Author’s note: In which the main plot tries to make a come-back, tensions run high and there are hallucinations but no cactus juice in sight.
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***Nightmares and Daydreams***
Sokka looked up from his map to the small island. They had finally made it. Despite everyone’s complaints his scheduling had worked and they were in time for the invasion.
“This is it, the official rendezvous point for the invasion force,” he informed the others.
“How did you pick this place?” Toph asked. To her it was just another deserted island.
“Before we split up, my dad and I found this island on a map. It’s uninhabited, and the harbor surrounded by cliffs seemed like the perfect secluded place,” Sokka explained as everyone started rolling out their sleeping bags.
“Nice choice Sokka,” Katara praised him as she unbraided her hair. She looked around. “And we’re here four days ahead of schedule.” Aang’s eyes shot open.
“Wait,” he sat up abruptly. “The invasion’s in four days?” The others shrugged unconcerned.
“Whatever,” Sokka shrugged. “That’s like…four days from now.” He yawned and lied down. “Let’s just calm down, and …” before he had time to finish his sentence he fell asleep.
“Sokka’s got the right idea Aang. We’re here, we’re ready…” Katara said lying down herself next to Zuko. Toph and Lia were already asleep. “The best thing we can do now is get plenty of rest,” the waterbender finished.
“I guess,” Aang agreed nervously before lying down himself.
A few hours later he shot up, breathing hard after a nightmare. He frantically looked around and sighted in relief.
“It was just a dream Momo, I still have my pants,” Aang said as the lemur approached him curious. He got up. “Well, I better keep training.” He approached a bush and started practicing his kicks. Momo shook his head and went right back to sleep. His human could be so weird at times…
The next morning everyone woke up to the sound of something hitting wood really hard. With the exception of a surprisingly alert Lia everyone else looked at each other confused. Katara stood up drowsily and approached Aang who was busy hitting a tree.
“Hey, how long have you been up?” she asked.
“A couple of hours,” he answered curtly and started circling the tree, trying various punches and kicks. “I got a lot more skills to refine if I’m going to fight Ozai.”
“You know there is such a thing as over-training,” Zuko said, lighting a fire to start breakfast. Aang didn’t seem to hear him and punched the tree again. The aftershock from the punch sent him to the ground. He was back on his feet in an instant.
“You don’t get it, do you?” he said, drawing circles around Katara. “My form is bad. I’m sloppy. And I still don’t know any fire bending, not even the basics!” Sokka shrugged casually.
“That’s okay Aang. The eclipse will block all firebending anyway, you don’t need to know any.” He looked up from his map. “Plus it’s a stupid element.” Lia sent a fireball to his feet, causing him to yelp is surprise before she stalked away. Sokka looked at Zuko confused. “What’s with her?” he asked. The firebender shrugged.
“Aside from the comment you just made?” he asked. Sokka didn’t seem to get it.
“Aside from that.” Aang spoke up again, before an argument could erupt between the two older boys.
“Okay, well, I still have to work on everything else. I’d better spend the whole day training.” He jumped on his airscooter and disappeared.
“Lia was up before us,” Toph said confused. “I thought she didn’t like waking up early.”
“She doesn’t,” Zuko agreed before standing up. “I’ll go find her. She’s probably just stressed.”
“Who Lia?” Sokka asked over his breakfast. “Why would she be?”
Zuko found his mentor on the edge of the island, meditating. Silently he sat next to her and joined the exercise. After a few minutes of silence Lia gave up. She opened her eyes and turned to her brother.
“This is the first time in so long that I’ve actually, physically, returned home. It feels so strange,” she admitted.
“So that’s what’s been bothering you?” Zuko asked. “But why now? You knew about the invasion plan all along.”
“I guess it’s only now that the idea hit home. It doesn’t even look like it did back then but I can’t help feeling it’s wrong for me to go back.” She turned to Zuko. “How can you handle it so calmly?”
“I’m not sure.” He looked at her helplessly. “I suppose I just keep telling myself it is the right thing to do.” He paused and thought for a second. “And I might have a chance to rescue uncle Iroh,” he added. That got a smile out of Lia.
