I Always Do
A/N: This chapter is a classic example of my writing style taking me in a different direction. I often go into scenes with a beginning and an end but the middle up in the air, and I often just let the characters decide where things go. This chapter was supposed to end up with a different result but how it ends turns out better than what I originally planned. Sometimes the characters know what's best for them more than you do. ;)Furthermore, the plot device of going to the South Pole was never in the original draft of this story but a whole lot of plot devices have been falling into place nicely with this element.
"Feels like I'm wearing a diaper," Toph grumbled, fidgeting her hips around in an attempt to adjust. She found it hard to believe that she was leaking blood down there. That was pretty disgusting. And how in the hell was it normal?
"I'm sorry, Toph," Katara said plainly, "but you're going to have to deal with it like the rest of us."
"And this is gonna happen every month?" she demanded, outraged by the idea.
"Pretty much," Katara told her matter-of-factly. Toph would've protested some more but her abdomen cramped up again. How could someone get used to this?
"That medicine should kick in soon and help with the pain," the raspy, rickety voice of the old woman that had been assiting them informed. She had a roughness to her - the kind of tough, leathery tone that Toph felt was bred by living in a place like this.
Katara had told Toph that 'Gran-Gran' was their grandmother who had recently gotten married to a waterbending master from the Northern Water Tribe. Toph had felt like this was Katara's way of saying 'See? Even at that age in life you can still find love,' but Toph definitely hoped that she wasn't going to be that old when she got married. When she had asked where Gran-Gran's husband had gone off to, Katara had explained that Gran-Gran had decided to stay with the Southern Water Tribe for a while longer to spend some time with Hakoda and the members of the tribe before she went to live up north. Her husband had his own responsibilities to attend to and had to go back without her, but the two vowed that they weren't going to wait very long to be together again. Toph had to admit it was very sweet that even at such an older age two people could express such a desire to be together, even from completely opposite sides of the world.
"OK," Toph whimpered, hand still clutching her stomach as she sat in the bed. It certainly hadn't kicked in yet.
"Thanks, Gran-Gran," Katara said.
"Yea, thanks," Toph threw in, so grouchy she'd forgotten to be grateful.
"You're quite welcome, my dear," assured the woman.
"So...you think this is why I've been feelin' funny lately?" Toph wondered, shame crawling across her mind as she recalled having a temper tantrum not long ago.
"Definitely," confirmed Katara. "Your body's growing and changing, and you've had a lot of stress on top of that. It's not good for you, and it's causing all of your mood swings."
"I didn't mean to yell and be a jerk before," Toph insisted.
"It's OK!" Katara chuckled, fwffm, sitting beside her. "I know why you were acting that way. It's not like I've never...been a jerk to you while it's been happening to me."
It suddenly dawned on Toph that maybe this sort of thing explained why, every now and again, Katara seemed to get highly irritable and snippy for no apparent reason. It spooked her to think of what it'd be like if this were happening to the two of them at the same time.
Toph could hear the distant sounds of a familiar boy roaring and growling triumphently, a girl giggling at him. That was Suki's stupid giggle. Toph rubbed her bracelet tenderly, her mind sailing back to days long past of traveling through the Fire Nation undercover without a girl distracting Sokka's attention, with earth beneath her feet and a mission to achieve.
"Sounds like those idiots are back," Katara observed with a playful sigh.
Fwuffleluff, thumnthumnthumn!Sokka's thundering voice boomed out a proclamation as he bff-bff'd at his chest.
"There will be blubber jerky tonight!"
"Yea," Aang sighed with disapproval.
"Sounds great," Toph grumbled, her words drowned out by hooping and hollering.
"That was amazing, Aang!" Sokka congratulated. "You're a natural!"
"Uhhh, y-yea, thanks," Aang quietly accepted his compliment, clearly not proud of himself.
"You shoulda seen it, guys," Sokka excitedly proclaimed. "We were trying to-"
"Yea, that'd have been great," Toph snarled. "I'm sure it looked awesome."
