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24th January, 2014
It was not the storm, the clash of thunder or the peal of lightning, that woke Sokka; it was, against all odds, the three quiet knocks against his front door that brought him back into the land of consciousness. He lay awake in his bed for several moments, before three more taps struck the wood. With a frown, he shrugged on a sleeping robe and got out of bed. If he was surprised at the lateness of the visitor, and in such weather, it was nothing compared to who was standing on his front step.
The blind Beifong heiress was looking down at the wet concrete, absolutely soaked to the bone. It had been several months since he had last seen her—the funeral, he noted grimly—and she hadn't changed a bit. Her mouth was set in a blank line, and her eyes and cheekbones were covered by wet clumps of hair. It was this pathetic person that greeted him, and awoke the guilt that he hadn't made more time to see her.
"Can I come in?" she asked, and dumbly, Sokka nodded. Toph seemed to know—of course she did—and she stepped through silently. Her feet hit the wooden floorboards, and she swayed slightly in her spot as Sokka shut the door behind her; he couldn't help but notice how she breathed a little deeper as he brushed past.
"Here, let me go find you a towel..."
It didn't take him long to retrieve the dry piece of material, but he still expected Toph to move at least a little – not greet him with the same tilt of her head, as though unwilling to face him. Even as he attempted to hand it to her, she was still unresponsive.
"Come on, Toph, you're going to freeze and catch a cold," he implored, desperate to dry her off and find out why she had visited him in the middle of the night in a thunderstorm. She turned her blank eyes to him, and yet still, no move was made to take the towel. It scared him, more than he would admit, to see the strong girl so absolutely piteous. There was a reason – she would not have come like this if there wasn't—however if she wasn't even willing to dry herself off, Sokka had the suspicion she would likely shut down any attempts to get her to talk. Without even realising it, he stepped forward and began tousling her hair in an attempt to rid it of the water. It was only when he deemed it as dry as it was going to get, and he pulled the towel away, that he noticed her expression.
Sokka had never seen her eyes so wide and bloodshot, nor her face as pale as that moment.
He wanted to scoop her up in a hug, comfort her and tell her everything would be okay because he would protect her from the bad monsters that plagued her, but he didn't. Instead, he peeled away the outer layer of drenched clothing, hanging her over-shirt on the back of a chair. He could see the goosebumps forming, nipples pebbling beneath the light singlet as the cool air struck her wet flesh and sent the poor girl shivering. And, he could see the reason she had come to him. As his eyes hovered over the slight swell of her stomach, Sokka promised himself that he would be there for her, and make up for the time that he wasn't. Draping the towel around her shoulders, Sokka only just managed to not put his arms around her, too. Instead, he took a step back, composing himself, before he opened his mouth to talk.
"Do you want a cup of tea?" he asked, and Toph gave a small nod. It was more than she had moved since she stepped into his home, but it didn't make Sokka feel any better. It just accentuated how much she wasn't acting like herself.
After putting a pot of tea on to boil, Sokka went to his room to find a spare set of clothes for Toph. She really would catch a cold if she didn't warm up—although she probably didn't want his help anyway.
That thought gave Sokka pause. Why would she be at his home in the middle of the night if she didn't want any help? Walking back to the kitchen slowly, Toph had moved to sit mutely on one of his chairs. She had pulled the towel from her shoulders, and one strap of the singlet had slipped down, revealing more of her pale skin. The towel was just sitting in her lap, and had Sokka been in a less confused state of mind, he would have questioned why she had removed it in the first place.
"Here you go," he told her, handing the small pile over. It was only one of his longer-sleeved tunics and a pair of pants, but it would do. He left Toph sitting there in order to make his way towards the kitchen to finish preparing the tea, although Sokka couldn't help but glance at her once more before completely exiting the room.
There came a rustling sound just as he finished preparing the tea, although nothing could have prepared him to come face to face with a shirtless Toph, standing in the middle of his living room. He gulped once, twice, trying not to let his eyes wander over the swell of her breasts and down to her slightly protruding stomach. He almost began apologising for the intrusion, until he realised that his floors were made of wood; she didn't know he was there. Not that he would ever be able to get the sight of her from his mind, but she didn't need to know that, either. He was just about to back out of the room and make some terrible clatter in the kitchen, when Toph did something he had never seen her do.
