Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar. I'm merely borrowing Mike and Bryan's phenomenal characters and bending them to my will.
A/N: This takes place directly after the Epilogue in The Firelord and the Avatar. I've actually written a few one-shots that happen after that fic and I'm working on another multi-chapter that follows this same universe. However, I won't post that until I'm finished with it. I have it outlined for 18 chapters so it might take me a month or so to write it. Which works out perfectly since I'll be posting a one-shot a week. So, if I say on my schedule, by the time I post my last one-shot, I should be ready to begin posting the multi-chapter. The one-shots will be fluffy...the multi-chapter? Not so much.
Thanks: To my longsuffering beta, who can never seem to get any rest because I keep pestering her with fic. You know I love you.
Toph emitted a desultory grunt when Aang indicated that the Bei Fong estate was not too far ahead. "Great," she muttered under her breath. "Home sweet home."
It was late afternoon. They had been traveling for most of the morning, but Katara knew that Toph's moodiness wasn't due to fatigue. She had been dreading her return home for two days now and had made no secret of it. Twice, she had even tried to convince Aang to bypass the visit altogether and head straight to Omashu, which was their next destination after visiting her parents. Despite Toph's bullying, however, Aang had remained firm in his resolve, which had done nothing more than incur his friend's recalcitrant silence.
She was actually glaring a sightless hole in Aang's direction when Katara choked out a laugh at her less than enthusiastic response. "Really, Toph, is it that bad?"
"I'd rather dress up in the frilliest gown imaginable and play tea party," Toph clarified brutally. "Does that give you any idea how bad it is?"
Her succinct response left Katara sputtering. "Wow, yeah…that's pretty bad," she agreed.
"You have no idea," Toph mumbled, slumping down low in Appa's saddle with a petulant huff. "This is going to be the longest week ever! My mother drives me absolutely crazy."
"Don't you think you're being just a little dramatic," Katara reasoned. "I know if I had the chance to spend some time with my mother, I'd be all over it."
Katara's response, while well-meaning and neutral, inundated Toph with guilt. She was hardly surprised by the answer. Her complicated relationship with her mother was something she did not expect Katara to understand. Kya's absence from her life was something Katara felt acutely. Of course, she would view Toph's reluctance to spend time with her own as a show of ingratitude and perhaps even spoiled willfulness. Even Aang, as patient and understanding as he was, gave Toph the impression that he really didn't get where she was coming from. After all, he was technically alone in the world, without family or even another of his own race. He would likely be as grateful to spend just a mere hour with Gyasto as Katara would be to see her mother again.
Toph didn't expect that either one of them could truly understand what she was feeling. It wasn't that she didn't love her mother, or even that she didn't want to spend time with her mother. She did. She wanted to connect with her. However, it seemed that the more time she spent with her mother, the more Toph realized that she and the elder Bei Fong had nothing at all in common. The more time they spent together, the harder it became for Toph to ignore that she would never be the daughter her mother wanted. That realization was at the root of Toph's reluctance…loving her mother so much and wanting her approval so badly and yet always knowing she could never be what her mother wanted.
She had barely survived the last visit. Toph was certain that this next one would be just as excruciating. Still, despite her conviction that sheer misery loomed, she pinned on a wan smile for Katara's benefit. "I guess you're right," she said. "Maybe I am being a little too pessimistic."
"That's the spirit," Katara encouraged buoyantly. "This visit is only going to be as terrible as you make it."
A few minutes later, they were landing and the second Toph's feet touched the ground she sensed her parents' presence. She barely had enough time to brace herself before they were rushing her with exuberant hugs and peppered kisses. Toph endured their excessive fawning, though the display of affection was a little overwhelming for her. It seemed like an eternity passed before her parents finally released her and her father turned, at last, to address Aang and Katara.
"I trust you saw Ursa safely home, Avatar," Lao Bei Fong said with a cordial nod.
"Yes," Aang confirmed, smiling. "She's back with her family. Things aren't perfect, but they are mending."
He refrained from revealing to Mr. Bei Fong that the not "perfect" things had to do with Ursa's daughter attempting to burn down the royal palace with them all inside it. There was also the suspicious business surrounding Ozai's death, but Aang made no attempt to mention that either. Lao Bei Fong was still in a transition phase of accepting the lifestyle his daughter lived. Learning that she had nearly perished a couple of weeks earlier in a fire and was present in the Fire Nation during Ozai's assassination certainly would not hurry him along the path of acceptance. He would likely learn the details from Ursa before too long anyway. For now, Aang wanted to make this visit go as smoothly for Toph as he possibly could…even if she wasn't talking to him.
