She stood confidently just a head shorter than him. Long ebony hair tangled in the wind, sea-green eyes staring into his brilliant blue ones. The sun was setting just behind them, and she couldn't have been happier…until the sky burst into flames. Why wasn't her bending working, especially now that she needed it? Run, Sokka, she called, Run! WHY AREN'T YOU RUNNING, YOU IDIOT?!?
The vision ended abruptly. Toph woke up in a cold sweat, sheets tangled around her, her breathing labored. "Ka...Katara!" she called out weakly, hoping the Waterbender was in their shared bedroom and not out with the Fire Lord.
Luckily, she was there. "Toph!" she cried, racing over to cradling the 17-year-old's head in her lap. "Toph, oh, what happened?" Her fingers were carefully combing through Toph's ebony tresses, smoothing the tangled locks from her forehead.
There is soft tremble from the doorway, and Toph can sense the Fire Lord watching the scene before him. "Are you okay?" he asks in his soft-as-ashes voice, concern lacing through his words.
Toph nods, feeling the salty-sweet tears falling silently drip down her face. "Just another one of them," she mumbles, knowing that he knows the "them" she means. The dreams. Nightmares that haven't stopped since the end of the war. Every night, every time she can finally sleep deep enough to dream…all the time. There are bags under her eyes, though she doesn't know. Everyone else notices, trying to pretend they don't.
Katara's murmuring doesn't cease, the words weaving together into a Water Tribe lullaby. The melody is nothing if not soothing, and Toph feels her sightless eyes closing once again. She's not asleep, but the Fire Lord and his soon-to-be Lady don't know that.
"What are we going to do, Zuko?" Katara whispered, her fingers never stopping their comforting untangling of Toph's hair. "This has been going on for almost five years! Ever since this all stopped…it's like all the horrors finally caught up with her. And they got worse after he left."
His steps are careful, trying not to be loud enough to disturb Toph. "We do what we can, Katara," he says into her hair as he sinks to the ground beside her. "It doesn't help that Sokka left to go with Suki to Kyoshi. He helped her more than either of us can." Both Toph and Katara notice the faint hint of disdain that edges into Zuko's voice when he mentions Sokka.
Toph shivers involuntarily at the mention of his name, especially coupled with her's. Her Sokka, the guy she had grown to love before she even knew the meaning of the word. The guy who promised to be by her side whenever she needed him. The guy that had looked into her sightless eyes and told her he would be back within the month, back from horrid Kyoshi Island and back from her. Toph was under no delusion that the warrior girl doesn't still harbor feelings for Sokka. What she tries to fool herself into believing is that he doesn't have the same feelings.
But in those moments of weakness that show themselves in her dreams, she knows he still loves Suki as well as his lost Yue. What the horrid visions won't show her, though, is how he feels about her.
And it's creeping into the far edge of the second month he's been on Kyoshi. Did he just decide he liked it there? That he would truly rather be with Suki than with her? Toph lets a soft sigh escape her lips as she notices the other two leaving. "Why me?" she murmurs, wishing that he was here to comfort her. No – for her to punch for all the pain he's put her through.
"Why not?" she hears from the window sill.
It's the voice from her dreams, the only one besides her own. But those are not the words they should say, the words that are always the same in the dream as if it were just a scene in a play. "I believe the line is 'I'll always protect you, Toph. You don't always have to save me. Let me take care of you for once', stupid dream voice," Toph mutters, worried that the dream will be even worse.
"What are you talking about, Toph?" Softly, feet land under the window, crossing the short space from there to where she was curled up on the bed. "I'm not a dream."
"Of course you're a dream!" she all but screams. "Because if you're not a dream, then that means you're really Sokka. And THAT'S not possible because he's off on Kyoshi with stupid, perfect Suki making stupid, perfect warrior babies and not caring about the little demented girl he left behind in the Fire Nation!"
Emotions bundled up since he left exploded, hot tears of anger sliding down her face. "And if you were actually Sokka," she continues, lowering her voice so it's barely audible, "then I would know I was dreaming, because you're not coming back. So, Dream Voice Sokka, either way you're not really him. The odds are against you."
Tears are still falling as she feels weather callused hands cupping her face. "If I'm not real, then how can I do this?" he asks as he kisses her.
And, oh spirits, is it brilliant. It's everything she wanted and more, and it breaks her heart. To Toph, there is no way Sokka would ever come back to her. The promise he made to her was like the war-torn soldier promising his little sister he would come back when he knew that he would die without seeing her again. She leans into the kiss, enjoying the bittersweet taste to the moment.
"Do you believe me yet?" his soft voice asks, just as footsteps Toph knows are Zuko and Katara's burst into the room. "Are you going to stop crying?"
In that instant, Toph can tell by the pick-up in speed of Zuko's heart that he wants to leave them as they are. She turns to where he stands, letting all emotion show on her face. Toph feels the hands leave her cheeks, replaced by cool ones she would have known anywhere.
"It's true, sister," he whispers, holding her close. "It's really him. It's bone-headed Sokka." To him, all Zuko says is, "You had better never hurt her again, or you'll answer to me."
Katara is more vivid with the threats. "You may be my brother, Sokka, but if you break her heart, I will break your face and feed you to the moosebears. You have no idea what you put her through these past months. You probably never will, because Toph would never feel the need to tell you. But trust me, it was ten different kinds of hell for her."
Toph feels the drooping of his shoulders from their place next to her own. It's really him¸ she thinks. Her mind and heart both speed up, adrenaline pumping, before she realizes what she's just done.
Looking down to where she imagines her fist is, she tries to figure out why it's throbbing. The delayed 'ouch' from Sokka fills in the blanks for her, and a smile stretches across her face. "I'd call this just about even, Katara," she laughs.
AN: Just needed to write some angsty-fluffy Sokka for a change. All wrapped up in the HP world, and needed a break. Hope everyone seems right, since I wrote bits of this over like two months.