“I suppose you’re right,” she said as she stood again and extended a hand to Zuko to help him stand. “Come for some practice?” she asked, sounding more like herself again.
Much later, long after everyone else was asleep, Aang came back to camp. Flopping down to his sleeping bag he yawned.
“Good night Katara. Good night Sokka. Good night Toph. Good night Zuko. Good night Lia. Good night Appa. Good night Momo…”
“Go to sleep already!” Toph yelled annoyed before he had a chance to add anything else. Wincing a little at her loud voice, the airbender turned on his side and tried to sleep. A few hours later he shot awake again, breathing hard from a nightmare. Wordlessly he approached some sleeping koala-sheep and started practicing again. His constant walking woke up Toph.
“Twinkle-Toes it’s the middle of the night. Go back to sleep.” She approached him, rubbing the sleep away from her eyes.
“But I forgot my pants and my math test!” he answered wildly. Toph sighted and encased his feet in stone, turning him to face her.
“You can worry about them tomorrow,” she ordered. “Now get some sleep. All this walking around made me dizzy.” She dragged him back to camp and into his sleeping bag before he had a chance to protest.
The next morning everyone woke up early, this time in yells. Aang shot awake from yet another nightmare and shook Sokka shouting:
“Sokka get up! I need to know what day it is!” The Water Tribe boy jumped up startled.
“What? Who’s talking?” he took his sword and promptly hit his head on the rock in front of him.
“Relax, it’s still two days before the invasion,” Toph sighed as everyone else woke up. Aang didn’t seem to hear her. He kept trying to get Sokka on his feet.
“Sokka, you’ve got to get up and drill your rock climbing exercises.”
“What?” Sokka looked at him confused.
“In one of my dreams, you were running from fire nation soldiers, trying to climb this cliff, but you were too slow and they got you,” the airbender explained frantically. Sokka jumped up, insulted.
“But that was just a dream! I’m a great climber.” Aang didn’t seem convinced. He pointed at a nearby steep cliff.
“Then climb that cliff. Climb it fast!” Sokka looked at the cliff, then back at Aang. The Avatar nodded encouragingly. With a sigh Sokka approached it and started climbing.
“Stupid Avatar. Stupid cliff. Stupid dream! I can climb fast!” he grumbled under his breath.
Aang turned pleased in time to see Toph ready to take a sip of water.
“Don’t drink that!” he yelled alarmed. Shocked Toph spit it out, all over Katara. Annoyed the older girl bended it away.
“Why?” Toph asked alarmed. “Is it poisoned?”
“In my dream, we were right in the middle of the invasion, and you had to stop to use the bathroom. We died because of your tiny bladder.” Aang turned to Lia, who was busy untangling her hair. “And you need to start wearing your hair up. In my dream, your hair got caught in a train, and…” he stopped when he saw the evil eye he was getting from the Spirit.
“Do you want to know what happened to everyone in my dream?” she asked annoyed. “Because it involved a lot of lightning being shot in our direction.” Katara saw Aang paling and continued in a softer voice.
“Aang, I know you’re just trying to help. But you really need to get a grip. You’re unraveling.” The boy sighed.
“You’re right. I’m losing my mind.”
Everyone gathered around for breakfast and to discuss what to do with Aang.
“It’s like every time I think about how stressed I am, I end up more stressed,” the boy said twitching. “I’m like a big, growing snowball of nerves!”
“Of course you are!” Sokka looked up from his project of making Appa some armor. “That’s because you’ve got to fight the Firelord, the baddest man on the planet, and you’d better win or we’re all done for.” This time both Lia and Zuko sent fireballs at him. “What?” he yelled annoyed.
“You’re not helping!” Katara yelled annoyed at her brother.
“What? It’s true! That’s the deal. He knows it!” Sokka insisted. She slapped him at the back of the head annoyed before walking up to Aang who was trembling from head to toe now.
“You know what?” she said good-naturally. “I’ve got just the thing! Get ready to be de-stressified!”
Katara led Aang to a hot spring she had discovered the day before. Lia followed them silently, hoping that whatever the waterbender was about to try would work on her strained nerves too.
