Hehehe, the Taang Distant Horizon Forum began discussing the topic of a first date between Aang and Toph. Upon reading it, I was like "Oh man, how can I pass this up?" because you know their first date would be….unconventional. Everyone agreed that they would wreak havoc and manage to help someone, and thus this disaster was spawned.
I own nothing.
Lessons in Disasters
Toph Bei Fong flinched as Katara gathered up her long sheets of ebony hair, artfully pulling it all back and spearing it with a jeweled pin. She really should stop yanking on it, or there'll be nothing left to decorate…Toph mentally grumbled.
How had Katara talked her into this, again?
Why on earth had she agreed to be poked and prodded beyond any point that she would normally tolerate?
The answer came instantly.
Oh, that's right.
Something else was slid into the hair beside her left ear, something with soft petals, and Toph's sharp sense of smell told her it was a lotus flower.
Huh, that won't be there too long.
Behind where the earthbender sat, (with her hands straining to stay in her lap rather than swat away her friend's) the Fire Lady gave a long sigh.
"Well, sorry about the dress. I tried to get it in green, but they didn't have the right cloth. It seems appropriate, though, since this is a summer festival….," she explained.
It was still odd, after all this time, to see Toph in flaming reds and elegant gold, so far from the earthy tones that suited her: Amid the whole getup, her smoky green irises were like pokes in the eye, the lonely bit of her origin remaining on her person. Other than that, the young woman wore a bright red yukata decorated in golden dragons, a similarly golden sash, and a pair of small earrings.
Makeup had been her breaking point, though, even if Katara insisted that the face normally hidden behind long bangs was really pretty and really worth showing off.
There were just levels to which the earthbender refused to go.
I already feel like a total stranger as it is.
Toph pulled on her hair, dismayed to find that Katara had been sneaky, and had added extra pins to the sugary up-do. The elaborate bun stayed in place.
"I probably look like one of those stupid dolls," the young woman immediately commented, when the Fire Lady stepped back to admire her handiwork.
Katara rolled her eyes, grinning knowingly.
"As your 'big sister,' it's my duty to make sure you look nice for your first date. Now, what sort of perfume would you like?"
The words were like dumping a cold bucket of water on Toph.
"Ah! No perfume! No perfume! The smell makes me gag...and for the hundredth time, it's not a date."
Katara knew she had Toph cornered.
"Right, yeah. You and Aang just happen to be planning on enjoying the Festival of Lights for the evening together, and you just happen to be in love while you're at it, and you just happen to have asked me to help you look nice for him. Try being mature about this, Toph. For spirit's sake, you're eighteen years old …."
Toph had already blanched at the bold term 'in love' applied to her relationship with the airbender, but the color went even paler when she recalled asking Katara for help.
That had been stupid to do…..gods; I do love that crazy man, don't I. That's really the only explanation for this behavior.
The whole 'date' thing had been Aang's idea, anyway. It seemed as though once their feelings for each other had come to some sort of headway, once they had finally admitted that they no longer saw each other as just friends or training partners, there had been an overwhelming sense of….
Thus the date. That was what people like them did, right?
Visiting the Fire Nation on diplomatic matters, it had seemed like a good opportunity to get out and enjoy the famous summer festival. And in one of her moments of mental weakness (in retrospect), Toph had agreed. Still, this seemed so forced, somehow….
"Toph!" Katara shouted through the haze of thoughts.
"Come on now, Aang's waiting for you outside."
"Oh," she responded half-heartedly. She had known that: Toph could hear his hammering heartbeat through the door of the bedroom.
It was slid aside to reveal the tall, teenage Avatar, wearing a simple red summer jinbei and shoes (shoes which, of course, Toph herself had neglected to don.) He had drawn himself up to full, broad-shouldered height, and looked curiously into the room.
"Hey, Katara. I was wondering if Toph…"
His gray eyes froze on the young woman, as she approached the door and waved at him in greeting.
Standing to his right, the waterbender didn't hear him breathe for quite a while, and Katara's smile grew even broader. Oh, this was just too good.
Toph's pale brow furrowed. Since when had Aang been so…nervous…around her? Not since that first day, so many years ago when he had stepped into the ring to challenge her, when she had first heard light heartbeat like a bird flapping its wings. He had been pretty nervous then.
