Avatar is like my next-door neighbor's internet. I don't own it, but I still use it without permission.
Sokka wasn't quite sure what went wrong.
Toph's behavior had been bothering him for quite some time now, he thought as he massaged both his shoulders at the same time so that his forearms crossed on his chest. He had decided to confront her about it on the next opportunity and had been on the lookout for it ever since.
Just two days later the chance came up. Sokka had returned from the market with an array of red meats to offset Katara and Aang's sickening predilection for fresh greens and other colors that Sokka firmly believed did not belong in a person's mouth. He presented his conquest to Toph upon arrival back in the upper ring Ba Sing Se house where she was waiting for them, lying back on the crumpled rug with her muddy feet propped against a marble sculpture. She had already perked up at the smell like someone had dinged a bell in her head and she jumped up excitedly. As way of thanks she threw her fist into his shoulder, connecting at exactly the same spot she had left a bruise two days before. It felt like she had punched straight through to the bone.
Sokka then yelled that he finally had enough, that he was sick of Toph hitting him all the time. "I have so many bruises on my arms it probably looks like I have a disease!" he barked at her.
Sokka expected Toph to respond indignantly, of course. She was supposed to brush him off with a sarcastic quip about babyish he was being, then think it over when she was next alone and realize the discomfort she was putting him through. But instead her sludgy green eyes watered and she ran off, dragging an earthquake with each step, and shrieked, "It's how I show affection!"
Sokka ran the incident through his head once again. He still couldn't see what went wrong.
Partially on Katara's insistence ("This is why you shouldn't overreact!"), partly out of personal guilt, and somewhat because of a nagging curiosity, Sokka walked to Toph's room and knocked on her door, making a tiny sound that betrayed the mighty warrior within. Toph knew he was coming and opened before he could knock again. Her head drooped in a way that made it impossible for Sokka to see her eyes, and he immediately associated the body language with dejection before reminding himself that the blind girl often held her head in that position.
"Hi," said Sokka, his serious voice always astonishing him with its deepness. "I came to apologize."
Toph moved to the side as way of admitting Sokka inside, and he walked past her into the room. It was small but not cramped, large enough to fit a single-person bed lined with a green comforter and yellow sheets, brown pillows laced with florid designs padding one end; a small white desk with legs carved to look like the mouths of badgermoles, faced by a matching white rectangular chair with a brown seat cushion; a painting of a mountain landscape hanging crooked in a golden frame; and a small window perched too high for Toph's head to reach, its green curtains drawn to shower the room with green sunlight, nearly making it look to be made of grass. Sokka pulled out the rectangular chair and sat in it backwards, straddling its back between his legs and resting his elbows on top. Toph indifferently took a seat on the floor.
"Look, Toph," Sokka began, "I'm sorry for yelling at you earlier."
Toph blew at her bangs. "It's okay," she said with a small voice. "I shouldn't have gotten so worked up about it."
"No, I shouldn't have yelled," Sokka asserted gently. "I guess it was just bothering me so much that you'd, you know, hit me all the time that I just snapped."
"It's how I show affection," repeated Toph. "I was thanking you."
Sokka rubbed his shoulder subconsciously. "Could you thank me in a way that doesn't hurt so much?"
"But that's the way I was always taught," said Toph. "How do you show affection?"
"Well," said Sokka, looking for the answer on the ceiling, "Katara always puts her arm on my shoulder. Not hitting it, just resting it there." He looked at Toph skeptically, but she nodded, intently and somberly, showing that she was sparing no amount of attention to his words. He took a breath and continued, "You can always just say, 'Thank you.' That works pretty well, too. Or you can give a hug, or you can take a hold of each other's elbows like we do in the Water Tribe."
"There's no hitting?" asked Toph innocently.
"Who taught you to hit someone to show affection?" Sokka asked with a sudden attack of disgust. "That's really not normal."
"My father," said Toph without hesitation.
Sokka stayed quiet.
"Dad wasn't happy that I was born blind, but he loved me anyway," she said through a melancholy grin. "He wanted to raise me and protect me and make sure nothing ever happened to me. But he also hated that I was a blind girl. What he really wanted was a son, a handsome, perfect son who could carry on the family name. After I was born Mom couldn't have children anymore and my father lost all hope of the Bei Fongs staying important for generations.
"Sometimes when I would do something a normal girl could do and he was so proud he would hit me. I remember once when I was young I made a house of cards on the table and showed it to him. He hit the table and knocked over the cards, then hit me, and then he hugged me and cried and told me how proud he was of me. That sort of thing happened a few times. I still have a scar from the worst of them. You can still feel it."
She reached out and dragged Sokka's hand down from its loft on the chair chair guiding it under her vest and through the buttons of her shirt to rest on the side of her waist, just above her pelvis. Sokka swallowed out of compulsion as she rubbed his finger around a thin slivery bump no bigger than an eyelash. He couldn't help but imagine the mass of sweet, milky skin as her hand pressed her palm into her, a vanilla complexion marred by a microscopic dark irregularity.
If Katara had chosen that moment to barge into the room Sokka would have a lot of explaining to do, he thought with a panic.
She asked, "Do you feel it?"
"I feel it," he said immediately, withdrawing his hand though the folds of her outfit. His voice squeaked, losing its deep seriousness from before. His palm was warm and balmy, and he idly rubbed his hands together to normalize their climates.
"So even if it hurt," continued Toph through Sokka's distraction, "I knew my father loved me, and he only hurt me because he loved me. He only locked me up and kept me away from other people because he loved me. He didn't mean to hurt me, even though sometimes it hurt so bad that I ran away to the badgermoles. He only meant to love me. I just thought… I just thought that was how to show affection."
"I'm so sorry, Toph," said Sokka, his voice deep sympathetic again. "I had no idea."
"It's okay," said Toph.
She abruptly stood up and hugged Sokka from the side before he could turn to meet her properly, smushing her cheek into his bruised shoulder. It didn't hurt one bit.
"You're right," she murmured, snuggling against the meat of his shoulder. "This is much better."
He swung his arm around her and pulled her closer. Her hair rested right under his nose, smelling like the foot of a wild mongrel, deliciously dirty. He had to agree, this was a much better way of showing affection.
Katara chose that moment to barge in without knocking.
I wonder if I've strayed a little too far from Toph's personality here. If hitting people is how she shows affection, where'd she learn that skill? Surely not at the Bei Fong estate, I thought. Perhaps Earth Rumble? Maybe that's the premise of "Affection II." But here it's a habit her father taught her at a young, young age, like an abusive relationship.
Now that I think about it, I stick to what's on the page.
In other news, I'm finally done with my Nanowrimo first draft! 135,815 words and 439 pages of 1,617 words per day for nearly three months! I guess this means more time for fan fiction. Or more time to start the editing process? We shall see!
Toph: [not so innocently this time] How do you show affection?
Sokka: Sometimes with a kiss…
Toph: I was hoping you'd say that!