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1st December, 2013
"... I don't get it."
Frustrated, Sokka almost slapped his head—before he caught himself. It wasn't Toph's fault that she had a sheltered childhood. The childish part of him reared up in protest—sheltered didn't even cover it. What kind of person grows up without Christmas? He had been absolutely mortified to learn that she had no idea what it was, or any of the traditions and customs that went along with it. As the leader of their group, Sokka had taken it upon himself to educate the younger girl in the ways of the world, like how to eat a full Christmas lunch without throwing up, and the idea behind the presents. He puffed his chest out a little as the thought crossed his mind.
"Okay, which part don't you get exactly?" He actually didn't sound as irritated as he felt, and wondered whether he actually was annoyed with Toph, or with himself for not being able to share the joy of the season the way his own mother had introduced him to it.
"Well, for one thing, I don't think it's fair that if I stand under a plant with someone, I have to kiss them. Actually, I don't get the whole affinity with nature. Why do we have to decorate a tree, either? It's not like I can actually see it, and it smells funny." She crinkled up her nose, and Sokka found it difficult not to laugh at her antics. Trust Toph to complain about some of the best parts of Christmas, besides the presents, food, building snowmen, food, spending time with each other unwrapping presents, and the food.
"Did I tell you the story about the mistletoe?" he asked, and Toph shook her head. A wide grin formed on Sokka's face at the news, and he made himself comfortable on the lounge.
He supposed it was lucky they were spending Christmas in Ba Sing Se, even though it was winter. Typically, he celebrated Christmas in summer, but even with the snow and cool breeze, it would still be warmer than it was in the Southern Water Tribe. He was used to snow all year round there—this was a nice change. Toph, unfortunately, wasn't so lucky. Gaoling was further south, and she had grown up in an almost tropical climate. Unused to the cool weather, she had decided to curl up inside almost every article of clothing she owned, plus all the sheets. She was literally a pink face in a mound of cloth.
Without asking, or making any comment on it at all, Toph plopped down on the lounge next to him. Sokka felt her push into him slightly, and he couldn't help the small squeak as she readjusted the blankets to cover both of them.
"Toph, what- what are you doing?" He gulped once, unprepared for her to look towards him with a raised eyebrow.
"I'm getting warm. Why? I'm comfortable now, so if you have to pee, you have to hold it in." Sokka could only sigh.
"Are you ready?"
With a nod from Toph, he jumped into his story.
"Well, once upon a time, there was-"
The interruption surprised him, and he turned to look at Toph, completely forgetting that she was blind, and wouldn't have cared for his frown even if she could see it.
"'No' what?" he sighed, already questioning what seemed to be one of his best plans yet. Toph gave an amused smirk.
"No 'once upon a time', or 'they lived happily ever after'. I don't want to hear about prince charming or evil relatives or anything like that, okay?"
Sokka raised an eyebrow at her sudden bad mood. "Uhh.... okay then..." Toph nodded, happy with his answer, and turned her face out into the room again.
"So, uh, a while ago," he looked to Toph, who cocked her head. Sokka cleared his throat and continued. "A while ago, there was this spirit. She didn't have a name; she was only referred to as the Spirit of the Oakpine-"
"Isn't that a name?" Toph interrupted again. Sokka scowled at her, although with her inability to see it, she only shrugged. "If you're gonna tell a story, you should do it right," she shrugged, and Sokka poked her in the stomach.
"Do you want me to tell you or not?"
"Hey, you're the one who wanted to tell me in the first place," she retorted, although she left the issue at that, giving Sokka a chance to continue.
"Okay. So, she had a title, but no name. This spirit was a good spirit; she was tasked with looking after a tiny forest in the Earth Kingdom. While it was small, it was still a lot of work for the little spirit.. One year, there was a very harsh winter. The men of the local village saw that, along the edge of the forest, the trees were dying. Their families freezing, the men began chopping down the dead trees to burn, to keep them warm through the season. The spirit grew angry at the destruction of her forest, although she didn't have the power to stop them. Instead, she asked them to pay for what they take—that winter, and the years following, they would be allowed to cut down the dead trees. In exchange, they would help her cultivate the forest during the spring.
"The tree spirit watched as her forest flourished, and she became more powerful. The deal continued for generations, passed down from father to son; working so closely with the spirit all year, the men were never able to forget their promise. The spirit, though, began to desire more than what she was receiving from the men. She realised, as time went by, how very vast her forest had become, and how very isolated she was. Hatching a plan, she waited until the following winter to put it into effect.
"The next seasonal change, she refused to let the men cut down the trees. They begged and pleaded with her—their families would freeze, starve without the life of the fire that her plants gave them. The spirit ignored them, turning a deaf ear to their cries. The men asked her what she wanted in exchange—her answer? Another spirit. A person she would kill in the forest, to bind their soul with hers and the environment. She didn't need to tell the men what other person she expected, and they refused on the spot. The spirit, angered by their own outrage and fury, summoned the power to strike them down.
"Just as she was about to destroy them, a small glowfly appeared. It flew straight into the tree spirit, becoming one with it. The men watched in awe as the spirit began to writhe around in pain, light shining from her every pore and orifice as she screamed. Suddenly, she stopped, the expression on her face one of pure terror as her essence dissipated, whatever bonds holding her atoms together dissolving into the trees. The glowfly told the men that, for abusing her power, the spirit's form was lost. She would live within every tree, every plant. She would feel the pain as they died, cry out as they were cut down, but also live new life for each sapling. She would be forced to watch as her forest was slowly consumed by time, and she was forced to be alone.
"The glowfly told the men not to abuse the knowledge they had, lest they be faced with the same fate. They agreed, but in their hearts, they were still angry. They didn't want to upset the other spirits though, and formed their own tradition. Once a year, during the winter, they would cut down the trees, as they always had. But, they would also place a small sprig above the doorway to their home, not quite in the warmth, but close enough to see—to feel—their own happiness. And, each time someone met another under that little sprig, they would have to kiss them..."
Sokka trailed off, lost in his own thoughts. He wondered how those men felt at being told to sacrifice their own children, and marvelled at the ingenuity of their revenge. Toph coughed once, and raised an eyebrow.
"...Why did you tell me that story?" she asked. "With—ugh—romance?"
A mad grin appeared on Sokka's face, but he would never admit to Toph that her attitude had caused it. Instead, he merely shrugged.
"It's the epitome of Christmas! Two people being together for love, standing together for warmth and comfort. It's what Christmas is all about—sharing memories and experiences with other people," he explained, and for a moment, Toph seemed to accept it. For a moment.
"And you thought the best way to tell me that was a story about people being forced to kiss under a twig, just to spite a spirit?" she asked, and Sokka nodded.
".... Oogies," she said simply, mouth turned up in disgust. Sokka could only laugh at her expression.
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