Disclaimer: Avatar: The Last Airbender belongs to Bryke and Nickelodeon, not me.
She could feel the warmth of the sun fading the longer they walked. Haruhi fussed in her aching arms; she shouldered him and patted his little back.
"Let me carry him," Sokka said for the umpteenth time.
"Fine," she sighed, handing him over. Sokka took the baby with practiced ease and she stretched her sore fingers.
"You're not doing very well, are you?" he said bluntly.
She scowled. "I'm fine," she said.
He fell silent, and the baby gurgled. "Toph," he said, his voice more gentle than she had ever remembered. "You're not fooling me."
She cracked her knuckles absentmindedly. "So I haven't been feeling all that great lately," she shrugged. "I'll be fine."
"You're not going to be fine," he persisted. "Living here is killing you. This village is dying, and you'll go right along with it."
"Don't be stupid," she snapped. "I'll get better."
"There's no way you can," he said, his voice rising. "There's not enough to eat here, and not enough water. You don't have any friends here. And your husband doesn't take care of you at all."
"I don't need anyone to take care of me," she argued.
He caught her by the elbow. "Let me take care of you," he said. "Come with me."
She stopped in her tracks. A strangled, incredulous laugh bubbled up in her throat. "Let you take care of me?" she repeated. "Since when?"
She pulled her arm free as he balanced her son in the crook of his elbow. "You left me," she said, her voice tight and clipped. "You knew I needed you, and you left. You chose to leave. And I had my baby, and I'm raising him the best that I can, and I don't need you."
She could feel the rapid, dull thuds of his heart, sensing his shame and sadness and regret. She didn't care.
"I think you need me more than I need you," Toph said. "You want a replacement for Suki- someone to keep you warm at night. You don't want to take care of me. You just want the empty spaces in your life filled in."
She reached over and took her baby back. Sokka didn't fight back. "Will I see you again?"he asked.
"I made a promise," she said. "I keep mine, so I'll see you tomorrow."
She turned sharply and continued down the road, cradling Haruhi against her shoulder. Sokka stayed still, watching her.
Toph walked home alone as her temper began to cool. It wasn't the first time she regretted something she had said, and it probably wouldn't be the last. But she had never had such a violent desire to turn and run after someone and apologize.
Unconsciously she held her chin higher, ever the proud Bei Fong daughter. She had gotten through much, much more difficult circumstances than this. Everything would be fine. It would have to be.
She opened the door to her husband's house, setting her feet gingerly on the coarse wooden floor. "I'm home," she called.
"Finally," Xian said, his voice echoing from somewhere within the little house. "It's a wreck in here. You have any plans for that?"
She counted out the steps to her son's cradle and set Haruhi down carefully. "I just spent all day cleaning a house," she said. "Give me a minute to breathe before I have to start this one."
"Whatever," he shrugged. "Just don't let it stay a wreck, all right? Think you can have it done by the time I get back?"
"Get back from what?" Toph asked.
She practically hear the grin spread across Xian's face. "Nothing," he said.
"Let me guess," she said sharply. "Gin and Chrisnele?"
"Don't be like that," he said. "Chrisnele never bothered you before. What's got you so upset?"
She tossed back her long black hair and strolled over to the kitchen. "Nothing," she said, picking up a rag. She scrubbed it over the rough wooden table. "I'm fine. I don't care what you do."
"Then I'll see you later," he said. He ruffled her hair like one might do to a very young child and left the house, slamming the door behind him.
Toph dropped the rag, gripping the edges of the counter. Her head swam with the sudden nauseating onset of a headache that seemed to pierce her across the bridge of her nose. She stumbled to a chair and sat heavily. For a moment she stayed still and frozen, almost dazed, but she drew her knees up and hugged them to her chest. She rested her chin on her knees.
She felt the tears smart long before she let them fall. Crying had never been her thing. Even when she was a child, she rarely cried. But for too long she had sat by in uncharacteristic silence, letting other people make decisions for her. And this is where it had left her.
Maybe she could fix this. Maybe she could convince Xian to be a better husband. He could become a real father to Haruhi. He could fix up their little house and reseed the fields and…
…and it wouldn't change anything, she realized.
Her parents might not have been in love, but they cared for each other. Zuko and Katara were deeply in love. And Sokka…surely Sokka loved Suki.
She tried to imagine herself in love with her husband, or what it would be like if he loved her. But she couldn't see it. It was impossible.
She was trapped. She was trapped with a husband who didn't care about her and a baby that she wasn't sure she could raise.
Why didn't I get a chance? she thought. Why didn't I get out of this? Why was I so stupid?
Suddenly she thought of Sokka, of his funny laugh and his gentle hands and his kind voice.
Let me take care of you. Come with me.
And that could never, ever happen.
Toph dropped her head. Her shoulders shook, and she sobbed silently into her thin knees with only her wide-eyed baby for company.
Whoooooa...it's been a while since I worked on this bad boy. Sorry about that. But the good news about my hiatus is that WHAT UP, I AM MARRIED NOW. It's pretty awesome.
This chapter is a little disjointed compared to the others...let me know what you think I should fix!