A/N: This was written as part of a "ficathon" event for the LiveJournal community back at the end of June. The folks over there sure put out a lot of challenges, and I can't seem to stop myself from jumping in. Anyway, it was a simple request for a romance fic or humor or adventure. I tried to do all three. I had a choice of four pairings, and of course opted for the one that included my favorite character, Sokka of the Water Tribe. This request put no limit on rating, so I went with what I think is a step below "Mature" or NC-17. There is some mild yet explicit sexual content, but virtually no violence and pretty tame language.
I experimented with the piece's structural form a bit because, frankly, that's where the fun of writing it came for me.
Disclaimer: Avatar: The Last Airbender does not belong to me; thus I am taking great liberties in assuming I can do what I want with its characters. Happily, the real owners will almost certainly never see this!
"It won't be long," He said reassuringly, but both of them knew he couldn't know what he was talking about.
"It doesn't matter, there's nothing more we could do anyway." There was a finality in her voice that made him look at her sharply. It sounded suspiciously like resignation.
"Well, I'm not giving up."
"You never do, even when you should."
"What are you trying to say?"
"Forget it, it doesn't matter anyway."
An uneven patch of sky, the verdant spikes and curves of its border broken by a smooth swath of deep brown, streaked with dull yellow (which increased the size of the opening by nearly half again), stretched above in a changing kaleidoscope of light and shadow. At first, an intermittent shower of dirt and debris from this gap had stained the water below, indicating the unstable nature of the ground through which they had fallen.
They were lucky. Instead of jagged rocks at the base of a cavern hundreds of feet below they had fallen into a deep natural cistern filled to within a few dozen feet of the surface with accumulated rainwater and groundwater seepage from the forest above.
They were lucky. They could both swim.
"It could be worse," she said, assessing the inventory they had laid out from their packs. "At least some of the food was packed in oilcloth, so the wet hasn't ruined it."
He sighed, "It's not much, though. Oh well, at least we're both armed. That's good. And the water's fresh and, I'm willing to bet, pretty pure."
"So we won't die of thirst." Her frustrated scowl distorted features already rendered bizarre by the ruin of red and white paint.
"Hey, I'm supposed to be the pessimist here, not you."
"It could be worse, but it could also be a lot better!"
Weapons had been the first items rescued, carefully wiped against sodden tunics to remove as much moisture as possible before being positioned on a ledge they estimated would receive at least some sun as the afternoon progressed and daylight assumed a flatter angle as it streamed through the ragged hole so far above them.
Outer clothing had been removed, wrung out and draped on additional ledges. No point overlooking possibilities. Each was careful not to look at the smooth expanses of bared skin thus revealed. They were, after all, warriors.
They were lucky. This particular sinkhole's geology included sufficient veins of non-porous stone to yield any number of such ledges, including the one they stood upon to one side of the cavern. The low-lying forest floor was pockmarked with sinkholes; many simply deep hollows worn through the limestone subsurface by countless years of flow. Some were more shallow, connecting to the deeper caverns by webs of channels that allowed the water to completely drain, exposing calcified remains of creatures trapped in their depths over the eons.
They were lucky. No such remains appeared to share their space.
"I've never seen you without your warrior paint," he commented as Suki washed the last vestiges from her face.
"That's the way it's supposed to be. But the water destroyed my paint supplies, so you're just going to have to deal with knowing what I really look like," she paused momentarily, and then resumed. "Of course, that means I'm going to have to kill you."
"Whaa?" he took a half-step back.
"Or marry you… Oh, forget it. Kidding! Just kidding."
"I thought so. The look on your face just now? Priceless."
The forest above had been hot and muggy. The skirmish which had sent them fleeing into its depths was supposed to be a simple act of sabotage. Sokka was quite familiar with simple plans going wrong, so he wasn't really surprised to find a larger than expected troop contingent guarding the storage facility. They would just have to work fast and very, very quietly.
They were lucky. They weren't discovered until after they had set the charges that, together with the barrels of blasting jelly conveniently lining the back wall of the mechanic shop, would blow the facility and its even dozen of newly repaired Fire Nation tanks into oblivion. Sokka hadn't even needed to light the oil-soaked twine he had strung along the floor; a helmeted fire-bender obliged for him in a wild swing that missed its intended target – Sokka – and caught the twine instead.
