Katara could hardly remember the last time she'd slept so comfortably. Her sleeping bag was nice, but it didn't do much to make up for the uneven ground beneath it. And the bunk on Zuko's ship had been stiff and uncomfortable at best.
So when she woke up to sunlight streaming through the thick ice windows, tucked snug into a thick bed of furs, Katara wasn't sure she wanted to get up. It was just as cozy as home—maybe even cozier—and she'd gone to bed relatively late last night. It wouldn't do any harm to enjoy the soft furs a little longer.
But she was too excited to stay in bed, and after just a few minutes, she crawled out and dressed herself.
Her first day of training. Her first time ever working with a real waterbending master. This would be exciting even if she did have to work with Pakku, but from what Yue had told her, that wasn't going to be a problem. Katara couldn't imagine any of the teachers for the beginners' lessons being as bad as Pakku. Not that she would consider herself a beginner anymore, but she certainly wasn't an advanced student. Not yet.
I'm sure you will enjoy your healing lessons.
Katara fixed the end of her braid and set her jaw tight. She didn't know why Pakku had sounded so condescending about it, but she fully intended to enjoy every part of her training. Out of spite, if nothing else. Healing wasn't what she'd come for, but she reasoned that it would be a reasonably useful way to spend her time between combat bending lessons. It probably wasn't necessary or wise to spend all day training and sparring, and she had been a little curious about how healing worked for a while. She had no intention to let it get in the way of learning to fight, but there had to be a way to do both.
There were clattering noises in the main room, and when she poked her head out, she found Sokka emerging from the boys' room, grumpy and rubbing at his eyes. "What the heck are you making so much noise for?"
Katara raised an eyebrow. "I'm not."
"You are too." He plopped down on the floor, his shoulders hanging slack. "Why else would I be awake?"
"Maybe because it's morning?"
Sokka scowled blearily at her. "That's ridiculous."
Before Katara had a chance to respond, Momo rattled around on one of the overhead shelves, knocked over a basket, then launched himself across the room with a screech.
"Ugh, Momo!" Katara caught the basket before it hit the ground, then darted around Sokka's sprawling limbs and snagged the lemur by the midsection. "You're a terror, you know that? We're supposed to be guests here."
Momo craned his head back around and chattered at her, then squirmed with all his might, tiny arms reaching for the shelf he'd been exploring.
"Not today," Katara said, stowing him under her arm. "Nobody is allowed to cause any more problems before I start waterbending lessons, and that includes fuzzy little lemurs." They didn't seem to be in any danger of being kicked out of the city, but she wasn't going to take any chances. No amount of lemur-induced chaos was going to keep her from training with real masters.
She sat down by Sokka and scratched Momo behind the ears.
Sokka blinked a few times. "Maybe Momo woke me up."
"Do you think?" she snarked back.
Aang's head poked out around the corner. "Hey, guys! Are you both ready for—"
"No," Sokka groaned, dragging the word out far longer than necessary. He sprawled on his back. "It's too early for you two to be all cheerful and stuff."
"It's not that early, Sokka." Aang sat across from them, and his tunic fluttered with the motion. "We have to leave for waterbending lessons pretty soon."
Katara couldn't stop the smile creeping across her face. No amount of attitude from Sokka was going to ruin this day for her.
Apparently that wasn't going to stop him from trying, though. "Ugh. But now you're both going to be practicing all the time, and it's cold up here, and I know you're gonna get me wet, and it's going to be the worst."
She leaned over him. "Weren't you planning to go to warrior training to beat up Hahn?"
Sokka sat up straight. "That's right! I forgot that." He yawned and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. "That could almost be worth waking up at the buttcrack of dawn. Almost," he finished, narrowing his eyes at Katara.
"Who's Hahn?" Aang asked.
"He's—" Katara began delicately.
"He's a creep who needs the stupid smirk wiped off his stupid face," Sokka interrupted.
"Am I wrong?"
"I mean—no, but—"
"See?" He gestured triumphantly her way.
"All I'm saying is that if you do or say anything that might get us kicked out of the city, I'm going to be furious. It sounds like Hahn and his family are important." She paused. "You can beat him up in training, but you'd better not cause any trouble outside of that."
"And you'd better not blow anything up and ruin my chances with Yue."
