Thank you all for the kind reviews and adding this to your favorite story and Author alerts. (*Blush!*). I did not intend the story to run this long but it just did. This is the last chapter of 'Connected'. I hope you enjoyed the story. (Pardon my silly spelling and grammar mistakes.)
Aang came back to consciousness and he was crying his lungs out. "NOOOOOOO LEAVE HER BE! TAKE ME! SHE IS MY FRIEND! SHE IS MY…"
Katara quickly ran forward and knelt down besides him. "Aang shush! It's alright. She is right here. Toph is here." She said trying to calm him down. While Aang clung to her like a little child, sobbing, Katara looked at Toph who was been picked up by a worried Sokka. She lay motionless, her nose bleeding.
Katara quickly got up and ran to check Toph's condition as Huu, himself looking worried, put a heavy arm on Aang's shoulder. "Calm down Avatar. It's over. It was just a vision."
But this 'vision' had affected Toph heavily. Katara quickly got her hand covered in clean water and felt Toph's forehead and neck. The nose bleed was out of the physical reaction to the mental shock. Other than that she was fine. But why won't she wake?
Suki rushed over and wiped off blood out of Toph's face. "Toph! Toph!" She called shaking the very still earth-bender. "Katara what's wrong? Do something." She panted. "Suki get Aang." Said Sokka as he carried Toph to the camp site. "Katara come with me. Toph needs help."
Katara spent the entire afternoon trying to get Toph back to consciousness. However Toph just lay there, motionless. Her nosebleed has been stopped thanks to Katara's nurturing. But her calm and stiff form had started to worry the others. It looked like she was sleeping, only she was not going to awake any time soon. She did not show any sign of life except for the shallow breaths she took.
Huu had explained that she was in a coma. "We forced her to relive a terrible memory and her body was too weak to bare the mental shock."
Katara's face fell hearing this explanation as she was the one who dragged Toph in to this. Aang was too busy murmuring barely audible words to Toph's ear; the words did not sink in to his foggy state of mind. A guilty stricken Katara had quickly attended to maintaining Toph's respiration and circulation, using her blood and chi flow. Once Toph's physical condition was stabled, Katara knew there was nothing else they could do except for wait Toph to wake up.
"Talk to her." Said Huu. "Stimulate her brain. Make her want to come back."
It had been two days and Toph had not shown any sign of waking up. Aang sat in the moon lit night, staring at the tree on which he saw Toph for the first time. He could hear her laugh, loud and happy. But there she lay like a statue. The full-of-life, loud mouthed kick-ass earth-bender was nowhere to be seen in her. How could he do this to her? He had failed Ummi as Kuruk once, and now he had dragged Toph in to his emotional mess and apparently has failed her again. A single tear escaped his gray eyes and fell down his face. He could not think ahead, not without Toph. He now knew how Kuruk must have felt. Did Kuruk's heart ache like this when he came back only to find the lifeless form of Ummi? Will he be able ever to forgive himself?
Katara sat down besides him, her face pale. "Aang I..." She began. But before she could say another word, Katara found herself holding a sobbing Aang. The almighty Avatar sobbed on his favourite water bender's shoulder like a little child. Katara had no words to comfort him. She had no words to comfort herself even. So she just stayed there hugging Aang tightly. "She'll wake Aang. I know she will." Katara kept muttering more to herself as silent tears fell from her blue eyes.
That moment Katara understood what Aang was for her and what she was for him. They were family. The bond they was far deeper than anything but it was not love. Now she feared for Aang as much as she feared for Toph in her coma. What if Avatar gets wasted away like Kuruk? What if Toph...?
"Tell her how you feel Aang." Katara said holding the Avatar by shoulders. "Tell her Aang, she will wake"
Aang stared at Katara, The girl he thought he loved for the last three years. But it had not been love. It had been the type of love he longed to experience ever since he could remember. Love of a dear one, Warmth of a mother, a sister. Words of comfort and a shoulder to cry on. A family bond. But she did not make him laugh and made his heart feather-like as Toph would, even without trying. It took Toph falling in to a coma for him to realise that he could never leave Toph's side, never again. He did not know how to tell Katara all these. But Katara spoke for him.
"We never loved each other Aang, not-in-that-way. You are my family, same as Toph, Sokka and Suki. You always will be. And I love you all very much. That is why I want you to wake her up Aang. I want my family back together." Now her eyes were streaming. She fought back sobs as she spoke. "I dragged her in to this. Please wake her up."
