Written for Valentine's Day (yes, I know, I'm late)

The Fifteenth Day

Part Three

"She says nothing at all, but simply stares upward into the dark sky and watches, with sad eyes, the slow dance of the infinite stars."

—Neil Gaiman

A loud belch emanated from her right.

''Scuse me,' Sokka grinned, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his tunic and tossing the remains of his dinner into a nearby dustbin. 'Looks like I had too much to eat.'

'How undignified,' Toph mocked serenely, before feeling the bubble of air rising from her own stomach and producing a complementary burp, its amplitude and length greater than that of her companion's.

As she felt the locals turn to face her in surprise, a delicate flush creeping over her skin, she forgot her brief embarrassment when Sokka cuffed her head lightly. Their laughs joined in harmony and floated across the ponds bubbling with the life of the harbour's ocean, darting between the packs crowding the city gardens to breathe freedom in the expansive evening sky above.

Sokka's laughter was abruptly cut off by a groan. 'Oh, man,' Toph heard him whine, 'Come on! They're in public!'

Raising her eyebrows in amusement, Toph turned her feet, facing the direction that contained the source of his exasperation. Upon discovering the bodies of Aang and Katara locked in an eager, intimate embrace, the bracelet bought the previous day proudly displayed on the latter's wrist, Toph, too, found her mouth twitching downwards in similar disgust.

'This is so embarrassing.' The color in her cheeks deepened as Sokka, upon muttering this, seized her hand and began threading their way through the large assembly, presumably to avoid the oogies. Apologetic noises left their throats as they dodged immobile figures, murmured half-heartedly and accompanying their hurried footsteps, Toph blocking out all other disturbances and focusing solely on the man leading the way.

Once they had reached the edge of the largest lake, Sokka flopped down on its bank and crossed his legs. 'I seriously wish they'd cut it out. They're practically adults now,' he ranted, 'And still acting like hormonal teenagers, making out in public. Gross.'

Refraining from pointing out that his recently tanked relationship had been annoyingly public in their display of affections, too, Toph settled for nudging him with her foot. 'Psh. Give them a break; it's Deng Jie, and they're madly in love. Heck, I'd give anything to be in their position.'

He gave a short, disbelieving laugh, taking his best friend in with amazement as she sat down as well. 'You? Seriously?' Sokka grasped her shoulder, giving her a little shake. 'You're Toph Bei Fong! You're awesome all on your own, and you definitely don't need anyone!'

She didn't stop the smile from flickering over her face, like the flames dancing haphazardly on the wicks of the candle stubs surrounding them. They were balanced precariously in paper lanterns strung between makeshift wooden poles and trees, giving off ample light and warmth to lend cheer to the festivities that failed to compete with the joy she felt with her best friend now. 'I don't, do I?'

'Hell, no!' Sokka cried, earning a grin from Toph and an affectionate punch to his forearm.

He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and drew her in for a hug, her cheek resting comfortably against the warmth of his chest. Leaning into Sokka heavily, Toph thought his body alone expelled heat more radiant than those flimsy decorations, his skin flush against hers, creating a tingling feeling travelling all the way down to her toes that was not unwelcome. Basking in the sounds of gaiety, Toph closed her eyes and listened to the diligent thumping of his heart ringing in her ears, her own breaths inevitably following the rise and fall of Sokka's chest.

She could feel the package tucked between her undershirt and tunic, bulky and slightly uncomfortable with its awkward shape. Toph had neither the sense nor time to find a suitable place for its safekeeping; till this afternoon, she had been working frantically to restore Sokka's beloved weapon, utilising her bending, sheets of sandpaper and spare metal chunks as her ammunition. The result had left her hands burning with aches and grazes, sweat staining through her clothes and her hair coated with rust, but was ultimately satisfactory. She had ensured his boomerang had been returned to its former glory, its edges razor sharp and aerodynamics unrivalled. Testing out the latter had given Toph a nasty bump to her head, the bruise fortunately invisible beneath her bangs. This time, though, she was certain, with her metalbending prowess put to good use, that boomerang would always come back.

