What We Do
A/N: Been a while, I know - but I've got two chapters for you instead of one, since this chapter ended up being HUGE. Enjoy!
"So, uh...Heard you and Suki got into a bit of a fight today, huh?"A fight? That what we're calling now? If it was a real fight one of us wouldn't be standing...Yea, and it'd be you on the floor, 'cuz a lotta damn good you do out here. Without your bending, you're helpless.Geez. Kinda harsh. Yea, you're right, huh?
"A fight? That what she told you?" Toph wondered testily, scratching her nose.
"Uhhhh, well, no," Sokka corrected sternly. "But based on how upset she was, I'm guessing that's what happened."
"Right," Toph grumbled, reminded of the rejection in Suki's voice. "Felt more like I was getting a scolding," she clarified bitterly, her brows digging down and her arms across her chest.
"That is the right response when someone misbehaves," Sokka pointed out with coy implication.
"Maybe if she hadn't been so pushy I wouldn't have a reason to be mad at her."
"Right," Sokka reciprocated her grouchy mumble. He proceeded to speak swiftly and with irritation. "It's OK if Katara does it all of a sudden, but if Suki tries to relate with you, well, to hell with that, right?" She felt her gut go sour at the sharpness in his tone and the exasperated sigh he puffed out as he collapsed beside her. "What do you have against Suki?"Damnit. I don't wanna deal with this right now...
"I-Wha-...Who said I have anything against Suki?" Toph moaned, pressing her palm into her head.
"Gee, Toph, maybe you did?" Sokka squeaked his voice to mock her own: "I never asked for your help! I don't want to be around you! Leave me alone!" Skhhhff, shhf. "I don't get it, Toph. I just don't get it."He's not calling me Rocky, or Kiddo, or anything...
"What do we do to fix this?" he offered calmly. "I had to deal with you and Katara going back and forth, and it got old fast. How about we nip this one in the bud, huh?"I am not talking about this right now. Not even with you, Meathead.
Toph flicked her head to the side and blew, nudging her bangs out of her face. They drifted back down over her eyes.
"Listen, Meathead." Toph flopped the hair over the top of her head, running her fingers through it up to the point where it joined together into a braid. She sighed a long, deep breath as her conflicted mind sorted out the different possibilities of where this conversation could lead.
Let's just play it safe and stick with what I know.Are you sure that's a good idea?Don't care.
"I don't wanna talk about this right now. 'Kay?" A moment of silence. "I kinda am putting up with a lotta crap right now." She smacked her boot into the ground in a fit and her tone ramped up in frustration. "I'm sick of wearing these stupid shoes and gloves, and...being freaking cold all the time, and not being able to tell where anything is, and...-"
"I know," Sokka eased, patting her head sloppily with his bare hand. "You can stop right there, Toph, I hear ya." The anger had melted away from his voice, and his chilled hand was oddly comforting, glued upon her head. "Tomorrow will be our last day here. We decided we'll head out the next morning."
"Really?" she checked, impatiently grasping at the notion of being back on solid earth.
"You got it," Sokka sealed the deal.
Toph blew out a relieved sigh and plopped her weight to her left into his side.
"Thank the Spirits," she groaned. "I'm getting sick of this place."
"Yea, I know," Sokka acknowledged, his words bleeding out a trickle of disappointment.
"No," Toph specified, "I mean, like...The people are nice, and it was really cool to be accepted into your tribe and everything! It's just the cold, and the ice..." Sokka's tone healed a bit at her assurance.
"I'm glad you got something out of it, then. But we've still got another day here, ya know? Still gotta take you ice fishing."Oh, yea. Right. Maybe...that'll be fun?
"That still sounds boring, ya know," she teased with a smirk. Time alone with Sokka out in the wilderness did not sound boring the more she dwelt on the idea, scheming how best to take advantage of their time.
"You'll survive," said Sokka, squirming his hand around her head, shuffling loose hair all around. His physical presence left and she immediately yearned for it to return. To compensate, she scooted her bottom toward him so as to prop her head up from his side to his shoulder.
