|More from Azulazulazula||Drama, romance, action||PG-13||Two positive||News and Updates/Jump|
|A Step Closer|
September 18, 2012
Four seconds. That's how long I wait before hearing the first "Oh my spirits!" from the ground below, which was closely followed by streams of "She's dead!" and, "Oh my spirits, call a doctor!" No one's recognized the woman lying in the street as Toph Beifong yet, nor has anyone taken remote notice of the words "HONG UNG KU" written in big, bold letters in the street. I should run, but I find my eyes glued to the scene below me and my body physically unable to move at the moment. Literally, the shock of what's just happened has temporarily paralyzed me, and immediately, my thoughts shift to five words: I should have stopped her.
I could have. I had the chance. The moment she brought it up, I could have convinced her not to jump, but I was too focused on ensuring that I, myself, would not jump. This thought leaves a heavy, sharp pain in my stomach only describable as immense guilt, and it only renders my motion impairments even more powerful and long-lasting.
"Oh my spirits, that's Chief Beifong!" Well, it seems that somebody's deduced the identity of the jumper, and soon, everyone will determine the source of her freefall, and soon will discover me atop the building. I find my paralyzation has been broken by that thought, so I make my way to the platinum doors, my mind reeling. I want to collapse on the ground, drown in a pool of tears, even, but I don't allow myself to do that. I can't. I didn't go with Toph because I convinced myself my life was worth living, and if I'm to live it, I need to get out of here, as if they catch me they'll surely arrest me.
I stop to consider the possible charges as the hysteria below escalates. Of course, I would be considered an accomplice to a murder, or if nothing else I would be charged with assisted suicide. But could they believe that I pushed her off the building? Of course, the idea is preposterous, and considering my past friendship and history with Toph, there's no way anybody could possibly feel that way. Could they? Republic City is currently in a state of panic. Only 10 days ago, Toph Beifong was considered the great hero of our city, even an icon of the world, someone who would never, ever take the life of another unless it was to ensure the well-being of the city. Of course, she didn't really murder anybody, but in the city's eyes...
Wait, forget that. I lied. Toph did kill somebody, thirteen people, in fact, but six were in order to escape imprisonment and seven were to see her best friend. Could such trivial reasons exempt her from crime? Of course not. By murdering the first six, not only was she killing people, but she was also making a prison break, which, of course, is also an offense in and of itself. And then, she killed seven just to see me... Will they charge me, because I'm the very reason she killed them in the first place? No, no, no. I'm already letting paranoia of what charges they'll press get the best of me when they haven't even caught me, or even discovered me, for that matter, yet. I'm pretty much, at the moment, the only person who knows what's happened, and if I explain to them what happened, they'll let me go, right?
Wrong, I fire back at myself almost immediately. Sure, I didn't push her, or help her in her murderous endeavors, but it's clear to me and will soon be clear to everyone that I did nothing to stop her from jumping. If I wanted to, there's not a doubt in my mind that I could've, and if the city has any sense of reason left, they'll understand that too. The entire city would surely assume that if a situation like this one should've ever arisen, I would do everything in my power to prevent it. But I didn't do what the city expected me to, and therefore, the city has no reason to believe that I wouldn't do something else unexpected. They'll assume that I threw her off the building. Otherwise, why would I be fleeing the scene?
The thought makes me accelerate my pace even further, despite the idea in the back of my mind that running only makes me look guiltier; staying here would make it seem like I have nothing to hide. But if I can escape, right now, I can clear myself of any wrongdoing before accusations even arise. Nobody would even know I was up here. Seven people were aware of my whereabouts 10 minutes ago; now, 10 minutes later, all seven have been murdered. I can escape without a hitch.
Wrong again. When my hands grasp the platinum door handles, I'm met with the cold resistance of a locked door. They don't open from the outside, and the only people on the inside able to operate the door are currently lying in a pool of blood inside this monstrous tower. In my mind, this can mean only one thing, and I can't shake this terrifying, unsettling, impossible thought: I'm trapped out here, on the roof. Why would Toph come out if she knew we couldn't get back in?!?!
