A Kiss in Ba Sing Se

[A/N: This is an A/U story. The Toph character does feel inferior to Katara and so in order to compete for Aang's affections pulls out all the stops. Aang is a boy with near infinite power and is being offered love and comfort from the two girls most dear to him.

Reality... such a fragile thread.

Disclaimer: I do not own any rights or titles to the characters of Avatar: The Last Airbender. ]

Chapter 41

Healing Love

"Hello Avatar... do you remember me?" the feminine voice said from the edge of the fog that seemed to be border of his dreams.

"No, but you do seem familiar," he replied as he strained to get a better look at the small, almost child-like figure that still evaded his sight. "Who are you?"

"Ohhh, come now," she moaned in an almost sensual tone. "I kept you company for 100 years in that ball of ice, making sure your mind didn't turn into a bowl of mush, and you don't remember me? I'm truly crushed... well a bit hurt to say the least," she huffed more playfully. "On the ship, when you were closer to crossing over, you had no problem recognizing me then Aang," she revealed, moving as if gliding rather than walking from the mist.

He looked closely at her, "I know you!" he finally shouted as he pointed a finger. "You're that spirit that told me all those dirty stories and even sang and danced for me. Whenever I got lonely or that terrible sad feeling, you would help me to see a different world. How are you doing... Xtabay?"

"KEEP YOUR CURSED POISONS AWAY FROM HIM!" the shrill voice screamed from the other side of the bedroom door as Aang's heavy eyes slowly cracked opened. "That shit you peddle will only weaken or kill him! Just look at him now, talking as if someone were there in front of him," Lili pointed out in great concern.

"Please Countess," the shaky masculine voice countered, "I do not produce… uh, um,… feces of any variety, I can assure you! This is state of the art medicine, distilled from the highest quality ingredients."

"State of whose art, Doctor? And I do use the term lightly," Lili snarled pointing a well manicured finger his way. "Do you call putting your patient into a drug induced coma, beneficial? You rob him of his mind, and for what purpose?"

The Royal Physician sighed deeply, "He is not in a coma, he's simply resting. This allows his body to heal faster and without any discomfort. Please dear lady, your Majesty, you are not a doctor," he reasoned, straightening his robes. "Of course I don't expect you to comprehend the workings of modern medicines, it took me years to grasp the intricacies myself."

Lili turned and observed the mumbling Avatar, "So which did you use, doctor? A derivative of nightshade... or maybe something from the mandrake family?"

The physicians' eyes widened at her apparent knowledge. He coughed slightly as he cleared his throat, "Well, ah... it's actually a mountain poppy compound…"

Lili turned her piercing green eyes upon him like daggers, "You imbecile! All he needed was a local pain reliever and something for the inflammation! Yes, the ribs are broken and they hurt, but he can endure some of this! The Water Tribe girl's healing ability already did most of your job... doctor! Now he is in there... spaced out on some opiate! He's a strong young man, not an old weak fool like you!" she snarled, feeling his forehead.

"I-I just thought…" the older man began to stammer, "I-I mean, after the scolding of the princess, and the Fire Lord, it would be best to alleviate all his discomfort."

Lili smirked, "Ah... so you were really thinking about saving your own reputation in front of the princess and the Fire Lord. I had heard they lambasted you pretty thoroughly for arriving so late to the scene."

The Royal Physician was now sweating profusely, "I-I tried... I tried to explain, I'm older. It takes time to prepare the travel kit an-and... dress appropriately after lunch... you know better than anyone Countess... court protocol is..."

"Court protocol be damned," she spat back at him. "I will be making a full report back to the King, and I can guarantee you sir, he will not be pleased!"

The doctor was on his feet, nervously wringing his hands under the long sleeves of his silk robe, "But... but Countess Soo Hahn, I just thought..."

"No physician," Lili breathed out slowly, "... that is the point! You were not thinking! Instead, to cover your tardiness, you tested your concoction on the Avatar. What if he becomes addicted like so many of our fine soldiers have? Or don't you want the rest of the world to know that dirty little secret?Maybe we should do a royal inquiry into where these... 'high quality medicines', truly come from, doctor? "

"Please Countess, those you speak of soldiers... common men, not like the Avatar here," he blustered, pointing to the restlessly, groaning young man on the bed. "I can assure you, they simply lacked internal fortitude and strength of character. The drug is harmless to anyone of noble character... when used properly of course."

