This came about for several reasons. The main one is that I want to write Tokka romance, but I simply can't do it without some major mental readjustments. Toph's far too young, and Sokka's too teenager-ish and stupid, at least the way things stand now. So what's a fanfic writer to do except fill in the intervening time with lots of happy nondescript fluff?
I like this story. I really, truly do. This is what happens when the warm and glowy optimistic fluffiness gets the better of me. I hope you like it, too, and a warm thanks to all of my reviewers, past, present, and future. Enjoy.
In the end, all of it made sense. It was fitting that a thing begun in darkness should end in light. It was natural that the Fire Lord and his loyal legions should be crushed and scattered by those who would bring peace in the battle's wake. It was as simple as breathing, and as inevitable, that Aang and Katara would wait many many years and then confess hidden love and then fly off to some sunny mountaintop somewhere and be happy. It was just as inevitable that Toph and Sokka would end up in the valley beneath that mountain, close to the earth, together and, for the most part, happy themselves.
A long time afterward, looking back the frantic whirl of those war-embittered days, those who had been there would remember the beginning. They would remember where and how and when the whole thing had started, and they would realize that, from the very beginning, it had been certain. Because even back in the innocent days of their childhood when they set out to explore and save the world, Aang and Katara glowed.
Toph, with her unusual way of seeing things, had been perhaps the first to notice it. To her, the very sounds of Aang and Katara were golden and glittery. They laughed together like bells ringing, they wept like birds in mourning. Even their ordinary daily conversation sparked and flashed like chips of malachite being struck together. Toph, with her affinity for sounds, noticed what other did not; that their voices were lighter, brighter, when they spoke to each other than when they spoke to the others around them. At night, they huddled next to each other before the campfire and whispered like a sun-streaked stream.
Even their footsteps were airy and musical. That unnerved Toph; she didn't like Aang's short glides above the ground, the way he leaped and soared without the slightest care for gravity. Toph didn't like the way Katara used to Waterbend like dancing, her steps darting about and almost too light and quiet to hear. It disturbed the young Earthbender to have Katara and Aang out of her earth-sight, because she had recognized the light that hovered about them and knew what it was.
Some had called it love, some arrogance, some innocence. And while all of these things were undoubtedly true, Toph was the one to realize what it truly was that clung to Aang and Katara when they walked and glittered when they spoke.
It was destiny.
Aang was the Avatar. They all knew he was blessed, or cursed, with a glorious and irreversible destiny. The hands of spirits and gods had molded him (whether or not that was immediately apparent) and they worked through him, using him as an instrument to bring harmony to chaos, peace to slaughter, and, where they could, breathe life into death. And when Sokka had first described to her the Avatar state, told her about the swirling winds and the glowing tattoos, Toph had only grinned and nodded. It made sense that what was immediately apparent to her should become apparent to others as well.
Aang glowed with the destiny which he was born to fulfill. And Katara… it had taken Toph a long time to understand Katara, but once she did, the answers to her questions unfolded themselves, as simply and clearly as the earth itself. Katara glowed with her passion and her power. She glowed with her love for the Avatar and her devotion to him; it was these qualities which had marked her to share in the Avatar's fate. Aang and Katara were magical, they were blessed, they were tortured. They had been charged with the task of ridding the earth of the greatest evil it had ever seen. They had been forced to pay, repeatedly and in ever-increasing amounts, the greatest price of all to ensure the freedom of the world. And they had been rewarded with the lightness of air, the fluid joy of water, the great power that shone through their skin and the great wisdom to use it.
Toph knew this; she saw it far before anyone else did, she solved it, she uncovered it and kept the knowledge secret and close because it was not a thing to be shared. It was something as quiet and private as the whispered conversations in the woods, the soft sobbing from across the campfire, the language of the stream as it clattered over rocks, conversing with the wind.
And as soon as Toph realized why her companions were so bright, she realized at once that she did not have the same brightness. She did not want it. She was a creature of the earth, of steadiness and sureness and shadows cast by trees. She could not have been marked by destiny; she knew herself too well. She had no hidden depths of stored power accessible only through extreme emotion, she had no dark secrets or great griefs that would slink out of her shadowy past and haunt her at night. She had very little growing and maturing to do before she reached her full potential. She was complete already, without a destiny to hum in her bones and make the world seem beautiful.
But then, she didn't need one. She was content, for the most part, not to share in Aang and Katara's glory, and therefore not to have to witness the hideous pains they would go through. She did not want glory. People annoyed her. Throngs of admirers would have worn her down, while they lifted Aang and Katara up into their own private haloing sun. Toph did not have the grace nor the agility to withstand the heat and pressures working their metamorphosis on her companions' souls. She knew full well that she was made of stone, and under such forces she would crumble.
It was that glow, though, the brilliance which Aang and Katara shared, that drew them together. Apart, they gleamed; together, they were dazzling. Therefore, when it was time to infiltrate or divide and conquer or split up to cover more ground, Aang and Katara were drawn together and vanished; they were a law of gravitation unto themselves. And Toph went with Sokka.
