birth. After they all went in to see the baby, Aang informed the group that he would fly on ahead of them to see if he could find Appa in Ba Sing Se; much to Toph's relief, Suki went to return to her own group not too much later.
Aang having finally calmed down, Toph felt Katara slowly let go of him from across the stand where she stood with Sokka, and the Waterbender inquired of Ghashiun's father, "Your son said you'd escort us out of the desert. Do you have any supplies we can use for the trip?" He indicated that he did, but that they'd have to go back to camp in order to pick them up from the tribe's women. Katara made a noise which sounded to Toph like she wanted to say something in retort, but it was followed by a swallowing sound and her simply asking him to point the way.
The Sandbenders lead the gang back across the sands, Aang falling behind Toph in the ranks, trudging along slowly in sullen silence. Toph opted to not say anything to him at this point, figuring she was better off not bringing up the subject of Appa that was clearly on his mind (especially when she was partially guilty in the whole matter). The entire trip to the Sandbender camp was tedious and dull, with nary a word heard exchanged between anyone (except occasionally between Katara and the tribe's leader at the very front, and a few incoherent mumblings that Sokka made to himself, which quickly petered off), but thankfully it was relatively nearby. Once there, it took a little over half an hour for the supplies to be gathered up, surprisingly including at least some of the luggage which had been in Appa's saddle, which Ghashiun and his band had apparently decided to make use of in secret rather than selling them. As Katara and the now (mostly) sane Sokka gathered up these materials from the tribe, Toph sat aboard the Sand Sailer they would be using, preferring to stay off of the sand and out of their way, glad to get a chance to rest.
She woke up the next day with the wind blowing sand in her face, her forehead damp with sweat, with Sokka's sleeping bag now propping up her neck. (He had apparently placed it there sometime after she had fallen asleep.) She yawned, and realized that they must have been traveling for quite some time. Noticing she was awake, Sokka told the others, and Katara informed her that they would be out of the desert in the space of an hour; Aang, however, gave her a quick "hello", and then retreated to silence, despite the fact that his voice had emanated from closest to her. Preferring to ignore his depressing attitude, Toph began chatting with Sokka instead about where he had chosen for them to "land" after they were finally out of the desert. He waxed enthusiastic about how he had located a small oasis on the desert's edge with the scrap of paper he had stolen from the library. How someone was able to pull off such a feat, she had no real idea, but looked forward to their destination with interest after their long, dry escapade through the desert (secretly worried that this would just turn out as bad as Aang's suggestion for Katara's mini-vacation, given the apparent untrustworthiness of what these people were seeing on the paper). The hour that remained for them to escape the desert took what seemed to her like forever, her inability to see anything atop the Sailer making the entire remaining journey seem incredibly monotonous (only broken up briefly by the savory taste of Sandbender food, once Sokka remembered that Toph had slept through their meal earlier in the day).
Judging by the warmth of the air, they finally arrived at the oasis near midday, and Toph jumped off the Sailer, scratching her toes back and forth as she felt the solid, stable ground beneath her feet. Apparently not wanting to disturb her joy, Katara and Sokka unloaded the sailer in relative silence, leaving her to bend down and grab the earth with her hands, lightly kissing the ground out of ecstatic thankfulness for finally being beyond the desert's grasp. Katara had to call out to Aang to get him to move off of the Sailer, his startled-sounding answer suggesting to Toph that he hadn't even recognized that they'd stopped. Katara thanked the Sandbending Tribe for their help, and they could be felt bowing before her and the Avatar, saying that it was the least they could do after all that had happened. With a whirling sound, the Sand Sailers glided out of Toph's feeling range, quickly becoming blurry and then lost to her senses altogether, Aang making a dark remark about having seen the last of them. They marched a little ways further until they came across Sokka's oasis, the smell of water filling Toph's nose and stimulating her to run up to the edge of the ground, where she bent down to sip water directly out of the pond. Its quality left much to be desired, but that hardly mattered to Toph's muddy lips (she now regretted not having stayed awake and asked for water from the camp the day before). Having drunk her fill, she felt around until she found a stable out-crop near the water's edge, promptly plopping herself down upon it and thrusting her legs directly into the water. Ahhhh...my feet having been needing this so badddd...
With her hands touching the rock's surface, she could feel Sokka's vibrations as he walked up to the water's edge and dip his hands into it, moving them up back to his neck with splattering sounds following immediately afterwards. This was followed promptly by vibrations indicating he had walked back away from the pond and perched himself solemnly on a rock next to but higher than her own, which seemed somewhat odd to Toph after how enthusiastic he had been about finding the place. Saying she was going to go find a private place to strip down into her undergarments for swimming, Katara asked him whether he'd come and play in the water with them, which he flatly rejected by saying he had cooled himself off already and that it was his duty to map out the group's next move. Katara sighed, with slight vibrations indicating she was shaking her head at her brother sadly, and walked off to find some privacy.
Seeing the water apparently made Aang liven up a bit, and he quickly divested himself of his clothes without much concern for who was around him. Toph felt a large amount of water splash up into her face as he jumped in, but didn't care enough to yell at him for it because of the welcome relief it brought from the sweat which had drenched her forehead under her bangs. She put her right hand up to her face and used the left one to push her bangs out of the way temporarily as she wiped the water on her face all around it so she could feel the pleasant effects of its evaporation. This done, she amused herself by feeling the vibrations of the water against her feet as she kicked it back and forth, simply happy to be away from the burning sand of yesterday. Suddenly, she felt the vibrations of a significantly lighter than usual Katara scrambling up a large outcropping jutting above the pond; once atop the cliff, the Waterbender shouted out for all to hear in a cheerful voice indicating a sense of pleasure Toph hadn't known the other girl was capable of, "Waterbending bomb!! Yeah!"
As Toph had anticipated, this was soon followed by a large splash which soaked her entire body. She laughed this off, wrapped up in the fun they were finally able to have now that they were out of that pit-hole of a desert. Sokka, of course, didn't take things so genially, and promptly began complaining about how his sister had splashed water all over the maps he had been looking at. With the small vibrations created by the splattering of water droplets indicating that she was wringing her hair dry as she was talking, Katara became solemn again and apologized to Sokka for accidentally soaking his papers. This was followed by a quick succession of vibrations as Katara's body moved back and forth, accompanied by a whooshing sound as she bent the water back out of the paper. His precious maps restored to the state he wanted them in, Sokka jumped off his perch and splayed them out on the ground for "everyone" gather around and look at. Following suit, Toph got up off the rock and stood idly a few feet away from Sokka, crossing her arms and dully feeling her nose crinkle up and her mouth hang open slightly with bated breath, feeling off-put about her inability to provide any real input in this situation.
Only half-paying attention to the conversation going on in front of her, she overheard Aang ask Sokka what route they were going to take, noticing that the water seemed to have made Aang more chipper than he had been for awhile. Sokka predictably responded to this by pointing to different places on the paper (Thanks for explaining the details to the blind girl, she thought to herself as he mindlessly did this) and somehow magically coming to the conclusion that the only way they could get to Ba Sing Se that they had to travel along a certain "sliver of land", with the foreboding name of "The Serpent's Pass".
Toph felt her eyebrows furrow at that name. She couldn't quite remember, but her parent's servants had occasionally mentioned the words before in the past, and she had received the vague impression that it wasn't any better than it immediately sounded like. "Are you sure that's the best way to go?" Toph asked him in a rough dismissive tone, not particularly happy about the feeling that they were about to get wrapped into some impractical nonsense because her vote could not really count for anything in the group's plans here.
