Author’s note: In which Toph gets the spotlight, the boys are afraid of the girls and the weird guy from two chapters back has a bit of a naming crisis. Also, in which the author got her files all mixed up and this was actually supposed to be last week’s chapter. 😦
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A passing bird watched the little human girls under it curiously as they faced each other. A human boy hopped in their direction cheerily, tying his headband as a blindfold at the same time.
“Ok, I’m ready for some training!” Aang called to his water and earthbending masters. He stood between the two girls and started deflecting the attacks that came at him from both directions. He sent a waterwhip back at Katara and simultaneously a rock at Toph. The petite earthbender caught it with one hand.
“Good job, Twinkle-Toes. Visualize – then attack!” She sent the boulder back to him. Aang ducked to avoid it and it hit Katara instead.
“Maybe you should take your own advice, Toph!” the waterbender called angrily. That boulder had hurt. Toph didn’t seem very concerned.
“What’s the matter?” she called in an annoying voice. “Can’t handle some dirt, Madame Fussy Britches?” Katara’s scowl deepened and she wordlessly bent a wave to Toph’s direction.
“Oh, sorry, did I splash you, mud slug?” she called back at the drenched girl.
Completely forgetting their student the two girls shot attacks back and forth. Aang looked around confused, without taking the blindfold off.
“Are we taking a break?” he asked a little hopefully. He didn’t notice Sokka sneaking behind him with an evil smile. The older boy rushed to the airbender yelling.
“SNEAK ATTACK!” he called. Aang rolled his eyes under the blindfold and made a wall of earth to block Sokka.
“Sokka, sneak attacks don’t work if you yell it out loud,” he said removing the headband. As if to prove the point a large fireball landed between them. The two boys jumped away and turned to face their opponent, to find a smug-looking Zuko looking down at them from a nearby rock. He jumped silently next to them.
“Practice over?” he asked Aang curiously. The airbender shrugged.
“I’m not so sure,” he said pointing at the two girls who were currently wrestling in the mud. Sokka looked around.
“Where’s Lia?” he asked confused.
“Right behind you,” the Spirit said, laughing as the Water Tribe boy yelped and jumped away from her. “Seems like it’s not your day Sokka.” They turned to watch Katara and Toph.
“Uh, guys, I thought we were supposed to be training me,” Aang called at them hesitantly. That brought them back to reality.
“Very well, pupil. I believe we’ve had enough training for today,” Katara said before walking away. Toph bended the mud out of her clothes and hair.
“While Katara cleans up, let’s go have some fun!” she decided. Aang and Sokka immediately cheered. Lia shared a look with her brother.
“I’ll go to keep an eye on them; you stay and calm Katara down.”
They walked to the nearest town and started walking around the streets. Lia sent a particular nasty glare at a statue of Ozai they passed, muttering under her breath something that sounded a lot like over-compensating….
“Look at all those messenger hawks,” Sokka pointed at a shop. “You know, I’ve been thinking about getting one for myself. That way, I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone…I could just send them messages!”
“I gotta say, I like the idea of not talking to you,” Toph said wistfully.
“So, guys, what are we gonna get with our last silver piece?” Aang asked cheerfully.
“We could save it just in case,” Lia said. “We are low on money after all.”
“Or we can get more money.” Toph pointed at an alley. “Right there.” There was a man there playing a shell game. “This is where you see-people are at a disadvantage. Everyone guesses wrong because the dealer moves the rock at the last minute. But I can feel it with my earthbending.” Lia gave her a doubtful look.
“Toph, I’m not so sure about that,” she said as the teenagers walked up to the alley.
“Oh, come on!” Sokka said carelessly. “It’s not that bad!”
The dealer seemed to notice Toph and called to her.
“You there! Want to play a friendly game?”
“How could I possibly play? I’m blind,” Toph said in such an innocent voice it almost fooled her friends.
“You don’t have to see to be lucky,” the dealer said friendlily. Toph leaned on Aang to guide her to the dealer’s direction – which he did blushing – and once seated, the earthbender placed their last silver piece on the ground. The dealer tried to do his usual trick but Toph guessed correctly. He handed her a few coins.
