Where Words Fail
Book 5: The Invasion of Omashu
Bonus Chapter 4: Just watch yourself. We're wanted men. I have the death sentence on twelve systems!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is a fan fiction - nothing more, nothing less. It has been made purely for entertainment purposes, and is not meant for commercial gain. Avatar: The Last Airbender and all characters, places and concepts are copyright of Nickelodeon, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. All original characters are copyright their respective owners and are used with their permission.
Smellerbee guessed they were lucky they found the small town where they did; Longshot, certainly no doctor, had clicked his tongue when pulling Mai's knife free from Smellerbee's shoulder. He'd spread the wound so he could pour whiskey into it, to clean it out (every part of that process hurt like a motherfucker)...it didn't look good. He could stitch the laceration, yeah, that wouldn't be a problem, but there could be some permanent muscle damage, and there was no way it wouldn't get infected. Even after the fact - after the alcohol had oozed out, tracing lukewarm wormtrails down her back, after Longshot had closed the wound - her shoulder just hurt, razor-sharp, fiery pain lancing through her with every step Surestance took, and the ostrich horse wasn't going slow, either. They couldn't stay too close to Omashu.
This town was decently-sized, not too large to be called a city and not too small to be a village. There were at least a few hundred people living here, and although the architecture wasn't anything to write home about, the houses that lined the streets were in good condition. Most of these people didn't seem impoverished and probably lived on modest income, a guess that only strengthened when the pair of Freedom Fighters came across a small plaza lined with businesses, including - thank the Spirits - a doctor. In the center of the plaza sat a fountain, a wide, glistening pool with a statue of a wolf lion rearing up from the center. And even better, not a single Fire Nation soldier in sight, although they probably passed through here frequently on their way too or from Omashu. The people - the men, women and children the two Freedom Fighters passed through the streets - didn't shy away from the strangers as if burned, and they seemed happy enough...maybe, just maybe, the Fire Nation didn't bother them too much. It was a happy thought Smellerbee was more than happy to cling to as everything - this entire morning, and her freaking shoulder, how tired she was - conspired against her to knock her out.
The only reason they had to even suspect the Fire Nation came near this place were the wanted posters mounted on a signboard at the edge of the plaza. Mai had mentioned them during her fight with Smellerbee, and it had been kinda cool hearing about it, but seeing them in person - it was...wow. The swordswoman eased Surestance to a stop in front of the sign post (made of splintered, raw wood) and let a low, shuddering whistle out through her teeth.
"Look at this," Smellerbee murmured, beckoning Longshot over to her. The archer hiked a curious eyebrow and eased Fletcher over to her, and Smellerbee heard him grunt when he noticed the wanted posters. The calligraphy-and-watercolor representations of the two Freedom Fighters were actually pretty accurate, even down to Jet's swords on Smellerbee's back, and the ridges in Longshot's gazelke-horn bow. Smellerbee plucked hers free as gently as she could and noticed how the paper rattled in her grasp; her hand was shaking, at least partially in awe of the fact that she'd made enough of a name for herself to - to get her own wanted poster! So far as she knew, no other Freedom Fighter had gotten one; the group, before splitting, had been strictly local, sticking to the forest and valley, quick to strike and quicker to vanish. Nothing warranting one of these, this parchment-ink-paint masterpiece. The bottom of Smellerbee's promised a reward if she was caught and turned in...not a bad figure for somebody in her shoes, but definitely room for growth. She could do better than that.
"'Wanted for crimes committed against the Fire Nation, Crimson-Faced Smellerbee.'" Smellerbee felt a grin quirking up on her face despite the exhaustion clawing at her. She skimmed the rest of the information and felt a stippling irritation scrawl up her spine when she realized they'd gotten her gender wrong. Jerks! Everything else was alright, but they couldn't - argh!
Don't worry too much about it; she knew as well as Longshot did that sometimes it was better to be mistaken for a boy. The archer's brow knit as he reached out and pulled his own poster free; he scrutinized it for a moment before folding it and slipping it away into his tunic. He was being awful stoic about it, but Smellerbee knew him better, and could pick up the buzzing giddiness lying just out of sight. He was as excited as, if not moreso than Smellerbee about having an actual physical wanted poster of himself.
