The day had dawned hazy and warm. Heavy clouds shaded off the worst of the summer's intensity. Aang had suffered greatly through the morning's earthbending session, his constant distraction earning him fresh bruises as a result of several unexpected rock clamps around his ankles. Toph had eventually declared the lesson, and Aang by extension, a lost cause. Teacher and student now sat wedged between two enormous stone pillars, feet dangling into the shadowy canyon. Their elbows jostled comfortably as they chewed on apples she'd 'borrowed' from Katara's fiercely rationed larder.
"I'm telling you, it's the best day for flying since we've been here." Aang's heels drummed against the stone. "Look at those updrafts! Maybe if I just..." Toph felt his head turn towards her. She took another chomp out of her fruit in reply. He sighed woefully.
Toph rolled her eyes upwards and swallowed. "Much as I hate admitting Sugar Queen is right, it is kinda risky." She picked a seed out of her teeth and flicked it into the abyss. "And by kinda, I mean it is. Definitely."
"But I could fly low! If I see anything suspicious, I'll just drop into the trees." Toph snorted. "Toph? Right, Toph?"
"What, are you waiting for my permission, Twinkletoes? You're the one that'll get impaled on a enormous icicle if you get caught, not me." She tossed the apple to her left hand and pointed directly above her head. "You should head that way if you need some nagging." The stone step trembled, imperceptible to all backsides except her own, as the airbender jumped lightly to his feet.
A solid smack told her he had called his glider to his hand. "I have to agree with Sokka, Toph. You're the man." A loose, grimy lock of her hair brushed her nose as she felt her companion leap into the chasm. "And don't tell you-know-who!" Aang shouted over his shoulder, voice fading as he plummeted.
"Only if you bring me back something good!" She yelled back, before studiously wiping a few smears of dirt off the apple onto her tunic and taking another bite.
Another muted explosion rumbled through the building from the floor above. Toph raised her eyebrows, wondering if they'd finally killed each other. Pulling her feet up to flop carelessly on Aang's vacated seat, she settled in to 'watch'.
* * *
The whips abruptly changed direction, quivering in mid-air. "What! Did you see a patrol? Did you hear someone calling?"
"No, you - "
"We've already been here an hour longer than we planned. Maybe I should go make sure they know we're still here.. Aang might not have had breakfast yet."
He pushed the heel of his hand into an eyesocket. "Please tell me you're joking. He can get his own breakfast. The Avatar doesn't need his nursemaid to feed him."
"Right. Perhaps things like caring concern are beyond your mind's tiny capabilities. Or maybe just friendship, I'm not sure. And was there a reason you interrupted me!" The whips lowered again.
He walked forward through the rippling arms of water, barely acknowledging the splash, already completely sodden. Katara paused, suddenly conscious of the extra weight her tunic was carrying. She shifted her element back into a ball easily guided by one hand, and pulled water from their clothes with long, flowing strokes. The firebender stopped, his expression rapidly morphing from vaguely annoyed (which was usual) to discomforted. It was subtle in the face of the normally tacit young man, but Katara was reasonably certain she'd caused him more discomfort than most, and so detected it immediately. She winced internally - perhaps she was being too familiar. She watched his eyes slide off her face as she finished the impromptu wringing; the carving above her head appeared to be tremendously engrossing all of a sudden.
Zuko cleared his throat. "Thanks."
"I just thought, it's probably uncomfortable - me and Aang, we usually..." She trailed off. We usually go without most of our clothes?
"I said thanks," he retorted pointedly.
Katara folded her arms, smoothing over her awkwardness with an impatient air. "Why are we stopping? You're disrupting the flow of the fight."
"We're stopping because you clearly have no idea how to fight firebenders." Zuko pointed at her in accusation. "Don't bother denying it. It's obvious you've never been taught."
Katara stepped forward, eyes narrowed and awkwardness forgotten. "I seem to recall a long list of firebenders all over the world whose broken limbs and bruises say otherwise." With you in pride of place, she reluctantly refrained from adding.
Zuko matched her frigid stare, easily reading the unspoken conclusion to her statement. "And I seem to recall my sister easily overpowering you and the Avatar under Ba Sing Se."
"Yes, true. I doubt Aang will forget the agony of a lightning strike any time soon." Zuko's eyes slid off her face, looking towards her feet. "If only we'd had help." The last word was bitten off, like a snapping bone. The stiff but tentatively comradely atmosphere drained like a barrel of snowberry beer at an ice-dodging ceremony.
