Like a Mother
Thip. Thip. Thip. Katara walked over peacefully.
"Well, I'd love to help," she assured with a giggle. What was so funny? She was being serious here! "But that hair, Toph...It might beyond my power." A flurry of chuckles at her expense grated her patience a little. Riiiight. The hair. She wouldn't say she'd forgotten it - it was hard to forget with the way it felt as the chilly air passed through it - but she had thought her comment wouldn't have been dismissed so easily.
Katara's hands stroked through Toph's hair and attempted to slick it down but she could sense it was only helping a little bit.
"Wow, Aang, you weren't kidding," Sokka joked. "She really does look like a boar-q-pine!"
"Hey! Shut up!" She couldn't help but laugh at herself, though. At least everyone wasn't being all mopey. But...come on. She couldn't look that bad.
"Yea, Sokka," Katara defended, teasing. "You don't want to be sleeping under a boulder tonight, do you?" Katara's comforting hand scratched at the base of Toph's neck and patted her on the back, easing her to the fire. "We'll clean you up in a bit, but first you should eat."
"Don't mind if I do."
She merrily plopped herself down between Katara and Sokka and sunk her teeth into her roasted fish, savoring its texture and flavor, soaking in the warmth, and letting the crackles and pops of the burning wood encompass her.
"Feeling any better?" Aang asked her after a few moments of peace. She nodded, chewing loudly and not caring one bit. She could just sense that all attention was on her - and it wasn't her loud chewing. That thick worry was hanging in the air around her.
"I was being serious," she clarified. "About...you guys. And...the help. Stuff." Her words and dwindled into a nearly incomprehensible mumble.
"Toph." Skitch skitch skitch. Katara had scooted along the ground to her side and tapped her knee. "I was being serious, too."
"Cool," Toph acknowledged with a smirk before chomping back into her fish.
Ga-lunk. Lub, lub, lub.Thip. Thip. Thip. Thip.Sklish-Swoom-Splash!
The water crashed into her head like an iceberg, causing her body to tighten up. She endured the discomfort silently.
"I'm sorry," Katara apologized in a whimper. "I know it's cold, but we need to wash that hair."
"It's fine," Toph grunted through the grit teeth. She had just wanted to deal with it and get it over with. It had been funny and all, but she had quickly outgrown the humor of everyone perceiving her as an urchin.
"So you and Aang had a nice talk, huh?" Katara probed simply for the sake of conversation. In her current state of mind Toph felt open to discussing the whole situation with Katara, especially after how intimately involved she seemed to be making herself.
"Yea," she replied, absorbing the pleasure of Katara's hands running through her hair. "It was...weird..."
"I dunno, I just...started crying," Toph sheepishly confessed, shrugging her shoulders. She was sprawled on her back on a short plateau of rock she'd formed, her hair dangled off the edge so Katara could fix it. The river gurgled and splashed not far away. Hopefully this wouldn't take long so she could warm up again. "But it felt...good," she explained, eager to close the gate before Katara could douse her in pity.
"I'm glad Aang helped you feel better."
"Me, too. He said that-"
"Whoa." Toph had been shaken by the roar of the thunder. She was surprised it hadn't started raining yet.
Pit. Pit. Pitpitpatpitterpatterpitpat...
Nevermind. The trickling was an irritation at that point, with how cold she was. But she relished the sound of rain compounded by the delightful texture of a million drops smashing the ground. It was music to her feet.
"Well, looks like we'll need to finish this later," Katara sighed. The lack of tapping rain around her feet indicated that Katara was bending the drops away. Awesome. She got to enjoy the sounds with none of the freezing wetness. Rain made the world even more detectable than usual. Even objects in the air were more clear from the sounds of drops hitting them. As they made their way back, Toph's head was tickled by the strange sensation of water being bended out of it to dry it off.
Fortunately, camp wasn't very far away. The slamming of rain against tarp was sharp and crisp. She could feel Sokka and Suki in their tent, but the rain was causing too much shaking for her to make out whether they were asleep or not. Aang opened his tent's door and waved Katara in. Toph started to craft herself a stone tent but Katara grabbed her arm.
There was an immediate understanding, so Toph's balled fists spread out and pressed the earth back into place. She let Katara drag her into the tent. The waterbending utilized earlier meant that they were luckily dry on entry. Toph was confused and could sense Katara sorting through a pack, retrieving clothes. She placed the cloth in Toph's hands. The familiar, comforting scent of her own odor and the thick texture of her clothes was welcoming after a long day without them.
