Alright, it's my Avatar debute! Well, for those of you that have read my other works, I hope you very much enjoy this one. For new readers, expect more sometime later. I've had problems with update speed in the past. Hopefully I can fix that now. XD
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar, it is property of Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.
Aang was at a loss for thought. He didn't know what it was that was bothering him. Maybe it was the ever-approaching threat of Sozin's Comet. No, he had to be confident about that. It wasn't like the arrival would be instantaneous; it had been coming for months! Maybe it was having Zuko around him at the Western Air Temple, let alone teaching him Firebending. No, that wasn't it…something told him this had nothing to do with the Fire Nation, Zuko or any of that.
The problem was Toph. Yes, Toph. His blind, black haired, pale-eyed Earthbending teacher was the root of this…he wouldn't call it a problem…more of a distraction. He just couldn't keep his mind off of her. He'd tried everything he could think of to get her image out of his head. Lately, he'd even found those dreams that had their place reserved specifically for Katara by him suddenly flooded with images of her.
It wasn't that he didn't like the fact that this was happening. He really didn't have anyone else to argue with about whom he dreamed of after all. However, that didn't stop him from facing his typical problem. The awkwardness of his crush for Katara, when he knew full well that she wasn't interested in him that way, and now on top of that these…new feelings he was having for Toph.
The whole ordeal of him discovering Katara's true feelings had been, to say the least, worthy of its title of an ordeal. He had awoken one night to discover that Katara and Zuko were still awake by the fire. Her head was leaned against his shoulder, and his arm wrapped behind her waist. They were talking about their families. How Katara's father had been absent until just recently, how Zuko's mother was supposedly dead along with Katara's, and about the time he spent with Azula, picking apart her insanity from behind his loner mask bit by bit.
"It seems that I was destined to be evil after all the bad karma my family's built up. But like Uncle always says, "Destiny, Zuko, has a funny way of working out." For the last bit, he'd done his impression of the man, causing Katara to giggle slightly. He joined along with a shallow chuckle at his own antics.
"You're acting like a regular Aang now. Always the funny one." Katara said. Aang had to admit, the impression of the wise old Firebender, of which he'd heard many great things about from Zuko on their return trip to the Western Air Temple from the Sun Warrior Tribe, was bringing a smirk to his face. He didn't really want to ruin the moment for them. Sure, he liked Katara, heck he loved her, but there was just something that was holding him back.
He discovered what it was then. An old saying by Gyatso that reminded him of everything this moment felt like. "If you truly love something, you have to let it go. Sure, it may come back different, but if it's happy, then isn't that all your love meant in the first place?" He loved Katara, and that meant that he wanted to make her happy, and he had to admit, a few minutes later when Zuko leaned in and kissed her, he was sad, maybe a little heartbroken because of his expectations, but he also saw how happy the two of them were. He couldn't break that apart. It would dishonor him as both Aang and The Avatar.
However, his mischievous side took over at that point and he put on his best straight face. "Zuko!" He called, causing his two teachers to whirl around and look at him. He pointed at Katara, and then gave the exiled prince a carnivorous smirk, "You hurt her, and you're next in line right after your father. Until then, which I hope isn't for at least a few eternities, congratulations." With that the entire group burst into laughter. Katara went so far as to walking over and giving him a familial embrace. She was happy he understood, and was sorry if she'd hurt him in any way, but Aang didn't show any sign of taking things badly after Zuko accepted the hypothetical consequences of his hypothetical actions completely. Needless to say, Aang was a tad bit hurt with the whole thing, but he just couldn't deny all the teachings he'd received from Gyatso, Roku, and even life itself.
The Gaang experienced a phenomenon after that. The ability Aang had for exhibiting a larger attachment to his training than ever before. He took the small hints of emotion he expressed about the situation and applied it directly to his bending. Soon, his Waterbending lessons with Katara became sparring matches in which even the smallest drop of water wasn't ever wasted. His movements were focused, deadly, and fluid all at the same time.
His Earthbending practice with Toph gave him an eerie strength. Not only mentally with the element, but physically as well, not that Toph or Aang seemed to notice, seeing as he hadn't been flexing at his reflection in the water and Toph had yet to cease pounding the monk on the shoulder, whether it be congratulatory or jokingly. This of course, allowed the boy to literally move mountains, which could always be useful.
But beyond all, Aang's Firebending with 'Sifu Hotman' suddenly had a whole new intensity and ferocity to it. You'd think the two were having an Agni Kai each time they went at it. Heck, sometimes they did just for the kicks and giggles. They weren't to the death, of course. However, they did it up traditionally. No shirts. This inspired many moments where the two discovered Katara and Suki staring at them, much to Sokka's disapproval.
Regardless of the happiness Aang felt when he showed his bending off to everybody, he felt…an emptiness dwelling inside the joy. Zuko had compared it to the time that Iroh's favorite tea cup had a leak in it that went unnoticed by the man, and he always complained that he didn't feel like there was enough tea in the cup anymore. Aang thought that was a fairly good description, but his problem was slightly different.
