Well, here's the second and maybe last chapter of Distractions. Tell me if you enjoy it!
When Aang woke up the next morning the sun hadn't even peaked over the horizon yet. He stretched out and yawned, standing up and walking off into the forests around the temple. Zuko always said the best thing to do every morning was practice his breathing.
He found a clearing where he wouldn't risk starting a forest fire if things got out of hand, but just to be safe unpacked his pouch of water. He took up his stance, feet spread at the width of his shoulders and pointed forward. He dropped his weight, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath in through his nose.
A while ago Zuko had explained more in-depth as to what the breathing did for his Firebending. He had to picture the air travelling into his nose, up to his arrow, down the back of his neck and into his stomach. Then from the stomach he had to push the energy to his core and his center. Finally, it would extend to his limbs and exit, becoming fire. Somehow, this made it more exciting than Jeong Jeong's training, he figured.
His body radiated with the heat of his internal fire, and he began to move, throwing punches and kicks as brilliant flames erupted from his limbs. His bending always seemed to yield better results when he could work on his own. No reason to impress Katara, no expectations from Zuko to meet, and especially none of Toph's inexplicable beauty to distract him.
He moved from Fire to Water, taking the cool liquid from his pouch and throwing it around his form gracefully, letting one motion seamlessly flow into the next as he found any hotspots he may have created, cooling them down. Much like the element they controlled, Waterbenders were more than able to use both flexibility and flow of movement to generate their power. Energy was not wasted, and neither was water. When in the Avatar State he recalled that water would always become a violent force, but that wasn't what the truth behind the element. It was to barrage the opponent with endless, powerful, precise, controlled blows until they were, quite literally, drowned by the attacks.
He bended the water in the air back into the pouch he'd carried with him. With a solid stomp of his foot against the ground a decent sized boulder erupted from the earth. Bending this element was particularly hard for him. Despite Toph's idea that it was because he couldn't face anything head on, he had other notions as to why he was having problems.
Whereas Airbending required constant movement, the ability to stay light on your feet while also generating and controlling the power of something as fleeting as the winds, Earthbending relied on you to plant yourself in one place, rooting yourself to the Earth, and becoming part of the rock you were trying to move. The concept was the exact opposite of what the monks had taught him, and because of that he had initially found it hard. Now, however, he could chuck boulders and move mountains with the best of them.
He ended his bending exercise with more breathing, because however much he hated it, he found that the more he focused on his breathing, the more ways he found that it applied to his bending. He looked up at the sky, seeing by the height of the sun that the others should be waking up pretty soon. He knew that he should've left a note or something to show where he'd gone, but it was a little late now.
He sat down in his Lotus Position, placing the front two knuckles of his fists together and creating a sort of connection between the arrows. He let his mind go blank, focusing on nothing but the feel of his own existence, and that of everything around him. However, his calm state of mind was interrupted not even two seconds later as visions of his Earthbending teacher entered his mind again. More specifically her bending.
She wasn't graceful like Katara, and she wasn't intense like Zuko. No, she was relaxed and powerful. She was rooted, determined, and strong. It was such a stark contrast to her physical appearance. On the outside she was so small and fragile looking. Then there was the way she felt against him that last night. She was soft, warm, and it all just felt so…right.
"Hey! Twinkle Toes! There you are. Everyone's looking for you!" Toph yelled. Aang felt her walking towards him at a slow pace. He turned to face her and opened his eyes. Instantly he was smitten with her looks again, silently cursing himself for being selfish about relationships again. He needed time to work things out.
"Alright…just give me a minute. I need some time to clear my head." He replied. He turned his head to face forward again, shutting his eyes. He took in another breath through his nose, sending the energy to his center, and breathed out slowly. To his surprise, his blind teacher sat next to him, taking up his same position, and copied his now nearly silent breathing.
The silence was odd, almost comfortable, like last night by the campfire. "You know, if you want to go back you can." Aang commented, looking over to the blind girl. Her eyes, which had remained open, suddenly came to life and glanced at him.
