Title: The First Steps

By: Emmelyn Cindy Mah

Category: Anime/Avatar, the Last Airbender

Sub-Category: Friendship/Romance

Summary: Sokka teaches Toph how to swim, with somewhat unexpected results.

Disclaimer: I so totally do not own Avatar, Sokka, Toph, or anyone else I might mention in here. Idea for this short story, totally mine. Enjoy!

The First Steps

"You have got to be kidding me."

"Toph, the one time I decide not to joke—"

Toph scowled, crossing her arms resolutely over her chest. "There is in no way—"

"—that you will drown." Sokka reaffirmed. He sounded so very—

damn arrogant.

The perfect choice of descriptive words.

Toph wiggled her toes languidly, then leaned back. The ever-omnipresent vibrations upon the ground spoke volumes to her; a passive awareness that even sight could not best. She could feel his determination.

The problem, Toph supposed, was that she had absolutely no confidence in herself when it came to areas beyond the span of the earth. Where Sokka and Katara had grown fond of the seas, and Aang of the skies, she had found herself drowning—and literally, drowning, in deep waters. And the mere thought of swooping through the skies, helpless, brought butterflies to her stomach; and that did not happen very often.

"No." She stated dryly. "I refuse."

Sokka made a low, rather irritable mutter under his breath. This served only to make her chuckle—and she'd supposed that he, too, was somewhat amused. "Why's that? You afraid of a little splash of water?"

Toph blew a lock of hair from her face; and it flew, for several short seconds, into the air, before coming to land gracefully over her nose once more. Her mother had hated her hair—but it simply grew the way it did; all over the place. She rather liked it—it was her curtain of shelter from the rest of the world. She had been told that her hair was black, and that her eyes were a shade of pale, somewhat milky green; and that she was pretty.

But Toph knew better than to trust the words of others—she wanted very much to believe the best of herself, yet she simply could not.

She leaned back, then crossed her legs smoothly; she could tell that Sokka was watching her. "No. I just don't want to."

"You have to learn how to swim sometime! What if you fall into a river, and we're not there to save you?" Sokka exclaimed; Toph found herself imagining him with his arms raised in exasperation over his head. But he was faceless—as always. She had never properly imagined his face—was he tall? Dark? Handsome?

She had absolutely no idea.

"Well—I'm not sure I should be stating the obvious, but I'm guessing that I will sink." Toph said. Then, as though re-affirming her words—"Like a rock."

Even without looking, she knew that Sokka was scowling.

"Come on, Toph." He grumbled, falling heavily onto her rock-perch beside her. "What are you so afraid of?"

"Uhm. I'd have thought that was obvious too." She grinned—somehow, she rather enjoyed annoying Sokka. He never seemed to take her jibes as personal insults—even when they were.

He made another sound, but did not say anything.

"Look, I'm just uncomfortable around water. It renders me completely helpless. I feel as if I can't—well, save myself. I'm not used to feeling that helpless." Toph muttered under her breath. "Water makes me feel like I really am the delicate doll my parents see me as—and I can't think of myself that way. I've taken their protective stances over the years with considerable patience—and I can take it if people think of me that way. But I can't think of myself that way, I just can't."

He laughed—surprised, she turned her head aside, and gave him a look. She wasn't exactly sure what look, but her mother had told her once that the look upon her face could curdle new milk. She'd taken her mother's word for it—and now fixed the very same look upon Sokka. He went silent almost immediately.

"I don't understand you, Toph." He said, at last. Toph noted that he sounded almost serious for once—and the thought rather intrigued her. Sokka? Serious? Was the world coming to an end?

But he had begun to speak once more. "It sounds to me that you only truly fear the thought of becoming the helpless child the world sees you as. I'm not saying that the water is safe—Katara's proven the contrary many times. But by simply refusing to learn how to conquer the water, you are submitting yourself to a pointless doom, should you ever fall into a river." He made a vague movement, and she supposed that he'd shrugged. "If I were you, I'd learn how to swim. Because at the end of the day, I'd rather conquer my foil than to allow it to conquer me."

"I really don't like the water." Toph began—she was beginning to see the sense of Sokka's argument, but rather wished she couldn't. "As in, really don't like it."

"Well. You don't have a choice." His voice was resolute, cracking under what was surely a wide grin.

Toph stiffened. She did not like the sound of things. "What—" She began. "—are you thinking of doing?"

