((So a little funny tidbit. I'd never seen the episode 'Bitter Work' the one about Iroh training Zuko and Toph training Aang, so I was watching it after I wrote the meditation part of this chapter, and alas, they're nearly identical! I about died. Iroh has the same rant Dragon has. And seeing as I felt all wise thinking the way Dragon did, it makes me feel special! XD But the fingertip thing I did take from Naruto(Go Shikamaru!) (though it is actually a meditation technique used it different kinds of meditation..), but the rest of the meditation I made out of thin air. Hope it works.

Disclaimer: Blah, don't own them, blah.

Muse Songs: Kiss from a Rose (Seal), She Walked Away (Barlow Girl), Angels (Within Temptation), The Adventure (Angels and Airways), and Gone (Switchfoot)..and others.

On with the story! Which is now my obsession fic..yay!

Dedication: To BldCvrdKunoichi, for reading this fic and for having the first review! I think.. x-x Anyways, go you! You have stolen quite a bit of my sanity, but you gave a lot back too. xD ))


What lingers in the eye, shall not always remain within the heart

Chapter 2

When the Hands are Aflame

How the fingers cramped and loosened, moved and shifted, as if winding their way through the coals of a fireplace. She felt the muscles tire sluggishly, as if begging her subconciously not to do this, not to sink into the pain that this brought with her.

But she had to.

Her breathing was rapid as sweat poured down her face, dampening the pillow insanely, causing the sheet atop her half-naked body to stick to her skin..

"Are you insane? She's a Firebender!"

She could hear their voices through the state of partial sleep she rested in. They were the people who housed her, an elderly couple, a young child and a rebellious teenager, supposedly their grandsons. The older was but a couple years older than her..

They were so kind.. When she had appeared half-asleep on their doorway, injured with a broken arm, they had brought her in instantly, even after seeing her hands light on fire. From a humble Earth village, they welcomed her. Knowing it was her people that killed the parents of their grandsons, they wrapped her broken arm and gave her a bed, and too weak to refuse, she had accepted.

"We do not speak that way. She is a traveler, weary. She was kind to us. Who are we to refuse her?"

"But she's one of the people who killed Mom and Dad! How could you let her in?!"

Did she upset the teenager that much..?

"She is a child. Wouldn't you want someone to be kind to you if you were hurt?"

"Not if they were Fire Nation."

"Silence. If you want this world to change, if you want something to be better than what you're living in now-this war and death and chaos- then you will be kind to the strangers, and you will do what you can to change a Fire Nation girl such as this. Just because she is Fire Nation, a Firebender.. It does not make her a murderer..."

The heat in her palms had grown...

Did that family know what they had done?

She hadn't bended fire in over a month..

Flipping over onto her side, Dragon curled into a ball, panting still. Why was it so hot...it had to cool down...

"Get some ice... This girl is burning up..Even a Firebender shouldn't be this hot..."

Then it happened.

Dragon could still hear the old woman crying out in pain as her body lit into flames, all because Dragon had lost control...because going so long without bending had forced the flames out another way. She could still see the little boy crying, she could still see the old man hug the burnt body of his wife to his body..she could still see that teenager raise his eyes to Dragon and scream at her.

"You bitch! Get out of here! Go die! That's all you Fire Nation are worth! That's all your good for! Killing! I hate you! I hate all of you!" And the teen had grabbed a cutting knife, dashed towards her as if to bury it into her chest.

The old man had saved her. She could easily remember the old man's hand reached out and catching the teen's wrist. Quietly, that old man spoke, holding back tears. "I think its best if you leave.."

And she had left. Unable to say anything, she had left.

What could she say? How could she apologize? Could she hope to change their minds? Hope to beg for forgiveness and receive it? No..they would not forgive her..

So she had run..run half-asleep, sick, and wounded. Somehow she had survived, somehow she had found her way here.

She wouldn't hurt another innocent.

The clearing was hidden; she doubted even Jet knew about it. It was small and rounded, showing past signs of inhabitancy, with the occasional markings of a Otter-elk or Platypus-Bear. None of the fighters had laid eyes on it..that she knew. For never had there been a human footprint there, but the ones of her own shoe size and her boot's design. It was far away enough that, against the night sky, no smoke would be visible, and the smell would be far too faint to notice back at camp.

