Chapter Fifty: Practice Makes Perfect
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Release date

Dec. 25, 2012

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Ponder, Ponder and Dilemma

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The Best Laid Plans

Previously in Air

The Gaang can find no way to contact Kuei about the coup, not with General Fong watching his every move. Toph seemed to have an idea about that but refused to tell Aang; instead, with a wicked grin, she dragged Haru away to 'practice'. Concerned about Aang's odd behavior of late, Iroh advises Katara to talk with him, whether he wants to or not.

Chapter Fifty: Practice Makes Perfect

Haru scowled at Toph. "This does not look like practice to me."

Toph tried hard to act aloof, but she couldn't help a sly grin. She hadn't ever told him what kind of practice she had in mind, after all.

They were waiting in a very chic sitting room, in an extravagant home in the Upper Ring which Toph's parents had rented for their stay during the coronation. Haru was definitely not dressed for it. His clothes were still dusty from the journey to Ba Sing Se and his bare feet were dark with dirt.

The Bei Fong's head servant, Goyan, was stationed erect in a corner of the room. Despite his overly proprietary nature, Haru noted that Goyan could never seem to resist needling Toph.

"You can never fully trust what Miss Bei Fong says," the servant warned wryly. "She makes great sport of manipulating people."

"Tell me about it," Haru muttered.

Toph's half-smile only broadened.

"What are we doing here?" Haru pressed. "Really?"

"Keep your pants on, sissy britches," Toph retorted cheerfully. She gestured toward the front door. "I fully intend to hammer you in practicing later. Didn't you see the huge walled courtyard and stone walkway? It's the perfect spot for a little harsh earthbending in this stuffy town."

Goyan blanched in horror. "What?" He spluttered. "You can't possibly–"

"Oh, come off it, Goyan," Toph said. "If the neighbors complain, just tell them to stuff pillows over their ears."

Goyan reeled at the very thought. "What!?"

As amusing as Haru found the scene, he was glad Poppy Bei Fong chose just this moment to enter. Goyan, too, let out a breath of relief and quickly began directing the food-bearing servant who tottered in after the lady.

"Well, Toph," her mother complained, "This is rather inconvenient timing. I do wish you would pre-arrange visits, my dear. I have several obligatory visits to pay in the city."

Poppy Bei Fong frowned at her daughter's improper apparel. As her gaze drifted to Haru, the frown in her eyes only deepened though she managed a smile that looked only vaguely forced. It was a skill, Haru was realizing, that belonged as much to politicians as noble people.

"A pleasure to see you again, of course," Poppy informed him stiffly.

Haru had jumped to his feet when she entered the room, in spite of the derogatory snort from Toph. He bowed quickly, in gratitude and partly in embarrassment. He was particularly conscious of his appearance in the presence of this elegant, immaculate noblewoman but he fought to keep an indifferent exterior. Only after Poppy Bei Fong had sat did he resume his own seat. Toph snorted again, but Haru was used to that. Acts she deemed 'hoity-toity', his father always pounded into him as common courtesy.

The servant set his tray of food down and was quickly ushered out of the room by Goyan, who closed the door on his way out.

"Now," Poppy said, sitting straight in her seat with her hands set calmly in her lap, "What is this all about?"

"It's about some of your obligatory stuffy visits, actually," Toph said, poking experimentally at the food. "We were wondering if you'd be willing to add a few to your roster."

So this was what Toph's big plan was. Haru winced. It was a good idea, in theory, though asking someone to do you a favor while insulting them at the same time hardly had a high success rate. He could tell this wasn't going to go over well.

"Toph," her mother said sternly, "You do not 'add on' obligatory visits. You make obligatory visits because they are just that: obligatory. And I certainly have no obligation to visit any more friends of yours. Really, these two characters you've forced us to entertain are...are hooligans!"

Toph shifted uncomfortably. "The guys aren't so bad."

Haru stared at her in amazement. He had never heard her sound so cowed!

