With the exception of Kun Yong (brave earth in Chinese), Hui (brightness, wisdom), Xin Xi (news, information), Lan (orchid), and Ling (quick, alert), all characters and their world belong to Nickelodeon, Bryan, and Mike. I'm just playing with the toys.
By virtue of her increased size, a pregnant woman will feel the heat and suffer from it more acutely than normal, and Toph Yong was no exception as she lay on the cot, flushed and sweating, her belly bloated by a seven-month fetus. The humid air sapped her strength.
Her husband and former Dai Li cadet, Kun Yong, was out in the garden with their daughter Hui. Two and a half years old, she was apparently splashing and laughing in the shallow wading pool that her parents had built and smoothed out for her with their combined earthbending skills, from what Toph could hear.
With Kun to supervise her, Toph wasn't really worried about Hui drowning. And she'd long ago resolved that she would never, ever, be the cloying, overprotective creature that her own mother had been. Still, she kept the sole of her right foot partially touching the ground, and her ears alert as she fitfully dozed.
If she'd even suspected Hui was in trouble, the master earthbender would've been at her side with a swiftness that would do even Ling, the family's tortoiseshell cat, proud. And Tu Gong help the person who so much as accidently jostled their daughter!
It had been eight years since the Fire Nation's defeat, and there'd never been a dull moment in Toph's life since then. First of all, she'd taken Kun Yong's hand in marriage, and joined him in a separate villa that they had partially constructed themselves through their mastery of earthbending.
She'd also decided to see the path she'd started on with Aang to its logical conclusion and became the first ever female earthbending teacher, heading her own academy.
Sifu Toph Yong, lead instructor and founder of The Academy of the Unyielding Diamond. She grinned in pleasure and wonder just thinking about the title. Her name for the academy reflected well on her style as a teacher and her unconventional methods.
Students also had the option of taking classes headed by the assistant instructor, a former estate guard who still wore an emerald green conical hat and was known by his students as Sifu Kun. They never failed to be curious about his fire-scarred leg, and were fascinated to hear his story about how he'd received that grave burn, looking at him with eyes filled with wonder and worship. Despite being lame, there was nothing lacking about the style of his teaching methods either.
Both earthbenders took their responsibilities as trainers of the next generation quite seriously, and it was rare for Toph to miss a day at the job. Still, they'd set aside the fourth day of each week as a day off for both themselves and the students, which was why both she and Kun were currently at home. Besides, it was much too hot to conduct an earthbending class anyway.
And of course, there was Hui. Their dear, precious Hui. Toph smiled.
She would always remember the wonderful, grand day that she discovered she was with child, and definitely the one on which she'd borne her daughter. She completed her and filled her heart with joy to a degree that even Kun never could.
And her grandparents loved her too, although Lao had pessimistically predicted at first that with a blind mother, the baby would be lucky to survive for more than four months under her care. But he'd been proven quite wrong.
And soon another member would be added to the Yong family. Toph smiled lightly as she stroked her distended belly. She had the distinct impression that this one would be a male child. What if I called him Aang, she wondered, grinning devilishly.
She was interrupted by the vibrations of another young woman's footfalls coming toward her room. Toph already knew who it was from their distinct gait before the servant even spoke, and her fast pulse meant she had a message of importance for her mistress.
"Yes Lan?" Toph asked as she unsteadily sat up and placed both her feet on the floor, listening.
"There's an envoy from Omashu who's just arrived with two messages for you and your husband, Lady Yong. He says they're both from King Bumi."
Toph frowned. Bumi? Why was he, of all people, sending them a letter, and for what reason? The last time she'd encountered the ancient, somewhat hare-raccoon brained ruler was at Zuko's coronation. He came across as a nice enough, pleasantly silly-if kooky-old man to her, but no particularly deep bond of friendship had ever formed between the two master earthbenders. A mutual respect for each other's astounding bending abilities perhaps, but not much more than that.
She'd also received a few letters from the crazy old king congratulating her on her marriage to Kun, the opening of her academy, what a fine job she'd done teaching Aang, and the birth of her first child. Or it would be a message of thanks in response to some gift she'd sent him. All of it was expected correspondence, nothing unusual.
But this was strange, getting not one, but two letters from him, at least two months before her second child was due. Toph began to get an uneasy feeling, a sense that something wasn't right.
