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.
"Grass is green. Sun is shining. Grass is green. Sun is shining. Grass is green…"
"Here, Katara let me help you with that…."
"Thank you, Haru. Nice to know that there are still gentlemen in the world. Unlike some people whom I won't mention."
"HOLY…! Aang! Watch where you're aiming those things!"
In an instant, the short mantra was broken as rough fingers closed around the Fire Prince's temples, slowly rubbing in circles, trying in vain to will away the migraine he knew was developing right behind his eyes,
"…Sun is shining…Agni is on his throne and all is still not right with the world…"
Running said fingers through his thick mop of hair, Zuko took a deep breath before hearing the very words his overly enthusiastic pupil gushed,
"Sorry Sifu Hot…I mean Sifu Zuko. Guess I should have paid more attention when you were talking about focus."
Zuko snorted at the irony in Aang's words,
"Oh? You seemed very focused to me."
He cast a look over to Haru trying to smother the newly acquired and very realistic flame motif on his pants,
"Did you have to set his pants on fire?" Zuko jerked a thumb over in a panicking Haru's direction as Katara stepped in to lend a hand…or a bucket of water in her case.
Aang waved his hands in denial,
"No! I didn't mean too!"
"Yeah. Riiiiight." The Exiled Prince popped a few joints, "It's good to have a…source…of fuel for Firebending."
Aang smiled brightly. Zuko was approving of his rather unique method. That smidgen of hope was dashed as a pair of royal fingers smacked him on his light blue arrow.
"But it's not good when you burn your allies!" Growling under his breath Zuko rolled his eyes at the younger boy as he rubbed his forehead.
"I said it was an accident." Aang muttered, checking for a lump on his forehead. A amused bark of a laugh erupted from Zuko's throat,
"Accident? Accident? Aang, tripping and falling is an accident, having Sokka roll on top of you at night is an accident," The former prince shuddered at the horrible, horrible memory, "But this…" He grabbed the young Avatar by the head and spun him to face the scene of Katara assessing the damage to Haru's pants,
"This is jealousy."
"No it's not!"
Zuko threw up his hands,
"Whatever. Call it what you want. I'm calling it jealousy and you're going to have to rein it in."
"I am not jealous of Haru."
"Sure you're not. Oh look, see how gentle Katara is with him? My, don't they look the perfect couple. And oh would you look at this, your fists are flaming."
Aang quickly hid his hands behind his back, clapping them to put the flames out,
"No they're not."
"I'm not blind." Stated Zuko blandly, "I've seen the way you look at her. You have a crush. Okay. Fine. It's natural. But NEVER let your emotions get the better of you. Trust me. Not just in firebending either."
Aang frowned, a look most unsuited for him, "I have full control over my emotions." He stated, "And it's not a crush. I love Katara."
Zuko scoffed, waving his hand to dismiss the Avatar's heartfelt claim, "Forgive me if I don't share your misplaced commitment."
Aang grit his teeth, fists clenching and unclenching. Zuko went on, "Oh you're in love. What would a twelve year old, you in this case, know about love?"
"She cares for me. I do the same for her. She's been there for me all this time. She's protected me, healed me, fought for me. I'm saving the world for her."
Though stepping back from the intense heat Aang was radiating, Zuko did not relent in his verbal jabs,
"A mother Turtle-Duck does the same for her babies. Are you calling Katara a Mother Turtle-Duck? Or are you just a lost little Turtle-Duckling? Wanting to hide behind his mommy? What? Can't do anything with mommy Katara to hold your hand and kiss away the boo boos? Are you going to run away again if mommy Katara isn't there with you to face my father?" Part of Zuko was calling himself a hypocrite, hadn't he been like that and still wished that his own beloved mother was still around?
But he had a point to prove.
One he knew better than anyone else here.
"SHUT UP! DON"T YOU TALK ABOUT HER LIKE THAT!"
Winds howled, the earth trembled, the moisture and oxygen in the air crystallized and combusted respectively. Zuko braced himself against the almost gale force winds that buffeted his body. Katara took shelter behind Haru's hastily erected wall of earth. Sokka looked up from sharpening his weapons, barely hitting the ground just as the space of air above his head spontaneously exploded.
A took a few moments of deathly silence for anyone to speak.
"Case. In. Point." Coughed Zuko, picking himself off the ground, "You may be the Avatar. But you're no good to anyone like this."
Before Aang could retort, a sharp feminine voice called out,
"What in the eighteen Hells was that?!"
