A/n: This story turned out SO much longer than I'd originally intended it to be, so it got its own story instead of being part of the collection.

So anyway, a quick lil' explanation: In a world of cliche fan fiction (of which I am guilty as charged, unfortunately), I was determined to write a less-cliche story about Sokka's slow but sure character arc into the love that is Tokka. It started off as a drabble, but sort of morphed into a semi-drabble as I got more excited. You'll see what I mean.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Happy Reading!

Character Arc

Sometimes I think my life is like a story (a cruel, cruel story), and I'm just a character caught in an arc. If I think about it, my life—as far as love and that sort of thing goes, that is—has followed a distinct path. I started off a bit full of myself, had a women my age show me who's boss, left her for travel and fell in love with a woman a little older than me, lost her to the war, then met up again with the first woman for a short time. All the while, I learned about the different types of women and the different customs of the nations, as well as what not to do in the presence of a significant other. My developmental path was exact and consistent; I fell for beautiful, polite women my age, generally screwed it up with them, then somehow managed to get back on my feet and win them over. I was comfortable with my path, relishing in what I'd learned through my successes and failures, and a firm believer that I would continue to walk my clear path forever.

Naturally, when I sensed that everything I had learned was being challenged by my own heart, I fought the change tooth and nail, boomerang and sword. I was only supposed to fall for complete strangers, generally non-Bending women with a sense of loyalty to their home.

So why, then, did I feel the most comfortable, the most loved, beside a brazen, Bending, runaway from home who was three years younger than me? The idea horrified and fascinated me; that I, Sokka of the Water Tribe, warrior extraordinaire, could think such a terrible thing. Toph was the complete opposite of the women I usually fell for, except maybe for the bravery factor, which they all had.

But don't get me wrong; I didn't just fall in love with her out of nowhere. After what happened to Yue, I was much more careful and conservative when it came to women. Toph wasn't even a woman, really. She was three years younger than me, and certainly didn'tact like a mature woman. She liked to gamble and shout and play in the dirt, hurling witty comments all the while and loving every second of it. As time went on, I grew to love every second of it, too. I'd indulge in spending time with her during Aang and Katara's training sessions or find myself feeling really great if she smirked or laughed at one of my jokes, even if—especially if—they weren't funny.

From the beginning, I'd admired her skills and found her personality both exasperating and amusing. We bonded more so than ever during the time when Aang was unconscious and Katara was at his side at all possible moments, seeking solace in one another's companionship and good sense of humor.

I found that I wanted to protect her, even though she was more than capable of protecting herself. I'd make the point of taking her with me rather than telling her to go with Aang or Katara when our little group had to split up and do something else, whether it was something as insignificant as putting up flyers or something as vastly important as warning the Earth King about a deadly coup. She'd grab my arm when we were flying or traveling on the water or walking on the docks, and I wouldn't mind the invasion of my personal space—at the time, I dismissed the warm sensation in the pit of my stomach for a brotherly sort of affection, but much later on I realized that I had never felt that way around Katara, and with good reason.

All these feelings, so small and slow at first that I didn't notice them, manifested themselves to me in the form of one comment, one offhand thought, something insignificant and just so stupid that I don't even want to admit that I had thought it:

"Actually, yeah. It does look pretty good."

Of course, then I looked up again in confusion and saw her sitting there, smirking at me in that way she does, and I couldn't help but think that it wasn't the poster that looked good, but her. And then I sort of shook my head and changed the direction of my thoughts, but I couldn't take back what had already happened. The seed had been planted in my mind, and it only started to grow.

From then on, things got worse. It's funny how you don't realize how much time you spend with someone until you try to get her out of your head. As much as I tried to ignore it, I found myself by her side more and more. I wanted her to go away, I really did, but then at the same time I couldn't help but like being around her. I tempted disaster and did the tango with fate, going off alone with her on numerous occasions to get a bite to eat, take a walk around town, or to scam to locals. Even though I wasn't the one ripping people off, I found that Toph wasn't the only one gambling anymore.

Only, I was gambling something more important than money.

I came to trust her more than anyone else, confiding in her secrets that I had never told anyone. And still, I pushed the thought of her as anything more than a friend—a friend who I, admittedly, thought of a little more than normal—back into the depths of my mind. I didn't want anything to do with Toph, not romantically. She was my friend, my ally in the war.

That, and I couldn't get past our age gap. No, she didn't act like a twelve-year-old; she was never twelve to me, because I'd seen her fight and cry and just always be there, around the older crowd. But to the outside watcher, I would be an older guy looking for a naïve young girl. I'd be a sick man, looking to take advantage of the feelings of someone smaller and—at least in their unknowing eyes—weaker than me. It wasn't the truth, no; I didn't even want to touch her. Or maybe I did. Either way, I later came to realize that three years was hardly anything at all.

So that became my new excuse. Whenever I felt that tingly sensation in my stomach, I told myself that she was too young, just a little girl. The problem with that statement—besides it being completely untrue, of course—was that Toph was growing up. One day, we all took a dip in one of the Fire Nation's secluded hot springs, and I couldn't help but notice how differently she fit into her underclothes than when we'd first met. I'd quickly averted my eyes and sunk lower in the water to hide the blush forming on my face, telling myself that I couldn't feel the way I felt, and feeling it all the same.

