Chapter title: Dwelling on the Past
Word count: 3076
Summary: Sokka needs to get away…but he's being followed by a nagging doubt.
MJ did it all, I didn't even add my own bit this time. I probably won't be writing for this anymore. She doesn't need me--she's better than that. Give her all the credit and... just enjoy it, everyone.
Once you have all disregarded what my dear disillusioned friend said, please, stand and give her some applause.
And blame this long wait on a LJ cut that has it in for us.
WITHOUT FUTHER ADO, CHAPTER THREE.
Her smile was bright.
She leaned against the wooden railing, watching the sunset. “I love it here,” she whispered. “It’s just so beautiful.”
“It is,” he found himself agreeing as he snaked an arm around her. Blue eyes looked out at the splashes of red and gold and purple painting the sky.
“You know what makes it better?” he asked after a moment. The grin on his face was playful as he pulled her close.
Brows raised almost teasingly, she waited for him to continue.
He bent down and placed a lingering kiss on her lips. “Being here with you.”
Mourning had gotten him nowhere. It had only brought more despair.
The South Pole was more miserable than he remembered, home to the glaring wind that pierced through even the thickest furs and the bitter starless sky that threatened to smother every fire.
But it was far better than the apartment in Ba Sing Se (haunted by guilt, guilt, guilt), or the Palace in the Fire Nation (with his friends just feeling sorry, sorry, sorry). He’d rather be with his father. He liked to think he was keeping the aging man company, rather than the opposite.
And it was rather ironic, he realized with some thought. My mother died; my father went to war. My wife dies; I come back home.
He knew everyone was worried. His father’s fake smiles and kind words were easy to read. They merely made him crawl deeper into his pain. Couldn’t they tell that he wanted to be alone?
“Sokka, can we talk?”
He looked up. “Yeah, Dad?”
“I know you’ve been…having a hard time…”
He looked back down. “Dad, not now, I don’t want to—“
“—I know a bit how you feel. Like you should have been there. Like you could have saved her, or if not, died with her,” his father sighed, scratching his chin. “That’s how I felt…when your mother died.”
He merely nodded. Why was it so hard for them? To just leave him be?
“Sokka I think…I think you should try to cope. Somehow. For me, traveling helped. It took my mind off your mom and gave me something to do.”
He considered this. Maybe it would help. He could get out. He felt smothered, surrounded by those he cared about.
His father smiled hopefully. “You could visit Katara in the Fire Nation.”
“You wouldn’t happen to know anything, would you?” When did her eyes become so sharp? They bore into him, almost as though she were waiting for him to confess something he wasn’t quite sure on himself.
He grunted. Absolutely not.
“Or the Earth Kingdom. You could visit your friend, that girl in Ba Sing Se.”
“Of course it wasn’t planned! The Dai Li wouldn’t go—“ Her eyes widened suddenly. “Never mind.”
It was a clue. A small, nearly missed clue that held a million different meanings.
But it was a clue, nonetheless.
He paused, and shifted in his chair. His father waited, looking half hopeful and half anxious.
“Yeah. Maybe I’ll go…and visit Toph.”
So there he was, the cold sea breeze mussing his stringy hair and tickling under his neck.
He sighed, eyes half-closed as he stared out at both everything and nothing. Ice, ice, water, and more ice. The boat was far too slow; he had hoped there would be green lining his sight by now. His surroundings were still too familiar. Grunting, he shifted his weight to his other leg.
The wind easily shot through his thin clothes. He knew he owned enough gold to buy warmer things, or to have the rips in his old clothes repaired, but he didn’t want to use it. It was his small rebuttal, choosing tatters over silks. He’d rather be a stranger to strangers, than for strangers to know him.
If he wanted, he could be as well known as the rest of them. He could use his simple title to get himself whatever he wanted; nobody refused a close ally to the Avatar and the Firelord and who many thought a shoe-in for the Earth King.