"Look - " He swiped wet strands of hair roughly out of his eyes. "You need to be more effective against firebenders. There's no one else to teach you. Do you want to learn or not?"
Katara folded her arms, holding her chin high. "I highly doubt you have what it takes to instruct a waterbending master in their technique."
"It's not a matter of - " Zuko cut himself off, and inhaled deeply before continuing. His next words were emphatic and measured. "I have been drilled in firebending combat styles since I could walk. I've watched our warriors train until I could see their moves in my sleep." He shook his head. "Trust me, your 'technique' is not prepared for what the best my father's army can do."
Katara's eyebrows raised. "Hah! They haven't proved much of themselves so far. Or maybe I shouldn't take you as an example, then?"
"You are so..." He made a strangled sound of pure frustration before turning on his heel, his fragile patience withering. "Fine!" he snapped irately, "We're done. Good luck facing down all the firebenders my father can throw at you."
Zuko's storming out was punctuated by dull thuds as he laid a fist into every pillar he passed. Katara turned away, posture steely. Undisciplined fool. She was more than just effective! How dare he insinuate that she was somehow unequipped to handle firebenders! Though, she did have to concede, he had a valuable insider viewpoint. That violent, arrogant, inept mind of his could be a strategic goldmine in the days to come.
She ran her tongue over her teeth, considering. She could hardly deny the value of a firebender's knowledge of their own weaknesses. But submitting to tutoring from him.. the very idea raised bile to her throat. Still. It might be useful to Aang, she reasoned reluctantly.
"Just... wait a moment!" She attempted to ignore her painfully stinging pride.
He stopped on the threshold, not turning. "What? I'm not sticking around just to hear your petty insults!" Neither of them faced the other as they shouted across the hall.
Katara ground her jaw. "Well, if you could control your temper for a full minute together, maybe you'd be less likely to attract them!"
"My temper?" Zuko's voice gained volume as his anger gathered momentum. "You didn't control yours when I was on my knees, offering myself to the Avatar as a teacher and his most valuable ally!"
"Valuable? You were a lying traitor who'd crawled out of the forest!" Katara retorted quick as a whip, still facing the cold grey of the bending hall stones. She felt a surge of irrational malice rise up from her throat. "All we did was give you a chance to sabotage us," she added after a pause, words sharp with menace.
Katara heard the wet flap of his garments as he whirled to face her, striding rapidly back across the hall until his nose was parted from the back of her neck only by a child's handspan. "What did you say?" he hissed, dangerously quiet. She felt a heat surge wither a few strands of her long braid. Acrid wisps of smoke trailed into her line of sight.
And here they were again. Cold disdain at such a predictable response from such a predictable adversary curled her lip, smothering the few tendrils of discomfort that tickled the lining of her stomach. This was a encounter that tended to repeat itself, and she'd memorised the steps weeks ago. They could spar together, speak together, eat of the same rice as much as they pleased. As much as it pleased Aang, more accurately.
But when the sun disappeared into the waiting arms of the moon, Zuko was never forgiven, or trustworthy. And she was still resented and disliked in equal measure, it seemed. She wondered if that was ever going to change. The Air temple getting up and moving to the North Pole seemed more likely. It was, inevitably and unavoidably, the way things were.
Katara felt vaguely disheartened, all of a sudden.
Foresight of the next motions in the argument deflated her enthusiasm for it. The embers Zuko had inadvertently blown on mentioning the Earth capital abruptly cooled.
"I didn't say anything. Nothing at all." She stepped sideways to avoid the collision of their chins as she turned to face him. Sunlight was piercing the lazy coils of steam rising from his back, illuminating each speck of condensation. It was a strangely peaceful contrast - a focus certainly more preferable than his stormy expression.
"I heard you, waterbender." Katara wondered if their sparring had been too courteous for him. His tone seemed to be itching for a real fight. The thought that her overly sharp tongue had had something to do with the disappearance of his fragile goodwill made itself quietly and uncomfortably known.
"No," she said firmly, pushing past Zuko to walk back to the square of sun warming the puddles in the open chamber. A snake of water rose from the drenched ground to hover in readiness. "I want to learn whatever it is you can teach me.," She watched indecisiveness roll like a wave across his face, as he slowly turned back to face their haphazard battleground. "For Aang's sake, I'll even learn from you. Please?" she added, with only the slightest clench in her jaw.
