Waterfalls never ceased to be jarring. They made so much noise, and they caused the earth to tremble constantly. Being near one was an ever present overload on the senses. It made it difficult to focus on details and beyond that, it was just freaking annoying.
"Hey, aren't ya gonna go swimming with us?" Sokka asked Toph loudly as the gang started flinging themselves into the deep pool of water.
"Uhhh, hello? I can't swim, Meathead, remember?" Toph proclaimed irritably, spreading her arms wide. Everything had to be spoken louder than usual to cut through the infernal racket.
"Er, right," Sokka stumbled. "Well, why don't you join us, anyway? You could just wade around or something. Cool off, take a break, get clean."
"No thanks," she replied flatly.Ew. Clean?
"Come on, Toph," Suki insisted, peeling off her own shoes. "Everyone else is. We don't you to be left out." An astronomical splash cut through the noise. That had to be Appa diving in.
"Yea," Sokka agreed, tapping his fist into his palm with determination. "I'll give you a cow-pig-back ride. It'll be fun! Come aahhhn!" She could feel his weight bending around - he was likely moving in some bizarre manner.
Toph found herself opening up to the idea at Sokka's coaxing. Maybe they were right and she just needed to lighten up a bit. Within a couple of minutes she had changed into clothes suited for swimming, and she found herself immediately regretting the decision when they hit the water.
"Why did I let you convince me to do this?" she cried in anguish as she clutched to Sokka's tough skin for dear life. It was hard to appreciate the textural sensation through the water and the splashing and noise and - for the love of Spirits, everyone was probably watching her, weren't they? Petrified, stuck to Sokka like a freaking leach in a sea of haze and emptiness beyond. She couldn't really make out where anyone was in the cloud or what they were doing.
"Stop being such a grump, Toph," Sokka advised with a chuckle. "It's not that bad."
"You're flying a-all over the place a-and I'm all shaking around...I feel like I'm gonna fall any second!" She clearly was not entirely comfortable with the situation, clinging so tightly her chin was pressed into Sokka's tough shoulder blade. He instantly calmed at her outburst and slowed down.
"Oh, sorry, Your Rockiness," he apologized half jokingly. "That better?" He'd adjusted his sprint-swimming to a gentle butterfly stroke. She continued to grip him tightly, partially out of instinctive fear, but also out of admiration of his form now that she could notice the details. The way his muscles flexed and moved as his limbs stretched open and pulled close, the way his chest expanded and contracted with each breath, the rushing Ta-Thump Ta-Thump of his exercising heart...it all washed together, reminding her of that soothing campfire feeling. Her face even felt as warm as if she were by a fire - wait.Damnit.
"Y-yea," she finally answered after a moment, realizing that she should loosen her grip a bit. "Th-that's fine...This is cool?" The last comment came out sounding more like a question than she'd intended.
"Phew!" Sokka sighed out. "Man, now I know how Appa feels with us on his back all the time!"
"You calling me fat?" Toph jabbed.
"No," Sokka answered casually. "I'm calling you heavy!"
"Hey!" She slammed a knee into his lower back and the two laughed in spite of their blunt insults. A minute or two passed and she could feel the turbulence increase as Sokka's body vibrated from the pressure of the moving water. They were getting closer to the waterfall. Her wet hands and feet were slipping from his slickened body, and before she could figure out what had happened, he'd vanished entirely. All sound completely rearranged into an impactful, threatening hum.
The world around her was just one big blur with no air, and she struggled to do something anything. She knew there was earth somewhere below her but couldn't tell which way was down, and she couldn't bend something she couldn't detect. It was terrifying. It lasted for only a couple of seconds, and then Sokka was around her again. She could feel the water rush down past her whole body for another second or two before they broke the surface.
She gasped and choked through the light mist as the thundering sounds of the somewhat nearby waterfall immediately replaced that ominous hum.
"Whoa, hey! I gotcha, I gotcha," Sokka shouted out through the sound, trying to settle her down. He held her back against his chest, wading along with one arm while gripping her with the other. She grasped his lanky arm as she caught her breath, passing through the rough water until it became smooth. He hoisted her up and planted her on the stone shore, then gave her an affection but rough pat on the head.
"Mmmmaybe that wasn't such a good idea. Sorry about that, Toph. You OK?"
A wide grin exploded onto her face and she pumped her fists into the air and kicked her feet through the water, splashing it around wildly.
"Are you kidding? That was awesome! Can you drop me in the water again?"
Sokka belted out a nervous chuckle. She couldn't make out what he was doing through the water.
"I didn't mean to drop you, Toph, that was an accident, ya lunatic!" The end of his sentence had that friendly mockery to it that Sokka seemed to wear almost constantly. Even so, she could tell by his tone that he didn't actually find it all that funny. He seemed somewhat mentally drained. Poor guy, she must've worried him. This nagging feeling made her want to worry him some more. That would be entertaining.
"Anyway, are you all right now, Rocky? You don't need to be so embarrassed, everyone understands you can't-"
"I'm fine, Snoozles. Seriously."Embarrassed? What's he talking about?
She could hear Suki taunting him from afar to join her.
"If you say so," he replied to Toph as he started splashing off. "You dry off and relax for a bit!"
She drummed her fingers along the slimy stones.
No one around, they must all still be in the water.
She took a deep, heavy sigh and plucked out the tie from her bunned mess of wet hair. She laid back onto the warm, damp stone, letting her hair flail out everywhere, continuing to kick her feet around in the water for the sheer aesthetic of it. Her mind kept clinging to the sensations she had just experienced, specifically the ones involving muscle-flexing and heart-beating.
Oh. Right. Warm face. Blushing. Embarrassment. Crap. Urgh.