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Jan. 29, 2013
Previously in Air
Ursa encountered her aunt for the first time, and the unexpected arrival of an old friend of Toph's, another metalbender named Poi, has Haru uneasy.
Chapter Fifty-Six: The Aftermath
"Pain," Ursa declared, "Let's you know you're alive." She winced, realizing that a quick gesture was not the wisest move in her current condition. She turned to the wounded Earth soldier beside her. "That's what my Uncle always says," she confided. "At least this is a good kind of pain. Well, not good good, because it still hurts, but your actions that led to the pain were good, right? My father says that scars are never to be ashamed of if they were gained by noble means."
"Um..." The Earth soldier stared at her with a mix of bafflement and fascination. "I suppose that makes sense."
"Chewing their ears off, Princess?"
Yuki loomed behind the Princess, toned arms crossed over her chest. She was loath to let the child out of her sight ever again after the events of late, even though the Princess had proven herself resourceful and quick on her feet. But there was another reason the bodyguard watched her charge so closely. Yuki studied the girl with ill-concealed concern, searching that small cherubic face for any hint that her usual optimism had slipped. Any sign that the uncomfortable truth had dealt Ursa a harsh blow.
The Princess hid it well. But Yuki could see the pain, the horrible suspicion in the girl's eyes.
Ursa glanced up at her bodyguard, though she avoided looking her directly in the eye. She smiled. "Just spreading some encouragement."
"Enough encouraging," Yuki said, treating the Princess to an uncharacteristic grin, hoping to distract her thoughts. "It's your turn."
Ursa slowly stood, careful not to jostle her arm cradled in a makeshift sling. "All right, Yuki; just a few more people."
Yuki scowled. "I don't think your Uncle intended that advice for his eight-year-old niece after she'd been struck by lightning. You're coming now."
Ursa opened her mouth to protest.
Yuki narrowed her eyes. "Don't make me throw you over my shoulder, Princess."
Ursa closed her mouth. She didn't doubt Yuki for an instant. She turned back to the wounded Earth soldier. "I hope you get better soon!"
The soldier returned the smile. "You too, Princess."
"He caught Fong?" The Boulder asked in disbelief. He scrutinized Poi's thin arms and skimpy muscles as the earthbender laughed with several Earth Kingdom soldiers who could have been old friends, but whom he'd only met a few minutes ago.
Much to his dismay, Haru found Poi's ability to make such fast friends, to feel so at ease in the midst of complete strangers, irritating. The petty jealously he felt building in his chest was so uncharacteristic, he didn't know what to do with it. After all, Poi seemed like a nice, even fun, guy. What reason could Haru possibly have to resent him?
At that moment, Poi sensed their gazes on him. He glanced at them and treated them to a cheeky wink. Haru shifted and averted his eyes, relieved when the stranger turned back to his conversation.
"Is he one of your mysterious friends, Toph?" The Boulder asked.
"He is a friend, but he's hardly mysterious."
The Boulder frowned. "He must be a talented earthbender. The Boulder would not have thought such a small person could take on the legendary general."
Toph snickered. "And I never thought the great Boulder would allow himself to get whooped by a non-bender, woman or not."
The Boulder's face flushed bright red. He shot a murderous glare at the Hippo.
"Poi is pretty good," Haru admitted, ignoring the pang in his gut. It was true, after all. In fact, he was more than just good. Poi was excellent. And a metalbender. Haru wondered how that had happened. As far as he'd known, the skill was so specialized only Toph had been able to master it. But what if...
Toph sighed. "Are you going to keep staring at me like a near-sighted owlkeet, Haru, or are have you got something to say?"
Haru's cheeks colored, but he refused to be intimidated. "Are you going to tell me what that was all about?"
"You're going to have to be more specific, Stache Man."
"Okay." Haru crossed his arms with an air of determination. "Metalbending. You. Poi." He hesitated. "And me."
"Oh. That." She considered for a moment. Finally, she shook her head. "Nope, I don't think so."
Haru blinked, taken aback. "Why not?"
Toph didn't answer. Instead, she turned her attention back to Poi. "He's alright, but he's too cocky. And rash. He still needs to learn the patience to listen. Poi's good, but he's got a lot to learn before he becomes great."