And for good reason. But what's with him now? I hope nothing's wrong with me, she considered, in an unusual flare of self-consciousness.
Aang even confused himself with his reaction: he'd seen Toph in fancier clothes than this before, of course. On many, many occasions. But now that he also saw her in that slightly adjusted light of a relationship…
The Fire Lady looked between the two, trying not to chuckle, and figured that she would have to get them moving lest they stand there all night.
"Okay. Come on now, or you'll miss all the food and fireworks. The exit's that way, lovebirds."
"Lovebirds?" Aang gave her a sideways glance. It was just such a soft, fluffy term, and even if he was unsure of several things, the Avatar knew that what he felt was deeper than that.
"Yeah, don't…." Toph was about to comment.
Before she finished her comment, the Fire Lord's wife summoned a long stream of water from the vase in the corner, and whipped it as close to their stubborn backsides as she dare come.
Both of them hurried away. Once they were out of sight, Katara let loose her laughter, and mentally promised to ask Zuko if they were ever that awkward.
"Oh, much worse," he would tell her.
And the festival was very nice, of course. It brought the city to life, under the clear summer night sky. Lanterns were strung overhead between roofs like small suns, masks and colorful garments swishing by on every side, and the scent of foreign flavors had long permeated the air.
The smells joined the constant sound of music, performers every hundred meters to get their pay for the evening: after all, in times of celebration, the gold always flowed easier.
In the distance, an explosion of color and sound occurred, the display raining red and gold sparks up to join the stars. Many of the children, who had clamored onto the rooftops, cheered at the sight of it. "Fireworks! Fireworks!" they chanted.
And amidst all the festivities, there walked a wiry, dark- haired young woman and a strapping young man…who did not appear to be enjoying it at all.
The music was very nice, Toph admitted, as she bit into a sweet dumpling. The Fire Nation knew how to throw a good party, as well as wage a good war.
Twinkletoes had been quiet, stiff, and nervous all night. It was as though he had no idea how to act in this situation… although Toph herself was far from experienced.
He was trying: maybe that was part of it. He was being almost overly attentive to her needs, asking if she was too cold, if she was tired, if she was hungry, if she wanted to buy something. Sure, Twinkletoes had always been a gentleman in comparison to the other men Toph had met, but he knew she didn't want that sort of coddling.
Why was he doing it?
Did he honestly think that she expected to be treated differently just because they saw each other differently, that she would retract her feelings if he didn't treat her like some sort of spun-glass lady? That was her parent's job, not his.
At the same time, Aang knew something seemed out of place, and he could see that Toph wasn't having a good time. Now, that in itself was not the real shock, because he wasn't having a good time either.
What was really shocking was that Toph wasn't saying anything about it. She was bored, and yet she kept a smile on her face.
Toph was the most honest person Aang knew, when it came to personal matters: if something needed to be said, no matter how rough or blunt, the earthbender would say it. And usually, her actions were for the better.
So ….why wasn't she honest with him now?
The only possible explanation, as strange as it seemed, was that she was afraid to. Afraid to hurt his feelings? Afraid to get him angry? Afraid to ruin whatever sort of progress had been made between them? Toph, afraid. The concept was strange.
So it left Aang in an awkward position, to say the least.
And it didn't help that they were totally lost.
"I thought the restaurant was supposed to be on this street," Aang muttered, looking for the place he had decided they would go.
"Apparently not," Toph shrugged, moving out of the way of a passing cart. Twinkletoes wasn't good with cities: he didn't even like them. He was a person of freedom and open spaces, not cramped buildings and crowds of people. Heck, she wasn't either, even if her element was the total opposite of his.
"Maybe we should ask for directions. I think we're in the east part of the city," Aang spoke hesitantly. The east half, as Zuko had instructed, was a bit…less sophisticated than the western side: it was a problem he was working on. But changes take time, and the Fire Lord had recommended they avoid it.
Oh, he was so going to get the firebender for this, Aang vowed. It was Zuko who had vaguely instructed him on where to go, who had recommended the restaurant in the first place.
"No! Don't ask for directions, Twinkl….Aang," Toph exclaimed.