Closing her eyes, she bit her lip again.

"Why this..?" she felt herself murmuring. "Why this torment..?"

How horrible was it, that she was forced to wield herself that which haunted her so horribly..

The flames reflected heat as she stared down, unfeeling to the hand upon her shoulder, the tears falling from the eyes of the figure at her side... So many flames, all from her own hand.. She never thought she would use her fire like this..she never thought her flames would be the ones to...

She blinked. The eyelashes brushed against her skin, rising to reveal the golden eyes, the hauntingly deep golden orbs that reflected moonlight as if she was a Waterbender.

She would Fire bend under moonlight.

Carefully she felt herself assume the far too natural stance, the legs spread apart evenly, the hands up in front of her. The left foot made a slight circle in an almost Earthbending style, allowing her foot to press into the ground before inhaling deeply.

She did nothing, simply stared, urging herself forward. And with a silent thrust, the clearing lit into light as flames burst forth from her hand.

How wonderful. The adrenaline surged through her veins like ecstasy, feeling as though each ounce of blood in her veins was golden-laced sunlight, pouring forth into her eyes and into the ground, bursting forth like a Phoenix free of its cage. No, not a Phoenix. The flames poured out from her fingertips, burning from the palm like a bullet from a gun as if a dragon was launching itself up into the air, spinning before tearing down through the air towards the ground like a missel. Fangs were bared, ready to sink into the flesh and bone, wings were outstretched in glee- It was free, it was flying, it was natural. No cage could hold it back, nothing could keep it behind iron bars. Nothing could chain the creature to the ground when the sun shone so brightly before her, when the sunlight could pour forth from her jaws in an arrogant light, when it could shine from her fingertips like hope itself.

She fell down to one knee, panting.

The clearing was smoking, just slightly, but enough to be there. She closed her eyes, taking a deep shaky breath, and for a moment she couldn't move.

Once a month. Long ago she had timed it with the cycles of the moon, to Fire bend when the moon was full, so that the flames would be smaller than usual as they flooded from her body. But it was hardly like that anymore..she would torment herself, see how long she could go without Firebending before she was forced to.. It was a Masochistic thing, a disgusting game she played, one that could cost her life, yet saved her sanity... Was she that selfish?

It was horrible..

She could taste the smoke in her senses as it wound about her body as naturally as water around a water bender. Smoke seemed to always sink into her body, her clothing, everything-as if she was a magnet for it. The remnants of disaster marking her as its own. It was the way of a Dragon.

A twig cracked.

Dragon stood and spun, her blades in her hands quicker than a flash as golden eyes were narrowed. One arm went back and she hurled a blade with a flick of the wrist.

There was a shadow that moved, darting the blow, and then he appeared. Longshot.

Dragon's eyes widened and she took a step back, terrified. "Longshot.." she murmured, eyes wide in a panic. She would have to run, she would have to flee, he had seen her Firebend, he knew, he would tell Jet, Jet would hate her, she'd have to leave-

Longshot grabbed her wrist.

Dragon flinched visibly, staring at Longshot through wide, no longer fierce golden eyes. The eyes met his own, and she saw a question portrayed within the mute boy's intent eyes.

"No..I'm not a spy Longshot.. My family were killed fighting for the Fire Nation.. I don't want to be a Firebender..."

He gave a soft nod, as if understanding not the words she spoke but the emotions in her eyes. Dragon looked away, looking to the ground, and tears welled up in her eyes. She bit them back, swallowing them down her throat and looked back up at him.

"You're going to tell Jet...aren't you?"

Longshot paused, looking at her for a long moment before shaking his head. It was a silent understanding...if Jet knew, he'd make her leave..his hatred for Firebenders was stronger than his care for Dragon..It had to be. He had no room in his heart when it was filled with hate.

Dragon stared at Longshot, simply stared, before she fell to her knees, sinking into a low bow, he face inches from the ground. "Thank you Longshot..thank you so much.."

He reached down and pulled her to her feet, before taking one of the blades she had dropped and handing it to her. He motioned to the smoke, then towards the camp, indicating she should come if she was done..

Of course..they still had a mission to do..

