A/N: Here we go. The first climax that delivers the momentum that carries us from here to the end of the story. Hope you like it.
Cronsh. Cronsh. Cronsh.
Braving the bitter wilderness was an exciting adventure for Toph - everything was so bare, so blank, and yet there were tasty morsels of life echoing in the distance. A rrrnt blipped out behind her from something she wasn't familiar with. Arp-arp-arp! faintly from their left.
Snnnnffffffff. Toph held tight onto Sokka's puffed out chest. "Ahhhhhh," he exhaled peacefully. What, precisely, was so delightful about the empty scent of 'cold' was beyond Toph. Her body was rocked about as his arms pushed her up so he could maintain his grip around her legs. "Great weather today, huh?" he observed in earnest.
Cronsh. Cronsh. Cron-He slowed to a stop and Toph sniffled, wiping her dripping nose into the furry hood over Sokka's head.
"Great weather?" she remarked in disagreement, tightening her grip on their fishing poles. "It's freakin' cold."
"Ah-ah, but-" Sokka objected passionately as he bent over, letting her slide down his back. She couldn't feel anything through her feet upon landing save for the basic structure of their environment - flat and empty - and the fact that some kind of body was standing a foot in front of her. "But, is it windy? Is it snowing? Or blizzarding? This is nice weather."
"You keep tellin' yourself that, Meathead," Toph mumbled with a smirk.
"We're here," announced the to-be Chief. Sphhh-fff-fufff-fuff-puff. He was moving some snow around, likely clearing a space. "Haha, yes," he cheered. "Already here." Twobble-obble-obble...What the heck was that?
"What's here?" Toph demanded plainly, stretching her arms out impatiently.
"Our ice fishing spot. Looks like the other villagers have been using it while we've been away. I left a flag to make sure people could keep track of it. Looks like they did!" He seemed rather impressed and somewhat surprised by this. Toph went to step forward but her foot bumping into something hard, and she nearly got thrown off balance.Damnit! Stupid boots, stupid ice, can't tell where anything is...
"Whoa, hey," Sokka called, cronsh cronsh cronsh. "You all right, there, Kiddo?"
"I'm fine," she grunted, shaking her leg to loosen out her ankle. Hardly a scratch. "What the heck did I just hit?"
"Our seat!" Spff-ff-luff. More brushing. "Go ahead, sit on down."
With some reservation, Toph found her way around the object and placed her butt down, wedging it over a layer of draping coat to ensure she didn't get too wet. It was kind of lumpy and chilled - was this just a lump of ice?
"It's an ice bench," Sokka proudly explained. "Katara made it for me a while back."
"Wow," Toph's dulled sarcasm mocked. "Ice houses, and ice furniture now, huh? You guys are geniuses."
"Hey, we get by with what we've got, that's what we're all about. Shove over, dork." She felt a nudging hand on her arm and shifted her weight to the side to allow Sokka to slip next to her. Their ice bench was a bit narrow, so Toph's right hip and leg were pressed against his. She was fancied by the sensation as much as she could be through their padded clothing. She passed him a pole and fiddled with her own as she awaited further instruction.
"Sooo..." Toph eventually murmured.What the hell is he doing?
"Oh!" he snapped to his senses. "Um, right. Sorry."Is he all right? He sounds confused for some reason.
"What do we do?"
"Well!" She felt her fidgeting hands around the pole pressed by his own. Her arms were jerked around, tilting the pole about. "First we gotta bait you up." Something about the way Sokka had phrased that layered by his proximity to her made her feel uncomfortable, and she did her best to look unfazed. She could sense him tinkering with something, and heard some small, squishing sounds. "There ya go." He swiped the pole clean from her hands.
"Here." He shoved it back into her grasp and she fumbled to clutch it between her clumsy gloved hands. When she finally had a good hold of it, her tensed shoulders loosened and she took a deep breath.
"And now we wait," Sokka firmly announced.
And wait they did. And damn was it ever so boring. Five minutes? Ten minutes? Two hours? Toph's mind blanked out and she couldn't tell the difference. She had no idea how long it had been, but knew that her legs were falling asleep from her sitting position and the numb ice seat she was perched upon. Her nose had frozen up, and the silence between the two had progressed from surprisingly comfortable to slightly awkward to fucking boring.
