Hah. It's unfortunately not dead yet! This is basically a throwaway sentence from the first chapter expanded; yup, that does mean, time-line-wise, this comes before any other chapter. Enjoy? I think there's 2 more chapters in this, somewhere, they're just proving a little harder to write than I thought. Pointless fluff or Zuko next, I wonder?
Disclaimer goes here - no profit, no ownership, just having fun.
They've been travelling a while when Aang excitedly tries to point out something ahead to Toph; it takes more than one sarcastic comment on the fruitlessness of pointing at something for a blind girl before he gets the message and describes the scene. Nestled between two hills is a town, although there's a brief good-humoured argument between Aang and Sokka over whether it's actually big enough to qualify for being a town or if it's just a big village. Still, Sokka doesn't think it's a good idea to go in. It's too small, too isolated, and not on a major travelling route are his arguments. The group will stand out like a sore thumb.
Katara is having none of it, though. They need supplies, and besides, there's no signs of soldiers in the area. There's another argument, this one less humorous, between the equally stubborn siblings. It takes Toph to tip the balance; Aang, as always, is happy to follow Katara. They will go to the town; Sokka can stay here or go with them, but the rest of them have decided.
And truly, at first, it all seems to be going fine. It's market day, after all, so whilst strangers raise eyebrows, the townspeople and outlying farmers are politely willing to trade. There's even a food stall with benches, so they get to sit down for their first meal in a while. Sokka is still moody, which Toph attributes to being outvoted, and given how at one point Katara pointedly tells him to stop sulking and behave, Toph assumes it's vsible on his face as well.
After they eat, Katara seems to revel in winding Sokka up; when he insists they leave, now, Katara is equally insistent that she is not done shopping yet and wanders off, Aang in tow. Toph is left with a Sokka so tense and frustrated, she can't avoid picking it up through the earth, making her equally jumpy and a whole lot more sarcastic. They end up silent, each wrapped in their own bubble of misery, leant against a wall at the edge of the market, until Sokka spots something. Pushing their way through the now bustling market, posters in hand, are a group of very loud Fire Nation soldiers. Most of the market folk seem to want nothing to do with them, but a couple... a couple of the traders seem to be willing to talk. With each trader, the soldiers get rowdier, talking loudly about the reward involved in capturing the Avatar. Sokka has tensed up even further, reaching for his boomerang, when he swears and, strangely, relaxes. Under his breath, he tells Toph that if they fight here, an awful lot of people will be injured, and that Toph needs to find the others and get away. He pushes her sideways, and makes sure she takes the first couple of steps before he steps forwards. Toph hesitates, for a moment, but she can feel how cramped it would be to fight here, and so she does as she's told, although she wants to argue. As she runs, behind her she can hear Sokka being as obnoxious as he knows how, which is rather impressive, really. For a moment, the soldier's attention is focussed, giving her precious time. To linger will waste the effort Sokka is making.
Toph leaves him there alone, even as her conscience screams at her not to go. It keeps screaming all through that day and long into the evening, when it becomes obvious that Sokka is gone and they do not know where.
That night, Toph finds it hard to sleep.