For those of you who read my story "A Day in the Life," I am working on another Day, but I won't post any of it until it's finished. Until then, I thought I'd just post these as they're written since each section will only be tangentially conncted to the others. So don't expect a super regular posting schedule. These Conversations take place in the same universe as "A Day in the Life."
This story is labeled as Aang & Katara, even though only one of the Conversations will be between those two characters, but since it's a Kataang-centric universe I'm writing in, I thought that'd be prudent.
It was weeks after Toph decided she was finally going to ask Aang the question before she had a chance to actually do it. She had to wait until they were alone in the house, which hardly ever happened. Finally, though, there came a day when Hakoda was visiting and he, Katara and Sokka went out for some family time while Suki was at the training academy.
Alone at last.
She was uncharacteristically nervous. She'd wanted to ask him for months and months but felt oddly reticent about it. She didn't fear his reaction. He'd probably just laugh a little and answer her cheerfully. What she feared was letting him see that she wanted to know something about him. That she was interested, that she cared at all.
He knows you care.
And she did. She loved Aang like a brother. These people were family to her, more so than her blood family. But she'd never been comfortable with people knowing that she cared. That was a one-way ticket to getting your heart stomped on. The day she knew she was in trouble was the day she realized that she'd come to care enough that she was willing to risk the stomping.
Just go find him and get it over with.
She knew where he was. She could feel the vibrations from the garden. He was firebending. It was the bending discipline he was the least comfortable with, so he'd been hitting it hard lately. Airbending was like breathing to him, and waterbending nearly as natural. It was a good thing he didn't have to practice waterbending that much anymore, because he and Katara had become totally incapable of training together. At some point, waterbending had become foreplay for them, and Toph couldn't remember the last time they'd actually finished a practice session before they were all over each other. His earthbending was well beyond master level; just about all she had left to teach him was metalbending. She was dragging her feet on that one. It would mean giving up her title of the world's only metalbender. Perhaps sensing this, Aang wasn't pushing her.
Firebending, however, still gave him problems. Zuko did his best when he was here, with Iroh assisting in Zuko's absence, but Aang had negative feelings hooked to his firebending that refused to be banished and prevented him from really embracing this part of his nature. He still couldn't quite let himself inhabit it and let it flow. He always saw Katara's burned hands in his mind.
She went to the garden. She could feel the heat he was generating and the pattern of his steps. He was going through his basics to ease himself into it.
Maybe I shouldn't interrupt him.
She had just turned to go when he called out to her. "Hey, Toph."
"Oh, uh...hi," she said, turning back around like she hadn't been leaving, no not at all, just doing a little twirl here for no reason.
He stopped firebending and came over to her. "What's up?"
Toph took a breath. "Can I ask you something?"
Here goes. "What do your tattoos look like?"
She felt his surprise at her question, which must have seemed to come out of nowhere to him. He didn't know she'd been wondering about it almost as long as she'd known him.
"Oh," he said. "I guess you can't feel those, huh?"
She knew what he looked like. She'd felt his face. She knew he was bald, and she knew the shape of his features. She knew that most people considered him handsome, although such distinctions were meaningless to her. She knew from context that he had an arrow on his head, and she thought he had them on his hands as well, but beyond that, nobody had ever bothered to describe them. She felt self-conscious all at once. "Never mind, it's a dumb question."
"No, it's not. We all forget that you can't see. It never occurred to me that you might wonder what my tattoos look like."
"I know there's an arrow on your head."
"And on your hands?"
He hesitated. "My tattoos are over my entire body, Toph."
She was momentarily taken aback. That, she'd never imagined. "Seriously?"
"Yeah," he said, chuckling. "And...well, they're blue..."
"That means nothing to me."
"I guess you don't know what blue is, huh?"
"Well, it's the same color as the sky...which you've also never seen..." He made a frustrated sound. "This is hard. Katara and Sokka both have blue eyes."
"Mine are gray."
She sighed. "Again with the words that have no meaning to me."
"Umm...here, come on." He grabbed her hand and pulled her into the house. "I'll show them to you."
