Title: silver lining
Pairing(s): Tokka, Kataang and Maiko hints
Summary: Five questions Toph never asked Sokka, and the one she did. Tokka to the max.
A/N: I'm a bad girl. Once again, I've succumbed to the evil plot bunnies and left the readers of Thirty Ways in Thirty Days and I'd Lie waiting. Now I'm really gonna have to get it up soon...I was inspired to write this after re-reading one of my favorite stories EVAH, Healing Waters by Artemis Rae--very creepy, but good. It focuses on five injuries Katara never healed, which kinda got me going on this...hope you enjoy it!
Btw, I have nothing against Ty Lee and Suki. Toph, however, does. ;D Also--I've joined the capslock atalrp community on lj (I'm Ummi) and we need a Kuruk r'p-er. If anyone's interested, just tell me in a review--or PM me, if you wish...NOW ON WITH THE TOKKA!!
On the first night, she was too consumed with longing for her own familiar bed to even notice the Water Tribe boy once. Besides, he'd probably just try to convince himself that she had pulled some sort of stupid trick to defeat the Boulder—stupid teenager.
On the second night, the ground was filled with rumbles from the machine tracking them across water and ground alike. Toph never got any sleep that night—not out of worry of what awaited her in the metal monster, but out of the irrational fear that once again, freedom would be stolen away from her.
On the third night she couldn't get him out of her head. He'd tried to stop her from leaving, at least—more than Katara and Aang had ever done. Toph was a bit miffed to realize she didn't even remember his name properly—Sola? Sako? Soma? Ah, yes—Sokka.
Toph wondered if he missed her.
It was only on the fourth night that she gained the curiosity and perhaps foresight to pay attention while he slept. It was strange—you could tell the most of a person from the types of dreams they had at night, and while Toph was no prophet she could certainly discern some information from the beat of ones heart, the racing of a pulse, the trembling of a frightened body, pressed against the hard-packed dirt.
She soon discovered that Sokka's heart beat painfully against his sleeping bag; that his pulse raced hard and fast with fear; that his body shook in great waves against the unyielding ground. And, too, his feverish lips only spoke one word, over and over again: "Yue Yue Yue Yue Yue Yue Yue Yue Yue Yue Yue Yue—"
The next day, Toph knew better than to ask—some secrets remained best uncovered. Even as Sokka attempted to create awkward conversation, Toph still paid agonizingly close attention to everything but the most intimate of his bodily functions. By the end of the day, she knew more than she'd have liked and would have loved to ask the unthinkable:
"When I'd gone off and disappeared, was it her name you called out in your sleep, or was it mine?"
The desert winds blew fiercely as she fisted her hands in the stone bricks, whipping across the sand like earthly demons. It was hell, in Toph's eyes—all this shifting beneath her feet, and grits in her eyes—why, she couldn't even 'see' properly! But she'd soon find, in the desert storm to come—brought along by the very airbender she'd sworn to teach—that there was far worse than this.
Digging her toes into the sand, Toph attempted in vain to reach for the vibrations that rang in the depths of the great structure. She strained to feel more—was that the patter of feet; the beating of wings in the air; the creaking of an opening door?
Then they came—the thieves, the scavengers of the desert—and Toph tried to stop them, she really did. Appa wasn't her favorite creature on this earth, but to let him be captured so easily? To go without a fight? No. Toph was proud, if nothing else.
She promised herself that they couldn't take anything from her, even as tears prickled her eyes—what were friends, when such things as determination and strength were there to help you through?
Still, her heart ached for Aang and Sokka—even Sugar Queen—to come rushing out. The library was slipping--couldn't they tell? Stupid Aang. Stupid Katara, she thought vehemently, through the lump in her throat. Stupid Sokka—
A tear slipped down her cheek, and she sniffed. Why was she crying for the stupid buffoon? Why was her pulse racing in fear for his wellbeing, for his safe return?
Why had she picked the boy so obviously in love with someone else?
When they came rushing out, scared but thankfully unharmed, there was only one—and only one—question that burned in Toph's mind, with a wanting, a need, to be asked.
"While you were trapped in there, trying to find out about that stupid eclipse, did you ever once wonder if I was okay?"
