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The day of the comet had changed her forever. The shouting and the din of war ringing in her ears remained clear in her memory, as did the overwhelming heat of the fire that day, so bright that even her darkened vision could tell a difference in the light before her eyes. Toph could remember the fear she felt that day, being blinder than ever on the exterior of the flying airship. She recalled Sokka, too. Brave Sokka, who shielded her from falling debris, who pulled her out of harm's way and, when all hope seemed lost, still did his utmost to save her life.
Her palms still tingled at the thought of his hand gripping her fingers at that fatal moment. Toph thought—she knew—that she was going to die. A flood of emotion had crashed upon her in that moment, dangling helplessly from the airship. Fear had gripped her heart, terror tore at her mind. She didn't want to die. She couldn't die! Not when her life had taken such a drastic turn for the better.
Most prominent of her frightened emotions on that day was her strange wish to see. Never before in her life had she hated her blindness so much. In what she had believed to be her last moments, Toph desperately wanted to see Sokka's face. As her fingers had slipped farther out of Sokka's grasp, Toph felt that she would never get to tell Sokka just how much he meant to her. The most she could do was hope that her trembling hand could send some type of signal to Sokka, explaining everything that she had thought and felt over the past months. But Sokka couldn't see the way Toph could. He wouldn't be able to feel the vibrations of her heart or read the tremors of her limbs.
"I don't think boomerang's coming back, Toph. It looks like this is the end."
Oh, his voice! He was still trying to retain some shred of courage while he looked his doom in the eyes. Toph had always admired Sokka for his bravery, but with her seismic sense and enhanced hearing, she could tell that he was just as afraid as she was. The tears that had rippled down her cheeks so uncontrollably were not in sadness for her own death, but rather, his. Had Toph known that she would be the only one to fall from the airship, she would have been at peace, knowing that Sokka would live on. She had confidence that through him, her own memory would live on. Sokka could be with Suki, and be happy. And that was all Toph needed: his happiness.
But then, as quickly as their peril had begun, it was over. Suki had come back (though Toph would have preferred boomerang's return over that of the Kyoshi Warrior's). They were safe now; at least, as safe as they could be on the exterior of a flying airship during a raging war. Toph wanted to hug Sokka, to thank him, and to tell him everything, but before she had the chance, Suki was busy bandaging his broken leg. Toph couldn't very well speak confidentially to Sokka with Suki hovering nearby.
And so she waited. They reunited with Aang, saw the defeated Phoenix King, returned to the Fire Nation Capital...and she never spoke with him.
Trapped in Ba Sing Se
The war had been over for three months now. Newly-crowned Fire Lord Zuko was beginning what was to become a long period of healing for the four nations. Twinkle Toes was running around doing good deeds with Sugar Queen, and Suki had left with the Kyoshi Warriors to resume training. Sokka was going home to the Southern Water Tribe today, leaving Toph alone in Ba Sing Se.
She hated being alone.
More than that, she despised Ba Sing Se, with its noisy streets and crowded spaces and those walls that kept her captive in a jumbled mess of people. But greater still than her hatred for Ba Sing Se was how she hated being away from Sokka...
Toph could hear him packing his things in the other room. The ship left for the South Pole in just a few minutes. Toph didn't know when he would come back, or even if he would come back. This could be her last chance to speak with him, to hear his voice, and to feel the beat of his heart through the earth. Then he would be gone...far away to where she could not reach him.
A sudden thought struck Toph. Maybe, just maybe, she could make Sokka take her with him. If she could just show him that she could belong in the Southern Water Tribe. If she could just show him that she belonged with him...
Toph tugged at her tangled hair, hopelessly trying to free her fingers from the knots she had created. She groaned exasperatedly. Her arms were cramping at awkward angles as she made a third attempt at making the complicated hairstyle so popular in the Southern Water Tribe. This was one of the few everyday tasks that her feet couldn't see. Since a young age, her hands had been trained to pull her thick dark locks back into a large bun, but that was it. She had never thought of doing anything different until now.
The sounds of Sokka's packing had ceased. Frantically, Toph twisted her hair again, only to get it caught up in a frizzled knotted mess. How on earth did Katara make these every day?
Toph froze at the sound of Sokka's voice. With one decided pull, she yanked her hands free from her hair so violently that it nearly brought tears to her eyes.
"What are you doing?" Sokka asked. Toph felt him place something large and heavy on the floor in the doorway, presumably a knapsack.
"Me? Oh, nothing. Just...fixing my hair," said Toph with a fake nonchalant tone.
"It looked like you were trying to make—oh, never mind."