Poppy, too, stared at her daughter. "The so-called Hippo and Boulder? Ha! They have no concept of hygiene, they belch at the table, and they began a game of Rock Ball in the street. In the middle of the Upper Ring! Really, Toph, the company you keep. And I don't understand why you insisted we bring them in the first place. They are positively ruining our standing with everyone and–"

As her mother rambled on, Toph's face turned the color of cherry blossoms. She attempted to hide this by burying her face in the delicate finger snacks, but Haru caught sight of her pink cheeks. And suddenly he understood. Even before they'd left Gaoling, Toph had known the Guild's reach was long, but the total extent of their influence was something they still didn't know. It was obvious the Bei Fongs would have to attend the next Earth King's coronation. Making certain Hippo and The Boulder went along for the trip was the only way Toph could ensure her parents' safety.

And, of course, being Toph, she couldn't just come out and say she was worried about them.

Haru scoffed –softly. Typical Toph.

"Look, Mother," Toph finally broke in, irritable, "I'm sorry Boulder and Hippo are embarrassing you in front of your friends, but it's not their fault. The ritzies around here are afraid of their own shadows, let alone a little dirt."

"Toph Bei Fong!" Poppy cried in horror. "Don't speak that way!"

"Why not?" Toph shrugged. "It's true, isn't it?"

To Haru's surprise, Poppy Bei Fong seemed at a loss for words. Perhaps it was true.

"Anyway," Toph went on, picking through the hors d'oeuvres, "I don't want you to stop in to see any friends of mine. But frankly that's because I doubt any of my friends would be that impressed by you."

Poppy Bei Fong huffed, though it was a delicate, ladylike sound.

Haru wouldn't be surprised if any acquaintance of Toph would unwittingly attempt to rob her mother of her finery sooner than introduce himself.

"And don't worry. They're perfectly respectable people. In fact," Toph said absently, thoroughly inspecting a suspiciously vegetable-looking substance before selecting a snack from the tray, "I bet some of your suicidal social ladder climbing friends would turn green if they happened to hear about it."

Poppy Bei Fong fought it, but her eyebrow climbed her forehead. She was intrigued, and that in itself infuriated her. She considered ignoring the obvious bait her daughter laid before her. Instead, she bit at it.

"Oh? And to whom, exactly, would you like me to pay a visit?"

Toph shrugged. "Just the Chieftains of the Southern and Northern Water Tribes."

Poppy Bei Fong blinked. Then she scowled at her daughter. "That's preposterous! Toph, I know you think all of us 'stuffy ritzies', as you put it, mingle in the same shallow pond, but I have no grounds whatsoever to impose upon such important persons! And certainly not without an invitation."

"I know that," Toph said, "And there's a perfectly good reason for you to impose such a visit. Which Haru will happily relate to you right now." And she stuffed her mouth full before Haru had enough time to object.

Haru started in surprise. "I-? What-?"

But Toph ignored him and Poppy Bei Fong turned her cool, expectant gaze on him.

Haru gulped. Oh. No wonder Toph had insisted on bringing him along. No wonder she hadn't told him what she was up to. He glared at Toph, though she pretended not to notice. He did not appreciate being used as her personal negotiator.

"Madam Bei Fong," he began, his mind racing. "We find ourselves in a...difficult situation. There is certain..." Haru floundered a moment for the right words. How much exactly was he supposed to tell her? "Certain information we need related to the Chieftains."

"I assume there is some reason you cannot employ the service of a servant or messenger?" Poppy asked stiffly, her cold gaze never wavering.

Haru fought a shiver under the chill of that gaze. Unnerved by her confident eye contact, Haru wanted desperately to look away, but he stopped himself. Whether he liked it or not, he was stuck with the job of convincing her to help them. Already it was obvious Poppy Bei Fong had little regard for him personally –a peasant and a 'hooligan' friend of Toph's to boot. Any sign of weakness would instantly snuff what little chance Haru had at winning her over.

