Title: the feeling of home
A/N: For the Hold On Tokka zine! I love how these two banter and play off each other.
Summary: Every time Sokka came to Republic City, he made a beeline to Toph's office. It didn't matter how long he'd been away, how tired he was—the first face he wanted to see was hers. If he stopped and thought about it, it would have been obvious why, but then again, he'd always been oblivious to things.
Every time Sokka came to Republic City, it felt like a brand-new place. Fields turned into houses turned into buildings until he could hardly recognize the place. The way people travelled, the businesses opened, even the fashion styles changed with the blink of an eye. It was almost impossible to keep up with and there was little wonder that the rest of the world could hardly keep up with the city's innovations.
Even the people living in the city had a hard time keeping track of it all.
Still, despite how the roads changed, Sokka never once got lost when he headed to Toph's office at the police headquarters. His body had long memorized the route, even as the sights around him changed. Including, it seemed, the actual headquarters: the building in front of him was twice the size of the old one and fancier too. Sokka stared up at the imposing brick building, bemused.
"When did they even find the time to make this?" he muttered, feeling awkward as he stepped inside. Sometimes, he missed when the department was a small, two-room affair. Toph had only one or two assistants at the time, and her title hadn't so much been Chief of Police as it had just been The Only Police.
Now there were a dozen people looking at him as he stood in the lobby. They were all dressed in a grey uniform that looked a little like an overcoat with armoured shoulder pads. Recognizing a few faces, he waved as he quickly trotted along the long carpet to back. Toph's office was always the biggest room in the place, and he scanned the ids next to the offices as he passed. There were two plaques labelling each room, the second in braille, and he smiles as he finally found an open door with her name on it.
Sokka poked his head in to find Toph standing next to a table, her brow furrowed in concentration as she manipulated a metal ball. As usual, when she focused, it was like the rest of the world stopped existing.
Which meant it was the perfect time to surprise her.
Slowly, he tip-toed in, the plush carpet muffling his steps. The best thing about her office was how plain it was—the blank walls were a bright white, the furniture limited to her desk, chair, and one super comfy couch. There was nothing around for him to bump into, nothing to navigate around.
"Hey, Snoozles!" Toph chirped, smirking as she set down the metal ball. "You got to do better than that."
Sokka pouted, crossing his arms as he gave up the jig. "How do you always know when I'm here?"
"My radar, duh?" How Toph ever learned to roll her eyes despite being blind, he had no idea. He was half certain she'd learn it specifically to make fun of him and Aang, but he could never be certain. "Come on, you've known that for years."
"Not that." Sokka snorted, slightly insulted. "I meant, how do you know it's me? I didn't even say anything."
"It's…it's obvious it's you." He wasn't sure if it was the lights or if he was imagining it, but her cheeks looked rosy pink as she dug her fingers in her thighs. "When'd you get back?"
She was the changing the subject. He would have glowered at her, but there was no point. "Fine, keep your secrets." Maybe it was another Earth-bending skill she was developing. Grinning, he padded over to her, wrapping arm around her back for a tight side hug. "Just now! I dropped my stuff at the temple and bam! Came to see you!"
Toph wrinkled her nose, though she didn't step away. "You smell like it too."
"Hey, that's the sky bison, not me." Discretely, he sniffed himself. It wasn't that bad.
Then again, he'd been smelling sky bison for the past few days; maybe he wasn't the best judge. Pulling away, he sheepishly rubbed his neck. "Maybe I should have taken that bath first."
'You think?" Toph chuckled. Heading over to the sofa, she picked up her grey coat. He could just make out a small badge at the front as she draped it over her arm. "Let's get dinner."
"Didn't you just say I smelled bad?" Sokka frowned, confused.
"Didn't say I couldn't handle it, did I?" Toph raised a brow, looking more amused than annoyed. "'sides, I've handled criminals all day. You're the least fishy thing I've handled."
Sokka guffawed, loving the duel meaning. God, he'd missed this—there were so few people who got his sense of humour. Even fewer who could make jokes. Sometimes, he dealt with Katara for so long he forgot that not everyone else was a humourless worrywart.
Hands in his pockets, he waited outside as she closed the door. "You good to go now?"
"Yep." Toph grinned slyly, her voice lowering to a whisper as she leaned closer. "You know what's the best part of being blind?"
He felt a little like a giant as he bent over, lowering his head so they were at the same level. Despite getting a growth spurt over the years, Toph was still the smallest person he knew. "What?" he whispered back playfully.
"I never have to handle the paperwork." She winked at him devilishly before humming as she headed toward the doors.