Toph decided she hated Suki before she had even been properly introduced. It wasn't so much a conscious thought as an internal decision, like a click into place: Toph supposed that this was what jealousy did to you. Although she was not jealous at all, because she had nothing to be jealous of, now did she?
After all, her fans were stupid, her voice was annoying, and who the hell did she think she was, kissing Sokka just like that?!
As they made the trek to the Serpent's Pass, Toph fumed and gloated both at once. Sokka would show her! Ha! Stupid so-called warrior—she'd get what was coming, she would…
But soon, Toph found that the Gods were working against her. What was this?! He cared! What the hell had gotten into that oaf?! Well, then, she'd just ignore it until Sokka came back to his senses and dumped her like the bitch she was.
But it was soon discovered that Toph had her work cut out for her.
Toph tried to ignore Sokka's racing heartbeat. She tried to ignore the way he fussed over everything she did.
She even tried to ignore the spikes in their pulses whenever their hands brushed.
Toph told herself, 'It's just a crush.' She thought vehemently, 'He'll never fall for someone like her. She even reasoned, 'He would have mentioned if she'd meant something, wouldn't she?'
But she couldn't ignore it in the quiet of the night, when all were asleep but three. She couldn't pretend that Sokka had simply tripped; that he merely wanted some action; that they were putting on some elaborate show for her entertainment.
And so, as the vibrations traveled across the earth and filled all of her senses, the words formed in her mind as if put there by a higher being.
A tear slipped down her cheek as she wondered:
"Why didn't you tell me…before I fell in love with you?"
Toph loved fighting. She loved the ache in her muscles as they strained almost to the breaking point; the crack of her knuckles as they pounded into the earth; the narrow swerves and barely dodges as she danced through the crowd.
But on the eve of the final battle, only an empty feeling lurked in the bit of her stomach. Of course she would hide it and never tell anyone—Ha, Toph? Scared?—but it would have been nice, just once, to have someone to talk to.
It turned out that Sokka was that someone.
Aang and Katara were probably somewhere confronting their own demons; the knife-girl had shown up last night and was locked in a deep discussion with Zuko. That only left Toph and Sokka, the two misfits of a sort, to linger on the broad hilltop and wonder what the future held.
Toph simply created a mechanical motion of reaching into the earth, closing around a fistful of dirt and letting it slip back down until it was almost instinctive. Sokka gazed up at the moon wistfully, before at last speaking.
"We'll kick Ozai's butt, huh?" he proposed weakly, hugging his knees to his chest.
"Yeah," Toph agreed halfheartedly. "We'll send him running like the wimp he is."
"Yep." Sokka gazed out across the star-sprinkled night sky. Suddenly, he said, "I'm scared. What if Aang and Katara don't come back?"
Toph drew back, surprised. Sokka didn't normally voice his worries…this was an interesting development. "He's the Avatar, and she'd a master waterbender," she pointed out. "They'll be fine. Quite your fretting, Snoozles. Your like an old granny, worrying about this kinda stuff…"
"Hey!" Sokka squawked, and suddenly things were normal again. "I am not! I'm a warrior!"
He puffed out his chest proudly as Toph noted, voice oozing sarcasm, "Oh, yeah, Snoozles. You're the best. In fact, when I beat you in arm wrestling last week? I bet you were going easy on me."
Turning an interesting shade of red, Sokka defended, "Yes. Yes I was."
Raising an eyebrow (she heard it was a sign of skepticism) in a way that implied she very much disagreed with his testament, Toph gave a fake yawn and suggested, "Let's get some sleep. We have a big day tomorrow."
Reluctantly, Sokka greed and bade her goodnight. Toph, however, remained on the hillside for a moment, hidden uncertainty revealed only now that she was alone. He'd expressed worry over Katara and Aang, yet none for her. What could that mean? Was Toph mistaken?
Could Sokka possibly not care about her at all?
Toph dismissed the prospect immediately, if only because she believe better of him than that. Surely he simply didn't want to worry her. Surely he simply believed that his worry for her had gone unspoken. But still, she longed to march up to him and demand an answer to her painful inquiry:
"If I died, would you miss me?"
She had walked in one them kissing, her legs entangled with his, only a few days before, and even now Sokka blushed whenever he saw her.
