Summary: Toph had always lived a life of ease. She received whatever she wanted without ever lifting a finger. However, she had always been miserable, and she vehemently blames her parents. Unfortunately, she had no clue of their intimidation of her.
Disclaimer: The characters in this story are all original characters from Nick's Avatar: The Last Airbender. I do not own any part of them.
A/N: How long since I've last actually written and finished a story? Way too long for comfort! *cracks knuckles* Made with lots o' love – enjoy.
They loved Toph with all of their heart. It wasn't always obvious, but they truly did.
Sight is one of the most important senses, and without it, she was completely defenseless. It's painful for a father or a mother to have to tell their little precious one that she can't fly, so how can they tell her that she can't even run, either? All they wanted to do was keep her alive and happy, but Toph's blindness severely limited her actions. The situation more than terrified them, and the need to act drastically arose.
Lao and Poppy hid Toph away from human contact (excluding themselves and servants) at birth in fear that someone might betray the family and hurt their innocent little girl. They kept her food simple and sliced evenly, to avoid her choking due to not being able to see how big of a bite she's about to take. They also made sure she was completely spoiled all of the time, so she wouldn't have a taste for the outside world. Poor little Toph couldn't even have a bedtime story, to keep that taste as far away from her mouth as possible. She just didn't need to know about any of it, knowledge of the world might either frighten or encourage her.
Plus, the world didn't need to know about her.
At first, they felt bad about locking their only child away from the public, but her wellbeing outweighed everything else. He parents just could not handle the death of Toph because a disability-related incident. So, they were going to eliminate any factors that could possibly endanger her.
Once upon a time, there was a little episode where Poppy feared that the barely five-year-old was depressed. Her private doctor assured her that children that young could never become that upset for too long, but Poppy demanded his observations of Toph. A day later, he reported that the child was, indeed, dejected from the lack of friends her age. It was Lao who thought of a solution: spoil Toph even more! They had slight uncertainties about spoiling her so much, but they couldn't have an unhappy girl – it broke their heart. The Bei Fong couple wanted to give Toph everything without that everything biting back. Her safety came first and foremost, and her happiness would have to be tied to that.
For a while, tiny Toph enjoyed her stuffed mooselion cub, and that rubber turtleduck that squeaked when she squeezed it. It worried Lao slightly of her disregard of the more feminine toys, but Poppy assured him that she had no way of knowing what was girly, and what was not, considering her blindness. It also slightly ruffled their feathers that she developed the habit of asking questions, but luckily, they developed the habit of redirecting them without her ever knowing the true answers. Yes, Toph became satisfied with life, and her parents couldn't have been more pleased. Also, the public still didn't know about her.
Peace had washed over them.
Until age six-and-a-half.
Their housemaid will never forget the look of sheer horror on Lao and Poppy's face when they heard loud thumps coming from across the house (they had long destroyed the whole upper floor of their home as per their all-important safety requirements). They immediately assumed that an earthbending assassin had targeted a rich couple's supposed-to-be-nonexistent daughter and was proceeding to throw her all around the room. Lao quickly grabbed the display sword hanging above their dining table and rushed to Toph's room in panic. Poppy stayed behind and called all of the indoor guards to his aid.
There was earthbending, alright. Although, Lao had never expected it was her. The clues were all there: the dusty look of her shining face, the rock fragments that littered her room, and the gaping hole in the wall, which was that was pretty hard to miss.
Lao's panicked expression intensified as he continued to stare at Toph as she shouted in the cutest little voice, "Daddy, look what I can do!" and created a small crack in her floor. His mouth dropped open as several guards stormed into the room.
"What's wrong sir?" the lead guard asked as his eyes searched for evidence of attack. All he found was a smiling little girl, her very messy room, and a woebegone father with a few more gray hairs than he bargained for. All of the guards' faces relaxed into smirks as they slowly ambled out of the room whispering about the new Bei Fong predicament.
He never admitted to the little sliver in his conscious that lightened up at Toph's genuine, serene excitement. Sure, she had been excited before, whenever they bought her some new expensive plaything, but her persona had never been that bright before. However, this happiness was at the expense of her security. So Lao, instead, focused on the bulkier alarm bells that rang throughout his mind. He gave her a very stern lecture about earthbending, and immediately replaced her earthen room with metal. The builders painstakingly decorated her room to look much cozier, and Lao personally filled it to the brim with more toys to keep her too busy to think about such a dangerous sport.