"Uh-w-well, it..." Sokka stumbled.That's right, feel guilty, Meathead.
Aang picked up the story in an effort to settle the awkward second of tension and likely to put himself in a better mood. Sokka made annotations to his story as he went, but Aang continued without stopping.
"So we were sneaking up on it, like tweak tweak tweak and the boar-walrus heard us coming, so it was rrroooaaaarrr and Sokka was like eeeee and so-""I did not scream like that.""-it was comin' at us like bodom-bodom-bodom and I said HEY WHAT DO WE DO and Sokka was all-" chititititit "-and I was so gonna water bend the ice, 'cuz it was crazy-""Pretty sure I'd have been OK with you making things easier on us...""-but I was like NO I DON'T WANNA HURT HIM and I jumped on top of his back and grabbed onto his tusks and it was ROAAAARRR bodom-bodom-bodom and I steered him away from Sokka and BOOOFF into a snowpile!"
Aang gasped, breathing heavily.
"Aaaand then Aang didn't wanna kill it so he had me do that part," Sokka finished.
"I was trying to save it in the first place!"
"When I said 'let's go hunting' what part of that did you think wouldn't involve an animal dying?"
"I-I wasn't thinking about that!" sheepishly admitted Aang. "I just...wanted something to do. Like...Bro time. Or something. Male bonding? Bro-time?"
Slap. Scritchascratcha."Ow, hey!""Here's some male bonding for ya! Little brothers get noogies, get used to it."
"So...You guys hunted a boar-walrus?" Katara clarified. "And Aang helped?"
"Not on purpose," Aang muttered. "B-but they're gonna use every part of him," Aang nervously certified. "Uh...right?"
"Every part!" Sokka affirmed. "Blubber, bones, and all."
"I'm shocked, Twinkletoes," Toph acknowledged. "Didn't think you'd ever kill an innocent creature..."
"I-I didn't kill him!" Aang contended.
"Yea, hey!" Sokka objected. "Credit where it's due, huh?"
"Might as well have," Toph dismissed, cocking her head to the side lazily.
"It's all right, Aang," Katara soothed. "There's a difference between killing and hunting. You know that."
"Y-yea," Aang complied with hesitancy.
"C'mere," Katara welcomed. Sopff. He sat down between the two felt like they were hugging, the vibrations very close as they sat against the wall beside Toph. "It's fine, Hun. There's nothing wrong with taking the life of a creature like that. My people need to eat to survive. Sacrifice is how nature works some times."
"I know," he pouted.
"Some times Nature's a jerk," Toph griped, fidgeting around, her abdomen uncomfortable.
"Did Gran-Gran help you feel better?" Sokka wondered, setting himself on the floor straight ahead.
"Yea," she sighed, arms crossed.
"So, what's the diagnosis?" Sokka curiously inquired.
"Nothing serious," Gran-Gran eased him. "She'll be fine. I gave her some medicine."
"Awesome! We need you feeling better so we can do crazy stuff like...cliff-diving, and-and ice fishing!"
"Yea! Remember how I was gonna taking you fishing? Well, why not do it in style?"
"What's...-?" Toph scratched her head, trying to figure this out. "What's ice fishing?" Toph had a frightening image of sitting on a chunk of ice in the middle of an icy ocean fishing for icy fish in icy waters. Or maybe just fishing for ice instead of icy fish.
"You stick a hole in some ice, you put a fishing pole in there, and ya fish!"
"Uhh...OK," Toph mumbled, any fears she had drained, along with any excitement.
"It'll be fun," Sokka assured, wobbling her by the arm. "It'll be good hang-out time, just us. We haven't had that in a while."
"O-Oh, OK, yea," Toph spluttered, her stomach churning with emptiness while another cramp creeped in, more tolerable than before.
"Speaking of, we haven't done that in a while," Katara pointed out.
