A/N: Also known as, "The First Chapter Where We See Things Through Other People's Perspectives." Hope you like it.
"He can certainly be a hassle sometimes."
She scraped the whetstone against her dagger with care, savoring the friction. The man beside her was working on sharpening a longsword, clearly battle-worn. Aang's tiny lemur-bat watched from across the room, his ears twitching with each scratch of stone on steel.
"He learns from the best, my Dear."
"Did you teach him how to be such a stubborn know-it-all?" she teased.
"Haha, no, I think he got a bit of that from his mother..."
"It's fine, Suki. Don't be sorry. She died protecting her children." Hakoda stopped his sharpening and contemplated the situation with a warming respect. "After everything that's happened and all my kids have done to help bring peace to this world...I can't help but wonder if she somehow knew just how important it was to protect them. I couldn't have asked for a better woman to be graced by. Her time with us may have been shorter than I'd have liked, but..." He went back to scraping at his scratched up sword. "She gave me enough fond memories to last a lifetime, and two of the greatest children a father could hope for."
He paused again and slapped Suki on the shoulder.
"And a handful of extra kids, too, eh?"
Suki absorbed his affection slamming, her doubts surfacing from the back of her mind.
"Yea," she shakily murmured, her hands beginning to tremble. She set her tools down, fidgeting her position around to get more comfortable.
"And you're still figuring out if you're one of them, hm?" He smiled, his eyes still intent on his task.
"I love Sokka," Suki confessed simply. "But we come from different worlds. I just don't know if I'd be willing to give up the one I have for him..."
"It's definitely a hard decision to make," mused the man with dreadlocks falling across the sides of his head. "You just need time. Don't rush a choice like this, Suki. If you truly love each other, you'll both find a way to work things out. Everyone who deeply loves another always does."
"I guess I just...never really thought about it until now," Suki admitted dully. "I know it doesn't make any sense, but things were so much easier when we had a war to worry about."
"You're a warrior, Suki. As am I. It makes perfect sense to me."
"I don't know." She picked up the spear Sokka had recently used that day during his hunt and began to work on its tip. "I've always had a battle to worry about, an enemy to fight. And now, I...I don't."
"You grew up in a time of war - you hardened yourself and fought while others ignored it and hid." He reached to his left and grabbed a piece of toughened meat from a pewter bowl. Momo scampered over in an instant, chittering pleadingly. "Haha, help yourself," Hakoda said to him, tossing a piece of the darkened meat his way. He snatched it and lovingly carried it back to his perch on the large pot hanging outside.
"Jerky?" Hakoda offered, extending a piece to her. She shook her head and smiled, watching as he tore his jaws into it. He finished his thought, chewing meat in his cheek. "But the leshen ya haff to learn-" He swallowed. "-is that all warrior paths lead to one of two ends: you choose to conclude your duties and live the life of a citizen, or you eventually fall to the hands of an enemy."
Suki sighed deeply as she took in his words.
"I believe my son is prepared for the prior. But what about you, Suki?" His tired, battle weary eyes burned into her mind.
"I suppose I need to find out," she affirmed, rubbing her finger gently along the edge of the spear to detect its sharpness.
"Aang decided that diving off the cliff wasn't good enough, so we'd dive in the ocean for a bit. And then the clouds."
"Aw, c'mon, it was, like, all romantic and stuff. Wasn't it?" Aang squeaked the last phrase. Katara giggled and swoffskuffpff attacked him with a hug.
"It was terrifying," Katara merrily corrected. "But it was very sweet." Smitch.
As they squeezed, Toph, who had wormed her arm around Sokka's at some point upon their return under some guise of being 'cold still,' clenched at his wrist with her free arm, the thick padding of their clothes continuing to dissuade any overly nervous intimacy from occurring. Sokka tapped her hand before pulling his arm away. She could feel air touch her bangs from his arm jutting upwards.
"Oh, well," Sokka indignantly cried. "It's nice to know Toph and Appa and me were left in the cold while you two had a playdate." He quietly muttered, "Next time, Aang, ya gotta do it at night time when the moon's out, she'll go gaga over it." Bff.
"Hey!" Katara shouted after she pounded her glove into his coat. Her words were sprinkled with embarrassment. "You can't go telling him all that stuff, he has to figure it out on his own!"
"Yea, Snoozles," Toph put in hands on her hips. "Us girls are supposed to be all...mysterious and junk. You have to figure us out." There was an awkward silence. A small gust of wind prickled Toph's face, but at least it wasn't snowing.