"There is," Haru confirmed. "We cannot personally gain admittance to speak with them ourselves. Someone within the palace is making certain of that. The information itself is of a rather sensitive nature and whoever is working against us knows enough to recognize any messenger we could trust enough to send."

"Surely, then, I would be refused admittance as well?"

Something flickered through Poppy's eyes. Haru wasn't sure exactly what, but it didn't look like disdain. He felt a sudden surge of courage. "Not necessarily," he told her. "It is common knowledge even outside of the wrestling underworld that Toph Bei Fong and the Blind Bandit are one in the same. However..." Haru hesitated, uncertain if his next words would irritate any lingering wounds between mother and daughter. It was, unfortunately, a fact necessary to his point. It was this side of the twisting political world that Haru despised. "It is not exactly widespread that Toph has ever reconciled with her parents."

Toph –who had been busily working her way through the platter of food– fell unusually quiet.

Poppy Bei Fong, however, only nodded. "It is a simple truth that in some stories the world prefers to hear tragedies to happy endings. And if I have no contact whatsoever with my daughter, there would certainly be no reason for this...adversary of yours to keep me at bay." She frowned. "They would merely see me as a noble woman overstepping her bounds in attempts to broaden her social circle ever higher."

Haru nodded, relieved.

"However," Poppy said crisply, "That has nothing to do with handling the propriety of the matter."

Haru frowned. "How important is propriety compared to patriotism?"

"For a woman such as myself, young man, propriety is nearly everything." Poppy hesitated. "What do you mean 'patriotism'?"

"It is very important this information reach not only the Water Chieftains, but also the Crown Prince himself," Haru said. "It is our hope they will be able to relate the information to Kuei in time. This could very well be a matter of life and death."

Poppy blinked in horror. She turned on Toph. "Life and death?!" she cried. "You told me everything was over! You promised everything would be all right!"

"I guess I was a little premature," Toph said with a careless shrug. She scowled at Haru. "You weren't supposed to tell her that part."

"Sorry," Haru said, though his tone did not sound it. "It's not like you prepared me for this or anything."

Toph growled, but did not comment. "Okay, Mother, so it's not as over as I thought it was. But it's really important we get this information to Hakoda. There's going to be trouble, and even if he can't get to Kuei either he might be able to scrounge up some more help."

Poppy squared her shoulders. "If you cannot even be upfront about your request, how can you expect me to help, Toph? Oh, and what would everyone say?"

Toph gritted her teeth in frustration. "Mother."

Haru quickly cut in. "What she means, Madam Bei Fong, is that we know it's inconvenient and a terrible imposition, but the truth is we're quickly running out of options. We need your help." He surreptitiously elbowed Toph in the ribs. "Isn't that right?"

"Right," Toph said, catching hold of his elbow and digging in painfully with her nails. Her tone was only barely grudging enough to notice. "We need your help."

Poppy frowned, eyeing them doubtfully.

She still wasn't convinced. What could sell her on the idea? Haru's mind raced. "In fact," he said slowly, "Toph didn't want to ask you in the first place."

Poppy blinked in surprise. But that was nothing compared to Toph turning on him. She was going to make him suffer for this, he just knew it.

Haru quickly went on, "She said before there will be some trouble, but even now your daughter is putting it delicately."

Poppy's eyes narrowed. "Toph..."

Before Toph could protest, Haru heaved a heavy sigh. Perhaps it was too dramatic, but neither seemed to notice.

"We are in the midst of a power struggle, Madam Bei Fong, and the fact of the matter is that tomorrow, during the coronation, we have reason to believe there will be an uprising."

Poppy gasped in horror.

"You definitely weren't supposed to tell her that!" Toph growled, digging harder into his elbow.

