The first thing they had to figure out was where the Dai Li would have taken Toph. Aang and Katara were sure that it had to be the Dai Li who'd taken her, as the two spread out some of the documents stolen in the raid the night prior, on the pool table in the Marina house parlor. The largest document was the one they had in the middle of the others; a map of the city, with some surrounding lands.
On the eastern side of the city, just outside, and off the suburban area, Katara could see all of Song McFarlane's family's cool hundred acres, and the rich district where the Marina house was situated. To the western side of the map, not far from the beach, Milton Avenue lay long and straight, with one row of mansions with their backs toward the beach, and the other - the side on which Zuko's mansion was - with long acres of well-kept, mown grassland behind them. In the southern part of the city, the downtown nightlife was clearly depicted in grays of varying shades, depending on the height of the buildings. To the north, there were acres and acres of forestry, and a gray box depicting the two-story abandoned mansion on the top of the woodland hill.
Across the map, there were four spots marked with characters. Aang didn't speak Chinese - much to Katara's chagrin - but he made a low comment that he was sure Toph did. Katara couldn't help but tell him 'yeah, well Toph isn't here', and then apologize for being so curt with him. Aang waved it off. He told her he'd been just as short with people in the long Toph-less spell of the past few weeks.
But it was over now. He was going to save her.
"Okay," Katara breathed, leaning over the pool table and running the fingertips of her left hand over the velvet top of the pool table beside the papers. "From what I can tell, it looks like these spots are either what the Dai Li consider to be places of interest, or prisoner strongholds. This one here," she pointed to the lake deep in the northern forests, "is the most suspicious, though. Why would they want to keep tabs on a lake?"
Aang arched his brow, raised a hand and rubbed at his chin in a rather Sokka-like fashion. "It is pretty suspicious. The other three spots are buildings; Cures USA, a five-star hotel by the name of The Grand Phoenix Hotel, and City Hall. It would make sense for them to be places of interest, but there can't be anything to really watch up in the woods."
Katara screwed up her face. In the woods last summer, there had been a girl killed while doing pledges for Azula's sorority in school. The girls had been supposed to find their way to a marked point in the forest with only a map, a few scattered landmarks like cravings on trees, a compass and a flashlight, but this girl had disappeared and been found hung from a noose in a tree the next morning. Before then, the woods had been a pretty popular place for people to hang out. The lake had been a popular fishing spot, and there had been picnic benches there. Families had gone hiking up there.
But now it was completely deserted. Perhaps that's what the Dai Li wanted - a place they were sure the people would stay away from. "The would keep all prisoners in one place," Katara began thoughtfully, "And Cures USA probably doesn't have facilities for that anyway. It's more likely they keep that locked down to keep their activation serum under control, away from prying eyes."
Aang seemed to latch onto her train of thought. "Right. And City Hall, they could just be keeping as a place for their treasury, and making new regional rules for the city. That's probably where they make changes to the local curfew, and arrange all the patrol routes. And they probably just use the Grand Phoenix as barracks for their agents," he assumed eloquently, and his face lit up, briefly, before confusion wrote itself on his face. "So they're keeping their prisoners at the lake?"
Katara's features hardened. "Or disposing the bodies there," she murmured slowly.
Aang lifted his gaze to stare at Katara, a white-hot rage burning through his gut. He almost wanted to slap her for saying such a thing, but she was right. The Dai Li weren't above execution. They had killed every last one of his people trying to find him. Aang furrowed his brow, worried, and tried to calm himself down. "Toph is alright. They'll want to interrogate her; you said she told you she could bend, right?"
Katara immediately nodded, looking up too. "So she's probably still alive," she stated hopefully.
Aang nodded quickly. "We'd better get going," he pushed away from the pool table and dusting himself off. "It's our only lead, and they might switch things up since we have this information, right? Better not give them a chance to change protocol."
Katara agreed and the two pushed out of the room, into the bright light of the hallway. They made their way to the staircase and made short work of its steps, moving up, through the upstairs hall and straight into Katara's bedroom, where she grabbed her incognito attire. It had been laid across the bed as soon as Katara had decided they were saving Toph tonight. Zuko would've told her to rest up - she was injured, after all - but the Dai Li wouldn't wait to kill Toph.
She'd saved Toph before with Zuko being awkward, and she'd damn well do it again if she had to.
Katara geared up and clipped her guns to her thighs, while Aang went through a pile of clothes he'd found left in Sokka's room for something dark, discreet and protecting to wear. He found some snow boots and dark jeans, and a zip-up hooded jacket to go on over his gray t-shirt, tugging on a plain black baseball cap from under the Marina boy's bed.
"Here," Katara tossed something over her shoulder to him without looking.
Aang caught it on instinct; it was a clanking rucksack that he unzipped to find various protective wear. He guessed they belonged to Sokka, for Kendo, but they looked like they would mute a hell of a lot of damage from earthbender attacks. "Thanks," he answered briskly, strapping the forearm guards on in turn. "How's your Waterbending?" he asked, while gearing up, "if you run out of ammo, or your bullets aren't hitting, you need to be able to fight with your bending," he informed her, his voice assertive.
Katara thought, while she pulled on the stolen boots of the Painted Lady. Bending last night had been on instinct. She hadn't really thought about it; if she could get into that unconscious state of instinctive defense, she knew she'd be able to hold her own. Her bending was strongest at night too; that would help. She just needed to keep her mind and body fluid, and she'd be able to do it. "Don't worry about me. I can bend," she assured him, and herself in the process. She put on her mask and tied it behind her head.
"Good," Aang turned to face her, tugging on the jacket, over whatever gear he had put on without restricting his movement. "Let's do this."
Zuko knocked politely on the room Iroh was staying in at the mansion. He waited for a moment and then carefully pushed it open to peer inside. His uncle wasn't in the room, so he stepped back and glanced down the hallway, wondering where the older man might be. Lu Ten would've known, if it was the beach house, but Lu Ten had vowed years ago never to step foot in this house after a rather dramatic punch-up with Ozai's driver, Zhao. Lu Ten had broken his vow a few times since, but he mostly stuck to it.
He honestly didn't know why he was doing this; he'd said he wouldn't learn firebending only to lose it, and here he was looking for his uncle to get started on his training. Katara would have his head on a stick.
But Katara was wrong; she'd said it herself, in essence. It would hurt to lose her bending. That was how ingrained in her it was. Everything pointed to bending. His uncle, who Zuko had come to believe had been everywhere, was apparently a master firebender, and it had run in the family for a long, long time. Zuko wanted to know more; how this was possible, how they'd kept it a secret for so long. But he couldn't ask Ozai.
