Author's Note: Yes, I know. It's been an eternity since my last update. Throughout this summer I have suffered through a continuous amount of computer issues outside of my control along with my fair share of writer's block. School and getting sick didn't really help things. Needless to say, that doesn't excuse my lateness.
All I can say now is that I'm very grateful for the people out there who continue to remind me about this story and pester me to update. I really appreciate all the encouragement and critiques from fans who have stuck with me ever since I first posted this story. Thank you.
A Refined Edge
Sleep. A state of vulnerability. For some a sign of death. For others a beautiful display of one's true self (for one can't lie while in slumber). It was one of the many traits that made Aang different. He was the 'Avatar' for one, a vampire that had access to the spirits. He could bend all four elements if he tried (when he was at his most powerful, which was rare considering the times he fed off of humans). But the one thing he was grateful for was sleep.
A vampire's state of rest is different than a human's state of rest. Vampires were still all too aware of their surroundings, which is how the rumor concerning coffins spread around. It is easier to be unaware when trapped in an uncompromising metal box underground. Most who could sleep dreaded it for it resembled the all too familiar fear of death for a vampire. Frozen motion, a state that caused their kind to disintegrate after years of not feeding and not moving. Not as painful as being burned, per se, but still just as poignant. Since vampires didn't need sleep, most simply avoided partaking in the boring affair at all costs.
However, Aang had to sleep. Not as often, but in specific periods because of the unusual powers he possessed for a creature of the night. He saw it as an escape from his unpleasant life and he embraced this time for as long as he could (which was usually five hours. Most could barely handle going past three). The only bad thing about sleeping were the dreams. Extremely vivid and barbaric, they presented hidden desires and temptations that Aang never wanted. After all, he couldn't escape from his problems in reality if they were being exaggerated in his dreams.
It was the better of two evils and Aang had no choice but to accept it, especially after receiving his orders from Ozai. If he was going to train a hunter and a vampire at the same time then he was going to need his rest.
For the first hour it was nice. His bones settled into a state of relaxation that he hadn't experienced in weeks. It probably had to do with the fact that he had refused to use the transformation Secret Art ever since his last few talks with Katara. Now that he was being truthful with her he could appear in his frozen-ten-year-old state instead of a teenage one.
This, however, did not signify a change in his erotic fantasies. He had dreams about Katara before, mainly bringing her childhood form in an even more grotesque version of their time in the woods. He used to see various depictions of her fighting off the insistent edges of insanity and death, watch her soul bend from the pressure and eventually turn her into a pitiful waste of cynical remarks and dull eyes filled with nothing but bitterness.
Thankfully, his current dream was absent of death and chaos. However, Katara's depiction still proved to make him feel uncomfortable. He couldn't really make out her features except for the chocolate-colored hair cascading down her shoulders and her left hand, gesturing for him. He had been in a lake, back in his teenage form, covered in water up to his waist. He wasn't wearing anything. He was nervous.
"Come closer." Her voice echoed, surrounding him in a surreal, soft chorus.
He shivered in the water and didn't respond back. He could sense her moving though, could tell that she was coming closer. If he didn't act, she would.
He closed his eyes and kept them closed even when he felt warm, wet fingers sliding down his stomach. Her breath washed over his face and he leaned forward, leaning into her neck and moving her hair away with his left hand, fingering her collar-bone. With her exposed chest pressed against him, he knew his control would break in a matter of seconds.
Her hands continued moving against his chest, wrapping around him in a tempting embrace before traveling lower beneath the water. In response to the touches he felt his body tense before he inhaled her sharp scent, mixed now with sea-salt and the shampoo in her hair. He could barely feel the water running and merging with his legs, she was the sea now. As his hands traveled past her sides, pressed firmly against her hips, she slowly wrapped her legs around his waist in a smooth vice that he could never imagine pulling away from.
Connected as they were now, he couldn't help but open his eyes and swim in her luscious body, taking in every dimple, every stretch of skin, the smooth caramel complexion complimented by the dark strands obscuring her breasts. His eyes finally zeroed in on her face, catching the pronounced smirk and mocking eyes. A challenge.
