"What're you doing, Twinkle Toes? Seriously... PUT ME DOWN!"
Aang did all he could to keep the reluctant little Earthbender from kicking out of his grasp as he carried her over towards their hidden camp in the Fire Nation valley. Small marks of blood were already showing up on his fingers from underneath, and the kid could feel himself falling dizzy.
"Ka... Katara, help!" Aang cried out, with Toph still kicking to get off, and he could tell from the distance she wasn't able to hear him. He noticed Appa snuggling to sleep in the sunset, and how Katara had just finished feeding him.
"What's going on? What happened?" came a flustered voice. Sokka appeared climbing out from the nearby valley, quickly throwing his red tunic back on as if he'd just finished taking a bath.
"She's hurt," Aang said sadly, still overwhelmed by Toph's constant moving and 'No, I'm not!' bickering in the background.
"What do you mean she's hu--" Sokka immediately noticed the traces of blood on Toph's dark red Fire Nation pants, and the boy's face nearly drained out of color. He blinked, taking only a second to understand the reasoning to the blood.
Sokka's voice cracked, shouting with his hands cupping his mouth. The distant figure nearly flinched out of her own skin, spilling some water from the large cooking cauldron.
"What?" Katara bellowed back, annoyed, with a spoon flailing in her hand.
"We have... uh... a situation, over here!" Sokka replied. His hands were already shaking awkwardly and nervously as he glanced back down at Toph, being carried like a bleeding baby in Aang's arms.
"I'm fine, okay!" Toph kicked again, shoving her way off of Aang's arms and jumping down to the ground. "I just feel a little... wet... but it was scorching hot out today."
Aang flinched over to Sokka for a desperate answer, but the watertribesman just shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably, keeping his eyes on Katara as she quickly ran over to the group.
"She's bleeding," Sokka muttered to his sister right when she made it. And she blinked, studying the crimson color running down Toph's pants. In a moment's glance, Katara looked over to Aang, seeing how the boy was nervously beginning to tremble.
"I swear, I didn't do anything!" Aang spilled out, terrified, feeling his eyes almost bulge out. "She was teaching me how to elevate a boulder, and the next thing I knew, she was... she was..."
"I'm not bleeding, you idiots." Toph grimaced, crossing her arms and bringing her head to a flustered shake. "What's up with you guys? I'm not even hurt!"
"Toph, calm down... I believe you." Katara placed a soft hand on the little Earthbender's shoulder, kneeling down to be more at her level. "I don't think you're hurt, but you are bleeding."
"That doesn't make any sense--"
"I know, and I'll explain everything." Katara took a deep breath of a sigh and pulled Toph by the hand. "Come on. Let's go wash you up."
As Katara guided Toph towards the river below the Fire Nation valley, Aang felt his heart rate slowly returning to normal. Sokka sighed, and scratched a bit of his scalp uncomfortably, right before the small chuckling came through his nose.
"I don't get it!" Aang crossed his arms, all of a sudden feeling very chilly. "How can somebody bleed without getting hurt?"
Sokka raised a brow to the airbender, but then smirking all the same.
"Ah, kiddo," he slapped an arm humorously on Aang's lanky shoulder. "Let's just say it all started when some stupid moron didn't let his girl jump in the river, first."
"Huh?" Aang stared at Sokka like he had three heads.
Sokka laughed, pulling Aang forward to lead him back to their camp. "We gotta talk..."
"My parents did WHAT!?"
Toph violently clutched her hands into the rocky edge of the bay, and Katara yelped, covering her head as a few pieces of gravel fell into the water in plops.
"Gross..." she then said with a scrunched-up face, slowly stepping into the water to join Katara.
"It's a part of nature," the older girl reasoned, while hand-washing the Earthbender's pants in the water and watching the blood slowly fade off. "I know it doesn't sound pleasant, but it really is a beautiful thing. That's how babies come into this world."
They'd both been stripped down to their undergarments, and while Katara deeply suggested that Toph remove her own for washing... she figured she should give her some time to let all this information sink in.
"Ugh... but what's with the bleeding part?" Toph shrugged as she quickly stepped into the cold water, trying to warm herself up to the shoulder. "And why doesn't anything happen to the guys!? That's not fair at all."
Katara kept scrubbing off the blood, but she couldn't help but giggle over at Toph. "I asked my Gran-Gran the same thing when I first got it, and she started telling me a story."
"A story?" Toph asked, rather oddly as she dipped her head underwater, to clean off any trace of blood on the face.
