Disclaimer: I do not own the intellectual properties depicted herein. I do not own the characters portrayed. I make no claim to own any part of 'Avatar: The Last Airbender'. All intellectual properties depicted herein belong to the creators of 'Avatar: The Last Airbender.' and Nickelodeon.
Humans are complex creatures.
They learn from mistakes.
They feel emotions.
They comprehend the world.
Humans require many things.
Aang sighed, chin in his hands, elbows propped on his folded legs. It was a slow day.
In fact it was a rare day as well.
A day where he wasn't drilled mercilessly by Zuko and Toph in both of their elements.
At the same time.
Burns and boulders do not a good combination make.
"I'll have to remember that for Ozai."
The thought of the dictator running from a giant flaming rock brought a smile to his face.
Smiles weren't as frequent as they used to be.
Tilting his head backwards, he gazed up at the water bender, her hair unbound, flowing freely past her thin shoulders. A look of worry etched on her brow.
There'd been a time where he'd be on his feet right now, hanging on her every word intently.
That time was over.
And for that Katara was grateful. She never meant to lead him on. She never meant to hurt her dear friend and 'brother'. She never meant to fall for...
Well, she never meant for a lot of things.
"Have you seen Sokka? He was supposed to bring back dinner."
"I dunno. Haven't seen him in hours. I did see him leave to catch dinner though. I think he went that way." He pointed towards the dense thicket leading out of the forest clearing they currently camped in.
"Oh. Okay. Umm..."
Taking a deep breath, Aang prompted her,
'I've already gotten this speech from you, from Sokka, even from Toph. I don't need to or want to hear it again...'
Those were his thoughts but he refrained from making them vocal.
'Thank you Sokka.'
"We're eating good tonight! I just caught us breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next two days!"
A snarl broke the warrior's jovial tone,
"I do believe I was the one to bring the Boar-Q-Pine down. Hell, I even cooked it for you in the process!"
Whatever joy there was in Sokka's voice soon bled out,
"Yeah yeah. Scar Face helped too. Can't say he doesn't make good bait."
An undignified snort came from his right.
"So says the one who ran screaming like a little girl from it. Seriously you have a really high pitched voice. Have you reached puberty yet?"
Snapping his attention to the new comer,
"It was a hunting call, Toph! I was trying to attract it!"
"How? Like a mating call? Yeah I can see you attracting Boar-Q-Pines." Aang looked as innocent as he could when he gave that snappy comeback.
"Ooooo. Nice one, Twinkles."
Aang did a mock bow,
"Please no applause."
Giving up, Sokka turned on his heel in a huff,
"Well I can see I won't be getting any decent conversation here. I bid you all good day."
Grinning Aang cajoled his 'big brother',
"Aww...don't go away angry Sokka."
"Yeah. Just go away." Added the blind Earth Bender with a laugh
A high pitched tone, indignant and curt, was their reward.
"I SAID GOOD DAY!"
Katara grimaced at her two younger charges, self appointed of course; Toph would never let Katara mother her...well not too much at any rate.
"That was mean."
"But fun." said the fire bender, a malicious smirk gracing his thin lips.
Aang laughed as a water whip was sent cracking against the royal behind of a very cheesed off prince.
Oh how he missed such times.
"Hmm?" he blinked as Toph handed him a small package of roots, nuts and berries.
"It isn't much. Snoozles and Cinderblock were more interested in meat than your Rabbi-Roo chow."
Smiling, he took the offered packet with thanks,
Brushing off his words, the young heiress turned on her heel,
"Whatever Twinkles. Next time get your own daily fiber. I won't do it for you again. Now let's go watch Weenie Roast and Snoozles go at it over how to cook the meat. I hope Sugar Queen has to freeze them apart like last time. That was fun."
Aang simply smiled before following.
She said she wouldn't do it again.
Yet this was the fourth time she'd offered to help him.
And he was grateful.
Everyone needs someone who cares.
And she does.
There they were. Two young hearts under the cover of darkness, up to Spirits knew what.
How very not what we were expecting...
They thought they were safe in the shadows.
They figured that no one would find out.
They assumed they could fool everyone.
Well, you know what they say about the word 'Assume'.
For someone did figure it out and she didn't have to assume anything. Though it was not her intention to discover their illicit affair.