To her surprise, the annoyance in his face transformed into a moment of genuine injury. It wasn't much, just a drawing in of the eyebrows, a tiny sagging of the shoulders, but she saw it as clearly as the fireballs he'd thrown at her head all morning. He looked down at his sodden boots, hands on his hips. Katara struggled to find a cause for it - there was nothing in their little spat that hadn't been said before, and often in far more spiteful variations. It was simply the way things were. He, more than any of the others, seemed to understand that. But she caught a glimpse of something like resignation in his face, a resignation she'd often felt deeply seated in herself.
And perhaps.. but surely not. But perhaps there was also the smallest hint of loneliness.
A strange reflex triggered in Katara then, the one usually triggered by Aang's expression whenever Sokka mentioned their father these days, and her hand twitched awkwardly towards him.
"I see. I thought we..." he murmured to the ground. The pause lingered on as Katara wracked her brain for a plausible end to that sentence. Thought what? Thought what? Zuko interrupted his own reverie with an angry shake of the head, his shoulders straightening. Chips of newly-gravelled stone clung to his boots as he sloshed back through the chaos they'd wrought on the passive Temple all morning. He hadn't noticed her hand, and she let it fall limply back to her side.
The moment was as fleeting as the curtains of steam still floating above his hair; his eyes hard and normal once more. He pointed an accusing finger at her feet. "We'll begin with stances."
* * *
"Toph! Hey, Toph! Can you see meee!"
The earthbender in question rolled over on her improvised sleeping arrangements; namely, Appa's furry back. He was perched on a precarious outcropping of stone between two giant statues of his ancestors, and the rhythmic rise and fall of his enormous ribcage had lulled her into a delightful lunchtime nap. One that had now been rudely interrupted by an overly energetic airbender making low flying passes over her head. And asking really stupid questions.
"Check it out! Triple barrel roll deluxe! Woooo-yeah!" Toph groaned. The rushing air was making her sleep rapidly slip away into oblivion, replaced by complete alertness. "I'm like a flying demon corkscrew, Toph!"
She stuffed two handfuls of fur into her ears and buried her head into Appa's pelt, to no avail. "Get ready for the late breakout into frontside loop-de-loop, ladies and bison. Here I g- OUCH!" The flier clattered noisily into the bodies of one of the stone creatures, a newly erected wall having disrupted the pilot's flight pattern. Seemingly oblivious to such hints, Aang bounced back up with the help of an airball, and used it to hover over the obstruction and up to Toph's side. "Toph! Toph! I'm back! Look what I found!"
Toph conceded that there was no way she was getting back to sleep now. She ground her teeth as she rose up from her prized spot, the fur having been matted in just the right way for maximum pillowy comfort. She reached out with her senses and took in the shadowy shape of Aang to her right side, unable to trace him clearly while he was airborne.
Hauling him onto Appa's back by the front of his robe, she brought him up close to her bleary, highly irritated expression. "I was just getting comfortable, you bald little insect," she seethed. Raising a fist, she fully intended to deck him a good one when the brush of her shin against something light, delicate, and decidedly out of place on an air bison's back gave her pause.
"What's that?" she asked bluntly, her hand moving from Aang's clothing to feel cautiously in the space between them. The strong, booming heartbeat of the animal below left her 'sight' a little disconcerted.
She felt Aang carefully edge outside of striking distance when she released her grip on him. Still groping fruitlessly, she leaned forward, curiousity momentarily overriding her anger. "C'mon, I'll hold off hitting you in the face.. for now. Just tell me what you've got."
Toph felt something small and leafy being pushed into her hand. She ran her fingertips over the general shape, noting the soft, pliant heads and woody stem. A tree bough, covered in flowers.
Eagerness to extrapolate on his discovery seemed to outweigh self-preservation in Aang's mind, as he jostled back closer to the girl on his knees, pushing more of the plants into her lap.
"Look at them all! They were growing everywhere on the trees. I wish you could see their colour!"
Toph pressed a petal between her thumb and forefinger, feeling a tiny trace of water ooze from the blossom. She sniffed the residue carefully. "No smell," she murmured, before popping the whole thing in her mouth and chewing thoughtfully. Aang gave a surprised shout. "Toph! What are you- "
"Don't worry, Twinkles. There's still plenty left for you to give to her." He seemed to stumble on the rest of his rebuke, sitting back on his heels. She shook her head. So pitifully obvious.