His uncle would know, surely. The only thing he didn't know was whether his uncle would tell him.
"Uncle's in father's office," Azula's voice piped up.
Zuko spun on his heels, eyes darting around for his sister. He didn't see her. "Where are you?" he suddenly snapped, irritated.
Azula stepped out from behind one of the pillars against the walls of the wide, marble hall, smirking. Her arms had been crossed over her chest, but they were coming free to be held behind her back. "Looks like you've changed your mind about firebending, Zuzu," she remarked, smug.
Zuko exhaled a short breath that accidentally flickered with fire. "I'm not in the mood for games, Azula," he told her, and moved to pass her, to go to Ozai's office.
Azula strolled into his path and raised a hand to stop him. Zuko glared down at her, but she regarded him only with a wily smile. "Are you serious about firebending, Zuko?" she hissed, her face remaining a picture of stony calmness. "I thought you were afraid of losing it," she quirked up one corner of her mouth.
Zuko narrowed his good eye at her. "I don't plan to lose it," he retorted, and then shoved his way past her.
"Wonderful. So you're going to join the Dai Li? Like your friend Aidan?" Azula's voice cooed behind him.
Zuko froze in his steps and glanced over his shoulder. How did she even know about Aidan? How did she know he was a firebender? He'd done his very best to keep Aidan a part of his past locked up tight, away from prying eyes. It was unsettling for Azula to know things like this, but she usually came upon information like that eventually, he surmised. "How do you know about Aidan?" he tried on his most calm tone of voice.
"I know a lot of things," Azula replied quickly and dismissively. "I was keeping tabs on you and your rebel party last night."
Zuko blinked at her, and turned fully to face her. "Why?"
"To see how one runs a rebellion," Azula raised a hand to inspect her nails nonchalantly, but her brother caught her by the wrist.
Zuko ground his teeth and pushed his brow down hard over his eyes. "And why would you want to know a thing like that?" he demanded, tightening his grip on her.
Azula smirked at him. "Because I see this whole tiff with the Dai Li as an opportunity," she began, her hand slipping through Zuko's grip so she could step back and away from him. When she caught the skeptic look in his eyes, she waved a hand dismissively, and vaguely replied, "I too plan to keep my bending, brother."
It was slightly past sunset when Katara and Aang broached the edge of the forest, and the sky was a mid-blue above them. Katara thought she could see the foggy outline of the waning crescent moon in the clouds that had crawled across the sky sine school. It had taken a while to get here between Dai Li agent patrol changeovers, and Aang wished they'd gotten here sooner, with more light to work with.
Katara's face, below the mask of the Painted Lady, screwed up to a grimace. "We're going to get lost in the woods, Aang. It's too dark," she stated with distaste and anxiety in her voice.
Aang glanced back at her - she was right, but he wasn't going to let the dark stop them. They had brought nearly nothing; just the clothes on their backs, Katara's guns and a staff with a use unknown to Katara. Aang spun his staff on his hand like a baton, causing Katara to take an instinctive step back. He stabbed the bottom of it into the ground at his feet and it released a subtle flutter, like a bird taking flight. Faded orange cloth wings spread from the staff. Katara blinked at him through her mask.
"The woods aren't going to be a problem," Aang told her sharply, and gestured for her to come closer to him. "Grab onto me. Hold tight," he added for good measure.
Katara arched her brow under her mask - her friend didn't see it. "Please don't tell me you can fly," she hissed reluctantly, taking a hesitant step to him.
Aang grinned despite the seriousness of all things, spreading his arms to the top of the glider and holding it up over himself so that when he took off he could latch his feet into the hooks for them. "Come on. We don't have all night."
Katara drew nearer and awkwardly hooked her arms around her friend's neck, unsure that he was strong enough to hold her weight - while bending, no less. He was slightly shorter than her, though muscular, and she'd never really seen him do much in the way of lifting heavy objects; speed had always been his area of physical expertise. Physical brawn had always been more Sokka's thing.
"When we take off, you can hook one of your feet into one of those," Aang pointed down the staff, to where the two foot-hooks were, "and then hook your other foot behind your knee. Hold on and leave the rest to me."
Katara was still skeptical, linking her hands around opposite wrists behind Aang's shoulders. When he drew a breath, hands clenching on the top of his glider, Katara was just about ready to tell him to stop kidding around, but at that moment, Aang shot up in her arms and she nearly let go on instinct. Her hands suddenly clenched on one another and she felt her eyes widening in her head. She was thankful her wrist on the injured arm wasn't burnt, because her right hand was clenched on it.
She shouted out, but instruction was taking over and her legs were looking for the hook Aang ad only just pointed to. When she was sure she wasn't going to fall down - and now she could see the tops of the trees feet below them, god help her - she could get a handle on just what was actually going on. She kicked one foot out for the hook and caught it with much force, causing the glider to jerk downward for a moment before Aang calmly corrected the flight pattern.
Katara finally managed to look up to Aang, who was flying over her with his eyes pointed forward. The wind was throwing her ponytail into her face, but she had something to say and she was going to get it out, dammit. "You could've warned me!" she blurted, voice tumbling out gracelessly on the gusts of wind that came with flying.
Aang kept his eyes pointed in the direction they were flying, but his grin grew. "You know," he began conversationally - as though flying was the most natural thing in the world for him - with a little glance down at her, "I know how bad things are, but flying is amazing. I missed it."
Katara blinked at the wind in her face. She rather disagreed, initially, with wind blowing into her from angles wind had never come at her from, feeling like a fish out of water, but after a moment of getting used to it, she had to concede that yes, flying was pretty cool. She tilted her head back a little, and while the wind blew into her eyes through her mask, she liked the upside-down view of the woods below.
Aang's eyes turned sad then, briefly. "On the down side, the Dai Li are trying to take over the world," he pointed out, his smile faltering.
Katara felt the need to comfort him and gave a grin of her own. "Win some, lose some," she tried cheerfully.
This boosted the airbender's mood rather substantially.
Toph paced, hungry, hot and unable to bend. It had been only hours since she'd been taken captive, but she disliked it all the same. It reminded her of that horrible, foodless, sleepless spell in the custody of the CIA, and it was only made worse by the metal incarceration she was trapped in. She had only thought of earthbending against the Dai Li - had never thought they might have something she couldn't bend to hold her with.
She could see, vaguely, through the vibrations in the metal floor, and she had tried to find weaknesses in her imprisonment, but with no luck. She was really and truly fucking trapped. And it was so fucking hot in here! Why was it so hot? She had no idea where she was; she could have been in a metal container in the desert for all she knew.