What if she tried to lift a giant rock, but it instead crushed her fragile little body? No, Toph's mind must be kept away from anything remotely hazardous, even if it gave her such a beautiful smile. Poppy cried herself to sleep for three nights in a row after it happened, clearly caught between keeping her baby safe or keeping her carefree.
Toph's smile didn't appear nearly as often, or genuine anymore. Yes, she flashed her parents a quick smile anytime they gave her a new doll, or a new little bell, but something was definitely lacking. They worried a little about her, but decided that one of their two top priorities for her had to override the other, and they could never afford a dead happy daughter.
She also developed out of the questions stage around her seventh birthday, seeing right through her parents' resistance, and in its place, chose to blow her already long hair out of her face to illustrate her frustrations. Not only did her youthful habits changed, but Toph became great deal more graceful with walking and began to recognize people without them even speaking. Lao and Poppy shrugged at this, not understanding these changes, and assumed that Toph was just becoming a young lady, which was all the more reason to keep a sharp watch over her.
Keeping Toph out of harm's way was a hard endeavor, but it was worth it to be able to see their frail daughter again everyday. They found tranquility and a rhythm, and made the best of this tough situation for their tough little 'soldier'.
Nevertheless, it wasn't the end of their worries (when is it ever?).
When she was almost eight, Toph somehow ran away for two days. Lao and Poppy were completely devastated, and they had absolutely no idea what to do. They frantically sent out all of their guards to scour the forest, while they remained at the doorstep incase she wandered back. Poppy's most trusted housemaid had to force the couple to eat because of their fierce devotion to finding their baby girl.
After forty-eight hours, she was escorted back to the Bei Fong property by an annoyed guard. The guard looked a little shaken, but he held Toph's hand firmly. She was instantly enveloped in an enormous hug from her parents. At the same time, they started scolding her. Lao and Poppy were simply elated to have her back safe in their arms.
However, for years, they could never escape from the memory of her sullen face as she walked back across their lush green yard.
Nor could they escape from the memory of the second time she ran off a little more than a year later.
Her parents didn't understand; they tried to keep her from all danger and give her everything, so why did she treat their home as a prison? One day, with this question in mind, Poppy worriedly pleaded with Toph. The not-so-little-anymore girl simply with an air of contempt stated that her creativity was being stifled, and that she needed an earthbending teacher. After a long night of discussing, they decided to hire Master Yu. Lao gave Yu large sums of money to keep Toph at basic breathing forms, to keep her safe and fulfilled.
They would have loved to see Toph excel at her art, but unfortunately, her lack of sight prohibited anything more than the basics. She, after all, is very precious 'cargo.'
For years, Toph seemed oddly content with her simplistic lessons, but Lao and Poppy didn't complain. It brought great joy to their hearts to see their daughter happy. She can even walk elegantly without ever running into anything; her senses had somehow sharpened greatly. They allowed Toph a little more freedom, and replaced her metal room with one of earth. Relaxing, they realized that to achieve ultimate safety didn't necessarily mean giving up her bliss. They paid a little less attention to her, so she wouldn't have parents constantly breathing down her neck, and life became serene.
That is, until the Avatar popped up three years later.
In the beginning, they were a little nervous, because they were the first kids she had ever met, but Toph seemed to dislike him and his Water Tribe friends. Lao and Poppy were glad with this revelation – there was no need to worry about the risk betrayal and hurt and other yucky things of that nature. However, later that night, after she and the Avatar had been kidnapped over five hundred pieces of gold, they learned of a stunning fact: Toph was a master earthbender who loved fighting! She had taken on several fierce benders at the town's rumble ring to save the Avatar from being turned in to the Fire Nation. They finally established that more boundaries were needed to be set for Toph. They were not going to sit passively while their little girl could possibly be thrown about like a small rag doll. Lao knew it hurt her, them stifling her like this, but it was for her own good. Toph needed to understand that.
