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Chapter Twenty-Three: Cat
She follows his outstretched arm as he crouches over the boulder. "Isn't it beautiful?" he breathes, his words crystallizing in the frosty morning.
"What are we looking at?" she whispers.
His voice is filled with appreciation. Of the morning? Of nature? Of what? "Over there. The viper cat." His finger carves a line through the mist, and she detects something moving amongst the shadows.
"A viper cat?"
She flinches as he gently reaches down to clasp her wrist, relaxing at the very familiar touch. "Aang . . ." she murmurs.
"Katara . . ." he answers. "Wait here." His touch lingers for a few seconds upon her wrist, his index finger just above the vein on her wrist, and she hears him inhale in time with her pounding heart. "I know you're scared, but, please, you have to understand. Nature is nothing, ever, to be afraid of. You should only be afraid of nature if you don't understand it."
She shrinks. "I'm supposed to understand a wild beast? What's there to understand? Hunger, hate, fear, pain? That's all an animal feels." Seeing him gently shake his head, she snaps, "Oh, well, Sifu Avatar, tell me. What else is there?"
"And if you walk the footsteps of a stranger," he murmurs softly, "you'll learn things you never knew you never knew."
Then he is gone, wrought from air and mist, melted to mist and air. If she watches closely, she can just see his shadowy form as he moves along the ground towards the moving shadow she realizes is the viper cat.
A growl splits the air for an instant, and then there is silence.
Not even the crickethoppers chirp, nor do the mockingjays sing.
She can taste blood in her mouth, and her heart threatens to burst. Her fingernails dig into the stone. What—what is he doing?! she cries, her entire body shivering with fear. She can feel the goose bumps along her arms, just little bumps that forcibly remind her of what her . . . of what the person she loves is doing.
Aang's the Avatar. He'll be okay. He'll be okay. He'll be okay, she keeps repeating, her gaze trained on the viper cat, but she blinks, and it disappears.
She stifles a scream in her throat.
Then she detects something moving through the mist. A human shape.
She hooks the boulder with one hand and neatly turns, cartwheeling over it. "Aang—I was so worried—what—what is that?"
On his right side is the viper cat, its serpentine eyes and lithe body combined with the coiled power of a wildcat. A fitting union.
In his hands lies a cub, a tiny cub.
He takes her hands and uses it to stroke the cub's soft fur. "Ssh. You see? It's not just hunger and hate."
So careful, she takes the cub into her hands, her warm breath stirring it from slumber. "No," she agrees. "There's also love and life."
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