"Where are the rest of your friends?" Mrs. Bei Fong asked, craning her neck for a glimpse of Sokka and Suki. "I planned a big feast just because I knew what a large appetite some of you have."
Katara masked her responsive snicker behind a cough. "My brother and Suki had business elsewhere, Mrs. Bei Fong," she answered. "And we haven't seen or heard from Chit Sang since we left here."
"Pity," Mr. Bei Fong said but in a tone that clearly stated he didn't find it to be a "pity" at all.
However, his relief over not being eaten into the poor house on account of Sokka and Chit Sang was far from complete. There was still the matter of the young Avatar's sky bison and his lemur. It was almost expected that Appa would eat a fair amount of food, but the lemur was another matter altogether. Though small and agile, Momo had proven he could eat his weight in the space of a day.
Curling his lip in a faint grimace of distaste, Lao surveyed the furry creature perched docilely on the young Avatar's shoulder. "I suppose you'll be keeping your pet in the house with you as you did your last visit?" he inquired of Aang with a longsuffering sigh.
"If that's okay with you," Aang prefaced. "If you'd prefer him to sleep outside with Appa…"
"Of course, he wouldn't prefer it! Yes, it's okay with him," Mrs. Bei Fong piped in cheerily. "Whatever the Avatar wants, the Avatar gets." She stepped forward and linked arms with Aang, leading him towards the house. "I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is having you visit with us again…"
Katara followed closely behind, rolling her eyes in exasperation as Aang ate up Mrs. Bei Fong's flattery with a figurative spoon. Toph and her father fell into step behind them, their gait slower and more deliberate as Mr. Bei Fong wanted the opportunity to chat with his daughter in private.
Toph grunted as they entered the house. "And here I thought she was excited to see me," she muttered dryly as her mother, still chattering on to Aang in animated fashion, disappeared with her friends into the parlor.
"Now Toph, don't be that way," her father chided. "Your mother is merely trying to take an interest in your friends."
"Really?" Toph snorted in a disbelieving tone. "Is that what she's doing?"
Lao Bei Fong ignored her sarcasm in favor of appraising his daughter, noting the subtle changes in her since he had seen her only a few weeks before. "You're looking well," he remarked after his once over was met with satisfaction.
"You sound like you were expecting the opposite," Toph replied.
"Now don't get defensive," her father soothed. "I was merely saying that you look content and that makes me content."
"Well, I am content," Toph conceded before adding somewhat glumly, "for the most part."
Mr. Bei Fong sighed his disappointment over her answer. "Is it really such a chore for you to come and see us, Toph?" he wondered mournfully.
The question prickled Toph with renewed guilt and she stamped down her inclination to whine about it. The last time she had been there fighting and tantrums had gotten her nowhere. The harder she had fought, the crazier her parents had made her. In the reasonable portion of her brain, Toph knew they weren't purposely getting on her nerves. She knew that they were genuinely trying to make an effort with her. It was just difficult when all they seemed to do was talk in circles.
So, for this visit, Toph decided to take a different approach. She wouldn't scream or rant or rave. Instead, she would make every effort to be the daughter she had been to her parents prior to running off with Aang. She would be demure and quiet and respectful and she would maintain the façade even if it killed her. After all, it was only a week. Once it was over, she could go back to being her normal raucous, surly self and everything would be right with the world again.
Consequently, when she replied to her father's query her response was calm and neutral. "It's not a chore, Dad," she said. "I'm sorry for being so difficult."
"That's my good girl," her father commended, hugging her close to press a kiss to the top of her head. "I can tell already that this is going to be a wonderful visit."
"Yes," Toph agreed unenthusiastically. "Wonderful."
Dinner was a fiasco. Toph's mother spent the majority of the time monopolizing the conversation and rather blatantly pushing her daughter at Aang. Mr. Bei Fong, on the other hand, tolerated his wife's antics with an amused smile, seeming not to notice his daughter's or her friends' discomfort. By the time dessert was eaten the three young people were more than a little anxious to get out of there. As Aang and Katara made their way off to someplace more private for some hard earned alone time, Toph wandered out onto the veranda for some air. She almost groaned aloud when she sensed her mother's approach from behind a few seconds later.
