Guardians of the Household

Wives are the guardians of the household. Unfortunately, these three guardians aren't married yet.

WARNING - This story lacks sense, plot, sobriety, prudishness, and decent language. You were warned...

Katara had grown used to not getting a full night's rest. There had been many instances when she had been called from her bed at an unreasonable hour. It wasn't something she would ever look forward to, but it no longer fazed her to miss so much sleep. After all, one couldn't tell a baby it had to wait for morning to be born because the midwife wanted to sleep; you couldn't expect Sokka to stay out of a bar fight simply because it would be inconvenient for his sister to rise and shine and sew up the gash in his scalp.

Katara had been looking forward to getting a good night's sleep – after four days' worth of travel, and nearly a week of wedding preparations, she had planned on getting to bed early and sleeping in as long as possible – but apparently it was too much to expect that Suki would be able to sleep while Sokka was out somewhere with "the guys, doing guy stuff" less than 48 hours before his wedding.

When the loud banging woke her, Katara was only half surprised that she was up and opening the door before she had even opened her eyes or closed her robe. Toph rolled over in the big bed with a disgruntled mumble – they were sharing a room, because Suki's father's house was not very big, and he wouldn't even let Katara and Aang be alone in the same room while under his roof. Outside, the moon was just barely visible through the window, showing the hour to be just before midnight.

Standing behind the door was Suki. She looked as if she had rolled right out of a restless sleep, thrown her robe on, and forgotten that short hair needed combing before you went to see your guests. She was dangerously close to tears.

"Katara!" she whispered shrilly, clutching the shoulders of the confused Water Tribe girl. "You have to help me!"

"Calm down," Katara soothed, prying herself loose from the desperate young woman in the doorway. "Take a deep breath and tell me what's wrong."

"It's Sokka!" Suki shouted at full volume, and Toph fell out of the bed with a surprised yelp. "He's… he…"

"He's what?" Katara urged, drawing Suki into the room and sitting her down on the bed. "What's wrong with Sokka?"

"He – he smiles at other women!" she exclaimed, pounding one of her fists into the pillow lying beside her. "I've seen him! Everywhere we go, every time he thinks I'm not looking – and sometimes even when I am! He'll smile at anything with hips!"

"Now you know that's not true," Katara said with a sigh, sitting down beside her on the bed.

"Yeah," Toph muttered, pulling herself up and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. "She doesn't have to have hips…"

With a loud wail, Suki buried her face in her hands and sobbed. Katara frowned at Toph, and then remembered the action was wasted and reached out to give the girl's ear a sharp tug.

"We all know that's not true!" Katara reiterated, rubbing Suki's back as she continued to cry. "Sokka's just… friendly, that's all."

"I'm an idiot!" Suki declared, flopping backwards on the bed and curling up on herself. "What ever made me think I was good enough to tie him down? He's… well, he's just gorgeous, and… and I can't even boil a pot of water!"

"Suki," Katara scolded gently, reaching out to lay a hand on the other girl's hair.

"I don't even like kids!" Suki continued, sitting up. "What kind of mother am I going to make? Letting my husband run around chasing other women while I sit at home with the children I don't love not cooking dinner because I'm so awful at everything that being a wife-"

"Are you drunk?" Toph interrupted, mildly alarmed at the hysterical note in Suki's voice.

"No!" Suki exclaimed, waving the notion away. "I mean, I've been drinking, yes, but no, I'm not drunk…"

"I think," Katara said gently, pulling Suki to her feet, "that you should go back to bed."

"Or have another drink," Toph muttered, and clamped both hands over her ears defensively.

"No!" Suki shouted, pulling away from Katara – and consequently falling backwards again when her knees hit the edge of the bed. "I can't sleep now! I've… I've got to learn to cook! I've got to learn to be a wife! That'll stop Sokka from smiling at other women!"

"You know," Toph whispered conspiratorially, crawling across the bed to Suki's side. "You're one of the most accomplished warriors in the Earth Kingdom. Why don't you just beat his ass into the ground? That'll stop him from smiling at other women."

"I tried that!" Suki whined. "But all he does is distract me, pin me down, and make me want to have sex with him again!"

"Stop!" Katara ordered, hauling Suki to her feet. "Just stop! I don't need to know what goes on when the two of you are alone!"

Suki giggled, and said, "He has a really big-"

"Eww! No!" Toph shouted from the bed, and clamped her hands over her ears again. "Geez! I'm blind, not deaf! Do you mind?!"

