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24th January, 2014
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It was no secret that Toph absolutely abhorred parties. The unnecessary pomp and grandeur had a special way of getting under her short fingernails, bothering her like an itch she couldn't quite reach. Her own parties were just as, if not more, irritating, usually due to the fact that she was supposed to enjoy those parties.
Parties for the Earth King, she could handle. All she needed to do was find some way to get close to the bear, and everything took care of itself. Festivals in the Fire Nation were guaranteed to have some kind of contraband that she was able to sneak, and more than once she had woken up in a random room (usually a kitchen or storage cupboard, by a maid. They were rather calm about it all, now). However, her own parties, or those for her friends, had to be dealt with differently. These parties, though she would never admit it to anyone (least of all herself), hurt. There was nothing to induce her happiness, nothing to distract her from the way everyone was enjoying themselves; everyone but her.
"Hey, Toph!" Unexpectedly, she found the seat to her left taken up a rather bubbly Aang. "Happy birthday," he huffed (from the smell of him, the lingering traces of sweat and some kind of flower–a lily, perhaps–he had just been dancing). She gave a non-committal grunt, taking a sip from the cup in front of her. "I know parties aren't your thing, but your parents really know how to go all out."
Toph only offered another shrug, unwilling to delve into the topic of her parents. Lao and Poppy were currently socialising with a few other nobles and aristocrats, trusting Toph (and her friends) to behave. The blind earthbender had dreaded returning home after the war, however with a few pushes from her friends, they convinced her to at least visit.
She had not expected the tearful reunion that she was given, although she appreciated it all the same. A journey that began with a three-day stay in Gaoling stretched much longer, and eventually she told her friends to keep travelling without her. She was needed at home more than out in the world, and even Toph, with all her stubbornness and pride, couldn't refuse her parents when they asked her to stay. Not commanded, or forced, or even begged. They approached her with a simple question, and an understanding nature. They were trying–she wanted to, as well.
Toph ventured out in the world during the following years, making sure to go to the Fire Nation each summer for the Comet Festival, a celebration held to remember, mourn, and give thanks to the end of the war and those that died fighting it. Much alcohol was consumed during the week-long festivities, before she would return home. Not straight away, oh no. Sometimes she would sail to the northern Earth Kingdom and travel south, or make a pit-stop at Kyoshi Island. Her parents understood, and while they weren't always happy, they still gave her the freedom she needed.
"So, how does it feel?" Aang's voice once again shook her, and she looked towards him with a start.
"Feel about what?"
"Being sixteen! All grown up now!" She could hear the smile in his voice, but the best she could muster was a twitch in the corner of her mouth.
"Like being fifteen," she said, "only now there'll be guys lined up outside my window to get in the good books and marry me." She gave another half-hearted smile and a shrug. Aang laughed lightly, and she wondered why he was sitting there with her instead of dancing with Katara. Before she could ask, he began talking again.
"That dress looks pretty. Strange, on you–how many maids did they have to call to wrestle you into that thing?" He was laughing again, and Toph joined in, no matter how much she didn't want to; she was too good an actor.
"Too many," she responded, feeling the vibrations of a second person walk up. "Hey, Sweetness," she said. Even Katara was starting to smell a little off, and she was breathing pretty heavily. "Dancing with Sparky?" Katara gave a breathless nod.
"Yeah. He's actually pretty good. I was wondering if I could steal Aang away from you for another dance? I think the party's finishing soon..." she asked. Toph waved her hands as though shooing them.
"Yes. Take him away from me!" she exclaimed melodramatically, suddenly not appreciating the company, and all too aware of the time. "I'll talk to you guys later." There was a grunt of agreement, and Toph was suddenly left on her own. Her hands, which had been resting on her lap, began slowly stroking the soft material. She wasn't scared about anyone noticing the strange action–they were all too preoccupied with each other. Toph could feel the ache in her heart, and the pressure build up behind her sightless eyes, but she wasn't worried. Too many years of hiding her feelings gave her the skill to hold them back now.
The party came to an end shortly after, and it was with a heavy heart and a fake smile that Toph gave her closing speech, thanking everyone for the lovely night–for coming to celebrate her 'special' night. Sixteen; she was a woman now, the party a way of announcing that. She approached her friends as soon as she left the raised platform, punching the shoulders of the men and giving Katara, Suki, and even Mai, quick hugs as the rest of the guests slowly departed.
"You all smell," she commented. "There are en suites in all the rooms, so you can have a bath before bed. I think I might just hit the hay..." There were murmurs of assent and thanks, and she left them with another grin only slightly too large to be real.
Approaching her parents, she felt her friends turn and leave, heading towards the guest rooms–only three of them, as requested. Toph's heart gave a little hiccup at the thought, although she tried to brush it aside. "'Night, Mum. 'Night, Dad," she told her parents, bestowing thicker hugs on the two of them. Poppy's hand stroked her daughter's head for a moment as she thought.
"Are you okay, Tophy?" she asked. Toph nodded, pulling back.
"I'm fine," she lied. "Just a little tired. I'll see you tomorrow..."
"Good night, Dear," her mother said, kissing her softly on the forehead. "You look gorgeous, Honey. Happy birthday..."
Her parents didn't ask if she wanted help removing the flowing dress, and she didn't mention it. All Toph wanted to be was alone. She trudged through the house to her room, the pressure that had lain dormant behind her eyes suddenly springing to life as she shut her door, bending the metal lock out of shape.
It was with subdued actions that she began peeling away the layers of the dress. Her dress. The one that she had designed, had endured fittings and fabric-testing and spent months making sure it was just right. Toph had been looking forward to her birthday; she remembered Katara's, in the Southern Water Tribe. She hadn't been able to see, of course, but she could still hear Katara's laughter as she danced with- with everyone. Aang, Zuko, her father – even an incredibly drunk Suki at one stage. Toph hadn't heard any snippets of conversation that weren't about how beautiful the waterbender looked. "All grown up," they said.
She tried. She really did. It was supposed to be her night, shouldn't she have fun? Shouldn't she celebrate being 'all grown up', and be the centre of attention?
But no one had even asked her to dance...
Holy crap, is that- is that Taang?! Why, yes, yes it is (well, it was supposed to be. I hope you guys can see it). I was inspired after reading some angsty Taang tonight, and whipped this baby up in about forty minutes.
The title is Latin for 'thicker than water', and it relates to how well her family understood her, as opposed to everyone else.
For the collective works of the author, go here.