Then, one day, my fortune changed (though for the better or worse, I didn't know). Toph and I had just gotten back from exploring the surrounding area of our new encampment when Katara, adjusting the strap of her top as she did so, approached and pulled me out of earshot. Then, in the privacy of the woods, she accused me of messing around with "poor Toph's heart". I opened my mouth to claim that the situation was, as a matter of fact, quite the opposite, and then realized the implications of what she had just said.

"Wait, what are you talking about?" I asked, genuinely confused.

Katara rolled her eyes at me, as if I had missed something obvious, and proceeded to inform me that Toph Bei Fong was, and had been for quite some time, crazy about me, and that I shouldn't be leading her on. I countered back with the explanation that I had had no idea that she had ever so much as liked my shoes—I've found that in times of stress and excitement, I tend to forget Toph's blindness more than any other time—and that I most certainly wasn't leading her on, at least not intentionally.

"I've been acting the same way around her that I always have," I defended myself. "No different."

"You've been spending a lot of time together."

At this, I raised my eyebrows. "Well, we are traveling together. And with you and Aang always running off together to Waterbend—if that is what you're doing—Toph and I have nothing better to do then be around each other."

Katara frowned at me anyway, having apparently not heard a word I'd said since our little chat began. "Well why don't you start paying attention to how she feels instead of thinking about yourself?" she snapped, and began to walk back towards camp. "And besides, what would Suki think?"

Suki just happened to be the farthest thing from my mind at the moment—although she entered it quite frequently now, since I'd recently heard of her mysterious disappearance—as I fought the urge to jump around and maybe hug the tree next to me. And yet, at the same time I felt a mixture of doubt and wariness in my stomach; what if she didn't really feel the same? And if she did, I couldn't just go and proclaim to her that I'd felt different about her recently, but was suppressing those emotions for reasons I wasn't even sure about.

But I followed Katara's advice and started paying attention to her reactions instead of worrying so much about mine. The results were eye-opening.

Now that I observed her, I found that Katara was right. It wasn't as obvious as she had made it out to be, but there was a sort of affection in Toph's insults, a tenderness in her voice that was impossible to notice unless you were looking for it (which often lead me to believe that it wasn't even there, and that Katara had been pulling my leg as some sort of sick joke between her and Aang). I found myself raising my eyebrows when Toph happened to be standing closest to me during a time when she needed to hold on to someone in order to be able to see, or when she sat down either very close to me or very far away at mealtimes.

Watching Toph turned out to be very entertaining. It's not like I had my eyes on her constantly, but instead of going out hunting when I was bored, I'd sit around and watch Aang's training, sometimes participating but mostly just spectating. Katara and Aang weren't really able to spar very much when we'd chosen a camp pretty far away from any mass of water, but Toph and Aang often used the rugged terrain of the mountainside for training. As I watched Toph Earthbend, movements that were once "just moves" became almost dancelike. Fluid and rhythmic, she moved as if performing some sort of show, the occasional smirk flitting across her pale features as she anticipated the coming attack. However, when Aang was terribly off in a particular motion or stance, a scowl would replace the smirk and she would jump right into training mode again.

"Earthbending is always low to the ground," Toph instructed him in a neutral tone, assuming the proper stance herself.

Aang pulled the headband around his eyes up only long enough for him to study her position, one eyebrow up considerably more than the other in concentration, before he covered his eyes again, and took the stance. "Like this?"

I for one thought it looked exactly right. She, on the other hand, didn't seem satisfied; Toph sighed. After a moment of silence, she instructed Aang to take the blindfold off. He did so without question. I continued to observe, very much interested in what was going on, and didn't immediately hear her when she called my name.

"Snoozles!" Her arm flew out and a finger pointed in my direction. When she received no response, she called again in a way I was more likely to hear. "Hello, Sokka? Anybody home in that head of yours?"

I snapped out of my trance as if she'd doused me in cold water. Shaking my head to bring myself to attention, I responded with a slight crack in my voice, "What?"

Toph pointed to the ground beside her. "I require your assistance," she stated matter-of-factly, "Over here."

Nodding, I leapt to my feet and walked, hands by sides, to the spot she'd pointed to, which happened to be a few feet in front of Aang.

"Do you know what a horse stance is?" she asked me.

"A what?"

"Okay then. Mimic Aang's position," she demanded.

Aang offered one of his very Aang grins and re-entered his stance for me to copy. I did so—although I wasn't really sure what to do with my arms, so I just let them hang stupidly in front of me—hoping that I was in the general area of being at least somewhat correct. Apparently I was not, though, for Toph stomped her foot on the ground and moved the earth beneath my right foot to widen the distance between my feet.

"Good. Okay Aang, this is what you look like. See how this position cuts off your ability to move quickly if need be?" When Aang nodded, she continued. I was suddenly very aware of her standing behind me, and was then even more so when she grabbed me around the hips and gave my waist a fraction of a turn. My face flushed so red that I was surprised she couldn't feel it burning her. "If you turn just a tiny bit to the right, you open up a range of motion. Got it?"

