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2nd June, 2013
noun [in singular]
1. [an] act of becoming fully aware of something as a fact
As he watched her dance, he couldn't help a small pang of hurt seep into his heart. Katara was free to choose another—he didn't own her—but on the flip-side he wished that she had been a little more covert about her intentions with the Fire Lord. Aang liked Zuko, he really did; he couldn't even harbour negative thoughts about him when he thought about all the good he was doing in the world—much more than himself, at any rate.
It had only been two months since the mutual split (or rather, Katara voicing her opinion and intentions, and him being unable to stop her leaving), and already Katara was smiling and dancing and—dare he say it—flirting with other people, while he, the Avatar, guest of honour at the Third Annual End of the Hundred Year War Celebration and Commemoration, was unable to get a single girl to talk to him.
He had to admit that he wasn't really actively searching for a dance partner, but neither was he doing anything to drive them away. Aside from purposely avoiding his ex-girlfriend and her date, the Fire Lord (and Sokka and Suki, who would fuss that he didn't have a date) Aang was really trying to be friendly. He would mingle with the crowd, but eventually all the conversations would turn political. He had been asked every question under the sun, from "what are the plans for the former Fire Lord?" to "can we expect any air maidens soon?" and he thought he would probably enter the Avatar State if he had to repeat himself again.
He was soon proven mistaken, when a young lady came up to him and asked if he wanted to dance. Well, the actual words she used were, "Get your ass over here, Twinkletoes, and dance with me. My parents are looking, and have even added The Duke to my ever-growing list of prospective husbands. I need to distract them."
"Toph!" he cried as she pulled him to the middle of the room, but he couldn't stop the happy note from entering his voice as they left behind the group of old men he had been unable to excuse himself from.
"Aang!" she mimicked, grinning. They began swaying in time with the music as she put her hands around his neck; it was at that moment he realised that she really had every intention of dancing. Nervously, he placed his hands on her shoulders.
Toph laughed, a subdued version of her Blind Bandit cackle, and grabbed his hands.
"You sure you're not a girl, Aang?" she teased, placing them on her waist. He blushed bright red as she raised her hands, cocking her head as they remained held aloft in the space between them.
"Toph?" he asked, unsure of why she had kept her hands between them; despite knowing extraordinarily little about dancing, he was sure that she was supposed to put them on his shoulders.
"Not gonna cut it, Twinks," she said, ignoring his querying tone as her hands reached for his and, without ceremony or shame, moved them to cup her buttocks.
"Toph!" he cried, wheeling back. Or, he would have had she not grasped his shoulders.
"What?" she said angrily, reaching for his hands again and placing them in the same position. This time, he didn't take them off, although he was blushing such a brilliant shade of vermillion that Toph could feel it.
"W-what are you doing?"
"You," she enunciated, "are dancing. I am fooling my parents. Don't move your hands."
"Why are you fooling your parents?" he asked, focussing on her eyes as he tried to ignore her threatening gaze and the feel of taut muscle beneath his palms. Her hair had been pulled back loosely, ensuring it didn't fall on her face but rather frame it as it was set in an elaborate top-knot. Her brilliant green orbs had been defined by dark kohl, and she had gorgeous green eye-shadow on. Trailing his eyes down her button nose, he noted that she had also allowed someone to put dark red lipstick on, making her lips seem fuller. When she smiled, like she was currently, he could see the pretty straight teeth, white against the red of her lips.
"They're compiling a list of husbands for me."
"As if they could force you anyway," he laughed, and she rested her head on his shoulder. Spirits, she had really grown!
"Nah. They're trying to guilt-trip me instead. Would you believe they asked me if I bat for the other team?"
"... You- you don't, do you?"
Toph raised her head and laughed, an honest giggle that he hadn't heard in a long time.
"No, Aang, I'm into guys," she said, putting her head back on his shoulder.
"Oh, cool. Why haven't you ever dated anyone then? Surely that would get your parents off your back?"
"Yeah, well, I've never bothered with dating. Never been anyone, I guess. Anyway, it doesn't matter, my parents aren't as controlling as they used to be—they just want me to be happy. They can't help but be a little traditional though. Honestly, if Katara wasn't already taken, I think they would put her on the list, too," she joked, laughing. Aang offered a weak smile at the mention of the waterbender, but his heart skipped a beat that Toph picked up almost straight away.
"What is it?" she asked, eyes narrowing. Unable to see properly in the large crowd, Toph didn't notice when she almost swayed into another couple. Aang had, though, and twirled her out of the way.
"What's up with you and Katara, Aang?" she asked, her use of his actual name ensuring him that she was quite serious.
"We uh, we broke up," he said quietly. To his shock, Toph only snorted. "What?!"
"You broke up," she repeated incredulously, "or she dumped you? Judging by your heartbeat, and hers, I'd say it was the latter."
"Fine, whatever, she dumped me. And now she's happy with Sparky over there, and I'm stuck here. You're lucky you don't like anyone."
Toph's eyes widened, and she looked away, but he was too upset to take any notice of it.
"You're the first person to ask me to dance. Hell, I think some of the girls have asked her. She's happy and I have no-one."
They had moved across the room and were swaying next to the buffet table when Toph stopped and took a step back, breaking contact.
"Thanks for the dance, Aang," she said quietly, a small frown on her face. Before he could say anything about it, she turned around and walked into the crowd, shaking her head. He stared after her for a moment, before he noticed Sokka sauntering up to him, a plate piled high with food. He didn't have a chance to escape as the Water Tribe warrior noticed him.