"Did you tell Granite Feet yet?" Toph asked as she levered herself to her feet and smoothed her robe, a gesture done more for comfort than classiness.
"No, I was just on my way," Lan replied.
"Tell the guy we'll be seeing him in a minute then," Toph said before Lan turned to leave.
"Can I safely assume you'll want Hui there as well when you see him?" Lan inquired.
Toph snorted derisively and rolled her eyes. "What do you think?"
Neither Toph nor her husband, the son of fishmongers, cared all that much about social graces unless it was a necessity. So as was often the case, she kept her hair in a simple large bun and wore a rather plain robe to receive the royal envoy, without even a hint of makeup. The only jewelry Toph was wearing were a pair of disk-shaped jade earrings on short bronze chains.
Hui, leaning affectionately against her mother's muscular right leg and lightly bouncing in place, was still in her swimsuit, wet hair in a braid. Grandma Poppy would've been appalled at such a cavalier reception.
Certainly, when the royal envoy entered the room, she could feel him stop and stare for a moment, hearing him give a surprised puff at the sight of such rather coarsely dressed nobles. But he composed himself and strode forward as Kun greeted him, saying "Nin hao, good sir. What brings you here from Omashu?"
She felt the envoy fidget uncomfortably, regretfully in place, and that initial sense that something wasn't right blossomed anew inside the blind earthbender.
"Something's happened to Bumi, hasn't it?" she inquired bleakly, foggy eyes widening.
The envoy drew back in mild surprise before replying, voice grave, "Yes, Lady Toph Yong. I regret to inform both of you that he died about a week ago. But how did you know?"
"My wife may be blind, but she's still able to feel the vibrations and movements associated with a person's particular emotional state right through the earth," Kun helpfully informed him. "She's also extremely good at picking up on subtle variations in someone's voice, so she knew you'd come with bad news even before I sensed you had. Nothing gets past my Green Widow!" he offhandedly praised her as he turned in her direction, and Toph beamed smugly at hearing the affectionate nickname spoken.
Inside however, the earthbender was frowning unhappily. After a lifespan of over a century, one certainly couldn't claim that it hadn't been the old king's time to go. But still...poor Bumi!
He'd been the only king that most, if not all, of Omashu's citizens had ever known, and she didn't doubt that in spite of his eccentric behavior, his death would be very hard on them. His silly ways and capers would be missed as well.
And his death would be hardest of all on Aang. Bumi had been his only surviving friend, the last link to the past he'd been torn away from. Toph's heart sank even further at the thought. She wondered if the Avatar knew already, and if so, how he was taking such a great loss. At least he had Katara to comfort him.
His own voice now subdued, her husband told the envoy, "Anyway, we're sorry to hear of His Majesty's passing and your city's loss. How did he die?"
"In his bed, from a sudden illness," the envoy answered. "Whatever illness it was, it took him quickly, from what I know, and I don't think he suffered much."
The blind earthbender couldn't help but breathe out in relief. Thank Tu Gong for that mercy, at least.
"He was a great guy, a great strategist, and an awesome earthbender," Toph said simply. "He'll be missed."
"Yes. Before he died," the envoy said as Toph heard him reach into his robes, "His Majesty had an important letter written for both of you, on two different scrolls. She then heard a rustle of paper as he gave a scroll to Kun, telling them, "He wanted you to read this one first."
Her husband carefully broke the seal, and then began to read out loud for her benefit.
"Dear Kun and Toph Yong, I hope that this letter finds you and your daughter in good health. Unfortunately, I'm afraid the same can't be said for me. Soon I shall return to the earth and stone from which I came and that I've learnt to control so well-it's my understanding that you're every bit as good at it yourself Toph."
Darn right, she thought proudly.
"It doesn't scare me though. A hundred and twenty years is a good, long life, and I've ruled over this city for nine decades. One way or another, I've seen and done it all, and I also think I've done a darn good job of looking after this city and the people in it, if I say so myself."
"But one thing I haven't managed to do is produce a heir who will take my place when I'm gone. Oh, I did have a queen in my younger days-or at least I think I did-and she bore me three children in all."
"But the Universe had other plans, and one way or another, I found myself watching all of them be buried by the royal guards over the years, until only I was left."