Katara couldn't decide whether to comment on his 'chances' with Yue or to protest the idea that she would blow things up. She could. She never had. It wasn't her fault that the explosion that had taken Zuko's ship looked like something she could have done.
"Wait, you like the princess?" Aang asked.
"Yeah, of course I do. Did you see her? She's so—" With a wistful sigh, Sokka sprawled on his back again, arms splayed out to the sides.
Katara rolled her eyes. "You're not going to make it through training if you do this every time you think about Yue."
Sokka frowned. "Maybe I'll beat Hahn up tomorrow. That'll give me a chance to learn his moves."
"And to moon over Yue some more."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
It wasn't bad, exactly. Yue was nice. But it was more than a little weird to watch her own brother drooling over a girl. Especially when Katara could see herself becoming friends with that girl. Even more so when the girl kept blushing and giggling right back at Sokka. Was it really too much to ask for one friend who didn't think that burping contests were the pinnacle of entertainment? Or for Sokka to not make kissy faces at Yue every single chance he got?
The knock came on their door just a few minutes later, and a pair of burly but fairly friendly-looking waterbenders escorted them out into the morning sunlight.
Katara did her best to contain herself. She was excited—beyond excited, but she wasn't going to spoil her first impression by allowing it to get the better of her. She was taking her lessons seriously, and she'd make sure that everyone knew it.
"How much of this stuff do you think we already know?" Aang asked eagerly, practically hovering alongside her. "If they're teaching us things from the scrolls, then we have a huge head start!"
She hesitated. "I guess we might learn something from the second scroll." The one from the pirates. The one that had led to her unknowingly meeting Zuko and nearly getting kidnapped, the one that she had struggled with while Aang mastered every form in a matter of minutes.
The one that had prompted the fight that allowed Zuko to catch up with them and turn everything upside down.
There was a short, dull twinge at the back of her mind. She hadn't thought about that fight in almost a month. Logically, she should have forgotten about it by now. It didn't matter anymore. Katara was a better waterbender than she'd been back then, and she hadn't squabbled with Aang once since she found her way back to them. Still, there was that annoying little buzz inside of her skull. She was a much better bender, but in forgetting about the argument, she'd also forgotten how badly she needed to practice her Northern Tribe forms.
But Aang—what if he hadn't forgotten? He'd had just as much time to practice as Katara did, and he'd liked the Northern Tribe scroll better than the one from the Southern Tribe. What if he'd been training all along? What if Aang got to skip ahead to more advanced lessons while Katara was stuck slogging through the basics with a bunch of little kids?
She shoved the thick, ugly jealousy back down. She couldn't be jealous of Aang. They were supposed to be a team. Resenting his progress wouldn't help anyone, even if she had been working longer and harder with less success. Even if it burned her from the inside out and made her vision dance with reddish spots.
This was not the right time to indulge those feelings. Besides, if she made enough progress, they'd probably go away on their own. Or she hoped that they would.
"I bet there are a lot of great waterbending games we can play," Aang continued, cheerfully oblivious to her lapse. "Maybe we can teach some of the other kids the stuff we learned from the scrolls, and then we can make the games even better!"
"There are no games here, young man," Pakku announced as they emerged into a bright, open arena of snow and ice.
Katara clenched her jaw. He was probably just here to greet them. Pakku did know that Aang was the Avatar, after all. As rude as he was, it seemed like Pakku had a strong sense of propriety.
At first, it was too bright for her to make out much of anything, but as her eyes began to focus, Katara could see a row of towering pillars ringing the edges of the arena, and great fountain-like basins placed between them at regular intervals. There were terraces and platforms of varying sizes and shapes, and areas where the ground turned uneven or sloped. Just looking at it made Katara imagine all the possibilities, all the ways she could turn the terrain to her advantage in a fight.
She tried not to think about why Zuko was the first opponent she pictured, or why she was suddenly itching for a proper sparring match against him in particular. She tried to tell herself that it was just because he was a firebender—because more than anything else, she had to know how to defend herself against firebenders—and because out of all the firebenders she'd met, Zuko seemed the least likely to cause her deliberate harm.
Well, him and the general, but she couldn't really imagine fighting the general. Zuko, though—they'd done plenty of arguing, so why wouldn't they be able to spar with one another?
