AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER (isn't mine, and no profit is intended)
Title: Wind and Rain
Rating: PG. Strong hints of Katara/Aang.
Genre: Action-adventure. Sokka, Katara and Aang make an emergency landing in the rain forrest.
Chaper One: The Storm
"I think we should land,” Katara said, only to blink in dismay as her words were snatched away by the wind.
"Aang! I think we should land," she said, louder. She pulled her hood more securely over her head and hunched forward, trying to brace herself against Appa's flat saddle-platform. She felt as if she might be swept away into the sky at any moment. It was just before sunset, but the sky was growing darker by the minute as the mother of all thunderstorms approached, slowly but surely, from the west.
As often as she'd watched Aang flying through the air on his glider and wondered how that must feel, she had no desire to experience it under these circumstances.
“Aang!” But he still couldn’t hear her. Katara couldn’t help watching the storm.
Those clouds must be a mile high, she thought, dazedly. Look how they're moving, rolling over and over each other. She caught a brief flash of light on the horizon and winced, remembering Gran's warnings about lightning and high places. It had been a strange one at the time – there weren’t many storms over the South Pole, and there weren’t many high places either – but she was glad of it now. Had Gran-Gran known something she hadn’t?
The thunder came a split second later. "AANG, LAND!" she screamed, but the crash of rapidly expanding air swallowed her words before they'd even left her mouth. Nothing else for it: she'd have to crawl forward to the front of the platform to shout in his ear. Katara eyed the distance. Eight feet had never looked so far before!
There was a touch at her shoulder. "I'll tell him," Sokka said, practically shouting into her ear. "You wait here and make sure our supplies aren't blown away." Katara nodded and grabbed at the packs, her other hand reaching for the slight ridge at the edge of Appa's saddle. There wasn't much purchase, but it was better than nothing.
Did Aang not notice the way the wind was blowing? Maybe he was used to it; maybe being an Airbender meant that he hardly noticed gale-force winds or, even if he did notice them, that they didn't bother him. Still, he ought to have had more consideration for his passengers. Katara had never seen a storm like this before, and she was scared to death.
Sokka set out with a determined air, only looking a little bit like he'd rather stay clutching at the edge with her. She noticed that he didn't use the ridge, but crawled in a straight line towards the front. My stupid brother, Katara thought, fondly. Trying to pretend that this doesn't scare him as much as it scares me. There was another distant flash of lightning as Sokka pulled himself over the front of the saddle. She couldn't see more than the very top of Aang's head over the swell of Appa's back, but she thought she saw it dip in acknowledgement.
"Hang on, I'm taking us down," Aang said, sounding much too cheerful given the circumstances. Aang didn't even sound like he was straining to be heard.
Of course, she thought. He's an Airbender. He can just will the air currents to carry his voice to me. Jealousy was unbecoming, but at times like this...
It's so unfair, she thought. Here I am scared half to death, and what does he have to be afraid of? It’s not like /he/ can fall screaming to his death. Or like he can be captured in a open space when he has his glider with him, or trapped helpless somewhere with no air to bend. Compared to a poor Waterbender like herself, Aang has it /easy/.
A split second later she dismissed the thought as unworthy of her. Aang had problems just like she did-as a matter of fact, he had more problems than her or anyone else. Between being the last member of his tribe and being the Avatar (savior of the world), the real miracle was that he was ever cheerful at all.
Appa started to descend; Katara steeled her courage and glanced over the edge. She knew they were flying over Earth Country somewhere near the equator, but beyond that she had no clue where they were. Aang had the map, and she'd never left her village before.
The ground below swelled in gentle dark hills. It was strangely uneven. Were those hemispherical bumps rock formations? The were rounder and more regular than the rocks she'd seen on Kyoshi island, which had in turn been more regular than the jagged icebergs she'd grown up with. Maybe in this part of the world the rocks were round like Aang's bald head. She smiled at the thought.
