A/N: First time writing for my A:tLA OTP. Happy Tokka week.
Edited by Lady Charity.
He stopped dead in his tracks for a moment, frozen by the uncharacteristic exclamations of pain emitted by his best friend.
"I swear, if you tell me to push one more time, your head will roll."
All worries suddenly cast away, he smiled. There was the Toph he knew.
As he neared the doorway, he saw Zuko standing outside, leaning against the doorframe. Sokka gave him a bemused look.
"Got kicked out," he said casually. "I said something that upset her – I don't even remember what it was – and she told me to go stand outside and wait."
The laugh was out of Sokka's mouth before he could stop it. "I'm sorry."
Zuko scoffed. "Don't be sorry. It's a lot calmer out here, and this way, I don't have to be near childbirth or a hormonal Toph. Good luck. You're late," he added, cocking an eyebrow at the Councilman.
Suddenly, all humor was lost, and Sokka's face fell. He muttered something under his breath before striding past Zuko, trying to force a smile as he sauntered in.
"Helloooo, everyone," he greeted, waving to the room whose occupants consisted of his little sister, the Avatar, and a doctor all surrounding one very disgruntled earthbender lying on a bed.
"Is that Captain Boomerang?" Toph yelled, causing him to shrink back a little. "I can't see you from this bed, but if that's the annoying voice I think it is, remind me to strangle you later for being so late."
Katara and Aang shot him sympathetic but amused glances. Sokka just sighed. He'd known he'd be in for it as soon as the train stopped to allow a hippopotamus sloth cross the road. Screw giving the right-of-way to innocent animals. His best friend was in labor, and if he'd been any later, she would make sure he ended up road kill anyway.
He stepped lightly over to the bed, sitting on the side furthest from the door, seeing as it was vacant. Katara and Aang were holding hands and sitting on the other side, and the doctor was…well, where a doctor would be in this situation. Sokka coughed a little as he tried to ignore the sights and sounds coming from that general area. He actually envied Toph her blindness for a brief moment before settling down to take her small hand in his.
"Sorry, Toph," he said. "You know how unreliable these trains are."
"And push for me again," the doctor said in a tone that sounded suspiciously like boredom.
"WHAT did I tell you about telling me what to do?" Toph raged, squeezing Sokka's hand so hard that he let out a squeak. "I'll push when I bloody well feel like it. I can tell when it wants to move, and it's NOT now."
The doctor shot Sokka a pleading glance, and he sighed as he turned to Toph.
"Toph, I think he knows what he's doing. Just give it a little push? For me?" he begged, giving her his best kitten-puppy eyes despite the fact that he knew she couldn't see them.
"I don't give little pushes, Meathead," she said. "I gotta go all the way with this, and I'm trying to—ugh!"
"Aaaand this is becoming too much information for me," Sokka said, fighting the urge to gag at the sounds going on around him. "Sorry, Doc; you're on your own with this one."
"All right, well, it's almost time. I need everyone but family to leave so Chief Bei Fong can have her space," the disgruntled medic finally said, the weariness evident in his voice. Sokka gave a wry smile as he started to stand, but Toph's hand gripped his all the stronger.
"Don't you dare leave me," she warned him under her breath, causing Sokka to send a surprised glance toward Aang and Katara. "These losers are my family. You can kick the lovebirds out because their constant 'knowing' looks and 'gentle, supportive words' are grossing me out."
Aang opened his mouth to protest, but Toph spat at him before he could utter words, "Don't pretend like you two weren't looking at each other the whole time, Twinkletoes. I can sense the condescending atmosphere without having my feet planted right next to you."
Aang shut his mouth, deciding wisely that arguing with an angry, hormonal Toph in the middle of childbirth was probably a really horrible idea. Even if he was the Avatar.
"But this butthead is staying with me," she said, gesturing plainly to Sokka. "He was late, and watching the miracle of birth is going to be his punishment."
Sokka shot a horrified glance at his sister and Aang, silently pleading for an excuse, but they both smiled deviously and shrugged at him before standing up to leave.
"Good luck, Toph. Sokka," Aang said, giving a mock bow to the both of them as a smirk graced his lips.
"You'll do great, Toph," Katara said, bending over to plant a motherly kiss on the girl's forehead. "Just yell if you need anything. We'll be right around the corner."
"And that is the kind of condescending attitude I won't miss," Toph muttered, but the twitch in her scowl gave her true sentiments away.
As the couple stepped outside to reunite with Zuko, Sokka realized with both horror and fascination that it was just him, Toph, and the doctor for the duration.
"You think you can handle this, Captain?" she asked, giving his hand another bone-breaking grasp. "You're not gonna faint like the first time you witnessed childbirth, are you?"
