Police Headquarters, Republic City
"Ugh, let her in," Toph groaned setting down her seal of approval and sending out the secretary assigned to read to her summaries of every arrest report.
The Fire Lady swept into the office wearing a dark travelling cloak with a hood drawn over her head. She lowered it once the door was closed.
"To what do I owe this pleasure, My Lady?" Toph asked leaning back onto the rear legs of her metal chair, kicking up her bare feet on the edge of her desk.
"I wanted to update you on the condition of your son," Mai said.
"Is he injured?"
"Is he dead?"
"Then what else is there that I would possibly need to know?" Toph asked.
"Mai, you don't have to keep journeying all the way to Republic City every month just to tell me that my son is still eating and breathing. You and Zuko have already done more than anyone could ask for by raising him and training him essentially,"
"Toph, he wants to join the army!" Mai yelled.
Toph froze. It was the first time she'd ever heard the Fire Lady express any form of emotion. Ever since they met when they were twelve and sixteen, Mai had always been so stoic, so in control of every ounce of her own being.
"He wants to join the Fire Nation Army, not even the United Forces," Mai continued.
Toph thought for a moment while Mai waited patiently.
"If that's what he wants and it makes him happy, then fine. Let him go,"
"Are you sure? I can dissuade him and recruit Izumi to make him reconsider-"
"I don't see any harm in the matter. As long as you can keep Sparky from taking up arms against the Earth Kingdom, we're fine, right?"
"I suppose. And I know Izumi would never rise up against the Earth Kingdom either, once she becomes Fire Lord,"
"Then it's settled. Let him do what he wants. He's eighteen now right, no one will be able to control him for much longer anyways."
"If that is all my lady, I must ask you to leave. I have still a shit ton of paperwork to review, and my current secretary is very bad at skimming and omitting the unimportant information,"
Mai took a deep breath and sighed. "I'll let you get back to work then. Thank's for... listening at least,"
"Thanks for informing me of his decision," Toph replied quickly wiping a tear from her eyes, that were hidden by her bangs as the Fire Lady swept out of her office quickly.
Beifong Residence, Republic City
"What makes you say that?" He said lightheartedly, always trying to cheer up the girl.
"I'm just- never good enough. Su moves a pebble and gets showered with praise and smothered in kisses and hugs and-love," Lin shivered.
"Su is only six years old," Sokka reminded the girl.
"When I was six, mom abandoned me in a cave with a blindfold on and left me there for three nights and three days. I STILL have nightmares about when the badgermoles came. Once I found my way out, of the tunnels, she had me try to stop a boulder eight times my weight and then lectured me for days about being a lily-livered weakling, accusing the Avatar and Twinkletoes Junior for brainwashing me just because I jumped out of the way. Now, she doesn't even bother training me and just sends me to the boring metalbending Academy every day!" Lin exclaimed laying down and folding her skinny little girl arms behind her head.
"The Academy is not a punishment Lin, your Mom is just- really busy at work and wanted you to keep up with your training,"
"She's been Chief Of Police since BEFORE I was born yet still had time to bury me in a rock-a-lanche every single time I made a mistake until last year. What changed?" Lin asked.
"For one, the capture of the leader of the triple threats has us all scrambling at City Hall and the Police Headquarters," Sokka began. "And two," Sokka pauses to think. "I can't think of a two, but just know that your mom is very stressed right now."
"Do you think she would be less stressed if I just went away, like my father did,"
"Lin! Do not speak that way! Your father didn't leave your mother! He- he-"
"Sokka, what lies are you telling her this time?" Toph asked interrupting them.
"They're not lies! Uncle Sokka doesn't lie!" Lin snapped back at her mother.
"Sokka?" Toph turned warningly to the Southern Water Tribe Councilman.
"I just told her that her father didn't leave you-" Sokka began.
Toph's entire body tensed, and both Lin and Sokka feared her reaction.
"Lin, go to bed, NOW!" Toph ordered in a low and frightening tone leaving no room for protest.
Lin slid off the edge of her mother and Uncle Sokka's bed and ran.
"I HATE you, Mother!" Lin yelled from the hallway.
"WELL I-" Toph began to shoot back before her eldest daughter's bedroom door slammed shut. "...love you more than you could even begin to comprehend," Toph replied quietly closing her unseeing eyes with a hitched breath.
Toph opened them again and turned to Sokka accusingly, her face contorting with fury. "I told you to NEVER mention him!"
"Toph, Lin is twelve years old! She deserves to know her history! She's old enough!" Sokka replied.
"I don't care! I don't want her to miss him like I do! I don't want her heart to ache for the great man she never had the privilege to know or apprciate! I don't want her to feel this cavernous void- this unending pain that I live with every day!" Toph argued, causing the whole house to tremor in her rage.
"She already lives with pain!" Sokka said standing up, looking down at the powerful earthbender. "She thinks that you don't love her because of how differently you treat her from Su, and how you coddle the younger!"
"Yes, you do! It is because of it that Lin is under the impression she's better off dead where she could 'no longer cause you stress'!" Sokka replied.