"Aang! What's up with Toph? She looked really pissed about something..." he said, picking up a dim sum and shoving it into his mouth. Aang looked at him quizzically, stealing a spring roll from the top of the plate.
"What do you mean? She was fine before..."
"I dunno... She just seemed sad..." Sokka told him around the food. "What did you say to her?"
"I dunno! We were talking about how her parents want her to get married, and then she brought up me and Katara..."
"And... well, I said that Katara was lucky that she had someone and I didn't, and Toph was lucky she didn't like anyone..."
Aang cast his gaze over the crowd. Katara was still dancing with Zuko, and he could see various nobles milling about, but no Toph. He looked back at Sokka, who had an angry glare.
"Why would you say that to her?"
Aang cocked his head. "What do you mean?"
"Ugh," Sokka groaned as he slapped his forehead, "and they call me oblivious. She's a girl. A fifteen year old girl—of course she likes someone. You probably really hurt her feelings, you know."
"Wha-? I don-"
"Go and apologise! Now! Before I set Suki on you."
Aang grimaced. For some reason, Suki had become remarkably close to the blind girl, surpassing even Katara on the friendship ladder. Aang did not want to cross an irate Kyoshi Warrior, and quickly left Sokka, who had gone back to his food.
Glancing around the hall, he searched for any sign of the blind earthbender. She had probably sought out Suki. Looking around for the unique head of red hair, he quickly spotted the Kyoshi Warrior seated at a table. His hunch was proven correct as he saw Toph's unique shade of hair—it was black, but seemed to glow with an unearthly quality under the bright lights of the hall. The two females were sitting perpendicular to him, and he could see the features of both of them. Sokka had been right; Toph looked royally pissed off. Moving closer to her, he could see that she wasn't just angry. She seemed almost sad, too.
"- And he didn't even notice. I mean, what more could I do?"
Toph hadn't noticed him approaching amongst the myriad of strange footsteps and heartbeats, and he quickly stopped walking so as not to alert her. Suki looked around and caught his eye, but didn't say anything.
"What did you do exactly, Honey?"
"I did what you said! The whole dancing thing... he has really nice shoulders. And he smells different to anyone else. All sort of woody, but with a crisp winter breeze."
With a start, Aang realised that she was talking about him. And, was that a blush? Or was it just the lighting? Man, it was getting hot in there, maybe some fresh air would do him good.
Instead of obeying him, though, his legs remained rooted on the spot as he eavesdropped on the conversation.
"Why don't you just tell him how you feel?" Suki offered, rubbing her hand over Toph's. The blind girl snorted humourlessly.
"Yeah, right; be laughed at for my trouble? No thanks."
Suki frowned unhappily, and fixed Aang with an accusing glare. "Look, Toph. This is different than Sokka-"
Wait, she liked Sokka?
"-and you know it is. You won't stop being friends, but you can't keep this to yourself. It's gonna destroy you... I just want what's best for you, Honey."
Hold on... If they're talking about me... and how she used to like Sokka...
Aang's legs finally began listening, although the steering needed to be worked on because before he knew it he was standing in front of Toph.
The earthbender looked towards him, surprised by his sudden appearance. If she suspected him of eavesdropping she didn't show it though.
Suki stood up from the table with a final rub of Toph's hand, excusing herself to look for her husband. Aang sat in the warm chair and picked up the blind girl's tiny fist; she yanked it from his grasp, but he took it back anyway.
"You know what I just figured out, Toph?" he mumbled quietly. She exhaled loudly through her nose as a sign of acknowledgement, but made no other move to tell him she heard his statement, or was interested in conversing with him.
"I just figured out you like me-"
She jerked her hand back, a desperate snarl on her face, but once again, he picked it up and began stroking it.
"-I just figured out you like me," he repeated as though there hadn't been an interruption, "and I think I realised that I like you too. It might not be as strong or as powerful as what you feel for me... but... I think of it as like a seedling. My feelings for you are just like a small sapling that needs to be watered and fed, whereas you've already nurtured a giant oak tree. If you give me time... well, I'm sure I'll catch up eventually."
She looked at him for a second, a red blush seeping into her face as her hand trembled in his. Without a word she stood from the table and walked into the crowd. Aang sighed and put his head in his hands. He honestly didn't know what he felt for the small bender—who was almost as tall as him now—but he knew it was love. It was different than the love he felt for Katara, and different from the familial love he had been exposed to as a young child. While he couldn't say for sure if he was in love with her, he could definitely say he loved her.
Letting his head drop to the wooden table with a resounding and satisfactory thump, Aang ignored the other partygoers, and they him. He wasn't sure how long he had sat there, feeling a small lump develop on his forehead, but he did know what a surprise it was when someone approached him.
"Get up. I want another dance." The sharp, beautiful, loud, poignant voice of Toph Bei Fong reached his ears and he stood up quickly as she led him to the middle of the room once again.
Being a little more cautious this time, he put his hands on her hips—judging by the blush, it was the right thing to do. He had debated (momentarily) placing them on her butt again, but quickly discarded the idea. She was probably still pissed that he had heard her.
Slowly, they began to sway with the music, remaining silent all the while. Finally, Aang couldn't stand the oppressive lack of communication, and asked a question.
"Why did you come back?"
She gave a wry smile, not quite as big as usual, but genuine all the same.
"I had to talk to my parents."
Immediately, thoughts of horrible deaths and torture flooded Aang's mind as he realised that he had essentially insulted one of the richest men in the world by assuming the worst of his only daughter.
"And?" he managed to ask in a strangled voice.
"I asked how long it took for an oak tree to grow..."
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