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26th January, 2013
Ever since she could earthbend, consciously earthbend, Toph could see. At first, she hadn't been able to explain this skill. She had known that there was a world out there, a world filled with light and colour, where things that were shaped the same could be very different. She had never understood this how something that was the same be different. She knew that different flowers had different smells, different foods tastes, but she couldn't fathom that they looked different. After all, how many colours could there be?
This was before she met Aang. Before she met the Water Tribe Siblings. Before her life changed (for the better). It had been incomprehensible at first, physical differences, but when she met the foreigners, the people from another nation who would become so important to her, she understood. Ironically, perhaps, it hadn't been Sokka, with his humour and spirit that reminded her so much of herself, that taught her the difference. It hadn't been Katara, mothering over her, making sure she was okay, that she wasn't hungry—taking care of her. No, it was the strange boy with a personality so displaced from her own that taught her of the differences in people. Perhaps it wasn't irony at all.
The most surprising part was when he asked her. He was curious; how did she see? How did she know people, how did she picture them? It was that one particular blind fire-lit conversation that taught her more than it taught him.
"I see with earthbending..." She gave her answer warily; he knew this, why ask again?
"No, that's not what I mean. I meant, you see with earthbending, but how do you see us? How do you picture us?"
She had just looked at him.
"I see you by your footsteps or your heartbeats. The way the earth is compressed slightly wherever you sit or stand. I picture you as a person. A human. What else would I picture you as?"
"No, how do we look to you?"
"No different to anyone else. I mean, I know boys have... Other parts to girls, and some are taller or larger, or have different length arms or feet, but you are all the same. The only thing that is different, really, is how you breath or talk or walk. I know that old people go wrinkly, and babies are so small and fragile that they might die if you drop them. How do you tell everyone apart? You can't sense them, and I bet it takes too long to calculate body size."
"Well, by their face!" She had felt him shift closer to her as he said it, could feel the piercing gaze he gave her. Shuffling uncomfortably, she leaned forward, hands open, soaking up the fire.
"People are the same. How can you tell." That way she said it made Aang think it wasn't a question.
"People's faces are just as unique at their heartbeats, you know," he told her simply, opening his own palms to mimic her. "Sokka has these really small eyes, but he has a strong chin. And a broad forehead, probably from slapping himself so often!" Aang chuckled at the thought. "Katara has this small, button nose, and thick lips. Her face is rounder than Sokka's, but I think that it's just because she's younger. It will become leaner in a few years."
He looked at her to see whether she would say anything, but Toph remained silent, absorbing what she could of the information.
"I have these blue arrows all over my body. You can't feel them, but that's because the monks coloured my skin permanently. It isn't a scar, just dye. I haven't got any hair, and I have these really big eyes. People say it makes me look younger than twelve. I don't believe them, it's just what all Air Nomads looked like." He again looked at Toph, noticing a small frown on her face. He opened his mouth to speak, but she interrupted him.
"What do I look like?" He could sense her hesitating, as though she didn't want to know what he thought of her appearance.
"You have a round face and a huge smile, when you choose to show it off. It makes everyone else's face light up when you do. You have black hair that is a lot shorter than it looks considering the size of the bun you keep it in. And despite always being really dirty, you have the palest skin I've ever seen anyone with, with no scars or blemishes. It's really pretty, actually."
Toph turned her head to face him, and for the briefest second their eyes met before she moved hers away.
"Aang, can I... can you let me do something?"
He knew what she would ask—in fact, he was surprised she asked at all; he expected her to just do it.
"Sure, Toph. And if its what I think you're going to ask, the answer is yes."
A small grin tugged at the corners of her mouth, and for a second Aang thought he saw the tiniest trace of embarrassment work its way into her features. Turning her entire body around, Toph sat on her knees facing where he rested on the soft earth. Again, he copied her movements, except he sat crossed legged; he lost circulation when he sat on his knees. Tentatively, Toph lifted her hands up, bringing them to gently rest on Aang's head.
"I'm glad Sokka and Katara took an early night. Thank god they're too old to stay up late." Despite agreeing to her request—the one she never actually made—Aang felt incredibly awkward, as thought their actions were taboo, something to be frowned upon. Sensing his discomfort, Toph removed her hand.
"Aang, if you're uncomfortable, I don-"
"No!" The fervour in which he cut her off surprised even himself. "No, it's okay, I don't mind." He smiled at her, even though she couldn't see it. She could sense as he became more relaxed, though, and she gave him a tiny smile as she replaced her hand, shuffling closer so she could reach better.
Gently, she began to rub the top of his scalp, feeling every bristle of hair which he would routinely shave off. She could feel more around the sides of his head than in the middle, which confused her.
"Aang, is your tattoo in the middle of your head? About..." She felt a little more, before taking her hands away, thumb and forefinger about two inches apart. "About this wide?"
He looked at her, surprised. "Uh, yeah, Toph. How did you know that?"
"The hair is thinner there. It just made sense," she told him, shrugging slightly. Putting her hands back onto his head, she felt the muscles move, almost like a twitch beneath her hands.
"Are you smiling? Stop it, I can't have my image of you ruined because you're smiling." This resulted in Aang shaking slightly, trying to hold back his laughter.
"What?" For the fourth time, Toph removed her hands, instead folding them up in front of her chest as she sunk into her knees. "Why are you laughing!" Despite sounding angry, she was more confused than anything. Was he laughing at her?
"I'm not laughing at you," he told her, as if he could read her mind. "I'm laughing because this is absurd. How an you tell I was smiling? And generally, people want to remember people smiling. It reminds them of happiness, of good times."
