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Friend-Bending

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There is a quiet that stretches across the camp like a rubber band, bound to break.It is inevitable because Sokka, resident blabbermouth, is there.
It is inevitable because, when Aang and Katara leave to visit shops and dance around the fact that they like each other, Sokka finds Toph so that she knows she has someone.

She is so used to having no one.

“I heard you! You have to tell me what three colors sound like or I’m bending your butt out of here!” It was a little game they played: he pretended to sneak, she pretended to want to be left alone, and she got company and humor. It wasn’t ideal, it probably wasn’t good to do so much pretending, but they both knew they game.

“Oh no!” Sokka dramatically fell to his knees in front of her. “However will I cope with the fact that you, an Earthbender who sees through vibrations, heard me, a guy with clunky shoes, stomping around?” He inhaled to go on, but Toph cut him off.

“Get snappy with it!” She stifled a laugh at the sound of his shocked gasp.

“Well, if I must!” He paused, then excitedly decided. “Okay, so, I’m going to tell you about two main colors and then whatever other I choose. There’s white, it makes everything brighter. But if I am thinking about it with my other senses, I’d say colder. White is like rumbling thunder and crackling lightning: it’s sudden, it’s loud, and it’s hard to ignore. Black… well.. It softens things. It’s warmth. Black is faint humming, words that drag on, and the swish of splashing water, the brief crackle of a fire. It’s very obvious, it catches your attention, but it’s a lot more subtle.” Sokka seemed to be thinking, making loud hmmmmsss. His voice was calmer, steadier, but she could feel him shifting as he spoke: throwing his hands into the air, turning, leaning closer- he was almost never still, and he was very dramatic.

Toph closed her eyes, trying to envision it. She knew that paper was white, she knew it by the crinkle it made- loud and obnoxious, she supposed Sokka got that one right, at least. She’d asked Aang and Katara what they thought colors sounded like, but it was a dud.

Aang had talked about brown- the color of Katara’s skin and her hair and the soil. Toph asked if things were hard to tell apart if they were all the same color. Aang had said that they were different versions of the color. They’d given up soon after.

Katara tried harder, but she wasn’t as imaginative. She’d say that the feel of a rose was red, and then talk about how blood was red and rust was red. She’d say that a rose is red, but it is also yellow, and pink, and white. She tried, but she talked herself in circles trying to give Toph accurate information.

It was Sokka who approached her. Who said that different shades had different sounds. A whining “Katara and Aang are so wrapped up in each other, they might as well be octopi!” he had started the conversation with. “There’s this cool story I was reading- would you like me to read it to you? I’m afraid that I won’t do it justice, but, well, we’re travelling with the Avatar to defeat the Fire-Lord. I figure we pretty much are justice, now!” She had fought against it, at first, thinking he was babying her. Thinking that he thought her weak. But Sokka was just an idiot, an idiot who wanted to share what he loved with his friend.

“You said Katara had screwed you over with red, right?” Toph hummed in discontent and agreement. “Well, there are different shades, so I’m just going to tell you one of the brighter ones. Scarlet. Scarlet is passion. It’s clapping and dancing to upbeat music. It’s Katara staying up late to practice waterbending. It’s the scratch of graphite and the sliding of a brush. It’s Aang when he’s yakking on about his friends. It’s the rush of blood in your ears. Passion is a lot, Toph. It’s a lot to take in. Oh! And blue! Turquoise is a cold color and sapphire is warmer, but they’re just reflections of one another! Turquoise is the sky and sapphire is the ocean, but they sound the same if you know how to listen. They’re laughter, the hiss of water, the taste of cotton candy, mischief. It’s Aang’s pranks. Turquoise and sapphire are the colors of running during a sun shower: the warmth hits your back, the rain cools you down, and you’re spinning and laughing as blades of grass tickle your feet. And then there’s gold: it’s determination. It’s marching. It’s never stopping. Gold is the sound of a forest fire.”

“That’s more than three, Snoozles.”

“So? Buy three get two free!”

“That’s just bad marketing.” She speaks over his sputtering protests, “So, you gonna read what happens next in the book, or are you going to leave the blind girl hanging?”

Sokka mumbles, “I should.” but when he gets up to retrieve the book he’s practically bouncing. “Ooooh! We’re almost at the good part! There’s a fight scene, and drama, and making up!” He just about squeals.

Toph closes her unseeing eyes and listens to her friend. She had a crush on him, once upon a time, but now she’s simply glad that he calls her his “best friend”- because really, who else should she be? She is the best, after all.

She might be used to being alone, but, with Sokka reading to her and teaching Aang Earthbending and Katara forcing her to have “girl’s days” and nagging at her (helping her, looking after her), Toph could get used to, maybe, not being so alone.

 

 

Chapter Text

Zuko was lost. Adrift. He wanted his Uncle so bad, was begging Agni for the comfort of his Uncle’s advice. He was alone, he felt. Alone and afraid.

