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|Staying in the Bu Shufu Di Difang|
3 (Unexpected Twists)
She woke up flat on her back early the next morning, while the air was still relatively cool. Pushing Momo from the place on her stomach where he had apparently come to rest the night before after she had fallen asleep, Toph stood up and snapped her body back and forth in an attempt to get a kink out of her back which had developed from her somewhat awkward change of positions the night before. She turned around in order to feel whether anyone else was up behind her. A few of the older Jiandan family members appeared to be just getting up, but Sokka was still in his sleeping bag, sounding as if he would snore his life away without ever getting up. Good, she thought, I have no idea what I would do if he was awake.
Without a word to anyone else, she walked toward the door and moved outside, hoping a breath of fresh air would help her clear her head so she could figure out what to do with what she now looked at as a very odd situation. She sensed Aang was over at the nearby barn, and so she meandered over to him, thinking that talking with her old friend might help her return to the world which made sense to her.
He appeared to hear her arrival when as he Airbended himself upwards to get breakfast for Appa, saying after he had landed on the ground again, with his back still turned, "Mornin', Toph."
"Mornin', Twinkle-Toes." Phew, she thought with relief at the normalness of their greetings. This is more like it.
After he was done feeding his bison, Aang turned around to speak to her directly. Though he seemed about to say something at first, he then paused before he went on in a different tone of voice, "You look different with your bangs out of your eyes, Toph."
Her back stiffening up straighter, she realized suddenly that she was giving him evidence of hers and Sokka's kiss the night before without even trying. CRUD! Feeling incredibly embarrassed, she could hardly resist the urge to slap herself in the forehead to punish herself for failing to do anything about it, but managed to restrain herself by reminding herself that doing so would ultimately prove even more embarrassing. "Does it really matter, Aang?" she nervously asked, trying to make it sound like an rhetorical question, and that she would take it as a personal insult if Aang didn't answer in the negative.
"Not really..." Aang answered slowly, his voice telling her that the way she asked her question had given him more warrant to be suspicious then she had hoped for. She felt rather tense for several minutes until Aang finally spoke up again, his mind (thankfully) seeming to have moved onto a different subject. "We might as well get going now, while Appa's full and happy. Is Sokka up yet?"
"Not yet," she answered. "I'll go back in and wake him up, if you want."
Aang nodded, and she half-ran back inside. The world's gone crazy! Now I'm even feeling uncomfortable around Twinkle-Toes! She thought as she rushed towards the door, going just slowly enough so as to not cause more problems for herself. She was relieved when she was inside and away from his suspicious eyes, which she feared more at the moment than whatever Sokka's reaction was going to be to their joint experience of the night before. She felt Sokka standing up and moving his head around in a circle in an attempt to remove the sleepiness from his mind, and met him half-way as he walked over to her.
She put her arm behind her head and rubbed her neck as she tried to ask him about the previous night, "So...?"
"Wha...?" He said, clearly not understanding her unstated question. If he doesn't know what I'm talking about, I'm going to kill him! She thought nervously, clenching her fists. Either he saw the look on her face or he had just been still too sleepy to think clearly when she first asked the question, she couldn't figure out which, but he quickly straightened up and changed his tone, uttering, "Oh! ... right...yeah....uhhh..."
"Looks like you two are having fun," Aang said, walking in at that point, "Are you ready to leave?"
Sokka replied that he wasn't yet, and walked back over to pick up his sleeping bag. The head of the Jiandan household having just arisen, Aang walked over and bowed before him, thanking him and his family for their hospitality. The three of them walked out of the doorway and over to the place just outside the barn where Aang had moved Appa to. They clambered aboard, Toph briefly thinking that she might hold onto Sokka's arm for support during the flight instead of the saddle's handles as a purposeful display of affection toward him, but then deciding against it because she did not want to give Aang any more reasons to be suspicious than he already had.
They flew southward until the heat of the air indicated that it was midday, at which point they finally landed to take their lunch break. She heard Sokka jump out of the saddle, and then was surprised when he unwound her arm from the handle and tried to guide her out of the saddle; unable to decide if she ought to resist it as a threat to her dignity or if doing this would be potentially damaging to the possibility of them being together, Toph grimaced uneasily but ended up letting him help her to the ground without much complaint. From Aang's silence immediately afterwards, she knew that he was growing more suspicious, but could find no way to fix that problem without also creating more problems for her being with Sokka. I still don't know if he meant what I thought he did last night...
Aang started a fire going in what Toph soon realized was a clearing in the middle of a conifer forest. While he began cooking up some sort of soup for the three of them over the fire, Toph walked off a ways to practice her Earthbending in order to calm her nerves, which were quite on edge by that point. Fifteen minutes later, he called her back over and handed out to his friends in wooden bowls they had brought along for that purpose. Sokka ate about half of his, and then stated that he wasn't feeling very hungry that day; Toph scooted from where she had been sitting a quarter way around the circle from him, and sat with her arm pressed directly up against his, taking the bowl out of his hands and started scarfing it down, the unusual on-going anxiety she had been experiencing all day making her feel ravenously hungry.
