Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender
Author's Note: I've finally gotten around to starting this! The first few chapters will be very fluffy and light, not really furthering the plot all that much. I apologize if there are any typos; two little kids were on my lap as I was trying to finalize and upload this.
"But Katara, I'm so bored," Aang whined. It was the morning of the third day after he had been injured fighting Azula and her friends, and Katara had been fussing over him like a mother turtle-duck ever since. Well, actually, he didn't mind that so much. However, she had also been keeping him cooped up inside, confined to bed as much as possible, and it was beginning to chafe him. He was sitting up in bed now, wearing only his pants. His shirt was in shreds and pretty well unsalvageable. Katara had washed the blood out as best she could, and the shirt had been sent to a tailor in hopes that there was enough left to get a replacement made before they had to leave.
Aang knew that he could wear other clothing; indeed, he had, at times when circumstances dictated it. The traditional air monk outfit, though, was one of the few things remaining that connected him to his childhood and his deceased people, and he was thankful that Katara had never questioned his desire to continue wearing it.
Meanwhile, Sokka and the others had been helping some of the damaged villages to rebuild. The house they shared was the next small town in the path, the one they'd prevented from being hit. The grateful villagers were only too happy to provide their group with a place to stay, food, and medical attention. Katara stayed with Aang because she knew very well that there was no way he would keep still without her keeping an eye on him.
"You still need rest," she insisted stubbornly. "You didn't see yourself." Aang felt a pang of remorse at that. He could only guess what he'd put her through.
"I'm sorry, but you healed me. I feel fine!"
"I can't put blood back in your body," she pointed out. "You have to do that yourself, by resting, eating, and drinking lots of fluids."
"I know, but couldn't I do that outside?"
Katara sighed and looked over at him. Suddenly, a broad smile spread over her face, and Aang's heart began racing as he wondered what she was up to. She approached the bed and leaned over him.
"I think I know how to keep you here another day," she said softly. Then she kissed him seriously, making him lightheaded and breathless, which was pretty hard to do to an airbender.
"Augh! My eyes!" Aang broke away to see Sokka come stumbling into the room, one hand clamped firmly over his eyes. "I really did not need to see that."
"Then maybe you should learn to knock," his sister advised acidly. Sokka peeked through his fingers. Seeing that the scene was safe, he lowered his hand. Iroh, Zuko, and Toph followed him in.
"That's not fair," Aang complained, referring to Katara's tactics.
"Girls never play fair, Aang," Sokka informed him sagely. "The sooner you learn that, the better. Sometimes I think they're born knowing how to play us like…like…"
"A sungi horn?" Iroh suggested.
"Yeah, what he said."
Katara crossed her arms, but to Aang's relief, she didn't really look angry.
"We just have our own rules," she said in a superior tone. "If we did everything your way, nothing would ever get done."
"Hey," interrupted Toph, elbowing her way through the group. "Are you going to tell them why we're here, or are we going to have to beat it out of you?"
"I vote for the second option," Zuko offered in his dry tone. He laid a hand on the sword hilts at his hip.
"Take it easy; I'm getting there," Sokka responded, turning to him. "How would you feel if you walked in on your sister kissing the Avatar?" A resounding chorus of "Eww" went up from the general assembly.
"My point exactly," Sokka went on, conveniently ignoring the fact that Aang himself had been one of those to express disgust. "Anyway, this village wants to throw a feast for all of us tomorrow night because we stopped the Fire Nation machine from getting here and wreaking havoc. We're here to pass along the invitation."
"Well, that's awfully convenient for you, isn't it?" Katara said archly. Sokka gazed back at her with a puzzled expression.
"What are you talking about?" he asked her.
"Tomorrow's your birthday," Katara answered slowly, as if wondering when the punch line was coming. Sokka, however, looked almost as surprised as Aang felt.
"Is it?" Sokka muttered thoughtfully, and his brow furrowed as he began doing mental calculations. "I guess it is."
"You forgot your own birthday?" Toph laughed incredulously as she punched Sokka in the arm, causing him to rub it absently.
"I'd sort of lost track of time recently," Sokka admitted.
"Why didn't you at least tell us it was coming up?" Aang wanted to know. It would have been nice to find a way to prepare for that before the recent battle had taken place.
"I don't know," Sokka shrugged. "That kind of thing hasn't seemed so important lately."
"When's your birthday, Katara?" Aang turned to her, realizing he didn't know that, either. That was one he definitely didn't want to miss.
"Not for a long time yet," she replied, giving him a kind of bitter smile. "I'd just turned 14 two weeks before we found you."
"Oh, okay," he said, fully aware that everyone in the room knew that her next birthday would fall after the return of Souzen's comet. To fill the silence, he continued, "I was born at the summer solstice. Another one of those signs that I was the next Avatar, I guess."
"So, anyway, about this party…" Sokka broke back in.
"I'm not sure Aang's going to be up to that," Katara began doubtfully.
"Come on, it's a feast, not a marathon," Sokka urged. "He has to eat, anyway."
"Please, Katara?" Aang added his own voice in supplication. Anything to get out of this room. "I promise I'll be good and quiet all day." He saw her beginning to weaken, so he added the big, round lemur eyes for good measure. Katara threw her hands up in surrender.