Sokka dismiss her objection as nonchalantly as she would have predicted, informing her that they no longer had Appa to fly them there (as if she didn't already know). This earned him an angry reproval from Katara about him being insensitive to Aang's feelings. Before they could begin bickering any further, Aang interrupted the sibling's squabble by telling Katara he was okay with Sokka mentioning the loss of his sky bison, and that he was now focused on getting to Ba Sing Se and telling the Earth King about the solar eclipse, leaving Toph slightly impressed with how quickly he had gotten over his emotional anguish of the day before. Katara seem surprised as well. Sokka, who didn't seem to care either way, ended the discussion by re-affirming with Aang that they now ought to go to Ba Sing Se, and that they shouldn't let any qualms distract them from that goal any longer, folding up the map to take it with them.
Suddenly, Toph heard the voice of a man saying hello to them from several yards away. Briefly confused about this, she turned her body as he called out to them as fellow refugees, and noticed that two other people (both women) had also walked up with him while her senses were occupied with the distracting conversation in front of her. Sokka feeling as if he was off-put about being detained just as they were about to leave, the whole group nevertheless waited for the three to walk up closer to them in silence, so that they could then talk to them more easily.
As they crossed the distance, Toph noticed that one of the women seemed rather heavy for her general build, and that she also rather strangely had two detectable heartbeats, one with rather stressed vibrations. She soon realized that the women was pregnant, and figured that the man was her husband and the other woman a close female relative following along in order to assist them in suit with Earth Kingdom tradition. Not that it was really any help in my case . . . When the three were close enough for proper conversation, Aang asked the refugees whether they were also going to Ba Sing Se, to which the man quickly answered that they were. He added that they hoped to get there before his wife Ying gave birth, the vibration he gave off indicating that he was caressing his wife' s full womb as he did so.
"Great! We can travel through the Serpent's Pass together," Katara exclaimed happily, perhaps cheered at the girly thought of hanging around a pregnant couple. The Waterbender's exclamation caused Ying to jump back and her husband to grab her shoulders, uttering in complete surprise, "The Serpent's Past? Only the truly desperate take that deadly route!" (clutching at her womb at her last words as if to protect her unborn baby from such a danger).
Her forehead prickling in irritation that her pessimistic belief had been confirmed, Toph parroted Ying's last words loudly to emphasize to everyone how right her skepticism had been, and launched her fist into Sokka's right arm as she sarcastically exclaimed, "Great pick, Sokka!" Seriously, is everyone in this group an idiot but me? Sokka could only come up with the lame response that they were desperate.
Ying's husband helpfully responded to this by telling them that they ought to come along with his group to Full Moon Bay, which had ferries which took refugees speedily across the lake, Ying adding that the place was hidden from prying Fire Nation eyes. In a tone which indicated that she was purposefully trying to aggravate her brother, Katara mock-contemplated the choice, "Hmm... peaceful ferry ride or deadly pass?" Sokka's consternation with this jab at his supposed stupidity couldn't not be felt from where Toph was standing.
Packing up the few items they still had along with them (with Katara and Aang quickly picking up and putting back on their discarded outer clothing), Toph and the others quickly followed the refugees' lead to Full Moon Bay. Sokka, still grumbling a bit about the dismissal of his plan, asked Ying's husband how far it would be to the bay, to which he indicated it was only a few hundred yards. Aang, Toph, and Sokka walked along behind the refugees in relative silence, Toph hoping to just get their journey to Ba Sing Se done and over with as quickly as possible, but Katara opted to spend her time chatting with their fellow travelers
"So, why was it so important that you get out of the Fire Nation's reach when you were so many months pregnant?" Katara asked Ying. "I know the Fire Nation's hand extends almost everywhere in the Earth Kingdom, but what made it so urgent for you to up and leave?"
"It's not a happy story to tell," the pregnant woman replied,"My husband Tahn had only recently settled in my village after our marriage, and we expected to live a long happy life together."
"The War seemed so distant then, and we never expected the Fire Nation would attack our peaceful village," Tahn finished her train of thought. "The baby had already long been conceived by the time that we realized just how wrong we were. The Rough Rhinos swiftly overtook our defenseless city, decimating our already limited resources and assassinating our kind mayor."
"Tahn's sister Lin, who had come to live in our house to assist me during my pregnancy, bravely pulled us through the wreckage and out of danger when we had lost all hope of survival, " Ying continued. "We've been on the move ever since; we realized now that it's too big a risk settling down anywhere outside of Ba Sing Se." Toph smirked in satisfaction at having been proved right, though she was a bit surprised to learn of the shy-seeming sister's bravery, and the group continued to walk on in a solemn-feeling silence once Katara's questions were answered.
They soon found their way to the cave in which the ferry system had been built, Toph immediately noticing the multitude of tents and mats on the other side of the artificial rock wall built into the cave to protect the people on the other side. After assuring themselves that nobody in the group was a Fire Nation spy, the Earthbending guards lowered the wall in front of them and let the group through. Once on the other side, Katara seemed dumbstruck with the amount of people that the Fire Nation had uprooted, to which Tahn expressed the sentiment that they would all find the better life they were looking for safe beyond the walls of the Earth Kingdom capital.
Saying that they would now exchange his family's passports for the tickets they needed, Tahn walked off with his his family to the nearest line, which was several yards distant from the spot where they first entered the cave. Sighing internally at what she guessed might happen when she heard those words, Toph pointed in the general direction of the shortest line which she had felt farther away from them and told her friends that they ought to walk in that direction if they were to get to Ba Sing Se as soon as possible.
Walking in silence, Toph ignored the chatter going on between her friends as they took a few seconds to riddle out what exactly she meant before the line came within the limited range of their vision, too concentrated on what was in the bag she had long been carrying with her. All I need is for my parents to have any clues about where I am . . . This is not going to end well for me, with how stupid Twinkle-toes is sometimes; I just know it. Stepping into the back of the line, Toph's mind "treated" her to memories of her life with her parents which she emphatically did not want to think about, irritating her for several minutes with increasing strength until the merchant right in front of them moved up to the bureaucrat's podium.
Passing something (presumably his passports) up on to her desk, the merchant asked her as he did so, " I can bring the produce in my cart aboard with me, right?" The bureaucrat answered him in a stern voice, saying that it was strictly against policy to bring vegetables aboard the ferry into Ba Sing Se. In a whiny, almost comical-sounding voice which caught and held Toph's attention, he replied back, "But, this is my life's work! I've got nothing else to sustain me and help me make a living when I get to the capital!?"
Swiftly acquiring an angry tone in her voice, the bureaucrat bellowed back, " I've told you already, no vegetables on the ferry!" Vibrations emanated from the merchant as he shook his head, giving off the feeling of desperation so absolute that it seemed like he thought of his produce as a close family member. In reaction to this, the bureaucrat shout down at him again, "One cabbage slug could destroy the entire ecosystem of Ba Sing Se. Security!" An enormous platypus bear plodded over to his cart, a few yards distant from where he stood, and then reared up and smashed the cart into smithereens, the cabbages along with it, as the merchant screamed in a horrified voice for the safety of his cabbages. Seeing what happened to his cart, he fell to his knees, seemingly paralyzed with despair, so that two guards had to pick him up and remove him from the line.
