You know, it's really weird. I think I like Taang more than any other couple in any fandom. Don't get me wrong, I adore Zutara, but for some reason I just really, really enjoy the chemistry of Toph and Aang together. Not to worry, there shall be Zutara to come.
If you haven't guessed already, this is yet another Taang. I've never read about this subject being addressed between the two, so I thought I'd take a stab at it.
Don't own the characters.
As It Should Be
The question jarred Aang from his oncoming sleep for many reasons, one of which was because it was spoken so casually by the woman next to him.
But, in retrospect, it had needed asking.
The Avatar and his wife had returned from the Southern Earth Kingdom that day, after an exhausting month-long struggle with a rebellion which had led to lots of bending, treaties, battles….and little sleep.
In fact, the couple had been so exhausted that they had not even bothered to bathe, once the sky bison touched down outside their small home. Rest had been far too inviting, and they had simply flopped down into the bed with a flurry of sheets and twin sighs of relief: Never mind that they were both covered in sweat and dirt.
Aang's gray eyes had been gladly sliding downwards with the steadiness of a setting sun, when his wife's voice came pointedly through the darkness, her face turned towards his.
He jerked himself awake slightly to return her gaze… Or at least, so that he could look at her.
The earthbender's blind eyes, colored like creamy jade, caught the summer moonlight from the window.
Some strange little moment of pain fluttered across her expression before it became calm once more, and her tone was the epitome of casual when Toph next spoke.
"Do you ever wish that I was her?"
For a moment, Aang's train of thought crashed, and he nearly stopped breathing….due to a number of reasons.
He was amazed that she would ask that, amazed that Toph, of all people, would be plagued by such a thing.
He was hurt, when he wondered if she had been bothered by it for long.
He was stung, because he knew exactly what she meant.
But still he questioned her, because it was all the airbender could think of doing at the time: If only to fill the void of silence.
Her expression tightened.
"It's nothing. I was just wondering, is all. Get some rest," the bending master told her husband.
Toph then turned her body away from him in response to any further questions, effectively shutting him out, and her shoulders soon rose and fell with the rhythmic breaths of sleep. Which left her husband awake to stare at her exhausted form, eyes wide and full of contemplation.
There had been a hint of bitter disappointment and frustration in Toph's voice when she had replied, which needled him all the more.
Get some rest?
She may as well have told him to close the Great Divide.
Because Aang was restless now, with a strange pain settled in his chest as he tried to glance at the shadowed ceiling: however, his gray stare refused to focus on anything else, always returning to his wife after a minute or two.
Her question repeated in his head like an dark echo.
"Do you ever wish that I was her?"
And it most of all, the question shocked the airbender because he could not, immediately, figure out the answer.
By her, of course, Aang knew who his wife meant. And he knew what the answer ought to be, of course.
But Aang also knew that the truth was nowhere near as simple.
Toph, though blind, had often been the only one who could see the truth in their little 'gang': His youthful feelings for Katara had been no different. He still thought about her every now and then, Aang would freely admit. She had been his first love of that sort, to evoke that sort of caring and devotion, and he couldn't help it.
No, it hadn't been a crush…
(Like the one Toph once admitted she had harbored, however briefly, for Sokka.)
It really had been love, dependence and a need for her kindness and comfort. Twelve years ago, in fact, Aang had planned out his whole life on a little piece of scrap paper, a twelve- year- old boy with the world on his shoulders and a few simple wishes.
It had been a rather simple plan: to clean Appa, buy some fruit, save the world, grow up, marry Katara, and live happily ever after with his new family. And then he had drawn a sketch of her face, sighed, and looked over at her.
Just as Aang, older and wiser, looked at Toph now.
The question beat at him once again.
Do you ever wish I was her?
Do you, Aang?
Would you trade what is for what could have been?
Do you ever wish that it was Katara whom you had wed, Katara who slept next to you now as your wife?
The Avatar grumbled.
He turned onto his stomach and buried his face into the pillow in frustration, inhaling the clean, simple scent of the soap Toph washed them in. (Who, meanwhile, was still fast asleep.)
She had just HAD to ask him that now, just HAD to push him into an abyss of confusion and unrest when he most needed peace.
Why? Because Toph had wanted an answer.
But what exactly was it?
