Aang opened his eyes with a deep intake of breath. He held it for a moment before letting it go.
His arms popped as he pushed himself off the bed and onto the ground. He looked at his room. It was spotless. The night after he got home from Katara and Sokka's house, he had spent an hour cleaning it to the last dust bunny.
In the next few days since then he had followed Yangchen's advice and kept himself busy in any way he could think of. His grandmother's house probably looked better than it did for years. He had spent hours dusting every surface, cleaning every nook and cranny. And he had also taken advantage of the few days of clear skies and made the yard look nicer than they do on the HGTV shows his grandma watches. The sky was still clear today, but he didn't know how long that would last, living in Seattle.
He needed something to do today, desperately. He just couldn't think of what, now that the house was pristine.
He mulled it over for a second before sighing and falling forward. He caught himself with his arms and began to do push-ups. He didn't know how many he did, as he lost count around 200, and he only stopped after sweat running down his face and his arms felt like jelly.
Once he had collapsed on his face he turned over and did sit-ups and crunches until his abs burned.
After this he moved on to squats, and then jumping-jacks, and so on and so forth. He loved the physical challenge. It kept his mind and body occupied, didn't allow him to think about it at all.
After a little while he realized he couldn't do anything else in such a confined space as his bedroom, and decided to go for a run. He slipped into a shirt and changed into some basketball shorts before heading out into the hallway.
"I'm going for a run!" He yelled into the kitchen where he heard the noises of Yangchen eating breakfast.
He was out the door before she had the chance to respond and went into a brisk jog immediately.
Aang didn't move at the sound. He was too busy solving a math problem he had looked up online. He figured this made him a nerd but he didn't care. He hated math, but it sure kept his mind occupied.
"Aang! The neighbor boy is here to see you!" Yangchen shouted through the door.
"Tell him to come back later! I'm busy."
There was a pause, and then, "Busy with what?"
Aang looked down at the sheet full of scribbled numbers and signs.
"I'll be right there!"
When Aang got to the door downstairs he saw Sokka standing there with a basketball in his hands.
"Hey," said Aang.
"Oh, hey!" Sokka said, "Uhm, me and Katara were gonna go play some basketball with our friend, but we need a fourth. So, uh, I was wondering if you wanted to play?"
"Oh, sounds cool. Let me get my shoes."
"Okay, cool. We'll be in the car just outside. We're gonna play at the park," Sokka said
Once Aang had told his grandmother ("Oh, how fun!") and gotten his shoes, he went out to the car waiting for him. When he had gotten into the back seat he saw Katara was driving and Sokka was in the passenger seat.
"Hey, Aang," Katara smiled to him through the rear-view mirror.
"Hey," Aang replied with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. He found that after he had started keeping himself busy, it felt easier to appear happy. When he was obsessing over it, it was like a dark cloud hung over him at all times. But now, he lived for those moments when his mind was too occupied to think about it, those moments when it felt like a weight was lifted off his shoulders and it never happened.
"So where are we going?" Aang asked.
"Oh, that's right; you're new to this part of town." Sokka said.
"Yeah, I lived in the city. I don't know anything about the suburbs."
"Well, there's a park a few miles away that has a court," Katara told him, "We like to play there with our friend Toph; usually no ones on the court on Mondays."
They got to the park a few minutes later, and found a short little girl waiting for them on the court. She looked excessively like a tomboy and wore glasses with lenses as thick as her thumb.
"Hey, losers!" She shouted at them when she spotted them, "Who's this kid?" she said, pointing her thumb at Aang.
"This is Aang. He's gonna play with us today." Katara said sweetly.
"Aang, huh? Well, you better be ready to lose, kid. You better not be a 'sorry loser' like Meathead over here."
"Hey! I am not!" Sokka said defiantly.
"Whatever, Mr. you cheated!" she said, lowering her voice to mock Sokka.
"Oh, just shut up and let's play!" Katara said to both of them.
"Right, let's pick teams," said Toph, "I say boys versus girls."
"Sounds good to me," Katara said.
"Wait, how do I know if Aang's any good or not? I've never seen him play!" Sokka complained.
Aang decided to remain silent.
"No matter how bad he is, he can't be worse than you, Snoozles." Toph said slyly.
Sokka was about to respond when Katara spoke up, "Alright! I'm setting the timer on my phone to twenty minutes. And here-," she wrote G and B on the ground with chalk with a line between them, "-is the scoreboard. Let's flip a coin and I'll start the time. Let's play!"
When they started it became clear that it would be a tough game with the Girls scoring four points immediately.