"Snoozles," Toph finally broke the quiet air like a pebble thrown through a window. "What's the point of this? This is stupidly boring..."
"Boring?" Sokka whimpered with a sniff. "Well! Sorry that some of us appreciate the...intellectual depth of...self-reflection."
"If that's why we're out here then why couldn't we have just...stayed inside? In the not freezing cold? I'm freakin' sick of being cold."
"Just can't wait to get back home, huh?" Sokka lamented.
"No. I can't," Toph's blunt honesty responded.
"Did this trip even do you any good at all?"
Toph rubbed at her frigid nose as she considered his question. What had she gained from this trip?
"Uh, I really liked the...ceremony thing. That was...pretty awesome. And it's cool getting to know your dad more and stuff. He's pretty different than what I'm used to. He was so serious before, but I guess it's no surprise that he's got that same stupid sense of humor you have, right?"
"Uh-huh. Chip off the old block, I am."
"And, like, I guess..." She coughed, her throat a bit sore from the cold. "I guess just...having no earth to bend, not being able to tell where anything is...It's super annoying! I hate it." She puffed out a breath of exhausted air. "But I admit, it makes me realize, like...My earthbending? Being able to 'see' through the ground? I've been kinda...like..."
"Taking it for granite?"
"Yea, and-wait, what?"
"Taking it for gran-nit. Get it? Ya know? Like...with rocks? And-?"
"Are you serious?" Toph interjected with an incredulous laugh. "Really? That joke is so lame!"
"Hey," Sokka jabbed her arm with his elbow. "I've been holdin' on to that one just for you, thank you very much."
"Yea, uhhh...It wasn't so funny the first time, either."
"You and Aang must both get your jokes from the same idiotic place, 'cuz-"
"You are kidding me," Sokka growled in defiance. Toph was almost unnerved by his seriousness. "Aang used that joke? That was my joke! I came up with that joke! You know how serious an offense that is, stealing a pre-planned joke like that? Man!" he huffed out in frustration, pfff-ing his knee. "I've been holding onto that one for a couple of weeks! Spirits, Aang, you little thief. Oh, I am getting even with him on this."
"It was just a joke, Sokka," Toph giggled. "I feel like if you're gonna pull a prank on Aang it should be because of something bigger. Like...I dunno, how he's dating your sister?" She wiped at her nose with her furry sleeve.
"Don't even get me started on that!" Sokka raved. "It's a good thing Aang's so strong or I'd go and kick his butt. Put him in his place, ya know?" Sokka's arm slapped around Toph's back as he wiggled her about. "You'd better hope this boy you're seeing back home isn't a wuss or he'll have me to deal with!"Damnit it all. You just had to say something, you idiot. There goes my freaking face, like a fire."And I won't go easy on him!"Ya know what, Snoozles? I wouldn't put it past you to beat your own self up somehow.
Toph's head had shrunk into her hood, bobbed down with a smirk stapled to her face to cover up her fear.
"Hey, geez," Sokka groaned, his arm slinking away. "No need to get all blushy on me, Rocky. I'm just pickin'."Well, damn. So much for that, he can see right through me. I guess I should know better.
"Yea, I know," she spat out sharply, trying to act interested in her fishing pole. Specifically and intently interested, as if he were distracting her from this task. She was relieved that he dropped the subject. At least he knew when to let crap go. She had to be thankful for that. She decided to spice things up a bit and peeled off her gloves. Since they had threads that were around her wrists, she was assured they wouldn't get lost. She wrapped her hands around the chilled pole made of...bone? Yea. The thing was made of bone. Weird.
As her fingers tightened around it, she could feel the tickling sensation of the waters rippling below them. She couldn't quite tell exactly what kinds of vibrations meant what, but she began twitching her wrists slightly whenever the sensations changed in the hopes of luring a fish along. pin pin. After a few minutes of trying this out, her patience was rewarded with the sound of the fishing line stretching out thin and her icy hands were tugged at.
"I got one!" she cried triumphantly, yanking her pole up. Slish!Whoops! Crap! No, no, wait! Ah, hell.She'd felt the weight of the fish vanish in an instant when she had yanked her pole up. She cocked her head to the side and growled irritably.
"Aw, man," Sokka sympathized. "Let one get away, huh?"
Toph snorted in reply, tossing her pole into the snow and crossing her arms in a pout.All that waiting for nothing. I didn't let him get away, either. Geez.