It happened in a flash of rapid-fire movements and screams of shock. A loud thud upon the ground told her that Sokka had gotten to his feet; and half a second later, a pair of strong, rather muscular arms had lifted her into the air. She screamed.

"You're going in whether you like it or not!" Sokka was struggling under the assault of her flailing arms and legs, but he did not let go. "But if you keep—oww!—hitting me like this, I'm going to throw you into the deeper waters, and I won't come after you!"

What choice did she have but to keep still?

And yet, despite the fact that she currently wanted to kick Sokka to the ground, Toph found that she rather enjoyed the warm feel of his arms about her. The thought made her smile, but she wasn't about to tell him—instead, she fixed a scowl of severe proportions upon her face, though she ceased to struggle.

The gentle splashing sounds of water reached her ears all too soon—and she stiffened, the hair at the nape of her neck beginning to stand.

Perhaps Sokka felt her fear, for his grip of her tightened, if only just a touch. "Don't be scared, Toph. I'm right here."

"Would you bring me back if I begged?" Toph muttered—she could feel his arm trembling from where her nails were digging into his flesh. She was loathe to admit it—but she was that afraid.

"No." He said. "But I won't let you drown, so just ease up on those claws already."

She scowled. "It's not my fault you decided to bring me to the middle of a lake to drown!"

Sokka laughed once more; and in one swift motion, he shifted his hold of her, so that he supported her from under her arms with both hands. She screamed—the tips of her toes had come into contact with the icy-cold water.

"Sokka, I'm serious! Bring me back to the shore!" Toph shrieked, somewhat indignantly.

He did not speak. Instead, with a low, almost amused grunt, he'd lowered her some more—and she was now knee-deep in the water.

"Don't do it!" Toph protested—she reached forward with both hands, and found his shoulders. She swore under her breath; she'd been reaching for his neck.

He leaned closer towards her, and she could feel his warm breath upon her cheek. "If you don't take the first steps, Toph, you will never learn. Trust me."

That arrogance again.

As if he knew that everything would be alright. As if he knew that she would not fell prey to the water.

Toph swore several times under her breath again—and Sokka laughed. She could tell that he was amused.

And then, when she'd least expected it, he let go.

She could hardly hear the scream of horror and fright—but it had surely pierced the very skies. The icy coldness of the water hit her skin faster than a bolt of lightning—and it was but seconds before she was completely submerged within the chilly depths. Yet half a moment later, she'd realised something very odd.

She was sitting on the earth beneath the water.

With a loud gasp, Toph found the surface once more—and air, sweet air filled her lungs as she inhaled and exhaled. She knew that Sokka was still by her side; she could feel his arm about her shoulder.

She coughed—then pushed him hard. "You do realise that you're going to die?"

He laughed. "It wasn't that bad. Admit it."

Toph grumbled vaguely under her breath—and mostly because she knew that Sokka was right. It hadn't been that bad—the feel of water was somewhat more familiar. Perhaps it was the effect of shallow waters—she could feel the earth beneath the pores of her skin. That calmed her somewhat—and by doing so, had allowed her to realise that water was not, indeed, her enemy. Perhaps, just perhaps, now, that fear could be conquered.

But he was smirking again—and she could hear the smirk in his voice as he spoke once more. "Well?"

"Shut up." Toph muttered; but she could not contain the tiny smile upon her face as she got to her feet.

Perhaps it was worth it, after all, to take the first steps.

She did not think—perhaps she was not at all in control of her body. But half a second later, she'd pulled herself close against him, and before she knew it, her lips were on his. And half of forever later, she drew back; and the heat of her face told her that she was severely flushed. She coughed.

"Ahem." She began. "I guess you're right. I won't really know unless I take the first step."

Sokka was silent for a while—and she was almost afraid he would leave.

But then he laughed; and she laughed, and in the instant, the troubles of the world vanished—and, even as he embraced her once more, his lips upon hers, Toph found herself vaguely amused at how little the water frightened her.

Perhaps. Just perhaps.

Author's Note: Well that was a bit of a random one-shot! I hope you guys enjoyed it; and if you didn't, sorry! I tried—but I've only just realised that its hard to write from the perspective of a blind girl. Particularly one that I love, and don't want to mess up. Review, please? Pretty please with sugar on top? Thanks in advance!