They were lucky. Just before the explosion, they managed to roll over the lip of embankment surrounding the shop virtually unscathed – aside from the hem of Sokka's tunic smoking a little bit from hastily beaten-out flames. Well, the fire-bender hadn't quite missed on his second blast before Suki's fan caught him at the base of his throat.
"Nothing to burn here, and it's a lot colder than up on the forest floor."
"Huh. Whodathunk you'd ever wish for a fire-bender around."
"I think I can take the cold. What are you grinning about?"
"There are fish down there."
"So several things. One, we'll have something to eat. Two, there's gotta be a connection to some underground river or something – that kind of trout only comes to fresh water to breed; most of their lives are spent at sea." He looked at her to be sure she caught the implication.
"A way out?"
The explosion had been lovely, but Sokka had missed it, head cradled in his own arms as he hunched over Suki's prone body, hard against the sheltering embankment. They had felt a series of concussion blasts as the racks of blasting jelly ignited, but neither could attest to actually hearing anything beyond the initial fury. Waves of heat fought waves of humidity, and Sokka longed for the embrace of azure ice instead of the earth girl's frantic fingers clawing at his own, urging him on as dark silhouettes with spiked heads gathered on one side of the conflagration.
They were lucky. The forest floor was sufficiently open as to allow their progress along no specific path, yet dense enough to slow their pursuers as they regained their nerve, their breath, and the strength in their legs.
They were lucky. Fire Nation armor is sufficiently heavy and awkward to take seconds off the best of athletes in the sodden heat of the Earth Kingdom. The troops assigned to the mechanic center were not the best of athletes.
"Did you find anything?" Long minutes had passed from the time he disappeared beneath the surface to when he emerged again with a sudden whoosh! and gasp of air exhaled in a rush.
He simply treaded water for a minute, filling his lungs again and again before answering. "Yeah, lots. But none of it good for us. Not so far." And then he dove again. The water was so clear that, at first, she had no trouble tracking his progress as he went down, even in the fading light. But he kept going down.
She resisted counting and ignored the sun's approach to the edge of the hole defining their sky.
He repeated the process at least three more times, the light growing dimmer and dimmer in the cave each time.
"Enough! Don't go down again!" and she grabbed at his arms as he reached out for the ledge this time. As she clutched his wrists he rested his cheek against her hands, letting his breath return to a more natural rhythm before trying to speak. She wondered at the coldness of his skin against the warmth of her own.
"Not... going to. Too dark. Too cold," he drew a shuddering breath that frightened her. "Too deep. Makes me... ache everywhere. Damned fish – how do they do it?"
"Is there a way out for us?"
They had run hand in hand, pulling each other aside from fireballs thrown randomly. They had gained ground on their pursuers, and were just starting to count themselves home-free when they stumbled through a stand of bracken only to feel the earth give way beneath them. Each had reached out at the surrounding foliage, never releasing the other's hand. Their plunge into the cistern's cold depths had happened too swiftly to manage more than a suddenly muffled scream.
They were lucky. When the soldiers tracked their path through the undergrowth the raw edge of the sinkhole's opening was readily apparent. But these particular soldiers had been stationed in this area long enough to be familiar with the deadly nature of most such holes in the earth. No one dared to get close enough for more than the most cursory examination.
They were lucky. The Fire Nation assumed their saboteurs were dead.
"We're dead." She struggled to haul him out of the water when the continued trembling of his arms and shoulders made it clear he could not. Luckily, the ledge they had claimed was formed of something between soft limestone and the harder quartz that made up most of the ledges they had found. It was smooth and slick with the effects of erosion past and yet to come.
"Nonsense. You said you weren't giving up."
"I lied." He was on his back, legs dangling over the lip of the ledge. His chest was still heaving and goose-bumps crawled over his skin as he hugged himself, trying to still the shivers overwhelming all other volition.
She slapped his face, hard.
"Hey, that hurt!" he cried out. The sharp pain of her blow momentarily shocked him from the lethargy inflicted by the cold and despair of his fruitless search of the depths.
"It was supposed to, damn it!"
"I thought… you liked me." He curled himself into a ball, withdrawing again into the cold, away from the stabbing pain throbbing his limbs and confusing his brain.