Toph could tell Aang was feeling confused about Sokka's change of appetite, so she tried to draw his attention away from it by asking about the adventures he had had since she had went to live at the Southern Water Tribe. He eagerly dived into the subject, telling the two of them about all the places he had went and the people he had helped, but was interrupted by Sokka, who had apparently been reminded about his lost space-sword and began complaining about the difficulty of contacting Piandao in order to make a new one. She suggested that he ask Iroh to use his White Lotus connections to get a hold of Sokka's old sword's-master, and then Sokka eagerly began chatting away about the metals he might use if the meteorite had been disposed of in the past six years, and how he would one day become a good enough sword's-master that even Zuko wouldn't be able to best him in a match. Toph secretly doubted that, but she tried to be polite and take interest in the subject anyways, thinking about what she might be able to do while Metalbending the substances he was describing. Apparently she came off as too polite (for her, anyways), because she felt Aang becoming suspicious again, and was quite relieved a few minutes when he told them that they should hop aboard Appa again.
They flew onward until most of the day had passed away. Sokka's appetite seemed to have come back by then, and she heard him moving elsewhere in the saddle, muttering about food. After a few minutes, he announced tersely, "Out of meat."
Aang, apparently spotting a nearby village below them, called back to them from his position somewhere on Appa's head, "We can stock up on food supplies down there. I guess we might as well find a place to sleep there, too."
They landed right outside the entrance to the large town, and its citizens quickly found a place for the Avatar's sky bison in the town's mostly vacant ostrich-horse stable. His bison taken care of, Aang wandered off, telling them he would take care of the groceries. The two took a different path and looked elsewhere for an inn to stay at that night, and with some difficulty finally located the inn known as the Bu Shufu Di Difang. Toph's fame as the heroine of the Second Battle of Kyoshi apparently having not reached this cloistered village, they went unrecognized, and their claim that they were friends of the Avatar was similarly deemed unbelievable. Sokka reluctantly ended up having to pay for a three-person room for the group, which they were then directed to by the host.
When they were left alone in the room, an awkward silence came upon them and lasted several minutes. Sokka was the first to break the spell, "This is just getting way too weird."
"Yeah, it has," she agreed simply, not knowing what else to say.
Sokka shook his head, "I can't believe I can't stay in this room alone with you... We've got to do something to shake the craziness off our backs."
"Like what?" Is that even possible?
Sokka appeared to ponder the question for a bit, and then snapped his fingers, having gotten an idea. "Oo-oo! I know! We can fly around on Appa...like we're on another mission again."
Catching onto his intent very quickly, Toph felt relieved that she wasn't the only one longing for things to be like they used to. She got it in her head that she ought to show her pleasure at his idea by kissing him on the cheek, but the feeling went away as soon as she did so, leaving her to feeling very self-conscious right afterwards.
Sokka seemed taken aback for a few seconds, but then she felt him shake his head and walk out the door to their room, motioning for her to follow him. They made their way to Appa's stable, and, since Aang had already removed his saddle earlier, they climbed up onto his head, not wanting leave evidence behind by disturbing anything. Toph had qualms about being in such a potentially dangerous situation while flying blind, but Sokka allowed her to loop her left arm around his right one in order to support herself; she told herself that this was absolutely needed for her own safety and that it would in no way interfere with the non-romantic intent behind their little trip, repressing from her conscious view the obvious fact that there would have been no reason to hide what they were doing if this were actually the case.
From her precarious position on Appa's head, Toph gritted her teeth a bit at the rush of air produced by Appa's take-off, her bangs finally coming loose from where Sokka had brushed them back the night before (which she had left in place most of the day in order to avoid arousing Aang's suspicions even more). Leaning back against Appa's body and closing her unused eyes, she soon grew used to the air blowing against her face, which enabled her to imagine that she was a twelve-year old again, adventuring across the globe on a mission to save the world. Her inability to see anything merely helped her to ignore the present, and indulge herself in happy memories. From his silence, she guessed that Sokka was doing something similar.
Her discomfort at being next to him finally disappearing, Toph snuggled up closer to him and asked something that had been on her mind all day, "So...are we together now?" She had feared the answer she might get ever since their kiss the night before.
Sokka immediately put her at ease by putting his arm around her shoulders, and answered, "Yeah...I guess we kinda are," sounding like he was surprised but not displeased by the fact. She breathed a sigh of relief.
The knots which had been tightening in her stomach all day began to unwind as she sat nestled up against him. Overjoyed at the news that she need not fear them being separated by his rejection any longer, and exhilarated by the feeling that she was completely safe with him in the air despite not being able to see, Toph found it easy at that moment to ignore the world around her and leaned in closer to Sokka to kiss her new-found boyfriend on the cheek, without a worry in the world.
She rested up against his side, feeling content. They began chatting back and forth about the strangeness of the past couple of days, unburdening themselves mentally by viewing them from afar in this way. Time flew by quicker than Appa, and Toph soon guessed from the movements of his arm that he had grasped Appa's reigns tightly again in order to change the bison's direction, the wind in her face telling her they were headed towards the ground. As an explanation, Sokka offered the comment, "We'd better get Appa back into the barn before Aang notices." Toph understood his point completely.