He wanted to feel like he was in love again. That childish innocence that he now lacked drove him crazy. His first crush had gone away in a flash, and now he subconsciously needed someone to fill that void. The bad news was that he knew for a fact that there were no other potential Romance Targets with him. He wouldn't interfere with Sokka's and Suki's relationship, which they were trying and failing to keep on the down-low, and Katara was taken by Zuko.
Then one day it became particularly hot, and the fact that Aang and Zuko had just finished one of their more intense sparring sessions did not help anyone. The two walked away, coated with sweat and into the waterfall that made up the bathing area. When the two were content, Aang and Zuko both took the top halves of their clothing and hung them out to dry. Many others had similar ideas of walking around in lighter clothing. Katara had put on her bathing suit and went to go Waterbend the day away, taking Suki with her for the purpose of girl-talk. Sokka and the other males were quick to completely shed their top layers, but Toph…Toph was a different story.
Sure, Aang had always thought Toph was kind of cute, if not a bit too tomboyish, but now he couldn't complain about anything. She'd somehow worked out her outfit so that there was a bit knot in the back that allowed her to expose her midriff, but in the process had also tightened the usually baggy clothing immensely. This opened up a whole new realm of thought about the Earthbending Master to Aang, who was still relaxing in his bathwater when he was called out by his Sifu rather quickly. She was impatient and cranky when it was hot out. "Twinkle Toes, on your feet, it's time to go Earthbending!" She yelled at him. He nodded blankly, staring at what he now recognized as her figure. On top of it all she had let her hair down for the first time since he'd met the girl, and now it was waving in the slight breeze. Perhaps she'd matured a lot more physically than he was expecting.
With a quick, Airbending empowered jump and dry, he was following the girl. Unlike with Zuko and Katara, Toph had to take Aang off the temple to train Earthbending now. Who knew how stable the repairs they had made after Combustion Man attacked were? She could see everything, and even she didn't know how it could all stay in place so miraculously.
Because of this, the two rode Appa out a few miles to avoid bending just the right rock and collapsing the entire structure down on everyone. Riding on Appa was much to Toph's discomfort, but she had duties to fulfill. The main one was to make sure that he wasn't a wimp, because no matter how much muscle he gained, it seemed his footsteps were still just too light for her to notice the difference. Not that he cared, of course. He found it funny that he was sporting Zuko's manly physique and yet still wasn't beyond being pushed around by his Earthbending Master.
"Alright, first things first." She stated, hopping down from Appa as they landed. "We'll run through your stances, it's been a while since we reviewed them and you can't afford to make any mistakes." She turned when she felt him touch down behind her. She hated it when he was airborne. She couldn't 'see' him then, and things became complicated when she couldn't see.
It was the way he bended, even when he wasn't bending. His feet would just glide along the ground, barely touching it when he walked, jumped, or especially when he rode that air scooter of his. She had always found it frustrating when he was out of sight. She had no idea where he was, or could be. Well, when he stayed quiet. This wasn't too often.
He shifted in his stances as she directed, and she honestly did try her very best to stay patient when she saw improvement in his old areas of failure, but eventually she couldn't take just telling him anymore. Toph was always more of a hands-on teacher. "No, when you go down into a horse stance you have to push your chest out like this!" She grabbed him by the biceps and pulled back. To Aang it felt like she was trying to crush his shoulder blades against one another.
She was surprised with this strange new physique the once wiry monk had acquired. She remembered a time when she could wrap her hand around his tiny upper arm, now she couldn't even get halfway. 'Since when does Twinkle Toes have arms?' She thought to herself. After quickly blaming it on Zuko's training, she continued the manhandling session she was giving the arrow-headed monk. "And then you tighten your stomach so stuff like this won't hurt. She applied emphasis when she punched him in the gut. Surprisingly, he'd flexed and completely nullified her fist's power.
'Abs too! That's even worse! Now I look weak.' She shouted at herself. Aang smirked inwardly, starting to like this exercise a bit better now. "Alright, that about covers it for the basics, it's time to move some rocks." Toph sighed. Aang nodded, and the two Earthbenders worked until the sun was low, both thoroughly drenched in their own sweat.
"Alright, that's enough for today." Toph said, liberating Aang from the training. He smirked at the results. He had given Toph a run for her money, and he had to admit that the look of her tired, panting, and soaked was a good reward. He stopped his train of thought there. Monks were not supposed to fantasize, even about cute Earthbenders with porcelain skin and beautiful, long hair.
Throughout training it had been her that had distracted him more than anything else. Not being plagued with thoughts of Katara. He was surprised with how well he was taking this, it just didn't seem like the way he normally acted. However, when he remembered how Katara smiled when she was with his Firebending instructor, he couldn't bring himself to throw a fit about it.
He pondered why there was the sudden change in feelings. Again, he felt a bit selfish for rebounding so fast. It was like he would hop from one girl to another. But looking back, he found that he'd always had these feelings for Toph, they had just been covered by his adamant mentality that Katara was the girl for him. Now that she was with Zuko, he realized that he may just like Toph…better.
