A/n: I've got to thank the lovely Zeitgheist for the original idea behind this story... it wasn't stupid at all! At least, I didn't think so. That remains up to the readers. This oneshot is short and sweet, and very in-depth with some of Toph's thoughts. But what can I say? I like the way she thinks. :D Yet again, another story that continues a theme from something older; the original "The Many Uses of Earthbending" is one of my favorite stories (that I've written) of all time. And while there's not much "Earthbending" involved, you get the point.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Happy Reading, and Happy Tokka Week!
The Many Uses of Earthbending
II. Create a Gift
August 5, 2008
She's worked so hard for this moment, to keep it secret and make it work, but now that it's here a sort of nausea has settled into the pit of her stomach. Over a week and a half and a handful of sleepless nights later—even Sokka has noticed the dark circles under her eyes, which is really saying something since he spends so much time with Suki now—Toph is crouched in her Earth Tent with her knees tucked up against her chest and her face in her hands.
"Stop it, stop it, stop it!" she hisses quietly to herself, thumping her clenched fists against her forehead in frustration. "It's too late to chicken out now."
And it is. She's undergone the work, talked to the right people, done everything to make this meticulously-spent time go toward making the final product perfect—and it is, though of course she can't really see, but to Toph it just feels right. Now it's just a matter of not losing her cool; it isn't even a big deal, really, or at least it shouldn't be. Not the confrontation, anyway. It just… is. The sad thing is that she knows exactly why, and it spans beyond the project itself into much murkier waters (which is saying something, considering how she can't even swim).
But no. Before she can change her mind, for she feels him beginning to walk off in the opposite direction and she doesn't want to have to chase him down only to bring him back, she drops the heavy earth door to the tent and runs out into the sun's warmth.
The day is beautiful, almost mocking her frazzled nerves. She can feel the heat rolling in waves onto her face and arms, and while the tent had been warm it had at least provided some shelter from the sunlight. Off in the far distance she can hear Aang and Katara splashing around on the beach, just like they used to before the real dip in the war's progress, before its eventual resolution. Toph almost smiles, even in her state of near-panic; this pit stop on the way to the other end of the Fire Nation with the rest of the troops is well deserved, she thinks, for everyone. The war is finally over, and save for the small rebellions there has been little to complain about. They've been through so much in the last year that it's almost painful to look back and recall, so instead they can only look forward, hoping that the days ahead are as beautifully simple as this one.
It makes sense, then, for Sokka to be heading off towards the beach with Suki, a towel hanging around his neck and one arm draped over Suki's shoulders. He's jabbering on (as per usual) about something he's come across in the local store earlier this morning, but when Toph finally catches up with them a second later, he cuts off his sentence and turns around.
"Hey Toph, you coming with us?" he asks cheerfully. "I've got an extra towel—"
Toph shakes her head, feeling sick to her stomach with anxiety. Does it show on my face? she wonders. "Actually, I wanted to talk to you for a second."
"Oh." The single syllable sounds a little more than confused. "Okay."
An awkward pause follows before she finally adds, "Alone, I mean."
Toph can't help but feel a little self-satisfied when he lets out another taken aback "oh", removes the towel from around his neck, and passes it absently it into Suki's hands before starting off after Toph. She can't see, but somehow she knows that, for once in a long time, all his attention is focused solely on her; he doesn't so much as speak a word to his girlfriend as he follows the Blind Bandit towards their camp and her tent. His eyes are on her the whole way, she just knows it, and it feels good despite her other, less pleasant feelings.
"After you," she manages to say without sounding strained, and no sooner does she follow him into the tent than Sokka demands, in concerned tones, to know what's going on.
"I know that look," he asserts, crossing his arms worriedly. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she replies, even though her stomach is writing. She shouldn't be this nervous! "Look, Sokka. You know I don't usually… well, okay. I have something for you."
"Is it bad news?"