Poppy hadn't cried in years, but fresh tears insisted to slide down her face, and Lao's expression remained stricken. The Avatar has stolen my daughter! He knew that Toph willingly left, but it was the Avatar who forced her to leave. He brought out the worst in Toph, and they had enough of his shenanigans. This time, they had no clue if Toph was coming back. Their worse fears had come true: Toph was in immense danger, and they had no way of protecting her. How dare that kid take away their only child and throw her into the middle of the war, of all things?!
Lao wished he could remedy the situation by simply sending two master earthbenders to search for her, but her future was bleak. He and his wife hoped against everything that she would be okay. They couldn't help but wonder how scared she must be. They were loosing confidence faster than they could afford.
He had seen a demonstration of Toph's talent, but he believed that she became more of a target because of her abilities. What if the Fire Nation decided to dispose of all earthbenders, starting with the most talented? Maybe he was wrong; maybe they drove her away by trying to keep her out of danger's terrible grasp. But it was all for her welfare?
They loved her with all of their heart, and it damaged their health greatly to think about their little blind girl running around who knows where with who knows who. Lao and Poppy had desperately wanted little Toph back home and under their supervision to the point of waiting every night for hours on the doorstep, watching the sky and hoping to see a giant fluffy animal.
After many miserable months, the distraught couple received a messenger hawk. Initially, everyone was terrified because they mistakenly assumed that the Fire Nation was coming after them, or that Toph had been fatally injured. Although, upon reading the letter, the Bei Fongs found that they were wrong.
It was from Toph herself (she must have had someone write for her).
While Lao's eyes glazed over at the few unnecessarily graphic battle scenes she described in her letter, Poppy's began to water on sight of the words 'thank you' and 'love'. So Toph didn't hate them, and she was still their baby girl. This brought back a joy, albeit she still wasn't home safe and sound. Perhaps the Avatar wasn't such a bad kid at all…
As a replacement for dwelling on their past failures, Lao and Poppy made future preparations. They could not keep her a secret from the world anymore, and they didn't need to, but Toph still needed protection of some sort. They created lists of potential spouses and brainstormed ways they could keep her home without being prison wardens. One night, Lao jokingly added the Avatar's name to the list of future husbands, but Poppy looked visibly shaken at the mention of his name. They both swiftly agreed that he wouldn't make a very good partner due to his apparent lack of concern for her safety.
Also, the Bei Fong household, not knowing where to send the bird, settled on to keeping it as a pet in remembrance of Toph. They decided to call the bird "Hawky," as read on its nametag in disasterous handwriting.
The Bei Fongs received another letter exactly seven months after they last saw her. Lao was locked away in his study with most servants for a yearly review, so Poppy had been alone for the better part of the day. When she saw an Earth Kingdom runner, she ran to meet him, hoping against hope that this was good news. After tipping the man and allowing his ostrich horse a drink and rest, Poppy without delay opened and read the letter. Once she had scanned through its content, she dropped it and dashed straight to her husband's study, tears rolling freely down her face yet again. Without knocking, she ran right in and gave Lao the biggest hug of his life. Poppy's face contorted into the widest smile he had ever seen.
"They won the war!! They won the war!!" she cried beyond happily. Lao sank into her hug with sweet relief and allowed rare tears to cake his eyelids.
Within a few days, the excited couple packed their bags and left for an extended trip to the Earth King's palace in Ba Sing Se. Lao and Poppy ignored the unmistakeable battle scars of the war in the city, and looked forward to seeing Toph again for the first time in more than half of a year. They had arrived to the dinner a little late due to a few mishaps with their caravan, so they entered the hero feast little after the first course had been served. Seats were reserved for them right across from their daughter and her friends, so they blissfully floated over to the table, gave her a quick squeeze from behind, and sat down. They would discuss her return home later and future wedding later, but right now they needed to enjoy each other's company. It was unbelievable – the world had actually become safe for their little girl!
Unfortunately, things almost never go according to plan. Toph answered their questions with short simple answers. She also had a disinterest in any conversations they attempted, and instead found more pleasure in talking to her friends or just eating. The Water Tribe girl looked a little concerned at Toph's abrupt behavior, but someone always distracted her with fascinating conversations, so she dropped the matter. What was worse, there was that Water Tribe buffoon bringing out Toph's tomboy tendencies. She laughed loudly, she felt free to eat with her mouth open, and she even picked her nose one or two times! Most adults at the table looked mildly disgusted, but not at all surprised, and simply ignored her gross habits. Her parents' mouth, however, remained a tight line.