The pain shooting through his arm was causing his shoulder muscles to twinge, but Haru somehow managed to keep it from his face. "I can't lie to you," he told Poppy; "What we're asking you to do could be very dangerous. Toph didn't tell you right up front because she never wanted you involved in the first place." He cast an admiring glance in Toph's direction before turning back to her mother. "She's afraid you might get hurt."

Toph scowled, her face splotching scarlet. "You little–"

"Toph!" Happiness radiated from her mother's face as tears pricked at the corners of her eyes.

"As for the impropriety of the matter," Haru went on, ignoring for a moment the sudden shift in Poppy's spirits, "It is at the very least only perceived impropriety. Certainly once the Water Chieftains understand the reason for your visit they will not hold it against you. They will even appreciate your efforts, despite its unpleasant appearance. And whatever the servants think..." Haru shrugged. "Who really cares about the perceptions any servant may or may not have?"

Poppy pretended still to consider the matter. "Well, when you put it that way..."

Haru swallowed a grin. He had her and they all knew it. But he would carry it out and wait for Poppy to voice her decision; for him, this wasn't a matter of pride, after all.

"Your friends are all of high standing," he went on, "And they may display adverse reactions to the business, of course. But who among them wouldn't be privately awed by your boldness?"

Poppy's eyes danced. This, obviously, had not occurred to her before. She kept her calm, however. "I suppose," she said slowly, "If it truly is a matter of such utmost importance." She shot her daughter an overly fond look. "And if Toph truly does need my help... Yes. Yes, I will do it."


Down the hall, a door slid open. Katara straightened, mentally preparing to ambush her husband.

Aang was surprised to see her. "What are you doing here?" he asked, planting a quick kiss on her cheek.

She caught his hand and nailed him with her serious gaze. "We need to talk, Aang."

Chair legs scraped across the floor as Iroh rose. "Take my seat, Avatar; I must prepare my teacart for tomorrow's escapade."

Aang watched the old man leave before turning back to Katara. "What's wrong?"

Her gaze never left him. "You're hiding things from me."

Aang blinked. He eased into the vacant seat, defeat weighing down his shoulders. "Katara..."

"Save it. I know something weird is going on, something beyond the Guild and Zuko's traitor. Something with you. You haven't been yourself. Iroh says you threatened to kill General Fong, and last night you called me Ummi. What about all the other things that have been happening? That feeling you've been fighting for weeks, your headaches? Aang, I know you're the Avatar, but you're not all-powerful. Tell me what's going on; I can help."

Aang was prepared to lighten the blow, to tell her just enough to keep her satisfied. There was no use frightening her when he didn't even know what was happening. But as her words penetrated, they eroded his resolve. He felt so tired.

His head sank into his hands. "I'm not," he said finally.

A frown –part confusion, part impatience– tugged at Katara's face. "Not what?"

He took a deep breath. "Not the Avatar."

There was no reply.

After a long moment, Aang peered up at her between his fingers. She stared at him incredulously.

"That's ridiculous, Aang! Of course you're the Avatar." But there was uncertainty in her eyes.

"Not anymore. I'd been having dreams, about the Spirit World. There was this, this thing slowly eating it away. Yue asked me for help, but..." He shook his head. "The past Avatars didn't know any more than I did, so I tried to commune with the Spirit of the Avatar itself."

"You can do that?"

Aang shrugged. "Whatever was attacking the Spirit World was attacking it, too. Before I could get any answers..." He shivered at the memory of the sudden coldness slicing between them like a knife. "I lost it."

Katara said nothing. Her mind raced. "We have to get it back."

A strangled laugh escaped his throat. That was just like Katara, ready to face any challenge, expecting an answer to every question.

"There has to be a way," she insisted, as if reading his thoughts. She glanced about, suddenly self-conscious, and dipped her voice. "Have you told anybody else about this?"

Aang shook his head fiercely. "There's enough going on right now."

Katara nodded. "Good. With any luck, we'll have it fixed before anyone realizes what's happened." Her brow furrowed in concentration.