It wasn't even worth giving her a look. "Hey, that was when I was fifteen, okay? How do you even remember that? Besides, I've seen my fair share of this…stuff now," he asserted, trying to hide the nervous tremble in his voice. "I'm totally fine with—"
Her screams interrupted his rebuttal, and he had to bite his lip to keep from screaming just as loudly for what she was doing to his fingers. This one seemed particularly brutal, and the doctor's insistence that she keep pushing earned him a death glare from unseeing eyes.
Panting, she leaned back against the pillows, her chest heaving. Sokka tried to ignore it, but realizing the woman was only half-clothed at the moment anyway, he decided to forego chivalric conduct and give her a loving squeeze on the shoulder with his unoccupied hand.
"What's the matter? The greatest earthbender in the world can't handle a little labor pain?" he teased, knowing full well the consequences of such a mockery.
"Come back and say that to me after you've given birth," she seethed through her teeth.
He shrugged. "I'm just saying. Katara was never this whiny. And I don't remember her breaking Aang's hand either."
A mischievous glint in his eye, he watched as she straightened up, a determined look crossing her features.
"The only reason she didn't break his hand was because Twinkletoes wasn't man enough to hold it the whole time," she said, gripping his still tighter.
Regardless, he could literally see the pain and sarcasm leave her face as she buckled down for another round of contractions. There was no way she would ever be bested by Sugar Queen at anything. Ever. Sokka needlessly tried to hide his victorious grin. Toph was determined and ready to go.
"All right, Doc. It's time," she said. "This baby's coming now."
Sokka and the doctor exchanged glances, and Toph gave the push of a lifetime. Sokka gritted his teeth as his hand began to meld with hers, and he watched her strength of resolve as she pushed even harder. She hardly made any noise except to grunt in exertion, but he knew this was it.
Once Toph decided to have a baby, she was going to have this baby.
"Better than Sugar Queen now, huh?" she asked him. It was masked as a rhetorical question, but he could sense the sincerity belying her intentions.
He chuckled. "This childbirth stuff has got you really messed up, Miss Lie Detector," he said, squeezing her hand back. "I was lying before. Trust me, Katara was much more of a drama queen than you ever were."
She tried to scowl, but all that would come across was a smirk. With one final growl, Toph pushed her last and greatest, and suddenly the sweet, sweet sound of a baby crying filled the room.
"Well?" she huffed, her voice only loud enough for Sokka to hear.
He stood up - careful to avert his gaze from everything else happening down there - to look at the baby, and he smiled.
"She's a girl," he said, and Toph's face lit up immediately in hearing the smile in his voice. "And she's beautiful."
The doctor muttered words of gratitude and congratulations before signaling that he needed to leave the room for a moment to clean the baby, cut the umbilical cord and…whatever else Sokka didn't want to know about. Sokka nodded back at the doctor and sat back down, breathing a sigh of relief before feeling his hand break even more than before.
"What's going on, Sokka?" she asked, panic shining through. "Why can't I hear her anymore? What happened?"
Sokka nearly flailed upon seeing the tears of dread well up in her eyes.
"Shh, no, Toph, it's fine! The doctor just had to take her out to clean her up and everything. She's just in the next room. She's fine," he said.
Tears continued to cascade down her face. "Okay, I just…it's just…I can't feel her anymore, so…"
It suddenly dawned on him, and he placed his free hand on the side of her face, cradling her head softly as he brushed away stray tears with his thumb. All this time, the baby had been a part of her – she'd felt two heartbeats within her for months. This was the first time they'd been detached. The first time Toph had been apart from her in the baby's entire life. She brought her hand up to place on top of his until they just sat there, both pairs of hands being held together.
At last, the tell-tale sniffles of a baby could be heard from the doorway, and Sokka looked over with a smile to see Zuko holding the little bundle in his arms with Katara and Aang gawking and wiggling fingers in her face.
Toph, however, was less than amused.
"Well, don't stand there like a bunch of idiots – I can't see her from here! Bring her to me," she demanded, wrenching her hands from Sokka's grasp and leaving him gasping at the pain of such sudden separation.
Zuko smiled as he brought the baby over, handing her carefully to Toph and ensuring the fragile creature was held tightly enough for him to let go. Just as he set her down in Toph's arms, she grabbed at Aang's still wiggling finger, and the Avatar gave a sharp yelp.
"WOW, she's strong," he pouted, looking at his completely unharmed finger.
"She's like seven pounds," Zuko said flatly.
"Yeah, I mean, it didn't really hurt, but it hurt more than I thought it would hurt…you know?"
Katara just patted him on the head before adding warmly. "I think he's just trying to convey to Toph that her baby is gonna be as strong as she is someday."