Toph, Teo and The Duke emerged from an underground bunker the earthbender had sunk the moment she sensed something wrong in the earth beneath her feet,
"You guys really scared Duke!" Toph stomped her foot as the young boy in question hid, shivering slightly, behind his newly appointed 'big sister', too scared to even correct Toph's announcement of his moniker.
Zuko dusted his shirt off, snapping Aang a stern look. A pointed finger jabbed the Avatar in the chest,
"You have all the power in the world. With great power comes great responsibility. Wasting it on a crush is not responsible. Remember that."
With that, he bowed respectfully to his pupil.
"We're done for the day."
Aang grudgingly did the same grinding his teeth,
"Thank you Sifu Zuko."
"Will someone tell me what the flying Koh just happened?!" Yelled Toph striding into camp, Teo trailing behind her giving The Duke a ride on his chair.
"Honestly?" Sokka re-tied his pony…Warrior's Wolf Tail,
"I don't think I wanna know."
Earthbending practice was fairly somber. A stark contrast to the usual yells and whoops of excitement that accompanied their training.
Twinkle Toes was distant.
They were totally out of timing in their earthbending forms, whereas they'd be in perfect synch otherwise.
And it irked Toph to no end.
Just what happened when she was out gathering food with Teo and the Duke? Sokka was just as in the dark as she was, being quite far from Zuko and Aang at that point of time. Katara and Haru couldn't really tell her what went on, all they saw was a flash of blue followed by the minor natural disaster they had all felt. As they had come to expect, the water bender immediately heaped all the blame on their new friend even calling on a vote to throw him out of their group. No one took Katara seriously in regards to Zuko anymore…or at least they hoped she wasn't being serious.
What they didn't expect was for Zuko to agree. Keep tight lipped about it, yes. Accepting full responsibility? In a way they'd see that from him. But Toph knew he was lying…if a little. Zuko wasn't telling the whole story.
And that left little ol'Twinkle Toes to fill in the gaps and he didn't seem the chatty sort right now.
Not that that stopped Toph.
As Aang went through his forms on automatic, the blind earthbender shifted her foot subtley, creating a divet right underneath the Avatar's foot.
Chuckling, Toph sauntered over to Aang as he rolled on his back to stare straight up into the sky. Kicking him none too gently in the side, Toph egged him,
"Geez, what was that? Are you getting soft on me Twinkle Toes? Toph Bei Fong does not train baby skinned softies."
Aang said nothing.
So she kicked harder.
"Hey! Stop it!"
"Good! You're still alive. Now get up and do that form again. You were sloppy and pathetic." She could feel his ire rising. The vibrations her healed feet were picking up wear growing in pulse and strength…and heat. Twinkle's was scorching the earth.
"Hey! Once is quite enough!" Toph hopped back a few steps, "What the Koh's wrong with you?!"
"I am not pathetic."
"I am not pathetic." Repeated Aang, more forcefully this time, though he still did not make any effort to get off the ground.
"I am not a baby."
The pulses were dampening in frequency and the ground was rapidly cooling. Toph took a few steps forwards, but kept her guard up. Her Royal Highness Princess Zuko must have really done a number on him.
"No fair. Only I get to do that to him." She muttered under her breath. "Hey. Twinkles. I know you're still alive. I can feel your heart beating."
Aang sighed, trying to cleanse his mind of Zuko's earlier words.
"I'm fine, Toph."
A slight pick up in his beats brought a small smile to her face but the heaviness of his words still worried her. And she hated that. Worrying. That was Sugar Queen's department.
"So? Are you going to get up and continue? Or do I have to use force?" She said that in a joking manner in hopes his pulses would speed up back to what she was used to.
"Could I…? Could we just call it a day? That…technique…I pulled this morning really sapped me."
Normally, Toph would never allow Aang to slack off. He wasn't an earthbending master till SHE said so. There was something in his words that made her say different though and she was determined to find out what. Besides, it could be good teasing material…
"Okay. We'll let the poor baby sleep in today." She laughed. The following pulse of force almost made her retract her words.
"I am not a baby." Repeated Aang. His voice still rather dead.
"Is that what this is all about? Did the Princess call you a baby?" She lay down beside him, folding her arms behind her thick hair, "The nerve of some people." She mocked in a faux snobbish voice.
"I am not a baby." Aang sat straight up, supporting himself with his arms behind him. Toph chuckled, "You do have baby smooth skin though." The joke hardly fazed him.
