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|The Avatar Returns|
Chapter 21: The Avatar Returns
The air was cool as it whipped by, though not frigid like the ice of the Northern Water Tribe. The ship hit a wave, causing it to buck slightly, and Yoriko let the furred blue hood fall to her shoulders as the wind pulled at it. Her brown hair, tied in a single, long braid that reached halfway down her back, was pulled by the wind, as well.
The lights of Republic City shined in the distance, and she smiled. "Home. Finally."
A heavy flapping sound drew Yoriko's attention to the deck behind her, where a red-scaled dragon landed. Her smile widened into a grin as Liung's yellow, reptilian eyes rested on her.
"You know something? I'm really happy we're out of all that snow; dragons weren't meant for the cold. All I wanted to do up there was sleep!"
"Aw, stop complaining, ya big baby!" Yoriko covered the distance between them and brushed her hand along Liung's scaled snout. "It wasn't that bad."
The dragon snorted. "So you say. Even the winters in Republic City aren't that cold."
"True," she admitted, "but what's important is that this makes three down! I can't wait to tell Mom!" She sat down, cross-legged on the deck and sighed. "Lemme tell you, Liung, Waterbending was not easy..."
"You told me. Every. Single. Night."
Yoriko pouted. "Well, sorry that I decided to tell you about my problems."
Liung inclined her head. "You know what I meant. You repeat yourself; Sukan says the same thing."
"Yeah? Well, Mom repeats things, too."
The air left Liung's nostrils quickly, mimicking a human sigh. ""Because you don't listen."
She chuckled. "Don't knock it. Not listening's how I met you."
"That is true," the dragon replied as she plopped down on the deck, lying next to Yoriko.
Yoriko glanced toward the city as the ship grew ever closer. "Wonder what Mom's up to anyway..."
"I'm sorry...I've done the best I can. She's so strong, so full of life, and I hope I can continue to be even a fraction of what you were to her." Sukan knelt down on one knee as she placed a single flower in between the gravestones. She picked up the previous flower, withered and dark.
Brittle and dead.
Sukan looked away for a moment. "I love Yoriko, and that's...I can't wish you were here. I can't do it." She stood slowly, gingerly clutching the withered flower. "She's going to be back here from the North soon, though; she just mastered Waterbending. You'd both...you'd both be very proud."
She heard the footsteps in the snow behind her. "Does she know you do this?"
"No, Kuan Ti," she said as she glanced back at the man behind her, "no, she doesn't."
His gray brow furrowed. "Between you and Shen, practically everyone I know is spending their time at graves these days. What I can't help but wonder is—"
Sukan frowned. "I would visit Ming's, too, but her family couldn't afford a plot here. They had to—"
"It's not healthy, Sukan; trust me. What you're doing...it isn't good for anyone. What if Yoriko saw this?"
"Why are you here?" she asked.
He inclined his head. "I came to see where my pupil has to rush off to after every practice session, even as her daughter returns today from the North."
Sukan's eyes narrowed. "Her boat gets in in fifteen minutes. Believe me, I know."
Kuan Ti sighed. "Listen, I'm not going to wrangle with you, Sukan. Just...don't let any idea of guilt consume you. Yoriko's mastered Waterbending; focus on that victory."
She smirked. "So what you're saying is 'don't become a jaded old man like me'?"
"Exactly," he replied, his furrowed brow now replaced with a small smile. "Now, why don't you go and welcome your daughter back?"
"You aren't coming?"
He shook his head. "No, I'm headed to Ba Sing Se soon, and I need to pack. Still, say hello for me."
Liung felt like taking to the air as they approached the dock. The confines of the upper deck were still confines, after all, and the temptation to fly far away from the boat was strong. She glanced down at Yoriko, something that she'd always been able to do, even when she was younger. Her friend's face was fitted with a massive grin, and that made Liung's spirits soar as she wished she could.
"I see Mom! She's waiting on the dock, right on time!" her friend said. Her grin faltered somewhat, though, as she continued to scan the dock. "Where's Yusha? She said that she and her dad would be here last time we talked..."
"Maybe she and Master Rioku are just late? Human transportation has a bad habit of not being so great," Liung replied. "It's not like she is going to forget."
Yoriko shrugged and leaned against Liung's scaly neck. "Yeah, you're probably right. I just wanted her to be here so I didn't have to tell people how much Waterbending stunk twice."
"Or in my case, twenty-three times."
Liung pulled away and glanced at Yoriko. It's true; we just finished this conversation."
Yoriko grinned. "Alright, so I complained about Waterbending. A lot. The point is, I get to learn Earthbending from Master Rioku alongside Yusha!" She gripped the railing along the side of the ship and brought her knees up onto the metal rail. Once she had done that, Yoriko stood up and balanced precariously on the rail. "That's gonna be fun!"
"It won't be if you fall in and drown first," Liung replied wryly. Y'know, seeing as Waterbending was the worst, and you staying up 'til all hours?"
