This takes place when the Gaang are in their early thirties. Lin is a little less than a year old.
Summary: Sokka finds a way to save the day.
Night fell on Republic City, and with it came celebration. Sokka grinned as he strolled down the empty streets, hearing the cheers go up all around him as families huddled in their homes listened to the official radio broadcast he’d just finished writing: the Terrible Triad has been caught and imprisoned! The streets are safe again! Chief Beifong saves the day!
He’d snuck away from the Council meeting early, hoping to get in a bit of celebration with the hero of the hour before they both started the grueling task of rebuilding the city’s infrastructure and its trust. Some small instinct left over from the war had been eating at him all day; he couldn’t shake the feeling that, even with the Terrible Triad locked away, the city’s underbelly would never be the same. They’d be seeing more triads, he was sure. It was too efficient a setup for criminal masterminds to resist. In the morning he would have to go back to City Hall and grapple once again with the shaky, labyrinthine law, and argue endlessly with his fellow government officials, and ultimately do so very little while the gangsters and murderers and thieves made their own, much more expedient, plans…
But all that was for tomorrow, and he needed a reminder of why it was all worthwhile before he went back to it. So tonight was for Toph, and Lin, and war stories, and wine. He shifted the bag on his shoulder, listening to the bottles inside clink softly together, and smiled.
His smile faded as he rounded the corner that brought him in sight of Toph’s house. Light spilled out from the open door, and even from down the street he could hear Lin crying — not the normal cry for hunger or attention, but a constant, harsh, terrified wail. He broke into a run.
He hit the door at full speed, his boomerang in his hand. “Toph,” he cried, or tried to, but the ground jerked out from under him and he fell hard on his back with an “oof”.
"Sokka? Is that you?" Toph choked out. "What the hell are you doing?"
Sokka sat up and looked around. The front room of the house was destroyed; it looked like it had been ransacked by a pack of maddened badgermoles, or a very angry Earthbending toddler. Toph stood silhouetted in the door to the kitchen, one hand still in the Earthbending form that had tripped him. In her other arm she held her daughter, who was squirming as though trying to escape and still shrieking at the top of her lungs.
"I heard Lin crying, I thought something was wrong," Sokka said, rubbing the back of his head where he’d cracked it on the floor. "Is something wrong?"
"I don’t know,” Toph said, and for the first time Sokka heard a ragged edge to her voice. “Kya was watching her, then as soon as I came home she just started screaming — I can’t get her to stop —” Toph’s voice broke on the last word. Sokka scrambled to his feet; Toph stepped forward to help him, and for the first time he got a good look at her without the kitchen light behind her, blinding him.
She was still in her duty armor, though it was far from the polished, gleaming uniform he’d seen at the press conference the previous morning. Now every inch of her was scratched, battered, smeared with dried mud and what looked like motor oil. Sokka’s blood ran cold for a moment as Toph reached out a hand to help him up and he saw that her wrist and shoulder guards had been torn open, and the sleeve beneath was encrusted with dried blood. He grabbed her elbow as she went to pull away, and lifted the edges of the sleeve to check for a wound, but the skin of her arm was clean and whole — thanks to Katara, no doubt.
"Your sister fixed it," Toph said, confirming his suspicions. "She’s still down at Headquarters, helping the others. She sent me home, even though I’m completely fine…" Lin’s crying had died down a bit, but now she was banging on Toph’s breastplate, and every blow of her tiny fist seemed to shake the Earthbender a little. Sokka knew the verge of exhaustion when he saw it, and from the looks of things Toph had gone careening over it at full speed quite a while ago.
"Yeah, I don’t know what Katara was thinking," he said. "I think I know why the little badgermole’s upset, though. She thinks her mother’s been replaced by a gutter-slime swamp-monster — a bleeding one, too. Give her here." He lifted Lin out of Toph’s arms; she quieted down at once, snuggling up to his shoulder. "You look terrifying, Toph," he told her. "Go get cleaned up, relax for a few minutes. You’ve earned it. I’ll take care of things here."
The look of gratitude that flashed across Toph’s face warmed him to his toes. She didn’t stay and argue, but immediately turned and retreated into the house; that alone showed him how tired she was.
Sokka looked thoughtfully around the room, taking in the knocked-over lanterns and knickknacks, the head-sized boulders torn out of the walls, the structural damage that you’d definitely need Earthbending to fix. A quick glance through the doorway told him that the kitchen would be just as bad, if not worse.
In his arms, Lin giggled.
"All right, pebble," he said, holding Lin around the waist and lowering her so her feet touched the ground. "We’re going to play a game…"
After a little less than an hour Toph emerged from her bedroom, feeling clean and mostly human again, though muscles all over her body were protesting in ways that she hadn’t known were possible before she’d joined the police force.
