Disclaimer: I do not own the intellectual properties depicted herein. I do not own the characters portrayed. I make no claim to own any part of 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'. All intellectual properties depicted herein belong to the creators of 'Avatar: The Last Airbender.' and Nickelodeon.


Freedom


Appearances and first impressions are everything. At least that's what my parent's used to preach.

'We're very important people in the community and we must look our best. Appearances must be kept.'

That's what my dad used to say and my mom would turn me into a living dress up doll. Just to keep up appearances. Would have made some sense…if I was ever allowed to be seen by people not working for my family that is!

I mean what's the point of 'pretty-ing' me up if no one's going to appreciate it?

Not that I NEED anyone to boost my self esteem or anything. It's called 'SELF ESTEEM'! It's esteem of my ever loving self. I'm doing just fine on my own, thank you very much.

And what do you mean 'Pretty-ing' isn't a real word? It's a real word. Where? Right here in the Dictionary of Toph!

Yeah that's my head. My head, my rules, my words.

What do you mean I'm off topic? You started it! Fine, fine, I'll get back to the point.

Appearances right? Can't judge a book by its cover and all that? Want an example?

Me.

Yes me.

Let me guess, you think I'm some poor frail little blind girl who needs her hand held every waking moment so that she won't feel scared or anything, right?

Answer yes and you die.

I'm the world's greatest and youngest earthbender.

I am Toph Bei Fong and don't you forget it.

And who are you calling an egomaniac?

Yes, I did hear you whisper. Yes, I have sensitive ears. Comes with being BLIND.

See? There's more to me than meets the eye.

Yes, that was a sight joke in there too. Glad you caught it, for a second there I thought all this was just zooming over your head. Good for you.

Want another example? Okay, see that guy over there? You probably can't tell by looking at him but that scruffy bald twinkle toed airhead over there, well…he saved the world.

Honest to my ancestors' truth, I swear.

What's he like?

Well, that's something to do with all this hidden truths under appearances thing right?

Twinkle Toes…I mean Aang's a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

What everyone sees is the Avatar. The man the Spirits put in charge of keeping the balance of the four elements. The most powerful bender in the world. The big guy.

Volcano's going to blow? Call the Avatar.

Power mad despot? Call the Avatar.

Need a quick distraction at party involving marbles? Call the Avatar.

That sort of thing.

They don't see Twinkle Toes like I…WE do. Who are we? We're his family that's who WE are.

And he means so much more to me…US than just being the Avatar. He's…he's a lot of different things to each of us. I...WE all love him but differently.

To Appa, the big fuzzy guy back there, Twinkle Toes is his best and first friend. And Twinkles feels the same way. Trust me, I know. It's a bond thing between Airbenders and their Sky Bisons. There's nothing they wouldn't do for each other. Well, same with the rest of us, but those two have it deeper because Twinkles is the only one who understands what the big fuzz ball means when he grunts and they were each others only friends before us. I kinda understand…I never had any friends till I met Twinkles.

Momo? The winged rat thing? Winged LEMUR. Say it with me: Leeeemuuuur. The little pipsqueak's like a pet but a very smart one. Most people see it like a Master and Pet thing. But Twinkle's isn't Momo's master. Twinkle's is his friend….and main source of nuts.

To Snoozles, Aang is family. Twinkles' the little brother he never had but so desperately wanted instead of a sister. You should see them. The Meat Head likes to share his so called 'Manly Wisdom' with Twinkles…to everyone's amusement. Twinkles' his buddy, his pal, his brother. And Sokka'll go to the ends of the world with him.

Zuko saw Aang in a different way. To him, Aang meant redemption. Zuko's done a lot of bad things in his life and he wanted to atone for them. Joining us was his plan to do so, I guess. Not to say Big, Mean and Firebreathing doesn't love Twinkles any less then the rest of us. Zuko might never say it, but Twinkles' grown on him.

Everyone knows just what Sugar Queen, that's Katara by the way, thought of Twinkles. She told us all the time.

To her, Aang is hope. Her hope. The world's hope. The hope for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow where war doesn't exist and no one would suffer anymore. A tomorrow of peace. A tomorrow where a child would never lose their mother to war. A tomorrow where loved ones wouldn't be taken away.

A tomorrow where no one should ever be imprisoned.

Aang is hope.

Me?

Call me a pessimist but I don't care much for hope. I don't like to wait and hope that things turn out right.

I make sure things turn out right.

I take charge and get things done.

And all I want…is the freedom to do it.

That's what Twinkles' means to me.

