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27th January, 2013
This story contains imagery which may cause some people to feel uncomfortable.
Looking over the top of The Republic City Herald, Aang could see Toph playing with her breakfast, barely touching the warm rice pudding. Sighing audibly, he folded up the paper and made his way to the young woman. It had been three months since he had learnt of her predicament, two weeks before she was due, and he had barely left her side in all that time. It had been difficult convincing the United Council that he wasn't being lazy, that he had to help the chief. It had also been difficult convincing her to move in with him, but she had done it, only on the condition that he not reveal that she was pregnant; only those on Air Temple Island knew of her circumstances, and they wouldn't tell anyone. The gang wars had spiked again, and with no chief (well, no Toph), and no Avatar, the Council was having a difficult time keeping everything under control. Aang had been called in—several times—and each time he had been halfway out the door before he realised that he needed to help Toph first. The council, particularly Councilman Kinoko, believed him to be a selfish, lying, cheating man; a good for nothing Avatar. It was those words which convinced him above all else that his place, at least for the time being, was with Toph.
Making his way over to the woman in question, he gently clasped her hands in his, relieving the metal spoon from her grasp. Pulling her bowl towards his body, he scooped up the sweetened rice, before sliding the spoon into her mouth. Toph fought against him for a short moment, but she soon gave up, eating the food with little argument.
Smiling at her, Aang put the empty bowl down on the table. He knew she was fine, she just wasn't particularly hungry. After she moved in with him, she had become decidedly more dependent. No, not dependent; she was still just as independent as before, but now she allowed him to take care of her. Sometimes, he thought she just liked being looked after, just like Kya; Aang moved to the other side of the table where his daughter was currently drawing pictures using her breakfast.
"Daddy! I made a painting!" Aang sat down next to his daughter, not caring that rice was seeping into the cracks of the wood, and would be next to impossible to clean out. He always encouraged fun, and he knew that if Kya was hungry, she would eat her food.
"It looks fantastic, Sweetie! What is it?"
"Silly! There's me," the five year old pointed to a glob of rice. "And there's you, Daddy!" She pointed to a different pile, this one with definite human features. Well, it had a body at least. "And this is Aunty Toph. Have a look, Aunty!" Toph remained where she was, looking away from the young girl. Aang noticed his daughters crestfallen face, and moved to comfort her.
"Honey, Aunty Toph would love to look at your food, but she can't see. She doesn't even know what I look like!" He tried comforting the young girl, but only seemed to make her more confused.
"Why not? Doesn't she want to look at your face? That's mean! I like looking at you, Daddy, especially when you have a hairy chin." She giggled, a high pitched, adorable little laugh, and Aang couldn't help but laugh too.
"No, Aunty Toph would love to see me, but she can't. Her eyes don't work."
"How does she see where she's going then?"
"Yeah, Aunty Toph, how do you see where you're going?" Aang turned to the earthbender, and was shocked to find tears running down her face. She hadn't completely gotten over her ordeal, but he hadn't seen her cry in several weeks. She had been highly emotional in the beginning, but eventually the old Toph began to resurface. Granted, she was still subdued, and she had a shorter tempter than usual, but she had gotten better. She could even tolerate Kya, playing with the young girl for hours on end. It was a while after she had let Aang back into her life, but eight-and-a-half months after she became pregnant, she finally had the same glow as Katara, despite her outlook on life still being generally pessimistic.
Aang ran around the table to hold his friend. He had discovered it was better to hold her when she was upset, comfort her and not talk about her 'moment of weakness' afterwards. Holding the earthbender in his arms, Aang tried comforting her, but without knowing the reason why she was crying, he didn't get very far.
Taking a deep breath, the earthbender was able to slow the tears; she was unable to stop them completely, however, and Aang had to use his thumb to wipe them away.
"It's not fair," she said in a small voice. He knew she wasn't talking about the actual pregnancy—after she had begun to live with him on Air Temple Island, she had come to terms with the situation, even looking forward to it some days. Patiently, he waited for her to continue talking again, knowing that a prompt might have the opposite effect, and cause her to clamp up.
"I'll never be able to see my child, tell it that it's gorgeous... I won't be able to see him... Or her... smile, or frown, or cry..."
"Sh.. it's okay, Toph. That's why I'm here. To tell you exactly what they're like..." Suddenly, a small hand found its way into hers, and Toph jumped slightly when she felt a pair of small arms curl around her middle.