For a moment Dragon didn't know what to do, what to say...she just stood there, feeling as dumb as an ox, before she reached forward and hugged the archer. He tensed, feeling awkward, but returned it slightly, and the two headed back to camp..

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Its Dragon, right?"

She opened one eye, looking to see the Avatar sitting there. He looked at her curiously, his head tilted slightly to the side, looking very curious.

"Yeup. And you're the Avatar, Aang. Nice to meet you."

"Yup!" Aang smiled at her, practically beamed. "Nice to meet you too!" His expression went back to the curious one from before, and he watched her carefully. "Umm, Dragon..if you don't mind me asking..what are you doing?"

Of course. Dragon sat, her knees pressed against the ground, well rather, the wood of the platform she sat on, with the soles of her feet pressed together. Her fingertips were pressed together as well, hands arched. She sat with her chin against her chest, her hair loose around her face.

Dragon straightened. "Meditating."

"That's a really unique style of meditation. What does it mean?"

She paused for a moment, looking at the Avatar, before smiling. "You know, I don't teach it to anyone, but you being the Avatar makes it different. You could probably use this."

Aang sat down next to her, copying the position. "Okay..."

"Now see, there are four elements, right? I was born and raised being told that the elements are actually representations of different sorts of people. Think about it, the nurturing, the strong, the free-spirited, the passionate. To be a good person, you must be well-balanced, bearing all the good qualities of each Nation. So I was told to meditate like this."

Aang nodded slowly, still confused. "But why the different position?"

"See, with Airbending and Waterbending you use your hands more than anything, don't you?" Aang looked surprised at the question.

"Yeah..but how did you..?"

"I've traveled a lot. Besides..I've read a few scrolls on different Airbending techniques. Anyways, with Earth and Fire you're supposed to find your power from the ground, or your feet. So the right hand is air, the left is water. The right foot is earth, the left is fire. When they are all connected, the energies flow forth from each into each other, running around your body and balancing you."

Aang tilted his head to the side. "Really?"

"Well when the chin is pressed to the chest it opens up the ability for your breaths to affect your energy as well. When you inhale, you're inhaling the energy released by the palms and captured by your fingers, when you exhale, you're returning it and causing the flow again."

Aang copied her motions, closing his eyes and taking a soft breath. Dragon watched him for a moment, watching his eyes. "This is supposed to make everything feel natural..Sometimes I can even feel the wind more strongly, or the Earth feels alive under my feet.. I believe that all benders are connected.."

Aang nodded silently, and the two sat there, meditating for a long moment. Slowly a soft mist seemed to float around Aang's body, and Dragon watched in amusement, it being channeled from his hands.. Upon seeing it touch his face, Aang's eyes snapped open. "Whoa!"

"Well think about it. Air and water make mist and ice. Water and fire make steam and many forms of earth. Fire and Earth create lava and such. Earth and water create mud and clay. Earth and air make dust. Fire and air make smoke. They're all connected no matter what. As Avatar, you should be able to control not just the main four, but everything, from sand to ice to smoke and fog. Shouldn't you?"

Aang grinned. "You know Dragon, you'd be a really good bender."

Dragon gave a slight smile, feeling the gnawing in her stomach. "There's a difference between talk and action..."

Aang nodded, falling quiet for a moment, before speaking again. "I have another question.. If you believe in balance, why do you hate Firebenders?"

Dragon looked away for a moment, closing golden eyes before opening them again. That question was exactly why she hadn't gone on the mission with Jet and Smellerbee and the whats-his-face Water Tribe boy.

"I believe that the Firebenders are not all bad..it's the ones who want to hurt that have to be stopped."

Aang looked at her carefully, before looking down. "I used to have a Firebender friend...we were really close..he was nice and fun.. I can't believe that there isn't a Firebender like that out there."

Dragon looked up. "Sure there is. Just because someone wields fire, doesn't mean they want to hurt with it."

Aang nodded for a long moment. "Why are you here? I mean...its just sort of seems now like everyone else hates Firebenders more than you.."

Dragon smiled. "You have a lot of questions... I'm here, simply because Aang, I want to protect and help those who have suffered because of the Fire Nation. These kids here..they didn't ask for their lives. They were thrust into them.. So I'm here to help out with whatever I can."

