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Release date

26th January, 2014

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She doesn't normally like her hair being down, but this time, Toph makes an exception. It is, after all, a very important celebration; it's not often that the rulers of two nations get together to form a peace pact (at least, it hasn't occurred in the last one hundred years), and everyone must be on their best behaviour.

Toph doesn't mind, because she's a little older, a little wiser; Toph doesn't mind letting her hair down, because Katara says it looks lovely like that, and the blind girl wants to believe her. Even if the waterbender's heart gives no indication of deceit, Toph is still cautious. It feels strange, least of all because she has a dress to go with it (a gorgeous forest green that accentuates her mint-jade eyes) and Toph never wears dresses.

All those years ago (half a decade, give or take), she didn't need anyone's approval. She would be lying to herself if she said she didn't dream about it occasionally; being normal, that is. Seeking and wanting and needing someone else. Of course, her dream is a reality, but one she can't afford. Thus, Toph lies to herself, too, telling her heart that it doesn't matter.

Of course it matters.

Katara has already finished getting ready, and she wonders why the blind girl agreed to let her help. She glances at Toph, who seems to be stuck. She has just finished brushing her hair (a surprise that Katara didn't comment on), and seemed to be wondering what to do with it next. Perhaps she just needs a little push; regardless, whether or not she wants one, a little push is what she is given.

"You have so many gorgeous clips, Toph!" she gushes, picking each of them up in turn, handling them like a fragile jewel. "Can I put one in your hair?"

Toph's stomach does backflips to the heavy beat of her heart; she silently curses herself, demanding her body behave itself. It's with a jerky nod (that is not missed by Katara, although it also isn't mentioned) that Toph gives her assent, running her petite fingers over them before choosing one she deems appropriate. It is the one Katara would have chosen, and she wonders how different the two truly are.

"Are you guys nearly done?" There is a whine from outside, and Toph jumps in surprise. She had forgotten the boys were waiting for her- them. She bites her lip as her thoughts turn to the monk, probably wearing the same soft silks as he always does. Although she would never tell anyone, Toph sometimes dreamt of those same silks being cast aside as she reaches up to touch the monk. It is those thoughts, and thoughts like it, that cause Toph to wake in the night, panting heavily with something other than terror. It is the simple craving the quickly turns into a sinful one and has her pale skin burning, even hours later. She jumps again as Sokka raps on the door, another complaint on his lips.

"Hurry up, Zuko is getting antsy and it's making the room too hot! And Aang's just sitting here with a stupid grin on his face!" It is Katara's turn to bite her lip, and she knows Toph can see her heart run a million miles at the Fire Lord's name. She isn't aware of her friend's roaming thoughts, although she certainly knows the reason Toph's breath has suddenly become a little shallower, a little faster at Sokka's words.

"There!" she says, happy with her handiwork. Toph's bangs are brushed over her eyes, showing the barest hint of the soft green eye-shadow the blind girl allowed on her face. Her lips, painted the softest shade of pink, were pressed into a tight line (but not anxious, no, never! Katara couldn't help but wonder at the blind girl, in all her mystery) below her button nose. She looked, in one word, beautiful. In three; very un-Toph-like. "You look gorgeous," she adds. "Ready to steal the spotlight?" Katara grins easily, not missing the way her friend's eyes widen, or the way the tiny smile appears at the corners of her mouth.

"Yeah," she replies after a moment, allowing her heart the chance to beat a little lighter, a little faster at the thought.

"All right, we're coming out now!" Katara calls. Toph feels the boys all stand up and straighten their own clothes, which have presumably crumpled as they sagged in their seats, bored. Katara leaves the room first, only to be greeted with collective gasps and a raspy, "Spirits, Katara," from the resident firebender. Toph feels the heartbeats in the room gain significant speed (the heartbeats of two people in particular), and she wonders—more to keep her mind from her own grand entrance mere moments away—how they were still breathing, and not making out already. She isn't even in the room and she can feel the sexual tension.

"Coming, Toph?" She hears her name, and takes a breath. Stepping through the door, Toph is met only with silence.

Her own heartbeat fills her senses, and the air she has just swallowed has all but disappeared from her lungs. The seconds seem to drag on, and she resists the urge to fiddle with the soft lace that hangs down her dress, Finally, she gets a response.

A snort erupts from somewhere in front of her, and she knows it is Sokka. Within seconds, he is joined by Aang and Zuko as they laugh. Her heart sinks to the very earth she commands, but it is not the laughter that gets her, that undoes her completely. From amidst the chuckles and guffaws, she hears one, simple sentence, from the one person she had hoped wouldn't laugh. The one person she dressed up for. The only person from which she needed approval.

"Toph? Since when do you look like a girl?!" the Avatar spills from between snickers.

Oh, she wants to follow her heart into the ground at the words, but that's not what she does. Even so, her body completely defies her wishes as it does the one thing she swore never to do; she runs.

She pushes past them, the soft way Katara utters her name scratching at her already torn heart. She runs fast, escaping before she can hear Katara yell at her friends- were they friends? Did friends laugh at each other, laugh like that?

Perhaps that is what stings the most. She knows Katara is pretty; the reactions of the boys proved that. How ugly must she be? Her mother had told her the story of the ugly turtleduckling, how it had grown into a creature more beautiful than any other. She couldn't be it; not when she has grown and grown and yet not transformed, as it did. Katara was like a flower in bloom; next to the waterbender, Toph was barely a bud. Toph couldn't help but question that, too.

Perhaps she wasn't even a flower at all.

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