Aang stared at his wife in amazement. She sat there, calm and controlled, churning through plans of attack. Her determination fueled his own drive.

"I should have told you sooner."

"Yes, you should have. But it's too late for that now. Think, Aang; did the Avatar Spirit tell you anything?"

"Well..." Aang remembered the startled servant he had thought was Haku. "There is someone it told me about, but...there's a hitch."

Katara's chin sank into her hands with a sigh. "There always is."

"It's one of the Avatar's past lives."

Katara frowned, but not for the reason Aang suspected. "One of your past lives," she corrected. "This is no time for an identity crisis, Aang! Just because your connection with the Spirit may be lost doesn't make you any less the Avatar."

"Except for the lack of the Avatar's abilities."

"It doesn't change who you are! I know you. Even if it wasn't your duty to bring balance, you'd still do your best to help people and ensure peace. That's always been you, Aang, not just the Avatar. And I know, because it is your duty, you're going to do everything in your power to fix it, Avatar abilities or no."

Aang looked at her for a long moment. Determination smoldered in her eyes. She believed in him. She always had, hadn't she? And she was right. If there was some way -any way- to fix this, he would.

"Either way," he said, "I've lost my connection with the Spirit World. But...there might be a way to get some answers from Haku without talking to him face to face."

Katara cocked her head, eyes questioning.

"The Ba Sing Se University boasts the largest collection of books in the world." He flashed her one of his well-known grins. "And they've got a whole section dedicated to the lives of past Avatars."


"Make sure it's good and tight!" Toph called across the courtyard.

"Yes, Miss," Goyan said, tightening the strip of cloth.

Haru winced as the blindfold winched tighter around his skull. "Ouch!"

"Sorry, sir," Goyan said, tying off the blindfold, "But she scares me more than you do."

Haru sighed. He couldn't blame Goyan. Toph could be very scary and he...wasn't.

Goyan scurried away. Haru only knew that by feeling the quick vibrations as the servant backpedaled out of the way before he was struck by any stray missile.

Haru waved a hand in front of his face to test the blindfold. Nothing. He blinked a few times, but his vision didn't improve. He was, for all intents and purposes, completely blind to the world.

"Is this really necessary?" he shouted in Toph's direction.

"Oh, absolutely," Toph said with a wicked chuckle. "It's time for some real-life application, my pupil. So remember, this is a battle, and I am your enemy."

Her voice surprised him. When he last saw her, she'd been directly opposite him in the courtyard. Now, her voice came at him from the left, and without being able to visually gauge the distance between them, Haru had no concept of how close Toph was.

And it sounded like she was grinning. Evilly.

Haru shivered. Neither prospect appealed to him.

It occurred to him that he should have taken the opportunity to apologize for his underhanded method with her mother earlier. When Toph socked him in the side after Poppy had scurried off to the Palace, she'd said You know, I think you're a little too good at that —that would have been the perfect opportunity.

He was pretty sure it was too late now.

Somewhere nearby, a sharp hiss penetrated the air. Was it left or right? Haru hesitated, listening for a better —


A rock the size of a volleyball caught him in the gut and plowed him into the ground. Haru lay, dazed, in between the furrows his body dug into the dirt on impact.

"Pathetic." Toph snorted. She was close by now, right next to him. "It's a wonder you're not dead yet, Stache Man."

Toph leaned down to retrieve the rock and tossed it in one hand. She had shaped it into a perfect sphere. It was hollow on the inside, but still delivered a painful wallop.

"What have you got to say for yourself?"

Haru blinked, uncurled a few of his fingers from the earth. "...ouch..."

Toph scowled at him. "How many times do I have to tell you?" She slapped at his soles with a stick. "Listen. Feel the vibrations around you—"

She stomped hard into the packed earth right next to his head.

"—scope out the landscape —"

She hefted the rock across the courtyard and it thudded down heavily near the back wall. Disorientation and distraction.

"—and attack!"

