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Release date

20th August, 2013

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Bereft was not a word Toph used often. She was too sure of herself, too content with her life to—occasionally—feel anything worse than mild loneliness. A feeling that quickly disappeared after listening to Moo-Chee read some vague poetic line to her about death, or something equally morbid. It was not a word she used lightly, and until very, very recently, not a word she understood that well.

Sure, she knew what it meant—deprived and lacking—however she had never felt how it applied to her. She received a great amount of pleasure in going to work and beating the spit out of people, and she enjoyed coming home to The Dark One and eating a warm meal before going for a tumble. Occasionally, she wondered how much she loved either, and which one she loved more; though with her promotion to Chief, and subsequent pregnancy, Toph had little use for the wandering thoughts. After all, with a child on the way, it wouldn't do to doubt herself.

However, when she finally pushed the little life from her, heard its wails and cries for the first time and smelt the powerful odour of blood and life, she understood. Moo-Chee had left, unable to comfort (or stand?) her and the brutal, yet rewarding, pain of childbirth (or was it his pain, for being forced there in the first place?). He had never wanted a child, and her ecstatic jubilance at the form growing in her womb had set him on edge.

When the little girl first latched onto her breast as the boys left the room and Katara and Suki respectfully averted their eyes, she understood. For the last nine months, her life had revolved around the small bump, the tiny life in her womb. Her own life had turned around and yet she had taken it in stride. She had, as strange as it was to admit and believe it, adapted to something she had never dreamed would be hers; motherhood. Without the little heartbeat inside her, she felt as though a part of her was missing.

Moo-Chee returned some hours later, when Lin had been cooed over and passed around to their friends. The boys didn't notice how Toph avoided touching her, avoided her own child. The girls didn't see her trepidation. And her husband barely looked at his daughter.

Toph found herself relying on a wet nurse as she attempted to regain some sense of normalcy. Katara visited frequently, although the visits were never long—nowhere near enough. Lin slept a lot throughout the day, as babies do, and so was barely awake whenever the waterbender visited. Toph always offered to let her hold the child; Katara thought nothing of it, except that Toph wanted to show off the beautiful baby. It was what she would, and had, done after her own children had been born.

She didn't know anything was wrong. Toph's smile was strained, but what else could she expect? Motherhood was exhausting and daunting. Toph had not returned to work, but then again, she had maternity and sick leave saved up. Katara was bound to discover sooner or later, though; thankfully the former, when Lin was barely six weeks old.

The wet nurse had called in on Katara, explaining that her own child was ill and she had to stay home to look after him. The waterbender assured her that she would pop around to Toph's later that day, expecting the blind girl to still have some trouble with changing nappies; it's what she believed the wet nurse was for, really. Extra supplement and help. She did not expect to find Toph standing in the middle of the nursery, crying in tandem with the child as she begged and pleaded for her to quieten, without ever approaching her.

As Katara edged into the room, a quiet, "Toph?" leaving her lips, the new mother looked up at her with tear-stained cheeks.

"I- I can't get it t-to stop crying..." she whimpered, shaking as the wailing reached its crescendo. As Katara scooped up baby Lin and gently rocked her, she saw how Toph's whole stance relaxed as the noise ceased, as though the tension had washed away from her.

"She's hungry, Toph..." the waterbender said, cautiously approaching her friend. Toph shook her head, quickly wiping her eyes.

"The uh... the nurse isn't here. You- you want some tea? I just bought some from Iroh," she said quickly, walking out of the room. Katara followed behind her, gently stroking the silent baby's face.

"Toph, Sweetie, I'll make it, okay? You just sit down. Where's Moo-Chee?"

The blind woman looked towards her for a second, before lowering her gaze as she slid delicately— 'since when was Toph delicate?' Katara asked herself—onto one of the couches. "He had to leave. He won a poetry competition; he had to go to Ba Sing Se..."

Katara let loose a small frown at the news, although she pushed the thought aside for the time being. "Can you hold onto Lin, please?"

She saw the trepidation and fear cross her friend's face, and it registered that she shouldn't have to ask Toph to hold her own daughter. Katara had heard of this occurring before—women who were unable to find happiness, or love, with their child. Women who couldn't connect. She felt her heart go out to her friend, knowing that she should have recognised it sooner.

The moment baby Lin was placed in her mother's arms, her face scrunched up and her body tensed. Katara watched as Toph's eyes widened, and she held the screaming child to her friend.

"Katara, please!"

The waterbender looked on again, but instead of taking the baby, she sat next to Toph.

"Sweetie, it's okay. Lin just wants some milk, nothing to be frightened or upset about. She can't talk yet; this is how she lets you know."

"Katara, I- I can't do this. I thought I could and I can't." The whispered admission was barely audible above the crying, but Katara knew what she said anyway.

"Toph, you can do this," she said, wrapping her arm around her friend. "Just hold her against your chest, just like that."

Hesitantly, Toph wrapped her arms around the child and held her securely. Lin's head rested against her breast, and slowly, the crying ceased until it was barely a gurgle.

"There, see, Sweetie? She just wanted you."

"Katara- I can't do this..." she repeated, Lin fussing ever so slightly against her. "I'm not like you..."

"Toph, you're doing fine-"

"No, I'm not!" she cried, jumping up. The movement startled the baby, and she began crying again. Katara watched as her friend tensed up at the sound, but Toph didn't let go of the child.

"I watch you with Bumi and Kya," she continued, "an- and I'm not like that. I don-..." she trailed off helplessly, her body slumping. Katara stood quickly and Toph relinquished her grip on her daughter. "I don't... I don't feel anything for her," she admitted quietly, and only at the moment could Katara see how ashamed Toph felt. "I don't love her, an- and I know I'm supposed to but I can't. I've tried and I can't and I don't know what's wrong with me!"

The Water Tribe woman again slowly approached her friend. "Toph, why didn't you say anything?" she asked quietly.

"I- " Toph didn't have an answer, and Katara again tried to give her Lin.

"Toph, there's nothing wrong with you," she said when her friend refused the hushed child. "It's normal for some new mothers to feel this way; it won't be long before you're back to your usual self."

"What if it doesn't change? What- what if I don't get better?" Her voice quivered at the end, and hunched over with tear-stained cheeks, Katara had never seen her friend so insecure, so small and vulnerable.

"Toph, you're the strongest person I know, and Lin is your daughter. There's nothing wrong with you, no need to change. You're just in a bit of a funk, but it will get better. She needs you as much as you need her. And we're here—Sokka, Aang and I—we are going to help you and we aren't going anywhere. Please..." Katara held out Lin again, smiling as Toph, with red eyes and a runny nose, gently took the baby.

Katara watched as Toph hugged her close. "Hello, little baby," she murmured quietly. "I'm gonna be taking care of you now, okay? I don't really know what I'm doing but Katara is going to help, and she's pretty good at that..."

The waterbender smiled, before slipping into the kitchen, giving Toph some privacy. She could still hear what the earthbender was saying, but barely.

"...I'm sorry I haven't been around lately. I could-" Here, she choked. "I couldn't wrap my head around it. But it's okay. It'll be okay."

As the baby gurgled and fussed, one tiny fist grabbing hold of Toph's finger and refusing to relinquish it, the blind earthbender felt an honest smile appear on her face.

Everything was okay.

Notes: So, I've obviously jumped on the "let's hate on Moo-Chee bandwagon, but hey, they have poetry. Poetry. Erm, I thought PPD/PND Toph was interesting, and I wanted to do some more Katara/Toph sisterly relationship, too.

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