In case you didn't realize it, this is going to be a Tokka fic. As of yet, I am not sure if Katara and Zuko will make an appearance. I'm trying to plan this one out better than I did Out of the Gray, but I'm still kinda winging it. We'll see where the spirits take me.
On with the show.
The first thing Sokka became aware of was the salty taste in his mouth. The second was the excrutiating pain radiating up from his arm. The third was Toph's raised voice.
He had a vague memory of being tossed from his boat and that same boat capsizing and knocking him out. There was also the final thought that he would never see his family and friends again that brought with it so much darkness that he pushed that memory aside immediately. He tried to open his eyes, but had difficulty telling his brain to do anything. However, he did manage to let out a groan to let them know he could hear them and he needed them to pay attention to him right now.
"Sokka!" Toph exclaimed, pushing past the healer keeping her from the room and rushing to his side. "What the hell were you doing?"
He could only groan again in response. Taking it slow, he opened his eyes a crack and looked up at her familiar face. Toph was quickly joined by a healer who began poking and prodding him. Sokka let out a hiss when the healer took his right arm and bent it.
"The lower part of the arm has become detached from the upper part," the healer said calmly. "I will have to reset it and bandage it, Mistress. He has also broken the lower part of his arm and that must be bandaged tightly."
"Try not to hurt him anymore than is necessary," Toph said, somewhat unnecessarily.
The healer helped Sokka to sit up and he gritted his teeth, steeling himself for what would happen next. He them handed Sokka a cup of bitter tasting tea which he swallowed in one gulp. Sokka could feel his body getting numb, but not numb enough. The healer squeezed the lower part of his arm, trying to feel where the break was, and it felt like shards of glass were piercing his skin. Then, without warning, the healer rested one hand on his elbow and another on his forearm, snapping his arm straight.
In the kitchen, the chef looked up from his chopping board and wondered if an animal had been let loose in the house.
Gasping, Sokka laid back down as the healer carefully but quickly wrapped his arm in a white bandage. The pain returned sharply when healer tightened the bandage on his fractured forearm and he had to fight to keep his eyes from rolling to the back of his head. He'd broken bones before, but that particular kind of pain wasn't something he was inclined to remember and get used to.
Toph returned to his side, her cool hand on his uninjured arm.
"So what's the verdict," she asked, reading his thoughts.
"It was at least a clean break, sir," the healer explained. "It will take 2 months to heal and you will be in some pain for a few weeks. Please take this tea and drink some everyday to help with the pain."
Sokka could only nod, his breath clogged in his throat as he rode out the waves of pain radiating from his arm. The healer bowed to Toph and left the room.
"You almost died," Toph said curtly, angry with him for taking risks that inevitably ended with him broken in some way.
"But I didn't," he croaked out, trying to give her a cocky grin, but failing miserably--not that she'd appreciate it anyway.
"You need to rest," she said, giving his good arm one last squeeze. "I'll be back with your dinner."
Sokka was too tired to argue.
Four hours later, Sokka was sitting up when Toph returned. He'd already taken inventory of his very posh accommodations and recognized that he was in one of the many Bei Fong properties dotting the Earth Kingdom. In fact, he'd already stayed in this very room.
Toph carried a tray of dishes piled high with food and his mouth immediately watered. She set the tray down next to him and sat on the edge of the bed, her expression studiously neutral. She was dressed in more finery than when he saw her last and he guessed she probably had some business to attend to before coming in to see him. It wasn't often he saw her like this and he had to admit, she was pretty easy on the eyes. Gone was the squat little girl with a big mouth; in her stead was a tall, graceful young woman, exuding confidence and power.
For her part, Toph was completely ignorant of the direction his thoughts were going and was doing all she can to avoid his gaze. Sokka recognized the tightness around her mouth that was all to familiar: these were all the signs of Toph unsuccessfully trying to bury her feelings.
"Nice to see you, Toph," Sokka said gently.
She shot him a narrow-eyed look, her lips firming into a straight and irascible line. He merely met her gaze steadily, his expression pleasant--which he sure wasn't as pleasant as he thought it was considering the bruising and contusions that marked his face. Although, something must have reached her because she let him pull her into a firm, one-armed embrace. She patted his back awkwardly as he likened the stiffness of her body to hugging a statue.
"You, too, Sokka," she said.
"Thanks for not letting me die," he said.
"You can thank the seas for that. I just got you patched up," she retorted, dislodging herself from his grasp.
"Well, thanks for that, too."
Arranging herself on the edge of his bed, she took a moment to compose herself. He could see her desire to yell at him in the way she pressed her lips together, but she refrained from making even the tiniest sound. Sokka wished that she would just let loose like she used to, but grown-up Toph tended to exact better control over her temper nowadays. It was probably for the better because from what he understood of her current lifestyle, she would have had a heart attack a long time ago if she reacted the way she used to whenever something went wrong.
"So what are you doing on my side of the world?" she asked nonchalantly.
"I was going to Xin Gailin," he replied, conscious of her very accurate ability to detect lies.
"Why were you going to Xin Gailin?"
He shrugged and gasped when the movement jostled his arm. "Just needed to stretch my legs a bit," he said tightly, trying to ride out the pain. "I heard they have great weaponsmiths there."
"Not any better than the ones you lured to the South Pole," Toph demanded. "Why were you really going?"
"What's with the third degree? I almost died!"
"But you didn't," she pointed out. "So, who is she?"
"The woman you're following to Xin Gailin."