"Yeah," Katara twisted up Toph's pants firmly to dry them up, and as she moved to set them down on a rocky edge, she continued. "It's an old water-tribe tale, I guess... about the first man and woman who came to live in the North Pole."
"The story goes that this guy and girl from the southern Earth Kingdom were called on by the Moon Spirit..." Sokka slightly paused, taking a breath and looking up at Aang as the boy kept his silver eyes with attention, "...to make a pilgrimage all the way to the North Pole and create civilization there, or something."
"Really?" Aang stared quizzically, breaking a leaf of cabbage into pieces, "but I don't remember the Spirits ever telling me that story."
"Meh, I figured it was more of a myth anyway," Sokka snorted, taking the liberty of tying his sleeping tent a little tighter. "So basically, this guy and girl had no idea that they had to travel through so many rigorous environments. They started moving east across the famous foggy swamps, and they fought alligator-fish and tried to make shelter up in those really slippery-trees..."
"...and then they had to move north across the Earth Kingdom desert, completely on foot!" Katara exclaimed, rinsing her hair out of water as Toph helped herself out of the shallow pool.
Toph shook her head in dismay. "Ugh, did you have to bring that up again?" she hugged her knees, feeling a slight pain in her stomach while not wanting to remember that ocean of sand pudding.
"Sorry, but it's true!" Katara smiled, admiring her little pupil's listening ears. "This happened thousands of years ago... can you imagine all the struggles they had to go through?"
"Whatever," the little Earthbender dismissed some gravel with a kick of her foot. "I'll bet they lived off of crazy cactus juice and hitched a ride with Appa's long-distant cousin or something."
Katara sighed as she got out of the water, taking Toph's scrubbed Fire Nation tunic out to dry. It wasn't the most pleasant thing to talk about... even she had to admit it... but she knew she had to keep explaining to Toph this natural phenomenon of womanhood.
"The story goes that the Spirits where helping this couple all throughout the journey along the desert, like it was written in the stars that they were supposed to make it across safely. In the Southern Water tribe... we call that a 'miracle.' "
Toph snorted teasingly, starting to pick dirt from between her toes.
Katara scowled, "oh nevermind..." and she took the liberty of tearing a bit of Toph's tunic and wrapped a thick, absorbent piece of wild seal-otter hide around it. "Here, this will control the bleeding... place it tightly between your legs, and I'll re-wrap your undergarment."
Toph moved reluctantly, sniffing the dead sea-otter skin in the padding and trying really hard not the scrunch her nose. She tried not to think about the fact that her bare skin was being exposed to open air, but she could tell by Katara's calm heartbeats that she was doing it without nerve or amusement. Waterbenders carried a natural sense of grace, perhaps.
"Thanks," the little girl mumbled, attempting to walk without wiggling uncomfortably. "How am I supposed to Earthbend with this thing? I can't even walk!"
"Trust me, you'll get used to it. We all do." Katara fought a giggle. "Come on, I'll make you some blueberry-pomegranate juice for your stomach."
The two girls left the lake's shore in their undergarments, with Katara keeping a lookout for Aang and her brother so as to give Toph that deserving privacy.
"So what about the story?" the girl propped herself down on the ground as her waterbending care-giver began to heat up some water in ceramic cauldron. "What happened after these LoveBirds made it out of the desert?"
"Oh, you actually want to know how it ends?" Katara raised a brow sarcastically, picking up a bag of berries from her pack.
"It's better than hearing my stomach grumble," Toph retorted.
Katara rolled her eyes. "Okay... so the man and woman made it across the Earth Kingdom desert and the mainlands, all the way to the mountains until they needed a boat to take them to the North Pole. You have to understand that this whole time... they were not Earth Benders and were only traveling with minimal supplies and the clothes on their back. They weren't like us... they didn't know how to survive in the wilds. So by the time they made it to the North Pole..."
"... they were FILTHY!" Sokka exclaimed with open arms. "Like ridiculously dirty, and smelly."
Aang's eyes widened curiously, scratching the hair on his head. "Why didn't they ever take a bath?"
Sokka laughed. "Because that wasn't part of the plan!"
"Yeah," Sokka grinned to himself, focusing on the campfire twigs as he tapped two forest stones. "Before they even left on the first day, the Spirits said they would protect them all throughout the wild expedition... as long as they never took a bath."
"But that's horrible!" Aang scrunched his face, unable to imagine such negotiation from spirits.
"Well, not exactly," Sokka explained, "because the Spirits also promised that when they finally made it to the North Pole... the beautiful and foamy river water of the Spirit Oasis would be waiting for them."
