Chapter 26: Internal Scars, Part III
Three days after crossing the Serpent's Pass, Katara, Toph and I were leaning on the railing, Katara and Toph discussing Aang's condition, as I listened.
'How much longer do you think he'll be out?' Toph asked.
Katara shook her head sadly. 'I don't know. I've been healing him, but there's no way to tell how far did the damage go until he wakes up.'
But then there was a commotion behind us, and Toph smiled as we turned to the noise.
'Twinkle-Toes, that's got to be you'
Aang was standing on deck, with Momo perched on his back, looking dazed and confused.
I felt a strange smile spread over my face, and Katara and I ran towards him.
'Aang, you're awake!' Katara yelled happily.
'Are you sure?' Aang said, rubbing his eyes. 'I feel like I'm dreaming'
Katara ran up to him and embraced him, and he almost fell on his back, off guard.
'You're not dreaming. You're finally awake'
Then Sokka walked past me and hugged Aang quickly. 'Aang, good to see you back with the living, buddy'
'Sokka?' Aang asked confused. Only then I became aware that we were on a Fire Nation ship and that Sokka was wearing a Fire Nation helmet, and how confusing that must be for Aang, since the last thing he knew was that he was fighting Azula and Zuko on Ba Sing Se.
I ran closer to him, as Toph warned everyone: 'Uh-oh! Somebody catch him, he's gonna…'
Katara ran to catch him, among everyone's gasp of surprise, but not too fast, anyway, for Aang's back hit the deck before she reached him, and Katara only got to prevent his head from being smacked against the ground.
I reached them, concerned, but then my sister looked up with relief. 'He's just fainted. Kira, help me make him comfortable. It won't be long before he wakes up again, and I think he could use some fresh air'
I assisted Katara, and, as she had foreseen, it took Aang only two hours to wake up again. Katara was incredibly anxious to have him awake again, because she wanted to talk to him to find out the extent of the damage Azula had inflicted on him, but I managed to calm her down, by reminding her that Aang needed rest.
When the Avatar finally woke up again, Katara grabbed his hand and leaned over him anxiously. Aang did not jolt back though, and I was close enough to catch a glance of gratitude and adoration he shot at my sister.
'Katara? What happened? How come we're in a Fire Nation ship?'
She smiled, and her eyes glimmered with hope and love when she carefully wrapped a blanket around Aang's shoulders as he sat up. 'You should take it easy now, Aang. You're still weak.'
Only then did Aang direct his gray eyes at me.
'Kira! You made it!'
I smiled. 'It's good to have you back, Aang.' Indeed the Avatar's awakening had brought up a tiny flame of hope into my heart. Maybe I hadn't screwed up completely. Maybe Aang would be okay and we would beat the Fire Nation.
After Sokka and Toph rushed towards him to hug him again, he sat on the ground and Katara sat at his side, and I suddenly felt awkward, as if I was third wheeling. I perceived a strange connection between the young Avatar and my sister, and I decided to study them from afar, so I walked a few steps away, but a minute later Hakoda approached Aang to introduce himself.
'Everything okay?' he asked.
'We're fine, Dad' Katara replied briskly.
The Chief extended his hand towards Aang. 'I'm Hakoda, Katara and Sokka's father'
'He knows who you are' Katara snapped back. I raised one eyebrow. My sister was not prone to rudeness and this was one of the few occasions that I had seen her be rude to her father, but I still failed to understand the reason why she was mad at him. 'I just called you Dad, didn't I?'
The Chief looked down at his daughter, his face unreadable. 'I guess you're right'
But Aang stretched out his arm, and shook Hakoda's. 'Nice to officially meet you, Chief Hakoda'
'It is an honor to meet you' was the polite response.
'Great, great' Katara interrupted, annoyed. 'Now you guys have finally met, so would you mind giving us a little privacy?'
'Of course' Hakoda said before walking away.
