“Fuck, are you serious,” he hears Toph mumble in frustration as her fingers snag in her hair.
Aang clears his throat. “I could brush it for you?”
He honestly doesn’t know what possesses him to blurt that out in the open, but it’s too late to take it back now. He waits on bated breath, watches her continue to struggle with the tangles in her hair. She gives up, uttering an agitated go for it, Twinkletoes, and that’s really all the permission he needs before he’s wandering in Sokka’s bathroom, looking for a brush.
The knots look like they’re a pain to deal with, given the unhappy expression on Toph’s face, so he promises to be gentle. Ridiculously enough, he doesn’t know where to start, so he sweeps most of her long hair away from her front, fingers touching the ends of her hair and – oh.
Her hair’s really, really soft.
“Did you fall asleep back there?” she asks archly.
“Sorry,” Aang mumbles, the heat rising on his cheeks – stop, she can’t even see you – while he carefully runs the bristles of the brush over her dark tangles.
He gets lost in the repetition of it, quietly marvelling over how smooth and shiny her tresses are after he brushes them over and over. Toph’s hair drapes like satin over his palms and even when there are no knots left to run over, he keeps brushing.
“I think the tangles are gone,” Toph says later, a hint of bemusement in her voice.
Aang sets the brush aside, but doesn’t stop touching her hair; he gathers a chunk of it at the top before separating it into three sections, slowly crossing the strands over to the center. He gathers in more pieces of her hair every time he crosses over a section, and even though he’s never done this on anyone else before, he’s seen his mother do this a hundred times when he was a kid.
Ten minutes later, a French braid falls down Toph’s back and there isn’t a single strand out of place.
“Wow, I didn’t know you could braid,” she murmurs in surprise, her fingers reaching behind to touch the plait curiously. “Thanks, man.”
Toph’s smiling at him, easy and content, and he barks out a laugh to disguise the fact that he’s blushing again.
“It’s a really nice braid,” Katara chimes in with a knowing grin, a tease dangling at the tip of her tongue. “Can you braid my hair too?”
She plops down without giving him the chance to answer – not that he would decline her anyhow. Katara’s hair flows down in pretty waves, smelling like strawberries, but Aang can’t help the frown tugging at the corners of his lips when he touches it.
Her hair just isn’t the same as Toph’s.
They’re in line for a movie that doesn’t premiere for another two hours (“We’re getting good seats this time. I’m not risking another goddamn sore neck by sitting in the front row again,” Zuko hisses—) and it’s astonishing how they still aren’t the first people in line.
“Your buns are getting loose,” Aang says idly, tugging at one of them.
Toph swats his hands away. “Well, don’t make it worse, idiot.”
“I could fix them.”
A statement, not a question – with the amount of times Aang’s volunteered to brush and braid her hair this past month, it shouldn’t exactly be news to her at this point.
He knows Toph’s going to say yes, like she’s done every other time he’s asked, so he eagerly starts unravelling her buns without waiting for her expressed permission. Aang had watched a five-minute hair tutorial a couple of days ago and he could not, for the life of him, stop picturing her in the exact hairstyle he’d seen.
“I’m gonna need you to bend over for a little while, T.”
Aang revels in the silkiness of her hair, ignoring her refusal. “It’s an upside down Dutch braid that leads into space buns.” That’s what the video had been callled anyway. “C’mon, it won’t take that long. Just sit on that bench if you want. It’ll be worth it, I promise.”
She sighs, loud and aggravated, but Aang’s already pushing her towards the bench, his touch gentle against the slightness of her body.
“What are you doing?” Suki chirps, appearing with a bowl of popcorn that she’ll probably finish before the movie even starts.
“Suffering,” Toph grumps with her elbows rested on her knees.
“I saw this video the other day and I wanted to see if I could replicate it,” Aang tries – fails – to say casually.
But as soon as he starts braiding, he forgets that Suki’s even there because the glossiness of Toph’s dark hair honestly takes him to a higher plane of existence. Truly, it does. He’s never felt anything like it – Appa’s fur isn’t even as soft as this - and the feeling of being able to manipulate her hair to his will doesn’t help things either.
“Whoa,” Suki murmurs once he’s pinning the second bun to the top of Toph’s head. “That’s so pretty! Aang, do you just go around braiding any girl’s hair?”