Sokka laughed again as he walked apace with her. Her poor subordinates.
As they slipped out the police station, he asked, "So why the new uniforms?"
"Blame Twinkle toes." Toph shrugged. Fortunately, despite it being mid-September already, the weather was warm tonight. It was comfortable walking around in his usual sleeveless vest, and Toph even unbuttoned the top two buttons of her dress shirt. She scrunched her nose. "He wanted us to look the same or something. I think it's stupid."
"Why? Uniforms are cool." Sokka pulled the collar of his vest and stood up a little straighter. "I happen to look very good at them."
Toph shot him a disgusted look. "I'm sure if I could see, I'd gouge my eyes out."
"Besides, if Katara or Zuko picked them, sure, but Aang?" She stopped walking and unfolded her coat. Tugging it on, Toph rested her hands on her hips as she turned to him. "Does this look good to you? I can tell just by feeling them they're ugly."
"They're…" Sokka stared at it as the slightly big coat hung loosely off her shoulders. Aang hadn't even gotten the size right. He'd seen it on the rest of her coworkers but seeing it like this—it wasn't great. The shoulder pads were too big. The coat was really plain and out of place. "It has…a nice badge?"
"See?" Toph shrugged out of the coat before he could say anything else. Hanging it off her arm, she continued walking. "Everyone hates them except for Aang."
"I can talk to him," Sokka suggested, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as they walked. "It's not like they're completely terrible, maybe if we…"
"If you find a solution, I'm all ears." She kicked a pebble and it skittered across the road. "How was the trip?"
Sokka brightened immediately. It was hard not to, considering the past few weeks he'd had. If there was one thing he liked about his job as an ambassador of sorts, it was the travelling. Maybe it was their journey to save the world, but he'd gained a sense of wanderlust from it all, an inability to stay still. Grinning, he started to tick off his mini adventures. "Awesome, I got to go to the Earth Kindgom again, ate the best dumplings, save the Lettuce-man's stall for once—"
"He's still in business?" Toph's jaw dropped in surprise, an utterly rare sight that he immediately committed to memory. She moved her hands rapidly as she tried to articulate as a proper sentence. "But his cart—didn't we burn it down once?—I thought he wanted to—he's still in business?"
"Yes, yes, I don't remember if we did that, yes, yes," Sokka replied easily, not bothering to hide his amused laugh. "I guess if we're not near him, he actually does good business."
"You just said you saved his stall," Toph pointed out, raising a brow. She still had a look of utter disbelief, as though he had just destroyed her worldview like they had destroyed cabbage all those years ago.
"Kinda?" Sokka admitted sheepishly, rubbing his neck. "I was kinda the reason it got in trouble in the first place."
Toph snorted, shoulders shaking with silent laughter. "That sounds about right."
"Hey!" he protested, shooting her an ineffective glare. Now that he was older and his voice deeper, he could actually growl properly, but she still never took him seriously. Despite her jokes and how childish she acted at times, Toph was very much an old soul, as steady as the earth itself.
"Anything else happen?" she asked, ignoring his objections as usual.
There was no point in arguing. With a sigh, he shrugged. "Lots of ambassador paperwork—"
"Which is why I never want to go."
"—and Uncle Iroh looked fine." Sokka frowned, processing her last sentence. "I thought you couldn't do paperwork?"
"Nah, I won't want to." Toph smirked mischievously, and he felt sorrier for her assistants. "Also, Uncle Iroh?"
"Look, it's really weird calling him just Iroh, okay?" At the memory, a shiver ran through his spine. "I don't even call our village elders by their name, and they're like half his age."
Toph scoffed. "I don't think he's that old."
"Well, okay, maybe, but he feels like it. I tried calling something else and then he got weird about it so we just…settled for Uncle." Sokka sighed. "And that's not even going into how weird it is to work with all of these firebenders. We fought them for so long, and now I have to ride with them on Appa. Like, we all had a little adventure with Zuko, right? How am I supposed to do that with a thousand people?"
"Sounds rough, buddy," Toph agreed, roughly mimicking Zuko's voice as she reassuringly patted his arm.
Sokka exploded in laughter; Toph's imitations had only gotten better with time. "You should have heard Zuko whenever I call him Emperor." He made a strangled cry; his imitations weren't too shabby if he said so himself. "I thought I accidentally killed him."
Toph howled with laughter. "I'm doing that next council meeting."
He blinked. Now that she mentioned it, she did meet with Aang and Zuko on a regular basis. She was the chief of police for a city they both had founded. Curious, he asked, "Wait, then what do you call him?"