Then they hit the "ground," and Katara realized her mistake. It had been too dark to tell from the air, but what she'd taken for rocks were actually the tops of trees, a uniform canopy of trees in all directions, from horizon to horizon. Katara had a moment to marvel--so much life!--and then they were falling. She tried not to panic at the sensation, but when she felt he legs lift away from Appa's back, she couldn't help it: she screamed.
"AAHHHHH!" She thought she heard Sokka screaming along with her, but she couldn't be sure. “AHHHHHHHHHH!”
There was a sudden swirl of wind around her, and she felt her descent slow to something less life-threatening. An instant later she hit the ground, and bounced. The forest floor was covered in a thick layer of ferns and a thicker layer of dead plant matter. She took a deep breath, thankful beyond words: that layer of dead leaves had probably just saved her from serious injury, although Aang had been the one to save her from death.
"Katara, Katara! Are you all right?" Katara looked up from the moss to Aang's worried face. There was a strange shadow in his eyes.
"I'm fine," she soothed. She was proud to note that none of the distress she felt was present in her voice, which came out calm and even. She tried to stand, gingerly, but her legs were still a little unsteady and they wouldn't support her weight.
"No, really, I'm fine," she assured him from her place on the ground. "I'm just a little shaken; it'll pass in just a moment." She craned her head around Aang to take stock of the situation. Appa was lying flat on his stomach a few yards away, his tongue lolling to one side. He was making a slight noise--a low mooing sound--but Katara thought he sounded more apologetic than pained. He didn't look hurt, but she was far from an expert on Magical Flying Bison and wasn't sure what an injured one would look like.
But where was Sokka? Was he alright? She twisted the other way, looking anxiously for her brother. He'd been at the front when they'd hit the treetops. What if he'd been pitched too far forward during the fall for Aang's Windbending to reach him?
"Sokka!" she called out, pulling herself to her feet. "Sokka! Where are you?!"
"Unngggg," came the reply, from the other side of Appa.
He sounds like he's in a lot of pain, Katara thought, biting her lip. "Sokka! Are you alright?"
The answer, when it came, was thoughtful: "I think I broke my ankle."
"This is all my fault!" Aang blurted. He suddenly looked very young, clinging to Katara's skirt as if she were his mother and he'd just been caught sneaking out of the tent at midnight with tomorrow's breakfast.
"Don't be silly," Katara said. She knelt, looking straight into his eyes. "None of us knew that those were trees, not even Appa. Right?" she asked the giant bison. She still wasn't sure how much of their speech Appa understood--whether he understood anything at all beyond the commands to take off and to land--but she thought he wiffed in acknowledgement. The ferns around him flattened for an instant, bent backwards by a snort of air forced out of a three-foot set of nostrils.
"See? It wasn't anyone's fault. If it wasn't for you, Sokka and I might have died!"
"No buts," she said, firmly. "It wasn't your fault, and I won't hear any arguments. Sokka's ankle will heal."
"But Katara, you don't understand, I…"
"Actually," Sokka said, walking towards them without a limp, "it turns out there was a twig stuck in my boot, and after I shook it out I felt perfectly fine, so you don't need to…"
"ARG!" Katara said, shooting back to her feet. She stalked across the ground to stick her finger in his face.
"Idiot! Moron! Do you know how worried I was?! Honestly! How could you! Look!" She swung her finger around to point at Aang, who had the grace to look embarrassed. "Look how upset he is! Next time think before you say something like that!" The leaves around them shook with the force of her anger. They were covered with dew-this whole forest was disconcertingly damp. Katara could feel moisture in the air, more moisture than even the storm could account for. Judging from the greenness of ferns, it probably rained a lot here. It was strange to feel so much moisture; the air at the South Pole had always been very dry.
"Are you done?" Sokka asked, trying to look bored. The effect was ruined by the way his eyes kept sliding away to the violently quivering greenery.