"How did you.. ah, never mind. You always seem to know." He moved to sit cross-legged, leaning back to rest on his hands. Toph felt a brush of air across her brow as he exhaled heavily. His sighs and snorts and laughs were always a little more exaggerated than anyone else's, she had observed, as though he couldn't help pushing more air into everything he did.
"So, will she like them?" he asked quietly. Toph gave a little laugh.
"If by 'like' you mean, will she forgive you and go back to being friends again, then yeah, she will." She picked up a twig and began flicking the flower heads off, one by one. "She's even more mopey than you are lately." A blossom went sailing clean over the airbender's shiny scalp. "Won't shut up about 'making things right' and 'proving herself' and other supremely boring things."
"Really?" Toph was practically swamped by the surge of hopefulness in his voice, and rolled her eyes. "What does she say about me?" he asked in flippant tone that didn't fool her for a moment.
"Oh, the usual," she responded airily. 'Give Aang his clean clothes, Toph,' or 'Toph, is Aang still awake?' or 'Toph, don't put weevils in Aang's rice again!'"
"Ah." He began to twist a lock of fur around his finger. "That's all she says, then." She felt a small prick of conscience at the sound of his hope deflating like an old balloon. Brushing the feeling away as though it were a gnat in her eye, she gathered up the twigs still sprawled on her lap and shoved them back into his arms.
"Just go give them to her, you big dummy." Turning her back to him, she laid down and tried to get somewhat comfortable once more. "Of course she'll like them. She likes stupid, girly things like that. Now let me go back to sleep."
"Fine, fine." He scooped up the last of the willowy boughs and jumped lightly to the ground. There was a pause, then Toph caught the tiny, familiar click of his glider opening. She felt the stirrings of the air as it rose to push him effortlessly upwards. As if he weighed nothing at all and had never been there in the first place.
Toph pulled the half chewed flower out of her mouth and slung it over the edge of the precipice. "They aren't even tasty, you know!" she shouted in impotent, inexplicable frustration as she heard him swoop away. She buried her head in Appa's fur once more, unable to feel the niche on his broad body that had felt so cradling and soft.
Mere moments had passed before she felt a breezy gust ripple over her. She stiffened as something gently poked at her ear.
"That's because they're not for eating, dummy," he whispered, laughing a little in that airy way he had. His breath ruffled some loose hair onto her face. And as quickly as he had come, he was gone.
She reached up cautiously to feel the side of her head. A little sprig was tucked above her ear. "Hmph. So annoying," she said quietly, voice muffled. Her grin was safely hidden.
The pellets of water whistled slightly as they cleaved the air. Dark, orange afternoon sun was fractured and fragmented through the tiny prisms as they circled in ominous orbit around Zuko's body, poised to strike. Beads of sweat trickled down Katara's temple down to the corner of her mouth, to be removed impatiently by her tongue. A red line was pressed into her lower lip, where her teeth had worked to create a furrow.
Zuko's shoulder tensed. His hand lifted in the beginnings of a fiery arc, and she caught her breath. The watery missiles suddenly leapt from their static positions to splat noisily over his chest and shoulders. Katara straightened, tightening her tunic belt smugly.
"Again." Zuko expelled a cloud of flame over his arms, drying them imperfectly. Waving the billows of steam away from his face, he walked forward. "And again, and again, until you listen to me."
The serenely satisfied smirk slid off her face like an ice cube off a tea tray. "I am listening! I've done nothing but listen! I know I did it perfectly that time!" She stepped into the steam cloud, brushing the diminishing moisture out of the air. Zuko made a clipped, irritated sound somewhere between a growl and sigh.
"Do you even understand the concept - "
"I've trained the Avatar for a year, Zuko. I had to teach myself waterbending. I think I can grasp this," Katara replied indignantly, lending a little more force to the retort than she'd intended to. She could feel the beginning of a tremble in her hands. In truth, her utter failure to to instantly perfect the new technique was gnawing at her composure. She knew this would happen, the day all her combative bravado before Zuko would be punctured. She could feel the minutes ticking over like a countdown, drawing inexorably towards the moment when her secret shame could no longer go unacknowledged.
She was no prodigy. She was not naturally gifted at bending. Despite her belief she'd broken the habit long ago, all the old comparisons between herself and Zuko's other pupil were bubbling to the surface like sulphur in a swamp. He'd eventually see the contrast, and he'd know.
The bitter chorus of 'useless, useless' grew in volume.