But he distanced himself from them. They sat atop their glory, spreading peace throughout the world…and he was left behind, a broken tool. That was what he’d felt like, spending all those quiet days at the Southern Water Tribe, whittling wood into nothing but splinters.
“You should get some sleep, Sokka….”
He turned his blue eyes, still dull, toward the voice. Pale red lips smiled at him. “Wha—Suki?” he whispered. It couldn’t be. Rubbing his eye, he stared at her.
Her. Standing right next to him. Smiling. There.
Tentatively, he reached out a hand. She smiled wider, moving closer. He shook as his fingers approached her cheek—
—and stroked empty air.
“I said, you need to get some sleep, lad. We’ll be in warmer land by morning.” The captain gave him one last confused look before shuffling toward the bow of the small ship.
Sleep…? Unlikely, he thought as he closed his still-trembling hand.
Both his dreams and his nightmare (and now the moments when he was awake) were filled nothing but her.
Groaning, he awoke to her frowning profile.
“Suki…?” he whispered, stretching. He meant to ask if anything was wrong, but all he could muster was a sleep-laden yawn.
“Do you ever find yourself thinking that something is still wrong with the world?”
He raised a brow. “What do you mean? We ended the war—”
“Sokka,” she muttered. There was a tone running down her bare back soothingly. “Did you really expect everything to be perfect right away?
Her eyes widened, and she whispered a soft apology. “Did I wake you…?” Leaning over, her pale skin glowing in the light of the bedside candle, she brushed the hair from his eyes. “I was just thinking about some things….”
“Like what? You looked kind of upset.”
Frowning again, she bit her lip. Sokka watched her carefully. He’d only seen her like that on a rare occasion, and it usually meant she was planning to hide it. “It’s okay,” he told her gently, sitting up and taking one of her hands. “You don’t have to talk—”
“Don’t forget that there are still people out there who believe in a different kind of world—”
“—Those are rebels. And they cause more problems than they fix.”
Suki looked away for a moment. He watched as doubt and fear and determination flashed across her face…and the he gasped as she shoved him down to the bed. “Maybe you’re right,” she muttered, crawling over him and leaning down. Her lips brushed his, and he shivered. “Maybe peace will take a little more time.”
He had no idea what she meant at that time, and he found he cared little as her hands and lips took over.
One day, a letter came from his father. A short note about his sister’s wedding.
He had completely forgotten.
He had never spoken with Aang about it: when he arrived at the Capital City months ago after leaving Toph, he was already away in the Earth Kingdom. Like they had switched places.
“He has things to sort out with the reports,” Katara sighed to him. “They’re trying to put together a complete account. And Zuko left for Ba Sing Se yesterday, to meet with the King.”
He nodded stiffly, attempting to reassure her he was not going to die anytime soon. He doubted his baggy eyes and sharp features accomplished that.
And she noticed immediately.
“Sokka, are you alright?”
What kind of question was that? “I’m fine, Katara.”
“You look sick.”
“Just caught a cold on the way here. I’m fine, really.”
She frowned. “I can tell that’s not true.” She caught his wrist and pressed her fingers to the veins, then felt the temperature of his forehead, and forced his jaw down to peer at his tongue. “Have you been eating?”
“Have you been eating well?”
He sighed, knowing it was useless to lie again, and let her continue checking his blood pressure and chi flow. The same old Katara: if she was wearing Mom’s necklace, she was always so—
“Hey!” He stepped out of her reach. “Why aren’t you wearing Mom’s necklace?”
Her face darkened a shade, and she fingered the band at her neck, the band Sokka had never seen her wear before.
“I—well—it’s…” she smiled slightly. “Aang asked me to marry him.”
He stared at her.
“I said yes.”
Smile, idiot, smile. She’s your sister, be happy, c’mon. “That’s great, Katara! I’m glad.” His face felt like it would crack and break off. She’s your sister, you should be happy, you should be…
“Sokka…I can tell that’s not true.”
She had pleaded with him to come. Told him it would take his mind off things. She wanted him to be there. She was worried crazy about him.
He had told her he’d try to make it.
