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Chapter Sixteen: Questioning
"Um, hi. I wanted to ask you something."
He is standing there, rubbing his hands against his arms.
Katara . . . do you—?
Her expression is one of mild surprise.
"Hi, Aang," she—no, she sings, and her voice is more than music to him, it is everything. "I was practicing my Waterbending, so you can join me if you want."
Grinning, he begins to remove his clothing until he stands in his usual practice outfit; gingerly, he tests the water in the pond, and then, inhaling deeply, he slips in, his body shuddering at the sudden chill.
He leaps out backwards, stumbling, falling over a rock, ending up on his rear, and he can feel the joy radiating from her. "Aang! It's just a little water! It's not even cold!"
Teeth chattering, he scrambles for his shirt. "Easy for you to say. You grew up in this weather. I don't even know why I took off my shirt! The North Pole's no place for an Airbender."
"You were wandering around fine in your Airbending uniform back at the South Pole," she snaps curtly, and he freezes.
Oh no. Did I make her— "No, Katara, wait," he cries desperately. "Please, I didn't mean to make you angry—"
Her look is one of surprise. "I'm not angry at you," she answers softly. "It's that male chauvinist pig I'm enraged at." Her fuming breaths hiss, filling the air with velvety mist.
"Who? Sokka?" He blinks. What is she . . . ?
"No." Her voice is almost like fire—passionate, destructive. He'd rather see like this than like ice. If the world had to end, he'd hold with those who favor fire. "No, not Sokka. I'm talking about the 'Master.'"
He laughs with relief, and she responds with a glare to sharp he can feel it carving himself up. "I mean, the Waterbending Master's a jerk, yeah," he affirms rapidly, "but that doesn't mean you should take it to heart. Remember? Sorry I'm late, by the way, I needed to work a little longer on this one move—"
Her eyes glitter with excitement, a pair of icebergs reflecting the glory and gold of the sun. "Ooh, can you show me?" she asks, eager beyond words.
"Of course," he answers, more to the hungry expression on her face than to the words that hang frozen in the air, a gentle reminder of what things are and will be. "See, you start out by streaming the water, the way you taught me, and then, instead of making a whip, you really quickly bring your hand up and out, so it forms this shield of water, like a dome almost . . ."
She gracefully follows, her water-shield more solid and protected than his. He is surprised—she is outpacing him, and yet he has been practicing.
He suddenly remembers his question.
"Hey, Katara—" he starts, but he falls silent.
The present is now.
The questioning can wait.
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