"Not quite." She's already on the other side of the dimly-lit tent, leaping over her bag to grab what looks like a rolled-up pile of dirty clothes. The cloth is heavy in her hands, and not just because it is, in fact, actually heavy. She makes her long trip back to where he stands, confused, and holds out the bundle in both hands.
"You… want me to do your laundry?" Sokka deadpans. "Gee Toph, I know me and Katara are related, but I don't typically—"
"Just look," she replies, pressing it into his hands, her heart thumping along in her ears.
"Wow, it's heavy Hey, what's this—? Oh… no way."
The amazement in his voice hits her like a ton of bricks. Wonderful, solid bricks of joy. Toph can feel ground trembling beneath his feet as he examines the prize within the clothes. Question after question comes to mind, but for now she forces them back down in hope that they will eventually answer themselves. There's a small gasp from the Warrior, and then a shing that she's come to know all too well; the sound of a new sword sliding against a freshly-made boomerang as he lifts the hilt.
"Toph." He says her name in complete and utter shock, and although she does so love to hear her name on his lips, she's equally as mortified to hear a definite hitch in his voice. But there's no huge ramble, just a barrage of questions: "When, Toph? Why? How?"
Her face is burning and she's sure he can tell, though she internally blames this on the stifling tent. She shrugs away his question. "You lost your sword and boomerang while saving my life, so…" she sighs, shrugging again. "I asked your sword master—Piandao, I mean—and your dad to help me make you a new set."
At this, she reaches forward with a well-trained hand until her skin brushes gently against his on the sword hilt. It takes all of her willpower not to flinch her fingers away, and to assist this motion she merely runs two fingers along the smooth, cold edge of the sword until they come to the tip. Beneath her fingers, Toph can feel the professional-looking carvings etched into the metal. "Piandao and your dad helped me make them. We designed it together—they took my ideas and used it to make the molds, and then I did all the physical shoveling and stuff, like you did last time. Then I used Earthbending to make it more... special, I guess. I changed a few things. Like this—" She runs along the engraving with her thumb. "I put the Water Tribe symbol on the blades, and added the vertical strip."
"It's a different color," he observes, referring to the handsome, neatly inlaid line that graces the blades of both weapons.
Toph's eyebrows knit briefly together as she runs a finger down the center of the blade's flat side. "Yeah, right in the middle here. The same thing runs along the center line of your boomerang."
The silent, motionless pause tells Toph that he's still too busy staring in amazement to say a word. She is perfectly fine with this idea, as long as she's allowed to remain silent, too.
Finally he asks, "What is it? The rest of the sword is like normal metal, but what's the dark center line?"
"Space earth," she replies with a smirk, knowing all too well that her work is paying itself off as she stands here with a more or less speechless Sokka. "I wanted to make you a new space sword and boomerang, but Piandao didn't have the space earth any more, so I used mine."
At this, her smile fades and she is serious once more. Parting with that space earth bracelet had been more than a little difficult—a downright wrench, actually—but when it came right down to it, she wouldn't have had the chance to give it up if Sokka had not kept such a steady grip on her hand back in battle. And now comes the small pit of self-doubt, the tiny little speck that has seated itself in her chest for the last week while everyone else has dealt with Fire Nation business and played on the beach. Sokka isn't saying anything, and that quivering beneath his feet has finally stopped. Is there and imperfection in the work she's put everything into?
"I know it can't ever replace your old ones," she mutters at her feet, her hand dropping from the sword in his hands. She feels him set the sword, boomerang, and clothing down on the ground a moment later. "There are a lot of memories that are in the ocean somewhere with them. And I know they're not as good as the old ones—"
She doesn't get a chance to finish her sentence, because a second later he's crushing her ribs in the most intense hug she's ever felt. His arms are right around her waist, her arms are flying out in surprise but can do no match against his tight embrace. That being said, Toph feels as if every ounce of blood is rushing to her face with the weight of his chest, her face pressed against the side of his warm neck. A shuddery sigh and a teardrop on her neck make her blush even deeper, feel more a part of the warrior than ever before.
