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|The Deserter (Part 2)|
23-The Deserter (Part 2)
I had said to expect to see Katara's waterbending urge ramp up; so here you have it. Also; note the one 'goof' (not really a big goof) that I gave explanation to with Katara & Sokka. I wonder if anyone else thought of that. xD
Momo almost didn't make it into this chapter at all. I added a scene with him in as an after-thought, thinking "wait a second. Where's Momo?" I don't think he's even in the last part in the actual episode either. Poor lemur.
Runaway Camp Mention Only: Northern Water Tribe
Katara's woven necklace (made by Aang)
Sokka's fishing pole River boat
The scent of fresh grass and straw, mixed with the lingering fragrance of snuffed out candles, steadily roused her thoughts. Her eyelids slowly opened, a warm light within the room greeting her. But so did the pain.
Setting her hand to the mat she lifted her upper body, gently popping her neck before falling to lay flat on her back. A tense stiffness clung to her joints, though her spine felt like it had been kicked by the Earth itself. Yep. Sleeping on the ground, great. Good morning, world. ...where am I? She mused subtly, staring dryly toward the ceiling.
She lay still for a moment, re-awakening her memories before realizing they were in a strange camp as prisoners with Jeong Jeong as Aang's possible firebending instructor. She stretched wide, popping her arms before dropping them to the ground. Or rather, right atop of Sokka's face. "D'oh!" He shouted and jolted upright.
She grinned for the first time that day. "Good morning."
"Yeah; until you butted in." He rubbed his forehead fiercely. "Did you have to do that?"
Ignoring him, she glanced to the other side of the tent to notice an empty mat. "Hey." Her voice carried sudden confusion, lifting to sit upright. "Where's Aang?"
"Huh?" Sokka rotated back, turning his head to the empty mat. "I don't know; probably off goofing around." Straightening himself, he scratched at his chin and lifted a brow in contemplative thought. "Though, sometime during the night he took off to see Jeong Jeong. I don't remember what happened after that, I must have fallen asleep."
Oh no. She threw her eyes to the cloth doorway. What if he didn't even come back last night?! What if something happened? Ignoring her aching joints, she rolled to one knee and leapt upright, bolting for the door. "Katara?" Sokka called out with wonder. Reaching the doorway, she cautiously slipped her head through the opening.
The sunlight forced her to squint against its blinding rays. Shielding her eyes with a hand, her vision slowly focused on a small group sitting by a fire. "What are you doing?" Sokka questioned incredulously from his mat as she smiled, having spotted Aang sitting beside his new master. You did it! She stepped through the exit and approached the group, lowering her hand to welcome the new day.
The elder sitting beside Aang lifted his eyes and lowered his bowl, his snow white hair blowing in the wind like a bush atop his head. "Jeong Jeong, I'd like you to meet my friend, Katara." Aang extended his hand toward her.
Courteously, Katara slipped her hands behind her back and smiled, giving a welcoming bow of her head while closing her eyes. "It's an honor to meet you sir."
The man straightened his back, groaning in deep thought while tapping his finger against the edge of his bowl. "I am but part of a passing generation." He calmly began, shutting his eyes and dipping his head in return. "It is a privilege to meet such a respectable young waterbender."
She blinked in surprise, jolting her head back up a moment. How, how did he know I was...? Her eyes shifted to Aang. You must have told him. "Uh, Katara..." Aang shyly addressed. He seemed to be gazing just above her. Hm? She glanced over her shoulder to see Sokka yawning, stepping out slowly from their hut.
"Be outside my residence in ten minutes." Jeong Jeong commanded toward Aang, setting his bowl to the ground before rising to leave.
Glancing back to Aang curiously while Jeong Jeong passed by, he still wore a look of oddity. She lowered to sit with her legs beneath her while a fellow tribal member brought her breakfast. "Your hair." He muttered, pointing timidly to her.
What? She reached up, running her fingers through her hair she felt her hand run through a knotted mess mixed with grass and dirt. Oh my gosh! I just...! She blushed and tucked her chin to her chest, embarrassed to have presented herself before a master looking like this.
Aang had fetched her brush from Appa's saddlebags then left her to her breakfast, eagerly heading for his first firebending lesson. Katara set her brush down beside the row of candles and turned to step out of their hut.
I can't do anything so foolish when I meet my waterbending instructor. Aang was nowhere in sight, though she noticed Sokka had already made his way to the river with his fishing pole. She smiled pleasantly, her eyes settling on the cool, flowing water. I'll be ready for my instructor and be the best student they ever had.
"No, no! Take your bending somewhere else, you're gonna mess with my fishing!" Sokka shouted.
"Relax Sokka. I'm just going to practice a few moves." She responded plainly; dismissing his concern while reaching for the river. "Where did you get that fishing line anyway? I thought Aang used it to make my necklace."
"Bato gave it to me." Sokka shrugged disinterestedly, leaving his attention over the river. "Aang's not touching this."
It wasn't long before she guided a small stream of water around her body, wrapping it up and over her head before swinging it behind her back, ensuring wherever she moved it that it never ceased its movement.