She sank to the floor, and cried.
He had only ever seen her do that twice; the day she left her parents, and the day she went back. According to Katara, she had done the same thing when they were trapped together in Fire Fountain City, all those years ago. The tea was forgotten as Sokka took the three strides across the room to kneel in front of her. For once in her life, she hadn't heard him come up, and she gave a violent hiccup in surprise as he wrapped the towel around her, before his arms followed suit.
"Toph..." he whispered, feeling her shudder and shake. Sokka didn't even realise he had pulled her close, letting her sob into his chest, although naturally it didn't take long. "Toph, what's wrong?" he asked again, gently. "It's been-"
"Th-three months," she stuttered. "Three m-months, and you n-never came to see me..." With a weak shout, she struck him in the chest; Sokka barely felt it, what with the guilt bubbling up in his gut, stronger than before. "I needed you!" she cried, punching him again. "I needed you, and you never even-" she took a deep, shuddering breath. "-you never even said a word..."
"How could I say anything, Toph?" he cried out. "You refused to listen to anyone and I didn't- I didn't want to be one of those people. He hurt me, too!" Sokka added, his voice raising slightly until he realised they were both shedding tears. "Because if he didn't leave, everything would be okay and simple and just how it should be."
"Nothing will ever be the same again," Toph admitted quietly. Looking at Toph, feeling her hands clutch his shirt with such force, Sokka felt the long buried urge to whisper in her ear and make it known his feelings for her. By the time he had realised the first time, she was already engaged. Sokka didn't think she loved him—it was arranged by her parents, after all—but he still couldn't ruin what was supposed to be a joyous occasion by telling her. And now, watching her bawl her eyes out on his floor, Sokka thought that perhaps he had underestimated the depths of her love for her fiancé.
"I'm sorry, Toph," he finally said after what seemed like hours of silence. "I didn't realise-"
"What?" she interrupted, voice still barely reaching the roof above their heads. "That I might not hate him? That I might be sad he left?" Sokka's silence was answer enough, and she sighed. "I can't-" She bit her lip and looked away.
"Toph?" Sokka ventured carefully, leaning a littler closer to her. "I should have been there for you..." he whispered to her. "I'm so sorry. How can I ever make it up to you?"
"You can be here with me, now," she returned quietly, moving her head up. Sokka saw the action as it began, and yet did nothing to stop her as slowly, her lips met his. Toph's hands found his, and she dragged it up her body, not to her chest, as Sokka would have assumed, but up to her cheeks, There she held them, as though being held. Their lips had parted after the first soft, chaste touch, but neither were willing to move away from the other. Once again, it was Sokka who broke the silence.
The name, whispered low and quiet, was fueled by a mix of desire, confusion, and guilt. Desire because Sokka knew how long he'd been craving Toph, pining after her touch and her laugh. He was confused because as far as he was aware, Toph had never felt the same towards him. For spirits' sake, she had just lost her fiancé! And that was where the guilt lay. What right did Sokka have to touch Toph? His best friend who he didn't even deserve. She had always been there for him, but when she needed him to be there for her, he hadn't been.
The two sat there together, breaths intermingling. One slow tear trickled down Toph's cheek as she stared towards Sokka's chin. It was she who broke the long silence as she bowed her head, letting the hand that was holding his to her cheek drop.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I shouldn't have- I'm sorry..."
Her name was all the warning he gave before Sokka leaned forward, bringing his other hand up to her ear and holding her as he placed a lingering kiss on the corner of her mouth. He could taste the salt of her tears and the sweet rain that still refused to fall from her skin, and it was intoxicating. He knew he should stop, even as he leaned down to place one on the other side of her lips, but he couldn't. Sokka was tired of fighting, of hiding and running from his feelings because Toph couldn't reciprocate. She opened her mouth, and he peppered blazing kisses high on her cheeks.