"If she looks like you, she's going to be prettier than me!" Kya announced to the stricken woman, her hands leaving Toph and being thrown into the air, almost triumphantly. Toph could feel no trace of hesitation or deceit in the young girls vibrations, and slowly stopped trembling, bringing in the child for a warm hug.
"She really is just like Katara, isn't she?" Toph murmured to Aang, who nodded in response. "When is she returning?"
"Katara? Any day now, I think. She left Kyoshi Island about half a week ago..." Aang thought of his wife and second child. The waterbender had been gone far longer than either of them had expected. She had been needed at Kyoshi Island—Suki had miscarried, and the couple needed all the help they could get. Subsequently, Katara had ended up giving birth on the Island. She had sent a letter to her husband only a few days ago to tell him that she was coming home, and that Suki and Sokka were coming too, their children in tow. Aang didn't mind—he loved children, and had even begun preparing the temple with Toph. It always amused him, watching her run around cleaning, preparing the giant structure for the baby. Granted, she spent most of her time outside, gardening and landscaping, but that was her way of getting ready. Katara had preferred to clean and do laundry. Actually, she had been so effective that the maids had had nothing to do for over a month. Aang had never felt the urge to do it with her. When Toph began nesting, however, he had felt compelled to clean with her. This had been just after she moved in, and about to start her third trimester.
"Come on Kya. Twinkletoes has a meeting with the White Lotus that's going to drag on and on. Lets go to the pond, see if you can bend today," Toph had wiped the tears from her face, and was smiling at the young girl, who in turn had a mixture of apprehension, worry and glee on her face. Aang sighed at the scene.
"Toph, I wish you wouldn't try and get her to waterbend without Katara being here. It's a milestone, she'll be incredibly upset if she misses it."
"Yea, well, she gave birth to your first son on an island in the middle of nowhere. You deserve to see something she hasn't. It's only fair." Taking the young girl's hand, she gently led her out of the kitchen, the sight of her waddling causing Aang to smile, not really upset with her. She was right, after all. Sighing, he cleaned up the kitchen before making his way to the small meeting room. He was going to be stuck in there for hours, despite knowing exactly what he wanted to do for the next Avatar. It was the White Lotus that didn't know what they wanted. Mentally steeling himself for the long day ahead, he entered the meeting room.
"I can't do it."
Kya was close to crying, devastated that she couldn't bend when her mother and father were both world famous masters. Toph sighed sadly, but made no move to console the girl. She knew the three year old could bend. Or, she knew the child had the ability to bend, but she was still unable to manipulate the water.
"You can do it, Kya, you have stronger chi paths than many other children your age," Toph tried to tell the girl, but she wasn't listening anymore. Having an idea, Toph turned away from her.
"It's okay to be weak, you know. Your parents won't love you any less."
Kya stopped crying, and glared up the at pregnant woman. "I'm not weak! Just because I can't bend doesn't mean I'm weak!"
Toph merely shrugged at the girl. "I don't know. Maybe you got your uncle's genes. He can't bend, and he isn't very strong. He's not even the sharpest tool in the shed." Toph was lying through her teeth, but Kya had only met her uncle once or twice, and didn't remember him all that well.
The earthbender smiled when she felt the girl running towards her, fists raised. Deftly moving to the side, Toph dodged the small, unpracticed punches Kya threw at her. She may have been untrained, but she was furious, and had aggression on her side. Blocking some of the stronger punches, Toph kept taunting the girl, although without malicious intent. Not that it made a difference to Kya. She was furious at the pregnant woman, angry that she thought she was weak. Bringing her right arm up, Kya moved to hit Toph on her outer leg, as high as she could reach, when she was blocked yet again. She couldn't believe she was failing (I am weak, she thought miserably) and so she was surprised when the older woman was knocked to the side anyway. Running over to her, Kya was terrified she had hurt Toph. Aang had made sure to tell her that Toph was strong, but the little person inside her wasn't, so Kya had to be extra careful. Kneeling in front of the earthbender, the young girl was surprised when she saw her smiling, and soaking wet.
"Congratulations, Kya! You can waterbend," Toph hugged the young girl, who had already forgotten the harsh words spoken moments before. Releasing the girl, she stood up, only to be floored by a sharp pain in her stomach. Gasping slightly, she clutched her stomach, the pain leaving almost as soon as it had begun.
