Title: Hidden in an Alleyway (1/1)
Fandom: ATLA; genfic
Length: 2800 words
Rating: safe for the kiddies
Notes: So this is a scene that I kept waiting to see happen in Season Three except for it never did. Started off as a drabble, but it grew. (Takes place after Sokka's Master.)
Summary: When Sokka and Aang are being chased by some Fire Nation guards they run into some interesting individuals that have more relevancy than they realize.
“Nice work, Sokka!”
“Oh come on, Aang! How was I supposed to know that boomerangs aren’t native to the Fire Nation?”
It was supposed to have been a routine supply grab. Go in, get some food, maybe even strike up a chat with some of the locals for any possible information about the Fire Lord. Katara and Toph had stayed behind at camp with Appa and Momo. That how easy the whole thing was supposed to have been.
But then Aang and Sokka had come across a few kids playing a Fire Nation ball game of some kind, and the ball had ended up in the tree. Before he knew it, Aang had been loaded up with the extra groceries as Sokka had prepared to knock the ball back down with a well-aimed boomerang throw.
It was a success in the sense that the kids got their ball back. Everything else that came after that? Not so much.
Apparently no one in the village had even heard of a boomerang before let alone seen one in action. So first there were the polite questions. And then there were the not-so-polite questions. After that it had just gotten ugly.
And now Aang and Sokka were running for their lives down the narrow, twisting alleys of the small town, the groceries abandoned – to Sokka’s dismay – a few blocks back.
“Hurry up!” Aang shouted as they ran.
“And go where? Even if we escape the town, we’ll just end up leading them straight back to the others.”
“Then we can escape on Appa!”
The two passed by a trash bin that looked horribly familiar. Aang forced himself to keep running; he didn’t even want to think about the possibility that they were going around in circles. They hadn’t even made that many turns!
“There they are!” a guard shouted from some where behind them.
Aang started to look around, but Sokka grabbed him by the collar and pulled him down another side alley.
“Escape on Appa? Yeah, that won’t get their attention at all,” Sokka said. “Flying bison? Everyone in the Fire Nation has one now.”
“What? Like boomerangs?” Aang snapped as Sokka dragged them both around another corner.
“Hey. Only I’m allowed to use sarcas… oh no.”
The alley that Sokka had dragged them down was a dead end. Behind them the sound of the guards’ pursuit was only getting louder.
Aang spun around, eyes taking in every detail of the small alley, looking for something that would get them out of this mess. Nothing.
“Grab on to my back,” Aang said, crouching down. “I’ll try to airbend us onto the rooftops.”
“That’s the best you could come up with?” Sokka yelled.
“Just come on.”
Sokka had his mouth open, probably for another retort, when-
Aang and Sokka looked at each other in confusion.
“You boys. Over here!”
One of the doors in the alley had opened up. A small old man stood inside, trying to beckon them over.
“Quickly! Come inside!” he said. “Before the guards see us.”
Aang glanced at Sokka, and then started to walk towards the man. Sokka caught him by the wrist.
“Aang! Are you crazy? We know nothing about this guy! For all we know, he’ll turn us over to the guards as soon as they come knocking.”
“If he wanted to do that, he wouldn’t have even opened up the door in the first place.”
They stared at each other for a few precious seconds.
“Hurry up or the offer’s gone!” the old man hissed.
“Fine,” Sokka said, releasing Aang’s wrist. “I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
They ran over to the small house, or at least what Aang hoped was just a small house. The old man swept them in and quickly shut the door behind them.
“Now comes the fun part,” the man said, leading them away from the door and into what indeed was a house. “You two are going to have to lay low for several hours, be quiet. You wouldn’t happen to play Pai Sho, would you?”
“I used to,” Aang said as he looked around the place, thinking of the times that he had played with Monk Gyatso.
The house was as small as it looked on the outside and the windows were all tightly shuttered. There were small lanterns hanging from the ceiling, each only a couple feet apart from one another. There were even more attached to the walls. Aang would have thought that it was already nighttime if he and Sokka hadn’t just come from outside.
“Perfect!” the old man said, leading them into a living room that had a large Pai Sho table set up amidst a bunch of red cushions. He pulled one over to the table and sat down, pulling out some tiles from a built-in drawer. “We can have a game then. It’s been so long since I had a fresh opponent.”
Sokka stepped in front of Aang before he had a chance to reply.
“We’re not here to play games,” Sokka said. “We need to sit down and focus on a plan to get out of this town.”
The old man smiled. “I already gave you a plan. Sit down, relax, and play some Pai Sho until the guards lose interest.”
“Sokka’s right. We have friends waiting for us,” Aang said, ignoring the way Sokka cringed at the word ‘friends.’ “If we don’t get back soon, they’ll come looking for us.”
“If you try and leave now, you’ll just get yourselves caught.”