"Sparky and Twinkletoes," she replied bluntly, without an ounce of hesitation. "What, you think I'd actually call Aang 'respected avatar'?"
"Even in front of the council?" Now it was his turn to gape, and he almost tripped over a pothole.
"Especially in front of the council." Utterly unrepentant about it all, she grinned devilishly. "Man, if you could have heard their gasps…"
"I'd try it, but I think Zuko would kick me out." Sokka laughed. It was ridiculously easy talking to Toph, even for something inane as this. A cool evening breeze wafted by as they walked down a narrow street infested with potholes, but he didn't mind it. Hell, he didn't even mind the smell that came from the nearby developments. They could have been walking through Zuko's palace, the way he felt.
Humming, he squeezed her hand.
Sokka glanced down. They were holding hands. When had that happened? Somehow, he hadn't noticed, and even now all he could say was how comfortable it felt. Her sly insults, her warm hand, the way she walked as though she ruled the place; every part of it felt like an integral part of him coming home.
"Sokka?" Toph asked as she stopped in front of a brightly lit restaurant.
She'd laugh. No, she'd tease him about this for the rest of his life. That he was the densest person on the planet, to realize like this the reason he always looked for her the second he came to the city, how he kept finding her in the corner of his eyes whenever he travelled away. But he'd always been some flavour of an idiot. Suki had told him as much when they'd started dating, and Katara never failed to mention it when he'd missed the signs of her pregnancy.
He liked Toph.
Everything felt so simple the second he'd thought the words, all the pieces falling into place. Elated, he blurted out, "Wanna go out with me?"
"Wha—?" Toph blushed, her cheeks tinged an adorable pink as she gaped at him.
Sokka stared at her for a minute before realizing that he hadn't actually explained anything out loud. "Er, I mean, you're—"
Toph snorted. She actually snorted at his confession, letting go of his hand as she headed into the restaurant. "We've been dating for months now, Snoozles. What are you talking about?"
"Yeah—" He let out a strangled cry. Sokka shouted at her retreating back, "WHAT?"
Sticking a finger in her ear, she turned to him. "We're at a restaurant, have some manners."
It was utterly rich, coming from her, but he couldn't deny she had a point. Already, strangers around them were gawking at them curiously, twittering softly about the Chief of the Police and one of the Avatar's Ambassadors. Hunching slightly, he quickly stalked after Toph. "Right."
"Good." Her hands were in her pockets now as she entered the small restaurant. It smelled lightly of sizzling meat and spice, a strange aroma that reminded him of that firebender town in the Earth Nation. A small shop, it only had about a dozen or so tables, most of them packed with couples or small families.
Raising her voice, she called out, "Two."
"Two?" A middle-aged woman turned away from the table she was waiting on. Recognizing Toph, she smiled brightly. "Chief Toph! Your usual spot's open."
"Nice!" Toph grinned as she headed further into the restaurant, to a table just outside the kitchen doors. "We'll have the usual."
"You have a usual spot?" he asked, momentarily forgetting about their discussion. "And a usual?"
"I'm their number one customer," Toph added cheekily, slipping into a seat. "I swear this place changes hands like every five months, but the food's always good so whatever."
"Isn't that a bad thing?" Sokka muttered, wondering just how good a place could be if they kept getting shut down. Still, it smelled good at least, and his belly rumbled in anticipation. "The food here…"
Toph's smile grew wider. "Recognize it? It's some sort of Fire Nation/Earth Nation fusion thing."
"Fusion?" Considering Republic City's purpose, he should have expected that earlier, but still. He looked around curiously. Now that she'd mentioned it, he recognized the decorations—the stone badgermoles, the copper dragons, even the fans had different styles of decorations. "No wonder it smells familiar—it's like that town we visited."
She hummed her agreement. Leaning back in her chair, she clasped her hands behind her head. "If you'd come like three weeks ago, you could have had the Water/Fire one."
"Whaaat?" Sokka slumped over, put out. "Why didn't you tell me this? We could have eaten there the last time I came!"
"You didn't ask." She shrugged nonchalantly.
Grounding his teeth, he crossed his arms. "Is that also how we're dating? Cause I didn't ask?"
"No, that's…" she trailed off, her cheeks tinged an adorable shade of pink. "You did ask."
"Huh?" Sokka struggled not to shout again, using all of his willpower and self-restraint to keep his tone at a neutral level. "When?"
"Months ago." Despite her obvious embarrassment at it all, she didn't shy away from conversation. "You asked me to go out with you."