Toph loosed her arm from Sokka's when they landed, and jumped back onto the ground on her own. She felt Sokka landed on the other side of Appa's head, and the two of them guided Appa by the horns back into the place where they had found him. Sokka made a joke about how bad Appa still smelled, and Toph punched him in the arm, telling him cheerfully how unfunny his joke was. Judging from the vibrations he gave off, Toph guessed he was happily grinning from ear to ear, and they both chuckled a little bit out of a sense of relief about things being back to normal again between the two of them. Sokka grabbed her hand, and she allowed him to lead her out of the stable.
She soon realized that she had been having too much fun to pay the proper amount of attention to her surroundings when the pair almost ran smack into Aang right outside the stable's doorway. Her back instantly stiffened up a bit out of nervousness. "Uh...hi, Twinkle-To-oes," she said in an attempt to sound nonchalant, stuttering a little bit on the last syllable.
"Hi, Toph. What were you two just doing with Appa?" he asked, seeming to be eyeing their hands.
"We were just ..." Toph began, unable to come up with a good explanation. The non-romantic nature of the trip had seemed a lot more convincing when it was just them two alone.
"Why are you acting so nervous?"
Sokka seemed to have steady himself on his legs before he answered matter-of-factly, "We were just taking a mini-trip on Appa to calm ourselves down after the long day we had today." Thank you, Sokka! She thought with relief that he had managed to make their trip seem perfectly ordinary.
"Ohhh-kaaay," Aang said slowly, seeming to take this in, and clearly not believing this was the whole story. Much to Toph's relief, he did not press the question further despite obviously being suspicious, and they walked back to the Bu Shufu Di Difang in silence.
After passing the host of the hotel (who seemed embarrassed to realize they really were friends of the Avatar), they walked back to their joint room. Once the three of them had piled in, Sokka decided to leave again to find a bathroom, leaving Toph alone with Aang. Toph felt Aang turn to face her, and she winced internally about the subject she knew he would now bring up.
"What was going on with you and Sokka back there?"
"What do you mean, Twinkle-Toes?" she replied, trying to sound as if she had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
"Let's see...you two were just holding hands, you were wearing your hair out of your face earlier (which you never take the time do), you didn't stop Sokka from helping you off of Appa earlier..." Aang sounded like he was counting off the evidence that something was up on his fingers.
"Shut up, or I'll punch you!" Toph ordered as she waved her fist around wildly, beginning to fear that he would figure things out.
"You've been acting nervous all day, Sokka wasn't hungry for lunch," Aang went on, unfazed by her threat. "And now you're trying to hide what you were doing with my bison. Something is up."
"Okay, okay, okay," Toph said quickly, trying to catch up with him mentally in order to come out of his interrogation with some dignity. Unable to avoid the question any longer, she simply gave him a straightforward answer, "Sokka and I kissed last night." She clenched her fists in case he found their situation comical.
Even though he had been acting suspicious, Toph felt Aang jump off the ground in surprise at the present news. "Wow," he said simply, sounding as if he didn't know how to take it. There were a few moments of silence before he added, "How'd that happen?"
"I have no idea."
"So...you two are together now?" he asked, sounding very confused.
There was silence as he seemed to be pondering the subject, and then he said aloud, "I wonder what Katara will think of this."
What will she think? Toph thought, the question registering in her mind for the first time since their moonlit kiss the night before. Then she realized something with a start, smacking herself in the forehead for not realizing it sooner, "Oh man, this is going to look really weird, Twinkle-Toes."
"It's just...Sokka left the South Pole to woo Suki back, and now..." she trailed off, letting the Aang's mind to fill in the blanks.
"You're right," Aang realized. He seemed to start to say something, but Sokka waltzed back into the room at this point and he trailed off. The Water Tribe member asked them, obviously oblivious to the situation, asked them both nonchalantly with no forcedness, "What's up?"
"I just made Toph tell me why you two were acting so weird," Aang answered
"Oh," Sokka reacted by jerking his head back a bit in surprise. Aang went on to explain about the situation they were probably going to have with the whole matter of Suki (Sokka wincing when he first heard the name of his engaged former girlfriend) and Toph, which took awhile to get through Sokka's thick skull.
When he finally understood, Sokka smacked himself in the forehead. "I knew I should have sent a message back earlier!" He shook his head, resigning himself, and went on, "Well, I guess we can't really do anything about that now. We'll just have to face it."
"I'll write a letter to from me telling them about what happened with Suki, if you want," Aang spoke up, trying to not to tread on anyone's feelings. "You better explain this in person, though; I have no idea what's going on between you two anymore."
Sokka readily agreed to Aang's plan, and they decided to send the message whenever Hawky came back from delivering the news about Long Feng to South Pole. The matter settled, and with the relationship between Toph and Sokka in the open air, the three friends finally began to be able to speak comfortably with one another again about (unrelated) events which had recently gone on in their lives. Her mind finally at relative peace, the only reason Toph had difficulty going to sleep that night was because the beds in the room were deceptively lumpier than they seemed to be when they had first been given the room. I am never coming back to this place, she thought to herself as she finally drifted off to sleep.
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