"You hardly touched your dinner tonight," Mrs. Bei Fong remarked as she came to stand alongside her daughter.
"I wasn't very hungry," Toph replied laconically.
"You're much too young to be watching your figure, Toph," her mother scolded.
Toph repressed the urge to roll her eyes. "That had nothing to do with it, Mother."
"I know you must have been starving," Mrs. Bei Fong prattled on. "You can't possibly be eating well traveling constantly the way that you do."
"I eat just fine, Mom," Toph ground out in exasperation.
"I'm only saying…" her mother continued, "How can you possibly hope to make yourself pleasing to the Avatar if you're all wasted away?"
Toph couldn't quite swallow back her snort of laughter. "Pleasing to Aang?" she scoffed. "Are you kidding?"
"A girl could do much worse than the Avatar, darling," her mother reasoned mildly.
Groaning inwardly, Toph mentally counted to ten and reminded herself of all the reasons why playing the role of the good and dutiful daughter was beneficial and right. When she was certain she could speak to her mother again without ranting, she said, "Mom, Aang and I are just friends. That's all. All."
Mrs. Bei Fong merely shrugged. "Sometimes feelings change."
This time Toph did groan aloud. She gripped the concrete fencing the veranda in a mighty effort to hold onto her mounting temper. "Okay, so I'm too young to be thinking about my figure, but I'm old enough to try and catch a guy?" she balked incredulously.
"You're never too young to start considering a marriage and a future, Toph," her mother pointed out.
"To Aang?" Toph snorted, her emotions veering crazily from anger to outright hilarity. "Mom, please stop."
"Why is that so funny?" her mother demanded in genuine affront. "Your friend is a very handsome young man and a powerful bender. You like to bend. I thought that kind of thing would be important to you."
"Please make it stop," Toph muttered to herself.
"I'm only pointing out to you, darling, that if you don't make your move soon some other girl will gladly scoop him up from under you." Yet again, Toph could not restrain herself from a fit of laughter. Her mother sniffed indignantly. "I can't, for the life of me, imagine why you find this so amusing," she declared tartly. "You can't possibly envision doing whatever it is you do for the rest of your life, can you, Toph? You need to start thinking about settling down some day, perhaps starting a family."
"I'm thirteen, Mom," Toph pointed out dryly.
"I said thinking," her mother stressed. "But it's never too early to start laying the groundwork. You're in a very unique position, Toph. Not many girls have the opportunity you do, to have such a close and personal relationship with the Avatar. You should use that to your advantage. It wouldn't hurt if you were a bit nicer to him. The way you speak to him is just dreadful. It's a wonder he hasn't written you off already. The very least you could do is make some effort to entertain him."
"Entertain him?" Toph echoed in amusement. "Oh, I think Aang is being plenty entertained, Mom." Following that statement, she nodded over to a remote spot in the garden where Aang and Katara were tucked away in the shadows, kissing ardently.
Having followed her daughter's nod, Mrs. Bei Fong emitted a shocked gasp, her hand fluttering to her throat in a gesture of supreme dismay. "Well, that's certainly a surprise…" she uttered somewhat blankly.
"Exactly," Toph said, hugely pleased with herself. "Aang already has a girlfriend."
"I had no idea," her mother said.
"You might have noticed if you hadn't been so busy trying to push me off on him," Toph pointed out acerbically.
"But…but…who is she?" Mrs. Bei Fong sputtered. "Who is her family? What is her bloodline? Does she even have the connections that the Bei Fongs have? How dare he choose her over you?"
"Um…first of all, Aang didn't choose Katara over me," Toph clarified in annoyance. "I never wanted him in the first place. He's like a sister to me."
"You mean like a brother," her mother corrected.
"No, I mean like a sister," Toph insisted tartly. "Secondly, Aang has been in love with Katara since forever so, even if I did want to be with him, which I don't, it would have been a lost cause. No other girl ever had a chance with him."
"I still can't imagine why he would choose her over you," her mother insisted.
"Katara's a great girl," Toph grated defensively as she felt her sweet, diffident veneer slip away in gradual degrees. "If you're trying to imply there's something wrong with her…"
"No…no, I'm not saying that," her mother soothed quickly. "It's only that you're so very special, Toph. I can't help but feel offended when others don't see that."
