Where Words Fail
Book 2: Escaping Ba Sing Se
Chapter 5: Spatula, Part 2: Isn't that great? They give me a medal for leaving a kid behind and getting out with my butt in one piece.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is a fan fiction - nothing more, nothing less. It has been made purely for entertainment purposes, and is not meant for commercial gain. Avatar: The Last Airbender and all characters, places and concepts are copyright of Nickelodeon, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. All original characters are copyright their respective owners and are used with their permission. The story has been illustrated by the talented and awesome SioUte, and this chapter's cover can be found here:
"It's a nice night." Sokka murmured, his voice soft and unusually sullen. At least he wasn't lying; spring had hit its peak, and the air carried with it a fresh, crisp breeze. The hooting of cat owls confirmed the latter Sokka's statement - not like it made any difference to her. It just meant that part of the day got colder than the rest.
Leaning back on the ground, with her elbows propping her torso up and one leg crossed over the other, Toph relished in sweet perception; the earth told her all sorts of stories, although she wouldn't admit that, for once, she wasn't focused intently on things in the distance. Sokka's heartbeat rushed through the ground; she could feel it, even though he laid on his back - even though only her heels and elbows touched the ground directly.
"It's nice to have solid earth beneath me again," Toph said, tilting her head back and laughing. She drew slow, steady breaths and slapped the ground with an open palm, taking in the vibrations with a grin. The ground was dry and craggy; grass didn't prod at her calloused palms, but she hadn't felt any tickling the arches of her feet the entire time she had been here. The nearest tree erupted from the ground a few yards away both horizontally and vertically; it sat perched atop the cliff that gave the bay cover, so she figured vegetation didn't come much nearer than that. Behind them, water sloshed up against the jagged edge of the bay, and she could hear the boats bobbing up and down in the waves, moored for the evening.
Nausea threatened to scrape at her insides, so she shoved the thoughts away before they could grab hold. Even though they hadn't officially set sail yet, being on the boats had been an eye-opening (heh) experience, one she didn't particularly care for. They swayed, they shifted, they weren't solid like the earth was. None of the others even noticed it, and that was an isolating little factoid that scrawled up her spine and made her want to bunch up her shoulders. The Water Tribe had grown up with sailing as part of their culture, and Sokka would occasionally reminisce about spear fishing in the south pole, or the time he'd done that crazy water-boaty-crash-coursey thing with Bato.
Gweh. Okay, okay, think earthy thoughts, Toph.
"Besides," she added, punching Sokka in the arm. "You need to get out of serious-Sokka mode. You're worrying too much."
"And you aren't worrying enough." Still, he snorted, tone rising at the end - good, she'd made him whine. She grinned. "We need to think of a contingency plan in case Aang doesn't..."
"Do you think we could win this thing without him?" Sokka asked. "I mean..."
"I don't think we have a choice," Toph admitted, shrugging. She brought a finger up to her nose and started digging - there was a mighty fierce booger lodged up in there and it needed to come out. "I mean, if Twinkletoes keeps napping through the rest of the war, we gotta invade the Fire Nation one way or the other. And if he's not around to kick the Fire Lord's butt, I guess it'd have to be you and me. I think we could take him."
That was a fat load of ostrich horse crap, and she knew he knew it too, but Sokka laughed anyway; she pushed herself into a sitting position and drew her knees to her chest, tapping the ground with the balls of her feet. Ants plodded away in the distance, prickling the ground with their spindly legs, and in a way they reminded Toph of super-working-boring-Sokka, busting their butts so hard to complete whatever job they'd been assigned to do that they didn't realize what else was going on around them.
Unfortunately, the moment of levity didn't wanna stick around. "Yeah, but - what if we mess up?" Toph felt Sokka sag; for a moment, it felt like he was gonna collapse under the burden of all the responsibilities he'd taken up. "I mean - there's no second chance, is there? We botch this, there's no recovering from it."
The blind Earthbender sighed and delivered another sharp, quick punch to Sokka's arm. "You're putting too much thought into this, and it's a real downer."
"Yow! Sorry, sorry - I'm just thinking realistically, is all." Sokka shrugged and crooked his head to the side, the motion much clearer with his shoulders pressed into the ground. Normally Toph had trouble perceiving motion from the chest upward, but his proximity with the earth made him easier to read. "I'll pull my head outta my butt if you stop punching me."
"Fair trade." She grinned. "Now take your mind off the invasion for a bit, and - "
Huh. Hang on a sec...