That was another thing: she seemed to have dropped the nickname. While Aang knew he should be ecstatic about that, it had been such a constant part of their conversations in the past that he missed it already.
"'Cuz we'll look like tourists!" she grumbled, trying to fix the problem as they walked, if just to end the awkward situation.
"But…. we are tourists."
"That's besides the point… Hey, there's a restaurant right over there that smells really good. Why don't we go in?"
Toph had already caught him in her strong grip and was pulling him across the cobbled street. Sitting nearby was a small group of performers holding their respective instruments: They were meticulously counting their nightly earnings, and smelled strongly of rice wine. One of them grinned and waved at the couple as they passed.
The airbender shrugged to Toph's question. "Uh, okay."
The place was big and well kept, full of people who seemed to be avoiding a cluster of men in the corner. It wasn't really a shop, considering that there were no walls: it was more of an open area of tables, similar to the ones Aang remembered from Ba Sing Se, with a roof and lanterns overhead and a bar at the back. The person tending the counter, a slight fellow with a broom, kept glancing over at the group of men nervously, but redirected his attention when the two walked up.
"Oh, uh, good evening! What would you two like?"
"What would you recommend?" the airbender asked, privately dismayed at how the evening had gone thus far. The man blinked at the boy's blue tattoos, and cleared his throat.
"My wife makes fine chazuke, if you think you'd enjoy….."
"Sounds great," Aang responded quickly, not even considering what the dish was. "We'll take two, please."
"Sit tight, then. Would you like some tea as well?"
"Jasmine," Toph leaned forward and told the shopkeeper. (She personally hated jasmine, but knew that the airbender was quite fond of it.)
The man nodded, and she felt his footsteps hurry away through the back door. Once he had left, both bending masters wove through the busy restaurant and took their seats at a table that gave Aang a clear view of the night streets.
Both settled in with a sigh.
Why was this so hard and awkward? Everybody went out on dates like this: it was the most normal thing in the world to do.
Neither spoke, until Aang decided to force the conversation. He twiddled his thumbs like a child as he did so.
"So, uh, we should be leaving for the Earth Kingdom in next week. The council in Omashu has asked for us."
"Oh, what for?" Toph asked politely. Under normal circumstances, she would have said 'Awesome! We'll race on the package chutes again: don't expect to beat me this time.'
Aang had clearly been expecting that response, so the one spoken gave him pause. "Ah…um, they were going to negotiate their trading relations with Geming."
Of course, normally he would have accepted her challenge, and told her that Bumi needed help refurbishing his dungeons again.
But this, as it appeared, as not normal.
And both knew it.
The men over in the corner laughed loudly, one snatching up the stack of gambling pieces.
"Okay. That sounds nice," she nodded, eyes flickering over towards the noise.
Her earrings swung to one side and caught the firelight, which gave Aang another idea to try as he floundered. Sokka had told him that girls liked compliments, soooo…
"Your hair looks nice that way. Did Katara do it for you?"
Toph refrained from scowling, because she had kept one foot pressed to the floor and instantly knew that he was lying. Twinkletoes had always told her he liked her long hair down, free around her shoulders, not pulled back and decorated.
She sniffled, trying not to act indignant at his attempt at flattery.
"Yeah. It's a popular Fire Nation hairstyle….are you wearing some sort of scent?"
The soaps Zuko had handed Aang that afternoon had been strange ones indeed, when the Fire Lord told him to clean himself up…. But the airbender hadn't thought Toph would notice.
You idiot. Being blind doesn't just make her hearing better.
"It's, uh, dragonroot. They use it to make soaps." Aang pulled at his collar distractedly. Gosh, it was sure stuffy in here.
Toph didn't like the scent that clung to him one bit. She was used to the normal, soft smell of sky and autumn wind that accompanied him, not the heavy, rich one of the soap.
In comparison, it was obvious which one she preferred. But that was not something you told a date, was it?
"It smells nice," she spoke flatly.
When their meal arrived, it was sort of a relief, a reprieve from the conversation…until Aang realized there was meat mixed in with the noodles. But complaining, or requesting another dish, seemed pointless, so he merely picked at it. Toph didn't seem to have much of an appetite either.
The dinner itself was short lived.