I turned around and stared at the water of the huge lake over the railing, wondering about Katara, and about Aang. What had changed? What had I missed? Thinking about them, and about the subtle signs they kept hinting at each other was something much more pleasurable to think about than my usual worries about Iroh and Zuko.
Some hours later, we were sitting in a circle around Aang as Sokka explained everything that had happened to us, but he left my vow of silence out, guessing that Aang would probably find out for himself later.
'So, what now?' Aang asked.
'We've been working on a modified version of the invasion plan' Hakoda said.
'It's Sokka's invasion plan' Katara snapped at him.
'Yes, Sokka's plan. We won't be able to mount a massive invasion without the Earth King's armies, but the solar eclipse will still leave the Fire Nation vulnerable'
'So, we're planning a smaller invasion. Just a ragtag team of our friends and allies from around the Earth Kingdom. We already ran into Pipsqueak and The Duke' Sokka explained, pointing at the two of them, who had joined us at Chameleon Bay.
'Good to see you again, Aang' Pipsqueak greeted him with his deep voice.
'And the best part is, the eclipse isn't even our biggest advantage' Sokka said excitedly. 'We have a secret. You!'
'Me?' Aang reacted, confused.
'Yep, the whole world thinks you're dead' Sokka raised his arms triumphantly. 'Isn't that great?'
Aang looked shocked.
'The world thinks I'm dead? How is that good news? That's terrible!'
'No, it's great!' Sokka contradicted him. 'It means the Fire Nation won't be hunting us anymore. And even better, they won't expect you on The Day of Black Sun'
I looked at Aang, who seemed positively horrified now. I understood why he was so terrified. He represented hope for many people, and now that everyone thought he was dead, what would they hold on to? I realized he probably felt responsible for it, and I wished I could just tell him that it was not his fault but mine.
'No, no, no, no, no. You have no idea. This is so messed up!' he blurted out, stammering backwards.
But suddenly a deep horn blew behind us. We turned around and we saw the giant shape of another ship heading our way.
'I'll handle this. The Avatar is back!' Aang said, as he opened his glider. But he flinched in pain, clutching his side. Even then he grabbed the glider's wings, preparing to set off.
'Aang, wait!' I said.
'Remember, they don't know we're not Fire Nation!' Katara reminded him.
He reluctantly folded his glider back, and Sokka led him to the stairs.
'Everyone just stay calm. Bato and I will take care of this' Hakoda said.
'Let me help!' I chimed in. 'I'm the best we've got to see through Fire Nation procedures'
Hakoda considered me for an instant. 'Hmm. You look too young for a Fire Nation officer, but we're short of them anyway. You may come.'
I stood at his left, and Bato at his right.
We watched as the bridge was lowered and three men walked into our ship. The commander looked a lot like Zhao, and I shivered. But thinking about the cruel Admiral helped turn the nervousness into cold hatred.
'Commander, why are you off course? All Western Fleet ships are supposed to be moving toward Ba Sing Se to support the occupation' the tall man at the lead demanded.
'Actually, we're from the Eastern Fleet. We have orders to deliver some cargo' Hakoda invented quickly.
'Ah, Eastern Fleet' the commander said. 'Well, nice of Admiral Chan to let us know he was sending one of his ships our way'
'I am sure Admiral Chan meant no disrespect, sir' Bato chimed in.
'I mean, how hard is it to write a quick note and send a hawk our way?' the man replied angrily.
'Next time, we'll send two hawks to make sure you get the message' I added confidently. The man narrowed his eyes at me for a second, and I read in them that he wasn't convinced. Still, the three men inclined their heads, indicating the conversation was over.
We bowed to them in Fire Nation style and we walked away. After a few steps, I leaned close to Hakoda. 'I don't think they bought it' I whispered.
And then Toph shouted from the stairs. 'They know!' and I immediately turned around, to see her taking care of the bridge with metalbending.
