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26th December, 2012
Apparently, it was late. Toph, without the difference between night and day to guide her, didn't feel the need to sleep; as long as everyone was quite, she could nod off easily at any time of the day. She preferred going to bed after everyone else, too. It gave her a chance to think, to calm down and reflect; it also gave her an opportunity to be alone with her thoughts—something she seldom had at home. Surprisingly, Aang had piped up, wanting to stay up. He had argued he wasn't tired, but the yawn he gave the second the Water Tribe siblings' backs were turned proved otherwise. Scowling, Toph had merely moved closer to the fire. It was his business if he wanted to stay awake, but he would regret it in the morning. Just because she was up didn't mean she wanted company, and it didn't mean that she had to entertain him. Eventually, though, his silence, and her purposeful ignorance of him became more a negative than a positive, at least for her—it had the unintended side-effect of being incredibly boring. Strangely, Toph felt a sort of urge to talk to him. It wasn't urgent, or overwhelming, but it was still there; a small nudge telling her that life travelling with these people would be better if she could get along with them. But, what could she talk to him about? The novelty of, "Amazing! The Avatar is a twelve year old boy!" became boring fast. She could ask him what it was like bending different elements, but to be honest, she couldn't care less. Perhaps about the Avatar State? But, from what she had heard, he didn't like thinking about it, let alone talking about it. She personally thought it would be cool to glow, to have her eyes and tattoos... tattoos glow...
"Aang?" Toph sat up suddenly, her boredom replaced by burning curiosity.
"Yeah, Toph?" He looked up from the pictures he had been drawing in the dirt, wondering what would possess his new friend to use his actual name—and initiate a conversation. In the few weeks he had travelled with her, she had barely done either and never at the same time. She had a deep crease on her forehead, concentrating on how best to phrase her question.
"Uh, you know Toph, I can't answer an unspoken que-"
"What is 'colour'? I hear people describing things to me, but they always use colours. They're useless! It's like one of Sokka's jokes!"
Aang frowned at the attempt at humour, hearing the way her voice caught slightly and her incessantly tapping fingers. Adjusting his body so he faced her, Aang tried to see through her thick bangs to study her face, but she was facing the ground now, stifling his attempts. Anyone who happened to listen in would just assume that a boy was explaining the world to a blind girl. Rubbing the back of his neck, Aang was at a loss to explain something so abstract.
"It was just an idea, never mind," Toph had taken his silence to mean he thought the idea stupid. She got up, an emotion she couldn't quite explain growing in her gut. It stewed there, making her feel sick as her face heated up in red flush. The thought that he believed an issue she had never dared utter was stupid, idiotic crossed her mind, and with an angry snarl, she stood up to walk away. Before she could get two steps from him, Aang jumped up and grabbed her forearm.
"Wait, hold on! You didn't give me a chance to answer!"
"It was just a stupid question, it doesn't matter," she lied cooly, wrenching her arm from his grasp and crossing them across her chest.
"It wasn't stupid! It's just... difficult to answer," he explained lamely.
Toph turned to look at him with her blind eyes. He wasn't lying to her, and he wasn't laughing at her. She moved away from him slightly and returned to the fire, albeit somewhat reluctantly. Sitting down on a soft patch of dirt, Aang began to think it over.
"Well... being, you know, blind, I guess you're always in darkness. Like, if there was a shape, it would be difficult to see through the... the..." he struggled to find the right adjective.
Looking up, he was surprised how defiant she sounded.
"What do you mean, no?" he asked, frowning at the girl. She seemed angry, but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out why.
"I mean, there's nothing. There's never been anything..." she trailed off, the rough edge to her voice ebbing away.
"There can't be nothing! Everything is something, it can't be made of nothing... even darkness."
"But, I don't know what darkness is!" she cried plaintively, before smacking a hand over her mouth. Looking furtively at the Water Tribe tents, the two pre-teens lowered their voices, not wanting Katara and Sokka to wake up.
"Well, that is a colour! It's black. Your hair is black, so is mine. Um... the night sky is almost black! There is an opposite too, it's called white. Imagine all the light in the world focussing itself into a colour. It's so bright you have to squint. That's white. Snow is white, and some animals have white fur. The Moon is a white colour." Aang was rambling; he was quite impressed with himself. He had managed to describe an abstract concept, and Toph seemed to understand. She was nodding, absorbing all the details.
"Is nothing the colour of black?" Toph asked, her voice low and serious—almost pleading. Aang nodded fervently.
Leaning forward, almost eagerly, Toph questioned Aang again, "What- what's the most colourful thing you've ever seen?"
Aang furrowed his eyebrows. "I don't know," he answered finally. When Toph glanced up sharply, he began to explain further.
"I mean, rainbows are colourful, but it's flat... muted. Like a pretty tsungi horn, but someone has put cotton wool in your ears. And then there's fields of flowers... but that isn't right either. There's a lot of green, and sometimes the colours don't fit. Like... like gems in coal. It doesn't... doesn't work."