Ignoring the dryness forming at the back of her mouth, she crossed her arms tightly. "Maybe you're not explaining it correctly."
His eyes narrowed. "Maybe you're not listening!"
"I'm listening and listening and listening, Zu- "
"Are you just trying to waste time; another one of your games or something? Why are you struggling on something so simple!"
The last wisps of condensation froze where they floated, and fell to the ground in a tinkling shower in sync with the clenching of her fists. "I'm not... I'm not struggling!" she retorted angrily, eyes addressing the ceiling. Her throat constricted painfully. Turning away, she attempted to surreptitiously wipe her eyes clear, berating herself inwardly. Now, of all times? What was wrong with her? "I'm not trying to waste time," she added in a quieter tone, unable to completely disguise a minute wobble in her voice, much to her mortification.
A lengthy pause lingered on before Zuko spoke again. Whether he had seen her overly bright eyes or not, he made no indication. "I knew you'd be a frustrating student," he said with a long-suffering sigh, though there was no malice in his voice.
"Well!" she flared again, still stinging from her lapse in control. "You're quite welcome to give up, teacher!"
"Who said anything about giving up?" He seemed irritated by the thought of it. "We're not giving up. We've only just started."
Katara pointedly ignored a tiny thrill of relief at his frank retort, and at the bull-headed stubbornness she saw in the set of his jaw. She cleared her throat and adjusted her arm wrappings quickly, ashamed of her moment of frustrated weakness. She needed to control herself, to concentrate. If Zuko was willing to push on despite her slow learning curve, then she could hardly accept less from herself. There would be no admitting defeat to him. "Well, I'm ready to go again," she stated in a purposefully clear voice. "You should go back to the position."
"Wait. Maybe I'm really not explaining it right." She looked up, surprised at such an admission. He was frowning thoughtfully at his hands. "You're too inexperienced with fire to really know what I'm talking about."
Katara smoothed her scraggly, wet hair over the top of her head with a sigh. "Look," she replied, struggling to keep her tone cooperative. "I'm sure it's hard to accept that your bending isn't all that mysterious, but I get it. It's all in the timing." She shifted her weight into a lunging Tui stance, looking at him pointedly. "I just need to nail the technique."
"But it's more than that." He looked up, straight into her gaze. There was a note of impotent frustration in his voice that stood at odds with the earnestness in his expression. He took two steps towards her. Katara expelled an oddly shaky breath. "Here." And before she could protest, he had quickly snatched one of the hands lingering in air, pulled her towards him, and pressed the palm against his abdomen.
She blinked, momentarily frozen. "Sorry," he murmured in an awkward rasp. "But it's the quickest way to show you." Under her immobile fingertips, she could feel the minute vibrations of his torso as he spoke.
His ribs expanded and contracted gently with every breath. As her mind focused once more, she registered the heat warming her palm through the cloth. Too warm, in fact. Hot. "Zuko? My hand. You're, well... you're burning it." She nodded to the extremity he currently held prisoner.
He looked down, as though somewhat surprised she had noticed anything amiss with burning skin. The temperature against her hand dropped immediately. Katara cleared her throat. "Is there a purpose to this? Am I supposed to be doing something?" She threw her braid over her shoulder and tried to ignore the sudden sweatiness of her unaccommodated palm.
Zuko seemed slightly flustered. "Just try and feel... something. When I breathe."
Katara looked at the hand pinned to Zuko's middle. Or more accurately, the hand enclosing it, as though she wasn't trusted not to escape contact at the first opportunity. "Well, I do, obviously." She sniffed. "It's just your ribs moving in and out."
"Not that." Zuko looked pointedly over her shoulder, the faintest red touching his unmarred cheek. "Behind them. There's something behind them." The tip of his boot began tapping erratically at the floor.
Katara looked up in alarm. "Look, you aren't trying to get me to say you have a - a heart like everyone else or something like that, are you? Because I don't think- "
"No!" The red tinge crept higher on his face, and her hand was flung unceremoniously back to her possession. "You're hopeless!" He threw his arms up as he wheeled around and retreated, almost rushing to put distance between them.
Her fingers cooled almost instantly. "You're the one not explaining yourself! What am I supposed to be feeling! I'm not going to grope blindly around your chest in the hopes of a revelation!"
His arms folded almost protectively over his middle, his hands gripping the opposite elbow in a white-knuckled hold. "Just forget it." He scoffed and shook his head, eyes on the ceiling. "Even untrained children can find a flame rhythm."
