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|More from Fruipit||Romance/Friendship||G||None||No update page|
29th May, 2013
1. (manners) polite or well-bred social behaviour
The Avatar hadn't expected to meet any opposition at the Third Annual Meeting of the Unified Nations, a council he himself set up only a few short months after the war to help nations heal and balance themselves. However, he realised his gross mistake not two minutes into the formal dinner.
Each nation may be different, but it appeared that table etiquette was universal as he began helping himself to the roast potatocorn and eggflower displayed decoratively on his plate. Lifting the largest fork to his mouth, he became aware of the mumbling, and already self-conscious of his strange Nomadish attire, he lowered the utensil and sank in his chair. Even Katara, who was sitting across from him, was frowning—he did not miss the sly looks she gave to the other members of the council seated, imitating their actions and reactions.
Leaning to the right, he whispered into Toph's ear, asking what he did wrong. She at least seemed amused by him, and considering how much effort she put into not obeying table rules on a regular basis, he knew she wouldn't yell at him.
"You have to wait for the officiators to arrive—they're gonna sit at the top of the table. Thank the spirits you're a firebender."
He turned his head fully to look at her, and alerted by the sound of movement, she peered up at him, her eyes unobscured by hair. It was only because of the importance of the meeting that she had agreed to be dressed like the dolls she hated so much, making a bet with Sokka as to who could be the most polite and formal—Aang had a suspicious feeling that Katara had convinced her brother to make the wager in the first place. The waterbender had worked Toph's hair into an intricate French roll, placing a small flower in the top—a panda lily. Suki had managed (somehow) to convince her to put make up on, and so her cheeks were lightly dusted with a rosy pink blush. He could see the sparkling green eye shadow that only enhanced her natural hue, and Aang had to say that she looked absolutely stunning, exuding an innate beauty that even Katara hadn't managed to replicate.
"Why is that good?" he whispered back, trying to distract himself from looking too long at the gorgeous girl next to him. He earned himself another stern glare from Katara, who was trying to be prim and proper, but only managed to make herself seem impolite and distant.
"Because our food is going to be cold by the time they get here," she replied simply, and he had to smile.
It was a good forty minutes before the leaders of the nations arrived. By this stage, most of the guests had descended into a quiet hubbub, led mostly by Toph and Aang who, being the youngest guests, became fidgety within minutes. Some rules, Toph had reasoned, where meant to be broken—no talking at the table was one. Her father regularly broke the 'no politics at dinner' rule, and she was happy to follow his footsteps for once.
"They're here, can I start eating now?" he asked her, looking sadly at the wilting eggflower and congealed sauce on his potatoes. Toph gave a small snort, resulting in some rather amusing looks of horror from the other guests, and whispered back a negative, smirking when she felt her friend's disappointment.
"There's more to it than that, Aang. You have potato and eggflower—you need to use the long chopsticks for the eggflower, and a waiter will come up and cut your potato. Use the third fork from the left to eat that. If he offers bread, say no, and ask for the... hmm, let's go the '63 spiced fire wine."
Aang followed her instructions to the letter, whispering to her all the goings-on of the guests around her. Sokka had already eaten his plate, Katara was watching everyone else to see what they did and Zuko was having a hearty conversation with Bumi about an amusement park for Ember Island. When Aang looked back at the girl sitting next to him, he noticed she wasn't eating.
"Aren't you hungry, Toph?" he questioned as the waiter brought over his wine and two glasses, filling them before backing away.
"Of course I am, " she said, rolling her eyes before adding, "and just sip that wine, it's gonna be really strong."
He took a small sip, swishing the cool liquid around in his mouth before swallowing a little at a time to stop himself coughing the dry liquid up. After he overcame the strange texture, he found he quite liked the taste.
"This is really good, Toph, try some!" he said, looking at her expectantly. His smile faded a little as she grimaced and turned her head away.
"Don't you like it? I thou- why did you choose one you don't like?" Aang asked, bewildered. It was all a little too much to take in, from learning proper formal table etiquette to his friend's bipolar tendencies.
"I do like it," she sighed, turning her head to stare blankly into his chest.
He took her glass and held it out to her, touching it gently to her fingertips. "If you're hungry, why don't you eat? I can heat your food up for you, too."
Toph had taken a sip of her wine (quite a bit larger than his), and held onto the glass with such force he was almost afraid of it breaking.
"I don't know, I haven't tried it yet," she answered, face set in a hard frown. The fun the two had been having disappeared, leaving a confused and somewhat scared airbender to uncover the mysteries of an emotionally repressed earthbender.
"Toph... What's wrong?" he asked quietly, breathing into her ear so as to keep the conversation private. Whatever it was, she didn't want anyone to know.
"I can't- ugh, I can't... see anything," she finally admitted quietly. "I don't know where the food is..."
If she hadn't sounded so upset at it, Aang probably would have laughed. As it were, he knew what a sore spot her blindness could be, and looked at her grim face. He felt his chest ache, realising that no matter how hard she tried, things never had been and would never be easy for her.