Toph really had no problem if Sokka chose to fool around a bit with a girl or two—she didn't care (or that was what she told herself). But Ty Lee—
She didn't know. However flirty and flighty she appeared to be, a spark of cruelty glinted somewhere beneath the sweetness. Did it come from two many years with Azula? From a difficult childhood?
Either way, Toph saw her as vain, unkind, and all together not worthy of Sokka.
Tonight, at a ball held in honor of the Firelord and his wife, the acrobat was performing, in front of a large crowd of eager spectators—Sokka among them.
Slipping beside the entranced warrior, Sokka noticed her immediately. "She's amazing, isn't she?" he said, awed, as Ty Lee perfectly executed an incredible exhibit of flexibility and waved flirtatiously at the warrior as red tinted his cheeks.
Her excitement at seeing Sokka vanished. "I guess," she muttered, turning away from him purposely.
Sokka didn't notice. "I think I'm in love," he said suddenly, voiced hushed and filled with a longing she'd never heard before.
"What?" Toph jerked her head up, alert. Had he said what she thought he did? How could this happen? A normally goofy and immature Sokka, admitting to something like this… "You're what?" she repeated, voice nearly going high and squeaky.
"In love," he repeated, eyes still glued to Ty Lee. "She's so…amazing." He sighed happily. "Isn't she?"
"Hn," Toph replied, mind racing. She'd considered giving Ty Lee a chance for a moment, then, when Sokka's heart had been racing and she'd finally realized how happy the acrobat made him.
It still hurt. However much Toph loved Sokka, there would always be that wistfulness there knowing that his heart belonged to someone else. And yet again, another question hung in the air:
"If it was me you talked of, would it be the words that mattered, or how you spoke them?"
It had been so long, so long, since the battle with Ozai; since everything. Ty Lee had fallen for the Earth Kingdom ambassador, Haru (Toph couldn't say she wasn't thankful for it) and Sokka seemed to be getting over it alright.
Aang and Katara were getting married, and Sokka had surprised Toph with a visit to her Earth Kingdom home, and a suggestion that they journey to the wedding together.
Throughout the long journey (no Appa this time) they'd become closer knit than ever before. Toph was in love with him, as she always had been; Sokka was oblivious, as he always had been. She'd gotten used to it. It seemed, though, that his hand lingered a bit too long; that his voice softened a bit too much; that he struggled to keep up with her a bit too hard.
Although she would have loved any relationship beyond what they had, it had been agonizing her—the memories of beloved princesses and warriors, and of all the unspoken questions between them.
It was now, 'watching' Sokka as he stared up at the moon with a torn scrap of something that had once been a paper fan clutched in his hand, that Toph finally realized that she had a perfect right to an answer.
And it was now that Toph voiced the most important question or them all, the one she'd been waiting to ask her entire life:
"Do you ever wish that I was her?"
Sokka's head jerked up, eyes wide. He hadn't been expecting this; neither of them had. What if this one question ruined their whole relationship? Drawing in a deep breath, he began, "Toph, I—"
"I want an answer, so don't patronize me," the earthbender in question interrupted, palms sweating—because she was so afraid, so afraid. "So tell me: do you ever look at me and think, 'I wish her hair was white,' or 'I wish she fought with gold fans instead of the gritty earth?'"
After a long, agonizing moment, he spoke. "No. I don't. I've wondered—" Sokka swallowed. "I've wondered, you know?" A shaky gulp of air was whisked in. "If things would've been…different. But then I realize…" Even though she couldn't see them, couldn't know, his grey eyes met hers for the first time in a while. "I wouldn't change I thing. Not a single goddamn thing." Sokka's voice broke.
He swallowed, as Toph stood there, frozen, waiting for something to break the spell. To tell her what to feel. Because—this was more than she'd ever wanted, wasn't it?
But it was Sokka that finally gave her a chance. "You get that, Toph—right?" he voiced hesitantly.
With the same desperation he'd called out for Yue.
With the same dedication he'd exhibited for the newest step in defeating Ozai.
With the same carefulness he'd handled Suki.
With the same longing his voice had held as he'd watched Ty Lee.
"You get that Toph, right?"
And she did.