"We should!" Sokka agreed. "Spend some time in the old ice fields, maybe catch up with old friends..."
"Let's do it tonight," Katara proposed.
"I'm up for it."
"What should we do?" Aang wondered.
"You guys can do whatever you want," Sokka replied. "Go race those seal-penguins, or...meet some of the village or something. Or find out what Suki's doing. I know she had plans to do something..."
"We'll figure something out, Twinkletoes," Toph encouraged, cutting out the possibility of time with Suki in her mind.
"Let's go cliff-diving right now, then!" Aang decided, still lively with the energy from his adventure with Sokka.
"Uh, w-well, I dunno, Aang, Toph's still feeling kind of sick, so...-"
"I'm fine, Katara," Toph insisted, rising to her feet. Her dizziness and stomach troubles seemed to have dissipated for the most part.
"OK," Katara winced, clearly uncertain about the entire ordeal.
"All right!" Aang cheered. "I'll go get Appa!" A gust of wind picked up as Aang's feet were no-doubt air-assisted out the door.Thummathummathummathumma-FWOHFF-thummathummathumma...
"You sure you wanna do this, Toph?" Sokka probed. "I mean, you, uh...didn't really seem in the mood before."
"I said I'll do it!" she contended with a huff.Damn, I'm not a freakin' baby...
"OK! OK!" Sokka conceded, his glove rubbing around her fur-trimmed hood. "Then let's do this!"
Just the four of them, like old times. The air wizzing by, the serenity of the skies, making jokes at each other's expense...not a care in the world. This freedom was what Toph had escaped from them to find in the first place. She was getting antsy from the flight, however, and wanted the action to begin.
"So, like...not to be a downer, here, but...We are diving from a cliff, right? I mean, this ain't bison-diving, is it?"
"The cliff is part of the fun," Aang advised. "We're almost there, just another couple minutes."
"So, I'm just wondering, here," Toph flatly threw out at them. "How are we going to make sure we don't die?"
"Aang and I will go first," Katrara explained. "We'll give Sokka a sign when we're ready, and when you guys go we'll use bending to make sure you're OK."
"C'mon, Toph," Sokka encouraged, "You don't trust two of the best benders in the world here?"
"Yea, I do have the whole 'Avatar' thing goin' on," Aang declared with mock arrogance.
"Yea-yea-yea," Toph spat. "OK, I'm sure it'll be fine. But if you guys mess up I'm gonna bury you when we get back to dry land. Literally."
"Guess we'll just have to stay here, then," Sokka proposed with exaggeration.Good luck getting that stupid ninja chick of yours to do that for ya, Meathead.
Reaching the cliff was forboding. It was a cliff entirely of ice, naturally. Being lifted from the familiar feeling of Appa's hefty, sturdy weight and placed on practically invisible edge of a fridgid cliff wasn't doing much for her trust. She groped around Sokka's body, unnerved by the environment. Every wave that crashed into the cliff was like a tap at her feet, the wind howled through her ears viciously, her only solace the flapping of fabric and the presence of her friends.
"I-I'm not s-so sure about this an-anymore," she shivered, pressing her layered body into Sokka's. It'd be, like, totally OK if you held me and made sure I didn't slip or fall. I'd be completely chill with that.
"It's all right!" Sokka empathetically calmed her. "I gotcha, Rocky." His arm pulled her in tight against his animal skin coat. She pushed her cheek into the clothing, its fuzzy texture inviting in this hostile wasteland.
"We don't have to do this if you don't want to," Sokka offered through the bitter winds.
"Sokka's right, Toph," Katara complied. "No one is making you do this, you don't have to if you're scared."
"N-not scared," Toph denied through chattering teeth. She felt like the shivering was more psychological, as she was much warmer with these clothes than she had been when they had arrived here.
Sokka and Katara both chuckled at her pathetic attempt at being brave. Yea, OK, maybe a little scared, all right? Leave me alone. This is freaky.