"Haha." Pfft pfft.Don't laugh at me! I don't want your pity. Just a stupid fish...
"Sorry, Toph. It happens to the best of us. Ya wait and wait and...nothin'. Sucks, I know. But it's not getting the fish that counts, it's what you get while you wait."What? What the fuck does that even mean? We sat here and haven't done anything. We haven't even talked!
"I'm sick of waiting," Toph grumbled, kicking her foot out impatiently into the air.
"O-OK, well, we can just...We can head out now, then, if you want."
I waited for my parents to come around. They never did. What if I try waiting on Sokka? Is the same thing gonna happen?It's possible, isn't it?I'm sick of waiting. Sick of everyone telling me to keep waiting. Lotta fuckin' good that's gonna do.Then stop waiting, if you're that impatient. You have feelings that need to come out. Tell him.
"N-no, it's OK, we can stay for a bit longer," she decided.
"Ya sure? You're lookin' pretty frozen there."
"I-I'm OK."Hell, he's right, I'm freezing.
Bare hands still tucked under armpits, she realized how much her whole body was trembling. She shouldn't be staying out in the cold much longer.
"No need to act all tough about it, Toph," Sokka insisted, patting her on the knee. "If you get sick, I'm the one who's gonna be dead 'cuz Katara will murder me. She'll bend a freakin' ice sword or something and just - gurk! - impale me right on the spot."
"And Tw-Twinkletoes and I will j-just laugh."
"That's because you two are jerks."
Katara said I shouldn't tell him yet. And Uncle Iroh said that we could mess things up.But! Aang said we should just go for it! That turned out pretty good for him, right?Fine, but how do I even tell him? Just say "I love you, Sokka." Like that?But do I even love him?Of course I love him. But I love Aang, and Katara, too.He'd probably think it was like that, and then I'd have to explain it to him, and ugh...Awkward.Maybe we shouldn't try to explain anything, just show him.Do something silly, like what boys do. No subtlety.Yea, subtle ain't my style, anyway.
Wow. Quite a debate you just had with yourself there, Toph. Are you sure you want to go through with this?Yea. I have to.If you insist.
"-bleeding out all over the ground, and you'll just be laughin' it up, 'cuz you're a horrible person like that."
Toph pulled her hood down, letting her loose hair absorb the arctic hair.
"Whoa, hey. You're shaking, you need to keep that on. Are you crazy?" Sokka demanded.Fuck yes I am.
She groped her hands in the direction his voice came from, clasping her freezing fingers around. Her hands fumbled around to find their way into his hood and she managed to find the radiant heat that pulsed from his neck. As soon as she'd found her mark on his bare skin, she could feel it with clarity, her icy hands melting from his body heat. His heartbeat was clear and apparent as it rapidly picked up pace, practically quaking through her numb fingers.Ta-Thump. Ta-Thump! Ta-Thump-Ta-Thump-Ta-THUMP-Ta-THUMP-TATHUMP-TATHUMP!
"Toph? What-?"Shut the hell up.
With each forceful TATHUMP coursing through her palms, she could sense precisely where his mouth was and lunged into him, forcing him to crane his neck down as she puckered out her lips and mashed them into his. It was wet and icy and clammy. She savored the moment as best she could, her stomach empty, her breath quick, her heart pounding. It was kind of gross and slimy, but she wanted it to continue. His head squirmed but she held onto it firmly. She wasn't going to let this one go. He grunted something out through his nose, and she finally released her lips, pressing her face into his neck, nuzzling her frozen nose into it. She grabbed his face with her hand, running across his own nose - somewhat flat and rounded, like his sister's. His forehead was dry and rough, his jaws hard and sharp. A thick patch of scratchy, rough hair rested on his chin, and she tickled her fingertips across it as she inhaled the scent of his odor through his neck. Pressure built up in her chest suddenly. It kind of hurt, but she found herself leaning into it for some reason she couldn't understand. A quivering breath mixed with a hum slipped out from her before the pressure on her chest was so great that she was flung back. Her hands grasped through air, her senses were scrambled, gravity changed course. Suddenly, she was on the ground, her legs up in the air, leaning against the side of the ice bench, snow seeping into her hair.
"Wh-?" Sokka was gasping, his voice trembling and distraught.