"No! I am not done! You need to learn to think before you talk, you…"
"Your boyfriend looks like he's been abandoned," Sokka interrupted, pointing to Aang with his chin.
"He is not my boyfriend!" Katara said. She whirled to face her not-boyfriend, and her entire posture softened. The leaves stopped moving. "Aang, you're ok now, right? No one was hurt, everyone is fine."
"Yeah," Aang said, but he wouldn't meet her eyes.
Chapter 2: The Plan
"The first thing we need to do," Katara said, decisively, "is find something to shelter under until the storm passes." She looked around, trying to judge the direction the storm would be coming from. It was no good-the fall had left her thoroughly disoriented. High above them was an Appa-shaped hole; other than that distinct mark, there was no way to differentiate any one direction from any other direction.
Or, if there was, Katara didn't know it. “But which way should we go? Everything looks the same!” Sokka said, echoing Katara’s train of thought.
"That way," Aang said, pointing towards a group of trees that looked exactly like every other group of trees.
"How do you know?" she asked. Sokka looked skeptical.
Aang looked smug--or maybe he was just happy to be useful. "Air. I can tell which way the wind is blowing. At this rate it'll be," he closed his eyes, "about three and a half hours before the storm gets here."
"Wow, that's amazing," Katara said, with feeling. Aang puffed out his chest; Sokka snorted.
"Three hours is plenty of time," her brother said, trying to take charge of the situation. Katara rolled her eyes but didn't interrupt. "We'll head away from the storm until we find somewhere less exposed. There ought to be a hill, or a large rock, or a tree with a hollow in it; something that we can shelter in until the storm passes."
"I agree," Katara said. "Aang?"
"Sounds good to me," Aang said. "Come on Momo, Appa- let's get going." The flying lemur chattered as if he agreed as well. Sokka picked up what was left of their supplies; some had fallen too far away, and they hadn't been able to recover them. Most of the rest had been caught more than a hundred feet above them, in the branches. Momo had gotten those.
The flying lemur had taken to the gigantic trees as if he'd lived in this forest all his life, alternately climbing, leaping, and gliding from trunk to trunk until he reached the canopy. The forest was surprisingly empty of other lemur-sized animals; Katara was willing to bet they'd all hidden themselves away in preparation for the storm.
They made slow progess--Appa had trouble walking on the ground, and oftentimes couldn't fit through the trees--so it was more than three hours later when they finally found what they were looking for: a large tree lying on its side, propped up by shiny black rocks. The rocks here were every bit as pointy as the icebergs back home, Katara noted.
"If we sit with that rock behind us and that rock on one side, and if Appa sits on the other side, then we'll be protected from three sides and from above," she said, happily.
"That's a relief," Sokka said. "It's almost time for the storm. What would we have done if we hadn't found this place?"
Aang scuffed a foot against the ground. "We'd have managed," Katara said, firmly. "At the very least we could have used Appa as a windbreak. Maybe we'd be a little wetter, a little less comfortable, but we'd have managaed. Honestly, Sokka, must you be so pessimistic?"
"It isn't pessimism," Sokka said, radiating affronted dignity. "It's realism. I take my responsibilities toward you and Aang very seriously."
"I see," Katara said. She wasn't sure whether she should be angry or laugh in his face--she could take care of herself!--but she laughed, anyway, because they were going to be alright and because the air was practically water, it was so wet, and it felt wonderful. Was this how Aang felt, flying though the air on his glider? What would it feel like to /swim/ through the water? It had been too cold to try back home. It would probably feel really good against her skin…
"What are you doing?" Sokka asked. "Why do you have that stupid look on your face?"
Katara came back to herself. What was she doing? She glanced around and saw that Aang was looking at her curiously, his head cocked to one side.