"Maybe we should get going, Aang," Toph said finally, laying down her chopsticks.
The airbender was about to nod, but in the process, one of the strange men in the corner happened to look over. There were fifteen of the guys or so around the crowded table, a mixture of Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation rabble.
It didn't take a genius to know they were trouble, which was exactly what Aang had been hoping to avoid.
The two males made eye contact over the many heads in the restaurant.
The notion faded in Aang's mind, as the other men turned at their friend's prodding to take note of the finery the two young benders wore.
Oh boy, Aang thought. Way to draw attention.
Toph, oblivious to the glances coming from behind her, made the grave but totally innocent mistake of pulling her money purse out to pay for the meal….her decorated, gold-spun, bulging money purse with the crest of the Bei Fong family on it.
Like showing meat to vultures, Aang thought, burying his head in his hands.
Sure enough, several pairs of eyes widened at the appearance of the money, and the Avatar's heart sunk in dread when one of them, a bearded older one, rose to swagger over.
The shopkeeper's eyes followed the man's progress, shaking his head knowingly while several others sitting around Aang and Toph moved seats or turned their eyes away. That band seemed to like using this shop as some sort of convergence point, and they had been bothering the shopkeeper, as well as his customers, for months on end. But what could anyone do?
Now to watch another pair become the victims of their miserable acts.
And they seem like a pair of such nice, civil young people, too. . The owner thought.
"Hey there," the man with the unshaved face grinned when he reached their table. Toph's nose curled at the stench of filth and sweat when he leaned close, standing over her like a carrion crow. There was no scent of alcohol, though; it appeared that he was just naturally rude.
"Good evening," Aang replied tersely, his body tensing.
Toph seemed unfazed, as always. Good to know she's still herself in that aspect, tonight, Aang thought.
"Got lotsa money there, I see," the bearded man continued, as though dispensing great knowledge.
He then sent what was supposed to be a sneaky wink over to one of his friends, but the hoots of hyena-like laughter gave it away. His thick, heavy hands fingered the sword he wore at his side, sliding it in and out of its sheath.
"You dun need alla that money, do yer?"
Toph turned her blind eyes to face him.
"That's for me to decide, Greasy," she spat: the glare she shot would have killed a small animal. As it was, the man leaned backwards slightly from it.
He wasn't dumb enough to have lost all sense of self-preservation.
It was, however, hindered by his want not to be upstaged, and thus Greasy kept prodding. "Whoo-hoo, don't she talk big, boys!"
Another jeer came up from the companions, and Aang's gaze narrowed a fraction.
"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave us be," he said.
"Wasn't talkin' to you," the thief said from the corner of his mouth. "This conversation is between me and the little princess over here.'
As long as the airbender's fuse was, this man was burning through it like a bonfire, and the cheerful amnesty Aang would have granted just moments ago evaporated progressively with every nasty look the man shot Toph.
"You should listen to him, Greasy. Really, he's the nice one," the blind girl nodded, taking another mouthful of her noodles and chewing idly.
'Greasy' glared his beady brown eyes at her.
"Look, lady, howsabout you give us your money…."
By now customers were hastily dropping their payments at the front and leaving in twos or threes. This was bad, they knew.
Over at the back of the shop, the owner's eyes had gone wide, and he had already ducked down under the counter in anticipation for what would come next. Oh, how he hated to see good people hurt….
The airbender knew this couldn't end well either, of course. He had developed a sixth sense for that sort of thing, and his mind was racing, hoping for some way they could get out of this quickly before any real trouble started.
Then the filthy man leaned even closer to Toph, his hot breath ruffling her hair, and sneered
"Leave," Aang said slowly, still hesitant to be start something even if he was furious.
There may have been a time when he used a more docile tone the second time around, but Toph had long taught him a few valuable lessons on the subject of tolerance.
The man let out an obnoxious laugh, getting up in the airbender's impassive face.
"Oh, and what are you going to do about it? 'Sir, I'm gonna hafta ask you to leeeaavvve'…pfft. What kind of wuss are you? Keep your nose outta my business, you little milksop, and I won't have to..."
The man got no further.
He was smashed off his feet as the floor rose rebelliously under him, the tiles punching up and sending him flying across the room and into one of the tables, as people scrambled out of the way. It splintered under his weight, but didn't break.