Haru's lips twitched. "So... he's not your number one pupil?"
Toph's cloudy eyes narrowed to dangerous slits. "Keep it up and my fist is going to come in contact with your kisser."
Haru didn't even flinch.
Tyro watched his son, smiling. "I, for one, was deeply impressed by your own skills, Haru."
Haru's face reddened as he began to stutter, "I –no –not really –I mean– I've still got a long way to–"
Toph slugged him in the arm to shut him up. "Your dad's right. You have gotten pretty good. And at least you've already mastered patience."
Haru stared at her. "But...I didn't even beat them. If it wasn't for Poi and those cuffs—"
Toph laughed. "Why do you think I had those cuffs made? Look, Haru, did you freeze up?"
"And you didn't get used as bait again, right?"
Haru winced. "No."
"And you put up a tough fight. In my book, that's progress!"
"The man with the mustache should be impressed," The Boulder confided to Haru, "Coming from the Blind Bandit, that is high praise."
Toph's sharp ears picked up his words. "Don't push it."
Haru glanced back and forth between them in disbelief. "You really think I'm good?"
Tyro nodded with a smile. "Most definitely."
"Hey," Toph said, "I only said you were making progress."
Haru slowly nodded. A glow of pleasure blossomed in his chest. When he'd started his training with Toph, he'd felt it a hopeless task. She was demanding and unyielding and he never thought he'd be able to live up to her expectations. Yet here she was, telling him in her own obstinate way that she was impressed.
Maybe that meant he could accomplish other challenges, too, in spite of all his doubts or how hopeless he might believe them. He just had one last question.
Haru turned to his father. "Dad," he began, trying to find the right words. "Looking out for everyone, never being able to leave... Do you ever feel trapped?"
"Trapped?" Tyro frowned. "I'm not sure. I can't say that I've ever considered it that way. My bones are too old to feel restless anymore." He frowned as he thought it over. "It's true that it would be next to impossible to get away. But it doesn't feel like a cage. Does that help at all?"
Haru digested this bit of information in silence. He could feel the restlessness in his gut; he had been spoiled by all his adventures. The idea of staying in his tiny village forever still unnerved him. He loved the thrill of travel and strange places. But from his experiences of late, especially Toph's unannounced use of him as a negotiator with her mother, had also convinced him that a life such as his father's was the kind he was meant to have. More than that, he wanted it. The thought of helping others filled him with joy, even by settling the petty differences that were the only likely thing to arise in his village. And that, he decided, was worth a little sacrifice. "Yes," he told his father. "I think it does."
Tyro raised an eyebrow. "Does this mean you've made your decision?"
Haru opened his mouth to respond, but before any words came, Toph gave it for him.
Haru blinked. Both father and son turned to her in surprise.
"What are you doing?" Haru hissed, horrified without quite knowing why. "I have made my decision."
Toph shook her head. "Impossible."
Tyro's eyes twinkled with amusement. "Oh?"
A small frown tugged at Toph's lips, but whether from the humorous tone of Tyro's voice or the fact that Haru's legs threatened to give way no one could tell. "That's right," she said, daring someone to challenge her. "You're forgetting, protégé; you belong to me."
Haru felt faint. Beside him, his father watched on in amusement while The Boulder couldn't help a snicker.
"What are you talking about?" Haru's voice cracked, but that was the least of his worries.
"You don't have the privilege of making any decisions while you're still under contract," Toph told him.
"But you said that was only as long as we were traveling together!" Haru cried. "We made it to Ba Sing Se; our job's done."
Toph's smile was positively evil. "And did you actually read the contract?"
Haru paled as he remembered his signature on a scroll lost to the endless chasm of junk in the Sifu Lounge. "You mean—"
"That's right. I still own you."
The Boulder patted Haru's back, probably intending to be sympathetic, but his hearty chuckle betrayed his amusement. "It looks like you've fallen prey to the master of trickery. You have The Boulder's condolences."
Haru felt the world slipping through his fingers. "But...I..." He'd finally made his choice. He'd been prepared to give up his freedom and return to the village. What was this? A sign? Destiny? Or was Toph turning his life on its head just for the pure pleasure of it?