Her eyes were always the spark. Pushing all restraint away, he attacked her lips, smashing her body fully against himself. He could feel her breath shooting into his mouth in one disgruntled gasp before her voice melted within his moans and the kissing turned into an extravagant exploration of each other's mouths. Her legs squeezed and slid against his thighs and he pulled away from her mouth, trailing down kisses towards her neck.
He could literally feel her heartbeat thrashing against his chest. In response, he felt his fingernails grow, embedding themselves in her skin. He felt something dark and warm drip past his fingertips and into the water, clouding the transparent field with spots of red and black. The smell of blood entered his nostrils, overwhelming even Katara's scent, and he felt himself change.
He dug his fingers in deeper, trailing his hands down her back slowly. Fingers wet with blood, he brought one up to his own face, staring at the red marring his fingers with a look of curiosity and wonder. Her body was tense now, shaking, but she didn't protest. She was even smiling.
He tilted his head, licking his fingers slowly. "You're not scared," he said calmly, resting his hand on her neck.
"I want to feed you." Her eyes were open and sincere. There was no shame, only a cool sense of confidence that made him wary.
He shook his head, letting his hand travel down her chest, whispering. "Don't you see? If we continue this way I won't be able to stop."
"Why is that a problem? Do you want to stop?" Her smile only grew more pronounced.
He blinked once, eyes red and blazing. "No."
"Then don't stop." She lifted her head back, fully exposing her whole neck. The scent swarmed around his face, trapping him in a cage of smells and desire. Wasting no time, he sank his teeth into her neck, roughly drinking from her as body. Her blood was extremely thick and thin. Warm and alive, he felt his own body fill up with a burst of energy. Overwhelming and intoxicating, he had to pull away from her.
When he let go he saw her body drop into the water, saw the pale skin sink into the water. He briefly saw her eyes, clouded and dull, before her body continued sinking out of his sight.
A few seconds of temptation. That's all it took.
The dream ended abruptly with Katara's scream. It echoed in the water before bursting into his ears as a tidal wave washed over him. Aang woke up to darkness, heaving and clutching his throat. Every time he swallowed his throat would flare with agitation and he would cough and hack, fighting the sense of hunger that stripped him from within. He tried his best to calm down, to push away the dream into the back of his mind.
But no matter how hard he tried whenever he closed his eyes he would see her face, see her mocking smile and full lips. His legs kicked out in contorted gestures as he fought with the images in his head, growling out in shame and frustration. And I actually thought I could train her? What the heck was I thinking?
Zuko sipped at his tea, eyes narrowed in thought and apprehension. He hated the idea of asking his uncle about such silly superstitions, especially since Zuko still wasn't sure he even believed it himself. But, if Katara was attached to some . . . guy enough to let herself get hurt in such a way . . . "Uncle?"
"Hmmm?" Iroh had just set his new teapot down and was in the process of cooking. "Something on your mind?"
Zuko sighed. "Look, I'm not going to pretend like I get all this supernatural stuff. I just . . . I don't understand why Katara would put herself in danger this way."
Iroh raised a single eyebrow towards him. "You think she's misguided?"
"I don't know, all I'm saying is that she's probably just suffering from an abusive relationship." Zuko shrugged. "In that case she should learn to defend herself, but it's not going to do anything if she keeps running back to the creep."
"Well," Zuko watched his uncle fidget with his hands, a sign that he was trying to choose his own words carefully. "You have to remember that she was assaulted by someone else, a stranger. The boy who saved her and brought her to me is a childhood friend of hers."
Zuko frowned. "The one that died a few years ago?"
"According to what the family has shared, yes. People in this town disappear all the time. He's lucky that he can still see her. Ozai is very picky with his newborns. Though . . . from my experiences it seems like the boy has an unusual amount of self-control." Iroh smiled softly. "It's an amazing gift for any vampire, especially for one turned at such a young age. They tend to be harder to tame but easier to compel."
Zuko blinked once before pushing his chair back and crossing his arms. "Whatever. Just . . . can you train me instead of Toph?"
Iroh laughed. "She's an excellent hunter, far surpassing me even when I was in my prime. You can learn a lot from her."
"She's a master."
"Uncle . . . " Zuko leaned against the wall, closing his eyes. "I'm still not buying this vampire crap."
"I understand that. And, if I were being honest, a part of me wishes you never had to know. But the world is changing, and this town won't survive unless we offer our support. This is a family legacy that we have to carry."