Toph's steaming face was on the verge of exploding into a mess of tears, her eyes ready to burst from the confusion the situation.
That didn't go how you thought it would, did it?That was super awkward. And kinda gross, but I wanted to keep doing it.Sokka sure thought it was gross. He just pushed you to the ground.Maybe 'cuz I was just sucking on his face like a leech?Yea, that makes a good bit of sense, hm?
As she struggled to regain her balance and sit up, at least, Sokka was muttering a mile a minute.
"What? Is this-? What, some kinda joke? A prank? Did Aang put you up to this? Or my sister? This is a bad joke."
Oh, I see how it is. Fuckin' fantastic. Yea, I cut loose and go for it and the first thought that occurs to you is that it's a prank. This is bullshit. I can't believe this. What made me think for even a moment that this would turn out any different than everything else?
The tears came fast and hard, and Toph fought to crawl onto her knees, her fingers chilled to the bone in the compact snow they dug into. Her back to Sokka, she struggled to get onto her feet.
"Sn-Snoozles, I-I...-" she stammered, befuddled and confused by her own actions.
"Don't-" Sokka huffed, equally frustrated. "Just...It's Sokka, Toph. Just call me Sokka." He said it with a hint of condemnation and the crack in Toph's heart was splintered further, his rejection breaking it cleanly in two. It wasn't shattered, but split squarely in half. "Listen," Sokka continued with a deep sigh. "I'm sorry, I didn't...What I just said, it's not that I meant to say it's stupid, or a joke, it's...-"
"Whatever," Toph hissed, forcing her stone-like hands into her mittens with much more effort than she would have liked.
"No, seriously," Sokka pleaded, though his tone struggled to cover up what Toph detected as irritation. "Toph, listen." She flicked her hood down over her damp tangle of hair and clamped it down, muffling his voice. "I'm sorry. I don't...I had no idea. I didn't think that it was...-"
"Yea?" Toph interjected with bitter resolve. "Well, it d-doesn't matter, anyway. Ob-obviously. So...wh-whatever."
Cronsh cronsh cronsh.She forced her way through the snow. Damned stuff was so hard to walk in, and these stupid boots weren't doing her any favors.
"Toph!" Sokka cried, his voice sour and angry, like hers. Crnsh. "Where are you going? Wait up!"
"I'm going to-to go be b-by myself, wh-which is obviously where I'm s-supposed to be."
"Don't!" Sokka growled. Cronsh-cronsh-cronsh. "I know you're upset right now - I get it, Toph, I do - but don't be an idiot. You're gonna get more sick out here. We need to take you back."
Like a reflex, she pushed his hand off her shoulder, screaming, "Don't touch me!"
"Toph," Sokka commanded, his tone firm with authority. "I really really don't want to be a jerk here but we're going back right now."
"You can fucking make me, then." I don't care right now. I don't want to hear you or feel you or have anything to do with you.
"I will if I have to," Sokka threatened. "I'm not letting you stay out here alone. It's too dangerous. We can let you have some space to yourself after we take you back, but-"
"Fine then!" Toph roared, flailing her arms out in her unguided march. "L-like I can do an-anything to st-stop you! I'm a f-fucking useless p-pile of shit out here."Stop crying! Damnit, seriously! Ugh, this sucks so bad.
Toph wanted to run away and hide, but she couldn't because she couldn't tell where the hell she was going.She wanted to crush Sokka under a boulder but couldn't because there was no earth to bend.She wanted to rip out the butterflies in her stomach but couldn't because she loved them there so much just moments before.She wanted to stop crying, but couldn't because she cared too damned much.
"Stop it, Toph," Sokka plainly demanded. "That's not true. Come here."
Her knees wobbled uncertainly as she furiously rubbed snot and tears from her face. The faint, fuzzy ground suddenly disappeared entirely as she felt her weight lifted off from it. She ignored his warm breath, his firm arms carrying her like the wounded child she was, and every other thing she would have paid careful attention to earlier that same day. Her body shivered and shook, she choked and coughed and sputtered. She felt entirely broken. Sokka carried her all the way back to the village without a word.
Toph recalled what she had told herself not long ago. He'd said, "I'm just one guy. I can only do so much here." She'd responded within her mind, "That's good enough for me, Sokka."
Now she found herself wondering if she had been kidding herself. Maybe that wasn't good enough.