Disclaimer: Avatar: the Last Airbender does not belong to me. -sigh-

Author's Notes: This is a rather depressing oneshot, if I do say so myself. I wrote this a while ago and wasn't very sure about it, but I figured I might as well post it anyway. It's cute... if you squint around the angst.

And as always, please review!

Alisa


Protect

He was doing it again—sitting up late at night to do nothing but stare at the moon. Every once in a while when the moon was shining especially bright—and she always knew it was, because Katara would go on and on about how beautiful it made everything look—he would wait until he was sure everyone was asleep (she never was) and he would just stare up at the sky until his breathing became irregular and she knew he was crying. She could feel the nearly invisible teardrops hitting the Earth and that would make her want to cry too, if only because she knew there was nothing she could do. She wasn't Yue.

And then he would wipe away his tears and wait until his breathing was regular before standing up. He would walk over to his younger sister, quietly and with a grace she never knew he had, and stand above her and watch her breathe, in and out, in and out, until he would move on to Aang. He would offer some form of a soft smile as he watched the Avatar, whose breath moved in and out in time with the flying bison he was leaning against.

And then he would stand outside her rock tent, longer than when he watched over Aang or Katara or Yue, and he would just stand there and stare at a slab of rock that couldn't breathe and couldn't be protected. It just was, and she was just inside.

She would fell his heart pump faster all of a sudden, and he would walk forward and press his hand against her tent, as if he wanted to see her breathing, too. She would feel his fingers curl against the rock and for a brief moment she wished she didn't protect herself so he could, just so he wouldn't wish for what he wouldn't be able to get back.

And then he would sigh, a deep, vibrating, echoing sigh, and crawl back into his sleeping bag and close his eyes, even though she knew and he knew that he wouldn't be able to fall asleep for hours, and neither would she. They would think about the same things and different things, and he would think about knocking on her rock tent and she thought about coming out.

And then one night, she did. He had only just crawled into his sleeping bag and his breathing was still shallow when she Bended her tent into the Earth as quietly as she could. She stood over him, just like he stood over Katara and Aang and her rock tent, and felt the vibrations of his smooth breathing flowing though her body like a lullaby.

She could feel him slowing his breathing so it would seem like he was asleep, but she knew asleep and this wasn't it. His face, which was pointed away from her, buried deeper inside the lining of his sleeping bag as he feigned sleep. She wished he wouldn't try to hide, but she hadn't expected any less.

She gently lowered herself to the Earth and made herself a comfortable, noticing as he tried to shift around without her knowing. She sighed.

"Sokka, I know you're awake," she said gently.

His heart rate picked up and she placed a hand on his exposed shoulder.

"You can be asleep if you want to be, but I just wanted to say some things." She squeezed his shoulder. "I know you miss Yue. I miss my parents. That's not the same thing, I know, but there are still people I miss too. And there are people I want to protect, just like you do. I would never want anything to happen to you or Katara or Aang, not even Momo or Appa, and I know that you guys can protect yourselves without my help, but that doesn't mean I don't try.

"You know me, Sokka, and I do try a lot, but you know I don't like being protected either, 'cause I can do it fine by myself. But there are still times when I think I could use some protecting, and, well… what I'm trying to say is that you can always protect me if you want to."

She could tell he was listening and the smooth beating of his heart was comforting. Suddenly she frowned.

"Ugh! Why didn't you tell me I was sounding so much like Sugar Queen? Believe me, that was the last time I'm ever getting that sentimental again." She shuddered. "I feel like I need to punch something. You offering, Snoozles?"

He turned to face her just a bit more. "Maybe in the morning," he said.

She traced his shoulder again. "Hey, you sure you're okay?"

He nodded and she knew he was telling the truth. She ruffled his loose hair before standing.

"'Night, Snoozles."

"'Night, Toph," she heard him say. "And thanks."

Toph smiled.

FIN.