A/N: I hope everyone is enjoying SRU and also Legend of Korra. The season finale is in just a couple days!
Also, just a reminder that following the SRU Facebook page is the easiest way to be updated on every new piece of art, work-in-progress sketches, and previews of chapters as I write them.
I know there's a lot more of you than I hear from, so I just want to take a moment to thank all of you people I know are taking the time to read. Even if you don't leave a comment, I still am grateful you're still with me. After this chapter there's fifteen more to go until the story is over!
What I Learned at SRU
Chapter 85 - Penguin
- Tuesday, April 12th, 2011 -
"Have a good walk with the mutt?"
"Hey, Bolin. Yea...It was good," Korra confirmed, wandering into the parlor, still dressed in her boots and jacket.
"Yarr-Yarrp! Yarr! Grrrrr..."
"Haha," Korra looked down at the pup, still attached to her leash. She was tugging at the short reign she had, attempting to threaten Bolin's ferret, who was playfully sidestepping just outside Naga's reach. "Sorry, girl." Korra unhooked the leash, letting her dog run free about the house. "Gittum! Go gittum, girl!" Kora chuckled at the chase that erupted through the room and up the stairs.
"Well, cut loose, woman," encouraged Bolin. "Take off your shoes, stay a while. Heh."
"Er, actually, I'm about to head back out," Korra explained.
"Ah." Bolin, from his spot on the couch, seemed disappointed. "Where ya headed off to this time?"
Korra shrugged his tiny hint of despondency off of her shoulders. She had been babysitting earlier in the day - Meelo had come down with a fever and let out of school early, but Pema had been knee-deep in important work. Korra wasn't entirely confident in her caretaking, but she'd managed to get the whacko boy to eat his soup, take his medicine, and rest, so...job well done. Right? Immediately after getting home, she'd taken Naga for a walk - get some time to herself. But now, she was going to be headed out again.
"Oh, just...hangin' out with Jane again."
"Mm..." Bolin's lower lip stuck out thoughtfully. "Already? Didn't you two just go have a date this past weekend?"
"Tsh. Yea, I guess."
"Mm-hm. Hittin' it off well, I see," Bolin picked with a suggestive wink.
"Ha, whatever you say, Bo." Korra gave her housemate a somewhat puzzled look, though she herself hadn't written off such a possibility.
"Just don't get too drunk tonight," Mako warned, making his way down the stairs. Ugh, he was all...in that tight white tanktop, wearing his slippers. Yum. "We're still holding you to that poker game."
"All right. Well, she'll be here any minute," Korra advised, peeking out the living room window to the quiet evening. It gave her an excuse not to stare at Mako, anyway.
"Isn't the game on yet?" Mako grumbled to his brother. "What are you watching Food Network for?"
"Knowing how to prepare a proper spinach puff is an extremely valuable skill," Bolin defended in jest as his brother grabbed the clicker from the coffee table.
"So who's this you're going out with, again?" Mako casually wondered, checking his phone as he spoke - the TV was playing commercials.
"Oh, ya know...Just a date with that red-head friend of mine," Korra spilled out with artificial nonchalance. "Seems like she's into me - right, Bo?" Bolin grinned and shrugged in reply.
"Mm-hm," Mako hummed back, absorbed by his phone. This irked Korra just a bit. What was his deal lately? Always sucked into his stupid phone...She couldn't deny that she'd grown fond of the interplay with the boys. Bolin, agreeable and lavishing her with compliments, and Mako, heated and abrasive. The two had been wrapped around her finger in different ways, and she had enjoyed this. But Mako seemed to have slipped free. Hm.
The slow rumbling of a vehicle trickling into the driveway was Korra's signal to head off and not concern herself with retaining her seat of sexual dominance over the men.
A quick car ride later and the two young ladies were at the bar, diving into glasses of beer. Jane had been very quiet, Korra had observed. Not that she minded - it was nice to have a girl friend who was content to appreciate some quiet instead of constant chattering. A bit of smalltalk and half a glass of beer into their stay, Jane asked about something Korra had been curious about from the start.
"So, Kor...How did Kat's birthday go?"
Korra paused, her rough-skinned fingers clenched around her cold glass.
"Seemed to go fine. I'm surprised you didn't show."
"Yea..." Jane's ever-dulled eyes sparked with disdain for a milisecond.
"Busy with work?"
"You could say that..."
"Katara seemed...kind of down that you couldn't make it."
"I'm sure she was," Jane sighed out, her eyelids sinking shut.
"Is there something up with you two?"
"Ah..." Korra's lips sank with awkward sympathy for a moment.
"I'm...not really speaking with those guys right now."
"Gotcha." Korra nodded slowly to this, and the two of them drank more beer, taking in the ambient sounds of the billiard game being played elsewhere in the room. Jane found it refreshing that Korra seemed to have no intent on bothering her about the matter. No advice, no commentary...she wasn't even asking what the problem was. She seemed content staying out of the situation, but still maintaining contact. That was pretty nice.
Based on the angry e-mail from Sokka she'd received earlier that day, and the handful of brief but hostile interactions she'd had with Toph and Katara in passing throughout the week, it was difficult to think of maintaining mutual friendships right now.
"Th-..." Jane coughed, clearing up her throat as she found the words. "Kinda why we're here," she muttered.
"Got this bad feeling. Shit's hit the fan, but...not done yet."
Korra leaned over, eyes squinted with confusion.
Jane's glance skittered around as she considered where to go with this.
"The Combustion Man. Remember I mentioned him last time?"
"Said that I was tryin' to do somethin' about that?"
Korra delighted at the caution Jane seemed to be exercising as she glanced around the bar. The girl's caution meant that something sinister was afoot, and this was a good thing.
"We goin' after him ourselves?" Korra wondered in a gleefully quiet voice.
"Whhh...-?" Jane's eyes bugged open with surprise. "That...that what you wanna do?"
"Uh, fuck yes it's what I wanna do," encouraged Korra. "That guy deserves some personal payback for what he's done. The cops can throw him in jail and shit but what good's that? He needs a solid ass-kicking to leave him sore for all the sitting he'll be doing."
"Uhhh..." Jane swallowed some beer. She looked relieved but confused, and Korra whapped her shoulder heartily.
"So, what's the plan?" Korra giddily inquired. Jane scratched her jawline with doubt.
"Ain't one yet," she mumbled with a shrug. "Gotta figure out what this asshole's after and why first."
"What's the point in that?" Korra huffed. "Sounds like a waste of time..."
Jane shrugged again and the two took a swig. Jane decided that attempting to explain her motives involving assisting Johnny would...probably be a little too complicated, at least right now.