Katara's eyes narrowed. "The what?"
Zuko was already walking back to his puddle-ringed position. "Explaining it properly would require time that I'd rather be using to train Aang." He glanced at her once more, before turning away with a frown tinged with a slight disappointment. "I'm taking a break."
"Hold on. You mean.." Inner flame. Was there a fire constantly alight inside every firebender? She scrolled back rapidly through every instance she had seen a firebender in combat- at least, the moments she hadn't been concentrating solely on saving her life. Jeong Jeong's wall of fire, the mad princess and her terrifying lightning, Zuko... quite often. Their encounter at the North Pole seemed to figure prominently in her memory; she'd often thought back on that night. Perhaps because there had been no distractions, no running, just a duel between equals. Even though she intimately recalled the painful squeezing of her chest in a vice of fear for Aang, she'd certainly learned the real measure of her skills in the face of his imminent danger.
Her mind's eye could recall all of Zuko's attacks and parries easily enough considering the amount of times she'd thought back on their scrapping. Thinking on it now, Katara attempted to fit in the idea of an inner fuel, of some kind of internal source to Zuko's attacks as they had fought in the moonlit cove. "Your hand came down -" she made a chopping motion in the air, frowning. " - and you paused."
"What are you talking about?" Zuko balanced himself with a lazy grace on one foot to dislodge his boot from the other. Water sloshed noisily onto the stone as it was upended. "My hand came down when?"
"But why did you pause?" Katara slowly pulled her braid back over her shoulder and began to chew it absently. Too caught up in her sudden theorising, she missed Zuko wrinkling his nose. The timing.. something in the timing. She had long known of the minute pauses in his combative motions, likely invisible to any but those who had whiled away many a long, solitary night-watch by doggedly recalling and combing his style for weaknesses to exploit. The timing of those pauses were like clockwork in their regularity. Like the push and pull of a bellows. His own bellows...
The breath. Breathing. He was breathing. "You were just breathing!" Katara looked up, flinging the soggy plait to the side.
"I was?" he queried cautiously. Katara strode forward, eyes wide and shining. Zuko stumbled, half-shod, as she clapped a palm triumphantly to his chest.
"You always had to pause to inhale again. That's why timing is so important." She nodded, teeth worrying her lower lip again, mind in a frenzy to connect the patterns she had observed but never understood in his fighting. "The strength of your attacks depend on your breath! A-ha!" she concluded, stabbing a finger into his pectoral muscle for emphasis.
Zuko, having righted himself, tilted his face towards hers with narrowed eyes. "Hmm. And what else?"
"And.. the flame must be connected to your breath somehow. Like a - a fuel, sort of." She gave the middle of his chest a smart tap. "In here, somewhere, your fire is created. You can strengthen it with breath and bring it out with bending techniques." She grinned with unguarded and smug jubilation. "I'm right, aren't I?"
"Well. That's surprising. Not as useless as I thought." He raised his eyebrows. "I didn't realise waterbenders were capable of so much thinking in such a short time."
"What are you insinuating – oh." She was cut short by the appearance of a highly foreign glimmer of merriment in Zuko's expression. "Oh, I see. You were trying to make a joke. Well, you're just as terrible at those as you are at teaching."
"And you're just as terrible at detecting a joke as you are at obeying instructions."
"Hmph," she grumbled, unable to strictly deny the accusation. "Well, I'm amazed I noticed such a poor sense of humour at all."
"You're well practiced. You grew up in the Water Tribes."
An ungainly guffawing laugh escaped Katara before she could rein it in, much to her horror. She clapped a hand over her mouth and stepped back quickly, suddenly and acutely aware of their prolonged proximity. Zuko merely continued to pull on his waterlogged boot, his actions unperturbed. His expression betrayed a slightly victorious air however.
Katara cleared her throat haughtily, attempting to regain a degree of cool aloofness. "I think you ought to be continuing my training. No time for standing around, listening to your foolishness. I've got things to be getting on with, you know."
"Oh, don't worry," he replied casually, not even looking at her as he firmly retied the maroon knots around his calf. "The real training begins now." There was a dangerous edge in his voice that left warning bells ringing in Katara's ears. She swallowed.
"Right." Her voice sounded a little tinny. "Let's have it, then."
Zuko straightened. His smile was like that of a python-weasel about to sink its teeth into a juicy, helpless mouse.