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Chapter Forty-Nine: Stripes
"Katara . . . I can't . . . go on . . ." he moans, flopping over into the cool water. "I can't . . . keep . . . practicing . . ."
She flicks some water at him. "Of course you can, Aang. What, scared of a little water?"
"No!" he shoots back. "Shouldn't I be practicing Firebending with Zuko, instead?" The last syllable is shrill and high-pitched, and he forces his head underwater, mortified at the crack in his voice.
He feels a gentle prod in his shoulder, and, face still swathed in crimson, he glances up to see her bare foot massaging his shoulder blade. "Come on, Aang. You still had Waterbending practice. Don't you want to earn your tiger seal stripes?"
"I've already earned my arrows!" he protests in response. "What do I need a silly thing like stripes for, too? And where would I put them? Come on, Katara. Can't we take a break? I've been training my arrow off!" He slaps his hand onto his forehead, obscuring the blue tattoo. "See? It's gone!"
She giggles, but then her gaze hardens, and he sinks back into the ocean. "Aang. We came to Ember Island because it's surrounded by water, not so you could lie in the sea all day. Come on. And I meant tiger seal stripes metaphorically. It's a Water Tribe saying. It means that you've mastered your particular craft, blah blah blah." Her foot prods again, harder now, but he grins knowingly and blows bubbles underneath the water. Her accidental massage is relaxing, and he allows her to continue a few more moments.
At least until she apparently loses it and gives him a gentle kick to the side, more a nudge than an actual blow.
"What—what was that?" he complains loudly. "That was something else, Katara! What . . . ?"
"Come on, Aang. I know you don't want to, but . . . this is ridiculous. You have to practice. Come on. Please. For me?"
He burbles out another bubble, raises his head, and gazes into her deep blue eyes.
And again he is reminded of blue.
Blue like the sky, blue like the sea.
"Okay, okay," he says, giving in. "I'll be a good pupil. I'll train. What are we going to practice now, Sifu Katara?"
She grins. "Okay. To earn your tiger seal stripes, Aang, for today, you'll have to leap off of that there and allow the water to rise up to you."
He follows her pointing arm to one of Ember Island's sheer cliffs. Though most of the island has been carved into obedience by the lapping tides, there is still a rise, where the island once connected to the main land.
His mouth falls open.
"You want me to what now?"
She sighs. "Jump off the cliff. Save yourself. Raise the water up to you. Okay?"
He tilts his head.
"Okay, I'll go for my stripes."
Just for you.
Yes, this practice saves his life. The jumping off of the cliffs. I've always wanted to go how he just magically knew what to do. Well, he's the Avatar, but you know what I mean. In that last fight, Aang pulled out moves we'd never seen, like the tornado thing, and I was wondering how he learned that.
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