"Oh, like you haven't ever wondered!" Suki yelled, grabbing up the pillow. She attempted to swing it into the side of the blind girl's head, but Katara caught her wrist and wrenched it away, giving her a warning look.

"I think some tea would calm you down," she said, wrapping an arm around Suki's waist and hauling her back on her feet. "Then we can get you back to bed."

"I don't want any tea," Suki said obstinately, but allowed herself to be led from the room.

"Go back to bed Toph," Katara insisted, when the younger girl rose to follow. The last thing she wanted at this hour was to play mediator, which often happened when both young women were in a room together.

"You're not my mom," Toph responded, sticking her tongue out at Katara. "And who says I don't want any tea?"

"You don't like tea," Katara reminded her, but walked slowly, with heavy footfalls, so she could keep up.

"I do too!" Toph countered, closing the door as she followed them into the kitchen.

"Well you don't want any," Katara maintained as she guided Suki to sit at one of the small, low tables in the kitchen's far corner.

"So?" Toph challenged, tilting her chin as she crossed her arms and leaned back against the doorframe.

Katara sighed wearily, shook her head, and muttered, "never mind" before rummaging through the pantry in search of tealeaves.

Toph slid down the wall to sit on the floor, and Suki began to fiddle with the green runner hanging across the table.

"I can boil water, you know," she said when Katara hung the kettle over the hearth to heat. Thankfully, the fire was still burning.

"Good for you," Toph grumped, but Katara shushed her before she could say anything else, and asked, "What are you talking about?"

Suki blinked as if the answer were obvious, and repeated, "I can boil water. You can cook things in boiling water, can't you?"

"Yes," Katara said slowly, glancing back at the kettle.

"So what are we cooking?" Suki asked, placing both her elbows on the table and leaning forward expectantly.

"Nothing," Katara said immediately. When Suki made a childish noise in the back of her throat – that sounded suspiciously like whining - the waterbender just shook her head. "I'm not teaching you how to cook."

"Why not?" Suki demanded, still making that strange, childish, suspiciously-like-whining noise.

"Because," Katara almost shouted in frustration, "apart from the fact that it's a little late to be worrying what kind of wife you're going to be, Sokka doesn't care! He's never cared! He'd not marrying you for your cooking skills!"

"Lack of cooking skills," Toph corrected quietly, drawing an angry stare from both women.

"Whatever!" Katara snapped. "The point is that you're working yourself up over something that's not going to matter!.. And it's passed bedtime, anyway!"

For a moment Suki looked as if she might cry, but then she folded her arms on the tabletop and laid her head down in them, effectively hiding her face.

Katara sighed, and then looked at Toph, who was making a show of ignoring the room's other occupants. She ran a hand over her sleep-mussed hair, gave her braid a little tug, then flipped it over her shoulder and said, "All right."

Suki didn't raise her head, but turned her ear toward Katara's voice.

"I'll show you how to make soup, or dumplings or something," she continued.

"Can we bake a cake?" Toph asked, trying very hard not to look excited.

"Whatever Suki wants," Katara replied. "She's the one who's getting married tomorrow."

Suki finally lifted her head, then rubbed the back of her sleeve across her nose. "Dumplings sound good," she said quietly, sniffling a little.

"Cake sounds good," Toph grumbled, crossing her arms again.

As it turned out, there was not much kept in the large pantry standing on the far wall. Beyond spices and an odd assortment of vegetables and grains, it appeared that most of the foods were kept elsewhere – in a large underground storeroom, Suki volunteered when Katara had spent a good ten minutes rifling through the shelves looking for anything that resembled meat.

What was supposed to be a quick nip down to grab some salted pork and a pitcher of milk turned into a long, arduous trek through the entire house during which Toph and Suki argued continuously in harsh whispers. Katara did appreciate that they were trying not to wake the entire house, but she was so annoyed that by the time they'd finally made it back to the kitchen she was wondering what would happen if she dragged them back to the storeroom and locked them in there together.

She didn't think Sokka would appreciate losing his bride and his best friend in the same freak accident, so she kept her mouth shut and made sure they didn't kill eachother or break anything.

Between the three of them, they had two jugs and a paper-wrapped package of salted pork – Katara didn't understand why they needed two jugs of milk, but Suki had insisted that they needed something to drink with the tea. By the time they returned the kettle was boiling, and while Katara was spooning sifted leaves into the hot water Suki was uncorking one of the jugs and tipping it back to take a large swig. She grimaced slightly, which went unnoticed by either of her companions, then grinned to herself and shoved the clay container under Toph's nose.