Why, why, why?!?! I begin panicking, and soon, my relentlessly heavy breathing does a number on my vocal abilities, and within seconds, I'm making faint, high-pitched shrieking sounds which only get louder by the minute. I haven't even moved yet, so when I begin running towards the lip of the building, not intending to jump off, but to sit down and assert my innocence, my entire nervous system is running amok. I can't see straight; everything is in triple vision and in triple vision, everything's blurry. The first two times I attempt to sit down on a metal pipe, I land flat on my behind, meeting the cold, unforgiving, horribly misplaced ground. The third time, my attempts barely succeed, as I land on the lip of the pipe and manage to scoot myself backwards far enough that there's no risk of falling off.
My breathing only grows heavier as I sit down, my heart rate reaching an indisputably unhealthy pace and my shrieks turning into something like a horror movie screech. Maybe it's from the breathing, or maybe it's just me regaining control of my vocal chords and emitting screams of regret, fear, and guilt. So much guilt. I could have stopped her. I could have stopped her. I could have stopped her.
My mind is a broken record, as I can't shake that one thought. The chaos in the streets down below fades into the background, and if my other senses are serving me properly, then I'm vomiting on the rooftop of the SMC. Everything is a blur. My triple vision now looks something like a bug's view, but much blurrier, and I can't seem to make out a single pixel of vision in this world of flashing colors. My taste buds are in contact with something warm, sticky, and disgusting, and I can only assume that I'm secreting a vomit-like substance from my mouth. It doesn't quite taste like throw up, but with my current mental state, what the hell do I know?
My arms and legs have gone numb, and soon, I feel my head and face follow suit. That leaves two working senses in place, as I can now confirm that my liquid upchuck was in fact puke, based upon its smell and the aftertaste in my mouth. Now, with no rhyme nor reason to justify my actions, I swing my arms out in front of me, as if fighting something, but I can't defeat nor find my opponent. I'm wrestling it, and right now, it's pushing me unforgivingly down to the ground. I conclude that I'm fighting my own body, which is telling me to collapse, but I resist, now without any sounds or visual aids.
It's winning. First, my legs give way, and in all the chaos of my world, my vision returns to its state of blurry colors and unrecognizable shapes, I can just barely hear the shouts and screams on the street below. I feel a slight tingling feeling on my forearms, and I hear the clash of doors in front of me. Finally, the rest of my body surrenders to the forces pushing me to the ground, and I lie down on the ground, still breathing, keeping my eyes open, and hearing faint screams all around me. On the ground, in front of me, and in my own head, people are calling out names, screaming about how Toph could have been saved, and asking if I'm okay.
I try to respond, but I find it impossible. Speaking isn't an option right now, and I'm honestly accepting my belief that this will be the place where I die. On the rooftop of the Shong Medical Center, in an inexplicable pool of blood, with no senses left to indicate my other surroundings.
Except for one, my hearing. I strain to hear the words being screamed into my ear, and amidst all the clutter and the noise, I can barely make it out: "Councilman!"
That's when I black out, dead to the world.
When I wake up, tired, lightheaded, and dazed, I find myself lying on top of a sponge-like material which exists in every corner of the room. It's a very, very dull, light shade of yellow which is ridden with tears and rips; I don't think I've ever seen a more boring, unattractive room in my life. Since I've opened my eyes, I've barely moved, so I force my tired body up, taking a careful look around. There's nothing. The same pattern exists at every edge of the walls, where that dull padding splits every three feet or so. It's like the walls and floors are decorated with cushions, with one of those little dots in the middle to hold it together. It's everywhere; there's nothing else in this room but the padding, and only now do I notice the cushioned cubes adorning my hands. Everything in this room is padded. Even my hands, apparently.
I look to my left and find my sister sitting here, waiting for me to wake up fully and to ask the question that's preying on my mind. "Where am I?"
Katara's voice expresses many emotions: relief, sadness, grief, and I can hear the tears in her voice. "You were on the roof, and...it was..."
She can't manage to finish a sentence, so I root around in my brain to find my most recent memory. I was running toward the edge of the SMC roof. And I was running because...I was having trouble breathing, and my vision was screwed up. And all that happened because... "Did she really...is she really dead?" I need to give myself a reality check. There's no way it's true. Toph didn't jump, it's just impossible. I must've been passed out at that point, and I must've dreamt that. But a slight, nearly undetectable nod of Katara's head confirms the impossible. Toph Beifong has committed suicide. She's dead. She's dead, she's dead, she's dead...