"I do! Which is why you…are…not…giving…up."
Despite the heat of the forest above, the cavern entrapping Sokka and Suki maintained the cool internal temperature typical of caves at most latitudes. The upper 6 to 10 feet of water within the cavern reflected that temperature, but it dropped precipitously with depth.
Sokka had dived below the five or so fathoms that double pressure upon the lungs, compressing them to roughly half their normal size and playing havoc with the chemical composition of the gases within the bloodstream. He'd hit that depth at least twice. His lack of an artificial oxygen supply prevented a slow return that would allow residual nitrogen normal conversion within his bloodstream. Sokka had a mild case of "the bends". His head throbbed, his joints ached, and he was more than a little disoriented. On top of everything, he was cold. Damned cold!
He was lucky. The lack of an oxygen supply had prevented him staying over-long at depth, and he hadn't gone any deeper. He would recover fairly easily, painfully, yes, but with no permanent damage. Suki pried his fingers away from his body, forcing her own warm flesh against his. It was harder to force his legs away from his abdomen, but she was a warrior, and determined. She pressed every inch of herself against him, ignoring his wet undergarment and the iron grip of his arms closing around her as he sought out her warmth.
He was lucky. One of the best ways to restore core body temperature is direct application of modest heat in a blanket of consistently maintained warmth. She wasn't a fire-bender, but there was no questioning the warmth of her heart - or the rest of her.
"This…is nice." His arms relaxed finally, their chill no longer the predominant aspect of her awareness of them. He began to move his hands along her back, gently sliding one down as he shifted her against him. At some point they had rolled to the side.
"And that means, you've had enough," Suki herself had fallen into a half-stupor, broken only by occasional stroking of his back and hips in a half-coordinated attempt to restore warmth and feeling to those parts of his body not in contact with her own.
"No. Wait…please," There was no questioning the note of sincerity in his voice, and she did not want to question his motives.
"Sokka. I don't think this is…"
"What? Therapeutic? Trust me, I'm definitely gonna live now." He buried his face in the curve formed by her neck and shoulder, inhaling deeply.
It was her turn to tremble.
He had been a fool when she first met him, and she had mocked him, aptly demonstrating to him his own ineptness in front of a crowd. It should have been enough to send him away forever. But he had come back, and the simple grace with which he asked her to teach him moved her more than the Avatar's brilliant talent.
He had accepted her penance, learned quickly, and fought beside and for her without hesitation. The lanky boy with the startling blue eyes had touched something in her she could not explain, and the only regret she carried through the ensuing months at her parting gift of a hurried kiss was that there hadn't been time for more.
Now he was famous. Companion to the Avatar; warrior favored by a princess of his own people – now, unfortunately, lost in her sacrificial rescue of the moon; savior of the Omashu populace; hero of the Northern Air Temple… Meeting him again so many months later, she had no difficulty accepting that he was clever, brave and resourceful. And yet, in so many ways, still a bit of a fool.
She was lucky. His arrogance had really been all show, born of a desperate desire to be like the man he saw in his father, the man he believed he truly could someday be. Real adventure had stripped him of nearly all arrogance, even as it smelted all those inherent strengths she had sensed in him - that he had hoped for, into tempered steel.
She was lucky. Hearts broken in youth heal quickly, especially when there is affirmation in the experience. He wasn't afraid to look to the future.
"I'm sorry. That wasn't fair of me. I mean... Thank you," he sputtered awkwardly, but couldn't bring himself to actually remove his hands – although he ceased their possessive glide across her body, resting lightly on hip and shoulder-blade – and he couldn't force himself to draw away from her by more than a few inches.
"It was nothing. No. Not nothing. Just… I couldn't let you die on me," her own voice was hardly steady.
"Well, thanks. I mean it. I…hey, is it okay if I say you're beautiful?"
"Because I wouldn't let you die?"
"No. Because without your war-paint I can see you really are very pretty and, well, the rest of you is wonderful, too."
"Huh. Don't you just have a way with words." This time she didn't kiss his cheek, gathering his lips in her own.
By now the sun was gone beyond their sight. Twilight gave a taste of the darkness facing them, but the shift in temperature was barely perceptible. Of course, their eyes had adjusted with the passage of time, and between them sufficient heat was available to warm… well, anything.