Toph supposed she could stop pacing, calm herself and listen - that usually helped things - but she was just too irritated and agitated to do that. Smellerbee would, at the very least, know to do something, right? Even if Katara hadn't gotten her desperate message, there was still Smellerbee and Longshot.
"Calm the fuck down, Toph," the blind bandit grabbed her own arm as if to stop herself. "You've gotten out of worse," she tried to reason, reaching up to wipe sweat from her forehead. She grunted in annoyance. "It's so fucking hot in here!" she complained loudly, and marched to the metal door to whack it and get someone's attention.
Her feet clanged loudly on the metal under her, sending crazy vibrations through her senses. She really needed to calm down; if she stomped around, she'd dull her own senses. Toph stopped herself again and clenched her fists. Someone must have heard, because she could hear footsteps outside her cell.
"Be still, Miss Bei Fong. Your father will be here soon," came a still, calm voice, accented in Chinese. Toph guessed the agent for a native speaker and quickly switched over to Chinese to simplify things. She wanted to know where she was; what her extended family's stupid connection to the Dai Li had gotten her into.
She demanded to know where she was, in fluent Chinese that disarmed the guard, who hadn't expected her to speak the language.
He replied solemnly that her father had told the Dai Li to capture her - to take her down, dead or alive. At least, that was what the order had been.
Toph's blind eyes widened and she felt her stomach clench for a moment. For a moment, it was unclear and confusing and didn't make sense, and then … then it made perfect sense. Why would he keep her alive as a liability to him? He just wanted his happy, comfortable little life, didn't he? His partner spot at Chander, Bei Fong and Marina, his nice compound mansion, his trophy wife; those trophies for nothing in particular in his office.
She should have seen this coming. When she wasn't making him look good, she was dispensable. If she was causing him trouble, why wouldn't he have her taken out? Toph supposed she would do the same thing in his position. Right?
No. No, she would never do that. How could someone do that to their own child?
At her silence, the agent had left; Toph was sure of it. So she turned and put her back to the door, lifting a hand and rubbing at her forehead, frustrated. When she got out of here, she'd have her father's head on a stick. She'd have liked to think that Poppy would stop Lao from putting a hit on her, but Poppy was weak to him. Toph had once thought she preferred her father to her mother, but whether or not Poppy thought she was a helpless little blind (previously colorblind) girl, she could at least say Poppy would never willingly set a death warrant on her.
So that was something, right?
Toph's fingers clenched on sweaty hair - why hadn't she had a shower that morning? - and she squeezed her blind eyes shut. This was a real pain in the ass. America was quickly turning into a dictatorship, her father had given the enemy a go-ahead to kill her, Aang was AWOL - no surprise there, she mused glumly, but then again she had told him to leave her the fuck alone, in no uncertain terms - and she was in some god-forsaken prisoner-of-war stronghold, sore from fighting and with only enough kick left in her to possibly, maybe, if she was lucky, make a hundred-meter dash. Maybe.
She was bruised all over her back from hitting the ground after a thirty-foot drop out of the abandoned apartment building, though she supposed she should consider herself lucky that was all she'd gotten from that, and her knuckles were split and sore and probably bloody from fighting - bending or hand-to-hand, she still wasn't sure.
She had to get out of here. Someone would come, and when they did, she wasn't going to cling to them and make some ditzy, breathy, damsel-in-distress 'oh my hero' speech when they did. Toph would be ready to go. She supposed she could try to muster up the energy to fight by going to sleep, but it was too fucking hot for that.
Toph dropped her head back against the door she had sat against, and sensed the vibration that went through it. Except different from earth. Similar to it, but somehow different. Her brow came down. She lifted her head from it and turned, placing her hand on the metal. At her touch, there was a tiny little vibration.
Toph tapped her thumb on the metal, her fingers taking in the reverberations it sent out.
A gasp escaped her the moment her senses caught two little impurities in the metal. Toph suddenly grinned. She was a Math genius - she'd always failed miserably at Biology and Chemistry, but for a split moment, she thought back to a lesson back in freshman year. The table of elements, or whatever it was called. She scraped her fingernails on the metal to test it for resistance and sound.
Steel. She was sure of it.
If she had learnt nothing else from school - and besides Math, that was probably the case - she knew that metal was condensed earth. So … theoretically … she supposed it might be bendable. Ha. Fuck that. If she said budge, dammit, that metal better fucking budge.
Toph smacked her hands to the metal and it sent out twin reverberations. Like stars in the night sky - she remembered them - she could feel the little imperfections in the metal. She flattened her palm on the metal, and then set about pulling it into a fist. At first, her sweaty palms slid on the metal, and she felt disheartened, but she reinforced her iron will. Toph had to get out of here, one way or the other.
'Now move it, you sonovabitch!' Toph swore in her head at the metal.
As if on cue, the metal whined and curved toward her palm.
Katara half wished Zuko was with them for some light - if not with bending, then he could always be trusted to carry a lighter at all times - as she raised the map above her, hoping to get some light from what little of the moon was showing. She grit her teeth irritably, thinking back to that woman at the circus all those weeks ago. She had been able to make the water glow. That would really have come in handy right now.
"Well, this is the place," Katara finally stated, dropping her eyes from the map she held up to the sky to the murky water of the lake before them. It didn't look like much; a dead end. A bust. "It was probably just put on the map to throw us off, Aang." Either nothing had ever been here in the first place, or the Dai Li had moved things around after the raid last night. But could they really up-and-remove a whole compound in one day?
Aang shook his head and motioned to the water. "No. It's still here. It's just like Lake Laogai," he murmured, lifting a hand to his chin and moving toward the edge of the water - the lake lapped and wet the tips of his boots.
Katara furrowed her brow at him. "Lake what-now?"
"Lake Laogai," Aang explained, waving a hand. "Back in my time, Ba Sing Se had a famous stronghold under a lake called Lake Laogai, run by the Dai Li. They used to take prisoners there and brainwash them, according to myths and rumors. I never believed them, but I guess it's the only lead we have."
Katara blinked in the darkness. "So the Dai Li have been … crazy world-dominating psychos for … a long time, then?" she pointed out, hearing her voice coming out a lot more dryly than she had intended.
Aang chuckled mirthlessly. "Yeah. And they've been biding their time until now. Waiting. For me, maybe," he thought aloud.
Katara drew a breath. "Aang?" she began, drawing nearer to the water and considering reaching out to it, "Can I ask what an Avatar is? I mean, I saw that weird blue-alien-people movie, and pretty sure it's not that, but … it sounds like you're not the same as me and Zuko and all the other benders. You're different. Aren't you?"