Sokka bit back a sigh. In his haze, he'd forgotten that was his usual cover with Toph whenever they ran into each other during one or another of his jaunts. He cringed to wonder what she thought of him, but it was the only way he could stop her endless questions...and trick her lie detector.
"How's business?" he asked, jamming a steamed bun into his already full mouth.
"Same. Booming," she answered, not missing a beat and not expecting an answer to her question anyway.
"Man, what does it feel like to live at the top of the world? To be the best in what you do?"
Sokka couldn't help but laugh at her. Toph smiled reluctantly.
"Alright, it's not that bad," she conceded. "Some days are great, to be honest, but I don't want to die still doing this. I'm the greatest..."
"...Earthbender in the world," Sokka interrupted. "I know, I know. I've heard this old song and dance before. It is really hard being the richest girl in the world on top of being the best Earthbender. How do you keep your fans at bay?"
At that, Toph grinned. "It is good to see you, Sokka."
"I know," he said, satisfied.
She laid back and laced her fingers behind her head, beginning to relax. "So, how long are you planning on being here?"
"I need to leave tomorrow morning," Sokka replied. "I should leave tonight, but I did almost die."
"What's the rush?"
"I have a hot date," he said cheekily.
"The least you can do is entertain me for another day," Toph stated. "I did save your life AND am housing you and feeding you for free."
Sokka rolled his eyes at her. "It's not like you want to go to the beach. What do you need me around for?"
"Entertainment," she said slowly as if he were stupid. "Besides, how far do you think you're going to get on that arm? I doubt you'll be able to dress yourself for a little while."
"Yes, I ca...." Sokka had to swallow the unmanly shriek that bubbled up when he tried to show her that he could move his arm.
"That's what I thought," Toph said smugly. "Just rest easy, Snoozles. You'll be here a while. Guess you better send your girlfriend a messenger hawk letting her know you'll be a little late."
As he blinked the tears from his eyes, Sokka considered the possibilities. Azula's trail was already going cold and he was wasting precious time. He couldn't wait for his arm to feel better before heading to Xin Gailin because if he lost this tip, he would have to start from scratch. But Toph was right, he couldn't move around on his own, which really only left him with one option.
He then wondered if his broken arm was affecting Toph's ability to sense when he lied.
"How much longer are you going to stick around here?" he asked, picking up a bowl of soup.
"We were actually going to leave tonight because my business is done here. Going to go back home and...do stuff."
"Any chance I can convince you to come to Xin Gailin with me?"
Toph frowned. "What? Won't having another woman there cramp your style?"
"Nah," Sokka said and began to lie through his teeth. "We can just hang out like the old days. Maybe I can convince you to buy me some stuff at the market. I hear they have a great silk bazaar over there."
She let out a breath that blew her bangs out. "I guess that would be better than just going back home. We need to get some silk anyway..."
"We? Last time I checked, Appa wasn't carrying around your entire staff! That's not the good ol' days, Toph!"
Toph brightened. "Oh! I suppose you're right." She sat up. "I can send everyone home tomorrow and then we can go too." Then she frowned again. "You're not just using me as a nurse, are you? I'm not giving you a sponge bath."
Sokka was amused at seeing the flush that rose to her cheeks at the thought.
"You can only be so lucky," he intoned. "No, I'd just like the company. Plus, the least I can do is save you from boredom since you saved me."
Toph laughed, the wicked edge to her voice making Sokka smile, looking like her old self again. "Alright, we're going on a trip!"
* * * * * * *
Despite what he may or may not thing, Toph was perfectly aware that Sokka had something up his sleeve. It was her common sense more than her lie detector that told her he did. He was either that sure of his ability to deceive her or he underestimated her other senses--she preferred to think that it was the former. It was a testament to her trust in him as well as her own boredom, that she was willing to go along on this trip without running him through the ringer.
With one smooth motion, she removed the comb holding her hair up and shook it out. She felt the familiar strands of her long bangs tickle the tip of her nose and she smiled. Jin insisted that she keep her hair out of her face whenever they had meetings and it was the one battle Toph allowed her assistant to win.
Moving with quick, sure movements, she began to strip off her binding, fancy clothes for more comfortable ones. She made sure that her things were set up in the same way no matter where she was, so she was packed fairly quickly. As she was closing her bag shut, she heard Jin closing in on her door and she slid it open before Jin could knock.
"Are you going on a trip, Mistress?" she asked, surprised when she saw the packed bag on the bed.
"Sokka and I are going to do some bonding," Toph replied, with a grin. "You and Turuk, as well as the rest of the staff, are free to take a few days here before going back to Ba Sing Se."
Jin was startled by the sudden change in plans, but did not argue. In the early days of her tenure, Toph was more like this spontaneous, glowing woman before her, than the serious, sarcastic mistress of late. If this trip improved her mood for coming months, they would manage without her.
"Take care, Mistress," Jin said.
"Thanks, Jin. I'll probably see you in a week or two. Can you please ask the cook to get some food together for us for the trip there?"
"Will you be...walking?"
"Of course. Xin Gailin is only a day's walk away. The less time I spend on a divan the better."
"Will Mister Sokka be okay walking?"
Toph considered that. Since he was trying his best to tell her exactly what he was up to, this could be how she gets her payback.
"No, he'll be fine," she said cheerfully. "He's been through worse, believe me."
"As you wish. I will speak to the chef now."
Jin started to leave, but before she stepped out into the corridor, she glanced back at Toph who was already daydreaming of a new adventure.
"Be careful, Mistress."
Toph merely smiled. "I think it's everyone else you should worry about, Jin."