A bed of rough stone may be a place to consummate equally rough passions, but what they shared between them was hardly born of violence, despite the times in which they lived and the odd circumstances that brought them together.
He was lucky. Suki was no fragile princess, honor-bound by commitments to others. She was no quiet daughter bowing to filial will or societal convention, seeking her life's realization in the role of wife and mother. Suki was a warrior, born and bred, with a warrior's recognition of the likelihood of another tomorrow.
She was lucky. He'd had dreams of love and cherishing his beloved. His heart was gentle, and he'd had long years of learning to listen and pay attention to female requests. He had nothing to offer, and everything to give.
"We should eat something."
"I'm not hungry."
"Has anyone – ever – heard you say that before?"
"Mmm. No. And it's not true, anyway. Can I eat your ear?"
"Stop it! It tickles! You're insane…"
"My brain was damaged from diving in cold water. Humor me."
"Idiot…I said, stop! No, really, I mean it."
"Well, if you insist. But here, this bone, it has a delicious-looking hollow…"
In the end, they did not eat that night. They had no means of making fire and there was insufficient light to adequately tap their food stores without likely wasting them. Then again, neither of them felt any real appetite for anything other than each other.
By then, each was fully aware that there may be no escape from the sinkhole. Sokka's vision was clouded by water-hewn stone, finding a narrow fissure suffused with inflow, cold and sweet but far too small for his own lithe form to slip within. Or even the more slender curves of his companion. To search so hard only to find disappointment was shattering.
For Suki, the dripping walls curving around and above them encircled her soul, caging them from the moment of their plunge through the forest floor into the depths. She had never quite believed Sokka's promise of hope in the water's flow, but she had clung to it, not yet ready to admit defeat.
They were lucky. Despite the despair clawing at the edge of their consciousness, each refused to give in before the other. Yet barriers were lowered.
They were lucky. There was really no reason not to accept what each had to give to the other.
"Hey, are you crying?"
"No, of course not."
"We will get out of here, you know"
"Of course, we will. Tomorrow, we'll get a better sense of what our options are."
"I gotta say, I don't think we can swim out."
"No. I don't even think we should try. It's too dangerous."
"Well, I don't know about that…"
"What did I say about you not knowing when to give up?"
"Tell me again. I'm hard to convince."
Of course, they went further than either would have guessed. Last remnants of clothing were discarded.
Of course, it was filled with awkwardness, uncertainty and pain. In time-honored tradition he implored forgiveness, which she easily gave.
Later, their bodies moved against each other again, breasts were suckled, caressed, and that strangely sensitive area marking the join of a young woman's torso and her leg, just to the side of her groin and well inside her hipbone, was sweetly stroked. Her hands, strong and sure, grasped his manhood, gently cupping him below while exploring, so faintly, the tender skin beneath, behind. This time, no word of mouth, no memory of pillow-books hastily perused, guided them. This time, they used what they had learned about each other.
They were lucky. Each was, by nature, giving.
They were lucky. Neither was prone to giving up.
"You don't suppose our clothes are dry, do you?"
"Are you serious? You want to get dressed now?"
"You're not the one with cold stone beneath them for the last… how long has it been?"
"Good point." Engaging her in yet another kiss, he rolled easily, holding her firmly as her arms flailed in mild protest.
"Sokka, hey. Enough."
"No. Never enough."
"You are a fool."
"Uh-huh. And you're beautiful."
"I'm not. You're giddy."
In the end, pragmatism eventually won out over passion. Their empty packs formed rude pillows when they finally closed their eyes to sleep, fully dressed, although Suki clasped Sokka's arm around her as she curved her body into his, his knees nudging the hollows behind hers and his chest pressed close against her back. The ledge was fairly narrow and this position was, in fact, logical.
But logic could not be said to rule any decisions made this night.
They were lucky. There was no one to judge them.
They were lucky. Few are blessed to enjoy the sweet pleasures of discovery as unencumbered by social contracts as these two young warriors. That is, few who are slated to survive.
"Why couldn't we climb out?" While the sun had risen some hours earlier, it didn't show its face in their prison until the morning was well advanced. He had lain there on his back, her head on his chest and arm draped across him, for some time as his eyes searched the damp fissures above him, marking handholds.