"Yeah, but I still dun like it," Smellerbee groused. She hunched her shoulders - and hissed when the left screeched at her, the stitches tugging at her skin. "In - in any case - the doctor. Yeah? Yeah."
Longshot sighed and nodded. Hopefully this wouldn't put too large a dent in their finances.
"Who stitched you up?"
Smellerbee regarded her doctor with a curious eyebrow. He was a water tribe man - tall, in his early twenties, with mocha-colored skin and cocoa hair tied back in a bundle of dreadlocks. His jaw was rectangular, but he was incredibly skinny - not emaciated, but certainly no muscleman. He wore a blue, layered tunic and pants, and he regarded the cut on Smellerbee's shoulder with a heavy frown. The fact that somebody from the Water Tribe was in this podunk town was weird enough, but the fact that he was a doctor...? Something didn't sit quite right with the swordswoman and she couldn't place what. It slipped from her grasp like an eel - something really obvious she should know. Longshot might, but - well, it wasn't like she could ask him with the doctor in the same room, prodding at her like she was some sort of specimen in a jar.
Four stone walls rose up on all sides, and a curtain had been drawn over the door connecting this room to the reception area. Smellerbee sat perched on a cold, rocky table (her butt was way too bony for this to be comfortable), and the shutters on the windows had been drawn, affording them a modicum of privacy. Not like she needed anybody else seeing her like this today - Zuko and the doctor were enough. Still, the day was bright enough to allow light to seep through, keeping the place illuminated.
"He did." The swordswoman gestured at Longshot - and winced as he took a pair of scissors to the stitches, involuntarily tugging on them in the process. "Not bad for somebody in the field, huh?"
"Hmph. Could have fooled me...here I was thinking a drunken hog monkey had done it."
Longshot, leaning up against a wall nearby, rolled his eyes, but otherwise allowed the insult to slide off his back. Everybody was a critic.
"Alright, let's see the damage..." The doctor walked away from the table, towards the back wall; Smellerbee cast a glance over her shoulder and saw him looking for something on a shelf of what appeared to be medical supplies. Scalpels, retractors, clamps...all sorts of assorted equipment, most of which the Freedom Fighter couldn't identify, all of them appearing as horrifying as the last. She shuddered and bit her lower lip, because - ugh, this would be invasive, wouldn't it? Of course it would, the wound would get infected (already her thought process was starting to get sluggish, her mind thrummed just a little bit - the fever and delirium would barge their way in soon enough if she didn't let this jerkass do his job), and - and there could be serious, permanent damage from it...
The doctor plucked up the tools he'd needed, but Smellerbee whirled around, faced forward before she could see what atrocities he carried back with him. "You're lucky you got here when you did. The skin around the wound is starting to get enflamed, and..." he paused - Smellerbee didn't like that pause - and she felt cold metal touching the outside of the wound, on either side of the laceration, opening it - hurt, made her hiss - "...well. Let's just say you're lucky and leave it at that, hmm?"
"We - Longshot washed it out with alcohol," Smellerbee explained, trying (and probably failing) to mask the desperation in her voice. (Maybe it would make a difference, maybe it'd make him leave her alone more?) "Whiskey."
"Tche." The doctor snorted. "Alright, alright...here's the deal. It's not life-threatening, but you're looking at some pretty serious damage. A lot of muscle and skin tissue has been partially cauterized - you said a Firebender stabbed you with a knife and proceeded to heat it up?"
"Yes." Smellerbee had to grit her teeth, because he was still probing the wound and she did not care for that thank you very much.
"Fantastic story, I'm sure." The doctor's snooty indifference didn't do much to improve Smellerbee's mood. He didn't believe her - that was fine, but he didn't need to be so, so egomaniacal about it. "In any case, you can expect some reduced flexibility and reaction time in the arm, and if the cauterized parts aren't removed immediately, the tissue will get necrotic and you'll be looking at a pretty serious infection that could lead to death."
