Summary: The Dai Lee's treachery runs deep. What happens when they decide the Avatar is too great a threat? Gen story for an early Halloween celebration.
A/N: This came to me right after City of Walls and Secrets… then was destroyed when Tales of Ba Sing Se came out and they were just wandering around like they weren't being followed and watched by the evil commie brainwashing government. Yeah. So I decided to get this up before even more new episodes came out and ruined whatever possible sense of canon this could possibly have. I know Long Feng warned that Aang would be expelled from the city if he caused trouble, but you know the phrase: keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
Disclaimer: Avatar does not belong to me, despite my best efforts. Alas for being a poor college student.
They came for them in the middle of the night.
Toph would look back later – much, much later when they were no longer in the city – and reflect that she should have known, she should have seen it coming, or at least been able to guess that they were going to come for them that night. But they were all tired, and things had been so calm, and they allowed themselves to relax for a little bit.
It had started with the sudden appearance of Jet. The four of them were being so careful, watching where they stepped and who they talked to and what they said; but the tall boy had run into them while they were searching for Appa through the lower sections of the city and had instantly captured their attention.
Toph hadn't been traveling with the other three when they'd had their first experience with Jet, so she had been forced to take the other's word for it when they swore that something was wrong with him, that he was different from before. Ducking into a dark alleyway and clearing it of any eavesdroppers, Toph had stood back as the others had probed the gentle Jet. She paced back and forth, watching for guards or a member of the Dai Lee, trying to listen to the busy street and not the niggling voice in her head that screamed for them to get out of there and forget that they had ever seen the former rebel.
He was confused and full of contradictions: Jet was in Ba Sing Se alone. Jet had arrived with two friends. Jet no longer believed in violence. Jet was looking to purchase a pair of broadswords. Jet was sorry for what had happened before. Jet wished he could have destroyed the Fire Nation when that dam exploded.
No matter what came out of his mouth, he always came back to the fact that he was finally safe in Ba Sing Se. "There's no more fighting. Not here," he kept insisting to them with a strange grin on his face and wide, blank eyes. They other three just kept asking him more and more questions until Toph, her heart thundering in her chest, finally snapped.
"Leave him! We shouldn't be talking to him." She was standing at the very edge of the alleyway now, flattened against a wall in the shadows. "There are people all around us."
They spent the next three days walking on eggshells.
Once they got away from the slums and the refugees and the chattering Jet it was as if the fog cleared from the minds of the other three; as if the spell Jet had cast over them was lifted. They all knew they had made a mistake and spent day and night on guard, waiting for the Dai Lee to come.
After the third tense day of nothing, Aang had flopped down and declared that they might be safe after all. Truthfully – they hadn't mentioned the war to Jet. Maybe they hadn't been seen. Maybe they hadn't committed a grievous sin. The rest of them, wanting to believe Aang, had hopefully agreed and settled in to sleep.
When Toph woke up again she was blind. They were holding her upside down as they carried her away.
Behind her she could hear the sounds of struggle: Katara groaning and pulling against her binds, Sokka's cursing and wriggling, trying to get away from the men pulling them, Aang-
Aang was silent.
Her instincts told her to struggle as well – fight, protect, flee – but the rational part of her brain kicked in and told her to remain still and not let them know she was awake.
They were separated from one another.
When the wagon carrying them had arrived to wherever it was going – the wagon was made of wood and Toph still couldn't see – they had been carried in together and then pulled apart. Katara's whimpering sobs and Sokka's angry grumbling – Aang was still silent – had grown quiet as they were divided.
The door slammed shut and Toph was dropped into a chair. A thick band across her chest and arms anchored her down, along with a smaller band across the forehead.
Her feet brushed the floor – rock! Finally, something she could see with. Vibrations went out, setting the scene for her: she was in a small room with two other people, who were standing inside a stone ring that had some sort of lamp revolving around it. The vibrations farther out were fuzzier, but she vaguely made out Katara in a similar room to her left, with another two people with her, and Sokka's willowy form pacing in a holding cell father down the hall.