 

He trained the Avatar. Sparred with Sokka. Helped around the camp. But these people didn’t trust him- Katara’s words turned venomous whenever he was around, and no one cared enough to stand between those words and he. Zuko supposed he deserved it, deserved a lot worse, if he was being honest.

 

He’d been to this temple, right after his father had burned him. Had cast him as unworthy as the role of the son. The Western Air Temple had been the first place Zuko had looked for the Avatar, and his Uncle had left something behind. Underneath the floorboards, in a quiet corner that Zuko had almost forgotten about, his Uncle had placed a box of tea. “You never know if we might return- tea is always good, Prince Zuko! For the spirit and the body. Remember that, if nothing else.” Zuko needed a bit of familiarity: his heart ached and his eyes burned, threatening to sear him with water. To betray him with weakness.

 

“Hey, Flamebrain.” Zuko startled, nearly dropping the pot he held.

 

Sighing, Zuko resigned himself to being insulted, although Toph was much more amicable than the others. “What do you need, Toph.” he tried to keep his voice level, focusing on heating the water. He had considered boiling the whole thing in his hands, but had quickly realized that the metal would burn him if he did, and he was not going to pull a Sokka.

 

“Nothin’.” She picked her nose and flicked a booger away. Zuko tried not to let it disgust him. Tried and failed. “Just wonderin’ what you were doing all quiet over there, Sparky.”

 

“Sparky?” Zuko’s immediate protest to the name went unnoticed.

 

“So, Sparky, ” Zuko didn’t even have to look to tell that the earthbender was grinning like the madman she was, “You makin’ tea?”

 

“Yeah.” The tea was almost done, and Zuko wanted to avoid this social interaction. “Reminds me of my Uncle.” A beat of somber silence. The tea was done. Zuko took out a cup, and saw the longing look on Toph’s face. His mouth spoke before his brain could interrupt, “Would you like some?” Zuko was going to die. This was it. He hated himself. He wanted a quiet moment to himself and he had just invited Toph, who was loud and abrasive and the exact opposite of quiet, to tea. His face burned red, and he was just glad that Toph couldn’t see it.

 

“I’d love some tea, Sparky.” A few quick movements, and a table and two chairs were made from rock. “Earthbending has its uses.” Pouring the tea as she sat, Zuko was surprised to find her posture ramrod straight, her smile small, and her legs crossed. “You know, I was a noble.”

 

“You were?” Zuko couldn’t keep the incredulity out of his words. “I mean, cool.” He recomposed himself. Toph was radiating nobility and Zuko found himself mimicking it, feeling oddly fond. This was normal for him, or at least, it once was normal.

 

“I was.” She took a sip from her tea, looking almost regal. “You’re Uncle made great tea, I’m guessing you didn’t learn from him?” It was a subtle insult, but it was the type of insult that would be seen as overt if Zuko were still Prince. He shoved down a grin, drank some of his tea.

 

“My Uncle is a great man, and tea is his forte. I’m not quite at his level yet, but I’m learning. My Uncle is such a well mannered man, and I remember you saying that you met him briefly. I see you haven’t learned anything at all from him, though.” They went back and forth for awhile, both rusty when it came to subtle insults and both enjoying the banter.

 

It became almost a routine, for them. Toph would come down in her nicest clothes, Zuko would invite her to tea, he’d pour her cup, and they’d chat. The relaxed language they usually used turned rigid, they spoke of politics, they discussed their past and the problems of the court. It was oddly fun. The others were confused by it, but they wouldn’t understand, none of them were raised like he and Toph were.

 

After, a nostalgic mood would take up, and they’d sit in near silence for a few beats, and then Toph would get up and loudly complain, pop her back and storm off, and the cycle would repeat.

 

Toph was homesick, it seemed, despite her anger towards her parents.

 

Zuko could relate. He’d been homesick for years.

 

Right now though, he sipped at his tea, and thought that he might be able to taste the love his Uncle had shown him.

Chapter Text

    If someone were to ask who the friendliest person in their group was, it would be a no-brainer to say that it was Aang. Aang was caring and bubbly and loved meeting new people. But if someone were to ask who the kindest was, the answer would be Katara. Because it was Katara who went up to strangers and gave them comfort. Because it was Katara who always refused to leave even a single person behind. Because while Aang cared and was always nice and polite, Katara was fierce and protective and loving to every single person she met.

    She gave her love so easily, and it hurt. That’s why she had snuck from the camp they set up and wandered towards the ocean nearby; the gentle hiss of the waves lapping at the shore, the push and the pull of it swaying her ever closer.

    She gave her love so easily, but where did that leave her? With fractured pieces of herself, scattered across the globe. With fraying edges that were burned by betrayal and death and still ached the same way they did as when they’d been fresh. She was a bleeding heart, but she did not think the sea inside of her could pour out anymore.

    Hands by her sides, slowly rising, the water swirling and lifting and listening. She pushed her hands away, flowing. She was water and the water was her and the blood inside of her roared with like the sea in a storm but it was okay, because she could bend water and she would bend this feeling out of her. 