Freedom.

I used to fight in tournaments you know. I used to sneak out of the house right under my parent's noses. They thought their little cherry blossom was in her room playing with her dolls that she could hold but never see. Oh, I was playing with dolls alright. They never knew I was tossing grown men around like rag dolls every night. They'd never understand the thrill I got defying their rules. The rush I thought was freedom.

But it wasn't real freedom.

By night, I was the Blind Bandit. Earth Rumble Champion. But come the day, I was back to being the meek little girl I hated to be.

It wasn't real freedom but I thought it was.

Until he showed me.

He showed a blind girl something no one truly ever saw.

What most people took for granted.

What it was like to be truly free.

And I thank him for it…not to his face of course; I've got an image to keep.

I know I'm a hypocrite, talking about dropping false masks and showing the real person inside and then not telling him how I feel.

All this talk about having the freedom to take charge and get things done and here I am, too scared…too scared of what he might say, how he might react.

That underneath the blind girl's veil, beneath the strong earthbender's mask, is really just a girl worried over a silly little thing like a boy's opinion.

So much for self esteem huh?

Then again…why should I worry?

Aang means a lot to me.

A WHOLE lot.

He's been honest, shows his emotions freely and cares so much for all of us.

If I can't find the courage to tell him freely, won't I just be trapping myself in a shell, a prison of my own feelings?

Won't I be going against everything he stands for and means to me?

No.

I got trapped with that crush on Snoozles.

I refuse to be trapped again.

I will not turn into one of those girls who can't think straight whenever a boy's around.

I hate those girls.

I'd sooner marry a Hog-Monkey than be like one of those girls.

Twinkles' better appreciate what I'm about to do.


Strength


Appearances can be deceiving. If there's one thing I'll remember when I'm old, wrinkly and my mind is going, that would be it.

It's a lesson I've learned…been learning, still learning all my life.

No one is ever quite what they seem.

I'm not talking about embarrassing birthmarks or moles you can hide under your clothes or anything. I'm talking about the stuff that lies in a person's heart, a person's soul.

Gyatso once told me people are like bananas, you have to peel away the outer skin to get to the yummy parts.

Of course as a young kid, I went 'Ewww I don't want to peel people's skin and eat them!' Gyatso laughed, I laughed. Good times. Good times.

Now?

Now I know he meant.

As a child I was naïve…to say the least. But I got wise real quick. War'll do that to a person…a kid…A kid should never have to deal with war.

But it did teach me that one thing about people and their 'skins'.

I've been shot at, burned, struck by lightning, flat out lied to and even heartbroken.

And I don't think I've learned all about the 'skins' people wear yet.

What? Me? Am I wearing any 'skins'?

Why yes, yes I am.

You're probably thinking, if I'm wearing a 'skin' how can I be trusted right?

Well, not all 'skins' are bad. Like orange peel, we don't eat it but when dried it makes a nice air freshener.

Not a good example huh?

Well, how about this? An evil man appears trustworthy to others. Obviously that's bad right?

A young boy, frightened out of his mind about the responsibilities of being the Avatar, puts on a brave face, so that others won't feel the same either.

Yes, it is like lying.

But the important thing is that the boy CHOSE to be brave and he chose to be brave for others.

I never wanted this.

Being the Avatar and all.

Never wanted to be Avatar Aang, the great and powerful.

Just wanted to be Aang.

Just wanted to get my glider and take off with Appa. Deep into the wild blue yonder.

They wanted to send me away, to train, to be the savior of the world.

The weight of the world on the shoulders of a twelve year old.

Yes, a twelve year old who happens to be the Avatar.

Yes, war was raging.

But what twelve year old wants to be told that if HE doesn't save the world, everything burns?

No more Gyatso.

No more Appa.

No more friends.

Then again, I never had any friends back in the temples.

Do you know what it feels like, as a kid, to have other kids treat you like a disease?

It's not nice.

And so, I ran.

And the world suffered because I ran.

Wanna know the really sad part?

I still didn't wise up. Even after getting freed, I still wanted to be just Aang. I did take up my responsibilities but now that I think about it, it was for the wrong reasons even if my intentions were good.

I never really took my role as Avatar seriously. Yes, I did good deeds and such but when it came down to the crunch, I always ran.

Sometimes I'd make excuses to avoid my duty as Avatar and sometimes I'd actually RUN from it.

That was my 'skin'. The role of Avatar. The savior of the world. When in truth I had no idea how to go about doing it.

I thought, 'Hey if it made people happy, then why not? If it made HER happy, then I'd most certainly do it.'

