Title: If You'll Be My Bodyguard (I Will Be Your Long Lost Pal)
Rating: PG-13 (for uh. language? or something.)
Pairing: Toph&Sokka!BFF forEVER, as well as some Sokka/Suki
Summary: Five ways Toph protected Sokka (and five ways Sokka paid her back.)
Word Count: 4,110
Notes: Because Sokka and Toph are AWESOME and deserve more love. Annnnd I contemplated making this a Tokka story, because I do love me some Tokka, but in the end I decided it would be a better story if it solely focused on their utter BFFness. Plus, Suki's awesome. Oh, and the title is taken from Paul Simon's song "If You'll Be My Bodyguard"
If You'll Be My Bodyguard (I Will Be Your Long Lost Pal)
Five ways Toph protected Sokka (and five ways Sokka paid her back)
A hand reached out and swatted at his plate before he could even dig a fork into the delicious looking food before him. Its contents went splattering to the dirt below, and Sokka gaped in horror at the sight.
Then he turned to glower at the offending person (how could she--? to food--?), who didn't seem at all perturbed.
"I heard a scorpion-wasp," Toph informed him primly, her artfully close-off expression belied in manner by the shrug of her shoulders. "You were about to eat it."
Sokka was just gullible enough to look down and check before denouncing her a liar, and sure enough, a large scorpion-wasp was buzzing irritably, its gossamer wings beating helplessly as it lay stuck under the sticky food.
The knowledge didn't stop him from huffing irritably about wasted food (only 9 out of 10 people died from scorpion-wasp poisoning, after all, he could have been fine), though he made a point to always check before eating from then on.
A pair of high-class girls were giggling with each other in the corner at one of the Fire Lord's very prestigious balls.
"I hear," Miyuki said to her cousin, "that the warrior from the Water Tribe -- you know, the one who traveled with the Avatar and the Fire Lord? I hear he's single again."
"Really?" Nanako replied, looking up at said man with a speculative expression. He was eating at the high table and talking actively with General Iroh -- the Dragon of the West himself! -- about something or other. And yes, maybe he was a bit uncouth, and definitely didn't know royal manners very well, but he was not bad-looking, and Nanako could just imagine herself up there, seated beside him and the Avatar, with fine pearls and --
"I wouldn't bother, if I were you," came a voice from behind them.
Miyuki and Nanako turned to see a young girl with thick black hair pulled into a neatly arranged braid leaning against a nearby pillar. Her black bangs covered her face as she looked down at her hands, playing with a strange piece of black stone, but they could see she was wearing an elegant red dress. Another noblewoman, perhaps?
"Why not?" Miyuki replied with a bit of a snide tone to her voice. Who did this girl think she was, to come out and dictate their actions?
"Well, you didn't hear this from me," the girl said in a hushed voice, "but I heard he cross dresses." At their gasps, she said, "No, really! He's a fully trained Kyoshi Warrior and everything."
"But that would mean--" Nanako began before her mind caught up with her, and then she just murmured, "Oh. Ohhh."
"Yeah, I know, right?" the girl said, shaking her head sadly. "It's just such a shame."
"Well," Miyuki said regally, "I suppose we'll see if Lord Yuki is busy, shall we, Nanako?" Without bothering to say goodbye to their informant, the pair made their way across the hall.
A few moments passed before the girl pushed off the pillar and snapped the now twisted black rock back around her upper arm.
"Hey, Snoozles!" she called out, making the Water Tribe warrior at the adjacent table cease mid-sentence and turn to face her. "Can you believe, I heard this crazy rumor from the court ladies that you like to wear dresses!"
"You heard WHAT?!"
The morning after the failed invasion of the Fire Nation, when he had stopped berating himself and agonizing over their devastating defeat, Sokka remembered he still had one thing that he could handle right then.
"Hey," he called out just after breakfast, when it was just the two of them in the woods, collecting branches for tinder. "So yesterday, you saved my life, like, twenty times."
Toph blinked, her expression growing bemused. She walked alongside him and acted as the holder of all acceptable branches that Sokka found, because they had discovered awhile ago that while Toph could feel the shape of wood on the ground, it was a lot more effective to just let a sighted person find them.
There was a bit of a pause, and then Toph corrected, "I think it was more like three times, actually."