Smellerbee choked, and she could see Longshot's eyes get wide, jaw drop - that was bad! Bad on all fronts, there was nothing even remotely un-bad about it! She didn't - argh - okay, so obviously the cauterized bits would have to come out. It was better than dying. But losing some motor function in the arm? Well - well, it would...this was the absolute worst time for this to happen, and she'd have to adapt, wouldn't she, oh man this would...
"Is there - " Smellerbee's voice cracked, and she coughed to clear her throat. "Is there some way we can avoid the whole fucked-up arm bit?"
The doctor clicked his tongue and pulled whatever tool he'd been prodding Smellerbee with away. "Spirits, you people...everybody comes in here expecting a miracle, but when I tell them how much my services cost, they give me the evil eye and call me a quack." The doctor stepped around the table, positioning himself between Smellerbee and Longshot. He crossed his arms over his chest, and cold, blue eyes perched above a broad nose narrowed. "You two don't look like you could afford a bath, let alone what you're asking for."
Ghhhhh. "Look, if you don't want our business - "
"I'll remove the necrotic tissue and sew you up, if that's within your meager price range." The doctor crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm a busy man, and I really don't have time to play games with you backwoods children - "
Whatever ass-hat tirade the doctor planned on continuing fell short at the sound of Earth Kingdom coin jangling against each other in the confines of a leather money pouch. Smellerbee saw his eyes light up, his ears perk at the sound - like music to him, she was sure - as he turned his attention towards Longshot, who held the bulging, mint-green money pouch up in one hand. The archer had self-control out the yin-yang, but even this man was getting under his skin, the irritation scratching chipped claws along his face, his nostrils flaring. They had money. They could afford whatever this "miracle treatment" of his was.
The doctor didn't need to be astute to understand what Longshot was conveying.
"Okay. Okay, fine." The doctor held up his hands and snorted. "If you insist on pushing your luck...thirty gold pieces."
Smellerbee choked again, and Longshot grimaced - unmasked, naked. The doctor quirked his head to the side and smirked. "If you need a few minutes to discuss it, I'll step outside."
"Get out," Smellerbee growled, because - ugh, he was worse than Sneers! She didn't need to put up with his smarmy-assed attitude. The doctor shrugged and turned around, stepping through the curtains separating this room from the lobby.
The swordswoman turned her attention to Longshot and drew a deep breath, doing her best to ignore the sharp, radiating pain from her shoulder. The archer crossed the room, plopped down on the table next to her, and drew his head in close to hers. "Well? Can we afford it?"
Longshot wilted a little bit as he pulled open the money pouch; he sifted through it with two fingers and sighed, blowing the breath out in a low hiss between his teeth. Yeah, they could afford it...it would leave them with only a few silver and copper to their name, but they could afford it. Paying for whatever magic the doctor assumed he could work would mean that they'd have to make their supplies last a loooong time, unless Smellerbee felt like stopping and pulling odd jobs at every town they came across.
"Ick, no." Flashes of the job they had gotten at Ba Sing Se - working in a kitchen, scrubbing dishes until the skin on their fingers split, the smell of this awful, terrible soap they used assaulting their noses - flickered through her mind, and pulled a face. "And we have thirty gold on the nose?"
On the nose. Longshot pursed his lips. They'd done so well preserving the money he'd stolen from the fop in Ba Sing Se's Upper Ring, too...but, really, it wasn't his choice. It wasn't his arm that would lose reaction time if they didn't want to take the chance.
Smellerbee crossed her arms over her chest - winced - and snorted. "Fine, put me on the spot...okay. It's obvious enough that whatever supplies we might need on the way to the forest, we can improvise. We've gotten by on less, and I guess it's our own fault for spoiling ourselves. And..." she bit her lower lip. "...and, maybe this is selfish of me, but I like being at one-hundred percent. The thought of not being able to be everything I am now...that scares me, Longshot. Is it silly to be frightened of something like that, especially now?"
