Disclaimer: Avatar: The Last Airbender belongs to Bryke and Nickelodeon, not me.
Takes place between seasons two and three.
Her breath rattled in her ears. The sound reverberated from her dry mouth, bouncing off metal walls, absorbed by the fabric beneath her shivering body, roaring through her overly sensitive nerves. She licked her dry lips. Her chest heaved.
"Is she awake?"
"I think so."
She tried to talk, but the words caught in her throat. Her breathing sped up and her lungs constricted. She held out her hand like one drowning. The darkness swallowed her up as the world rocked beneath her.
Two strong hands gripped her small cold one. "It's all right." Dizzily she recognized Katara's slender fingers. "You're all right, Toph. Do you want some water?"
She nodded. Katara wrapped an arm around her shoulders and drew her up into a sitting position. Her head swam as her world shifted. A tin cup touched her lips; she drank eagerly, spilling tepid water over her chin. She coughed.
"What happened?" she rasped.
"You got hurt." Sokka's voice was unusually gentle. She turned her head towards the sound and instantly regretted it. "We were taking over the Fire Nation ship in Chameleon Bay. I-"
"You fell," Katara said quietly.
She dropped her head. Her bare feet slipping on the rain-slick wooden ladder. Her hands desperately seeking purchase. The abrupt curving of her spine as she plummeted. The sickening crack. The silence.
"I remember," she whispered. "Am I…am I okay?"
Gentle fingers lightly probed the back of her head. She realized that her hair, usually caught back in a no-nonsense manner, hung over her shoulders to her waist. "You've got a pretty bad bump on your head," Katara said. "You were sick to your stomach for a while too. I think you have a concussion."
"I'm fine, right?" she said. She held onto the older girl's hand.
"You will be, if you rest," Katara said.
"But you need me," she protested. "I have to help."
She struggled to climb out of her bed. The world crashed around her and her stomach tightened. She didn't even realize she was pitching towards the floor until she fell hard across a broad muscular shoulder. "Not yet," Sokka urged, wrapping his arms around her. She clung to him, her hands gripping the neck of his tunic.
Katara smoothed her hair back. "She's so disoriented," she murmured, mostly to herself. "Sokka, can you stay with her? I have to check on Aang."
She felt his heartbeat shift in his chest. "Katara, I can't," he said.
"You have to." She wished she could see the looks the siblings were surely exchanging. "Just don't let her move. I'll be back."
Toph felt Katara move, and heard her footsteps echoing across the floor. The door tapped closed. She still clutched Sokka's shoulders as the world tilted back and forth. "Where am I?" she said.
Sokka picked her up and moved her back onto the bed. She didn't fight him. "You're on a ship, remember?" he said. "We took over the Fire Nation ship."
She settled back against the pillows and leaned her aching head against the wall. "So we're safe?" she said.
He tucked her hair behind her ear. "Yeah," he said. "We're safe."
"Did I help at all?" she said.
"Yeah, you helped," he said. She could hear the smile in his voice. "Don't worry about it. You were a trooper."
"What happened after I fell?" she asked. "I can't remember."
He sat down on the edge of her bed. "You fell in the water," he explained. "My dad and Bato were busy fighting the soldiers. Pipsqueak and the Duke, too. Katara jumped in and grabbed you."
"Where were you?" she asked.
He trailed his finger along the seams of the blanket that covered her knees. "Distracted," he confessed. "I was…I was supposed to be the one to pull you up, but I wasn't there. It was my fault."
His heartbeat thunked a slow, dull measure. Even in her dizzy state, she knew what that meant. Guilt.
"Sokka?" she said.
He sounded lost in his own thoughts. She placed her hand on his knee, feeling the taut muscles and stretched ligaments under his skin. "I'm not mad at you," she said. "Don't feel guilty."
"I'm not guilty," he mumbled.
"Yes, you are," she said. She pulled her long hair over one shoulder, twisting it in a silky coil. "I'm not mad, really. I'll be fine."
"You didn't look fine," he whispered. "When Katara pulled you out of the water…you looked dead. You were so pale. There was blood, too. Blood all over your face, and your clothes. You hit your head hard."
She stroked her fingers across his knee, light and rhythmic. It was not time for her to talk.
"I didn't even notice you until I saw my father pick you up," Sokka continued quietly. "You looked broken. I thought you were dead."
Her fingers continued their soft criss-crossing patterns on his knee. Her head throbbed, but the sound of the waves and his voice was comforting. "You didn't do anything wrong," she said.
He seized her hands. "Don't you understand?" he said. "I didn't protect you. Just like I didn't protect…"
His voice trailed off. It didn't matter. She had heard the stories.
Toph pulled him closer to her. She pressed her forehead into the cold curve of his neck and kissed him lightly behind his ear. "You were fighting," she said, her voice sounding thin and faded. "You were still protecting me."
Sokka locked his arms around her, pulling her so fiercely it broke the air from her body. He buried his face into her shoulder. She sat there for a long time, uncomfortable but unwilling to move. The only sound was his breath in her ear- quiet, shuddering, and ragged.
Ah, angst. Raw, delicious angst.
I was in a mood. Hope you enjoyed it.