Failing to even so much as look up from her desk at the commotion going on in her front of her, the bureaucrat called out "next!" for Aang to come from and represent the four of them. Typical of his general attitude, the Avatar demurely asked for four ferry tickets to Ba Sing Se, quite obviously wishing to avoid what had happened to the merchant right in front of them. The bureaucrat didn't skip a beat before she shot back loudly, " 'Passport?" Aang fidgeted back and forth, quibbling that they hadn't been told that they would need to have passports before they came here.
At this point, obviously wishing to speed things up by taking matters off the shoulder of their ineffective de facto leader, Sokka stepped forward and inquired of the bureaucrat, " Don't you know who this is? He's the Avatar!" The bureaucrat seemed unimpressed at this, indicating that many people had tried to slip by her with that excuse every day since the Avatar had returned as she pointed over to her left. Aang could be felt looking over in their direction and nodding, and then some pressure was suddenly added at around his shoulder area paired up with chortling sounds. At the appearance of Momo, the bureaucrat barked out that animals were not allowed, and threatened to bring out security. Behind them, the platypus bear which had been sliced upon the merchant's cart could be felt raising itself up at those words, and snapping its cabbage-filled bill together threateningly.
Of like kind, both pet and master shrunk back at this threat of recriminations, and Aang backed off from the women's desk with his hands raised in defeat. Shaking her head internally at her student's passivity, Toph reluctantly pulled out the bag which she had stashed among her meager belongings, and roughly placed it in Aang's hands as she pulled out its contents and strode forward towards the bureaucrat, saying she'd take care of it. Reaching up above her head, Toph stated in a clear, curt voice intended to carry some distance, "My name is Toph Beifong, and I'll need four tickets," and placed the document she had been carrying up on the table. Upon seeing it, the bureaucrat's demeanor changed entirely, and she bowed low before her and said, " The Golden Seal of the Flying Boar! It is my pleasure to help anyone of the Beifong family."
Hearing the family name uttered in such a tone of fear by the middle-class businesswomen, a feeling of revulsion wormed its way out of the pit of the stomach of the nobleman's daughter and washed over her, uncomfortably reminding her of the crushing superiority of her parent's deportment towards the rest of "improper" society. Pushing this feeling of disgust at the situation down as well as she could, the blind Earthbender looked away with the conscious intention of appearing disinterested in the readiness of the woman's compliance, calling up uncomfortable memories of the propriety she had been instructed to show "lesser people" back home in order to forge a voice of disdain as she shot back, "It is your pleasure." Still not bothering to turn her head back to the women in order to keep up the act, she then pointed to herself while saying in a voice which almost sounded as if she questioned the adult's intelligence, "As you can see, I am blind, and these three imbeciles are my valets," waving her left hand outwards in the vague direction of her friends as she finished her sentence.
Even after these explicit directions from the daughter of her superiors, the bureaucrat still hesitated to give them what they needed, voicing her qualms about ferry regulations, "But the animal...?" Toph cut her question off by finishing her sentence firmly in a voice which indicated she did not expect to be questioned, "is my 'Seeing-Eye Lemur'." Momo, who seemed to have understood he was the subject of discussion, chose that moment to jump onto her shoulder, perfecting the deception.
In a self-excusing tone of voice, the bureaucrat finally folded by saying, " Well, normally it's only one ticket per passport, but, this document is so official, I guess it's worth four tickets." Everything in the world just bows before my parents and their wishes, Toph thought darkly about the "officiality" of the document as the bureaucrat rapidly stamped their tickets for them, the vibrations emanating from her making it quite clear to Toph that she was trying to push them onward (and out of her line of duty) as soon as possible. In reaction to this, Toph thanked her in a tone which indicated that she couldn't care less about the service, reached upward again to grab the tickets off of the podium, and walked off, expecting her "valets" to follow suit. This they soon did, with Sokka falling in at the back of the line, exclaiming his sense of success at what they had been able to get away with (though he had done nothing to actually achieve that end). Behind her, Toph dully felt the ground suddenly jolt forward a bit where Sokka had just been standing, and then thrown out to the sides of his feet. Realizing he had been stalled, Toph reluctantly stopped walking forward as the rest of her friends stayed to wait for Sokka to get out of his temporary detention by the young woman who had apparently nabbed him.
Toph quickly grew impatient with the jibber-jabbering going on between Sokka and the female guard, who seemed to want to bring back up the already-solved passport problems simply because she "had a problem with Sokka." Tapping her right foot on the ground in annoyance, Toph didn't pay much attention to the goings-on between the two, until suddenly the guard pulled Sokka closer to herself and kissed him on the cheek. At that moment, Toph's mind jumped forward to rapt attention, quickly accompanied by a dizzy feeling in the pit of her stomach which made her feel like the earth was sinking beneath her feet as Sokka responded by cheerfully exclaiming the girl's name, Suki. As they hugged, Toph turned her attention away from them and fidgeted with a small pebble near her toes, a spike of irritation emblazoning itself upon her mind for reasons she couldn't quite decipher but which she knew somehow found the pair in front of her as their source.
Much to Toph's disgust, Katara soon also recognized the female guard as someone that the group had befriended before and requested that she join them in one of the harbor's waiting towers until their ferry was ready to leave. Suki swiftly agreed, following them and conversing animatedly with the Water Tribe siblings about "old times" as they walked. Aang, however, remained mostly silent, apparently still somewhat moody from the events of the previous day, only speaking up if a question was directly asked of him.
As they walked up the tower's stairs, Suki suddenly seemed to notice that the group had acquired a new member whom she had not met before, and that she was blind. Turing towards the former Blind Bandit, the female guard asked, "Why are you allied with the Avatar? I have to admit, I'm curious about why a blind girl would want join the Avatar and his friends in their journeys." She chaffed at having her blindness mentioned, and answered curtly, "My name is Toph Beifong, thank you. The Avatar recruited me because he needed a master Earthbender to train him." After this somewhat hostile answer, Suki was under no illusions about the probable skills of the young girl she was talking to, swiftly apologizing for underestimating her and in return informing her of that she had met the group when the Avatar came to the distant Island of Kyoshi to ride the Unagi. Toph thought all of this informative, but rather dull, as she didn't particularly care to learn anything about some random girl that her friends had known briefly and then left behind, especially when that girl kissed someone she knew. Don't know why I care about that, Toph thought to herself, puzzled. It never really bugged me when Mom kissed Dad in front of me . . . may be because that didn't happen very often . . . But of course other people have lives and kiss each other sometimes . . . She shouldn't kiss Sokka, though.
Puzzling over this in silence, Toph was barely aware of when the group stopped at the top of the platform, sitting down on the benches mechanically without much thought as Suki rested her back upon the window carved into the building's earthern walls. Katara chirped into her thoughts, mentioning how different the guard girl looked without her make-up and with the "new" outfit she presently wearing, information which was totally irrelevant to anything Toph was concerned with.
Before she could riddle out what was irritating her about the other girl's presence, however, Suki replied to Katara about how the bureaucrat they had dealt with earlier made her wear the new clothes, and went on to remark that Sokka must have been working out (based on what she must have been seeing of his sleeveless arms). A prick of irritation flashed through her mind at the tone of voice Suki chose to strike when she uttered those words, preventing her from really hearing Sokka's boastful-sounding reply. It's like this girl thinks she owns him when she barely even knows him . . . the blind Earthbender thought in complete disgust at the new girl's attitude, the unbidden thought then crossing her mind that she wouldn't mind touching his arms if she had to, promptly shocking herself and causing her to pay more attention to the conversation going on in front of her in order to distract herself from her absurd thoughts.
