Toph tells Katara a little bit about her life as The Blind Bandit.
She kind've suspected that the poor little blind girl part wouldn't actually have much of an effect on Aang and the others, but that was okay. In fact, it was more than okay, it was a big part of why she was sticking around with them.
But after being chased halfway to the Kyoshi Island and back by a group of crazy women a bath didn't sound half-bad. Especially with a waterbender around there to swirl the bathwater around them, washing Toph without her having to so much as lift up a bar of soap herself so she could just lean back and relax.
"Hey!" Katara suddenly exclaimed, and Toph could hear the water sloshing around her body as she leaned towards her. "How did you hide those from your parents?"
"Huh?" Toph asked, blinking in the direction she could hear Katara in. "Gonna need to be a little more specific there."
"These scars." Toph almost jumped when she suddenly felt light fingers brush against her side, then her thigh, completely unexpected. Sound just didn't give her as much of an idea of where people were as vibrations did, and the bottom of the bath wasn't much help when her relaxed body kept floating away from it. "I know that when it came to seeing your talents your parents were a little..."
"/Ignorant/, but even they had to have noticed something was up when you came home with those, didn't they?"
Toph thought about the question for a minute, rubbing the scar on her leg. Usually her reaction to a question like that would be to shut the person asking right down and tell them to shut up, but this was different. Katara didn't sound horrified that a kid who couldn't see had gotten themselves banged up at some point like most people would, she just seemed curious, and interested to hear the answer. "You really want to hear about this? It's all that interesting."
"Try me," Katara said, and Toph could hear the smile in her voice even if it was impossible for her to see it on her face.
"Well, okay..." Toph leaned back in the bath, getting comfortable, and started to tell the story.
- - -
"There was this guy who showed up to fight in the Earth Rumble sometimes, Groundhog. The guy was pretty much as much of a weasely little creep as you'd expect from a guy who named himself after a rodent, and he wasn't that great at Earthbending so we didn't run into each other that much once I was at the top, except for once and awhile when he'd show up for the audience participation round.
"Like I said, the guy wasn't a very good Earthbender, but he was smart/. You know how Sokka suddenly grows a brain every once in a while? Groundhog was like that /all the time. He'd get past some pretty tough guys just by using a rock throw a kid could do in a way they wouldn't have thought of. Wouldn't get him through more than a few rounds before he got matched up against someone strong enough to pound him down no matter how many tricks he pulled out of his butt, but he always managed to get far enough to rack up a decent amount of prize money to keep him in whatever he needed the money for for a few months, until he showed up again.
"The first couple of times I ran into him I beat him, no problem. But I didn't know what a brain he was then. By the third time, I don't know how but he'd figured out how I was able to see, and he was able to use that against me. There are a few moves, real beginner things, that you don't need your whole body to use. One leg, one arm; you Waterbenders probably have a couple of baby moves like that too, huh?
"So, he starts getting into position for one of those, and I'm thinking 'Okay, this is so pathetic that I feel bad about needing to cream the guy' when I realize that the other half of his body is in the stance for a different beginner move, and I have no idea which one he's gonna use until he actually does it, and the one thing beginners moves have going for them is that they're a lot faster than the fancier stuff so if you want to block them you've gotta be ready to do it before the attack comes. I knew I didn't have time to counter both of the attacks he might make, so I decided I'd be ready to block the one that would hurt worse and hope that was what he was planning. I picked wrong, and that's where the scar on my stomach came from.
"I took him down a second later, and one good thing you can say about Xin Fu is that he always keeps good doctors around so I got patched right up, but I got pretty shaken up by it. Not because I got hurt, you know I'm not a sissy, but because I knew it was suddenly gonna be a lot harder to hide what I was doing from my parents. Up until then I'd gotten a couple of bruises here and there, but nothing that couldn't be covered up with the old teary eyes 'Mommy, I couldn't see the corner and I ran right into it and hurt myself!' act, but you can't cover up a sliced open stomach like that, especially when somebody had already stitched it back together again.
"But there's this maid we have, not much older than you, who's always been a little bit smarter about me than everyone else in that place. I knew I was gonna have to trust someone to help me keep my secret, and she seemed like the only good bet. So that night at dinner I started talking to my parents about how much I liked her, and how she was always so nice to me, so much nicer than any other person on staff, and how instead of having whoever was free help me bathe and dress and all that maybe they could assign her to be my personal helper? And I really rubbed in how having my own lady's maid would make me feel like a real noblewoman; they always had these guilt issues about how I 'couldn't' live the way the heir of the Bei Fong family should, so that was always a good one to hit it I wanted something. Before it was even time for dessert they called her in and let her knew she was free of all duties except helping me from then on.
