Set some time after 'Bitter Work'. It's the days in between that we don't get to see. Made for no particular reason; written with no solid plot to pursue. I just thought it's be fun to explore the Toph Effect…you can't see it, but it's there…changing everyone and everything in one way or another…
Disclaimer: I'm not cool enough to have created Avatar and I'm not savvy enough to own.
She sat on her own, as she tended to do. She wasn't as difficult as she had been before. She was starting to be a team worker, helping Katara every now and then, or being a little more patient with Aang, or keeping her laughter to a minimum when Sokka did something stupid.
She was getting better.
But now that the camp was set and Aang and Katara were practicing waterbending and Sokka was doing whatever Sokka did, she could be on her own and do what she did on her own.
From the breeze she could feel she knew it was getting late in the afternoon. Sundown would probably be in a few hours and it would get cold. She had found a nice warm boulder to sit on, one facing straight into the wind. It made her hair tickle against her skin.
She reached up and touched her face.
She did this only when she was alone; when no one could see. She let her fingers trace out the indent of her sightless eyes, the bridge of her nose, the bones in her cheek, her forehead, her jaw line, her lips. They felt as they had always felt: her own and hers alone. The same shapes, the same lines, the same textures. The same as all those times she'd touched her face before.
And, just like before, she couldn't conjure up any image for her mind. She didn't know what she looked like, she didn't know if she was pretty or ugly or decent or horrendous. She had been rich and pampered beyond belief, so that must have accounted for something, but it didn't tell her what she looked like.
And if she didn't even know what she looked like, she couldn't begin to imagine what her friends looked like.
All she had was her earthbending to tell her their outline and their voices to differentiate their personalities. She knew Aang was barely a foot taller than her and that he was too carefree to stay serious for long. She knew that Katara was petite but strong for her type; a powerful waterbender whose voice could be kind yet screechy at times. And she knew Sokka was the tallest, useless in most cases with words and tones that made him sound more like an airhead than not, but he came up with decent plans, had a good boomerang and was more than a head taller than her.
And that was it.
She didn't know what they looked like or how they dressed or when they were smiling or frowning, sad or happy. She never really used to care before, but she supposed she had never had any real friends before.
Footsteps were coming her way. She could feel them. She dropped her hands and tilted her head to the side, letting the vibrations fill her glazed eyes.
Heavy steps. It wasn't Aang. But still human. Not Appa or Momo. The steps were set wide apart. Not Katara.
It was Sokka.
"Toph? Toph are you up here?"
She leaned back on her hands and let her head fall back, like she was staring into the sky.
"Yeah, I'm here."
She, personally, liked her own voice. She thought it was commanding, powerful. A voice that tended to make people listen. A true earthbender's voice.
A minute or two later he approached her boulder, coming to stop right next to her. A wind picked up and blew into their faces.
"Are you busy right now?"
She blew at her bangs. "Why, do you need help moving something heavy?" She grinned when she heard him sigh.
"No. I just wanted to talk. Is that so strange?"
"Well, it shouldn't be. We are a team. And, I guess, friends."
"Katara and Aang are busy and Momo doesn't want to play with you."
"Hey, I'm not that desperate for company."
Toph felt him poke her in the shoulder and she scooted over, giving him room on the boulder's face. He sat down next to her and leaned back as well.
"I always kind of wanted to ask you about your earthbending," he said. Toph frowned.
"I thought you weren't that big into bending; you, with all your science and logic."
"I'm not. But sometimes, you know, I watch you guys bend these things and it's interesting. Sometimes I forget how powerful Aang is, or what my sister can do. And the fact that you're still so strong even though you're…um…."
"Blind," Toph finished for him. She had never thought it to be a touchy subject and she didn't like it when people acted like it was.
"Yeah. Blind. I have to admit, I get curious." He shifted. "Aren't you sometimes scared that this magic won't work when you want it to and you'll end up--,"
"It's not magic," she interrupted. "Bending is something completely different. I can't just wave my arms like this and expect rocks to move. Being a bender is a completely different feeling. The earth becomes a part of me, like an extension to my limbs. I have to move it like I move my arms or my feet. When I throw a punch I have to have strength in my arms to make that punch effective. When I throw a rock I have to have that same kind of strength in my arm. I can't flick my finger and do the same damage."
Sokka was silent, listening to her explanation. When she was finished he laid down and folded his hands behind his head. "Has it always been like that?"
"As long as I can remember."
"But you're just a kid."
"Hey, so are you."
"What I meant was you're young and you're already a bending master. How did you learn everything and perfect it so quickly?"