I want to go back to sleep, but I have so many questions, and passing out at the news of a death isn't exactly the most effective solution. "She jumped..." she states, very sure of herself but in a soft tone. "She was innocent..."
"How do you know?" I fire back immediately in a voice more cynical than it should be. "Was there some new evidence?" I'm hopeful. I'm so very hopeful that Toph Beifong's name will be cleared despite her suicidal end. Of course, this would also mean that she died in vain, and even if this is true, she still has thirteen murders lined up against her. No. It's better that she's believed to be a murderer, but oddly, I feel no relief when Katara cites only Toph's personality in her speech about why she was innocent.
"So, why am I here? Where am I anyways?" I retort after a long pause following Katara's long explanation. I can only speculate at this point, and I find it genuinely annoying that I'm currently in a state of amnesia.
"Sometime shortly after Toph jumped, you blacked out. The doctors think it was from blood loss, but I think it was just you going a little...well...crazy...after your friend had just died. Though, they do have evidence to support the theory..." her voice is solemn and comforting, but I can't shake the thought that my best friend in the world has just killed herself and I hardly have a clear recollection of it.
"Evidence?" is all I can muster. Where do they come off thinking that I've lost any blood, anyways? I don't have any kinds of injuries I can see? Katara flips over my arms to reveal the deep, perfectly uniform cuts on my right wrist. They've barely begun to scab yet, but at least they're not bleeding. It takes me a moment to process the full meaning of these cuts.
I have no memory of any of this. Not the blacking out, not the cutting, not my apparently mentally unstable state, but it's obvious to me that Toph's self-murder drove me into a brief period of insanity. "How...did I do this?" I question, not remembering any sharp objects on the roof.
"On the metal pipe up there, there was a knife they were using as a screwdriver on a new construction process. They found you lying in a puddle of blood right next to it with the knife in your hand," she tells me. I can only imagine her feelings right now; as if losing one of her closest friends wasn't hard enough, she now has to deal with her unstable older brother who is in a padded room...
That explains where I am. I'm at the psychiatric ward, presumably of the Shong Medical Center, with my younger sister by my side in a padded room. I never thought I'd see one of these, but now that I'm here, I realize that not seeing sagging cushioned walls and drab warmth is something to cherish, not to regret. Not that I'd ever have wanted to be in here, but...
"So why are you here?" I question, my voice colder and more unfriendly than I intended.
"I wouldn't let them put you in here if I couldn't be there when you woke up," she fires back. With every word of that sentence, she was becoming quieter and quieter, and she trailed off completely on the final "up". For the first time since waking up, I find myself thinking about what this could have done to her psyche. I mean, all in one day, she's had to deal with the death of one of her closest friends and her presumably mental brother slashing his wrists. She has to have had some sort of breakdown, right? Wrong. She's used to this kind of pain. Just think of everything that's happened to her.
Our mom dies. She powers through it and rises to the occasion, becoming the new mom of the household.
Fong nearly kills her just to induce some sort of power in Aang. She just... Aang. Aang! Spirits, Aang!
"Aang! How is he?" my voice escapes my lips before I can even move my hands. I have a feeling I kind of mumbled that, but Katara's next words confirm she heard me completely.
"Well, let's see. His earthbending teacher just turned suicidal, there's something. Then, there's the fact that he has to deal with this whole murder case and put all suspicions to rest, which can't be getting any easier considering the lead suspect just jumped off a building. And then, there's the fact that rebellions have just become rampant in the Fire Nation at the rumors of Zuko's mistress, and of course he just had to put Aang in the middle of it all. And then, of course, his brother-in-law just cut himself and is currently residing in the mental ward of the SMC. So, in general, I'd say he's doing just about as well as you, except his wrists are closed," she remarks.
Immediately, with that comment about how Aang's doing as poorly as I am, a wave of guilt rushes over me.