"Did you see what he did to Katara? To Aang? That fucker's got a pounding coming his way."
"Yea...Right." Jane's fingers trembled around her glass as her mind swirled with the images of Katara's bloody face, red drops trickling down her eyebrow. Aang's warped, scarred skin. Toph's alarmed and puzzled hysterics. Sokka's stoic fear. That shit could not happen again. It was simply unacceptable, the thought of Katara or any of the others being hurt any more than they already had by this mess that didn't concern them. This was why she had to keep them at a distance.
She cleared her throat and pushed back the worries with more alcohol down the hatch.
"Whoa, hold up," Korra spat, her face contorted with serious consideration. "Is this why I've been hearing about you with that gang of yours again?"
Jane rolled her eyes and began shaking her head, but it devolved into a nod halfway through.
"I don't-...OK, well, yea, but...not the way they think. The Freedom Fighters, they...aren't really a gang anymore. That shit's done. More like a few ex-members still workin' together, tryin' to figure some crap out."
"The Combustion Man, he-...We think he's connected to the guys that killed Jet...Katara's old boyf-...guy." Ugh. Jane couldn't even bring herself to phrase the concept that Katara and Jet had been a thing. To think that same selfish douchebag had done that with both of them...it was a rather unclean and disturbing thought.
"So, wait...Those punks I roughed up a while back?" Korra crossed her arms, contemplating prior events. "Was...was it my fault...? Was it some kind of...counterattack kinda thing?"
"Err...-" Jane's jaw slid sideways an inch as she grit her teeth nervously. "I don't...think so, but...maybe."
"Well...fuck," puffed Korra as the weight of the idea fell onto her.
"Nah, don't...-" Jane began to try and reassure, but even this devolved into a shrug. Not so much with the 'encouragement' tonight, huh? "Fuckin' shit-storm, is what it is."
"And it's up to us psycho-bitches to wreck their shit."
It was good that Jane hadn't been drinking or she'd have spattered out beer across the table in her spewing laughter at this remark.
"Better...check dey-selves afore dey wreck dey...selves...?" Korra was wriggling her arms around in some effort to look...tough? Or something?
When she'd noticed Jane's creeped out wide eyes, she'd let her arms droop.
"What...in the shit...was that?" Jane eked out, baffled but highly amused.
"That was 'I've been spending too much time around idiotic men like my cousin,' is what that was."
"No kiddin'." Jane was still grinning wide, her smile maintained while she drank the last of her glass of beer. Korra smirked - even grumpy-faced Jane could be charmed over by stupid nonsense. Maybe Sokka and Toph really were onto something with their idiocy. As Jane waved for a refill, she pointed a stern finger at Korra with the other. "But fuck, woman, never say that douchey bullcrap again. Ehvv. Err."
"Heh. You got it."
Some more drinking passed as the two unwound their balled up tension of the prospective task before them.
"So, so, so...this." Korra knocked the side of her fist on the table after she'd had some time to think. "This is why you've been ignoring 'em."
"You don't want them even remotely involved."
Korra was sympathetic to how Jane's eyes were avoiding her, lost in regret and longing.
"That's...pretty damned tough," Korra stated.
"Mmm," Jane agreed through her nose as she gulped.
"Don't worry, I won't tell them anything about it."
"'Kay. Thanks for that."
"Shit, man, with what happened with this other dude, and what almost happened to me and Kat? We gotta keep them outta this. For real."
"That's...kinda the idea."
"Right. Cool. Done." Korra was nodding vigorously, intrigued by this turn of events. Wayward had been a fresh start and all that, la-dee-dah, but some action, some kind of neat...thing...that involved cracking skulls? That was what she was talkin' about.
"Why don't we just hunt the bastard down and take him? You n' me, and maybe these friends of yours?"
Jane's eyes floated upward in brief consideration but she ultimately shook her head.
"Nah, wouldn't work. Probably just get ourselves mixed up with the Rhinos."
"Oh, the...Rough Rhinos? Biker dickheads."
"Aha, gotcha. OHHHHH like with the fuckin'...-" Korra pointed to her eye, then to her arm. "The tattoos! Those cocksuckers all had the tattoos on 'em."
"Heh. Yea, exactly."
"So did Baldy-McFuck-Face," Korra murmured to herself, drawing a circle in the air in front of her forehead. She sure was related to Sokka, all right. "Maybe it's like...some kinda gang sign...?"
"Pff. Hell if I know."
"Hm...You know any of the guys in that gang? Like, personally?"
"The Rough Rhinos?"
"Yea. Anyone we could, like...ask about it?"
"Bah..." Korra bumped her fist against her thigh and the two simmered in thought. "C'mon, there's gotta be somebody we can get some info out of. Maybe if the weird tatts are, like, a gang symbol thing...You know anybody else with some kind of weird tattoo?"
Then it smacked Jane in the face like a brick, causing her jaw to slip agape.
+ destiny-smasher-dot-deviantart(.com)/art/SRU-Ain-t-Proud-297669930 +
"Mm?" June tracked down where Jane's gaze had rested, and she pushed up her sleeve to reveal the whole tattoo: a coiled red serpent. "Oh, this?" She exhaled with exhaustion. It was a bit startling to Jane, seeing June's expression - her trademark apathy - melt away to convey regret. "Yeeeaaa," she slowly seethed out. "This was a mistake," she explained darkly.
Could that mean anything? Could there be some kind of connection?
"I like to think of it as a reminder of why I'm...-" June glanced around the cramped, kitchen-like room they stood in. "-...here."
The more Jane's mind recollected the look on her manager's face when she'd talked about that tattoo that day, the more her stomach twisted with a hunch. Maybe she was just being paranoid. Ugh. All this junk was getting inside her head.
"You told me ya used to run with a bad crowd, right?" June recollected, to which Jane nodded. "Let's just say the crowd I used to be with was worse, and that I'm lucky to have even a shit job like this."
Then again...sometimes paranoia grew from a seed of truth. After all, so far everyone that seemed deliberately involved with this did have a trend of flaunting some kind of suspicious tattoo in an easy-to-see place. Jane sighed to herself as her talk with Corey reverberated in her skull.
"SRU has enemies, is what I'm saying. And it's becoming clearer by the day."
This whole train of thought was threatening to fly off the rails into a a forest of conspiracy theories. Which was fucking stupid. Better to clear shit up and keep the train on the tracks. What could be the harm in asking June about it, anyway?
"-were right about trying to figure out more about this," Korra was finishing a thought that Jane had slipped out of attention for. "Hate to admit, but you've got a point - we'd just get ourselves into some bad crap if we went in fists flying."