Katara did notice Toph reeling back as if something under the table had bitten her. She'd been sitting (quietly) beside Suki, picking a seam out of the runner. Katara watched as Toph reached for the jug, which was still being offered to her, and took another sniff. Her nose wrinkled, but she lifted the jug to her lips and took a much larger swig then Suki had. She shuddered, shook her head, and laid the jug down on the table where neither touched it.

"Why are you drinking sour milk?" Katara queried, because it never occurred to her that it could be anything else. "That's not good for you, you know."

Toph snorted, and mouthed, "sour milk" at the same time Suki sat up and said, "It's not sour milk! It's… buttermilk."

Katara eyed the jug, then made a face at the unpleasant thought of drinking buttermilk and turned back to the tea. She didn't let it steep long before pouring three cups and offering them to her companions. It wouldn't make for pleasant drinking, but she didn't intend to take more than a sip from her cup. She knew Toph would be unlikely to notice, and that Suki's tongue was probably still close to numb, and she wanted the evening over as quickly as possible. A good cup of tea would only prolong the agony.

"Right," she began after taking a sip and setting her cup down on the counter. "Pork dumplings."

"Pork dumplings," Suki repeated, as if to prove she was listening, and made a valiant effort to stand on her own without swaying. "What should I do?"

"Sit," Katara ordered, unable to bring herself to let an inebriated human being anywhere near a sharp knife or a hot pan, no matter how much she thought they deserved it. "And

pay attention."

Suki mumbled something angrily, but did as she was told, and took another swallow from the jug in front of her when she had settled back down on her cushion. She didn't make a face this time.

"How am I supposed to learn-" Suki demanded, taking yet another sip, "-if you won't let me practice?!"

"Stop shouting!" Toph yelled, reaching out to shove Suki bodily off her pillow. "You're screaming in my ear! And gimme that!" She groped across the table, and pulled the heavy container away from Suki, setting it in the corner of the table closest to her and ignoring it.

Of course, she might have had an easier time ignoring it if she hadn't reached for it less then ten seconds later and taken a few large, successive gulps. The jug slammed down on the table with perhaps a little more force than was entirely necessary, but by that time Katara had begun to pull things out of the pantry as was paying as little attention as possible to her two companions.

Somewhere between mixing the dough and chopping vegetables and pork, Katara noticed that Toph and Suki were playing a game. She didn't know the name, but she remembered Aang had taught Sokka during their long, mostly uneventful stay in Ba Sing Se, and it seemed to involve four hand gestures that represented the four elements, with each gesture trumping another. Together, Toph and Suki had concocted a fair way for both of them to play. Toph's left hand lay palm-up on the table, and whenever they played a new round Suki made her hand gestures against Toph's palm. The signals were different enough that after feeling them a few times, Toph could pick them out for herself. The loser had to take a sip from the jug.

Later, Sokka would point out to his sister that she had entirely too much faith in people, but the game in and of itself was not what struck her as odd. No, what struck her as odd was the fact that, not only were Toph and Suki getting along, they were engaging in physical contact that didn't involve grappling.

While shredding cabbage, Katara kept an eye out over her shoulder, watching in mild amusement as Toph lost less and less and Suki got more and more disgruntled.

When Suki shouted, "cheater!" and shoved Toph off her cushion, Katara expected all hell to break loose, but all Toph did was plant her foot against Suki's side and push her over. Neither reclaimed their seat, and instead they just lay on the floor, their heads at opposite ends of the table, giggling like a couple of drunkards.

"You know," Katara said casually, laying the knife down by the cutting board. "If you're not going to pay attention Suki, I might as well put all this up."

Both girls fell silent, and Suki turned to look at her with eyes that were far more glazed then they'd been thirty minutes ago. "Pay attention to what?" she asked blearily, wiping the back of her hand across her eyes.

"To whatever the hell Katara's cooking!" Toph exclaimed, using the table to pull herself into a sitting position.

"You're cooking something?" Suki asked, latching onto Toph instead of the table. "It's late. What are you cooking for?"

Katara gaped, but before she could say anything Toph piped up, "Are you cooking a cake?"

"No!" the waterbender said irately. "I'm not cooking a cake! What is wro-"

"You don't cook a cake, Toph!" Suki interrupted in a patronizing tone, again shoving Toph off her seat cushion. "You bake a cake! How can you cook something that you're supposed to bake?"