"N-nothing!' she said. "Come on, we need to set ourselves up before the storm gets here!" She marched straight for the tree, not waiting to see if she was being followed. Sokka and Aang joined her a second later, Sokka on one side and Aang on the other. It was a tight fit, but Katara didn't mind-if nothing else they'd keep each other warm. The temperature had already begun to drop. Aang whistled for Appa, and soon their shelter was secure. Katara stared out at the trees though the gap on one side--the side facing east, away from the storm--and thought about water that was warm enough to swim in, and about Aang, already fast asleep with his head against her shoulder.
Chapter 3: The Forest
Katara looked up from her mending to consider the small, furry, dead animal that had just landed inches from her leg. She shifted forward to get a better look--it was sort of like Momo (or would have been, had it still been alive) and also sort of like a miniature polar bear, with rounded, stubby ears and a nubby tail. "What is it?" she asked.
"Dinner!" Sokka said, cheerfully. "You should have seen me catch it, Katara-I knocked it right out of the trees from a hundred yards away." He flipped his boomerang into the air, catching it behind his back with his other hand.
"Good," Katara said. "I was getting tired of fruit and bread." She glanced apologetically at Aang--the former monk was a vegetarian--but Aang just shrugged.
"Momo and I found some fruit," he said. "We brought back enough for everyone-there's all sorts of food up in the trees." He looked expectantly at Katara. Ask me how I did it, his eyes said.
She decided to play along. "How did you get up in the trees?" she asked. "The lowest braches must be eighty feet from the ground."
"Momo taught me a trick," Aang said, proudly. "I use my Airbending powers to shoot myself up in the air toward a tree, then I jump off and use my Airbending powers again, trying for the next tree, and then I keep jumping until I reach the top. Wanna see?"
"Maybe later," Katara said, eying the dead Momo-bear. She couldn't wait to find out what it would taste like--real meat! Finally! Sokka, she was sure, felt the same.
"I'll get the wood for the fire," he said. He was drooling.
"I'll clear away the leaves," Katara said, "we wouldn't want to burn anything." This would be their first fire since they'd fallen through the trees two days ago; the temperature had picked up again after the storm, and they hadn't needed a fire to keep warm at night.
The storm had lasted a long time, almost a day; they'd silently agreed to spend the next day relaxing and exploring. This forest was fascinating--Katara didn't think she'd ever seen so many different kinds of butterflies or birds, all of them in crazy bright colors she hadn't even known existed outside of mineral dyes. This place was wondrously, miraculously alive, although they'd yet to see any animals larger than the dogs back home. Katara hoped it stayed that way-she'd heard stories of giant cats from Gran-Gran, and she didn't think she wanted to meet any.
Even Aang was impressed; it seemed that there was one place he hadn't visited during his days as world-traveler a hundred years ago. Katara almost wished they could spend more time here. Regrettably, they had more important things to do. A day or so wouldn't make a difference, but they couldn't afford to dawdle with the Fire Nation still waging war against the other countries.
Sokka returned with the wood just as Katara finished clearing away the underbrush. She'd made a circle in the dirt five feet across, just to be safe. "Let's get this party started!" Sokka said. He dumped the wood into the center of circle and stood leaning over it, rubbing his now-free hands together in anticipation. Katara rummaged through her bag for the flint.
After a minute, she carefully set the flint aside. The carefulness was so that she wouldn't be tempted to hurl it violently into the ground. What had she been worried about, again? Oh, right-setting fire to the forest. HA HA HA.
"The fire won't light," she said, calmly. "Sokka, are you sure the wood you brought back is good?"
"Of course it isn't," Sokka said, disgusted. "Have you seen how wet this place is? And there was a major storm the day before yesterday. Everything's soaked."
"Too bad there's no Firebenders here," Aang said, from where he and Momo were cheerily stuffing themselves with fruit. "Then we wouldn't have a prob…oh."
Katara forced herself to drop her horrified expression. She elbowed Sokka, indicating that he should do the same. "It isn't Aang's fault," she whispered to him, out of the corner of her mouth. "He's been frozen for the last hundred years; he hasn't seen the things the Firebenders have done…"
"I know that," Sokka said, whispering back.
