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Returning at Last
<p style="text-indent: 0.5in; margin: 0in 0in 10pt">Sokka stood by the mast of the ship, leaning his armored shoulder against the dark wood. The royal blue sails of the Water Tribe Navy unfurled and rippled in the wind. Members of the crew scurried around excitedly, thrilled to be returning to their homeland at last. Hakoda stood proudly by the helm, with Bato at his side. Sokka looked at his father admiringly before turning his attention back to the harbor. A crowd of Earth Kingdom residents watched them leave, shouting well wishes and cheering as their allies began the triumphant journey home.</p>
Toph was somewhere in that crowd. Sokka hoped that she was cheering along with the others, but in his heart he knew this hope was in vain. He had never seen Toph the way she had been earlier that day. Sokka hated it when his best friend was upset.
<p style="text-indent: 0.5in; margin: 0in 0in 10pt">His best friend. </p>
<p style="text-indent: 0.5in; margin: 0in 0in 10pt">Sokka always knew that Toph liked him. The thought always rested at the back of his mind. But he never thought she'd take it this far. Toph's breakdown earlier was more than Sokka was expecting. A simple confession, a punch on the arm, perhaps...but not this. Those tears, those shaking shoulders, that quivering little body pressed close to his and those big, sightless eyes staring at him, had hurt something within Sokka. Leaving Toph behind in the state she was in was almost worse than when she was dangling helplessly from his hand on the airship. Toph was alone... </p>
<p style="text-indent: 0.5in; margin: 0in 0in 10pt">Sokka walked down to the far end of the ship and looked back towards Ba Sing Se. Had she gone home now? Perhaps she had gone to the Jasmine Dragon...but Iroh was aiding the recovery efforts with the other members of the Order of the White Lotus, and the tea shop was closed. Would Toph sit on the doorstep, waiting for a familiar pair of feet to tread up to her? </p>
<p style="text-indent: 0.5in; margin: 0in 0in 10pt">Almost unwillingly, Sokka felt his face with the tips of his fingers. Toph's hands were so warm. Her fingers had been shaking as they slid across Sokka's nose and eyes. As there her hands had lingered, Sokka had felt Toph's hands tense. So much that had gone unsaid should have been spilled out then and there, but--... </p>
<p style="margin: 0in 0in 10pt">But. </p>
<p style="margin: 0in 0in 10pt">He had to leave. </p>
<p style="margin: 0in 0in 10pt">Why did he leave her there? </p>
<p style="margin: 0in 0in 10pt">Why did he leave her there when it was so clear that she needed him? </p>
<p style="margin: 0in 0in 10pt">Sokka clenched his hands into fists, turning his face away from the shrinking harbor of Ba Sing Se. He didn't want to look back. He didn't want to think of Toph alone. But of course, when you wish one thing, another happens. Now he could see nothing but Toph. Her eyes, pouring out the tears that seemed to be so long bottled up within her heart, were as plain as day before his face. Sokka tried in vain to shut them out, but when he closed his eyes, the visions became only clearer. </p>
<p style="margin: 0in 0in 10pt">"I'm sorry, Toph," he whispered. "I'll make it up to you some day." </p>
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