If I had just convinced Toph not to do a header off the damn building, none of this would have ever happened. Of course, he would still have the murder trial to contend with, but that would be much easier if he didn't have to defend the fact that two members of his original team have now either harmed or killed themselves in a span of one day. And then, of course, there's Zuko's...
Wait, Zuko's mistress? Did I miss something?
"Zuko what?" My words are frail and squeaky, and I find that I'm slightly light-headed from the blood loss. How long did it take them to find me after I went out?
"His mistress. It's not true, just palace guards and servants making up some lies to get attention, but he's getting hammered by the media...and so is Mai," she says. Is there one person on Earth who isn't involved in some sort of fiasco today? I mean, if Zuko's being stalked by the media, Suki is too, right? And Mai...she's the mistress! My tired brain finally makes the connection, and in that moment, all my other thoughts go away as I sink back onto my back.
That poor woman. You'd think that with all the hell she's endured in her life, she'd be cut some slack, but apparently, the media is completely and utterly soulless.
"Are you okay?" Katara asks. I'm not sure if it's my dumbfounded expression in the face of these thoughts or just my general mental state, but something prompted Katara to ask such a question and whatever it was sent her into a world of tears. I sit up, and she collapses into my arms, cracking under the intense pressure.
I guess that's just natural. If you step on a twig enough times, it snaps, simply because it can't take anymore. That's what happened with Toph. That's what happened with me. And apparently, now, that's what's happening with Katara. Next'll be Mai, then Aang, and then, if he has enough interest in it, Zuko, I suppose, but he's probably too self-centered to think of it in the first place.
"Yeah...I'm alright," my voice strangles me on the word "alright", and I find that I, too, am falling into a world of water. As it streams down my face, I find it within myself to ask a question that's probably not appropriate at the moment, but has been eating away at my mind since right after Toph jumped. "Charges?"
"Accessory to a murder, assisted suicide...first degree murder..."
At this, my stomach contracts in a mix between shock and self-pity. Well, I'm not really shocked, I'm fairly sure the thought had entered my brain earlier today, but the realization that it's actually happening just sent me into a full-on hurl. They think I pushed her.
They think I pushed her.
They think I pushed her.
They think I pushed her.
They think I pushed her.
I have other charges to worry about, but first degree murder sounds like a logical starting point. As if having my best friend splatter her body on the street wasn't hard enough, I now have to contend with the fact that I might be held responsible. It's just not right.
"What are you gonna do?" she asks, her voice now sounding like a four-year-old girl's.
"Not get convicted...or even tried..." I retort. I guess I've made up my mind then. I can't go back on the decision now that Katara knows and has hope of my survival. I know what I must do. I know what is the only logical thing to do.
I have to break myself out of jail. It's a daunting task, almost unimaginable, but everything that's happened this week hasn't exactly been normal or anything the city would've thought could happen. Everything's all out of whack; Toph supposedly murdered someone and then jumped off a building, I just had a nervous breakdown and ended up cutting myself, Zuko supposedly has a mistress. Katara now begins her nervous gaze into my eyes, but I give her a firmly reassuring look, though I myself know that my plan to do this is crazy and I can't even be honest with myself if I say that I'm sure I'll be able to pull the whole thing off. Still, it sounds better than rotting away in prison. Katara grips me more tightly and pulls my ear as close to her mouth as possible.
"You have a case for mental instability, Sokka...you could get off with having to go through mental health treatments for a while. If you break yourself out, though, you just look even guiltier...there's no guarantee you'll even make it," she whispers. How she could possible pick up on my implication when it was so, so subtle is beyond me, but since she has, I might as well be straightforward with her.
I press my mouth to her ear, so as not to alert any recorders in the room of my plans, and begin speaking, "I'd rather spend the rest of my life on the run than in this loony bin. I'll make it out, Katara."
She pulls away, gives a faint nod, and yells for security to release her from the room. Within moments, a door opens in all of the padding—I never would've known such a thing existed, as it was so well-hidden—and the last glimpse of her I see is a small nod of the head, nearly undetectable, and a faint, confident smile on her face.
