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Chapter Fourteen: Smile
She had him at that smile.
Most people think she did.
No, she had him.
That first time he looked at her, that first time he—
Still frozen in the iceberg—
Still thinking of storms—
Of running away—
And she smiled.
That oh so wonderful smile.
That little twitch of muscles.
Just a tad.
Just the barest flicker.
When she saw him.
And he asked—
He's disgusted with himself.
And he asked about penguins.
What was he even thinking?
Was that his idea of a great first date?
No, he tells himself, you didn't love her yet. She was just the girl who rescued you. And you needed to take your mind off things immediately. It's probably best the way things turned out—otherwise you'd be dead from the cold.
Or would I?
Or would I have just been kept in there forever. Heh. The Avatar surely hadn't died—but it was practically the same thing.
She has walked over. "How's the scar?"
He rubs the spot on his back, his fingers gently probing the area until they strike pain. He coughs with pain, surprised. "Okay . . ." he lies. "It doesn't hurt much anymore."
"Right, sure," she answers, rolling her eyes. "Here, do you need another healing session?"
He shakes his head. "No—but one would be appreciated, Sifu Katara."
She grins. "That's what I like to hear. If you want, we can practice your Waterbending later—though you're pretty much a master by now, and you probably want to practice your Earthbending with Toph, since—"
He shakes his head emphatically.
"I don't need any more Earthbending practice," he stammers awkwardly, knowing like what a fool he sounds. "Not really. Besides . . . you need to teach me how to do that steam thing. You know. How you hid the boat? Back when I just woke up?"
"Of course I remember, silly," she responds, flicking his forehead playfully. Her voice shifts slightly. "You were so angr—"
Furiously rubbing his arrowhead, he interjects jokingly, "Ow, my arrow!"
"Oh come on. Could you even feel it through the headband?" Her voice is lively again.
He rolls his eyes pointedly at her.
"All right, all right, I get it, I get it. Yep. You can. Sorry."
He elbows her gently. "Oh, come on, Katara. Don't be silly—I'm the one you called silly, remember?"
Her laughter brightens his entire day. "Oh, Aang . . . I don't know what I'd do without you. Sokka's off finagling—"
"You mean . . . finaangling?" He leans back, his shoulders shaking. "Get it—finaangling?"
"Not quite. There's no 'n' in 'finagling.' It doesn't work." She shrugs, and another peal of laughter wells out of her. "Fine, so maybe it was a little funny."
He glances at her.
Maybe she didn't have him at that first smile.
But she definitely has him now.
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