Aang was looking between them as if wasn't sure whether or not to apologize. "One of my best friends was a Firebender," he offered. "They're good people."
Katara winced; she couldn't help it. Whenever she thought about the Firebenders, she thought about soldiers at the shore, the village in a panic; burning rocks falling from the sky, launched from catapults lashed to the decks of Fire Navy ships. She thought about the long and painful relocation across the glacier, and about her mother, dead of pneumonia on the way, and her father, gone with the rest of the men to help the Earth Country repel the invasion. She thought about growing up with no one to rely on but Sokka, Gran Gran, and herself.
She thought of Kyoshi, an entire village almost burned to the ground because the Fire Natin Army didn't care if their battles involved innocent people. "It's ok," she said, swallowing past the lump in her throat. "I know you didn't mean anything by it. And Firebenders are people too, after all. They must be. They are…they're people, too." At her side. Sokka was silent.
"Anyway!" she said, wanting more than anything to keep Aang from looking at her like that--as if he was more saddened by thoughts of the war than /she/ was. "The problem is that the wood is too wet. If we could just find some drier wood-"
"I'm telling you, there isn't any!"
"-then the flint would work fine."
"Hmmm," Aang said, staring at the wood with his chinned propped in his hand. "Couldn't you dry it out, Katara? You're a Bender, same as me--just take all of the water out, and the wood will be dry."
"That's…" Katara shook her head. She wasn't a Bender, not really. She'd done things, it was true, but very rarely on purpose; and when it was on purpose, she'd usually been in some kind of danger. Not being able to eat fresh meat would be regrettable, but it wouldn't kill them. She tried to ignore Sokka's pleading expression.
Figures the one time he thinks my Bending is useful is the one time it has something to do with his stomach. Where's all the "freak" and "you're weird" talk now, hmm?
Aang took her hand in his, looking into her eyes. "I think you can do it, Katara."
Katara shook her head again, but this time the motion was less violent. "I'll try," she said, "but I won't make any promises." She took her hand back and held it out over the fire, willing the moisture to leave the soggy wood. Like a cloud of dust, she thought, only this will be a cloud of cloud, millions of tiny droplets condensing outward, like a fine mist…
Nothing. "Keep trying!" Aang said. Katara grit her teeth, and pushed.
There was a sudden spray of water against her face. "Yes! Meat!" Sokka said, and scrambled for the flint. He started to strike it over the fire, looking more cheerful than he had in weeks.
Katara collapsed backward from her kneeling position. "Did I do that?" she asked staring at her hands.
"Yep! You were great!"
There hardest part now would be to wait for the Momo-bear thing to cook all the way through.
Chapter 4: The Plan (Again)
Sokka burped loudly, leaning back against a tree trunk. Katara was more discrete in her appreciation of the food. Momo-bears were, it turned out, delicious.
"We should get going again tomorrow," she said. "Waterbending is even more useful than I thought. I can't wait until we reach the North Pole and I can find a real teacher!"
"About that," Aang said, one hand behind his head. "Appa can't take off from here--there are too many trees in the way."
"What?! Aang, why didn't you mention this earlier!"
"It didn't come up," Aang said, his eyes on the ground. "Besides, you were having so much fun, I didn't want to ruin it with bad news."
"You mean /you/ were having so much fun," Sokka observed, his arms folded across his chest. Aang looked even more sheepish at that; he bowed his whole head toward the ground, looking up at Katara with his best "please forgive me" expression.
"Leave him alone," she told Sokka, absently. "There wasn't anything he could do about it."
Sokka snorted, then brightened. "Aha!" he said.
He raised a fist, triumphantly. "It's simple-all we have to do is go back to where we first fell through the trees! There'll be a hole there big enough for Appa to fit through."
"You're right!" Katara said.
"Of course I am."