"Get out of here now," she growled under her breath, baring her teeth. "I will not put up with anyone degrading the character of our brave men, or the sacrifices they have made, even for a selfish, pompous, idiot like you! Leave this room immediately and take all your useless trash with you!"

"Bu-but your Majesty," the physician complained, "the princess herself has commanded me…"

Lili on upon him, her hand twisted into the collar of his robe, "If you don't leave now, I will tell the princess what you have really done to her most valued guest, doctor. Do you want to stick around and find out her reaction will be then? In the dining hall, I heard she had you on those smooth knees for almost 10 minutes... must have been quite unpleasant for a man your age. Think about it, you might be the next one requiring medical attention! You can personally try how your character stacks up to that harmless drug."

The elderly man bowed deeply and then with a swift turn, exited the apartment, as his attendants gathered up all the cases and instruments that had been previously set out. They soon followed their master with a quick and nervous bow.

Katara, Zuko, Mai, Sokka and Suki and all been catching bits and pieces of the heated conversation from the next room. They watched how the physician had unceremoniously left, followed a short time later by his servants, fumbling with his equipment. They tried as best they could with full hands to bow to all in the room as they left. Soon the Countess stepped out, closing the door quietly behind her.

"I don't know what all that was about Lili, but it sounded pretty serious," Katara stated walking over to the chief lady. "Is Aang going to be okay, will he be alright?"

She nodded stiffly as if in deep thought, "He will be just fine ambassador," Lili assured her with a slow sigh. "Despite the incompetence of that old fart, that should go back to school and learn the meaning of modern medicine," she stated crossing her arms. "Simply drugging one's patient does not make them better."

The Fire Lord stepped forward, "I heard you mention something about... becoming addicted, is that true?" Zuko asked, more than a bit concerned. "We have that problem in my country as well."

"Please, do not fear for his Grace, your Highness. Only long-term exposure can cause that to happen I understand," the countess explained with a comforting smile. "The good doctor, for all his... improprieties and ancient notions, I'm sure only used a very light compound, given that this is the Avatar. He is that responsible. I don't think we really have anything to worry about in that department. I will dispose of the rest of the elixir he left behind before Aan… I mean his Grace, awakens."

"But… uh, what about all his pain Lili?" Katara inquired, biting her lower lip. "He was hurting so badly, even after the healing session. I can help with the wounds, but bones, they're out of my league."

"Yeah, and it really didn't help any when you knocked Toph out-of-the-way and then slid into his side either sis," Sokka chuckled until she shot him a stare that caused him to swallow hard. "I-I was just saying... is all... hehehe... oh boy, I'll shut up now."

Lili smiled warmly touching her shoulder causing her to face the Toph look-a-like once more. "Just leave that to me Ambassador Katara. I am trained in many herbal remedies as well as acupuncture. I can promise you, his Grace will not be suffering any."

The waterbender looked into the countess' large green eyes, "Thank you Lili. I can see why Toph called on you to help him."

"Yeah, I make a few good decisions, hey Sugar Queen?" Toph exclaimed as she entered the room. "Say Lili, I passed the doc in the hall coming here. He was running like his tail was on fire. When I asked him if he had seen Aang, he just told me you would explain everything."

The countess took in a deep breath, "Indeed, I simply dismissed him. Since I can handle the Avatar's medical's needs from here on out, your Majesty, I thought it prudent to allow him to attend to his other more critical patients. The Royal Physician needn't concern himself with such minor injuries," the chief lady-in-waiting explained plainly.

Toph could sense she wasn't getting the complete story, but then again, she genuinely wasn't interested in hearing it either. The fact that Lili was taking care of Aang was totally enough for her to have her mind at ease now. The earthbender nodded her consent. "Okay... so you've examined him?" the Princess asked as she stood beside Katara.

"Yes your Majesty. When they first brought him in, I was informed of the extent of his injury, and your friends have subsequently told me of the way they were acquired. You really must learn to control that temper of yours, my liege," she added with a motherly voice.