And as all eyes turned to her, there stood Toph with one foot still forward.
A moment of utter silence.
"Nobody talks to him like that," she stated simply.
A man seated over on the left raised his sixth glass of wine and cheered. "You tell 'em, shister."
Toph only grinned wryly at the group of thugs for a moment, who were all tensed and fingering their weapons.
Another short pause, this one filled with the sound of Greasy saying something about a broken bone or two.
And then the bright red yukata was shrugged off of the earthbender's shoulders, to reveal her normal, green sparring clothes underneath. She had gotten that past Katara, at least. (That was Toph for you, after all.) Like a flaming leaf, the discarded garment fluttered to the floor. Toph assumed a grounded fighting stance, feet splayed.
"Now remember, boys," she said, cracking her knuckles, "You started it."
At this, the rest of the men leapt from their seats, considering themselves challenged. There was a chorus of steel being drawn, blades flashing in the firelight, and all of them stepped forward as one, sharp edges bristling.
By now, of course, chairs were being overturned in the haste to clear out, but many of the people merely moved outside into the well-lit streets to watch in anticipation.
The one Toph had sent airborne, labeled Greasy, merely groaned and rolled off the table with a crash.
So much for walking away, Aang sighed.
He rose to his feet and joined Toph.
"No point in negotiating, Twinkletoes. They're too dumb to be scared."
"Scared?" a Fire Nation man with the tattoos laughed. He walked forward in a long, even stride. "It's fifteen against two, you foolish woman!"
"Not much of a match, I agree….do you want us to tie our hands behind our backs before we start, Fancy Feet?" Toph inquired eagerly.
Aang couldn't help but grin.
The tattooed man, dubbed Fancy Feet, did not share in the amusement. His sharp face soured.
"You got a smart mouth, don't you, you little brat? Just wait…."
Then a knife was thrown from amidst the crowd, aiming to bury itself in Toph's shoulder. Aang watched it progress: These men either weren't playing around, or they were too reckless to think about what they were doing.
Either way, the dagger flew at her…
Until a whip of tea water sang out and snatched it from its path, sending the small blade thudding into the ceiling instead.
Now all gazes turned upon the young man with the keen gray eyes.
"Bad move," Aang said simply.
Toph grinned, as she fell in love with the airbender all over again.
The group of vagabonds took his words as a battle cry, and they all lunged forward at their opponents, vaulting over the fallen chairs and tables.
The shopkeeper, instead of ducking down again, leaned forward as the two forces clashed.
The people in the street immediately began placing their bets, digging coins from their pockets.
The group of musicians across the street gave each other looks which had seen more sober days, nodded…
And struck up a rousing number on the strings as the fight commenced.
A younger, reckless one with a sword swung it towards Toph, intending on landing a slice in her. As he did, the woman kicked their table aside to make room and shifted her footing, twisting around the steel blade as it streaked forward.
She took the tiles below them with her.
With a thud, the floor was yanked out from beneath the swordsman's feet like a rug, followed by an upwards jolt that sent him crashing through the ceiling.
"Moron," the earthbender sighed, dodging falling bits of the roof.
The air was disturbed beside her right ear, another dagger flying out and clipping off the flower she wore.
She hissed at its proximity.
That was low of him.
Toph felt Knife Boy's vibrations amidst the chaos. There, there he was, leaning his weight back to throw yet again….
She lunged through the gap in his defenses, the moment where his stance was unbalanced as he leaned forward again in mid- toss.
Her fists gave two sharp punches outward.
Twin pillars of rock shot in from his left, broad -siding and flipping him into a table. It was the same table she had sent Greasy into, in fact, and the sturdy wood could take the abuse no longer.
It collapsed with a 'crack!' and a pair of groans.
The Blind Bandit maneuvered forward, laughing all the way.
"Ooh, my money's on that one," cackled an old woman to her niece as they watched from outside.
Aang, meanwhile, was letting the water whip dance about in the warm light, flipping swords from loose grips and pulling unsuspecting legs out from underneath their owners, ghosting over chairs as so not to trip.
"Behind you," Toph called over casually.