"How did you know where the food was when I first met you? At your home?"
Toph slumped in her chair, abandoning the good posture she had been using throughout the meal.
"That was my parents doing. We eat the same meal whenever we have guests. The table would always be set up in the same way, the food would always be placed in the same place on the plate... They made me practise until I knew it off by heart. They didn't want me to seem weaker than I already was..."
There was nothing Aang could say to that. She would refuse, point blank, to allow him to feed her—she wasn't a child, she wasn't helpless—but he couldn't just let her starve. It wasn't fair that she had to go without food just because eating would likely result in a huge mess.
"Put your hand on the table," he whispered to her quietly. She had fallen silent after the declaration, and started when he requested her act. She raised her left hand and placed it carefully next to the bowl of soup that had been made especially for her. At least the chefs had the sense not to give a blind girl rice; that would have been a disaster. Reaching over to her, Aang placed one hand on her bowl to warm the soup before removing it and placing the spoon into her fingers.
She was looking blank ahead, but he could see the slight curving of a smile in her lips and the crinkle of her eyes, bringing out his own as she realised that he would help her. Ignoring the pointed looks from Katara now, Aang instead focused on Toph, watching her struggle to eat. She was very good at keeping the spoon level, but had difficulty in locating the soup and small noodles concealed within it. They gave up talking, with Aang forgetting about his food while he helped keep Toph clean—twice he needed to use his waterbending to prevent the soup from landing hotly in her lap. It was slow going as she balanced the difficult job of locating the soup, and then getting it to her mouth without dropping it, but soon the bowl was empty and she was gently tapping at her mouth with a serviette, removing all traces of the watery mix.
By this stage, dinner had been cleared from most places, and an exotic assortment of fruits brought out as a dessert. Aang's mouth began watering at the mere smell of the baccui berry and apple pie placed in front of him, surrounded by passionfruit and rockmelon. There was also a small plate of sliced ash banana, dipped in chocolate. Remembering what Toph had told him earlier, he requested a waiter to partition the pie into small pieces. He noticed Toph's face had fallen again, and looking at her plate he couldn't help the anger that rose in his chest.
The chefs, while probably not intending to insult her, had made a smoothie of the fruits and placed it in an ice cup, one that if broken would not damage their immaculate sets. He knew, straight away from looking at her face, that Toph didn't feel angry at the situation. Her face fell as she reached out with a small hand and touched the glass, before she hid it behind a frown of disinterest. As though she felt Aang's gaze on her, she looked up and told him, "I don't really like fruit much anyway..."
"D- d'you wanna have some of mine? I think they gave me too much," Aang asked, his heart fluttering in his chest. A light pink blush flecked her face, and Aang looked away, feeling the heat seeping into his own face.
"Oh, um... do you have any fruit slices?" Toph asked in a small voice.
"Yeah! I do—which fork do I use?" he asked quickly, his breathing fast.
Toph cocked her head a moment, a small frown that looked adorable on her features, as she said, "The small one. The prongs should only be as long as your fingernail."
Locating the correct utensil, Aang slid it into the soft fruit and picked it up—only to have it slide off the end. Toph heard the wet slop as it struck his plate and stifled a giggle. Spirits, she was gorgeous when she laughed. Trying again, Aang was unable to keep the fruit on the fork again, and growled angrily. Watching Toph laugh at his temper, Aang gave a mischievous smirk she could feel. Before he had a chance to think about what he was doing, Aang's fingers where gently holding onto the rockmelon as he brought it to her lips. Toph's eyes widened in surprise, and he took the opportunity to push the fruit past her lips.
Toph bit down softly on the sunset coloured fruit, and Aang felt a jolt run up his spine as her teeth lightly scraped his fingertips. Toph was a brilliant red at this point, as though frightened of her own audacity and willingness to submit.
"Do- d'you want some more?" Aang asked, his voice husky. Toph had to gulp several times before she could answer with a small,
"Uh, n-no I'm... I'm good..."
They sat in an awkward silence, until the plates where cleared away. Aang coughed several times as though he wanted to speak to Toph, but wilted under the stern and slightly angry glare of Katara. The guests remained seated until the leaders of the nations and their partners had all left. They were then free to mingle as they wished until the eleventh hour, in which they would reconvene and discuss a meeting time and place for the next time.
"Why aren't you with them?" Toph asked Aang when she had a chance, the first words she had spoken to him since she had unwittingly accepted his very intimate form of help.
"There's no point for a nation of one," he replied as he led her away, avoiding Katara who probably wanted to berate him for his terrible manners during dinner—honestly, with Toph's help, he thought he did rather well.
"You have me," she answered, before looking away quickly, embarrassed. A toothy grin erupted from Aang's face, and he leant down slowly to whisper in her ear.
"You have me," he replied, before taking her hand and leading her to the meeting room, smiling all the way.
A/N: Shameless fluff! Ahh, I've been wanting to use this idea for a while after reading something similar of another authors (and yes, I did ask permission...)'
For the collective works of the author, go here.