“Flamey-o, Toph!” Aang exclaimed.
“Wow, fancy guessing. You are amazing at this. Would you like to make the game a little more interesting?” the dealer said in a sugary tone.
“More interesting? How?” Toph asked, still the picture of pure innocence.
“Well, let’s say you toss in your friend’s fine sword there. Then I’ll put up
twenty silver pieces against it, and that’s more interesting.” Lia went to protest but Toph spoke first.
“I’ll do it for forty silver pieces,” she said excitedly.
“Forty silver pieces it is,” the dealer said satisfied. He tried removing the pebble while the shells were still moving but such tricks wouldn’t get on with Toph. She bended it back where it belonged. She pointed at the shell the pebble was under. “Sorry, little lady, but…” the dealer began only to lose his words when he saw the pebble there.
“I won!” Toph celebrated. Before anyone had a chance to realise what had happened, the mysterious kids were off.
Katara looked amazed at the amount of shopping they brought back at the camp.
“Where did you guys get the money to buy all this stuff?” she asked shocked.
“Toph got us money. She scammed one of those guys in town who moves the shells around all sneaky-like,” Aang explained with no small amount of amazement in his voice.
“She used earthbending to win the game. Classic!” Sokka was equally amazed by the mischievous little earthbender. Katara crossed her arms.
“Ah, so she cheated,” she concluded.
“Hey, I only cheated because he was cheating. I cheated a cheater. What’s wrong with that?” Toph asked defensively.
“I’m just saying, this isn’t something we should make a habit of doing,” Katara insisted.
“Why? Because it’s fun, and you hate fun?” Toph snapped.
“I don’t hate fun!” Katara said incredulously.
“Making out with Sparky doesn’t count,” the earthbender shot back. Katara and Zuko blushed and Sokka let out an indignant noise. He was ignored.
“Katara, I’ll personally make you an Avatar promise that we won’t make a habit of doing these scams,” Aang promised solemnly, eager to end the argument before it went out of hand.
Katara let them have their fun for a few days, seeing that Avatar promises apparently didn’t hold much water. She hoped that they’d get bored and stop on their own, but gradually Toph’s stunts got more and more elaborate. She wasn’t the only one worried. Zuko found it risky too. They stayed in the same place for far longer than was absolutely necessary and he feared that someone might get suspicious. After a week he decided to voice his concerns.
“These scams have gone far enough,” he said decisively. “If you keep doing them, something bad is gonna happen.”
“Would you just lighten up!” Toph said annoyed. Katara nagging her was more than enough. “You and Katara should really relax.”
“Oh, we’re sorry,” Katara frowned. “You think we should be more like you? Like some wild child?”
“Yeah, maybe. Maybe then, you’d see how great we have it. I mean, look at us. We’re traveling around the world, making easy money, having fun, with no parents to tell us what to do,” Toph said, the picture of contentment. Katara’s eyes narrowed.
“Ah, I see. You’re acting like this because of your parents.”
“Whatever,” Toph mumbled.
“They were controlling over you, so you ran away, and now you act like your parents don’t exist. You act like you hate them, but you don’t. You just feel guilty,” the older girl tried to get through.
“I do hate them,” Toph insisted.
“I don’t think so. I think you miss them. But you just don’t want to deal with that, so instead, you act like this crazy person.” Toph shot to her feet.
“Look. I ran away to help Aang!” Katara crossed her arms.
“You know what? It doesn’t matter. These scams put us all at risk, and we don’t need that. We’ve already got some third-eyed freak after us.” At that Sokka’s head shot up.
“Speaking of that third-eyed freak…I think I’ve come up with a name for him. What do you think of…Sparky-Sparky Boom Man!” They all looked at him exasperated. “Just think about it,” he insisted.
“It’s not important right now,” Zuko spoke again. “We have enough money. You need to stop this!”
“I’ll stop when I want to stop, and not when you tell me Dad!” Toph walked away angrily. Sokka stood up uninterested.
“Speaking of money, I’m off to spend some. See you guys later,” he called over his shoulder as he walked towards the town.
