A/N: This story is part of a continuity that involves genderbending of Toph and Aang, and what the canon might have been as a result. Sorry for any confusion; please read Artist's Comments for further information.
Avatar: the TAU Chronicles
Book II. Earth
Chapter 3: Return to Omashu
You could earthbend ALL ALONG!? Aang shrieked incredulously, the walls of the chute whipping past them at a terrible speed.
Beneath her in his coffin-like prison, Bumi grinned his wide gap-toothed smile. Well, they didn't cover my face!
As they neared the end of the chute, a small outcropping of rock suddenly jutted out. Impact was made, and the coffin jolted upwards, effectively erecting itself. Aang somersaulted in the air, combining her momentum with airbending in order to land safely a little distance away, facing Bumi.
I dont understand, she murmured, an undercurrent of confusion and anger replacing the adrenaline running through her body. Why didnt you free yourself? WHY did you surrender when Omashu was invaded? What's the MATTER with you, Bumi!?
This last question was practically a scream of frustration, and the old king winced slightly at the angry pitch.
Listen to me, Aang. There are options in fighting, called jin. It's a choice of how you direct your energy
I KNOW! Aang interrupted somewhat impatiently, and held up her fingers as she proceeded to count them off. There's positive jin when you're attacking, and negative jin when you're retreating
And neutral jin Bumi grinned triumphantly when you do nothing!
What? Surprised, Aang looked back at her hand. There are THREE jins??
Well, technically there are eighty-five
but for now, let's just focus on the third. Bumi took a deep breath, and continued in a more serious tone. Neutral jin is the key to earthbending. It involves listening, and waiting for the right moment to strike.
Waiting for the right moment
That's why you surrendered, isn't it? Aang said quietly and sadly, suddenly comprehending exactly how much of a difference the hundred years had made between her and Bumi. While she'd been in the iceberg unconscious, the young prankster she remembered had grown up... and accumulated worldly experience as a man.
As if reading the change in her expression, Bumi nodded, the crafty glint in his eyes softening a bit. Yes, and it's why I can't leave now.
Turning away, Aang tried to suppress her disappointment, as well as the nagging worry for her old friendthe last living relic of her days before the war, before shed had to take up the role of Avatar. (Other than Appa, anyway.)
Leaving Bumi in the hands of the Fire Nation princess and her lackeys was a terrible option
but really, as he said, she had no choice. At this point Bumi was much wiser than she, and he had to fulfill his duty as king to protect his people.
I guess I need to find someone else to teach me earthbending then.
Bumi nodded vigorously. Your teacher will be someone who has mastered neutral jin. You need to find someone who waits and listens before striking.
I still wish it could be YOU, Bumi. Aang turned back, eyes a trifle more watery than she wanted. We havent even had the time to talk about the old days, and Kuzon
how did he
When the war is over, there will be more than enough time for that, Bumi said reassuringly, his voice cracked but still strong. Dont worry about me! Ill get along perfectly fine.
Aang nodded, swiping at her eyes with the back of her wristbut when she raised them, they were clear and determined. Promise me youll survive to see me defeat the Fire Lord, alright?
Sure, sure. I still havent gotten you those panda lilies I promised you either, now have I? Bumi responded to her sally with another manic grin. Goodbye, Aang. I'll see you when the time is right.
With that, Bumi leaned back and fell into the chute, his earthbending powers effectively counteracting gravity as they pushed him back up to where his would-be captors were waiting. As his prison receded into the distance, Aang watched and wondered why he had cut her off when she had tried to ask about Kuzon.
How did he die? Or is he still alive like you are?
Aang hoped that the next time they met, Bumi would be able to provide her with the answer.
Chapter 4: The Swamp
Everything is connected. Aang
Katara! Sokka! Appa!
The swamp seemed endless. Aang sighed, picking her way gingerly through the water and the gnarled masses of tree roots. Theres nothing here but trees, and swamp vegetation.
vines and creepers
Tripping on a hidden root, Aang eeped and flailed in order to catch her balance. Thankfully her hand caught onto a nearby tree trunk and she bent over, gasping in relief.
From behind her, came the sudden sound of laughter.
