Even when I try to write fluff, it turns into angst.
Summary: Toph teaches Lin that fighting is about more than strength.
When Lin was twelve, she got into a fight at school against a Firebending boy four years her senior, and she lost. She was moments away from having her hair burned off by the time the teachers managed to separate them.
Toph was forced to leave the interrogation of a serial thief to come and pick her daughter up. When she arrived, she found Lin sitting ramrod-straight on the bench outside the school, staring straight ahead, her hands folded neatly in her lap, in the seething depths of a terrible sulk.
Neither of them spoke until they had walked halfway home, when Lin finally said, “He was bullying the Waterbenders. I tried to stop him, but I wasn’t strong enough.”
Toph shook her head. “Don’t worry about that. You’re a Beifong; you’ll be the strongest bender in Republic City someday. Maybe even the strongest in the world.”
Lin stared. “Stronger than the Avatar?”
"If you want to be." Toph turned her head, looking just to left of where Lin’s voice was coming from. "Fighting isn’t just about being strong, though. You should know that. What’s the key to Earthbending?"
“‘The key to Earthbending is your stance,’” Lin recited. “But Mother, this wasn’t about my stance! He was huge, he could’ve just picked me up and thrown me around!”
"No he couldn’t have, not if you didn’t let him," said Toph. "When I was your age, I fought Earthbenders as big as mountains, but they never even got near me."
"Yeah, well, maybe I’m just not as good as you!" Lin shouted.
Toph stopped walking. They had emerged from the densely packed heart of Republic City and were up in the hills, where the houses were larger and further apart. Lin recognized the path they were on; just over the hill was an apple orchard with a natural crevasse running through it, that she and Tenzin had discovered the year before. A soft breeze rustled the trees, and a flurry of new leaves blew across the path.
"Lin Beifong, listen to me," Toph said.
Lin stopped as well and stood staring at her feet, avoiding her mother’s clouded eyes.
"I don’t care that you got in a fight," Toph said, making Lin look up in surprise. "And it’s okay to lose fights," Toph went on. "Sometimes you go up against someone bigger or stronger or better prepared, and they beat you. But don’t you ever doubt yourself, not for a second. Understand?"
"That’s easy for you to say!" Lin cried. "Everyone already thinks you’re the best Earthbender in the world! You don’t have everyone just waiting for you to mess up, people picking on you because they want to prove they’re stronger than you —"
"Trust me, I know what that’s like," Toph said. "But it doesn’t matter, not for you. Know why?"
Lin couldn’t speak; she was afraid she would cry. She shook her head.
Toph went down on one knee, so she was on her daughter’s level. “Having a good fighting or Earthbending stance isn’t just about your body,” she said. “It’s about your mind and your spirit, too. You won’t be strong enough to move a rock, or win a fight, unless you know you are.”
Lin sniffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “You sound like Tenzin.”
Toph smiled. “Sometimes those Airbenders are onto something with all their spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Aang calls it ‘will and belief’; I call it attitude, and you’ve got it in spades. It’s normal to feel doubts, and be afraid, and feel like you aren’t strong enough or good enough. Everyone feels like that — I’ve felt like that, too. But I don’t want you to worry about it, not ever, because I know you’re the strongest, smartest, toughest Earthbender in the whole world. Promise me you’ll remember that, okay?”
Lin was crying now. Toph opened her arms. “Come here, badgermole,” she said, and Lin ran into her embrace, resting her forehead on the cool metal plate over her mother’s shoulder like she hadn’t since she was a little kid.
Toph held her for a while, stroking her hair softly with one hand. Finally Lin’s sobs subsided into sniffles, then hiccups, then faded. Still she stayed in her mother’s arms, resting quietly and listening to the strong and steady heartbeat she could feel through the metal of Toph’s armor.
Attitude. You’re the strongest, smartest, toughest Earthbender in the world; remember that. Lin closed her eyes and promised herself that she would remember. And if she forgot, her mother would remind her.
When Lin was thirty-eight, she was appointed Republic City’s Chief of Police.
The swearing-in ceremony was held on a slick gray morning early in winter, in the office that had stood empty since Toph Beifong’s death six months before. Lin had asked that it be a small, efficient affair, with only the necessary officials present (and Councilman Sokka, retired now, who was not necessary but would be there anyway with tears in his eyes).
As Lin crossed the courtyard of Police Headquarters on her way to the ceremony, feeling a weight on her shoulders far heavier than her new armor, a glint of metal caught her eye. She looked up at the statue of Chief Beifong, newly finished, that stood astride Headquarters and stared out over the city with unseeing eyes.
To the criminals who might roam those streets, and to some of the police officers who’d trained under Toph, that statue was a fearsome sight. That day, as she would every day for the rest of her time as Chief, Lin looked up at it and stood a little straighter. The promise she’d made twenty-six years ago was now little more than the vague recollection of a familiar heartbeat and a feeling of resolve, but it was still with her, and it was enough.
The Council and highest-ranking metalbending officers were waiting to swear her in, to remake her as the city’s protector. Lin Beifong, the strongest, smartest, toughest Earthbender in the whole world, took a deep breath and went in to meet her destiny.