“These yoga stretches can really do wonders if you do them in extreme heat,” the girl explained before assuming a stance. “Reach up,” she guided both her “students.” “Reach for the sun. Feel your chi paths clearing.” She changed her stance and Aang hurried to follow. “Now close your eyes. How are you feeling?” she asked gently.
“I feel really warm,” Aang said.
“Go on,” Katara prompted him.
“Like there’s this warm feeling all around me. This heat. Like I’m in the Firelord’s palace and he’s shooting a bunch of fireballs at me!” Panicked again he fell over.
“Maybe your stress is the kind you need to talk about,” Katara sighed disappointed.
Sokka was the next to try his “methods”. This time Lia didn’t bother to follow, having been calmed by the warm air from the springs. Aang was lying on the ground with his head resting on a koala sheep, while Sokka sat next to him, wearing his Wang Fire beard.
“Why don’t you get right down to business and tell me what’s been bothering you?” he asked in his fake-adult voice.
“You know what’s been bothering me!” Aang said annoyed. “I have to fight the Firelord in a few days.” Sokka nodded in understanding.
“Tell me more about this Firelord…” he said. “Why are you so afraid of him?”
“You said it yourself! He’s the baddest man on the planet! I’m supposed to defeat him and save the world.” Sokka nodded again.
“Life does feel that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Like we’re trying to save the world from evil?” Aang looked at him exasperated.
“Okay, but what can I do to feel better?” Sokka handed him another koala-sheep.
“Wanna try screaming into this pillow?” Aang tried but he felt just the same with before, along with a sneezing fit since he inhaled some of the koala-sheep’s fur.
Toph was the next to drag him away. She led him to a small platform of rocks she had made. Aang couldn’t help but sent a wistful glance a little further away, where Zuko and Lia were practicing uninterrupted.
“Alright,” Toph said, pushing him to the platform. “What you need is a good, old-fashioned back-pounding to relieve your stress.”
“Pound away,” Aang sighed. Toph took his words at heart and stomped her feet to the ground, causing separate pieces of the platform to rise and hit his back.
“Toph!” the boy yelped. “I think this is bruising me!” he fell of the platform.
“Sorry, I forgot you have baby skin.” She paused thoughtfully. “Well there is one more thing we could try.” She stomped her foot again and a porcupine landed on her hand. She showed it to him smiling. “Acupuncture.” Aang’s eyes widened in terror before he ran away screaming.
Aang limped back to camp some time later that night. Everyone else was already ready for bed when he plopped down on his sleeping bag. He turned to his friends.
“Thanks for everything guys,” he said.
“So, do you feel any less stressed? Ready for a good night’s sleep?” Katara asked hopefully. Aang looked up from his feet uneasily.
“I kind of think I sort of might slightly feel a little better,” he said nervously. Sokka yawned satisfied.
“Then our job here is done,” he said satisfied. The next moment he was asleep and the rest soon followed his example. Not for long though. The moon had hardly passed its midpoint when Aang woke everyone up again yelling in horror.
“What happened Aang?” Katara rushed to him worried.
“It’s the nightmares,” the boy explained trembling. “The just get worse and worse.” Sokka took out his fake beard.
“Looks like it’s time for another therapy session,” he said. Aang glared at him.
“No, that won’t help!” he snapped. “Nothing helps! There’s only one thing I can do. I’m going to stay awake until the invasion.” Everyone’s jaw hit the floor.
The next morning everyone woke up to see Aang waking around, his shoulders slumped as he tried to remain awake.
“Invasion. All aboard for the invasion,” he muttered to himself in a dull voice. Katara watched him worried.
“You don’t look so good.” She walked up to him. “You sure you can’t just lie down for a little nap?” His eyes gained a little light for a second as he gave her a panicky look.
“I told you, I can’t go back to sleep.”
Katara wasn’t the only one who was worried about Aang’s insomnia. Toph had found it amusing at first but now she was getting scared. The airbender’s normally calm vibrations were completely off and his ramblings didn’t sound right either. Hesitantly, something that was a first for her, she approached Aang.
