Author's note: Toph is amazing—nothing left to be said after that. Thanks to my beta, who edited.
Beta's Note: Considering that this did take me… over five months… to get around to, perhaps the thanks is misplaced.
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar.
Her parents told her that she's weak—she couldn't see and therefore, she was helpless. Every day at the earth bending lessons, she felt the urge to punch the weasel's brains out, do another exercise. "That was good, Toph; now you might be able to move a pebble." She might not be able to see him, but she can practically feel the money-sucking grin on his face. She must be making him a fortune.
Toph decided when she was five that she didn't care about color; she didn't care about green or red or any other shade that was beyond her comprehension. They pitied her because she didn't know what 'red' looked like. She would just grit her teeth and count to five, ignoring the urge to send them flying into a wall.
They said Toph was selfish because she didn't care about the fire nation, but then, she also didn't care about color. The world was painted differently when you were blind, and Toph couldn't find it in her to lie whenever someone asked her. The war existed somewhere outside of her garden walls and underground earth bending tournaments; being blind, she really couldn't find it in herself to care.
When Toph heard the Avatar had returned she found herself blinking and wondering, 'What does this have to do with me?' Even her own parents seemed to be unusually flustered when news of the Avatar reached them, as if this somehow affected their rigid lifestyle. For a moment, Toph had stood in her room, feeling the earth shift beneath her feet, her head still as she felt for the air bender's light footsteps.
But Toph was still blind; she was still trapped, and nothing had changed.
The opposite of earth is supposed to be air. Toph disagreed: the opposite of earth was water. Toph hated water—it frightened her. In her nightmares, she always was drowning. She couldn't feel the earth beneath her feet if she was drowning; it was as if she were truly the helpless blind girl everyone always told her she was.
She would always wake up screaming, covered in sweat, steadying herself with the solid earth beneath her feet. Scholars could go to Hell; Toph knew the true opposite of earth.
The first day she met the Avatar she wanted to ask if he had just escaped from the loony ward. He had the nerve to ask a rich blind girl if she wanted to teach him how to gain some muscle through earth bending. Toph might have been blind, but she wasn't stupid; she knew a lunatic when she met one.
One lecture on her selfishness and the world's apparent doom at the hands of the greedy fire nation later she swore the next time someone mentioned the Avatar she would break out into an insane fit of laughter.
Lesser of two evils
She wasn't sure who annoyed her more—the Avatar or her parents. In the end, she decided she would rather get a chance to see the world outside her garden walls than be cooped up forever as her parents' blind china doll. She simply had to learn to ignore the sound of his overjoyed voice and his companion's cheers.
Toph didn't doubt her decisions, but she couldn't help but feel a tad smidgeon of doubt as she climbed onto the flying bison (or whatever it was supposed to be).
It turned out the Avatar was a terrible earth bender—he couldn't even find it in him to move a rock. Toddlers could move a rock; when Toph was two, she could move twenty rocks. The Avatar, savior of the world, couldn't even move one.
'What if I try it from this angle? What if I approach it like this instead? Maybe it's the rock that's wrong; can we switch rocks?'
Toph would scream her head off, telling him, 'No, you have to move this rock. So stop pacing and move the damn thing, twinkle toes!' And no matter how many times she bashed his head into a wall, no matter how many rocks she threw at his head, he still could not move that damn rock.
(He said it was the moose that taught him to be an earth bender; Toph couldn't help but think he should have gone to the moose for earth bending lessons in the first place and saved her the trouble.)
Sometimes she had to wonder—just what made the sugar queen so special? Why did she feel the need to become Toph's mother? Toph never asked for a replacement mother; she never raised her hand and talked about her family problems. What made her think that Toph was grateful for the maternal coddling?
Toph was not the victim of a bad family life, and she wished they would stop treating her like one.
It was the tea that set her off. Her parents had served her tea because they thought she would burn herself if she did it herself. She couldn't do anything by herself and she was waiting for the old man to tell her so himself. 'Toph, be careful; that tea is very hot. You'll burn yourself.'
But at the end of the day, when she found herself sleeping besides her annoying, infuriating, condoning companions and perhaps even friends, she could still feel the taste of jasmine in her mouth. And she couldn't help but smile.
