The first time Lin Earthbends, it's in a tantrum. Her mother is attempting to clean the dirt from her child's feet, and, like mother like daughter, the tiny Beifong doesn't appreciate it. And so the first time she does Bend, it's to send a sizeable chunk of earth flying at her mother's head.
Toph, with one quickly blackening eye, has never looked more proud.
"That's my girl," she says, "my little badgermole."
Their first training session together, Lin learns to never back down.
Her mother wakes her up early in the morning. She is groggy, but her mother's eagerness to get started energizes her. She goes to put on her shoes, but her mother stops her. "No shoes, kiddo. They'll get in the way." Lin is puzzled, but obliges.
They stand in the field outside their earth kingdom home. The air is dense with fog, the trees the darkest earthy green Lin can ever remember seeing. The ground beneath her is dark, soft-looking and misty.
"Close your eyes," her mother instructs, and Lin does so. "Feel the earth."
"It feels squishy," the child declares. "There's mud."
Toph chuckles. "You're being literal again, little one. I mean feel the earth. Sense it. Its power. Take your time, you'll get it."
Lin stands still, and ignores all parts of her body but her feet. She focuses, and then she feels it.
"It's breathing," says Lin, curious. Her toes curl in the mushy earth, and beneath the softened soil is solid, pulsating life. "I can feel it. It's alive." Toph grins, "Yea, kid, it sure is."
Toph makes her keep her eyes closed. "Try and pinpoint where I am by feeling me through the earth."
"How?" Little Lin inquires, unsure of herself.
"You'll find me," Toph says with confidence.
At first, Lin feels that maybe she is just not cut out to be a great Earthbender. She doesn't feel anything but the ground humming gently beneath her feet. Every time she starts forward, thinking she's pinpointed her mother, she hits a tree.
"I can't!" she howls, throwing herself into a sitting position on the ground.
Toph comes and sits beside her. "I thought we agreed. 'Can't,' is not in our vocabulary."
"I'm just not as good as you, mama."
"Impossible! You're a Beifong, aren't you?"
Lin is unimpressed.
"Did you know your Uncle Aang had trouble learning Earthbending, too?"
Lin's eyes snap up to her mother's face; it is soft, smiling. "Really?"
"Sure," Toph nods. "I used to have to practically beat the snot out of him for him to move a pebble. You chucked an entire rock at my head your first time, gave your old lady a black eye. And you were just a baby. You're more advanced than the Avatar – I'd say that's pretty good."
Lin crosses her legs, frowns, thinking. Then, leaping to her feet, she announces "I want to try again!"
"That's my little badgermole," chuckles Toph. "Never back down, all right? Your ol' mom never did."
Not long after that, Lin learns to Metalbend. She is eight years old. Most of Toph's most talented students finally grasp the concept at at least eighteen years.
Lin is ten years early.
She's got a coin in her hand. She remembers seeing her mother bend little metal coins into other strange shapes to entertain the younger Beifong. She thinks her mother might like to have someone do this for her too.
So she puts the coin in her mother's hand and grins.
"What's this?" wonders Toph, smiling. "A gift? For me?"
"Watch this!" Lin commands, and Toph says, "Okay, I'm watching."
While the coin still rests in Toph's hand, Lin Bends it into a heart shape.
Okay, so the heart is a little lopsided, but to be honest her mother won't know the difference.
And when Toph just sits, stunned, hand still outstretched, housing the coin, she knows it's not the quality that matters. She knows by the way her mother grins and whoops and scoops her up that it's the mere thought, the mere fact that Lin tried and succeeded that matters.
Her mother Bends a hole in the lopsided metal heart and turns it into a necklace. She wears it everywhere. When she goes to meetings she displays it proudly to the councilmen, declaring "My kid made this. Bent it out of a damn coin. She's a chip straight off the ol' block, that Lin."
At twelve, Lin learns to see with her heart instead of her eyes.
She looks in the mirror, and when she sees the cut that will definitely scar, she feels her throat close.