Apparently shopping didn’t go well… Toph thought wryly, feeling Sokka sprinting back at the camp not an hour after he left. He paused in front of her.
“Toph, when I was in town, I found something that you’re not gonna like,” he said gravely. He unrolled a paper in front of her. Top didn’t seem impressed.
“Well, it sounds like a sheet of paper, but I guess you’re referring to what’s on the sheet of paper,” she said evenly.
“It’s a wanted poster,” Sokka explained, waving his hands madly. “Of you. They’ve nicknamed you the Runaway.” Toph shot to her feet amazed.
“A wanted poster. That’s so great. The Runaway! I love my new nickname. Is there a picture of me? Does it look good?” Sokka took a look at the poster.
“Well, yeah, actually, it does look pretty good.” He sobered. “But Toph, you’re missing the point. Maybe Katara was right. These scams are drawing too much attention to us.” Toph shrugged carelessly.
“Don’t be such a worrywart like your sister. Think of it this way. Now you have plenty of money to help with the invasion plan!” she dangled a bag of money under his nose.
“Well, that is true. I had this idea of making armour for Appa,” Sokka said thoughtfully. Toph handed him some money.
“Here’s a little extra so you can get yourself a nice map of the Fire Nation.” She gave him the entire bag. “You know what? Make it an atlas.”
“I do like expensive atlases,” Sokka murmured, clearly sold.
“Of course you do!” Toph said sweetly, snatching the poster. “And that’s why this wanted poster is going to stay our little secret.”
She walked away right in time to avoid the rest of the gang. Katara looked at her brother exasperated.
“Sokka, tell me you didn’t buy a bird,” she sighed, sounding much like a mother. Sokka shook his head.
“Not just a bird. A messenger bird! Now we can send messages all over the world, even to Gran-Gran.”
“Wow, how does it work?” Aang asked curiously. Sokka’s smile diminished.
“Hm, uh, I never actually thought about that.” He turned to the bird. “Hawky! Gran-Gran, South Pole.” The hawk just looked at him. “I think he gets it,” he said enthusiastically to the others. Zuko rolled his eyes.
“You’re being an idiot,” he concluded before letting out a low whistle. The hawk immediately flew to his outstretched arm and he gave the other boy a smug look.
“No fair!” Sokka whined. “Hawky is mine! Why does he like you better?” Zuko shrugged.
“Maybe because I don’t have Momo flying over my head,” he said pointing at the lemur.
The next day rolled in and they woke up to find Toph and Sokka gone. At noon Katara’s mood had become progressively worse as she angrily stirred the soup for everyone’s lunch. While she served a few bowls Sokka and Toph appeared, their arms full of packets. The waterbender stood, crossing her arms.
“Well, look who decided to join us. Where have you two been? Off scamming again?” she asked in a tight voice.
“Yes, we were,” Toph said evenly.
“And I suppose you don’t think what you’re doing is dangerous at all?” Katara continued.
“No, I don’t,” the earthbender said.
“Really?” Katara sounded deceptively calm. Toph didn’t get the message but Sokka did and moved quickly away from his sister.
“Well then, what’s this?” Katara took out a paper and showed to Toph.
“I don’t know!” Toph shouted exasperated. “I mean, seriously, what’s with you people? I’m blind!” she pointed on her eyes for emphasis.
“It’s a wanted poster of you,” Katara explained. “The Runaway. Is that what you’re called now? Are you proud of this?” Toph narrowed her eyes.
“Where did you get that!” she asked.
“It doesn’t matter where I got it. The fact is…” Katara tried to continue defensively.
“You went through my stuff! You had no right!” Toph looked at the older girl’s direction accusingly.
“Your stuff was messy, and I was just straightening up and I happened to stumble across it,” Katara insisted.
“That’s a lie!” Toph shot back a little hurt in her voice. “You’re lying, Katara.”
“Fine! It’s a lie. But you’ve been so out of control lately, I knew something was up. I knew you were hiding something, and you were.” Toph snatched the poster and began to walk away. “Don’t you walk away from me while I’m talking to you!”