Jane nodded, her throat suddenly dry. She tried to quench it with beer. Wiping her damp lip with her sleeve, she gave Korra a solemn glance.
"Think I got a lead I could look into..."
"Sooo...Mako." Bolin picked up a dirty dish from the stack to his right and dipped it into the warm, sudsy water in the kitchen sink. "What do you think of Korra, in a...girlfriend...sorta way?"
Mako, to Bolin's left on the adjacent wall, flicked his frying pan around, the stir-fry vegetables sizzling over the stove.
"She'd be great, but...don't you think it makes more sense for me to stick with Asami, all things considered?"
Bolin twisted his head around to his elder brother, bubbling with envy. Ever since Mako had met that out-of-towner chick at work, they'd been texting, and chatting, and talking on the phone constantly. Asami Sato was the daughter of a wealthy man who ran a massive technology company in New York City. She'd passed through town with her father, who had apparently been in town for some kind of business meeting. During Mr. Sato's interview with the Wayward Chronicle - the local newspaper that Mako worked for - Asami had wandered through the offices, carelessly bumping into a busy Mako and causing him to spill his hot coffee all over himself. In the embarrassed interaction that followed - and over the makeup coffee - she'd offered to come all the way back to Wayward and take him out on a weekend-long date. The two had been staying in constant contact every since.
"I was talking about a girlfriend for me!" Bolin snapped irritably, swiping his sponge harshly against the grime on the plate in his other hand. "Leave some ladies for the rest of us, would ya?" He huffed steam through his nostrils as he rinsed off the plate, setting it in the dish strainer.
"I-I know!" Mako sputtered awkwardly. "That's...what I thought you meant."
"Uh-huh," came Bolin's sarcastic doubt as he began to scrub a glass with traces of dried up milk on the bottom. "Well?"
"I don't know, Bo," Mako disapproved, shuffling around the vegetables with his spatula.
"You just said she was 'great' two seconds ago," grumbled Bolin.
"Yea. Korra's...a tough girl, and a fun roommate, and stuff...But I don't know if she's really girlfriend material. She's more like a pal."
"Bro, you're nuts!" protested Bolin. "Korra and I are perfect for each other! She's strong, I'm strong, she's-"
"Let me stop you for a second, Bolin."
Bolin paused, his thick hand wedged inside a glass, working the sponge around its edges.
"I just...think it's a bad idea to let yourself get too interested in her."
Bolin's eyes narrowed at the back of his brother's head.
"Yea? Why's that?"
"You said so yourself: she's going out with that one girl a lot. The tomboy chick?"
"Yea, her. And maybe it's just me, but she seems pre-possessed about that girl finding her attractive."
"Mm..." Bolin's lips tightened together as he considered the notion he'd been worried about.
"And weren't you and her saying that it's a date she was out on tonight?"
"Erm, sure, I mean-...Well, yea, but I didn't really...-"
"She seemed pretty happy about it being called a 'date.'"
"So...What are you saying? You think Korra's a lesbian?" Bolin muttered, his tone sinking with some disappointment. Something like that could hurt his chances of finding that special something he kept telling himself they could have.
"Bo, doesn't it seem...kind of obvious?" Mako sighed. "I mean, think about it. The way she dresses, and acts..."
"Hm..." Bolin recalled Korra's defensive reactions in regards to their comments on Jane, whom Korra had seemed insistent on portraying to be a bisexual.
"And with how comfortable she is, living with two guys?" Mako waved his spatula thoughtfully. "And now she's off spending her nights drinking with this other girl, who's the same way?"
"I guess I see your point," Bolin shrugged, setting aside a now squeaky clean glass.
"It's not a good idea to get yourself attached to her that way," Mako criticized, turning to his brother as he turned off the stove's burner. "She's our roommate, Bolin, and things are already difficult with her work situation. I don't really think she's interested in men, anyway. But even if you two got involved? I just don't see it going well, and it could ruin our housing arrangement - which, I'll remind you, was difficult to get in the first place. So just keep your head out of the clouds, and your priorities straight. OK?"
Bolin rolled his eyes and proceeded to continue his dish duty.
"Yea, yea, I know, guhhh..." Bolin's brain stewed in messy dissatisfaction, like the grime mixed with soap his hands were soaked in.
- Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 -
[oh. sorry, sokka. i'm not going, i have to work that night.]
[Whaaaat? Come on, no way. You're going to work during the dance?]
[yes. the manager asked me to work the dance so i can't back out now.]
[What if I found someone that could cover the shift for you?]
[sokka. don't worry about it. i'm not really up for going, anyway.]
Crash and burn. Suki was being too polite to dish out a proper rejection, huh? Being all passive about it. Well...fine. Sokka would find someone else who wanted to go with him! So humph. Stupid Suki.
[Yo yo. Holler. Etc. Wassup? I had a question.]
[lololol weirdo. what is it? ]
Aha. Yes. She had her phone handy.
[I know it's short notice, but you want to be my date to the dance on Sat?]
[aww thats sweet u thought of me~~ thx! but someone alrdy asked me out! srry.]
No. Friggin'. Way. Who the hell else would've asked Ty-Lee out? And how would he not have known? Probably best not to stick his nose in it...But damn. He had really thought things with her had been going pretty well. Maybe he overestimated his charm factor...?
"Sokka...?" muttered Aang with a tint of concern. "Everything OK, man?" Sokka looked up to see his confused friend's face. Aang was scribbling out a sketch on his pad, while Sokka was still ruminating over his phone with an open textbook before him. They were lounging about in Appa's for the evening for a change of pace.
"Nah, it's...'S all good," Sokka insisted, his nose wrinkling to hide his disappointment.
"Yea? 'Cuz you look a little...-" Aang gestured his pencil in a slow circle at his roommate. "-...disgruntled."
"Tch! Listen to this guy." With an upheld palm, Sokka presented Aang to a seemingly invisible passerby. "Disgruh-Psssh! Man, I am, like...totally gruntled."
"Is that even a real word?"
"If you know what it means, then it's a word," Sokka spat out with a shrug.
Aang frowned and turned his head around to their friends across the way. He waved, calling out.
Parked in his wheelchair at a table across from Haru, Teo waved back.
"What's going on, Aang?"
"Hey! Yea, hey, listen," Aang began, his voice raised. "Is 'gruntled' a word?"
Teo stared back, his jaw agape, before running a quick search on his laptop.
"Gruntled? Like...the opposite of disgruntled?"
"Mm...Looks like! 'To put in a good humor,'" Teo recited the definition.
