A/N: The other half of Chapter 12 and the completion of the prequel to Chapters 3-5. Toph's 15 here, Sokka 18.
Chapter 13 – One More Night and One More Time
"The Fire Nation is invading!"
When this proclamation rang through the bar, there was a long moment of silence in which everyone turned to stare at the now-empty doorway. Outside the door lights could be seen and yelling could be heard as people poured into the streets.
Sokka's slack jawed gaze returned to his companions; Toph's mirrored his own, her eyes wide and her mouth open, but Liu had gone pale, his lips pursing as he gripped the table in front of him.
"They- they actually came?' he said faintly.
By this point people were starting to move – some were heading out the front of the tavern, and others were ignoring the bartender's shouts and were heading towards the back to leave, and still others were breaking furniture for make-shift clubs for protection – and it was these sounds of movement that jarred Sokka out of his daze.
"Come on!" he said, reaching out to grab Toph by the wrist. "We need to get out of here!"
At least, that's what he had intended to say – he wasn't sure what words actually came out, what with the chaos and the fact that he was still incredibly drunk. He was reminded of this fact when he stood up to run for the door and suddenly found that he had no control over his legs and no strength in his knees. Toph had to steady him, her eyes glittering with excitement. "You see?" she whooped, "I'm so good that the firebenders line up to fight me!"
"Shut up!" Sokka shot at her. "We are not fighting!" His tongue felt thick, and though he was thinking clearly he had no idea at all if what he was actually thinking was really coming out of his mouth. He tugged Toph towards the doorway once again, mind racing as he peered outside. The guards. They'd have to get out of town to the very same checkpoint he'd gotten held up at this afternoon – it was the closest safehouse if they were going to lose Fuliji – and they'd have to do it amidst a swarm of firebendenders.
"Come on, come on," Toph urged, rocking up onto her toes in anticipation. "We can take them!"
"Stop saying things like that!" Sokka scolded, and then stopped when he realized they were one short. Turning around, he saw that Liu was still sitting back at the corner, at their little table. "What are you doing?!" he bellowed across the rapidly emptying room.
"They're here for me!" Liu said anxiously, breaking his blank stare to look up at the pair near the doorway. "I'd heard – someone had warned me – but I didn't think it was real – I laughed –"
"You knew this was coming?" It took every single ounce of self-control in Sokka's body not to reach out and snap Liu's neck. It was aided by the fact that he was still kind of seeing double and would have had no idea which neck to grasp, but the urge was still there. He'd known that the Fire Nation would be targeting this town and hadn't warned them? He had let them wander into what was going to become enemy territory?
"For me – they want me for paying off their sailors – " Liu babbled, but Toph huffed and stuck her heel hard against the ground. Liu shot out of his chair and across the room, landing with a crash behind the bar.
Sokka frowned at Toph. "What have I told you about earthbending drunk?"
"Come on!" Toph bellowed. "Come with us and we'll keep you safe!"
"We'll try anyway," Sokka muttered under his breath, still studying what was happening outside. The Fire Nation soldiers were marching comfortably in their regular ranks, the firebenders leading the way with the regular soldiers following up at a quick pace. The firebenders would burn out the entire town by morning at the rate they were going – every single building on the street they were tromping down was alight.
Fortunately, there weren't only Fire Nation soldiers in the street – plenty of Earth Kingdom citizens were out, whether they were running away or trying to fight. By the sounds of it, a riot was starting to gather near the center square of town, and some ranks were peeling off and heading back in that direction.
"Let's go," Sokka ordered, reaching back and grabbing Toph's wrist once again. She actually allowed herself to be led forward, and Sokka tossed a glance back just to make sure Liu was with them. He appeared to be – he was weaving badly and knocking into tables – and so Sokka took in a deep breath and stepped out into the crowd.
Immediately another person plowed into him; already off balance Sokka fell as well – only to land on Toph, who squawked in outrage and shoved him hard into the ribs to set him upright again.
"Here," Sokka muttered, taking a halting step forward. There was no way Toph could have heard him, but he still had a grip on one wrist. She refused to be budged, and when he finally turned to frown at her she glared right back at him. "I said let's go!" he shouted.
"That's the wrong way!" Toph shouted right back.