Maybe someday she'd get that chance. For now, she'd have to be satisfied with honing her skills against the other waterbenders.
Pakku stepped forward, brows drawn sharply downward. "I take the instruction of all my students seriously, and I expect the same from them."
Katara couldn't imagine Pakku not taking things seriously. He was probably making that same sour face at anyone who dared to smile back when he was an infant strapped to his mother's back too.
"I know that," Aang said. "But the monks always told me that games were the best way to learn. 'Playing is never without purpose,' they said."
"This is not an Air Temple, and I am not a monk. You will abide by my rules or you will be removed, is that clear?"
Aang clamped his mouth shut and gave a wide-eyed nod.
Katara frowned. She didn't mind being told to take this seriously. She'd always taken her waterbending seriously, and while she wouldn't mind playing a few waterbending games with Aang, she didn't have her heart set on them either. But she did resent the implication that she wasn't serious about her training. And it annoyed her that Pakku was so determined to crush Aang's hopes. He was just a kid, after all.
But more importantly, the beginners' lessons were supposed to be taught by someone else. Why was Pakku even here?
"Excuse me, but Princess Yue told me that you only taught the advanced lessons. Isn't that—" She faltered when Pakku turned his icy glare on her.
"Ordinarily, I don't waste my valuable time on novices," Pakku said. "But in the case of the Avatar, it is imperative that training be conducted as quickly and efficiently as possible."
That was reasonable enough, she had to admit. She didn't like it, but it made sense.
"And this is a closed practice," Pakku added. "I do not allow spectators, little girl."
Katara bristled. It was going to be a struggle to deal with this guy every day.
A faint, biting edge made its way into her voice. "I guess it's a good thing we left my brother at home, then."
Pakku shook his head. "You will leave my class. Now. Or I will have you removed."
"What? I—but—" she fumbled. "But I'm a waterbender," she eventually managed. "I'm here to learn."
"Not with me. Not in combat. The Northern Water Tribe has traditions and standards. We do not train our girls to fight." Pakku gave her a derisive sneer. "You are welcome to study healing with Master Yugoda."
What? That wasn't how this was meant to work. Healing was a bonus. Her goal was learning to fight.
"But I didn't come all this way for healing lessons!" Katara said, her voice creeping higher. "I can fight. I've been teaching myself for as long as I can remember, and I've been fighting all the way here from the South Pole."
"Within these walls, that will end," Pakku replied, his tone sharp and clipped. "You are a guest, and as such, you are expected to abide by our rules. You do not warrant an exception merely by being an outsider."
"That's ridiculous!" she burst out. "It's not fair."
"Yeah!" Aang piped up. "Katara's a really good waterbender, and—"
"And if you both continue to argue, I will remove you both from my lessons and advise Master Yugoda to ban you from her lessons as well." That last part was clearly directed at Katara. "It was your choice to travel here. It is ours to determine what should be done now that you have arrived." Pakku glanced toward Aang. "Were you not traveling with the Avatar, I would not be so lenient."
Aang perked up. "Well, that's great! Because we didn't say anything before, but Katara's actually—"
She didn't know why exactly she cut him off. Maybe she'd developed a reflex by now, an instinct to intervene whenever someone came close to revealing her identity. Maybe it was because she knew that there was no way to prove herself as the Avatar, and no one would ever believe her otherwise. Maybe she just didn't want to try putting on a show for Pakku of all people.
No, that wasn't all of it. Whatever it was felt deeper than that.
"Leaving," she snapped. "I'm leaving." Katara shot a look of cold, hard hatred at Pakku. "This isn't over, though."
Pakku matched her tone. "I think you'll find that it very much is over."
Katara's eye twitched, and she came very close to snapping back at him again, but Pakku turned his back before she had the chance.
"Angun, see that she finds her way to Master Yugoda. And the rest of you, take your stances. We've wasted too much time already."
Katara watched desperately over her shoulder as the older waterbender began to lead her away and Pakku's students—all boys, she now noticed—fell into a somewhat disorderly row. Only Aang still looked her way.
"Avatar!" Pakku barked. "To attention. If you prefer to gawp, you may see yourself out as well until you are ready to focus."