"For some one supposed to be soooo graceful and light, Sugar Queen sure is heavy on the ears." Grumbling as she tried to tune out the vibrations crawling along the surface of the earth, Toph grit her teeth and tried to power through a torture only she could sense.
The scandalous shakes.
The vicious vibrations.
The...oh Hell no!
"Oh. They did NOT just do that!" She exclaimed within the confines of her cozy little earth tent. "This has got to stop. Some people need their sleep! And Toph Bei Fong gets what she wants!"
The stone walls crumbled back to whence they came with a stomp of her dainty looking foot. Growling, the young heiress stalked towards her unfortunate target.
Oh they will pay for interrupting her rest.
"I am so not in the mood for this."
Drawing her foot back, she kicked the sleeping lump in the lower back,
"Oi! Wake up!"
Said lump did not appreciate being woken...or kicked in the kidneys for that matter.
"Gah! Toph?! What the Hell?"
Mock sneering at her student's pain, Toph prodded him with her toe,
"Get up. We have work to do."
Aang rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Picking crumbs of eye crust and flicking them in Sokka's general direction. The boy's been hanging around Toph too much...
"Wha? Earth bending? NOW?!"
Aang's cheeks flushed, blood rushing to his head, waking him up fully as Toph's finger rested his dry lips.
"You wanna wake the whole camp?"
Nose curling a little, Aang mocked back, "Then maybe you shouldn't go around kicking people in the middle of the night. I think that's a rule."
"Rules are meant to be broken." She challenged, "And this isn't bending training...well...I guess we could make it so...hmmm."
Aang did not like the thoughtful expression and pose Toph was in. Though she looked awfully cute with a finger against her chin and brow scrunched in wicked imagination.
"I got it." She grinned, "This'll be so cool."
Sighing Aang got out of his sleeping bag, slipping on his shirt,
"Yes? What sort of life threatening stunt am I supposed to place my, in your own words, frail sissy body in?"
With that she tugged on his arm, dragging him deeper into the woods like an owner pulling a unruly pet away.
"This is so unnecessary."
"Shhh!" Toph placed her palm flat on the leaf covered ground, "Hmmm. Asleep. Good." Her expression changed, unsure of what to do next. Sure she had a general plan but what about Twinkles? How was she supposed to reveal her discovery to him?
She was worried about his feelings.
And that worried her.
"What?" He yawned, he needed sleep. He wanted sleep. But he didn't want Toph to wail on him. At least not till the sun was up. He wanted his dead body to be found and if possible, witnesses to his untimely demise.
"Aang...just behind those rocks..."
Toph closed her eyes. How to show him? How to show him? Ah.
"Sense the vibrations."
"Just do it."
Shrugging, he did as told.
"Trees. Trees. Rock. Trees. You. Me. Grass growing. Heart beat...wha?"
"And?" She urged.
"And...another heart beat."
"I'm sorry you had to find out this way." Toph did something that surprised herself.
She held his hand.
And sensed nothing.
'Wait a minute...'
"It's just Katara and Zuko. As usual. Guess they finally got to you too huh?"
Dropping his hand like a hot potato, she jabbed her slim finger at his chest,
"Yeah. You taught me to sense vibrations. Sure I'm not a sensitive to them like you but those two aren't exactly subtle."
"You knew? And here I was...Here I was...gah!"
She brushed his words away, trying to get back to the intended task,
"Whatever. Point is neither of us will be getting any sleep. We need to put a stop to them."
Aang was hesitant, yes he liked Katara, still did in a way. And Zuko had become a good friend. Plus both were masters of their elements and knew many ways to freeze and burn things.
"Well?" Asked Toph tapping her foot impatiently.
Then again this particular master in front of him knew many, many more ways to torture him.
One of them was that disgustingly cute pout she had on her face.
"Fine. Whaddya want me to do? No one'll get hurt right?"
"Oh." A devilish grin spread across her face, "Don't worry your little twinkly butt over it."
A few minutes later, after silently bending the two love birds back to camp, Toph had Aang light a circle of wooden posts around them with his newly learned firebending skills. The Steam Couple, as Toph had come to term them, did give our little mischief makers a scare when they decided to mumble and roll over in their sleep.
"Zuko and Katara aren't going to like this."
"This is justice Twinkles. Toph Bei Fong does not like having her sleep interrupted. Hey, I just thought of a new nick name for BOTH of them. Zuko. Katara. Add them together..."
"Okay, okay whatever. This is madness. You know that?"