"Meh, we'll see about that," she criticized jokingly.
"Well," Sokka quietly muttered. "No offense, but...no, you won't. I mean...the whole 'blind' thing, and-ow." She'd rapped her bare knuckles against his knee, trying to contain a snicker to uphold her threatening attitude. Another moment of silence floated by, this time comfortable and comical, but it soon withered away.
"Do you really have to stay here?" Toph mumbled with grumpy resignation.
"Yeaaa, Kiddo, I do," Sokka lamented.Hey! Kiddo! Yea! He must not be mad anymore."I know, I know!" he woefully insisted, wrapping an arm around her back. "It seems unbearable to even consider," he embellished in his well-versed theatrics. "How will Team Avatar carry on without its noble leader? Where will they go, what will they do?" Toph's humored mind gradually slipped into a state of melancholy as she came to realize that what he questioned in jest she questioned in earnest. "This," Sokka boldly continued, "I cannot answer. I am but only a humble shepherd content to watch over his flock." He accented the last sound into a 'kuh', and Toph giggled incredulously at his way with words.
"Wha...-?"What is he talking about?
She shook her head in disbelief, slinking her arms around his waist.Got you now. Mine.
"Seriously, though," she fought through the last of her laughs. "How are we supposed to get along without you to hold us together? None of us have your smarts. And your sister sure doesn't have your humor." She squeezed him tightly, her bare hands soaking in the puffy, somewhat damp coat.
"Don't I know it," Sokka mused, tugging on her in return.
"Sorry I can't be everything Sokka is," Katara's amused voice defended, fwoffm, passing through the cloth door into the tent. "Hey...Guys." Uh-oh. That part sounded like Angry Katara. That sweet politeness covering up something bad. "You guys...comfortable there?" It clicked in Toph's head: Katara knew about her feelings for the guy she currently had her arms all over. The guy who already had a girlfriend. She scrambled to lift herself from his body and gave him a rough pat on the back, hoping that Katara wouldn't give her any trouble about it.
"Eh, I've been better," Sokka casually replied, oblivious to the unspoken exchange the two girls had just shared. "But that's what dinner's for, right?"
"Then you're about to be better, because that's exactly what I'm here to get you for."
"Yea, I talked with her about it," Sokka dismissed the problem, patting his full and satisfied stomach.
"And?" Suki asked expectantly.
"And did you figure out what the problem is?"
Sokka sighed and scratched at the base of his neck sheepishly.
"Nnnnot really."Kinda wish I did know, though...
"B-but it's OK! I promise we'll sort this whole mess out. I made sure she knew that how she treated you wasn't cool."Hopefully I didn't make her feel worse. I still can't believe she said something like that to Suki...
"I know, Sokka, and I'm sure she knows that, but...I just hate feeling this way." Suki shook her head, regretful.
"Feeling what way?"
"Just...Just seeing the pain in her eyes, hearing it in her voice, and feeling like I can't do anything - like I'm somehow making it worse." Suki had her hand on her hip, her expression distant and frustrated.
"Whaahht? No way, you can't be making it worse - you haven't done anything wrong."Toph can just be stubborn, that's all.
"Was she like this with you guys before?" Suki wondered, cocking a brow.
Sokka shrugged and bobbed his head indecisively from side to side.Hells yes she was. Oy.
"Yea, she was. I mean, I always got along with her pretty well, but her and Aang are real different, ya know? So they had some problems, especially when she was trying to teach him earth bending." He chuckled to himself as he recalled a mud-wrestling incident that had occurred between the two girls while they had been undercover in the fire nation. "And Katara and Toph just butted heads so much for the longest time."
"It seems like they get along well now, though," Suki observed.
"Oh, yea, definitely. Ya know, now that you mention it, it is kinda funny, but...I dunno." He wiped his nose with his finger as he pondered the situation. "Toph's like...a hard cookie with a soft center. It takes time for her to let you in, and she tries to hide it, but she's a good kid. She really is."