Aang and his master came into view finally, standing outside the front door of Jeong Jeong's hut. "So what's the plan?" Aang excitedly began.
Katara whirled her water in their direction, glancing for only a moment. Maybe I can learn a teacher's techniques and have some guess what to expect for me! Jeong Jeong merely pointed to a flat stone over the water, which Aang obediently airbent himself atop of.
"Widen your stance." She heard the elder's deep voice command as she guided her water swiftly away. "Wider! Bend your knees!" Hm... 'You've got to shift your weight through the stances.' She considered her waterbending, bringing her right leg around in a quick swing to turn toward the river.
A quick tug pulled at her left arm as she spun, extending her right arm for the river. The water raced behind her body, as the tension trailed up her arm and about her neck, giving her the sensation of her hair standing on its end. Whoa! She shivered as she nearly lost control of the water, but managed to reclaim it. Too fast! "Now, concentrate. Good..." The elder continued his instruction. "Good!"
Having nearly lost control of her water, she spun back around and bent her knees uphill, sweeping it above her quickly. "Wait, what do I do now?" Aang exclaimed as she stilled her right hand, allowing the weight of the water to settle in her fingers as it formed a perfect sphere.
"Silence! Talking is not concentrating." He bellowed. Just listen to him Aang, he knows what he's talking about. She brought her arm down, bringing the ball of water between both her hands. Here she focused on her control of the water's viscosity, angling both hands' fingers toward her work. Gripping the water firmly with her bending, her wrists strained when she pulled the water in both directions, elongating it carefully. As she felt a slight tremor begin in her muscles, she relaxed her efforts so as not to burst her water sphere, only to reattempt this feat a moment later.
"Look at your friend, is she talking?" A barely noticeable smile touched her lips. I'm already a good student and I'm not even his. Hehe... "Even that oaf knows to concentrate on what he's doing." Oh rich!
"Hey!" Sokka bellowed from behind her. This guy is good.
"But what am I concentrating on?" Aang posed curiously.
"Feel the heat of the sun." The firebending master explained wisely. "It is in complete balance with nature."
"So when do I get to make some fire?" Aang merrily countered. Aren't we a little eager? She smirked, gliding her water beside her legs to gently return it to the river."CONCENTRATE!" Jeong Jeong bellowed as he walked off. She began laughing softly into her hand along with her brother, she couldn't help it. Enjoying your lesson? She mentally teased just as Aang threw his head back to obstinately glare at his two fans.
Oops. She silenced instantly and threw her hands behind her back, gazing up to the clear blue sky in utter silence. Carry on. Aang whipped his head away from them, clearly embarrassed. ...carry on squatting. She smirked, teasing him silently.
"As much fun as this is; I'm heading upstream where I can actually catch some fish." Sokka pressed, turning to take a dirt trail leading beside the river. Suit yourself. Katara watched quietly as he left, glancing back to the river.
She did not speak to Aang at all for an hour, the two in complete silence while she spent the better half of the hour attempting to perfect her ability to control the water's pressure without it bursting, testing her limits and pushing them farther. To break the monotony she would occasionally switch back to simply streaming the water, though faster than usual, bothered that she had almost lost it before.
Now she had moved on to the water whip. Snap! The echo reached into the sky. But she wasn't done tinkering and playing. Bringing up her water into a simple stream, she condensed it tightly with a squeeze of her left wrist, keeping her right open. And...here goes! She twisted quickly, wrapping the water behind her as she thrust her right arm forward.
"Ha!" She shouted instinctively on accident. The pressurized water quickly raced behind her back and around her side, rushing out to crack just behind Aang with the loudest snap she'd heard it make yet. Oh oops! She stood upright, allowing her shaking muscles to calm along with her breath, having nearly struck Aang. I hope he didn't notice! The water, no longer under her control, fell of its own accord back into the river.
He sighed, turning a pair of distressed gray eyes to her position on the shore. She caught his attention and straightened, smiling plainly. "Did I disturb you?"
"At least you're practicing." He muttered obstinately, scowling before turning his smug frown away from her.
"Aang..." She softly retorted; tipping her head as she kept her eyes locked on the back of his.
Another sigh sounded. "Ignore me, I'm training." He sarcastically quipped, widening his legs into a low squat once again as he had given up his stance a moment before. Her eyes closed firmly, knotting her forehead. Just let him be. She exhaled sharply, turning back to the river.
Hours later; Aang was still diligently squatting in front of Jeong Jeong's hut, though obviously growing weary as he would occasionally spasm. Katara had taken a playful liking to a 'hand'-whip version of the water whip, a small stream of water that she could literally hold at one end and fling about, though it wasn't very strong.
Using her newly created whip gave her a strange imbalanced sensation. The usual push and pull that fought against her arms muscles would reach her other, unused, arm as if it required greater balance the farther away from her it went. The snap at the end was also much quieter than the regular whip; this being her reason for using it, to keep from disturbing Aang.