"Why? This is nice, I should try doing this more often, it really helps you take your mind off things. Having little ol' me around isn't interrupting your precious private time, is it Twinkle Toes?" Toph jabbed at him, annoyed at the Airbender's comment. Aang shook his head no, which she could obviously sense based on the fact that she shot him a sly grin with the action. They both returned to their quiet for another half-hour. By the end of it Toph was dying, even if it was insanely relaxing and peaceful. How did Aang stay like that for so long? Where would his mind go when he was like this?
Her answer came in the form of a bright blue glow from his arrows. It was so strange, but it seemed every time that Aang went into the Avatar State or had a moment of transverse to the spirit world, she could see his glow not only with her feet, but with her eyes as well. It was strange…and exciting.
However, as quickly as the glow came it had faded. The hushed murmur of "Thank you, Roku…" confirmed that Aang was indeed awake, and moments later he stood. "Ready to go?" He asked, holding out a hand to help his Sifu up. She grabbed it, and was pulled into the air and onto her feet by her student.
"What was the glowy bit about?" She questioned him. He went on to describe how Roku had pulled him into the spirit world and taken him to see a multitude of his past lives. They were there to help him solve a few problems he'd been having lately, however vague that sounded, and he had a better idea of what had to be done now.
"Look, I'm not too sure about what your 'problems' are, per say. But if it has anything to do with Sweetness and Sparky, it's best if you just let them be. I know you had a thing for her and all, but if Katara wants a bad boy, just let her have one." Toph said, rubbing the bridge of her nose. Aang chuckled, much to her surprise.
"No, it wasn't about that. Well, kind of, but I already decided to just be happy for them. It's a lot easier on the old heart that way." He said, placing a hand in the center of his chest. "They all had the same thing to say to me about the situation, more or less. Let me tell you, us Avatars may be considered wise and strong, but we suck at giving pep talks." He said.
"Aw, well if it makes you feel any better I never thought you were wise or strong." Toph said jokingly. Aang sighed, standing up and motioning for Toph to follow. She did, feeling just a tad bit guilty for her comment, and over the course of the silent ten minute ride she grew even more distressed.
The rest of the morning went by smoothly enough. Aang trained, though his replies to Toph during conversation were limited to about three syllables. Zuko and Katara noticed that he seemed detached as well. Later that night when Aang had gone out to meditate again, Katara had pulled the three teachers away from the campfire for a "Secret Sifu Meeting."
"Secret Sifu Meeting? What the hell is that?" Zuko asked, obviously put off by the name.
"Basically it's where Toph and I get together to talk about Aang's training. Since you're here now and teaching Aang how to Firebend, you're a part of these too." Katara explained. Zuko sighed, wondering why it was that he felt nosy for doing this.
"Alright, first and only issue on our agenda, as per usual: What's wrong with Aang? He's been acting weird since this morning." Katara said, crossing her arms. Zuko shrugged innocently, which sent Katara's gaze reeling towards Toph. The blind girl felt her eyes, and instantly the discomfort set in. "Toph, what did you do to Aang to make him act like this?" She asked evenly.
"What makes you think it was me? I found Twinkle Toes meditating this morning and joined in, and let me tell you, I know why he does it. But after that he said that he'd asked his past lives for help or something, and then he said that they all sucked at pep talks, even though they were supposed to be wise and powerful. I said I didn't think he was like that and now he's been sulking and ignoring me." She sounded offended, as if she'd done nothing wrong.
"I think I see the problem here…" Zuko commented, "Agni knows you two wouldn't get it, but since he found out about Katara and me he's been a bit too cheery, if you ask me. Something's obviously up, but not the way you'd think. It's not that he lost Katara, but more like there's no one in the group that can fill the place that was left empty when he saw us kissing. I know this is going a bit far, but to him it's like he's lost a part of his family." The exiled prince spoke softly. Katara thought back about how Zuko expressed his pain over losing his mother, which was so similar to what she felt as well. Having put Aang in that situation…she couldn't hold back her tears.
