Valley

Valley

Zuko could have died. Not once, but TWICE did this happen. For the second time, he woke up to find Katara clinging all over him in her sleep. Now an expert at untangling intertwined body parts, he slipped out of bed without waking her. The exasperated boy grabbed a change of clothes and left their hotel room, headed for the bath.

In the hall he was greeted with the smell of breakfast cooking. An old woman approached him, pushing a cart of cleaning supplies. She stopped and greeted the boy.

"We're all having breakfast in a little while, the staff and guests. You should come; the chef cooks a mean puff tart!"

He nodded politely and the two went their separate ways. Zuko figured they had time for breakfast before heading off, and decided to wake Katara when he got back so they could go eat.

XOXOXOXOXOX

"Hey, Katara," announced the young man as he pushed open the door. "Get up, we're eating… Breakfast?"

Stepping in, Zuko saw that the room was empty and the bed hastily made. He was alone, his words unheard.

"That little…"

XOXOXOXOXOX

Sure enough, in the dining hall Katara was situated with a big plate of food, digging in. Zuko sulkily grabbed a plate of his own and filled it, then plopped down in a seat next to her.

"Gee, thanks for waiting for me."

She looked up from her puff tart and saw the grumpy young Firebender. "I thought you already left to get some."

"And what did you do when you saw that I hadn't? Dug in anyway."

She giggled. "Quit being a sourpuss and try some. It's delicious!"

He gave her a last exacerbated look before poking into his food. Katara was right; it was good. He couldn't blame her for ditching him for the food. The two quietly munched away until Zuko spoke up.

"Listen, Katara. We have to start your training today. You've got to pick this up as soon as possible."

She frowned, the thought of swordplay not very palatable, especially in Fire Nation heat.

The girl consented, though. Sokka had looked pretty cool wielding his sword.

XOXOXOXOXOX

Sunshine poured down, hot and bright in the patches that shown through the canopy. The trees here were very tall and widely dispersed, making travel easy. From the village, they headed a few miles west into a more mountainous and unpopulated area. To help her breathe easier during training, they were heading downhill now. In the rainy season, there was a shallow pond at the bottom; now it was just a nice, grass-covered clearing that was pretty much flat.

"Okay," he said, stopping to pull out his sword. "Just watch." Zuko got into position and demonstrated a few basic thrusts and slices. When he was done, he sheathed his weapon. "Try to copy that."

"Uh… I'll try." She had no clue what he did. To her, he was just waving around a piece of metal. She tried to imitate his stance.

"No, spread your legs wider and bend your knees a bit." When she didn't correct it satisfactory, he sighed and walked over to help her. "No, like this," he said, grabbing her arms and straightening them a bit. Her footing all wrong, Zuko gently guided her legs and hips to head her into the proper stance.

"Okay, not try it."

She tried. He chuckled.

"How was that what I showed you?"

"Hmph. I thought it was pretty close."

"It's okay for a first try. Here, I'll show you again, okay?"

XOXOXOXOXOX

Three hours later, the two decided to call it quits for the night. Katara had made progress, but still needed work on… Everything. Their stomachs were growling for a meal. Fresh out of food supplies, the pair took to the woods to find something growing wild. Before they left, Katara grabbed her canteen of bending water from her bag and tied it around her waist.

"What's that for?"

"Just in case."

"My Firebending not good enough to handle it?"

"Fire can't replace water."

It was a few hours until dark. Light and shadows sparkled in contrast on the forest floor. Plants and bushes popped up occasionally, but so far none were edible. A few of the trees bore nuts, though; they gathered some up as they went. Zuko was hoping to stumble across a rabbit or fowl; that would make a much nicer dinner than a few nuts.

Katara stopped by a big bush that had some bright, ripe raspberries on it. "Look, Zuko!"

Zuko looked somewhere, but not at her berries. He heard a scamper off a few hundred feet. Just loud enough of a noise to be a juicy, tender rabbit. He kept his eyes fixed on his prey, so he wasn't watching the ground.

"Shh…"

He crept along slowly and quietly, trying to catch a glimpse of the hare so he could have a real target for some Firebending. He'd done this before when travelling with his uncle. The trick was to decapitate it with a quick burst of flame, leaving the body unmarred. Needless to say, in the face of starvation, he became a professional-grade hunter rather quick.

Katara sighed and ignored him. Men were never happy with a simple vegetarian meal; she knew that quite well from her brother. She let him have his quiet, proceeding o pick her tasty raspberries.

He could see the high grass wiggling from the disturbance around the rabbit's hiding place in it. The green-gold weeds wouldn't save him. Zuko's eyes fixed on dinner; he tried to inch closer, sliding a few feet into the weeds. They reached almost to his knees.

There was a metallic slink, and an immediate and excruciating pain in his leg. His yell scared away the rabbit and alerted Katara. Grimacing, he looked down and saw a bear trap hinged around his calf, hot red blood staining the iron. He would've blasted the contraption away had he not remembered the conductivity of metal.

"Zuko!" She allowed the berries held in her skirt to drop to the ground and splatter red across the forest floor. In a flash she was at his side. He had been trying to pry open the metal jaws, only succeeding at cutting his hands. She reached to her side and popped open the cap of her canteen, drawing out its contents with a twist of her wrists. "Hold still."

Carefully, she sliced aw2ay the metal with her Waterbending and the detached pieces fell to the ground. Taking his arm over her shoulders, Katara helped the boy to his feet and the two limped over to the roots of a tree. He sat down awkwardly, leaning against the trunk for support. The Waterbender knelt down next to him to attend to his injury. With gentle touch, she slowly peeled away the shredded edges of his pants, which were by this time soaked red with warm blood from the wound. Wrapping the same water around her hands, it glowed blue as she moved them over his injury, slowly healing the ripped flesh. A pleasant, tingly feeling replaced the pain and his expression grew calm and peaceful.

"Well," he whispered in a rough voice, "I'm glad you brought your bending water."

She smiled as the blood flow ceased, the wound healed. "Yeah. Give me your hands."

In a jiffy, they were healed with the touch of hand in hand. His eyes glanced back, following the trail of blood to the remains of the trap. "We'd better not stay here another day."

"Bears?"

"No. People. We don't want to be recognized."

"Okay. So… What's for dinner?"

Zuko sighed, getting to his feet and noting that his leg felt better than before. "Well, there's no chance that rabbit is still around." The girl glanced to the red-splattered ground by the berry bush.

"Smashed berries?"

"What a delicacy. It'll have to do." He started walking over to the battered fruit, and took a glance at his leg, where the slashed remains of his pant leg smeared cold and half-dried blood on his freshly healed calf. "You wouldn't happen to be any good at sewing, would you?"

That night, they sat by the fireside, the young man holding out his leg while she slipped a needle in and out of the fabric. Slowly, the ripped cloth came together, joined into one in the fading yellow glow of firelight.

"You know, this would be a lot easier if you would take off the pants."

"Now who's the pervert?"

She frowned, red-faced. "I wouldn't look."

"Blushing like that, I doubt the sincerity of that promise."

She poked him with the needle. "Not interested."

He paused for a moment. "That kind of hurt, you know."

"If you don't want to get stabbed by the needle, then just take off your pants."

End Chapter Six

A/n: Hey, sorry for the delay. 3 Hope you enjoyed the chapter.