"Are the other Kyoshi Warriors around?" The Avatar inquired in a simple, polite voice.
"Yeah, after you left Kyoshi, we wanted to find a way to help people. We ended up escorting some refugees, and we've been here ever since." Suki replied, with Momo jumping over onto the window next to her to be petted. As much as she didn't want to admit it, the girl seemed likable enough, and certainly was dedicated to helping those in need. So, why does she still get on my nerves so much?
"So why are you guys getting tickets for the ferry?" The Kyoshi Warrior asked the group, sounding as if her curiosity had peaked. "Wouldn't you just fly across on Appa?" Upon hearing the name, Toph's mind shot back to the incident at the Library, and bent her head downward in slight depression. That's just great . . . Now Twinkle-Toes is going think about how I lost his bison again...Thanks, Suki.
In a voice which indicated that she was no more happy about this state of things than Toph was, Katara informed Suki that Appa was missing and that they hoped to find him in Ba Sing Se, her weight shifting in a way which gave off the impression that she had turned her head towards Aang (who in turn turned his head away). In an apologetic tone of voice, the Kyoshi Warrior expressed her sympathies for the Avatar's plight, and asked if he was doing okay. Toph turned her feet slightly towards Aang and pressed her right hand to the bench's surface, hoping to gauge his reaction so that she'd know how well he was dealing the loss (and with how their friendship sat). She was greeted soon enough with the vibrations of his heart surging the blood into his veins, the Airbender announcing in an annoyed voice, "I'm doing fine. Will everyone stop worrying about me?"
An awkward silence hung in the air after those words, and before any one of them had time to react the silence was broken by a shout from the bottom of the tower. "Avatar Aang, you have to help us!" Aang moved swiftly over to one of the tower's windows, and then tilted his head as if he was looking down for the source of the cry (which could be readily identified as Yin's). "Someone took all of our belongings. Our passports, our tickets. Everything's gone!" He called back down to them, resolve in his voice,"I'll talk to the lady for you."
The Avatar rushed down to where they stood, Toph following him along with the others, ostensibly to be there in case Aang needed help, but knowing that she really just wanted to get away from Suki's presence (who would likely be getting back to her security guard role, now that their little reunion was over). Seeing the Avatar back in line, the bureaucrat gave off vibrations that indicated to Toph that she was doing some sort of visual motion that sighted people used to wordlessly ask people to come near. Aang, passive as ever, politely asked if Tahn's group of refugees could have the tickets that they needed. With blood noticeably being pumped into her forehead from the vibrations which reached Toph's feet and sounding rankled (perhaps because she didn't want to bend the rules for them twice in one day), the bureaucrat shouted down at him, "No passports, no tickets!!"
The pacifist began pleading with the woman, imploring, " But she's pregnant, and all their stuff was stolen. You have to make an exception." Her voice now even more full of anger, the bureaucrat shouted even louder, "No exceptions! If I just gave away tickets willy nilly to anyone, there would be no more order, and you know what that means." She paused for a second to press her point home. "No more civilization!"
Trying to find away around it without disrespecting the authority figure, the Airbender then timidly asked, "What if we gave them our tickets?" The only answer he got for this was an angry denial by the woman, and when he tried to persuade her she simply yelled "NEXT!!!" for him to get out of line and stop wasting her time. Unable to achieve his original goal, Aang walked sadly back to Tahn and his family, who were noticeably sick to their stomachs. The tense vibrations he gave off indicating that he was steeling himself for something he'd rather not do, the Avatar told the family in a reassuring-sounding voice, "Don't worry, you'll get to the city safely. I'll lead you through the Serpent's Pass."
Wordlessly, everyone assented to the Airbender's right to make the decision he made for the group, and followed him through the refugee camp, as he strode with purpose towards the nearby entrance to the Serpent's Pass. From immediately behind her, however, Toph could hear grumbling noises emerging from the area where she estimated Sokka's throat would be, which were beginning to irritate her.
Finally, after several minutes of walking had passed, the Water Tribe warrior came out with what he was thinking and whined, "I can't believe we gave up our tickets, and now we're going through the Serpent's Pass." To this, she felt she had to remark, "I can't believe you're still complaining about it." It's not like you had to sacrifice anything to get them, after all.
Suddenly, a familiar female voice cut into Toph's train of thought. "I'm coming, too," Suki announced as she ran to catch up with the group. Still not having any stronger desire to be around the Kyoshi Warrior, Toph ignored this call and continued walking forward with the rest of the group towards the exit as Sokka paused to take in what the older girl was saying. However, they didn't want to leave him behind by crossing the earthbended hole which made the camp's exit, and so they turned around to wait for him to deal with whatever Suki's plans were, Toph despite herself wondering what the two were talking about and thus choosing to a few feet distant from everyone else so as to catch snatches of the pair's conversation better. All she was able to discern was that the two were having a small argument of some sort, which they seemed to resolve before she could figure out what it was.
Striding angrily towards them, Suki joined the group before Sokka did, the waves of anger emanating from her increasing Toph's desire to not stand close to each other, though they dissipated quickly. Sokka rejoined the group soon afterward, and they clambered through the hole without much difficulty, walking from there to the entrance to the Serpent's Pass in relative silence (other than Tahn's occasional words of encouragement towards his pregnant wife as they walked along, and Lin's attempts to make sure the married couple didn't fall behind the rest of the group).
As they neared the dangerous pass, a vision of a narrow, elongated strip of earth floating upon a void greeted Toph's feet. As it approached her companion's seeing-range, Sokka voiced her thoughts in his characteristic style, " This is the Serpent's Pass? I thought it would be more windy. You know, like a serpent. I guess they misnamed it." I wonder what makes it such a bad place then, if it's not a maze you can get lost and die in . . . I'm sure it won't be fun to deal with, whatever it is.
Ying stepped forward and approached the gatepost, only to exclaim, "Look at this writing, how awful!" At this, Toph's interest was peaked. "What does it say?" she asked the reading public at large, thinking that perhaps this would answer her questions about the pass. Katara stepped forward and read out loud for her benefit, "It says, 'Abandon hope.' " Ying responded to this by miserably asking the world, "How can we abandon hope? It's all we have," burying her face in her husband's chest. Well, I have to admit, that was pretty direct, even if it didn't tell me anything useful...
Aang suddenly spoke up in a monotone voice, " I don't know. The monks used to say that hope is just a distraction. So maybe we do need to abandon it." Really? Your monks don't sound like they'd be a lot of fun to be around, the blind Earthbender thought, skeptical of Aang's apparent cynicism at the moment. Voicing the same line of thinking, the Waterbender girl asked in an incredulous voice, sounding as if she wondered if this was truly Aang talking, "What are you talking about?'
"Hope isn't going to get us into Ba Sing Se, and it's not gonna find Appa. We need to focus on what we're doing right now, and that's getting across this pass," the Airbender replied, stepping through the gate. Katara voiced her hesitant but solemn agreement with this statement, everyone following after the Avatar in silence.
Several yards into the land strip, Suki spoke up to offer a bit of intelligence her Kyoshi Warriors had gathered about the pass in recent weeks. "The Fire Nation controls the western lake. Rumor has it they're working on something big on the other side, and they don't want anyone to figure out what it is." Grudgingly, Toph had to admit that Suki was a good warrior, causing her to wonder why she didn't entirely like the older girl being around her as she did her other fighting buddies in the team.