Toph's cheeks instantly bloomed a cherry red. "W-well, you try to stay calm with Twinkle Toes here grabbing your boob in front of everyone! I mean... he was squeezing it really hard... I may have a bruise there!"

"I'm sure he left no such mark, your Majesty. As for trying to stay calm, is that a command, your Majesty?" Lili asked with a mischievous glint in her eye.

"Whaaa! No… that's not what I meant!" Toph protested way too loudly, to the giggles and smirks of most her friends, save for one blue-eyed waterbender. Katara clenched her fists tightly at her side.

"I think she just got ya good Toph," Suki laughed, pointing at the totally red-faced young woman. "I didn't know Lili had a sense of humor. So that just leaves here Mai void of one."

The tall, dark lady rolled her saffron eyes, "Ha,ha, all that from a girl who thinks high fashion is dressing up like a clown," she exclaimed in a deadpan fashion. "I think I'll keep my humor as it is if it means becoming a country jester."

The Fan Master's blue-green eyes widened, "Did you just call my ceremonial uniform, dressing up like a clown?" Suki challenged stepping closer to the taller woman.

Mai squared her shoulders, feeling the hilt of her extremely thin blade in the hidden pocket of her skirt. "Well, if the makeup fits, find a circus. Oh yes... you already know Ty Lee, she can definitely point you in the right direction. Come to think of it, no wonder she feels so comfortable with all of you." Mai replied smugly, her amber eyes leveling a cold gaze.

"That's it you walking corpse!" Suki shouted as she started to charge at Mai. Suddenly she was off her feet as Sokka's strong-arm looped about her slender waist.

"Put me down Sokka! I'm gonna show that arrogant bitch how well my foot fits up her narrow ass!" she yelled as she kicked into the air. "I don't care if she pulls that knife or not... I'll make her eat it!"

Mai moved her hand away from the short sword, seeing that her would be opponent was properly restrained. She thought back to the time he held her and knew the warrior was struggling in vain. "I'm not going to fight you in this dress Suki. No proper lady ever would," Mai blandly stated letting her eyes guide Suki's. "I don't want to show that buffoon, the one you call a boyfriend, a free peep show, of what's under my dress... or not... do I make myself clear? As you can see, Zuko here is, I'm sure, enjoying the spectacle of seeing that you are a natural in hair color."

The Kyoshi warrior recalled that she was not wearing any undergarments in the demure two-piece. Her actions of fanning her legs in the air had garnered the attention of the wide-eyed Fire Lord who now turned away quickly.

Suki quickly locked her knees together as she clamped down on her skirt with both hands. The glance she threw Zuko was bone chilling.

The Fire Lord could feel her stare upon his back. "Suki, huh… I-I didn't see…"

"Why apologize Zuko? It's not your fault she chose to puts herself on display," Mai sneered calmly. "I'm sure she's proud to show the world that the rug and the curtains match."

"Why are you being so mean Mai?" Zuko retorted harshly, spinning to face his girlfriend. "I thought you were going to try to get along with the other girls?"

The knife thrower crossed her arms, "I don't understand why you are yelling at me Z! She's the one who started all this, insulting me! She said that I had no sense of humor. I have a great sense of humor and you know it... tell them!" she yelled back at them in an uncharacteristic fit of emotion.

"Listen ladies," Sokka interrupted, still mindful to keep a tight grip on his own girlfriend, "...why don't you both just apologize and start fresh. Suki, you evidently hit a sore spot, joking about Mai's… uhm, humor. And Mai, you definitely offended Suki by calling her uniform a clown's costume. It has a rich and deep heritage, that if you let her, she can explain to you in great detail. Of course, that part about the buffoon, I'll own it. I've been called far worse and from you Mai, I'll consider it a compliment."

Both women had red tints on their cheeks and were staring at the floor. Sokka's gentle voice had changed the entire atmosphere of the room.

Mai felt as though her heart was going to spring from her chest. She never so badly wanted to apologize to anyone in her entire life. "Don't look at him," she warned herself inwardly. "You'll fall into those big blue eyes of his... and that smile... oh... by Agni, why is he so damn cute!"

Suki however let her body go limp against his, enjoying his strength of both body and character.

"My, my, Vice Regent Sokka," Toph exclaimed cheerily, "... ain't you the little peacemaker! You might make a world-class diplomat yet."