Toph remained quiet, though usually she'd make a snide remark about all the angst that was floating around. She realized that when she said what she did, the minor insult was just scrubbing salt into an already fresh wound. He didn't go around pointing out things and then making sad comments about how she couldn't see them, so why did she have to go and break the little monk's resolve? "I'm going to go talk to him…" Toph said, walking off, leaving Zuko to hold Katara as she wept.
About a half mile into the forest she found him. He sat there, eyes open and calm in his Lotus Position, but tattoos aglow every time he took a powerful breath in. "Twinkle Toes…you okay?" She asked. Aang looked over to her, and his glow softly faded away. She could tell by the beating of his heart that he was distressed.
"Yeah…" he said with a soft smirk in her direction. Toph frowned at his lie. He hadn't even tried to hide it.
"Don't, Aang. Just don't. Tell the truth. Something's bugging you, and if you can't tell me then who can you tell?" She said, taking a seat next to him. She rarely called him by his name, but when she did, it was serious. He hated lying to her, he really did. It wasn't just because she could tell when he did. It was because he trusted her.
"Toph, there's no problem. I just need some time to figure everything out. You of all people should know this is hard for me. This doesn't concern anyone else. It's just me and my emotions." He said matter-of-factly. Toph was surprised to find that he thought this was actually the truth. Didn't he know that he didn't have to deal with anything on his own? That kind of thinking should have been killed off the day he woke up from Azula's lightning.
"No…no you don't, Twinkle Toes. You don't have to do anything by yourself. Zuko and Katara are happy. You said that yourself. Don't sell yourself short just because one girl you liked didn't like you back. There are plenty of fish in the Sea." She said.
"Toph, I really don't want to talk to anyone right now, so could you please just go back to camp." Aang said, a blank expression on the Airbender's face.
"No! That's all you ever do! Any time you have a problem you just shut out the rest of the world and try to do things on your own! It doesn't work that way Twinkle Toes! Not yet! You need to learn that other people care about you and don't like it when you do this to yourself! I don't like it when you do this to yourself! It makes me feel useless and fragile and…and…"
"And what, Toph?" Aang questioned, standing up.
"And blind." She said calmly. "Whenever you do this…I know you think that you're only helping us by keeping your problems out of our business, but to me…to me it just makes me feel like you don't want my help. It's like you think it's impossible I'd be of any use to you aside from a teacher and it reminds me of how sheltered I was back home." She looked away from him and shut her eyes. For the second time since he'd met her, Aang saw Toph Bei Fong shed a tear.
"Toph…I…" Aang was at a loss for words. He had no idea how to react to a crying Toph. The sight was so rare that probably no one did. He did the one thing that came to mind. He hugged her. She rested her forehead on his shoulder and grabbed him around the waist. "…I'm sorry…" He stated softly. "If I can do anything for you…"
"Tell me what's wrong." Toph cut him off. Aang looked away, nervous as to how she may react. However, in this predicament he had no choice but to come clean. He took a deep breath and sighed, separating from the hug.
"Promise not to laugh at me?" He asked; only to receive a punch in the shoulder and a rather serious glare from his Earthbending teacher. "Alright. It all started about two weeks ago when I saw Katara and Zuko making out for the first time. I didn't know what to think, what to feel even. I was heartbroken, but then I remembered something that Gyatso taught me. If I really loved something I should set it free, and if it came back not loving me, but it was happy, I had no reason to complain. You guys are like my family, and when two members of it can find happiness in each other, then I'm happy too, even if it hurts a bit.
You might be asking why I'm upset. The problem was, after Katara and Zuko got together, I started seeing…other girls…in dreams that only Katara used to be in. I panicked, and I'm still panicking, because it keeps happening. I'm selfish, I said I loved Katara, and love's not something that you can take back so lightly. That's why I feel guilty and sad. I feel like I've been lying to myself for the past few months, and I hate it."