The Avatar let go of another long sigh, carefully thinking the issue over, of the two loves he had been graced with in his life. He could not help but laugh softly at the comparison between the women as he did so.
Katara, who now wore the crown of a Fire Lady, was kind, open, caring and sweet, always willing to forgive and always willing to forget. Beautiful, too, with her bright blue eyes and long hair, smooth voice and steadfast smile.
She was a healer by nature, a skilled waterbender who never gave up on people.
That was part of what had led her to fall in love with Zuko, as Aang had painfully acknowledged: She had seen that there was good in his heart, had fought tooth and nail to save that part of the fire prince.
At the same time, Zuko had wanted to be rescued, healed, and saved. He had finally seen his true path before him, and it was Katara who pointed him in that direction... even if only Zuko could make the choice. Beneath the layers of isolation, as it turned out, had been the strong-willed, courageous, kind-hearted man that the waterbender had first glimpsed and had never stopped believing in since.
And it was Zuko whom Katara had married, in the end.
Aang had always known he could lean on her when he was weak or afraid, that she was always there to comfort and support him. If he was ever hurt or lonely, her voice would sound in his head: I will protect you. I am here.
When he was with her, when he talked to her, he didn't have to be the Avatar, with duties and responsibilities and the whole world depending on him.
All he needed to be was Aang, and that was enough.
As for Toph?
His wife stirred slightly beside him as all thoughts turned to her, pulling the covers closer. She was definitely the biggest blanket hog he had ever met: the airbender had to smile slightly at that.
She was also closed, proud, courageous and brutally honest, hesitant to trust and even more so to love.
She always wanted to be in control of a situation, no matter what it was, and thought that she could fight her way out of anything and everything.
She was fiercely loyal and devoted, frighteningly strong of both body and spirit, a woman who shoved through her trials with a grin and was wise beyond her years.
It was through her listening that Toph understood things no one else did.
And that was just it, the Avatar thought.
After he had met Toph, things had changed. From then on, whenever Aang had wanted to fall down and surrender, bow in defeat before his enemies, he instead stood tall and faced them (physical and otherwise) with the frankness of an earthbender.
And during those trials, it was Toph's voice he heard, and it was always strong and straightforward:
Stand, Aang. Stand up and fight.
You've got the stuff; never let anyone tell you otherwise.
Toph would always stand beside him… but never behind or in front of him. She would not let him lean on her like a crutch, although she would hold him in an embrace when she thought he needed one, or give him a quick push to keep going.
And among those things he had needed to face had been his duty as an Avatar.
He had finally realized that he couldn't be 'just Aang,' because there were too many people depending on him to do that.
With Toph, he had to be more than himself, more than he ever thought he could be, reach higher than even his expectations dared to go.
Because she 'saw' the truth: that Aang had what it took to do just that.
And it dawned on him, there in the soft summer darkness with his wife beside him.
When you dare to love, you surrender control of your heart.
It is placed in someone else's hands to either be treasured or broken, depending on how wise you are in surrendering it. And she, Toph, of all people, had freely given up the control she was so attached to in order to love him.
Aang's breath caught, his eyes now very focused on her as she slept, as she turned back towards him.
Of course, he knew every inch of Toph's face by now: the careful shape of her chin and the small, sunburned nose, the way her bangs fell, and the way her eyes lit up even if she could not see what was before them.
Odd, how before now Aang had never really thought about it: about who he would be, if the blind earthbender beside him had never come along.
But he instantly knew the reply to that question. How was it that the answer came so easily?
Because this was Toph he was thinking of. Plainly, stubbornly, wonderfully Toph, who was hesitant to trust but had trusted him.
Who had made him strong and banished his fears.
Who had taught him the important lesson of being more, of being greater: because when the world is on your shoulders, you can be nothing less and survive.
(Survival, after all, was the chakra of her element.)
The Avatar had gotten older, grown up, and learned that life is far from over if first love fails to go in the direction you had hoped it would. (After all, he still loved Katara as he did all his friends. They had been, and always would be, a family.)
He knew very well what he would be now, if he had never met her.
And Aang knew that if he had never met Toph…
He simply wouldn't be himself.
With that conclusion Aang sighed, settling into sleep and turning towards her while his eyes closed gently. She was his wife, his friend, his sparring partner, and he would have no one else in her place.