"You're a waterbender!" A sudden cry broke her concentration more than an hour later. Huh? Standing upright, she turned to see Chey approaching her. Oh. She turned to simply watch as he drew closer. "Oh by the way lunch is ready."
"Finally." Aang uttered in exasperation, standing upright in preparation to airbend himself from his rock.
"Nuh-uh!" Chey waved his hand out in quick retaliation. "Jeong Jeong said you needed to stay put."
"What?!" Aang retorted crisply, scowling dejectedly at the bearer of bad news. "I can't even eat!?" She glanced over her shoulder to spot Aang slump his head over, seeming as if he could just fall off his rock and into the river he was so upset.
"He says you can't move from that spot, sorry pal." Chey shrugged, turning as he laid his heavy palm on Katara's shoulder briefly in a firm pat. "Come on." Sorry Aang. She walked off with Chey, glancing over her shoulder behind her at Aang as she left.
Sitting by the fireside with Lin Yee, Jeong Jeong, Chey and other tribal members was slightly awkward at first, but she had grown accustomed to it as she continued eating her lunch. "I never met a real waterbender before. What's it like to waterbend?"
Uh... oh I don't know. She pondered at Chey's question, before giving a shot at explaining it. "It's kind of refreshing; gentle, yet strong. It's a part of me, who I am. When I waterbend I feel free." This was awkward.
"Free?" Chey widened his eyes and lifted his chin to the sky. "Free." He repeated again. "You've only just met Jeong Jeong and already you sound like his wisdom is affecting you." He stretched his arms wide, dropping his eyes excitedly to her. "See?! I told you, Jeong Jeong is enlightened!" Right... Katara arched a single brow, a placid expression on her face.
"Free like your mind." Lin Yee rambled lowly before biting off another chunk of meat. Katara smirked. I know. I kind of see what you mean.
"Jeong Jeong, sir? May I ask a favor?" She questioned as she finished her meal. Jeong Jeong lowered a cup of brewed tea, casting his eyes upon her with a subtle grunt to signify his attention. "Aang has been training all morning, could I–"
"Sustenance is a necessity for any individual." The master began sharply; cutting her off mid-sentence. "This was but a test, a lesson to further his discipline. You may provide his lunch."
You are very wise... "Thank you master." Katara replied with a subtle bow of her head, temporarily closing her eyes.
Afterward however, she wasted no time grabbing the food she felt Aang may like and headed back for the riverside, glad to be away from Chey. "I have a surprise for you." She smiled pleasantly, hiding the bowl behind her.
Aang still remained in his crouch, arms firmly at his hip. He lifted his glum expression to her excited gaze. He didn't even sigh or budge; just stared at her with boredom. "Aang, you should be thankful you finally found a master."
She brought her right arm forward, slipping her leg toward him as she entered a waterbending form. "Now, cheer up." She swung her arm forward, ceasing her swing with a clenched fist as a sharp crackle of ice stretched the short few steps between them.
Aang arched a brow, finally breaking his downhearted gaze. "What are you doing?" He questioned perplexedly.
In answer, she stepped onto her created 'ice bridge' to approach him. Crack. Her eyes widened in a split second. Ah shoot! Her feet fell through the ice before submerging to her knees in the river with a loud splash.
Aang burst out laughing, already crouched forward he slapped his upper thigh as an expression of simple humor overcame him. Momo, perched on his head, sprung upright and seized his arrow as if for balance. Oh stop it. Her eyes darted aside, scowling crossly as she frowned. Maybe I should just dump this food in the river and forget... Her expression softened. Well, I did laugh at you earlier.
She lifted her blue eyes to stare unsympathetically to Aang. "You can't move from your spot, but Jeong Jeong said you can eat there." She extended the bowl for him as he gawked at it in surprise.
"Yeah! Thanks Katara!" Snatching it from her hands, he quickly began enjoying his meal.
Katara poised both her hands by her waist, fingers outstretched. This could go so wrong. She mused, focusing her chi through a deep breath that sent a cold chill through her body. She drew her arms up in a smooth, fluid motion before bobbing to a halt them just ahead of her gut, keeping her palms flat to the surface of the water.
As she did so, she felt like there were weights attached to her wrists, hefting up a circular chunk of ice beneath her feet that actually lifted her to the surface of the water. "Whoa." Aang lowered his bowl to stare at her. "You've got to teach me how you did that."
She grinned uncontrollably yet attempted to remain sensible. "I don't know, same as the ice bridge...just goofing around. I fell through that so I don't know that I could do this again."
"I'll take that." She gently added, reaching up to claim Momo in her hands. Lifting the lemur off Aang's head, she turned back for the shore. "Bad lemur." She muttered. "Aang needs to concentrate and you're not helping him any."
Stepping back onto the shore, she turned back and waved her arm past the ice she had created. The ice pillar she had formed buckled at her bending, toppling into the river before fully melting away sending an icy chill across her arm, as if she had used it to brush water off of a slab of ice at the South Pole.
"Besides...you're firebending training right now." She turned away from him to hide a slight smirk at the humor of this, returning to her position on the shore of the river. I wonder what to expect at the Northern Water Tribe.