Aang snapped back around to face Pakku, and Katara looked away too, throat burning. She didn't know why it bothered her so much to see Aang listening to Pakku. She didn't want him to give up lessons on her account. She didn't want them to have come this far only for them to both lose the opportunity to learn with a real master.
Still, it felt a little like a betrayal. And as she marched away down the street, toward the elegant domes of the healing huts, she tried to convince herself that the brightness and the cold were the only reasons her eyes were prickling.
Staying in the healing lesson felt like admitting defeat. This was where Pakku wanted to keep her, which, to Katara's mind, meant that she should go somewhere else—anywhere else—just to defy him. She didn't want to be in healing lessons. She wanted to be out there with the boys, proving herself and learning to fight.
But she didn't seem to have many other options right now. Angun had escorted her all the way inside the healing hut, so she couldn't slip out unnoticed. And then Master Yugoda had immediately greeted her, given her a place in the ring of other students—all little girls—and begun the lesson. If Katara wanted to leave, she probably could, but not without being massively disrespectful.
As much as Katara didn't want to be here, she didn't want to be rude either. At least Master Yugoda was nice. That was a lot more than she could say for Pakku.
Besides, there wasn't much else for Katara to do if she left. Aang was training with Pakku. Sokka was supposed to be training with the nonbenders—and even if she'd wanted to join them, it seemed fairly safe to assume that the nonbenders didn't let girls fight either. What did that leave? Playing with Momo? Brushing Appa? Neither option would keep her busy long enough for the boys to get done with training. At least she might learn something useful by staying here. At least she wouldn't look like a quitter.
She just had to persuade herself to pay attention somehow. Which was harder than it sounded with all the anger and frustration at Pakku continuously bubbling back up in her stomach and clouding over her thoughts. It was all his fault. If Pakku would just let her into combat bending lessons, she wouldn't have to be distracted by the injustice of it all. If she could learn to fight, she would be able to appreciate Yugoda's lessons rather than dwelling on everything she was missing.
"Wonderful work today, girls," Yugoda said. "I know it's still early, but you've earned a bit of a break. We will resume here tomorrow morning."
There was a chorus of small, polite cheers and thank-yous from the little girls, and Katara waited for a few of them to stand up before she rose as well.
"I would like to meet with our new student for a moment," Yugoda added kindly.
Katara stopped halfway to the door. Ugh. She'd been trying to stay focused, she really had, but Yugoda had undoubtedly noticed how little attention she'd been paying. Katara hadn't exactly been subtle about her disappointment.
Which was probably unfair. It wasn't Yugoda's fault that Katara couldn't attend combative waterbending lessons. And she'd been nothing but kind to Katara and patient with the other girls in the class.
When the last of the little girls filed out, Katara gave a quick, awkward bow in Yugoda's direction.
"Master Yugoda, I'm really sorry I was so distracted today. I'll try to do better."
Hopefully she'd have something figured out about combative waterbending lessons by the time she had to come back here. Hopefully that would make it easier to focus.
Yugoda smiled and shook her head. "That's quite all right, dear. Everyone has rough days, especially at the start." Yugoda motioned for Katara to sit again, then settled across from her. "I would like to visit a while, if you have the time."
"Did you have any trouble finding your way here this morning?"
She looked up, a little startled. Was that why Yugoda thought she'd been late? "I—no, that wasn't it." It made sense that Yugoda might think as much, but the healing huts weren't hard to spot from where she and the boys were staying. "There was a misunderstanding. I didn't know that I was supposed to come straight here."
A pause. Then, "You seem disappointed."
How was Katara supposed to react to that? She was disappointed to be thrown out of Pakku's lessons. Not because she cared for training with Pakku—if she had a choice in the matter, she'd be more than happy to take all her bending lessons with Yugoda—but this wasn't what she'd ever imagined for her training. To her mind, bending meant fighting. It always had.
"This isn't what I left home for," she settled on. "I've always known that I was a waterbender, but I've never really thought about healing. For a long time, I didn't even know it was possible."
Not until the explosion. Not until the whole world seemed engulfed by flames and the seawater was the only relief she could find. Not until she'd watched the burns fade from her own hands and then tested the water on Zuko's wounds for confirmation.
"The Southern Tribe has no healers?"
