Author’s Name: pikabot
Requester’s Name: hakuren
Pairing or Character: Toph
Rating: Totally PG.
Squicks/Spoilers: None, really.
Katara went through three bars before she found Toph.
The first two Toph hadn't visited at all or, if she had, nobody was willing to tell her about it. The bartender at the third had recognized Toph from the description; He'd kicked her out two hours ago for starting a fight.
Katara's concern was starting to grow. Getting kicked out of bars was nothing new for Toph – Actually, it was practically a nightly event – but from the sounds of things, Toph had gone out looking for somewhere else to wet her whistle. That was a good deal more troubling. Getting tossed out the door usually signalled the unofficial end of the night's festivities for Toph.
Of course, she thought, my brother's usually with her. Sokka's absence was also worrying. Usually, when the drink was flowing, the two of them were practically joined at the hip, but Sokka was back at the inn tonight, and Toph was out there all alone. Something was clearly amiss, but Sokka was being tight-lipped about it, so Katara was left with nothing but a nagging, worrying sensation in her stomach. Which was why she was out, trawling through bars, instead of back in bed like a sane person.
The fourth bar was possibly the worst of the lot: A sleazy, run-down little dive, full of various cutthroats and and desperate types, more than half of whom started ogling her the moment she stepped inside. She did her best to ignore the dozens of eyes that followed her as she crossed the floor to where Toph was seated.
The blind earthbender had acquired an impressive colleciton of empty glasses. She hadn't bought most of them herself, Katara knew. Men in dives like this practically fought each other to buy drinks for a pretty young woman like Toph, in hopes of getting her good and drunk, but the joke was on them. Toph had the constitution of a Moose-Lion, and would drink them all under the table. All they were doing is giving her free drinks.
Toph greeted her without turning around. “Hey there, Sugar Queen.”
“Hey, Toph,” Katara replied, standing beside her. “Do you mind if I sit here?”
Toph shrugged, and Katara took that as permission. She pulled out a chair, and sat down beside her. The bartender sidled up, polishing a glass.
“What'll it be?” he asked. He was short and squat, and the boil by the side of his nose looked far larger than could possibly be healthy. When she told him that she just wanted water, he wandered off, muttering under his breath about 'cheapskate kids'.
Katara spent a moment in silence, fiddling anxiously with her hands. Toph's body language right now, from the hunched shoulders to the way she was holding her glass, broadcasted a very clear message: Leave me alone. She was so hard to approach when she was like this. Even Sokka usually gave her a wide berth when she wanted to be left alone.
Katara cleared her throat. “Toph...are you okay?”
Toph did not visibly react to the question, but her grip on the glass seemed to tighten slightly. “I'm just fine, Katara. Why do you ask?”
“Well, you just haven't seemed like yourself for the past couple of days,” Katara said. “It seems like something's been bothering you.”
“Well,” Toph said, her voice now possessed of a bit of edge, “nothing's bothering me. I'm completely fine.”
The bartender returned, sliding the water to her over the counter. Katara accepted it with a word of thanks, then raised the glass to her lips. The water tasted...well, more or less exactly what you'd expect water from a place like this to taste, but it was cool and wet, and that was all that really mattered. After another moment, Katara spoke again.
“Your parents sent you a letter-”
Toph cut her off roughly, slamming her glass onto the bar with enough force that it caused her empties to rattle noisily. “What, are you reading my mail now?”
Katara leaned back before the verbal onslaught, holding up her hands appeasingly for a moment before remembering that Toph couldn't see them.
“Calm down, Toph. I didn't open it,” she said truthfully, pulling the ornate message tube out of her robes, “but the hawk came earlier today, and it's sort of hard to miss the Flying Boar seal.”
Toph deflated slightly. “Oh,” she said. It was the closest she would probably get to an apology, so Katar accepted it as such.
“It's all right,” she said. “Do you want me to read you the letter?”
“I've been getting them for weeks,” Toph confessed. “I've had Sokka read them for me...this one won't say anything different.”
This is what's causing her mood, Katara thought. She cleared her throat and said “It's been a while since you heard from them, hasn't it?” Two years, to be exact. There'd been no contact since the weeks leading up to Toph's eighteenth birthday. The letters they'd recevied then had been pleasant in tone, and inviting, but things hadn't ended well.
“Not long enough for me,” Toph said, slamming back most of her drink, but she didn't sound as sure of it as she would probably like. There was a subtle tremor to her voice that suggested to Katara that there was more to this than was immediately apparent.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Katara asked, leaning forward to look at her face.
