AN: Teo is not even on the list of characters to write about. That is a darned shame b/c the kid I remember from Northern Air Temple is funny, inventive, and daring. I think he and Toph make a very interesting study in contrasts—so here it is: a Toph/Teo pairing—and I don't think it is a bit cracky! This takes place after Fire Bending Masters in the Western Air Temple. I try to stay in canon. Let me know if I stray too far. There's also the least little bit of TophxZuko.
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar. If I did, we'd have the next chapter already.
Katara called to Toph from across the courtyard. "Toph, can you give me a hand a minute?"
Toph slowly hauled herself up from the stone floor. She'd spent the last half hour "watching" a family of prairie rats in their burrows several feet within the cliff wall. They were always so amusing with their little petty squabbles and new babies coming almost daily.
As she crossed the courtyard she could hear Sokka and The Duke having yet another fight over who had to collect firewood. Their new baby, Zuko, was busily refining his newest form with Aang. Aang was just a guy, even if he was the Avatar. Sokka was also just a guy, but on a slightly older level. She'd never had brothers, but if she did, she'd guess that she'd feel about them like she did Aang and Sokka.
Zuko, however, was interesting. He had a dangerous air of mystery about him that she couldn't help but find intriguing. She tried to get a good earthbending look at him.
Her vision provided a kind of 3-D portrait of the person she looked at. If she concentrated, she could see his facial features, including the scar over his eye. When he was in motion, like now as he stretched through the form, she could see the way his hair fell into his face by the little vibrations it made. It was as if his entire body was an antenna transmitting him into the earth beneath her feet.
"Hey, dreamy!" Katara called to her. "Stop watching the boys and come give me a hand."
"I wasn't watching them," Toph denied as her face flushed with embarrassment.
"Yeah, yeah, I know that look," said the older girl with a grin. "Zuko's too old for you, Toph."
"Whatever, Sugar Queen. There's no law against looking, is there?" Toph forced herself to turn physically away from where Zuko and Aang were bending; however, the best part of being able to see with her feet was the 360 degree view she always had.
After helping Katara move some camp supplies into the store room, Toph wandered back out into the courtyard. She looked around for Haru to see if he wanted to practice earthbending, but he and The Duke were apparently too far out of range. Zuko and Aang were taking a break, and Sokka was headed up the stairs for the stream, fishing pole in hand.
Behind her, she could feel Teo coming down the long hallway. The strange thing with Teo was she couldn't feel much more than the chaircart he rode in. The wooden wheels acted almost like an insulator between Teo and the earth. She was always a bit uncomfortable around Teo and this made her feel guilty. The two of them were the "different" ones of the group. Unfortunately, these differences were part of the reason she and Teo just didn't get along.
"Hi, Toph," came Teo's voice behind her.
"Hi," she answered, feeling as though she were addressing a wagon instead of a person.
"I'm going gliding in the new two seater," he continued. "How about it? The Duke says it's a thrill like no other."
"No way," Toph blurted.
"Okay," came Teo's reply. "I'll just see if someone else wants to ride." She could hear the hurt in his voice and immediately felt horrible.
"Hey, I'm sorry," she said, addressing the space where she guessed his head would be if she could see it. "It's just that flying is not one of my favorite pastimes. I feel so blind in the air. I can't see anything, I have no idea where I am, and it's terrifying."
"Wow," Teo replied. "For me, flying is the one time I feel completely normal. There are no limitations to where I can go or what I can do. It's freedom."
Toph considered his point of view. "I never thought of that," she answered. Then she said something she never thought she'd say. "I've changed my mind. I think I will take you up on that flight."
Shortly thereafter, Toph sat in the seat of the glider, Teo behind her. He'd removed the leg bindings he usually wore so that he could position himself with his legs stretching out on either side of her on the padded seat. The glider was built to handle two teenage boys, so she had plenty of room to stretch out her legs. So she was a little surprised when Teo asked her to slide back against him.
"I've got plenty of room up here," she replied, a little nervously.
"I'm sure you do. Even Haru's long legs will fit in there. But for best maneuvering I need to have one center of gravity, not two," he answered and reached around her to pull her into him.
Toph might have been out of touch with the earth, but she could still feel with her body. At once she noticed that Teo's arms were incredibly strong and warm as they wrapped around her and effortlessly pulled her back a few inches into his chest.
She quickly began to fumble for the restraining straps to cover for her sudden rush of nerves."How do you work these things?" she complained.
"I got it," Teo answered and began to pull the straps down around her. "You're really nervous, aren't you?" he asked. "We don't have to go if you don't want to."
"What makes you think I'm nervous?" Toph asked, dismayed to hear a distinct squeak in her voice.
"I can feel your heart pounding," Teo laughed.
Toph took a deep breath. As many times as she'd used that particular talent on other people, it felt a bit unnerving to have it used on her.
"No," she forced her voice to be calm. "I want to go."
"Okay," Teo answered. Toph realized that she could feel his voice rumbling in his chest. It might not be earthbending, but it was familiar and that calmed her down even more. "Haru always gives us an earthbending push off the cliff. Wanna' try?"
"How?" she asked, her nerves jumping again.
"Just reach over the side and give us enough ramp to come off the edge of the cliff with some speed."
Toph reached over the side of the low slung glider and was glad to feel the familiar earth beneath her fingers. With a tap she saw where the glider sat, how far they were from the edge, and the depth of the drop off beneath them. It was nearly enough to make her throw up. But she marshaled her best courage and bent a ramp to start them rolling.
