(A/N: Thank you to everyone for all your kind/ helpful reviews. Espcially the guests I can't reply to- it means a lot to get some feedback! I hope you enjoy this series!)
Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone
There was a final push in which Toph was certain her entire body was being split up the middle. She cried out from the pain before she heard a voice, battling her own- shrill and angry.
"Is it ok? What is wrong? Why is it crying like that?" she asked frantically, her voice laced with panic as tears poured from her eyes unabashedly.
"They always cry like that, Toph. Don't worry, she's fine," Katara reassured with a softness that juxtaposed the situation at hand.
"She?" Toph asked finally, "it's a girl?"
"It's a girl," Katara confirmed, her smile spreading. Toph took a breath, it felt like the first breath she'd ever taken. It was, as far as she was concerned the first breath she had ever taken in this life, her new life as a mother. Something inside her changed fundamentally upon hearing that child's cry. It was sudden, and quick, and overwhelmingly powerful. It was if the love inside her could not possibly be contained by her skin and she was bursting at the seams with such feeling that it might fill the room.
"I'm going to hand her to you now," Katara warned as she carefully placed the shrieking bundle along Toph's chest. Toph felt the small weight of the baby against her and gently moved her calloused hands along it until she had discerned which end was up and which was down. They both cried terribly and for once Toph didn't care. She wasn't embarrassed and she couldn't hold it in.
"She's beautiful," Katara told her kindly with a sniffle. She must have been crying too.
"Hi, baby," Toph said, voice thick. The baby went quiet, as if she had been waiting to hear that voice the entire time. The thought of it made Toph chuckle. "You've gone awfully quiet."
"She's looking at you," Katara informed her. Toph ran a finger along the baby's cheek.
"Do you think she can see me?" she asked.
"I think so," Katara confirmed.
"I'll clean up in here, and then should I send everyone in or would you like to sleep?" Katara asked, moving to gather the rags at Toph's feet.
"You can send them in," Toph replied, only giving half of her attention to her friend. The rest of her focus was on the baby, who continued to squirm, but was no longer screaming. Toph traced her face with one finger as she spoke loving non-sequiturs in a low voice. When she got to the baby's mouth, her finger was quickly gobbled up with a suction surprisingly strong for such a small being.
Katara finished gathering the rags and dropped them into a large porcelain basin whose water turned a deep pink.
"I'll be right back," she said, sliding the rice paper door open and closed behind her. Moments later, Toph heard the door slide open again. The person stood at the edge of the room in silence.
"That you, Mo?" she asked, looking up toward the sound. Footsteps against the wooden floor closed in on her and he finally spoke from beside her.
"That's ours?" he asked quietly. Toph reached out for his hand, having to find it herself. She grabbed it from where it had been hanging limply at his side and gave it a light squeeze.
"You're scared," she stated. He gave her no immediate reply. "Hold her," she told him, gently lifting the baby away from her chest.
"I don't know how," he said weakly as he stared at the baby. Toph let out an aggravated sigh. "Just pick her up. Listen to Sifu Toph, young Dark One," she chided him, using the names they went by when they first met.
She felt the weight of the baby leave her proffered hands and waited for his reaction. "It's a girl," he said finally.
"I know," she affirmed with a nod. "What does she look like?"
"A little old man," he replied with a soft laugh. Toph struck him with her fist lightly.
"She has a lot of hair, its really dark. Ten fingers and toes. Her mouth is small like mine," he elaborated. She heard the door slide open again.
Katara entered, "I have some more visitors for you." Sokka appeared behind her in the doorway, followed by Aang who was holding his youngest son on his hip.
"Come on in, meet my progeny," Toph called to them as if she were a vendor advertising her wares.
"You survived," Sokka said happily.
"Barely," Toph replied, though it occurred to her she could scarcely recall the world of pain she was in just a few moments ago. It seemed to have disappeared and been quickly replaced by pride in her new daughter.
"Can I hold her?" Sokka asked.
Mo moved to hand her off, "Watch her neck, dude!" Sokka admonished him harshly as he accepted the girl. Katara gave her brother a significant look. He was always snapping at Mo and on more than one occasion she'd worried about why. With a glare that went unnoticed by Toph, Mo finished handing the baby to Sokka and stepped back, an outsider at the birth of his own child.
Sokka rocked from side to side with the little girl, transfixed by her cool stare. "I thought babies didn't open their eyes this soon," he commented.
"Bumi did," Aang chimed-in merrily, standing just over Sokka's shoulder which caused him to jump slightly. Sokka shot him a look of annoyance. Aang hardly noticed, he was far too excited by the new addition to their group. He gripped his son's wrist and moved it back and forth in a waving motion, "Say hi Tenzin," Aang cooed. Tenzin sucked his fist absently.
As if struck by a bolt of inspiration, Aang spun on his heel to face the room. "Guys, what if they got married? Wouldn't that be so cute?" he beamed as his eyes shone brightly.
"I think you're getting a little ahead of yourself there, Twinkletoes," Toph laughed. Undeterred, Aang turned back to Sokka and held his son over the newborn's face. "Tenzin, this is your future wife...hang on. Toph, did you guys pick a name yet?"
"Lin," Mo announced from across the room, "after my mother." Aang nodded gratefully.
"...this is your future wife, Lin. Lin, this is Tenzin." The little boy reached out one chubby hand that had not yet developed fine motor skills and smacked it against the babies' nose. Aang pulled him back quickly, embarrassed. "Whoops!" The baby fussed, puttering out little cries that never materialized into a fit. In response, Tenzin leaned forward again and sweetly gummed Lin's forehead, intending a kiss which earned him a resounding "Aww!" from the adults. Satisfied by the attention he clapped for himself.