“No, he’s only willing to braid Toph’s,” Katara says smugly off to the side.
Aang narrows his eyes. “No one asked you.”
He slides the last bobby pin into her hair and admires his own handiwork, unable to suppress a grin because it does look better. At the risk of getting flat out punched by Toph however, Aang keeps this opinion to himself.
“You like it?” he asks, quiet, meant for her ears only.
Toph’s fingers brush across the crown of her head. “You braided the buns too? Really. You just had to outdo me.” But her lips are curved in a way that softens her face completely and she’s just—
So, so beautiful.
“You never ask me first,” Aang hums happily, fingers weaving her hair together. “What’s the special occasion?”
“Nothing that special. Just going on a date.”
What the fuck.
Aang’s hands freeze in her tresses as he slowly tries to comprehend her statement. His heart leaps to his throat and it threatens to stay there then, suffocating him.
His chest constricts together uncomfortably, his mouth pressing into a thin line, and there’s an ugly, irrational part of him that wants to ruin her hair now. He wants to leave Toph looking like a mess, hoping that her date is shallow enough to stand up a blind girl just because she has a bird’s nest on her head.
He immediately feels awful for thinking such a thought, but there’s something clawing at the bottom of his stomach, green-eyed and ravenous.
“Who’s—” Aang can’t even hear his voice through the shrill noise ringing through his ears. “Who’s the lucky guy?”
“You know Kanto? The guy that sits in the front row of our English Comp class?”
He vaguely remembers this Kanto guy – vaguely - which means there’s really nothing that special about him in the first place.
Toph perks up a half hour later. “Oh, are you done? What’s this one called?”
“A waterfall braid.”
It’s twisted halfway up, leaving the rest of her hair to fall down in soft waves he created with the use of Katara’s curling wand. Fucking monkeyfeathers, he’d given her waves. Kanto’s not going to be able to keep his hands off her. What the fuck did he just do—
Her phone beeps then, breaking his train of thought. “Shit, I’m late,” Toph says, dragging a finger around one of her waves just to feel the gentle curl of it. “Thanks, Twinkletoes! I owe you one.”
And then she’s grabbing her cane and running out the door, leaving Aang to blink after her with a pathetic kind of despondence. He exhales sharply, hands white-knuckled as they clench the edge of the bathroom counter.
He’s halfway through a large tub of ice cream when she comes barging back into his apartment two hours later.
Toph rips the spoon out of his mouth and snatches the ice cream from his hands before dumping herself on the sofa next to him. She takes a spoonful, immediately blanching when the taste seeps into her tongue.
“Why’s this ice cream so nutty?”
“It’s dairy-free,” Aang replies, taking the tub before she can throw it halfway across the room. “So, um, was your date...good?”
“No,” comes a snort. “Asshole kept talking about himself, so I just paid the bill and walked out.”
Aang smiles in outward delight because that’s such a Toph thing to do. He should feel bad that her date didn’t work out, like any other good friend would, but he really, really doesn’t.
“Sorry it didn’t work out.”
“Nah,” she waves an airy hand. “I just feel kind of bad because you spent all that time on my hair. It feels like a waste.”
A nervous thrumming beneath his skin. “It doesn’t have to be.”
“The date’s over.” Toph turns her head and makes a point of blinking milky green eyes at him, gently knocking her knuckles against the side of his head. “You going all airhead on me again?”
“No,” he laughs, inwardly cringing, because it sounds so high-pitched in the space between them. “Your night shouldn’t end on a bad note. Let me take you somewhere fun. It’ll be a better date.”
Terrible, horrendous silence.
“Date,” Toph repeats after too long of a while, her voice contemplative and strained with something else. “As friends?”
“Yeah, why not? Friends go on dates all the time.” Aang breathes in, lets it whistle out silently through his teeth, and he doesn’t know why he even bothers keeping quiet when he knows she can probably hear him. She can probably hear the silly, birdlike flutter of his heart as well, just beating around recklessly in his chest. “If you’re still not having a good time, just forget it it ever happened. Or punch me if you want.”
“What happens if I have a good time?”
“Then you let me take you out on another date and we keep going from there.”
Toph tips her head back towards the flashing TV and his eyes linger on the arch of her cheekbone, on the delicate cut of her jaw. “Fine,” she ends up saying, smirking through the faint tinge of pink settled on her face. “Just so you know, I’m looking forward to punching you.”