"She acts like she hates me lately," lamented the warrior, tucking her hood over her head as snowflakes began to drizzle down around them.
"I know, and I don't get it. But, hey-" He grabbed her hand in his own and squeezed before letting her slide her gloves on. "-if she really hated you, then you'd have been buried under a boulder by now, right?"
"Oh, gee, thanks for the encouragement," Suki grumbled. "I can look forward to that when we're back in the Earth Kingdom, huh?"
"She'd crush us like grapes if she wanted," Sokka informed her with cheer. "She'll have to get through me first, though." He thumbed his chest, popping his eyebrows up.
"Oh, I'm sure that'll really put her on the defensive," Suki joked, poking him in the nose, deflating his intimidating posture.
"Hey, I'll be a chief soon. That oughtta strike fear in everyone's eyes when they see me."
"I'm sure it will," Suki teased with a sly, toothy smile. "I'm already afraid - for the people who'll be putting up with you."
"You should be afraid for your own life," Sokka objected as he slipped his hands onto her waist, unable to properly feel her curvature through her layers of clothing. All the more reason to take another break from this cold weather. "You're gonna have to put up with me all the time."
Suki's smile wore thin and she eased herself out of his arms, tucking her hands behind her back.
"Wh-?" Sokka fiddled his hands together, perplexed. "Did I say something...?"
"You've already made your mind up then, haven't you?" Suki tartly scrutinized.Uh-oh. That's not a good voice...I know that voice. That's 'Sokka, why do you have to be such an idiot?' voice. I swear, that must be a universal thing.
"About...staying here?" Sokka shot in the dark.
"About us both staying here," Suki corrected, her tone sharp.Aw, crap. Back to this stuff again.
"They're my people, Suki. It's my responsibility. I have to stay - you know that. I just figure that...ya know...based on how things have been going so far-"
"What about my people, Sokka? They're my responsibility."Dang, that's a good point. Why do I keep forgetting that?
Sokka bit his lip and stared into her fierce eyes, his brows tilting upward into a puzzled expression.
"Ya know, I get that, Suki - and if this is gonna work out, one of us is gonna have to pass our responsibility off to someone else. That's...That's just how it is. OK?"
"So you're just going to make the decision for us. You're not even going to consider living with the Kyoshi. Or even talk with me about it? We just stay here in the icy cold or we don't see each other again. Is that it?"Yea, I guess I could have thought this one through a bit better. And here I assumed I was being such a great planner. Man with a plan. Detective mind. Sneaky snarky. Ha. Snarky. That's such a great word. Wait, where was I?
"Hm?" Suki hummed, demanding a response.Oh, riiiiight. That.
"N-no, Suki, I didn't mean to-...It's just that I've grown up waiting to do this, Suki. My people have dwindled because of the war with the Fire Nation. They're on the brink of extinction. I have to bring them back." Her hard stare softened.
"Your people are more important to you than I am," she recognized solemnly.Ahhh, frick. What do I say to that?"That's not a bad thing at all, Sokka," she quickly insisted, pressing her palm into his cheek. He nudged his head into her glove with longing. "I admire that. You're so selfless - you'd give up everything you could want from the world out there to stay here, in this harsh place, and lead these people." She sighed and dropped her palm from his cheek wistfully. "I just don't know if I'd be strong enough to do that with you..." And there it was: a tear, sliding down her cheek. "I'm sorry," she whispered, shaking her head with an angry expression. "I need time to sort this out, Sokka..."
Before he knew how to react, Suki had brushed past him and was heading out of the village on her own, pulling her hood up over her head. Sokka knew better than to give chase. When Suki got angry or upset, she had to think things through - just like he often did. He trudged through the snow, alone, digging his gloved fists into his pockets.