He glanced at his father. "I..." he began, but he was at a complete loss for words.
Tyro watched them both with laughter in his eyes. "It's alright, Haru. I think the village can survive a little longer with this old coot and I told you to take all the time you needed. Perhaps this is just the thing that will clear your head."
Haru turned his gaze back to Toph and her triumphant smile.
"Pack your bags, Stache Man. Training isn't over."
Aang studied Kuei before approaching him. The future Earth King remained crown prince, at least for another hour. There were wounded to be tended, Gauntlets to be caught and many things to discuss. But the herald, along with many of the generals, insisted that the coronation should proceed, made all the more powerful only a matter of hours after an attempted coup. An enthusiastic uproar from the spectators seconded their opinion.
There was a pause barely the length of a heartbeat in the constant stream of people vying for Kuei's attention and Aang quickly slipped in. Kuei, relieved, allowed himself to be pulled aside.
"How are you doing?" Aang asked.
Kuei flashed him a tired smile. "This is quite exhausting!"
Aang nailed him with a knowing eye. "That's not what I asked, Kuei."
Kuei chuckled. "No, I suppose not." He sighed. "How am I doing?" he repeated to himself. "I honestly don't know, Avatar Aang. A coup on its own is enough, but to have...that happen on top of it all..." He shook his head.
"Where is she?" Aang asked.
Kuei hesitated. His eyes darted up to the Palace windows. "In her quarters." He sighed again. "Don't worry; she's under guard. Gorou is up there too. She wanted to explain...why."
Aang nodded. What was he supposed to say? "What will happen to her?"
A long moment passed before Kuei answered. "She will be taken to one of the royal estates," he said finally. "It is located in a rural region of the Earth Kingdom." He straightened himself and his tone turned brisk. "She won't be able to do any more damage."
Aang considered for a moment. It didn't seem entirely ideal but...she was Kuei's wife.
Kuei seemed to sense Aang's doubt. "It's not a prison, I know, but she will be under constant watch," he assured the Avatar. "But after today, I don't know that it will be necessary."
In the distance, people were beginning to jam together, waiting their turn for an audience with Kuei.
"If you'll excuse me, Avatar Aang," Kuei said, stepping away with a bow, "I believe there are even more matters I must attend to."
"Of course, your majesty. There's a little something I have to deal with myself."
"So what was so important you had to drag me away to tell me?" Toph demanded.
Aang guided her through the makeshift infirmary where the injured were attended by physicians or waited for Katara's healing touch. "I wanted to talk to you about a potential pupil."
Toph frowned. "And you didn't want anyone else to hear this because...?"
"Well..." Aang hesitated. It was a delicate matter and he would prefer to get through this conversation without acquiring any injuries.
"Wait, I've got it!" Toph cried in sudden realization. "It's been so long since your training days you need a refresher course. Don't worry about it, Aang; even the Avatar isn't infallible."
"Not for me! It's for a friend of mine."
Toph arched her eyebrows. "That still doesn't explain all the secrecy. If you want me to train someone, you send them to the Academy. That's the way it works, Aang." "Well...I mean..." Aang rubbed the back of his head with a sheepish grin. "I'm not talking about that kind of training, Toph."
"Hate to break it to you, Twinkle Toes, but it's the only kind of training I do. Tough, demanding and blatant. Not for the faint of heart."
Aang eyed her, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "So every year when you take your teaching hiatus you're not really on the prowl for some mellow, clever, true earthbender? You don't have a stash of secret 'chosen' pupils who crawl out of the woodwork just in the nick of time to help out with, say, a coup on the Royal Earth Palace?"
Toph grabbed hold of Aang's arm and jerked him into a corner, away from listening ears. "Shut up!" she hissed. She listened intently for a moment, checking for eavesdroppers. When she found none, she turned on Aang. "How do you know about that? I've never told anyone except my students and they were all sworn to secrecy. If I found out one of them squealed, I swear I'll—"
"Relax," Aang insisted, twisting his arm from her grip. "It wasn't one of your students."
"Then how did you find out?" Her scowl darkened. "And how much do you know?"
"About your side-project? Everything, I think. I found out because, well, because of Katara."