"Why do we need to go inside?"
"Because I need a mirror. I can't see my own forehead." They went into the downstairs bathroom. "Gimme your hand."
Toph held out her hand. Aang took her index finger and put it right between his eyebrows. "Here's the tip of the arrow."
"Wow, it's that far down? I imagined it back further."
"That's why I had to wear the headband in the Fire Nation, remember?"
"Oh, right. Makes sense."
He took her other index finger, and using both of them, traced the arrowhead. "The arrowhead flares out like this, and then it goes up and over my head and all the way down my back."
Toph let him guide her fingers along the lines over the top of his head. The arrow was much wider than she'd pictured. She'd thought it would be a single line, but it was a broad stroke. No wonder it was so prominent and attracted so much attention. She drew her hands away when she got to the back of his neck. She didn't need to trace it any further to imagine what it looked like, plus it would be weird to touch him there. And Katara was the jealous type. She did feel something unusual as her hands fell away, though. "Is this your scar?" she said, poking a rough patch on his upper back.
"Yeah," he said.
"Damn, Twinkletoes. It's huge."
"You're telling me. Katara thinks I should have the tattoo redrawn over the top of it. Right now the scar breaks the line."
"What do you think?"
"I think that I shouldn't pretend it isn't there."
Toph sighed. "You know why she might want to, though, right?"
He nodded. "I know. You want to see the rest of the tattoo, or not?"
He picked up her hand again and put it on the underside of his bicep. "It starts again here, and curves around over the top of my arm, and ends in another arrowhead here," he said, guiding her fingers along the line. "On both arms. Then on my back it splits in two and goes over my, uh..."
She felt him blushing. "Yeah. Down the backs of my legs and it curves around to the front here," he said, putting her finger on the side of his knee and guiding it around to the front of his shin. "Then down to another arrowhead on the top of my foot. Both legs."
Toph was amazed. She'd never pictured that he was this extensively tattooed. "Damn, Aang. That is a lot of ink."
"No more than any other Airbender."
"Did it hurt?"
"Yeah. It hurt a lot. It took two weeks of daily six-hour sessions. It took another two weeks to heal. But that's the way it's done. It's a rite of passage. And it was an honor. I worked hard to earn these tattoos." He sighed. "And now I'm the only person in the world who has them."
Toph heard the sadness in his voice. She was reminded of something Katara had said a few months ago. The two of them had been watching Aang and Sokka playing some kind of game with a ball and a couple of sticks that they seemed to be inventing as they went along. "It's amazing to me that Aang can be so cheerful the day after that disastrous council meeting," Toph had remarked.
Katara had shrugged. "He chooses to be cheerful."
"But he's always that way. It's like he's a freak of nature."
Katara had gone quiet for a moment. "People think he's joyous and carefree. And he is. But underneath? He is sad, all the time."
Toph had been thrown for a loop by that. "I didn't know," she'd finally said.
"I'm the only one who knows," Katara had said. Then she'd moved on to something else and the topic was shelved.
"Hey," Toph said to him now. "You know..." She harrumphed. "You can tell me stuff, you know. I mean, if you need to."
"I don't know. Stuff that makes you sad. I'm just saying. You don't have to be Mr. Happy Fun Avatar all the time."
"Thanks, Toph," he said, quietly.
He sighed. "But there's some stuff that...well..."
"You can only tell Katara."
"Hey, it's no skin off my nose. Just putting that out there, you know?" She punched him in the arm.
"I'll consider it put out."
"And thanks for the tattoo tour."
"How long have you been wanting to ask me that?"
"Oh, awhile." She grinned. "Just refining the mental image. Say, in my head, Sokka has crazy hair that always looks a mess. How close am I?"
Aang chuckled. "Actually, Sokka's hair is usually quite neat and tidy."
"Dang it. Oh well. Can't win 'em all." She started to go, then hesitated, unable to resist. "I bet Katara thinks all that ink is pretty sexy, doesn't she?" Aang didn't answer, but she felt his pulse speed a little. "Yeah, I thought so."