It's so ugly, she thinks.
There's a knock on her door. "Lin? Lin, Kai feels horrible. It was an accident."
Kai is one of her mother's Metalbending trainees. He and Lin had been sparring when the trainee had slipped and a rock, sharpened at the end, had caught Lin across the face.
"Lin? Open up, kid."
"Why should I? You'll just force yourself in anyway. Why don't you just break the door down?" snaps Lin.
"Well… All right." Replies her mother.
"Wait, I wasn't –"
But she's too late. The metal door buckles in the middle, then flies off its hinges.
"Yea, yea, I'll fix it. Now, lemme see." Toph's hands come to rest, cool and rough, on her daughter's face. When her light fingertips meet the gash, she hisses. "Yeesh, kiddo. Yep, this'll scar for sure. Pretty cool, huh?"
"Cool?" shrieks Lin. "Cool? Are you serious? I look like a freak!" Her face flushes and she turns away.
"I dunno, you look pretty good to me."
Lin lets a small grin flick to her features at the joke. Her mother's blind jokes never fail. But then she remembers the severity of the situation and looks downcast again. "Ma, what kind of guy will like me with a scar like this?"
"The right kind of guy," her mother says without pause. "Let me show ya something." She peels back the metal of her uniform and her fingers trail along her bicep before coming to rest on a long, raised scar. It's funny. Lin can't remember ever seeing it.
"I got this in the war with Ozai. You know how that ended, right?"
"Sure!" says Lin. "You guys defeated him. But, what does that have to do with my face?"
Toph chuckles. "Well, we won the war, right?" Lin nods, still not quite getting it. "Then this scar is a testament of that. Scars show that we're survivors, that we fight. Do you understand?"
"I think so."
"Someday you'll find a guy who will recognize your scar for what it is – a sign of strength. And he'll love you even more for that. Besides, if appearance was what mattered most, my life would be pretty meaningless, right?"
Lin smiles. "Yea, I guess you're right."
"I'm sure it doesn't matter, coming from me, but, you're beautiful, kid."
Lin grins and throws her arms around her mother. "Thanks, ma."
Toph grunts. "Yea, yea, sure. Now lemme go! You want your door fixed or not?"
When Lin joins her mother's police force, she learns responsibility.
Her mother goes down in a blaze, just like she's always wanted. She's fighting two criminals, when the third sets off a bomb.
Toph is caught in the middle.
"Mom!" shouts Lin when she sees her mother hit the ground. She runs faster than she ever has and falls to her knees. A choked "M-Mom?" escapes her at the sight of her mother's beaten body.
"Hey, kiddo," her mother rasps, eyes opening blearily. She takes a shaky breath.
"Don't go, mom, don't go!" she cries, and her voice cracks. Her mother's eyes narrow suspiciously. "Hey, are you crying? No crying! How do you expect to be chief of police if you cry all the time like a big weenie?"
"Chief of…?" Lin wonders, and that's when her mother presses the badge into her palm. "Mom, no, I can't –"
"No saying 'can't' either. Geez, are you trying to get your ass kicked?" Lin lets out a small laugh at that, then says, "Okay. Sure, mom, whatever you want," and holds the badge to her heart.
"Good," whispers Toph. Her face is graying. "Good. So proud, my little badgermole…"
Toph Beifong dies with one hand holding her daughter's, the other closed tightly around her lopsided heart necklace.
When she's captured by Amon, Lin learns determination.
"Where is the Avatar?" the cool, low voice demands.
Don't tell him, kid, she can almost hear her mother's voice.
"I won't tell you," she snarls, one more time.
Hell yea, stick it to that bastard.
"Very well," purrs Amon, and suddenly he's got his thumb in the center of her forehead and she's scared and she considers telling him –
Don't back down, all right? Your ol' mom never did.
She keeps her mouth shut, and when she feels something in her snap and she falls foreword, vision dimming, she hears her mother praise her one more time.
So proud, my little badgermole. Way to stay tough.