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2nd September, 2013
"... You can't just waltz in whenever you feel like it!"
The hushed whisper, barely a breath compared to the usual standards of the woman who spoke it, nevertheless manage to wake the one person whom Toph didn't want to hear the conversation.
Sitting up in her bed, little Lin Beifong blinked wearily. Her candle (once floating in a bowl of water) had burnt down, leaving the six year old to wonder how late it was. She heard a new voice speak, low and incoherent as she slowly became more aware of herself. Lin wondered who would be visiting her mother at such a late hour. It didn't sound like one of the policemen who sometimes called in.
"I don't care!" She heard her mother hiss, and Lin couldn't stop the little whimper at the back of her throat at the venom. She had only ever heard her mother speak like that to the bad people that she held in the small rooms at work. Did that mean the man she was talking to was a bad man? Toph continued in the same undertone, "You've had seven years to do right by us- by her. How dare you?!"
The man was cut off as the door slammed shut. Carefully, Lin slipped out from the downy quilt and padded out into the foyer.
Toph was sitting in front of the door, cradling her head in her hands. "Lin?" She looked up sharply, relaxing her face and opening her arms. The little earthbender crawled into her mother's waiting lap, wrapping her arms around her. "I'm sorry, Honey. Did the door wake you?"
Lin shook her head. She gently picked up one of her mother's hands and placed it on her face. Lin had never seen Katara do it to Tenzin or Kya (and Bumi would never allow it), and it gave her a little joy to know that she and Toph had their own little system. The blind earthbender began to trace her young daughter's face delicately, rubbing at her cheeks and nose. Raising her own fingers, she began tracing her mother's lips, which curled into a smile.
"Who was that man?" she queried quietly, eyes downcast. Toph's fingers faltered before they dropped; Lin's followed shortly after. Toph wrapped her daughter in a hug, not answering. "Was that my dad?" she asked, barely a whisper, burying her head in her mother's chest. She could feel he mother's heart quicken at the question, and she bit her lip. Toph never lied to her.
"Yes, he was. But he isn't anymore, okay? You don't want him, anyway."
Lin loved her mother. She was smart and strong and beautiful, and she loved her. And she never spoke to Lin as though she were stupid. Suki did, and Katara did—even to their own children. Lin could see the 'little duckies', and she would like a balloon, but not if Katara asked her in the same voice as her Uncle Sokka when he had a little too much to drink. Toph never did that.
Toph cupped Lin's cheeks and placed a clumsy kiss on her forehead. "You have Twinkletoes and Uncle Sokka! What do you need that guy for?" she asked, honestly but with a hint of laughter. The sight of her daughter's face caused the half-smile to drop. "Why do you want him?"
Lin squirmed uncomfortably, and tucked her hands into her sides. "I want my own," she mumbled into her mother's chest, clenching her eyes shut.
Lin nodded. "I don't want to have to share."
Toph's hands wound their way into her daughter's silky hair, and began carefully to stroke it, removing the light knots that had formed during the night. "You have me, too, Lin."
"But you're busy! And Uncle Sokka is busy!" she cried, sitting up. "You don't have time for me," she added quietly.
"Lin! I always have time for you!"
"No, you don't. My teacher wanted to meet you but you had to send Sakira instead. And there was the picnic for the school and I had to share Sokka and Twinks and Aunty Katara coz you had to work."
Lin sat there, in Toph's lap, looking everywhere but her mother. Toph merely sat there. She had never truly thought about it like that; she had followed the 'it takes a village to raise a child' adage after her own unsuccessful childhood, full of anger and discontent.
"Why didn't you say anything?" she asked her daughter gently.
"I didn't want to bother you," Lin mumbled, and Toph gave a light laugh.
"Oh, Sweetie. You never bother me."
The two sat in silence, Toph continuing her ministrations as she rubbed Lin's back. She could feel the little girl dropping off to sleep, but just as she made to stand up to take her back to bed, she heard her daughter murmur something.
"Can- can we do something together tomorrow?"
Toph expected such a question, and carefully taking her daughter back to her room, she tucked her back into bed. "Of course, Lin. We can be together tomorrow." She made to leave, but a tight fist in her tunic stopped her from moving.
"Mom? Can you stay with me tonight, too?" she asked, even quieter than the last question. This time, a light smile graced Toph's face as the blind earthbender carefully crawled in next to her daughter.
"This is a one-time thing, Squirt," she grumbled lightly into Lin's neck. "You owe me breakfast in the morning."
Lin felt her mother kiss her on the cheek, and her hands gently ran over Toph's face. "I love you, mommy."
"I love you too, my little badgermole."
Notes: this was written to practise my short story writing. It went over (of course), but hey, it was fun. And I did it in only a half-hour or so.
For the collective works of the author, go here.