'Hey, over there,' Sokka nodded, knowing she'd correctly interpret his gestures. 'Those girls are dropping their oranges into the lake.'

Sure enough, Toph spied a gaggle of giggling young women tottering on the edge of the opposite bank, conspicuously dropping the oranges embellished with their contact details into the flowing waters. One of them looked up, spotted Sokka and flashed a flirtatious wink at him. Irritated with Sokka's returning smile, Toph immediately bounced her heel and flattened the grass beneath, causing the earth to deposit the floozy unceremoniously into the lake. She and Sokka promptly burst out into peals of laughter, Toph noting his lacking inclination to help the girl with approval.

'Tell me you didn't do that, Toph,' Sokka alternated between gasps and a disapproving tone. 'Look, she's all wet now.'

The commotion had upset several turtle ducks, she guessed, since the air was filled with their irate quacks and the girl's frightened shrieks as she struggled to clamber back onto dry land. Feeling the unfortunate lady turn to shoot them a murderous glare, Toph fell into a fit of giggles again, then stopped as she noticed the unusual lack of mobility of her best friend, Sokka's penetrating gaze directed at her.

Raising her hand, Toph sought out the blossoming bruise on the side of her head nervously, afraid that he had seen it. 'What?'

'Nothing, just that, I, uh-' She heard the rustling of his clothes, then his warm hand taking hers. 'Since it's Deng Jie and all, I wanted to give you this.'

Her heart accelerating as she grasped the meaning behind his words, Toph's hands closed around the wooden object placed in her palm, taking care not to crush the obviously fragile gift. Her face dissolved into a smile as her fingers sought out the pointed nose, the four uneven legs and roughly hewn tail.

'Am I mistaken, or is this supposed to be a badgermole?' she asked wryly, taking care not to bolster Sokka's ego too much.

'Yeah, well, sort of,' came his uneasy laugh. 'This was my third try. You can probably tell that it's not the most accurate of representations. Although I think you could use it as an ornament or-'

Toph blamed her next action on giddiness from his gift and exhaustion from her sleepless night. With a small push against the ground from her left hand, she was able to boost herself up to reach Sokka's lips with her own. The dry skin on hers brushed, lingered, against the softness that greeted her; she tasted the smoke of his recently consumed dinner, felt the stray strands of stubble chafe gently against her smooth chin. This close, Toph could smell the soot and papyrus Sokka frequently used in his job, his blood rushing up to swim alongside hers, separated by mere layers of epidermis. The whirl of heightened senses overwhelmed her, and Toph felt her eyelids sag, heavy and longing in the moment-

-that quickly ended as Sokka pushed her away forcefully, his heartbeat as rapid as hers. Toph's lips were abruptly met with the cold of the night, tasting bitterly unsatisfactory after experiencing Sokka's kiss.

'What was that?' he sputtered, falling back onto his elbows and regarding her with shock. 'Toph, you kissed me!'

'Y-yeah, I did,' Toph stuttered back, landing on the side of her legs unsteadily. 'W-what-?'

They gaped at each other for a little while, oblivious to the mass of people partaking in the traditions of the old era around them. After a few moments, Sokka managed to return to his sitting position, levelling her with a wary look and a tone she dreaded.

'Do you... Do you like me, or something?'

Toph flushed angrily, rising on her knees defiantly. 'I just kissed you, didn't I? I mean, are you telling me you don't?'

As the words left her mouth in their rapid, thoughtless flight, her heart seemed to drop; assessing Sokka's body language and horror-struck expression, Toph knew the answer to her question even before he could even open his mouth to provide a response.

'But-' her voice was raspy, and broke; then her mind kicked into overdrive as she parroted the knowledge stowed away, words falling automatically from her mouth as soon as she wet her lips. '-You got me a gift, made it for me, and it's the fifteenth day today... K-Katara said that gifts were given to express romantic interests-'

'-and cement friendships,' Sokka interrupted weakly. 'I made that badgermole to show you how much you mean to me... As my best friend.'