"Maybe," Sokka said with a laugh, "but I never thanked you. I really do appreciate, y'know, not being dead."
Toph shrugged, and then smirked up at him, saying, "It's purely selfish, you know. I think I prefer you alive, too."
"Well, that's good. I'm glad we're on the same page there."
"I mean, really, can you imagine yourself as a zombie? Every single day, whining," she offered, and then continued in mocking low voice, "'But Kataraaaa, I want braaaaaains for breakfast, why can't you get me braaaaains?"
"But Sokka!" Sokka mimicked in a high voice that really sounded nothing like Katara. "No one else eats braaaaains! It's just not practical!"
"But! But I'll die if I don't eat braaaains!"
"You're already dead!"
"Well, that's just not fair!" Toph mock-whined in exasperation, sinking down to her knees to emphasize the false pain.
"Ha," Sokka cut in, grinning down at her. "Yeah, that's definitely how I'd be."
"Exactly," Toph said in her normal voice, nodding firmly. "So you see," she said, jumping to her feet and adopting a regal stance, "I'm just gonna have to make sure you don't die. Ever."
"Ever?" Sokka asked, looking at her quizzically.
"Well," she amended realistically, "at least not before I do."
That sobering thought stopped Sokka in his tracks, leaving him to watch after her as she kept walking. She didn't notice, calling out another joke as she stumbled across a twig and bent to pick it up, but Sokka was no longer smiling.
A plume of fire screamed out at him from nowhere, and Sokka stumbled back against a tree, barely managing to avoid shrieking in terror as blackened wood and leaves fell around him, still scorching. Two Fire Nation soldiers had him penned off in the woods, too far from the group to call out, and the trees were too thick for his sword or boomerang to be effective. He still held his club, swinging it at the men when they drew close enough, but for all that he had grown, Sokka was still comparatively small. Which was good for dodging fire blasts, he supposed, but not much when it came to going on the offensive.
The soldiers had learned from their initial attacks and no longer drew close enough to be in range of his club. Instead, they were trying to burn him out, little by little, and the smoke was so thick around him that Sokka could barely see, much less breathe. He ran blindly away from the flames and smoke, and wound up tripping on a thick tree root, falling out of his cover and splaying defenselessly on the ground.
"Gotcha!" crowed one of the soldiers, his deep voice made all the more ominous by his uniform mask. He raised his hand up, flames sparking in his palm from nowhere, and he said, "Time to go to sleep, little boy--"
Before Sokka could even close his eyes against death, a boulder flew from the sky and struck the man full in the face, sending him flying backwards against a nearby tree. The soldier crumpled to the ground unmoving, his helmet a dented mess around his head.
The second soldier took a couple steps backward in shock, but that wasn't enough to help him as the ground beneath his feet rose up and buried him down to his neck, leaving nothing but his head and part of one desperately reaching arm visible to the air.
"You all right?" came a high voice from behind him, and Sokka rubbed the smoky tears from his eyes to see Toph standing there, looking a bit battered but otherwise okay. She walked forward and regarded the buried soldier with a foul sneer.
"Could be better," Sokka admitted, dragging himself to his feet and brushing away some ash. He winced as his hand found a burn on his arm that he didn't remember getting.
Toph tilted her ear toward his voice at the wince, recognizing the sound for what it was. She actually growled, and knelt down beside the buried man, whose expression of terror only grew stronger with the blind earthbender right there in his face.
"You!" she accused harshly, digging her fingers into the dirt by his face. "Let me tell you this! If you ever burn any one of my friends, ever again, I'll find you. And next time, I won't stop at your neck! Do you understand me?"
The soldier couldn't even manage a coherent sentence in response. Eventually, he made a noise that sounded like an assent, and Toph stood and turned away from him, satisfied. "C'mon," she said, grabbing Sokka's elbow and pulling him with her. "Let's go finish this."
"Y'know," Sokka said as they walked away, turning to regard the surprisingly tiny warrior beside him. "You're really freaking terrifying sometimes, do you know that?"
"It's not just about winning the big battles, Sokka," Toph replied simply, her lips twisting into a sly smile. "Mind games can win a war."
Sokka considered this, even going so far as to stroke an imaginary beard and hum loudly to himself.
"Hm, very wise, O Small but Scary One," he said. "You should write a book."