"What is it?" Sokka asked, sitting up and folding his arms over his legs.
Toph furrowed her brow and frowned, slamming a hand down on the ground, palm-down and fingers splayed. Focus, focus...okay, yeah, there. Two sets of footsteps - one big, one small, an adult and a child. Definitely nobody from the Water Tribe. The child's footsteps in particular were weighted and clumsy, as if he was carrying something too big for him - and...
"Sokka - the supply boat is the one at the end of the bay, right?"
"Yeah - why do you ask?"
Toph's cheeks tingled as a sly grin tugged on her face. "I know just the thing to pull your butt out of this Invasion Funk you're rocking. You feel like busting a couple heads?"
"Head-busting would be nice." He admitted.
"I think we have a couple thieves trying to liberate some supplies." She paused, crooked her head to the side - and, yeah, there wasn't any way for her to actually tell, but she missed meat-and-sarcasm Sokka enough to embellish a little. "I think they're making off with some of our food. They're heading towards a cave set into the cliff side."
That did the trick. "I'll go get dad and some warriors - " Sokka pushed up to his feet, but Toph shushed him.
"There's just two of 'em. We can take them down ourselves...and besides, you need to get this introspective thing out of your system. Maybe a little ass whuppin' will help. It'll be fun."
He shrugged. "So long as it's not my ass that's getting whupped, I think I can go along with that."
Toph grinned. "Follow me."
Pipsqueak'd never been seaside; before the Freedom Fighters, working for his father's construction business, each job and destination had been landlocked. Then when that life burned down to the ground, he'd stuck pretty close to the forest, only traveling on occasion, like going to visit his old home, or (once) taking The Duke to his.
So, being perched on a short cliff hanging over Chameleon Bay was a devirginizing experience ('devirginizing' probably wasn't a real word, but The Duke would know if he asked...didn't feel like it, though); he'd got so accustomed to the sweet aromas of Hong Ye - syrup, honey, cinnamon, hickory - that picking up salt in the breeze put him through a loop. It dulled the air, kinda, but it wasn't bad...being stuck on the road, in the planes, now that sucked. Everything smelled like dust and old and boring out there. At least the sea had some flavor to it.
He felt the sea breeze brush through his hair, and he let his eyes slide shut; not too far off, he picked up the sound of water sloshing up against the shore, slow and deep and calming, causing the boats in the distance to bump against each other, or the rocks they'd been moored against. Kinda musical, actually. If he focused on it, he could pick out the rhythm, even though it was inconsistent...but better to think about that than the hunger thrashing around in his belly.
"They're Water Tribe boats, judging by the craftsmanship," The Duke murmured from beside him, scuffing the ground with a heel. "Probably a band of warriors."
"It ain't like that many ships would be used to go on a cruise," Pipsqueak offered, opening his eyes again and casting his gaze up to the nighttime sky. Weather was nice tonight - cool, but not cold, and the stars sparkled extra bright. The moon hung up in the sky, a great, glimmering crescent, like one of Smellerbee's knives, and aside from a couple lanterns hanging from a few of the ships' helms, they provided the only light, making everything look shiny and silver. "They'll have food, and they can always get more if they need it."
"Nrrr." The Duke stuffed his hands in his pockets and pursed his lips. "I still don't like doing this. It's not right."
Pipsqueak shrugged. "Well, if you feel like going after deer hare again, I'm game."
At this, The Duke pulled a face. "No, I really don't. We don't have what it takes to be hunters. That was always a Smellerbee thing."
"And Longshot was our second-best fisher, after Mama Marlin." Pipsqueak grunted and shook his head. "What I wouldn't give to have him and Bee along with us..."
"I think I'd even settle for Jet at this point," the younger Freedom Fighter admitted, straightening his helmet and casting his gaze to the ground. "He was passable at finding food. And if we hadn't been traveling barren planes, we might'a been able to get by on berries and nuts."
Pipsqueak shifted his weight, brought an arm up to rub the back of his head, tried to think of a response...but it was hard, whenever Jet popped up in their conversations. He'd known the man for years, and he'd always been a fantastic leader...but, after trying to flood Gaipan, risking the lives of civilians...it'd been like a slap to the face. A wake-up call. Pipsqueak and The Duke had gone along with the plan, figuring that, because Jet had thought through it all, it'd turn out okay. The Duke had been the only one to question it out of the entire group - he'd always been smart, a lot smarter than any other kid his age. In the face of that, remembering that Pipsqueak, personally, had followed Jet so blindly...it was shameful.