“Come on Twinkle-Toes, all this staying up can’t be good for you,” she said casually.
“Actually staying up all night has given me some time to think,” he answered as they walked along the shore. “And I’ve realized some big things Toph.” The earthbender looked up curious.
“Really? What big things?”
“I see everything so clearly now…what really matters,” Aang continued contemplatively. “Why I’m really doing this. I’m doing it to save the world, but more than that. I’m doing it for the people I love…” His eyes grew distant and his voice trailed off. Suddenly he sprung to the side.
“Uh… Twinkle-Toes?” Toph asked, hoping to snap him out of it. He jumped straight again. “You really need a nap.”
“Sorry,” Aang rubbed his eye awkwardly. “I guess I kinda drifted off into a day-dream.”
“What was it about?” Toph asked.
“Uh… living underwater,” the airbender said hastily, wincing at the silly excuse. Thankfully Toph just shrugged and walked away.
“I’m telling you guys, we need to do something!” Toph insisted, “looking” over to where the rest of the gang was sitting. “If Aang continues like this, he won’t make it through the invasion.”
“Toph is right,” Sokka decided. “If Aang does not get some rest we might as well not take him with us tomorrow on the invasion.”
“Have you tried a pep talk?” Lia asked suddenly. She was still tense but had decided to push her inhibitions aside for now.
“You think it would work?” Zuko asked her doubtfully.
“It works on you…” she shot back with a shrug.
They found Aang sitting in front of Momo, trying to speak lemur. The boy laughed at something his pet said.
“Aang?” Katara called hesitantly. “We’re all starting to get a little worried about you.”
“You’ve been awake too long,” Zuko continued.
“And you’re acting downright weird,” Toph added, putting up her usual tough front. Aang’s eyes moved from one to the other as they talked to finally rest on Appa. His face turned blank as he fell into another daydream, not really listening to what the others said. Suddenly his face filled with horror and he ran up to Sokka.
“Sokka, what should we do?” he yelled.
“About what?” the boy asked confused.
“About that!” Aang pointed as Appa and Momo’s general direction and the gang turned to see their two pets growling at each other.
“Come on guys, we’re all on the same side!” Aang called to them. Appa and Momo ignored him. Everyone looked on as Aang’s eyes darted from one direction to another, hallucinating. Lia made a move to force him to snap out of it when he suddenly jumped.
“I just need a jump in a cold waterfall!” he yelled before running away. Lia sighed disappointed and turned to the others.
“Okay, who has Plan B?”
When the sun set Aang returned back to camp. He had spent the entire day hidden near the shore, trying to fight away the hallucinations. Looking up ahead he saw a mass of something fluffy and white. Skeptically he popped on it trying it for its softness.
“Oh look, another hallucination. An imaginary bed, made out of clouds,” he sighed.
“Hey! It’s real! We spent hours working on it!” Toph said from somewhere on the side.
“We made it for you,” Sokka explained. “A good night sleep will probably take the crazy away…we hope.” Aang frowned and jumped off the bed.
“Look, you guys keep telling me I need to sleep, but I can’t, the invasion’s tomorrow.”
“Aang…” Katara sighed.
“No Katara, there’s still so much I haven’t learned. I don’t need sleep. What I need is practice. Quick, hit me,” he ordered her, his eye twitching a little.
“I’m not going to hit you!” The waterbender took a step back.
“You want me to do it?” Toph asked excited. To everyone’s surprise Zuko stepped forward and grabbed Aang by the shoulders, forcing the younger boy to look at him.
“Listen, Aang. You’ve been training for this since Katara woke you up from the ice. I think I’ve seen your progress better than anyone else.” A snort came from Sokka’s direction, which earned him glares from everyone else. “You’re smart, brave, and strong enough.” Aang looked at the Fire prince, taken aback by the honesty in his voice.
“You really think so?” he asked.
“We all do. You can do this. You’re ready,” Sokka added.
“You’re the man, Twinkle-toes,” Toph added with a smile. Aang yawned.
“You know what? I think I am ready.” Katara helped him to the bed they had made and for the first time in nearly a week Aang slept peacefully.