"I know what you said, Twinkles. And if Princess called you that…then…"
Aang turned slightly, awaiting her answer. Toph was his best friend. She would tell him the truth. And he would take her word for it.
"Then he's right."
"What?" Aang turned fully, slamming his hands on the ground next to her side, "You're joking! Zuko was trying to make me mad! He was trying to make me lose control! He was trying to make me look bad in front of…" Aang stopped his ranting before he let slip anything too personal.
"In front of who? Sugar Queen?" She flicked a freshly picked booger away, "Yeah. I'd say Princess was dead on about you. Babies whine and throw tantrums. And if I'm right, you threw a pretty big one this morning. Hell, you're whining right now. Wanna go two for two and blast this place with some Avatar power?"
"Don't you start too." He warned. Toph snorted, "That you like Sugar Queen? Please even I can see that. And I'm BLIND."
"Stop playing the blind joke Toph. It's getting old." Aang hugged his knees to his chest.
"I'm comfortable with who I am, Twinkles. I can take it. Unlike you."
"I won't admit what I'm not." He said vehemently. Toph grabbed his wrist, startling him, "Then tell me. What are you?"
"I'm…I'm the Avatar and I'm going to save the world."
"I am telling the truth!" Aang tore his wrist out of her grasp. "You are the Avatar." She confirmed, "But you're lying about the saving the world part. Kinda." As if she could see the look of bewilderment on his face, she went on, "I know what you and Katara did just before the invasion. You're heart was pounding so fast and hard it was deafening."
Aang looked away, "You saw…er…felt that?"
"And what was Katara's heart like?"
Toph rolled over on her side away from him, "If you have to ask that…then whatever Princess said was right."
"I love Katara. End of story."
"But you don't know for sure if she loves you. Don't try to lie Aang. I felt the hesitation in you when I said that."
Sneering the Avatar retorted, "And what would you know about love?" Toph closed her eyes, "Not much." She sat up and stared into blank space focusing on the muted vibrations belonging to a water tribe warrior back in camp, "But I try to understand it. I don't assume to know it."
"Sokka loves Suki." Aang pointed out. Toph didn't react. Aang looked away immediately, feeling disgusted for using such a low blow.
"I know." Toph said calmly, "I know he does. He talks in his sleep. His heart hitches whenever someone brings her up. His whole body screams bloody murder if you even start saying Azula's name. And what's the deal with the moon? He acts the same way about it too."
Aang turned back to stare in the same direction, "That's his story to tell. And besides, if you know he won't…you know…like you that way. Why carry on?"
"I know its evil for me to wish Suki to just…disappear. But I held some hope that he'd like me that way. But it's slowly going away now."
"Then why?" Aang pushed the question again. "Why? Maybe because I want to know what it feels like to be loved. Not just love of a brother or a father or a mother. I mean to truly be loved. To have someone be there with you. Supporting you. Pushing you to be a better person. Making you stronger. Always by your side. Some one who would fight with you and not for you. I want someone like that because I would be that to someone."
"Truly be loved." Aang repeated those three words to himself. Was Katara all those things? She must be. He loved her. She's all those things and more…right?
Toph tilted her head and smirked, "But what do I know? I'm just a kid." She reached out and punched his shoulder, "Just like you. Ya big baby."
This time, the word didn't bother him as much. Rolling with the playful blow, he chortled, "I am not a baby." He reiterated jokingly.
"You're the one with baby skin, Twinkles. You wouldn't even take the acupuncture I offered."
Aang blanched at the memory of it, "Toph…those quills were like a foot long each. Those weren't quills, those were instruments of stabby death. And you have baby skin too!"
"I do not!" She was holding a small victory party in her mind. Twinkle Toes was back. "I am Toph Bei Fong. The roughest, toughest, darn tooting-est Earth Bender in the world!"
"Who happens to have smooth skin. Like a baby's bottom." Aang grasped her wrists this time and upturned her palms, "See?" He traced a line across her calloused palms, "It's rough here," He flipped her hands and traced her forearm, "But here, it's smooth. Baby skin."
Toph pulled her hands back and slapped them on his cheeks. "Ow!" He cried in slight pain. She pinched his face and shook his head about, "Oh? And whose chubby BABY cheeks are these?" She ran one hand up his forehead, unknowingly following the path of his arrow, "And what's this? It's so smooth and round. I think this IS a baby's bottom!"
