A/N: This story contains spoilers for "Kiss It Better."
I didn't plan to include romantic shipping in this fanfic, but some Yuekka and "pre-Tokka" crept in. Sokka and Toph are attracted to each other, but have not yet admitted their feelings.
You use a sword to develop...your skill, to develop your energy and to move your chi, your life force energy, beyond your hand, through your weapon, into your opponent's weapon, into your opponent. - Sifu Kisu
In the era before the Avatar, we bended not the elements, but the energy within ourselves… - Lion Turtle
Sokka flexed his right pointer finger with care. It hurt, but at least it was in one piece, attached to his hand with sore red tissue. Katara didn't even need to stitch it.
"Don't move your finger," she admonished. "The bone is still broken. It'll take a couple of weeks to heal. I can only do so much, even with my bending." She held wooden splints to the front and back of his finger and wrapped a bandage around them.
"Thanks Katara. What would I do without you?"
"I shudder to think of it."
"Maybe he'd finally learn not to tempt fate," Toph spoke up, playing with her space earth bracelet.
"When did I tempt fate?" asked Sokka. "I don't even believe in fate."
"This morning, you said, and I quote, 'I could fight the Rough Rhinos with one hand.'"
"So you ended up having to fight one-handed!" Toph threw her hand in the air. "You're lucky you didn't loose your hand altogether!"
Sokka waved his good hand. "Katara could reattach it. And if she couldn't, I'd get by. I could get a hook for a hand. That would be cool. No, wait, I could be the man with a sword for a hand! That way my sword would literally be an extension of my arm!"
Katara pursed her lips and gave him a critical look. "How much tea did you drink today?"
"Only five cups. Why?"
"You don't need five cups of tea," she said firmly, tucking in the end of the bandage.
"Yeah Snoozles, you have substance issues," said Toph.
"Just because I drank cactus juice that one time three years ago..."
"Sure, keep telling yourself that."
Katara laughed, and Toph turned her head toward Aang.
"You're being quiet, Twinkletoes. What do you think of Snoozles' substance issues?"
Aang sat on the ground with his glider staff across his lap, looking lost in thought. "Huh? Oh," he grinned, "he has issues, all right."
The girls cracked up at that.
Sokka smirked. "Says the guy with a multiple personality disorder."
"He got you there, Twinkletoes," said Toph.
"Yeah, I've been saving that one."
"I'm connected to the spirit world," said Aang. "What's your excuse, huh?"
"My excuse for my so-called issues? I'd tell you, but Katara would have to kill me. Ow!" he cried as Katara punched his arm. "You know, that doesn't exactly disprove my point." He dodged her next blow and hid behind Aang.
Katara put her hands on her hips. "Next time you get something cut off, I'll just let you replace it with a piece of metal."
"Fine with me." He straightened up, stretching his arms. "Now that I'm all fixed up, I'd better go hunt for food, since someone - I won't mention any names but it rhymes with cough-"
"-earthbent our food supply to a pulp," finished Sokka.
"I said I was sorry, what do you want?" Toph propped herself up with her arms. "It's hard to pay attention to bags of food when you're fighting for your life."
Aang stood. "I'll go with you."
"Aang, it's a hunt. I'm going to kill something with a face," he clarified, sure that his friend had misheard him.
"I know." The younger teen brushed bits of grass off his pants. "I accept that. But we need other food besides meat. I can help you look for fruit and nuts."
"I found two nuts right here!" cried Toph, pointing toward Sokka and Aang. "Too easy!"
Katara smiled and shook her head. "You've been hanging around Sokka too much."
"Yeah, you've been hanging around me too much." Sokka picked up an empty bag.
"Be back by sunset," ordered Katara.
Sokka snorted. "We had to do everything in the dark when we were kids. You've been away from home too long."
Toph stood and stomped, sending a tremor through the ground. "Well some of us want to eat today, so you'd better bring home the bacon if you know what's good for you, Meathead."
"I love you too, Toph."
The petite earthbender's blush did not escape his notice.
Aang grabbed a bag and followed Sokka through the trees. Passing a honeysuckle bush, Sokka pinched a blossom and stuck the base in his mouth, tasting a hint of sugar.
"Toph was right," said Aang. "You do have substance issues."
"It's honeysuckle," said Sokka, exasperated. "It's not white jade." He flung the withered flower aside and walked forward. "Look, onions. You can make a salad or soup." He started pulling up the plants. The bulbs were half the size of turtleduck eggs, but they were better than nothing. "Now all I need is some meat."
"I want to find some fruit too," said Aang. "But that's not the real reason I wanted to come with you."
"I kind of figured that," said Sokka, pulling up the last cluster of onions. "It's about Katara, isn't it? Because you know, whatever two wanna do is your business."
