The Sound of Stars
"If I asked you something, would you promise not to laugh at me?"
Sokka looked at Toph across the fire. She was holding her knees close to her chest and looking like she was lost in thought. "Sure, Toph. You know I would never laugh at you." She shot him an accusatory glance. "I would laugh with you, not at you. They're two different things."
She shrugged. "Whatever. Just forget it."
"No, I'm not going to forget it." He stood up and walked across the campsite to sit beside her. "You can ask me anything." He put his arm around her small shoulders, as if to add emphasis to his words.
Toph bit her bottom lip. "Well," she began, then stopped to take a deep breath. "I just wanted to know...what do the stars look like?"
Her voice trailed off to almost inaudible level, so Sokka wasn't quite sure he'd heard right. "You want to know what the stars look like?"
She shook her head and laughed under her breath. "See, I knew it was stupid."
"No, it isn't stupid," he said, and hugged her a bit closer to him. She rested her head on his shoulder.
"It's just that everyone keeps going on about them, like the stars are the greatest things ever. I mean, are they really that pretty?"
Sokka shrugged his shoulders. "Well, yeah, they are beautiful." He tilted his face up to the sky. "They look like tiny pinpricks of light coming through the darkness." He looked back at Toph, who raised her eyebrows at him. "Or, think about fireflies that aren't moving, stuck in the sky."
Toph stood and started walking away from their campsite. "Thanks for the visual, Ponytail. I'll talk to you in the morning." She had taken three steps before Sokka managed to scramble to his feet. A few more steps and he had his hand clamped around her wrist.
"Toph, I'm not going to pretend to know what's going on in your head. At this point, I'm assuming it's a girl thing that I have no hope of ever understanding." Toph's features softened, waiting for him to continue. "But," he said, his voice a hushed whisper, "if you want to know about the stars, I think I can tell you what they look like."
She was quiet, obviously thinking over his proposition. "Okay then," she said. She raised a finger of her free hand. "I'll give you one more chance at this."
Sokka's face broke into a wide smile. "It's all I'll need." He slid his hand from her wrist to lace his fingers in hers. He led Toph away from the campsite toward where Appa had been lying for the night. He climbed up into the air bison's saddle, then called over the edge to his girlfriend. "Come on up Toph."
"Why?" she called back.
She sighed and tried to blow her bangs out of her face – a gesture that always failed. She launched herself next to Sokka with a well-practised earthbending manoeuvre. "Alright, I'm here. Now what?"
Sokka sat against the edge of the back of the saddle. "Come sit with me." To his surprise, she didn't object or come back with a sarcastic reply. She just held out her hand and let him guide her to sit in front of him. He pulled her closer to him, wrapping his arms around her waist.
She pressed her back into his chest and sighed.
"The stars are like bells," he said.
"Bells," she said. It wasn't a question.
"Yep, bells. The brightest ones, they're like the bells at the Fire Nation Palace. You know how you can always hear them no matter where you are in the city?" Toph nodded. "Well, you can always see the brightest of the stars, no matter what.
"Then there are faint ones, like wind chimes. Sometimes you have to strain to hear the chimes, and sometimes you have to strain to see the stars.
"Some are in the middle. Not loud, not quiet, but always there. There are so many that you could never count them all, even if you spent your entire life trying. But they all compliment each other, so instead of just having a noise, there is a perfect melody being played out in the sky every night."
Sokka waited for Toph to say something, but she was silent. He didn't know what else to say; he was so sure that she would understand that he didn't even think about what to do if she didn't.
Toph took a deep breath. "Not bad, Sokka," she finally said. "I think I get it."
Sokka held her a little tighter. "I knew you would," he said, smiling.
The two of them sat like together on Appa for the better part of an hour. Neither of them spoke, they simply were content in each others' company. A cold breeze blew, and they knew it was time to return to the fireside and get some rest.
They walked back to the campsite, hand in hand. "The stars sure do sound beautiful tonight," Toph whispered to Sokka.
Sokka chuckled. "Not as beautiful as the sound of your voice."
Without missing a beat, she punched him in the arm. "Do not get all mushy on me," she ordered. "And you will never tell anyone about what I asked you. Remember, I don't care that I can't see the stars."
"That whole conversation never happened," he agreed. Toph nodded in satisfaction.
They both returned to their sleeping bags, but neither slept. Instead, they stayed up long into the night, listening to the sound of the stars.