Man...She says I've been selfless but I feel self-ish. How did I never seriously consider her own people? But I wouldn't abandon my own to be with her...I guess that means she's right: maybe my people are more important to me. But isn't that what makes a good leader?
"Hey, Snoozles. What's got you beat?" Toph's vacant eyes greeted him from outside his family's ice fort house.
"Oh, heya, Toph. Just...stuff with Suki," he moaned in reply, shaking his head while he stood awkwardly beside outside the entrance.
"Ah," she said plainly with a hint of sorrow. That was the end of that topic, and Sokka was thankful. She didn't pry, she didn't try to smother him with sympathy, she just acknowledged his issue, knew she could do nothing about it, and let it be. "Your dad's waitin' for ya inside. He wanted to hang out with everybody and like...tell us war stories or something."
"That sounds awesome," Sokka decided, relieving her mind from its worries. "He's got some great stories."
"Anyone get decapitated in any of 'em?" Toph devilishly wondered.Sometimes, you scare me, Kiddo.
"Uhhhh, I don't think so," Sokka chuckled, humored by her curiosity.
"Awww, c'mon," Toph exalted, tossing her arms out. "Just a little maiming, at least?"
Sokka grabbed her by the shoulders and spun her around to go inside, tapping her back repeatedly to keep her moving.
"We'll see, Kiddo. Maybe I'll squeeze somethin' in there just for you."
Toph found herself nestled in Katara's arms, her head against the waterbender's wrist. She could feel the heartbeat through the vessels under her skin, her slow, even breaths relaxing. She couldn't hear Suki nor Gran-Gran from across the room and assumed they must have already woken up.
Toph reflected on the day before, grateful that Katara, though clearly uncomfortable with her physicality around Sokka as of later, hadn't confronted her about it. Suki seemed none the wiser, and based on what she overheard from her conversation with Sokka the night prior, she wasn't even sure if she'd be staying with him.
Would I stay with him? Could I? Maybe if I knew he was all mine...If I knew. Suki doesn't seem so sure about it. Like he's not worth it or something. Pff. Typical.Suki obviously needs time to sort things out, though.She never goes all in. Pussyfooting around. That's ninjas for you.Don't you think maybe it has more to do with her commitment to her people?Maybe this is my shot. Time to stop being a pathetic loser and accepting failure.That could lead to a lot of good if you focus it in the right place.Time to step up and claim what's rightfully mine. Hell yea.Rightfully yours?
Katara's innocent, incoherent hum of awakening stirred Toph from her brainstorming.
"Morning, Sugar Queen," Toph bid, scooting toward the edge of the bed to allow her dear friend room to stretch and yawn. She had never fully noticed it before, but in her time sleeping beside Katara she had grown accustomed to the girl's habits of waking up. While she could always tell that Aang awoke with a jumping start, often bending himself upright, Katara took her time. She stretched out slowly, groaned out, curled herself back up for a few moments, yawned, and then would often shift about into some position that seemed like she was sitting. And she'd stay that way for a good minute or two, just sitting, not saying or doing anything else. Finally, she'd get on her feet and go about whatever business she intended to. She did precisely that this morning, just like any other Toph had observed. Toph remained behind in bed, squirming around due to a lack of body warmth.
"Good morning, Toph," Katara at last murmured. Kofff. Ceeek. Rfff, rffff, rfff...The familiar sound of Katara brushing her thick, bushy hair.
Maybe you should try something else different?Hm...Maybe I should.Just for the sake of trying new things.Yea. Sure. Oh, hey, I know...
"When you're done...You think you could help do my hair?"Ulgh. I sound like a freakin' toad. Haven't woke up yet.
Rfff, rff-"Wait. Your hair?"
"Y-yea...I-I mean, like...Could you clean it for me, and...like, brush it? Or whatever?" Toph was forcing her words out uneasily, her voice groggy and her mind still somewhat blurred.
"Wait," Katara repeated, obviously amused. "Toph, are you asking me to make you clean? And make your hair look pretty?"Crap, she's onto me."Now...why would you ever want me to do that?"She is totally onto me...