Suddenly, behind her, the path gave way beneath Tahn's feet, causing him to begin to fall sideways off the cliff-side. Working quickly, Toph turned and brought her arms inward towards her body and then turned back and brought them back out, creating a small ledge which caught Tahn early in his fall; she then bent her wrists to leave her palms lying flat as she brought her arms quickly upward, causing the ledge to "hop" him upward back onto the main cliff-side they were walking along and into Ying and Lin's arms, where he called out from to tell everyone that he was okay. Happy with the results of her work, Toph let the ledge crumble back into the lake below, and they began to walk onward.
Suddenly, the calm air was broken by Sokka's shouting, "They've spotted us! Let's go, let's go!" What?!? . . . Why didn't anyone tell me there were Fire Nation ships down there? I would have been more careful with my Earthbending if they'd told me ... Toph thought angrily to herself, wishing people would inform her of details like these more often.
The Avatar leaped up to the cliff wall on their right, and then with a gust of air shot horizontally to their left, a subsequent loud crash informing Toph's ears that he had blocked one of the projectiles the Fire Nation ship below had launched at them. A sudden whoosh of air indicated that another projectile had been launched at them, which crashed loudly into the cliff wall above them, dislodging several large rocks in its general vicinity. Toph felt Sokka roughly shove Suki out from right below where the rock made impact, calling her attention to him: a land-fall was heading right towards where Sokka was standing!
Working quickly, Toph turned to her left, rising her right hand and balling it into a fist as she simultaneously lowered her other hand and flattened her palm; with her rapt attention towards Sokka's location under the landfall, this guaranteed the creation of a protective stone awning from the cliff-side above his head, diverting the falling rocks to the lake below. Toph breathed a sigh of relief that her friend from the Water Tribe had not been killed.
Realizing he was safe, Sokka ran over to the place where Suki had landed when he pushed, and began fussing over the fallen Kyoshi Islander as he picked her up, "Suki, are you okay?" Apparently realizing she was, he went on to reprimand her for having been ill-placed, "You have to be more careful! C'mon!" He dragged Suki forward past the blind Earthbender, without a word to the person who had so recently saved his life.
Standing stock-still, not knowing what she had expected as a reward but feeling clearly that she had been affronted, Toph felt an inexplicably strong wave of jealousy wash over her brain at the attention Sokka was showing to the older girl. Trying to pass off these feelings to herself as being merely due to the fact that he had simply not shown her the common courtesy of thanking her for saving his life, she voiced how the situation should have gone out loud, saying in her best, deeper-toned Sokka imitation, "Thanks for saving my life, Toph" and replying dismissively in her own voice, "Hey, no problem, Sokka." Feeling better about the situation now, Toph turned and raced after the others, before the question as to why she had a best possible Sokka-imitating voice to use could lodge itself firmly in her mind.
The team walked onward for the rest of the day in silence, broken only infrequently by Katara's calls to check up on the rest of the group to make sure they hadn't lost any one. Toph's forehead began to inexplicably prickle with increasing irritation as Sokka walked forward while embracing Suki with his right arm, Suki's head leaning on his shoulder for quite some time. She would have preferred to divert her attention to something else, but unfortunately the pass didn't provide very many opportunities for entertainment, and Suki's presence was preventing her from joking along with Sokka as she normally would when she was bored. It's kind of hard to have fun with someone, when there's a girl on their arm distracting them from you every two seconds, she thought wistfully and with a hint of annoyance. They moved forward like this, with Toph's mind hovering between boredom and irritation, until Katara finally informed them that it was time to set up camp for the night when they came upon a large outcropping in the cliff side.
Sokka set up a fire upon which Katara cooked the group's dinner, and all ate their fill before they curled up to rest for the night. The air being pleasantly warm and calm over the pass, Toph felt no need to create an earth tent for herself, and simply plopped herself down between Katara's and Tahn and his wife's bed roll, planning to stretch herself on the bare earth for the night. Suki started spreading out her bedroll a decent distance away from the rest of the group, but Sokka soon interfered, taking her bedroll away and claiming it wasn't safe on the cliff where she planned to sleep (from what Toph could feel, this was a rather paranoid analysis of the cliff's weight-carrying capabilities). Suki called out after him, telling him forcibly that she was fine and that he shouldn't be worrying. He laid down her bedroll next to his, apparently backing off from fussing over her and admitting that the warrior girl was capable of handling herself on her own . . . only to overreact when he thought he saw a spider on her blanket. Having overheard the pair's quarrel, Toph found all of this rather amusing, thinking that it served the older girl right for hanging onto him as if he were her possession all day. And on this note, Toph stretched out her arms above her head, and nestled herself up to the ground, drifting off to sleep.
After what seemed like only a few minutes, she found herself lying awake, the quietness of the group and the night sounds which greeted her ears telling her that it was actually several hours later. Suddenly, across the circle from her, she heard Aang laugh loudly and felt his arms leave the ground as if to grab onto something, only to drop them back down on his stomach and say in a happy voice, "Always." Toph couldn't help but smile at this sudden display of emotion on the part of the Airbending boy, thinking to herself, At least he can be happy when he's dreaming and Appa's not on his mind. Not feeling tired any more because of her several hours of sleep, Toph flipped over so that her back was to the ground, placing her hand on the ground to feel where everyone else was in the camp more easily. She noticed that Suki had moved her bedroll back over to the cliff she had originally laid it upon before Sokka had interfered, which caused her to wonder if Suki had tried any funny business with the Water Tribe boy while she was asleep. Uncomfortable with this thought, she turned her attention to the husband and wife sleeping on the bedroll adjacent to her on her right.
It was a sweet scene, the husband, wife, and unborn baby's hearts all beating as one, with Tahn's sister lying a little ways away from them. This got Toph thinking back to her childhood and her home life with her parents, and she rolled over onto her side, wishing things hadn't gotten so sour between them. For reasons unknown to Toph, her mind seized upon one memory in particular and began replaying it in her mind: one in which her mother and her younger self (she couldn't remember how old she was at the time) sat in front of a mirror while Poppy tried to teach her the benefits of proper grooming, to which she was only half-listening. In the memory, her mother was combing her loose hair straight, and saying to her, "Oh, Toph, I wish you wouldn't get your hair so dirty all of the time; honestly, sometimes I wonder what you're doing with yourself that you get like this."
Toph rested her chin in her right hand, and blew the hair dangling in front of her unseeing eyes, and tried to divert her mother from prying into her secret double life as an Earthbending champion, "Mom, if it's that big a deal, you could always have our servants fix up my hair for special occasions like you normally do." That way, it's not so big a trouble for either of us. " Tsk," Poppy said in a tone which told Toph that a lecture was coming, "Why aren't you proud of your long black hair?" She said, in a voice which was apparently supposed to appeal to Toph's vanity. Geez, maybe it has something to do with the fact that I have no idea what "black" is, Mom ... "We Beifong women have grown our hair long for generations, but we've always had it well-kept as well." Toph groaned inwardly at this speech, just waiting for it to be over. "How else do you expect to attract a decent husband who'll take care of you after your parents are gone?" Poppy intoned, her voice becoming softer as she thought about a related matter, and she snuggled up to her only daughter. " After all, that's how I won over my second-cousin Lao - your father," she informed her daughter, her voice all smiles. "Your father and I just want what's best for you, Toph. We just want to make sure you're taken care of in your condition when we're gone where we can't come back to you." Toph sighed, and reluctantly said, "Yes, mother. I know." Poppy pushed the hair out of Toph's eyes and behind her ears, and left her with a kiss on the forehead, the servants coming in to finish assisting her in braiding her hair for the special dinner they were having that night. After far too long, the servants were finally finished with their task, and left to help prepare the meal, leaving Toph in front of the vanity mirror, disgusted with the proceedings but seeing no way out. Putting her hand to the mirror, she pressed up against it and stared blankly in its direction, not able to understand the real point of it and silently cursing its seductive work upon the sighted members of the human race and the way it was ruining her life. Back in the present, Toph thought over this memory as it played and replayed over and over in her mind, unable to figure out why it was important for her to think about and eventually lulled back to sleep by the dullness of its repetition.