"Yeah," Toph replied, rolling her eyes, "I'll get right on that."
"I just can't believe him!" Suki was shouting, banging a pot down on the table. At her knees, a tiny brown-haired girl with wide blue eyes was tugging on her skirt, whining, "Mommy, Mommy" and trying to reach for the bowl.
"Hm," Toph murmured, reaching out a hand to stop the child from pulling the bowl to the floor.
"Yue, let Mommy finish," scolded Suki absently, guiding her child away from the table. Without missing a beat, she continued, "He said he was going to get home three hours ago! He was supposed to help me clean the house, and goodness knows I need someone to mind Yue while I'm trying to make dinner."
"So true," Toph agreed, twisting her black space stone into different shapes in her hands, much to the amusement of the three-year-old girl at her feet. She had stopped listening to anything Suki was saying about forty-five minutes ago, choosing instead to just make agreeable noises and hope the woman didn't notice.
"And he totally missed your arrival!" Suki exclaimed. Toph perked up at the mention of herself, but then realized Suki was just rehashing the same rant that she had gone over twice before. "Sokka was so excited about it too, all week, 'Oh Suki! Toph is coming this week!' He wouldn't stop talking about it." Suki abruptly stopped, then turned back to Toph, saying, "Not that I wasn't excited too, Toph, of course, but he would not shut up about it."
"And then, after all that, he misses your arrival!" Suki exclaims. From the sound of the furious banging on the wooden bowl, she was stirring the mix like she was fighting with her fans.
"Well, I did show up a couple hours early," Toph offered. Again.
"That's not the point!" Suki exclaimed, and was just about to go into another rant about Sokka making promises he couldn't keep when the door to the house opened, and a heavily breathing Sokka stumbled in, pausing anxiously just inside the door as Suki whirled around to face him. She held her spoon out in front of her like a sword.
"Look!" Sokka said before she could lay into him, holding out an object in his hands. "I'm so sorry I'm late, I have a really good excuse, I promise! And I brought you some flowers to apologize!"
Suki, unprepared for such a solid defense, was left momentarily stunned. She lowered the spoon and stepped forward to take the flowers, her entire presence radiating mild shock.
"Oh Sokka," she said, already sounding way less emotional that she had. She clearly couldn't come up with something adequate to say by the way she had a few false starts before simply saying, "I love daisies."
"I know," he said, smiling. He still stayed a few feet away from his wife out of self-preservation, but he leaned forward to give her a quick peck on the cheek anyway. "And I promise, I really do have a good excuse."
"Well," Suki began, but clearly couldn't quite manage to stay too angry at him with such a present in her hands. "Well," she said again, "I'll just go find some water to put these in then. Come help Mommy find a vase, Yue," she instructed, leaning the toddling child with her into the other room.
The instant she left the charade was gone, and Sokka nearly collapsed against the table, whispering to Toph, "Oh thank you so much. How the hell did you know I was going to be late? Those flowers just saved my life."
"I'm totally psychic," Toph lied. "Also, I noticed you at the store when I arrived at the island, and you didn't look like you were going to be torn from those bags anytime soon."
"Hehe, yeeeah," Sokka muttered, rubbing a hand through his hair sheepishly.
"I'm just glad you didn't step on them in your rush to get home like last time," Toph said.
"Hey, I learned my lesson," Sokka said, grinning.
"By the way, you have about two minutes to come up with a good excuse that's not 'I'm a giant girl who loves pretty handbags'."
To be quite honest, Sokka's breath caught in his throat when he first caught sight of Toph making her way down the stairs.
It was her sixteenth birthday: the "big one" for all Earth Kingdom girls of high class, and her mother had insisted they pull out all the stops. The Beifong mansion was decorated from floor to ceiling with glittering candles and pale white flowers -- white for purity, of course, which was apparently a big theme when it came to these sorts of entering womanhood and society celebrations --, and it was packed full of various important dignitaries and royalty from around the world. (Sokka was there officially because he was part of the Avatar's inner circle and was the son of the Southern Water Tribe's village head, but mainly because Toph would have thrown a fit if her parents' didn't let her invite her friends to her own birthday party and they knew it.)
