A/N: Just some random stuff for you. I came incredibly close to putting this little fic in the Cactus Juice collection, but I changed my mind. But anyway, this was in the early notebook stages when I read a similar story, and so I decided to hurry up and get this posted.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Toph had known that he was standing at the door. How could she not with her Bending abilities allowing her to – making her – recognize his footsteps stopping outside her bedroom door? So when he finally knocked after a few moments of waiting, she had already wiped her eyes on her sleeve and was prepared to face him.
"Come in, Sokka." She said it after the first knock, and a pause ensued before the door finally opened.
The room, she mused, must have been dark. Since she couldn't see anyway, Toph never bothered turning the lights on unless somebody else accompanied her. Call it energy conservation or call it laziness; for Toph, it didn't matter what. After a moment, Sokka opened the door and stepped into the room, but he stopped when he saw her sitting there.
He must see that I was crying, she thought. Dratted blindness. How am I supposed to know what not to look like? And besides, I was hardly crying anyway. Just a few tear drops.
"Uh, you okay, Toph?" he asked. "We called you for dinner ten minutes ago, didn't you hear?"
Toph rolled her pale eyes and snapped, "I'm blind, not deaf, Ponytail. I chose not to eat. I'm… not hungry."
Talk about awkward. In silence, she sitting and he standing, she turned her pale eyes in his general direction and he stared at her in return. It didn't take a blind Earthbender to know that he was uncomfortable.
"Do you… want to talk about it?" asked Sokka, his voice filled with uncertainty.
In the room over, Toph could hear Katara's bright laughter, presumably from Aang telling some sort of bad joke or something. For some reason, the happiness of the laughter and Sokka standing there, sincere as could be, gave her the will to speak. It made her strong. And she did want to talk about it, but she'd never tried before. Everyone just assumed that it had been nothing, but they just didn't know.
Nodding, Toph finally answered, "Only if you don't mind."
Shortly after, she felt him cross the room and sit down beside her on the floor mat. Out of respect and gratitude for his willingness to listen, she tried not to pay attention to his heart rate and breathing, both of which had leapt for a split second.
"Okay," he began, hesitant. "So what's wrong?"
Toph took a deep breath and pulled her knees up to her chest, then propped her chin up on her knees. "It's complicated, I'm warning you," she muttered.
"Complicated, huh? I'm good with complicated," he said simply.
Oh Sokka. Always prepared for everything.
"Okay." She sighed yet again, this time for strength. Then she began her explanation. "As you well know by now, I use Earthbending to see. I feel everything around me. I can feel when people are lying or what they're feeling by their breathing and heartbeat." The corners of her mouth tugged upwards in a reluctant, knowing smile. "I felt your heart skip a beat, just now."
Keen to avoid the conversation, Sokka gently urged her forward. "Moving on," he said in a pathetic attempt to sound low and confident, though neither of them could hide his embarrassment.
"Sorry. Anyway, I was just thinking when you came in here. I was thinking about the war and that last battle." She paused, her smile now faded. "Do you ever think about it?"
"All the time," he replied. He was no longer trying to sound manly. The resigned sadness rang in her ears.
"Well, you know how it was, don't you? It wasn't the killing that really got me – I mean it was terrible, yeah, but it was war. It was just…" Oh no, she could feel the tears welling up in her eyes again. "I couldn't protect some people. Some of the people in my division that I'd gotten along with, you know? And it was just terrible."
And now for the hard part. It wasn't death in general that scared her into shedding tears, but death was just so… so difficult. Difficult to grasp, especially the way she experienced it. She felt Sokka shift beside her, coming a little closer in a comforting gesture. But he didn't understand. Not yet.
"I understand," he muttered.
She scooted away from him just an inch or so, her features becoming stubborn again. "No," she insisted, winding her arms around her legs again, "You don't."
"But Toph –"
"Just listen!" she ordered in a firm voice. Sokka shut his mouth and followed her orders. Her useless eyes closed, Toph continued her explanation. "Sokka, I know you mean well and everything, but you can't understand. You see people die, see them get stabbed or whatever happens, but I feel it. You can't imagine what it's like to be standing beside a person and feel their heartbeat stop. Just stop, like nothing. And these are the people that I tried to save. People I wasn't fast enough to save."
In the darkness, Toph sat in silence with an equally silent Sokka by her side. A solitary tear slid down her cheek as she remembered the feeling of several people's hearts fluttering to a dead stop. Forever. And these people – most of them, at any rate – had had families and lives outside the war.
Sokka let out a slow breath. "Wow Toph, that's – that's terrible."
She said nothing. And why should she, anyway? Was her sorrow and anger not justified by her silence or her angry position? Something interrupted her bitter thoughts; it was Sokka, scooting over closer to her and putting one arm around her shoulders in a comforting gesture. But was this gesture brotherly or…?
"I'm sorry you had to go through that," he said, sounding comforting and calm. It was the voice he had once spoken to Suki in. What had he said? Something unbelievably corny, like 'you talk too much' or something. But now it was almost endearing – in a comforting way.
Of course, the next thing Toph knew, she had wrapped her arms around his waist and began sobbing into is chest. Well, not sobbing, per se, but the tears began falling freely from her empty eyes. In a rush of emotion, all the pent-up guilt and painful memory of those stopping hearts came pouring from her in a rush of salty tears and quiet, gasping breaths. Sokka, somewhat startled, patted her on the back with a large amount of uncertainty.
"It's okay, Toph," he whispered, still patting her on the back.
Then, over the course of a few moments, he stopped patting her like a child and hugged her full in return. And for once, Toph didn't care about her reputation as a rocklike warrior with a tough exterior and an even tougher interior. All she wanted right then was to melt into his semi-strong arms and stay there until the end of time, because she was safe there. She felt loved there, and forgiven. It wasn't until she felt his shuddery breath and felt his teardrop land on her face that she realized the most important thing of all.
With a sniffle, Toph turned her head to the side and pressed her ear against Sokka's chest. There she could feel, through his tight embrace and not quite even breaths, a heartbeat. He was, really and truly, alive. A small smile came to her face as she closed her eyes and blocked out everything but that steady rhythm and the love that associated with it. As long as this heartbeat never died, she knew that she could make it through anything.
A/N: I think it's time that our tough little Earthbender gets a little love, don't you think? And who better to supply it than my favorite meat-loving warrior? Thanks for reading!