"All right, Aang, get out for a minute," Katara commanded bluntly.
"I'm not having Toph change out in the rain," she enforced expectantly.Duh, Aang. Have some sense.
Aang made no sounds of irritation or frustration, but Toph, smirking devilishly, could hair him slipping on his pants. She chortled.
"Wait. Were you just naked?" she managed, containing laughter as best she could.
"Not entirely," Aang countered. Toph choked on a snicker.
"Oh, stop it you two," Katara spat impatiently but gently. "It doesn't even matter. You, get out for a minute. You," she slapped Toph on the side of the head. "Get changed, you'll freeze if you don't get more layers on."
As she changed, she could feel Katara placing discharged objects back into the packs that she and Aang had shaken up. She could hear Aang playing around with the rain outside like a toy.
"Why are you letting me sleep in here?" Toph wondered. She felt like she already knew the answer but wanted to hear Katara say it. "I mean, isn't that gonna be awkward for you guys?" Toph never slept in the tents. Ever. But now that she pondered it, that was more her decision than anyone else's, wasn't it?
"Not at all," Katara insisted. "We're not letting you sleep out there in the cold, especially after the rough day you've had." Fwuff fwuff. "There." She had finished preparing a place to sleep. "You're going to sleep with me tonight." With her? What about Aang? "I brought an extra pillow and blanket just in case." Oh. OK. So she was going to sleep with her own pillow and blanket? The idea of camping in the great outdoors with a tent and a pillow and blanket...it was jarring. That felt more like sissy stuff she was forced to do at home. Well...what used to be home, anyway. Then again, Katara was right. Rough day, cold, raining, blabla. It was time to get some shut-eye.
"Come on," Katara eased, tugging on her hand and urging her to lie down. She sat beside her designated pillow, still confused by the whole situation. "You can come in now, Aang," she called.
Fwuffle. Aang carefully snuck in and yawned a mighty yawn.
"Toph's going to sleep with me tonight," Katara explained. "I set things up for you."
"Fine by me," Aang groggily muttered, scratching himself. Sksh sksh. Pathump. He collapsed in a pile onto his pillow, lazily repositioning himself underneath his blanket. Scuff. Skiff. Scruff.
"Hey." Katara jabbed him in the chest, knelt down over him. "Don't I get a good night kiss?" He moaned in response, but she could feel his head flop around to face her. If what he had just said was supposed to make any sense it had failed. Smir-tch. Ew. Blech. They invite her into their tent and then subject her to this? Why did everyone have to get all smootchy and-Paft. Katara was nudging her to scoot a bit over to the side to make space. The tent wasn't exactly ideal for three people.
She shifted over and rested her head, loose hair and all, into her pillow. Fwoof. Oooh. Feathers. Oh, wow. This felt pretty awesome. Swif, scuff, swif. She tucked the blanket around herself. Mm, nice and warm. She soaked in the heat for a while, appreciating what had once been the norm in her life. Katara had taken off her outer layers and had snuck in beside her at some point. Aang's body was already lost halfway into sleep but Katara was clearly still awake. She was probably still worried...Sugar Queen never did seem able to just let sleeping newt-dogs lie. Erm, not that she was sleeping yet, so maybe-
"Having trouble sleeping?" whispered Katara from her right.
"Yea," Toph whispered back. "Too much crap in my head."
She suddenly felt Katara slinking her arm beneath Toph's neck, then tugging on her left shoulder. Being in a pretty complacent mood at the moment, she let the arm direct her head onto the front Katara's left shoulder. The hand methodically moved back and forth along her left arm. She hadn't experienced this combination of touch and warmth in a long time but recognized it immediately. It reminded her of her...
"I'm sorry about your parents, Toph."
Toph tried to reply but almost suffocated on her words, her stomach lurching. These words needed to come out. She'd makethem, damnit. Her eyes pushed back that stubborn urge to burst again and she expelled the pain, like crying through her teeth instead of her eyes.
At that moment, no other words needed to be said. Maybe later, but...right then, that was it. Toph was so thankful that Katara seemed to understand this, as not another word was spoken. All she needed to hear was the lullaby that would put her to sleep: the soothing, steady drum from below the shoulder she was resting upon.
Thum-thump. Thum-thump. Thum-thump.