Toph herself was a vision in pale green and white, with layers upon layers of soft patterned fabrics and lace covering her slender form. She had grown tall and thin like her mother, her face narrowing out and highlighting her milky-green eyes. Her hair was pulled back in an elegant twist, accented with pearls and pale green ribbon, and her make-up as expertly done.
If it wasn't for the frown on her face for most of the proceedings, Sokka would have sworn she was a living doll. Truly, they had transformed Toph into a very impressive vision of womanly loveliness.
Which really made it a shame when that entire pail of mud just happened to fall from the second story balcony and utterly drench said vision in wet clods of dirt.
Toph froze, her mouth agape, as around her various guests shrieked in surprise and outrage. Some fifteen feet away, her mother gasped and actually fainted at the sight of her perfectly done up little girl completely covered in mud.
"Oh my," Sokka said in a quiet voice, standing just close enough to Toph for her to hear his ridiculous snooty accent. "Did I leave that mud up there? How utterly dreadful of me! Why, to think if it had gotten on the furniture!"
And even though the party was ruined -- and before he could steal any of the snacks, too! --, Sokka knew it was worth it by the way that Toph finally grinned.
There was an old adage in the Water Tribe that a good friend was one who would rescue you if you were trapped in a cave during a snowstorm.
"I cannot believe you got us lost. Aren't you supposed to be some kind of map-reading genius?"
"I didn't get us lost! I strategically engineered an alternative method of arrival."
"...I don't think that works unless we actually get to the arrival part, Snoozles."
"Well, I didn't see you trying to read the map!"
"You're a dumbass."
"...ohhh, right. STILL. Can't you just earthbend us there or something?"
"As hilarious as it really would be to watch him freak out, I'm pretty sure Fire Lord Sparky would be pissed off if I leveled his castle just because you couldn't read the map right."
"Serves him right for having a ridiculous layout."
"That is true..."
The opposite end of the saying, of course, was that a great friend was stuck in the cave right with you and calling you names for getting lost.
(And even though he nobly took all the blame -- something about drugging Toph until she was easily convinced, which Zuko totally didn't believe for a second --, Sokka felt the three hours getting screamed at were more than worth it for the pained croaking sound Zuko made when he first saw Toph's handiwork.)
"So," Sokka said as he plopped down across from a well-dressed young man with one of those perfectly coiffed, expensive hairstyles. The man in question blinked at him in shock, nearly spilling tea all over his ridiculously expensive shirt. "I hear your father is in the shipping business, am I right?"
"Um," the gentleman said in response, looking back the way Sokka had came in confusion, perhaps to see if he could find someone he knew nearby that could explain the roughly dressed warrior at his table. "Excuse me, do I know you?"
"No, you don't," Sokka assured him, "but I know you. Or of you, to be precise. I hear your father started talks with the Beifong family for you to marry their daughter."
"Oh! Well. Yes, actually, I've met with their family a few times--"
"Yeah, whatever," Sokka said, "but have you actually spoken with their daughter? Y'know, like, ever?"
The young man looked down at his tea sheepishly, admitting, "Not yet, actually. My father is of the opinion that it's improper to meet with my potential fiancé before arrangements are finalized."
Sokka froze and stared at the man with a peculiar expression, his stillness in direct contrast with the energetic air he radiated. After a moment, he commented, "Yeeeah, I'm not even gonna touch that one. What do you know about her?"
"Well," and at this the man paused, interjecting, "You know, I really have no idea who you are--"
"Just answer the question," Sokka commanded, leveling the man with his very best "I am your leader and you will do what I say" stare.
The gentleman hesitated, and Sokka saw a flash of steel in his eyes for a brief moment before he clearly decided that it wouldn't be worth it. He shrugged minutely, replying, "I hear she's the best earthbender in the world. She taught the Avatar, did you know that?" He took a sip of his tea, laughing lightly at the thought. "I can earthbend, but I'm pretty much limited to making pots. I imagine she's going to laugh until she cries when she sees me bend."
Sokka cocked his head to the side, a grin appearing on his face. "Yeah," he agreed, "that's probably true." At the man's puzzled look, he quickly added, "If she taught the Avatar, that is. I mean, she's a war hero. Not exactly the demure wife type, I imagine."