Aang squirmed, playfully trying to pull her hands off. "Stop that!" She laughed, "Let me get a good 'look' at you." Aang stopped….shocked really as Toph's hands roamed his face trying to take in his features. "Stop frowning. Your forehead's getting all wrinkly like my Grandma's."
"Toph…" He uttered, slightly uncomfortable with this level of closeness. She just shushed him, rubbing his ears, "My, what big ears you have."
Aang was speechless. What was she doing? She's blind, this is how she sees, part of him rationalized. She has her feet, said another. Details, said the first voice, she needs details. Any further thoughts were silenced when Toph ran her finger tips back across his cheek bones,
"Is someone embarrassed?" She grinned, feeling the heat beneath her fingers, "I promise I'll be gentle. It's my first time too" Aang wanted to shake his head, the things that came out of her mouth where both funny and scandalous.
Toph was having so much fun making him squirm, she almost didn't detect the hitch in his throat as her fingers brushed his dry lips and she certainly didn't sense his hands reaching up to frame her own face either.
"Twinkles…" She started, trying to sound calm, "You can see." She moved her hands to cover his eyes. She noted that he copied her motions as well. She felt down the bridge of his nose, letting her fingertips trickle down his face like rain drops. He did the same. Why was he doing this? Payback?
She rested her fingers on his lips once more, lightly dancing on them. She noted they were damp now. He must have licked his lips she mused. He wouldn't dare copy her now.
"Ha! Try copying…"
A strong finger rested right in the middle of her own pink lips effectively hushing her. Aang swallowed the lump in his throat. The vibrations of which were clearly felt by Toph. He was so nervous…and confused. Why was he doing this? They both wondered. What in the Spirit World was he thinking?
'He loves Katara. Doesn't he?'
'I love Katara…I think…'
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Aang moved his hands to cup her cheeks. Likewise, Toph moved hers down the sides of his neck, just resting on his shoulders.
"Toph…I…" He couldn't seem to find the right words. This all seemed so easy in his dream with Katara. My Forever Girl and all that. He could be smooth and suave. He WAS smooth and suave at that dance he held for Onji and his new classmates. Why couldn't he do the same now? He brushed a thumb over her soft pink cheek.
"Twinkles…Aang…" She never called him that…well, not normally. Sokka made her heart beat faster; he made her breath catch with his compliments. Twinkles…Aang just stopped her heart and stole her breath. His heart was beating double time for both of them. So scared. So unsure. She reached up to cup his left cheek.
"There you are! Come on, you two! Katara already rang the dinner bell twice!"
Both master and pupil broke contact, hands darting to their respective sides in a flash. Sokka blinked, scratching the sides of his head. He really needed to get a hair cut soon, "Err…Did I interrupt something?"
Toph was the first on her feet, acting like nothing ever happened, despite the fairly obvious blush on her pale cheeks, "Nothing! I…I was just trying to get something out of Twinkle Toe's eye. The big baby."
Aang blinked once, twice, three times before coming back to reality, "Yeah…yeah. We were earthbending and…I…I…"
"Air Head here kicked up a dust storm." Toph added wanting Sokka to just leave without suspicion. Of which was escalating, if her sensing of his vibrations wasn't wrong. "Yeah…and I got some in my eyes."
Sokka nodded slowly, beginning to bounce on his heels, trying not to put off any vibes by staying erratically of the ground, "Okay. Well, dinner's ready. Better get there fast. Though there might be some extra, Zuko's not eating. Sis is still ticked off at him for this morning." With that he turned on his heel and walked speedily back.
"But it wasn't his fault." Aang felt terrible, Zuko was covering for a mistake HE did. Responsibility. That word echoed in his head.
'Note to self: Apologise to Zuko'
Sokka's voice broke through his haze of self inquiry, "Oh? Yeah. Toph?" Aang regarded the quiet girl beside him. Always beside, never behind waiting to be protected, never in front to shield him from things he should face.
"Yeah, let's go. Before Sugar Queen makes us go to bed without supper." She wrapped her arm around the warrior's.
'Something's…different.' She thought. 'Is…is it because of just now?'
Aang watched as Toph took her customary place beside Sokka, clutching the older boy's arm, and began to feel remarkably like this morning. It took a moment before he shook his head,
'I love Katara…don't I?'
"Hey Twinkles! I'm going to eat your share if you don't hurry your twinkly toes!"
Aang grinned at her challenge,
"Not if I get there first and eat yours!"
As the two sped off, Sokka, smiling at the sight of them, was left to his own thoughts,
"I am so winning those gold pieces from Jerk-Face."