"How long did the whole journey take?"
Sokka smirked. "About a year."
And that was when Aang choked on his own saliva.
"But that's not where the bleeding cycle comes in..." Sokka continued to tell his story, tapping on the stones to hopefully get the campfire running. "You see, by the time the guy made it to the North Pole, he was so ready to taste that Spirit water and clean himself up... he forgot about his sense of courtesy..."
"... and the man ran towards the beautiful river and jumped into the water, practically forgetting that the woman even existed!" Katara retorted within her story.
"What's the big deal?" Toph asked in the middle of sipping her juice. "I mean it's just dirt... she could've just jumped in and splashed him in the face."
"Toph, that's not the point," Katara urged another passionate explanation. "It's basically an unwritten rule that a man is always supposed to look out for the woman he loves... and to give her courtesy and respect no matter what situation they're in. He was supposed to let her jump into the river first!"
"So the girl got upset over that?" Toph kicked a few pebbles amusingly off the ground. "What a sass. I'll bet any girl will just jump into the river anyway... at least if she really liked the guy."
"I don't know about that part," Katara admitted, noting Toph's blushing cheeks as she took some juice out of the cauldron for herself, "but what I do know, according to my Gran-Gran's story, is that all the Spirits were really disappointed with the man's action."
"The Spirits were originally planning to have the foamy water of the Spirit river be the key to procreation for the girl," Sokka explained, still working stressfully on tapping the stones. "If they saw that the man was courteous enough to let his girl bathe in the water first... the Spirits would miraculously put the foamy water inside the woman to impregnate her. It's how babies were supposed to be created!"
"But..." Aang didn't need that long of a pause to go along with this story. "But the man jumped first, didn't he."
"Yep, he sure did," and Sokka shook his head in dismay.
"So what happened?"
"Well, the Spirits kinda changed their plans." Sokka revealed to Aang, successfully feeding his little campfire with more twigs. "Instead of putting the foamy water inside the girl's body, they decided to put it inside the guy's... but with a catch."
Aang lingered again, imagining the worst as Sokka opened his mouth again.
"The foamy water would still be the link for creating babies. So for the rest of humanity's time... every man would have to earn their way into a woman's heart (and her body) in order to give her the foamy water she needs to make babies."
The boy's silver eyes rose, glimmering with fascination and disbelief at the same time.
"Crazy, huh?" Sokka noted that pale look on Aang's face.
"Yeah..." Aang took another breath to compose himself, feeling Momo creep up on his shoulder. "But I still don't understand. Why did Toph start bleeding?"
"Ah, now that's the real kicker..." the young watertribesman then started to roast some wild chestnuts on a twig, hearing them pop flatteringly.
"...the bleeding comes as a monthly reminder to us women that our bodies are aching without the Spirit Water that was rightfully supposed to be ours." Katara finished her story with a sense of determined pride. "It also reminds the men of the world that because of their selfishness thousands of years ago... woman has always had to suffer."
"You gotta be kidding me," Toph hugged her knees as she drank the juice, feeling another cramp coming. "This is all their fault?"
"Basically," Katara replied, "and now it's up to every woman to decide which man deserves her forgiveness and her love... so she can receive the foamy water from his body, and create children."
"That's messed up," Toph shook her head in slight appal. "So basically I'm bleeding because some stupid guy didn't let his girl take a bath."
Katara snickered from the sarcasm, and continued sipping her tea. She didn't even notice Aang as he whole-heartedly approached the two of them, with Momo scurrying behind. When she saw him approach Toph, Aang's features looked nervous – scared, even - but persistent to look at Toph in the eye with a level of respect.
Toph didn't even turn her head to his direction when he started talking. Her shut mouth was almost shaking.
"Um... so, Toph.... how are you feeling--?"
But the boy didn't even have time to finish. The next thing he knew, Toph had slammed a fist to the ground and Earth-bended the boy straight into a air by a rock-launch... all the way towards the open lake. Katara gasped, widening her blue eyes as she heard the surprised scream of the boy land in the water. A giant splash.
And Toph had only one thing to say:
"GO JUMP IN THE RIVER!"
A/N - This was an impulsive one-shot, but I hope you liked it! I just had this fun thought: 'wouldn't it be great if Toph got her period at some point while travelling with the Gaang?' and I sat down to type the scenario, snickering half the time. I'm proud that it turned out so clever. ^^ The whole "jump in the river" line really takes the Katara/Zuko moment in the 'Waterbending Scroll' to a whole different level, no? Hah. -- MM