"Oh Mom, please spare me!" Toph retorted scornfully. "You don't think I'm special and we both know it! You probably were just hoping I could start up with Aang so you could have something to brag about to your friends! After all, having an ill-mannered tomboy for a daughter surely can't be doing anything positive for your reputation or your social life!"
"Toph," her mother began calmly despite the tears already glistening in her eyes, "I do think you're misreading my intentions."
"No, I'm reading your 'intentions' just fine," Toph spat. "And if you want this visit to be any semblance of pleasant, you'll refrain from your 'intentions' from now on!" She stomped away then, quickly scuttling through the winding halls of the spacious house for the sanctuary of her bedroom.
"Still not talking to me?"
Toph didn't really acknowledge Aang's presence at all when he cautiously popped his head into her bedroom, but her churlish grunt was more than enough. He leaned his shoulder into the doorframe. Katara materialized beside him a moment later, tentatively wiggling her fingers in Toph's direction after the blind girl nodded her acknowledgement. "Katara and I…we kind of heard the fight you had with your mom earlier," he revealed hesitantly. "Are you okay?"
"You heard us, huh?" Toph scoffed derisively. "I'm surprised you two surfaced from tongue world long enough to know anything was going on."
Both Aang and Katara blushed in chagrin. "Oh wow…you knew we were there?" Katara surmised with mounting embarrassment. "Did your mother see us?"
"Yeah, she did," Toph confirmed.
"Oh no," Katara groaned, slumping to the floor and covering her face with her hands. "I'm so humiliated. Your mother probably thinks I'm a loose girl," she muttered from behind her fingers.
"Trust me, she doesn't think that," Toph reassured her friend with some degree of amusement. When Katara did nothing more than expel another embarrassed groan, Toph laughed. "Get off the floor! It's not a big deal." Katara did as she was bidden, only to sprawl herself across Toph's bed, face down, in the most dramatic fashion. Both Aang and Toph choked back their snickers over her actions. They knew Katara would not appreciate their laughter.
"So…did you know we were there the whole time?" Aang wondered.
"Pretty much," Toph said. "It's that whole vibration sensing thing. Sometimes, it can be a pain in the butt. Hey, look at it this way though. At least, some of us had fun tonight."
"It wasn't that bad," Aang laughed, moving to perch himself on the edge of her bed.
"You're right," Toph agreed lightly. "It was worse."
"Come on," Aang laughed.
"Oh yeah, I'm sure it was perfect for you, Twinkle Toes," Toph retorted dryly. "My mother was hanging on your every word tonight."
Katara rolled a look over to her boyfriend. "Yeah, the fawning did kind of go to your head, Aang," she agreed.
"It did not!" he denied heatedly.
"Right," came Toph and Katara's simultaneous drawl of laughter. "Besides, it doesn't matter anymore," Toph continued when their giggles had subsided. "I set her straight on the whole fixing us up together thing."
"How did she take that?" Katara snickered. "She seemed to have her heart set on Aang becoming your future husband and all."
"Like that would ever happen!" she snorted in renewed hilarity.
"Hey!" Aang protested over their rolling mirth. "I'm quite a catch!"
"In your own mind, Twinkle Toes," Toph retorted laughingly. "In your own mind."
"Oooh, but I still love you, Aang. You're a catch to me," Katara cooed, inching over to press a mollifying kiss to her pouting boyfriend's cheek.
He jerked away from her intention with a sour scowl. "Don't try to kiss me," he declared petulantly, averting his face with a haughty sniff. "I'm not talking to you." His tart reply did nothing more than earn more giggles.
"You see?" Toph pressed some moments later. "We didn't have to come here to have fun at Aang's expense at all. This trip was a complete waste of time."
"But Toph," Katara protested, "don't you want to spend time with your parents?"
"I do," Toph admitted in a suffocated tone. "I just feel like I can't be myself when I'm with them." Her friends responded to that statement with absolute silence and, though she couldn't see their expressions, Toph imagined that they didn't understand what she meant at all. "It's difficult to explain," she added vaguely. "It's just…they're not who I want them to be and I'm not who they want me to be. I never will be."
"Do you just want to leave then?" Aang asked her.
Toph answered with a defeated nod. "It will probably be for the best," she considered. "I'm probably making them miserable by being here anyway."
"I can assure you that you're not making us miserable at all," her father refuted suddenly, garnering the attention of the three teens with his unannounced entrance. "We don't want you to go, Toph. Your mother is beside herself."