"Hmmm. What? You are mad! The walls are too slick, they curve inward – we'd be climbing not just sideways, but, whatever you call it when you move across upside-down rather than up!"
"So what's wrong with that? It happens all the time in ice-climbing. As long as you have a good rope, good purchase, and a good partner you're fine."
"We have no rope at all. This is rock, not ice, and as it undercuts it's bound to be unstable."
"We have the makings of rope in clothing we don't need. Rock is probably more stable than ice – which I know well and can spot when it goes rotten immediately, as you should be able to do the same with stone. And when the bad stuff gives way we're anchored into the good stuff."
"Maybe. I seem to recall someone – I don't remember who, now – insisting that I don't
Their dagger-sliced clothing, once twisted and knotted together, made a substantial line, easily looped around both their waists with room to spare both between them and for safety knots as they climbed.
Eons of erosion had eliminated all the weaker veins of rock, although their knives found sweet purchase at long intervals as Sokka learned to gauge the shifting hues of stone before him. As he had noted in his lazy morning perusal, the wearing away of the rock face had not been uniform. While the general shape of the fault forming the cavern was concave, random strains of basalt, quartz, and even granite stretched vertically through the limestone, hiccupping here and there with solid nubs or schertz, just enough to provide a hand or foothold.
They were lucky. Only once did they fall from any great height, and already they were far enough overhead to drop straight into the water, rather than bruise themselves upon the rock ledges from whence they had started. It was a fall they were familiar with, and thus it merely spurred them on.
They were lucky. Although it took hours and several false starts, by late afternoon they had found a way up and across the dome of their prison to the aperture at the top.
"Aagh. At least it was cool down there."
"Too hot. Too cold. You're never satisfied, are you?"
"Not true. Not true at all. I know exactly what would satisfy me."
"You think? Sokka. I wasn't really kidding, you know. You're not supposed to know what I look like."
His grin was crooked. "Should we pretend I never saw your face?"
"Shall we pretend you never saw anything else, either?"
"You tell me, Suki, what are our options? And what do you want?"
The forest hadn't changed. It sweltered in the afternoon sun, and sweat poured off of them as they unraveled the knots of their makeshift ropes once they were finally clear of the sinkhole and its treacherous opening.
With their emergence every-day cares reasserted themselves. Hunger gnawed, bug-bites itched, sunburn stung, and their relative nakedness seemed highly inappropriate, even as they had been - almost - oblivious of it in the shadows of their imprisonment. Sokka's hand on Suki's shoulder burned with its sudden warmth and weight as he pointed the way towards the encampment they had left behind, now nearly two days before.
They were lucky. A short detour through a nearby village by Sokka netted them ill-fitting tunics in nondescript brown, although they lost Suki's remaining fan and Sokka's machete in the bargain. Neither felt like complaining.
They were lucky. The general joy upon their return overwhelmed any curiosity over where they had spent the last day and a half, Suki's lovely blushing aspect free of warrior's gloss, or the frequent glances Sokka took in her direction to catch her eye.
"It was important to me. You are important to me."
"Is that all? Is that what I'm supposed to take with me?"
White paint masked subtle muscle movement. Red-glazed eyes distorted expression.
Her emotional response was equally difficult to read.
"We left here fully understanding we might not come back. At all. I don't understand why you think anything's changed!"
"And you keep calling me a fool. Everything's changed. We… we're joined now. Aren't we?"
"Is that all it takes for your people? One night of… pleasure?"
"Well. At least we don't ignore it!"
Her hand reached up to stroke his cheek. He leaned into her touch.
"Accept it, Sokka. We're a long way from any kind of life-joining. You can't be thinking of marriage."
"I've seen your face. I thought that gave me some kind of claim…"
Of course, she laughed him off. The camp was full of young men who had seen the earth warrior's face now, and would never forget it. More importantly, the days ahead were still full of challenges. His adventure with her was atypical – he was not usually far from the Avatar's side – and there were no safe havens anymore. As a highly capable warrior, her role was on the front lines.
They had been lucky. When they dared to think about it, they knew the odds of both of them living to see, let alone surviving, the coming conflagration were low indeed.
When they parted not long thereafter, her fans replaced and he again in polar blue, hands clasped as eyes spoke volumes neither was prepared to express aloud. No one noticed. They were lucky.
Who knows where luck will end?