Aang nodded, before a shadow fell over both of them. They looked up to see Katara standing there. "Hey Dragon," she said with a smile.

Dragon returned it with one of her own. "Hello," she said kindly. "You are Katara, right? And your brother's name is Sokka?"

"That's right." She smiled, placing a hand on the railing and looking out across the view. It was a slightly awkward pause, simply because neither girl was certain about the other- all thanks to the charmer Jet.

But Dragon had no reason to feel like that. She forced herself past it. "Are the two of you happy here? Do you need anything? I know we're a little short on blankets, but if you'd like more I can wrestle you up a couple.."

"No, it was fine," Katara said with a smile as Aang nodded. "Its great here..I'll be sad when I have to leave.."

"Yeah, I'm going to miss the ropes," Aang said with a bright smile.

Dragon nodded. "I know what you mean..."

Katara paused, looking puzzled. "Are you planning on leaving then...?"

"I travel a lot.. I'll probably just be here until Spring, and then I'll go. Just long enough to make sure a couple of the younger kids are alright, and that Jet has everything under control."

Katara raised an eyebrow. "Really? You'd leave?"

"I don't stay in one place very often..I just can't.."

"Well," Aang piped up. "If you want to come with us we always have enough room on Appa. You could teach me more meditation tricks and stuff."

She smiled, giving a slight laugh and shook her head. "I don't think that's a good idea Aang," she said with a wistful smile.

"Why not?"

"Because one day we may end up on separate sides of the war.. And I wouldn't want to do that to anyone.."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


She looked up, seeing Smellerbee standing at the flap of her doorway. "Hey Smellerbee. You're all back then?"

Smellerbee nodded, pausing. "Dragon...can I...ask you.." She seemed to struggle, and she looked quickly down to the ground, obviously angry with herself at having to come and ask this. "A...personal...question.."

"Go ahead," Dragon said, looking both curious and attempting not to smile.

"Do you think.." Smellerbee kicked at the ground. "Do you think..I look like a guy...?"

Dragon looked surprised by the question. Smellerbee was not the sort to care about what anyone said about her..so it must be something serious for her to ask. "To an outsider's view, you look like a fighter. Gender doesn't matter. To the people who know you, you look like Smellerbee. That's all that matters."

"No its not! Its not good enough!" Smellerbee looked extremely upset, and Dragon raised her eyebrows, startled.

"Smellerbee..what's wrong..?"

She looked down angrily. "Jet's all obsessed with that Waterbender... and I've seen Longshot look at her...He thinks she's pretty. But I was Longshot to look..." She trailed off for a long moment, before murmuring the last part. "...at me..."

Dragon smiled. It was as simple as that: she smiled. She didn't laugh, she didn't frown in thought. It was a smile. Because Smellerbee looked ashamed, looked terrified that she had spoken it aloud, looked pained that she had admitted it to someone.

"He's a great guy, Smellerbee. You chose well."

Smellerbee looked up, surprised by the response. "Yeah.." she said, after a moment smiling. "He is.."

"What do you like about him?"

"He's a great fighter...but he's really smart, wise.. He's kind and he protects people he loves...he's mysterious, but he's always right there whenever you need him..he's strong, he's honest.. He.." Smellerbee paused before smiling. "He likes me for me.."

"There you go, Smellerbee." Dragon gave a soft laugh, before pursing her lips. "How about this.. One day, once Jet's plans calm down, I will buy you a skirt and you and Longshot and I and whoever I am madly in love with will go out to a festival together. Alright?"

Smellerbee gave an awkward smile. "Alright."

"And until then..don't worry. Katara is beautiful, yes. But she doesn't have the fighting ability or spirit you do...Your beauty is in your strength and skills."

Smellerbee nodded, turning and heading towards the door. "Thanks..Dragon.." She said softly, before leaving.

Dragon turned her gaze to the floor. Jet, Smellerbee, the Duke, Pipsqueak, Lyia, Wen, Aang, Katara...all of those people who seemed to trust her.. What would they do if they found out? Could Longshot keep quiet about it forever...?

You'd be a really good bender...

If only you knew Aang..I'm nowhere near a good bender...Nowhere... I have to meditate intensely just to balance one element... And even so...

She sighed, staring away.

This world will never be what I expected

And if I don't belong..?