Toph hung her head to try to hide her face with her bangs. There it was again: that warm feeling on her cheeks. Katara had called it "blushing". With a hand that shook slightly, Toph picked up her comb and began working the knots out of her hair.
"So...heading out soon?" she said conversationally.
"I've never seen you with your hair down before," said Sokka, avoiding the question.
Toph felt Sokka's posture shift slightly in a small shrug.
"Nothing. You're hair is just pretty, that's all."
Toph's heart beat almost painfully against her chest. She was afraid that Sokka would hear it pounding.
"You should let it down more often," said Sokka, walking towards Toph.
Toph said nothing as she felt Sokka's strong, warm hand slip the wooden comb out of her fingers.
"You know, at first glance, this little comb isn't very special," he said, "But on closer inspection, it proves to be quite extraordinary."
Toph wrung her hands as Sokka began to run the comb gently through her hair. A few months ago, she would have wrenched it out of his hands, probably snapping that she could take care of herself. But not now.
"How is it special?" she said, trying not to let her voice quaver.
"Well," Sokka began combing through the right half of her hair, smoothing it down with his free hand as he went, "It's small, but strong. It can get the job done, but it also is beautiful. I know you can't see it, but this wood is dark and smooth."
Toph heard the quiet click of the comb being placed on the dresser. Taking her green and yellow headband, Sokka softly slipped it onto her head, pushing it behind her ears and brushing her bangs into place.
"It doesn't need anything fancy on it to make it nice. Its beauty is natural. And anyone who thinks otherwise is truly blind."
"Are you blind, Sokka?" whispered Toph.
"I like to think I'm not. After all, I did just explain how I thought this little comb was beautiful."
"But you've never noticed how lonely that b—," Toph stumbled over the word that she had never spoken in her life, "that beautiful comb can feel, when it's left all alone...and replaced with a nicer one that has more obvious prettiness."
Sokka leaned his elbows against the dresser.
"I suppose you're right. But just because I didn't say anything doesn't mean I wasn't aware."
Toph opened her mouth to speak when Hakoda's voice echoed down the hall.
"We leave in five minutes, son. Are you ready?"
A lump rose in Toph's throat and tears welled up in her eyes. No, she thought, not yet!
"Uh, almost Dad!" called Sokka.
Toph waited until she could feel Hakoda's footsteps leave the house. She didn't think she could talk anymore. Not without letting the tears that were hovering so dangerously on her eyelashes fall.
"Toph...this isn't forever. I'll come back. I can go and visit Suki, and then we'll both come to see you."
Suki. Toph's heart sank at the mention of the warrior's name. A tiny thread of hope had risen in her heart that maybe, just maybe, Sokka could have forgotten his hasty relationship with Suki. Obvious as it was that he hadn't, Toph turned her face from him and allowed the first few tears to fall.
"Sokka...you didn't let me go that day when we were on the airship. And now...I don't want to let go of you. Please don't leave me here...without you."
Toph's voice broke and she could do nothing to hide her shaking shoulders. Sokka's hands took hold of her and turned her around with one graceful movement. No words were spoken as he drew her in to a tight hug. Toph let her tears flow and her sobs escape her lips as she buried her face in Sokka's arms, pressing her cheek against the cool armor on his chest. She could hear his heartbeat from here, loud and fast.
Outside, a shout rose up that the ship was about to depart.
A mood of panic came over Toph. Pulling out of Sokka's embrace, she gripped his forearms and pulled him down to the floor, sitting cross-legged.
"Let me see your face," she said quaveringly.
No response came from Sokka, but he took her wrists and laid her hands on his face. Toph gently slid her fingers over his cheeks, his brow, his nose, his lips...
A fluttery feeling took place in her heart as she passed over his eyes. Though the lids were closed, she could feel their size, their shape. They were beautiful. They were more beautiful than Toph had ever imagined. Sokka's face was more incredible than her mind had ever thought it could be.
Hakoda's voice came again from the hall.
"We're leaving now, Sokka. What's taking you so long?"
Toph wanted to cry out, to make him stay, but Sokka rose slowly and picked up his bag. He plodded out of the room without ever saying goodbye.
"No..." Toph whispered.
She sat in a stupefied silence till she heard the front door shut. Then, in a desperate frenzy, she ran as quickly as she could out of the room, down the hall and through the entrance. Ignoring the people she shoved aside, she pounded to the dock, where, though she could not see, she knew the ship rested, preparing to take Sokka away from her.
"Sokka! Sokka!" she screamed, but her feet sensed the rope being cast off the rock, and she knew the ship had begun to sail away.
"Sokka!" she shouted again, hot tears rushing in a torrent down her face.
She was too late. The ship was gone.
Sokka was gone.
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