Title: A Collar of Pearls (prologue)
Disclaimer: Avatar does not belong to me, I'm not pretending it does, and anyway I have no intention of making money from it.
Warnings: Crossdressing. References to rape, murder, war crimes, and general unpleasantness.
Author's Notes: Er. Hi. I hope you like.
Toph was going to drown. Toph was going to drown unless he did something, right then.
Acting on instinct, without thought, he flung himself into the water, forcing his body through the cold liquid. He could hear Toph calling for help, he could hear fear in her voice, he knew she must be terrified, unable to swim or see what was happening without the ground under her feet. He was almost there when she stopped calling and he felt his heart seize in his chest. She was sinking, drowning, dying if he didn't act now.
He dove under the water, reaching for her, fingers scrabbling in cloth before he managed to grip her and raise her to the surface. She took a deep breath, gasping in air, calling out "Oh Sokka, you-" before they were knocked back under the water by a heave of the beast his sister and Aang were fighting.
The water buffeted them, threw them around like they were seeds in the wind. He lost track of himself, where he was, which way was up and he could feel Toph struggle against the water, against him, and he knew she was losing air. Holding on as best he could he waited for them to pop back to the surface, hoping she'd make it.
Suddenly they emerged back into the outside world, struggling to remain there as the water around them heaved and surged. She was shaking in his arms, coughing and spluttering and small in a way he wasn't used to. Toph was usually larger than life, her personality making up for her small size and he didn't like to see her like this, dazed and diminished.
Looking around he felt another unpleasant reality begin to sink in. They'd been propelled far through the water, back the way they'd come and into the Western lake. He could see Aang and Katara facing down the Serpent quite clearly and just see Suki and the others on the rock of Serpent's Pass, but they were tiny, indistinct. Far, far away.
The beast thrashed again, sending water heaving against them and pushing them back under. Toph didn't even struggle this time, instead curling up against him, pushing her face into his chest, clinging with her strong, capable hands. He did his best to curl around her; he didn't want to lose her, didn't want to be responsible for her drowning.
With a surge they popped back to the surface, even further away than before. Taking a few deep breaths he adjusted his grip on the worryingly compliant Toph and began to swim towards the rock of the Serpent's Pass, it being much closer than the shore of the lake. Hopefully she'd have enough strength the earthbend them out of the water when they reached it. He focussed on his breathing, on moving through the water, on keeping Toph afloat, on the push and pull of the water. He didn't let himself think about anything else.
They'd almost made it, were almost close enough, when the water swelled, heaved, surged against them again and pushed them back down into the deep. He knew they would surface again soon, he knew it, but he could feel the fight starting to go out of Toph and that scared him, terrified him. They just had to hold on, just a little longer...
Suddenly the world seemed to lurch and they were grabbed. Dragged. Pulled further under into a rapidly moving undercurrent that was sucking them down, down, down into the deep.
They were going to drown.
Like someone dragged under the ice. Like the woman who used to take care of them sometimes when he was very young. That woman whose name he couldn't even remember anymore. Toph was struggling in his arms, kicking him, flailing and terrified and they were going to die. Die. Without seeing Aang succeed, without helping, just die in some stupid way for no real reason.
He felt them bang against the rock of the Serpent's pass, felt them dragged into a crack in the stone, felt everything shift around them as Toph reacted without thought; and then the darkness came for him and he felt nothing more.
The Avatar and those of his companions that remained were panicking. Searching frantically for their missing members who had been sucked down into the deep. The Avatar was searching by air, flying with his glider, and the Water Tribe woman Katara was searching the water.
It seemed hopeless, and the Avatar and his companions seemed to feel the same way. "Sokka! Sokka! I can't see him! Aang can you see him! Sokka!!!!" Katara's cries tore at his soul.
His sister clung to his hand as his wife huddled against his side, shaking and crying. He felt guilty, suspected they did too.
Instinctively he looked away as the Avatar flew past again shouting "Toph! Toph can you hear me?! Sokka! Toph! I can't see them! Katara I can't see them!"
The Kiyoshi warrior collapsed as if she was a puppet with its strings cut, unable to do anything but call out from their position on the rock of the Serpent's Pass "No. Oh no. Please no. Sokka! Sokka where are you?! Please, please, please. No!! Sokka!! Please. I was supposed to- Sokka!"
The Avatar flew towards Katara, who was standing still on a platform made of ice, staring out onto the lake "...I can't see them. Katara- Katara I can't see them. They're just- They're gone."
She was a way away so he barely heard it as she softly said "They can't be gone. He can't be gone," before shouting "Sokka can't be gone!!!"
"They are. They're- I can't- Katara." The Avatar was shaking his head, shaking all over in truth.
"NO! He can't be gone." The whole lake swelled and surged with her shout, ice crystals spider-webbing their way across the surface "They probably just floated off course. Off somewhere we can't see them. He'll be fine. He will be. Fine. He'll be fine and catch up later. We should just keep going forward, head to Ba Sing Se, they know that's where we're going, they know so they'll- he'll- No. No. He'll be fine. He's not dead."
He turned away from the scene as she began to cry, hoping against hope that she was right. That the Avatar's missing companions still lived and would meet up with him later.