Toph pulled back and punched her fist into the ground.

The earth in Haru's shallow grave liquefied. He would have sunk up to his chin in a puddle of quicksand if he hadn't rolled out of the way. There was a pattern to Toph's teaching methods and only an idiot wouldn't realize some form of assault was coming next.

Haru rolled out of the furrowed ground and up onto his knees, planting a palm flat on the ground for a better feel.

"Not good enough," Toph growled, sending a disc of earth at Haru's shoulder.

Haru staggered under the blow, falling back again. He gritted his teeth in frustration.

It wasn't Toph he was frustrated with; far from it. Toph was right. His training was going well as far as practice, but real life application was a flop. He hadn't even proved helpful dealing with the Dai Li. They had used him as bait. Toph might feel the ache of the defeat in her ego, but they both knew the loss was Haru's alone.

He was trying. He was. And still he couldn't seem to shut out his other senses. It was easy for Toph. She'd never had to rely on her sight. This 'vibration feeling' was the main sense she relied on. She wouldn't be nearly so rigid and unsympathetic if she'd ever actually experienced losing her main source of perception, would she?

The earth rumbled underfoot. Haru dodged left, but a second airborne missile caught him off guard, grazing the side of his face and clipping his ear.

Haru grunted, slamming his fist into the earth in frustration.

Toph felt the slight jump in the dirt. She scowled. With a flick of her wrist, she shifted the earth under one of his feet, twisting his legs together until he collapsed.

"Don't waste your energy!" she snapped, stomping down, "If you're going to bend, bend at me!"

Haru rolled again, swinging his arm at her.

A column of earth erupted before Toph, aiming for her chest. She quickly side-stepped it, slicing at it with the side of her hand and cutting off its head.

At least Haru was getting his head together. He'd thrown a thick defense around him. The vibrations tickled at the back of her mind as she rolled the chunk of rock back and forth, reshaping it to gather better momentum.

He did not react well to goading. Anger scrambled his brains, rather than reshaping his thoughts for better ways to vengeance. That was definitely a habit of which she needed to break him.

"Focus, pea brain!" she hollered, planting her foot firmly on the hunk of rock. "This is what got you into so much trouble against the Dai Li. One hint of actual opposition and all your training flies right out of your head. What do you think I'm teaching you this for? Party tricks? Trust me, the mustache alone isn't enough to land any chicks. If you want those flighty girls to take more than one look at you, you better impress them with some serious skills."

Haru scowled. Party tricks? Chicks? Flighty? He certainly wasn't looking to impress some girl. Did she think he was that shallow? And even if he was trying to impress some girl, she definitely wouldn't be flighty. What, was he supposed to see a pair of big bright eyes fawning over him out of a pretty face and completely take leave of his senses?

Is that what Toph thought of him? No wonder she gave him such a hard time; she thought he was a wuss!

"Next time they might not bother turning you into bait," he heard Toph bellow. "They might decide it would be easier to string you up, for all the world to see what an easy catch you were. Did you ever think about that?"

Haru took a deep breath and began to feel.

There, vibrations a few hundred feet off. They were powerful on the offset but they quickly died.

Haru frowned, leaning into the earth as though it would help him get a better look.

The vibrations formed a ring in the earth. He quickly followed them to their source —Toph's foot. She was stomping again. He still hadn't figured out if she stomped because she was irritated, or if she stomped just because she liked to. As her foot hit the dirt again, Haru didn't follow the vibrations through the earth, but instead used them to see where Toph was and what position she was in.

He blinked under the blindfold. What position was she in? There was one of her feet, but it was at an awkward angle...

Haru tapped the ground, sending several probes of rock worming toward Toph. He was able to follow their vibrations for a better look.

The column from his last attack lay broken on the ground. Haru gulped. Toph looked like she'd taken a good chunk for her own purposes. For the moment, that purpose seemed to be nothing but a footstool, but he had no doubt it would soon be headed in his direction to fulfill a much more painful purpose.