Only ten minutes later, Chey returned. "Hey guys!" She breathed a silent sigh, releasing her water back to the river before turning to the man. "The master wants you, Avatar. He says you are ready for the next step in your training."
"Hal-right!" Aang shouted incorrectly in absolute pleasure, airbending off of the rock and over Chey's head to land firmly on the hillside. "Come on take me to him now, it's time to get to some real firebending!"
"Hey, wait up!" Way too eager. Katara shook her head and nonchalantly turned back to the river as Chey followed after the faster airbender.
It wasn't long before Jeong Jeong had returned without Aang, entering his hut without a word to her. Hm...I wonder what Aang's doing this time. For the next hours she enjoyed waterbending in relative peace and quiet, with the exception of Lin Yee and fellow tribal members occasionally coming by the river to fill a bucket or cleanse dishes.
The oddest experience was during her practice for streaming a large amount of water with force. Come on, you can do this, focus! She brought her arms up, slowly bringing them behind her to her left, causing a large blob of water to raise the river and sluggishly wrap behind her.
She let out a shout, lunging forward with a half twist as she struggled against its weight. It sprang to life. The immense stream of water bolted behind her back and arched along her body in the direction of her curved arm, guiding its path.
Another shout sounded, but it wasn't hers. Without even a moment to consider this, the water raced toward the river with someone captured in its grasp. Oh shoot! She released the tension from her arm and legs, leaping for the river to stare in horror at what she had done. "Katara!!" Her brother's voice rang through the air as he fell into the river.
"Sokka?" She straightened herself and crossed her arms, smirking toward her defeated brother. He rose from the water, soaking wet, glaring daggers at her.
"Every time with you. Every time!" He complained, trudging through the water for the shore.
"Sorry." She apologized humorously, though her mind was telling her something completely different. I blew him away with my waterbending! I actually threw him out into the river!
"Aang?" She glanced over her shoulder at Sokka's questioning to spot Aang storming down the dirt trail with a devilish expression.
Whoa. What's wrong with you? "You're back early." She calmly addressed, turning toward him in hopes it wasn't too serious.
He halted his advance, turning his scowl toward her. "I hope whatever master we find at the Northern Water Tribe won't be like Jeong Jeong." He exclaimed sharply, suddenly throwing his arms up in anger. "I'm not learning anything!"
Okay...calm down Aang. "Maybe you are..." She softly posed, extending a hand in gentle explanation. "You just don't notice it yet."
"Like what?" Aang quipped harshly before rolling his eyes toward the sky, dancing his hands upward in haughty display. "When I face the Fire Lord I can challenge him to a round of squats and breathing?"
"You might have something there." Sokka idly mused, climbing to the shore where he wrung out his warrior's wolf tail. "I think I could take him."
"I don't have time for this!" Aang nearly roared, storming past Katara as he headed for Jeong Jeong's hut. Oh my gosh. Aang...!
"What's with him?" Sokka dropped his arms by his side, staring with wonder toward the livid boy. Katara likewise helplessly watched as he disappeared into his master's hut, humming a soft I dunno to her brother with a shrug of her shoulders. He likewise shrugged, turning to walk off down the dirt trail behind her.
Moving on to practicing creating and destructing ice, she patiently waited until the shouts died down in the master's tent and Aang finally popped back out. Setting a supportive smile on the forlorn airbender, she ceased her bending and turned to him. "Hey Aang. Did you work something out?"
He turned his head away dejectedly, lowering his eyes without a word. "I need to meditate." He quietly stated, walking slowly to the shore before leaping to the flat rock he had squatted on before.
"Okay." She turned and left to practice beside the boulder Sokka had fished from before, leaving Aang his space. Let him be, he'll come around.
Sure enough; before too much time had passed Jeong Jeong exited his hut, halting to stand in front of the doorway and stare at his pupil. Katara, having worked her way back to the hillside closer to Aang, melted away the ice shafts she had created and slipped her hands behind her back to respectfully set her eyes on the man.
"I thought about what you said. I promise I'll be more patient." Aang uttered calmly, leading Katara to smile.
"We're going to work with fire now." Jeong Jeong stated, instantly warranting Aang to leap to his feet.
"OH yeah!" He exclaimed wildly with a broad grin, landing on the stone. "I mean, let us begin." He added with his calm tone, bowing his head respectfully. Aang. She exhaled a quiet laugh, smirking as she gave a shake of her head for his opposition to his prior statements. You just can't deny yourself.
The master snatched a falling leaf from midair, approaching Aang as he extended it for the airbender. Katara watched curiously, unable to hear what the two said to one another. "Master!" Lin Yee suddenly called out to her right, spear in hand. "There is trouble!"
What?! Her eyes widened as her hands fell to her sides, turning to face Lin Yee. "What's going on!?" Aang called out quickly.
Jeong Jeong bolted after Lin Yee, throwing his hand back commandingly to his student. "Concentrate on your leaf!"