So he takes Toph to a roller skating rink that’s still open this late. Toph trades her cane for his arm as they skate slow circles around the rink, and Aang tries not to show how pleased he is just to have her hold onto him, to feel her small fingers in the crook of his elbow. She laughs with him and at him, loud and blithe, her long hair floating behind her.
Aang trips once because he stares at her too long, even taking her down with him as he grasps desperately at her hands, but she never gets mad at him.
(She still punches his arm though, despite having a good time. He’s okay with it.)
“For someone who’s glaringly bald, you’re a huge hair snob.”
Aang opens his mouth to argue with her because no, he’s never been a huge snob of anything in his life, but then he takes stock of their current situation. They’re pulled off to the side, ten minutes away from the restaurant, with his hands in her hair because Toph had come to him with a look – he doesn’t even know what to call it – that had mismatched braids stretched over her forehead like they’re supposed to be her bangs.
“Who did this to you,” Aang says instead.
Toph grins widely, clearly amused at him. “Suki.”
Scoffs. “I love Suki, but that girl only has, like, three go-to hairstyles at best. You would have been better off with Katara. Or Sokka at least.”
“Damn, shots fired. Suki’s so kicking your ass when she hears this.”
“No one likes snitches, you know,” Aang says, tugging at her hair in a way that makes Toph stick her tongue out at him.
It’s very cute – the flash of a pink tongue and her nose scrunching up at him. In the end, he fixes it with a fishtail braid that has a tighly bound start and a body that curves into a shapely weave of thicker strands. It looks like a mermaid’s figure, actually, and he’s very proud of it.
Okay, wow, he really is a hair snob—
Aang doesn’t get to finish the rest of that thought because something soft is touching the corner of his mouth. It’s a teasing gesture, entirely light against his bottom lip, and he still feels incredibly breathless by the time Toph’s pulling her head back.
“I missed, didn’t I?” Toph laughs to herself, turning her face away.
He follows her helplessly though, leaning over the emergency brake to cup her face in his sun-kissed palms. He dips his head, his mouth burning hot as he brushes it against hers once, twice, three times, tasting sweet cheeries all the while. Aang feels her smile faintly against his lips and he loves it, loves feeling it grace her face, loves tracing the bend of it with his own mouth.
Toph makes a quiet noise when he scrapes his teeth along the plumb of her mouth and he thinks he’ll go mad at that sound. He presses harder against her, feels her lips part under the sweep of his tongue—
“Oh—” Aang jerks back when he realizes he’s completely pressing her into the corner of the passenger seat, when he realizes how small she is under his awkward set of long limbs. “Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“Don’t get your panties in a twist,” is her eloquent reply as straightens her sunglasses. “Did you hear me complaining?”
“It was okay then?” he asks, flustered.
“Yes. You’re a phenomenal kisser. Totally rocked my world,” Toph retorts dryly, making him beet-red at this point, but she leans in to kiss him again, not even missing his mouth this time. “This better be an amazing vegan restaurant you’re taking me to.”
Aang beams, pink-cheeked. “It is! You’ll love the chipotle tacos. It doesn’t even taste like tofu.”
Once he pulls back onto the road, his fingers twitch between their armrests, itching to hold her hand. He hadn’t been that transparent, he thinks, but then Toph lets out a mild sigh as she slots her fingers through the holes of his own, stilling his restlessness.
It’s Suki’s turn for movie night – which Aang always dreads – because she always, undoubtedly, picks the scariest ones to watch. Suki is a tyrant who laughs in the face of danger (“I pick them because I know you hate them,” she cackles, “and because I like hearing Sokka and Zuko scream like little girls.”) and consistently feeds off of their discomfort.
He spends most of the time ignoring the disturbing noises coming from the TV and focuses on spinning Toph’s tresses into an intricate flower braid he’d seen on Instagram.
“You’re really not watching?” Toph whispers, body leaning against his knees as she sprawls on the floor.
“I want to sleep through the night,” he explains pointedly. “Why does it have to be horror? What’s wrong with rom-coms?”
“They’re not that bad.”
“I honestly can’t believe you meant every word of that,” Toph throws back, feigning disgust.
