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|"A ship which destroys the distinctiveness characters contained therein in order to advance itself is pointless and basically nothingness, combining as it does two non-entities with only the haze of the author's fervor blocking this from view."|
|— Toph's Fanboy (about the difficulty of writing a proper shipping fanon)|
|Under the Full Moon|
3 (Unexpected Twists)
They walked out of the King's throne room and into the spacious hallway. Momo hung by his tail on one of the lanterns attached to the walls of the palace. Toph leaned against the same wall and closed her eyes while the two boys stood a little distance away right outside the door.
"Well, that went better than I expected," Aang exclaimed, sounding cheerful at the results of Team Avatar's meeting with the Earth King. Toph felt his heart rate speed up as he stopped and seemed to think for a bit, and could hear the nervousness in his voice when he said, "We don't have to go straight back to the South Pole if you guys don't want to," almost begging for an excuse not to return to his fiancé (which Toph attributed to nervous tension concerning the wedding). She heard him gulp, and then explain himself, "I mean, we have a bit of time on our hands, since I thought it would take longer to convince the Earth King. Do you guys have anywhere you want to go?"
The three of them stood in silence for a couple of seconds, and then Toph, who realized she had been biting her lip, stopped doing so and opened her mouth. "I need to go back home."
"What about Cānyù Han?" Aang asked. "Won't your parents still expect you to get married to him?"
Toph shook her head, saying, "I bet he's long gone by now; I think all he really cared about was my parent's money."
"Are you sure you want to do this, Toph?" Sokka asked, "Last time you went back home we didn't see you for three years."
Toph nodded that she did, "I haven't seen them for three years; I need to go back there to make sure they're really okay."
Aang opened his mouth as if he were going to say something, but Sokka quickly interfered by announcing (changing his tack so quick that Toph was taken aback by his suddenness), "To Gaoling, then!"
"Okayaaay... Gaoling it is then," Aang said slowly, clearly not knowing what to make of Sokka's sudden agreement with their mutual friend's plan. He turned away from them, and they followed him outside and walked over to where Appa had been staying in one of the ostrich-horse stables surrounding the Earth King's palace. After the Avatar managed to turn his bison away from the Earth King's apparently delicious animal food and out of the stable, they climbed aboard Appa and began their journey out of Ba Sing Se and back to Toph's hometown.
Because of the awkward feeling in the air when they left, they flew in almost total silence for many hours, Momo's soft chortling the only thing which prevented the quiet from becoming deafening. From the heat of the air, Toph judged that it had been around midday when they had left, but they did not land until the sun's heat weakened considerably, indicating that the cooler hours of the night were soon approaching.
As Aang had cut a course directly to Gaoling, they had somehow ended up far from any nearby towns, and Toph just managed to locate a nearby simply built house with acres of crops surrounding it after Aang looked up into the sky and informed the group that it looked like they would need shelter from a coming storm. They dragged their feet towards it, and when they finally arrived they met a farming family at its doorstep chatting amongst themselves. Aang recognized as the Avatar, and Toph as the heroine of the Second Battle of Kyoshi, the farmers introduced themselves as the Jiǎndān Family, and told them that all guest were welcome at their humble residence.
Though the food was rather simply prepared, to the members of Team Avatar (who had not eaten since the early lunch meal they had taken before their meeting with the Earth King) it tasted delicious, and they eagerly devoured the extra food the Jiǎndāns had prepared at the table for them alongside their own when they were invited to share a meal with them. They heard the wind bellowing against the wooden sides of the house as they ate, but the air grew silent by the time they had finished.
After dinner, they thanked the farmers for their hospitality in giving a meal to the three of them, and then Aang asked if they had any place for him to keep Appa for the night. Having already seen the large creature, the Jiǎndāns informed the Avatar that they had a barn which would serve his purposes well. Aang went outside to take care of his bison, with Toph (with the flying lemur stretched out across her shoulder) and Sokka following because they did not want to be left alone with the family together after the day's awkwardness.