The next day was relatively uneventful, little communication going on amongst the group as they followed its narrow, slightly winding course across the lake, until Aang lead the group down a particularly steep slope. Lost in thought from the night before, and not paying much attention to the rest of the members of the group now that Sokka and Suki were a comfortable distant apart from each other, Toph had not noticed what she could not have felt from the pass's gate until it was staring her right in the face: the path dropped off into the lake's watery depths right in front of them. Toph was stunned by this turn of events, knowing she had no way of getting across the lake to the path which she speculated continued an unknown distance away on the other side. The Waterbending girl, however, was not so easily thwarted, and strode resolutely forward towards the water, telling everyone to get in a single file line behind her. As Katara bended the water aside, patches of relatively dry ground began carrying vibrations properly in front of Toph's feet while she kept at bay the walls of water that wanted to come crashing back down on top of them, and everyone followed her into the water, Toph second to last after Aang. I have to hand it to you, Katara; this is a pretty creative solution to our little problem.
Before they were very far into the water, Katara called out to Aang from the front of the group, telling him she needed help holding the air bubble together as they traveled under the water. Aang turned toward Toph, who, understanding what he wanted, took his staff as he handed it to her, and carried it as he stayed at the back of the group, waterbending the back end of the bubble providing them with air. Tahn, Ying, and Lin all walked around slowly, a slight imbalance in all of their gaits indicating that they were amazed by what they were seeing through the walls of the bubble. She felt a slight nudge as Momo jumped off of his perch on her left shoulder, followed by a splash as he entered the water on the other side of the bubble.
She walked along the underwater terrain without the Avatar's pet for a few short moments, until suddenly he leaped back onto Toph's right shoulder, dripping wet. She turned her head to smile at her returned passenger, wondering what could have startled him so much that his heart would be beating at the rate she was sensing. "What is that thing?" Katara asked in frightened wonder a few seconds later, alerting Toph's sense to the fact that there was definitely something wrong happening in their midst. Suddenly, a large mass broke through the walls of the bubble, spilling water everywhere and most likely breaking Katara's concentration. Not wanting to drown here with her friends, Toph stomped her feet down quickly into the soaked soil, raising her arms up into the air as fast as she possibly could; the ground responded to her desires by rapidly creating a rocky column which rushed the patch of ground they were standing on up into the open air, saving all of their lives. As soon as she was sure everyone had made it onto the patch of ground she had moved upward, Toph turned meaningfully towards Aang and handed him his staff back, with the intention of giving the group an added means of defense should they need it.
It soon came to her attention that whatever-it-was, was now circling the island, cutting through the water noisily as it did so. She readied herself by assuming a defensive posture, only for the body of the creature to soon break out above the surface, screeching down at them from far above the water in a deafening roar. To her far right, she felt Sokka's body shift slightly as he lifted his arm upward to point at it and said in a voice cracked with fear, "I think I just figured out why they call it the Serpent's Pass." Its only response to this was to scream shrilly down at them with rage, clearly upset to find anything other than its fishy prey invading upon its territory.
The Serpent of the Pass, as Sokka had deemed it, continued to writhe its body around in circles above them, judging by the immense amount of noising it was making as it splashed through the water. Sokka implored towards the Kyoshi Warrior in a frantic voice, sounding as if he had reached the ends of his wits, "Suki, you know about giant sea monsters. Make it go away!"
"Just because I live near the Unagi, doesn't mean I'm an expert!" Suki shot back, obviously testy with him and with the fact that he was making such demands of her. This weak reed thus breaking as he attempted to use it as an avenue of escape, Sokka picked up Momo from where he had recently jumped off from Toph's shoulder (to cower in fear of the screeching serpent), and began ludicrously offering Momo to the Serpent of the Pass as if the creature were a minor deity. The serpent lived up to Toph's skeptical expectations in regards to this by screeching progressively louder in what seemed to be a lunge for the island and its current residents, but before she had time to react Aang used the staff which had fortunately been so recently returned to him to blast it backwards with an Airbending attack.
"I'll distract him," the Avatar declared in a solemn voice, "Katara, get everyone across." On that note, he abruptly left Toph's field of Seismic Sense, on his mission to defend the group and the refugees they were guiding. The water could be heard crackling as Katara moved her arms in its direction, and then she disappeared as she ran out on what was presumably ice, the water still crackling as she fulfilled her role of making a bridge between the island and the shore. Unconsciously, Toph shivered a little, finding it unnerving that anyone could be so comfortable on the water.
Apparently reacting to hand motions from Katara, the members of the group left Toph's line of sense one by one, until she was left all alone on the island she had produced, Sokka leaving the island just after Suki. Briefly, she wished he had stayed behind to guide her across, but she immediately chided herself for this feeling, as it would probably have implied Suki hampering Sokka's ability to help guide her. She contemplated her total lack of options while standing upon the solid earth her feet were resting upon, annoyed with the fact that she was unable to build a full fledged earthern bridge while above the lake floor but unable to reach the lake floor without drowning herself.
Sokka's voice broke into this dull muddle, as he called out and chided her for remaining behind by herself, "Toph, come on. It's just ice." Tentatively, Toph put out her foot on the foreign element, only to shrink back as she felt it pull away down into the water as her foot pushed against it, responding in a matter-of-fact voice about what she saw as the only pragmatic choice amongst the options, "Actually, I'm gonna stay on my little island where I can see." Suddenly, she felt her whole island jolt as an enormous body crashed up against her, causing her to cry out and jump out onto the "ice lands" as she realized this option was denied to her, "Okay, I'm coming!" Apparently, the universe really wants me to do this... why does everything have it out for me?
She inched sideways across the ice, her arms held out wide for balance on the unstable element, careful to walk in a straight line and extremely worried about making a mistake about estimating the bounds of the ice bridge that she had felt from her island. Moving forward side-step by side-step, Toph could feel all of her senses quite tangibly crying out that this was a world she should not trespass upon and that she should go back, but her common sense told her that that would be impossible now anyways, and so she slowly continued on her perilous venture. Sokka's voice broken in to encourage her from across the ice, sounding extremely worried that she would not make it on her own, " You're doing great! Just follow, the sound, of my voice!" This is what I get for wanting him to pay more attention to me earlier, Toph thought scathingly to herself as she answered back, "It's hard to ignore." She could not concoct a better way to accentuate her nervousness at crossing the ice than what Sokka was currently doing.
"You're almost there," Sokka's voice called out a few seconds later, giving Toph a sense of anticipated relief. Thank goodness; now, as long as I don't -- The ice bridge suddenly jolted beneath Toph's feet, breaking up her train out thought as her stomach dropped out, and the ground beneath her feet abruptly broke apart and sent her plunging into the waters immediately beneath, causing her to scream in absolute terror. "Help!" Toph yelled at the top of her lungs as she thrashed around, trying in vain to right herself back up with her hand and feet against the water as if it were a solid entity. "I can't swim!" She desperately informed the universe at large, hoping that something or someone would come to her aid.