“Oh, really, Mom?” Toph’s voice was definitely tight now. “Or what are you going to do? Send me to my room?”
“I wish I could,” Katara muttered.
“Well you can’t!” Toph erupted. “Because you’re not my mom, and you’re not their mom.” She pointed at Aang and Sokka.
“I never said I was,” Katara said shocked.
“No, but you certainly act like it,” Toph accused. “You think it’s your job to boss everyone around, but it’s not. You’re just a regular kid like the rest of us, so stop acting like you can tell me what to do. I can do whatever I want!”
“I don’t act that way!” Katara turned to her brother. “Sokka, do I act motherly?” Said boy jerked upright, surprised to be pulled in the argument.
“Hey – I’m staying out of this one,” he said. Katara turned to Aang.
“What do you think, Aang? Do I act like a mom?” Aang rubbed his eye nervously.
“Stop rubbing your eye and speak clearly when you talk!” Katara snapped.
“Yes, ma’am,” the airbender said immediately. Lia rolled her eyes.
“That’s enough!” she called sternly enough to drown Toph’s next comment. “Yes Toph, Katara does act motherly. But!” she continued before the waterbender could protest. “She is the only one amongst you mature enough to make sure no one dies of starvation or because the Fire Nation found us so give her a little credit, will you?” Toph stared in their direction before storming away. Katara stormed in the other direction. Zuko made a move to follow her but Sokka stopped him.
“Not yet man. There’s no talking to her now.”
As the sun set neither Toph nor Katara were in any better moods. Sokka and Aang watched them sadly. Suddenly Sokka sat up straighter.
“Hey, Aang, you want to test out my messenger hawk with me? I’ve got an idea.” The Avatar shrugged.
“I’m gonna send a note to Katara and say it’s from Toph, who wants to apologize. Then everyone will be friends again!” Sokka explained his plan. Aang smiled.
“I gotta say, Sokka, you continue to impress me with your ideas.” Said boy shrugged modestly.
“Eh, it’s a gift.” He took out a piece of parchment. “Dear Katara,” he said out loud as he wrote. “Sorry for everything. Your friend, Toph.” He slid the note into Hawky’s dispatch tube and sent the bird to Katara.
“Good thing Zuko showed you how to send Hawky around,” Aang said. Sokka looked at him insulted.
“I would have figured it out!” he exclaimed.
“I know this is from you, Sokka,” Katara yelled and ripped the letter. “Toph can’t write. Ugh, you’re all driving me crazy!” she stormed away.
“I can’t believe we forgot Toph can’t write,” Aang murmured a little ashamed.
“Yep, we’re idiots,” Sokka agreed.
“I guess plan B is, we send a note to Toph pretending it’s from Katara,” Aang proposed.
“I think we’re gonna run into a similar problem. Sorry, Hawky. Looks like I’m gonna have to do this without your help.” He walked over to the younger girl. “Come on, we need to talk,” he said calmly.
They walked to the edge of the cliff where they had camped. Toph sat down wordlessly, still hurt from her fight with Katara. She tried to hide it behind indifference.
“So let me guess. You brought me out here to tell me your sister’s not as annoying as I make her out to be.”
“Nah, she’s pretty much a pain.” Sokka flashed her a quick smile. “She’s always got to be right about everything, and she gets all bossy, and involved, and in your business.”
“Yeah, I don’t know how you can deal with it.” Toph shook her head in agreement.
“Actually, in a way, I rely on it,” Sokka said in surprisingly serious tone.
“I don’t understand,” the earthbender said confused.
“When our mom died, that was the hardest time in my life. Our family was a mess, but Katara, she had so much strength. She stepped up and took on so much responsibility. She helped fill the void that was left by our mom,” Sokka explained. Toph looked thoughtful.
“I guess I never thought about that,” she admitted. Silently she berated herself. She had never thought that Katara might have had reasons to act like that other than wanting to annoy everyone.