He snapped around just in time to cleave an arrow in two, then ducked under a blow and laid the attacker flat with a sharp smack.
"Sorry!" he shouted, leaping nimbly over the fallen body.
The ribbon of water followed him, weaving out. With an upwards flourish and lash of Aang's wrist, it wrapped around two pairs of ankles and sent both into the growing pile by the collapsed table, one atop the other.
The younger one remained there, but the older, more stubborn one staggered to his feet and shoved his way forward.
Aang took a moment to consider his next actions, and then let the water he wielded spill out onto the floor, dropping it all with a splash. The Avatar filled his lungs as the thief drew closer….
And blew out a long, crystallized breath.
With a crackling, both the man and the floor under him were covered in a sheet of ice, and the poor fool lost his footing.
His body smacked onto the floor.
"Sorry about that one, too! You'll be okay, sir..."
"HIT HIM AGAIN!!" came a cheer.
Aang looked over, and was shocked to see that the owner of the shop was near to dancing from happiness atop the counter, watching the whole fight like it was a grand spectacle. A few chairs were flung about, and the airbender ducked several.
"What?" Aang asked, dumbfounded.
"HIT. HIM. AGAIN! These scum have been bothering our neighborhood for months! Ooh, watch out! The one on your right is always after my daughter…"
In his moment of distraction, Aang had left himself open to an attack.
He paid for it.
The large man hit the airbender in a massive side tackle that sent them both hurtling into the wooden bar, then over it and behind the counter, a whole mess of drinks spilling in their wake.
In a flurry of poorly aimed punches from the vagabond, the two shot to their feet a moment later. They crouched in fighting stances, dripping wet, winded from the impact…
When another thief went flying overhead to join them behind the bar, smashing into the far wall.
"Another point for me!" Toph called over hoarsely.
And the man who had tackled Aang made the mistake of looking up, as the screaming fellow soared overhead like a very ugly bird.
He paid for it.
Seizing his opportunity, the Avatar rushed him, sweeping up all the liquids that dripped over the counter into another (rather colorful and odd smelling) whip.
"Whoops!" he said airly.
A short jab, a tap, really, of water sent the guy backwards.
With that, Aang leapt lightly back over the counter, clearing a chair and landing on the edge of one of the few tables left standing. It didn't stay that way, of course. It flipped on its side as the weight smashed atop it, sending the food flying into the air and covering several heads in noodles.
Meanwhile, those engaged with Toph had moved into the street, the people gathered and cheering by now, the musicians playing on with the song. One of the members, who appeared to be an earthbender himself, suddenly gave a grunt of effort and sent a wave of force barreling through the stones.
It raced towards Toph like tide.
"Watch…." Aang began.
"I'm on it, Twinkletoes!" she called over her shoulder.
The woman stepped fearlessly into the blow, hands reaching forward as though parting a curtain.
The rock wave broke.
Accordingly, the earth rose up and went shooting around her when the hit came, creating deep ruts on either side of Toph and leaving piles of stone in the road. Several people were knocked off their feet from the after shock, but Toph merely blew her hair from her face, brushing off.
"Aw, come on. Try already, I'm bored."
The criminal opposite the woman accepted her offer, and began knocking stones free of their place in the street, sending them at her one after the other in consecutive punches.
Coming from the air…
She didn't even need to ask him.
"To your left!" Aang called out, knowing better than to directly interfere. Her fist followed his orders.
"Now fifteen degrees to your right. Now ten degrees more…"
"Ah, directly ahead."
It was like a volley.
Toph would swat the hits away like flies on Aang's instructions, and merely send them back with a grin, making the thief duck and weave with narrow misses all the way. Dust and rock was everywhere, people squinting to see what was happening, the music playing and fireworks exploding.
And Toph's smiled broadened.
This was it.
This was what she and Twinkletoes were all about, right here amidst this fight.
They were a team. They were companions. They watched each other's backs, and yet trusted that the other could take care of themselves.
They would fight and die for one another, when asked to.
Fancy things? They faded. That had been a curtain between them tonight; trying to be something they were clearly not.
"Coming in from overhead!" he cried out.
Her fist obliterated that one, too, hardly even thinking about it.
No, she and Aang were real; they were close and needed nothing besides each other to….