Katara shrugged. "If we ever had them, no one told me about it. I was the Southern Water Tribe's first bender in years. By the time I was born, there was no one left to teach me."
Yugoda gave her a small, sympathetic smile. "I'm sorry to hear it." A brief pause. "How did you discover your healing abilities?"
"That's—kind of a long story," Katara answered. She remembered the shock when, against all odds, her burns and bruises vanished. She remembered the sinking in the pit of her stomach at the sight of the blood running from Zuko's head, and the uneasy relief when her bending stemmed its flow. "There was—an incident. I got stuck in the middle of some kind of feud and I ended up with a few bruises and burns. The person I was with got hurt a lot worse, and the healing just kind of—happened."
She found herself wondering how bad it had really been for Zuko. Beyond the wound she'd mended for him, how severe had his injuries been? Had he recovered? She found her mittened hand rising toward her necklace, and she pulled it back as soon as she'd confirmed that the pendant was still in place.
Yugoda noticed and gave her a knowing look. "I assume your young man was involved in some way."
Katara started. "My—what?" There was a young man involved, but why on earth would Yugoda refer to him as Katara's young man?
"I—that's—no." Her face grew hotter and hotter under Yugoda's gaze. "I'm not engaged! Why would I be?"
"You're wearing a betrothal necklace."
Her brow furrowed, but her cheeks just kept burning. "No. He didn't—I mean, he gave it back to me after I lost it, but he didn't really give it to me. This necklace belonged to my mother. And to my grandmother before that." She hated how embarrassed she felt at even the suggestion of it. She didn't know anything about betrothal necklaces. Zuko certainly didn't mean anything by giving it back to her. It was such a ridiculous idea that she shouldn't care at all.
But for some reason, her face was still hot.
Mercifully, Yugoda changed her focus. "Your grandmother?" She leaned forward. "May I see the necklace?"
Katara leaned in too and let Yugoda get a better look at the pendant. For a few moments, Yugoda studied it, then she sat back again.
"Kanna," Yugoda said softly. "I should have guessed."
Katara's eyes widened. "What? You—you know my Gran-Gran?"
For a second, there was no reaction at all, but then Yugoda sat back again, her face drawn into tight creases of puzzlement. "If it's all right with you, dear, I'd like to invite you to have dinner with me. I think I may be able to clear up some confusion for both of us."
Coming from anyone else, that might have sounded almost ominous. Coming from Yugoda, it still made her wonder. A lot. How on earth could a nice old lady from the Northern Water Tribe know anything about Gran-Gran?
Finally Katara nodded. "Sure. That sounds nice."
"Lovely." Yugoda stood. "Then I will collect you just before sunset."
Sokka was grateful to discover that no one else had come back to the house yet. It had not been a great day. He should have expected that from the start. Waking up early never made a day go well, and this was no exception.
After the other two left for training. Sokka had fallen asleep in the middle of the floor, woken up to the sound of someone pounding on the door, skipped breakfast, found Hahn of all people waiting outside to escort him to the arena, and then had an absolutely miserable time in training. The Northern Tribe's weapons were weird. Of course Sokka recognized them all, but the war clubs were all big and unwieldy, the spears were short and heavy, and the machetes were completely unbalanced.
That was why Sokka's fighting had looked more like flailing than anything else. That was why he'd been paired up with a scrawny, underfed-looking kid for most of the time and still got knocked over more times than he cared to count. The weapons were all wrong. That was why he hadn't gotten a chance to knock the smirk off of Hahn's dumb face. If Sokka had been allowed to bring his own weapons, it would have been an entirely different situation. He would have been great.
And maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't have had to walk home with a bloody nose and a bruised ego.
Stupid, unwieldy Northern Tribe clubs. He hadn't even hit himself that hard.
The only good thing that happened today was this, right now. Coming back to an empty house was really the best he could hope for. At least he could wallow in private this way. And if he was really lucky, the nosebleed might stop on its own so he wouldn't have to talk about it.
But before he could even get settled in for a proper mope, the door swung open again, and Katara stepped inside.
She stopped in her tracks, staring, and Sokka glared back as the door swung shut. If she made fun of his bloody nose, he was going to put her in a headlock.
She didn't. Instead, she walked over to him and flopped face-first onto the floor.