"I'm okay," she shooed away the girl, slowly standing up. Smiling, she moved back to the pond. "Let's see you try that again, without the anger."
Several hours, and dozens of cramps later, Toph lead the smiling waterbender from the pond into the kitchen. After so much exercise, both were starving. Toph would like to have waited for Aang, however he was still in his early morning meeting. Fixing up a simple fruit salad, Toph watched in silence as Kya shoved food into her mouth, making small noises of happiness. Toph found it hard to believe that in only a few short months, her entire attitude towards the girl had changed. She had always thought Kya to be a screaming, crying weapon of mass destruction, tearing at plants, running around, and just generally being a nuisance. She had (somewhat stupidly) assumed that she could continue her life as it was, without interacting with the girl too much. Toph let out a low laugh. It was probably due to this child she had recovered at all. Aang had been wonderful, but he really had no idea how to help her. She had no idea how to help her. It was one, tiny, insignificant hug from the five year old which was the catalyst for her healing. A small, "I'm here for you," which turned her life around. She had promised herself that she wouldn't change her life because of the child in her womb, but it seemed that life changed her. Standing, she took the now empty bowl from the grinning child. The same pain from earlier came back, increased in intensity, but she fully ignored it—she had felt worse before. That is, until her dress became soaked, and she felt the colour drain from her face.
"Aunty Toph, you forgot to go to the bathroom," Kya's innocent voice floated over to her, and she felt her move towards the sink. Kneeling down gently, Toph took both of Kya's hands in her own.
"Kya, you know how Daddy told you there was a little person living in me?" She felt a faint vibration—the way her body moved, Kya must have nodded. "Well, this just means that they want to come out and meet everyone. I need you to help me find your father, okay?"
Standing up, she allowed herself to be lead from the kitchen, pulled gently along by the precocious child. She couldn't see very well on the wooden floors—Aang had told the acolytes to not clean the floors, and even brought in dirt just so Toph could see where she was going. The spasms in her abdomen hadn't left, if anything becoming stronger. Several times, Toph had to stop and breath her way through them. They had left the main part of the house, moving towards one of the smaller buildings. Aang absolutely refused to do work in the same building where he slept, and ate. The same building as he spent time with his family. Generally, she loved the idea, the separation of work and life, but today she was cursing his decision. She stopped walking, barely suppressing the urge to destroy something.
It would be better if she left. A faint voice in the back of her head reminded her that it probably wasn't safe for the five year old to be around her at the moment. Stopping, she leant down to face her best friend's child.
"Kya? I'm- I'm going to just wait here, okay? Can you tell your dad to come as soon- now?" She felt the waterbender nod before scampering off. Clutching her stomach, Toph fell forward, inadvertently sending tremors through the entire island and accidentally knocking over a pair of acolytes who were meditating. Slowly standing up, she began to walk towards the work building. She couldn't just wait for Aang to come, she had to go to him.
But, at her own pace.
"We have to keep them safe. I believe a compound would do just the trick. Protect them from any adversity whilst they master the elements."
Aang closed his eyes. Stupid! That would possibly only stunt their growth, maybe physically, maybe spiritually. They need to understand the world before they can have a hope to help it.
Aloud, he told them that he would think over the idea, before allowing his mind to wander, just as it did all those months ago in the Council Chambers, despite the fact he should definitely be listening. He didn't care though, and as he directed his thoughts to Toph, he was barely able to keep the glee from his face.
Two weeks, he thought happily. Two weeks, and there will be a new member of the Gaang..."
Smiling to himself, he thought of the young earthbender, proud of her (and himself, although he would never voice that). Barely three months had passed, and already she was her old self again. Well, mostly. She still had episodes some days, days where he couldn't make her get out of bed, no matter what. Days where the only people she would see would be Chihiro (the maid had moved in with them, becoming Toph's personal lady-in-waiting), and Kya. Despite feeling slightly sad that she didn't want to see him, he was also proud that she had accepted his daughter so freely; even more so, he was proud of Kya, and her willingness to keep trying, keep talking and helping Toph, even if she didn't know what was wrong or why. So much had changed in so little time.
