Title: old stones
Author: Kyra Rivers
Fandom: Avatar
Rating: PG
Prompt: Experience is what really happens to you in the long run; the truth that finally overtakes you. - Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980)
Summary: The thing about the earth is this: when Toph is with the earth, she is not her parents' daughter.
Author's Notes: Written for a LJ contest at Femgenfication. And, um, there's the vaguest hint of Toph/Aang at the end, but I pretty much blame that on the fact that I just re-read A Matter of Honor for like, the third time and my mind is chock full of Taang. Seriously, love that story. (nah, for real, it's so very very gen)
Word Count: 1,172

old stones

Experience is what really happens to you in the long run; the truth that finally overtakes you. - Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980)

These are the things that Toph knows to be true.

When she is five, she runs away.

It's not because she hates her parents. Mama is sweet and softspoken, and Papa is a pillar of strength, but it is precisely two months and three days after her fifth birthday that she realizes she knows every single corner of the house. She walks on every stone methodically, imagining she could feel the very essence of her home in the cool rock, and even manages to convince one of the maids to walk with her in the garden. She knows the dirt, knows it like she knows the touch of her mother's hand and the smell of her father's clothing, and she thinks, this can't be all there is.

So she wakes up early one day, full of determination, and follows a young serving boy out one of the many gates, walking into a world as of yet a mystery. Later, when she is much older, she'll realize that the boy was heading for the fields, but at the time, all she knew was that her yard was suddenly much larger, and she somehow manages to make it to a small grouping of caves nearby before she gets well and truly lost.

She would have been found there much later, sobbing and terrified by her sudden helplessness if she hadn't met the badgermoles. As it is, she is found giggling and playing in the dirt instead, oblivious to her parents' terror.

The thing about the earth is this:

When Toph is with the earth, she is not her parents' daughter. She takes off her fancy, gauzy dress and silky slippers and gets into her pajamas, bare toes curling against the stone. It is night when she goes outside and kneels down to dig her fingers into the thick, soft earth, and suddenly she is nothing more than an extension of the world, alive and powerful with her bending. She sneaks out of the house at night and heads to the caves, where the badgermoles - her first friends, she realizes later, when she understands what friends are - greet her and lead her around, accepting her into their fascinating home. She walks in the tunnels deep underground and plays with the stones and gems, squishes the mud between her toes and feels so free she isn't sure how she can contain it.

When she is finished, she removes all the dirt and fixes her hair, and if the Beifong's daughter is a little sleepy the next day, Toph thinks it's completely worth it.

Toph is neither the Beifong's daughter nor the Blind Bandit.

The Beifong's daughter is prim and proper, all gentle laughter and sweet words. She eats her food with the most delicate of touches, and never slurps her tea. She is an earthbender, of course, because she is the daughter of a powerful bloodline, but she is delicate and small and her bending is the same, meant mainly for fixing cracks in stone pottery. She never speaks out of turn and her manners are impeccable. If she wasn't blind, she would be the perfect daughter. As it is, perhaps her parents could find a suitor for her when she grows up, so long as she stays proper.

The Blind Bandit is crass and barbaric, all mocking laughter and foul words. She uses her earthbending like a weapon, but even more dangerous are her insults, which spare no one. She strikes at her enemies with the same sort of delicate precision for which her alter-ego is so celebrated, but instead of a sweet smile, she cements her victory with a proud laugh. She knows that she is the perfect fighter and she forces everyone to acknowledge it, not even trying to contain the fierce anger that she feels whenever people look at her stature and dismiss her. They deserve her rage, for just assuming weakness based on her lack of size and sight.

Toph is sweet and sour, delicate and fierce, and sometimes worries, as she continues to sneak out to battle in tournaments, that she's never going to be able to find a middle ground between her two lives.

She loses against Aang in their first match at the earthbending tournament.

Yeah, that never happens again.

When Toph returns to the group after she stalked off, full of exhausted fury, she tells them about meeting with the old man, who is apparently some guy from the Fire Nation that they keep seeing. She mentions that he seemed nice, but drops the subject in favor of healing the frayed feelings of their fight. The entire situation is quickly forgotten.

She does not mention that as soon as she was out of sight and hearing she broke down and cried, hating the way she had just destroyed the first chance at friendship she had ever had. She dug her feet into the dirt as she walked and lost herself in the world around her until the tears dried on her cheeks and she no longer felt her eyes burning in shame.

Toph is the greatest earthbender in the world.

That's it. She knows it's true, and she really feels no need to prove it to anyone else unless they piss her off. She's young and powerful and talented, and as she ages, she's only going to get better.

No one can tell her different. And now, fighting alongside and against a collection of the strongest, most talented children in the world, no one even tries.

When the war is over, she goes home and steps on the old stones of her childhood. She remembers walking step by step, toes feeling out the great world she had yet to discover, and smiles at the knowledge that she's found.

Toph greets her parents with tears in her eyes and hugs them, feeling something in her stance loosen with the familiar feel and smell of them. She puts on her mother's fancy dresses and sips her tea just like her father likes, smiling sweetly at their various guests and keeping her sarcastic comments to a minimum.

Because here's the thing about the earth:

It never leaves.

Maybe it took an adventure around the world to realize it, but Toph knows now that she can take methodical steps around her home and still feel a vast nation beyond the front gate. She sips her tea and remembers battling against a massive army. When she smiles sweetly at whatever comment has been made in her direction, she does so with confidence gleaming in her sightless eyes.

And when she feels stifled by the constant pressure of her parents, the earth is there.

The earth will never leave her.

(She stands on her balcony, stone cool under her feet in the night, and she feels a rush of wind across her face. She can hear familiar laughing voices in the sky, smell the unmistakable scent of sea air, and feel the way the air seems to swirl around her unnaturally.

She smiles, raising her hands to the air, and knows:

The earth allowed her to see the world, but the air gave her the chance to be free.)