After Katara left, security was storming my room almost immediately, escorting me out of the padded room in cold, metal, clangy handcuffs that get on my nerves after only a few seconds. Katara is waiting for me in the lobby, where the woman at the front desk holds out some papers for her to sign and for one of the security people to fill in my name and their own. I notice the first words on Katara's paper:
"I, Katara Song Kaka, hereby permit my brother, Sokka Toja Kaka, to be transferred to the Compartment for the Mentally Unstable Division in the Republic City Penitentiary. My signature below confirms this notion:
Wow. The psych ward at the jail. For the first time, if only for a brief, fleeting moment, I actually feel like a criminal, and the very thought of it makes my stomach churn and my head reel. The Councilman...er, former Councilman, I guess, of the Southern Water Tribe Minorities of Republic City is now being charged with attempted murder of the Chief of Police. It literally sickens me that such a wild accusation could be made, but I remind myself that the city has reason to believe I killed her.
In moments, I'm sitting in a cop car, and within the next ten minutes, I find I'm being escorted from the car, up a flight of stairs and into the city jail, which is much larger than I remember. Along the way, the cops are more than willing to answer basic, simple questions for me so long as I don't mention any of the charges or anything of the sort. I decide to play the card of diseased mental patient for all it's worth, because if my plans to escape don't go through, I certainly don't intend on rotting in prison; at least in a mental ward, you don't feel like a criminal.
"How long was I up there before they found me?" I ask.
"Well, Beifong is reported to have hit the ground at 1:17 PM today, and officials reportedly found you at 1:36. So, that's nineteen minutes," he retorts, his voice sympathetic but somewhat juvenile. I'm a bit insulted, but I remind myself that I have to be a criminally insane person if I'm to be able to survive this situation. I shrug it off and continue talking.
"But I heard a voice! Like, two minutes after Toph jumped and right before I blacked out, I heard a voice yelling 'Councilman!' I heard it!" I'm screaming now, and without even trying I again seem slightly unstable. The officer seems unfazed.
"Yeah, sure, okay," he says a bit too matter-of-factly, and automatically my feeling insulted gets the best of me.
"I am not a four-year-old, dammit! And I'm telling you the truth!" I yell even louder, and I'm afraid the officer might go deaf if I don't calm down soon.
"Calm yourself," he demands. A reasonable demand, but the fact that he treated it as an order, not a request, pushes me further into my pissed-off state.
"Don't tell me to calm down!" My ear drums nearly pop at the sound of my own reverberating voice, and my shouts only grow louder as I shout many, many obscenities at the officer. Although I may not be making a good impression on the officer, none of this is making me seem more stable, so I just keep screaming until, without warning, my screams are muffled by a lump in the back of my throat.
I can't figure out why, but while I'm still screaming, I unbuckle my seatbelt with my handcuffed left hand and start hurling myself against every which wall. All the while,
I'm yelling even worse obscenities, and tears just start steadily pouring down my face. Why am I doing this? I mean, what the guy said wasn't that insulting, but for spirits' sake it just made me so damn mad! This thought only further enrages me, and I send myself hurling headfirst towards the door, hoping knock myself out. Instead, I find that the door opens swiftly and my head meets nothing but air. I'm barely keeping balance on my seat when I feel the officer grab me by the ear and slap me across the face with his other hand. I snarl severely, and though I'm in handcuffs, I can't stop myself from lunging farther forward into the man's torso.
Before my knee injures his pelvic region severely, I'm torn off of him by the other officer, who is pinning me down against the side of the car. The officer whom I attacked runs for the trunk while I attempt to slam my current opponent back onto the sidewalk. I have no clue what I intend to do when he falls, but I keep flailing about until the officer comes around and binds my knees and feet together with rope. I'm then thrown into the backseat of the car and the officers resume their positions in the driver and passenger seats, ignoring the attention we've drawn and speeding away until we reach the jail.
Before I know it, I'm sitting in my own jail cell, my handcuffs removed and my ropes untied. Soon, I'm free to roam my cell, which is really nothing more than a 10X10 box with a mattress, a blanket, a pillow and a little toilet in the corner with a sink resting atop it. I plop myself down on the mattress and ponder everything that's happened today.
- This chapter is about 400 words shorter than originally intended; the author initially intended to delve deeper into the story in this chapter, but when writing, felt that the line he had just written would end and summarize the chapter quite well.
For the collective works of the author, go here.