Despite the comment, Liung didn't worry. One of the things Yoriko was good at was balance; mastering Airbending had helped with that.
"Nah, this is nothing," she said as she stared out at the dock. Sukan had taken notice of them, and was motioning for Yoriko to step down from the railing, grinning all the while. Yoriko took a step back and dropped to the deck before glancing back at Liung, who did manage to notice the bags under her eyes. "Nothing at all."
Sukan wrapped her arms tightly around Yoriko as they met on the dock. The wind kicked up as Liung dropped from the deck of the ship next to them.
"I've missed you, Sweetie," she said as she crushed her daughter in a heavy embrace.
Yoriko grinned, despite the pressure. "Ugh...thanks, Mom...y'know, this is..."
"Right, right." Sukan let go and immediately approached Liung, wrapping her arms around the red dragon's neck. "You get one, too. You've both grown since I last saw you!"
"Thanks, Sukan," Liung replied. We both missed you, too, even if Yoriko's too stubborn to admit it."
"I am not, Liung," Yoriko said before using the air currents to carry herself back up to the deck, where she grabbed her bags. She glanced down at both of them and smiled. "I did miss you, Mom."
"Good to hear," she replied before noticing her daughter's eyes. "Have you been sleeping well?"
She shrugged. "The cold didn't help with sleep; I got used to it. It'll be nice to sleep in a real bed, though." The grin on her face disappeared. "No matter what you do to it, concrete and ice make for cold beds."
"I guess so. Now, we should probably hurry if we want to meet Yusha and Rioku for lunch; we have reservations at The Bath House."
Liung inclined her head. "See? I told you they wouldn't miss it!" As her paws hit snow, the dragon recoiled. "You can't be serious..."
"Oh, stop complaining about the snow! At least now you won't have to hear how bad Waterbending was!"
Sukan glanced at her daughter. "Tough, huh?"
Both of them turned as Liung growled. When Sukan pressed her hand to the dragon's side, the words and thoughts came immediately.
"Please, Sukan, do not ask her about Waterbending..."
"Fine," she said as she smirked, "we can talk about that while you get reacquainted with Yusha's badgermole friend."
Liung's yellow eyes narrowed. "Tell me you got the outside seats! I don't want to fraternize with that...thing; all it does is dig and poop!"
Yoriko chuckled. "She was joking, Liung. Couldn't you tell?"
The Bath House had been around for centuries; the same family had owned it for the entirety of its existence. Where it had begun as its name implied, a couple of generations—along with a still young Republic City—caused it to shift into something else. It became a restaurant celebrating the spiritual and the ancient.
Yoriko and Sukan walked up the stairs to the second floor, following their host. As they passed by the window, Liung flew beside it from the outside, toward the balcony where they would be sharing lunch.
The arrival of a large, red dragon caused the patrons closest to the window to jump, if only slightly. Yoriko grinned. Liung lived for those kind of reactions.
"There's Yusha, Sweetie!" Sukan said, bringing Yoriko's mind and gaze back to the restaurant. Yusha and her father, Rioku, stood next to their table with massive smiles on their faces.
"Hey, you two!" Rioku embraced Sukan and then Yoriko, before Yusha did likewise. "Been awhile!"
Yoriko bowed slightly. "Good to see you again, Master Rioku." She glanced at Yusha and smirked.
The one-eyed man raised an eyebrow. "Oh, no, not yet! I'm not your master 'til we've started training." He rubbed his bald head. "You're gonna be making me feel old, Yoriko."
"Dad, I hate to break it to you..." Yusha stood on the balls of her feet and glanced up at him. "...but you are old."
Rioku put a hand over his chest. "Ugh, that hurts, Yu."
"No offense," Yoriko said, "but when I didn't see you guys at the dock—"
"No way we were gonna miss this!" Yusha replied. "Dad just got caught up with a friend of his." She pursed her lips. "I swear, he knows everybody...."
Rioku shrugged. "We ran into Kuan Ti on his way to the airship landing; he mentioned that he'd seen you one last time at the cemetery, Sukan."
"Wait, why were you at the cemetery?" Yoriko asked, eyebrow raised.
Sukan smiled. Thanks, Rioku. Thanks a lot. "Just passing through, honey."
She inclined her head. "Oh, okay."
"Are you going to come out on the balcony now? Or am I just gonna have to talk to you from out here?" Liung's voice echoed in her head, although it was quieter due to lack of contact. "Every time you translate, you get me in trouble."
Yoriko grinned. "Let's go outside! Liung's getting antsy, and I'm hungry!"
"No argument from me," Rioku replied. "Time to eat!"
The four of them walked out onto the balcony and sat down, with Liung setting down beside the table. Thankfully, there was enough room for the dragon to fit.
The waiter came to take their drink orders, and once he had left, Yusha leaned forward. "So, I heard that Waterbending was tough!"