And the next day he’d left, blindly letting his feet take him somewhere (his mind was too dead to decide where to go). He’d found himself again on Kyoshi…sitting where their house had been. The house he’d slaved away building. The one with the big yard, for the kids they’d planned on having one day. The one with the splash of yellow paint on a corner, where Suki had pounced on him so as to give him a kiss. The one where he’d planned to live out his life. With her.
“Isn’t it funny how Aang and Katara are so much alike, Sokka?” He detected a slightly sour tone in her voice. “That they’d do anything for each other. Anything.”
He turned her around to face him. “Why is it funny? I’d do the same for you.”
He thought it unfair. Why were they allowed happiness? His sister, happy and carefree and mindlessly in love with whom he considered his very best friend. People he had trusted with and risked his own life for. How could they walk around, saying they felt sorry?
They knew nothing of pain.
"Suki," he sighed. "For the last time—"
"They're liars. They're lying."
"They're not lying! At least, I don't…think…"
"Exactly. What did Toph say?"
He frowned. "It might not even mean anything. I was unbelievably drunk, she might not even have said it. I could've misheard, or imagined it."
"Sokka, I know you. You heard what you heard. But it's up to you to believe it. They're lying."
He buried his head in his knees, but the ship took a violent turn and shook him out of the position.
"Eh, sir?" He looked up, greasy hair scattered in his eyes.
"What?" he growled at the crewman. "Can't you see I'm busy?"
"It looked like…you were talking…but there's no one here, sir."
"Of course there is." He gestured to his left, where Suki had been perched on the railing. "My wife. She won't shut up. If you don't mind—
"—N-not at all, sir. Sorry." The man, looking confused and a little frightened, backed slowly away.
"Sokka, don't be stupid. You're the only who can see me."
"I know," he whispered. "And it's not enough."
Why did the boat decide to sail past the one place he’d never wanted to return?
The land still seemed to smoke, even after a year. Long gray plumes, swirling up toward the dreary sky. Sokka was almost afraid that if he uncovered his nose, the smell of roasted flesh and charred wood would flood his nostrils. He couldn’t take being sick again.
Nothing for him. Not there—not home. The ashen earth of Kyoshi offered him no safe ground.
He remembered returning again not long after learning the truth. The truth (or the small piece he knew of it) was enough to send him reeling…
“Ya know you’re the absolute greatest, right?”
“Of course, Meathead. And watch that,” she adjusted the slipping glass in his hand.
“Damn,” his vision was blurring dangerously. “Suki would be royally pissed at me right now if she was ‘ere. Not that’s she’s not royally pissed already,” He took another swig, the toxic taste burning down his throat. “But what hell was she thinking, goin’ behind my back like that? Rebels cause nothin’ but trouble, and here I find out my own wife is the Spirit-damned leader of ‘em.”
“And how come you’re not as wasted as I am?”
“Because I stopped after my sixth drink. I think you’re on your eleventh.”
There was suddenly a man in army uniform at Toph’s side, whispering in her ear. He vaguely heard her announce she’d be back, and then got up and walked with the man to a quieter corner of the bar. He struggled to focus his energy on staying seated on his chair.
“C’mon.” She suddenly hauled him up by the elbow and walked him none too gently out the door and through the dim streets.
“H-hey, I didn’t finish—“
They stopped abruptly in front of a small shop, closed for the night.
“Sokka. Something’s happened.”
He frowned. “Whadya mean?”
“There’s been…an accident.”
His cloudy mind tripped up searching for the meaning behind those words. “You mean, somethin’ bad? Someone hurt?”
“Yeah. Real bad. And…a lot of people hurt.”
Something told him this wasn’t a light matter. “Well, what’s wrong?”
Toph sighed. Her unfocused eyes weren’t on him, but somewhere to his right.
“Sokka, it’s Suki. There was a fire on Kyoshi.”
He didn’t remember what he said, but there was a lot of cursing and yelling and screaming, with Toph arguing right back.
“No, it’s not true, she’s not dead!”