Another rock swerved from its intended path to swing out at the bothersome gray-eyed man, the 'waterbender', as most thought him to be.
One little boy in the crowd covered his eyes in fear, as the boulder sped towards the warrior.
But it was suddenly smashed to pieces by a defiant fist instead, spraying even more rubble as the whole crowd drew a collective gasp.
And there stood Aang, a set smile on his face as he strode over to join Toph.
She turned to him, arms akimbo.
"How many points you up to?"
He looked at her. She was covered in dust and scuffs, her hair a mess, sweat on her brow… and Aang could have sworn that he fell in love with her all over again.
"Seven," he huffed.
"Darn. Me too."
"But…" the earthbending thug suddenly stammered, one shaking hand pointed forward at Aang. "But you were just bending water…back there…."
"Yes," Aang nodded slowly, a teacher prompting a stammering child to finish his verses.
The man's olive green eyes doubled in size as the realization dawned of who stood against him.
Aang merely nodded at the man's expression before saying, "Now, you had best run along and leave these people alone, understand?"
And then the earthbender turned and ran without another word, sprinting as though being driven by whips all the way. Several of his companions did the same, after hauling themselves from the wreckage and orienting themselves to what was right and what was left. As the last of them departed, Aang snorted in satisfaction.
The song from the musicians kept playing, and Toph crossed her arms.
"Well, looks like it's a tie, Twi…."
As usual, she spoke too soon.
"Yaaaaaaaaaah!" came a cry behind her.
Several warning shouts from the spectators alerted the woman as well, as one last stubborn fellow came charging at her from behind.
Toph blew her bangs from her face and waited.
And when he was right behind her…
She pivoted sharply.
Her fist came forward in one clean, fast, powerful punch, which stopped his upper body's movement…
But his legs kept going, and he landed on his back at her feet with another thud.
He remained there, looking dazed.
The street was dead quiet now, even the music having stopped, all of them taking in the show they had just seen.
The shopkeeper exhaled a long breath….but then turned and finally realized that it was his shop they had used for an arena, and was thus distracted.
The old woman with her niece snickered.
The little boy clapped his hands softly in excitement.
And then the earthbending woman shot a victorious fist into the air.
That set off the outburst, and the crowd around them exploded in cheers, gold passing from owner to owner as those who had wisely bet on Toph collected their prize, the band striking up another song.
The blind woman was pumping both fists into the air next, riding the tide of excitement and soaking up the glory as she did a bit of a victory dance in the street, popping tiles back into place as she went.
"Yeeeeaaaaah, that's right! Don't mess with us!"
Aang rolled his eyes
He then turned his attention to the shop owner, who was surveying the damage done to his property as though noticing it for the first time and at a lost for words.
The airbender punched his date in the shoulder to call her attention to the fact.
Toph felt the man's dismay as well, calming down while the crowd continued their celebrations. She pulled the money pouch, the one the thieves had been intent on possessing, from her belt to place it all in his hands with a nod.
Toph also padded over, and picked up the forgotten red yukata, in the process, inspecting the cloth for tears. It felt fine: Sugarqueen wouldn't notice at all. Toph couldn't tell what sort of condition the restaurant was in, though….
"I'm sure it could be worse," she mused to no one in particular.
As Toph's hip brushed it mid-thought, the last standing table collapsed, flipping a dish of udon onto the floor.
She slowly grinned, sheepishly, at the shopkeeper.
"Uh, yeah…… Sorry about that. That should be enough to cover everything."
She snatched up Aang's hand.
And then the two raced away, with Toph giving one last shout over her shoulder in the process.
"We're here until next week, folks! Thanks for enjoying the show, have a good evening!"
Amidst rowdy applause from the crowd of people, many of whom had started dancing to the music when it began again, the two disappeared around a corner.
The man, meanwhile, looked at the bag of coins in disdain.
How was THIS going to pay for all of THAT? Why, if he ever got his hands on those two…even if they HAD beaten up that scum…
I ought to have them arrested….
His thoughts froze when he pulled opened the bag's drawstring.
Inside was not common Fire Nation currency.
His eyes grew wide yet again, and the man examined the rare stamps upon the gold.
These…these….these were treasured coins of the Earth Kingdom, used only among the elite….