There was a time when a show of concern would have earned nothing but an angry retort, but Toph had thankfully matured since then. She sighed, leaning forward against the bar. “My father...he...well...I mean, my parents are...” She seemed to be struggling for words. Finally she took an alternate path; “Oh, just read the letter,” she said, “It'll explain it better than me.”
Katara unsealed the message tube, and pulled out the letter. She unrolled it, noting the elegant, flowing handwriting, and then she began to read it.
At first I thought that my letters were simply not reaching you, or perhaps there was nobody to read them to you, but after weeks of sending letters with no reply, I can only assume that you are ignoring them. I know that you'll probably just ignore this one as well, but I have to try.
I know that you hate us, Toph, and I understand why. Maybe you're even right to do so. But that's not what is important right now. Your father is dying, Toph. He grows more ill with each passing day, and no medicine helps. We even hired a pair of skilled healers from the Northern Water Tribe, but they just shook their heads and said that there was nothing they could do. He is slowly dying, and what he wants more than anything is to see you again, one last time.
He is too full of pride to admit it, of course, but it's very plain. He might not regret what we did for you, but he does regret pushing you away. If he could turn back time to when the Avatar took you away, I think he woulld choose differently, but it's too late for that. We cannot undo what we have done, only beg of you to see past it.
What we did to you two yers ago was despicable; I see that now. I know that no apology could possibly suffice. I have no excuse, save that I did it out of love. I wanted you back so badly that I would have agreed to any plan of your father's that ended in your return, no matter how foolish. It was stupid, misguided love, but love nonetheless.
But now I ask you, I beg you, please put your anger aside. Your father no longer has the strength to leave his bed, and his eyesight is growing dim. Soon he will be completely blind, and the healers say that the end will not be long after that. I fear it is even closer than they think. If you do not come immediately, you may never have another chance.
I know you don't want to see us...but he wants to see you. I wish I could tell you that he's had a change of heart, that he wants to accept you for what you are, but that would be a lie. All I can say is that his heart is heavy with sorrow, and nobody should have to carry such a burden into the next life.
Please, Toph, give him on last chance. Don't shut him out now. Let him see you one last time. I know it's hard, but he doesn't have much longer.
Love, your Mother
Katara looked up from the paper. Toph was facing away from her, but her body language spoke volumes about her feelings. Overflowing with sympathy, Katara reached forward and touched her shoulder comfortingly. “Oh, Toph...”
“It's sort of funny,” Toph said. She was doing her best to sound normal and unaffected, but some of her turmoil spilled over onto her voice. “He never gave a damn about me before. But now that he's dying, he wants to say sorry? Please.”
“I'm sure that's not true,” Katara said. “He's your father. He must have cared a little.”
Toph slammed her glass onto the table again. Katara jumped in surprise, her hand withdrawing. “No,” Toph said, “he never cared at all. He cared about keeping his daughter locked away, he cared about his public image, he cared about using me to make alliances with other rich snobs, but none of those things are me.”
Toph was gripping the glass so tightly that Katara was almost certain it would shatter. “He hides me away for twelve years. He hires goons to try and drag me back. And then, just when he's tricked me into thinking that he's figured out who I really am, he stabs me in the back. And now that he's dying, I'm supposed to forget all about that?”
Katara winced. That last betrayal of Toph's trust had been particularly heinous. Correspondance between the Bei Fongs had been sparse for years, due in large part to Toph's attitude and her father's pride and disdain that attitude. But on the cusp of Toph's eighteenth year, letters had come flooding in, bearing the seal of the flying boar. Come home, they begged Toph. Your father has had a change of heart. He wants to beg your forgiveness.
Toph had reluctantly returned to Gaoling, certain that her parents were lying, but to her surprise it seemed that their letters had been genuine. There was a teary reunion between parents and child, followed by a great celebratory feast. Everything had gone extremely well until Toph's parents spoiled it by trying to hustle her into marrying the bespectacled son of a minor merchant family.
With her parents' true colors revealed, Toph's rage was awe-inspiring. The entire Bei Fong estate shook, gardens were overturned, and the landscape was changed to the point that when the house was rebuilt, it had to be moved to a different area of the grounds because the foundation was no longer stable.
That was two years ago, but Katara could see that the memory of it still hurt Toph. The younger woman was biting her lower lip fiercely, as if trying to force the tears in her eyes back up into their ducts by sheer force of will.
“It's not fair,” Toph blurted out. She sniffled, and a pair of tear leaked from the corners of her eyes, each trailing its own lonely road down her cheeks. He shoulders shuddered as she struggled to contain the sobs that threatened to overwhelm her. Katara moved forward and gave her a hug. She looked like she needed one, and in addition to that it hid Toph's face from the eyes of the bar's other patrons. Katara knew that Toph hated for anyone to see her cry.