Worst Field Trip Ever

Like a Big Brother

A/N: One last chapter after this - but I want to finish proofreading the whole story first, so it will probably be a while. I intend to conclude the story by Halloween, and then I'll be starting a brand new Avatar fic - the prologue is already live. Check out "What I Learned at SRU." It the meanwhile, I hope you like this penultimate chapter.

The grass was cool and dry beneath her feet, the air crisp and clean. It was evening and the sun must have been set by now with how chilly everything was getting. The two had hardly said a word for some time now, seeming to be waiting until they could sit some place quiet. Ba Sing Se was busier than usual during this particular evening - no doubt a result of Zuko and representatives from the Fire Nation being in town seeking to make amends.

At one point Sokka had seen some rich citizen carrying around a bizarre canine Sokka called a 'monkey-dog.' He had become way more elated than one should ever be at such sight, and Toph had explained that it was a poodle-monkey. After making much ado about proving the Avatar wrong - right in front of the pet's owner - Toph couldn't help but find it amusing that Sokka hadn't actually known that the creature existed, and that his spiel at Aang was just a bluff. Placing his bets on guesses was like Sokka, all right. Some of that must have rubbed off on her all this time, given how she had just made a leap and kissed him out of the blue days before.

They had trailed off the paths and found themselves walking alongside a small river that trickled through town.

Sokka grunted, his weight shifting around in what Toph presumed to be some stretches. He sat himself down at the water's edge. Toph followed his lead, her insides squirming with fear.

Can I do this? Is everything going to be all right? Aw, man...Things are never going to be the same, are they? Ugh, this sucks so much...No, wait. I have to stop worrying. I can do this. Yea. It'll be fine. Don't you think, Yah Toi?

"Uh..." Sokka coughed during a stalling pause. "Nice night out."

"Yea."

"Sure is pretty tonight, huh?"

"Yep."

"Er...Sorry-"

"Wait, I mean...Uh, if you say it is, then...I'm sure it is."

"Right. 'Cuz...Yea."

"Mm-hm. The whole...'me being blind' thing."

"Uh-huh."

Ulg, so awkward. I'm just gonna do it.

"I'm so sorry, Sokka, I-"

"No, I didn't mean to-"

"-what I did was outta line-"

"-shouldn't have reacted like that-"

"-don't know what I was thinking-"

"-know I hurt your feelings, so-"

"I'm sorry.""I'm sorry."

Toph turned her face away, drumming her fingers on her crossed legs.

"W-well...I guess it's kinda pointless by now," Toph grumbled sheepishly, "but I...I should probably tell you that...I like you."

"Yea, I, uh...figured that one out," Sokka winced. "How-um...How long...-?"

"Ever since Serpent's Pass."

"Oh. Wow. That's...that's longer than I thought."

"When Suki showed up, it made you start acting different, and...I dunno." She shrugged with a sigh. "Looking back, it made me jealous. I can't think of any other reason I would be aside from...that. And then the more I thought about it, the more I had to try to convince myself it wasn't like that...but, obviously, it was."

"Right. Mm. That makes sense."

"Um...But-but obviously it doesn't...really matter, I mean," a timid laugh escaped, "not like it means anything at this point."

"Toph, you-"

"'Cuz I know you don't feel the same way. So...yea. Guess I just gotta...ya know. Get over it."

"Um, w-well, I mean...Y-yea," Sokka fumbled around for words, admitting the accuracy of her plan. "But it doesn't have to mean things can't be like before."

"Things aren't like before, Sokka," Toph huffed. "I messed everything up."

Sokka sighed, and she could feel his weight hunching over as he considered what to say next.

"Toph, things might be a bit messy right now, sure." Scoofffff. "But come on, stop being a drama queen about it," he teased, "It's not your style." His dry, rough hand rubbed against her shoulder, pressing in hard. Something about his gesture and his humor on top of her wobbly emotional state tipped everything over and tears started drizzling out. She hurriedly wiped them away in sloppy hand strokes.

"Whoa, hey," Sokka soothed quietly, extended his opposing arm around her.

"It sucks," Toph growled, trying to keep herself calm so as not to sniffle all over. "I hate feeling this way."

"I get ya," Sokka murmured, hugging her tight. "But it's OK, Toph. We'll work through this. I'm not just gonna ditch you 'cuz of a little weirdness."

"OK," Toph choked out with a deep, rasping breath.

"This sorta stuff doesn't always work out the way we want it, that's all."