"Hey, it's OK, Sokka," Aang assured. Was there a problem?
"Yea," Sokka mumbled in humility.
"Aw, Sokka," Katara sympathetically cooed. "Don't be like that. This is what she'd want."
"Uhhh," Toph cut in. "What's wrong?"
"...Mffrnumblemoongrmblhf..." Moon? What about the moon? Who was 'she'? Their mother or something?
"I know!" Katara chimed, clearly struggling to save the sinking ship that was Sokka's mood. "Let's go find Dad and get started on dinner! There's plenty of meat to cook, right?" Sokka miserably howled something unintelligible in reply.
"Yea, Sokka," Toph joined in. "Meat fixes everything, doesn't it?"
Cronsh Cronsh Cronshcronsh-cronsh-cronsh
"It does when I cook it!" Hakoda's voice proclaimed from behind them.
"Dad!" Sokka called, as if raw enthusiasm had been shot into his jugular. Caronsh-caronsh-caronsh-bphsss-whack-pat-paff.
"A good haul you pulled in today!" Hakoda complimented as he approached them.
"How did you take down that guy by yourself?" Suki wondered.
"Aheh. Wh-well, I...kinda had some help from our newest Water Tribe Man!"
"Aha! So Aang, my boy," Hakoda excitedly poff'd his glove on the boy's head. "You helped provide my people with a hearty meal tonight, eh?"
"Y-yes, Sir," Aang accepted his words with a hint of chagrin.
"You have my gratitude," Hakoda solemnly thanked. "They haven't had a healthy meal like this in weeks. I'm afraid my time in the Boiling Rock has reminded me that I may be a little worse for wear than I'd like." Booff. "I'm proud of you. I know how you feel about hunting, but we are grateful."
Bend the rules for your family.
Aang seemed speechless at the glowing respect he had just been showered with, having no reply. Hakoda laughed as he heard Sokka's tale of the beast's capture, which seemed to leave out the parts with him screaming like a girl.
"See?" Katara said softly to Aang. "It's OK. I know the Monks might not approve but this is a different tribe of people who have to survive in their own way."Yea. Besides, look how well all that 'no violence' stuff worked out for those guys, right?
"Yea," Aang sighed. "Guess that's true." Slrip. "Hey, Momo. Glad to see you, too, Buddy. Staying warm?"
"Hey, come to think of it," Toph prodded, scratching her chin. "Where'd Hawky go?"
"OMISPIRITS Hawky," Sokka mourned. "Dad, I wish you coulda met Hawky. He was just not up for the commute out here."
"Hawky?" Hakoda murmured, confused. Katara answered Toph's question as Sokka rambled about the bird's 'greatness.'
"Hawky's not exactly well suited for cold weather and Sokka was worried about him, so he sent him to deliver a letter to Zuko while we were gone." Toph pfff'd out a laugh.
"What?" Katara asked, dumbfounded.
"Well, that oughtta keep him busy for a while if he tries going to the Fire Kingdom," she said, holding back another laugh.
"Wait, why wouldn't Zuko be in the Fire Nation?" Aang inquired.
"When I went to the Jasmine Dragon the other day, Zuko was there - in disguise. He said he wanted to spend time with his uncle before he started all his leader-type stuff."
"Aw," Katara cheeped. "That's sweet."
"Wait!" Aang cried out accusingly. He jabbed his mitted fingers into Toph's chest. Oowwww. Fricker. Still a bit tender there, you idiot...
"Your boyfriend at the Jasmine Dragon...it's not Zuko is it?" he gasped.
Katara and Toph burst into a gigglefit.
"Wh...-? I guess not, then?"
"No, Aang," Katara squealed with a sigh, gasping for breath. "You need to stop trying so hard, Hun. Besides, Zuko already has a girlfriend."
"Yea, that's what I thought, too," Toph chuckled. "Her name is Mai. Remember? We met her."
"Waaaait, that girl with the knives, right?"
As Katara went on to explain that, yes, it was that same girl, and yes, she had attacked them, etc. etc., Toph's ears found themselves wandering to Sokka and Suki as they waved off Hakoda who Cronshed off to start dinner preparations.
"I sharpened your spear for you." Tok.
"Oh. That's, uh...Thanks." Sssst, ssst.
"Yea, no problem."
"My Dad didn't give you too much trouble, did he?"
"Oh, no, no. He's been very nice."
"Probably tossed some heavy lesson at ya?"
"Heehee. Actually, yea."