"No, they're not," he agrees—tearfully, she's again horrified to discover. "They're even better. Toph, this is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me." He laughs slightly into her shoulder and she grins too, despite her embarrassment. "Did I mention you're my favorite, best friend ever in all the world?"
It takes a few moments, but Toph eventually regains the use of her arms and pries him off of her, almost reluctantly. "I know you love me, Sokka, but I can't breathe," she teases him.
She can feel him through the earth as he straightens up, wipes a tear from the bottom of his eye in an attempt at salvaging the last scraps of his masculinity. "I really, really do, Toph. Like a… well, not a sister—I don't really know what like. There's no comparing it." She can almost feel the color rise to his face, the pause is so obviously awkward. He hastily adds, "And I'm not just saying that because you made this set."
"You'd better not be," she jokes, glad the awkward moment has passed.
He stoops down and picks up both new weapons, runs his hand along the edge of the boomerang's blade with an expert, searching eye. "These really are perfect," he observes. In one hand he makes a gesture as if to throw the boomerang, though it never leaves his hand (for which she's thankful, because she doesn't want to be showered in the debris of her collapsed tent).
"I know; I made them."
Toph is so overwhelmed with joy that she can barely keep from shedding a few tears herself, never mind keep a straight face. All the work is paying itself off, and his previous comment has left her with a fuzzy feeling she hasn't felt since before Suki came around again. A small laugh from Sokka brings her sharply back into focus and she blinks hard.
"I was actually worried where you kept disappearing off to; Katara thought you were gambling again, like some kind of addict," he says, grinning. Toph actually laughs, feels the weight lift off of her shoulders. "And then when you asked me to talk to you, I thought you were going to confess that you've been off with Haru or something."
She laughs even harder now with him, until her sides hurt. Laughs because it's ridiculous that she would ever go off anywhere with Haru, laughs because he's actually been concerned that she's running off with Haru. The irony is priceless, she knows, but keeps the thought to herself, instead enjoying Sokka's laughter and the way it sounds intertwined with her own.
"Well," she somehow manages through her breath, wiping a tear of mirth from her own eye—because seriously, Haru?—and sets a hand on her waist, "you don't want to keep Suki waiting. She's probably really confused."
"Yeah…" He's staring longingly at the new weapons in his hand, she can tell, just longing for a chance to give them a test run. "Will you spar with me later?" he asks, a little shyly.
"Don't be stupid; of course I will. Now go on, we both have things to do," she says, punching him lightly on the arm. "I haven't slept all week."
"Sorry about that, incidentally."
"Yeah, yeah." She makes a motion towards the door and they both head for it. She stops at the entrance, however, and he turns around once more to face her, his arms weighed down with the weight of his new toys.
He speaks slowly, with consideration. "Really, thank you, Toph. I can't even tell you how much it means to me that you'd go through all of this, just for me."
Hah, just for you? It's always about you, Sokka. "It's nothing, really."
"Yes, it is." He sighs again, half-tiredly. "I know I haven't spent a lot of time with you since Suki came back," he says quietly. "But I really do miss making trouble with you. I promise I'll repay you for this."
Toph only smiles. "You already have."
They share a final grin and then he's turning around and walking back towards where Suki has seated herself upon a rock. As his footsteps fade into the distance, Toph can hear his elated tones as he shows Suki the gift he's been given. Their excited voices drift farther away towards the beach, and for once Toph doesn't feel that pang of jealousy that she usually associates with Sokka and Suki being within ten feet of one another. His words are still spinning around in her head, and although he couldn't even derive the true meaning of his jumbled words, she has no problem with it:
He loves her, and not like a sister. Not just like family.
Toph yawns, rubs her tired eyes, and walks back into her earth tent with a grin on her face.
It's no wedding proposal, but it's a pretty good start.
A/n: Keep dreaming, Toph. Hehe.
Thanks so much for reading!