Right, yea. I know that. I can deal with it if I know he's going to stick with me.

"Love is like Boomerang, Toph."

"Huh?"

"It...it doesn't always come back," Sokka mused.

"Oh...Guess so," Toph moaned.

"Like with The Duke."

"Wh-? Who is this guy?" Toph grumbled, flabbergasted, pulling herself free from Sokka's grip. There was that name again.

"The Duke," Sokka reiterated. "Ya know, that kid from that gang?"

"Yeeeaaa, Aang and Katara seemed to think there was something between us?"

"You don't remember him?"

"Uhh, no?"

"Heh, well...I bet he remembers you."

"So this kid had a crush on me, is what you're saying?"

"He totally did," Sokka assured, clearly amused. "He was always trying to make sure you were comfortable the whole time and kept asking questions about who you were and where you came from and everything. He definitely liked you."

"Oh," Toph mumbled with a shug. While somewhat comparable, she felt the situation was very different. They hardly knew each other - then again, this fact was pretty much her fault.

"I don't blame him," Sokka slyly added with a nudging fist into her shoulder. "You are cute and all. And tough and strong - but you're a good kid underneath. You're a catch, all right."

A weak smile washed onto Toph's face. It was bittersweet, finally hearing Sokka express that she was pretty, but knowing that her feelings were not reciprocated. He was trying to make her feel better but she felt confident he wasn't just saying this for the sake of it.

"Aang says my eyes are like the moon," Toph boasted in a bashful brag. She was trying to come off as arrogant and dismissive but somehow that failed.

"Mm," came an oddly pensive hum from Sokka. His heartbeat was all funny.

Did I say something wrong? What's the deal all of a sudden?

Confused by his sudden dip in mood, Toph palmed sticky tears from her cheeks and contemplated what to say next. Sokka beat her to it.

"Hey, Toph," he said quietly, solemnly - it was unnerving. "I ever tell you about Yue?"

Yue? Yue, Yue...Ummmm...That was must be a person, right? Not ringing any bells. C'mon, think, this sounds like a big deal. Urgh. Nope. Nothing.

"I...I don't think so," Toph said out of the corner of her mouth, keeping her face pointed in his direction to express her full attention. Sokka slowly inhaled, then dispelled air in a long, drawling sigh. Whatever this was, it was deep stuff.

"Princess Yue," Sokka murmured drearily. "She's a Spirit of the moon."

Oh, great. More Spirits again. Hopefully one isn't stuck in his head.

"OK," said Toph with a careful shrug. "What about her?"

"We fell in love," Sokka bluntly explained.Uhhh. Right. 'Cuz that seems so likely.

"Ya see, she used to be the princess of the Northern Water Tribe."Wait, whaa-?

"Like...a human princess?"

Sokka chuckled, his body leaned back, head pointed up.

"Very human," he insisted. "She was flesh and blood, just like you and me."

"And you...fell in love?"

"Don't get me wrong," Sokka precluded hastily, "We didn't know each other long, but...I'm tellin' ya, we had something special, all right."

Oh, boy. Geez. This wasn't going anywhere good, was it?

"What happened?" Toph asked with melancholic curiosity.Nothing good, that's for sure.

"She, uh...she sacrificed her life to save the moon," Sokka answered, voice trembling. "When she was a baby, the moon spirit lent itself to her body - and when the moon was in trouble she had to give her life to keep the world balanced."

Whoa. That sounded like pretty deep, harsh stuff. No wonder he was so upset about it. Oh, wow - it all came together. Every time any one talked about the moon, Sokka would get depressed, and it always seemed like Aang and Katara would try to take his mind of off something. This was what that whole deal was about. Toph was a little irked no one had explained it to her, but then again, it was Sokka's business and obviously it was hard for him to talk about it.

"That's...that sucks."

"Tell me about it."

"Being the moon's boyfriend coulda been kinda cool."

"Meh. I don't do long distance very well."

"I'm sorry," Toph gently expressed, patting his arm cautiously.

"So am I." Sokka grasped her wrist and squeezed appreciatively before shifting his body to face her. "But it's all right. It's in the past. That was just...not meant to be, ya know?"

"You have...uh...you've got Suki now," Toph concluded.

"Right," Sokka acknowledged, warmth returning to his voice. "I do. And I intend to hold onto that fact. I had to let myself let go of my feelings for Yue, because all they were doing was...making me feel awful inside."

Just like everyone's been saying. I have to let it go or it'll keep hurting me.