"Toph, Sweetie," Katara professed, "No one is going to think any less of you. You're sick, you're in a place that's outside of your element..."
"Literally," Aang added, Thok-thok, tapping that staff of his.
Toph's mind ignited with irritation. Oh, poor poor baby Toph, she's all blind and helpless and boo-hoo. Fuck that! She was fine, she could-oh shit! Her left foot slipped on the slick ice as a gust of wind tipped her balance. Her teeth ground and her arms froze up, latching into Sokka like a leech.
"Whoa, hey, take it easy," he comforted, gripping her tight. "I gotcha, Toph."
Quite a conundrum. Look like a fool and a total wuss, or try to brave the unforgiving cliffside with no means of direction of sensibility and potentially die. Hm. OK, maybe not that hard of a decision, but it freaking sucked. But being held tight in the nipping winds wasn't so bad.
"I-I don't think I wanna go," Toph admitted meekly.Damnit, I never should've agreed to go to this. Should've known better.
"Hey, that's fine!" Sokka comforted.Stop treating me like a baby!
"Yea, maybe you should just stay here," Katara suggested.Why, because you think I can't handle it?
"We can try later when you're feeling better," Aang optimistically proposed.I don't want to try again later!
"No, actually," she pushed herself from Sokka. "I'm just gonna do it now," she took a few cautious steps toward where Katara and Aang's voice had come from. "I'm not gonna wuss out just bec-" The weight of her right leg flopped over the edge, and her whole body flung along behind. She let out a brief scream before both of her extended arms were clutched. The air beneath her made her feel queasy as it gusted from below, and before she could realize what had happened, she was back in Sokka's grasp, panting in a panic.
"Yeeeea maybe we should just...chill for a bit here," Sokka carefully decided. "You guys go on and have fun, I'll keep an eye on her." What? Oh, you're my babysitter now?
"Are you OK?" "You all right?" the other two quickly asked over top one another.
"Fine," Toph managed, her breathing sharp, her heartbeat quivering.
"You have to be careful, Toph," Katara scolded, clearly disappointed. "I know you're very strong and brave but out here you have to be careful or you could get hurt...or worse."
Toph wanted to snap at her for telling her something she already knew - stupid Katara, telling her what to do like she was her mom.Stop it, Toph. You're feeling sick, it's making you act stupid. This was a bad idea, you're only doing it because you're stubborn and don't want to look like a pansy. Now you look like a big pansy and you almost got hurt. Apologize.
"Mm," she hummed contemplatively. Apologize. "I-I'm sorry, I'll stop."
"OK, then," Katara concluded the matter with a mit squeezing on Toph's shoulder.
"Let's go stay warm with Appa," said Sokka, his arms reaching around her body to scoop her from the ground. She let out a cry of surprise, still shaken from what had just happened, but his surprisingly strong arms quickly put her at ease.
"We'll be back in a few minutes," clarified Aang. A couple of seconds later, Katara let out a shriek of terror which faded away into a large splash. Unnaturally large for two people to make without bending.
"Rrrrroooouwwww?" Appa groaned impatiently.
"It's OK, Pal, we'll be headed out in a bit," grunted Sokka to the beast as he lifted Toph to the saddle's ridge. He gave her a push in the rear to boost her in, "There ya go," before he ssffffophem-pff'd his way in. She immediately crawled to his side and slipped into his lap. The padding of their winter clothes made this seem less daring and awkward than it would have been otherwise, not to mention the freezing temperatures. Even with these warm clothes, Toph couldn't comprehend how the people here survived.
"It's so cold," she complained, pulling Sokka's arms around her. He complied with a tight, extended hold.
"Sorry, Toph," Sokka muttered, a hint of guilt about him. "I guess I didn't think that part through when I planned this trip, huh?"
"I know," Toph moaned jokingly. "Mr. Fancypants strategy man didn't count on the south pole being really cold?"