"Really?" Aang mumbled to himself, a bit surprised. "That sounds like such a yucky word to have a nice meaning like that, don't you think?" he sought confirmation from Sokka, who obliged readily. "That's weird!" Aang shouted back to Teo.
"Right?" Teo laughed back.
"Thanks!" Aang stretched out his arm to wave back his gratitude.
"Yea, no problem!"
Turning back in his seat, Aang flinched, grimacing from the pain he'd caused in his twisting. He'd been trying to stay in shape despite his injury, and thankfully was holding up well, but it probably couldn't hurt to try taking it easy now and again...
Sokka was too busy fussing over his own dilemma to notice Aang's moment of discomfort.
"-turned me down. Both of them. Can you believe that?"
"Uhh..." Aang took a deep breath, his body evidently calmed down from its twitch of pain. "That's, er, too bad, Sokka..."
"Who am I supposed to go with now? My plan and my backup plan both fell through!"
Any trace of sympathy Aang might've had for his roommate flew out the window at this remark. Sokka's 'plans' regarding the girls he'd been courting didn't sound like anything but a recipe for disappointment.
"I can't even ask Freckles out to the dance, 'cuz of...stupid whatever-the-hell girl drama."
"Jane...?" Aang seemed a bit surprised. "Why would you ask her?"
"Well, I'm not gonna, Aang, 'cuz her and Katara have to be having their cold-shoulder cat-fight, and-"
"I don't think that's what's going-"
"-just be as friends, anyway, nothing romantic or anything."
Aang frowned at Sokka's whining.
"Why not just ask Toph out, then?" he casually slipped the idea out, keeping his intentions reserved.
"Toph?" Sokka blurted out with disappointed disgust. "Really, Aang?" Puh-lease. She's kinda cute and everything but total drama-queen. Trouble magnet.
"Just as friends," Aang defended his suggestion with Sokka's own words, popping his shoulders up sharply. Aang didn't like the way Sokka glared at him with that raised eyebrow, all cocky and indignant. "What?"
"Aang. Buddy. I got to watch you go through the agony of tolerating that woman so I wouldn't have to."
"Come on, you two get along great, you'd have fun."
Sokka shrugged half-heartedly at this. Aang was right in a sense - he and Toph did often get along swimmingly, but lately she'd been all weird, trying to give and get attention from people more than usual. It was suspicious. He didn't like it.
"Just because we get along doesn't mean I want to be obligated to entertaining that mangy monster for an entire evening. The only reason me and her get along is because there's no requirement to be stuck together when her mood swings off the handle - like it always does."
Yea. Yea, see, Toph is...too crazy. And sarcastic. And cracking jokes all the time. And being weird. Wait...
Sokka's retaliatory words regarding Toph - an endless spout of negativity - were almost like a reflex, his mind refusing to even consider any idea of getting involved with her. Sure, they could get along great, but he knew Toph, and he knew himself. A 'date' situation? She'd milk him for attention, and force some kind of tension onto it, and he'd get impatient with her and-...Ech. It could all make their carefully constructed, safe bridge built of jokes and sarcasm collapse under the weight of obligation and expectation. Toph was unpredictable and pushy and rash. Sokka wanted an easy experience. Not a challenging, potentially awkward one.
Easy peasy. That's why he was asking girls out that obviously liked him, and through text messaging, at that. Shameful? Yes. Difficult? No. Setting himself up for actually getting invested in something? Also no.
Sokka's aching brain longed for the days he had once spent with Yue. Back when logic and emotions didn't wage war because they both lined up so perfectly.
In the end, Toph was like a little sister, anyway. Not an object of desire. Suki and Ty-Lee were safe. Things could be cut off if they got messy without any trouble, they were both obviously into him, and they both stroked his ego. Toph, on the other hand, was deeply connected to his daily life, his best friend, and his sibling. If they had even a single awkward encounter like what Jane and Katara had at New year's? Blehhh. So much fucking drama. That was not desired in the slightest. And Toph always ever picked and prodded and pushed him around - as a bossy, loud, obnoxious sister does. Just because that was occasionally attractive didn't warrant consideration toward taking her out, no matter how horny Sokka was feeling.
Sokka's ego simply wouldn't allow him to get shoved around by a grumpy, hormonal blind girl who could explode at any second. Was there a possibility of romance there? Sure. But with how Sokka was doing, he was thinking with the wrong head about anything involving women. So it was clearly better to just play it safe.
"She's not that bad," defended Aang, bursting through Sokka's swirling tornado of thoughts.
"Says the guy who got cheated on and dragged through the mud by her." His toxic tongue wouldn't let up.
Ugh. Aang's often limitless patience seemed to be starting to run low in this discussion. Why should it matter to him, anyway? If Sokka wanted to be a stubborn prick about it, that was his call.
"OK, OK," Aang waved up his hand, shaking his head as he went back to sketching. "It was just a suggestion."
"It was a bad one," Sokka scoffed. "Toph's a hormonal, unpredictable loon. Hm, now, what was it she liked to refer to herself as? Oh-why-yes-that's-right, 'Queen of the Cunts.' So, uhhhh, yea. Not so much."
"She's been getting better lately," Aang grumbled. Evidently he still wasn't content listening to Sokka talk bad about her while she wasn't around, despite his attempt to give up on the conversation. "I'm sure she wants to have a nice, easy time at the dance just as much as you."
"If she really wanted to take me to the dance - me, the guy she's constantly taking pot-shots at, and trying to treat like her little bitch - she could tell me herself."
Aang paused, his eyes widening just a bit while he considered this notion.
"Her asking you out?" Aang muttered curiously.
"Exactly. Not gonna happen. I'm not gonna put up with her bullcrap, I'm going to this thing to cut loose, have fun, not be pushed around by Her Royal Majesty Mudslug."
"All right, I get it!" Aang groaned. "You were the one whining about needing a date. Why don't you just go alone, then?"
"Whhhfff-?" Aang could swear that a couple droplets of Sokka's saliva had splattered onto his face from across the table. "Do what?"
"Just go to the dance with everyone else, no strings attached." Aang shaded around the edges of the figure he was drawing. "That's what you seem to want lately, anyway," he added in a mutter of judgment.
"Look at who you're talking to, here!" Sokka cried, having missed Aang's resentful grumbling. He was pointing to his face, his hair hung down, flexing an arm with a moderate amount of muscle hidden under a layer of fat. "Sokka Kesuk does not go to dances alone. You don't waste class and good looks like mine, Friend. I am a man of stature, meant to lead a woman by the arm to an evening of whimsy and delight."