Aang, focused on the lesson and not my glowing face, grinned at his sifu and replied, "Got it."

"Excellent, pupil." Before I was able to go back to my normal stance, Toph gave me a shove with one hand and I toppled over with a pathetic shout. Her smirk was unmistakable. "Thank you, Sokka."

Grumbling, I clambered to my feet and went back to my place beside Appa, not listening to their conversation anymore but nevertheless hearing Toph say, "If you keep improving at this rate, Twinkletoes, there's no way that we can lose on the Day of Black Sun."

On the Day of Black Sun, we lost. For a while after that, I was too busy wallowing in the defeat of my plans and our little gang's near-death experience to worry about falling in love with anyone, although the aforementioned disaster brought to my attention what I had forgotten about Yue: life was precious, and nobody was immortal. None of us died that day, thank Yue, but it was close. Really close.

Life went on. We took shelter out in the Fire Nation wilderness for a while so that the four of us could get over our injuries and revise our battle plans. It was one of these days, where Aang and Katara had found a stream nearby to splash around in, that I found myself sitting beside Toph on a nearby rock. My boots were abandoned on the shore, my pants rolled up around my knees and my feet dangling in the water. Toph sat similarly, with one foot in the water and one tucked beside her knee.

"Just listen to them," she said suddenly, snapping me out of my reflections.

I turned my head towards Aang and Katara who, despite their minor injuries, had erupted into a sort of Waterbending fight that they appeared to be taking less than seriously; my sister's hair hung wet around her laughing face, Aang grinned in that way he reserved only for her.

Nonplussed, I turned back to Toph. "What about them?"

"Well, they're side-by-side all the time, aren't they?" she continued. I felt myself tense up at her words, Katara's reprimand running through my mind. "They care about each other so much, it's obvious that there's more to their relationship."

I gave a noncommittal grunt at that statement; I was still in denial about Katara and Aang, preferring to turn a blind eye to their obvious flirting whenever possible.

"Twinkletoes, he would do anything for her, and Katara—well, she's not like most girls these days, is she? While they're picking out the strongest, biggest-built guys, Katara doesn't care if he's the strongest or not, or if he's bald or if he lets his hair grow. It doesn't matter what he looks like to her, it—" Toph faltered then, and I tried not to notice that her face had turned a delicate shade of pink. "Sometimes I just wish she could get up the strength to tell him; it would make it easier on all of us if she just got it over with…"

I averted my eyes, heart pounding so hard that I was sure she could feel it through the ground where we sat. Her near monologue had revealed to me more in thirty seconds than she had told me since my feelings had manifested themselves inside me the day I'd held her wanted poster. Toph's feelings were clear.

She loved me. She loved me, and how did I feel?

"I'm going to get something to eat," she announced. "Do you want anything?"

I shook my head 'no', but just in case she couldn't tell, I added, "No, thanks. I'm pretty much not hungry."

She replied with some sort of one-word answer, but I didn't really hear it. Toph then rose to her feet—her hand brushed my leg in the process, and my foot twitched in the water; my face reddened—and hopped off of the rock to land on the shore. I cast my eyes back towards Aang and Katara, and took a deep breath; Toph may be blind, but I was sure she knew where I was sitting, and could have avoided contact if she'd wanted to. Not that I was upset by it or anything.

My character arc made its final turn on the day of the battle, a battle that will decide whether or not we will live to see another day. Night fell upon the Fire Nation capital, but the fire and the smoke from the army had painted the sky so that it appeared as if someone had dipped their fingers in blood and smeared it across the stars in long, uneven strokes. All the calculating and studying I'd done to keep the four of us together had failed; some sort of explosive went off near us, and we were separated into pairs during the following chaos.

Toph and I stand behind a hastily Earthbended wall now, a wall so close to the Fire Lord's secret river (of which I was once quite a fan, prior to the occasion) that if we take a step to the right, we will topple into the water; if we take a step left, we are in the line of fire. For a few of our precious, limited seconds, we have to stand still and wait for the opportune moment to continue our mad dash towards the palace.

"I think we can make it now—" Toph says as she begins to step outside the wall, but an earsplitting roar erupts as another explosive lands nearby and blows up everything around it.

I grab her and pull her close, as if my modest torso can protect her from flying debris, and hold her head to my chest until the flames behind our little wall cease enough for us to move. I release her, only to realize that at some point I have grabbed her hand and am too afraid to let it go.

Then I know. I have an epiphany, a sudden realization that my slow and steady character arc has come completely around. When we manage to pull through this and defeat the Fire Lord, I promise myself that I will find Toph Bei Fong in the wild crowd of rejoicing people, that I will tell her my story of walking away from my developmental path, that I will tell her how much I have grown to love her. Heck, maybe I'll even kiss her. Who knows?

Because sometimes I think my life is like a story (perhaps not so cruel after all), and you know what they say about the good guys.



A/n: Goodness, I love this pairing! I hope there were as few errors as possible, and that you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!