Toph was once in love. That she could open up her defenses enough to truly let someone in was as much a surprise to her as it was to anyone around her. But when she fell, she did so with the brazen disregard for safety, caution, and consequence that only she could manage.
There are some accounts that say he was a warrior. A mercenary. A fire bender. A non-bender. Nobody actually knew, and Toph wasn’t going to tell.
In any case, the two lovers had “shacked up” as Toph would so eloquently tell anyone who asked. They weren’t married, at least in part because she didn’t want to think of everything that implied. It would make her dream a reality, but the only reality of family life she knew was of quiet oppression and suffocation in the interest of “what’s best.” So they just lived together - they fought and loved with equal passion and ferocity and the days blurred together until it was hard to tell if it’d been a few months or a few years since they’d found each other.
Then a sickness came over Toph. Nausea in the early hours that pushed her out of her sleep. Retching in the afternoon until nothing was left. And worst of all, a sensitivity in her breasts that felt like a slap at the slightest jostle - even the vibrations through the ground that she used to see could be felt. Toph bore the symptoms with all the grace and stoicism that she was famous for - which was, of course, none. At her lover’s insistence, she went to go see a local healer after they didn’t improve for an entire week.
Toph didn’t go home after her visit with the healer. She didn’t even know where she was going, riding bent earth on pure instinct, until she took the first breath of stale cave air. She paused to assess the mountain around her, full of badgermoles.
She lived with the badgermoles in the mountain for three days, wrapping herself in the comfort of an uncomplicated life and pushing out any other thoughts. On the third day, she found the badgermole mother, teaching her small brood how to forage through the earth. There was no coddling, no over-protection, none of the things that Toph associated with the passive-aggressive and doting woman that raised Toph. She treated her cubs gruffly, admonishing mistakes quickly but never actually preventing them. The cubs learned their lessons quickly, though, and were soon bending the earth into smaller tunnels with ease.
A rise of bile in her throat reminded Toph that her problem was still with her, and no amount of running would separate them. All that she had run from was the only one she could trust to help her with it. And who knows, maybe she didn’t have to “settle down”. There were other ways to have a family, she didn’t have to be like her mother. She could be a badgermole mother instead.
The air was cold from the lack of sun by the time Toph glided back to her doorstep. She took a deep breath, reciting her apology and explanation under her breath before pushing the door open. The tangy scent of iron was wet in the air and her first step over the threshold was into a slick and sticky pool and it chilled her toes and stopped her heart. She screamed her lover’s name, and tore through the house in vain, but he was gone. There were no bodies, no weapons, no sign of what had happened. It wasn’t until she was leaving that she found the note stuck to the door.
Why were people always leaving notes? She couldn’t read it and her mind seized when she tried to think of what she was supposed to do with it.
She only had one thing left of him now, she’d better take good care of it.