"Uh-huh," said Aang inattentively, hoping Sokka would just drop this discussion. For all of his complaining about indecisive, hormonal girls, Sokka was being pretty idiotic about this. Normally, this would be the kind of time when Aang would consult Katara and the two would scheme in the name of justice and peace and love and such things and come up with some kind of optimal solution for the problem - but Katara was being...weird lately. Consistently cranky, and terse, and bitter. It was obviously because of things with Jane, and hopefully by the weekend Aang would be able to get her in a good enough mood to enjoy the ball with him...but for now, maybe he should take a crack at this thing and try applying some 'Penguin Glue' to the situation.
- Thursday, April 14th, 2011 -
Fresh out of band class, Toph had filtered out with her fellow students and was meandering up the stairwell cautiously. The voices of that annoying trio of students bounced off the walls along with the clapping of shoes on hard floor.
"I-I'm going to make a fool of myself, Penga...I'll doom us both." Bumbly, wimpy guy.
"No way! I'll help you look sharp. You just need a good set of shoes to match, then you'll look, like, amazing." Shrimpy, prissy girl.
"I hate dances..." The dark one.
Toph was finally pulled out of her focused thoughts on music and work to the idea of that event looming just a couple of days away. Aang had been fairly proactive in getting everyone to buy tickets and reserve a table together. Toph wasn't terribly interested in the event, though she was sure the food would be nice. And it would be themed and have a lot of oldies songs playing, like ragtime and jazz and such...Still, everyone else would have dates. And she'd just be an extra wheel. She'd have to endure listening to Sokka and...whatever girl he inevitably was going with, both flirting back and forth. Yuck.
Having reached a plateau in the stairwell, Toph reached her fingers out - she'd lost track of what floor she was on in her thoughts. Fingertips slide across the wooden door, then found their way to the plastic panel to the side. She rubbed against the tiny bumps protruding from the bottom portion of the panel, and the braille there confirmed she was on the correct floor. Pushing herself into the thinly carpeted hallway, she heard two familiar voices around the corner.
"-about everything." Douglas. "Seriously, I...did not expect she'd react like that."
"Yea." Aang? What's he doing here? "She won't explain what it is, so that makes it kind of complicated."
"Ah. That does make sense. Again, I'm sorry." What the hell are they talking about? "She's doing all right, though, it's just something that...-" Douglas' voice trailed off as Toph rounded the corner, her palm sliding across the wallpaper. Yea, that's right, Dougie. Just...fuckin' clam up whenever I'm around. Pretend like I don't exist. Jerk.
"Oh, hi, Toph!"
"Hey," Toph greeted Aang with a confused tone. "Umm...What's up? Why are you here?" Toph could hear Aang muttering a good-bye as Douglas' practice room door opened. They'd probably waved or whatever. Figures that he'd just...run away like that. Ugh.
"I've been waiting for you," Aang announced with some optimism. Weird. "I figured I'd catch you here after your class was over."
"Okaaaaayyy...? Why's that?"
"Uhh...W-well, I thought you might be interested in hanging out over dinner. We could go grab something at Appa's, and go outside. Maybe out to the ski hill, or...I-I don't know, something like that?"
Toph was brought back to older days from the year before - those meals she and Aang had shared together, just the two of them, getting to know each other. That was back when Aang was an anchor for her, when she felt like she could talk with him about anything. She missed that feeling: that closeness with Aang. Not the physical, romantic closeness, but the discussion, the mental and emotional connection. That mutual respect, the appreciation of each other's differences and similarities alike. With everything that had been going on for the past few months, that element had been lost and buried underneath all of the relationship drama.
"Like...old times?" Toph murmured with a tint of hope, her head timidly hung.
"Like old times," Aang replied warmly, gripping her shoulder and giving it an endearing squeeze.
The cool air tickled her face, the air settling into an early evening routine. Her fingers were pinched around Aang's left elbow, and her sandaled feet arched up at an angle with each uphill step, straining her calves slightly in a gentle muscle therapy. When the clopping of flip-flops on dried dirt gave way to the slightly squishy texture and sifting of grass, Toph muttered Aang to pause so she could pop off her shoes. She knew this hill was clean and cared for, the grass perfect for hungry feet to enjoy.
Her flimsy shoes in one hand and her guide's slender arm in other, Toph soaked in everything. The tranquility of the blades between her toes, crisp and cool to the touch. The tantalizing, wafting scent of the fresh pile of fried potato strips Aang was toting in his other arm. The way each breeze played with her bangs, like fingers on piano keys. The barely noticeable pulse from Aang's flesh, evoking thoughts of life, which bred gratitude for the living, breathing friendship that had remained in tact despite all of the complexities and complications that had swirled around them, a maelstrom of pain, regret, and confusion.
She didn't have to fuss about anything here. Aang was a straight arrow, his intentions were clear and innocent. He was in a good mood, and so was she. The longing desire she had once clung to for what could have transpired between the two of them had evaporated somewhere along the way, replaced by an intrigued interest in an idiotic, meat-obsessed, mythology-infused fool.
All that remained was all that had existed at the start: a boy - a young man - that simply cared about her as a person.
"Fuck, it's so nice out today," Toph sighed out happily, the remnants of the after sun's warmth lingering on the back of her neck.
"Ha. It doesn't matter if it's a good or bad thing, you just like cursing," chuckled Aang.
"Doy, don't you know anything about me, Twinkle-Toes?" Toph snickered back. "Still, doesn't change the fact that I'm right."
"Heh. That's true," Aang agreed. "It is nice today. I haven't been outside much where I could just...appreciate the springtime weather, I guess."
"Or reading. Or studying. Or, well, jogging."
"Jogging? You're still doing that?"
"But...you didn't make it onto the track team..."
"Haha. Everyone keeps saying that! But it just feels good. And it's good for me."
Toph frowned, her head bobbed slightly.
"Sure, but...what about your back? Isn't that still, like...healing?"
"O-oh, well...Yea, I mean, it's mostly better, I just need to careful with it."
"Showering must be a pain. Er, literally."
"Eh, it's really not that bad anymore."
Toph swallowed, recollecting the frightening feeling of burned, scarred flesh against her palms from that night not so long ago.
"That's...good," she mumbled, convincing herself of Aang's honesty.
"Haha. Well, uhhh...Yea, not being bad is good, I guess. Astute observation."
"Tsh." Toph jerked at his elbow slightly to show disapproval of his sarcasm.