Aang glanced at her in the dark and then sighed. "The Avatar was a being capable of bending all four elements, often simultaneously. But that was never what made the Avatar as powerful as it was. Aside from having four elements at my disposal - if I ever get around to learning them - there's another thing," he lowered his eyes, seeming to become pensive and brooding. There was something else there - something he probably didn't want anyone to know about.
Katara squirmed uncomfortably - she didn't often see Aang this serious. "Wha- …" she paused and frowned behind her mask. "What is it?"
There was a short period of silence.
Aang quickly replied, "The Avatar state," with the brisk meekness of a man discussing his mistress with his wife.
Katara decided she didn't really need to know all that badly. At least not at the risk of putting a damper on Aang's mood; the poor guy had it hard enough these days. She turned her eyes to the water, searching for something. If the Dai Li had a stronghold under the lake, it would make sense to try to part the water and have a look-see. She drew a breath and shut her eyes - that was usually the first step with her bending.
Push … and pull. Push … and pull.
Katara felt the water tugging at the edges of her consciousness and tried to focus on it. Push. Pull. Push. Pull. She breathed, and felt her fingers reach for the water of their own accord. She just wanted to separate the water; just a red sea deal. The water lapped into a ready-set groove for it, almost on cue, and Katara simply disallowed it to flow back into the ridge. The water moved out of the way on its own, and all Katara did was hold it.
Slowly, the shaky walls of her bending held the water away and became calmer with confidence. Katara peeked open one eye, and the water trembled at it, but she willed it to stay. She opened her eyes and peered into the water she held apart. She saw the muddy bottom of the lake, and in it, what looked like a metal secret-door panel. The Dai Li probably used earthbending to push it to the surface, she surmised. Aang stalked toward the opening of the water.
Katara knew something was off about the water in her power. She wasn't able to hold onto it. It felt like sand slipping through her fingers.
"Great work, Katara!" Aang complimented, and then moved, tentatively, into the path she had carved in the water. He stepped down into the lake; toward the panel.
Katara felt her concentration wavering, and the water gurgled, causing Aang to startle and stop. "Go! Hurry, before I …" she saw her bending wobble. "Aang, you'll have to go on without me!" she suddenly blurted, putting her focus into holding the water up. If she could freeze it to ice it would be something, but she couldn't do it now; she was paying too much attention.
She wondered if she should close her eyes again, but Aang seemed to agree with her, as he reached the panel and tugged open the watertight trap-door. He turned to smile at her, give her an affirming nod, and then he dropped down the panel, pulling it shut behind him. Katara's muscles had no trouble holding the water back, but her mind just wasn't trained enough for it.
The water flooded back into its original location, and the waterbender stood back, confused. She should have been able to do that. Katara turned her eyes up toward the slim remnant of the crescent moon.
No. It wasn't a crescent moon. It should have been still only slightly less than a quarter moon. She was sure she could have held that water.
But there was a partial lunar eclipse in the sky. It was the only thing she could possibly think would make her bending so weak. Katara's hands suddenly went to her guns, and she desperately hoped she wasn't attacked by Dai Li agents tonight, while waiting in the woods for Aang and Toph. She'd never escape the forest. She was a sitting duck here, and she only had her guns, and maybe some weak Waterbending attacks, assuming the eclipse didn't become full.
"Hurry up, Aang," Katara murmured, eyes shifting back and forth in the darkening night.
Zuko was beginning to tire of sitting in one place doing nothing. Technically, he was meditating, but he didn't think he was doing it right. He was probably supposed to be thinking about the sun, or just fire in general, but all he could think about was the worried look on Katara's face earlier. Zuko furrowed his brow as best he could with the scar tissue around his left eye.
He'd probably sounded like Aidan, talking about the possibility of a world with bending. Why did he have to be such a jackass and spring things like this on her when she was already hurt? She'd had a major kick in the teeth last night, and instead of sitting with her and writing to Sokka and Suki, he'd gone on about some crazy idea that was probably just as dangerous as she had portrayed it.
Shit. And now he was letting his mind wander. He was supposed to sit in the sunroom at the back of the house, eyes shut, surrounded by lit candles - and he was - and focus until he was sure he could feel the life of the flames. Zuko wasn't feeling any life from the candles, so he was probably doing badly.
Zuko was sat cross-legged on a small cushion on the floor in the center of the sunroom, with only the light of the circle of candles around him. Above, it was dark, but Zuko couldn't tell. He had resigned himself to at least keeping his eyes shut. He hoped it was just the bending that was throwing his mind around like this. He'd never fancied himself a revolutionary kind of person.
Bending without the Dai Li. What the hell was he thinking?
But, apparently, Azula was thinking the same thing. Were there other firebenders out there, thinking it too? Zuko imagined it. An army of firebenders.
No. It would have to be done peacefully; without militaristic action, except against the Dai Li. Zuko kept thinking it was possible. It was just a concept right now, but if he turned it in his mind a few times, he was sure he could come up with a plausible idea; something that would work for everyone. He shook it off as best he could and tried to get back to his meditation. What the fuck was he thinking anyway? Katara had said it; Aang's plan had been their plan all along, and he shouldn't have even been thinking of changing it now, while his bending was probably messing with his head.
Toph was in the middle of punching in her cell door (with little progress in the way of breaking it) when her ears picked up footsteps headed in her direction. She had been kneeling by the door, and so she quickly rolled onto her back and pushed away from it with her heels, kicking them over her head and somersaulting backwards to her feet, hands ready to attack. She had no earth to throw around, but she knew a thing or two about ass-kicking, and it could come in handy now.
There were voices - they were speaking in Chinese. Toph was unpracticed with her native tongue, but she knew what they were saying, if she focused.
"What the fuck happened to this door?"
Toph sniggered despite the seriousness of all things. The second voice, however, wiped the smirk off her face rather quickly. Her father was here; that traitorous son of a bitch. She'd rip his eyes out, god damn him. She'd tear him limb from limb and leave the bloody remains of his corpse in a place ripe for animals to come and tear apart. Toph wondered when she had gotten so dark. Her thoughts sounded like something out of a slasher movie.
She stepped back from the door; maybe to give herself a run-up to smash her father's face in, since she assumed they were headed into her cell, and maybe just to be as far away from him as she could without backing herself up to the wall. She waited. The room was metallic and hot and irritating, and her senses were thrown out of balance by its echo, but she focused herself as best she could.