"You're darn right she is," Toph said.
"So, how was childbirth, Sokka?" Aang asked with a smile.
"Oh, you know, exhausting, frustrating, irritating," he didn't even need to look at Toph to know she was giving him quite a look, "but definitely worth it."
There was a sustained silence as they all gazed on at the little miracle of life that was clinging to Toph's sweaty tunic. Katara saw the tears the earthbender was fighting to hold back and realized it would probably be best to leave her alone with her child.
"She really is perfect, Toph," she said, rubbing a supportive hand along Toph's back a few times. "I think we'll all just step outside to give you a moment, okay?"
Toph simply nodded, grateful, for once, for Katara's perceptive nature. Zuko placed a kiss atop her head, and Aang gave her the most awkward I-don't-want-to-accidentally-squish-your-tiny-baby hug of all time before the three of them left. Sokka watched them go, thinking briefly about joining them, but he thought better of it. Toph's desperate plea for him not to leave her still echoed in his mind, and if she needed to cry, she knew she could cry in front of him.
And she did.
The little bundle made cooing noises that brought completely manly tears to even Sokka's eyes, and Toph held her baby still closer to her chest. She felt the soft heartbeat through her clothes, and her tears fell into the warm, fuzzy material of the blanket clothing her.
"Name?" Sokka asked.
She smiled at him, nodding at his approval.
"I can't believe she's mine," she said softly, a laugh bursting from her which caused Lin to struggle, but Toph calmed her with the gentlest strokes of her fingers.
"I can," Sokka said. "She's beautiful, just like her mom."
Toph didn't even try to hide the blush crossing her cheeks, all energy spent for the day. She just continued to cry and smile and laugh as she held her baby. He watched a small shiver of worry cross her face, though, before she asked, "Sokka…is she…?"
"I don't think so," he answered in anticipation of the inevitable question. "Hard to tell right now."
He watched closely as the baby blinked and snuggled, "I don't think we'll be able to tell for awhile, but…I think she can see you."
He watched Toph's face closely as she smiled in relief - yet with perhaps a glimmer of disappointment. Of course, they couldn't tell for sure; but just in case, Toph wanted to introduce herself formally. She positioned Lin so that her eyes were facing toward her.
"All right, then, Kiddo. If you can see, you'd better take a good look," she whispered, making sure her daughter's feet were placed firmly on her stomach as well – just in case. "Even if you can't you'd better take a good look. Because you're gonna be seeing a lot of me from now on. And if you're anything like your mom, it probably won't always be this loving an expression on my face."
Sokka laughed at this, and Toph smirked in pride.
"But you should know that no matter what, I'll always be here for you, and I'll always love you. I…I wish I could say the same about your dad…"
There was an awkward pause, full of enigmatic loss. Sokka turned away to give her a moment, hearing something break in her whispering voice as she cried. But when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye, he turned back to see Toph lifting Lin a little in his direction.
"But you see that dumb ponytail-head over there?" she whispered just as softly. "You should probably get used to his ugly face, too, because he's gonna be the next best thing for you."
Sokka could feel the unexpected twinge of tears heat up the back of his eyes, and he smiled so sincerely at Toph that it was one of the few moments in his life he wished she could see.
"Or at least, if he's not, I'll kick his ass."
They both chuckled, and Sokka reached for her hand in an unspoken promise while Toph held Lin still tighter. He watched warmly as she cried into the soft blankets surrounding the infant. This was Toph at her most vulnerable, and it somehow made him proud that he was one of the few people in the world who she had ever let see her like this.
"Don't you dare tell Sweetness I cried," she said, a hiccup breaking up her words.
"Wouldn't dream of it."
"I was a rock."
"A picture of fortitude the entire time."
He stood up to nuzzle his nose against her wet check and dry her tears since her hands were currently occupied with holding and stroking her newborn child.
"I'm sorry I was late," he whispered in her ear.
"You're forgiven for not fainting like an old lady in here with me," she said, and he smiled, moving away from her at last.
"Well, then. If you'll excuse me for a bit, I should go catch that doctor before he leaves. Considering I'm pretty sure this hand is now broken."
She shot him a victorious grin. He rolled his eyes as he walked away, giving the mother and child some time to themselves. But before he could step out the door, Toph called to him.
The use of his actual name instead of some deprecating nickname caused him to turn, his eyebrows shooting through the roof in curiosity and concern.
"Thanks. I love you."
It came out so simply, so easily. And it didn't matter how platonic it might be or how often they'd said it to each other. It carried a new meaning each time. And when he replied, looking at his best friend and soul mate holding another man's child, it still held the same level of depth as any other time he'd said it to her.
Perhaps even more.
"I love you too, Toph."