I ran to the railing, followed by Katara, and we exchanged glances. She nodded decisively and we raised an enormous wave of water, throwing it over the enemy ship and separating it from our own.
Then the other ship began to shoot immense fireballs at us.
The first ones missed us, but the third one hit the hull and we all stumbled as the ship tipped to starboard. Toph prepared to attack.
'Load the Toph!'
Then as Pipsqueak brought her one of the huge stone discs she had created specifically for this purpose, she kicked it on the air and it crashed the first trebuchet. Toph's second disc crashed against the next fireball.
I stood next to her and began to build big iceballs to throw at them, but they were too far away and my iceballs fell in the water. Then they shot a ballista and the projectile pierced our hull.
'Katara!' I shouted, and she immediately ran to the railing and covered the hole with ice, as I dropped my attempt to throw iceballs and clenched my teeth in frustration. I was a waterbender in open ocean, for heaven's sake! I had to be able to do something!
'I'm gonna give us some cover!' Katara yelled, and she raised a deep mist, but a huge fireball appeared through it, and I drew water and crashed an iceball into it, deflecting the burning rock.
Then we left the mist, and the next projectile fell on the back end of the ship, and the engines turned on fire. Katara and I pulled water in a symmetrical move and extinguished the fire.
But then a huge serpent rose from the water and screeched at us. I drew my daggers, preparing to jump on its head the moment it stroke, but a fireball hit it in the head and the animal hissed. Then it ducked in the water and we watched it attack the enemy Fire Nation ship.
I sighed, relieved, as everyone cheered, but I saw Aang frowning, concerned.
A few hours later, we docked in an island to get repairs and supplies, and the gang decided to take a walk, to relax after a hard day. When they came to invite me, I refused, but Katara insisted that she wanted to talk to me about something and that just leaving the ship would be good for me. After some insistence, I agreed.
And then we went to pick Aang up. The Avatar frowned when Sokka offered him a headband to cover his arrow and keep his existence a secret.
'I'm not going out if I can't wear my arrow proudly!' he snapped angrily.
For a moment I had a lapse, when I figured what Zuko would have done if someone had even dared suggest that he wore a mask to conceal his scar. He would have set the fool on fire right on the spot.
'Aang, be practical' Sokka insisted.
'You guys go ahead without us. We'll catch up with you' Katara said, but I placed a hand on her shoulder.
'May I have a word with Aang first?'
They all gaped at me, but then Katara nodded. 'I'll wait outside. Toph, Sokka, you guys go. We'll catch up later'
Then she herded them away and closed the door behind her, and I turned to the young Avatar. He eyed me, suspicious, and I remembered that he barely knew me after all.
'Aang, I know what you're going through' I began softly. But the Avatar was not in a good mood.
'No one knows! No one understands! I failed! I am the world's last hope and I failed them!' he said as he got to his feet in an outburst of anger.
I bit my lip. 'It's not your fault'
'Then whose is?' he asked, his gray eyes piercing me with an angry expression I'd never seen on the otherwise kind boy.
Mine, I wanted to say. Mine, for letting this happen to you, for not protecting you. But I shrugged instead.
'Look, you still are the world's last hope. You are alive, Aang. Five days ago we wondered… we didn't know how far did the damage go. I understand you're upset. I've lived among these people. I understand the consequences. But it's not all lost yet, and for once I agree with Sokka. We need to plan this, because our numbers are slim and we're counting on you. I believe you can still save the world' I spluttered the words straight out from my heart.
Aang stared at me for a long moment, and then he looked away.
'Do you have anything else to say? I need to rest' he snapped angrily.
I clenched my teeth, upset at thinking that maybe I should have remained silent. Maybe my words made him feel even worse. Why did I keep making every mistake possible when it came to this kid?
I turned around and opened the door to Katara, and I slipped out of the room before walking out to the island.