"Yo, Twinkle Toes, did you hear me? I said it's time to go!" She shouted at him. Aang stiffened and nodded, following her back up onto Appa. The two took off; flying back to the Air Temple at Appa's leisurely pace. The bison already knew the route, and it was a good thing, too. Aang was having a bit of trouble keeping his focus on the skies. Instead, he preferred to keep his gaze set on his companion. The good thing was that he could do so without being noticed, because Toph's 'vision' was limited while riding Appa.
Said Earthbender was also lost in her own train of thought. She'd even forgotten to put her headband back on, so her now long hair that would normally dip down just past her upper back was flowing in the breeze. She welcomed the feel of the wind in her hair after today's training. Sure, she had about the same level of vision she did when she was in the desert, but that didn't matter all that much to her now. Twinkle Toes was getting stronger than she thought possible in the amount of time since they'd arrived at their current hideout. It was actually kind of exciting.
Aang was pondering exactly why he was feeling this way for Toph. She'd always been around, it's not like she'd changed at all. 'And that's good…she's great the way she is.' He reminded himself. He didn't just want this to be that he wanted to be in love. That would be selfish, petty and not fair to Toph. He looked back, and realized one thing out of all the time that he'd spent with Toph. She was amazing.
It wasn't just because she could listen to the Earth. And it definitely wasn't because she was blind. It was her fearlessness, her bravery, her attitude of superiority. She was confident and strong, much like the qualities he had seen in Katara at first, but so much more so. Katara, on the inside, was just a crying little girl who missed her family. Then on the layer above that there was the anger at the Fire Nation, and above that was her strength. However her core self was almost a perfect match to Zuko's. That was why they got along so well.
Of course, Zuko had more layers to him than an onion, but when they can all mesh together to create one badass Firebender, who was Aang to question how the boy's life went? He couldn't really boast about his life much. Having abandoned the world for a whole century. However, being able to meet these people he called his friends was well worth it. Because lately, this Avatar stuff had started making a lot more sense to him.
The ride back was quiet, to say the least. However, when they returned they found a campfire blazing with everyone gathered around roasting marshmallows. Aang's sugar-happy little twelve year old side kicked in and he was sitting by the fire in almost an instant with a stick in his hand. Toph laughed a little at this, taking the remaining open seat next to him. "So how did your training go?" Katara asked, ever the mother to Aang.
"Twinkle Toes went from terrible to half-decent. Whatever Zuko did to pile on the muscle mass like that, keep it up." Toph said. Zuko looked at her blankly. "I haven't done anything but basic Firebending exercises with him. If anyone's giving him muscle-mass it's you and your 'Do one thousand pushups with this boulder on your back' training."
Toph grinned confidently. "Well at least the wimp's finally picking up something useful from me then." She said, punching him in the shoulder. Aang chuckled, rubbing the sore spot.
"Well you know me Sifu T. Always the late bloomer." The Airbender joked. Everyone laughed at this, and the idle chit-chat continued. This was probably the first night they'd had where they hadn't made plans for The Invasion. The night grew deeper, and the remainder of Jet's group, Haru, Teo, Sokka, and Suki hit the sack. This left Aang, Katara, Zuko and Toph watch the fire.
"You know, if you two wanna invade each other's personal space, don't let us stop you." Aang said with a joking smirk. Zuko and Katara glared daggers at the monk, obviously not wanting anyone to know about their 'relations' just yet. Toph's head turned to the side in a confused fashion and she quirked an eyebrow.
"Sparky and Sweetness get together finally? Cool, better tell everyone I won the bet." She laughed. The two people in question flushed nervously, looking away from one another. Eventually though, they slipped closer together. Zuko put his arm around Katara's shoulders, and she rested her head on his shoulder.
After a moment of awkward silence, Zuko spoke up. "You are not telling anybody about this, you understand that, right? The last think I need is Sokka all up in my face about me dating his sister." This inspired a multitude of giggles from Toph and Katara and a chuckle from Aang.
The four just sat there for a while, the fire turned to embers after an hour or so. The dim light it gave off provided barely any visibility. Aang smirked as he looked up at the stars. They were so bright at the Western Air Temple. However, his thought process came to a screeching halt when he felt a weight on his shoulder. He looked over and saw that Toph had fallen asleep, using his shoulder as a sort of pillow. When Zuko chuckled he looked over to find Katara in the same position Toph was. "Girls tend to do that, just a heads-up." He warned. Aang nodded.
"Think it's time we hit the sack?" Aang asked. Zuko looked up to the moon, judging the time by it.
"Yeah, just about. Gotta drop the girls off first though." He said, lifting Katara up bridal style and walking towards her tent. Aang nodded, and turned to lift Toph. He was surprised that such a powerful Earthbender could be so light. When he put her down on the ground and bended a makeshift tent for her as silently as possible, trying not to wake her, he turned to walk for his tent.
The sleepy mumble of, "G'night Twinkle Toes," made him freeze up. He turned and smiled, not caring if she couldn't see it.
"Good night, Toph." He replied. He held his smile until he reached his own tent. Maybe Toph's potential as a distraction was greater than he thought.