To her mild shock, the first sensation that met her questing feet was completeness; she could feel that the living room walls were no longer peppered with holes, and the gouges in the kitchen floor had been filled in with (rather inexpertly) packed dirt. The second sensation that came to her was quiet. The third was noise underneath the quiet, faint and peaceful and coming from the kitchen.
She paused a moment outside the kitchen doorway, looking for Lin, and felt a brief moment of cold fear as she realized she couldn’t feel her daughter anywhere in the house. There was only Sokka, whistling softly as he stood in front of the stove… Sokka, who she realized seemed to have two heartbeats.
She walked into the kitchen, coming up behind him and laying a hand on his shoulder. Her fingers at once found the leather strap of the Water Tribe-style sling, a gift from Katara that Toph hadn’t known she still had. She followed the strap across Sokka’s muscular shoulder, down to where Lin rested in the fur-lined cradle in the middle of his back. Lin gurgled and grabbed her mother’s fingers. Toph smiled.
"Feeling better?" Sokka asked. He hadn’t turned around, so as not to disturb the mother and daughter. Toph ran her fingers over the cradle until she figured out how to loosen it, then lifted Lin out and held her close. This time Lin only made a soft sound of contentment, buried her head in her mother’s shoulder, and fell asleep.
"Much better," Toph sighed.
"Good." She could hear the smile in Sokka’s voice. "Sit down," he ordered, and she obeyed. "Have you eaten?"
"I… yes. Katara made me, I think." Her memories of the past day and half were jumbled and confused; there had been a great deal of running and fighting and exhaustion and pain, and she was sure it would all come back to her in excruciating detail tomorrow when it was time to talk to the reporters and the Council, but for now she was having a hard time thinking about anything outside this room.
Sokka, of course, never stopped thinking about the city and the world. “You were amazing today, Toph,” he said, sitting across from her at the stone table. “There are a lot of people who are going to feel safe with their families again because of you.” There was a rustling of paper from across the table. “The newspapers had some pretty nice things to say this afternoon, lots of ‘Greatest Earthbender Ever’ and ‘Esteemed Police Chief’. I brought some of the best articles over, I thought I could read them to you if you want…?”
Toph couldn’t help but smirk. Sokka knew her too well. “Much as I love to hear how great I am,” she said, fighting back a yawn, “I think I’ll pass for tonight. Tomorrow at lunch maybe? It’ll make me want to kill them less during the press conference in the afternoon.”
"Sure." There was more rustling, presumably as Sokka put the papers away.
There was a moment of silence as Toph, lulled by her daughter’s tiny heartbeat and her best friend’s slow breathing, struggled not to fall asleep. Then the kettle whistled on the stove, pulling her back to wakefulness. The clattering of Sokka’s chair and feet as he stood to pour the tea woke her up a bit more.
"How’d you calm Lin down, anyway?" she asked.
"It was no big deal," he said cheerfully, setting a cup of tea down in front of her. "I’m a babybender, remember? Screaming children are a piece of cake. Anyway, it’s the least I can do for the hero of the hour." His voice turned grave. "You know, Toph, you’re out there every day really fighting the bad guys, chasing them down dark alleys —"
"Yeah, real dark," Toph muttered.
Sokka ignored her. “You’re on the front lines protecting the city, while I sit in City Hall arguing with Zuko’s ministers. I know it’s important, but it can all feel a little… pointless sometimes —”
"Watch it, Meathead, or I’ll make you join the force," Toph said. "Think you could use babybending in a fight?"
Sokka paused for a second, imagining it, then burst out laughing. Lin stirred at the noise, trying to burrow deeper into Toph’s shoulder. Toph covered a yawn.
Sokka’s laughter died down, and he got his breath back. “Bedtime for everyone, I think,” he said. “Need any help with her?”
"I’ll be all right," Toph said, pulling herself to her feet. Her limbs suddenly seemed to be made of lead, and her daughter weighed as much as if she were made of stone, but she thought she had enough strength to make it to Lin’s room and back before she collapsed. Sokka stood as well and started gathering up the tea things and putting them away.
"Hey," Toph said, still standing by the table. She felt Sokka turn to look at her, and took two swift steps forward, grabbing his shirt and pulling him in for a brief, intense kiss. "Thanks for tonight," she said, letting him go. Lin, undisturbed by the kiss, lay like against her shoulder like a sack of coal.
"Of course," he said.
Toph grinned. “No, I mean it. You should tell them about it tomorrow. I can see the headlines: ‘Babybending Councilman Meathead saves the day!’”
She disappeared into Lin’s room, and as Sokka continued to clean up, he heard the soft murmur and then soft singing as she put Lin to bed. He grinned to himself, his lips still tingling like he was twenty and the kiss had been their first. He repeated her words in his head. Councilman Meathead saves the day!
Nonbender, peaceful politician — tomorrow he would go back to being not effective enough at protecting his city. But he could save the day this way, for this family, and for now it was enough.