The wind blew again, almost pulling Toph's hair down from her headband.
"I'm blind, remember? I didn't have a choice." She paused. "It was my only way to see."
Another silence followed.
"Do you ever just practice?"
"Could I watch you?"
Toph turned towards him, her peridot eyes staring at a spot three feet from his face. "You want to watch me bend?"
Sokka started to nod, remembered it was Toph he was talking to and said 'yes' out loud.
She gave him a face but hopped down from the boulder anyway.
"You're weird," she told him, falling into her stance and already feeling the earth surrounding her tune into her body. "But I guess that's okay." She dug deep into her muscles, found the strength she needed, stomped her heel into the solid ground and brought up a chunk of earth. "I can be a little weird too." She slammed her open palm into the side of the rock, sending it flying across the air.
She held her arm up in front of her face, her fingers curled into a fist and her head turned away as the rock shattered against her forearm, bits of dirt flying everywhere. When the dust settled she lowered her hand.
"Not enough. I barely felt that,"
"I'm giving it all I've got! I can't make it any stronger!"
"You have to, Twinkletoes! Earth counts for nothing in a battle unless you use its power and strength to your full advantage."
Sitting on a ledge up and away from the training session Katara ate her lunch with her brother, Momo nibbling on an apple between them. They watched as Toph fell into her signature stance and began circling Aang, the earth around her shuddering as her bending began to take effect. Aang fell into his own stance and waited, his eyes focused on her. She stopped circling and planted herself in one spot. She was letting her earthbending guide her, waiting for Aang to make the first move and give himself away. But he was an airbender, and his vibrations were minute, so it was as much a training session for her as it was for him. It was a way to hone her own skills.
"Sometimes I forget how powerful they both are," Sokka said, eating the apple slice that his sister handed him. He leaned back on his hands and watched as Toph waited patiently for Aang's attack, who in turn was stalling for as long as he could. "I always forget about Aang because he goofs around all the time, but in the end he's still the Avatar. And Toph…."
Aang finally made his move and sent two boulders careening towards Toph. She didn't move until the last moment, pushing her right shoulder forward and slicing her arm down through the air, a blade of rock sprouting up through the ground at the motion. With a thrust from her other hand she sent the blade cutting through the earth towards Aang, moving too fast for him to avoid it. He cried out and punched his fist forward, using as much force as he could to break right through the rock. Fist contacted with earth and Toph's blade shattered. But it was too much for Aang. He shook out his hand, wincing at the contact.
His earthbending had gotten better, but he still wasn't good enough to block Toph's attacks.
"I forget sometimes too," Katara said, biting into a peach. "I've started getting used to having Toph around that I forget what a difference her presence makes. She's really--,"
"Young," Sokka finished. He nodded. "Yeah, I know."
"But she's stronger than all of us. I feel too old to be a master waterbender when I see her earthbend."
"She kind of reminds me of Suki," Sokka offered. "When she trains. I felt like a useless fighter when I saw the Kyoshi Warriors. They were my age, but they were a lot better."
"Everyone's better than you," Katara said, laughing. Her brother made a face at her before turning his attention back to Toph and Aang.
"You have to stop lifting out of the ground," Toph said, reaching out a hand. Aang took it and let her hoist him to his feet as he dusted dirt off his clothes. "You have to stay grounded, literally. When you're learning earthbending with me you have to forget airbending completely. You won't get it if you don't."
"I know, and I'll try harder." He rubbed his shoulder, wincing silently. A deep bruise was already forming, one that would affect him lifting his arm. He'd have to remember to ask Katara if she'd heal it for him.
Aang looked up towards the distant ledge and Toph tilted her head, listening for Sokka's voice. Aang could see the boy waving his arms at them and pointed over his shoulder.
"What does he want?" Toph asked. Aang grabbed her arm and started running for the cliff.
"I think dinner's ready. Sokka's only happy when dinner's ready." Toph tugged back her arm forcefully but kindly, digging her heels into the ground. Aang stopped and turned to her. "What are you doing?"
"I don't think I'll head up yet."
"Why not? Aren't you hungry?"
She shrugged. "Not really; not yet. I think I'll stay out here for a while."
"Because I want to."
"What are you going to do?"
She leaned into one hip. "I'm a big girl now, Mom. I promise I'll be very careful." She had on that lopsided grin of hers; the one that confused Aang, Katara and Sokka. The lopsided grin that was either Toph hiding something, knowing something or else just being sarcastic little Toph.