"Katara?" Toph cried in surprise. "I should've known the sugar queen would spoil the fun."
"It's not like that," Aang said. "She doesn't actually know about your league of metalbenders."
Toph punched his arm. "Say it a little louder," she hissed, "I don't think the hoity-toity herald heard you!"
Aang rubbed at his arm, wincing. "Ouch. Sorry."
"Right. Well, it was maybe a year after we all split up."
"Wait a minute," Toph cried hoarsely. "You've known about this for ten years and you never said anything? Why?"
Aang smiled. He shook his head and shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I get it. Anyway, it was about a year after you went off to travel the world alone and we hadn't heard from you once. Thanks for that, by the way," he said sarcastically, "Made us feel real special."
Toph scoffed. "What did you want me to do? Write a letter?"
"You could've found a way," Aang said. "You know Katara; she got really worried about you, that you might be in trouble. Or that you were causing too much trouble."
"I sent out a couple of messages to some of my contacts and eventually I caught on to your trail. You were hanging out in some tiny village in the middle of nowhere. I told Katara enough to keep her satisfied, but I knew you were up to something so I started keeping tabs on you. It wasn't easy, either."
Toph grinned in spite of herself.
"Eventually, I figured it out."
Toph grunted. She crossed her arms stubbornly. "I suppose now you're going to tell me that I'm being selfish and that metalbending is an art that should be available to everyone and that it's time to come out of the closet?"
Aang frowned. "Well...no, actually. Don't get me wrong, I think it is something that should be shared to all earthbenders, but you're the one who developed the skill. I can't make you teach it to the world."
"Can't you? You're the Avatar."
"Right," Aang said quickly, ignoring the dread that crept up his neck. "The Avatar is about making peace and keeping balance in the world. I don't think I'm supposed to force anyone to do anything unless the fate of the world is at stake." He shrugged. "If it was anybody else, it could be a big problem. But, like I said, I get it. I know why you're so picky about who you train."
Toph snorted. "Look, Twinkle Toes, I have to be picky. No matter how many people want to or try, not everyone has the brains or the guts to metalbend. They have to have a specific combination of trained skill, natural talent and personality, and the last two are things you can't learn. You have to be born with them. You're right. I have been keeping an eye out for potential metalbenders because, by my count, there are only a handful of people alive at any one time who have what it takes to master it."
Aang studied her. "I suppose that makes sense. Every element has its specialty that not all benders will be able to master."
Toph accepted the agreement with a firm nod. "Thank you! Nice little chat. I'll be going now."
Aang chuckled. He didn't reach out to stop her. He only said, "But we both know that's not the only reason. You're also picky because of the Dai Li."
"They were formed by Avatar Kyoshi, who taught them special skills, but eventually they were corrupted. They were used against the people of Ba Sing Se. You're afraid that, if the wrong person gets hold of it, the same thing will happen to metalbending."
Toph was silent a moment. Finally, reluctantly, she shrugged. "Okay. Fine, you've got me. I don't plan on starting up the sequel to the Dai Li. Is that such a crime?"
Aang shrugged. "It's a tough call. But you know, Toph, by only teaching the few people that you choose, you're doing exactly what Kyoshi did."
Toph scowled. "At least I'm not endowing a bunch of strangers with this stuff. I get to know them first, make sure they aren't the kind of people who would turn it on others. Kyoshi can't say the same, now can she?"
Aang frowned as an uncharacteristic spurt of anger flared up in the back of his mind. "Hey, I was Kyoshi, remember?"
Toph fell silent. Aang took a deep breath.
"Someday," he said quietly, "You will reveal metalbending to the world, because you know it's the right thing. That's why I'm not going to push you. It's something you're going to have to deal with yourself." Aang forced a smile to brighten the mood. "Who knows? Your league of metalbenders might come in handy some day."
"That sounds suspiciously like a not-so-subtle hint," Toph said with a sudden grin. "This wouldn't have anything to do with your grand—"
Aang tugged sharply on her arm, eyes darting about frantically. "Shh!"
Toph rolled her eyes, but a hint of the grin remained. "Come on, Twinkle Toes, it's not a completely horrifying idea."