"That's enough, you two," Katara commented, reaching her arms out toward her husband and son. Tenzin responded by outstretching his own stubby little arms and grasping for her. She took him to her hip and kissed his plump cheek, bouncing him ever so slightly as she watched Sokka transfer the baby into Aang's waiting hands.
"Hi, Lin," the Avatar greeted her softly. "I'm so glad to finally meet you. You are going to have so much fun here. We've got lots of little friends waiting to meet you."
Toph turned her attention his way, "Speaking of little friends- where are the kiddos?"
"Too hyper," Katara answered, "Suki's in the other room with them until they calm down enough to be around a newborn." As if on cue, there was a loud crashing noise from the other room. Katara wilted at the sound.
"Okay everyone, why don't we give these new parents some space?" she suggested. Aang reluctantly handed the baby back to Toph who accepted her with a sigh of relief.
"Congratulations," he smiled at her. Sokka was at her side next, he leaned forward and kissed the baby's forehead, then moved up to kiss Toph's cheek.
"Get some rest," he smiled and for some reason Toph felt a lump rising in her throat. She didn't reply, she simply pressed her lips together and nodded attempting to disguise the wave of emotion that washed over her. Moments later she heard the door slide closed and she was alone, with her family. Mother, Father, and Child were all silent for a moment.
"I'm starving," Toph announced, finally breaking the awkward silence in the room.
"I'll go get you something," Mo replied, sounding oddly relieved to be excused.
"Make it greasy," Toph called after him as she heard the wooden end of the door knock against the frame.
It was quiet again and Toph considered how silence was much less awkward this time around. Silence among family was supposed to be comfortable. But then, Mo was not really her family. He was her student, the pain in her ass that she found herself kissing one day after practicing forms. The night it happened was not so different from most- she had drilled her students and they'd all left grumbling. The only anomaly was that the Dark One had decided to sit beside her as the others filed past. He told her that he was grateful for this place, that without her he would still be under his fathers' thumb. They related on the subject of overbearing, wealthy parents- like her, he was from a family privileged enough to have a surname. Unlike her, Mo's mother had died, leaving his father idle and determined to turn his son into something of an alpha male. It didn't sit well as Mo considered himself to be an artistic person with the soul of a poet. Toph explained her own situation and in the middle of doing so, felt his mouth close over hers. Her reaction wasn't romantic, but rather carnal. She didn't feel giddy at the thought of him and as far as she knew he never felt that way for her either. They were never together as an item- a relationship was so unimportant to them that neither had even thought to bring it up. It just so happened that every week or so, these two people who both felt they were too damaged to be loved, found solace in each other- no strings attached. Until the day Toph woke up with two heartbeats, that is.
She knew it as soon as her feet made contact with the stone flooring. Her blood ran cold and she shook nervously. She remembered taking a deep breath and asking the spirits to tell her she was mistaken. Letting the air from her lungs she waited for it to go away, but it continued beating inside her stubbornly. Only a week ago, she had established the metalbending police of Republic City- this was horrible timing. She hadn't even been with Mo in over a month. He decided not to join her force, but instead take off and lose himself in the art scene at Ba Sing Se. Desperate for advice on the issue, she made her way to Air Temple Island to speak with the most motherly person she knew. Dust from the construction of the temples blew across her giving her some sense of calm after stepping from the ferry.
The screaming of children filled the air as Toph entered the Avatar's home. This would certainly never do. The mobile children swarmed her, gripping either leg and shouting "Aunt Toph!" as Katara rocked her month old boy, Tenzin gently.
"Can we talk in private?"
"Of course," Katara told her, brow furrowing. "Kids- why don't you go help Dad work on setting up those airbending gates?"
The room cleared quickly and it was time for Toph to speak. "I'm pregnant," she said plainly. Katara was quiet, confused perhaps. "How? No, not how. I guess what I mean is, who?" she stuttered finally.
"Just this guy," was all she could think to say. She had to laugh at herself, her situation with Mo was so trivial, Toph had never even mentioned it to her closest friends.
"Does he know?"
"No," Toph sighed. That night, Katara helped her draft a letter to be delivered to the address he'd left her "in case you ever find yourself in the big city." Mo was almost the last to find out. Almost.
There was one person Toph dreaded telling this news to above all others. It had been easier to tell her judgmental parents that it was to tell Sokka. She knew it wasn't right, that she was totally crazy to even think about him romantically now that his relationship with Suki had progressed so far, but somehow Toph could never really get over her crush on this goofy watertribe boy turned councilman. His reaction was unexpected. She anticipated his respect for her to decline rapidly, like a stone sinking in the water. Unwed mothers were extremely uncommon and very much pariahs in proper society. Instead of casting her out in judgement, he pulled her into a hug and told her that he would always be there for her- for them- no matter what. If it had been less shocking, she would have cried.
When Mo arrived at the train station in the heart of the city with a bag over his shoulder, Toph was there to greet him, baby bump just large enough that the armor she'd so recently designed no longer fit. They went out for noodles and talked about the future. They concluded that it would be best to try and be together. Neither of them wanted to commit to getting married, but for appearances and for the life growing inside her belly- Mo moved into Toph's home on the outskirts of the city.
"What could possibly go wrong?" Toph said aloud to the baby on her chest, recalling the conversation from months ago. The little girl began fussing and on instinct, Toph maneuvered her into position at her breast. Lin happily latched on, greedy for a meal. The mother smiled, stunned by the change in her feeling. She had never wanted a child, but now Toph stoked Lin's fine hair slowly and wondered how on earth she could love something this much.
"Welcome to the world, Lin Beifong."