Before, when she had just moved in, she was a snarky, pessimistic woman, issues that couldn't just be blamed on the pregnancy. She didn't want to leave her bed, preferring to lie there all day, unseeing eyes staring at the ceiling. Once, only a few days after she had moved in, Aang had walked over to give her some food, only to find her sobbing inconsolably in the corner of the dark room, talking to him just as much as herself. He remembered the words, and they had hurt him, although not as much as he knew they killed Toph.
You take it! I don't want it, this- this thing, it was an accident, a mistake. I can't do this. I don't want it!
He knew the simple sentence had cut her deeply; after all, what kind of mother hated her child? He saw her eyes widen as she said this, before breaking down again. Guilty sobs wracked her chest, and he moved towards her. Too late, as a small figure darted in before he could reach the miserable woman.
"Don't cry, Aunty Toph. I'm here for you, me and Daddy," Kya confidently placed her small arms around Toph's ever growing stomach. Aang saw a brief flash of surprise cross his oldest friend's face, before it passed and she was sobbing miserably into the then four year old's tunic. He moved towards her, supporting her weight as he hugged her, feeling the tears, her tears, soak his outfit. The three of them sat there for only the spirits know how long, just comforting one another.
It had been one of the worst, and best days of his life.
"Perhaps we can continue this meeting another day, gentlemen? It is a lovely day outside, and I wish to enjoy it before the season changes." He turned to the half-dozen members of the White Lotus, beaming at his suggestion. The group looked at him with the same exasperated expression.
"Avatar, we understand that you have been more... carefree since the earthbender joined the island, however don't you think that this issue takes precedence?"
"Nope," Aang broadened his smile before walking out of the room, a spring in his step. He noticed Kya running towards him.
"Kya! How did practice go? Where's Toph?" He reached out to pick up his daughter as she catapulted into his arms, hugging him tightly.
"I'm a waterbender, Daddy! Aunty Toph made me angry and I accidentally sent some water to her."
"You know, that's how Aunty Toph taught Daddy to earthbend," he told his daughter as he carried her through the halls, walking back the way she had come. "Did you run away from Toph?" he asked her, his voice chastising, but not serious. Toph could take care of herself.
"No," she answered innocently. "Aunty Toph forgot to go to the bathroom and said that it meant the baby wanted to meet me."
Aang stopped walking, his eyes wide and the colour drained from his face. "Kya, where is Toph?" His voice was low and controlled, even though he felt as though his heart would burst from his chest.
"She sat down near the cherry blossom orchard..." Kya was worried. She had never heard her father sound like this before. Putting down his daughter, Aang turned to the waterbender, holding her shoulders so she faced him.
"Kya, Daddy has to help Aunty Toph, okay? She's never had a baby before, and this will be a scary time, okay?" He took a hold of her hand and ran towards the cherry orchard, hearing several terrified screams.
"Hold on, Toph, I'm coming..."
Screams filled the air, although they weren't coming from the most likely person. Toph bit her lip, drawing blood as another contraction spread through her body. Unconsciously, she bent a slab of earth, this time catching an unfortunate maid bringing in the laundry. The terrified woman's screams alerted Toph to what she had done, and the earthbender lowered the slab, none too gently. She was in too much pain to care. Stumbling along, she made her way towards the main house, searching for a single set of footprints. Grimacing, she clenched her teeth when she felt the footsteps of the one person she desperately needed. Plus his daughter's.
"Toph! Wha- are you okay? Kya said... what's happening?!" Aang ran to embrace her, his tone showing his worry. Whether it was for the poor maid's safety, or Toph's sanity, she didn't know. Probably both. Grabbing the lapels of the airbender, Toph dragged the tall man down so her face was centimetres from his.
"Going by the pain," she growled softly, "I would hazard to guess that the baby is sick of being in me, and wants out." She released Aang, and grabbed her stomach, accidentally sending a pillar of stone at the Avatar. Dodging it with practiced ease (she really, really liked sparring), Aang quickly turned to the maid she had recently released and began issuing orders.
"Asi, I need you to send for the midwife. Now, Kya, I need you to go and get the Acolytes, and tell them Toph is having her baby, and to stay away from the main house." He smiled grimly as his daughter rushed off to follow his order.