"Is that what you're going to do with your kids some day?"
"Eh, well...Yea. Probably! I'll also teach 'em not to whack giant glowing orbs of ice and free century-old demigods from slumber. Those things are a pain to keep track of, ya know?" Suki giggled and pafomf gave him a hug. "They eat right off the table and they never obey you!"
"Are you hearing this, Aang?" Suki incredulously called.
"Meathead was just comparing you to a newt-dog," Toph flatly explained, bitter rage steaming from her nostrils.
"Actually," Sokka clarified, "I'd say more like a monkey-dog."
"What? Those don't even exist!" Aang protested.
"Ahhh, but do they?" Sokka suspiciously objected. There was a pause.
"Katara, do those...-?"
"I don't know," Katara replied, baffled but humored. "I think so?"
"The world's just full of possibilities!" Sokka taunted.
"I don't think those exist," Aang decided.
"Actually, I'm pretty sure they do," Toph muttered, recalling some of the pets the rich families she once knew owned.
"I'm lookin' at one right now!" Sokka decided.
"He's just asking for trouble, Aang," Katara mischievously observed. "Let's give it to him." The ground shook and slid a bit, and Toph could feel it being twisted around where Sokka's voice was coming from as he shrieked and Suki laughed.
Supoof! "Peh! Feh! Poo-ee!"
What the hell had just happened? Did they bury Sokka in snow?
"Look, Aang," Katara mocked. "It's a...Snow...Man," her joke awkwardly crashed apart. "The world is full of possibilities."
"If you're going to counter my own joke at me, you need to make it worthwhile," Sokka wailed.
In that moment, Toph found herself somehow more OK with the idea of staying here with them. Suki could go run away to her stupid Magic Makeup Brigade. This could work, at least for a while.
"Man." Sokka sucked in a deep breath, surveying the landscape, setting his unlit lantern down. "It's been a while." Katara peeked over the crest, observing the oddly unfamiliar sight of a crowd of penguin-seals wandering around in the distance. She had seen it many times, but right then it seemed so alien to her.
"It has," she concurred.
"Ya know, Sis, I kinda miss this."
"You and me, just...I dunno, looking out for each other, not a care in the world but what we're gonna eat next."
"Haha. Just the simple life, huh?"
"Yea!" he thrust his palms up.
"You keep missing that, Sokka," she dubiously pat him on the shoulder. "I think I'm a lot happier with how everything turned out."
"No, I didn't mean-...I'm really happy, too," he protested. "I just wish everything wasn't so complicated." That last word was a pathetic whimper that tugged at Katara's stomach.
"I know," Katara quietly acknowledged, her heart aching from the frustration in his eyes.You're not the only one, Brother.
Her mind was torn, guilt clutching at her skull. She had helped bring an end to decades of tyrannic rule, helped a troubled man claim the throne, and was even wondering if she was falling in love with an omnipotent being trapped in an adorable body who was completely smitten with her. She had finally found her way through the fortress of an earthbender's heart and discovered a unique and rewarding sisterhood. Her father was safe, sound, and just as spry as ever. Life was going pretty well for her.
Her brother was struggling with his duty and obligation to their people, people she had left. People she'd be abandoning if she chose to live anywhere else. But how could she stay here? He was grasping onto his ties to their group, not even sure if the girl who had helped ease his grief and sprout new love would stay with him. And on the sidelines stood her little sister, heartbroken and lost from years of being trapped in a cage, her mind and body being ravaged by the process of growing into a young woman. All the poor girl could do was stand and watch and wait, desperately grabbing at anything that gave her joy that wasn't a battle. At least Katara could find solace in the idea that she, herself, had grown into one of those things - that this family they had made would hold that girl's broken bones together so they would grow, mending into something as strong as what Katara could see through those pale, milky eyes.
"Sokka...I think you and Suki should take things easy for a while."
"It'd be best if you two worked out what you're going to do and hold off on...certain...things."
"It's just...I don't think it's a good idea to be...doing that. Right now. Eh-Especially if you don't even know if you'll-"
"Katara?" Sokka patted his hands onto her shoulder. "What is 'that' that we're talking about here?"He really has no idea?
"Umm..." She tore her gaze from his confused face as her mind screeched to a halt, fighting hard to keep any images of his brother and Suki doing what Toph had described out of her head. "You and Suki need to stop...being..." She flailed her arms around awkwardly. "So physical!"
"Toph told me what you guys were doing that first night she slept in our tent. She said she's been losing sleep because of the ruckus you guys make!" Sokka's face went as red as a babboon-weasel's bottom.