By now, the surface beneath them had flattened out, and was just barely beginning to slope downward - forward. They were at the fringe of the hill. A somewhat steep set of land tucked beside a trail that led off from the soccer/track field, their current location was often referred to ambiguously as 'the ski hill.' The group found this kind of amusing, since they had never heard of nor seen anyone actually ski on it. During winter, when it snowed over, people were known to sled down it - sometimes resorting to 'borrowed' lunch trays as makeshift sleds. But no skiing seemed to ever occur there, at least not anymore.
"This is a good spot," Aang advised, slowing to a stop about where Toph had expected. She dropped her sandals to her right and plopped down, letting her legs spill forth into the grass, prickling at her skin. She heard Aang sniff in a sharp intake of breath after he'd rustled into position at her left - he was taking in the aroma of their french fry platter after having opened the styrofoam treasure chest. She heard the light crunch of teeth dissolving a single fry before her lap was overcome by warmth as Aang gently set the container upon her. She dug right in, grasping an entire handful of fries - curly, wedge, thin, whatever kinds were mixed in here - and stuffed it into her face.
Aang laughed at this, and she could sense him carefully plucking more for himself while she devoured her first portion.
"So, Toph...How are you doing lately?"
"Ha. To be honest, I've been a little worried about Katara lately, but...-"
Toph swallowed her food and breathed out through her open mouth with lamentation.
"Ugh. I'm sorry, but damn that girl's just as thick-headed as I am sometimes..."
"It's...a difficult situation. I mean, I get where she's coming from, it's complicated, and...-"
"Actually, it's simple. Jane wants some fuckin' space, and Big Sister can't stand not being in control."
"Erm...I-I guess that's part of it, yea..."
"Eh," Toph's eyes slipped closed as she scratched her nose lazily. Hm, probably not the best of ideas to go grumbling about Aang's girlfriend if she was trying to stay on his good side. "Sorry, Twinkles, you know I love the woman, just...Urgh. It's like she can't even figure out how what's she doing just makes it worse."
"Heh. Now you know how she felt about a certain someone a little while back," Aang teased, giving Toph a pat on the back. She could feel her cheeks warm up with some shame.
"Mmpfh..." She hid her admittance in another fistful of fries.
"Sokka's not exactly been doing himself any favors these days, either," Aang snuck in his segue-way.
"I know!" Toph took the bait, gulping down her food in a rush to get her opinion pushed out. She coughed twice, clutching her chest as she swallowed a second time to force her food down.
"You all right?" Aang checked, a bit humored. When Toph didn't respond, he pounding at her back with the side of his fist a few times. She wasn't sure if this helped or not, but either way the food got down. More important than her breathing, this meant she could continue to berate Sokka's idiocy.
"That stupid dick, all...fuckin' flirtin' with every girl around him. Ugh. And he gets so fake and...just...retarded, and I can't stand it, it's...so...-" She had to loosen her own clenched fist in order to grab more finger food. "You just know all he wants is to get in someone's pants. Pretty damned pathetic."
Aang was extremely tempted in that moment to point that just months ago, Toph was obviously in the same position, and had been much more forward about the 'getting in someone's pants' part. He managed to stifle his tongue, only to be sideswiped by Toph herself acknowledging exactly this.
"Then again," she grumbled, "I guess I know what that's like, too...Been there, done that...Ugh." She let her head sink into her hand, letting her palm slide across her right eye. "I'm...really sorry I put you through that, Aang."
"I know," replied Aang solemnly. From his perspective, this matter had already been resolved. She'd apologized in the past, he'd forgiven her, it was all done. "I'm sorry that we were in a position where...you felt the way you did," he conceded, a bit puzzled as to whether or not he was phrasing himself the best way. What she'd done wasn't OK, it wasn't excused, but he still felt bad that things had been how they once were. "But hey, come on."
As his hand clamped down on her shoulder, Toph was startled back to the serene, early evening of crispy potatoes and fresh air and grass.
"That's all in the past now, Toph. Really. It's fine. I'm doing better now, really. And I want to see you happy, too."
"Mm..." Toph hummed back with some uncertainty.
"Which is why I think you should ask Sokka out to the dance this weekend."
Toph felt like the wind had been knocked out of her, her stomach emptied of all but butterflies.
"Uhh...Haaah..." She puffed out a shaky laugh of forced disbelief. "Yea, that's fuckin' hysterical, Twinkle-Toes..."
"So you don't want to out to the spring formal with him?" prodded Aang coyly. Toph wasn't liking his transparent tone.
"Uh..." She couldn't think of how to react. Her gut reaction had been to spout out a 'fuck no,' but...it just hadn't come out.
"Toph," Aang laughed at her blank stare. Her jaw hung open, messy bangs flopped over her face, which pointed out ahead. "In case you forgot, we used to date. I can tell when you have a thing for somebody..."
Toph's hands, sitting in her lap, scrunched up tight, tugging at the fabric of her denim shorts. Her expression contorted with fear, uncertainty, embarrassment...a horrible blend of insecure emotions mixed into a wretched frappe of weakness she couldn't drink back down.
"It's OK!" Aang reassured in haste, rubbing his palm along Toph's back in a brief, swift motion. "I don't think anyone else has really figured it out. Heh."
Toph instinctively lifted a fist, but Aang clasped it in his palm before she made a flailing punch in his direction.
"I'm not going to tell anyone!" he insisted. "Settle down. It's all right."
One lean hand was clutched around her balled fist, the other still resting on her scapula. Toph caught herself and took a deep breath. Aang had always been good at helping calm her.
Toph sucked in another heavy gulp of air, letting it stream slowly through her nostrils as her eyes burned with shame.
"I fucking hate it," she confessed quietly, her nose wrinkled with disdain. "It's like he doesn't even notice I'm there," she growled with a crack in her voice at the end. Her mouth trembled in a downward arc of frustration. "I try to make it...get it through to that idiot, but-...Fff. You know I'm shit with subtlety, and it's like...I can't just go out there and say it, either." Speaking was difficult. The pent up emotions were drizzling out, like fizz sputtering down the sides of a shaken bottle of soda, the cap furiously twisted back on tight.
"I'm getting so sick of being ignored," Toph murmured drearily. "I'm supposed to be blind one, here..."
Aang's arm looped to her side and he pulled her over for a sideways embrace of sympathy.
"I'm sorry, Toph." She could feel the wisp of his sigh brush the hairs over her face. "Maybe...if you try asking him out, that could be a good step?"
Toph's bitter face twisted with contemplation.
"Why should I ask him? He's just gonna be a prick about it and write me off, anyway."
Aang was a bit relieved that Toph couldn't see his knee-jerk reaction to that remark, or it would've given away that this had kind of already happened.
