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|"'I'm Toph Bei Fong, Earthbender extraordinaire and the only Metalbender on the planet. Now, step away from Sokka."|
|— Toph to Xingti Mei in the AU fanon "One of Two Ways"|
|Xingti Mei Isn't The Only Answer|
3 (Unexpected Twists)
No one was foolish enough to bring up the subject of her recent brawl to Toph the next day, and so they flew in silence until around noontime. They got off of Appa and entered Qǐshì Village, where Aang hoped to restock up on food supplies. Toph went with him, as Sokka was feeling homesick for some reason and her experience of the Southern Water Tribe told her that it would not be a good thing if Aang managed to find sea prunes at the local market like the goofy Water Tribe warrior wanted.
After Aang had searched for several minutes, it became obvious that sea prunes were probably not going to be sold anywhere in the village's market, and so Toph, becoming bored with the proceedings, left Aang and Momo to finish the job and wandered off to figure out what Sokka was doing. She quickly located him back near the town's entrance (where he was talking to some woman), and started walking towards them. As she grew nearer to the pair, she was able to tell from the other women's weight distribution that she was wearing far less clothing than the temperature of the spring air would strictly require for comfort's sake. Her sensitive ears also started to pick up snatches of their conversation
"...even though I saw his friends crowding in around me, I told him, 'No one talks to my friend Toph that way!'" Sokka was saying, re-creating the events of the previous night to make himself look really good, shifting his weight around in such a way that Toph could tell that he was supplementing his wild story with visually vivid gestures. "It was kind of difficult, but I just managed to beat them all...And that's where I got these bruises on my arm," he ended on a dramatic note.
"Sokka, you're soooo brave..." the under-clad woman purred, as she caressed the place on his arm where one of the bruises was.
Already annoyed that Sokka was using her name to score points with the stranger, Toph felt her forehead flare up in anger at this last action, and picked up her pace. Suki I can handle, but this girl...
She slowed down once she was within a yard of the two, and stood in front of them with her arms crossed, positioning her face so that her unfocused eyes would seem to be staring directly at the women. After waiting for a few moments in order to make her presence uncomfortable to the strange woman, she opened her mouth, "Sokka, I know you're sad about Suki, but you don't have to reduce yourself to trying to impress that," placing emphasis on the last word in a derogative manner.
"That?!! Don't you know who you're talking to?!!" the women reacted, indignant. "I'm Xingti Mei, hostess of the Badger Mole Inn, the only place you'll find to sleep in this dump of a town."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Ice Princess," Toph said in mock apology, referring to the other women's rather trashy choice of clothing, "Didn't realize you were so important." She paused and pointed at herself with her right thumb, "I'm Toph Bei Fong, Earthbender extraordinaire and the only Metalbender on the planet. Now, step away from Sokka." She then cracked her neck nonchalantly, as if to say she was prepared to fight if the other woman was so foolish as to choose to do so.
Xingti Mei finally let go of Sokka's arm, and shifted her weight quickly in such a way that Toph knew she was signaling for her to "bring it on." Clenching her fists, Toph stood still as the hostess of the Badger Mole inn rushed at her, her arms flailing wildly in an attempt to scratch at the blind Earthbender's face. Toph simply lifted her foot and then kicked it into the ground, sending the horribly un-balanced women flying backwards. Xingti Mei, plainly surprised by this counterattack, lay where she fell in silence for a few moments, and then clumsily got to her feet and ran off, screaming for the help of anyone who would listen.
Aang walked up to the two of them soon after Xingti Mei left, carrying a basket full of food for their trip. Toph felt Aang incline his head while looking in her direction, which he followed up by commenting, "Well, I guess we better not try and stay here for the night." They walked back through the entrance of Qǐshì City without saying anything further to each other, and over to the nearby prairie where Appa had been left behind earlier to content himself by eating the grass.
Obviously not in any hurry to arrive at Ba Sing Se with two squabbling friends, and wishing to put the troubled village behind them, Aang stashed the basket in Appa's saddle and grabbed Appa by the horn and gently caused him to turn away from the town. The group set out to find an appropriate place to set up camp and to take the group's midday meal-break. After they had walked in silence (aside from Momo's quiet chortling from his place atop Aang's shoulder) for around fifteen minutes, Sokka spoke up to ask, "Seriously, Toph, why did you feel the need to do that?"