"Anyway, after giving this matter a good deal of thought," Kun read in mounting excitement and incredulity, "I made the decision to officially name both of you in my will as the heirs to my throne, the new King and Queen of Omashu!"
Like a lit string of firecrackers, Toph and Kun detonated at those words, at the completely unexpected gift of power and trust they proclaimed.
With a shriek of wordless delight as her husband yelled "Great Tu Gong, I'm going to be a king!" Toph leapt to her feet and ran to Kun, clasping him to her as they began to jump up and down.
"And I'm going to be a queen!" she shouted ecstatically. "Oh Tu Gong, can you believe it Hui?" she told her daughter. "Your mother and dad are going to be king and queen of an entire city!"
"Yay yay yay!" Hui squealed, jumping up and down herself in delight.
Grasping each other's forearms, Toph and Kun twirled around in complete enthusiasm, the blind earthbender's face split by a great grin of joy at their turn of fortune. Like a herd of camelephants welcoming a new calf into the herd, they were nearly delirious with excitement.
After a while, they regained their composure enough to sit back down in their respective chairs, flushed and throbbing with elation. Toph felt the fetus in her swollen belly kick and shift several times, as if even it was celebrating in its own way.
His voice infused with a pleasant sort of disbelief, Kun drew a deep breath before reading again.
"Have you settled down yet? I'll give you a minute," the former Dai Li cadet read, causing Toph to chuckle. That was Bumi all right.
"I've been accused of being a person who makes impulsive decisions, and perhaps I am. But I can assure you both, there was nothing impulsive about my choice for you to be my heirs."
"I know that in spite of being blind, you are an Earthbender without any equal in the Four Nations, Toph Yong...even possessing the ability to bend metal, for Tu Gong's sake! Aang has also told me about how you were able to successfully fight your way through whole ranks of royal guards to access the royal palace, and even proved a match for the notorious Dai Li!"
"Yeah, I'm just totally awesome like that," Toph smirked, rotating her palms upward and shrugging her shoulders before letting them fall back to her thighs.
"Therefore, I have no doubt that you will make an excellent queen, one who will protect and guard my city well against enemies or dissent. As for you, Kun Yong, I understand that you too, are also an accomplished earthbender, and that your time as a Dai Li cadet has made you a skilled fighter and planner."
"Well, I try," Kun wryly quipped. "But I'm not as good as my Green Widow is."
"Oh stop, Granite Feet," Toph snorted, rolling her eyes. "I think you're at least tolerably good at fighting and planning out moves. Would I have allowed you to become assistant instructor if I thought that you stunk at it?"
"And that brings up a whole other issue," Kun mentioned. "What are we going to do about the academy, now that Bumi wants us to be king and queen?"
"I don't know," Toph shrugged wearily. "First let's just get through the letter. Then we'll decide what to do about the school."
"I also know about the injury you received during the battle to retake Ba Sing Se, and the circumstances under which you were burnt," Kun read on. "I'm proud of such courage, although I think you would've been far better off fighting alongside the Order of the White Lotus instead of on your own-Piandao and Pakku agree with me."
"Heh, tell me about it," Kun dryly remarked, and Toph heard the rasp of cloth as he felt of his burn scar.
Hui was now playing, doing clumsy somersaults and laughing as her father read on, "So there is no doubt that you will make a worthy king. And you've got to admit, having a lame king and a blind queen in the palace makes a certain sort of sense!"
"I'm also aware as members of the nobility and as famous earthbending teachers who run your own academy, you both have busy lives in Gaoling, and you may not enjoy the idea of being uprooted from all this."
"Yes, that sort of weighs on my mind right now," Kun mumbled.
"Taking this into account, I have reserved a suitably sized plot of bare land in Omashu for you to construct a new earthbending academy on. Of course, you and the architects will be the ones who'll determine how the place looks in the end."
Toph was touched by the considerate gesture, and could feel a similar warmed emotion coming from her husband as she smiled, placing her hand on her chest as she said, "How sweet of you Bumi!"
"And as for finding the time to teach at your new academy, I can tell you from long experience that being a king is often just deadly dull. So I'm sure that as king and queen one of you will easily be able to spend a given day on the throne while your spouse spends that time teaching students, without any problems. Then you can switch on the following one."