"That may be the case," the rich gentleman murmured neutrally, looking down at his tea to avoid the suddenly sharp look in the stranger's eyes. "But," he continued after a moment of pause, "Perhaps that's for the best. Everyone tells me I'm too passive, especially for business. I bet a warrior like her would be able to teach me how to be more aggressive, if nothing else."
Sokka listened with interest as the man spoke, and the moment he referred to Toph as a warrior he smiled broadly, leaning forward on his elbows in encouragement. "Too true!" he commended cheerfully, reaching across the table to pound the young man on the back, only to be stopped by a surprisingly quick hand.
The man smiled demurely, holding Sokka's wrist away from his person with a firm but gentle grip until Sokka pulled it away. "We're in a tea house," he chastised properly, the same steely resolve as before glimmering in his eyes, "and I still have no idea who you are."
Sokka was momentarily put off by the scolding, but he couldn't detect a patronizing tone to the correction, so he shrugged it off. Grinning, he simply responded, "You don't need to know who I am! But don't worry, I'll keep in touch." He stood up and gave the young man a jaunty wave, adding, "By the way, I think maybe you should ignore your father in this case. Show a little aggression, you know? Girls like that."
With that, he walked off, leaving the man to stare after him curiously, unsure of what to make of their conversation. It was definitely one of the strangest impromptu meetings he had ever had in a tea shop. Still, he mused as his tea cooled, perhaps a warrior like his potential fiancé would prefer a person with initiative.
"Y'know," Sokka said amiably one day, when the group was all taking a break from training to splash around in the ocean, "When I was younger, I was terrified of water."
"Oh, yeah?" asked Toph, who was lying on her back on the warm sand. Her voice was casual, but Sokka could tell she was interested in the topic by the way she actually deigned to form words instead of just grunting vaguely.
"Yep," he confirmed, stirring a finger in the fine white sand. "Petrified. You couldn't get me to go within ten feet of the water. No one in the village could understand it, but I think it had something to do with not being able to stand up in the water. Or something. I can't really remember why."
"Hey, kids are scared of weird things," Toph said, and actually admitted, "When I was three, I thought my mother's hair was actually a monster. I wouldn't let her kiss me goodnight for nearly a full year before I realized that it was all stiff and crunchy like that because she put oil in it."
"Ew," offered Sokka. Toph made a face, nodding. Then Sokka doggedly continued, "Anyway, like I was saying, I hated water, and I probably would have never stopped if my dad hadn't taken me to the ocean one day and--"
"Okay, I'm stopping this here," Toph interjected, waving a lazy hand in Sokka's direction. "If you think for one second that your soppy bonding story about your dad is going to get me out there in the ocean with you trying to teach me to swim, you're clearly dumber than I originally thought. It's not happening, Snoozles."
"But -- if you just think of it as another kind of training--!"
"Never. Happening," Toph repeated firmly. "And if you try to force me to get in the water, I'm going to earthbend a rock so far up your butt that diamonds will pop out your mouth."
Sokka stared down at his friend, mouth agape as he considered that rather vivid image.
There was a brief pause, and then Toph grinned faintly, adding, "I appreciate the offer, though."
Sokka raised his eyebrows, recognizing the sincerity in her voice, and shrugged at her, knowing that she could feel the motion through the sand (even though sandbending still bothered her.)
After a moment, he said, "What if I told you a soppy story about the little turtle-duck who--"
"I said no, Sokka."
"If you ever let me drink Fire Whiskey again, Snoozles, I swear I'm going to find your very favorite man purse and burn it! I'm going to stand there and listen to its tiny dying screams, 'oh noooo if only my owner hadn't betrayed meeeee!' And I will laugh at your tears when you find it!"
"Wow, you get really violent when you're hung-over. And that's saying something for you."
"As soon as my stomach stops heaving, I'm destroying the bar. Don't even try to stop me."
"Toph! What kind of friend do you think I am?"
"A mean one who dares people who have never had alcohol before and are half their size and weight to unfair drinking contests?"
"Well, yes, I am that. But mainly I'm the kind of friend who has already made us a detailed schedule for that bar's destruction. I'm thinking we should turn it into a candy shop."
"Excellent. Now leave the water and go plot somewhere, I think I'm gonna vomit again."
"Does it make you feel better to know that Aang's even worse than you, and he has no idea what even happened after around midnight?"
"...yes. Yes, it does."
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