Huh. That wasn't exactly normal.
"Please at least tell me that Hahn looks worse than you do."
Sokka frowned, holding the cloth up under his nose. "Uh—no, not exactly." Hahn was a stupid looking jerk, but he was fairly certain that wasn't what Katara meant.
"Listen, it's not my fault. I didn't get a chance to fight him." Which, considering how training had gone, was probably a good thing. If the weapons could get the best of him all on their own, Sokka probably didn't need the embarrassment of facing another person. At least not until he'd had some more practice.
Katara rolled her head to the side and peered up at him from the corner of her eye. "You didn't? Then who hit you?"
There really was no dignified way to tell the truth on that one. Sokka shrugged. "Just some guy."
"Some guy?" Katara pushed herself up and scrunched up her nose as she studied him. Sokka looked away. It felt like she was trying to see straight through his skull or something. "Did you hit yourself in the face?"
"I—just—" Sokka spluttered. "You know, it's not my fault the Northern Water Tribe is weird. All the weapons are different." He paused long enough to watch her roll her eyes before he changed the subject. "Where's Aang?"
"Ughhh." Katara flopped down again, and her hood flew up to cover her head. "He's where I wish I was," she said, voice muffled.
"What's that supposed to mean?" He waited a few moments, and then jabbed her with his big toe when she didn't respond.
"Pakku kicked me out of waterbending lessons," she mumbled from beneath her hood before pushing herself up again. "Apparently they won't teach girls how to fight."
Sokka's first instinct was to agree with Pakku. His second was to remember Kyoshi Island, and Suki, and the rather impressive butt-kickings she'd doled out. Hmm. Sokka probably still had the uniform packed away somewhere. Maybe he'd do better in training if he wore the armor under his parka. It wouldn't keep him from smashing himself in the face, but any blows to his middle wouldn't stand a chance.
"So what, you just wandered around the city all day?"
Katara shook her head. "Healing lessons. That's all they think girls should be allowed to do." She sat back and pulled her knees to her chest. "At least the teacher is nice. Pakku is a real buttmunch, but Yugoda invited me to have dinner with her tonight." A pause. "And I guess she knows Gran-Gran too, so—"
"What?" Sokka's voice came out several octaves higher than it had any business going. "How does anybody up here know Gran-Gran?"
"I don't know! Yugoda said she was going to try to clear some things up tonight."
That sounded unlikely. There was no possible reason for two old ladies on opposite sides of the world to know each other. Gran-Gran would have said something if she'd known anything about the Northern Tribe, wouldn't she? She probably would've mentioned the healing, if nothing else.
Actually, that was bothering him too. He jabbed Katara with his toe again. "Hey. If you were in healing lessons all day, then why do I still have a bloody nose?"
She scowled at him. "You're unbelievable."
"Unbelievably smart, right?"
Katara groaned, but she scooted over and shoved Sokka's hand out of the way. "How did you give yourself a bloody nose anyway?"
"I didn't! It was—"
"Right, my mistake. A bloody nose and two black eyes." She prodded his nose.
"Ow!" Sokka jerked backward. Then, "Hold on, two black eyes? Do I look cool?"
"Take a wild guess."
Holding his nose, Sokka thought for a second. "Definitely. I always look cool." Except for the exact moment when he'd hit himself. But one exception wasn't bad. It didn't matter so much that he hadn't beaten Hahn up yet. At least he looked like he could.
Katara rolled her eyes and grabbed his face again.
"Hey! Ow, ow ow!"
"Stop being a baby," she admonished, bringing a bulge of water up to his face.
"Argh!" he yelled. He was not being a baby. The water was cold, and his face hurt, and Katara was not being gentle about it, and—
And then there was a bright bluish glow, and Sokka's face didn't hurt anymore.
Katara pulled the water away and flicked him in the middle of the forehead. "I told you to stop being a baby about it."
He shoved her aside and wrinkled his nose a few times, testing out her handiwork. Hmm. It didn't hurt. She'd done a decent enough job, even if she'd been kind of rude about it.
"I hope you didn't miss the lesson on how to be nice to your patients," Sokka grumbled. "You need it."
"I'll get right on that," Katara snipped back at him. "As soon as you learn how not to hit yourself in the face."