“Yeah,” Sokka said. “And if we stay, our friends will come looking for us, and they’ll get caught.”
“Are your friends smart?”
“Are your friends smart?” the old man asked again. “Say, if they come looking for you and end up seeing a bunch of guards wandering around looking for someone, will they end up doing something stupid that will get themselves caught? Or will they be smart about it?”
“They’re smart,” Aang said.
“They’re doomed,” Sokka said at the same time.
“Well then,” the man said, choosing to ignore Sokka’s opinion. “It looks like you have nothing to worry about. We’ll play a game now and have some tea later on when my unofficial tea maker gets back with the day’s shopping. She’s very good you know. Said she learned to brew from her brother-in-law. Now if I could only meet the brother-in-law…”
Aang glanced around nervously, unsure of what to do. One the one hand, he agreed with Sokka and wanted to get back to the others as soon as possible. But he also knew that the streets were filled with Fire Nation guards right now, and the last thing their group needed was word getting out that the Avatar was still alive.
Sokka moved over by one of the shuttered windows and started to peer out through the gaps, shaking his head every few seconds or so.
“You can always go upstairs if you want to look outside,” the old man said, not looking up as he shuffled his Pai Sho tiles around in his hands. “It’s a better view, and the stairs are just across the hallway where we came in. Don’t go into the first room on the left though; that’s the lady’s room.”
Sokka spun around and jabbed a finger at the old man’s face.
“Nice try!” he said. “But you can’t fool me! I’m not letting Aang out of my sight!”
“So your name’s Aang then?” the old man asked. “What a nice name. Mine’s Shang Li.”
Aang shot a glare at Sokka as the Water Tribe boy smacked himself in the forehead. When he turned his attention back to Shang Li, the old man had already placed his first tile on the board.
It was the White Lotus.
“Hey! I know that piece!” Sokka said. He fished around in a small bag attatched to his belt and pulled out the small tile that Piandao had given him. Aang could almost hear Sokka’s thoughts grind as he held the tile up to the lamplight and stared back and forth between his tile and the tile than Shang Li had placed on the board.
“Shall we begin, young Aang?” Shang Li asked, stretching out his arms in invitation.
“Well… I suppose,” Aang said. “Since we can’t really do much else…”
Shang Li smiled as Aang sat down at the opposite end of the table.
Two hours later, Aang and Sokka were still there. Sokka kept peering out various windows every ten minutes in hopes that the guards had stopped searching, Shang Li had seemingly fallen asleep halfway through the fourth Pai Sho game, and Aang was now practicing his airbending by trying to stack as many Pai Sho tiles on top of one another without actually touching them.
From the hallway came the sound of the alleyway door opening and closing. The Pai Sho tower collapsed as Aang and Sokka immediately became alert once more. Sokka silently crept away from the window and over to Aang’s side. He pointed to Shang Li, now sprawled out on the floor and softly snoring.
“He did remember to lock the door, right?” Sokka whispered.
“Shang Li?” came a voice from the hallway. “Sorry I’m late. The guards were really active today and… oh!”
A middle-aged woman walked into the room holding several bags of what appeared to be food. Glancing back and forth between them and the unconscious figure of Shang Li, she dropped the bags and pulled out a large bundle of leeks with one fluid motion. She raised them up in front of her like a sword.
“I don’t know what you want, but you’re not getting it!” she yelled.
“What?” Sokka said blankly. He looked at Shang Li and understanding dawned. “Oh? Him? He just fell asleep! We didn’t do anything!”
“I don’t believe you,” she said.
“We’re telling the truth! Honestly!” Aang said. He reached down and to try and wake the old man up.
The woman was in front of him with her leeks pressed to his throat before Aang had time to blink.
“You’re not touching him,” she said. “Now back up, next to your friend, and keep your hands where I can see them.”
In the rational part of his head, Aang wondered how much damage a person could really do with just a bunch of leeks. But something about the strange lady made him comply.
“Good,” she said. “Now…”
The woman shook Shang Li’s shoulder gently. The old man yawned and brought a hand up to rub his eyes. He opened them slightly and peered up at the woman.
“What’s this? Is it my turn again?” he asked, still half-asleep. “Oh Ursa. When did you get back? Have you met Aang and… and the grouchy one? Good kids.”
And then he was asleep again, snoring quite audibly this time.
The woman – Ursa, Aang reminded himself – stared at Shang Li, her face a mixture of confusion and indignation.
“So… yeah,” Sokka said after a while, a slightly strained smile creeping up on his face. “This is Aang and I’m the grouchy one and everyone knows everyone now, so please don’t hurt me.”
“Shang Li let you in?”
“That’s what we’ve been trying to tell you.”
“So you’re the ones the guards are after.”
“Well… it depends on your definition…”
“Save me your excuses,” Ursa said. “We’re all wanted here.”
“Really?” Sokka asked, sounding more excited than Aang thought polite.