Aangs first instinct was to freeze in shock. Finally she picked up her courage in both hands and turned around slowly, wondering if it had been her imagination messing with her senses.
But no. Above her on a mossy overgrown rock were two figures, enshrouded in mist.
Hello? she ventured, cautiously coming closer. As she neared it became clear that one was a winged pig-like creature, the like of which Aang had never seen. The other was a boy, dressed in what appeared to be an intricately embroidered robethe color of snowy jade.
Who are you?
The boys only response was to laugh, and he raised his armas if on cue, the winged pig-creature (a boar, perhaps?) took off, flapping ponderously as it disappeared further into the swamp. Immediately following the boy turned and darted off in the opposite direction, also fading from view.
Hey, come back! Aang cried out, clambering up and dashing after the fleeing figure. Wait, but now he was behind herhis laughter mocking and echoing as he leapt from branch to branch, as agile as if he had been born a lemur like Momo.
Aang set off in hot pursuit of him, wondering how exactly he could move so quickly, from place to place in less time than an eye could blink. Even moving at her fastest, she could not catch up with him.
Who are you? she yelled again, but the boy never replied.
Fed up with the endless chase, Aang finally spied him on a nearby mound and charged. He turned at the sound of her headlong rush, butas Aang realized a split second too late, eyes wideningit was not the mysterious boy.
Cripes, its Katara!
What happened next was a blursomehow, though, Aang found herself tumbling into both Katara AND Sokka on her way down, crashing into an undignified heap at the bottom.
Sokka was the first to recover. What do you guys think youre doing!? Ive been looking all over for you! he said angrily, picking himself up in a huffy way.
Well, Ive been wandering around looking for YOU! shot back Katara, evidently not in the mood to take any of her brothers guff.
chasing some guy, Aang hesitantly offered, using airbending to lift herself to her feet. She wasnt sure if it was the best thing to say under the circumstances, but
Thats the thingI dont know. Bending down and giving Katara a hand, Aang continued: I heard laughing, and when I turned around I saw some guy, dressed up like he was a prince.
Was he handsome? Katara queried curiously, and Sokka groaned.
I didnt see him that closely
but, yeah. Aang did her best to recall his face, with minor success. Yeah, I guess you could say he was pretty good-looking.
Well, at least now we know it wasnt Zuko, commented Sokka sarcastically. And if it was, he sure wasnt here to invite us to a tea party or anything!
Katara shivered, and looked down into the water at her feet. I
thought I saw Mom, she said, in a soft grieving voice that Aang had only rarely heard her use before.
Sokka looked at her speechlessly for a moment, before glancing away, evidently moved.
Look. We were all just scared, and hungry, and our minds were playing tricks on us. Thats why we all saw things out here.
You saw something too?
I thought I saw Yue. Aang felt her chest contract painfully, as if someone had her heart in a vise and was squeezing it into pulp. But, that doesnt PROVE anything.
Ignoring his sisters compassionate address, Sokka turned back with the look of someone who had decided to rationalize his way out of an emotional deathtrap. Look, I think about her all the time, okay? And you saw Mom, someone you miss a lot.
What about me? I didnt know the boy I saw. Aang looked upward, toward the canopy where the light filtered in only dimly. And all our visions led us right here.
Chapter 6: The Blind Bandit
Previously, on Avatar
But what did our visions mean?
In the swamp we see visions of people weve lost, people we loved
folks we think are gone. But the swamp tells us theyre not. Were still connected toem. Time is an illusion and so is death.
But what about my vision? It was someone I had never met.
Youre the Avatar. You tell me.
Time is an illusion
its someone I will meet.
Hes not the one.
No? Katara asked sympathetically, and Aang shook her head in disappointment. The three of them were sitting outside the gates of Master Yus Earthbending Academy, debating what to do next.
So far this days been a wastea waste of time, a waste of energy, and a waste of money, Katara concluded, giving Sokkas newly-purchased green bag the Evil Eye.
HEY! Sokka yelped. You were the one who said I deserved something nice!
That was BEFORE I realized you were going to spend the next hour or so waffling back and forth about it
I DO NOT WAFFLE!