From across the waves, she heard Sokka's voice shout that he was coming from her, and she tried with the utmost desperation to remain afloat until his help would arrive, flailing violently against the recalcitrant element in hopes of winning in her struggle against a watery fate. But before help came, the violent element she did not understand pulled her under, her arms no longer able to support her weight. Having not secured a breath before she went under, Toph drifted downwards as she felt what she thought would be her last breath drift upwards away from her, contemplating her stupidity in running away from home and wishing she could have been with her parents one last time before she died. Sokka's not coming, she thought with a painful twinge in her heart, So much for training the Avatar ... What a waste my life has been....
As she drifted into unconsciousness, Toph was barely aware of the hands that wrapped themselves under her arms, though their movement to draw her upward awakened her enough to realize she had not met a tragic end. Her head began clearing as they rushed towards the surface, her mind focusing on who was probably her saviour. He did come! I can't believe it! I owe my life to Sokka, of all people!
Her head finally breaking the surface, Toph instinctively coughed out the water she had swallowed, coming to what seemed like a profound realization in her mind about why she had felt so jealous earlier. That's why I hated Suki kissing him so much . . . Her stomach leaped inside her. . . . because I want to kiss him... Feeling blissfully happy at being alive and in his hands, she spontaneously acted on her mother's advice from "the night before" and announced dramatically in the most romantic voice she could muster, placing her hand over her chest to indicate her sincerity, "Oh Sokka, you saved me!" Cupping his right cheek with her hand, Toph followed this up with a big "thank you" kiss on his left cheek, lazily grazing her lips across his skin as her hands turned his mouth towards her of their own accord and just feeling all around satisfied with herself as she floated there.
"Actually, it's me," an unexpected voice broke in on her reverie all too soon. Suki!?! Toph jolted, dropping her hand away from Suki's cheek and putting her hand up to her mouth to muffle her embarrassed words, "Oh...well...heheh." She put her hand to her cheek, hoping to hide any visual signs of the heat she felt rising there. I can't believe I kissed her ... "You can go ahead and let me drown now," she informed the girl keeping her above the waves, her body going limp as her happy balloon was entirely deflated, wishing she could go somewhere where no one would hear of her most private feelings ever again.
Suki did not abide by her feelings, however, and so a very embarrassed Toph was dragged back to shore, feeling as if the life had been sucked out of her just as she had won it back. Off in the distance, she heard the Serpent of the Pass screaming and the large thuds and crackles of what were presumably Katara and Aang's Waterbending and Airbending attacks on it, but she paid them little attention as she tried to figure out whether Sokka had seen (and more importantly, heard) her recent interaction with Suki from the pair's conversation after they had landed back on shore. Luckily, it seems that Suki's back had been to him when she had drawn Toph up out of the water, and that his attention had been diverted by the commotion with the Serpent involving his sister immediately after he was assured that Toph had been rescued, and Toph's body relaxed in relief at realization that he had no knowledge of what had went on in the water.
Moving up a rise in the pass with the others, her attention was soon diverted from her inner feelings as she felt an almighty rumble in the earth beneath her feet. Judging by the whoosh over her head (most likely Aang on his glider), and the cheers that erupted from the rest of the group after she heard this, they must have defeated the creature by smashing up against the wall of the pass, but Toph still felt too embarrassed at what had went on in the water to show much emotion at this turn of events. Aang landed a little ways in front of them, along with Katara (who had apparently been along for the ride), and they continued walking forwards as a group in relative silence.
Weary of their long two days of walking, the silence between the travelers was finally broken a few hours later, when something quite important appeared in Sokka's vision, his weight shifting as he pointed at it. "There's the wall!" He exclaimed, and sure enough Toph could feel the presence of an enormous earthern structure several miles distant when her attention was drawn to it, although she was surprised that sighted people would be able to detect something so far away. "Vision" is never going to make complete sense to me, is it? She ask herself rhetorically, inwardly shaking her head at the thought. Then Sokka uttered what were possibly the most stupid words she had ever heard him say, based on her growing experience within the group, "Now it's nothing but smooth sailing to Ba Sing Se."
As if on cue, Ying suddenly gasped, and kneeled over, clutching her stomach. Apprehension in his voice, Sokka could be felt turning towards her as he asked, "What's wrong?" Ying gasped with pain in her voice, the increasingly rapid beat of her heart becoming quite audible,"The baby's coming!" Tahn and Lin quickly bended over closer to her in order to help her to the ground, the baby's thrashing around in her womb beginning to produce a plethora of vibrations of differing qualities. In a voice which sounded like he was growing increasingly queasy at the thought, Sokka began imploring for her to stop for his stomach's sake, "What! Now! Can't you hold it in or something?"
His sister stepped in before Sokka inadvertently hurt someone in his panic, telling him in a motherly tone, "Sokka, calm down. I helped Gran-Gran deliver lots of babies back home." His voice rising steadily in pitch as he panicked, Sokka flourished his hands as he wheezed, " This isn't the same as delivering an arctic seal! This is a real... human.... thing!" From her tone of voice as she answered him, it was obvious Katara was not taking her brother's reaction very seriously. "It's called a baby, and I helped to deliver plenty of those too."
Shifting her voice to an authoritative tone, Katara ordered the members of the team around, "Aang, get some rags. Sokka, water. Toph, I need you to make an earth tent. A big one." Toph's ears metaphorically perked up when she heard her name, and she responded by immediately walking over in front of where Tahn's family had laid Ying down, thrusting her arms upwards to create huge slabs of rocks that would keep the family private from the world during the birthing process (thick enough to ward off even Toph's Seismic Sense from accidentally prying on them). Katara called Suki in with her, leaving Toph standing alone outside the tent while the boys scattered to collect the materials the Waterbender had assigned to them. Resting from her long day where she stood, Toph contemplated what was going on inside of the tent, and what it meant.....
Having gathered up the water rather rapidly, Sokka was quickly felt scurrying back to the tent area in a dizzied gait. From her position leaning up against the tent, Toph could easily feel him walking frantically back and forth in front of the tent, obviously wanting to be helpful but truly desiring to stay as far away as possible, something which she couldn't help smirking at. Suddenly, amidst the birthing cries coming from Ying through the tent's entrance, Katara's commanding voice could suddenly be heard calling out in, "Sokka! Where's that water?" He almost dropped the water bag out of fright when he heard this, but managed to steady his clumsy gait just in time, and slowly walked past Toph through the tent's entrance. As soon as another cry from the effort of birthing was heard, however, it was accompanied by a loud thump as what could only be Sokka's unconscious body hit the ground.
Shaking her head about the older boy's mental instability when it came to babies being born, Toph walked slowly in through the tent's entrance in order to remain quiet, and then forcibly dragged him out by the forearm. Seeing Aang standing by with the rags Katara ordered him to retrieve (Toph had no idea were he had gotten them, and on second thought didn't really want to know), she spoke up to him loudly, "Hey, Twinkle-Toes! Can you spare some rags? Mr. 'Upset Stomach' over here needs something wet to press to his forehead." And I'd like something to smack him awake with . . . Without showing much concern, Aang sauntered over to Toph and handed her the needed item; sadly, he had already awakened before she was able to obtain it.