"Shhh," he cut her off, not willing to stop the molten feeling in his heart that travelled down, down, down, filling his every pore with a glorious heat he couldn't get enough of. His mouth latched onto her pulse point, and she gasped, eyes rolling back a fraction before she simply closed them. Sokka was well aware of where they were heading, and how soon they would reach that point if he couldn't gain control of himself. He wanted Toph. He was absolutely positive of it, as he had been when he broke up with Suki, mere days before he learnt of Toph's engagement. He wanted to devote himself to the woman in front of him, wholly and solely. He wanted to be there for her, and the child growing within her. He wanted to be hers.
This realisation struck a chord, and slowly, he pulled back. Yes, it was true, he wanted those things. What if Toph didn't? She was, at heart, an extraordinarily independent woman. She was perfectly capable of raising a child on her own, or making the best of a bad situation. What if she didn't want him in her life like that? Could Sokka go back to the charade of friendship after knowing the lines that had been crossed?
Finally, he came to a complete stop, breathing heavily. Even Toph seemed slightly lightheaded as she swayed slowly in her spot. Sokka's eyes travelled over her, taking in every detail. Her own need mirrored in her chest, her hands clasped over her abdomen. The baby must have been small, because her stomach wasn't nearly as pronounced as Katara's was during her third month of pregnancy. Reaching out a tender hand, Sokka put his over Toph's. His other hand soon landed on her stomach, and she looked up at him with a small look of horror. It vaguely registered that she had thought her secret to be hidden, and a sad smile erupted on Sokka's face.
"Toph," he murmured, catching the way she shivered. "I'm sorry I wasn't there. Let me be here for you now..." He trailed off, kissing her once on the lips before leaning down and touching his own on her stomach for a fleeting instant. He heard Toph take in a shuddering breath, and he glanced up just as she gave a small nod.
Sokka felt his heart swell at the silent consent, and he clambered clumsily to his feet. Toph let out a choking cry, and he was quick to grab her hands and pull her up to meet him.
"I've always wanted to be here," he murmured, lips and teeth and tongue grazing her face and jaw. Struck by a thought, he took her hand and dragged it up, placing it over his heart. "It's always been you, Toph," he said, leaving no doubt of his sincerity. Toph uttered a low whimper, her arms moving around his neck as though to hold her up, his lips still roaming her face, so torturously soft and gentle. She seemed to have forgotten about the towel wrapped around her shoulders as it slid and hit the ground with a heavy thump. The noise shook the two, and in a sudden wave of embarrassment, Toph picked it up to cover herself. There was a thunderclap, the noise forcing Sokka to wonder just how long they had been lost in each other. He looked at Toph, who seemed to have shrunk back in- in what? Guilt? Shame? Regret? He felt like an idiot, making all these declarations while she was still feeling the loss of her fiancé.
Taking her hand, he led her through the house and towards his room. The only spare room had been converted into a work area for Sokka to go over his paperwork (otherwise known as a storage cupboard), and so he really only had one place to offer her. He sat her down on his bed, grateful that she had forgone shoes. There was a little bit of dirt on the underside of her sole that he brushed away tenderly, before standing up again. Toph's sightless gaze stared straight ahead, and he had the feeling that she was still trying to see him, despite the lack of earth. Gently pushing her back until her head hit the pillow, Sokka placed a kiss on her temple, pulling away with a sigh.
"Good night, Toph," he said, voice low and heart heavy. He made it to the door when Toph spoke up.
"Where're you going?" she asked quietly. "I thought... I thought you wanted to be here..."
"I do, Toph," he tried to assure her. "But I can't be here with you tonight, and not tomorrow. If I take you tonight, or tomorrow, or the day after, I won't ever be able to give you up..."
She looked towards him, raising a hand to beckon him back over. With the barest hesitation, Sokka sat next to her on the bed as once again, she took his hand. Placing it on her stomach, she used it to rub the smooth, slightly taught flesh. Sokka couldn't hold back the smile as he imagined the little life growing in his best friend's womb. He had never thought of Toph to be the type for motherhood, but he couldn't deny how much he wanted to see it.
"I've waited for you for twelve years," she said suddenly. "Waited and tried to forget and give up. You don't ever have to give me up."
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