She couldn't see Aang anywhere.
A hand brushed her shoulder. "This one could be trouble." The voice was clinical, disinterested. "Blind earthbender. An interesting experiment at the very least."
Toph groaned and pulled slightly at her ties. Another voice began to speak, this one calm and soothing.
"Do not fight. You are safe here."
"Like hell!" Toph shrieked, bringing her heel down hard and forcing the rock binds away from her. She heard a satisfying crunch and a strangled yell as debris made contact with someone's face, but didn't wait around to check the damage she had done. She jumped out of the seat, bringing her hands down and crumbling the stone ring around her while blowing out the door.
Her escape was cut off by the terrifying sound that rang through the air: Katara's scream, high pitched and pain-filled, momentarily took her breath away and caused her to freeze. It was only a half second, but it was enough time for one of the men to raise the ground under her and knock her off her feet. Then there was a cold hand around her ankle and she felt herself being lifted again, all the blood rushing to her head.
"What are you doing?" Toph cried, squirming in his grasp as she tried to break his grip.
"Get the metal bindings." The first voice spoke as if Toph was a mere inconvenience.
"We can't control those!" the second voice said nervously.
"They can control her." There was a moment when the hand let go of her ankle and Toph seemed to hang in mid air, but then it passed and she crashed to the floor and knew no more.
When she started to stir Toph found she was again secured to the chair, this time with metal bindings with the chair raised so she couldn't touch the ground.
"Who knew a little girl could have that much power?" the first one asked with a hint of fascination.
"It was a bad idea to take this one." The second of the two voices said anxiously. "She's blind for spirit's sake! Who would believe her anyway?"
"Do you want to be the first to disobey orders from Long Feng?"
"Never!" There was a shuddering quality to his voice. "But look at her- she's nobility. People will notice if she disappears. Her father has hired bounty hunters to find her."
"Long Feng knows what to do with her." One of them tugged at the bindings, double-checking that she was secured firmly, then prodded Toph in the shoulder. "I know you're awake."
"What's happening?" Toph asked weakly. "Where's Sokka? Is Katara okay? Aang-"
The calm voice shushed her gently. "We'll have time for your questions later. For now, relax. You are safe here. There is no reason to fight us."
He repeated these words over and over.
"You are safe here."
She was actually starting to believe them.
"There is no reason to fight us."
The outside world turned into a dull buzz.
"You are safe here."
There was nothing but the soothing voice.
"There is no reason to fight-"
He interrupted himself when they heard a loud crash and a thump against the wall to Toph's left.
"I'll see what's going on. Those two were always too impulsive with interrogations."
Toph suddenly remembered, with sickening clarity, that the room to her left held Katara. She screamed.
"We're not safe! We're not safe!"
"You are safe here." His voice remained calm and resolute.
"We're not safe!"
She screamed until her voice went hoarse and argued with him even after that, her throat raw and sore. He stopped responding to her, and for a moment all that filled the room was Toph's harsh, agitated breathing.
"Fine. We'll do this the other way. Long Feng will be pleased either way."
Toph strained her ears but could hear nothing. Then hands were at her throat, pulling her jaw open and forcing liquid down her throat.
She lost consciousness quickly, and as her eyes drooped she vaguely heard, "You're terribly homesick…"
When Toph woke up again it was to someone calling her name.
"Mistress Bei Fong?" Her eyes were open – she could tell by how stiff her eyelids felt – but her limbs still felt heavy and weak. A firm hand took her by the arm and helped her sit up. Toph's legs swung over the bedside, but before she could put her feet down a pair of hands firmly took them and guided them into a pair of slippers.
"What's going on?" Toph asked groggily.
"You're late for breakfast. Master Pang understands, of course, considering the circumstances, but I thought I'd check on you and get you up nonetheless." It was a female voice, calm and apologetic. It was familiar.
