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27th January, 2014

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Katara can't help but blush as she steps out of the bedroom—the girls bedroom, the one that Toph doesn't seem to have a problem with sharing, despite her arguments of independence and "I don't need a sleeping buddy!"—and the shy grin positively erupts at Zuko's breathy sigh of her name. She bites her inner lip, inside her cheek in a pathetic attempt not to allow it to take over her face. Stepping forward—hands accidentally brushing against Zuko's (he pretends not to shudder. She pretends not to see it)—Katara calls out to Toph. It takes a few seconds, but the blind girl emerges from within the bedroom to stand nervously in front of them.

Perhaps the boys don't notice, but Katara can tell she's nervous; she is a girl, after all, and girls are attuned to that sort of thing in others of their species. She can read it in the slight knot of the Toph's eyebrows, the tenseness of her back; Katara knows, because even though she can be pretty blind (ironically, when compared to the blind girl), she knows of feelings that allude to 'slightly-more-than-friends', but still beneath the 'I-wonder-if-he-likes-me' stage. She knows that Toph feels them, towards a certain airbending monk. And, she knows Toph is aware of them.

Katara has thought on the subject before; Toph isn't like other girls, no, but she is a girl. That fact is undeniable, and available for all to see. It's not just the physical attributes, things like her silky hair and soft face. It's not the fact that she has recently begun developing in areas that only females grow (albeit certainly later than Katara), or the definite femininity in her voice and actions, no matter how much she tries to hide it sometimes. There are other parts of Toph that scream 'female', from the raging mood swings to the friendship she gives. The things that only an outsider would be able to see. If anyone were to explain it to Toph, she would likely punch them and demand to know how she could change 'back' to her original self. Katara smiles; Toph isn't changing into anyone. She's just changing.

The smile falls as a sound erupts from Sokka, encouraging the other two boys to let loose their own opinions on Toph's new attire. Katara is too busy watching her friend hopelessly, seeing the dreams (ones deemed by the both of them to be perfectly realistic) come crashing around her as Aang utters the fateful words.

"Toph? Since when do you look like girl?!"

If Katara's heart is breaking, she can't even begin to imagine how Toph feels. The girl who has never been seen as one. The girl not nearly as graceful or petite as others, but still, at the core, a girl.

The boys are too busy laughing, giggling; they don't see the look on Toph's face as she pushes through them. Katara whispers her name, and while Toph stumbles, she doesn't stop. It's only when the waterbender hears the front door slam shut that she rounds on the boys. Enraged doesn't even begin to cover her mood. It takes about eight seconds and a water whip to shut the boys up. It only takes eight words to cut each of them to the core.

"You laughed at her for being a girl."

The disappointment is dripping from Katara, and even she is amazed she hasn't begun crying yet. She allows them to stew in their shame; no one is in the mood to party anymore.

There are no words to explain how guilty each of them feel; all for different reasons.

Sokka is sad because Toph is his friend; he knows he hurt her feelings (although he also knows that his justification—I didn't realise she cared so much!—is not the best thing to tell the irate waterbender). He knows that, should he attempt to apologise, he will only hurt Toph more; instead, he must wallow in his guilt.

Zuko is cursing himself, mentally banging his head on the wall. After all he and Toph had shared with each other (their relationship akin to that of a brother and sister), he should have known that she would take this to heart. There is nothing Toph does that she doesn't give one hundred percent. Why should this be any different? He knows that if he apologises, she will refuse to listen (and with good reason), and so he sits contritely in front of Katara as she looks at them sadly.

Aang has stopped listening to the waterbender altogether, but that is more due to the fact that his blood is pounding through his ears and the same memory of Toph's face just falling as he began to laugh replays in front of his eyes. Aang doesn't even know why he did it, only that when the first chuckle escaped, he could have sworn he felt Toph's heart stop. Perhaps his own did, too. He rouses himself long enough to hear Katara utter two words.

"A girl."

In the two seconds it takes for her to heave a deep breath—perhaps to continue, or prevent the tears that have been sitting in her eyes from falling—Aang has stood. He realises now, the truth of it. That his heart did falter, because he knew he hurt her. Toph; strong, tough, impenetrable Toph, taken down just like the famed city—from the inside.

Without preface or preamble, without explanation (or even a word), he runs from the small room.

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