He scowled. That was low. He doubted that Katara would have done much better in warrior training.
"By the way," she added. "You might want to wash your face. You look kind of gross."
Sokka swiped his hand under his nose and came back with bloody smears on the back of his hand. Ew. She had a point on that one.
The door swung open again, and this time, Aang entered, his head hanging.
Well, this was just great. Was anyone having any luck since they'd arrived here? Hundreds—no, thousands of miles of travel, months of stress and fighting, and it barely seemed worth the trouble.
Well, meeting Yue had been pretty great. She was definitely worth it. But everything else was just a mess.
"Aang?" Katara said. "What's wrong?"
"Oh." Aang looked up. "I don't think Master Pakku likes me very much."
Katara scoffed. "I don't think he likes anyone. His face would probably break if he tried to smile."
Sokka wiped the blood off his face as well as he could. "So what happened?"
"Pakku kicked Katara out of class. Then he got mad and threatened to kick me out too when I said that it wasn't fair." Aang flopped onto the ground and gave Katara a mournful look. "I really tried. Waterbending practice isn't any fun without you."
Katara nodded, frowning. "What did you say to Pakku?"
"Not very much. He kept giving me mean looks every time I tried to talk." A pause. "I tried to tell him about you being the Avatar too, but—"
"Don't," Katara interrupted.
"I'm sorry, what?" Sokka looked back and forth between the two of them. "You didn't bother telling that old snow goat that you were the Avatar before he kicked you out?"
Katara pursed her lips. "No."
"Why? Isn't that like an automatic pass into any lessons you want?"
"Do you really think he would have believed me? We talked about this already. No one is going to believe that there's a second Avatar."
"Yeah, maybe not at first. But we could prove it in a day or two, then that Pakku guy wouldn't have a choice." Sokka turned to Aang for support. "Right?"
Aang nodded, but before he could speak, Katara shook her head forcefully.
"No. I don't want to tell Pakku."
"Why not?" Sokka's voice cracked and slid far too high.
"Because—" She fumbled, then dropped her head into her hands. "Ugh. I don't know how to explain it."
"Yeah, I can see why. You can't explain things that don't make sense."
Katara raised her head just enough to glare at him. "Wash your face, Sokka. You still have blood everywhere."
Aang blanched. "That's blood?"
"Yep." Katara smirked. "Sokka punched himself in the face and got a bloody nose."
"That's not what happened."
"Really? Then maybe you should tell us the real story. If you don't, I'm just going to imagine something more embarrassing every single time I think about it."
Sokka scowled. "That's blackmail, Katara."
She shrugged. "I healed your nose and your black eyes. I think a little blackmail is fair."
His scowl deepened. His sister was turning into some sort of criminal mastermind. He could have almost enjoyed that fact if she'd just chosen someone else to pick on. Someone like Hahn.
That actually wasn't the worst idea, now that he thought about it. Katara could probably do pretty well against Hahn. She'd probably enjoy it too.
But right now, she and Aang were both staring at him. And no matter how he tried to avoid their eyes, neither of them would stop.
Sokka finally groaned. "Fine. But I hope you know that you're both criminals."
Katara rolled her eyes and reclined back on her hands. "Just tell the story, Sokka."
Yay for everyone's least favorite old man from the Water Tribe being... a real delight. But hey! At least there are some actually fun characters to play with (like a certain old lady who thinks that Katara is engaged to a certain boy who held onto her necklace for a while ;) ).
I hope you liked the chapter! It's not the most exciting note to leave off on, but it's also not a cliffhanger, so... you're welcome, I guess 😂. I hate to go on hiatus, and August seems SO FAR AWAY, but I'll be posting (on AO3) all through June and July. So I'm only going to be on hiatus for about a month. It's just this fic that's going into hiding for a while longer.
I'd be ecstatic if any of you decided to check out my Zutara Big Bang fic when that posts in June, but if not, I'll be writing as much Ice & Smoke as I can in the background while I try to finish up event stuff. Hopefully I'll be able to come back with a whole heap of new chapters stashed away! Thank you all so much for sticking with me so far, and comments and kudos are always appreciated! Feel free to visit me on Tumblr (where I'll probably announce the exact return date for this fic when I get to that point)!