"No time," Toph's voice, barely a whisper compared to its usual standard, wafted to the trio, and Aang looked at her, seeing the beads of pain in her eyes, his own staring back laden with fear. He had only ever done this when Kya was born, and then he had had his wife, who had been delivering children before he was free from the iceberg, and the midwife who had been delivering for decades. He desperately needed the help of a professional, but the midwife that had been assigned to Toph had to travel in from the mainland; the baby wasn't even due for another two weeks, and it was highly probable that the midwife would be unavailable anyway. Aang was terrified; there was no telling what kind of damage the earthbender would do, especially when she was in so much pain, and he had a feeling he would be needed to control the damage she caused. He couldn't do it alone.
He had intended on leading her to her room—it was where she had spent the most time. It was hers; the only place on the entire island that was for her use exclusively. Unfortunately, the baby had other plans. Clutching Aang's hand, Toph moved back until she hit a tree, sliding down the rough bark until she hit the ground. Pulling him down to her level, she whispered to the young Avatar.
"It's coming, Aang," she whimpered, her breathing heavy and laborious.
He would have bent her a small tub—Katara had had a water birth, and he wasn't sure what to do otherwise—however he had a feeing that Toph would hurt him before he had a chance. He stood up and let go of her hand, eliciting a small cry from her. Looking back at the prone woman, he realised where her fear was coming from.
"Toph, I need to go back to the house to get some cloths, okay? I'll be less than a minute..." He waited for her nod before moving again, returning as soon as he said he would laden with clean cloths and towels. Toph hadn't moved, instead remaining below the cherry blossom tree. As Aang bent some earth into a pot, pulling water from the salty air, a particularly painful contraction hit Toph, causing her to cry out before biting her lips shut.
"Shh, it'll be okay. This is your first child, okay? It's going to feel strange, and its going to take some time." He gently wiped her forehead with a sodden rag.
"I can't wait- it can't wait. Please, Aang," she was trembling, her skin clammy to touch. "I can't do this alone."
He shushed the terrified woman. "I'm not going anywhere." Despite his misgivings, despite how much he did not want to be the one to deliver Toph's baby, he also knew that he was the only one she would let see her in such a vulnerable state. Fortunately for him, it wasn't his decision to make. Being blind had made Toph shameless about her body, and being in pain meant that it was almost assured that she would hurt him if he didn't look. Taking a deep breath, he lifted the hem of the dress she had begun wearing when she could no longer fit into pants. What he saw almost made him faint on the spot. It was only looking into the eyes of his terrified friend that convinced him not to lose it then and there. He had fainted—multiple times—during Kya's birth, but he could afford to. Katara had been with a midwife, surrounded by her family. Toph had no one but him. Eyes wide, he could see that while she wasn't quite ready to give birth, there was no chance the midwife would make it in time, if she could come at all.
"Okay, Toph, you're going to hate me for saying this, but it isn't time for the baby to come out yet. Your body is still getting ready, okay? You have to be a little patient."
Toph gave another whimper, clenching the ground so hard it turned to sand. At least she wasn't sending pillars of earth his way—the pain had rendered her flaccid, only tensing up when her muscles clenched.
"I thought the pain meant it wanted out!" The pain was causing her to ramble, and there was very little Aang could do to make her feel better.
"It's okay, it's just your body getting ready to get rid of it. Shh, its okay..." he gave her a small, comforting kiss on her brow.
"I want to try something," he told the blind woman. Toph complied with his request, barely in control of her own actions. Gently warming his hands with his firebending, Aang placed his palms on her abdomen, making small, circular movements. He continued this for several minutes, noting happily that it definitely made a difference to Toph. Her breathing became softer, smoother, and her body shuddered less severely. Aang continued his ministrations, holding onto the hope that the midwife would still make it in time. He knew it was a futile dream, though, as only a few short minutes later, he felt a change come over Toph. She had long since stopped whimpering, preferring to carry the pain in silence, but one contraction caused her to scream out, the most heart wrenching sound he had ever heard her make. Tears began streaming down her face, and she looked at him with blind eyes.
"What's happening, Aang?"
He had completely forgotten that Toph had never experienced this before, and it crossed his mind that perhaps this wasn't all instinctual, it merely seemed that way because Katara had taken such control.
Then again, she had been helping women give birth for years, he thought to himself. Aloud, he turned to Toph.
"Okay, I need to have another look, but I think it's time," he moved his hands from her stomach to check her again. She was fully dilated; the baby was definitely coming.
Leaning back towards Toph, he wiped the layer of perspiration from her forehead.
