Caught

Suki is going back to Kiyoshi Island.

Of course she is. She's not in prison anymore, there isn't a war anymore, and she's already talked to Sokka.

Sokka is staying with Katara.

Of course he is. Katara is more than a sister to him; Toph, and Toph alone (probably not anymore, she reflects) knows this. Katara is as close to everything to Sokka that a woman will ever get, Toph suspects – and Suki sees that, and she's okay with it, so Toph is, too.

She would've gone with Suki. But she can't, because it's the kind of fancy Aang would follow, and Toph doesn't want to admit that she likes the way Suki upsets the order of things.

-

Suki told her after dancing (not training, Toph decided to herself). As the other warriors filed away, Suki approached her on the sidelines and crouched in front of her. Her heart was pulsing steady and quick as a haremouse running through a field, but it was not afraid, nor hardened. She never smelled like sweat after training; just like sensibly laundered clothes and lipstick, and she bore herself with grace.

"I'm going back to the Earth Kingdom."

"And?" Toph replied, not surprised by the news, unwilling to sound needy by asking Are you stealing Sokka too, then?

Suki snapped a fan open with the pleasant sound of metal clicking. Soon the backlash of her breeze was cooling Toph, too. "Sokka's staying here," she said, reading Toph's face with her sharp eyes, "but I'll make you the same offer I made to him."

Toph blew her bangs out of her face and haughtily turned her head away, praying Suki couldn't see her blush or somehow feel the jump in her pulse. "Is that so?"

"Yes," Suki replied, spotting the blush and repressing a smile. She settled next to Toph, legs splayed in front of her, and opened a second fan, which she tapped against Toph's wrist. When Toph accepted it, gently brushing the fine metal with her fingertips, Suki continued. "The girls and I would be happy to take you back with us."

"Is that so?" Toph repeated, holding the fan to her face the way she was trained as a girl. The heaviness of the fan was so much more natural to her than the flimsy paper fans she was presented as a child.

"Yup." Suki smiled, then, and stood. "Think about it."

Toph couldn't istop/i thinking about it, and she wished she would.

-

Toph does not return Suki's fan.

Suki does not ask for it.

-

Toph caught her in the morning, just before Sokka woke up. Suki was painting her face, as delicate as any noblewoman and as sure as any warrior. Toph sat near Sokka at the end of the bed and tapped her feet, studying Suki. She wasn't any different in the morning; less heavy, but otherwise the same. "Do you put it on every day?" she asked, listening to the soft sounds of Suki brushing her face with feather strokes.

"Have you ever put any on?" Suki asked, her voice frank and curious.

"Once or twice," Toph said, prodding Sokka's foot to test his reaction. She could feel Suki's eyes on her, scrutinizing. "You didn't answer my question," she reminded her, smirking and jabbing Sokka harder. He groaned and rolled over, altogether unperturbed.

"I put it on every day I'm willing to fight." Suki turned on her stool and leaned over, stretching a hand out to smear red paint over Toph's bottom lip. Toph ducked her head, automatically licking her lips, embarrassed. Suki chuckled and returned her hand to her own lips, her eyes trained on Toph. "Make-up doesn't really suit you."

-

Toph had no interest in learning to fight like a Kiyoshi Warrior.

Still, she and Sokka spent their free time in the main courtyard, lounging in the shade and watching the women train. Toph taught Sokka how to hold a fan like a lady; Sokka taught Toph how to impress them by failing spectacularly at it.

(When she realized the edge a fan gave her bending, she took Suki to the front hall of the palace and tore it to pieces.

Suki was impressed.

Zuko was not.

Toph was fine with that.)

-

The afternoon was young and hot as the surface of the sun. Suki was training (dancing, Toph repeated to herself with a small measure of envy) alone, sweat carving trails in her meticulous face paint. Her breathing was hard, her heart pounding the way it did when Sokka kissed her. Toph waited, half-hidden in the shadow of a pillar, the fan in her hand bristling hot. When Suki stopped, swallowing and catching her breath, Toph stepped into the light.

Suki just laughed like she was expecting her (and she probably was). "It's hot as the Firelord today, isn't it?" she called, grinning.

Toph didn't stop laughing for a long time, and wished Zuko was there to hear. When she did stop, she wiped a tear from her eyes and cocked her head back. "Nice one, Honey. I guess Sokka's catching onto you."

Suki smiled. "Sometimes I'm not so sure it's ihim/i so much as you," she quipped, and Toph didn't open the fan fast enough to hide her surprise.

-

Toph didn't care about sunsets or stars, but that didn't stop her from lounging on Sokka's balcony when the evenings were warm and the world was calm.

Sokka and Suki tried to explain colors to her using emotions, then people, then ideals, but Toph just laughed and they gave up, Suki chiding her, Sokka shrugging it off. In the end, they always sat together in comfortable silence, letting the darkness cover them tenderly.

-

The evening was silent and Toph was brooding. Suki's fan was in her hand again, tapping against her knee; she could see the fine embossed designs on the handle without having to touch them. She wanted to talk to Suki, or Sokka, or Katara, or someone, but they were all watching sunsets with lovers and she refused to admit that she'd been thinking about this since Suki made her offer.

A cricket chirped. Toph pulled her knees up to her chest and argued with herself, looking for a safe ground somewhere in her and losing her footing each time. She decided she hated this whole ordeal just as the door opened.

"Hey," Suki said, and Toph jerked straight in her chair, feet slamming into the ground, the world vibrant around her for a split second before the vibrations eased up.

"Hey," Toph mumbled, reorganizing her thoughts. She realized she dropped the fan, and lingered between picking it up and leaving it lying there. "What's up?"

"I wanted to talk to you," she explained, calmly crossing the room. She picked the fan up off the ground and pressed it into Toph's hand. Suki settled onto the window frame and neatly pushed her feet against the wall.

Toph fidgeted. "Is something wrong?"

"Not really," Suki said slowly. Her voice was heavy with thought. "But," she cradled Toph's hands; something lit up inside of her, "I wanted to have a private goodbye. Before tomorrow."

"Oh." Toph hesitated, thought of something witty, and started to open her mouth. Suki didn't let the words out; instead, she kissed Toph's bottom lip, gentle and calm. Toph automatically wrapped her arms around her. She didn't let her go until she was calm inside again, until the wind coming through the window was cold enough to tell that the sun had set.

-

Suki is going back to Kiyoshi Island.

Toph isn't sure what she's going to do, because the best advice she tells herself is to do what she wants, and what she wants isn't what she should want. So, she keeps Suki's fan tucked in her belt and waits, and listens, and trusts her instincts.

After all, there's always time to change her mind.