Concentrate on your leaf? Before Jeong Jeong even finished topping the hillside, Aang began complaining. "This is the worst firebending instruction ever." Aang; he's a master... She turned to catch his gaze. "All he does is leave me alone for hours to concentrate or breathe."
She shrugged her arms forward thoughtfully. "I'm sure there's a good reason." Just listen to him Aang.
"But I'm ready to do so much more!" Learning takes awhile, Aang... She shook her head slowly as Aang turned away, lowering into a squat once again. Take it from me. She began to turn back to the river to continue her practice when a loud whoosh stole her attention. "I did it! I made fire!"
Oh no, Jeong Jeong's not going to be happy with you... She stepped closer to the bank, peering at the glowing flames that he cradled like a child. That...doesn't look safe... "Aang, that's great but you should take it slow..."
Whoosh! She jerked back in horror as the flame suddenly blazed above his head. "Careful!" She exclaimed, seeing him nearly lose balance and fall into the river while he loosed a sudden scream.
His momentary scare faded like water off a turtle-ducks shell. In utter excitement he turned to her. "Now that's firebending!" He turned away from her, slipping his foot forward and shoving his created fire toward the sky with both hands. The entire hillside glowed orange as a jet of flame shot into the air.
You aren't ready for this! Should I go get Jeong Jeong? Her eyes widened with horror, leaning toward the river as she pleaded for him to stop. "Aang, you'll hurt yourself!"
He didn't listen, nor even give sign that he heard her. Standing back to his stone he began acrobatically playing with his created ball of fire, juggling it from one hand to the other before leaning over and swinging it along his back to his other hand. Aang! Stop it! Her brow knotted in fear as her heart began to race; sure enough he would burn himself if he kept this up.
"I wonder how that juggler did it." Aang mused aloud. From the festival? No, don't! He bent forward and brought the flame up over his head, rotating back as his hands reached directly into its fiery essence. He shot upright into the blaze and thrust his arms wide, heaving a sudden wall of flames jetting into the area.No, no, no! Vibrant hues of red and orange lit her eyes and filled her heart with terror. With no time to react, she cried out in terror and threw her hands up defensively, pulling away from the raging inferno that raced toward her.
They engulfed her, this sea of flames.
Her hands cut a swath through the fire, forcing a sudden sting so swiftly up her arm that her shoulders tensed with a vicious throb. The blazing heat surrounded her, striking as fast as a rat-viper, leaving its insidious venom in her veins as it trailed past her and left her, yet remained within her.
It was done. She fell in defeat, crouching to cradle her hands; to cradle her pain.
These few moments felt like an eternity. Thump. She ground her teeth. Thump. She winced sharply, her wrists reminding her of the torment they bore. Another pulse raced through her, carrying with it a sharp bite, the bite of the lingering serpent that had left her.
Her palms began to tingle, as if they had temporarily passed out due to shock and were only now awakening. "Katara!!" Aang's shout was distant to her, focused so heavily on the ache that crept to center into her hands. "I'm so sorry!"
Panic. Tears of surprise and dread poured from her eyes with her cries. Her heart continued to race as the pain in her hands began taking a new form. Huddled over her burnt skin, its scent compelled a cold chill down her spine, leaving her trembling.
It crawled beneath her skin, calling no one location its home. "Katara, what's wrong?!" Sokka's voice reached her ears as he knelt by her side. Comprehending his words she displayed her pain to him, opening her palms that were speaking more loudly to her than any voice present.
It begged her to dig at it, dared her to try and remove it. It had festered beneath her flesh and laid its mark upon her. She was too afraid to lay her eyes on it for fear of what she may find. "What did you do!?"
"I-It was an accident! I-I was uh...K-Katara I'm so–" A rush. She felt Sokka's presence sail past her and leapt to her feet, squeezing her hands beneath her upper arms tightly, begging the pain to go away.
Her eyes opened as Aang let out a heavy gasp; Sokka slammed the young firebender to the ground. Seizing Aang's arms he pressed him into the grass, pouring his wrath down. "I told you we shouldn't mess around with this! Look what you did! You burned my sister!"
Stop it, stop it, stop! Violence surrounded her. Her very pulse bore its presence; quickly spreading to those around her. She had to escape it.
She ran away, ran as fast as she could, as fast as she dared. Doing her best to fight off her throbbing muscles, she squinted between fiery tears as the forest removed her from the situation.
But the pain would not be so kind. How could this happen? She hunched over beside the river, pressing her palms against her sides, burying them from her eyes. No matter what she tried her palms would not cease their burning, involuntarily forcing her arms to seize up.
Rasping between hard breaths, her tears finally stopped. He burned me. Aang... Aang burned me. Her fingers dug into her side, shaking as each miniscule movement or brush of fabric reignited her blistered nerves.
Curiosity ate at her. What did her hands look like now? She had always taken her smooth skin for granted, until now. Gingerly she lifted them, holding her palms out in front of her to see just what Aang had dealt to her.
Her mouth hung open, gazing heartbroken to her scalded palms. She nearly cried again, her skin would never be the same. She was now marked for life. No...