But another thought beat sleep in a race to reach him.
You should probably tell her that, Aang, it chided, in a voice strangely akin to Katara's.
You think so?
I know so.
His eyes reluctantly opened wider once again, and the Avatar observed Toph's face for a few minutes before reaching out from under the covers and poking her in the shoulder.
She did not open her eyes (why bother?) but instantly replied to his prod. Toph had always been a light sleeper
"The answer is no," he told her after a poignant pause, listening to the wind push against their home. (Not a house, a home. It was their love that made it so.)
"No, you say?"
"Never," he nodded resolutely.
She cracked open her left eye, revealing a sliver of pale grayish-green, and patted his hand.
Aang was about to finally get his well-deserved rest when he decided, tentatively, to ask one more question.
"Why were you wondering?"
Toph was quiet, and a small whisper of fear stirred in him.
Was something wrong?
"Toph?" he urged.
Her brow was knotted as she articulated a response.
Well, there were a number of reasons, actually.
It had surprised Toph when she first wondered it. After all, the earthbender had thought herself to be above such petty doubts: those were for people who didn't trust…
And above all else, Toph trusted her husband.
(Why would she have given him control of her heart, if she didn't?)
All the same, the question itched at her.
The question of whether she was simply second best, simply his because Katara could not be.
And the question hurt her, even more so in light of recent events.
(But a love that never undergoes a single question, doubt or trial is not a love worth having: It's strength has never truly been shown.)
So before they moved on to this next stage, this next trial in their lives, Toph had needed to know if it was what Aang wanted. As much as the earthbender wished to stay with the him, she would let him go, for his own sake, if need be.
But Aang's answer, simple and plain just as Toph liked answers to be, had been more than enough to satisfy her.
Her heart smiled at that.
"Oh, well," she finally replied, sitting up slightly, "I just wanted to make sure this would be worth it. You know, that you would really be happy."
Now Aang was just plain confused.
"You lost me," the Avatar coughed, propping himself up as well to look at her directly.
She let go of a small snort, scattering hair about her face.
"I didn't want to bother telling you before, because you would freak out and you needed me there to help you. I actually wanted to let you know tomorrow, but…."
Toph stopped, and obviously thought he should have caught on to what she was hinting at by now.
Unfortunately, he hadn't.
Aang was about to ask her yet again, when his wife rolled her eyes in utter exasperation.
"Your response isn't exactly encouraging, Twinkletoes… And here I thought you wanted children."
She shook her head but received no response, as the hand Toph had on her husband's arm felt his pulse rocket up.
And with those words….
Aang's train of thought not only crashed: It slammed into a solid brick wall, jackknifed, and exploded into a million little pieces.
(It's hard to talk, when your brain is doing that.)
There was a very, very long pause, during which the floorboards creaked slightly and soft rain began to patter onto the roof outside.
"I…I…" he finally managed to stutter.
The young woman spoke over him.
"Sheesh, how else can I say this? Uh, the stork is taking flight? There's a bun in the oven? The…"
Aang's mind started working again with a bang.
"ARE YOU SERIOUS?!"
Her husband then let out the oddest, purest (and probably loudest) shout of elation Toph had ever heard: it sounded like a cross between a cheer and a war whoop. Before she knew it, Aang yanked the earthbender to her feet and began to dance them madly around the bedroom, sleep totally forgotten for the time being.
Toph shouted playfully at her husband when he lifted her off her feet and swung her about in gray shadows, raising her up into the air as she had raised him up in life.
(Chanting something akin to "I'm gonna be a daaaa-dy, I'm gonna be a daaaa-dy" the whole while.)
And Aang knew then that no one else in the world would have felt right, in his arms at that moment.
No other face smiling at his would have looked so beautiful.
No other heart beating alongside his would have sounded so strong, real and perfect.
And the rain continued to patter down in the night.
The wind continued to blow softly, and the earth continued to turn.
Because everything was as it should be.
A/N: It sort of irritates me that people think I ship Taang just because I ship Zutara: that I'm just trying to get Aang 'out of the way.'
I think Taang in itself is a great couple with a lot of beauty and potential, even if I can only try to capture it.
Anyway, thank you for reading.