It was natural. It was simple. It was inevitable. Toph went with Sokka, while Aang and Katara drew strength from each other and did things that were astounding and amazing and possible only in hindsight. Toph went with Sokka, because he didn't glow either, and that way neither of them would get in the way of the electricity that crackled between their friends. It was easier and then, as time wore on, it became better. Toph found herself wanting to go with Sokka, because he had a sort of desperate quivering tension to him that he tried to hide with humor, while she had a rock-steadiness that meant nothing on its own. And she found, more and more, that they fit together, effortlessly, much as Aang and Katara did. That he was a guiding hand on her shoulder in a sandstorm and a voice painting the sunset before her sightless eyes, and that she was a constant and an immovable force, something he could depend upon. And at first, it amused her immensely to be with Sokka, because she knew exactly how he thought of her; as someone small and blind whom he should protect, but at the same time someone strong enough that she didn't actually need protecting. This gave him the freedom to worry about her and punch boys who looked at her (when she was a little older) without actually having to look out for her in a fight.
Of course, they didn't have an electrical connection to smooth the way between them, as Aang and Katara did. He was made of steel, and she of rock, and sometimes they clashed and grated against each other and sparked with a much angrier kind of flame. But those brief frictions always vanished, and then Aang and Katara were running hand-in-hand into some Stronghold of Doom, and Toph was holding back the milling soldiers and Sokka was guarding the door.
And it went on like that for a long, long time. Destiny worked its strange forces on Aang and Katara, while Toph and Sokka were always in the shadow they cast, but always together. Not romantically, though, not with touch and kiss and smile; not at first, and then not for a very long time after. First Toph was too young, then Sokka was too old, and then for many years both were just too stubborn.
But then things started happening, as they always do. New enemies sprang up like weeds, and old friends turned around and suddenly sparked with an entirely different light. The Fire Lord fell. Wounds were inflicted, then healed. Aang and Katara wanted to travel the world to see the things they hadn't seen yet, or things they had missed amidst the hubbub of war. Toph hated flying, and Sokka wanted to stay behind to protect Toph (or so he told himself). And things worked out.
Neither Toph nor Sokka was made for the unimaginable and unreachable, and they knew it. Sokka, with his utterly ordinary hands, his iron determination, his strength and his mind, wanted to be useful in a world of people who could shape the very elements of life to their will. Toph, with her nightmares of isolation and her unusual methods of perception, wanted to be treated with respect in a world that shunned the unfamiliar.
In small ways, by steps and inches, they succeeded. Sokka became Toph's eyes, no matter how often and how loudly she told him she didn't need him to be her eyes. He described the world to her in flowery adjectives anyway, even when she walked beside him with her hands over her ears. And after a while, he found that he was not only useful, he was something he had never dreamed to hope for – appreciated. Toph fought and spoke and survived, blasting her way into the world and holding her place there, until Sokka – and everyone else --gave up trying to shelter her (sort of. She let him keep the pretense of being her protector. It made him happy, and she was careful not to let him start to believe it). She, too, achieved something she had never been optimistic enough to fight for. She was loved.
By the time Aang and Katara returned from their trip around the world, Toph and Sokka had left on a journey of their own, on foot, over the hills and rocks and valleys of the nations. They were going, not to see unknown things – it would be rather pointless – but to do what had not yet been done; to bring word to small isolated villages that they did not need to live in fear, to teach small boys (and girls, after Toph had complained loudly for many nights) how to wield weapons, just in case. Around many different campfires, under vaulted cave ceilings and sloping roofs, they told stories of the Avatar, and his triumph, and his friends. To everyone's chagrin but Sokka's, Toph was the better storyteller of the two, and she was allowed to answer the questions in small piping voices and, sometimes, in the deep tones of men or the quiet whispers of women. In return, Toph allowed Sokka to outsmart the bandits they occasionally met on the roads, instead of simply smashing their skulls full of shale.
When it rained, Sokka found himself protected by a curved outcropping of stone. When the nights were bitterly cold, Toph found herself warmed by a silhouette pressed into the earth beside her, one blanket thrown over the both of them.
Once or twice, they were in real danger, and Sokka whispered coded messages to the ground, knowing she would pick up the vibrations and flip the earth out from under their attackers, with strength he didn't have. In a swamp, she shouted his name and he risked arrow fire to pull her from the muck that kept her blind and helpless. And they continued on. Because this was what they had been destined to do; the real, earth-solid and nonmagical work of saving the world, the small and infinitely gratifying details that Aang and Katara could not be bothered with, floating on their clouds of light and air.
Eventually they arrived back where they had started, in civilization, to the acclaim of friends and family but few others, and that was as it should be. Upon being reunited with Aang and Katara, Toph noted that their glow was stronger than ever – she could hear it in their voices and feel it in their steps – and she was glad for them. It wasn't until she noted the strange lapses in their conversation, the faltering but genuine compliments on how much older and better and different Toph and Sokka looked, that Toph realized she and Sokka might have developed a glow of their own, of a different sort.
The night of their homecoming to a place that was only home because they shared it, they stood barefoot in a marble hallway in a palace in the newly rebuilt Ba Sing Se. There, many years after they had first stumbled upon each other as frightened children, Toph and Sokka kissed. Toph had trouble at first, trying to exactly pinpoint the location of Sokka's voice, until Sokka simply cupped one hand on her cheek to hold her still and saved her the trouble. She murmured against his lips that perhaps she really could use someone to be her eyes, after all. Sometimes.
And he laughed, and they kissed again, and that was the end of it. Not the story, of course; that continued on for many more years, some brilliant, some tarnished, some frantic, some dull. That is as it should be. Those first and second kisses, however, were the end of all the reasoning, the questioning, the wondering. Because, in the end, everything simply fell into place.