how you're replaced when your betters come along; the real-life application of 'cut from the team', and how very misunderstanding the gods can bey.
Imagine a broad, empty room so pale that you can't see the edges of it. The walls are filmy, foggy, opaque; the floor is clear, thin glass so that when you look down past your feet, the link between realities is seamless. This is the part that is all in your head, but can't be shaken – cobwebs, but spun from a kind of iron that you can't brush away, a self-imposed entrapment that you drown in.
Worse for the small, terrible fact that your closest friends don't even notice this, your bone-deep isolation.
Aang loses a step but not a beat, because where the ground has fallen away he bends it back, invisible, and keeps pace. Second nature, this magic child; all the world at his palms, the soles of his shoes, the tips of his fingers and the breath in his chest. He spins it, whorls it, carries it as such an intrinsic part of his body that to separate the two would be no different than cutting off his hands, or out his eyes.
Like his tattoos, it flows over his body, an envelope of self-definition.
Sokka doesn't even have that.
His baby sister with her arms around him, even though it's been years since their mother died. “I can't keep singing you to sleep forever, you know,” she says idly even though her eyes are wet. She strings the tears off his cheeks, clumsily because she is young and has never even heard of things like blood-bending, and then makes them burst – small anti-fireworks that glitter in the dim starlight fading in through the window, and Sokka is the older brother who can't handle his mother and father both gone, while Katara has carefully gathered up the reins and keeps things running smoothly.
The hollow inside of her is filled with water, calming and cool and sweet, and even when she cries it is never the rage that Sokka can't escape; rather, a light rain that hardly dusts the floor.
Sokka doesn't have anything inside of him except the usual bits of gut and bone and hot despair, and these aren't things you can hold on to.
Toph shoves him without her hands, without even her earth. Her nature so forthright that her words follow suit, and when she says things like 'three benders plus Sokka', she's being sincere; even if it isn't meant harshly, even if she's teasing him, it's true.
It was her own choice to leave her parents behind, and yet she is steady; solid, unmovable, the eternal constant. Whatever metal lives within her, she is a part of it, and whole.
The last straw comes with this imagined scenario, because Sokka's mind is a loose cluster at best, though usually something like an open bag of marbles dropped on a hard, smooth surface with the colored spheres flinging themselves inexorably toward all corners of existence.
So, in his mind, aside from the haze that wraps around him and the walls too far off to scale or see through, and the glass floor that makes him realize with startled certainty that he is the one beneath their feet – in his mind, they are taking a breather from training and feel like blowing off steam because they still don't get along, and it's really four-on-four, except Aang is the Avatar, so they try to even things out; it will be two – on – three.
Even his own sister doesn't pick him for Team Katara, and it ends up being Zuko and Toph versus the water benders with Sokka as the referee.
They'll drop the idea of balance because this is modified version where any method of bending to get the ball into the goals is acceptable, as long as Aang promises to restrict himself to air, because they are all masters; and Sokka isn't any help to either team.
He shakes his head to clear it, but it's bone-deep: all he feels beneath his ribs is uselessness.
His heart down and entangled with his intestines in a sick, hopeless dread, he recalls:
Battle after battle, and Mai and Ty Lee without fire, and girls besides; and he can't handle either of them – not even alone, and he thinks, /What kind of warrior am I/, and leaves it at that because, at this point, he doesn't even want to know.
Really, what he doesn't want to know most of all is /What am I even doing here/, because the worst thing to carry with you is the realization that you aren't needed at all.
/Really/, his reflection says to him in the morning when he drags himself out of bed and into the bathroom, /Yue is dead and Suki as good as. How can you save the world if you can't even save your girlfriends/, and he fights the urge to slam his fist against the silvered glass.
The last thing he can do – strategy, tactical planning, brilliant possibilities that he can pull off by the skin of his teeth – it's all irrelevant anyway, because Zuko is a prince, and knows better than anyone how to fight the Fire Nation. He was raised for the war meetings, and has more than simmering, back-burner talent – was born and bred for this sort of thing.
He keeps getting pushed further and further out of the limelight, nearer to the edge of the vast force of nature that is Aang and his destiny, and vehicle that is history only has room for those who would help shape it.
The only thing Sokka has left to do is look for a place to get off.