"A little steeper," said Teo after a second. Unfortunately, Toph had frozen in panic the moment the glider had begun to roll.
Without enough speed to catch the air currents, the glider dropped like a rock the moment it left the edge. Toph screamed soundlessly at first, then began to scream in earnest. Teo, meanwhile, whooped with something that sounded unbelievably like joy.
After a heartstopping moment, the glider began to level out and rise with the thermal that rose from the canyon. "Excellent!" yelled Teo. "I have never been able to get Haru to do that. He's always scared we won't catch the thermal. I have tried and tried to tell him that the free fall is the best part, but he always pushes us off too fast."
Teo took one hand from the controls long enough to give Toph a big hug. "I should have known you'd have the guts, Toph," he called into her ear over the roar of the air. "You're the best!"
Toph didn't feel gutsy at all. She felt downright sick. Flying on Appa was hard, but at least there was a big saddle to hang onto. She gripped the edges of the cockpit until her fingers popped. She felt so exposed. The great unknown just hung out there before her, the wind in her face. She found herself leaning back harder into Teo just for the contact.
After a few moments of gentle swoops and turns, however, Toph began to relax. Appa always flew steadily, unless they were being shot at or something. "This is kind of fun," she said softly.
"What did you say?" Teo asked in her ear. She could feel the warmth of his breath on her face. She turned back toward him to repeat herself, only to collide with him, cheek to cheek. He laughed, and so did she, then she repeated her comment.
"Want to try something more daring?" he asked.
"Sure, I'm game," she found herself answering. Then Teo began to pull them up into a climb that pressed her back even closer against him. When they reached the peak, her stomach did flipflops as they spiraled tightly down again. Several more swoops and climbs later, Toph had to admit that she'd really had fun. It was so dangerous and edgy. She'd never seen Teo as anything but a nice quiet young man. It thrilled her a little to know that she'd seen a new side of him—and of herself.
"Well, time's up," Teo said after a bit.
"Already?" Toph whined.
"Yep, the sun's going down. The currents are changing. We'd better get on the ground," he explained.
"I guess your power comes from the sun kind of like Zuko's, huh?" she asked absently as they glided in for a landing.
Teo laughed and she could hear a little bit of nervousness in it. "I wouldn't compare this to what Zuko can do," he said.
"I think this is pretty impressive," she said.
"Really?" he asked as he pulled the handbrake to stop them on the wide ledge that served as their hangar. "Zuko is so . . . well, I never thought anything I could do would come close."
"Seen one guy shoot fire out his fingertips, you've seen them all," Toph joked dryly. "But airbending without being an airbender," she continued, "that's special."
"You really think so?" Teo sounded hopeful and a little shy.
"Yep, I sure do." Toph patted him awkwardly on the knee before she realized he probably couldn't feel that.
Once on the ground, Toph followed Teo's directions and they rapidly got the glider stowed. They made their way back to camp, both quiet. Toph realized that even though the wooden wheels still interfered, she could still make Teo out just past the rattles and squeaks and woodenness.
"I had a lot of fun today," she stated shyly.
"So did I," Teo answered. "I was a little afraid to ask you to come though."
"You were afraid? Why?" Toph asked incredulously.
"Well, you're Toph—the World's Greatest Earthbender. I'm just a refugee kid who likes to fly. I've always been a little afraid to talk to you. Haru says you can put his butt on the ground without even trying," Teo continued with a laugh.
"Haru is doing very well," Toph replied defensively. "After all, he's self taught. He's still learning."
Teo just laughed again. Toph thought to herself that he had a very nice laugh. For a refugee kid who'd been handed a lot of tough problems, he always managed to find the brighter side of their situations.
"Can I tell you something?" Toph began. Teo agreed and she continued, "Don't take this the wrong way, but I never felt very comfortable around you."
"Why?" Teo asked. She could hear that hurt tone in his voice again.
She stopped and turned in his general direction. "You're always in your chaircart," she said. "I can't see you like I can everybody else."
Toph explained that since he was so seldom in contact with the ground when she was around, she'd never really had a good "look" at him.
"Oh," he answered with a sigh of understanding.
They made their way back to the camp, making small talk about a number of things. Toph realized as they arrived that Teo was a very nice guy, very funny and intelligent. She'd laughed out loud several times as they walked. In fact, as they rolled into camp she was nearly incoherent with laughter over a story he'd been telling her about an invention he'd helped his father come up with—an invention that had nearly destroyed an entire wing of the Northern Air Temple. But the way he told it, the story was hilarious rather than terrifying.
"Nice of you two to join us at last," Sokka called out from his spot by the fire.
"We thought we'd have to send out a search party," said Haru.
Katara offered them both a bowl full of the evening's supper. To her surprise, Teo waved her away for a moment. "I've been in this cart all day," he said. "I'm stretching my legs." Pulling his cart up next to one of the long stone benches, he expertly lifted himself up and out, then eased himself to the ground in the circle.
Toph sat next to him and took both their bowls from Katara. They ate and everyone chatted about the events of the day. Teo told the story of their harrowing flight and she found herself sitting a little closer to him to feel his warmth again. She lightly tapped the ground with her fingertips, finally able to really see and feel him as he sat next to her on the ground. When he laughed, she could even feel his hair swing into his eyes.