She supposed it came with travelling along with a hundred-year old Avatar, but she found that her companions were unusually superstitious. Always yakking about the spirit world, and the moon spirit, and Avatar Roku….
Toph wondered idly if she would have to start wearing a rabbit-bear's foot.
Toph never had enemies before she decided to leave home. Yes, people didn't like her, yes, sometimes they thought she was a spoiled brat. But she never had real enemies. Suddenly the war became real; she began to understand what the word 'refugee' meant, and she felt as if it were some horrid nightmare she was being dragged through.
Suddenly Toph couldn't afford to be selfish anymore.
Sometimes at night when the rest of the group was sleeping, when Sokka was snoring and the others had finally managed to drift off despite the noise, Toph would sit in her rock tent, her eyes wide and body shaking, as she felt far off in the distance the cries of dying soldiers. She felt their broken bones and their gaping wounds; she heard their screams for help… and she could do nothing.
One night, she had gone to find them, stepping over the Avatar's sleeping body and making her way towards the screaming….
Toph had her secrets—they could allow her that much.
They had said Toph was childish and stubborn, but sometimes she wanted to ask who they thought they were. Wasn't there a war going on? Shouldn't they be doing something important rather than going on mini-vacations?
The Avatar had the attention span of cat-fish. Whenever she practiced earth bending with him, she always felt his attention drift to a pretty flower or some weird-looking stone. She would nudge him with a rock and shout, 'Focus, twinkle toes!' but still couldn't help but feel exasperated.
He learned how to move a rock from a moose. What kind of spirit had decided he was worthy of being the Avatar?
Nothing came close to Toph's hatred of water, but if there were anything even halfway there, it would be sand. The shifting pebbles beneath her feet made her head nauseous and her vision blurry; with the sun overhead and the sugar queen practically basking in the opportunity of being the leader, Toph could do nothing but grab her hand to be dragged along and sunburned to death.
Toph was positive that if she were ever to go to Hell, it would be filled with sand.
They said it was her fault. She could feel their blurred outlines and could hear twinkle toes shouting at her. Even through the nausea, she felt as if someone had stabbed her in the back. She had tried (so try harder); she had done everything he could (so learn to see, Toph, use your eyes, come on, you blind little girl).
Toph didn't like guilt.
There were, Toph realized, advantages to being blind. She could use people's pity against them; if they wanted her to be blind, then she could play the helpless little blind girl. She smiled and pointed to her opaque eyes, then waved towards her companions, explaining her helplessness.
Seeing-eye lemur? Of course it was necessary—who do you think you are?
Illegal immigrant chauffeurs? A charity case, but necessary none the less.
(The sugar queen frowned at how smug Toph looked holding their ferry tickets, holding in the lecture on how it was bad to take advantage of others because of her blindness. The sugar queen really needed some lessons in revenge.)
Ba Sing Se
If Toph ever heard another word about Ba Sing Se she might have to kill someone—or at least kill the man who had dubbed himself their tour guide. The greatest city in the world, the greatest wall in the world, the last Earth Kingdom stronghold….
It was big, loud, and it gave Toph a migraine. At all hours of the day, she was aware of the street urchins stomping through the streets. It was perhaps the loudest thing she had ever heard, and she felt compelled to wear ear muffs.
(Frankly, she hoped the Fire Nation would take Ba Sing Se so that she could have an excuse to leave.)
Toph found that usually when someone lied, there was a physical reaction. Their heart sped up, they started twitching, the timbre of their voice changed. They became uncomfortable. She had felt, for the most part, that it wasn't usually worth mentioning—so, a con man lied, but everyone knew that. People lied all the time; they couldn't help themselves.
How could she possibly have known that some people were too naïve to realize the difference? It was as if her friends had no idea that people were capable of being so selfish.
(Suddenly all those lectures on Toph's supposed selfishness were beginning to make sense. And lounging in the apartment in Ba Sing Se, she decided there was something wrong with twinkle toes. What kind of a man is incapable of lying?)