"Don't worry, okay? The baby's coming, but you don't need to rush it. When the next contraction comes, I want you to push, can you do that, Toph?"
She shook her head, taking short, sharp breaths while she rode out the remainder of the spasm.
"Aang... Aang I can't... I can't do this," she cried, tears streaming down her face.
"You can do it Toph. You're the strongest, bravest person I know. If Sugar Queen can do this—twice—you can do it."
Toph giggled feebly, her nickname for Katara sounding strange coming from him, before groaning in pain again.
"Aang, Aang I-" She gasped as a contraction spread through her body. Aang didn't tell her to push; she knew what to do, and him talking would only distract her. That wasn't to say he didn't let her know that he was there, supporting her, helping her if she needed it. He would wipe the sweat from her brow, and gently rub her cheeks, just comforting her with his touch.
"Th-thank you, Aang," she told him breathlessly, talking small gasps. She would have said more, but it was time to push again. She didn't speak again, and he didn't reply. They both needed to focus on the task ahead.
Every time a contraction spread through her, she would grunt, and every time she grunted Aang would kiss her forehead, whispering, encouraging her. Checking her, he saw the baby crowning; it wouldn't be long now.
"Toph? The baby is crowning. Do you know what that means?" A small shake told him that she didn't. Aang began to tell her, knowing that she probably wasn't absorbing anything he was saying.
"It means that the baby's head is visible. This part shouldn't hurt too much, but it will feel uncomfortable. Just keep doing what you're doing, and it will be fine. I'm here Toph, don't worry," he added when he saw her eyes widen, the fear obvious.
The sun had long since set, and Aang was beginning to feel the chill of the ocean breeze. Using his firebending, he lit one of the hibiscus shrubs, knowing Katara would kill him when she got home.
Turning his focus back on Toph, he held her hand, waiting and supporting her. She was barely conscious of what he was doing, living from contraction to contraction, pushing when she had to and relaxing when she didn't. She felt a strange clunk, but couldn't dwell on it. She screamed, an anguished cry of pain and frustration, and all Aang could do was hold her hand close and murmur comfortingly. He hadn't left her side once, not to check for the midwife, not to have a break himself. Crying out, she felt her muscles clench, this one far worse than the others. She could hear Aang talking to her.
"Only a few more to go Toph. Come on, you can do it..." Squeezing her eyes shut, she pushed, harder than her previous ones. She wanted the baby out of her, and chose to believe Aang when he said that it wasn't long. Feeling the pressure in her abdomen build up again, she took a deep breath before pushing, screaming out in pain and frustration as she did so.
"One more, Toph! One more big push!"
She didn't cry out this time. She felt something come loose, the pressure being released as something behind the baby helped it exit her. Lying back, she could feel Aang doing something, probably wrapping it. She could hear him whooping with joy, before his cries were drowned out by another crying. Aang moved up next to her, her baby in his arms as she exhaustedly lay her head on his shoulders.
"You want to hold her?"
Toph nodded, a yawn escaping her.
"Her? It's a girl?"
"She sure is. A beautiful baby girl..." Aang gently placed the baby, no longer crying, on her Mother's chest. Toph gently offered her breast to the child, grinning when the newborn took it hungrily. "Congratulations, Toph, you're a mum..." He gave her a kiss on her forehead, and she gave a small smile.
"Toph?" A new voice entered the yard, and Aang turned to see Katara standing a few yards away, baby in her arms and Kya holding her hand. Standing a few paces away were Sokka and Suki, each holding a sleeping toddler.
"Hey, guys... Whattup?" Toph grinned tiredly at her friends; she was somewhat surprised that she hadn't sensed them, but considering what she went through that day, the shock didn't last long.
"I think I should be asking you that... What happened?" Katara sounded worried, terrified of something.
"Oh, nothing... I just had a baby..."
"I can see that..." Katara would have said more, had Kya not dropped her hand and darted over to Toph, worry etched on her young face.
"Are you okay, Aunty Toph?" She sat on her father's lap, looking curiously at the baby. "Did the baby hurt you? Bad baby!" She scolded the feeding newborn. Toph laughed a light, airy laugh.
"It wasn't the baby's fault... I'm fine, Kya. Now I need to think of a name.... I'm thinking... Lin. Yeah, I like that. Lin. What do you think Aang?" She felt Katara's heartbeat pick up, and suddenly realised why she was being so distant.