“I’m gonna tell you something crazy. I never told anyone this before, but honestly, I’m not sure I can remember what my mother looked like. It really seems like, my whole life, Katara’s been the one looking out for me. She’s always been the one that’s there, and now, when I try to remember my mom, Katara’s is the only face I can picture,” Sokka continued in a soft voice. He noted with satisfaction that his words seemed to have an effect.
“The truth is, sometimes Katara does act motherly, but that’s not always a bad thing. She’s compassionate and kind, and she actually cares about me. You know, the real me. That’s more than my own mom,” Toph admitted. Then she punched him on the shoulder. “Don’t ever tell her I said any of this,” she warned him. Sokka looked at her defensively.
“Hey, my lips are sealed!”
As the two teens walked back to camp they were greeted by an awkward-looking Katara. She shuffled her feet uneasily.
“Hi, Toph. Um, I want to…” she trailed off awkwardly. Toph raised a hand.
“Katara, stop. You don’t need to apologize. I was the one being stupid. These scams are out of control, and I’m done with them.” The waterbender smiled.
“Actually, I wasn’t going to apologize. I was gonna say…I want to pull a scam with you!” Toph and the rest of the gang watched Katara in disbelief.
“What? You want to pull a scam?” Toph asked astonished.
“Not just any scam…the ultimate scam!” she wrapped an arm around the younger girl’s shoulders. “What do you say, Toph Just me and you…one last go. You in?” Toph grinned.
“You know I’m in! Now what’s this idea of yours?” They walked over to the fire and Katara took out the accursed wanted poster that had begun everything.
“The plan is simple. This wanted poster says you’re worth a lot of money,” she explained. “Ten times more than you’ve made in all your scams. So I’m gonna turn you in and collect the reward. Then you metalbend yourself out of jail, and we’re on our way.”
Surprisingly Katara’s plan seemed to be working. The next morning Toph staged a stunt and Katara informed the officials of her position. In a matter of minutes Toph was being dragged to prison. Katara watched with a secretive smile when a middle-aged man approached her.
“You did the right thing by turning in the Runaway,” he said in a congratulatory tone.
“The right thing is its own reward,” Katara said in a fake-respectful way. The man didn’t seem to understand her mocking.
“Well, I’m happy to hear you say that,” he said. Before he had a chance to leave Katara added hurriedly.
“But…I still want the actual reward.”
“Of course. Right this way,” the man told her.
Meanwhile Toph was in for a surprise at the prison cell she had been thrown in.
“Hey!” she called feeling around, “what kind of cell is this?”
“A wooden one,” the guard called before closing the door. Toph sat down worried. There was nothing around her she could bend and no way to inform the others. But, she thought trying to keep herself calm, Aang if no one else would be worried if she didn’t return with Katara. They would come looking for her and she would be out in no time.
Unbeknownst to Toph, Katara was closer to her than either girl would have expected. In fact, she was at the room right next to her. The mayor took out a small box in front of the waterbender when the door behind them creaked open. The mayor pointed at her and said to the man.
“That’s her. That’s the girl you were looking for!” Katara sprung around and held back a gasp as the man Sokka called “Sparky-Sparky-Boom Man” towered over her.
Back at the camp Zuko was pacing restlessly.
“They should be back by now,” he muttered annoyed. “How long will this scam of theirs take anyway?” Sokka didn’t look as worried.
“Nah, they are probably down at the city, shopping or something.” Aang shook his head.
“That doesn’t sound like something Katara would do.” He stood up. “I think we should go check on them.” Lia nodded, throwing Zuko his swords. He caught them by instinct.
“You might need them,” she simply said.
Toph and Katara had been sitting in silence for a while now when Toph’s head suddenly shot up.
“Wait! It’s a trap!” she said. Katara rolled her eyes.
“Really? No kidding. Is that why we’re sitting in a wooden cage right now? Gee, how’d you figure out it was a trap?” Toph snorted.
“Not for us Katara,” she snapped irritably. “We’re the bait. It’s Aang he’s after, remember?”
“I can’t believe I was so stupid,” Katara slapped her forehead in frustration. “See, this is exactly why I’m against these scams. I knew this would happen.” Toph gave her a look.