I'll get to who HER is in a while.

So, fresh out of cold storage and saddled with the task of defeating Fire Lord Ozai to set the world right. Just how would I do that? How would I accomplish such a monumental task?

I got lucky that's how.

I got lucky enough to be found by good people. Caring people. People that would become my new family. And I would meet more good friends and family. All of them steered me right.

And I am ever grateful to the Spirits for bringing us all together. I could have never done it without their support, their help, their training and most importantly; their love.

They mean a lot to me, no wait; they mean THE WORLD to me. Of course then ONE of them would smack me over the head and tell me to put the world before them instead.

But I love them all anyway.

And I'll tell you about the ONE later.

Let's start with Sokka. What can I say? He's my big brother. He'd give my 'brotherly' advice about stuff I didn't recognize or understood after my hundred year nap, call me little brother from time to time and look out for me. Generally being a pal. I thought it was because I was the only other guy in the group till Zuko came along…then again, no one really liked Zuko back then. I realized that Sokka loved me like a real brother and I wouldn't have it any other way. To me Sokka represented the honest, hardworking people of the world. The people I fought to protect.

In a way Sokka reminds me of a young Bumi…or an old one since Bumi's still alive and kicking.

Like everyone else, Sokka wore a skin. He was happy go lucky on the outside but inside…well, he's had his share of tragedies from the war. I won't say anymore.

And if Sokka's Bumi…Zuko's Kuzon. Except that Zuko's a moody, temperamental and volatile bomb waiting to go off. My other big brother so to speak. Unlike Sokka, Zuko was never the…upbeat type. Sokka meant fun. Zuko meant business. He helped me keep sight of, more like stressed, my goals. To defeat the Fire Lord. His own father. The man's own son wanted me to beat the living daylights out of him, that's commitment and a little sad.

Zuko, to me, represented redemption. He was a sign that things could and would get better. He proved that but practically flipping his dad off and joining with the enemy. But not everyone believed him though…

One of those 'Everyones' was Katara. The HER I was talking about. She was, is beautiful to me. I had such strong feelings for her. I was in love. Or I thought I was. Katara brought out the best in me, I'd do anything for her, and that was the worst in me as well.

She became my world while I was supposed to be protecting the real one. I had turned my back on everyone else just for her. I didn't actually do it, but in my mind that was what I was doing, though I wasn't aware. Hey, I was only twelve, I didn't know any better.

She loved me, but not in the way I had hoped. To call her family is an understatement. Katara loves me like a sister would her brother. At first I was angry; I thought she was using me all along. She called me her Hope, which in my anger I took to mean her WEAPON. A weapon against the Fire Nation.

And, as ashamed as I have to admit, I ran again. I had to get my head straightened out. Of course it all worked out in the end or I'd be dead and everyone would be wearing Fire Nation red right now.

Katara never wore any 'skins', what you saw was what you got. Maybe that's why I love her still. Like family of course.

And then there's Toph, world's greatest earthbender, heiress to a mountain of money and someone very, very special to me.

Stubborn, gruff and at times mean spirited but in a good way. Toph amazed me. Not because she was a girl…well okay back then all girls amazed me.

No, she was amazing because I could not understand how she could live her life under so much 'skin'. She was clearly the best earthbender I'd ever seen but she denied it. At home she wasn't the brash, strong and insulting tournament champion. That was Toph. Not the quiet little doll she'd become in her parents' presence.

It was so…not right.

In the end, she joined us. Though she lied about having her parents' approval, a lie I had to deal with right after the war. I didn't want to turn their front yard into a lava pool, but a guy can only take so much slander right?

But what makes Toph truly special?

Her strength.

She never backs down, steps aside or runs.

In short, she is my opposite.

And I needed her strength, even if I didn't know it.

When I would fall, now I stand.

When I would shy away, now I face head on.

She helped me discover strengths in myself I didn't even know I had. Though her methods were a little…harsh.

Telling me to never give up and to keep on fighting. Not harsh.

Training me by hurling boulders the size of houses. Kinda harsh.

But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Because that just wouldn't be Toph.

That wouldn't be the girl…no, woman, I've come to…appreciate? Admire?

This is funny, if she saw me…well, sensed me now. Being all confused and flustered.

Where's that strength I'm supposed to have?

I could ask her for help, but how can I ask her on how to…?

Oh, wait. I can imagine it now. She'd pull on my ear and tell me to quit being so wishy washy and just spit it out.

Oh what I'd give to know where Guru Pathik is right now…


End.