When I returned to the ship one hour later, my mood was black. I had not found Sokka or Toph anywhere, nor Katara, and the little village reminded me of the town where Zuko had fought his Agni Kai with Zhao, saving my life for the first time. Naturally, this depressed me more than anything, and my guilt for Aang's pain only made it worse.
But when I climbed to deck, I saw Katara hugging Hakoda, her face wet with tears, and suddenly I knew that something was wrong, horribly wrong, and I didn't stop to wonder why Katara was being nice to her father for the first time in weeks.
'What happened?' I asked.
Katara turned to look at me, her face blotchy from the tears. 'It's Aang! He's gone!'
My heart fell to my knees. 'What do you mean, "He's gone"?'
'He took his glider and he's gone!'
I looked around. Where would he go? We were on a small island, and around there was only sea, a huge storm approaching us from the west. Hakoda followed my gaze and nodded towards land.
'You should search the island' he suggested.
I nodded quickly and ran towards Appa. The huge bison growled, and I placed my hands at the sides of his snout and pressed my forehead against it. He opened his mouth and his long tongue licked my right leg.
Then I looked him in the eye. 'Appa, Aang has gone away. We must find him. Will you help me?'
Somehow talking to the bison felt easy and natural, unlike talking to people, which at this moment of my life was not an easy thing for me.
Appa rumbled low, and I climbed on his head. I looked down at my sister.
'I'll check the island!'
'I'll check the village!' she replied, and she ran down the gangplank without another word.
I pulled from the reigns, imitating Sokka's movements when he steered the bison. 'Appa, yip yip!' The animal smashed his tail against the deck and took flight. I still had to grow used to it. I had ignored the dizziness when we had left Ba Sing Se because I was too depressed to worry about it, but now it proved to be a serious disadvantage.
I held on to Appa's hair for dear life, all the muscles in my body stiffening up, and I swallowed hard as I directed the bison around the island, and peeked over the side of him, using all my might to ignore the urge to throw up.
But after a while, I had roamed the entire island twice and there was no sign of Aang. The only place I hadn't checked yet was the cliffs, but I doubted that in Aang's poor condition he'd dare to climb a cliff.
I surrounded the big cliffs around the small bay where the village sat, and, to my surprise, I saw two little figures sitting down on a ledge, their legs dwindling on the air, staring at the horizon. I approached them, and pulled from Appa's reigns to make him stop and hover just at the end of the cliff, about three feet behind the two young people.
Naturally, they started, and Sokka almost fell off the cliff, but Toph extended a chunk of rock out of the ledge and he stepped on it. The small girl turned towards the sound of my voice, seething.
'What do you think you're doing, shouting like that?'
'Aang's gone! And we can't find him! We gotta go!' I replied, and the mix of embarrassment and anger edged on their faces was replaced by worry, as both kids frowned and ran towards me.
Sokka jumped on Appa, and Toph raised a block of earth beneath her feet, propelling herself on the air and landing perfectly on the saddle.
'What do you mean, "Aang's gone"?' Sokka asked, as I handed him the reigns and clutched at my stomach.
'Katara said he took his glider and disappeared. I've searched the island, but no sign of him. Katara was supposed to look for him at the village, but something tells me he's not there'
'We must return to the ship immediately, then' Sokka decided, and he steered Appa towards the huge gray vessel stationed on the dock.
When Appa landed on deck, a worried-looking Hakoda ran towards us, the crease of his frown deep on his forehead.
'Katara hasn't found him! She fears he tried to fly away over the ocean!'
'But that's ridiculous! He'd never make it!' I replied, staring at the storm almost upon us.
'He'd try anyway' Katara said, climbing down from the bridge.
'But where would he go?' Sokka asked.
'I think I've got an idea' Katara replied, and when she approached us I saw she was carrying all our backpacks, and Momo was perched on her shoulders. I shot her a questioning look, but Hakoda answered for her.