Toph fell to her knees, rubbed her temples, and closed her eyes. "What do I do, Sokka?" she asked looking up at him with grief.
"Let her see you suffer. Let her see you in pain. Let her know you still love her. Tell her the truth. Don't be angry at her because Sator-"
"DON'T SAY HIS NAME!" Toph shouted above her lover.
"Toph, listen to me. I know you want to make Lin strong, and I know you want to protect her from your pain, but she is still human, just like you. If you continue like this, Toph, she WILL break," Sokka said kneeling before her, wrapping his arms around her in a comforting embrace as she cried.
Lin jumped at the start of the tremors. It had been months since her mother had been so angry. Last time she destroyed half of the living room in her rage over nothing.
"Lin," a little voice called.
Lin looked over the edge of the bed and saw her half sister peering up at her with the same green eyes, the same wavy hair, but darker skin. "Can I sleep with you tonight? I'm scared," Suyin asked innocently.
"Why are you scared?" Lin asked tossing the covers aside, pulling Suyin into her bed and holding her tight.
"I don't want Mama to hurt Uncle Sokka," Suyin replied.
"She won't hurt him. She loves him,"
"But she says she loves you too but hurts you. I see it when you cry," Suyin replied leaning her head against her big sister's chest, closing her eyes.
Is it that obvious? Lin thought to herself as she felt her sister's heart and lungs slow as the drifted into sleep while the tremors slowly subsided.
Lin couldn't sleep, so she lay awake watching Suyin sleep peacefully.
She heard the click of the lock in her door and the hinges squeak. Lin shut her eyes quickly and seized control of her heart and lungs, slowing everything. She felt her mother's coarse hand on her head, pushing away her wavy hair. Then she felt her mother's soft lips plant a kiss on her face.
"I am so sorry, for everything. You are perfect, Lin, and you don't deserve me," Toph whispered checking Suyin's pulse as well before leaving again to let her girls sleep.
Army Recruitment Center, Fire Nation Capital
"Masaru Lee," the dark and wavy haired youth replied.
"Fire Lord Zuko and Fire Lady Mai," Masaru replied.
The Field Marshal eyed him questioningly, then burst out laughing. "Nice joke, kid. Who are your parents?"
"I don't know or care," Masaru lied. "They don't exist to me, and I don't exist to them; they abandoned me fourteen years ago."
"And the Fire Lord took you in? That's your story?" the field marshal sighed. "Kids these days," he shook his head.
"I can vouch for Masaru's honesty," a young lady's voice interjected. The field marshal looked up at the voice.
"Princess Izumi?!" the field marshal gasped, falling to his knees and bowing to the princess. "I wasn't aware the Princess was visiting the base today. Forgive me!" the field marshal pleaded.
"What's there to forgive? I understand you're just a skeptical man, and with good reason. Not many young men are so honest these days. You will put down my parents for Masaru's emergency contact, please, and then I'll be on my way," seventeen year old Izumi ordered putting one arm around Masaru, placing the other on his chest and kissing his cheek.
"I... uh...," the field marshal stuttered.
"Don't worry, you don't have to be easy on him in boot camp. I am sure he can handle anything. After all, he can handle me," Izumi said with a smirk, looking not at the field marshal, but up at her best friend and now boyfriend.
"Very well, here is your new identification number, soldier, the transport leaves in thirty minutes if you want to go say goodbye to your family," the field marshal said handing Masaru a metal chain with a metal tag on it.
"Thank you, field marshal," Masaru replied walking over to the Fire Lord and his Lady with Izumi on his arm.
"Your majesty, my lady," Masaru said bowing to the both of them.
"Masaru, you know you can just call us Uncle Zuko and Aunt Mai," the Fire Lord reminded the young man.
"I know," Masaru sighed.
"'Saru, I spoke to your mother the other day," Mai began to say. Masaru turned away, but Izumi squeezed his arm.
"You cannot dissuade me from joining the Fire Nation army just because she is Earth Kingdom- She's done nothing for me!" Masaru spat bitterly.
"Quite the contrary, 'Saru, just listen to me," Fire Lady Mai said cupping his cheek. "I was the one who wanted to dissuade you from joining, but your mother, Toph Beifong told me that if this is what you want, and this is what will make you happy, to let you go. She loves you, Masaru with all her heart, and just wants you to be happy, in your element, doing what you love."
"Besides, you are growing up, Masaru. It is time for you to choose what you want in your life. It is time for you to choose right," Fire Lord Zuko said to Masaru, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"Thank you, Uncle," Masaru said putting his own hand over Zuko's.
Zuko pulled the young man into an embrace then passed him onto Mai who then handed him off to Izumi, whom he kissed on the lips passionately.
"Goodbye," Masaru said finally, going to join the other young army recruits.
"Should he end up stationed in Republic City, do you think he will go to her?" Fire Lord Zuko asked Mai sadly.
"Eventually," Mai replied uncharacteristically optimistic and hopeful.
"You'll keep the peace with the Earth Kingdom, right, Father? Masaru won't die?" Princess Izumi asked.
"I will try," Zuko replied putting his arms around his daughter protectively.