"Erm...W-well, you don't have to if you don't want to. Obviously. It was...just a suggestion." Aang's reuse of the phrase brought him right back to his discussion with Sokka on the matter. Maybe it was a lost cause and Toph would simply need to...get over it. If that ended up being the case, she'd be best to have someone to confide in about it, anyway, and Aang was intent on being there.
"It was a bad one," Toph whimpered out jokingly, half-smiling, half-frowning. Aang smirked at the way Toph's reaction had mirrored Sokka's.
Maybe this was just a situation where Toph would have to be patient: wait and listen for the right opportunity to strike. That was more her style, after all.
"Well...I don't know, I'm trying to help out, here," Aang muttered, unsure if he was really helping.
"Yea," Toph replied wistfully, lifting herself from his should and dropping her back into the soft grass. She sniffed, relieved that her eyes were drying back up without the need to drip damned tears. The grass teased at her shoulder-blades and pricked through her tanktop pleasantly, and she stretched her limbs out wide before plucking a couple fries from the contain sitting on her waist.
"Thanks, Aang," she said. "I can be all bitchy and stubborn and whatever, but...you know that it means a lot, how you've got my back...right? You know that?"
"I do." Aang acknowledged, taking her cue and laying down beside her, his head propped up on criss-crossed wrists.
"Good," said Toph. "So now you know. And knowing is half the battle."
"Because knowledge is power," Aang recited as a grin spread over his face.
"And with great power comes great responsibility."
"So drink responsibly."
"For your health."
They shared a chuckle at the fact that they both remembered this old 'humdiddle' they had developed over time while dating, stitching together various pieces of pop-culture into a thread.
A couple of minutes passed, more fries were consumed. They had both really grown to miss each other, hadn't they?
Toph found her thoughts lingering to the great unknown of the future. Of Sokka's impending graduation, and how sooner or later, she would graduate, too. Where would she go? What would she do? It was a bit far off, sure, but a whole two years away - and just the past two years had down that so much could change. They both rose to their feet and Aang took the empty carton. They dusted themselves off, but Toph's mind wouldn't let go of this urge to ask the question.
"Do you think our friendship can last a lifetime?" Toph wondered, her tone shrouded in doubt. Her head was inexplicably bobbed, and Aang could make out that her eyebrows were bent upward distilled melancholy.
Aang was a bit perplexed by this question at first, having come out of nowhere. He looked over to her uncertain, distant expression. He paused to consider the notion until ultimately clasping his hand onto hers like a handshake before leading her on their journey back to campus.
"I don't see why not."
- Friday, April 15th, 2011 -
["YOU HAVE...NO...NEW MESSAGES."]
Toph sighed, tapping a button on her phone and ending the call to her voice mail. Jane still hadn't gotten back to her - no real surprise, perhaps, but the message Toph had sent earlier in the day had been a mini-rant concerning how Jane's icy-cold shoulder was affecting Katara lately. Still no response, though. And Toph knew for a fact that Jane's Facebook had recently been hammered by various inquiries about her stark absence, because Sokka had mentioned it at dinner that night. What was also intriguing was that the group had heard from Korra's housemate - that weirdo 'am I right?' guy - that Korra was spending her time with Jane lately. That was pretty damned suspicious.
Toph had told herself that she was going to give Jane some breathing room, and she had been making an effort to do that this week...but Katara's bitchy mood was directly impacting her well-being, which warranted a bit of effort in pursuing some kind of solution.
Toph had been feeling better today, though - her time with Aang yesterday had really helped. She'd truly lost track of how much she had missed him in that deeper sense. It had spurred her to spend some time plotting something to do to try and cheer Katara up. Assuming the cranky girl was in their room tonight, Toph might initiate said plan. After hauling herself up the stairwell with care, she found her way to the door across the hall from her own. She gave it a sharp rapping with the tips of her knuckles. No answer. Ah, well.
Toph paused when she reached the closed door to her dorm room, stopped in place by a curious sound from within.
Had that been...a whimper? Or a sob? It was hard to tell for sure from behind the door, but Toph had keen ears, and the hallway of 2nd Aqua was dead silent – appropriate enough given the time of year when everyone was crunching down on their studies before the weekend, getting those pre-Spring-break projects worked on and such. This would be the last weekend before break, after all.
The sound Toph had heard didn't repeat in the couple of moments she waited, and Toph entered the room, her mind suspicious about her roommate. Toph cautiously felt her hand to the doorknob, and in the split-second that it took for her to twist it and push herself in, Katara flinched violently from her bed, her breathing freezing up. Already curled up against her knees, Katara squeezed her face into her legs, shakily sighing out the sob she'd put on hold and trying to make it sound like a sneeze.
"Why are you crying, Sister-Face?" Toph slowly asked, her expression concerned as she pushed the door closed behind her.
"Huh? I'm...-" Katara made a rather audible sniffing sound, wiping at her nose with her sleeve as she dropped her legs down the edge of her bed. "I'm not crying, Toph," Katara solidly replied, dabbing at her eyes. "Just...allergies. I dunno." She huffed out with irritation. "My nose is all gunky...That's all."
"Uhhh..." Toph wasn't buying it, though she had to admit that Katara's tone was fairly convincing. She swiftly rounded the corner of Katara's bed and tapped her cane around until it knocked against Katara's heel. Katara, still red in the face, glanced up at her roommate, perplexed.
Toph reached up her hand, bumped Katara's chin lightly in her efforts to locate the girl's face, then immediately wrapped her palm around Katara's cheek and held it there. Paralyzed with embarrassment, Katara's face lit up even brighter as she glanced to the calloused hand against her skin.
"Your cheeks are wet," Toph bluntly observed. She finally removed her palm and rubbed the remnants of tears between her fingers, casting a critical, blank glare past Katara's forehead. "You're lying, Katara."
A heavy silence fell over both of them as Katara pulled in a slow breath, then exhaled in a puff.
"Don't even try it," Toph grunted, clearly disapproving of Katara's actions as of late. "I'm the master of this kind of bullshit, and I can tell when you're doing it..."
Katara frowned at Toph's biting hostility, squirming back against the wall on her bed. Toph could sense from the scffff of cloth against cloth that Katara had moved away, and she sighed, dropping her cane to the floor and throwing herself onto Katara's bed. As she swung her body up, she rammed the back of her skull against the wall.
"Are you OK?" Katara immediately snapped out of her gloom with concern.
"Yea," Toph groaned. "Just a bit dumber," she joked in spite of her pain.
This caused a sudden moment of awkward laughter between them until Toph aligned herself at Katara's side. Rubbing at her head tenderly, Toph bumped Katara's rib with her elbow.
