A/N: My first Avatar fanfiction! And it's Tokka. I honestly didn't plan on writing this ship, but that's the way the story wanted to go. There's also a little Kataang.
The war was over, but there was still unrest. Ozai had been tried and executed, but there were still war criminals to bring to justice. So Team Avatar made it their mission to seek them out and take them alive if possible.
At the moment, it was just Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph and Appa. Zuko couldn't go with them, unable to pull himself away from his challenging leadership role. Momo stayed with Zuko as a token that the family's separation wasn't permanent.
They were flying over a large expanse of rain clouds, Sokka at Appa's head. The Water Tribesman loved to steer, but Toph wished he would sit in the saddle with her more often. She'd never admit it out loud, but he was one of the coolest people she knew, and probably the person who understood her best.
"I'm going to take Appa below the clouds," he announced. "I can't see a thing up here."
"Join the club, Snoozles," said Toph with a smirk.
"All right, Aang, are you ready?" asked Katara. She and Aang would bend the rain away from them when they flew into the clouds. They were doing everyone a favor: nothing stank worse than wet bison fur.
"Ready, Katara." Aang's voice had changed in the three years Toph had known him. It cracked as much as Sokka's ever did when he was younger.
Appa descended, and Toph's ears clogged up as the air pressure changed. She yawned, trying to clear them. Her ears were all she had up here. She heard Sokka yawn too, quite a bit louder, and Aang yawned after him. Toph smirked. Maybe yawning really was contagious.
"There's a clearing ahead," said Sokka, for Toph's benefit. "We should land so Toph can feel for any komodo-rhinos."
"I'll try," said Toph. "My feet can't see as well with all the raindrops making vibrations. It's like trying to pick up a conversation in a crowd."
"Your feet can still see more than our eyes can," said Aang.
When Appa landed, Sokka leapt off and caught Toph under her arms as she slid down the bison's side. Toph's cheeks warmed; this was one of the few situations where she didn't mind chivalry.
Toph dug her toes through the grass, into the mud. "I feel them!" She grinned wide. "Five komodo-rhinos! They're in a cave less than a mile in that direction." She pointed.
"That's great!" squeaked Aang.
"Yeah," said Sokka. "A little too great. The Universe never makes it this easy for us."
Katara frowned. "I wouldn't call a skirmish with the Rough Rhinos easy in any case. Last time Kahchi almost cut off your finger."
Sokka held up his hands, and Katara could see the thin white scar at the base of his right pointer finger. He should thank his lucky stars that she was such a good healer, and that he was ambidextrous.
"Hey, you don't have to remind me."
"Still," said Aang, "we can't pass up the opportunity to trap them in a cave."
Sokka nodded. "Toph, what can you tell us about the layout of this cave?"
"I can feel the entrance, but I can't tell how far back it goes," she said. "I'll have to get closer."
They walked through the wet grass, Toph leading the way and Appa bringing up the rear. Katara's arms grew tired of bending the rain away, and before long the circular sweeps of her arms toned down to hand waves near her waist. Yet the invisible canopy stayed as large as ever.
She met Aang's gray eyes and grinned. "We've really improved a lot!"
The younger boy, too, waved his hands near his waist. "Yeah. Bending is about intent and will more than perfect form. It's how I can use my glider without any katas." He glanced at Sokka and smiled. Her brother flashed a quick grin at him before turning his head away. Katara quirked an eyebrow. What was that about? Did they have some kind of in-joke?
"Okay, we're getting close," said Toph. "We should leave Appa here for now." She bended a huge earth tent, and Aang coaxed his sky bison into it.
"We'll be back soon. You're safe here buddy."
Appa groaned in response, but whether he understood was anyone's guess.
"But if anyone comes at you with nets and spears, fly like a demon," added Sokka.
Aang raised his eyebrow. "We shouldn't have to worry about that. There are no sandbenders here."
"Great, because sandbenders are the only people in the entire world who might want to steal the only known flying bison." Sokka rolled his eyes.
"Does he even understand human speech?" asked the earthbender, folding her arms.
"Sure he does!" Aang rubbed Appa's nose. "Don't you boy?"
The bison moaned and lowered his head in a gesture that Aang probably took as a nod.
"See?" Aang's smile fell as he backpedaled, "I mean, of course you can't see, but, uh..."
Sokka and Toph snorted with laughter.
Toph informed her friends that the cave had two entrances, one at the base of the hill in front of them, and one on the other side, almost halfway up the slope. She found a bare patch of mud and bent down to draw a map with a stick, with dots to show the Rough Rhinos' position.
"You draw much better than Sokka." Katara snickered.
"Laugh all you want Katara," said Sokka in his annoyed-but-not-seriously-angry tone that Toph had come to know so well. "But I haven't seen you draw anything since you were six. I bet you couldn't do any better."