"You saying that before my dad was turned he was a hunter too?"
"Yes. We were both apprentices under Jeong Jeong, one of our best classic fighters. However, his methods are dated. Toph comes from a line of inventive and resourceful hunters who have studied in the art of combating not only vampires, but goblins and witches. She's the perfect teacher for you." Zuko winced as Iroh touched his shoulder. "You may not feel it now, but you have plenty of potential. Toph told me about your first official sparring with her. She was very impressed."
Zuko snorted bitterly. "Impressed? The girl chewed me out and said I was pathetic."
His uncle shook his head, trying to hide his smile. "She prefers avoiding praise. Positive encouragement has never gotten her far. You'll have to learn to catch the praise hidden in her style of speech, hidden in the way she addresses you, in how she trains you. I'm sure you'll be surprised when you see how much she cares for you, how much she cares for Katara and Sokka as well."
"We are talking about the same twelve-year-old psychopath, right?"
Iroh laughed, turning away from Zuko to salvage their food. "Try opening your mind a little, Zuko. The hardest things to understand in life often require very simple solutions."
Zuko pushed away from the wall when the doorbell rang. He walked over to it, opening up and coming face to face with Toph (or rather chest to face, he was a lot taller). "And you're supposed to be my solution?" Zuko shook his head sadly.
Toph frowned. "I'm your what?"
"Nothing. Let's just get this over with." Zuko returned his uncle's cheerful wave with a glare before grabbing his makeshift weapons and stepping outside to train.
"Katara? Hello?" Sokka continued beating his sister's door mercilessly. It took another five minutes but eventually Katara opened the door. She had bags under her eyes and her hair was a disgruntled representation of her inner self. She pursed her lips before looking Sokka up and down. He was dressed in military garb.
"What the hell?" Katara rubbed her eyes, moaning. "What are you doing?"
"Toph wanted me to make sure you weren't chickening out on your exercises, so I told her I would fill in for her while she checks on Zuko." His smirk combined with his attire nearly made her want to throw up. "Excellent idea, no?"
"Terrific. I'm assuming you have a whistle hidden somewhere to complete the costume?"
"Yep." He pulled it out, blowing in it. "Let's get moving people!"
"I'm the only one here."
"Did I say you could talk? Let's go!" He easily pushed her out of the room, basically yelling at her the entire time they spent running down the stairs. "That's it, get those legs pumping! Would a vampire stop to rest in a chase? No! He would send you to oblivion!"
"Like you actually believe that."
"Less talk, more push ups." Sokka smirked. "I already did my fair share. And no, I didn't cheat cause Toph was watching me the whole time."
Katara sighed before positioning herself on her hands and knees. "You do realize I'm still recovering from my injuries."
"Right, half of which you brought upon yourself if I'm not mistaken." He was frowning now. "Honestly, Katara, what kind of idiot just lets a random vamp feed on themselves? Especially when that vamp is specifically addicted to your blood?!"
"Oh, so you're using Toph's vocab now?" Katara grunted through a push up. "Seriously, Sokka, you have no right to judge. Don't pretend like you understand what I'm going through."
"I'm just trying to protect you. I may not believe everything that's going on here but I do know what an abusive relationship looks like." Sokka crossed his arms. "Even if it is Aang he's changed, right? You can't just give out your trust so easily. He needs to prove himself."
"He saved my life! Twice!" Katara stood up. "He doesn't need to do anything else! In fact, I should have never doubted him the moment he offered to train me."
Sokka looked like he was going to start choking. "He did what?"
She didn't even answer him. Instead she pushed him to the side and stomped towards the stairs. "It doesn't matter what you, Toph, or anyone else thinks of him. I know my best friend. I know Aang." She turned her head back, expression firm and resolute. "I've made my decision and you can't stop me."
All he could do was gasp as his sister ran up the stairs, slamming the door hard enough that it could be heard throughout the house. Sokka collapsed against the couch, staring hard at the TV while rubbing his forehead, muttering under his breath. "That went well." He didn't notice the movement behind him. He couldn't see the dark figure huddled on the floor in the shadows, couldn't see the red eyes opened wide with fright and shock.
As sharp as he was, Sokka eventually fell asleep and only then did Aang move, walking quickly and quietly up the stairs as if he had lived there all his life.