"T-Toph told you...what now?"
Katara exploded into a long-winded rant, her eyes fierce and disappointed.
"Uhhhh, yea, Toph sees things through the ground, remember? Through vibrations? And she said that you two were making a lot of vibrations that night. I think you scarred her or something! She's too young for that! Y-you're too young for that! You should know better! I can't believe you'd do that!" Her fists were balled, her stance leaned into him with threat, and her teeth were tightly clenched.
"Whoa, OK, hey now," Sokka snapped, his hands pressing into her chest and easing her away. Did you really just-?
"Excuse you!" she trilled.
"Get them outta my face, then!" Sokka growled.
"I'm wearing a coat!"
"They keep getting bigger. It weirds me out."
"You are so juvenile!"
"I'm trying to get you to calm down!"
"Calm down? How is doing that supposed to-?"
"Humor is the best medicine when you've got the Grouchies."Oh-my-Spirits. Are you serious? I haven't used that word in years, you goofball.
"I do not have the Grouchies!"
"You totally have the Grouchies."
"You're just trying to change the subject!"
"I'm trying to get you to calm down!"
"I AM CALM!"
"Grouchies." WHY do you have to be so infuriating?
Katara flung her arm up, calling up a tentacle of snow. Snow was hard to bend when it was more than just a ball. At least, this snow was. It didn't flow, it was chunky and heavy. But Katara had a firm grasp of waterbending by now and it wasn't a struggle for her, especially while she was riled up.
"Oh, great!" Sokka growled. "Yea, smash me in the face, that'll really show how calm you are."YOU. STUPID. HATE. RRR. Deep breath, girl.
She dropped the snow behind her, and Sokka smirked.
"So. We get that all outta your system? Ready to talk like big people now?"
"You're so annoying," she grumbled.But he's right, I shouldn't be flying off the handle like that.
"I'm also right."Ugh.
"OK, all right, I'm sorry for blowing up like that."
"I'm sorry I had to resort to extreme measures of-"
"I get it!" She shoved him in the arm, cutting him off. She sighed, maintaining her calm. "Now...explain."
"OK, then!" Sokka picked up the yet-to-be-used lantern and began hiking down the hill of snow. Katara followed beside him. "First of all, I don't know what Toph told you happened, but...We did not...do...-"
"Sex," Katara winced, forcing herself to be the bigger person and just say the damned word.
"Right," Sokka acknowledged. "We didn't do that."
"Then what did you do?" she demanded with a freezingly calm tone.
"W-well, it's...not really your business, but we did...do...things that are...close?"
"Mmkay," Katara impatiently conceded.
"So. Ya know. That's...probably why it seemed like...-"
"And Toph wouldn't know the difference," Katara derived. "But I don't think you should even be doing anything like that!"
"Katara, I love you, but guess what?" Sokka flared, his eyes flashing. "I know this is hard to accept, but me? I'm nearly sixteen. I'll be old enough to get married. You? And Aang? That's great. You still got plenty of time. Take it easy. But in grown-up land people do things that might make you feel uncomfortable." He huffed, rubbing his hand across his face tiredly, maintaining his pace. "And for your information, Dad thinks I'm old enough, thank you."He does? You talked with him about that?
"But you're right," Sokka inferred. "I'm not going to go taking risks like that before all of my parrot-ducks are in a row. Suki and I? I don't even know what's going to happen. That's our problem. You want to help? That's great, I'm glad you're there. But you berating me for making decisions I'm entitled to make? That's not cool, Sis. You and Aang can be all proper and everything. Power to ya. Ideals? It's nice to want things. I just hope you don't both ideal each other apart."
How could he say something like that? Did he really think that? Maybe this was just the stress talking. That had to be a part of it.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Katara fiercely questioned, crossing her arms and sticking out her lower lip as they marched through the snow.
"Both you and Aang never let things go the way they're gonna go - you're both always trying to fix things. And that's a great thing, Sis, it really is. I admire that about you guys. But not everything can be fixed, and nothing's perfect. If you two try to have some...perfect relationship, it's never going to work out." He did seem to have a point, given their personalities, she had to admit that. Well, not out loud.
"At least we know that we're going to live in the same place," she countered.
"At least I know where I'm actually going to live," Sokka spun her words around.
"That's just fantastic that you already have your whole life planned out, then," Katara grumbled, tossing her arms up.
"Like I have a choice!"
"You always have a choice."