"That's really a genius idea!" Toph replied, impressed. And pleased.
"Yeah, and I agree that it sounds doable," Kun thoughtfully agreed. "Quite doable."
Her husband opened the second scroll then, and recited, "As I wrote before, I wouldn't have appointed you the new rulers of Omashu if I didn't feel you were both equal to the task and deserved it. All the same, there are some practices, some things I'd dearly like you two to carry on after I'm gone."
"First, always give the cabbage merchants a hard time. They're great for entertainment!" At that, Toph and Kun both threw their heads back and burst into wild, knowing laughter. Even though she was too young and innocent to understand the humor, Hui started laughing along with her parents as well.
"Second, continue the pastime of mail-chute sledding that I came up with. Something that fun should never be allowed to vanish. Make it the city's official sport if you have to."
"Will do," Toph promised.
"Third, I want both of you to rule and make decisions like I did, by thinking and even acting like a mad genius. In other words, be "crazy like a rat-jackal," as the saying goes! My subjects expect nothing less."
"I'm sure they do," Kun chuckled.
"Hey, after spending so much time with Snoozles, I think I've got the idea of how to think like a mad genius down pat," Toph replied confidently, grinning as she raised then lowered her hands.
"If you're going to base your ruling style on Sokka's behavior, then we're all in a world of trouble," Kun joked.
"Well he is crazy like a rat-jackal, you've gotta admit that much," Toph half-playfully pointed out.
"Finally, and most importantly, as Omashu's new rulers, I want both of you to embrace life's possibilities. I want you to say yes to opportunities in your lives. I want you to be free spirits and laugh at odd things. I want you to teach or just remind yourselves, your daughter, and your subjects that it's okay to play in the rain, to climb trees, to roll down hills, to eat spiders."
"EAT spiders? Oh, that's so gross!" Toph exclaimed in disgusted shock.
"Okay, maybe not that last one, but you know what I mean."
"Do you think he actually ate spiders?" Kun gasped in repulsion. "Yucko!"
"Considering this is Bumi we're talking about Granite Feet, Tu Gong knows," Toph grunted.
"As for the rest of what he wrote, it sure sounds like an okay philosophy to me!" she enthusiastically beamed. "All work and no play or fighting makes Toph a dull girl, after all."
"And me too," Kun heartily agreed as he touched her hand. "Like my dad says, you've gotta sink your teeth into the buttcheeks of each day and haul the thing to you!"
As they laughed in tandem, Toph could feel the silent, seated envoy almost blanch with shock at such a crude comment.
"And oh yes," Kun read on, still chuckling at his witty remark, "I want you both to take good care of my precious Flopsie for me. My passing will be especially hard on him, and he'll need a lot of reassurance while he adjusts to life without me."
Sadness and sympathy for the gorilla-goat, and what he was going through, made the blind earthbender frown as Kun continued, "He also has at least another ten years of life ahead of him, and I hope you'll make each one of those a good one. Of course, this doesn't mean you can't have a pet of your own. In fact, the extra company will probably be good for him."
"I know you'll both do a fine job as King and Queen, Kun and Toph Yong. Rule wisely and well. And once more, think like a mad genius!"
"Zou hao, His Majesty King Bumi."
Hui was begging for attention, plucking at her mother's robe, and Toph obliged her, picking her daughter up and placing her on what little lap she had as Hui leaned over her growing sibling and embraced her mother, warm against Toph's chest.
Touched, the blind earthbender smiled tenderly, stroking her daughter's scalp and forehead. It was always such a painful thing to know that she could and would never look into her daughter's eyes, never watch her grow or regard her beauty.
But at the same time, few girls ever received as much love and acceptance as Hui did from the woman who'd brought her into the world. With her daughter in her arms and the knowledge that she was suddenly in line to become a queen, Toph couldn't have been happier.
While her heart was filled with bliss however, her mind was in a whirl. This was a lot to process, so many new responsibilities to take on, and both she and Kun sat back, exhaling meditatively.
After a minute, Kun asked the envoy, "Where are you staying right now in Gaoling, uh...?"
"Xin Xi," their visitor supplied.
"A fitting name," Toph commented, more to herself than anyone else.
"I'm currently staying at the Yellow Dragon Inn, to answer your question," Xin Xi replied.