"But seriously, Sweetness...You've been...losin' your sweetness lately," lamented Toph, her expression turning sour with sadness.
Katara looked away from Toph, biting her bottom lip as her eyes quivered, almost ready to burst into tears again. Three simple words described the entire situation.
"...I miss her."
Toph's eyebrows pushed down into a distant, thoughtful expression.
"I do, too," Toph sympathized.
"I can't believe this," Katara grumbled with a sharp, jaded tongue. "After everything we've gone through, she'd throw it all away? Cast us aside like that?"
Toph sighed, partly from agreement, but also out of irritation of hearing this same tirade from her roommate over and over.
"What kind of friend does that?" Katara hissed dropping her chin on her left knee. "Just...cuts you off? No reason, no explanation, no warning...That's all I want: just an explanation. Why is that so...so freaking much to ask? I just...-! I don't...-! Grrughh. I've told that woman so many times that if there was ever a problem, all she needed to do with talk with me about it, and...-"
"Katara," said Toph with the force of a dull and rusty spoon. "I know. I don't get it, either. It fucking sucks. OK. That's...pretty established by now. I think we're both more than aware of how much it fucking sucks. Mmkay? So do we really gotta run through this riggamaroll a tenth time?"
Katara's eyelids blinked with ferocity at her friend's blunt attitude, but was sideswiped when Toph's hand wandered to her arm.
"I get that you're pissed," Toph eased, scaling back the sharpness in her voice as she worked her over to Katara's back and slapped it twice. "Good on ya, Sugar-Queen. I'm glad you're all...lettin' yourself get mad for a change. That's great. But here's the thing..." Toph pushed herself off the bed and carefully edged her way to the foot of her bed, bumping her toe. The familiar sensation and sound tipped her off that she had, indeed, found her guitar case.
"See...-" she grunted, bending down and unclasping the case like second nature. "-...you're getting so hung up on what you've lost, that...-" She tenderly retrieved her grandmother's guitar and scooted herself along the floor, sitting cross-legged. "-...you're losing track of what you have."
Katara, her head lifted from her tucked-in knees, curiously looked down from her bed at her friend as she strummed a chord.
Katara needed some cheering up right now. She was acting stupid. Just as Jane had used the power of music to help shake off some of Toph's idiocy, Toph was hoping that she might find similar success.
+ youtube(.com)/watch?v=guFr8Esvbco +
Katara was still feeling crabby at Toph's rude dismissal, but the soothing sounds bubbled through the room like a stream in a wood.
"~Can you find the time to let your lover love you?~"
Toph's voice was mellow and smooth.
"~He only wants to show you the things he wants to learn, too; The hardest parts you'll get through~"
Wait, what was she singing about?
"~And in the end you'll have your best friend~"
Was she singing about Aang?
"~Love like this may come once; Baby it's fate~"
Yea...Katara did have a special feeling about Aang.
"~Like a soul mate, he's your Penguin~"
OK. Yes. Toph was singing about Aang.
"~Baby it's fate; Baby it's fate...Not luck~"
Katara's relationship with him really did feel so simple and perfect.
"~Can you find the time to let your lover hold you~"
So why was Toph...singing this song?
"~He needs somebody to hold to; His love is strong and so true; His Arrow's aiming for you~"
Oh. Katara had been...kind of pushing Aang off by the wayside recently.
"~And he's the one that you were born to love~"
This was Toph's way of telling Katara to appreciate that she had Aang.
"~Love like this may come once; Baby it's fate~"
She could've just said it in words to Katara. But this was having a deeper impact.
"~Like a soul mate, he's your Penguin~"
Aang was Katara's Penguin. He would always be there for her.
"~Baby it's fate; Baby it's fate...Not luck~"
Even if other people weren't. She couldn't let herself lose sight of that truth.
Even Toph knew Aang would never abandon them in any way. This was her own, less-direct way of expressing that.
Toph, trying to cheer Katara up in her own sensitive way. What a change of pace. Katara was grateful and proud that this often-stubborn girl had changed over the past year. As gruff and sarcastic as she could sometimes get, Toph was still a young woman that cared on the inside.
"~Let go; Let go of time for you and I~"
The song rolled along, lapping at Katara like steady, calming waves.
"~Let go; Let go of time for you and I~"
Toph's strategy was working - reminding Katara that even without Jane, there were still important, valuable people around her.
"~Let go; Let go of time for you and I~"
Katara sung along with her friend with a weak smile when they reached the third go around.
"~Love like this is all I want; Maybe it's fate~"
Toph's face had drooped down, her hair shrouding her face in black.
"~Love like this may come once; Maybe it's fate~"
Katara, you have this amazing guy you work so well with. He loves you so much.
"~Like a soul mate, he's your Penguin~"
Treat him better than I did. Be grateful, Sister-Face. Pouting doesn't suit you.
"~Maybe it's fate; Maybe it's fate...Not luck~"
As Toph's fingers tickled the strings, easing out the final notes of the song, Katara took a deep breath. Her tears had dried up. Her stomach no longer quivered. Her hands no longer trembled. She could breathe through her nose again. With this relief, she sighed peacefully to herself and wrapped her arms around her chubby, penguin shaped pillow. She tucked it in her lap and rested her chin upon it.
Toph quietly tucked away her instrument of emotion.
"So!" she blurted out with a cocky grin. "That make you start crying again?"
Katara smirked, eyes narrowed.
"Actually, no. It made me stop crying. I feel better."
"Ah. Well...that's good."
"Ha. Yes, Toph, feeling better is good. So is not crying."
Toph smiled at Katara's sarcasm and how it reminded her of Aang's similar picking.
"Thank you for cheering me up, Toph. That means a lot."
Katara could see traces of embarrassment in Toph's face as the blind girl hobbled up to her feet.
"Just puttin' you back in your place, Sugar-Queen: a throne of sappy sweetness and joy and whatever. That's where you belong."
"Hee." Katara's smile widened to bare teeth at her friend's humorous phrasing. "The Queen of Sugar demands her loyal subject gives her a hug."
Toph's eyebrow lifted, and Katara couldn't tell if the girl was amused or disinterested.
"I'll give you a hug," Toph conceded, "But that was lame. I'm learning how to be all open and touchy-feely and expreth mythelf but you aren't learning shit from me. We gotta change that."
A/N: The "Like old times" bit is a reference to the relationship between Tenzin and Lin in Legend of Korra, drawing a parallel between them and SRU!Aang/Toph's complicated history. The Mako/Bolin scene obviously homages their scene in LoK episode 5. 'Penguin' by Christina Perri, though with some slight changes in the last verse.