"You can guess that she kinda freaked out when it was time for her to help me into the bath that night and she saw my stomach. She would've gone right to my parents, but I was ready for that. I feel a little guilty about it, but I made it totally clear to her that if she told on me it would be her word against mine, and my word was gonna be 'Oh, Mommy, Daddy, I thought she was she did such horrible things to me when she found out she had to take care of me all the time, and she said she was going to tell you awful lies about me if I told on her. It hurt so much!'
"I can feel that look on your face, Katara. Knock it out, it's not like I had a choice. And I do feel guilty about it, but I also let her know that if she just kept her trap shut my parents would be hearing about how much I liked her, and how much she did for me, and how I always felt safe around her in this big, dark, scary world all the time. She'd been around long enough to know how high that would get her in their good books, and it can't have been a hard choice for her to decide to be on my side.
"It was... kind of nice, actually. Not to have to keep what I was doing a secret from everyone that knew who I really was. After we got past that nasty start she was pretty okay with covering up for me when I needed to sneak out for competitions, and helping me get cleaned up when I got back. I could blow off steam by yelling about the other guys in the Rumble if one of them was bugging me, and not need to worry about who would here me. And every once and awhile she'd even show up to cheer in the audience, always sitting close enough so I could pick her voice out of the crowd, and that was pretty cool. I know she was only that good about the whole thing because I'd put the fear of what would happen if I turned my parents on her in her that first night, but she was good enough at hiding it that I could pretend she was really on my side.
"She was there the night I got my leg sliced open, actually. Groundhog again, with the same trick. I'd fought him a few times since then, and every other time he'd done the same thing he had that first night and used the less painful attack, expecting me to counter against the one that would hurt more. That's what I thought, anyway, but now I figure he was just training me to expect that, because that time he did it the other way around. You can guess how embarrassing it was to be cut open by this weak guy twice when nobody else ever managed it once the whole time I was competing.
"She managed to convince somebody to let her back into the first-aid room with me, I don't know how, and she was really worried. But that was when I realized that it really was just pretend, and I hadn't really won her around to my way of thinking since that first night. All her worries were about how we could hide a leg wound from my parents, how there was no way they wouldn't notice me limping, what would happen to her when they noticed and figured out that she'd been lying to them. She never asked if I was okay or told me she was glad I didn't get hurt worse, even though I was bleeding all over the place in front of her. And that's why I can't feel more than a little guilty about the way I had the threaten her.
- - -
"That's pretty much it," Toph finished, absently excavating an ear with the tip of her pinky finger as she remembered the whole mess. "She went back to normal by the next day, after she'd seen that I could make myself walk normally when other people were around. It helped that my parents liked it when I sat around looking like a doll, so I didn't need to be on my feet much until it healed. Groundhog never got me again, so those are the only scars I've got, and the maid's probably been fired now that my parents have found out about the competitions; it wouldn't be hard for them to figure out that she must have known something was up."
Katara was silent and still for a long while as she digested the story, long enough to make Toph shift a little uncomfortably at not having any signs at all of what she was thinking because of the lack of vibrations, then she finally said, "That's horrible!"
Toph blinked at how bothered she sounded, "The wounds weren't that bad."
"I mean that poor girl, losing her job because of you."
"'Poor girl?'" Toph repeated, then snorted. "Don't get the wrong idea about her, Katara, she knew she'd be out of a job the second it got out that I was off fighting, but she thought the perks were worth the risk."
Katara sounded a little less certain of her outrage when she spoke again. "Perks?"
"I told you I got her to be one of my parents' favorite servants. She'd gotten so many raises by the time I left that she was making more than the people who'd been there for years. And that's not even counting the bonuses they gave her all the time for 'being so good to our little girl'." She snorted again, rolling her eyes so hard that it hurt a little. "/Poor/. Unless she was an idiot and blew it all, she has enough money stored away to live on for ages before she needs to get a new job. I bet she could even move to Ba Sing Se, if she wanted to. So don't think she was just a poor victim of my wild ways."
"Oh. Well, um, sorry." There was a slosh of water, then Toph felt Katara's fingers tapping against the scar on her stomach again. "That is pretty cool by the way."
Toph raised an eyebrow. "What, you like scars? I would've thought that was more Sokka's thing; he likes things that are all tough and manly."
"Not that. You were the champion for, what, forty-some fights?"
"Forty-two, until Twinkletoes came along."
"And you only have two scars from all those fights. That's pretty cool." There was another splash as Katara pulled away and leaned back against her side of the bath.
"Oh. Well, thanks." For a second Toph was caught off guard by the compliment, then she put on her cockiest champion smile. "I think don't think it's half bad myself."