And he was nearly in tears of joy.
Enough to pay for the damages?
What he held in his hands was enough to move his family to the west side, hire a scholar for his son, and never have to work another day in his life.
And that was how the shopkeeper came to always tell the story of the two guardian spirits: of the woman with the green eyes and the man with the blue tattoos who had helped him in his time of need, the Avatar and his earthbender…..
The 'guardian spirits', meanwhile, got about a block before they stopped, turning to each other in the shadows of a hat stand.
A little snort from the girl…
And Toph burst out laughing, until tears came from her eyes and her sides hurt.
Then, to Aang's utter shock, she threw her arms around him, crushing the poor man into a very enthusiastic hug that crunched several ribs. And though his brain screamed for oxygen, it also danced at the realization that she was Toph again, just the way he liked her.
"That was the BEST EVER, Twinkletoes!!!"
He gave her a perplexed look when she released him, spots of light before his vision.
"What are you talking about? That was a disaster!"
Toph shook her head, yanking the last of the pins from the wilting bun. "The only disaster was us playing pretend all night."
She grinned broadly, shaking her dark hair free.
"You know that's not us, Twinkletoes. We don't do fancy; its plain freaky and unnatural."
He managed to stammer, "Yeah, but….but I wanted to do something special…"
She poked him in the chest.
"That's just it, Twinkletoes. That's the point, with us. Whatever we do together is already special: meeting stuffy old gasbags about diplomacy, cleaning Appa, beating up thugs…"
"It doesn't need anything else, besides us, to make it that special, then" he nodded, finishing her sentence.
They did that a lot, it seemed. Aang had gone a bit dewy- eyed while he spoke.
"You think so? Really?"
He wanted to make sure his assumptions were correct.
Yes, the whole conventional romantic deal wouldn't suit them.
No frilly dates or fancy stuff.
Just Toph and Aang: because that was who they had fallen in love with, respectively.
He would continue to treat her with respect for her independence, to grant her the freedom she so loved, as she would continue to be honest with him about himself, teach him and push him to try.
She would be humble in accepting his aid, because she knew he cared about her, and would always find peace and life around him.
He would be open in accepting her advice, because he knew she cared for him, and would always find strength and will around her.
That was who they were.
(And those million moments of normalcy, when they stole each other's hearts again and didn't even know it…. That was the real romance of it.)
Aang slung his arm around her shoulder, rubbing an elbow on her head.
"Well then, what shall we do tomorrow, Shortstuff?"
Toph feigned contemplation.
"How about we take the mongoose dragons for a ride? We can race them down by the shore. Or we can clean out the stables for good ol' Hothead and have a mud fight."
"Whatever you want," Aang shrugged, perfectly happy.
That was what he got, after all, for trying to take an extraordinary girl out on an ordinary date…..
It took them a while, but they got back to the palace, tired and rather less elegant looking than when they had left. Their footsteps were the only ones along the palace corridors, so no one noticed (although the guards had given them strange looks), and the fireworks still crashed about in the distance.
They stopped in front of Toph's room as she brushed herself off again.
"Well, that was fun," she grinned. "We should do it again."
"Huh. Maybe not so destructive, though."
"True, I guess," she sighed, pushing the door open and turning back to face him.
She raised an eyebrow.
"Okay," she said resignedly after a moment, grabbing the front of Aang's shirt and making him lean forward.
"What do you mean, 'okay'?"
"Aw, come on, you've been hoping for one all night."
He found himself incapable of saying any more past that point, and he didn't really care all that much, because it was her kiss which had cut him off. He instinctively wrapped his arms around her, Toph standing on the tips of her toes in order to accommodate for their height differences.
They remained that way for several long seconds, in which it felt like they were floating, until Toph broke away, happy with herself for leaving him dumbstruck….
Although she herself was a bit light-headed at the moment.
The airbender coughed, and Toph scratched her head.
Then she beamed.
She slammed the door shut, with Aang standing in the hallway before it, one hand half raised.
He blinked a few times.
A laugh rose out of the Avatar when he regained enough of his senses to walk away.
"Gods, I love that crazy woman."
A/N: I've always wanted to write a bar fight scene. Looks like they've rubbed off on each other, LOL.