"Dad, it's not working out," Toph lamented in longsuffering. "It never works out."
"Give it one more day," her father urged plaintively. "Your mother wants to take you on a shopping excursion. You can have anything you want…just, please don't leave us yet."
Toph recognized that her father was pulling out all the stops. Never, in all the time she had lived with her parents, had she been allowed off the grounds of the estate. The times she had left had been under subterfuge and deception, but never with the Bei Fongs' permission. Her tutoring had been done at home, her clothing specially tailored; even the entertainment she had enjoyed had been within the walls of her parents' estate. For her father, of all people, to suggest a day out shopping, Toph knew he had to be desperate to have her stay.
Consequently, it was the combination of her father's pleading and the hopeful stares she knew she was receiving from Aang and Katara which made her relent. "Okay…okay…" she conceded after a lengthy pause. "I suppose I can stay another day."
If Toph had suspected the night before that agreeing to her father's suggestion was a bad idea, by the next morning, she was absolutely certain the suggestion was a disaster waiting to happen. Her mother had essentially planned their entire day together. The entire day. Hours upon hours stuck in ridiculous conversation with her mother with absolutely no escape. Faced with that daunting prospect, Toph did the only thing she could do. She cornered Katara right after breakfast and begged the older girl to go with her.
"Don't you understand?" Toph cried. "I can't be alone with her! We have nothing in common! At least, if you're there, actual conversation might result."
"I don't know, Toph," Katara hedged. "This is supposed to be your private time with your mom. I don't really think I should intrude."
"You wouldn't be intruding!" Toph protested vehemently. "My mother would love it if you came along." It wasn't the complete truth, wasn't even remotely close to it, but Toph saw no reason why Katara needed to know that. She wasn't beyond outright deception by that point. Desperate times did call for desperate measures. "Come on," she cajoled her waffling friend. "What do you say?"
Katara was torn. On one hand, she understood how grueling Toph found spending time with her parents to be and she sympathized, but, on the other, she had no real desire to be sandwiched between Toph and her mother for the rest of the day being the bridge between their stilted attempts at bonding. She had two very clear choices: spend the day in tension and misery or spend the day with Aang. Katara's preference was virtually a no brainer.
After emitting a low sigh of mixed regret and relief, Katara shook her head. "I'm afraid you're on your own this time, Toph."
"You backstabber," Toph accused her darkly.
"I'm doing it for your own good," Katara insisted.
"Oh please!" Toph scoffed. "You're doing it because you want to spend the day macking on Aang!"
While Katara's expression remained carefully blank, the blush staining her cheeks pretty much confirmed Toph's accusation. She was secretly glad for Toph's blindness right then. "I can neither confirm nor deny that accusation," she replied vaguely. "Besides, this isn't about me. It's about you and your mother. I think some time alone with her is just what you need. It will force you both into facing the issues between you. If I'm there, I'll just be a distraction."
"You're right, Katara," Toph agreed, surprising Katara with her sudden and unprecedented acquiesce. She had no idea that Toph's sudden change in attitude had everything to do with retribution. "I do need to spend some time alone with my mom. Thank you for being so reasonable."
"No problem, Toph," Katara chirped. "You know I'm always here to help."
After Katara skipped off, undoubtedly in search of Aang, Toph sought out her father. She found him in his study a few minutes later, diligently looking over his business ledgers. When he spied Toph in the entrance, however, he hastily set aside his work and bestowed her with a wide smile.
"Hello, sweetheart!" he greeted jovially. "Are you excited for the day out with your mother?"
"More than you know," Toph indulged in the sweetest tone. "The thing is, Dad, I feel bad for my friends. I mean, I'll be in town, having a good time and shopping while they're stuck here in the house, bored. It doesn't seem fair."
"Well, I'll be more than happy to make sure the Avatar and his companion stay entertained," her father volunteered happily.
Toph's grin became positively self-satisfied. "That's just what I was hoping you'd say," she replied. "Perhaps, you can take them on an extended tour of the grounds. That's always fun. Oh, and be sure to regale them with the story of how great-grandpa Bei Fong built the mighty Bei Fong dynasty."
"My goodness, Toph," her father uttered with some surprise. "I never had the impression you were remotely interested in either of those things. Whenever I used to tell you the story of my grandfather, you always fell asleep."
"Sometimes the excitement was just too much," Toph lied smoothly. "I want you to be sure to share every, last detail with my friends. Don't leave anything out."