Sighing forlornly as the Water Tribe siblings began squabbling again, Aang bent over and cleared the remaining bits of rock dust from her ears, shaking out her mass of hair for good measure.
think The Boulder is gonna win back the belt at Earth Rumble VI.
Oh yeah? Laughter, and Aang looked for the source of the voicestwo older guys, stragglers from the class shed just attended. Well, one things for surehes gonna have to fight his way through the best earthbenders in the world to even get a shot at the champ.
Best earthbenders in the world
Best earthbenders in the world?
Excuse me! Aang called out, running over to the two boys. Excuse me, but where is this earthbending tournament exactly?
not another one, muttered one guy, and the other just rolled his eyes. Listen, kid, if you think you and every one of your little GIRL friends can come into a place like that just cuz you think the champs some kind of 'smoking hot' stuff
WHAT? No, thats not it, Aang backpedaled in a confused fashion. I just want to find an earthbending teacher.
SAVE it, willya?
Tch! Ever since that guy came, its been nothing but hasslethe atmosphere doesnt feel right anymore.
Yeah, theres so much estrogen in the air I can feel my balls shrinking. Both laughed crudely as they walked away, and Aang gazed after them in mildly traumatized silence.
Yknow, sometimes I can sorta get their point, Sokka mused as he and Katara walked up, the latter looking deeply nettled. No offense Aang, but between you and Katara its like Im starting to give into my girly subconscious desires. I mean, Im shopping for manbags!
He held out his purchase and eyeballed it with some disdain. What was I THINKING? I dont need a new bag. Whyd you let me buy this!?
Shut up Sokka, youre not helping. Katara patted Aang soothingly on the arm and shoulder, saying, Ill take care of this. Hey strong guys, wait up!
She ran off and Aang listened carefully, feeling a distinct sense of foreboding. For a moment she imagined she heard screaming and breaking things, but a few minutes later Katara came back, without looking much different than she had when she left.
She DID look rather pleased, though.
You ready to find an earthbending teacher? Because were going to Earth Rumble VI!
Wow, Aang said admiringly, That was fast. Howd you get them to tell you?
a girl has her ways, Katara said in a breezy, flippant way.
Really? Can you teach me?
Katara smiled and rested a hand comfortingly on Aangs back. Maybe
when youre a little older.
Hey, front row seats! Aang cheered as they entered the underground stadium, heading to the aforementioned row and making themselves comfortable. I wonder why no one else is sitting here.
Scarcely had she finished speaking, an enormous rockthe size of a baby komodo-rhinocame hurtling out of the ring and smashed into the rows just to their right, showering them with dirt and pebbly debris.
I guess thats why, Sokka noted astutely, looking around at the people clustered in the higher stands. Pretty crowded, huh?
Yeah. Hope we find what were looking for
Once the announcer started talking, Katara sighed despairingly. This is just gonna be a bunch of guys chucking rocks at each other, isnt it?
Thats what I paid for, Sokka said, perking up expectantly.
Katara gave another small exasperated sigh, and remained mostly silent for the first several matchesin which a large muscular guy (competing under the moniker THE BOULDER) thoroughly defeated all his opponents one-on-one.
It also became almost impossible to talk to Sokka, who had quickly discovered his Inner Fanboy and was presently screaming and cheering his fanboy-heart out.
How about The Boulder? she finally asked Aang, who looked somewhat uncertain. Hes got some good moves.
I dont know, Aang confessed doubtfully, absently nibbling at her thumbnail. Bumi said I need a teacher who listens to the earth. HES just listening to his big muscles.
What, you dont like muscles? Katara asked, lightly teasing. What kind of girl are you?
The kind of girl who doesnt like guys with biceps the size of my head, Aang muttered sulkily. Speaking of girls, its not like you hear THEM saying anything either. Sokkas practically louder than the whole lot of them combined.
Huh. Now that you mention it
Somewhat speculatively, Katara looked up in the direction Aang pointed. Funny, I didnt think thered be so many of them here. Are they really interested in this kind of macho posturing?
Aangs reply was cut off by the booming voice of Xin Fu from the tower. NOW, THE MOMENT YOUVE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR
Oh Spirits, is it finally done?