"I'm glad you're not overprotective of Katara," said Aang, "but that's not what I wanted to talk about."
"Oh? Then what's on your mind?"
"You wouldn't really want to have a sword for a hand, would you?"
Sokka paused, wondering why Aang was going back to this conversation. "If my hand got cut off, it would be terrible and I'd whine about it for the rest of my life. But replacing it with a sword would be really cool. No one could knock it out of my hand in a duel. And it might even be easier to move my chi into the sword if it's part of my body."
Aang swiveled his head to stare at him. "Move your what now?"
Sokka stepped over a fallen tree. "You know what chi is, mister big shot Earth Spirit. There's a butterfly on your arm," he added, pointing.
"Huh?" Aang looked at his right arm, and a goofy grin lit up his face.
"It's a yellow queen! We used to see them all the time at the Southern Air Temple."
"Great. Let's keep it as a pet and name it Kumquat."
The yellow queen lifted off Aang's arm and flitted high above their heads, lost in the leafy canopy.
"'Bye Kumquat," said Aang with a little wave. He let out a contented sigh. "What were we talking about?"
"Um…You asked me about getting a sword for a hand, and I said-"
"Oh! I remember, you said something about chi. What do you know about chi?"
Sokka pushed a branch aside. "Well, I didn't understand chi for a long time, but Master Piandao explained how it works. He says that when you use a sword, you don't just wave it around and poke a hole in the person you're fighting. You have to channel your life force energy through your hand, into your sword, into your opponent's weapon, and into your opponent."
Aang was silent for a moment, and Sokka raised his eyebrow at him. The younger teen gripped his staff, looking thoughtful.
"So," said Aang, "you could say that you bend your chi when you fight."
"Yeah, you could," agreed Sokka.
"In other words, you bend your spirit."
"So you could call it spiritbending."
"Why do you keep repeating yourself?"
"Sokka, did I ever tell you exactly what happened when I was with the Lion Turtle?"
"The Lion Turtle gave you the ability to magically take away Ozai's firebending," Sokka said promptly. "Everyone knows that."
Aang vigorously shook his head. "It's not magic. It's spiritbending. It was a larger scale of what you do with Space Sword. I directed my chi into Ozai and permanently blocked his chi."
"What are you getting at Aang?"
"Well," he said, gripping the top of his staff, "What if all nonbenders are really benders with blocked chi?"
Sokka took a moment to process this statement. "That would mean everyone's the same," he said. "In theory. But would it really make a difference? I still can't command the elements."
"No, but I think I might be able to unblock your chi the same way I blocked Ozai's."
Sokka stared silently before shaking his head. "You make it sound so simple. Do you really think you can just switch people on and off?" He moved his fingers up and down to illustrate.
Aang shrugged. "I won't know for sure until I try."
"I do like to try stuff," said Sokka, rubbing his chin. "What exactly would we have to do?"
"First, I'll put my thumb on your forehead and my other thumb on your chest." Aang pointed. "Then I go into the Avatar state and direct my chi through my hands into your body and spirit."
"Okay," Sokka said uncertainly, "Then what?"
"Then I'll improvise."
Sokka held his chin in his hand, mulling it over. "All right, let's try it. It's not like it'll change my life forever. I mean, if I don't like it, I can always go back to normal…Why are you looking at me like that?" He spread his hands. "Jeong Jeong is a master firebender and he's not happy. He thinks it's a burden."
"Water is the opposite of fire," Aang pointed out. "And you're the opposite of Jeong Jeong."
"Good points. What is it with Fire Nation guys being all broody anyway? You'd think they'd learn to lighten up." Sokka elbowed him. "Get it? 'Cause they bend fire?"
Aang gave an indulgent smile. "Yeah, I get it. Come on, we might as well get started now."
"Wait a minute," said Sokka, holding out his hand as a thought struck him. "Do you have to give me waterbending? Or could you give me airbending or something?"
"I don't know." Aang shrugged and looked down. "Maybe. But I was thinking that since you get hurt more often than anyone else, it would help if you could use waterbending to heal yourself."
"I guess that makes sense." In the past, Sokka would have said that healing was for girls, but he knew better now.
Aang knelt on ground and instructed Sokka to do the same.
"I guess so…Wait, hold on." Sokka cracked his neck. "Now I'm ready."
Aang raised his right thumb.
"I declare a thumb war!" said Sokka, holding his own thumb in front of Aang's. Katara might have reacted by slapping her palm to her forehead (or more likely Sokka's head), but Aang merely gave him a deadpan look.
"Sokka, can you be serious for one minute?"
"Yeah, but I already used up that minute years ago."
Aang sighed. "Just…sit still and don't talk for a minute, all right?"
Sokka kept his mouth shut as Aang pressed his right thumb to his forehead and his left thumb over his heart. Then the monk snatched his hands back.
