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The Ones in the Middle

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The children tell stories, of course.

Oh, most of the stories are, undoubtedly, about the Avatar. Stories of his bravery and courage, of his warmth and compassion, of his befriending the son of the man who wanted him dead - and those are all very good stories.

But they also tell stories of the Avatar's companions. They tell of the Sokka, a master swordsman. They whisper in awe the name of Suki and her legion of female warriors. Reverence too is given to those who turned sides when it was necessary for the Avatar to win, and for those elders who guided the Avatar and his companions on his quest to save the world.

Toph listens, because before her earth-bending, listening was her greatest power. And it remains a trusted, if very secondary, tool. She can listen far more easily than any of the others, without getting distracted.

Her favorite stories are of the master waterbender and the greatest earthbender on the planet. She listens to those stories, and nods readily in agreement if ever asked, because yes, they are all quite true. She thinks of those stories, and the hushed awe in the children's excited little tones whenever Zuko wails about how hard putting their world back together is turning out to be.

Because she disagrees with him. These children know not only how hard they worked to get their peace, but how magnificent that final battle was. That's as much hope as Toph needs.

Of course, the adults tell their stories, too. Those stories are usually darker, in more hushed tones. They're the kind of stories the people who still remember the terror or Ozai's reign tell, where too much dwelling on the past interferes with kind of hope Aang wants them all to have.

But Toph likes those stories, too. She likes the dirt far too much to ever want anything to be too clean.

She suspects the same can be said of Katara.

Because when Toph drags her to another play in the fire kingdom, Katara is not nearly as difficult to convince as Toph expects. Together, they sit in a back row, in much better disguises than they'd had years before, and watch as children from Zuko's kingdom retell their adventures. Katara sits huddled next to Toph, with her hand intertwined much more intimately than the last time they watched a play together.

She listens in the quiet theatre, too - listens to Katara's breathing beside her, the amused laughter of the crowd, and the actors' enthusiastic portrayal of heroes. She listens to the clapping, that comes in all the right spots, and the cheering that comes with the triumphant win of Lord Zuko and the Avatar.

Toph enjoys all those parts, of course, because they are all pretty glorious.

But her favorite parts are the ones in the middle, with the master waterbender and the best damn earthbender on the planet.