The locking mechanism on the outside of the door made a protesting grind of a noise; upon her entry of the cell, it had made no sound whatsoever, smooth and willing. Toph fought back the grin that came up to her face as the door slid aside on its rollers, until the depression she'd punched into it hit the frame and it stopped in its tracks. It was enough room for the agent who came into view to step in, and her father behind him, in his lavish homeland robes.
Ugh. Could he dress for once like everyone else's dads? She didn't see Katara's dad going around in full-on tribal gear (him being of Apache or Hopi or Lakota origin or something like that), and he was proud of his roots too. He just didn't walk around the house in heavy, awkward robes to prove it. And even that had been okay, until Lao had tried getting Toph into the stupid homeland gear. Yuk.
"Nice to see you, Daddy," Toph gave a sickly-sweet smile, before stiffening her scowl back onto her face.
Lao narrowed his eyes at her - she didn't even sense it with her new Sight, only knew it by knowing his ways. "Toph," he began, his hands behind his back, his expression cool and calm and still, like a statue. Toph hated the way she couldn't read him. Maybe it was because of the echo of the cell. Then, he exhaled happily, as if he flipped a switch in his head; like he'd decided to play the happy father of the missing blind girl. "I'm so glad you're okay."
Toph arched a brow and slid down into a careful, tentative stance. She didn't think they were going to attack her, but still. "You know, I left for a reason," she pointed out bluntly, quite simply wanting to knock him out of his little façade, with some choice words.
Lao continued to smile a kind of Stepford smile - Toph wondered if her mother's personality had leaked into him in her absence. "I know, sweetheart," he tilted his brows as if he were about to cry or something - this time she knew it by her Sight. "You must have been so frustrated."
Frustrated? What the fuck was he talking about?
He continued, "I didn't know you were an earthbender. I didn't know how … how strong you were."
Toph felt something stir in her middle. He had found her weak spot. No. No, he couldn't' push that button. She didn't want to hear this - not from him. She took a step backward- not because she wanted to, of course. She just couldn't help it. Logic told her he was just saying things to weaken her, but her heart wanted to believe it; believe him.
Lao sighed and shook his head serenely. "You are so powerful, my daughter," he told her - and Toph was sure he was faking the lump in his throat - with a shaky breath, "The way you taught yourself to bend like your ancestors … I am so proud of you."
Toph clenched her jaw. 'Stop it. Stop talking,' she seethed inside her head; 'Just stop talking! You're just trying to trick me! I won't fall for it!' And she drew a deep breath through her nose, blew it out through her mouth and grumbled low in her belly. "How could you turn around and betray the world?" she snapped, brows coming down, "How could you work with the Dai Li?"
Lao smiled wanly. "Darling, I never betrayed anyone. I have always been a part of the Dai Li."
Toph didn't want to believe it … but she supposed it made sense.
"And you … I never thought you could be such an asset to the cause," he gave a tiny, amazed breath. He lowered himself to his knees - Toph wasn't very tall, and he was only about six inches shorter than her when he was down on his knees. She guessed it was so he could break down her walls - make her weak. Make it easy for him to turn her around.
But she wouldn't break. She'd never help the Dai Li. Yes, she had this power now, but she was blind. This cause had made her blind - made it harder for her to be strong - and she would never, never help the Dai Li; much less her traitorous father. "I'll never help you," she snapped quickly, brows down.
Lao swallowed, tilted his head. Glanced to the other agent. "Toph, you already have helped us," he said slowly.
Toph eyes wanted to bulge in her head, but she reeled herself in, unwilling to give them the upper hand. What was he talking about?
He sighed through his nose. "Do you remember when you were little, Toph? When we lived in Chicago?" he began patiently, "Do you remember why we moved to Dahlia Coast?" Lao smiled his Stepfordy smile and blinked his loving-daddy blink, and spoke in an angelic voice that made Toph want to think of white picket fences that morphed into prison bars in her mind. Toph didn't answer him, staring blindly in his direction. "We were in Chicago so I could organize some experiments the Dai Li were running underground."
Toph kept her cool on the outside. Inside she was screaming.
Lao Bei Fong continued in his oh-so-understanding tone, "When you were little, we took you to the lab in Chicago; to run some tests. To test the strength of your bending. Of course, you weren't activated. But we knew you were a bender - even when you were very small. You failed the tests, though. A lot of them because you were colorblind."
Toph didn't remember any of this. None of it made any sense. 'Shutupshutupshutup,' her mind chanted.
"Long Feng relocated us to Dahlia Coast - to keep tabs on Cures USA. We suspected, even then, that Cures USA could stumble upon the genomes relevant to the bending arts."
That made some sense, at least. It meant that the Dai Li had been waiting for ten years, waiting for something. Toph turned her Sight toward the other agent for a moment - she could feel him drawing an annoyed, impatient breath. She could feel him tensing up - sweating. She could tell he didn't like her father, and she knew the feeling.
"But all of that was my objective. Your mother was never involved, not until recently; she was always aware of the Dai Li, and my affiliation with them. She never pledged her loyalty to Long Feng until they were the only people she assumed able to find you. And you - you were just a child.
"So imagine my amazement … my utter … my utter amazement," he paused breathlessly, "when you brought the Avatar right into my home."
Toph was confused. The Avatar. What the fuck was an Avatar? What, those blue people from that weird-ass movie? She didn't understand; she wanted things to make sense to her, but they didn't. She wanted to happen upon a conclusion, to be decisive and knowledgeable and prepared. But she wasn't. What were they talking about?
"Aang," Lao mouthed quietly. "The Tyson boy. He is what we have been waiting for all this time, my darling."
Toph would have stared, if she could see. She turned her gaze away from her father. Aang. Aang was the reason all of this was happening? Like she needed any more reason to hate him. And she did hate him; she hated him with every fiber of her being. But she still asked, in a tiny voice, "What do the Dai Li want with him?"
Lao smiled brightly - but it felt sinister to Toph's new sense of surrounding. "We want him to bring balance to Long Feng's new world. To regulate it."
To rule it for them.
Lao exhaled and reached out to stroke her hair, but she flinched away. "I'm so proud of you," he tried; he'd never told her this before, but it didn't matter.
Toph screwed up her face. "Get out," she whispered.
And they did. She had to get out of here. She went back to work on the door.
Lydia paced back and forth in the laboratory. Of all the times for her mother to be out of order, why did it have to be when the fate of the world could well be resting on their family to come up with a deactivation serum? Her green eyes would flicker to the whiteboard at the front of the room, and then away, so she could mull it over. She was missing something; she knew it.
And honestly, what was Katherine doing? Drinking. Her mother was sitting in the bar with Poquita pouring drink after drink, crooning love songs and proclaiming Richard's death to be Dominic's fault. Lydia ignored it for the most part. She cared little for things like that; she had a world to save, after all. But, she was still having trouble with this job.
