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11th December, 2013
As soon as they step off Appa, all she wants is to climb atop him and escape again. A small, choked cry leaves her, missed by her friends (for which she is grateful). She can do nothing but stop and stand desolately in the middle of the field as, the presence of her friends barely felt, she feels some indescribable emotion overcome her. She can't focus, can't think, not- not when the
dead and defeated
Fire Nation is so close to catching them. She has to keep going, keep walking, but how can she, when she knows what lies just beneath the surface? There is a tap on her upper arm, and she turns to face... one of them. Aang, perhaps. His heartbeat erratic, full of adrenaline and life; it is mocking her, mocking them, and the knife sinks only deeper as she realises that he does not know. He seems
at ease, despite the danger; his usual attitude of goodwill and trust. He believes they can get out of whatever problem they run into, and Toph wonders, briefly, what divine deity had bestowed on them that luck. She feels
as though, if she could share some of that bliss, it would be okay. The grim reality is forcing its way up through the earth, the vibrations telling her all she doesn't wish to see- know. Katara is whistling, the tone low and melodious and yet still breathing life where there ought only be peace and silence. She wants to curl into a ball and wait; hope that the
world might just wait a moment. They might pause and she would be given a brief respite before it came, the world, screeching to a halt and ending in
peace and harmony, as the peoples breath a sigh of
relief that, at last, it is ended–as it should and will.
"Are you okay?" he asks, worried and still smiling. The sign, sadistic only to her, makes her knees weak, and yet she can't stop to rest on the
soft ground, not while they are still running. Her legs won't obey her, and they buckle gently, slowly lowering her to the floor as the will to remain standing completely dissipates. He is by her side, rubbing her back as hot tears stream down her face and her body convulses in pained spasms. The retching continues, her throat burning as Katara gently places cool water over hear head, alleviating the
nausea as only healing water can do. She stops, panting, and she can feel the eyes of her friends on her. They are curious–what had prompted such a display?–and yet neither her heart nor head can focus on herself. She closes her eyes, and, for the first time since she was little, she wishes for sight; if only so she could blind herself to what she can see, and what she will never be able to forget.
"Toph, are you feeling ill?" Katara asks quietly, as though noise will disturb her friend. Toph almost laughs; compared to those she can see, she is faring extremely well. It is unfortunate for her, though, that Katara's soothing tone brings back memories and rituals; days of mourning and sorrow for one lost soul. How can Toph do that for thousands? She does not have the heart, the tears, for such an endeavour, and she (perhaps almost foolishly) wonders whether Katara could spare hers, or Aang his. She cannot mourn them all herself, but they still deserve peace.
The slow, steady hearts of those blissfully unaware help keep her tethered when all she wants to do is blow away, and she coughs once, twice. "I just- I just need a
minute. I'll be okay," she mumbles, and though their trepidation is palpable, they agree with hushed murmurs. Her friends walk away, leaving her to sit there, panting heavily. One, two, three tears fall; two remain. It takes one more for her to trust they can't hear her.
"I'm sorry," she whispers, to the earth and beyond. There is one more droplet, and she mumbles again. "I'm so sorry...."
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