Her skin felt like it could peel right off of her hand, but even then the constant ache bore down into her bone, unable to be reached. Nothing she tried soothed it.
She lowered her hands to the water, her comfort. Dipping her burnt skin beneath its cool surface, a sharp pain furiously bit into her wrist, rising up her arm quickly. She shuddered cruelly, drawing quick breaths as the pain surged into the base of her neck.
Everything stopped. The ache in her arms died out completely, shrinking back to her wrists. Wha...what? She opened her eyes in surprise, gazing to the water where the only location of her pain remained. Her lower arms felt as if they vibrated, confusing her as to what she felt. Every pained nerve in both her palms stilled.
What's happening to me? An aura of crystalline blue veiled her hands beneath the water's surface. Her arms tingled, their hair feeling as if they stood on end. It soothed, refreshingly cold. Bathing her hands in beauty, it seemed as if a moist, silk cloth caressed her now tingling hands.
The pain was gone. Im...Impossible! She withdrew her hands from the water, her hands slowly losing their blue sheen. Turning her palms to her hand, she gaped in surprise. No marks? Nothing? How is this possible? Her fingers tingled, nearly tickling her wrist as they felt cooler than the rest of her body.
"You have healing abilities." A wise, old voice broke her surprise. Jeong Jeong? She slowly diverted her eyes, glancing to her left to spot the white-bearded old man in green tattered robes approaching her. "The great benders of the Water Tribe sometimes have this ability." He finished approaching to stand at her side, kneeling beside the water. "I've always wished I were blessed like you, free from this burning curse."
Like...me? "But you're a great master! You have powers I'll never know." She exclaimed with wonder, her hands prior tingle subsiding as they returned to normal. Something she thought would never happen a moment prior.
"Water brings healing, and life. But fire brings only destruction and pain. It forces those of us burdened with its care, to walk a razors edge between humanity – and savagery." He paused, her mind taking this moment to absorb the wonder of what he said. Lowering his voice, he continued grimly. "Eventually...we're torn apart."
It's like this for all firebenders? Really? I had no idea... Boom! Explosive fireballs burst into the river in quick succession. Aah! She jolted away, propping up on one leg as she shielded her face with her arm. Jeong Jeong deftly sprang to action, blocking a fireball to disperse its flames harmlessly midair.
What's happening?! She leapt to her feet, looking up the river to the source of the fire blasts. Three lone ships cruised toward them ominously. Jeong Jeong twisted back and threw his hand toward her face. "Go get your friends and flee!" Yes sir! She leapt back a step, spun around and took off in a sprint. "Do not come back here, or you will all be destroyed! Hurry!" She heard his voice trail after her.
Reaching the edge of the forest, all shadows died away to a sudden pulsating orange, a wave of heat overpowering her. Is he going to be alright?! She slowed her pace, twisting back to see and hear a raging wall of fire tower above the treetops, stretching threateningly from one side of the river to the other. Her mouth fell agape, seeing Jeong Jeong with his arms high, controlling this mighty horror.
An opening crept into this wall like a simple door, allowing a man to step through. Zhao! The decorated Fire Nation officer approached Jeong Jeong, who straightened himself and lowered his arms, allowing the fire wall to simply plummet to nothingness. Her brow knotted, turning quickly to run away as fast as she could. He's sparing us...
Closing in on their camp, Appa stood at the ready with Sokka checking the straps for the saddle. Well there's Sokka, but not Aang? "Katara!" He uttered firmly, turning to her as she stopped in front of him. "Are you alright?"
She held her both her smooth palms up for him to see. "I'm fine." She replied softly, lowering her hands back to her side. "We've got to get out of here. Where's Aang?" Sokka simply threw his hand up over his shoulder, jabbing his thumb toward Jeong Jeong's hut by the river with a scowl. He's still down there? She wondered to herself, gazing at the distant hut for only a moment before breaking into a full sprint to the location she had fled from earlier.
Reaching the cloth door of the hut, she halted, hesitating. What should I say? I mean; he... She drew a breath, her mind swimming as she considered how to address him. Despite his careless actions that burned her; she couldn't bring herself to feel any anger. He was careless... She wasn't angry, she was disappointed.
She swallowed, slipping her fingers through the cloth to push it aside. Stepping into the dark, candlelit room, she stared in silent wonder at the young airbender sitting behind a row of candles with his face nearly pressed against the wall as if in grave meditation. Her mouth cracked, hanging slightly open in surprise. He's really taking this hard...
"Jeong Jeong tried to tell me I wasn't ready." His words were quiet and respectful, seemingly having sensed her silent entrance. Her mouth closed, stepping silently to stand just behind the row of candles encircling the monk in mourning. "I wouldn't listen. I'm never gonna firebend again." He added sorely.
Aang. Her eyes softened; touched emotionally at his heartfelt grief. "You'll have to eventually."
"No." He nearly whispered, as she barely noticed his head dip. "Never again." He quipped firmly; though just as soft and thoughtful as before.