"What is it?" asked Sokka.
"I just thought of something. I think you have to take your shirt off."
"What?" Sokka leaned back in confused exasperation.
"Yeah, I think it has to be skin to skin contact, because Ozai didn't have his shirt-"
"Oh, fine," said Sokka, untying his sash and shrugging off his shirt, "but this had better be worth it."
Aang again pressed his thumbs to Sokka's forehead and chest. He closed his eyes for a lingering moment. Then he opened his eyes and mouth, and silvery blue light shot out like slow fireworks. Before Sokka could ask Aang why his mouth was glowing, a deeper blue light filled his vision, masking everything around him. He felt as if he was kneeling - no, floating - in a crowd of thousands. They pressed around him, whispering - or was it the wind? Were they one in the same?
Suddenly Sokka wanted to take back his "multiple personalities" crack. These spirits comprised the entire written history of the world, and some were probably older than that.
And then - it was difficult for Sokka to explain, even to himself, but it seemed as if the past Avatars were leading him to the command center of all the natural forces. If he desired, he could reach out and steer the wind and currents, split the earth and summon a volcano.
Moreover, he could see the entire forest and everything in it, laid out as an intricate map in his mind's eye. He saw each grain of soil packed on bedrock and each water droplet in the clouds above. He watched Katara, Toph and Appa at their campsite. His sister struck spark rocks over a pile of tinder while Toph collected thicker sticks and pieces of bark.
Other creatures stirred in the forest: rabbit-squirrels chased each other around tree trunks, boar-cupines rooted for acorns, wild turkey ducks strutted in the low undergrowth, badger frogs scrabbled in mulch, and a platypus bear scored a tree with its long claws.
Sokka observed the prey and predators, pondering each creature's relationship to one another in the interconnected ecosystem. Then he heard a voice separate from the whispers, soft and familiar.
He looked at the Moon in her first quarter, rising in the east like a white sail on a surging blue sea.
Then Yue herself floated in front of him, the same as the night she had departed from Earth. Her hair drifted around her face like silk threads underwater. A gentle smile played on her soft rosy lips.
Sokka blurted what he'd wanted to tell her since that fateful day at the North Pole, and particularly since the vision in the swamp.
"Yue, I'm sorry I couldn't protect you."
Her sky blue eyes twinkled. "So you can be serious for more than one minute."
Sokka blinked several times, words failing him for a rare moment.
Yue floated closer, wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him deeply. Her love reassured him more than words ever could.
They broke the kiss, and Sokka drank in her face with his eyes, marveling at every celestial feature.
"I've always watched over you," she said, "and now we can be together in spirit." She entwined her fingers in his. A brilliant silvery light sparked from her fingers and spread to the rest of her body like oil through a wick. The light burned still brighter until it was all Sokka could see. He felt her squeeze his hand before her fingers slid out of his hold, and although he tightened his grip, she slipped away.
Sokka was alone. Even the whispering wind died, and everything was as still as a corpse. The silvery light faded, and suddenly he was kneeling on the lumpy ground in front of Aang.
Sokka blinked in vain at the afterglow blocking his sight.
"How do you feel?" prompted Aang.
Sokka rubbed his eyes. "I'm lost for words."
"You're pretty talkative for a guy who's lost for words."
Sokka laughed. "Okay, I have do have a few words. I feel like I had a trip on cactus juice."
Aang looked a little concerned. "Really?"
"No." Sokka waved his hand. "It was too real for cactus juice. I - somehow I knew that the past Avatars were there even though I couldn't see them. Crazy huh?"
Aang nodded. "That was just a taste of what the Avatar state is like. I am all of the Avatars at the same time, with all their thoughts and feelings running through my head. I have to struggle to take control and make them do what I want every time."
"That would be really hard. I don't know if I could do it." Sokka scratched his head. "I didn't even understand what was going on."
"It was hard at first, but it got a lot easier with practice. But, back to my question: do you feel any different?" asked Aang, leaning forward.
"Not really. Kinda worn out all of a sudden, but other than that I feel the same."
"Hm." Aang got to his feet and looked around. "We need to test your bending abilities."
Sokka stood too, pulling on his shirt. "Too bad the nearest stream is about five miles away."
The younger boy huffed softly, and Sokka stroked his chin. Then he jumped a little as an idea hit him.
"Oh!" He held his hand and spit into his palm. "Here, is this enough water?"
Aang stared at his saliva-covered palm before shrugging. "It'll do in a pinch." He straightened. "Okay, hold your other hand palm down over the spit," he said, demonstrating with his hands.
Sokka mimicked him, bringing his bandaged hand up and forward. The glob of spit sailed off his palm, straight at Aang's tattooed head. Fortunately, the monk's reflexes were unmatched, and he ducked the disgusting projectile.