Toph scoffed, waving away Aang's misgivings, taking in a deep breath filling her lungs for the grand finale,
"No. This is ZUTARA!"
Toph's voice wasn't what you'd call soft.
"What! What?! Are we under attack?! Protect the meat!"
The resident fire bender blinked the sleep out of his golden eyes which where trying to adjust to extreme amount of light from the burning posts.
"AAAAAH! SISTER! FIRE BENDER! HANDS! HANDS! NAUGHTY HANDS!"
Zuko turned to the sound of laughter, he should have known.
"Sokka, this isn't what it looks like...okay...it does...but we..."
"SISTER! PURITY! GONE! FIRE BENDER! DIE!"
Zuko groaned and glared at the laughing duo, simply threatening them with a pointed index finger. Toph snorted and replied with her own middle one.
"Thanks Twinkles." She said between laughs.
"No problem." He replied, taking in her clear laugh and blushing cheeks.
"You know what they say. A good friend bails you out of prison."
She smiled back, "And a great one's right there next to you."
"Saying what fun it was." He finished.
Everyone needs a friend.
And he was her best one.
"Sooo hungry. Can't. Go. On."
"And yet you can still form coherent speech. Well, coherent to those who speak primitive Hog-Monkey."
"If I had the strength to use my sword..."
"You had the strength this morning. And guess what? I'm still here."
Watching Zuko and Sokka trade verbal barbs all day, every day got old real quick. Zuko said something about Sokka's manliness or something or other. The end result was two frozen teenagers still with their hands around each other's throats.
But to Toph, everyday they fought was a happy one.
He'd asked her "Why so much interest in watching them fight?"
She said he wouldn't understand. Aang still couldn't figure it out. How could watching, or sensing in Toph's case, two young men fight till their clothes ripped off be in any way, shape or form entertaining?
A cold snap made him shiver. He didn't even bother to look in their direction to know the fate that befell them. A small river of water by his feet meant Zuko was using his skills to thaw himself, while Sokka's muffled protests reverbed through the air.
"Yeah?" The little earth bender held a small earth made chisel in her hand, slowly chipping away at Sokka's icy prison, taking great glee in hammering against the trapped young man's groin area, chuckling at the muted screams of fear. Yes, she'd gotten over his rejection, but hey it's still fun to terrorize him.
"Ever wished you were something else?"
She snorted, taking another swing at Sokka,
"Yeah. I wished was free. And I am."
"No. No. Nothing so serious. You know. Just for fun?"
"Oh." Chimed in Katara, "You mean, like, I wish I was a princess? Something like that?"
"Yeah. Something like that. Animal, element, whatever."
"Ick." Toph stuck out her tongue in mock distaste, "Where's the fun in that?" She faced Sokka, "Now this might cut it a little close." She stressed the word 'Cut'.
Everyone could see or sense the 'NO!' on Sokka's face as the hammer went down.
Every male present winced and crossed their legs upon impact.
"Well I think it might be fun. I'll go first." Katara looked up in thought, "I've...I've always wondered what I'd be like to live in the oceans."
"But you're Water Tribe." Zuko pointed out, only to get a set of knuckles to the head.
"I said IN the ocean. Like a fish. To see all the wonders underneath the waves."
"Yes. I can see how fascinating that'd be." Drawled the fire prince.
"Jerk. Your turn then. Dazzle us with your royal imagination."
"Now you're just being petulant." He pointed, "And I did not agree to join in."
"Oh come on. Just for fun?" Urged Aang. "I won't let up until you do."
"It's funny how you have to tell me that. Fine." Zuko's expression turned a little nervous...and was that...yes, Zuko can look shy.
"When I was younger. I used to imagine I was a dragon. Azula would always be the phoenix and I'd never win because a phoenix can't die." He sighed a little, "I never win."
Taking his chin by a finger, Katara made him face her, "Well, you did win something." before putting chaste peck on his cheek.
Sokka's icy prison shook and rumbled. Toph laughed out loud,
"I bet he wishes he was free."
"A dragon huh?" Mused Aang, "What? Did you call yourself? Zuko the Burninator?"
"No." Pouted the prince, amazing everyone that he could do so, "I was the Dragon of the West." His eyes looked at the small fire pit from the night before,
"Just like Uncle."
A silent calm draped over the group.
"He's fine Zuko. You said the bars were bent and your uncle's no Metal Bender. He's got to have a lot of muscle to do that."
