attackfish: Jet and Zuko fighting in the teashop, text "Obviously this is the place to come if you want to get murdered by lunatics" (Jet Juko TDL quote)
[personal profile] attackfish
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: the Last Airbender. If I did, I would never have time for my quest to write the Great American Novel.

Summary: Toph has always had people trying to help her and hold her back. Or, the story of a little girl in a great big household.

Author's Note: Written for [archiveofourown.org profile] Bonpri in the [community profile] trickortreatex Halloween Exchange.


On the Wings of a Boar

Her nanny said she looked as pretty as a princess in this dress, which probably would have meant more to her if she could see herself in it. "Toph, sweetie, your parents will be visiting today, and I need you to be on your best behavior. No crawling, okay?"

Toph pulled her face into a mutinous glower. Her new nanny giggled, and Toph balled her fists. "No laughing"

She stopped, and planted a kiss on Toph's hair. Toph squirmed away. "Look, kiddo, just make us look good in front of your parents, and I'll sneak you some play clothes, okay?

~*~

That giggle came back when Toph shoved her head through the neck hole, and her nanny tugged her tunic into place. "You look like a little hooligan."

Hooligan. Toph liked the sound of that. "I can crawl?"

"And play." Her nanny picked her up, and Toph let her. "Come on, let's go outside!"

Outside, there was mud that gooshed between her fingers and toes, and later as her nanny scrubbed the mud out of her hair, she wriggled, wishing she could keep all of the outdoors on her skin.

"What do you say?" her nanny prompted.

"Thank you miss..."

"Suyin."

~*~

The first time Toph found the cave, she swore to herself she was never going above ground again. The badger-moles didn't care about manners and dresses. She was their little bald friend, and their tongues tickled against her cheek.

She crept back home hungry, and walked back into the nursery like nothing had happened.

"Toph!" Miss Suyin let out a small scream. "Where were you? You can't wander off like that, I was so scared, what if you'd been..."

Next time, Toph snuck out of the nursery after Miss Suyin tucked her into bed, and cane back hours before dawn.

~*~

At first, they gave Toph a new nanny every few months, village girls, made to serve until they married. Suyin was her favorite. Suyin took her outside to play, let her get dirty, told her stories, treated her like she was smart, wonderful, brave, and hilarious. She laughed at Toph's jokes, and kept her secrets.

She had a limp and a withered arm from the wasting fever when she was little, and Toph loved the sound of her cane as she walked, going thump thump thump. It meant she would never find a husband. She would be with Toph forever.

~*~

Master Yu smelled like pickled cabbage and expensive soap. He felt like falling sand as he walked. "Now Toph, I want you to breathe with me. As you bring your arm back, breathe in..."

Toph breathed in, forcing her hand to tremble with hesitation.

"And as you bring your hand forward, release the breath."

Toph shoved the palm of her hand through the air. The delicate jade bead Master Yu had brought for her to train with flew into the wall and clattered to the floor.

"Very good Toph," Master Yu exclaimed. "Good first attempt."

Toph pretended to be proud.

~*~

Tunnels wound under Gaoling like Toph's own secret castle. They shifted with the whim of the badger-moles, and she wanted to feel the soft echo of their ever-changing shapes with each step she took.

When it got too much, smiling at her parents, letting Miss Suyin dress her in silk and do her hair, walking primly through the estate, she would slide her off slipper and press her foot against the stone floor, to feel the tunnels rumble under her. When it was more than too much, she imagined herself safe inside them.

At night, she made her own tunnels.

~*~

"Where's Miss Suyin?" Toph yelled.

"Oh Toph." Her mother put a hand on her shoulder. "Don't you think you're getting a little too old for a nanny?"

"But..." She's supposed to tuck me in, she thought. She's not done telling me about the moon spirit and the fisherman.

Her father tensed. "The truth is, Toph, we don't like how she has been allowing you to comport yourself. She lets you act like a hooligan, and we just don't feel it's appropriate anymore, now that we'll be looking for a husband for you soon to run the estate when we're gone."

~*~

The best thing about being an earthbender is that when she wanted the earth to open up and swallow her, it obliged. She locked the door to her room and told her new servants she wanted to meditate. Easy. So much easier than Miss Suyin would have been. The floor split and folded back like her bedsheets, and once she was deep underground, she tucked herself in. She had time, she told herself. She hadn't even started her monthly bleeds yet. She had time. The servants wouldn't worry about her for hours. She ran down the tunnel fighting back tears.

~*~

"I'm happy to hear you are taking your meditating so seriously, Toph." Master Yu put the jade bead on the table. The table was made out of stone, and Toph leaned against it with one hand. Through it, she could feel the chrysanthemums carved into the bead, and the hole drilled right down the center. "Have you chosen to meditate on anything specifically?"

Meditating, yeah. Sure she was meditating, not bending a nest of tunnels under Gaoling.

Toph took her hand off the table, bowing to Master Yu. "I've been meditating on the virtues of waiting and listening, Master Yu."

~*~

After sneaking around for years, it wasn't that hard to put on Miss Suyin's brother's clothes and follow the throng right into the Earth Rumble. It helped her parents were too embarrassed by their blind little flower to let anyone know she existed.

"You have your champion, ladies and gentlemen, anyone think you can take him?" the announcer thundered. "I have a bag of gold here if you beat him."

"The gold's mine." Toph marched down to the arena. The announcer put an arm up to stop her, but she ducked him. "So, what's it they call you, The Pebble?"
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