"Well, if I can feel you when you have a blank face, then I can feel it when you're smiling, and then with a frown, and then when you're sad. To answer your first question, it was because I felt the muscles in your head move. Now, shut up, or this will take all night."
"Wait." Aang grabbed her hands to stop her from moving them, noticing as he did so how smooth they were compared to other earthbenders he had met. I'll have to ask her about that later, he thought. Just loud enough for her to hear, though, he whispered his request.
"I'll only let you keep going if you tell me more about how you see, okay?" She squirmed slightly, whether about the question or the fact that he was holding her hands, he didn't know. Hesitantly, almost begrudgingly, Toph nodded her head, pulling her hands from his.
This time, instead of placing her hands on his head, she touched his shoulder before sliding her small fingers up to grab his chin. The petite digits dancing over his lower jaw, she gently caressed the smooth flesh, noting a few whiskers appearing on the side of his jowl. Moving her hands around to the sides of his face, she rubbed under and around his ears before moving to an a hold of them, chuckling slightly.
"Sokka was right, you do have huge ears. Well, compared to mine, anyway."
"Hey," he muttered out of the sided of his mouth. "Maybe you just have freakishly small ears."
She grinned at him, one of her toothy smirks which signalled that she knew she had won the verbal spar.
"Yes, well Sokka has never said anything about my ears, has he? Apparently, there was a girl who thought she loved you because of your ears..."
Aang allowed a small smile to grace his features, just long enough for Toph to sense before he returned to a blank stare.
Getting back to work, the earthbenders lithe fingers roamed up to Aang's forehead, gently rubbing the short bristles of his hairline before moving down to fiddle with his eyebrows. She looked at him questioningly.
"It's too difficult to shave them on a regular basis. Besides, it keeps water out of my eyes when it rains or I have a shower."
Accepting his excuse, she left the line of hair, dragging her fingers down the middle of his face, feeling his nose. It was smaller than she expected, especially after feeling his ears, but she didn't let it daunt her. His nose felt remarkably similar to her own. It was slightly flatter and wider, but just barely; the only reason she could tell was because of how many hours she had spent feeling her own face as a child. All her life, she had believed people to look the same, it was only body shapes that changed. Now she thought about it, it was a terribly silly, narrow minded assumption, but she had made it when she first realised that things had properties she couldn't see. To her, seeing is believing was always very strong in her heart. If she couldn't hear, feel, taste or smell it, it didn't exist. No questions asked; there was simply no way it could exist. Colours were something adults made up to give life to drab objects. It was nothing more than a figment of imagination. Feeling Aang's face, noticing things that he had never considered made her rethink this view.
Aang noticed she had stopped moving her hands, resting them on his nose for several seconds as she thought this over. Gently taking them, he felt her jump slightly as he moved her small fingers to his closed eyes. He felt her relax when his intentions became clear, and she greedily caressed his soft eyelids, taking in as much detail as possible. There were no more jokes, no more remarks. It was simply a blind girl learning something new.
Gradually, she removed her fingers from his eyes, almost reluctantly, and set them down in her lap.
"You aren't finished yet." Aang was looking at her simply, confused. "Didn't you want to see me smile?"
She looked away from him, a slight blush creeping up her face. That alone set of alarm bells. Since when did Toph blush? Since when did she hesitate?
"Yeah, uh, it's okay Aang, thanks for everything else..." She made to get up, but was rather forcefully dragged back down when Aang grabbed her hand.
"Come on! You wanted to try it. What's so bad about seeing me smile?"
Despite being blind, Toph still averted her eyes, embarrassment building by the second.
"It's the method used to see you smile... it's awfully... intimate, isn't it?" She pursed her mouth, cheeks burning.
"Everyone deserves to see a smile, no matter how it was achieved. Katara and Sokka see me smile all the time. Now, it's your turn." He grinned at her, a big toothy expression that only became bigger when she smiled her small smile back.
Slowly, as though moving too fast would ruin the illusion, the tips of Toph's fingers came to rest gently onto Aang's now stony face. Moving them around, she followed the path she had previously followed, starting from his chin. After reaching his eyes once again, she slowly moved the tips of her first three fingers down, feeling the corners of his lips. She was barely aware of how shallow her breath was coming, how faint she felt. If she were more aware, she would have realised that Aang was having the same reaction. If simply touching the top if his head felt wrong, this was positively abhorrent. Taking a shuddering breath, she felt the airbender do the same as she quickly worked her fingers over his lips. They were dry, like hers, but where hers were rough and cracked, his felt soft and smooth. A small smile ghosted his face, and she stopped her work, pulling her hands back slightly.
"Okay, I want you to smile now," she whispered to him, unable to raise her voice any more than that. Bringing her fingers back to his face, she could sense the difference straightaway. His features, so stoic and heavy lightened when she smiled. His skin felt smoother (was that even possible? She questioned herself), his face felt brighter. Allowing her own smile to cross her face, she gently felt the rest of his, noticing the dimple on his left cheek, and the way the skin crinkled slightly at the outside corners of his eyes.
"Smile all the time. You look a lot better." She removed her hands for the final time, adjusting her seat on the ground so she was sitting cross legged.
"Thanks Aang... No one's let me do that before..."
"No problem. I learnt something about you, too." He grinned at her, and now she knew what it looked like. She would have smiled at him, was it not for the tone in his voice.
Eyes wide, she practically shouted at him. "Great! Well... I'mgoingtogotobednowbye!"
She got up hurriedly, not even fully standing up before Aang dragged her back to the floor for the second time that evening. Bringing his face close to her red one, he smiled evilly.
"Where do you think you're going? You have a bargain to uphold."
Grumbling, Toph rearranged her spot on the ground, working out what to say.
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