"What is wrong with the two of you?!" Katara demanded, marching up to the table and planting her fists on her hips. Suki just laughed in response, and Toph kicked her cushion towards Suki, muttering, "Throw that at her, would ya?"

Suki did throw it, but all Katara did was catch it and throw it back harder. Suki made a valiant attempt at dodging, but was far too drunk to manage anything more than falling over backwards when the pillow hit her in the face. She lay on the floor, cackling madly, clutching the pillow to her face as if it could stifle the high-pitched sounds pouring out of her mouth.

Then one of her flailing feet accidentally caught the table leg nearest her, and the jug tipped, tottered, fell, and rolled to bump into Katara's toes, spilling it's amber-colored contents all over the floor – and Katara's bare feet. The smell that wafted up from the puddle hit the back of Katara's nose like a slap in the face.

"Are - are you-" Katara sputtered, picking up the jug, waving it threateningly at her companions, "are you drunk?!"

"No?" Toph offered, gazing imploringly up in Katara's general direction – though, being rather intoxicated, she was off by almost a foot. Then she too was falling over backwards, laughing so hard that tears gathered in the corners of her eyes. Suki rolled onto her side, and shoved the pillow at Toph, trying desperately to stop laughing just enough to breathe and failing miserably.

"Just take a sip already!" Suki gasped, staring at Katara, face hovering above the tabletop as she pushed herself onto her elbows. The waterbender was glaring at the now-mostly empty jug with look of intense conflict on her face. "You know you want to!"

"I do not," Katara huffed, though the words lacked any trace of confidence.

"Liar," Toph quipped, hauling herself to stand upright on wobbling legs. "Give it back if you don't want the rest."

"No!" Katara replied immediately, frowning at the blind earthbender. "I changed my mind."

"Give it back!" Toph demanded again, stomping one foot and teetering off-balance for a moment before laying a hand roughly on top of Suki's head for support, causing the Kyoshi warrior to knock her chin harshly against the table.

"Calm down!" Katara hushed, sidestepping Toph's attempt to retake the jug. The earthbender caught herself on the counter's edge moments before she would have fallen. Then, eyeing Suki warily, Katara brought the jug to her lips, tipped it back, and proceeded to empty it completely. It burned all the way down, and churned her stomach, before a comfortable warmth settled in her chest and forehead. She began to wish that there was another source of such primal satisfaction somewhere in the room, but it was only a fleeting thought because then a small fistful of what could only have been chopped tomato flew across her field of vision - undoubtedly thrown by Toph - and landed on the tabletop with a wet sound, splattering all over Suki's white nightclothes.

When someone started screaming, Katara decided the situation was entirely out of hand. Unfortunately, by that point she no longer cared.

The night had not gone exactly as Sokka had planned. He'd wanted to get rip-roaringly drunk with his two male friends – scratch that: one male friend and one acquaintance – but Zuko refused to have more than three drinks. He'd wanted to visit the tavern with the lovely dancer who took her clothes off if the crowd was rowdy enough, but Aang had convinced him that that would have been some sort of betrayal of Suki's trust. He'd wanted to stay out as late as possible, but because of all the preparations and planning he was simply too tired to take an entire night of roughhousing.

Most of all, he'd wanted to not end the night tied naked to the base of Kiyoshi's statue, and that was the one aim he'd been able to accomplish.

So the three young men found themselves tripping home much earlier than they'd expected. Sokka tripped, anyway. Zuko could still walk a straight line, and didn't appear much affected beyond the slight sleepiness in his eyes. The two of them had Aang slung between them, practically dragging him along the quiet streets.

"You're not allowed to drink at my wedding," Sokka managed to get out without slurring.

"What? Why not?" Zuko demanded, as if some terrible injustice had been done to him.

"Not you!" Sokka hissed. "Master Arrowhead here can't hold his liquor and I'd like him conscious for most of the night."

"'m conscious now," Aang mumbled, staring blankly at the ground and wondering why his feet weren't listening to his brain. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew Roku was shaking his head in dismay – and Kiyoshi was laughing hysterically – but the feelings were so vague and familiar and decidedly "avatar" that he paid them no mind. Someone was screaming though, and that was a little odd…

"Does anyone else hear that?" Zuko asked, his arm tensing around Aang's shoulders.

"Hear what?" Aang asked anxiously, sobering up just enough to raise his head and look warily at his companions.