"I did?" He clasped his face, his fingers digging into his cheeks as he struggled to remember. What had they been doing months ago? God, he couldn't remember, it felt like years ago. Hazarding a guess, he replied, "I think I just meant go out? Like going out to eat or going out to do something?"
"Who tells someone let's go out when you just want to eat?" Toph hissed, daggers in her voice. He flinched.
"If we were inside, then we had to go out to eat. Besides, we both know I'm bad with words," Sokka hotly defended himself, willing to even throw himself under a bridge to get out of this mess.
"But that bad?" Toph growled, irate. She knitted her brow as she asked, "Then why do we keep going out for dinner?"
"Because we're friends?" Sokka held his hands up, not sure how to explain this better. "I eat with the others too sometimes."
"Not like you eat with me," she argued, her fingers digging into the table. "I've asked and Zuko and Aang said you don't eat with them as much as you eat with me." When he opened his mouth, she added, "And you travel with Katara, so that doesn't count."
He snapped his jaw shut. "It's not that much," he muttered under his breath, averting his gaze.
"Twice as much," she pointed out, raising a brow.
"Oh." Now that she mentioned it, he had been seeing her a lot recently. "I like your company?"
"You've given me hairpins and random gifts," she said flatly. "You just held my hand."
"That's…" Sokka couldn't deny it. His hand clenched involuntarily, remembering how firm her grip had been, the callouses on her fingertips.
"That?" she repeated.
There really wasn't another word for it. "You're right. That does sound like dating."
God, no one was going to let him live this down. Anyone could do anything, and it wouldn't match the stupidity levels of this.
"Like I'm ever wrong," Toph derided. She leaned back slightly away from the table as the middle-aged woman from before walked by, her arms laden with dishes.
"Here you go, your usual," the woman chirped as she set down two plates in front of them. A curried chicken sat on a bed of rice. Despite how dark brown the curry looked, it smelled faintly of pepper. "Have fun!"
Before he could say anything, the woman gave them a wink and disappeared into the kitchen. Now that he thought about it, that happened a lot whenever they went out to eat. Sokka couldn't even explain that away, there was no good reason for him to miss that. He really was an idiot.
Gleefully, Toph dug in. "They cook so quickly."
"What's this?" Sokka poked the chicken gingerly, a little suspicious. Toph had unusual tastes sometimes, though he hadn't yet determined if she genuinely liked strange food or was just messing with him. Either way, it did smell nice, so maybe she wasn't pulling his leg this time.
"The usual," Toph replied, mouth full. "Trust me, you'll like it."
If there was one thing his journeys had taught him, it was to never question food too hard. It was meat, something he couldn't have at Aang's, and that was good enough for him now. Hesitantly, he swallowed a spoonful. Despite the spice, he only felt a mild heat as he chewed. More than that, he felt the Earth Kingdom's more earthy flavours blending in with the Fire Nation's sharp ones. It was a strange sensation. His tongue felt a little numb from it.
All in all, though, surprisingly good. He took another bite, praising, "I'd eat this all the time too."
"Right?" Toph grinned at him cheerfully, as she shoveled yet another spoonful. She looked like a chipmunk, with her puffed up cheeks. "Told you."
It was silly, really, how bubbly he felt just watching her smile. She looked utterly ridiculous, a police chief acting like a little kid over a meal, but there was something utterly endearing about it all. His courage swelling up, Sokka boldly grabbed her hand. "Let's go out."
Toph almost choked on her food. Grabbing a glass of water, she forced it down before kicking him. "We're already going out."
"Kinda?" He didn't bother to refute it this time. Even he had to admit the signs didn't look good. "But I wanted to ask you properly this time."
She flushed lightly. "Do you now?"
"Yes." He reached over, covered her hand in his. It felt right. It had always felt right. "Hey, Toph, I really, really like you. Want to see what happens?"
"Really, really like?" she repeated, scoffing. "What are you, five?"
Despite her words, though, her cheeks were as red as flames. He wanted to kiss her. Leaning closer, he asked, "So?"
"Do I need to answer?" she mumbled. For all her cool before, she was a mess now, unravelling with every honest word. "You think I would have pretend-dated you for months otherwise?"
Sokka laughed, almost at her lips now. "No, I guess not."
Realizing what he was after, the blush spread to her ears and neck as she angled herself for the kiss. They ended up bumping noses and he laughed again. That was just like them. "Oops."
"You're so bad at this," Toph grumbled, grabbing his collar and pulling him down for a proper kiss.