Title: No One Asks About the Scars
Fandom: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Summary: Write about how you learned to curse in order not to be cursed.
After the war, after the Fire Nation coronation ceremonies and the return of the Earth King, after the Water Tribes strengthened their treaties once again, Toph followed Aang through the echoing halls of the Earth King's palace, the shadows of his footsteps murmuring under the polished tiles like memories.
"Twinkletoes?" she queried, when the stone murmurs fell quiet. Her voice echoed in the room, and a ray of sun fell against her left sleeve.
"I don't know what to do now." Aang's voice came from the right, the sound muffled, as if he had hidden his face behind his hands. "Everybody keeps looking at me like I'm--"
"The Avatar?" Toph finished. "What a shock."
"Katara and Sokka are going back home, and Zuko is Fire Lord now." There was a puff of breath, only halfway like a laugh. "I don't have anywhere to go."
"You could come with me," Toph offered. "It's a long walk across the Earth Kingdom."
"Walk?" Aang's voice strengthened; he must have turned to face her, stepped closer. "You don't want to fly?"
"After the airships?" Toph said. "Not for all the purpleberries in the kingdom."
Aang's next exhalation was definitely a laugh. "I hate politics," he told her.
"Who doesn't?" Toph replied, and for the moment, they believed each other.
The walk across the Earth Kingdom was years long. They didn't take the direct route.
Toph stopped whenever the mountains sang for her, or when there was a good bending match, or when they passed an iron mine and she extended her hand to pull the ore out in chips and flecks of metal. They passed the sand of a lakeshore, and she let her feet sink into the grains, told herself this was earth, just a different kind, and she worked with it until it flew around her like Katara's water-whip.
Aang didn't approve of the bending matches, but he watched her in all other circumstances, his cheerful chatter falling silent as she worked. Sometimes, she felt the force of his bending tracing after hers, a soft shadow mimicking each wonder she managed to wrest out of herself.
As for Aang, she followed him as he tried rebuilding the world, person by person and home by home. It took forever, moving from village to village, but Toph liked the work. She liked being able to laugh and eat and not worry about which dignitary she might be offending.
They met one, then three air benders, their talents so diffuse and untrained that they didn't always realize their talents were at work. Maybe a temper tantrum escalated into a gale wind, or a dusty home would be swept clean. Aang saw them, though, and knew.
The first time they met another air bender, the earth whispered under Toph's feet. Her feet stuttered still while she wondered what it meant, and then she realized it was Aang's heart, pulsing joy to the rock beneath them.
Toph tried going back to her parents, once.
Aang waited outside the walls of their estate, and when she came back to him, voiceless, he didn't ask what had happened. She would have wondered what he saw in her face, but they'd never talked like that. They never shared their feelings or their hopes and dreams.
Well, she didn't, but Twinkletoes was another matter. When she found him resting in the shrine beside the road, she rubbed her nose and waited for him to offer her solace and awkward, hundred-year-old jokes. She waited for him to apologize for her parents, for their expectations, and for their rejection. Laughter rose in her throat, at the ready.
Instead of words, however, he touched the back of her wrist. His thumb brushed the hollow of her palm, and he pulled her into an embrace, her forehead bouncing once against his chest before she rested her cheek against his shoulder.
Just for a minute, she decided. It was as much for him as for her. She breathed in the scent of wool and ozone, and realized he was taller than she had assumed.
The rocks hovering around her shoulders trembled and dropped.
They wandered across the edge of a desert, and it didn't frighten Toph at all. She raised her hand, and the sand danced around them, shaped like sea-monsters and bears and Appa. She felt the sun throbbing against her cheekbones.
"Think we could find the library out there?" she asked. She tapped her fingers against her skin, wincing at the burn. "Between the two of us, I bet we could pull it back up again."
"Maybe," Aang said, but he sounded distracted, his voice aimed down and away from her. There was a rustle of cloth and leather. "Stand still for a second."
"What?" Toph asked, pausing even so. She turned towards Aang, and he cupped her face in his palm. "Aang, what are you doing?" She felt her skin heat further, and she almost jerked away.
"Wait," Aang murmured, and then water trickled along his palm, cool and a little stale from being carried in the waterskin for so long. The water lapped against her cheek, the droplets easing the sun's sting.
Toph closed her eyes and let the healing relax her. The tips of Aang's fingers traced a circle against her temple, and his feet tilted forward in the sand. Toph lifted her chin as the water receded. She rose on her tiptoes, and Aang's mouth brushed warmly against hers.
The next village they found was in the midst of a celebration, the songs weaving to reach them even as they crossed the valley before. When they came to the festivities, they found a wedding feast, and even Toph couldn't number the partygoers, so quickly did their pounding feet move in the dance.
Aang's face was known everywhere, and they both were hailed with welcome. A child looped a chain of jasmine around Toph's neck, and another grasped her wrist and pulled her into the joyful reel. Toph pressed hands with dozens of the villagers, letting their laughter and their patterned footsteps teach her the rhythm of the dance.
Finally, Aang caught her around the waist, but she was twirling, and the momentum bore them both to the ground. She rose on her knees, laughing, and Aang pulled her up again. He brushed her hair from her eyes, and Toph scrunched her toes in the dirt.
"You're a horrible dancer, Twinkletoes," she teased.
"Yeah," Aang agreed, and he hugged her closer and bent his knees, and they flew.
A/N: Title and summary adapted from Rane Arroyo's For a Bitter Veteran Student Who Is 24 Years Old. Link courtesy of breathe_poetry.
Originally posted here.