Lydia ran her eyes over the board again and stopped to frown. She considered moving to change one of the elements on it, but then paused.
"Oh, for the love of god," Lydia groaned out, having spent hours pacing like this. "I'll never figure this out," she glanced to the chair by one of the tables, and then instantly fell into it.
Alistair, who was sitting on one of the laboratory counters, chuckled warmly. "You'll get it, darling. You always do."
Lydia melted into her seat and considered asking Alistair to rub her sore feet, but didn't. Instead, she answered his words with her own. "There's some kind of missing element in the genetic inheritance of the bending skills. With fire, earth and air, mother was able to trace the relevant genes back to certain animals with the same bending talents. But with water, there's no such animal. I suppose I could start looking for fish that can bend," she snorted irritably, "but their bending would probably be so subtle that we wouldn't be able to tell they were bending."
She grasped the bottle at her hip, thirsty. Lydia would have been lying to say she wasn't taking liberties with her bending. Her hand waved up through the air as she opened the cap with the other, and a sliver of water streamed out of the bottle. She brought it to her lips and slurped it up. Some rolled down her chin, but it was easily wiped away from the grin on her face.
Alistair gave a sigh. "Is there any way I can help?" he asked hopefully.
Lydia lolled her head back to smile ruefully at him. "Sorry. No, there isn't."
He gave a disappointed frown that Lydia didn't catch, as her eyes were already going back to the board. There had to be something she was missing. It was probably painfully obvious, possibly even jumping out at her, and she was just missing it because she was distracted. Alistair hopped off of the counter and strolled to a spot behind Lydia's chair. His soft-skinned hands slid onto her smooth, milky shoulders, and she gave a little breath of bliss at his touch.
"You're working like mad, sweetheart," Alistair stooped down until his breath hit her ear and she shivered. "Why don't you take a break?"
Lydia tilted her head away from him to allow him access to the tender point below her ear, and she felt a flutter of girlish excitement when his lips nuzzled against it. "I love you," she exhaled quickly, a soft chuckle escaping. She hated to say 'but', as she really would love to take a break and do other things with him, however she was extremely busy with her mother's work. "But I really can't take a break. Not now. I'm ridiculously close to getting it."
Alistair's ministrations stopped, and Lydia groaned inwardly. "Can't the world wait? What about me?" he asked breathily.
Lydia furrowed her brow, standing her ground and stiffening her features. "Alistair," she began, her voice imposing and powerful. "You told me yourself how important it is to fight the Dai Li. Now, I disagree with doing it with stupid rebellions and bloodshed, but I have to do this now," she shot him a look and got out of her seat, moving back to the board and grabbing up the whiteboard marker, moving to wipe the words from it with her bare forearm to start afresh. "I'm working."
Alistair's eyes burnt into her back and he pulled a face. He straightened his back and drew a breath. "Alright then. I can see you're busy," he replied stroppily. "I'll just go for a walk then," he decided aloud, moving to the door.
Lydia nodded, being too busy to catch the childishness in his voice. "Might as well take the corgi, if you are."
"Walk your own damned corgi." The lab door slammed behind him, and Lydia was snapped out of her concentration.
She blinked in his direction and tilted her head, curious. What was eating him? Maybe it was his bending; she was sure he had said he was a bender, though of what kind, she was unsure. She also knew that a lot of benders' emotions were being affected, like pheromones or something. Lydia turned back to the board and continued her work.
Kelly pounded her fist on the Marina house door - the security at the gate had let her in, recognizing her SUV, but it sounded liked there was nobody in the actual house. She jammed her finger into the doorbell, for the umpteenth time, and resisted the urge to tap her foot impatiently. It was past curfew, dammit - she'd stuck her neck out here to help Katara and nearly gotten 'escorted' by the Dai Li, and now there was nobody here.
She wasn't risking the trip back to the dusty old apartment empty-handed.
"Open up, Katara! Sokka! Someone!" Kelly clocked her knuckles into the door again - they were beginning to hurt from it - and furrowed her brow irritably.
Inside, Kelly heard the thundering of footsteps down the staircase, panicked or enthusiastic, or a mix of the two, and Kelly wondered if Katara had really missed her that badly. A pang of guilt shot through her - she really should have told Sokka and Katara she wouldn't be around for a while, but then they would have asked why, and she couldn't tell them their father had kissed her, now, could she?
The bolts on the other side clicked and shuffled undone - all house doors had had them fitted recently. People were scared. Kelly didn't blame them. The door suddenly swung open, and Kelly was surprised to see a straight-out-of-the-shower Hakoda holding it open as if expecting a barrage of injured rebels to fall into his house. His eyes fell on hers, and Kelly's eyes fell to where his white bathrobe was open, and there was subsequent open-mouthed gawping from both parties.
Kelly was the first to regain herself. "Uh, I …" she began, and then raised a hand to cough into it, "I came looking for Katara."
Hakoda blinked at her, and then shook it off. "She's … not here right now."
Kelly stared at him. "What?" she asked dully, incredulous. Not here? What the fuck? She'd driven here past curfew, through a heavily-patrolled Dai Li trap, luckily during the patrol changeover, with two boxes of old patient files on her passenger side seat, and Katara wasn't even here? "Are you serious?" she blurted out. What the hell was she doing, out of the house past curfew?
Hakoda smiled wanly; Kelly was perplexed by this, having assumed he would be awkward and nervous and generally anxious about her, but he remained composed. Kelly tried to convince herself the pinkness of his cheeks was from getting out of a steamy-hot shower to come and answer the door. Kelly briefly imagined it. Hakoda. Naked. In the shower. Mmm. She coughed into her hand again to calm herself.
"Her friend got taken by the Dai Li. She's been working non-stop to fight them, so she went to break Toph out."
Kelly groaned inwardly. "That girl has a knack for getting kidnapped, doesn't she?" she muttered into her palm. She remembered the whole palaver with the CIA, and it made her cringe, fingers moving up to her temple. Kelly looked up through her fingers and breathed a sigh. "Any idea when she'll be back?"
Hakoda rolled his eyes as though her question were rhetorical. "Come in - knowing the Dai Li, having a doctor around might be a good idea when they get back."
Kelly frowned again, uneasy, but ultimately sighed, resigned. "Alright, but help me bring in those boxes," she gestured back to her car, and the boxes on the passenger seat.
Hakoda's gaze shifted to the car, and then back to Kelly. "What's in 'em?" he asked conversationally, moving past her, toward the vehicle.