No. No, it wasn't silly at all. The archer shook his head and laid a hand on her arm. The corners of his lips quirked up into a phantom's smile. Honestly, he'd rather she stay at one-hundred percent, too. They needed to be in top form if they were going to win this war.
"Right. Right, okay." Smellerbee sighed again and cleared her throat. "Let's get this over with, I guess."
"Just relax." The doctor snorted as he reached for a clay jar the size of his head perched on the back counter. He hefted it up with a low grunt and walked it over to the table Smellerbee sat on, each step careful and planned. Whatever was in that jar was either fragile, expensive, or both. (Thirty gold made it pretty expensive, Longshot figured.) "The hard part is paying. The rest is you unwinding so I can do my job."
Longshot was proud that Smellerbee had the self-restraint to keep from snapping at the doctor. The archer liked to think he was fair-minded, and he understood that stereotypes existed for a reason...but in this case, their doctor was one of those perpetrators.
The Water Tribesman eased the lid off of the jar, clay grating against clay, and reached inside with both hands; he closed his eyes, and Longshot noticed the muscles in his forearms tensing up. He pulled his hands free, and...
Well. Longshot had half-expected something herbal, like moss, or powder, but when he spotted the quivering, inch-thick layer of clear liquid clinging to the doctor's hands, shimmering in the light, the archer put two and two together.
The doctor was a Waterbender!
Longshot was pretty culturally versed, but anybody with a lick of worldly experience knew that the Southern Water Tribe had no more Waterbenders, and that the healing arts were only taught to women in the North Pole. (What a load of crap; thirty gold for him to stick his hands in a pot of water and press them against Bee's shoulder for a minute. But they'd paid up front, and Longshot wasn't sure he had it in him to haggle down after this.) The water flared up once, glowed a brilliant, azure blue color, his hands immersed up to his wrists; with his palms flat on Smellerbee's back, he rotated them in slow circles, one clockwise and the other counterclockwise. Between the doctor's fingers, he could see Smellerbee's laceration, caught little bits of dark red and black signifying the wound...but with each pass the doctor made over it, those bits got harder and harder to spot until, at last, it vanished entirely.
During the entire thing, Smellerbee's eyes had slid shut, and her mouth quirked up into a serene grin, and Longshot could only imagine how it felt. Cool, soothing, like knots in your muscles coming undone; he'd have to ask Smellerbee. It looked...blissful.
The water's glow receded, dimmed...gone, and the doctor pulled his hands away, holding them over the jar and letting the water slide free from his skin. He closed it back up, crossed his arms over his chest, and said, "that is why it costs thirty gold. Who's the number one doctor in the nearby Omashu region? That's right - this guy."
Longshot snorted and rolled his eyes. Spirits, bad enough that he'd swindled them...
Smellerbee hopped down from the table and yanked her tunic back on; she turned to face the doctor and planted a hand on her hip. "I have to admit, you're pricy...but you're good."
Which was odd, given the fact that he defied all sorts of gender and cultural stereotypes. Longshot shook his head. What was the deal? (Smellerbee translated for him, of course - no chance in hell this guy would understand. He was too busy enjoying the sound of his own voice.)
"Oh, yeah. Well." The doctor cleared his throat and glanced away. "I'd been training to be a doctor anyway, up in the Northern Water Tribe. I knew I wasn't allowed to use my bending to learn the healing arts, and I was fine with that...until the Avatar and his girlfriend came and changed everything. Women are taught how to fight, men are taught the healing arts...all sorts of crap like that. I'm just naturally gifted enough to have picked up on it in that time."
"Then how come you're still not up in the North Pole?" Smellerbee asked.
Ah - the cockiness had slipped away from the Water Tribesman, and he glowered down the bridge of his nose at the swordswoman. "I think it's time for you to leave. I have other patients to see."
"Well...thanks anyway, Bubbles." Smellerbee shook out her hair and smirked.
"I - what? 'Bubbles?'"
"Yeah." Smellerbee shrugged. "Because of your bubbly personality."
"OUT," the doctor bellowed, thrusting a finger at the door; Smellerbee snorted, took Longshot by the wrist, and led him outside.