"Of course," she said faintly. Clutching at the servant's arm, she was led to a dressing room and changed into a fine robe that was silky to the touch. Make up was applied, her hair was pulled, combed and twisted, and then she was taken down a long hallway and helped into a chair.
"Good morning Toph."
"Good morning Master Pang," she responded automatically, instinctively knowing who she was talking to. "Has there been any word from my parents?"
"There has, actually." She heard the rustling of paper. "We received a message this morning that your parents were on their way out to pick you up." Master Pang clucked his tongue sympathetically. Beyond him Toph could hear birds singing.
"I know you are eager to experience more things, Toph." A female voice from next to Master Pang: his wife. "But twelve may have been a bit too young for you to travel without your parents. They're very concerned. I'm not surprised at all that you nearly made yourself sick with home longing."
"I don't remember why I wanted to leave home," Toph said softly, picking up her spoon.
She spent the next several days in peaceful solitude as she waited for her parents to arrive and take her back to Gaoling.
The Pang's estate was in the upper ring, and Toph had a large house and a wide courtyard to explore and keep her occupied. The maid who had helped her from bed accompanied her everywhere and kept her from bumping into things or getting lost. She was a pleasant older woman, round and soft, who had told Toph to call her Ju Dee.
Then one day, as they were sitting outside by the pond – Ju Dee had informed her that there were koi fish swimming around, and Toph liked to sit and listen while Ju Dee knitted – the gates opened for a messenger. It was a younger boy, like most pages, and he approached the two for directions.
"I have a message for Master Pang. Do you know where I might find him?" he asked, solemnly.
"I don't believe you are supposed to be here," Ju Dee said harshly. Toph's brow furrowed. It wasn't like her to be so short with others.
"This is the Pang estate, correct?" Confusion was evident in the boy's voice also.
At that moment the ball of yarn that Toph had been holding for Ju Dee slipped from her hands. She and the page both bent to retrieve it.
Her hand accidentally knocked his hat off and grazed his bald head.
She sucked in a sharp breath and he stiffened as they both froze.
"I'll take the message." Ju Dee sounded angry now. "You get out of here and go back to the stables where you belong."
"Who was that boy?" Toph asked curiously when he had exited through the gate, which was locked behind him.
"That boy was just a page for the minister. Probably a trouble maker, from the looks of him."
Toph didn't know what he looked like, and couldn't figure out why he was tugging at her memory.
The next time she ran into the boy the carefully constructed world around her fell apart.
She and Ju Dee were in the market – the first time she had been allowed outside the estate's walls – picking up supplies for her trip back to Gaoling. Her parents were two days away from Ba Sing Se, and even though she was supposed to be relieved that she was going home after this fiasco she actually felt apprehensive and anxious.
Grasping Ju Dee's arm tightly - there were so many people in the outdoor market, and a little blind girl like herself could be separated in the crowd so easily – she allowed herself to be led around, shuffling in her slippers and just enjoying being outside and hearing people and noise all around her.
"You prefer sugared figs, don't you Miss Toph?" Ju Dee asked softly, stopping to examine a stall. She stiffened – Toph snapped to attention, and said, "What are you-"
Before she could finish, there was a loud sound, like someone had let out a huge breath they'd been holding in - vague memories pulled in her head again, of soft fuzz and growling and reassurances that it would wash out - and suddenly Toph was hit with a giant wall, blowing her back and slamming her against the hard ground. Around her were the sounds of people yelling in surprise, the wood stalls creaking and crashing, and the squelching sound of fruits hitting the ground around her.
"I am so sorry!" A familiar voice reached her ears, along with a firm hand grasping her arm and trying to pull her up. "I blew you right out of your shoes!"
She sat up, dazed. Putting one foot to the ground to stand up, she froze mid-motion, suddenly losing her breath.
"What? Are you okay?"
She was up on one knee, one bare foot solidly on the ground. She could see.
And with sight returned her memory.
Toph's grip on his
Aang his name is Aang Avatar Aang
arm tightened as she swayed, taking in the sudden sight around her.