"And the longer I held onto those feelings, the more damage I was doing to myself, to Suki...and if Yue watches over us, it...probably hurt her, too - seeing me beating myself up about it."

"Yea." Toph sighed and brushed her bangs off of her face, tucking them behind her ear.

"That was really tough for me, Toph. The only thing in my life that's been that hard was losing my mom."

"You must've really cared about her," Toph observed.

"I did. I...I was so sure that we would be together. But...-"

"Destiny had other stuff in mind." Toph sniffed and wiped her nose. "And Destiny always gets what it wants," she reflected, remembering her conversation with Uncle Iroh.

"You said it," Sokka moaned. "But what I'm trying to say is that I know you're hurting right now - the boy you like doesn't like you back, your parents...well..."

"My parents don't love me for who I really am."

"Yea."

"I get it," Toph decided. "I know. I need to...let all that stuff go. Because even though that sucks, I have you guys."

"Right."

"See? I'm not so stupid," she taunted with a smirk. "I can figure some of this out."

"Brilliant! Elementary, my Dear," Sokka taunted in his 'fancypants' voice. "So," he proceeded casually, "Seems like you learned a lot over the past coupla weeks, huh?"

"Worst. Field Trip. Ever," Toph whined, slapping Sokka on the shoulder. "This was all your idea."

"So you're complaining that you...have learned a lot?" Sokka prodded matter-of-factly.

"Er...well...Y-yea," she stumbled. "Yea, I am. Learning is annoying," she tartly informed, sticking up her chin in defiance. "It's really exhausting. This whole trip has felt like one huge school lesson."

"School of hard knocks, right?"

"Totally."

"Good. You needed some hard knocks." Thunk-thunk-thunk, he rapped his knuckles onto her skull and she pushed him away with a giggle. "Only way to get through that thick skull of yours!"

"It got through all right," Toph chuckled. "No thanks to you."

"Hey, since when was it my responsibility to teach you junk?"

"I thought I'm part of your family now!" Toph insisted. "You're my big brother. That's a lot of responsibility."

"Oh, geez, you're right," Sokka wailed. "Now I have two little sisters. Spirits, one was bad enough!"

"That's right, and you'd better take your job seriously or I'll...-"

"You'll what?"

"I'll take all your stupid joke-cooking recipes and...make a mud pie."

"That...that's not even funny. Was that supposed to be funny?"

"Shut up!" Whamp.

"I'm just saying, you've been learning from the Sarcasm Sifu. I expect more from my star pupil."

"I'm your star pupil now, huh?"

"Well, it can't be Aang, now can it? That traitor steals my jokes from under my nose!"

"The granite thing? That was a horrible joke. He did you a favor."

"You wanna be my student, or not?"

"Like I need a teacher!"

"Mud pie? Come on. You need some work, grasshopper." He tugged her side and pulled her over, leaning her into his lap as he scraped her skull.

"Ow-hey-quittit!" she fussed, squirming around in a flurry. She finally pressed her palm into the ground and rolled a wave of earth out, shoving Sokka just out of arm's length.

"You're breaking the rules here, Toph," Sokka flatly decreed. "Tch, tch tch," he clicked his tongue in jest. "Big brothers have two jobs: they look after their little sisters and protect them, and then when there's no danger they get to mericilessly pick on them. You can't have one without the other."

"I beg to disagree," Toph mischievously defied, stretching out and sprawling her stomach into the grass. She sniffed in its scent, clutching at blades between her hands like a cat paws at one's leg.

She felt him crawl back over to her after a few moments of blissful silence, and she rose to her knees, flopped herself into his lap, and rolled over, crossing her arms behind her neck and pointing her face up at the night sky - that mystical entity she would never be able to sense. And despite how nice it would be to see something like stars in the sky, it was OK that Toph couldn't. She could accept that. She could accept not having all of these other things that had been stressing her out quite especially over the past couple of weeks, because she had everything she needed - everything she had found herself wanting merely one year ago: freedom to be true to herself, and a family who appreciated her for that self.

Sokka scratched her head therapeutically.

"Whether you let me or not," he warmly comforted, "I'm always gonna be looking out for you, Toph."

"All right," she beamed. "I guess that's OK."

"Stuff can get awkward. But I'll still be around for ya. You could be stuck in a sea of awkward turtle-ducks and I'd still come bail you out, 'cuz I love you, Kiddo. Don't you forget it."

"Love you, too, Sokka."

He's always going to be there for me. Am I always going to be there for Sokka? He's like my big brother. Of course I will. I promise.

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