Yoriko nodded. "Yep. According to Master Moro, Waterbending is the natural opposite to a Firebender like me. She wasn't kidding." She looked back, remembering the long months that it took for her to master the idea of the ebb and flow. Master Moro had been nothing but patient, but her own continued failures had frustrated Yoriko. "It wasn't until Liung mentioned trying to use Airbending styles that I started to get it." She glanced at the dragon and pressed her hand against her side. "It would've taken me a lot longer without that."
"Well, anything to stop your complaining." Liung's words didn't match the joy she was pouring into their telepathic link, and Yoriko couldn't help but smile even wider.
"Well, I think throwing rocks'll be more your speed, then!"
"Yeah! I can't wait to start training; Earthbending is gonna be fun!"
Sukan shared her daughter's smile. "Just be ready to work. Earthbending isn't going to be easy."
"I know," she replied. "But this time, I won't have to learn it alone! Every other element, I had someone to share it with, but not in the North."
"At least Lyre stopped by every so often."
"Yeah, she was always fun."
"Yoriko, what have I told you about holding private conversations with Liung in front of others?" She eyed the dragon. "That goes for you, too."
Yoriko said it as she felt Liung's echo in her mind. "Sorry...from both of us."
Yusha chuckled. "Well, we won't exactly be learning together. I've already been Earthbending since I was a kid."
"Whoa, there, little girl," Rioku said, "you still are a kid. No more of this being in a hurry to grow up."
Yusha winced. "Dad, c'mon."
"So? Maybe you can show me some moves after lunch, then?" Yoriko asked.
"Yeah, sounds like fun!"
In an instant, though, Yoriko's smile vanished. "Actually...there's one thing I have to do first." She turned and faced Sukan. "Mom, can we stop by the cemetery after lunch?"
Sukan smiled sadly. "Sure, Sweetie."
Kuan Ti sighed as the airship began to rise from its pad and glanced down at Republic City. He hoped he wouldn't be gone long; it would be interesting to see how Rioku handled teaching Yoriko Earthbending.
Spirits, if she's anything like her mother... He had to stop himself. Adopted mother. Sukan was headstrong, pushing herself at every training session. She was his best student.
And she needed to be. Yoriko, as it stood, was an unpredictable element. Her Avatar State was a significant and—as far as they knew—an uncontrollable threat.
He still remembered Sukan's expression when they'd first met; she'd wanted him dead.
I told you then, Sukan...it's my job to make sure you're strong enough to fight her and, if necessary, end her.
It was like he'd flipped a switch. When they'd begun training, she fought with all she had. Her police training was good, but compared to what he'd put his Equalists through, it was useless. He didn't envy her for the very thing which he was preparing her, though. It was a whole new screwed up situation.
He narrowed his eyes. "Sorry, Argho...sorry that your legacy is a little girl who could destroy all of it."
Kuan Ti sighed and leaned back in his chair. Ba Sing Se awaited, and he had more important concerns. Namely, a dead Earth King.
He frowned. Just like old times.
Yoriko might've even considered it cold if not for her time in the North. As it was, though, it was a small comfort as she faced the graves that held her parents.
"Mom...Dad..." She pursed her lips. It didn't feel right anymore, not after everything. She had someone else. "Is that...is that wrong? If it weren't for the pictures we got from the house..." She gritted her teeth. "...I wouldn't even remember what you both looked like."
The gravestones stared back, stoic and cold. They'd never spoken, but because of that, Yoriko had gotten better at it.
"I'm a Waterbending master, now; you'd be surprised and...proud, I hope," she said. "I've never been able to do this, but I think you guys deserve to know what my journey's been like. When I was younger, I would just break down crying, and Mom—Miss Sukan—would take me away. Would tell me it would all be okay. She'd make me tea, like you used to."
Yoriko inhaled. The flood was coming. I'm fourteen...gotta hold it together. "You guys should---" She bit her lower lip and looked away. "It's too much...I can't take it anymore!" She dropped to her knees. "The nightmares...the nightmares are coming almost every night, now. I can't sleep; all I see every time is your faces as he kills you over and over and over!"
Her breath came in short gasps as the memory of her deepest fears came to the forefront. "I wish I could forget your faces so that I wouldn't have to see him kill you every night! Mom tried to help me; she did. She was with me when I screamed every night, and eventually, it all stopped. But last month...they started again. It hurts! Every time! I scream and plead and beg!" She slammed her fists on the ground. "And you die every time," she whispered.
As she moved to stand up again, she noticed a fresh flower placed in front of the graves. She furrowed her brow and glanced back to where Liung and Sukan were waiting and talking with Yusha and her father. She couldn't see them; they must've wanted to give her privacy.
She smiled sadly and wiped her tears using the sleeve of her thick Water Tribe jacket. "I guess I'm not the only one who's been here, huh?" Yoriko sighed and sat down, cross-legged. "Okay...I guess I should start from the beginning."
- This marks Kuan Ti's first actual appearance in this fanon, and I'm excited to have him back!
- Same with Rioku, actually! And he has a daughter! He's been busy since IAE ended, it seems.
- Now that I think about it, a lot of my characters suffer from nightmares. Huh.
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