"It's not ready yet," Aang insisted. "And besides," he added, "Today's events might have stirred up some old animosities."
The grin faded from Toph's face. Right. Even though things had ended on a high note, some people would remember it was a firebender who attempted to assassinate Kuei.
"So, sunshine," Toph grumbled, "Is there really somebody you want me to train, or was that just a clever segue into the brow-beating?"
Aang's grin returned. "I'm glad you asked! I think I've found someone who meets all of your qualifications."
"Really?" Skepticism dripped from each syllable.
"Granted," Aang said, "He might need a little more in the training department. I'm pretty sure it's been a few years since he's done any serious bending, so he's probably a little rough."
Toph scowled. "And what good reason could he possibly have for not bending? If he doesn't take it seriously, he's disqualified right there."
But Aang kept grinning. He propelled her forward, back through the rows of wounded. There was a secret sparkle in his eyes and though Toph couldn't see it, she could hear it. "You remember Lee?"
Toph growled in exasperation. "Aang, he's not even a bender!"
"I know. But his brother is."
Toph raised an eyebrow. She had to admit, though part of her wondered if Aang really knew the qualifications, she was intrigued.
He led her to a small cluster of people. She recognized Lee almost immediately; he hovered over a one-legged man, along with an older couple who were obviously his parents. So the cripple must be the brother. Of course he was.
Toph frowned as her toes picked up a few more familiar vibrations. Wheels rumbled across the cobbles as Teo rolled his chair around the family, back and forth, following his father and providing him with different sticks and gizmos as he needed them. The Mechanist, for his part, was poking and prodding the cripple with his odd instruments, his brow furrowed in concentration, muttering barely articulate calculations and measurements that Teo somehow managed to comprehend and translate, jotting the notes down for later.
Lee was not pleased with all this attention. "What are you doing? Who are you? What is that?!" He followed the Mechanist as he circled his brother, trying in vain to pry answers from him, but the inventor was far too preoccupied with the project at hand.
"Oh dear," Aang said, hurrying forward. He caught the Mechanist by the arm, shooting an apologetic smile at Sensu and his family.
"Huh?" As Aang grabbed hold of his arm, the Mechanist glanced about as if pulled suddenly from a dream. When he saw Aang, he broke into a smile. "Oh, Avatar Aang! It's you. You know, at first, I wasn't certain this idea of yours would work, but we've been measuring and 'crunching the numbers', as we say, and I think you're right. And this young man will certainly be a marvelous specimen!"
Lee stiffened. "Specimen? What does he mean specimen?!"
Sensu chuckled. "Relax, Lee." He nodded at Aang. "Nice to see you again."
Aang returned the greeting with a bow. "Sorry about this," he said. He gestured at the Mechanist. "This is a friend of mine and his son, Teo."
Teo shot them a big grin and a friendly wave. "Hi!"
"They're inventors," Aang explained.
"Yes!" the Mechanist cried, looking up from a gizmo for a brief instant. "Inventions great and small!"
"Unfortunately," Aang said, frowning at him, "They get so caught up in inventing they forget little things like introductions."
The Mechanist frowned, glancing up once more. "Didn't I–" He blinked incomprehensively at Sensu and his family. "Oh dear..." He chuckled sheepishly. "I've done it again, haven't I?"
Sensu smiled. "That's alright. You just startled us. I'm Sensu; this is my brother, Lee, and my parents, Gansu and Sela."
Greetings, pleasantries and apologies were quickly exchanged.
Lee still eyed the Mechanist with suspicion, however. "What's this all about, anyway?" he asked Aang.
"The Mechanist is helping me out with an idea," Aang explained. He turned to Sensu. "It was an idea I got shortly after meeting you. See, a long time ago my friends and I ran into this guy we called Combustion Man. Well, he was Sparky Sparky Boom Man for a while, but—"
Toph barked a laugh. She finally stepped forward to join the group, sending Aang reeling with an approving punch to the arm. "I like the way you think, Twinkle Toes!"
"Ouch!" Aang rubbed sullenly at his arm for the second time. Obviously, all the time Toph spent hanging around with wrestlers had developed in even more bad habits.