That's why they left. Partially because of all the tension Jet's presence carried along with it, partially because Pipsqueak needed to find himself again. Getting away from ho - from the forest was the best option he could figure. He'd go to Omashu, and he invited the others to come along...The Duke accepted, but Smellerbee and Longshot had their hearts set on Ba Sing Se, and Sneers was such a stubborn, thick-headed jerkbelly and refused to leave at all.
Omashu hadn't panned out. They'd spent most of the way there stopping at small towns, working odd jobs for a couple days so they could keep buying more food, more supplies - and then, on the way back, just wandering, no real specific goal in mind. Just the same thing - find a small town, do some work, get some food and move on. The last town they'd come across had been two weeks ago, and from there it was like everyone on the face of the earth just vanished. So it was kinda fortunate that they'd wound up here, where maybe ten Water Tribe boats waited in the night, ready to be looted.
"Only enough to get by," Pipsqueak mumbled; stipulations set, The Duke nodded and pushed up to his feet. He scooped up the leather bag full of exploding seeds he'd set on the ground, tying it to his belt.
Turning to Pipsqueak, the younger Freedom Fighter beamed and said, "Just like old times, right?"
Pipsqueak chuckled, hauling himself upright. "Yeah. Just like it."
Three years ago
They - they'd have to run out of troops at some point. Right? It was dumb, this many soldiers guarding a slave line. Pipsqueak wouldn't deny that he didn't know much about the Fire Nation's slaving protocols, but these guys were like roach mites crawling outta the woodwork - all over the damn place, more always appearing, even when you think you'd killed them all. Sweat slick and damp on his forehead and back, his breath hot and throat raw, Pipsqueak brought his log up to bare and brought it down on the hands of a soldier brandishing a sword. Under the solid thunk of the weapon connecting, of the battle raging around them, the behemoth heard the subtle, wet snapping sound of bones breaking, and the man screamed; that was enough, that was all he could spare to do to him right now, he didn't even register the sword falling to the ground. All he could do was kick him out of the way, sending him tumbling into two of his war buddies before moving onto the next one.
"Ugh - I call Fire Nation bullshit on this!" Jet grunted, following Pipsqueak's train of thought as he grabbed a soldier under the arms with the hooks of his swords and hurled him into the ground. "Pipsqueak, duck!"
The giant didn't think, just do it, Jet had an idea - he crouched down, saw Jet charge him from the corner of his vision - he leapt, spun, Pipsqueak felt Jet plant a hand on his back, kicking a soldier that had been coming in from the left. Pipsqueak righted himself, brought his log up to bare, a glimmer of silver from the corner of his eye - he cried out, cold venom raked up his arm - spun, whacked the soldier on the side of his head with the log, something snapped and crunched and he crumpled in a heap -
Tired, exhausted, losing energy so fast - they'd been at this for too long, how long would Smellerbee take to free the slaves -
He spared a glance, eyes flicking in the direction of the line - realized that, that nobody remained, they were finished, they - he had to tell Jet -
"We're clear!" He bellowed, throwing an arm up over his head, gritting his teeth and hissing as his muscles screamed in protest. "Come on, guys!"
For a second - Jet glanced up at Pipsqueak, then to the place where the slave line had previously been located, and the giant saw a wicked grin curling across his face. "Alright! Freedom Fighters, fall back!"