"Do you want me to stay--,"
"Goodbye!" She kicked the ball of her foot into the dirt and sent a tiny pebble flying up to conk Aang in the forehead. He whispered an 'ow' and rubbed his blue arrow, more annoyed than hurt by the tiny blow.
"Okay. If you want…"
"Just make sure Sokka and Momo leave something for me to eat."
Aang watched as she turned her back on him and faced the opposite horizon once more. He wanted to stay and see what she was going to do, but he knew that using her blindness to his advantage would be cruel, and he respected Toph too much to deceive her.
After a moment he turned towards camp and continued running.
She could like Aang. She wasn't going to lie and say that it would never happen. She could like Sokka. She wasn't going to lie and say that she never thought about it.
Because hey, they were the first boys she had ever had close relations with.
But even Toph knew that Aang liked Katara more than just a friend. He had a crush on her that made his heart beat whenever she showed him some sort of favor. She could feel it, and it made sense.
And, from what Aang and Katara had told her, Sokka wasn't a stranger with girls.
Either situation didn't much affect Toph. If anything she was just grateful that they were there. She didn't know if she liked Aang and she didn't know if she liked Sokka. But they were there.
In a life where people were so scarce, their being was enough for her.
Although she'd never admit it.
She got along with Sokka well, she had to admit. When they joked it was all in good fun, and if she teased him he never took it too personally, just as she never intended her words to be too personal. She had clashed too hard with Katara and Aang in the beginning.
She liked his passion to fight, even if he wasn't that great at it. And she thought his constant negativity was funny, even if it caused him a clumsy misery. Where Aang was usually paired with Katara in situations, Toph would pair with Sokka.
They just got along better.
Not that she couldn't stand the other two.
"Hey Katara," Toph said when she finally joined the group at the campfire. She dropped down on the ground near the flames and leaned back against a wood log.
"Finally. It's been a while since Aang came back." Katara walked over and handed Toph a bowl of stew. From what she could glean from her earthbending Aang was already finished eating and was just relaxing near Appa, and Sokka was stoking the fire. The smell coming from the bowl was delectable.
Toph was starving.
"Thanks, Sugar Queen. Smells good."
Sugar Queen. It had transformed from an insult to an endearment. Katara's nickname. And only Toph could use it. Sokka had tried once. He ended up drifting freely down river.
"So, what did you do out there all this time?" Katara asked, settling down next to Toph. There was a swishing noise when she sat. She had waited for Toph to eat her own dinner.
She laughed good-naturedly. "What can't you do with earth already?"
"I can't bend sand."
They both took a sip of their stew. It was as delicious as it smelled. "You were bending sand?"
"Trying to bend sand, or dirt, or any type of earth that is ground too fine." She wondered if she should say her next words, and then decided it was all right to admit it out loud. "It's hard."
"But you can bend anything," Sokka said off-handedly. It made Toph want to smile, but she didn't.
"Sand and fine dirt is hard for me to sense. Vibrations don't travel well through sand, so I can't see it very well. It's hard to bend something I can't find."
"When did you start trying?" Aang asked, his voice closer now. He must have left Appa, but with his light steps she barely even noticed.
"I started a while back. A little before I met any of you. It takes a lot of concentration, but I'm getting better."
"You didn't try when I was watching you."
Katara set down her bowl. "You watch her train?"
"You never take an interest in Aang or my bending."
"Because when I'm around Aang I get blown thirty feet into the air and when I'm around you I get soaked. When I'm with Toph she doesn't always throw giants boulders at me, so I feel safer around her."
"Oh, well, if you were expecting me to throw boulders I wouldn't want to disappoint you…"
"No, no! I just said that no boulders is a good thing!"
Aang, Katara and Toph laughed. It felt good to laugh with friends.
Everyone was sleeping in a cave they had found. Outside it was raining. In the cover of night and rain Toph became truthful to even herself.
She stood in the rain, feeling every minute vibration of the raindrops as they shattered into the ground around her. She felt each one as it touched her skin and soaked her clothes, brushed along her cheeks and weighed down her hair.
In the cover of the rain she didn't even care if any of them saw her.
In the cover of the rain they wouldn't be able to tell that she was crying.
Crying for no particular reason.
She rarely cried. The lone tear she had shed at her home was the most she had shown anyone. When she was angry or sad or frustrated she held back her tears. It was on these rare times, when she could hide it well, that she let all those times finally explode and she would cry.
In the rain she touched her face. It felt the same as always.
When she was finished she composed herself once more, pulling down the demeanor that was undeniably Toph. It wasn't a cover and it wasn't a façade. Her tough act wasn't an act at all, but who she really was.
Just, sometimes, even a rock can break.