"Okay girls, enough is enough" Katara chimed in, rolling her eyes. "We've already hurt one friend in there, and we really don't need to be fighting one another out here. Suki, Mai… what's it gonna be?"

A faint smile curled the Fan Master's lips, "Sorry Mai, I shouldn't be cracking jokes at your expense. Can we put this behind us?"

"Besides, I told you Suki, that was my job. You're absolutely horrible at it," the princess pointed out as the others chuckled.

Mai blew out a deep breath, "I apologize as well Suki. I shouldn't have insulted your, ah, uniform. Having worn one, it does take great sacrifice just to wear such an outfit."

Suki once again reared up, "And what's that suppose to mean Mai! You're doing it again! You're not sorry at all, but you're gonna be! "

"Apology accepted," Sokka stated, wrapping the perturbed warrior in a tighter hug.

"Did you hear what she said Sokka," Suki blared as he carried her to a corner of the room. "That witch... she insulted me again! Right to my face, as if I were stupid enough to accept that!"

The Water Tribesman placed his cheek to hers, "Please Suki, can't you just let this one go? Mai comes from a different world, and there's a lot she doesn't understand about friendship and caring for others. Can't you just... you know, cut her some slack?" he asked with his best begging expression.

The warrior crossed her arms over her chest as she looked up towards the ceiling, "I'd like to cut her alright, and it wouldn't be slack…"

"Listen Suki-kins," Sokka sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, "I-I know the history you have with her. We've talked about it before. You decided to forgive her before we came here to Ba Sing Se, right? You know, being friends with Azula must have come at a high price. The gods only know how much of her soul... she gave up, and at such a young age."

The tremor in her boyfriend's voice shook her as she studied his face, "Sokka... what's with you? What's going on right now has nothing to do with the past. But... you, do you care about her? "

He looked across the room at the dark lady being berated by the Fire Lord. "I'm trying to Suki, I'm really trying to. I would like her to come to understand that she's one of us now."

Suki followed his gaze to see Mai standing with her eyes cast down. She looked like a schoolgirl before a very irate headmaster. Her heart almost went out to her... almost. "Okay Sokka, then I'll try too," she acquiesced giving him a light kiss. "I just didn't think of her in that way… well not yet. I won't let her rattle my cage anymore, okay. But you'll have to be extra sweet to me... and you know what I mean," she purred.

He smiled brightly, "No problem... you're a good woman Suki, as well as tasty," he replied as he deepened the kiss.

"Hey you two, get a room!" Toph called out playfully.

He sat in the midst of soft pillows, listening to the music that seemed to surround him."So is this a dream?" he asked as he watched the beautiful spirit dance before him.

She shook her head, not missing a step to the music. "Nope, this is actually that place between your conscience mind and the spirit world... the void so to speak, between the planes," she explained with a bit of a hiss to her soft voice he had become accustomed too.

"So, how did I... I mean we get here? The last thing I recall is... well... uh... so hard to think," he groaned placing a hand to his temple.

"Don't strain yourself Avatar Aang, I'll tell you all," she offered with a wink. "The drug you were given, it clouds the mind, makes it hard to think, not like it was before on the ship that time. You were very sharp and so focused. Just oblivious to the fact that you teetered between life and death. It was good that her will was so strong to bind you to the side of the living."

Aang bobbed his head in agreement, "Sure was. Katara has always been such a strong willed person," he stated matter-of-factly.

The spirit stopped dancing as she turned her deep dark eyes upon him. "Katara? You mean that simple little waterbender you had a bit of a fancy for? Is that who you thought I was speaking of?"

Aang frowned, "Uh, yeah, who else could it be? She's the one who used the water from the Spirit Oasis to heal me and..."

Xtabay started to laugh, not just softly, but so fully it drowned out the music that once filled his small world. She was bent over with laughter as tears fell from her eyes. In all the years... literally over a hundred, he had never seen her laugh this hard before.

Aang unfortunately did not find it the least bit amusing "What's so funny? Why are you laughing at me?"

She huffed suddenly, taking in a breath, "I'm not laughing at you... but at that absurdity of that little girl... saving your life!" she gasped, continuing to chuckle. "I-I thought, by now... by now, you would have figured it all out, or one of your other incarnations surely would have informed you of the truth."