"Okay, fine," she gave in. "What are we going to wear, though? Our usual traveling clothes don't seem really appropriate." She gestured down at her blue apparel.
"I brought a decent dress from home," Toph put in smugly. "I'll just have to shake out the wrinkles. A lady always goes prepared."
"My clothes are in shreds," Aang pointed out.
"Don't you still have that gray outfit from Kyoshi Island?" Katara asked him.
"I thought you looked quite good in it," answered Katara with a faint blush.
"Really?" a slow smile spread over Aang's face. A few things were beginning to come together in his memory at that admission. He finally had an idea why the woman who loaned it to him had been so insistent that he keep it. "I'll definitely wear that, then."
"Bleh," interjected Sokka. Then he addressed the room at large, saying, "Remind me again why I supported this relationship?"
"Because you love your sister and want her to be happy?" Iroh offered.
"Oh, yeah. That."
"There are enough soldiers off fighting the war that we ought to have our pick of men's clothing," Zuko put in, trying to bring the conversation back around to the topic. It might have been Aang's imagination, but he thought the prince sounded faintly guilty.
"Right," Sokka rejoined. "And a local girl has invited you over, Katara, to try on some of her things."
"I guess that's all taken care of, then," Katara answered. "I suppose I should go take a bath before trying on someone else's clothing." Sokka rolled his eyes.
"Girls and their baths," he commented. Katara raised an eyebrow at him.
"It wouldn't hurt you boys to wash up, either," she replied, giving them all a significant look.
"Katara has a point," Toph interjected. "I don't need vibrations to sense you guys, now. I can identify you all by smell." Sokka lifted an arm to sniff himself.
"What?" he shrugged. "It's manly."
"Manly or not, perhaps we should yield to the ladies' judgment," Iroh said, smiling.
"I'm sure Suki would appreciate it," Katara pointed out in a teasing tone. Then, she turned to Toph. "Did you just call me Katara?"
"It's something new I'm trying," Toph replied nonchalantly. She sniffed, frowned, and approached a couple of steps toward the bed. "You're not so strong, Twinkle-toes, probably because you and Katara play in the water a lot. Plus, you haven't been exerting yourself the past few days, but you smell different than when we met."
"I do?" Aang was so surprised that he barely had time to be irritated that he was apparently not to be afforded the courtesy of being addressed by name.
"Trust me; you were sweating plenty in the arena. It's different now."
Meanwhile, Katara was leaning in toward Aang's neck to check for herself. This was not something he objected to, and he almost leaned toward her, breaking out in goosebumps when her breath tickled his skin.
"She's right!" Katara exclaimed. "You used to smell kind of like a breeze coming in off the ocean, but now there's something new. Something…earthy."
"It's the elements!" Sokka realized. "As he starts to master each new element, an aspect of it gets added to his scent. That is totally weird, by the way."
"So when he gets more comfortable with fire, will he start to smell like a barbecue?" Toph wondered aloud.
"I hope not," Aang contributed at last. "Doesn't that involve cooking meat?"
"We're getting off track, here," Katara cut off any further discussion on that topic. "I really ought to go get that bath and find the girl you mentioned. I need someone to stay with Aang, though."
"Don't you trust me?" Aang asked, adopting a wounded expression. "I did promise I'd be good all day."
"True, but you didn't say which day."
Aang grimaced guiltily. He'd been caught. Katara giggled at his expression, and Aang heaved a great sigh of resignation.
"Besides," Katara continued, "I think the best way to make sure you keep your word is to remove temptation."
"Don't worry, Katara," Toph assured the older girl, volunteering her presence. "I'll make sure Loverboy here behaves himself." Aang wrinkled his nose; Toph wouldn't let him get away with anything. He quickly brightened, though, as he registered what she had called him.
"Loverboy," he mused dreamily. "Now there's a nickname I could really get used to."
"I wouldn't, if I were you," Sokka warned. "As soon as Katara lets you out of this room, you're fair game, and she's still my little sister."
"Will you ever stop being overprotective?" Katara exclaimed, glaring at her brother.
"Sure thing. Just as soon as Dad comes home, or you get married. Once one of those things happens, it will be someone else's job to protect you. And you won't be old enough in our tribe to get married without Dad's consent until you're 16, so I'd say you're stuck with me."
Katara regarded him for a moment in exasperated helplessness. She muttered unintelligibly under her breath before addressing her brother again.
"Fine," she said. "I'll meet you in front of the house in an hour, and we'll go meet this girl." She started to leave, then reconsidered and, casting a defiant look at Sokka, planted another brief kiss on Aang's mouth. Sokka glared at Aang as Katara turned on her heel and walked out of the room. Aang tried to keep the grin off his face, but it was simply impossible.
Author's Note: As the masculine smell thing occurred to me, I was sort of thinking of the scene from Mulan where she's taking a bath and says, "Just because I look like a man doesn't mean I have to smell like one" and Mushu says "I kind of like that corn chip smell." I guess it was a bit of a digression, but it was fun! I don't know how often I'll be able to update. School and work are both hitting me pretty heavily at the moment. I have most of the first three or four chapters written in my head, but taking the time to type it out and do revisions is something else entirely.