Toph's eyes flashed in his direction, bemusement written within the glazed orbs.
"Eyes," he said finally. "They're the most colourful."
Toph's own widened before she looked away. It took several seconds for her to raise her head again.
"Why? What colours are everyone's eyes?" she asked, hers unblinking.
"I think it's because they hold so much. Blue eyes can have a tint of grey, while green can be flecked with yellow and brown. They always change. Monk Gyatso used to tell me that the eyes are the windows to the soul; they might be covered with stained glass, but if you look hard enough, you can make out a picture.
"But, I guess to keep things simple, Katara and Sokka's are blue, mine are grey and yours are green. People from the Fire Nation tend to have orange eyes..."
Toph sighed exasperatedly, and Aang realised he couldn't describe colours based on the darkness she had known her whole life. She needed to use her other senses to understand colour.
"Sorry... Uh, grey is like black mixed with white. It's a light darkness. Think of... think of when the sun goes behind a cloud. It isn't as warm, but you can still feel the effects of the sun. Momo has some grey fur, and when people get older, their hair changes colour to grey. It doesn't happen with everyone, though."
The blind earthbender nodded slowly. "What about blue, what is that like? And orange?"
If he hadn't been watching her to ensure that he was indeed explaining the concept so she would understand, Aang might have missed the lilt in her voice, the momentary halt before she uttered the name of the colours.
"Orange is... uhh..." Aang couldn't figure out how to describe it without using other colours she was unaware of. He looked into the fire separating the two teenagers, seeking inspiration.
"I know! Do you remember how the sunlight feels on your face when it's rising in the morning?" She nodded her assent, no idea where this conversation was going.
"Well, that's orange!" When Toph just stared at him blankly, he felt the need to elaborate.
"Well, orange is a warm colour. It isn't as hot as red, which is like fire—it burns if you touch it. Yellow is like orange, but not as... Yellow is more satiny. It's softer, like flower petals. I guess that pink is like a soft red, like when someone blushes..." He smiled at the blind girl as she struggled to understand what he was telling her.
"So, you're saying that colours are more than just that? They have... personalities?" She asked, quite serious.
"Yeah! That's exactly what I'm saying! Do you know the feeling of moonlight?"
"Vaguely. It's difficult to feel sometimes. I felt it, a few months ago. My mum said it disappeared, but it came back, and I could feel it then," she told him, a wistful expression on her face. "It was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever felt..."
"Really? That's what the moon looks like, too. Just, floating in the sky... moonlight is different to sunlight. You probably already know that sunlight is warm, and moonlight isn't. Well, where the sun is orange and yellow and red, the moon is shades of blue. The more light you can sense, the lighter blue it is. So on days where there isn't a moon, the sky is almost black. Almost, but not quite. Katara and Sokka, their eyes are light blue. I'll tell you the shade one night, when the moon is right," he told her with a smile. Looking at his friend, he noticed that she had her face turned from him, looking away from the fire between them, and out into the wood that surrounded their camp. Still not looking at him, she asked him a question, her usually abrasive voice barely louder than the crackle of the fire.
"What- what about... green?"
Aang thought on this question for a few minutes. It was her colour, her eyes, her element. Even her alias was a green character.
"Green is... difficult. Do you remember the last time it stormed? We could tell it was going to be a bad one because it had been so muggy throughout the day. Even you were complaining about it because you couldn't smell anything, the water in the air was so thick?" A small nod told him she was still listening. "Well, green is what happened after the storm. Everything felt fresh—I think you slept on grass that night—but it was more than that. Do you remember how it smelt? The sweet, tangy smell during the storm and then afterwards, how you could name each plant just by sniffing it?" The memory made her smile slightly. Aang had worked himself up, babbling, but she didn't mind.
"That feeling of the grass, the new smells, even the dew the next day. That's the colour green," Aang looked at Toph, smiling, proud that he had explained to her something she never believed she could fathom in her twelve years of blindness. To his dismay, he found that she still hadn't looked at him, and she most certainly wasn't grinning like he was.
"Toph? Di- didn't I explain it well enough?" Aang asked quietly, his heart sinking. Maybe he had just confused her more. Maybe she didn't like his explanation. Moving closer to her, he couldn't help but note the oddly blank expression on her face.
"Oh, that was fine, Twinkletoes," she said, her voice lilting at strange intervals. She coughed once, and with an air of forced casualness, added, "Now that fairytale is over, I'm tired. G'night."
Aang stared after her incredulously as she stood and, with a two-finger salute, turned and walked towards the Water Tribe siblings' tents. Only when she was safely entombed in her own stone did she dare react.
Bringing her hands up to her useless eyes, she touched the lashes carefully, an ever-growing smile breaking out from behind her palms.
"Thanks, Aang," she murmured to herself. "Now I really can see."
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