The Mechanist had taken the scroll from Teo and, using the calculations, had begun to sketch out a blueprint. "Hmm, I need my dual-headed protractor, please." He reached out to his left, groped at thin air for an instant, then turned. He glanced all around with a comical frown on his face. "Where did Xin Fu go?"
Teo chuckled, handing his father the requested protractor. "Didn't you see that look on his face? He saw Toph coming and took off."
Aang glared at them. "As I was saying!"
Grudgingly, they fell silent. Aang turned back to Sensu.
"This man, he'd lost an arm and a leg and he replaced them with metal ones." Aang shrugged. "I think the Mechanist might be able to make one for you."
Sensu blinked, dumbfounded. "What are you saying? He's going to give me a...a new leg?"
"A prosthetic, actually," the Mechanist corrected, for the first time giving them his undivided attention. "And certainly! It will be comprised mostly of wood, I think, with some metal components, unless there are some unforeseen problems with that construction. But I have a feeling metal may not serve you quite so well in the future."
Toph smirked; so the old boy had guessed it, too.
Sensu slowly shook his head, stunned. "I don't know what to say," he said finally, "Except, thank you."
"Our pleasure, my boy!" The Mechanist cried. He straightened his monocle as he smiled at Sensu. "And thank you for providing me with a new project. Certainly this invention will be beneficial to countless war veterans."
"How long will it take?" Lee asked.
Teo glanced over his father's shoulder at the design. "Probably a few weeks," he guessed. "We may have to go through a few versions to work out all the kinks, but it shouldn't take too long. Do you have lodgings here in Ba Sing Se?"
Sensu frowned in concern. "But...but what about the farm?"
Gansu laughed outright, wiping away tears of joy. "Lee and I will take care of it. You're staying here!"
Sela threw her arms around Sensu's neck. "If I have to, I'll plow the whole field by hand!"
"No getting out of it now," Lee said, grinning.
Sensu glanced at the others, tears in his eyes. "Will I be able to earthbend again?" he asked. "Really earthbend?"
Aang and the Mechanist exchanged glances.
"That's our hope," Aang told him.
The Mechanist nodded. "The idea is that, while the prosthetic itself won't be able to bend, it will certainly serve as a stationary grounding point for the rest of your body, leaving your other limbs free to bend." He tapped the scroll. "According to these notes, I don't see any reason it shouldn't work."
"And don't worry," Teo assured them, "Even if we run into unforeseen problems, my dad's the type who works it out until he gets the result he wants."
Toph chuckled. A one-legged bender; the idea was just too rich. "Dysfunctional benders of the world unite!"
They all turned to look at her, some for the first time.
Aang started on another introduction. "This is–"
"Just a friend," Toph butted in. "Good luck with the new leg!" She pounded Sensu on the back and quickly turned to go.
"Uh...thanks?" Sensu replied.
Aang hurried after her. "Wait, where are you going?"
Toph shrugged. "Sorry, Aang, but I still have things to do, you know."
"But...what about Sensu?!"
"Seems like a good guy," Toph admitted. "And once he gets that fake limb he might be worth something."
Aang's face lit up. "You'll train him?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. We'll just have to see if he can survive the experience."
Aang's eyes sparked with mischief. "So...you're finished with Haru?"
Toph ignored the underlying implication. "I didn't say I'd train the guy right away. You heard Teo; weeks, he said. Besides, I do have plans of my own. He'll have to wait his turn."
Aang fought back an even bigger smile. "So you're not finished with Haru."
All expression dropped from Toph's face. "Stuff it, Twinkle Toes."
Aang swallowed his grin, but it was hard. He watched Toph merge into the crowd. A sudden thought struck him. "Wait," he called after her, "How will you find him?"
Toph waved the idea away. "Easy! When I'm ready, you'll tell me."
Katara had finished a few rounds of healing on Ursa's arm. The wound was still raw, but she had managed to untangle most of the balled up chi coiled around the malicious lightning strike. The wound needed time on its own to heal, but at least the pain had receded to a vague throb.
A good thing, too. When Ursa's parents finally appeared, Mai flung her arms around her and held her tight. Ursa didn't protest; she buried her face in her mother's robe. She felt her father's hand on her head, slowly stroking her hair.