"Sokka, anyone could've told you that girl's a floozy," she defended herself. "I was just looking out for you."
"Toph, I think I'm able to figure out that type of thing for myself." He retorted, sounding exasperated by her behavior.
"Not right now, you can't," she countered, shaking her head. "Look, I know you weren't able to win Suki back, but there has to be someone out there who's better for you than that girl."
Sokka was silent, so she went on, "I mean, you're a great guy, you're fun to be around, and you stand up for people even when no one else will. Girls are bound to like you."
Having continued walking the whole time they were talking, the three arrived at an open field with short-bladed grass which appeared to have just started growing. As the group came to a stop, Aang (apparently picking this time to stage an intervention) shoved her roughly in the back when she let the air go silent for a few moments. With her neck bent downward over slightly, and with her head turned to the front and away from the other two, Toph felt forced to add in a low voice, " ... including me." Her cheeks burned immediately after she said this, and she half-hoped no one had been able to hear her barely audible word.
"What?!!" Sokka exclaimed, obviously having heard her words and seemingly caught completely off-guard by them. Aang, ever the helpful friend, informed Sokka in a calm voice which carried enough so that there could be no doubt that everyone had heard it, "Toph just said that she likes you, Sokka." She felt his weight shift slightly but quickly in a way which informed her that he was looking back and forth at the two of them, and then felt his legs and body shift in such a way that knocked him off-balance, causing him to fall to the ground with a crash which carried many large vibrations to Toph's feet.
Aang, unperturbed, look around the field and then said, "Well, this place looks as good as any. I suppose we can just leave him there until he wakes up..." Apparently taking Toph's silence as an affirmation of his proposal, he unloaded the basket from their ride's saddle and began looking around for firewood, leaving her alone to ponder the recent turn of events.
By the time Sokka awoke twenty minutes later, Aang had already gotten a fire going and Toph had sat down a quarter ways around the fire from him and they had begun their meal. Sokka jumped to his feet, the smell of roasted meat (which Toph had insisted Aang make for the two of them despite his preference for vegetarian-style meals) plainly on his mind, and sat down half way around the fire from Aang. Despite his former act of complete surprise, he now seemed to have taken the recent news in stride, and was nonchalantly petting Momo on the head. Without a hint of forced interest in his voice, he asked Aang about the future wedding plans the Airbender was making with his sister, which the young Avatar was more then willing to talk about again. Toph sat in silence, feeling slightly perturbed, unsure of what she had expected but feeling that something more than this, good or bad, ought to have happened. If I could ever try and read that boy's mind, now would be the time.
She, of course, was not able to do this, as even when she slyly put her hand on the ground behind her body to figure out his inner emotions all she could figure out was that his heart beat and breathing rate were completely normal, meaning whatever else he was thinking the subject no longer bothered him in any way at the present. Sokka's still insatiable hunger making the food for the day's lunch meal disappear quickly, the group soon cleared their camp and each member got aboard Appa by themselves without much chit-chat.
Obviously not intending to return to the still nearby Qǐshì City, Toph felt Aang move his bison in the opposite direction, and with a "Yip Yip!" they were off and continued flying for most of the day. From her position grasping onto one of the handles of Appa's saddle, she listened in silence to the boys' conversation without bothering to speak up, still wondering if her recent word would have any adverse effects on her place in the group. It was not until long after the mysterious heat source sighted people called the sun had grown weak that Toph received the pleasure of having her feet planted firmly on the ground again, and the group entered the town from where they had landed on its outskirts. The town turned out to be a former Fire Nation colony, but one that welcomed the peace that Fire Lord Zuko's ascension to the throne had brought, and the group was welcomed warmly when they were recognized as personal friends of the Crown. The tired members of Team Avatar were lead away to a room in a local inn prepared just for them, and then Sokka closed the door to give them a modicum of privacy as the three plopped themselves down on three of the four beds which were in the room. Toph's droopy eyelids and her total lack of incentive to keep her eyes open ate away at her discomfort, and she finally satisfied herself enough to go to sleep by thinking that whatever Sokka now thought of her, she would never stop being his best friend, no matter what happened them afterwards.
For the collective works of the author, go here.