Aang walked in and disposed of the rest of his rags by giving them to Katara soon afterwards, coming back out to sit on the side of the tent's entrance opposite to where Toph was leaning and where she had so recently dragged out his unconscious body, not saying a word to either of them and seeming quite solemn despite the hectic nature of recent events, all and all. Rather soon afterward, it seemed, a baby could distinctly be heard crying, and Katara called back out to them, exclaiming "It's a girl!" as she did so.
At this, Toph leaned over towards Sokka, thinking wryly about his display of obvious discomfort with the birthing process. Heh. So "manly" that he can't even handle a baby being born... I pity the woman you marry."So, you want to go see the baby? Or are you going to faint like an old lady again?" she taunted him, a smirk pulling at her cheeks.Sokka made a motion as if to waving her accusations off, "No no, I'm good this time." She waited for him to stand, and, still smirking from ear to ear, lead him into the tent. Casting her feet around, she felt Katara holding the baby as Tahn and Lin propped Ying up with a bedroll that was at hand, so that the mother could have some back support while holding the baby girl (which the Waterbender soon handed back to her). She stopped right behind where the husband was knelt over, close enough to have a good idea of what was going on but far enough away so as to not interfere with the new nuclear family.
Katara left her post next to the family to retrieve Aang, who apparently didn't particularly desire to see the baby and who had stayed outside the tent. She could be heard insisting that he come in, Aang slowly following her back into the tent. He stayed at the entrance, apparently content to solemnly observe the proceedings at a distance. Not being particularly necessary for this, Toph stayed behind, her attention fully caught by the baby as she observed the vital signs it gave off distinctly from its mother in something like wonder. She knew where babies came from, obviously, but she still found it a bit difficult to fully comprehend the arrival of a new human being into the world where there formerly was none when it stared her in the face like this.
"She sounds healthy." Toph said, putting her thumb and forefinger to her chin in thought, sincerely hoping for the baby's sake that the parent's apparent contentment meant that the baby would not be blind like she was, though she had no way of checking this directly. Katara agreed in an awed voice, claiming something Toph unfortunately couldn't corroborate without sight, "She's beautiful!" Sokka, however, considered this more dubious, apparently thinking it was too "squishy looking" to be a normal functioning human being. In a quiet, comforting voice, Tahn asked his wife, "What should we name her?" Ying could be felt turning to her, sitting quietly (apparently in thought) for a few seconds before she answered, "I want our daughter's name to be unique." Her head could be felt shifting slightly, inclining down towards the baby, " I want it to mean something."
Somewhat abruptly, Aang could be felt walking towards the center of the tent, where he spoke softly to the married couple, his heartbeat indicating sudden happiness where there had once been only sorrow, "I've been going through a really hard time lately. But you've made me . . . hopeful again." Turning to her husband again, Ying told him that she now knew what she wanted to name their baby -- Hope -- to which he readily agreed, it seeming quite fitting to them both. Having satisfied themselves that the refugee's baby was going to be alright, the team and Suki walked out of the tent to leave the family to have a moment of privacy with their newborn, after Katara was assured that they'd be able to handle themselves without further intervention on her part.
Once out of the tent, Katara and Aang walked off with an air of privacy following them, and they started talking under a tree a little ways distant from the rest of the group. Not particularly interested in Katara and Aang's joint private affairs, Toph stayed back with Sokka and Suki, though this came with its own degree of awkwardness. Apparently not wanting to talk to each other while Toph was present and standing between them, they were reduced to talking about the fine weather to each other while they waited for Aang and Katara's conversation to be over with.
After offering a brief thanks to Suki for saving her life in an attempt to break their awkwardness somehow, Toph quickly became annoyed with the non-track their train of conversation was taking, and began slowly walking over to the spot where Katara and Aang stood when she felt them hugging each other, picking up the staff he had left leaning on the earthern tent along the way; Suki and Sokka soon followed behind her. The two broke apart as the rest of the group arrived beside them, Katara fiddling with his shirt before she backed away. Aang turned to the group, and informed them about what she had guessed would be his plans, based on his display of a quiet emotional release back in the tent, "I promise I'll find Appa as soon as I can." He attempted to justify this, " I just really need to do this."
Understanding the Airbender's need to find Appa again very well, having been the one who had lost him and all, Toph symbolically showed her support of his endeavours by handing him the staff she had picked up in her walk over. "See ya in the big city," Sokka verbalized his support of Aang in a happy macho-to-macho tone, putting his hand on Aang's shoulder as he did so. Not one to be trumped in this, the master Earthbender decided to voice her support as well, slugging him hard in the left arm in the middle of her sentence, "Say hi to that big fuzzball for me," (causing him to pull his arm back and attempt to rub the pain away). Katara walked back over behind them, assuring him that he would find Appa, words which the Avatar quietly thanked her for.
The team's temporary good-byes being said, Aang snapped open his glider and could be felt bending over to grasp the handles and press up against the ground more firmly, Momo walking over and spreading his wings in imitation of his master. Guessing that this meant he was going to produce a major gust of wind to assist his takeoff and help power his long flight to Ba Sing Se, Toph stood back a few paces along with the others. Asking Momo if he was ready, to which he received chittering which apparently indicated assent, Aang then crouched down further, and then hurtled away from her plane of feeling. Standing by Sokka, she waved vaguely into the air in the direction he was indicating with his own motions of farewell.
Waiting a few minutes until the Airbender was apparently out of her sight, the Waterbending girl asked Toph to come and help her pick up after the mess left over by Hope's birth. She nodded, not needing much of an excuse to be able get away from Sokka and Suki after the awkwardness she had experienced between them earlier. After a few minute's prodding (during which Toph stood waiting outside the tent), Katara managed to convince Tahn's family that it'd be best for them to begin packing to leave for Ba Sing Se now, and the blind Earthbender tore down the earthern structure as soon as they were clear of the exit.
Striding over to where the water pouch had been disposed of, Katara informed her that they'd need to refill it, and that she'd like Toph's help disposing of the dirty rags. Toph wrinkled her nose up at the thought of this, but thought better of asking Suki (Sokka would be out of the question, obviously) to help her with this, as she'd rather clean up dirty rags then hang around Suki any day. Reluctantly picking up the dirty cloths, Toph followed Katara away as the Waterbender strode away from their makeshift emergency camp, dumping the materials on to the ground when Katara stopped to refill her pouch, and promptly Earthbended a hole which she then covered by generating a controlled landslide over them. Satisfied, Toph walked over while Katara regathered the water, tapping her feet in slight annoyance when she took her sweet time far more than the Earthbender thought a Waterbender justly had to.
Bored out of her wits by the time they were done, Toph was surprised when they came back to camp and she stumbled upon a happy and somewhat dazed-seeming Sokka, and his rapidly fluttering heart. Feeling her eyebrows narrowing, she was seriously confused by this at first, but then she shrugged it off as being merely due to the older boy's utterly goofy personality. Noticing in the back of her mind that someone was absent, the master Earthbender turned her feet around on the ground, the echoes which returned telling her that Ying and Tahn's family was still in their general vicinity . . . but that Suki had managed to stride past her and Katara while she was occupied with trying to decipher Sokka's emotional state, traveling in the opposite direction from that which they were going to be traveling for the rest of their journey. Feeling something of Sokka's elation at this, a satisfied smile crossed Toph's face, thinking that Suki would help the world by returning to lead the Kyoshi Warriors now, and that her world was finally back in order.
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