She stressed this because she knew that the tale of great-grandpa Bei Fong was perhaps the longest, driest, most boring tale she had ever heard in her life. Every time her father had told it Toph had felt she had lost precious hours from her life. That would teach Katara to throw her over for kisses in the future. As far as Aang was concerned…well, he would just have to suffer by association.
"I'll make sure your friends are told everything, starting with grandfather's beginning," Mr. Bei Fong promised. "I think it makes the story much more meaningful."
"Thanks, Dad," Toph chirped, bounding over to surprise both herself and her father by pressing an impromptu kiss to his cheek. "You're a life saver." Toph was surprised because she didn't recognize, until that very second, how very unaffected the gesture had been. It had been a natural inclination, almost as if she had been suppressing the urge to do it that entire time. Impulsively, she wrapped her arms about her father's neck and hugged him tight. "I…I love you, Dad," she stammered thickly.
"Oh sweetheart…" her father whispered with grateful emotion, "I love you too."
Toph's good humor over her shocking, yet promising exchange with her father lasted as long as it took to find herself ensconced in the Bei Fong carriage alongside her mother and locked in tense silence. Her mother silently surveyed the passing terrain. Toph resisted the inclination to pick her nose. Her mother sighed, folding and refolding the intricately embroidered handkerchief in her lap. Toph made a sport of counting the number of rocks the carriage crushed and dislodged beneath its wheels. The silence seemed to strength on endlessly like the unpaved road before them.
Finally, Mrs. Bei Fong could bear it no longer. She lurched around to face her daughter with an uncertain and flustered frown. "Toph…darling, please," she cajoled fervently, "I don't understand what I've done to upset you."
"Do you need a list?" Toph snapped in disbelief.
"I've been polite and cordial to your friends," her mother recited in legitimate confusion. "I've opened my home to them, not once but twice. I…I haven't made any attempt to stop you from gallivanting all over the countryside with no adult supervision, though it would be completely within my right to do so. I believe, as far as mothers go, I've been rather tolerant of your defiant behavior of late. The least you can do is show me a little respect and courtesy."
"Tolerant?" Toph scoffed. "You call embarrassing me and insulting my friends and basically ignoring my feelings being tolerant?"
"How have I ignored your feelings?" her mother demanded. "Everything I've done since you arrived has been to make you happy, Toph!"
"I am happy, Mom!" Toph cried. "Pushing me at one of my best friends and planning my wedding does not make me happy!"
"But don't you want to get married some day?" her mother pressed. "Don't you want to start a family?"
Toph shrugged. "I haven't really thought about it," she answered honestly.
"When I was your age, I already knew your father was the man I wanted to marry," Mrs. Bei Fong recounted softly. "I used to practice my calligraphy writing the name Mrs. Lao Bei Fong in my journal. I knew what I wanted from the very beginning…to be a wife and a mother. Even your friend, the waterbender, seems to know what she wants. You were right. It is perfectly obvious that she is in love with the Avatar and that he's in love with her."
"So, he isn't an option," Mrs. Bei Fong soldiered on. "I'm sure there are other young men you may be interested in. I know several, in fact, and I will be more than happy to introduce you."
"Mom, I'm not you!" Toph exploded suddenly, shocking her mother into stunned silence. Toph made a concerted effort to get her temper in check before speaking again. "Mom, I'm not like you," she whispered. "I'm not like
Katara. I don't spend my days imagining my future husband and children. That kind of stuff doesn't matter to me. I don't even know if I want a husband or children."
"Well, what does matter to you, Toph," her mother wondered softly. "What do you want?"
"I want you to love me," Toph answered thickly. "Not this idea you have of me or this expectation you hope I'll live up to someday. I want you to love me."
"I do love you, Toph," Mrs. Bei Fong wept. "If I hold on tightly…if I seem overbearing it's only because I'm so afraid of losing you. I'm so afraid that, if you leave again, it will be the last time I ever see you."
Toph whimpered a little, horrified when she realized that tears were coursing freely down her cheeks. However, when her mother pulled her into the circle of her arms, her diminutive frame began to quake with wracking sobs. Her mother soothed her sweetly, crooning softly into her hair. Sometime later when Toph had regained a measure of composure, she pushed back from her mother and scrubbed her forearm across her face, brushing away the evidence of her tears.
"It's okay to cry, Toph," her mother reassured her with a soft laugh.