'We've decided you kids should go and try to find Aang, and help him. We'll meet the day of the eclipse' he explained. Then he looked at my brother. 'Sokka, come over, I'll give you a map and show you the meeting point'
Sokka ran to his father, and as they busied themselves over the map, I helped Katara load our packs and tie them on Appa's saddle. I noticed her jaw was clenched and her hands were slightly shaking.
I grabbed her hand and she stared at me. 'We'll find him' I promised her, and she shot me a thankful look through teary eyes before nodding shortly.
Minutes later, we were soaring the stormy skies, scanning the ocean for any sign of the Avatar.
'Where are you taking us, Katara?' I asked my sister, whose determined look reminded me of Zuko for a moment.
'Crescent Island' she replied. 'It's nearby and it means a lot to Aang. It's where he first met Roku'
I nodded, though she couldn't see it because she was giving me her back. I remembered hearing the whole adventure at Avatar Roku's Temple from their lips days ago, at the bonfires back on Chameleon Bay.
I looked at the enraged ocean below us, and a renewed feeling of guilt hit me, as I remembered it was mainly my fault that Aang had fallen comatose, the world thought him dead and he was so upset. I could only hope Katara was right.
The next morning, I awoke with a start when I noticed Appa had begun to descend. We were reaching an island, or rather a single volcano whose magma had formed a long tail of earth on both sides of the mountain.
'There!' Katara said, and I spotted a small figure spread-eagled on the ground at the shore, wearing orange clothes.
Katara made Appa land with a splash, and she jumped off, sprinting towards the young Avatar. But Momo arrived first. The small lemur licked Aang's face and he opened his eyes, blinking feebly.
Oh, thank Yue, he is alive!
Katara reached him and dropped to her knees, as she wrapped her arms around his head, crying tears of joy. Sokka and Toph followed her, and they all embraced Aang in a group hug. Even Appa stepped closer to touch the four kids with his snout.
But I stood behind. I was as content as the rest of them for finding Aang, but I still felt awkwardly out of place, and my guilt for everything that had happened still weighed heavily on my mind. I saw Aang shut his eyes and hug his friends in return, but I looked away in shame when he opened his gray eyes and he saw me standing a few feet apart.
He gently released his friends' arms from around him and he got to his feet. I saw him walking towards me, and I half turned away, looking at the sea. But the Avatar's hand fell on my arm, and I couldn't help but to turn my teary eyes from the ocean to submerge myself in Aang's big gray eyes.
'You were right about me' he said, staring at me with transparent honesty. 'I'm sorry I was rude to you'
'You weren't rude to me' I muttered with a hoarse voice.
'I'm sorry if I made you feel left out. But I can promise you this: You will never feel like that anymore, not with us. You're part of this family now' Aang replied firmly, and when Katara, Sokka and Toph all nodded, backing up Aang's words, I felt tears trickling down my face, and a sudden lump on my throat, as my chest filled with immense gratitude towards the family that accepted me for who I was, broken as I was and after everything I'd put them through.
'Thank you' I managed to gurgle out, and Aang pulled me into a warm hug. And immediately I felt three more pairs of arms around me, and suddenly my chest filled with love; deep love and affection towards them, and I promised myself as I choked down a sob, that I would never ever ever disappoint them again.
Then the group hug broke, and as I wiped the tears from my eyes, Aang stared at all of us in turn. 'I have so much to do'
'I know' Katara said, 'but you'll have our help'
'You didn't think you could get out of training just by coming to the Fire Nation, did you?' Toph added.
'What about the invasion?' Aang asked.
'We'll join up with my dad and the invasion force on the day of the eclipse' Sokka explained.
Then Toph picked something up from the water behind her back. 'Hey, what's…' Then we saw it was Aang's glider, broken and burnt. 'Oh… it's your glider.'
She handed it to Aang, and we all stared at him cautiously, waiting for his reaction.