Toph felt the hope she had nurtured all this time evaporate, along with the small ecstasy his gift had brought. She could feel the plummeting of her heart, digging it's dirty grave into the lake's bank, the blood flow arresting till stagnant. Her hand loosened as a result, and she felt the carved badgermole's soft impact as it fell amongst the grass blades. In contrast, Sokka's words seemed to have a profound effect on her vision, for the world beneath her feet appeared to tilt on its axis ever so slightly, continuing its revolution till she was unable to differentiate the sky and the earth.

She was weightless, floating along like a spirit devoid of any substance. Numbness clawed at her insides, devouring her heart and lungs so that her blood froze, her breath stalled. Toph was not inclined to freely exhibit her emotions, but now she desperately wanted to feel something, something that hurt and would bring tears to her eyes instead of this caving hollow replacing her organs.

She ignored Sokka's placating voice, his outreached hand, aware that her face was a brittle mask with an unknown force lurking behind. Instead, Toph reached into her tunic and pulled out her gift, tossing it carelessly at his feet, the beginnings of panic and shocking blankness writhing within her. It took less than a second for the familiar shape to click remembrance into Sokka's head; she heard the question mark rise and die at the tip of his tongue, the catch of his breath as he realized its significance.

Once she felt him stoop to pick up his boomerang, Toph turned and ran.

It wasn't till much later that Toph cried. They were never body-wracking sobs, or hysterical wails; to her, crying was a few trails of salt cascading down her cheek, brushed off determinedly with the back of her hand after a few minutes, leaving no traces of revealing signs behind. She was proud of the short, alloted period she gave herself to let loose; it showed that she was strong, disciplined, a fighter forever steady and impervious to hurt and the darkest feelings, her sword always at the ready to fend them off.

Tonight, Toph stretched out on the roof of a house far away from the gardens, its occupants oblivious to her presence. None of her friends ever ventured to the residential areas, having their own places on a small island off Republic City, hence her choice. The murmur of single ladies and their suitors were an ocean away up here, her toes firmly pointed upwards with her arms tucked complacently behind her head. Toph refused to feel the earth and, in turn, refused to let it feel her, refused to let its solid comfort her, stubbornly waiting for the dams withholding her churning heart to crumble down.

The dulled feeling did gave way to real, tangible emotion in the end, squeezed through minuscule tear ducts to paint a river of dashed prospects. Her throat burned and her eyes stung, water coating her mouth to dispel any cells Sokka left behind. But through it all, she never shifted from her set position, allowing the tears to trickle down her neck, little soldiers marching home, their paths sticky and smudged as the wind caressed her cheeks. As her gasps for air died down and the wetness dried grudgingly, she shut her eyes and listened to the constellations whispering their condolences and mourning from above, seeking solace in their infinite arms.

Toph opened her eyes, looked to the stars, and let only silence fall.

A/N: Well, that's the end of the threeshot! Thank you to winterxlove, guyw1tn0nam3, tomboy_26, Spry, Invaderk, 13designershoes and D3stiny-Sm4sher for the last chapter's reviews; they have been so encouraging and always bring a smile to my face.

So the fluff and friendship took an angsty turn; I suppose it's me being practical, since I don't think Tokka is likely, despite being a die-hard fan of it myself. Also, I wanted to have opposite endings: Kataang ends up happy, but Tokka doesn't! The quote above is directly linked to the ending; although it's guaranteed Toph would be upset over what she and Sokka will never have, I believe she will get over it as quickly and painlessly as she can, because she's a strong little creature and young enough to withstand the blow. This is just another possibility of Toph's characterization, besides the one I went with in my other Tokka fic. Here, I used her stubbornness and strength to enable her to accept the inevitable and move on, knowing that it was a good effort on her part but Sokka is simply not the one for her.

I hope you all enjoyed it! Please R&R if you can, it gives me strength ;)