    Jaw clenched, teeth bared. She was a wild things and wild things couldn’t be hurt by loss and wild things didn’t dwell on the past because there was only survival and the present and the water that shhhhh ed as she parted it.

    She was not crying. She was bending. There was no room for tears.

    Breathe. Focus. She was cold and angry and wild and in control. She was water.

    “—and man, you should have seen me, Yue! I was all bam ! And take that! And my boomerang hit three men in one hit before landing perfectly in my hand again! It was so cool! Oh! I just thought of the funniest thing. If you forget how to throw a boomerang, don’t worry! ‘Cuz it’ll come back to you. Huh? Huh? Funny, right?” Despite being so close to the shore, the water never touched him, but a wave surged up and, just around his feet but never actually on , the water lapped closer.

    Katara forced herself to frown at Sokka’s bad jokes. It was a full moon tonight, how could she have forgotten? Ever since Yue had… Ever since the incident with Zhao and Twi and La, Sokka spent every full moon and some odd nights speaking to the stars. She couldn’t, wouldn’t, take this from him. She turned away, intent on leaving, but she choked on a sob.

    “Katara?”

    She was so selfish, wasn’t she? “Sorry, I… Sorry. I’ll go, Sokka.”

    “Hey, Yue, we’ll talk later, alright?” The moon shone brighter, and Katara felt cold light wrap around her for just a moment.

    There was a hand on her shoulder, but she ignored it and stayed turned away. Her lip wobbled.

    “Hey, what’s wrong?” He moved in front of her, keeping his hands on her shoulders. “Why’re you crying?”

    The dam broke and she was a flood. She wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face in his chest and sobbed. 

    “Uh, Katara?” He sounded panicky and she managed to laugh a bit, hysterical, because even worried he was emotionally inept.

    “It’s— It’s stupid.”

    “Probably.”

    She whacked him on the shoulder and ignored his “Owwwwwww, Katara!”

    “It’s… I was thinking about Jet.”

    That a—” Sokka stopped himself, probably remembering how much Aang disliked cursing and how much Katara was willing to enforce this new no swearing rule. “Jerk?”

    “Yeah.” She slowly sat down, Sokka easily plopping himself down in the sand. She snorted. He was the least graceful person she knew, all loose and gangly limbs. “I know he was jerky, but. I loved him, Sokka. And he hurt me. He lied to me.” Her voice did not raise, but it became more intense, and the humidity seemed to become more prominent. “And Haru— he was sweet, wasn’t he? But is he okay? Are any of the people we’ve met okay? Is Gran-Gran okay? The kids back home? We were the ones to read to them and hunt and we just left them! It was important, yeah, but! But!”

    “Katara.”

    “The men of our village, how many of them are left? Are they all hiding, planning, plotting? Or did they— have they?”

    “Katara!”

    “And dad! We haven’t seen him in years! ” Her breath caught in her throat. “I haven’t seen my father in years.”

    He sighed. “Oh, Katara.” He pulled her close and let her cry, rocking her. What could he do? Nothing he could say could alleviate her worries. 

    He preferred actions to words, anyhow. They came easier.

    He opened his mouth, and in a warbly voice, sung a lullaby neither of them had heard since their mother died.

“Where’s your heart,

    Little Wolf?

    Why do you cry

    That you’re lost

    When your love still sings to me? 

    Your heart 

It has found its way 

Across the seas

    And its caught itself in the stars

But just because it’s spread its wings

Does not mean it’s forgotten

Does not mean it’s forsaken.

    Where’s your hope at,

    Little Lovely?

    It’s something that no one can take from you

    You just shape it with your hands

And don’t you ever let it go.

    Where’s your Spirit,

    When you feel loveless?

    It’s in every breath you take

    It’s in everything you’ve ever made.

    So why do you cry?

    Why cry,

    My Strong Wolf,

    When your heart is never alone?

    For you can still dream and be loved

    Even when your love is far from home.”

 

    There was a beat of silence, before Katara was laughing.

    “That— That was so bad! Pfffffttt!” 

    “Hey!” Sokka’s protests went unheard over Katara’s cackling.

    “What happened to the Sokka that was able to sing every note correctly ?”

    He shoved her away, turning up his nose and crossing his arms. “That Sokka sung that song every day. And cut me some slack, because this Sokka is going through puberty!” As if to prove his point, his voice had cracked on the final word, only serving to reignite her peals of laughter.

    “Oh, that’s funny, huh?” Sokka grinned. “Well, I’m going to show you something hilarious!” He lunged past the shore and splashed her with ice cold water, delighting in her startled scream.

    “You wanna get into a water fight with a water bender ?”

    “I can take you on any day!”

    “Oh, it’s on!”

    Sokka’s screams were higher than her own as a giant wave smashed into him.

    If the moon was a bit too bright, or if the water sometimes became a bit harder to bend towards Sokka, and if sometimes too much water to have possibly been splashed by Sokka hit her, neither of them said anything. They just enjoyed this night, because tomorrow they would have to face the world again, and their loves would be just as far as before.