A/N: Sorry for such a late update! Things have been really hectic and busy lately, not to mention that I've started up another story. I hope that I haven't lost any readers. I also hope that you can forgive me, that you enjoy this chapter, and accept it as my apology! :)
Operation: Zutara - Chapter Twenty One
"It's a shot in the dark, but I'll make it."
― Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne, "Rather Be"
Aang was acting weird. Well, strange was a better word for it. Stranger than usual anyway, and this was certainly saying something because he was already strange enough to begin with. Actually, it - his behavior - wasn't strange. Per se. It was... different. Yes, different was the proper word for the change in his behavior.
Toph couldn't quite pinpoint this change in his behavior or catch the gist of it, either. It seemed like he was paying more attention to her, but that couldn't be it because he always paid attention to her. She was a spoiled brat and an only child, so they both knew that she thrived on and lived off of attention, especially when it came from her best friend and recently acquired crush. It also seemed that he was - dare she say it? - flirting with her. But that couldn't be the change, either. Compliments couldn't constitute as flirting.
He always complimented her, so she couldn't say that he had begun flirting - even though she really wanted to. So, that definitely wasn't the change. But there was a change. A shift. A difference. It wasn't like this change, shift, difference, or whatever was sudden or unwelcome because it was neither of the two. It just... happened.
Deep down, she was sure that there probably wasn't even a change, shift, or difference. Maybe it was just her. Maybe this stupid crush was just messing with her head and making her think weird. And for some reason, she didn't mind. Even if she was turning into a giggling schoolgirl with each passing moment that she spent with him, she didn't mind - and this wasn't right. He was her best friend and was (supposed to be) leaving for Europe soon.
However, despite knowing this, she was finding it hard to focus on this meeting. But honestly, who could blame her? She was sitting right next to him in Azula and Suki's office to discuss Operation: Zutara. Admittedly, she had been wanting to have this meeting for a long while (not that long, according to Aang), but she just could not pay attention for the life of her. He was incredibly distracting. And it was pretty pathetic because all he was doing was sitting there. It wasn't like he was playing basketball or showing off his hot new tattoo or even telling a joke. All he was doing was sitting next to her, discussing the next mission and she was about to lose it.
Toph glanced at him from the corner of her eye and caught a quick glimpse of his strong jawline.
Heavens above, he was so freaking hot-
"Is that okay with you, Toph?"
Toph started a bit and looked to Suki. Quite frankly, she was surprised that this question was able to make it past the wall of distraction that Aang had inadvertently set up around her. She had no idea what the older woman was going on about and she was not too proud to let that be known. "Is what okay with me?"
"The new mission," Suki answered.
Toph was pretty sure that it was quite obvious that she didn't know what was going on here. She didn't need a mirror to know that she looked lost and flustered. She felt it. "Sorry," she blurted. "I wasn't paying attention."
That drew a reaction from Azula. "Excuse me?" she snarled. "You're the one who badgered us to have this stupid meeting."
Did these two women not see what she had sitting right next to her? She resisted the urge to stand up and gesture wildly toward him. Instead, she crossed her arms and shook her head with a huff. "Just brief me."
Beside her, Aang waggled a finger. "Ah, ah, ah," he sang. "What's the magic word?"
Immediately, Toph felt her stomach do a little flip. It wasn't that cutesy flip that it usually did because she thought that he was hot or adorable. This was an angry flip because she was TophfreakingBeifong! and she could not let herself become undone because of a stupid boy. Especially if that stupid boy was her stupid best friend.
She set her jaw and looked to him determinedly. However, as soon as she met with those transparent and hazel eyes, that determination fizzled and died. She was ready to tell him off and to tell him to go buff and shine his head, but hell. When did those eyes go from hazel to silver? Then, before she knew it, the word "please" fell out of her mouth.
He smiled that impish smile.
She swallowed a sigh down.
And thus, Toph Beifong's determination = washed up. Out of business. Done for. Kaput.
In other words: pathetic.
"My brother can't ice skate," Azula began, prompting Toph to finally look away from Aang in order to meet her eyes. "He's always been too proud to learn how to and because of this, he hates ice skating. But Katara loves it."
Toph nodded and Suki continued. "However, just because he hates ice skating doesn't mean that he wouldn't do it for her. We all know that would do anything for Katara. Including embarrass himself. What's more romantic than learning something new from your significant other?"
"Which brings us to the fifth mission of Operation: Zutara," Aang continued. "We've already decided that in order for us to be able to openly spy on them, this outing would have to be an open invite for everyone. Free skating, spying, and Operation: Zutara will finally move forward."
Toph thought for a bit. No, really. She was thinking about the mission and not about Aang's hotness. For once. Hell, she was pitiful. "If this outing is an open invite, Sokka will be there."
"I'll keep him away from them," Suki said.
Toph nodded. The plan sounded good, but it was missing... something.
"It needs a name," Toph and Aang said together.
Azula released a guttural groan and slapped her hands onto her face. "Nothing about this is natural," she muttered, her words a bit muffled by her palms.
Aang continued undeterred. "We were thinking that you would name it. You're good at that."
It was such a small compliment. Actually, it wasn't really a compliment, at all. It was just a fact. Toph really was good at naming things. She really was good at this. Naming things and people was her thing. It was her shtick. It had always been her shtick. But as soon as he mentioned it, she felt like she had just been gifted with an Emmy, a Tony, an Oscar, and a Grammy award all at once.
And once again, it was pathetic. Toph knew what she was good at and she didn't need anyone to tell her. She knew. She wasn't stupid. Hell, she was a genius when it came to certain things and was almost never too proud to admit it. But there she was melting because her hot best friend was sitting next to her and spitting out facts that she was already aware of.
Because of this, she didn't look at him. Instead, she pondered on a proper name for the mission: "Ice."
Operation: Taang was well on its way to success. From what Zuko had gathered, the two best friends were on the edge. According to Azula, the tension emanating from them during their own meeting for Operation: Zutara was palpable. And this wasn't just figuratively speaking. Toph could barely pay attention while sitting beside Aang which meant that all was going well. The only thing that worried Zuko?
"We're going ice skating?!"
Behind the desk, Suki finally finished poking a cotton ball into her ear. He wasn't offended. They knew that he was passionate. AKA: Loud. But he digressed.
"Yes," Suki confirmed. "We're going ice skating. Is this a problem?"
As Suki and Zuko discussed the inevitable ice skating outing, Azula stood at the window behind her brother's chair. At first, she wasn't sure how she would like being a double agent, but it proved to be fun. Very fun. There were so many twists and turns, almost like a real life chess game. Except she was on the inside and knew how it would end on all sides; plus, she also had an inside eye into her brother's love life without being accused of being nosy.
She loved it.
Very briefly, Suki met her eyes from above Zuko's head before returning to the conversation. At that, Azula took her cellphone out to send out a text message: "Commence phase two."
The blue bar stretched atop the screen until it was complete. 'Message Delivered', it read before the phone vibrated and a reply appeared.
A smile creeped onto her face.