"So all we have to do," Katara said, ignoring him, "is to head straight West until we get back to where we came from." She looked around, searching for signs of the path they'd made when they'd first come through. With Appa struggling through the brush with them, it had been an impressive path, but unfortunately, the storm had also been impressive and all signs of it had been erased. She frowned. "Aang, which way is West?"
"Uh," Aang said. "West. West is…"
"West is…I have no idea."
"That's easy enough to fix," Sokka said. "West is sunset."
They looked up. Perhaps the sun was setting, and perhaps it wasn't; the trees were so closely packed together that it was impossible to tell.
"I'll go check! Katara, watch this!" Aang sprung to his feet and raced to the nearest tree.
It took Aang five jumps to reach the branches. He waved to them from the top; Katara waved back. Then he disappeared into the higher braches. He dropped back to the ground after a few minutes.
"West is…" he paused dramatically.
"Yes?" Katara and Sokka said, in unison.
"I forgot," Aang said.
Katara and Sokka sagged forward. "What do you mean, 'you forgot?'" Sokka asked.
"I mean that with all the jumping I got turned around. Hold on, I'll go check again." And before they could say anything, he took off for the trees again.
"This time make sure you point out the direction to us before you come back down," Sokka yelled after him, hands to his mouth. Aang waved an acknowledgement, and jumped.
This time it only took him four jumps to reach the top.
Chapter 5: The Forest (Still)
"I think we took a wrong turn somewhere," Sokka said, tugging his knife free of the tree he'd embedded it in. He wiped his brow with one hand, exhausted. Katara knew how he felt: walking for hours on end was bad enough, but it was also hot. And oppressively humid, although she didn't think the humidity bothered her as much as it bothered Sokka and Aang. After the first few hours, Aang hadn't bothered to keep up the steady breeze he'd cheerily told them would keep them cool, and the dank air weighed heavily on all of them. Katara and Sokka had long since shed their heavy overcoats, which in this weather were just one more annoying heavy bundle to lug around, together with the food and empty bottles for water.
By consensus, they'd decided to start marking the trees after the first eight hours of walking had failed to produce an Appa-sized hole in the trees. That had been four days ago.
"I makes sense," Katara reasoned. "We didn't walk straight East when we came here, and I doubt we walked straight West coming back. In this forest everything looks the same. We could pass within two hundred feet of the hole, and never notice it." She swatted absently as an insect; the longer they walked through the forest, the more insects came to pester them. It was as if the bugs could smell their sweat and desperation.
"Are you sure there's no way Appa can fly up through the trees?" Sokka asked, cranky.
"Yes," Aang said. He looked as miserable as Katara felt.
"What we need," Katara said, swatting at another insect in annoyance, "is a plan."
"Well, obviously," Sokka said, caustically. Even Aang looked like he was inclined to agree, which was strange-Aang was always cheerful.
Katara ignored them. "How about this: we leave Appa and the coats here-"
"We can't do that!" Aang interrupted. "Appa isn't used to this forest. He can't stay alone, he'll starve."
"So we leave Momo here with him to gather food, and we leave a pile of fruit before we go!" Katara snapped back. "Will you let me finish?!"
Aang pouted. "Only if your plan isn't stupid," he said, sticking out his bottom lip. He was being unusually childish, even for him.
Katara bit back a retort until she was sure she could speak calmly. It's just the heat that's making you like this, she told herself. Just the heat, and the walking, and the insects, and the frustration of always going in circles…
She had another consideration, as well. Two nights ago she'd thought she'd heard roaring, and last night she definitely had, and louder. She hadn't told Aang or Sokka yet, but she did not want to be here when whatever made that sound caught up with them.
Katara took a deep breath. "We'll leave Appa here," she explained, "Because we'll make better time without him. We know that we're in about the right area, but we've been wandering around more-or-less randomly within that area. How many times have we crossed back over an old path?"
"Too many times," Sokka said.
