Usha observed Aang moves absentmindly pushing a strand of hair behind her ear, he was improving, there was no doubt, he still moved too much like an airbender but progress was progress. Slowly she fixed one of his arms, barely moving it, putting it in the right form. He didn’t break his concentration thankfully, passing to the next form with ease and grace, he was easily distracted and by some reason she seemed to be one of the worse distractions. She stepped back, admiring for a moment the last few forms, delicated, feminine, simple and terribly deadly.
- Very well – she said smiling softly – your pace is getting better
- Thank you Sifu! – he answered pumped up, moving the air with an excited jump.
Her hair flew all over her face, her tie getting lost the spirits knew where. Aang smiled sheepishly. She just huffed combing it with her fingers, noticing with surprise how much it has grown.
- Are you ok? – he asked coming near to her
- Yeah, Is just… - she didn’t know how to express the feeling, it seemed ridiculous to be sensible about something as natural as hair growing on this times – I haven’t had my hair so long since…since I was a girl, that’s all
She walked up the fountain to refresh herself and avoid any more inquires, she knew that Toph probably already knew something was off but wouldn’t comment on it unless it was necessary, she was grateful for that.
Hair was an important affair for the fire nation but most importantly for her. Hair was a sign of honor, status; to her it meant femininity, it remind her of her mother, of the nights brushing her hair before going to sleep and how she had done the same thing for Azula after their mother disappearance, it remind her of the long days at the palace and the lessons at the academy of Lady Ji-Hye. It reminded her of her father.
- Is getting very long
Usha jumped forward, almost stumbling into the fountain. She recognized that voice immediately, how Jet was able to sneak on her?
- You are lucky I didn’t roast you
- You wouldn’t – he said smiling, the damn wheat on his mouth.
He was right, she wouldn’t. It warmed her inside that he trusted her that much.
- It suits you – he let his hand caress the ebony strands, slipping through his fingers
- Thank you – she whispered lowering her gaze. It was strange, this caring, this domesticity, this trust, she never let others get this close, her uncle the only exception. Letting others in could lead to betrayal and hurt, besides, who would want to be near her? But this, this trust after all the lies, after the reveal of her identity, after the boiling rock, it felt so good, so natural, so right – I should get a brush or something, It will be a mess otherwise.
- You could ask Katara!
Both quickly separated making Sokka and Toph face palm at Aang inability to read the room, the latter barely containing the need of crushing him.
- I don’t think that would work Aang – her eyes drifting from her apprentice to the waterbender walking up to them.
Things were getting better between them but she didn’t want to test her luck.
Aang frowned; he understood that he shouldn’t interfere between them, that they had to work it on their own time, but at least he wanted to do something nice for his Sifu and maybe push them in the right direction. A big grin grew on his face, he had an idea.
Usha opened her eyes as she heard Teo’s approaching, slowly getting out of her daily meditation, the genius boy was grinning at her accompanied by an equally happy Aang. Oh Angi, se hoped that whatever they were up to at least didn’t explode.
- Sifu! – Aang cheered – We have a surprise for you!
- It has spikes and needs to be fed? – she said in a deadpan tone
Teo extended an object wrapped in a cloth. She carefully removed it, not sure yet if it would explode, bite or smell. She held the wooden handle with a surprised exclamation. The brush was simple yet well made, it had a nice weight on her hand, solid and polished; the bristles were soft, colored on a honey yellow. She smiled at the two boys truly content.
- Thank you guys, it is perfect – she let her fingers caress the bristles – but with what you made it?
- Appa’s fur! It was Teo’s idea
She did double take on the object, inspecting it even more stunned.
- I hardened the bristles with a bit of sap so they will stand on their own – he explained bashfully
- Teo, you are a genius – she praised – Thank you, truthfully.
His cheeks turned furiously red, lowering his gaze. Aang snickered, his own blush blooming on his cheeks. Usha tested it, her hair smoothly sliding through the strands, humming pleased as they disentangled, cascading over her shoulders and back.
- You should give Teo a brush, he looks like he needs it – joked Aang
- You don’t want a little brush? Yours is getting wild – said Usha, slowly she was learning how to make jokes.
The three laughed, catching the attention of the group.
- This means that you all girls are gonna bond brushing each others’ hair – said Sokka sarcastically
- If you talk like that I won’t brush your hair – threaten Usha pointing at him with the brush.
Sokka back tracked immediately, shaking his head frenetically.
- Want to go first Toph?
- Sure Sparky! - Toph happily accepted the offer, plopping next to her. She closed her eyes enjoying the softness and warmth of Usha’s hands.
Both stayed like that for a while, Usha unconsciously humming an old lullaby her mother used to sing for her, she remembered her humming it while she brushed her long hair before going to bed, the way her fine fingers combed her hair lovingly. Toph’s hair was thick and a bit damaged on the ends but the brushing seemed to help, if she brushed it every day it would get in good shape in no time.
- Your hands are magical Sparky – sighed Toph resting against her chest
- Thank you Shorty – she said simply caressing her locks.
Katara made her way to them, watching with interest as Toph curled over Usha’s lap like a pygmi puma, trying to repress a smile. Usha seemed pleased too, lovingly petting her hair. Moments like this torn her opinions about her, she was the fire lord daughter, she chased them for days to no end trying to capture Aang but then she had turned against her own sister, her screams burned in her mind, the tears going down her face as she re directed the lighting meant for Aang, she had made alliances on their favor, she had even come to train Aang, she was trying to atone for her mistakes. Maybe she could trust her? Maybe she could extend her hand towards her? If Jet was capable of that, why she couldn’t do the same?
Usha lifted her gaze from the small girl, surprised to catch Katara looking at them, tensing. Toph immediately noticed the change, adverting Katara’s presence.
- Her hands are magical princess – she said stretching – you should ask her to brush your mane
This pulled a laugh from the waterbender.
- I… I wouldn’t mind – Usha said with vacillation – If you wanted, I wouldn’t mind brushing your hair
- I would like that
Toph got up; sadden to lose her comfortable position, letting Katara take her seat. Usha started to brush the brown strands, tense like a bow. Both slowly relaxed, sinking in the comfort of the repetitive moves, leaving aside for a moment the barrier between them, the differences, the grudges, just enjoying this simple, caring action. Just two girls brushing the other’s hair, no war, no hate, no distrust, just for this time a little peace.
Aang smiled warmly, glad that such a small action could bring to people so different from each other.