VERSUS YOUR CHAMPION
Sometime when Aang hadnt been playing attention, a young man had appeared in the center of the arena. A green cape was carelessly draped over his shoulders, and in his hands over his head he held an oversized green prize belt. Overall, he looked rather impressive.
THE BLIND BANDIT! bellowed Xin Fu with a sweeping gesture of his arm, and the crowds immediately went wild.
As for the female demographic which had been quiet until then
? THEY went batshit insane.
Aang and Katara instantly dove to avoid the brunt of the ear-splitting screeching that suddenly erupted from the rows behind them. Even Sokka winced and covered his ears.
BANDIT!!!! OMG BANDIT BANDIT BANDIT BANDIT BANDIT BANDIT BANDIT BANDIT BANDIT OMGEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE~~<3
Get away from him, you SLUTS! screamed some random (and particularly outspoken) fan. The Sluts were, apparently, the two beautiful women in white who came forward to remove the cape and belt.
but hes just a boy, Katara remarked, half in wonder and half in blatant disbelief. What is he doing?
He cant really be blind. Its just part of his character, right?
Aang studied the boy carefully from their vantage point. He WAS rather young, on second thoughtabout her own age, maybe. He wore a relatively simple green and yellow outfit, with heavy studded bands on his wrists and ankles and a matching belt. His unruly black hair (just slightly too long) was held back by a green-and-black headband, decorated on the sides with white earmuff-like things.
But his eyes were a glossy, milky greenlike frosted bottle-glasshalf-hidden by his longish bangs. They made his face look younger, and even a little girlish.
I think he is. She turned to Katara, eyes wide in shock. I think he really is blind!
I think he is
GOING DOWN!! WHOOOO, BOUULDDDERRRR!!!
Spirits, PLEASE let nobody think Im related to him, please please please
Oh look, the taunting begins. HOW EXCITING.
Sure enough, the repartee was in full swing between the two contenders. Of course, the Boulder started it:
The Boulder feels conflicted about fighting a young, blind girl.
You callin me a GIRL, Boulder? The Bandit mocked, sticking both thumbs into the studded belt clinched about his waist. Sounds like youre scared to me.
Once again, the fangirls started squealing like a herd of hog-monkeys hopped up on sugarcane. Sokka, on the other hand, looked like he was about to have an apoplectic seizure.
He dissed THE BOULDER!! HOW COULD HE!?
The Boulder also looked extremely offended at his opponents retort, and growled: The Boulders over his conflicted feelings, and now hes ready to bury you
IN A ROCK-A-LANCHE!
Well, take your time... I want to set this straight first. The Blind Bandit raised one arm and pointed at his opponent with a smirk.
Lemme tell you somethin, The Pebble. I may LOOK girly (ITS A LIE! ALL LIES! screamed Vocal Rabid Fangirl #1 in the background) but theres nothing girly about the way I FIGHT!
He threw back his head and laughed loudly, and the majority of the audience obediently laughed with him.
Aang froze, stunned. That laugh
and his face!
Theyre the same
THE SAME AS THE BOY IN THE SWAMP!
Its ON! announced The Boulder through gritted teeth, and they promptly squared off.
Amazingly, the entire bout was resolved in less than fifteen seconds. The Boulder had scarcely begun to charge forward at the younger boy with a mighty shoutwhen he suddenly dropped down into a perfect split, and his battle cry became a high-pitched wail of excruciating pain.
As engrossed in the action as she was, Aang found it funny that Sokka and every other guy in the audience suddenly seemed to mirror The Boulders distressed expression.
The Bandit then swung back and made a sharp chopping motion with his right handimmediately, three stalagmites shot up from underneath The Boulder and summarily ejected him into the air, and out of the ring. Sokka whimpered as his hero body-slammed the wall beneath them, like so many of the other fighters hed sent earlier.
YOOOUUR WINNER, AND STILL THE CHAMPION
THE BLIND BANDIT!!
Whos the girl now, huh? the boy called out in smug satisfaction, victoriously punching the air with his fist.
The crowd roared their approval. The fangirls screamed in bliss.