Kelly turned and gave a pensive breath, following him and unlocking the car with the press of a button on her keychain. "Just some things Katara wanted to see," she answered vaguely, trying to keep him away from what she was helping his daughter do. She wondered if he would be on the bandwagon with them - if he would want Katara not to do something so reckless, or if he would abide it. She wasn't sure what his standpoint on it would be, so she stayed silent on the matter.
The Painted Lady had decided that she hated the woods. She didn't know if she had already hated them before this night, but she certainly hated them now. Like, in a 'want to set it on fire and watch while dancing' kind of way. And Katara didn't usually stoop to that level of hatred. Except for douchebags. And rapists. And forget about rapist douchebags.
Okay, so she had a few things that bothered her. So what? Who didn't?
This was just plain creepy, anyway, she concluded, as she pressed her back to one of the trees bordering the clearing around the lake. There were shadows cast by flying animals and distant cries of wingless ones, and Katara got the feeling that if she looked over her shoulder, there would be someone standing there with a bloody, rusty knife held over their head …
'Don't think about that! Just stay focused, Katara!' she reinforced her bravery, hugging her arms around her middle and furrowing her brow. She fixed her eyes on the glistening surface of the foggy water, but it was dark now, too dark to see below its depths. The water looked black - like blood did when it was dark. Katara swore it looked like a huge pool of blood for a moment.
"Shit, shit, shit," Katara hissed between her teeth, eyes darting around warily. Of all the things she could be afraid of, why this? Why now? She'd seen far worse things than some shady-looking, ominous trees, right? She'd dealt with worse. 'Now man up!' she barked inside her own head, but it did little to calm her.
A twig snapped, and Katara jumped away from the tree, hands smacking to her thighs and gripping her guns by the butts. Blue eyes darted around, and she stalked away from the tree, turning slowly to get a panoramic view of her surroundings. It could've just been some forest animal, but she wasn't taking chances. Her brunt arm was starting to feel better, but she still used the other to draw a gun, not wanting to take risks.
She wondered if she should ask into the darkness if anyone was there, of if she should stay quiet, as the aimed the gun around her in a circle, brows down behind her mask. Katara spotted something in her peripheral vision - she wasn't quite sure what it was - but it caused her to throw her attention toward it, turning on a dime and clacking back the hammer of her gun, clenching her jaw.
Fifteen seconds, and then thirty, passed. A minute went by and nothing attacked her. Katara thought this was a good sign, and slowly put her gun away.
Damn, she hated the woods.
Aang ducked between shadows in his search. It had taken a five-minute descent into the earth to even get to a place that resembled the inner workings of a building, and even that was just a long, wide, curving hallway. Up ahead he could hear voices, shouting; Aang hoped things hadn't gone sour between Toph and the Dai Li - hoped she hadn't said the wrong thing and gotten herself killed.
The shouting became louder; thumps and explosions of what sounded like earthen clumps against stonewall, and it was all Aang could do not to scream out her name. He heard metallic scrapes and whines - metal on stone, metal on metal - and he felt his stomach twisting inside him. 'Please be okay. Please be okay,' he heard his mind chanting repetitively, desperate and severe. His heart hammered inside his head, and alongside the mantra of his will, they sounded like the opening of some dystopian techno song.
Aang worried. Toph hated it, but it was just how he handled things. He worried and he let problems fester in his mind until he came to a solution or fix for the situation. Sometimes it worked, other it didn't, and right now, he wasn't sure which was coming. He worried; about Toph's wellbeing, foremost. It had been the only thing in his mind for the longest time. There hadn't been five minutes in which he hadn't thought of her since the Dai Li takeover.
The idea of seeing her tore his heart apart from the inside out, grew a need in his chest that made him want to howl to the moon and fly to the sun, and never let her go. The idea of finding her dead … the idea that she might be hurt … and the idea that the aforementioned were extremely plausible … made him want to die.
Aang kept running, his bending forgotten, his lungs burning. Toph. Toph, Toph, Toph … dear spirits, all he wanted was for her to be okay.
The hall seemed like it would ever end - like he'd ever even find his way back to Katara - and he was ironically reminded of Snake Way (dork that he was). But there was nothing funny about this, nothing even remotely amusing. It was like a bad dream. There was shouting up ahead, and the distant glow of lights, but he seemed unable to reach them. He ran.
Then, in the midst of his hammering footsteps, the shouting stopped.
Aang wondered if that meant she had won, or if she had lost, or if there was only blood to be found up ahead. The shouting, the fighting, the thumps and bangs and clatters, all came to an abrupt stop, with one decisive thud against a hard metal surface. All went silent, and Aang became suddenly aware of how loud his feet were against the floor.
He blasted air at the ground, pushing himself up to hover in mid air, to quickly dissipate the sounds he was making - so he could listen. His eyes fixed on the glow of light up ahead - it broke, and a shadow cast across its middle. A figure was approaching, stumbling, attempting a jog or a run, but ultimately failing. Hunched.
Aang's feet made almost silent taps on the floor as he landed - the figure gasped and eyes turned up from the floor, wide. Blind green eyes stared at him, and brows came down hard. It was Toph. Without a doubt. She was a mess, her clothes filthy and her face smeared with red. Aang knew the blood on her face and clothes wasn't hers, but one hand was clamped between her ribs and her right bicep, and blood was soaking out from a wound - a gash - under her arm.
Aang opened his mouth to speak, but no words came - to his mind or his mouth.
Toph stepped backward, disbelieving. "Aang?" she blurted, without thinking, her surprise getting the better of her. She lifted the ball of her foot from the floor and tapped the floor with it. A vibration went out and she got a better 'look' at him. Yes. Yes, it was him. Of course it was him. His light step, his open stance, even in a place like this - only he could express such naïveté in his demeanor.
What was he doing here? Why had he come? Her mind was cluttered with shock, but she supposed she could conclude that Katara must have added him to the mix; probably on the idea that she and Aang were soulmates or some other fluttery bullshit, the sentimental bitch. But still, she could wait to throw her arms around said bitch and tell her how fucking stupid she was for coming here. Speaking of which, where was Katara?
Aang approached and threw his arms toward Toph, to hug her, she imagined. She quickly batted him away. "Why did you come here?" she snapped, images entering her mind - being blind never stopped her from getting a picture in her head - images of Dai Li agents cutting him down in his stupid attempt to come and rescue her. The warmth of seeping blood crept into her palm where she held her side. She didn't have time to waste talking with Aang.