"You're lying!" Sokka huffed, trying once again to drag her forward. He was so confused and there were lights everywhere and people shouting and the last thing he really needed was Toph being difficult. Well, she was always difficult but what he really did not need was for her to be difficult towards him and what he needed her to do was exactly what he'd told her to.
Just as he opened his mouth to continue scolding her, both of her hands suddenly found a grip on his tunic. She screeched, "Sokka, move!" and shoved him as hard as she possibly could.He went flying, knocking into one of the wooden posts holding up the sloping roof of the building in front of him, just as he felt something whish by his head, barely missing him. He wasn't sure what it was - some heavy, blunt object heaved by someone from the crowd - but he heard where it landed as it struck the doorway to the building. The wood cracked and splintered, and by the time he straighted himself up it was easily kicked away by the people already starting to swarm into the building.
"Toph!" he called, trying to make sense of the crowd. "Liu!"
'She's waiting,' Sokka thought blearily. 'Of course she's waiting…' Naturally, he had no chance of finding her, but there was no doubt in his mind as to the fact that she was out there.
Someone grabbed him, but Sokka shrugged them off easily, still looking around frantically for any sign of Toph or Liu. They grabbed him again, fingers digging into his shoulder, and Sokka lashed out, hand fisted with no time to grab for his boomerang.
They fell back, but Sokka wasn't paying attention; the flash of orange had flared in the corner of his eye and he barely had time to throw himself to the ground before flames shot right where his head had been moments before. For a moment he lay there, covering his head and letting people step on him, and then, against all odds, he actually managed to glimpse two pale bare feet through the crowd of red and black boots.
"Toph!" he called – shrieked actually, his voice rising almost to the point of cracking – as he tried fruitlessly to haul himself up, slipping in the mud and barely stopping himself from landing face first in the muck.
He stumbled sideways through the crowd, knocking indiscriminately into people, and finally, mercifully managed to get a hand around Toph's elbow. Then he barely had time to blink before she let out a howl like a wet catowl and dislodged his hold on her, managing to simultaneously elbow him in the gut and nail him in the chin. He grunted, a quiet sound lost in the chaos, and as he started to fall back again he heard Toph's squeal of "Oh my - ! Sokka!"
Before he could hit the ground, however, she reached out and grabbed him by the front of his tunic, dragging him forward as she navigated them through the pulsing, rushing crowd and towards the outskirts of the street, practically throwing him in front of her as she forced him into the space between two buildings, barely enough for her to squeeze through, let alone Sokka with his broad shoulders.
At the end of the building there was a wooden gate; Toph dropped a shoulder and easily destroyed it, still tugging Sokka along behind her.
"This is still the wrong way," Sokka said fruitlessly, as if he could truly persuade her. She was clearly in total control of where they were going. He was merely along for the ride.
"You want to get to the safe house in the Wuhe district right?" she snapped at him, her breathing ragged as they tromped through the darkened alleyway that they had burst into. "You were pulling us towards the center of town you numbskull."
"But we're heading south!" Sokka protested. "We need to go north!"
"How about we get out of town and then worry about which way to head?" Toph snarled, her face turned firmly to the ground as she made sure no one was tailing them. "It doesn't matter if we're heading in the right direction if we're going to have to fight an entire infantry of firebenders to get there!"
Right. Sokka felt a weird type of shame creep into his stomach. It was so obvious, and he'd nearly dragged them into even more danger than they were already in.
So focused was Toph on making sure they were alone and Sokka on his mortification that it wasn't until they had reached the end of the alley and Toph was carefully making sure it was safe to proceed that it finally hit Sokka. "Where's Liu?"
Toph stiffened, then slumped. "There's three of us!" she moaned to herself, slapping a hand to her forehead before sighing helplessly. "What do we do?"
The wind picked up then, and carried upon it was the scent of burning wood and scorched flesh. Sokka's body suddenly seemed to realize what it had just been put through, and protested mightily. He turned his head aside and abruptly threw up, bringing up everything he had ingested that night and possibly more.
"Yeah." Toph nodded when he was finally done dry heaving. "I know what you're saying."
Confused yet? I don't blame you. See this entry at my Livejournal for more details and a choronological listing of chapters: artemisrae(dot)livejournal(dot)com(slash)40103(dot)html