"You're right, I couldn't. But at least don't pretend to be good at something I'm not."
"Well I think Sokka's drawings are masterpieces, so I'll take that as a complement, Sugar Queen," said Toph, earning chuckles from Sokka and Aang.
Sokka ruffled Toph's hair, which hung loose down her back. "At least someone here knows good art when they see it."
Toph grinned, but inwardly, her stomach sank. When was he going to stop treating her like his kid sister?
"So what's the plan Sokka?" asked Aang.
"We'll have to split up..."
"I call Katara!" said Aang, linking his arm with the waterbender's.
"Smooth, Twinkletoes," deadpanned Toph.
"You can partner up," said Sokka, "but no lovey-dovey stuff until we've caught the Rhinos."
"What if they escape?" asked Aang.
"You'll just have to make sure they don't."
"But that's not fair!"
"Spirits, was I this whiny when I was fifteen?"
"Yes," said Katara and Toph together.
"You were worse," added Katara.
Sokka huffed. "You know what? Forget I said anything. All right, Katara, Aang, you two take the north entrance. That's the one closest to us."
It was Katara's turn to be irritated. "I know that."
"Whatever you say. Toph and I will go in the south entrance. Aang, you're going to want to use earthbending the most. Your airbending will be the weakest in there, so you shouldn't rely on it as much."
Toph slugged Aang's shoulder. "Just stay grounded and you'll be fine, Twinkletoes."
"Stay together and close in on them. Take them alive if you can, kill if you must. Seriously," added Sokka, and Toph knew he was looking at Aang.
Toph and Sokka climbed the hill through the rain, which had slackened to a drizzle that allowed her feet to see more clearly. The cave passage was wide enough for all five komodo-rhinos to walk side by side without bumping into each other. As the two young warriors entered, Sokka drew his Space Sword - not the original, but one he'd forged from leftover space metal. He placed his other hand on Toph's right arm, trusting her to lead him in the darkness. Toph glowed in spite of the serious and probably dangerous encounter that lay ahead. She sensed their adversaries shuffling lazily. They still didn't suspect a thing.
"How far are they?" whispered Sokka.
"Fifty yards. Watch your step, there's a steep slope just ahead."
Sokka stifled a yawn.
"You're not bored, are you?" Toph asked with raised eyebrows.
"No. The darkness is making me sleepy."
"Well, wake up Snoozles." She dug her knuckles into his arm.
As they neared the slope, Sokka said, "I see light from their torches. Time for a long range attack."
"Aye aye Captain." Toph took a firm step forward, and the floor beneath the nearest komodo-rhino collapsed, burying the creature up to its neck. Howls erupted from the men and beasts as the riders sprang onto the four remaining komodo-rhinos. They spurred their mounts away from Toph, but Aang raised a rock wall to block their escape. The one with the chains - she thought his name was Ogodei - smacked his weapon into the wall, which cracked but held. Then, strangely, they fell silent and backed their komodo-rhinos away from the wall.
"Aang, get back!" yelled Sokka. "There's a bomb!" Toph assumed the warning was meant for Katara too, but her name was too long for this urgent situation.
The wall slammed back into the floor and water rippled through the air, drenching its target.
"And so it begins," muttered Toph. She opened a pit in front of another reptile, and it toppled in with a sickening crunch.
"You're being awfully rough with the rhinos," said Sokka, although he sounded unconcerned. "Aang doesn't look happy. 'Cause rhinos are people too."
"You're the one who said to kill if we must," retorted Toph.
Two of the beasts rushed toward Aang and Katara, while the other went for Toph and Sokka. The two teens stood their ground, shoulder to shoulder, and Toph softened the cave floor in front of them to form quicksand. The hapless animal plunged into the trap, and the riders on its back roared in anger. A wicked smile spread on Toph's face. She was in her element, and nothing could stop her.
Then there was a twang, and something sharp and burning pierced her above her left breast. An inarticulate yell escaped her, and she leaned against the cave wall for support, batting at the flames eating her skin. She was painfully aware of everything around her, although everyone moved quickly. Sokka leapt onto the back of the still-sinking beast, and Toph heard a few metallic clashes, and then a wet, gruesome slice, followed by two thick splashes. And then he was at her side, and she was sinking to the floor, her back still supported against lumpy, slimy wall. The pain eased slightly as wet cloth smothered the flames.
"Vachir shot you with a flaming arrow." Sokka's voice shook. "I think you'll be okay, but I'll have to get it out."
Toph drew a sharp, rattling breath, and knew the arrow had pierced her lung.
She tried to say that Sokka should let Katara handle it, but all that she managed was, "You...should..."
There was no audible response, and suddenly the coolness on her chest intensified until the muscles around the shaft were almost numb.