The country-born hicks really had no manners. Toph knew what she was supposed to act like; she just chose not to acknowledge conventions. They had the wrong accents, they had the wrong body language—they even probably looked completely wrong. Like teaching twinkle toes earth bending, teaching the Avatar and his Water Tribe lackeys to be Earth Kingdom nobility would be impossible.
Katara might have been able to pass for nobility, from a distance, on a very dark night, if she didn't talk at all. She might have been able to pass for nobility. But it would take a miracle for even her to pass close inspection.
(Katara found this offensive, as she found herself to be far more well-bred than Toph—but really, what did they expect, being born on a glacier?)
Toph was the only one with a decent grasp of politics; that's why she supposed she was the only one who wasn't really surprised with the Earth King turned out to be a figurehead. It was a game of power, dangling the puppets on the invisible strings. She supposed it was part of being blind, being able to feel the strings wavering in the air.
It all came down to power, and she hated the way this power-hungry man managed to manipulate them. But there was nothing she could do; she could feel her own strings.
(It was only after leaving home that she realized the extent of the word 'puppet.')
Sometimes, Toph wished she could write and read, so that she wouldn't be dependent on anyone when they dragged her down the street to put up flyers.
'We should split up throughout the city—Aang, you go North; Sokka, you go south; Toph, you can go… well, Toph, you can just come with me.'
'Toph, you put that one upside down. Toph, you can't see the print on that one…. Toph, why don't you just stand here like a useless puppy.'
Toph hated it when people thought she was useless. She knew they were trying to be kind, they were trying to be considerate. But she didn't want people to be kind to her—she didn't care if they were kind to her. She just didn't want to be treated as if she were helpless.
The sugar queen really needed to find a new guinea pig. Toph didn't care how she looked. She was blind. Did she have to keep pointing that out to them? Toph hated emphasizing her own weaknesses, and pointing out her own blindness was like a slap in the face.
She would never look in a mirror, she would never see what she looked like—why should she care how much dirt was on her feet?
(Still, Toph had to admit, it did feel good to know that her eyes were pretty…. But she would go to her grave before she ever admitted it.)
Sometimes, Toph missed her home, because the outside world was so much darker. She knew something was wrong with Jet the moment she met him. He wasn't acting right; he was too moody, too eccentric. At first she couldn't put her finger on it—she assumed it might have been the fact that he tried to drown an entire village, or that he had once liked Katara.
She hated Ba Sing Se for teaching her what puppet meant; she hated the fact that they could twist the mind of a teenage boy until it was nearly useless. He became a mindless puppet to serve their needs; she hated the fact that they thought the end justified the means.
How many puppets would it take to win the war?
Inside that metal box, Toph realized that she hated her parents. They trapped her and locked her in a box because they thought she was helpless. Toph was not helpless. Toph would never be helpless, and even as she was jostled along the road, screaming at her captors, she refused to be helpless.
Katara had once told her that she really didn't hate her parents, and that she was just having family troubles. Toph had wanted to ask if her parents had ever locked her in a box like some inanimate object.
They said she could never bend metal—no one can bend metal. But metal, Toph realized, was made of earth. She recognized it when she banged against her prison in desperation and fury; she felt the tiny shards of earth responding to her restlessness. 'Not even you can bend metal,' they had said—but they didn't know who they were dealing with.
Toph was the greatest earth bender alive; not even the Avatar could match her.
Whose brilliant idea was it to make shoes? Toph couldn't stand shoes. They itched at her feet, and she had the constant urge to throw them against a wall. But if she didn't wear shoes, she would stick out like a sore thumb. They'd know her by her own bare feet. They said she didn't have the right to complain—look at Aang; he had to grow his hair out.
Oh, poor Aang, losing touch with his culture, while Toph was constantly tripping due to the fact that they had given her shoes.
Toph always wanted to be a con artist, and so when she found the opportunity, she settled for the next best thing. Conning the con men was the greatest fun Toph had had since the earth bending tournaments. She told them it was for the money, but really, it was just because she loved hearing them cry out in horror as they lost more money than they ever imagined.
No, Toph didn't care if it was immoral. No, Toph really didn't care if Sokka used the money she earned to buy a stupid hawk, or if Aang decided to buy Fire Nation brand armor for Appa. Toph had only decided to do it because it was fun.