Katara nodded. "Exactly. So instead of walking in a random direction for a while, and then walking in another, we should walk in a spiral. We'll mark the trees as we go; arrows this time, pointing in the direction we're going, done on the side of the trees facing the inside of the spiral."
"I see," Sokka said, straightening from the half-dead sprawl he'd affected against the tree bark. He punched a fist into his other hand. "If we go in a spiral, we'll have to find the hole eventually. And when he do, we'll know which way to walk to come get Abba, because we'll have made those markings facing the center."
"Exactly," Katara said, nodding.
"No," Aang said. "I won't leave Appa alone here."
"He'll be perfectly alright," Sokka wheedled. "there's nothing in this forest that can hurt him."
"That's not true, there's-" Aang cut himself off, biting his lip.
"So then you heard them, too?" Katara said, softly. "I think they stumbled across one of our old trails, and they're tracking us. That's why I thought we should leave Appa-we need to make better time than this."
"What are you two talking about?"
Aang looked as if he'd just been punched in the gut. "You knew? And you still suggested that we leave Appa behind? You do know how much he means to me, don't you? Appa's all that left of-"
"I know," Katara said. "I know, and I understand, but we need to do something. Every day matters, don't you see? We can't afford to waste time, especially not now."
"Hello?" Sokka said, waving his hands between Katara and Aang to get their attention. "I don't know what you're talking about! Explanation, please!"
Katara noticed that she'd unconsciously adopted a confrontational stance, with her arms lose at her sides and her feet slightly spread. Standing across from her, she saw that Aang had done the same.
"Sorry," she said, to both of them. She forced herself to relax, turning to explain the roaring sounds to Sokka. “I think they might be cats,” she finished. Really /big/ cats.” Aang nodded as if she’d just proved his point.
"Oh, is that all?" Sokka said. "If they're tracking us by smell, then all we need is a good hard rain to was the scent away. Actually," and here he looked thoughtful, "I've been wondering: why hasn't it rained yet? It's so wet here, shouldn't it be raining everyday?"
"Oh, that," Aang said. "I've been blowing the clouds away. I figured we'd had enough rain after that storm."
Katara froze. Very slowly, she turned back towards Aang, her hands fisting at her sides. "You can do that?" she asked, carefully.
"Yeah," Aang said, "if I do it early enough, before the clouds really have a chance to settle. Or even after they've formed, if I just need to turn them a little bit to the side."
"So then," Katara said, thinking of Aang's "but I.." when they'd first been forced into the forest. She saw Aang pale as comprehension dawned. "So then, you could have turned aside that storm?"
"Not turned back, no, it was too big. Did I ever tell you how I was frozen? There was a huge storm, and Appa and I didn't notice it until it had already caught up with us, and-"
"Answer the question," Katara said, through gritted teeth. "I didn't ask if you could turn it back, I asked if you could have turned it aside. Just a little bit aside, and we'd have flown around. We saw it coming from many miles away, remember?"
"Yes," Aang said, miserably. "We did. And," he took a deep breath, "I could. But you have to understand, Katara," the words came out all in a rush, "I just wanted to take a little break. I didn't think we'd be stuck here for a week!"
Katara thought of everything they'd gone through in the last week. She'd been afraid of being swept off of Appa and hurled into the abyss. She been afraid of the lighting. She'd almost fallen to her death through the trees. She'd thought that Sokka's broken his ankle. She'd been afraid of being caught out in the storm and she'd been stuck, for days, in strange, dangerous, wild terrain. It was a miracle they hadn't poisoned themselves, or been bitten by something poisonous: she'd seen it happen to one of the Momo-bears, and it was not a pleasant way to die.
More recently, she'd been forced to slough for days in hot, disgusting, bug-infested weather. And-what had she been doing this whole time? Being nice to Aang. When it was ALL HIS FAULT, because he'd wanted a BREAK. Because he'd been RUNNING AWAY from his responsibilities as the Avatar.