"How..." gasped Toph. She couldn't find the words to finish her question.
"Do you think you're ready for me to pull it out?"
Toph nodded. Sokka wrenched the shaft out of her flesh in one motion. It met unpleasant resistance, but it didn't hurt as much as it should have. He pulled open her collar to expose the wound. And then his face pressed against her chest, and the soothing coldness seeped into her lung. She let out the breath she'd been holding and sucked it in again. The rattling was gone.
She put her hand on his head. "Sokka," she began, not quite believing the words coming out of her mouth, "are you actually kissing it better?"
Katara pulled water from the cave walls and pushed it forward, freezing it with her breath. Colonel Mongke and Yeh-Lu literally froze on their komodo-rhino, unable to move. And Mongke, as far as Katara knew, did not have the breath of fire. Aang had already knocked out Ogodei.
"Toph is ruthless," said Aang with a wince, looking at the half-buried rhinos. Then his eyes widened in alarm. "Toph! Sokka!"
Katara followed his gaze and saw the short earthbender slumped against the cave wall near the top of the slope, and Sokka facing her on his knees, pressed against her. Aang grabbed Katara's hand and ran up the slope with airbender speed, jerking to a stop in front of the last half-buried rhino, and Katara realized it was in quicksand and there were two human bodies beside it, their upper backs and the backs of their heads visible above the surface. Aang bit his lip and took an earthbending stance, pushing solid earth under the live reptile until the beast clambered out. Then Aang lowered the human bodies all the way beneath the surface and hardened it back into solid rock. He and Katara ran across to Toph and Sokka.
"What happened?" asked Katara, wrinkling her nose as it caught the scent of burnt fabric and flesh. "Is Toph okay?"
Sokka lifted his head and stared at her. For a moment, he had the expression of a rabbit-deer caught in a hunters' snare, but then his face hardened.
"I think so," said Toph, feeling the left side of her chest, a mystified expression reaching her milky green eyes.
Katara shoved her brother out of the way and examined the spot where Toph had put her hand.
"I don't understand." Her eyebrows knitted together. "This wound looks a week old, at least. When did it happen?"
"Just now," said Toph, sounding equally confused.
"How is that possible?" asked Katara, looking up at Sokka. He gave a strained smile, refusing to meet her gaze. Aang's eyes kept darting from Sokka to Katara.
Katara put her hands on her hips. "Would you care to tell me what happened." It was not a question.
"I don't know." Sokka studied the wall behind Katara, as if it would give him a clue. "Maybe it was spirit world shenanigans?"
"He's lying," said Toph. "He healed me."
Katara's jaw dropped. "What?" she breathed. "How?"
Sokka and Aang glanced at each other.
"I guess my secret's out." Her brother sighed. "See, after I almost lost my finger, Aang started thinking that since I'm the Universe's punching bag - except for today, apparently - it would be nice if I could heal myself if I got hurt and you guys weren't around. I was a little leery about this spiritbending or whatever he calls it, but he talked me into it."
Katara stared at him, at a loss for words. Back when Ozai was alive, there were rumors of him escaping and trying to get his bending back from Aang. But for some reason, Katara had never considered the possibility of giving bending to someone who never had it in the first place.
"I wasn't sure if I could do it," said Aang, "but I figured it was worth a try. It's kind of hard to explain how it works, but I connected my spirit with his, and kind of...opened it up. Made it more receptive to the Moon and Ocean spirits." He shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Just like that?" Toph frowned. "How does that work? Could you give earthbenders airbending? Or firebenders waterbending?"
"I'm not sure. I just know I'm the only person who can master all four elements."
"Five," corrected Sokka.
"I don't think spirit is an element," said Toph.
"Wait, slow down." Katara was still letting it all sink in. "Why didn't you tell us?"
Sokka still wouldn't meet her eyes. "I've always counted on people underestimating me. It gives me an advantage."
"But we're your family!" Katara was hurt; she couldn't deny it. "I - I'm still a better waterbender than Aang, but you've been training with him, haven't you? That's why you two have been tired lately!" She rounded on Aang. "Why would you go behind my back?"
"I wanted to do this without your help," said Sokka.
Katara turned back to her brother. "But Aang's help is just fine?"
"It's not like that," he said lamely.
"And how did you get so good at healing in just a few weeks?"
"You healed your burns with no training," Aang pointed out. "And I've mostly been teaching Sokka healing because he can already fight well enough with his sword and boomerang." He met her gaze with big, soulful eyes. "Look, I'm really sorry I hid this from you, and Sokka's sorry too." His voice broke. "Please believe me when I say we never meant to hurt your feelings."
"I..." Katara wavered, glancing back at Sokka. "I still don't understand why you didn't want me to train you."