The stalls around them were destroyed, having been blown over and their wares spread all over the place. People were starting to recover from the shock – Ju Dee had been blown into the stall next to the fruit one and was covered in debris. She started to sit up, pulling a large melon rind from her head and trying to wipe some of the fruit muck from her hair.
Toph acted on impulse, doing the first thing that came into her mind, as if she understood what she was doing and why. Slamming her foot hard down to the ground, the dirt rose and split, cracking the stalls and filling the air and creating more chaos. A few women shrieked and dove for cover.
She took her chance, and, dragging the protesting boy behind her, took off down the nearest alleyway, looking to get as far away as possible.
"What are you doing?" he cried.
"Shut up," she snarled back at him, figuring there would be time for words later.
She flattened him against a wall – a little harder than was necessary, though she didn't feel a bit of remorse - and clamped a hand over his mouth, silently ordering him to be quiet. As she had suspected, seconds later a pair of guards ran past the alleyway towards the mess she – they – had created.
"Come on," she hissed, pulling him away from the wall. Putting a hand to the stone wall, she realized that the building they were leaning against – what should have been a bustling smithy, judging by the hammers and other tools strewn about – was eerily empty, as if it were waiting for someone to return and put it to work again.
She stomped her foot and the building was open to her and Aang. Shoving him ahead of her, she turned and closed the door behind them. They were hidden behind stone walls and Toph could see if anyone was approaching the building, though, judging by the musty smell and the silky dust that clung to her fingers, no one had been in the smithy for a long time.
"What do you want with me?" Aang sounded terrified, and Toph crossed her arms, feeling more irritated than anything. He certainly wasn't sounding like the Avatar, or for spirit's sake, an earthbender.
Toph dragged her foot, bringing a chair up behind him and nudging him into the seat. "What did they tell you your name was?" she asked.
He blinked curiously up at her. "My name is Taro."
She leaned down close to him. "Your name is Aang."
Confusion filled his voice. "My name is Taro. I was born here in Ba Sing Se."
"The name Aang means nothing to you?"
Toph stepped back, allowing him some personal space. Pacing through the dirty room and keeping her thoughts on the paths that led into the building, she shot at him, "Katara? Sokka? None of that is familiar?"
"Appa the bison? Momo, your lemur? Learning how to bend all four elements? Defeating the Fire Lord by summers end? None of that rings a bell?" she demanded.
"What is this about defeating the Fire Lord?" he asked blankly.
She stopped and gaped at him. "Defeating the Fire Lord so you could, I don't know; stop the one hundred year long war?"
"There is no war. Not here in Ba Sing Se." This he said with confidence.
Toph sighed and rubbed her forehead, suddenly understanding how deep the Dai Lee's treachery ran. She pulled up another chair and sat close to Aang, their knees touching. Reaching out, she covered both his hands on the armrests and forced her normally bowed head up, trying to train her useless eyes where his would be.
"Listen to me: There is a war in Ba Sing Se," she said softly. "There is a war in Ba Sing Se."
Tabula Rasa: A clean slate; or a person that knows nothing
Heh. This is my first piece of fanfiction, published or unpublished, that doesn't feature a bit of shipping in any way shape or form. It's an odd sensation. Just a weeny attempt at something different – I wanted to try something with a slightly more threatening tone in honor of Halloween. (…I can't start celebrating early? It's my favorite holiday!)
No, I don't know where Sokka and Katara are. I leave that to your imagination.
Also, I was trying – and failing – to hint that the smithy Toph stumbles upon was, at one point, producing weapons before being shut down, because, after all, there is no war, you know.
So do I think the Dai Lee are gonna brainwash Aang and the gang? Nah. People would notice if the Avatar disappeared again. But it's fun to imagine what they would do with the kids if they did brainwash them.
What's next? Probably another chapter of Shadows (I'm working on it! Promise!) and a short Kataang piece somewhere along the line.
Hope you liked it!