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21st February, 2014
He gets back home late. The first few rays of sunlight are peeking over the rooftops as he stumbles home, tired and distraught, but the cheerful colours do nothing to lift his mood.
He couldn't find her.
Bypassing the lounge room, a sleeping Sokka and Zuko snoring gently on the couch, he makes his way to his room. It is sparse, like the nomad himself, but still homey with the scent of sandalwood incense and the sky bison fur blanket that he wraps himself into each night.
Aang falls onto his bed, finally feeling the tears he has refused for hours. He made her run away, and he lost her. For all he knows, she's out on the dangerous streets of Ba Sing Se, still angry at him.
His head in his hands, Aang lets the emotion out, slowly at first before it begins to build momentum. He hiccups slightly as he tries to get himself under control, but to no avail. He at least manages to stifle the worst of them, silently weeping in his bed. He realises that he needs someone to comfort him–as he always has. He needs someone to tell him it'll be okay.
It's strange, and he would have mused on it had he been in a calmer state of mind, but Aang knows that Toph never tells him, "It's going to be okay". She never sugar-coats her words, or says something she doesn't mean. Toph will punch him on the shoulder and tell him to harden up, reserving hugs and soft words for only the worst of occasions. She doesn't give those things freely, making them all the more valuable when she does.
Aang needs Katara to comfort him; he needs that motherly, big-sister side of her that he has cherished all these years. Of course, he needs to know Toph is okay; what better way than by asking the woman who would lie to him to preserve his feelings.
Slowly wiping the tears from his face, collecting water from the air to wash away the stickiness they have left behind, he is struck with a thought. Surely Katara would have waited up for Toph? It's obvious the two elder boys tried (and failed) to remain awake and waiting; where is Katara?
Swallowing his apprehension, he has enough self-awareness to realise, and address, the fact that he does not feel quite so worried about the waterbender; he doesn't feel quite so scared or stressed for her. Oh, that's not to say that he doesn't care about her; he just cares less.
Letting out a small choke at the thought, he freezes in place. He's the Avatar; he shouldn't be thinking like that. Everyone–and everything–is equal, from the bugs Momo ate for dinner to the giant lion turtle. From the lowliest beggar to the highest prince, no one person was any more important that another...
...so why had the thought crossed his mind? Why did the smile of Toph Beifong trigger his? Shouldn't Katara's have the same effect? How could he preach equality when he allowed one friend to be 'ranked' above another?
The urge to see the waterbender struck, and it struck hard. He needed her advice–she was a girl, after all–and she needed her comfort. She would know what to do to help him.
Raising himself from his bed, Aang made his way down the hallway towards the girls room. Perhaps Katara had retreated there to wait for Toph? Quietly sliding open the door, in his wildest dreams, Aang never expected Toph to be lying next to her, fast asleep.
Aang never really saw Toph asleep before. She would always stay hidden away in her own tent during their travels, and even in Ba Sing Se, Katara would be the one to wake her up (for the waterbender was the only one able to get away with it unscathed). Looking at his best friend, her features softened as she lay curled into Katara, Aang suddenly had no problems seeing her as his Sifu, as the rough-and-tumble girl she was a week ago; he had no problems seeing her as the woman of only a few hours previous.
Backing out of the room, he realises he doesn't need to talk to Katara. Toph is home safe, and that is all he cares about. Returning to his own room, Aang lays down in bed in the hopes of getting a few hours of rest before everyone wakes him up. He is dangling in the fragile precipice between sleep and consciousness when he has one heart-sinking thought;
Why has it taken him so long to notice?
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