"Katara," Toph spoke up, sitting straight, "listen to yourself. You get uptight over everything that doesn't meet your approval. Maybe he wanted to train with someone who was a little more easygoing."
Aang and Sokka groaned and covered their eyes.
"Toph, don't help me," said Sokka.
Katara glared at Toph, about to give her a piece of her mind, when her eyes caught the scabbed-over wound.
"Of course you would side with him," said Katara, the bite gone from her words. "He saved your life." She sighed. "I know I shouldn't be angry. I just..." she turned Sokka. "I want you to tell me when something important like this happens. I'll try not to be so...motherly. You're an adult, and I know I should treat you like one."
Sokka finally met her gaze. "Thanks Katara. And you're right, I should have told you. You're my sister, even if you act too much like my mom, and you're a good teacher."
"I hate to break up this moment," said Toph, "but two of the Rough Rhinos are coming to."
Katara turned, her body fluidly shifting to a fighting stance. It seemed that Mongke could use the breath of fire after all, since he and Yeh-Lu were thawed. The explosives expert lit a fuse on one of his powder sticks. Aang brought up a brick-sized block and hurtled it at the man's hand, knocking the bomb out of his grasp.
Katara looked at her brother and her boyfriend. "A bender and a non-bender against three benders? I think we can take them."
Toph pulled herself to her feet, keeping a steadying hand against the wall. "Make that four benders."
"And one of us doesn't even need bending," said Sokka, his sword at the ready.
Mongke shot a wide arch of flame at the teens, and Katara blocked it with a shield of water, which evaporated into steam on impact. She bit her lip and began pulling the water back out of the air and off the cave walls. Yeh-Lu tossed another explosive at them. Sokka drew his boomerang and sent it whirling toward the bomb. They collided in midair, setting off a ball of smoke and flames.
Sokka cringed. "I hope Boomerang's okay."
Monke shot two jets of flame at them, and Aang blocked them with a rock wall. The komodo-rhino charged through it, then flipped on its side as Toph opened a fissure under its left legs.
"What do you have against komodo-rhinos, Toph?" asked Aang with a wince.
"Nothing, I'm just trying to survive, Mr. Pacifist," Toph shot back.
Their two opponents landed in a roll and popped up on their feet. Yeh-Lu was agile for someone who wore heavy armor. He flung another bomb, which Katara shot down with a short blast of water. Then Toph brought up four angled slabs around him, trapping him inside a solid earth tent.
"Good thinking Toph!" said Sokka. "He'd have to blow himself up to get out."
Aang raised his eyebrows. "He wouldn't do that, would he?"
Toph shrugged. "Iunno."
Aang pointed his staff at Mongke. "All your men are down, Colonel Mongke. If you surrender, we won't hurt you."
Mongke glowered at him. "You'll just turn me in to the Fire Nation prison. I've heard how they treat their inmates. That's not happening." A wall of fire erupted from his fists, spanning the width of the cavern. Aang blew a hole through it, but when he and Katara ran through to the other side, Mongke and one of the komodo-rhinos were missing.
"He's gone!" said Katara.
"Curse it! I forgot about my plan to keep them surrounded," yelled Sokka. "You two go after him, I'll stay with Toph."
Aang grabbed Katara's hand and dashed down the passage, ignoring Toph's protests.
"I'm fine!" said Toph. "I'm well enough to help!"
"No Toph, you should rest. You've done more than your share today, anyway. It's about time the others picked up the slack."
Toph's lips quirked up. "Yeah, I guess I have earned a rest."
Sokka stepped over to Ogodei, who was still unconscious, and wrapped the man's own chains tightly around him.
Toph "watched" him work. "So, did Twinkletoes teach you to heal with your mouth, or did you come up with that on your own?"
Sokka snorted. "No, it just came to me. I followed my instincts."
"Your instincts were right on the money this time. Although," she added, warmth spreading to her cheeks, "it still hurts a little. Do you think you could give me a little more healing?"
Sokka slowly walked to her and lowered his head to the arrow wound on her chest, and a tingling coolness spread through her skin. She sighed, and then furrowed her brows.
"Snoozles, are you spitbending?"
He lifted his head. "Yeah," he said frankly. "Instincts again."
Toph put her hand on the back of his neck. "You know, I bet I can spitbend too."
A/N: I'm new to this fandom, and I'm surprised that energybending/spiritbending gets so little attention or exploration. I'm one of those who thought it was a copout, but then I began imagining what would happen if Aang gave waterbending to Sokka, and this was the eventual result.
My original idea was to write a multi-chaptered fanfic with Aang giving Teo airbending, and a B plot involving Zuko's mom. Then I realized I was unable to think of anything non-cliché to happen to Ursa, so I decided to write a one-shot focusing on the Gaang minus Zuko.
I may write a prequel about Aang training Sokka if enough people are interested.