Aang and Katara shielded their eardrums while Sokka moped and bewailed The Boulders loss.
How did he DO that? Katara queried in wonder, once the noise level had lowered a little and it was safe to unplug their ears.
and listened. Aang turned to her, eyes shining with joy. Hes the one!
To make things a little more interesting, Im offering up this sack of gold pieces to anyone who can defeat The Blind Bandit!
This is my chance! Aang tensed, thinking: This way, I can get close to him and askfiguring out a good exit strategy can wait til later.
? NO ONE DARES TO FACE HIM?
I will! Aang called out, jumping up and scrambling down toward the arena.
Dont worry Katara, Ill be careful!
Go Aang! Avenge The Boulder! called Sokka sobbingly, and Katara whapped the back of his head in disgust.
The Blind Bandit cocked his head to one side, a smirk slowly creeping onto his face as Aang stepped into the ring. A girl, huh? Thats new. Im still not going to go easy on you, yknow.
I dont really want to fight you, she said quickly, before the boy could shift into position. I want to talk to you!
SCHEMING WITCH! screamed someone, and the catcalls began. Up in the stands Katara facepalmed.
BOO! NO TALKING!
Smack! Dont YOU boo at Aang!
The Bandit stomped on the ground as soon as she stepped forward, and Aang flew into the air. With very little effort, she transformed the movement into a glidejust barely skimming the ground with her toes before she landed.
light as a feather. Whats your fighting name, The Fancy Dancer? her opponent taunted, raising another, larger rock underneath Aang. He seemed less confident this time, however, and there was a barely perceptible edge to his question.
Please, wait! she tried again, as she somersaulted and landed behind him. I just want to
There you are! He exclaimed in triumph, and spun around. With the ease of an expert, the boy raised a boulder and sent it flying directly at her, all in one smooth swift motion.
Instinctively Aang leaped into the air, spun and airbended the rock backwardsboth her opponent and the boulder were blown away by the force of it, skidding along the arena floor before falling off.
There was a collective moment of stunned silence. Then the arena exploded in noisy chaos.
The Boulder, who had been so close to winningbeaten by the reigning champion, a boy with less than half as many years under his belt. He, in turn, had just been dethroned by a nameless first-timer
and a GIRL, to boot! What an upset!
Speaking of upset
Please listen! pleaded Aang, trailing pitifully after the ex-champion like a newly hatched turtle-duckling. I need an earthbending teacher, and I think its supposed to be you!
Whoever you are, leave me the hell alone, the boy growled, stalking stiff-legged to the wall and opening a corridor with his earthbending.
It slammed shut in her face.
Hey, youre the kid who beat The Blind Bandit.
did you know you now have at least 60 percent of all local girls between the ages of ten and fifteen sworn to have your head?
Look, we really need to talk to him. Do you guys know where he lives?
Of all the things Aang had expected, this wasnt one of them.
Toph, would you mind entertaining Avatar Aang for a while? Lao Bei Fong addressed his son, ushering the rest of the company into the living room for dessert. There seems to be
something problematic involving you. I think that it is best resolved before tomorrow.
Of course, Father, the well-dressed boy replied, bowing his head. When his father left the room Toph Bei Fong indicated the door with a jerk of his head. Please, follow me.
Confused by the sudden turn of politeness, Aang rose and followed the other youth down the hallway and into a large study-room, overlooking the garden. It was well-lit and furnished with tasteful, luxurious furniture; with expensive carpets on the floor and subtle watercolors on the walls.
I apologize for my behavior at dinner, Toph said formally, seating himself at the pai sho board that had been laid out for them. It was quite unmannerly of me. Would you like to play a game?
I guess. Aang hesitantly moved to kneel on the other side of the board, folding her legs awkwardly beneath her on the floor cushion. I dont get it. Whats going on? All I wanted was a chance to talk
You heard my father, Toph cut her off succinctly, upending the box of tiles on the board and rummaging through them. He wants us to sort this out before tomorrow. Thats why he gave us this chance to do it in privatenot like that stupid stunt you pulled earlier, hinting at things all over the place.