Toph swallowed hard, unsure as to how to proceed. Katara clearly understood what thoughts were going through Toph's mind, and yet there was no hostility in her tone, only suspicion. Toph scrambled to cover her tracks.
"Ya know...I just...I want to look nice for everyone. When we leave. And stuff."
"Riiiight," Katara patronized. "This wouldn't have anything to do with my brother, and the fact that he's on shaky ground with his girlfriend. Right?" Rfff, rffff...
Screw it, she knows.
"Ugh, OK. Fine. Yes, maybe it might have something to do that. So what?"
"I'm not going to tell you not to talk with him about it," Katara conceded. "If talking about it is going to help you, then...I think you should."
"Rrrreally?" Toph slowly muttered in disbelief.
"Yes," came a matter-of-fact reply. "Maybe if you talk things through with him you can sort everything out. You know, instead of sneaking all of your cuddling around behind Suki's back."Yikes. Angry Katara strikes again - eye before the storm tone of voice there...
Toph could feel her face flash with heat as her actions over the past day were laid out out on the table. It was like embarrassing notes passed in a class that the teacher had gotten a hold of. Toph rolled over in the bed and tugged at the blanket, pulling it up over her shoulders and shrinking in shame.
Thip thip thip thip. Rrrk. The bed beneath her tipped toward the edge from Katara's weight.
"I didn't do anything wrong," Toph defended with a stubborn defense.
"It's not what you're doing," Katara explained calmly. "It's the intentions behind what you're doing."
"Oh?" Toph growled. "What intentions?"
"That's exactly what you should be asking yourself, Toph," Katara retorted with a dash of disappointment. "I see the way you act around Aang, and the way you around around Sokka. And it's the same a lot of the time. You do very similar things. But how you do them is a little different."
"I'm not making Meathead do anything, it's not my fault if he acts differently than Aang does."
"No, but unlike Sokka, I'm a girl, Toph. I can tell what you're trying to do when you're with my brother. You may not even realize you're doing it, but you are."Huh? What am I not realizing I'm doing?
"What are you talking about?"
Katara sighed and paused to configure her answer.
"You've been flirting with him, Toph. You like him, you want him to like you back, so you've been trying to find out if he does without actually talking with him about it. That's what you're doing."
"That's what I'm doing?"
"That is exactly what you're doing. We're girls - some times that's what we do." While Toph could detect that stingy disapproval coming from Katara, like a faint scent, there was also a knowing assurance.
"What do boys do?"
Katara giggled. "Boys are silly and don't really notice this sorta stuff." Toph felt like she didn't really notice a lot of these kind of things herself but was sure that Katara's theory was correct. "Boys will..." She hummed a sentimental laugh. "Boys will just go out and kiss you if they like you. They're not exactly good at being subtle."
"Sooo..." Toph rolled back over, pointing her face in the direction that Katara's voice came from. "You think...that I should just talk with him?"
"Sokka's dealing with a lot right now. I don't know if it's is the best time to talk about something like this, but...Eventually, yes."Oh. Well...damnit, I don't want to wait...What if I wait and Suki takes him away again and he comes back to the South Pole and stays here forever?Then maybe you need to accept that.No. Forget that. No way.
"OK," Toph muttered with neutral acknowledgment, sitting up and stretching out her arms one by one with a grunt. "Well, I'm startin' to get sick of this braid thing, anyway. Sooo..."
"It's fine," Katara insisted. "I'll do your hair for you when I'm done. You should get changed, it'll be time for breakfast soon."
Toph took a deep breath and made note of how she was feeling much better now than she had been earlier, her cramps much more subdued and her mood more tame. Thank goodness Gran-Gran had some medicine to help with the pain or she probably would have gone crazy.
"Today's a new day," Katara optimistically chirped. Rrffff, rffff, rrrfffff. "Just one more day here and we can go back home tomorrow, all right?"
"Yea. I'm sick of waiting."