She had searched fro a way out - even tried to bend one herself, but there was something above her, above this stronghold. It was heavy, and it wasn't earth; she had tried to bend it, and trying to do so had confused and dizzied her new sense of surrounding. Either that or she was just lightheaded from, you know, bleeding.
Whatever. Things would go downhill and fast if more Dai Li agents came for her now.
"I came to help," Aang said simply. No sorry, no 'I'm so glad you're okay', no 'I love you'. Good. Toph supposed she might have fucking punched him if he had said one of those little trinkets of verbal sentiment. His eyes fixated - sight, she remembered, was at his disposal - on the spread of red growing on her stained, dirty, Dahlia Coast Bullets t-shirt. "You're bleeding."
"No shit, Sherlock," Toph grabbed his wrist in a fist and tugged him away from the direction she'd come. "I don't have time to argue with you right now - we need to get out of here," she explained curtly, the pain of her injury leaking into her voice. God, why was he here? He couldn't be here! Not when the Dai Li wanted him - not when he was everything they wanted and needed for their endgame.
Aang nodded, and then took the lead, back the way he had been running from. "This way," he told her adamantly, Toph's hand still wrapped around his wrist.
They ran as fast as they could with Toph's wound holding them back, for a long while, through the monotonous, seemingly endless, corridor, until Aang saw and Toph sensed the stairwell up to the world above. "There it is," she puffed out, her breathing having become a series of graceless pants.
Unfortunately, this was the moment Toph's remaining strength failed her, and she stumbled forward on her feet. She clenched her hand on Aang's arm, grunting a curse.
Aang caught her by the elbow, his ears catching footsteps, running, toward them. His brows furrowed. "They're coming," he told her quickly, concern seeping into his words.
Toph grunted out, "Fuck," and grabbed hold of his arm to pull herself up. Her fingers threatened to curl into the gash in her side as she struggled to regain her balance. She supposed it would be nice to say 'alright, I've busted myself out this far, the rest is up to you' but that really wasn't her style. As for speaking, well, she really didn't have much energy left, and she'd be damned if he spent it on words.
They had to get out of this fucking hellhole.
Aang yanked her up - she gasped out and clawed for him - before he swung low and his arm scooped under the backs of her knees, and around her back, lifting her legs out from under her and bringing her to a much more horizontal position. Toph wanted to smack him. "Hold on to me!" Aang yelled out, panic seeping into his voice.
Note to freakin' self; bitchslap Aang as soon as we're not in mortal peril.
And, idiot that she was, Toph grabbed hold of his shirtfront. She couldn't sense her surroundings anymore, with her feet in the air, and somehow, she still felt safe. Dammit. Aang leapt up into the stairwell, kicking at the air with his feet, his hold on Toph almost harshly tight and unrelenting. He was careful not to hurt her, but she still felt a little claustrophobic. Plus she hated being carried, anyway. Except piggybacks. They were awesome.
'Amazing what one thinks of when they face death, huh? Yep, all deep, pondery thoughts over here,' Toph thought sarcastically, 'I'm a regular Aristotle'.
When they reached the top of the stairwell, Aang paused. Toph could hear the footsteps of the Dai Li - she didn't need to sense them.
"Hold your breath," he instructed her hesitantly.
Realization washed over Toph and she grimaced. She had always hated water - and at this point, she had guessed what that heavy, unbendable substance overhead was - and she wasn't a strong swimmer, to boot. If he accidentally let go … or if she passed out … or if something went bad, she could drown. And drowning was her least favorite form of death.
So there was water over them. They were under the sea, or a pond, or some kind of lake. A lake would make the most sense. And she was sure she'd heard the Dai Li guards talking about a lake through the metal walls, but she hadn't put two and two together. She'd imagined them talking about some lake in China or whatever. 'Idiot' she thought, scolding herself, 'Shoulda guessed that one'.
But she didn't really mind all that much. She'd been rather busy dealing with her traitorous father to notice something like 'oh, wow, I'm underwater, how about that?'. No point feeling bad about it now, right? Toph clenched her free hand - the one that wasn't plastered to her wound - on Aang's shirt, her fingernails scratching his skin through it, and tugged it so hard his head came down. "If you kill me, Twinkletoes," she ground out, "I will claw my way out of my grave and mutilate you with a rusty knife before letting you die a slow and grueling death. Comprende?" she hissed a low threat, craning her neck to get her words closer to his brain.
Aang stared at her for a moment - of this she was sure - and then nodded quickly and wordlessly.
Then they both sucked in long, preparatory lungfuls of air. Then the air around them was swirling - Toph was sure of this, too - dancing in a way that made it hard to breathe, and she held onto that deep breath in her chest. Blew it out slowly and carefully, not wanting to run out of air before they broke the water's surface. She was blind, but she couldn't stop herself from squeezing her eyes shut.
There was a crunch of earth, above her, and then water assaulted her from every angle. It was cold and slimy and she wanted to gasp in a new breath of air, but she was suddenly surrounded by water. It was all she could do not to panic. She hated the water - hated depending on Aang, of all people - and she wanted nothing more than to feel strong again.
As quickly as the water enveloped them, they broke the surface, and a new cold hit her soaking clothes and body. Her matted hair stuck to her face and she blew out what remained in her lungs to inhale deeply. Aang was holding on to her; Toph was almost grateful for it.
When Aang landed, Toph sensed it through his body, by the hand that she had moved from his shirt to his shoulder in her panic. She heard Katara's voice. Aang didn't put her down.
"Toph! You're hurt!"
And dizzy, too, she thought hazily. Consciousness escaped her, and she slipped into the darkness. She heard Aang's voice again, but she didn't hear his words. Maybe he was telling Katara they needed to get help. Maybe he was telling her to stay awake. She didn't hear it. She just liked the sound of his voice. She felt safe.
A/N: I know. Don't even get me started on how much I suck.
Enjoy this, since we don't have Korra today. I want to blame tumblr for my snail-pace in writing this chapter, but it's my own fault. In the end, what ultimately got me to finish this chapter is that I discovered James Patterson's Maximum Ride series and I just finished reading the first book (five days after I got it). It's pretty rad.
But yes. I suck so bad. I am actually going to get a Psych Eval, to see if there's a reason I'm so fucked up. I seriously hope my shrink doesn't just say 'yeah, it's 'cause uh … a lot of bad shit happens to you'. Because, really, some crazy shit happens to me. Also, you guys should check out the movie Harold And Maude - this guy is the original emo kid.
"Harold, what do you do for fun?"
"I go to funerals."
Oh, and a shout-out to ArianaD who figured out where Team Avatar is headed next!
Lyrics are from Esmee Denters' 'Get Me Out Of Here'.