"Ha. Uncle? Muscles? I doubt that."
Katara turned back to Aang, "Well, Aang. What do you wish to be?"
"Well...Let's ask Toph first."
"Hey I already told you mine."
"No. That was what you wanted for real. And you got that. What's your fantasy?"
Toph went silent.
"Well?" Prodded Aang.
"Hush! I'm thinking! I'm trying to pick something you sissies wouldn't."
Her voice went down a notch,
"I wish...Sometimes. Sometimes I wish I could see."
Another silence came over them.
Quickly she brushed the whole affair aside,
"Silly thing really. I like the way I am. And that's that. Now someone help me with Snoozles. I'm tired of chipping him out. Think I'll just tip him over and roll him down hill. Maybe he'll hit something on the way down and break open."
"I'll help." said Aang getting to his feet, leaving Zuko to whisper something into Katara's ear. The water bender arched an elegant eyebrow, while making a quick glance to the young Avatar and his earth bending teacher.
"No." She breathed disbelievingly, "Really?"
Out of sight and hearing range, Aang rolled Sokka slowly towards the slope of the hill.
"You know Twinkles. I was just joking about rolling him down hill."
"Yeah I know."
Toph shrugged her shoulders and bent a small throne to sit on, "I think with the sun out he'll thaw on his own." She gestured to Sokka lying on his side, the ice already thin and about ready to crack open.
"Say, you never told us what you wished to be."
Aang shook his head,
"It's really stupid."
"Well duh. It's you we're talking about." She joked. He knew she didn't mean it.
"Well. I wish that you were a bird."
"Me? A bird? I hate flying!"
"I know. I know. But if you were a bird..."
"Then...maybe...You know, I could be...I could be the wind beneath your wings."
For those playing at home, this is silent pause number three.
Toph burst out in giggles which soon became loud guffaws,
"Oh that was soooo bad. That was so bad it hurts."
Aang said nothing, just chuckled along with her,
"Yeah. It was wasn't it?"
"Please. Clowns would die using that line."
"Isn't that Ty Lee girl from the circus?"
"Oooooh. Let's make her say it. Maybe she'll keel over from sheer cheesiness."
"Oh oh how about...?"
Everyone needs a good laugh every now and then.
And he always made sure she could.
"Keep your knees bent! BENT! I SAID BEND YOUR SCRAWNY BUTT!"
Zuko winced as Aang was hit with another boulder, sending the Avatar crashing into tree.
"She's very...dedicated, isn't she?" He asked to no one in particular.
Katara sighed, getting ready another flask full of water she knew she'd have to use on Aang after Toph was down with him,
"I've been trying to get her to tone it down ever since she joined us. She's going to kill Aang one of these days."
"Ha. The Fire Lord would give her a medal." He joked acidly.
"Well, it's good she's hard on him."
Katar dropped the water she was bending back into the flask,
"Excuse me? Aang won't be in any shape to face Ozai. She needs to pull back."
"The Fire Lord will kill him if he isn't prepared."
Toph stopped in mid attack stance as the all too familiar vibrations of water freezing and grass being scorched moved through her feet.
"Well, can't train here anymore. Hey Twinkles!"
Aang peeled himself off the ground and out of the impression he'd made in it. Groggily getting to his feet, he staggered towards her,
"The Steam Engine is rolling in. We gotta get off the tracks." She jerked her thumb to a cloud of steam behind her with the occasional ice spear and fire bolt flying out of it.
"Yeeeeah. Let's go."
Using her skills, Toph managed to find another site for training. A nice little quarry in her opinion. What Aang saw was a valley of sharp pointy death. With pit falls and sink holes just waiting swallow up any unwary travellers.
"Perfect." She mused, hands on her hips.
"You know. There're easier ways to kill me." He stated offhandedly, "Electrocution works well. Blunt trauma and evisceration work well too. So I've heard. Oh wait...that's what's going to happen to me when I get down there." He pointed down at Death Valley.
"Breaking news. Avatar uses sarcasm. What a shocker." Non-plussed Toph shoved him off the edge.
"Fly Twinkles! Fly!"
"I DON'T HAVE MY GLIDER!"
The Spirits were on his side that day. Well, they have to be. They've got a lot riding on him. Still that kind of pressure isn't all that welcome. Anyway...
"Twinkles! Twinkles! AANG!"
"I'm fine! The slimy, hard, not at all soft cave floor broke my fall!"