"What the…? That wasn't supposed to happen, was it?"
Aang shook his head. "No, it was supposed to flow up toward your hand." He frowned, furrowing his brow. "Maybe your broken finger is throwing you off. Try switching hands."
"Okay, Sifu Airhead." Sokka chuckled. "I'm surprised Toph didn't use that one. I thought it was pretty good."
His friend lowered his eyebrow. "You came up with a nickname for Toph to call me…and she turned it down."
"She said it was 'too obvious,' whatever that means," said Sokka.
He spat into his right hand and lifted his left hand above it. The gob flew up and hovered between his palms, jiggling like a pentapus on tea. His eyes widened as a grin split his face.
"I'm doing it! I'm bending…" he paused. "Spit!"
Aang smiled. "Yeah, you're a real waterbender now. I'm gonna teach you everything I know."
Sokka wiggled his fingers, causing the ball of saliva to break apart into droplets which sprayed onto his hand. "That's great. Better you than Katara."
"Why?" asked Aang with a frown.
Sokka pinched his fingers together, trying to mold the spit back into a ball shape, as if it were snow. "I don't want to give her another reason to tell me what to do."
"I know she can get on your nerves sometimes - not mine! Just yours."
Sokka rolled his eyes as Aang pressed on.
"But she's just trying to help. And she's a really good teacher."
"I know that," said Sokka, changing tactics as he appealed to Aang's concern for Katara, "But Katara has enough responsibilities as it is. And she'd be really impressed if you trained me to waterbend."
Doubt flickered in the younger boy's eyes before giving way to hopeful optimism. "You think so? She's hard to impress."
"Of course she'll be impressed when she sees how you applied what she taught you." Sokka spread the fingers of his left hand, and the reformed globe of spit sprayed out as fine mist. Frowning, he wiped his hands on his shirt.
"The controls on this water are really sensitive."
Aang opened his mouth; then closed it, rethinking his words. "Okay, I'll train you in secret, at least until you learn the basics."
"Thanks buddy." Sokka slugged his shoulder, although nothing like as forceful as Toph.
"Don't mention it."
"Wasn't going to."
"All right," said Aang, taking up his staff and one of the bags. "We still need more food, and I know I saw a pistachio tree this way…" He walked a few dozen paces and pointed to the little nuts peppering the ground. "There's almost enough to feed Appa!"
"Great! You gather the nuts while I go get a boar-cupine." He unsheathed Boomerang. "I won't go far."
Aang looked up at him. "How do you know there are boar-cupines around here?"
Sokka ran his thumb over Boomerang's back edge. "I saw some. Earlier."
The monk's look became piercing. "You saw them when you were connected to the Avatar state! Sokka you can't kill them!"
Sokka's shoulders slumped a little. "I know it's not sporting, Aang, but I've never killed for sport. I only kill to feed my family."
Aang gestured toward the pistachios. "We already have enough to feed our family! And we don't have to cook them, so it'll save a lot of time."
"I'm sorry Aang, but for most of us, that's a large snack, not a meal. Toph and Katara and I need something with more substance."
"You want it, you don't need it."
"Yes we do," insisted Sokka. "Animal protein has nutrients that plants don't have." He held up Boomerang to halt Aang's protests. "Besides, do you know how Toph's gonna react if we come back to camp without meat? She still hasn't gotten over the time Zuko and I lied that we were going on a hunting trip and came back with my dad, Suki and that random prisoner."
Toph had been more surly than usual in the days that followed, and Sokka realized in retrospect that, in addition to feeling cheated out of a "field trip" with Zuko, she also didn't welcome the new competition.
"…This isn't about meat, is it," stated Aang, snapping Sokka back to the present.
"No." He waved his right arm out to the side. "Do I have to write it out for you?"
Aang's mouth twitched upward. "That would be better than drawing a picture." He threw up his hands. "Fine, go kill a cute animal for Toph. Karma will deal with you."
Sokka lowered his head in a mock bow. "I appreciate your tolerance of my drive to prove my manhood."
"Hey, what are friends for?"
A/N: I've wondered for awhile what would happen if the Avatar gave bending to a non-bender. I don't understand exactly how spiritbending/energybending works, but I'm convinced now that the explanation and description in this fanfic is as good as any we're going to get in canon.
I know everyone loves Sokka as normal. I do too, really. That's one reason why I identify with him the most.
And yet, I believe he has the potential to be a good bender. The form of sword fighting Sokka learned is as much a martial art as the kung fu which serves as the basis for bending.
I originally planned to write a scene of Aang giving Sokka a waterbending lesson, but inspiration soon deserted me (or more accurately, fled to other projects). So this is all you get, aside from the Tokka-infused "sequel.