After moving in such a way that told Toph that he was looking up at the sky, Aang commented on how the moon seemed especially bright since the storm had passed, and then walked over to where Appa had wandered off in the farmers' field. Aang guided Appa into the large barn, and Airbended himself up onto the loft to retrieve some food for his flying bison. Toph felt him land with a small hay barrel under his arm, which he then put under Appa's mouth for his large pet to eat. Having finished putting their mount away for the night, he closed the barn's door and began walking back toward the house of the farmers who had been so kind as to take them in as guests. Toph made to follow after him, but Sokka grabbed her arm in order to hold her back. She stopped and he let go, standing a little ways away from her. The vibrations coming from his body told her that he was nervous, so she guessed that he was going to say something about the events which had taken place earlier in the day, and so she waited for him to start talking.
"Umm...I just wanted to thank you for being there after Suki broke up with me."
Toph nodded, and waited a couple of seconds, figuring that that wasn't all he wanted to say. When Momo's chortling failed to be broken up by any human words, she asked him, "Why did you agree to go to my parents' so quickly back there?"
"Yeah, it's been kind of weird lately, hasn't it?" he said after a few awkward seconds as a form of reply, the vibrations he gave off indicating that he was rubbing the back of his neck.
"Yeah, it has...?" she said simply. Where is he going with this? She felt Momo shift his weight on her shoulder, as if he were perking up to listen to the conversation.
"You're my best friend, and you've always been like another little sister to me all these years," he went on. To this, Toph said nothing, understanding that he was not yet done speaking.
"But what you said a couple of days ago...That was so crazy; I don't know what to think."
"Now I can't go back to thinking of you the way I used to; not really anyways," he said, sounding like he had been pondering the subject ever since she had told him her secret. "You've grown up since I first met you." Her feet told her that he was looking straight at her when he said this, making her feel a little self-conscious about his unexpected gaze.
Then Sokka did something unexpected, and moved her long bangs out of her face and behind her ears as he said, "You look beautiful in the moonlight." Toph felt the temperature of her cheeks rise slightly at this unprecedented compliment about her appearance (though she had little idea about what moonlight was), and self-consciously inclined her head slightly.
"I don't think I can live without you, Toph," he finished, leaving her to ponder his words in silence for a few moments. Suddenly, she felt Sokka move closer to her and his hand inclining her head upward slightly, and then was surprised by the pressure of his lips on her own, the sudden slight backward movement causing Momo to jump off of her shoulder, and (by the sound of his wings) up into the night sky. The skin on her cheeks feeling like it was about to be scalded off, she didn't break away from him despite her extreme feelings of self-consciousness, and instead felt her legs crumple slightly as he put his arms around her shoulders.
Toph Bei Fong felt better than she ever had at that moment, closing her eyes as she kissed him back, for once able to forget that she was blind and feeling as if she were just a normal girl. It felt as if time had ceased to exist, that the kiss would last forever and they would never part. A grumble noise from Appa snapped her back to mundane reality, and they broke apart, realizing that a few minutes had gone by.
"We'd better go back inside really quick," Toph suggested. "I don't want Twinkle-Toes to notice we didn't follow him."
"Good idea," Sokka replied shortly, both of them finding the situation still too awkward to tell anyone else about it. They ran to house, Toph coming to the door slightly ahead of Sokka, and found that Aang was just beginning to discuss his role in The War to the house's residents. Toph, who hadn't been aware that she had caught her breath, released it in relief and sat down at the back end of the large family's dining table to relax her tense nerves by listening to the subject; Sokka soon sat down about a yard away from her on the bench on that side of the long table.
After their presence in the room had lasted long enough for them to be put at ease that no one had noticed their brief disappearance, Toph and Sokka soon joined in the discussion and enjoyed themselves by recounting their own various exploits during The War, and some of the more important events they had taken part in afterwards. The dining room was the largest room in the Jiǎndān's house, and they made use of the extra space as a sleeping room, and so the family members slowly melted away as one or another grew tired of the subject at hand and moved over to the sleeping mats surrounding the table. Eventually only the head of the household and the three heroes of The War were left, and he told them "You kids better turn in and get some sleep; you look like you all need it."
Sokka returned to the place where he had dropped his sleeping bag earlier, and could then be felt stretching it out and stuffing himself into it. Aang picked one of a scattered few mats that were left, and laid down upon it. Toph was the last of the three to go to sleep, simply dropping herself backward off the seat and curling up slightly on the earthen floor where she fell, finding sleep a pleasant retreat from the uncomfortable strangeness of recent events.
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