"Don't scare me like that!"
"Don't push me off cliffs!"
"Wait for me! I'm coming down!"
"Ewww." Toph wiped her slimy hand against Aang's pants, "We're not in another Buzzard-Wasp hive-nest are we?"
"I'm not sure. You hear anything?"
"If I did, would I be asking you?"
"This stuff is thick." He pulled a handful of the sludge. Felt cool. Didn't smell at all. He wondered what...
"Hey!" He cried out, "What was that for?" trying to scrape the slime off his back.
"Fun." was her grinning answer.
Her answer was another handful of slime to his face.
"Okay. Doesn't smell bad. Tastes like Sea Prunes. This cannot be good for me."
"You got that right Twinkles." Aang wiped the sludge out of his eyes only to witness Toph creating a large boulder caked with the stuff.
"Aww...Toph. I'm tired." he whined.
"Well then, now you'll be slimy and tired..."
Before she could make good on her threat and her sentence, she found her usually fair face slimed.
"Ha! Not so fun now is it?"
Suddenly feeling a lot more vigorous, Aang gestured to Toph,
"Come on. Come and get it."
"Consider it gotten."
She lunged at him, dragging both of them into the thick sludge. With her right hand against his shoulder she forced him onto his back as she scooped up a pile of slime with the other.
"Eat slimy dirt Avatar." She sneered.
Aang plunged his fingers into the ground sending a small tremor up the sides of the walls and along the roof. The resulting shakes caused a deluge of the sludge to dump on Toph.
Taking the opportunity, Aang scrambled to his feet and took off away from her. Not to be denied she literally pulled the ground right from under him, making him fall face first.
Pinning him by sitting on him with a boulder for good measure, she smacked the back of his bald cranium,
"Say it. Say: Toph Bei Fong's the greatest bender of all time."
A little more weight was applied on his back.
"No." She shoved his face back into the sludge.
Grabbing her wrist, he flipped them around, this time pinning her.
She didn't even blink.
"Well? I won!"
She smirked and directed his attention to where her bent knee would have impacted his...'special place'.
Aang scrambled off her, "That's...That's cheating!"
"Should have thought of that earlier."
She tweaked his nose before sweeping his legs right out from under him.
Everyone needs to be prepared for the trials of life.
And she always kept him on his twinkly toes.
Aang stared at the great doors before him.
Behind him lay a palace in ruins.
Once proud banners were on fire as opposed to depicting them.
Pillars that would hold up the grand ceilings of the palace lay broken and shattered.
Just like the men that littered the floor around him.
He had gone through hellfire and high water.
Plunged the depths of the earth and soared the limits of the sky.
Made and lost friends and loved ones.
He'd made history.
He'd lived it.
He'd fufill his destiny.
And only two doors of solid steel separated him from that destiny.
Toph's shoulders sagged as she dispatched the last Fire Trooper in her way.
She didn't want to kill.
She never wanted this.
But there are things men would die for.
She understood that.
She had something she'd make the ultimate sacrifice for.
She was raised rich.
Never knowing what it felt like to loss that which was most precious to her.
And she never wanted to feel that.
She had to make it in time.
He was behind this great barrier.
Fire Lord Ozai.
Would be dictator.
Enemy to all.
And he had to kill this man.
For the sake of the world.
Aang had to take a life.
And he couldn't do it.
He couldn't bring himself to.
He was there.
Just like they agreed.
And he was scared.
She could feel it.
She could feel the vibrations of fear and doubt.
For she could feel them in herself.
What if they failed?
Frosty mint eyes stared straight ahead.
The Avatar couldn't help but chuckle.
All this and she could still squeeze out what he'd called a Toph-ism.
"He's in there isn't he?"
"Well? Let's go."
He grabbed her arm to keep her from taking another step forward.
The jolt of his frantic heartbeat surged up her arm and into her small frame.
"Toph...If...If I can't..."
Toph shut her eyes and repeated a simple mantra,
She had to be strong.
Aang swallowed the lump he wasn't aware he had.
He had to be strong.
"We WILL win."
"Yes. We will win."
"Rock-like. Aang. Rock-Like."
Their hands gripped each others tighter.
"Let's go say hello."
She smiled. That perfect smile.
He returned it as they moved in synch smashing down the great doors.
Revealing the path to their destinies.
Everyone needs someone.
Everyone needs someone.
They found each other.