Katara moved like water, smooth and flowing. Toph, on the other hand, was the opposite. She was immovable. She moved forward and whoever was in the way was in danger of being pummeled to the ground. Sokka ran around trying to keep up for the most part.
It took Aang a while to get into the game due to being sore from his earlier calisthenics; but once he did, he became the wind. He moved up and down the court with lightning speed, his feet seemed to barely touching the concrete below them.
"Hey, twinkletoes!" Toph had shouted at him once. He paused for a moment in confusion, giving her enough time to swipe the ball from him.
As the timer ran down, both of their scores rose. It was a close game all the way through. They were constantly one-upping each other.
Aang found that on the court Toph became his worst rival. Katara was good, sure, but there was something about Toph. Maybe it was the sneers every time she scored. Maybe it was the occasional quip or jibe trying to make him mess up. Whatever it was, it quickly caused the game to be a personal competition between the two of them.
Then the moment came. It was seconds before the timer went off. The Boys were a single point behind. Toph was on the other side of the court, and the ball was in Aang's hands. Their eyes narrowed, a smirk spread across Toph's face. Aang bared his teeth. He pounced forward like a panther, ducking under Katara, and crossing the court in two seconds. He flew directly toward Toph, trying to make her move. He should have known better. She stood where she stood, her arms spread out on either side.
In the moment before he slammed into her he made a split decision. He bounded up into the air, the wind itself seemingly lifting him up. His feet flew over Toph's head. His arm extended and pushed the ball the last few inches and it flew through the net.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Katara's phone went off.
"OHHHHHH YEAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!" Sokka belted out, "IN YOUR FACE!" he bellowed at Katara, "IN YOUR FACE!" he yelled out Toph.
"Nuh, nuh, nuh, we won and you loooost!" he sung out as he danced in a circle.
"Oh shut up, Sokka!" Katara said.
Aang started laughing as he saw Toph's face. Her eyes were slits and her lips were pursed. Her arms were crossed defiantly in front of her.
"What was that about being a sore loser, Toph?" Aang laughed out, as he was sent into a fit of giggles.
Murder burned in her eyes as she hit him on the arm with all her strength.
"OW!" Aang exclaimed, his hand immediately sent to him arm.
"Whoooo hooooo!" Sokka continued to sing out, oblivious to anything besides his cheering.
"Oh my God, Sokka! Shut the hell up!" Toph yelled as she charged at him.
"Hey, okay, I'll stop! I'll sto-OOPH!" she ran into him and they tumbled out of the court and onto the grass.
Katara turned red as she laughed at Toph and Sokka rolling around on the ground, wrestling furiously.
Aang was laughing too.
As the sun was going down they all sat in a starbucks, sipping frappuccinos and talking (Toph and Sokka were covered in grass stains and bruises). Toph had gotten over the defeat immediately after her scuffle with Sokka. Aang supposed she got her anger out.
After a while Toph announced sarcastically, "Alright! I gotta go to the little girls' room. Don't do anything cool without me. That shouldn't be too hard." She left with a smirk.
A few moments later Sokka said out of nowhere, "I want another!" and left to get a second frappuccino.
That left Aang and Katara alone together. After a moment of silence Katara said, "You know, Aang, we should hang out more. You're really fun."
"Thanks," Aang said, "but I've barely said two words all day."
"Well, I have a feeling that after a while you'll open up some more."
"Hmm. Maybe," Aang said.
"Hopefully… So how old are you?" she asked, engaging small talk.
"Seventeen. Sokka's eighteen and Toph's your age."
"Yup," she gave him a smile.
There was something about that smile. It was comforting. "I don't know how long it'll take me to be my normal self again," he said without really knowing why.
Katara's expression shifted. Her lips parted slightly and her brow furrowed with concern. Her arm extended and she placed her hand on his. It wasn't in a flirty way, but in a comforting way. A way that almost felt motherly.
"You can take all the time you need, Aang. I know we haven't known each other for very long, but I'm here for you. I'll be your friend. Okay?"
He looked at her a moment, "Okay."
He smiled at her.
When they got home it was dark. Aang had gotten in, told Yangchen about his day, and went up to his room. After the physical exertions of the day, Aang found himself exhausted. He sighed as he collapsed into his bed. I was happy today, he thought.
Live a good, happy life.
He gasped as images of his father's dead, blank face filled his mind. His heart raced and his breath picked up. Tears immediately sprung to his eyes.
"No!" he whispered into his pillow. "No more tears."
For some reason she popped into his head. His breath hitched, and then released slowly. He thought of her smile, and his heart slowed.
He wiped his tears and closed his eyes for sleep.