Toph frowned. "Other girls? Like who?" She asked. He was curious as to where his tastes would fall after Sweetness was out of the picture. Aang's pulse shot through the roof, a sure sign that she'd hit a nerve. "Twinkle Toes, come on. If you can't tell me, then who can you tell?" She questioned. He scratched the back of his neck nervously. How was he going to tell her? His experience with this, though, was the longer you waited to tell a girl you liked her, the harder it was to do. A certain phrase crossed his mind, a quote from the girl in front of him, "You have to face things head on if you want to be an Earthbender."
He sucked in a breath and sighed again. "Well…mostly it's been…you." Suddenly he felt the need to shield himself, take a few steps back for security, but when Toph's face lit up beet red he knew this was just as awkward for her as it was for him. "This is why I keep these things to myself, Toph. It's always weird and stupid, and the fantasies never happen. Look, give me another week or so and I'm sure I can get over it. Everything will go back to normal and it'll be like this never happened, okay?"
Aang had turned to walk away, but was stopped by Toph latching onto his wrist. "What if…what if I don't want it to be like that? What if I told you that I found it kind of…sweet? Twinkle…no…Aang, I've had suitors since I was ten years old offer my father land and jewels and fancy houses for my hand in marriage, but never once have I been told why. You're the Avatar, and on top of that an Air Nomad. You have no worldly possessions to give as a bribe, and you already have all the power and prestige you need. Can you tell me why I'm so special to you? Or am I just another face in the crowd?"
Aang stood silently, looking blankly at Toph. "That's a long story to tell, Toph." He finally said. "But here goes nothing. I guess for me, it all started in a swamp. Not just any swamp, but one that had strong ties with the spirit world. It was supposed to show you visions of people you've lost, people you've loved. However, because I was the Avatar, I saw someone completely different. I'd never seen the person before. Then, when we came to Gaoling, and I saw you for the first time as the Blind Bandit, I knew it was you.
When I finally got a good look at you, it wasn't your talent for Earthbending or your face that caught my attention…it was your eyes. The misty green color that was unique to only you, and by the Air Spirits the way that they show the doors to your soul. Toph, you may think they're worthless, but I couldn't disagree with you more when I say that they're your greatest asset next to your Earthbending.
When I saw you crying after we'd left your house, I was broken up. I was so sure it was you that I saw in the swamp, and so many things went through my head. Sure, if I'd seen someone I would know eventually it also meant that I'd lose them eventually. I just didn't know it meant all in the same day. Then you showed up, and I was thrilled that you decided to come with us. That's when the thoughts first started to cross my mind. If the swamp showed me someone I would meet, but only loved ones…what did that mean for you and me?
When Katara and Zuko got together, I started playing with the idea again, I guess. You were already like family to me, but when the dreams started it was like there could be so much more to that. Toph, you're one of my most precious people. When you hurt, I hurt. When you laugh, I laugh. I'm not sure how you feel about me, but I'll make this clear right now. Toph, I love you. I'm not sure what kind of love it is just yet, but it's there. It has been and always will be. That's what makes you special to me."
The little Earthbending girl was shocked. He'd gone from nervously shy to dead serious in that little speech. He was holding her by the wrists and his pulse was slow and strong. Slowly, almost cautiously, she brought a hand up behind his head and pulled him in closer. He had to lean over, and she hand to stand on her toes, but they managed to make the kiss work. It was soft and innocent, and he let her lead the whole thing as to give her security, but when it ended, both were panting.
"I know I've already said this, but don't sell yourself short, Twinkle Toes." She chuckled, "Just because it didn't work out so well with Sweetness doesn't mean you're damned to be eternally single. You're not being selfish, you're being normal. Things like this happen every day, and there's no sense in beating yourself up for it. Come on, let's head back to camp. People are looking for you."
Aang nodded, standing up. "Oh yeah, one last question; what did all your past lives say about Katara?" Toph asked.
"The same thing you did, basically. Except they didn't kiss me." He said with a shrug and a chuckle.
"Well, look at that, who knew I had all that ancient and powerful wisdom up here?" Toph said, knocking on the side of her head. The laughing began as the two headed back to camp. Zuko and Katara weren't the only ones with a hush-hush relationship after that.