Then - Smellerbee, erupting from between a pair of soldiers, holding a broken sword in one hand and her dagger in the other - she landed, hard, on one of their backs, burying the broken sword into his ribcage, her face alight with that vicious, bloodthirsty grin of hers, whenever lost to the heat of battle. She leapfrogged off the soldier, pivoted in midair, heading for Jet; he crouched down this time, and she rolled over him, lashing out with a crescent kick to another soldier's chest; she landed, leapt to her feet, slashed with the dagger - Pipsqueak grabbed another one by the head, throwing him hard into the ground - he landed on his neck, deflated like a balloon, and -
The ground between him and Smellerbee exploded - a bright pillar of flame, and, and she flew, landed hard - another burst, sizzling his skin, too close - he growled, backstepping, his toes and chest seared with razor-hot blisters - and, and, where was Smellerbee, where was Jet, where - argh, don't, don't lose track, you need to keep it together, and - the smoke cleared, and, he saw them - Jet, Smellerbee, both down, face-first on the ground, they'd been hit, they weren't moving - oh, Spirits, this had spiraled downhill so fast -
A piece of - shrapnel, something small and hot and metal, nicked Pipsqueak's forehead; he grunted, crouched down low - the mission, the mission, screw the mission, it was over, done with, just - get them, pick them up, he thundered past and through fireballs, shockwaves, scooped Jet up under one arm, turn, turn, turn, too big to change directions so suddenly, skidded, tripped, landed hard on his side - dirt scuffing his skin, scraping it raw - and, and another burst of fire, white hot hot hot so
ground gone, felt the wind and
scratchy jabbing brushing
canopy stretched overhead
moon vanished and
Pipsqueak sat bolt-upright, eyes wide - he scrambled up to his feet, where - head throbbed, ringing with dull, metallic pain - where had she gone? The bushes - he'd been blown clear to the bushes, and he saw Jet lying at his feet, blood streaming down the side of his face, matting his hair - and, and, he was breathing, he'd be alright for now, had to get back to the path, to save Smellerbee, to - twigs scratching his calves, his arms, entire body sore and stiff and sticky with blood, and - and -
- the path was clear.
He stopped short, breath catching in his chest. Nobody. There - no living people, anyone standing upright had left, leaving the dead behind. If it weren't for the bodies of Fire Nation troops sprawled all over the place, then he would have sworn that this wasn't the right place - but, no, bodies littered the trail, which had been stained black with lifeblood. Birds chirped and called and squeed at each other, the aroma of honey belying the massacre splayed out before him, and - and golden, liquid warm rays of sunlight filtered in through the canopy, momentarily blinding him, flecking the ground with bright, syrupy blotches.
No - no, no, no! Daytime? It couldn't be - he'd only been knocked out for a moment! He felt his chest tightening, the scent of syrup underlain by honey deceptive, whispering little lies as it covered up the rotten stench of burnt grass and brush, flesh and armor. Please let Bee be okay, please...
There - the corpse of the soldier with the broken sword stuck in his back, they'd been right near him before he'd gotten thrown into the bushes. Pipsqueak crossed over to the body, tried to position himself to where he'd been last night - but, it was hard to remember exactly, and - and Smellerbee wasn't anywhere in sight, not even a - not even a -
Pipsqueak whirled, reaching over for his log - his hands grabbed nothing, just air, he'd been holding it when he got exploded last night -
"Easy, big guy," Jet rasped, a renegade grin crooking onto his face. Face pale, blood dried in his hair, on his cheek, he kept one eye scrunched tight as he hobbled free of the brush, one hand clenched on his stomach. "It's only me."
"Jet - you - are you okay?" Pipsqueak hurried over to him, a frown creasing his face, and, and he wasn't, that was a dumb question, he was hurt something fierce. His leader had never moved so tenderly, had never been white-skinned like that, had never had such deep shadows under his eyes. The behemoth kneeled down and let Jet sling one arm over his shoulder; he clambered back upright, wrapping one massive arm around Jet's back and clamping his hand down on his side.
"Heh - been better, but I'm walking, at least." Jet shook his head, wincing as Pipsqueak righted himself. "What about you?"
"I'm fine," the giant mumbled, and - well, okay, couldn't be further from the truth there. The wound on his arm had been shallow, but it started to thrum with a dull, radiating, metallic ache, and his bones, joints, muscles - everything just hurt, and he was pretty sure he'd gotten a little burnt on his chest. Putting into words, though, compared to what Jet was feeling, to what - what could be happening to Smellerbee... "Jet, I - whadda we do? I can't find her."
"Where did you see her last?" Jet shook his head and furrowed his brow. "I...I - gnh. Sorry, my head's not - "
"Shh. It's okay. Here, just stick close." Pipsqueak gulped, wishing, wishing that - oh, man, if only everything hadn't snowballed - he should'a done more, he was a tank, should'a been able to wipe the floor with all those Fire Nation goons! Should'a been able to save Jet and Smellerbee and got out with everyone's butts in one piece, should'a...he clenched his jaw, his boots scraping the dirt, Jet's footsteps light and weak and not like Jet at all, really. A breeze nipped at his cheek, his shoulder, and, here - yeah, this was about where she'd been when he and Jet had been thrown clear. He knelt again, and Jet freed himself from the giant's grasp, crouching forward with a throaty grunt.