"Katara, come here," she requested. The waterbender complied, but her moves were sluggish, as though she really didn't want to approach her exhausted friend. After giving up possession of Bumi to Aang (who had a giant grin on his face from holding his son for the first time), she knelt down next to Toph, avoiding eye contact with her husband. Smiling at the waterbender, Toph lifted her hand an promptly slapped her before pulling her into a tight hug.
Kya cried out, and Aang looked at the new mother in shock.
"Aunty Toph! Why did you hit mummy?"
Toph ignored them, whispering in Katara's ear. "How could you even think that of me, Katara? That would be a very big mistake, and she- Lin," Toph indicated to the bundle in her arms. "Was not a mistake.
"I'm sorry Toph... Who is the father? Why isn't he here?"
"He isn't in the picture. Never was," she told her friend before lying back completely exhausted. She hadn't the energy to stay awake too much longer, but she would, feeling the clumsy footsteps of Sokka approaching. They were heavy, laden with worry, stress... Guilt. She felt the last one as he looked to his wife, gently bringing her along with him.
"Well, I didn't think you had it in you, to be honest Toph..."
"What part? The part where I make a baby, I let it grow inside me, or actually having it?"
She sounded slightly sad at his words; she knew she wasn't really the maternal type, but to hear one of her oldest friends say that he didn't think she could do this really hurt her.
"All of it, I guess... So, where is the dad? Did he... Pass?"
"I don't know."
"Did he have to work?"
"I don't know."
"Where is he?"
"I don't know."
Realisation was dawning on the Water Tribe siblings' faces, and they both shared the same expression.
"Do you even know who the father is?"
"Let's get one thing straight. There is no father, no dad. There never was," Toph knew this conversation would come, she was just hoping that it could have waited until the morning. Katara lay a gentle hand on Toph's arm.
"Toph, you need a man to make a baby..."
Toph looked at her scathingly.
"Yes, Katara, you do need a man. I obviously know that, I have a baby. You don't need a father to make a baby, though. Like you said, you need a man, not a father."
"But Toph! A baby needs a family, stability! You have work, you can't do this alone."
Toph turned her head to the waterbender, before closing her eyes.
"Yes, Aunty Toph?"
"What's a family?"
Kya put her finger on her chin, thinking hard about the question.
"I think... A family is a group of people who love each other. I love Lin, so she is my family; even though she can't tell me, I know she loves me too," Kya smiled happily, and moved over to look at the baby again.
"I like the name Lin. I'm Kya, and we're going to be best friends."
Toph turned her head to face her friend.
"She doesn't need a father. All her family, all my family, is right here." She looked down at her new baby and smiled.
Lin looked up at her beaming mother as she blew out the candles on her cake. Well, tried to blow them out.
"Tenzin! I have 16 candles to blow out. Stop bending the air, or one of them is going to find it way up your-"
"Happy birthday, Lin!" Katara's voiced interrupted what was possibly not just an empty threat, and Tenzin ceased his antagonising, allowing the teenage earthbender to blow out the candles. Moving away from the cake, she looked up at her mother, identical tears running down their faces. Pulling her into a tight hug, the older woman knelt down to whisper to her daughter.
"Happy birthday, Sweetie. I love you," she told her quietly, not loud enough for anyone else to hear. It used to bother Lin that her mother never told her around other people. She had already been told of the circumstances of her conception—after all, there were very few people at her school without fathers. Generally, it was because they were working in the city, and had to stay there. She was the only one who didn't have a father who wanted her. It had made her feel upset, to say the least. But, with the help of Kya, she managed to see past that.
''What does it feel like to be wanted? To have a family, a complete family, that loves you?" Lin voiced these insecurities to her best friend more than three years ago, finally working up the courage to ask such question.
"What do you mean? You have a family. We're your family. You wanna know the first words I said to you? I told Aunt Toph and my mother what a family was. I said that a family is people, who may not be related by blood or birth, but who love each other unconditionally. You know why they asked? Mum didn't believe that you could have a family without a Dad. Heh, we sure proved that wrong, sis." Kya winked at her friend. Despite the age gap, they had always gotten along. Like sisters, really.
Looking around at the group of people she was surrounded by, Lin, not for the first time, realised just how special her family was. She loved them.
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