Everything changes when the firenation visits.
The fact that Dad sometimes meets with firenation merchants is the biggest secret in the world. A great deal of money exchanges hands during these visits and Dad says they owe the firenation for their good fortune...but they are never, ever, ever meant to talk about it. Toph has been expressly forbidden from ever mentioning it.
Normally Dad visits their bases in the colonies, but once or twice Firenation people came to the house for a dinner that Toph was forbidden from attending. They are coming again tonight.
Mother hates the firenation visits. They make her nervous. Nanny tries to soothe her, when mother blusters into the nursey, all in a tizz. Nanny doesn't know the secret right then. When Mother tells her why she is so nervous, Nanny's heart skips a beat, and then starts beating again rapidly – like she has run a long way, when really she is standing stock still. Toph thinks that if even Nanny is frightened of the firenation, they must be fearsome people indeed .
Nanny and Toph stay in the room. Toph practises making more complex shapes with her rocks while Nanny reads her a scroll. The kitchen maid brings them supper. Toph slurps her noodles. Nanny tells her not to. Toph slurps all the more. Nanny pokes her with the chopsticks.
Toph thought it would always be like this.
She had not yet learned that all things must come to an end.
Nanny reads Toph another bandit bedtime story. Toph feels thirsty for a glass of warm milk to help her sleep. She feels she needs one tonight, with scary firenation people in the house. The kitchenmaid is alseep. Nanny is reluctant, but agrees to go and fetch it for her. She knows how Toph tosses and turns without it.
Nanny is gone along time.
Nanny comes back, without the milk, and seems like a different person entirely.
Toph has never felt an adult cry until this night. It is the most awful and frightening thing in the world. When Nanny comes back after what seems like an age, she runs past Toph to the small wash room off the nursery and slams the door. Toph can hear her throwing up. Then Toph can hear her sobbing. She's trying to keep it quiet, but Toph can hear her. Toph can feel her clutching at her stomach and her knees. It is almost like she is trying to hold her body together...like she is trying to stop all her insides from coming out.
Toph suddenly feels like she has to try and stop her own insides from coming out. It makes her feel sick to feel Nanny so upset. She doesn't know what happened and she doesn't understand. Everything is so scary all of a sudden.
She sits on the other side of the washroom door, and implores and entreats nanny through it. What happened? What's wrong? She doesn't get an answer aside from an awful, wrenching moan, and a dull thud, like Nanny beat the door with her fist, or maybe her head. The sound makes Toph want to run away and hide under the covers. But she'd never.
She doesn't know what to do. She wants to know why Nanny is crying. She wants to comfort Nanny and kill whatever made her upset. She starts to think it was her fault for even wanting a glass of stupid warm milk in the first place. That gets a reaction out of Nanny. She speaks for the first time since she ran into the room.
"This was never your fault darling. Don't you ever think that for one second" Her voice is harsh and thick and unlike the Nanny that Toph is used to. "It's my fault. It's all my fault."
"No, it's not your fault." Toph says with child-like certainty.
"I never should have left you." Nanny says with a voice that is wistful and full of regret.
"You were only gone a little while, and you're back now." Toph assures. It seemed like the right think to say. But it sets Nanny off sobbing again.
Toph is alarmed and can't help but blurt out "Nanny, please stop crying. You're scaring me."
This succeeds when all other attempts to calm Nanny have failed. Nanny takes a few deep, shuddering breaths, wipes her face viciously, and opens the door. Toph had been leaning against the door so forcefully that she topples into the washroom. Nanny scoops her up and cuddles her and says "I am so sorry for frightening you Toph."
Nanny takes her back to bed and tucks her in, and scolds her for being up and about. For a brief moment, it seems like everything will go back to normal.
But then Nanny says "You know Toph, I think tomorrow I should like to teach you how to fight."
Toph has been nagging and cajoling Nanny to teach her some of her violence for the longest time. But instead of making her feel excited, Nanny's words fill her with a terrible sense of foreboding.
Nanny finally giving in on this...it feels like the end of something important.
Lovely wonderful readers! I've got nothing but love for all of you. So there is an avatar annotated site on tumblr that showed all the various firenation artefacts in the Bei Fong household (there are lots), and stipulated that the reason why Lao Bei Fong is so incredible and ridiculously rich could be sneaky trade with the firenation. I like this theory. It helps explains Lao's odd behaviour to Aang, the very secretive nature of the Bei Fongs and works well with the story. I've added it to my head canon.
on another note: I'm so sorry for the huge gap in updates. I'm coming to the end of my teaching block and will have a bit more time to write now. So yay! I'm working on the next stalking chapter at the moment and it will be up as soon as possible.