A sudden guilt struck Ursa in the gut. That thought, that question, that had haunted the corners of her mind for the past hour came surging back, robbing her of this happy moment. She pressed her face closer to her mother's shoulder.
"Here she is!" cried a familiar voice. "The hero of the hour!"
"Not so loud, Sokka," Katara admonished. "It may not look it, but this is a recovery ward."
"Right, right; sorry." Sokka patted a nearby soldier encouragingly –on his broken forearm. "Keep up the good work."
"Don't mind him," Suki said, grabbing hold of Sokka and keeping an eye out to make sure he didn't touch anything else. "He's just a little excited. We ran into your dad and got a report on the kids."
Katara's face lightened. "And how are the little monsters?"
Sokka grinned. "Perfect, thank you! Gran-Gran is looking after them for the moment. She's teaching them the finer uses of seal blubber for all their medicinal, clothing and cooking needs."
Suki pulled a wry face. "Just what I need; three kids running around in seal blubber underwear. That stuff stinks!"
Sokka tactfully ignored this remark. "How is the new Savior of Ba Sing Se faring?"
Ursa blushed. Her mother finally loosened her hug and Ursa turned to face them.
"She's doing fine," Katara announced. "I'd like to keep my eye on that wound, but it should heal up fine in a couple of weeks. What she needs is lots of rest and maybe a little too much attention from her family."
"I'm very glad to hear that." Kuei stepped forward, beaming at Ursa. He bowed deeply to the young princess. "I believe you are responsible for saving my life, princess. For that I shall be eternally grateful."
Ursa moved to swing herself off the cot in order to return the bow, but her father, Katara, Yuki, Sokka, Suki and even Kuei himself cried "Sit still!"
Mai tapped the tip of her daughter's nose. "You won't be conforming to propriety today, princess."
Ursa blushed. "Right. Sorry."
The others breathed in relief.
"I wish you a most speedy recovery, princess," Kuei said. He glanced at Zuko. "And rest assured, you are more than welcome to remain here until she has recovered sufficiently enough to return home."
Zuko nodded his thanks. With one last bow to Ursa, Kuei left.
Ursa noticed the meaningful look Katara shot Suki. The two women each looped one arm through Sokka's and –suspended helpless between his wife and sister– the warrior was quickly led off to give the almost wholly reunited family some much-needed privacy. Even Yuki, who could not in good conscious leave the princess alone, backed up several steps and pretended to find the architecture of the building utterly fascinating.
Zuko sat on the cot beside Ursa, opposite Mai. He brushed some of the loose hair that had fallen into his daughter's face and smiled at her. "I'm very proud of you, Ursa."
"But don't ever do that again," Mai put in, her grip tightening briefly on her daughter's hand.
Zuko chuckled. "Right. Never get struck by lightning again; it's not a good idea." He looked down at Ursa, but she did not return his smile. A shadow hovered in her eyes and his heart lurched. "Ursa, what is it?"
Ursa quickly cast her gaze down. She took a shuddering breath. "There's...something I have to tell you."
- Wait a minute, in this chapter, Toph says there are only a handful of people actually capable of metalbending. So how do you explain the metalbending police in Republic City?
- An excellent question, my imaginary doubter. In Legend of Korra, everyone noticed the increase in firebenders able to generate lightning. Though a lot found this disappointing, I believe it -coupled with the appearance of natural bloodbenders- points to a steady evolution in the extent of bending and the abilities of benders themselves. Like technology, I believe the more time passes, the more bending improves. Thus, the qualifications of metalbending that were scarce in Toph's day become more common in Korra's generation.
- It's always bugged me that the Mechanist doesn't have a proper name. Notice that Aang introduced him as 'my friend'. What was he supposed to say? "This is an eccentric inventor known to us only as 'the Mechanist.' Don't worry, he's not as ominous as he sounds, and I'd like him to experiment on Sensu. Good? Good!"
- "Dysfunctional Benders of the World Unite!" This might be Toph's new slogan. ;)
- I didn't even realize until editing, but Kuei seemed to steal the line from the green aliens in Toy Story. 'You have saved our lives. We are eternally grateful.'
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