"It's okay Aang, I'm healed." She lifted her eyebrows, moved at his concern. You really will have to Aang, as the Avatar...
"What? How?!" His head bobbed up, shifting to one side though not taking initiative to face her.
"I'll explain later. But right now we have to get out of here. Zhao and his soldiers are attacking!"
Aang threw his gaze back over his shoulder, his mouth falling open. Following this with an instant airbending leap, he deftly landed on his feet. "Where?!"
Whoa! She took a step back at his sudden change in demeanor. However she honored his earnest request, throwing her arm toward the doorway for the path she had run. "By the river. They captured Jeong Jeong." She backed up a step, gliding her arms ahead of her, still startled at the sudden look of sharp determination on her friend's face.
He didn't stay. "I have to help him!" He bellowed, nearly airbending himself straight out the door he ran so fast, her lower skirt rippling toward him as he disappeared. Aang, what? She eyed the lonely door in shock, absorbing what just happened.
"Aang; wait, stop!" She burst out the door, glancing up and down the river's bank, but he was nowhere in sight. No, no! 'Do not come back here, or you will all be destroyed!' echoed in her mind.
"Sokka!" Charging back toward their large fluffy friend, she closed in on Appa and her brother quickly. "Aang took off after Jeong Jeong. We have to get him out of there!"
"Whoa, slow down. What's the problem with that?" Sokka addressed, staring perplexedly at her newfound excitement.
"Zhao is there! Jeong Jeong told us to leave immediately for our own safety but Aang is going to fight Zhao!"
"Agh!" He threw his hands up, seizing both sides of his head as he ground his teeth toward the sky. "He always gets us into trouble!"
"Tie Appa's reins, hurry! I'm going to look for someone to tell Jeong Jeong needs their help!"
"Alright, but make it quick!" Sokka added, climbing up the side of Appa's neck hurriedly.
Empty. Just like every other hut she had stuck her head into. Where is everyone? She popped back out of the hut, wandering into the center of the village where ashes from their campfire remained. Observing her surroundings, she noted grass, trees and huts. A quiet breeze blew through her hair. "Nobody is here..."
"Katara! Are you ready?" Sokka's shout echoed to her position.
Snapping her head back over her shoulders, she sighted her brother on Appa's head waving a single arm up toward her. Running quickly across the grassy hillside, she leapt onto Appa's tail and climbed into the saddle. "The place is deserted. I couldn't find anybody..."
"Not our problem. Let's get Aang and get out of here." Sokka quipped, turning ahead as he snapped Appa's reins. "Yip-yip!" She knelt to the front of the saddle, laying her hands on its smooth rim as they took to the air.
"There!" She pointed to billowing smoke rising down the river. Fire lit the forest, dancing in the treetops easily giving away where this showdown was being held.
"On it! Come on Appa!" Sokka shook the reins firmly. "Let's speed it up some huh?" Appa roared loudly, throwing his head back as Katara shook in the saddle. Whoa, easy there. Her fingers curled around the saddle's edge, gripping it for balance. I don't think he liked that.
Nearing closer, Katara grew anxious. Please be alright. All three wooden river boats sat in a line by the shore, ablaze. She tilted her head slightly to one side, eyeing this in surprise. Did Aang do that? Whoosh! A man's shout of anger bellowed loudly as a ship erupted in a torrent of flame. Katara gasped and leaned back, unable to think with her eyes locked on the furious fire.
"Have a nice walk home!" Aang! She dropped her hands to her lap and sat back, smiling broadly just as Sokka leapt over the saddle's edge and turned back to the boy in the water.
"Aang, come on! Let's go!" Her brother called out. You burned his ships! Nice. I wonder if he did it himself...
Aang airbended himself atop Appa's head, snatching up the reins just as Appa threw himself into the air. "Wait." Aang twisted around to lift his eyes to her and her brother. "Where's Jeong Jeong?" You mean he wasn't with you?
"He disappeared." Sokka answered, leaning to peer over the saddle's edge. "They all did." Katara leaned forward too, glancing at the abandoned campsite curiously. I wonder if we'll ever see them again... Lonely huts sat on a quiet hillside, surrounded by trees.
"Did you burn down all Zhao's boats?" She curiously questioned, laying her hands on the edge of the saddle.
Aang shook his head. "I didn't firebend." He replied solemnly, before turning to leap into the air. Katara scooted back as he landed at the saddle's front. "I just gave Zhao a target and he did the rest."
"Very clever." Sokka quipped with a smirk. That was clever. She smiled as well, before noting his clothing was charred black around his shoulder.
Oh... Glancing him over, she realized his right arm's sleeve had been burned off, revealing a deep burn on his skin. "Aang! You're burned..." He lifted his arm to gaze at his burn in awestruck wonder. You didn't even realize it? She smiled pleasantly, however. This is the perfect way to explain how I healed myself... "Let me help you."
She slid closer on her knees, settling down at his side. I hope I can do this. She uncapped her water skin, gliding a portion of water out with her right hand – just enough to lift it and submerse only her hand in water as if it were a glove: a cool, gentle and moist glove.