“Sokka, stop it!”
“I’ll kill them! I’ll kill who did this! And whoever watched them die and didn’t move to help!”
“It was an accident! No one killed them; it was a misunderstanding! On a remote island, Sokka! By the time people knew they needed help, it was too late!”
“It was not! It was planned; someone wanted her dead, they knew about the rebellions! And they torched everyone else with her!”
“Of course it wasn’t planned! The Dai Li wouldn’t go—“ Her eyes widened suddenly. “Never mind.”
“B-but…what about the Dai Li?”
“I didn’t say anything.”
He frowned. “You did. What does the Dai Li have to—“
“—This is the wrong time for this! Dammit, what was I thinking, telling you when you’re not even sober?!” The last thing he saw was her kicking the ground.
The next morning, he awoke and just lay there, studying the ceiling.
A dream. All a dream. A horrible, horrible dream.
He sat up in bed, rubbing his throbbing temples, and saw Toph across the room. Holding an unopened scroll with the military seal. Staring at him with the most miserable look he had ever seen in her blank eyes.
Time seemed to slow as the boat sailed around the island. He almost thought they would never pass. He wanted to go and sulk alone in his cabin, but his eyes seemed glued to the bare, black land.
“Bastard. Thought he could sneak up on us. They planned to take us out, I know it. You know it too, Sokka. But I’m glad we struck first. We died with honor.”
He was so tired of voices in his head that were not his own.
“They say th’ island’s full o’ ghosts.” The Water Tribe warrior turned his head toward the sound of the voice. An elderly man scratched at his chin, leaning against the railing and keeping his eyes fixated ahead.
“Is that so?” Sokka couldn’t help but laugh bitterly. “And I suppose they say that the rebel Warriors are still plotting against the Avatar, even a year later. I’ll bet, if you go there, a vengeful spirit might latch onto you. Just imagine…being compelled, suddenly, to try and stop the Avatar and the Firelord!” He chuckled at how insane he sounded.
The old man, however, believed otherwise. “That’s wh’t they say,” he mumbled. “The spirits of th’ Warriors are th’ reason there are so many are fightin’ back these days—like those young’uns at Nanchu. Think about it: all non-benders…”
“My girls would never do such a thing. The rebellions are happening because people are not happy.”
Sokka nodded gently. “That’s true…”
And her nostrils flared as she demanded, “Why do you even care, Sokka?”
Care? Why would she even ask that? “What the hell do you mean? You—you’re…I can’t even believe you’re doing something like this!” He threw his hands up in exasperation. What else could he do, when he walked into the training halls and found them making plans against what he had worked for for seven years?
Why did he hear her so clearly? Feel her so sharply? He knew she wasn’t real. Just the part of his imagination, fueled by months without sleep and filled with depression, that wouldn’t let go.
Wrinkled face frowning, the man snorted. “When spirits are angry, it’s hard t’ tell what they’d do.”
“What a load of bull. Don’t you think so, Sokka?”
And he felt warm hands travel down his back. Warm hands that he knew were not supposed to be warm. Closing his eyes (not there, never there, can’t be there), he once again slipped into the world of his memories. Memories of his old life; it was much clearer than the one he led now.
“What is this, Suki?”
Her eyes were full of fire. Fire that fueled the Kyoshi Warriors to see a plan to stop Aang’s ambassadors from reaching the shores of the Water Tribes.
“Why would you plot against Aang? Against your friends?”
“You’re too blind to see it, Sokka,” she hissed. The other girls had left, scurrying out the doors as soon as he entered. The silence was almost eerie. “This is not peace; he’s just spreading his power. He’s uniting the world under him. How is that peace? How is it peace when he punishes those against him? When he forces them to do as he says? It doesn’t—Sokka, do you really not see it? Have you not seen how they’ve changed?”
He shook his head, already out the door and headed to the docks. “You’re the one who’s changed.”
He sighed. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe that land is haunted. …Maybe one of them latched to me, as well…”
…That was all he’d ever wanted.