"Okay. Okay, yeah, so..." Jet drew a deep breath and scrutinized the ground; his eyes had gone big and kinda unfocused, and, and, oh man, what if he had a concussion or something like that - should he take care of Jet now, or try to find Smellerbee in case she's hurt more, or...or what? He stunk at making decisions like these! His leader brushed a scuffed patch of dirt with his fingertips, his palm ghosting over the ground - first in a slow, swirling motion, before shifting up, outward, down the trail. At last, his arm fell to his side and he bowed his head. "They took her. The ground and grass here are...messed up, like...like a person was there...and, and they left the...corpses. Corpses of their buddies, and they wouldn't have taken just one. So they - cut. Cut their losses, took her because...out in the open, still. We were in the..."
He stumbled - started to pitch forward - Pipsqueak shot one arm out, caught Jet by the chest, and, and, crap, this was bad, very bad - had to, okay, Smellerbee was - was in the Spirits' hands now, that wasn't good but, but don't worry about her because if they took her she was probably still alive and she'd be able to get out of whatever situation she'd find herself in, Jet was here, Jet was now, Jet was the priority, just - okay, calm down, this isn't a decision you have to make 'cause it's already been made for you. Pipsqueak flipped Jet over and laid him down onto his back, already working at the bandages strapped around his leader's boots, thick, clumsy fingers bumbling and missing the knot. "Jet, come on, stay with me...where's it hurt most?"
Jet's mouth twitched, a ghost of a grin, before fading away; he drew a sharp breath and murmured, "Everywhere, but I wouldn't complain if you plugged up the dam that just ruptured in my brain. I think I got some - some candle wax we can use to block it up with..."
Pipsqueak chuckled, even though his heart and mind hadn't stopped rushing, trying to find that imperceptible goal he hadn't even really figured out what it was yet. Jet was good at puttin' people in all sorts'a moods - ah, there, knot's undone! - and making the giant laugh despite how screwed up the situation was...well, it kept his mind from breakin' in two trying to figure out what to do next. He unwound Jet's boot and tied the bandage around his temples, being real careful to not cut off his circulation (thank the Spirits the others had him practice so he could learn just how tight was too tight).
"Hey," Jet mumbled. "I have some cheap whiskey in my hip flask."
Pipsqueak grinned, meeting his leader's distant, dulled gaze for a moment before tearing his attention away, focusing as much attention as he could on the wound, because - seeing Jet looking so zonked out was...new. Uncomfortable. "Sorry, boss, but you ain't exactly in the best shape. There's a thing about drinking too much after blood loss, isn't there?"
This time Jet was the one to laugh, a fading, distant chortle that lost itself to the breeze. "No, goof. Your arm. Dis...dis...clean out that cut. Won't do any of us any...good if you're..." he coughed, grinned, and said, "I fucked up, didn't I...?"
Pipsqueak pursed his lips as he worked to unclip the flask from the teen's belt, brow furrowed. How do you respond to that without sounding like a jerk? Fancy talking hadn't ever been the giant's thing - he just didn't have the right words, and he couldn't pull together the ones he knew in a way that sounded, you know, good. As much as he wanted to pretty it up, though, the truth was the truth; he owed Jet too much to just up and lie, and not saying anything would'a been worse. Besides - Jet wouldn't really mind the honesty. So, he took a deep breath, finally managed to free the flask, and met his friend's eyes, a grin wriggling across his face despite himself. "Yeah. You did. Not like I didn't help, though."
"Heh - I wish I had your clarity," Jet responded, his eyes sliding closed. "You did what you figured was right - you put the life of...that kid over the mission. It was my fault for figuring a mission like this would be - so simple. And look what it cost us."
"Hey...Smellerbee's gonna be alright," Pipsqueak whispered, unscrewing the flask's cap and overturning the contents over the cut in his arm - hissing, wincing at the freshened pain, red-hot needles jabbing his skin and muscle, and it probably wouldn't scar but it still hurt. Even though he said it - he just wished he could feel as confident as he sounded. Smellerbee was hard as nails, she could go into a fight outnumbered five to one and still come out on top. That was her element: backed into a corner, with the odds worked against her, when she could unleash and just kill and kill and kill without holding back. There wasn't any way to know how bad she'd been banged up, though, and...oh, Spirits, what were they gonna do...? "You know her better'n that. She's a tough cookie."
Jet's lip quirked again, and he murmured, "Yeah. Let's head home. You're driving. And don't forget my swords."