(This worried the maternal sugar queen, as she believed Toph was simply rebelling against her parents. Toph had better things to do than rebel.)
A word to home
It was Katara that was writing—what was she supposed to say? Toph stood there dumbly as she forced her mind to think up some sentimental statement that would make the water bender happy. She said that she loved them and missed them. It was only later, after they went to sleep and Toph was alone in her earth tent, that she thought of her true letter.
She wasn't sure whether she hated them or not—she was not sure if she missed them or not. But the outside world could be frightening, and sometimes she woke in the middle of the night because she thought she heard men screaming….
And sometimes she wanted to go home.
Toph was positive that Azula had no soul, that behind that girlish voice that cackles like the night wind, she has no compassion. It was as if someone had misplaced her in the body of a human instead of some renegade spirit. Toph had never seen her, but swore she'd have eyes the color of death.
When Toph joined the war effort, they didn't tell her she'd be fighting demons.
She could practically feel their eyes as they left them behind. She could feel the screaming that they would unleash as they were tortured, and she couldn't help but close her eyes and clench her teeth, trying to block it out.
Toph's nightmares no longer contained water.
Earth supposedly was the most stubborn of the elements, the one with the most pride—almost to the point where it was a weakness. So Toph was a little confused as to why she was the one justifying the fact that Zuko should join their band. Yes, he was the Fire Nation's crown prince. So what? Toph was Earth Kingdom Nobility, and it didn't dictate who she was.
The fact that she had to go out and get her feet burned to cinders in order for them to even consider getting Aang a fire bending teacher was completely ridiculous. She supposed it came down to personal history, but Toph really didn't see why earth had to be the first to yield.
Once again, Toph felt the scholars were just as illiterate as she was.
Toph decided the play was the best thing since cracker jacks. Whether they wanted to admit it or not, all the characters were completely accurate. Katara was hopeless, the way she always lectured about hope; Sokka was a country-born hick; Aang was unusually feminine; and Zuko did whine too much. It was the perfect comedy while it lasted.
Perhaps that was the problem—it was too accurate, so when Toph saw the ending she couldn't help but cringe as she heard the cry of the female actor defeated by the Fire Lord….
Toph hated screaming.
Playing the villain
Toph enjoyed being the Melon Lord far more than she should have; she enjoyed hurtling boulders at her friends laughing all the while. It was a chance for Toph to escape her helplessness, even if she had to dub herself 'Melon Lord' to do it.
Toph felt she made a good villain.
Prince of Fire
Toph understood Zuko. She alone of the group knew what it was like to grow up in nobility bound by rules and tradition. She could practically feel the pressure he must have been under, searching for a legend that may as well have not existed.
She supposed that's why she liked him the best out of her friends—she understood him the most. So even when he refused to listen to her family problems by rudely cutting her off, even when he ignored her for someone who acted more mature, she didn't care.
He whined, he was rude, he was arrogant, but Toph liked him all the same. Toph liked him because he didn't pretend to be decent, even if he was born in nobility.
She could feel the world burning beneath her; she was slipping from Sokka's fingertips, and in that moment she knew she was going to die.
The end was far darker than she had expected.
They said the war was over, but Toph thought differently as she sat in the tea shop while Sokka did his patented drawings. She still remembered all the pain she had witnessed, all the dying screaming men, and she couldn't forget as fast as she would like.
Zuko became Fire Lord, but Toph prayed Iroh would give up his tea shop to be an advisor. Even at twelve, Toph could see Zuko was far too volatile to rule on his own intelligence. She feared someone would use his position against him. Toph had too many memories filled with puppets.
Suki and Sokka, Katara and Aang, Mai and Zuko…. What would happen to Toph? She always felt she had to justify her presence in their lives, as if she had come in to play a side character while they took the leads. She stood in the street one night in Ba Sing Se, the city she still resented, haunted by memories of a war they had barely won.
Where was Toph supposed to go; what was she supposed to do now that their war was over? (It had always been their war, never hers.) They had unintentionally cast Toph as the outsider, and she was left with the aftermath.
Toph wondered if she would ever see her parents again, or go home again.
She had her doubts.
Author's note: That was fun, and kind of random. Reviews would be nice (even if they are to berate me).