"I choose not to abandon our people."
"Are you saying that I am?"
"N-no...I don't mean it like that, it's...-"
"You just think it."
"I didn't say that!"
"You don't have to."
"Katara, listen." He pushed a groan through grit teeth. "This is my duty. It's what I've been raised to do. But not you. You're not abandoning anyone because it's never been your responsibility."
"This doesn't have to be your duty, Sokka! Dad can always find-"
"Dad shouldn't have to find someone else! That someone else is me."Why do you have to be so stubborn?
Katara's footsteps rolled to a stop, and Sokka stopped as well.
"I don't want to leave you," Katara whispered, rubbing her temple in frustration. "We've always had each other's backs...I don't want to lose that." She sighed, moving her hand to her forehead, warming it with her glove. "But, I can't stay here, Sokka. I-"
"I know, Sis," Sokka assured with melancholic understanding. He dropped his lantern again and came close, grabbing her free hand. "I have our people to look after. And you have our family to look after. I'm counting on you to take care of Aang and Toph."That's true, but there has to be something we could do...
"Maybe we can find a way to...-?"
"You're all benders, Katara. There is so much good the three of you could do for the world out there. I'm just a man with a boomerang. I didn't ask for any of this..." He chuckled to himself, then pulled his sister into a long embrace. She planted her head on his shoulder and crushed him back tightly. "It's not like it's gonna be hard for you guys to come visit. Being the Avatar kind of has its perks. Like owning a flying bison."
"Yea," Katara conceded with relief. "You're right. And it's not like you're staying here right now and are going to be running things tomorrow. We still have plenty of time, right?"
"I just don't know what I'm going to do without you, Brother." She grabbed the back of his head and rubbed it a couple of times.
"Same here, Sis." He pressed the back of her skull through her thick mess of hair. "But I'll figure something out. I always do."
"You always do."
"Whatever happens, Katara, just don't go thinking I'm not proud of you. I love you - you're the best sister a guy could have."
"I love you, too, Sokka." Their hug was loosened and they exchanged glances, eyes glowing with admiration and appreciation.
"...So, uh...Am I the best brother-"
"Hey, let's not push our luck, here," Katara teased with a wide grin.
"It's really no problem at all, child," the woman insisted politely. "My daughter grew out of those clothes months ago, and we've been holding onto them for when someone needed them. I'm glad we could help you enjoy your stay here."
"Yea," said Toph plainly, unsure if 'enjoy' was quite the word she would use for this entire experience.
"It looks good on you!" piped the girl who had once owned these clothes.
"Er, thanks," Toph mumbled back. That was probably good?
"Ohh, and your eyes, they're so pretty!" she chimed. Toph's head dipped a bit, frustrated in trying to comprehend what that truly meant.
"Yea, well...I get that," Toph grunted with a huff, gripping her hips impatiently.
"Aren't they?" Aang agreed.
"How come they're like that?" the girl asked intently.
"I was born with them," Toph quickly explained, hoping that if they didn't know of her condition, she'd be spared their pity.
"Cooool," she murmured. "Well, it was nice to meet you guys, but I've got some chores to take care of, so...maybe I'll see you later?"
"Maybe," Toph replied with a shrug, disinterested in the prospect.
After they left the home, Toph was jarred by Suki's voice. The boots and snow made it nigh impossible to specifically pick out who a person was.
"Oh, hey, Suki," Aang greeted. "What's up?"
"I was just wondering if you guys wanted to join me - I'm going to do some bone carving with the bones we got today from the boar-walrus that Aang and Sokka caught."
"Nnnno thanks," Aang declined politely. "I was thinking of racing the penguin-seals, actually. But later, I could!"
"Y-yea, I was gonna go, too," Toph declared, having had no knowledge of this idea of his previously.Please don't leave me with her, Twinkletoes!
"Uhhhh, I'm not so sure that's a good idea," Aang objected, plagued with doubt. "You seemed pretty shaken up back there, and you're sick, and...-"Suki doesn't need to know any of that! Shut up.
"Are you not feeling well, Toph?" Suki asked with that 'poor baby' tone Toph despised.Ugh, see, Aang? I don't need this.
"It's been a long day," Toph mumbled bitterly, crossing her arms over her waist.
"Stay here with Suki," Aang advised. "When was the last time you two had some girl time?"Uh, never? It's not exactly what I need right now, either.
"Yea!" Suki chirped, patting Toph's shoulder and nudging her along, away from Aang. "Let's go have some fun!"