Nothing would ever be the same, would it?
Lao and Poppy's hopelessness started to sink back in as the perfect image of their daughter was shattered to pieces. Yes, she was safe, and yes, she was happy, but this type of safety and happiness had never been anticipated. They couldn't help but stare in utter horror. The night had no possibility of becoming better.
Nonetheless, the winds of change resolved to shift into a whirlwind of motion around dessert time.
"Hey Toph, can you all of them that my art is more than beauty itself?" The Water Tribe Buffoon haughtily suggested, obviously desperate for some form of approval. Everyone in the surrounding area laughed at this idiotic remark, clearly not sorry about potentially scarring the little girl. This type of behavior was what her parents were trying to protect her from! Toph had only recently acquired these 'friends', and then they just turned around and betrayed her! Just as Lao opened his mouth to angrily rebuke the kids for insulting his daughter in such a manner, a quick retort had flown out of Toph's mouth.
"Yes Sokka, your masterpieces are quite heavenly," she stated in a prim and proper voice with a gentle smile. All of the people's faces at the table, excluding Lao and Poppy, became bright red with vigorous laughter. Sokka, for a few seconds, looked proud until he realized what they were laughing at. He slid far down into his seat with a comical pout, muttering incoherently.
Toph laughed. She laughed the longest and hardest out of everyone. Long after the general chuckles had subsided, she was still hoarsely giggling and wiping tears from her eyes. Soon, her laughter faded and left her face with the most genuinely happy blissful joyful smile. It was the very same smile that Lao gazed upon almost seven years ago when Toph earthbended for the first time. It was the very same smile that put his mind to a semi-rest.
Lao, completely shaken, started at Toph's angelic smile. His heart beat thundered. Poppy was in a similar position. Her daughter had never smiled like that.
Toph instinctively looked up at her parents. "What?" she asked, with smile still in place.
"Y-your smile," he stammered with a dazed expression. Toph looked a little confused, but shrugged and dug into her fruit pie.
They instantly realized that they had taken their over-protectiveness way too far. They intentionally muted anything the resembled remote happiness with a fleeting thought that it was dangerous. How foolish had they been! Earthbending helped her. Her blindness wasn't an overwhelming weakness; it gave her strength. They had treated her as if she was a frail little doll that would combust without their support.
Why did they do this to her? Couldn't they see that they were making her miserable? All they had thought about was living without their precious little girl, how selfish! Toph was never really living. They snatched all everything from her, and stupidly thought that mere possessions would replace it all.
Furthermore it wasn't just about happiness. Lao and Poppy were personally responsible for destroying all of Toph's emotions. Sadness, anger, joy, fear, envy, love, all of it was forbidden. Trying to protect her from the world and its passions seized away her of all humanity. The ability to feel complex emotions separated them from the animals. That thought disgusted them. They had tried to keep her as if she was an animal! The happiness they tried to offer was counterfeit; it's sickening how much they assumed they were helping.
At least there was a little sparkle of optimism within their thunderous clouds of self-hate. Poppy smiled faintly at her daughter's glowing face. Without them, Toph would have never been compelled to run away, she would have never had an interest in helping the Avatar, and the world would have never been rescued from sheer destruction. Yes, they were wrong, but everything happened for a reason. All they can do now is rectify their mistake.
Tomorrow, Lao will request the builders to rebuild the second floor. They will discard the 'husband list' and rid themselves of ideas to bait Toph home. They will express regret to the Avatar and his friends for their awful behavior, and Poppy will personally make a customized gift basket.
Tonight, they will embrace Toph and apologize fervently for their behavior throughout her childhood. Tonight, they'll treat her not like a princess, but like a human being. It's time to not only turn over a new leaf, but to plant a new tree, one that is stronger and wiser. It's time to actually listen to her. Of course they'll still be overprotective of their little girl, but Lao and Poppy now knew that Toph can take care of herself.
They loved Toph with all of their heart. It wasn't always obvious, but they truly did. Now, they were able to really give their daughter the love type she deserved.