"The reason I ask," Kun told him, "is because this message you gave us from Bumi-I mean-saying that we're basically next in line for the throne-I'm a king now and my wife is a queen?-that-that's huge! That's a big dang deal, and-and we-"
Losing patience, Toph silenced him with a stone-quivering stomp that startled her daughter before saying, "What Granite Feet is trying to babble out is that we need time to deal with this, think about it."
"Um yeah, what she said," a chastened Kun confirmed. Straightening himself in his chair, he then dismissed Xin Xi, telling him, "You may take leave of us now. We shall send a servant tomorrow morning to tell you of our ultimate decision. Thank you for delivering Bumi's message, and tell the people of Omashu they have our sympathy in their time of mourning."
Toph simply nodded, even as she stroked her daughter's nape and shoulders.
"As you wish it, Lord and Lady Yong," Xin Xi replied as he stood and bowed to them before turning and leaving.
Hui was starting to fidget, and slipped out of her mother's lap back onto the floor before turning and politely asking, "Mom, may I's have a pin-apple cake?"
"Pineapple," Toph gently corrected. "And yes, you may have one. But only one, so you don't ruin your appetite at dinner, okay?"
"Thank you Mom!" Hui said before hugging her and excitedly bouncing away.
Toph listened to her go to find the kitchen servants. She was trying to wrap her mind around the idea that their little daughter was now a crown princess.
"You spoil her, you know that?" Kun said warmly.
"Hey, I can't help myself," Toph shrugged. "And who was it that earthbent a huge play maze out from the estate grounds, all for 'his little sugar plum?'"
"You've got me there on that one, I'll admit it," Kun conceded.
Turning serious again, he asked quietly, "What do you think we should do now Toph? Right now, our only decision has been not to make a decision."
"I don't know," she sighed, pulling her hand over her face. "I mean, this isn't like it was for Zuko, where he was raised expecting and hoping to be Fire Lord from the get-go. Yeah, I'm from a noble family, but I don't exactly have royal blood!"
"At least you weren't born to a pair of fish sellers in the Lower Ring of Ba Sing Se," Kun snorted derisively. "Seriously, if my dad hadn't taken notice of my special talents for earthbending as a child and then decided to bring me to that evaluation class at the Dai Li training academy, I'd probably be haggling with some customer over the price of a switchblade salmon steak or a bulldog bass right now."
"Well, you definitely lucked out there, Granite Feet."
"Tu Gong yes," Kun fervently agreed. "I didn't end up becoming a Dai Li agent, but I got everything I ever wanted in the end," he said warmly, clasping Toph's hand.
She returned the squeeze, gently smiling as she softly said, "You could have even more. Wouldn't it be awesome to be a king?"
"You bet it would!" Kun replied excitedly. "And I know you'd make a wonderful queen Toph."
"Hey, I already think of myself as one, so it wouldn't be that much of a change," she grinned.
Kun barked out a laugh. "Yeah, talk about the role fitting you!"
"I also think Bumi had a good point when he mentioned that it would be fitting, having a blind queen and a lame king together in the palace," Toph told him, grinning hugely.
"Hey, the way I see it, after nine decades under Bumi, the people of Omashu are used to pretty much anything by now, so why not?"
"Well, we're certainly no weaklings, we can easily show them that much. In fact, I'd love getting half a chance to demonstrate," she grinned wickedly, lips turning up in anticipation.
"I'm sure you would."
And then Toph realized that despite any upheaval it might mean, there was now no doubt what their answer to Bumi's offer would be.
Queen Toph Yong. Sweetness, she thought.
Next up, coronation scene!
The green widow is a species of spider I made up, based on the black widow. Kun uses this spider's name as his nickname for Toph due to her ability to sense vibrations, the fact that she rules the roost in their household, her green eyes, and because she's dangerous if trifled with. Get the picture?
Switchblade salmon, bulldog bass, and rat-jackals are my own creations.
Considering that she would be 21 in this fic, with Kun being 24, and the culture they're part of, I knew it would be very likely that Toph would already be a mother at this point. That in turn, generated a lot of brainstorming on my part about what sort of mother Toph would be. I hope I've come up with a satisfying, IC possibility.
Finally, sorry to kill off Bumi. :(