Pipsqueak snorted, grinning - but at the same time, something deep and heavy and thrumming tugged down at his throat, and, oh jeez, if he didn't start moving - focusing on bringing Jet back - he'd start to, to cry over how helpless he was in this mess. Heh. Stupid.
"Alright. Hang on, I'll go find 'em, and then we're outta here."
"So, where do we go with this?" Pipsqueak whispered, glancing down to The Duke over the bulging sacks of jerky and fresh water and raw meat that just smelled so good. His mouth watered, and he had to keep licking his lips to keep himself from drooling. It was a nice bit of familiarity in this place that smelled so alien, of places he'd never been to before and probably wouldn't come back to again. Even though it wasn't unpleasant. The sloshing waves, the distant chirping of crickets...no denying, this place was nice, it's just that he'd never figured that he'd come to a place like this. He kept his footsteps light, 'cause they'd been lucky to get in and out of that one boat undetected, and blowing it now would be a swift kick to the chin.
Wouldn't be as bad as the screw-up from that night so long ago - but, well, if he hadn't made that mistake, he wouldn't have The Duke around, and having a buddy like that meant that any mistake made to get him was a blessing in disguise.
"I saw a cave set into the cliff," The Duke replied, grunting as he hefted his own sack of food up against his chest, redistributing its weight. "We'll stop just long enough to eat some jerky before we move on."
"Mmm." This time, Pipsqueak did drool; while she wasn't no Skillet, Smellerbee's jerky had been scrumptious, and he wondered just how well the Water Tribe stacked up in comparison. He had a feeling that he'd stop caring as soon as he had it in hand, but there'd be plenty left over for later if he really wanted to make that comparison. "Alright, The Duke. Lead the way."
Sokka noticed, as they made their way towards the cave he couldn't quite see yet, that Toph bowed her head down low enough to almost obscure the wicked smirk on her face; if not for the cool, almost ice color of the moonlight casting the right shadows, he wouldn't have been able to tell right away. Seeing that smug, cocky grin opened a floodgate of body language; the way she clenched her tiny fists, the way her arms swung in tiny, but solid arcs, the way her tiny feet dug into the rock beneath them with an intense purpose. (A lot about Toph was tiny, he realized, although certainly not her attitude or ability.) Losing at Ba Sing Se had cramped her style, and now she had something to take it out on.
The teenaged Water Tribe warrior reached up behind his head, scratching his scalp beneath the short-cropped, stubbly hair framing his ponytail. "You've got that look on your face," he pointed out, keeping his voice at a whisper.
"What look? I don't have a look." The denial came back just as quiet and severely lacking in conviction; while the blind Earthbender managed to drop the smirk for a moment, it slashed her face again, her eyes narrowing. "I'm perfectly humbled right now."
"You've got that devilish grin thing going. You know - when something's going on that you know about that nobody else does 'cause of your bending." Sokka twirled the fingers of his free hand in the air and rolled his eyes. "What's going on?"
"I didn't realize it before...it was out of range, so I couldn't pick it up until a few seconds ago." She tossed her arms up and rested her hands on the tightly-woven bun of black hair sitting behind her head. She snorted, a small chuckle escaping from between her teeth. "That cave our thieves are escaping into? It's got a family of boar-q-pines living inside."
Sokka raised an eyebrow. "Well, on the one hand it means we don't have to deal with the thieves, really...but then again, I don't feel like messing with angry boar-q-pines, either."
"We'd lose all the jerky they're stealing if we don't step in somewhere."
"...I do like meat," Sokka admitted, nodding his head and pursing his lower lip. He set his chin in the crook between his forefinger and thumb, a thoughtful frown decorating his jaw, before standing up straight; he felt his mouth curl up into a big, toothy smile. "How about we let the boar-q-pines soften up the thieves, and then we capture them while they're too weak to fight? And then we kill the boar-q-pines and use them for more meat? It's a no-lose situation!"
Toph grinned and delivered a love tap to Sokka's shoulder (again, and no gentler than she'd been before), causing the warrior to fall out of step as they walked; he gave a soft yowl of protest, punctuated by laughter. He ran his hand over the spot where Toph's knuckles had dug into his skin and winced; tiny she may have been, but she had a lot of power in those arms. He already felt sore, but that was okay...part of being Toph's friend involved being able to withstand the blows. "Nice, but it feels like spending all that time on the boat has dulled your edge. Appa's licked me harder than that."
Toph tossed her head back and laughed. "There's the meat-and-sarcasm Sokka I know."