As soon as the water coated her hand she tensed her muscles in her lower arm just enough to chill the water, keeping her fingers curved. That same tingle raced amidst her chi through her arm as the cold liquid once again gained a crystalline blue hue. I think it's working... She held her palm up and turned her attention toward Aang.
Okay. Here goes. She laid her hand gently over Aang's arm, the cold layer of water all that was between her palm and his burned skin. Focus on the feeling... She exhaled, drifting her eyelids closed as she attempted to set her concentration on Aang.
Tingle. She saw, despite her eyelids being closed, several thin, thrumming, rippling lines of light. The thin light pulsed and shrank away at her touch, disappearing in its brief wrinkled struggle. Is this working? She followed it, reshaping her attention on the thin lines of white that now lay before her, surrounded by a dark lavender essence. This time it did not flee, instead pulsing gently as if caressed within her care.
The tingling sensation returned to her fingers. Did I do it? She opened her eyes and stared at her glowing hand upon Aang's arm. Lifting her arm back to her lap, she ceased her bending outright, allowing the water to gently cascade from her fingers, and his arm, to the saddle.
I did it, it worked! She smiled triumphantly, her sapphire eyes dancing in the deep, fading rays of the setting sun. Aang's skin looked healthy and wholesome. Strange feeling...but at least I did it! "Wow. That's good water!" Her fingertips still tingled lightly, reminding her of their part in his recovery.
"When did you learn how to do that?" Sokka questioned incredulously.
She shrugged light-heartedly, withholding her gleeful jubilance behind a cheerful smile. "I guess I always knew."
"Oh!" Sokka shot back, jerking his head aside to dismissively wave his hand in the air. "Well then thanks for all the first aid over the years! Like, when I fell into that grease-fire bramble." He wouldn't stop. He had crossed his arms as he continued running his mouth. "And that time I had-" He uncrossed his arms, lunging forward as he shoved his thumb into the air ahead of her. "-Two fish hooks in my thumb!"
Oh Sokka...I love you. She couldn't stop smiling. "Two?!" Aang exclaimed dubiously.
This is great. "He tried to get the first fish hook out with another fish hook." She replied lightly, shrugging playfully as her gaze danced between her irritated brother and her flabbergasted friend.
"Oh." He began yet again with an afterthought. "And that time that mink-snake bit me. Thanks for healing that up. That was great, really helpful."
"I'm still trying to imagine two fish hooks sticking out of his thumb." Aang mused with a creeping smile, glancing halfway toward Katara.
"I'm right here, y'know." Sokka crossed his arms, scooting back to lean against the saddlebags with a downcast scowl.
"Trust me, it's hard to forget." It was all she could do to not burst out laughing. Everything's funnier in hindsight. Right, Bato? She contemplated the fateful day Sokka ran into their parents' hut absolutely screaming for help. Actually; that wasn't very infrequent. Her eyes pressed shut tightly as her face twisted into a beaming smile.
"You wouldn't be smiling so hard if you were the one that snapping turtle-penguin bit." Sokka's slanted eyes slowly drifted to stare accusingly to her.
"Oooh! A snapping turtle-penguin?" Aang seemed dreadfully interested now. "I've never seen one of those!"
"I have! But it was just a baby." She paused, laughter welling within her at the memory. Oh help me! She couldn't hold it back much longer, her voice reaching high as she continued. "Hanging from his nose!" She threw a hand ahead of her mouth, squinting hard as she stifled several hard laughs.
"Har, har. Very funny." Sokka retorted plainly to her and Aang's laughter.
"How did that one happen?" Aang questioned playfully, turning his excitement to Katara.
She dropped her hand to her lap, answering Aang merrily. "Well he says that it assaulted him out of nowhere while he was fishing and took him by surprise." Sokka laid his eyes on her cruelly, which only lengthened her smile. "I still think he really was just snuggling the cute little thing before it bit him!"
"Wow. He does some pretty dumb stuff!" Aang's mouth parted in a broad, toothy grin.
"Right. Here." Sokka glowered at his ridiculers.
"Don't worry Sokka." Katara began slyly. "I'm sure you'll do something for me to heal eventually. Don't feel left out."
Aang snickered. "It sounds like you'll be her favorite customer."
"Sure, sure..." His eyes drifted to settle harshly upon Aang. "I'm not the one who-"
"That's enough Sokka." Katara hushed him quickly. Don't you bring that up. She glanced aside to Aang, whose laughter had died out and his eyes had cast aside. I know that hurt you...
"What? He's allowed to do stupid stuff and I'm not?" Sokka paused, settling his harsh eyes on her. "You aren't upset about it?"
"No." She answered quickly, firmly. "I'm not." Now drop it. Her eyes sternly caught his, trading him this thought so readily he turned away with a huff.
"It's okay." Aang quietly replied. Glancing nervously back to him, Aang wasn't looking at either of them anymore. He rose to his feet and stepped toward the front of the saddle. "I'll look for somewhere to set up for the night."
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The Boy in the Iceberg