He leaned forward, his brow furrowed, "What truth? What are you talking about Xtabay? Katara is plenty strong. She rescued me from the iceberg and she..."

The spirit's soft forefinger was upon his lips, stifling any further words. "Oh dear, you do really believe this delusion don't you my precious friend?" she said as she shook her head. "I guess it falls to me as your oldest friend... well apart from that maniac king, to tell you the truth of the matter."

He backed way from her finger, licking at his slightly numb lips, "So... what's the truth? As if I already didn't know," he declared crossing his arms.

The spirit moved to sit next to him, opposite his wounded side. "Well, you see, my sweet, naïve, Avatar... that little waterbender did not set you free from that iceberg. She was used to help to set you free however," Xtabay began to explain.

Aang appeared more confused than ever, "That's... that's ridiculous! Nobody was around but her and Sokka! Surely you're not going to tell me that the person that truly set me free was... him?"

She chuckled once more, "No, that's even more absurd. At that time, he had less of a connection to the Spirit World than she did. No, neither one of them set you free. But, both were guided to you, by the will of another, a will that would not be denied," she revealed.

"Who then... tell me!" he demanded. "Is it the one you said I was being saved for?"

"Ah, you remember and I think you already know but I like our little game here," the spirit teased. "I'll tell you more and see if you can put all the pieces of this puzzle together... my dearest Avatar."

Aang sighed, "Okay, but please... remember I'm not thinking all that clearly right now Xtabay."

She smiled a broader than humanly possible grin, "Good enough, I'll keep it simple. So simple even a child could follow," she agreed. "Point one, when you first met the waterbender... she couldn't even hardly break wind, let alone a huge iceberg that would take even a grandmaster great effort to even crack. I don't care how angry she became... yes I heard that silly explanation. How is it she had the force of will to split an Avatar created one that is a century old?"

She watched as the point registered with his mind and he shifted nervously beside her.

"Point two... when you needed an earthbending teacher, how did you find her? Was it by what one would call... natural means or by..."

"TOPH?!" he exclaimed suddenly, his eyes slowly closing.

"Exactly!" the spirit confirmed even as her visage began to fade. "That went faster than I thought."

The blind earthbender's hands searched him out, finding his arm first and then making her way up to his shoulder and head. She shakily mapped his face with her fingers until she discovered his lips. As she bent to place hers on his, a hand laid gently upon the back of her neck, pulling her closer, ever so slowly guiding her until they met.

"This kiss is like warm honey on bake bread," she thought as they melded even deeper. Their tongues began to play upon each other as lips pressed and pushed to the rhythm of the lover's moans. Her pale face flushed a deep shade of ruby-red as the heat rose through her body.

She withdrew for a breath; his hand stroked her soft, glowing, cheek tenderly, catching a tear.

"Why are you crying my love? Did I do something to make you unhappy," he asked in a sincere tone.

She began to sob lightly, "I-I hurt you, again, and yet you…"

He shook his head, "Oh my sweet little love, it was... just an accident," he whispered, kiss away the next tear. "In my mind, I received due punishment, as well as the best prize of all. You're more than worth it Toph."

Her blush deepened, even as the tears continued to roll down her face, "Shush you. You're just embarrassing me now and you know it. How did you become such a smooth talker anyhow? Has Snoozles been giving you lessons or something?"

Aang smiled deviously, "You know my love, I am in a weakened condition. I'm helpless here, you could totally take advantage of me... I couldn't even call for help... (cough), no breath yet."

The princess giggled with a devilish grin of her own, "I don't know Twinkle Toes," she replied in a heated voice as she stretched out beside him, "I am getting pretty excited by the whole... helpless guy thing here. Does little Aang still work?"

"Why don't you find out for yourself," he said, letting a hand drift down to her wasp like waist. "I think a thorough exam maybe in order."

"And I think not your Grace," the matronly voice of the countess stated to his surprise. "There is nothing in your trousers that her Majesty needs to examine!"

"LILI! I-I didn't know you were in here with us!" the startled Avatar gasped.

Toph blew out her cheeks, "And I beg to differ on that point Lili!"