A/N: This piece was 'commissioned' by my niece for the Zutara board at Distant Horizons who have been having a lot of fun with the "Blue Paint" concept. It's her idea, but I wrote it up. A team effort. We might do more chapters but we'll have to see if the muse takes us.
The hut was dark and silent as it was supposed to be. Well, not exactly silent since Sokka was snoring loudly face down on his pallet.
Katara pulled the wide, veiled hat off her head and quickly scrubbed away the red paint that disguised her face. She pulled off the white robe, wrapped it around the hat and tucked it under a fallen log just outside the structure.
Opening the door she made as little sound as possible. She was tired and wanted to fall into bed without even pulling her blanket back.
At the same time she was exhilarated. It had been a successful mission with a few interesting twists. She longed to tell someone about it, but she knew silence was imperative. They would stop her from going to the villagers and workers who were hurt by the giant incinerators that serviced this entire province. Sokka had recently vowed to stay up all night watching her sleep to make sure she didn't "pull anymore Painted Lady stunts". Listening to him snort and snuffle she had to grin at the notion of him sleepless for even an hour.
All of them had sided against her when she mentioned helping the people in this town. She understood to a certain extent because they'd exposed themselves so outrageously in the town with the polluted water. Even Aang had become opposed to her nightly healing jaunts, which surprised her because he was always the first one to support any plan that included aiding those people who needed it.
She tiptoed across the floor, careful not to trip over any stray arms or legs and nearly screamed when a hand grabbed her around her ankle. She looked down to see Aang staring angrily up at her from his pallet on the floor.
"Where have you been?" He whispered harshly.
"Out for a walk." She responded lamely.
"Come with me." He quickly got up, grabbed her hand and pulled her out the door, away from the hut and their sleeping companions.
"Stop it!" She pulled her hand out of his grasp.
"Tell me where you were." Aang said just as angry as he'd been inside.
"There was a lady who was badly burned today at the incinerator. I heard about it at the market and I knew I could help her. I'm very good with burns. I couldn't just let her suffer. Aang, she was burned all over her body. She would have died." Katara explained, a catch in her voice as she remembered the poor woman whimpering in pain as she'd entered the home.
"People die every day all over the world. You just have to accept it. I've had to." He responded sounding for all the world as if he was completely unaffected by the woman's agony.
Katara knew differently and that knowledge made her even more furious at his interference. It just wasn't like him to refuse to help someone. To put pragmatism over idealism. The change in him saddened her but it also fueled her irritation.
"But she wasn't somewhere else in the world, she was here and I could help her." Katara huffed. "I wasn't caught. In fact, I had some help." She lifted her chin proudly.
"Help?" Aang's brow furrowed.
"I was healing the woman and this man came in. I think he was looking for someone but I didn't look up from what I was doing. I kept my head down, don't worry."
"Who was he looking for?"
"I don't know. He came over and looked at the woman on the bed and then he walked back out the door. He seemed disappointed though. Like all the energy went out of him when he saw her."
"So what happened? How did you need help?" Aang asked hoping with all his heart that she hadn't blown their cover.
"Well, I left the house and started to walk back through the forest and I could tell he was following me." She said thinking back to that moment. She had not been afraid.
"What?!" Aang looked around. She was followed? She brought a stranger here?
"He's not here." She sighed. "He was protecting me. I knew he wasn't going to hurt me. I'm not sure how I knew that but I did."
"Go on." His tone was really annoying her now. He had obviously been spending too much time with Sokka.
"I realized I couldn't just come back here while he was following me so I looped around and went back toward the town. I was hoping to lose him in an alley or something."
"Uh huh." Aang said almost mockingly. He was definitely going to get it if he kept this up she decided.
"Four men from the plant came and stood in my path. I kept my head down though, none of them saw my face." She assured him. "And then he just kind of appeared in front of me. Between me and the men."
"Well, that was nice of him." Aang said dryly.
"I thought so." She responded in kind. "He pulled two swords out and held them together in one hand. Then he took my arm and sort of pushed me through two of the men and motioned for me to run. I looked back and he was standing up to them. The men were already coming at him. He definitely seemed like he could handle them. They were flabby and drunk. He motioned at me again and I ran."
"Hmm. That really was a nice thing to do." Aang said thoughtfully although he was still fiercely angry at Katara for putting herself and their whole mission at risk.
"I hope he's okay." She sat down on the ground, her weary legs needing a rest.
Aang came and sat down across from her.
"And you're sure he didn't follow you?" He asked.
"He was fighting the men. I ran in a wide loop so it looked like I was going someplace else."
"I wonder who he was." Aang said almost to himself. Maybe he was a firebender who could help him learn. Or maybe someone who could help lead a resistance.
"I know who it was." She said.
"The Blue Spirit. Remember, his wanted posters were everywhere yours were for a while there." She said confidently. "It was definitely him. Or someone disguised as him."
Aang's face had gone so white his arrow tattoo looked dark against his skin. He'd never told anyone about his encounter with the Blue Spirit and now it was impossible to explain why.
"You're sure?" Aang asked her.
"I'm sure. I wish I could have talked to him." She said dreamily. "He's an enemy of the Fire Nation too. He could help us!"
"Never talk to him." Aang said urgently. "If you ever see him again, run the other way."
"He's a fugitive Aang. I think he's trying to protect this town. He might be able to help us." She said adamantly.
"No!" Aang was even more forceful, his stomach had turned to lead and his mind was whirling.
"I'll bet he's from around here. I'll bet he got burned by the incinerator too, just like the woman I healed, and that's why he goes around at night and wears a mask."
Aang didn't know what to say. Should he tell her now? What if it wasn't Zuko, but rather some guy who really was trying to do good for the village and Katara attacked him because of Aang's story? She would do it too. Aang almost felt sorry for Zuko knowing what Katara had planned for the prince should they ever face off again. And if this person wasn't actually Zuko it could go very badly.
Certainly there were plenty of Avatar imposters out there. It would be easy to mimic the look of the Blue Spirit. But the style?
"Did he use broadswords?" He asked her.
"Yes. He had them strapped on his back. At first I thought it was one sword but then it turned out to be two." She nodded.
"Was his style circular or straight on?"
"I only saw him fight for a second but what I saw looked circular."
"If you ever see him again, run for your life, Katara. Promise me." Aang still wasn't sure, but he didn't want her taking any chances. "Did he see your face at all?"
"No, I told you, I kept my head down." She was really getting frustrated with the interrogation. "And he was gentle, Aang. He didn't squeeze my arm or anything. He just guided me through the men but he kept their attention on him the whole time. And he followed me to protect me, I know that."
She felt strongly that she must defend the Blue Spirit. Aang hadn't been there. He didn't know how close she had come to having to use her waterbending. She'd had her pouch uncorked.
"I want to find him." She said, her voice terrifyingly determined.
"Don't!" Aang was on his feet now, for the first time towering over her. "I'm telling you Katara, don't do it. Stop the Painted Lady missions and never, ever seek out the Blue Spirit. He's not an ally, no matter what you think."
Katara got up and stalked back to the hut shaking her head furiously. How could Aang be so dogmatic? Who was he to say what she could do?
The Blue Spirit had not necessarily saved her life because she could have used her bending to escape, but he couldn't have known that. And in her opinion that made him a hero.
And he was looking for someone. Maybe she could help him in return.
"I'm sorry for being so harsh Katara, but I'm very serious about this." Aang whispered when they'd both tucked into their beds.
"So am I Aang. I will never turn my back on someone who needs me."
With that she drifted off to sleep.
She dreamt of heroes.