Aang slowly nodded taking Katara's face in his palms. He kissed her on forehead before walked away to where Toph lay motionless.
"Toph!" He said softly. "Toph please.." Aang went on. But it was no better than talking to the pillow she was sleeping on. "I do not want to loose you, not again. I beg of you Toph, please wake up." Aang pleaded. Toph just lay there as if his words never reached her ears. Aang straightened her up and hold her tight. Toph's face rested on Aang's chest, his chin on her head. Her sensitive right ear levelled with Avatar's heart. Aang wrapped his arms around Toph's slender form as he spoke to the night without bothering if she'd hear or not.
"I am sorry Toph.. I am so sorry I dragged you in to this. I could not save you last time because I was ignorant and did not pay enough attention. I was confused this time and now I am loosing you again. Now only I fully understand...Please wake up Toph... Be OK for me. Be here with me... Be here with me...I love you."
Tears fell down his cheeks once again and wetted Toph's face. He stayed like that all night, holding her tight, praying that she'd wake up. May be it was his prayers, may be Aang's sincere words found a way in to Toph's numb brains or may be it was the genuine rhythm of Avatar's heart that beat all night long against Toph's sensitive ear, next morning as the sun's first rays touched the swamp, Toph's eyes quivered slightly. She felt extremely weak and battered. She could remember what happened as if it was a distant memory. She raised a trembling hand and felt her face. Then only she realised someone was holding her. Someone with a light heart beat that she knew so well. "Aang.?" She said in a feeble voice.
Aang who had not slept at all, jumped hearing his name escape the little bundle in his arms. He looked down at her. She looked pale and weak but her eyes were open and she was 'looking' up at him curiously. His eyes were filled again with happy tears. He brushed few bangs out of her forehead as his tears fell on her cheeks.
"Aang, why are you crying?" Toph managed weakly.
"I was not able to save you last time. I almost lost you this time. But I promise I will never leave your side again Toph, I promise my love." Aang said. Toph did not know what to say to that. She just 'stared' at him. Aang lowered his face towards Toph's and placed his lips on hers, gently. It was a plain and simple kiss but was loaded with love. Toph did not pull back. She closed her eyes and melted in to it.
It took another five days for Toph to regain her full strength. It could have been four, only if she did not have to endure rib cracking 'welcome back' hugs from everyone, such noisy and teary hugs that she thought being in a coma was peaceful. Katara cried her eyes out on Toph's shoulder for hours and did not let go not until Toph said, "Katara it's OK. I get it, you love me. But you know, you are kind of heavy."
All was well until Toph announced that she'll be going back home for a while. Everyone stared at her, shocked. "But why?" Asked a desperate Aang.
"Because Airhead, it is my turn to figure things out." At this Katara and Suki dragged a confused Sokka away leaving Toph and Aang alone.
"Toph..!" Aang began. But Toph cut him short. "Listen Aang I know you love me. I feel it. But all these happened so suddenly and I don't know how to react. I can't fall in love with you just because I was your wife three lifetimes ago." Aang sighed heavily at this. Toph came closer to the Avatar and took his hand. "I certainly care about you." She said tentatively. "And I feel extremely relaxed, comfortable and happy around you. But Aang I need to figure out if I truly love you, because 'Love' is a very loaded word."
"I understand Toph." Said Aang softly as he put his hands on her shoulders. "I know I love you. It took me four years to realize that. So I will what patiently for you to come around. No matter how much time you take Toph, no matter what your decision would be, I will always be there for you and I will always love you."
"Aang.." Toph started but was silenced by just another sweet kiss by Aang. "Remember that ..." He said breaking the kiss.
Toph smiled at the Avatar. "I will." She said.
It almost took two years for Toph to understand that she loved the Avatar just for being himself. A lot had happened in those two years. Katara had started going out with certain handsome young man with a large scar around his left eye. Sokka and Suki were engaged. Aang and the gang paid occasional visits to the Bei-Fong state and join Toph in her domestic boredom. Lao Bei-Fong had almost had a heart stroke when he witnessed Toph and Aang and their first real passionate kiss under the moon lit night on the small bridge of the garden, on which they had had their first heart-to-heart talk almost six years ago. Toph had confessed her heart to Aang that night. They are finally together and Aang was never going to let her go, Never again!