“Well, if Shang Li trusts you… Just give me a few minutes to put everything away and I’ll have some tea out for you both,” she said with a sigh. As she put her leeks back into one of the bags, she glanced at Sokka. “What was your name again?”
“Oh. My name? It’s… um… Lee,” he said.
After she was gone, Sokka slumped down onto one of the cushions.
“First crazy Pai Sho grandpa and now crazy leek woman,” he whispered. “I almost think we would have been better off with the guards.”
“Maybe…” Aang said. He decided to focus on picking up the Pai Sho tiles that had been scattered across the floor when his tower fell. The stack had been pretty tall by the time it collapsed and the amount of cushions and other furniture in the room didn’t help when it came to finding them. Aang was just putting the last tile onto the table when Ursa came back carrying a tray with three cups of tea.
“How do we know you didn’t put anything in here?” Sokka asked as he grabbed his cup, eying it suspiciously.
“You don’t. However…” She took a sip from her own cup, and then held it out front of her. “You’re welcome to switch with me if you like.”
Sokka peered over the rim of her cup and into the tea as if his eyes had the ability to pick apart the ingredients. After a bit of unintelligible grumbling, he switched the cups.
“And you?” she asked, looking at Aang.
“I’m fine. Thank you.” He took a sip. “Hey, this is kind of good.”
“Thank you,” she said, smiling for the first time. “I learned from my…”
“Brother-in-law,” Sokka said, cutting her off. “Yes, we heard.”
“Of course. So,” she said setting down the tray and taking a seat. “Have you two been in the Fire Nation long?”
“Ha! We’re both Fire Nation. Have been. Always. Our whole lives in fact. Born and raised,” Sokka said. “Nice try though, leek lady.”
Aang resisted the urge to groan. “Her name is Ursa,” was all he was able to say.
Ursa laughed. The sound caught Aang and Sokka off guard.
“What’d I do?” Sokka whispered.
“Seeing you two…” Her smile that had stayed in place even after she had stopped laughing faded slightly. “Well, it reminds me of my son.”
“You have a son?” Sokka asked. “Where is he?”
“Far away,” she said. Ursa took a slow sip of tea and sighed. “Home, I think now, from what I heard. Or at least what used to be.”
“Wait,” Aang said, trying to make sense of her words. “Your son isn’t… dead, is he?”
“No, but I haven’t seen him for a long time. He’d be about Lee's age by now.”
“Lee?” Sokka said blankly. “Oh yes. Lee, of course. My age. Got it.”
Aang made a note to himself to never take Sokka with him on any sort of mission that required lying and – more importantly – remembering those lies.
“You must miss him very much,” Aang said, steering the conversation away from Sokka’s blunder.
“You can’t begin to imagine,” Ursa said. “He was… is a very kind and sweet-hearted boy. I think you three would be good friends if you ever met him.”
“Sounds like a total pushover.”
“Sokka! Umm… err… I mean, Lee.”
Katara tackled the two boys as they entered camp. The sun had already set and from behind Katara’s hair, Aang could see Toph and the animals lying around a small fire.
“We were so worried!” Katara said. “Where were you? Toph and I went to the town when you didn’t come back, and there were these guards everywhere! And-”
“We hid out in this old dude’s house,” Sokka said. He tried to squirm free of his sister’s grasp, but Katara held fast.
“Hold on,” Toph said. “You hid out in a house? As in a Fire Nation house? With Fire Nation people in it?”
“It was just an old guy who played Pai Sho and a crazy woman who attacked us with leeks,” Sokka said. “Nothing to worry about. And we made sure that we weren’t followed after we left.”
“Leeks?” Katara asked.
“Let us go and we’ll tell you the whole story.”
“Fine,” Katara said, reluctantly releasing her grip. “But don’t ever do something like this again.”
“Leeks?” Toph repeated as the three joined her around the fire.
“She thought Sokka had attacked Shang Li,” Aang said. “That’s the old man’s name.”
“I attacked him? She could’ve easily have thought you attacked him!”
“Twinkletoes? Attack an old man?”
“And you’re saying I would?”
“Sokka,” Katara said. “No one’s saying that you’d attack anyone.”
“Sure sounds like it,” he said, crossing his arms. Seeing the look on his sister’s face, he quickly threw his hands up. “Fine, fine! I get it. I’m sorry. Anyways, Aang goes in, plays Pai Sho, old dude falls asleep, leek woman comes in and attacks me, then she goes away and comes back with some tea and spends the next hour waxing poetic about her son who’s off in the world somewhere.”
Katara stared at her brother. She looked more than skeptical. “What really happened?” she asked Aang.
“Well,” Aang said. “It’s a long story.”
“She has a son?” Toph asked. “Anyone that we’d know?”
Aang and Sokka looked at each other.
- Hidden in an Alleyway (1/1)