Aang frames her face with his hands, tipping it back so that he’s treated to an upside down view. He presses a happy kiss to her mouth, flicking his tongue playfully over her teeth while Sokka squawks out no oogies! from across the room.
His girlfriend’s hair looks like the epitome of spring when he’s done with it, what with her strands braided into three rosettes at the back of her head. He watches Toph slowly touch the formed petals of the braided updo and, unable to help himself, cranes his neck a bit to kiss her fingers affectionately.
“No,” he pleads in a murmur when her fingers reach behind to undo her hair. “Leave it.”
Toph’s brow lifts, but there’s a knowing grin on her face. “Why?”
She’s sitting right on Aang’s stomach in nothing but her undergarments, hovering over him like some otherworldly creature. The crown braid he’s intertwined in her hair is still perfectly intact and she simply looks untouchable, like she can step on him and he’d very much welcome it.
“You look like a queen,” he breathes out in a rasp, swallowing tightly.
His hands slide up Toph’s thighs to rest on the creamy skin of her hips, fingers curling to hold on, to leave light impressions behind. As much as he loves loosening her hair for her at the end of the day, feeling ringlets and waves as he brushes them out with his fingers, he just wants her to keep the braid on longer just this once.
Aang takes the hand that’s pressing against his shoulder, slanting his mouth over her wrist. “You can tell me what to do. If you want.”
“Uh, I already do? On a daily basis.”
He flushes. “I meant here. In bed. Only if you want, T.”
Toph’s lips melt into a smirk and he immediately feels his blood rush so far down south at that expression. “Is it the hair? It’s gotta be,” she hums, bending over to grip his chin in her palm. He exhales in a tremor when she tugs his bottom lip into her mouth. “Alright, Twinkletoes, hands above your head and don’t touch me until I tell you to, got it?”
“Yes, ma’am,” comes out of Aang as easy as breathing while he crosses his wrists above his head, his heart racing.
When one of Aang’s professors shortens the deadline to his twenty-page paper out of nowhere – leaving him a week to finish the assignment when he initally had three weeks left – he buries his face in his hands and screams.
Fifteen seconds later: “Aang?”
Toph appears at the doorway with a disgruntled Appa at her heels; disgruntled, because she’s no longer paying attention to the large St. Bernard licking at her ankle.
And he doesn’t care how particularly needy he looks when he holds an arm out to her, wanting her, but he does it without hesitation. Her fingertips barely have the chance to graze his before he’s yanking her onto his lap, tucking his face into her neck. He hears Appa whining before he joins them too, plopping down by Aang’s chair with a grunt.
She smells so fresh, like apples and honey, and he wants to kiss her skin all over until the taste is in his mouth.
“My philosophy professor,” he groans, muffled against her skin, “is so horrible. This is the third time he’s done this.”
“He changed the due date to your paper again?” He nods, miserable. “Want me to kick his ass? Just give me some badass viking braids and I’ll fucking do it.”
Smiles. “You can’t assault the faculty.”
Aang sprinkles soft kisses along her jaw, his fingers already relieving her hair from its messy topknot. The viking braids he has in mind will probably take an hour to do, judging by the sheer complexity of it, but the work will clear his mind from the stress he doesn’t want. Toph sits straighter on his lap, used to the motions by now, and it makes him grin wider.
He rubs his fingers against her scalp. “Thank you.”
Already, it feels like his chest is less tight. Like he can breathe easier.
“Yeah, yeah,” she replies, closing her eyes in placid content. “Badass viking braids, and then I kill this professor of yours.”
“You sure you want to give hair clippers to a blind girl? What if I accidentally turn this into a bloodbath?”
“I think the more pressing concern is why you’re smiling at the thought of it.”
“That’s just my face. Way to make me feel self-conscious about it.”
“You’ve never been self-conscious about anything in your life.” Softer, quieter: “And you never need to be. At least around me.”
“Ugh, it’s too early for you to be this sappy.” Clicks on the clippers. “Okay, let’s do this. I actually miss touching your bald head.”
“Maybe let me do it with you first a few times? And once you get the feel for it, I’ll hand it off to you.”
“This is fucking crazy.”
“You trust me?”
Mocks back in a voice that’s supposed to sound like him: “I think the more pressing concern is if you trust me.”
He laughs, bright and easy. “Yeah, I trust you.”