YOU were the one who started it! I wasnt even going toand that sneeze was REAL! Aang protested indignantly, slouching forward and glowering in her agitation.
Toph appeared unmoved, but he spoke more sharply than he had for the past couple of hours. Relax. Look, Im SORRY about dinner. Lets call a truce, okay?
His voice was beginning to lose its unnatural stiffness, and Aang was relieved to find it made him marginally more recognizable. To think that this boydressed in a fine, gold-embroidered robe and with his hair up in a neatly respectable bunwas the same wild-looking "Blind Bandit" who terrorized all contenders in the Earth Rumble arena!
They spent a few moments setting up the pieces in silence, before she finally ventured:
Youre the Blind Bandit
Yeah, so? Whats it mean to you? The boy smirked, moving a tile on the board. Dont tell me you came all this way, just to check me out?
Aang flushed in mortification (partly because it was true). NO!
Toph tsked primly, almost as if he knew she was lying. Then why are you HERE, Twinkletoes?
You KNOW why Im here, she mumbled through the lump of her embarrassment clogging her throat, trying to focus on the tiles. For some reason, the truth of the backstory (a crazy king told me I had to find an Earthbender who listens to the earth, and then I had a vision in a magic swamp, and you were there) didnt seem to cut it. I want you to be my earthbending teacher.
Ah, thats right. Folding his hands into the sleeves of his robe, Toph smiled benignly at her. I refuse.
T-thats Aang sputtered quietly for a few minutes before regaining her voice. YOURE NOT ALLOWED TO REFUSE!
What, because youre the Avatar? he taunted, rolling his eyes in derision. So Im supposed to bend over backward to fulfill your every wish, now?
I-I-I never said THAT!
Then youll have to convince me. Toph reached out and cleared the table without a second thought, sweeping all the tiles that had been so carefully arranged to the floor. Ignoring Aangs gasp of protest, the boy planted his elbow on the surface of the playing board and eyed her challengingly through his bangs. Armwrestle?
Aang stared back at him blankly, mind reeling.
You cannot be serious.
Serious? Tophs moonstone-colored eyes darkened dangerously, and there was steel in his voice that wasnt there before. You defeated me in front of a crowd of more than 300 peopleand I was Earth Rumble champion for three years in a row. Now I know HOW you managed to defeat me
but I still cant accept it.
That was your fault! Aang exclaimed, gripping the edges of the pai sho board so hard her fingers went numb. I didnt even WANT to fight you, and still you forced me into it.
I assumed you were one of the crazies who keep trying to stalk me, and it was supposed to scare you off for good. Toph seemed to size her up for a moment, expression pensive and grudgingly admiring. For someone whos not a fangirl-freakzoid, I gotta admit
that was a pretty brave thing to do.
Aang didnt want to confess that in reality she hadnt thought that far ahead, so she hurriedly jumped to the proffered topic. So now your egos all bruised, and you want to prove once and for all that it was a fluke and that really youre not physically weaker than I am?
That sounds about right, yeah.
FINE, then. Sighing, Aang gave in and clasped his hand, bracing herself for the impact. How his parents never noticed their sons prodigal abilities as an Earthbender was beyond her, she thought, marveling at the ridges and calluses that gripped hersas well as the brief but overwhelming burst of energy that he unrelentingly maintained until her knuckles smashed up against wood.
Predictable. But then again, managing to hold off the inevitable for 5.1 seconds wasnt exactly shabby either, Aang privately consoled herself.
They stayed there unmoving for a while, and when the position started to become uncomfortable Aang glanced up to see Toph studying her sightlesslyfrank speculation written openly across the planes of his face and in the quirk of his eyebrows as he leaned in.
You didnt really try your hardest just now, did you?
Aang coughed somewhat sheepishly, wondering why her heart skipped a couple beats just then. Well, I didnt want you to break my arm just to prove a point, but... Yeah, of course I tried my best!
Consider it proved, then. A slow, brilliant smile (smirk) broke over his features, and she realized suddenly that their faces were really, REALLY close to each other...
But then he let go, and got to his feetpushing open the sliding door leading to the garden.
Lets leave this and go outside. They say theres a full moon tonight
and I wouldnt want you to miss it.