"W-well, it's prolly 'cuz I'm used to it," he defended. "Besides, you're all...ya know, tough and everything. Guess I just didn't consider the whole...ice...and no earth...and all that."Ahaaaa. You thought I was all big and bad and could take it, huh? I wish I could...This sucks. I'm not a wuss! But...
"I can't stand it here," Toph whined. "I can't tell where anything is and it's freezing and bleh."
"Yea, OK, I get it," Sokka huffed, shifting himself around. Toph leaned her hooded head into his chest and sighed.Sorry, Snoozles. It just sucks around here."Nobody likes it here. OK! I'm done trying to convince everyone. But, ya know what? I'm supposed to be the Chief some day. I'm not gonna walk away from that. There are people depending on me. It's my responsibility."Yuck. Responsibility. Who needs that? Why are you worrying so much about this stuff? You should be living it up, Meathead, while you're still young! But it is kinda cool that you're so...determined about that stuff. I guess.
"I wasn't thinking about it like that," Toph disclosed, swallowing the guilt she had just put in Sokka's mouth moments before. "But...if we don't move here with you, doesn't that mean...-?"
"Yea," Sokka solemnly answered. "It means we wouldn't be able to see each other all the time..."Crap. That...would not be awesome.
Toph roped her arms around his abdomen and crushed him for a moment as best she could.
"I don't want that," she whimpered.
"I don't either," he agreed. "I'd miss you guys a lot."
"I-W-we'd miss you, too!" she declared. "But...you'll have Suki, and all that...right?" She said it with a bit of disdain, hoping after the fact that he hadn't caught on.
"Not so sure about that part," said Sokka with a deep, longing breath, his chest bulging out and shrinking down.Are you serious? For real? She might be leaving him?
"Oh?" Toph said simply, containing her new-found hope.
"Yea, she...-" Mufflefuff. He was rubbing his glove into his face. "She's not so sure she wants to live here with me," his voice was muffled until he dropped his glove around her back again. "Like, she's still a Kyoshi warrior, and she'd have to give that up to be with me, ya know? And...Ech."Poor Snoozles. Makeup Ninja's breaking his heart. I'd stay here with you! Maybe we could convince Aang and Katara to stay for a while, at least, and...Yea, it'd be just the four of us again, like old times! Everything would be perfect...Except that you'd be useless here, with nothing to bend, unable to tell where anything is. Would you really be able to help Sokka, or would you just be a burden? Be honest with yourself.
"Sorry, Sokka," Toph mumbled with sheepish sorrow. She sniffled, then nuzzled her face into his coat, warming her numbed nose.
"Hey, not your problem. We don't always get everything we want so easily, right?"
The Universe is out to get us.Destiny always gets what it wants, doesn't it?
"I'll be fine, Toph. I'll figure something out." The pressure of his hand against the back of her head was comforting but melancholic at once. "I always do."
"I wish I could figure stuff out like you can," Toph lamented, continuing to rub her dripping nose against him before leaning her cheek into his chest again and listening. Ta-Thump. Ta-Thump. It didn't feel right. He definitely wasn't feeling well.
"Hey, I'm the brains, you're just the brawn," Sokka observed with a laugh.
"Are you calling me stupid?"
"Oho, a little quicker on the uptake than I thought!"
Toph grinned in spite of his insult. She punched him in the arm ("Ow! I deserved that.") before reabsorbing her face into his pectoral. She savored his warm breath's mist settling onto her forehead with each exhalation he took, easing her head gently.
"I know, Pal, I know...Where are those two idiots at?"
"Yea, didn't diving usually, like...end pretty quick? Like, when you hit the bottom?"
"Ya know, that's exactly what I was thinking."
"Meh, it's OK. This is fine."
"Riiiight. Because pneumonia goes real well with being sick."
"That's why you have to keep me warm, Meathead."
"I'm just one guy." Sokka tucked Toph's hood more tightly around her head. "I can only do so much here." Toph sighed out a shaky breath as her spine tingled.
That's good enough for me, Sokka.