"No," Toph refuted. "I don't cry."
"No," her daughter confirmed, though the tears that still leaked from her sightless eyes belied that. "I also don't hug," Toph added, "but I'll make the exception for you and Dad."
"Alright," Mrs. Bei Fong accepted demurely. "Is there anything else you would like me to know about you, Toph?"
"I absolutely hate the dresses you pick out for me," Toph confessed. "I know I can't see them, but I hate the way they feel. And shopping…I'm not that big on shopping, but my friend Sokka…he kind of turned me on to its finer aspects, so good job with choosing that today. Also, don't think that just because Katara wasn't born into a privileged family that she's not worthy of Aang's love. She's probably the worthiest person I know. Oh yeah, and you'd be surprised to know that traveling from place to place isn't all that fun for me. I completely hate flying…"
Toph concluded her day with smiles.
She dragged in with her mother later that evening, laden with packages and completely happy. Her suspicions had been confirmed. She and her mother had absolutely nothing in common, but she had also learned something she'd never expected. Her mother was actually a very amiable woman and actually pretty fun. Rather than dividing them further, their lack of common ground had provided them with a basis for getting closer.
The moment she and her mother bid each other goodnight, she bounded off for Katara's room to share her exciting news, but found the bedchamber empty. She then went off to Aang's room, fully prepared to find them in a compromising position, but his room was empty as well. Her intention to ring for the servants and inquire of her friends' whereabouts from them was halted, however, when Aang and Katara suddenly loped around the corridor and came walking towards her.
She noted the sound of their lagging gait as they shuffled past her into Aang's bedchamber. "Where did you guys come from?"
Aang flopped face first into the bed with a weary groan. "We just spent ten mind-numbing hours alone with your father," he said, his words muffled in the feather down mattress. "I thought it would never end!"
"No offense, Toph," Katara interjected as she collapsed into a nearby reading chair, "but your dad is the most boring man in the universe. I don't know how he managed to talk so long about absolutely nothing."
Toph's lips twitched with laughter when Aang added, "If I never hear another word about your great-grandfather and his endless trek across the Earth Kingdom wilderness it will be too soon!"
"What in the world gave him the impression we wanted a tour of this place anyway?" Katara muttered to herself. "It was just weird."
Aang flipped over onto his back. "Really weird," he agreed. "That was definitely not the way I envisioned spending my day."
"Me either," Katara mumbled in reply.
Growing more and more fidgety with their close scrutiny of the situation and not wanting to be revealed as the culprit behind their woe, Toph deftly changed the subject. "Aren't you guys even going to ask me how my day with my mother went?"
"How did it go?" Aang asked dutifully, but with a marked lack of interest.
"Aang!" Katara cried in chastisement. "Way to be supportive there, Avatar."
Aang lifted his head briefly to favor her with a sour glance. "Hey, everyone needs a break some times," he complained. "I'm not a machine."
"Well, I care, Toph, even if some others don't," Katara emphasized after making a face in Aang's direction. Her unspoken rebuke was met with zero contrition. In fact, he stuck his tongue out at her. She retaliated in kind before ignoring him completely and favoring Toph with an interested smile. "How did it go with your mom?"
Toph's features softened with an amazed smile. "It went surprisingly well actually," she recounted in wonderment. "My mom…she's actually pretty cool."
"See, I told you," Katara exclaimed happily. "You just needed to give her a chance. I bet you're glad I didn't come with you guys after all."
"I bet you're not," Aang countered wryly.
"Oh, shush up, Aang!" she growled at him, but without any real heat.
"Thanks, Katara," Toph said. "You were right about everything you said. I almost feel bad for…" She trailed off abruptly, realizing she was about to give herself away without even trying.
"You feel bad for what?" Katara prodded when Toph lapsed into silence.
"I feel bad for thinking bad things about you earlier," Toph prevaricated quickly.
"That's okay," Katara replied, offhand. "I think bad things about you all the time."
"So does that mean we're staying for the week then?" Aang wondered.
"We are definitely staying," Toph confirmed.
"Fine," Aang conceded, "But I'm agreeing on one condition: you cannot ever, ever leave me alone with your father again." He speared her with a penetrating look. "Do you promise, Toph?"
Toph bit back a secret smile and surreptitiously crossed her fingers behind her back. "Oh sure, Twinkle Toes," she lied devilishly. "Absolutely."