"Someone's screaming," Zuko supplied evenly, though his arm was still locked tightly around Aang.

"Three someones," Sokka corrected. "Three familiar someones."

And Aang realized the screams were familiar because they were Katara's. The other two voices (Suki, and what had to be Toph, though she wasn't usually prone to screaming when in danger) slid by him almost unnoticed. His heart began to beat wildly in his chest, and he took off for the house as fast as his feet could carry him.

Unfortunately, on the first step his feet were still refusing to follow orders and he dropped heavily, face-first, to the ground, dragging Sokka down with him. Zuko had let go as soon as he'd felt Aang tensing.

Aang barely stopped to pick himself up. Sokka groaned dully as he was pulled to his feet then pushed after Zuko, who was running toward the house as fast as his legs could carry him. Aang was leaning heavily on Sokka's shoulder but he still managed to carry the both of them along faster than Sokka could ever recall running on his own. The screaming and wailing continued on ahead of them, spurring them on as they burst through the front gate and tripped up the three deceitfully harmless steps onto the veranda. The shouting echoed out the front door, which they rocketed through before coming to a screeching halt when they found Zuko standing silently in the kitchen doorway.

What greeted their eyes was a scene of total chaos. It appeared that some large, extremely wild animal had ransacked the kitchen, but the three young women dog-piled on top of eachother, fighting tooth and nail for no apparent reason, were obviously the culprits. There was food everywhere – the girls, the walls, the counters, the cabinets, the ceiling – and what had to be at least three broken plates and a shattered jug. Even the table was overturned, laying on its side a splattered with food as if someone had used it as cover.

"And to think," Sokka said to Zuko, as they watched the ensuing madness. "Mai missed out on this."

Zuko just sniffed, and crossed his arms.

"Hey guys!" Toph said from somewhere in the pile. "Back so soon?"

It was hard to hear her over the screaming that was only just beginning to quiet down.

Then Aang remembered how much he'd had to drink, and his legs began to wobble dangerously. He grabbed the nearest wall for support, and ended up sitting heavily on the hallway floor. He dropped his head into his hands with a pained groan. No one seemed to be paying him any attention, and for the most part he was grateful. Suddenly, he wanted nothing more than to go to bed.

The three young women began to extricate themselves from their heap, but only Katara was still sober enough to climb to her feet. The second she was up she pushed past both Sokka and Zuko, ignoring them completely and kneeling beside Aang to murmur something comforting as she pressed her hands to his forehead – her sticky, food-covered, freezing-cold hands. Aang didn't seem to mind too much.

Katara gave her brother's back a dirty look (that only Suki saw) and helped the Avatar to stand. She wrapped an arm around his waist, and began to lead him off down the hallway.

"I knew you had it in you!" Toph called after them in a congratulatory manner, but Katara either didn't hear or didn't care. Sokka was willing to bet it was the latter.

"So no one died, right?" he pressed, as Toph and Suki sat together on the floor, each trying to find a piece of their clothing clean enough to wipe the gunk off their faces. Suki planted a hand firmly on Toph's shoulder, and used the leverage to hoist herself up – though she only got as far as planting one foot on the floor before the pressure caused Toph to topple over backwards.

"Nope," Suki offered congenially, almost slipping in a stray puddle of what looked like liquor and mashed onion. Sokka darted forward and caught her before she could follow Toph down to the floor. "We're all alive… a little bruised though. Your little rock thrower kicks like an ostrich horse."

"Oops!" Toph said sarcastically from her spot on the floor.

"Yeah, she bites too," Sokka offered, pushing Suki's hair out of her face, failing to notice the odd look she threw him.

Somewhere behind them, Zuko snorted.

"Let's go to bed," Suki suggested, leaning heavily against Sokka's side as she attempted to pull them out of the room. Sokka just raised an eyebrow at her. She decked him in the ribs, and he gave her an obliging (slightly pained) smile, and let himself be pulled out of the room.

"You still there?" Toph asked, still laying on her back on the floor.

Zuko grunted in response.

"Wanna help me back to bed?"

"Just how drunk are you?" he asked, stepping into the room and reaching down to grasp Toph's forearm, hauling her roughly to her feet.

"Drunk enough to ask you for help," she responded tartly, treading heavily on his toes before stumbling into him.

Zuko just sighed, and attempted to discover how best to get Toph back to her room without getting food all over himself.

AN - Oh dear lord. What have I created?! I don't even know... Did someone laugh, at least? That's all I ask...