Disclaimer: I don't own Sokka or any of the other characters.
A/N: I wrote this drabble shortly after re-watching "The Awakening" not long ago. In it, Sokka makes a passing remark to Aang about how they had traveled through the Serpent's Pass while he was unconscious. I immediately noticed this and began to wonder...how did Sokka deal with that? After all, the place was full of memories for him. So then I just started imagining, and this came out.
I tightened my hands on the metal ship's rail, staring stiffly down at the lapping waves. I wasn't going to look up...I wasn't.
Go below deck, idiot. There must be something down there you can do.
The deck of the captured Fire Nation ship vibrated beneath my feet, as the engine rumbled ceaselessly, pushing us onward. I tried to measure my breaths, counting the waves as they flashed past. Anything to occupy my mind, calm down my stomach.
That's it! Go ask Dad for some seal jerky, I bet he has some leftover rations. Just walk over to him right now...problem solved. I could even see the familiar profile of my father standing at the prow, made somewhat less familiar by the Fire Nation helmet on his head.
There was just one other problem. My traitorous feet wouldn't move. I tried counting to ten, promising myself that I would let go of the rail, turn, and walk away when I reached the last number. It didn't work.
The cliffs grew steeper on either side of us, jagged mountains spearing the sky. They were so familiar...so painfully familiar.
I racked my brain for an excuse strong enough that it would make my stupid, stubborn heart stop controlling my body.
Let's see...I know! Go check on Aang, I haven't done that in a while.
That one almost worked; I was very worried about the little arrow-head. But then my heart reminded me that Katara had just been down to check on him less than an hour ago, and there had been no change in his condition. With a sigh that came from somewhere deep inside, I turned back to the rail, plucking at a loose thread on the sleeve of my Fire Nation uniform.
And then the shout that I had been dreading came from up on the observation tower. "Serpent's Pass, dead ahead!"
I swallowed, which was oddly difficult to do now that a lump was blocking my throat. I quickly turned to my distraction in times of trouble: logic.
Well, of course this is the quickest way into the Fire Nation. Of course we would use this route. You don't have to make it into such a big deal.
Man, I wish my heart would listen to my brain more often. Because right now they seemed to be completely out of touch with each other. And then my breath caught, because while I'd been arguing with myself, we had come upon one of the places I'd feared.
Further down the rail, I could hear Katara and Toph talking excitedly; Katara doing most of the talking.
"Oh Toph, I know you can't see, but right there is where Hope was born...remember how you made the earth tent? We made camp right there..."
I stared at the place, the plateau of flat rock. I took a deep breath, wrestling with all the memories that threatened to break through the wall I had stuffed them behind. I didn't want to see it, but something in me did. Something in me held me to the rail and wouldn't let me go.
We kept on, the boat chugging forward, the crew talking all around me as if totally unaware of the gauntlet my heart was running right now. Well, of course, they were.
Last chance...my mind warned me. Just turn around, and go below deck right now. Save yourself the pain.
And again, my stupid heart ignored the advice.
There was the treacherous break where the thin stone path curved down and vanished into water. I heard Katara and Toph laugh reminiscently as they remembered Toph's near drowning here.
"And then Sokka was trying to pull his boots off to save you, but before he could, Su-"
My sister's voice stopped abruptly, and I knew she was looking at me. I didn't care. My eyes rested on the far side of the path, where I had stood like an idiot trying to take my shoes off, and learned something about strength that day.
The ship kept going, oblivious.
My eyes followed the winding trails and steep paths that cut through the dangerous Serpent's Pass. Trails that we had walked, coming the other direction. Trails that, somewhere, carried the imprint of her footsteps in the dirt.
And then, there it was. The cliff overlooking the water, jutting out, crowned by a natural rock arch that looked as if it ought to frame something. The last time I'd stood there, it had been nighttime, and I'd stood in the glow of a full moon, feeling such a tangle of emotions I hadn't known what to do. The first time I had truly realized whom I cared about, and at the same time had rejected her out of fear and guilt. The place where I'd come so close...it was almost harder to face than the earlier landmark, where I'd finally succeeded.
I could hear Toph and Katara whispering now, their voices soft and sympathetic. I could barely see my father's outline from the corner of my eye, but his face was turned toward me, and I didn't need to see the look of sorrow on it.
We passed the place as slowly and steadily as we had all the others, as if it didn't hold all the meaning in the world.
Then we came upon the Half-Moon Bay ferry station, now silent because Ba Sing Se was no longer safe. There were no security guards or crabby ticket ladies here anymore. But I gazed at the station built into the cliff, because it was in there that I'd first comprehended the meaning of the phrase, "my heart leaped". But we steamed on, headed into the Fire Nation. The world wasn't going to pause for my memories. Because that was all she was now.
Feeling drained, I finally managed to step back from the rail as the ferry station vanished behind us. My chest ached slightly, like I had a bruised rib.
And, dang it, I had something in my eyes. It was the only explanation for why they were suddenly so wet.