“But…this was your idea,” she pointed out a little confused. Katara blushed in embarrassment.
“I know. I wanted to show you that I’m not so motherly. I wanted to show you that I can have fun too.”
“Katara, you are fun. If nothing else, you’re at least fun to argue with,” Toph chuckled half-heartily. She couldn’t believe they were having this conversation now of all times.
“I know your relationship with your parents is complicated, and I shouldn’t have said what I said,” the waterbender admitted.
“It’s ok. I was really mad when you said that because; well, because maybe it’s true. I try not to think about it, but when I left, I probably really hurt them.” She let a few tears fall before Katara drew her to a sisterly embrace.
“It’s okay Toph,” she whispered to the younger girl who was now openly sobbing. “You can always go back and I know that your parents will be very proud of you.”
Three blocks away, at the town’s square, the boys and Lia were looking around warily. There was no one in sight.
“Where do you think they might be?” Sokka asked nervously. Aang looked around.
“Where do you think anyone is?” he asked. Zuko scanned the buildings and his eyes went wide. Before anyone had a chance to say anything he jumped in front of Sokka and blocked an incoming blast with some bending of his own.
“It’s Sparky-Sparky Boom Man!” Aang gasped, spotting the huge man.
“You know,” Sokka grumbled, dodging another blast, “I’m starting to think that name doesn’t quite fit.”
“Less talking, more running,” Lia snapped as she moved behind them to cover their retreat to the alleys.
Back in their cell the two girls’ heads shot up at the sound of explosions.
“What are we gonna do?” Katara was already distressed that the rest of the gaang was in trouble.
“I don’t know! I wish we had some earth or water. We need bendables!” Toph was also worrying. She didn’t like the thought of Aang being in a battle without her to watch his back. Then she promptly blushed at the thought. If Katara noticed, she thankfully said nothing.
“What about your meteor bracelet? You could make a saw,” she asked instead.
“I left it back at camp. I was worried they would take it.” The earthbender said disappointed. Katara wiped a little sweat of her forehead. Why did it have to be so warm… Her thoughts trailed as an idea occurred to her. Jumping to her feet she started running around the cell.
“Um, Katara…are you ok?” Toph asked rightfully perplexed.
“Just fine,” the waterbender answered.
“Well, what are you doing?” Toph insisted, honestly worrying for her friend’s sanity.
“I’m making my own water!” Katara gathered her sweat and with one swift motion sent it to the door in the form of a dagger.
On the streets things weren’t exactly looking up.
“This guy is too good. He shoots fire from his brain!” Sokka yelled to Aang frustratedly. They had been reduced to hiding in alleyways, having lost Zuko and Lia at some point.
“We should split up again,” Aang suggested. “He can’t chase us all at the same time.” Sokka nodded and they ran to different directions. The assassin immediately followed Aang, blasting him to the feet of Ozai’s giant statue at the square. Before he had a chance to deliver the final blow, a huge block of ice encased his head. Katara stood behind him, as well as the rest of the gang.
“On your feet Twinkle-Toes and let’s get out of here,” Toph yelled, relief barely hidden in her voice.
The man tried to fire at them again, having rid himself of the ice, but Toph sent a boulder in his direction. Although he blasted it away, a small part hit him in the forehead, causing him to collapse. As they ran away, Sokka turned to the group.
“Hey, I got it. The perfect name for that guy! Combustion Man!” he proposed.
“Good job, Sokka,” Toph said as she passed him running. “Now let’s get out of here before Combustion Man catches us!”
“See? It fits so well!” Sokka insisted.
That night they made their campsite on a small deserted island. As Katara moved out of the saddle to set things up, Toph called her.
“Katara, I need your help,” she said hesitantly. The older girl turned concerned.
“What is it, Toph?” she asked softly.
“I need you to write some things down for me. I want to send a letter to my parents.” Toph held out a piece of parchment. She missed Katara’s bright smile.
“I’ll be happy to help.” Once the letter was written the girls placed it in Hawky’s tube and sent the bird away. No one bothered to answer Sokka’s bewildered question.
“Hey, where’d Hawky go?”