'That's okay' he said, to our relief. 'If someone saw it, it would give away my identity. It's better for now that no one knows I'm alive'
Then he airbended himself over a mound beside a river of lava. After a second, he made the glider spin above his head and then he slammed it into the lava before jumping away.
I suddenly had a vivid memory of Zuko, when he had cut his ponytail and also when he had dropped the Blue Spirit mask into Lake Laogai, and I realized Aang was making the same gesture. He was resigning everything he was, to go into hiding. I realized it must have been as hard for him as it was for Zuko, or rather worse because he was the Avatar, the world's last hope, and letting everyone believe he was dead to protect himself must be an incredibly heavy burden to carry on his shoulders.
I realized at that moment that this kid was entirely and completely different from the kid that I had helped at the South Pole, and he had grown and matured enough as to become the true leader he was supposed to be. I felt a mix of pride at being his friend and admiration for the young Avatar, and I was about to grasp his hand to show him my support, when I remembered he had Katara for that.
Katara gave him an encouraging and loving look as Aang led us back to Appa, and I allowed a tiny smile to form over the corners of my mouth. As much as I wanted to help Aang, I could not help him the same way I had helped Zuko, because he already had a supporting friend. The only thing I could do for him was to be there and help him win this war, but emotionally, he was already complete and he did not need me.
In a way, it was reassuring to know he would be okay, and that our plans still stood, and that we still had a chance to defeat the Fire Lord, but it also reminded me that my place had been with the scarred young man who really needed me, and that now I had lost him forever.
So when I glanced back at the glider and saw it set on fire, I saw not only the Avatar's past life burn to ashes, but also mine, and I realized that things would be different now, and no matter how hard and difficult it was to leave Zuko and Iroh behind, I had a family, a part to play in this war, and a future to look up to. I couldn't continue living in the past.
When Appa soared the now clear skies, and we flew away from the toxic fumes of the volcano, I felt relieved, as if the heavy burden on my shoulders had shrunk. All my doubts, my silence and my pain, began to fall behind, and I knew that night I would have no more nightmares. I knew I would begin to see things differently, and even though the scars would never heal and I would never feel complete again, I had a goal now, I had people to care for, and until the war was over I would have to become the warrior I had always trained to be.
'Are you okay?' Sokka's voice snapped me from my reverie. I looked up and saw worry in his blue eyes.
I smiled, a true, warm smile, unlike any I had given anyone since Ba Sing Se. 'Yes.' I paused for a moment to glance at Aang, who was holding Appa's reigns with a frown of determination on his face.
'Hope is not lost after all.'
A/N, or Brief Notice, as of August 2014: I've been getting some reviews asking about the continuation of this story (reviews are like, idk, drops of heavenly rain on a desertic landscape to me, so do keep sending them, please), and I wanted to leave this notice here, in the last chapter published.
Firstly, this story has not been abandoned. I haven't updated in a very long time (I don't even want to think how long) because 1. When I left it I was having some college problems, writer's block and personal issues as well, so I thought that last line over there was a nice way of wrapping up what I had until I had more time to write; 2. One of the main problems I have with this story is that I keep changing my mind about the direction of it, and sometimes I wanted to write something but I couldn't because it wouldn't be consistent with what I had already published. So, in short, I decided I'm not going to publish anything else until I have written at least a good deal of what's still to come.
When this story started, it was little more than another Mary Sue-ish self-insert. But as I wrote, Kira grew a mind and a personality of her own. And now, I want to pay my respect to her as a character and give her better character development, and a bit of a story line of her own. In order to achieve that, I'm rewriting this story from the start. I have already published some edited chapters. Besides, I have written a few more chapters ahead of this one, but I got stuck at Ch. 31. The thing is, I want this story to mean something, and for that, I need to be careful.
In any case, I usually update on my writing progress on my profile. So if you wanna know how it's going, you may check it there.
As always, thanks a LOT for reading and reviewing, and I can't begin to tell you how immensely glad it makes me that people still like my story. But I can promise something: It's only going to get better.