Haru suddenly smiled. Or maybe not...

Toph felt the rock probes coming her way. She watched their progress with interest, half expecting them to attack her. Instead they veered around her, circling behind and back again.

She smirked. At least he was learning.

The rock under her foot jerked from beneath her. Toph scowled and sunk her fist into it. The rock writhed; clamps from the earth below had caught on and bits of the liquefied patch had edged toward it. The quicksand leeched into the rock, breaking it up. The stone crumbled around Toph's fist. She shook away the dust from her knuckles and stepped back as a rock sailed past, inches from her nose.

A second rock hurtled toward her. Toph knocked it aside with a missile of her own and grinned.

Haru was finally coming at her.

Toph jerked her arms up and jagged rocks sprang in his path. He managed to dodge several, but they rose too fast. He punched through one rock and as he sprang through the hole another blockade under foot. He climbed to its pinnacle and leapt.

As Haru's feet touched ground, he felt a ripple through the earth as Toph pivoted. He traced the vibrations up to her arms and caught sight of the missile as it left her hand. Even as the rock sailed into the air the vibrations lingered in her hand. He tried to gauge the angle of the throw, but he lost sight of it quickly.

He swerved to the left, felt a sudden pulse at Toph's right foot. Jamming the fingers of his right hand into the earth, he tugged upward, aiming a harsh ripple right for her. Toph dodged the initial strike so Haru wrenched his hand, sending the missile after her. Toph dodged it again and —

The earth under Haru rumbled. Alarmed, he pulled his hand back, flinging a rock at Toph's head with the movement, and firmed his feet on the ground. He slammed his palms onto the earth to keep it in check as it bucked beneath him.

Toph charged him, but there was little he could do about it. All his effort was bent on keeping the earth around him from swallowing him up. He could feel it fighting against him, trying to rise. But if he didn't do anything about Toph, she would certainly pummel him. This 'practice' session had been more intense than any other from the get go. Toph had told him right up front it was during an actual conflict that he had trouble processing the vibrations. So just before the blindfold had gone on, she'd promised to make certain it was 'actual conflict' quality. And he knew she had no qualms about batting someone around.

The real question was which would he prefer to get him: the rock or Toph?

That was a no-brainer.

Haru released his hold. He dropped to his knees and punched one lost missile in Toph's direction while raising a rock shelter with the other arm. The earth around him shot forward with a mighty rumble; he felt the walls rise up at an angle and slam together overhead, forming a thick shell around him.

Outside, Toph easily dodged his last-ditch attempt at an attack. Instead of retaliating, however, she rested her elbow against his prison and leaned on it.

Haru sighed. Now was the part where he got yelled at. Well, he probably deserved it. He hadn't beaten her, after all.

"I don't say this often, 'Stache Man," Toph said, "But you did okay."

Haru blinked. "Okay?" he repeated. "But...but I didn't win."

Toph snorted. "Did you honestly expect to beat me?"

Haru rolled his eyes.

"The point of the exercise wasn't to win," Toph said, yanking the walls of the prison down. Hesitant, Haru lowered his own defenses, half-expecting a surprise attack. But none came.

"The point was to force you to focus on the vibrations and react to them in a battlefield. And you did it. Sure, you lost," she said, pounding him on the back so hard he fell face first in the dirt. She cackled. "But at least this time you put up a fight!"

Author's Notes

Whoa-ee! Chapter fifty! That's a big mile-marker, everybody. I mean, fifty chapters. And we're coming up on Air's one year anniversary. Sweet. ^_^

Another Toph and Haru chapter; they play off one another oh so well. And for a change, we see Haru getting the better of his sifu. At least, for a little while.

Random thought, but as I was posting this, Blunt the Knives from The Hobbit soundtrack started playing, and I couldn't help thinking how well Toph would get along with the dwarves, hehe.

Hope everyone is enjoying their holiday!

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