"I FELT SORRY FOR YOU, YOU JERK!" she yelled, and every leaf on every plant in a thirty-foot radius was bent backwards.
Chapter 6: The Storm (One More Time)
"Katara, calm down!" Sokka shouted, over the rustling of the leaves. Somewhere, the wind started to pick up.
"I will not calm down!" Katara shouted, flailing. "Do you know how many times I told myself not to think uncharitable thoughts? And YOU, you deserved every one of them!" She pointed to Aang, who winced. He was beginning to look upset.
"I never asked to be this way!" he said, defensive. "I never asked to be the Avatar, and I never asked the Fire Nation to invade…"
"TRY AGAIN," Katara said. All around her the dew was lifting from the leaves; it hung, quivering, in the air, and then started to circle around them.
"Katara!" Sokka said, pulling at the tattered remains of a sleeve. Katara shrugged him off.
"And I never asked to be frozen in that iceberg, and to lose a hundred years of my life, and to have to come back and find out that my entire tribe had been destroyed by something I was supposed to have fixed a hundred years ago! And if I tried to have a little fun in the face of all that, was that so wrong?!" Aang was visbly upset, now; the wind had once again picked up, and it was driving the water from the trees into miniature storm clouds. Sokka looked up in dismay: it was hard to be sure, but he thought the sky above the trees was a little darker than it had been just a few minutes ago. Exactly how far did this phenomenon extend?
"YES!" Katara bellowed. "You know how important it is that we reach the North Pole; you know that the Fire Nation is killing people every day-"
"Not the nation," Aang interrupted, "the Army. There's a difference."
"-and you KNOW it's your job to stop them! Would it kill you to be a little bit more serious about it?!"
This time it wasn't Sokka's imagination: thunder sounded in the distance.
"TIME OUT!" He shouted, bringing his hands down in a sweeping gesture. The movement shocked the other two out of their shouting contest; they glanced at him, startled.
Sokka pointed up. "In a short while," he said, "it is going to start raining. And then it going to keep raining, unless I am very much mistaken. You two just called up a hell of a storm."
"Two?" Katara repeated, stupidly. She looked over at Aang. "Did you blow this storm in?"
Aang shook his head. "I made the wind only. You brought the rain."
"Me." Katara said. The temperature had dropped-not as far as had before the previous storm, but far enough that Katara thought that this one would probably have some power to it. "I did that. With you." She looked at Aang, in wonder. In the distance, lightning flashed.
"We won't have to worry about those cats," Sokka said. "They won't be able to follow anything by the time this storm is over."
Katara was still staring at Aang. "Wow," she said.
"Wow," he agreed.
"Yes, yes, you two are very impressive," Sokka said. "Now let's find a tree to lean against, hey? Appa, come here, we'll need you as a windbreaker. Who knows how long this storm will last. No, Aang, don't tell me, I don't want to know. Well? Are you two going to stand there staring at each other all day? Let's get moving!"
"Yes," Katara and Aang said, in unison.
"You were right, Sokka: it really was 'a hell of a storm.'"
"Don't sound so surprised," Sokka grumbled, rolling to his feet and stretching. He waved a hand in front of his nose, his face wrinkling into something prunish. "Don't take this the wrong way, Aang, but after three hours Appa really starts to smell."
"He does not!" Aang said, and turned to reassure Appa that he smelled the same as always; that is, that he didn't smell, same as always. Sokka countered by rubbing his face against his arms in an exaggerated show of disgust; Appa looked as if he didn't much care one way or the other.
Katara smiled at them, faintly, and then took stock. This storm (their storm) hadn't lasted as long as the first--a few hours, tops. But it had been every bit as intense; the forest floor was strewn with wreckage and the occasional small animal that hadn't been able to take shelter in time. Not many small animals, she thought, guiltily. They'd cook them and bring the meat along. Two trees had been partially uprooted, and lay diagonally side by side against their neighbors.
The patch of sky above them was, she thought, a perfectly Appa-sized hole.