Chapter 1: The Awakening
Celina leaned against the railing of the Fire Navy ship that they managed to capture back in Chameleon Bay. It had been weeks. Weeks at sea with her adoptive family and men from the Southern Water Tribe. Weeks of using her spirit abilities to heal Aang. Weeks of questions. Weeks of nightly forced visits with a certain Fire Nation Prince. With everything going on Celina just wished for a moment of peace so that she could catch her breath. But the universe didn't want to give it to her as Aang had just woken up.
"Twinkle-Toes, that's got to be you," Toph smiled.
Celina headed over to where Bato and Hakoda were standing along with Toph and Katara. Standing there was the awake and confused airbender. Katara was the first one to attack him with a hug.
"Aang, you're awake!" she exclaimed.
"Are you sure? I feel like I'm dreaming," Aang replied, trying to rub the sleep from his eyes.
"You're not dreaming. You're finally awake," Katara said, releasing him from the hug.
Sokka swooped in, walking up to Aang dressed fully in Fire Nation soldier armor and gave him a quick hug. "Aang, good to see you back with the living, buddy," he said.
"Sokka?" Aang asked confused.
Celina quickly saw how much everything was becoming for Aang and noticed how his body wasn't exactly ready for it. Something Toph sensed as well.
"Uh-oh! Somebody catch him, he's gonna…," Toph tried to warn.
As Aang fainted Celina swooped in and stopped his body from hitting the floor. Everyone gathered around, including Appa who had felt Aang's distress.
"I think the helmet was the tipping point," Celina informed her brother.
"My bad," Sokka apologized and took off the helmet.
Celina laid Aang down in her lap and went to work. Drawing water from her flask Celina covered her hands and set them on Aang's temples. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them her eyes were aglow with spiritual energy which leaked into the water, causing it to glow even brighter. Celina gently began to coax Aang awake. He'd been asleep far too long. A groan from Aang was all it took for Celina to stop and return the water to her pouch, her eyes returning back to their normal state.
"Let Appa come through," Celina instructed. The rest of the Gaang backed off, allowing the flying bison to walk up to Aang. The airbender slowly came too and smiled at the sight of his furry friend.
"Appa," he muttered before finding the strength to sit up and hug the face of his pet. Appa nuzzled into him, happy to see Aang again after so long. Having a familiar anchor to hold onto Aang looked at his surroundings before settling his gaze on his friends who were dressed in Fire Nation cloaks and armor in Sokka's case. "What's going on?"
"Katara, perhaps you should catch him up while I get things ready for a healing session," Celina suggested, standing up.
Katara nodded and plopped down next to Aang while the others headed off to give them some space. Celina headed to the ship's kitchen to gather some supplies. Upon seeing her enter the kitchen the worker quickly filled two jugs of water and handed them off. He was used to her asking for them after all these weeks. She gave him a nod thanks and left for Aang's room. Setting the jugs in front of the bed Celina pulled out a small platform for Aang to sit on. She was just fishing fresh bandages out of a chest when Aang walked in with Katara.
"Perfect timing," Celina said. "Let's get the bandages off and then we can begin."
Katara went to work acting as Celina's second in command, helping Aang slip out of the robe he was given before removing his bandages and tossing them in a bin to be washed and sterilized. While Katara helped Aang onto the small platform Celina took a moment before bringing forth her spirit abilities once again.
"What are you doing? You should be saving your strength. Both of us shouldn't be out of commission," Aang expressed worried when he saw Celina's glowing eyes.
"It's fine, Aang. I'm passed the point of passing out afterward, at least healing wise. These past few weeks being your healer has helped with that," Celina assured him.
"You've been healing me with your spirit abilities the entire time?" Aang asked.
"I asked her to. I wanted to make sure that you'd be alright," Katara told him.
"Alright, enough questions for now. Let's get to your healing session," Celina said, bending some water out of the pots, the liquid emitting a powerful glow of spiritual energy.
Aang relented and turned around so that Celina could properly get a look at his back. A scar had been left right in the middle, splitting apart the blue of Aang's tattoos. It was rough, having settled in after all these weeks as Celina's focus hadn't been on softening and getting rid of the scar. There were more important things to take care of. Aang bit his lip to fight off a bit of pain as Celina easied the water into his body through his scar, some settling on the surface. Celina went to work, going back to fixing some muscles and nerves that had been fried thanks to Azula's lightning. With a mix of her spirit abilities and bloodbending, she had practically restored them back to normal. She noticed as she went from one spot in his body to another Aang would tense up in pain in.
"Tell me where your pain feels most intense," she instructed, glad that her patient could finally communicate with her.
"A little higher," Aang replied. Celina followed along, moving up his spine towards his center, having a feeling of what he was referring to. Aang's eyes squeezed shut and gave out a grunt of pain. "Wow, you are definitely in the right area there."
"I think I know what you're talking about. Raava has been kind enough to my intrusion when healing you but she's not the best patient when it comes to healing her," Celina said.
"Raava? What are you talking about?" Aang asked confused.
"She's your Avatar spirit. The one who's been with you through all of your lives," Celina explained.
It had taken Celina a while to figure out the mystery of spiritual force she'd first felt when healing Aang. She finally got an answer in the second week of healing Aang. Right in his center, right where Celina's spirit abilities laid in her, was a spirit fused with Aang's core. Raava was kind enough to introduce herself and give a nice explanation of her involvement with the Avatar. Sensing that the spirit was just as hurt as Aang, Celina tried her best to heal her. Raava was fine with it at first touch but when Celina tried to deepen the healing Raava's energy would push her away.
"Can you talk to her for me?" Aang asked.
"I'm sure you'll be able to talk to her yourself. All it will take is a little inner meditation. Perhaps now that you're awake though, I'll be able to heal her properly. I have a feeling her pain is resulting in yours," Celina said.
Working the healing water to focus on Aang's core Raava was once again welcoming at first but when Celina tried to go deeper into the spirit's wounds she thrashed about and pushed her away. Aang arched his back in pain, causing Celina to draw back the water, not wanting to hurt Aang more. She returned the water to the pots and blinked her eyes back to normal. After recovering from the shock Aang turned around in realization, staring at Celina.
"I went down! I didn't just get hurt, did I? It was worse than that. I was gone. But you brought me back," he said.
"It's possible that when you were hit that your heart stopped for a moment. When I was able to examine you there was barely a pulse. I used a combination of the spirit water from the North Pole and my own spirit powers to bring you back," Celina explained.
"You saved me," Aang in awe.
"That's why I insisted Celina be your healer. I couldn't lose you," Katara revealed. Katara and Aang locked eyes in a look at Celina could easily identify.
"I think you can take over from here, Katara," Celina decided. She picked up the bin of dirty bandages and headed to drop them off to be cleaned. Those two deserved a moment alone after so long. Besides, the detour on the way to her room would give her time to prep for the night's visit.
Celina sat up in a tree, the skirt of her dress hanging out over the branch, as she pet a lemur. Considering how late it was Celina was a bit surprised to find that Zuko hadn't shown up yet. Though she didn't mind. This world was much easier to control when the arrogant prince wasn't around. Not that Zuko's will was strong enough to match Celina's when it came to manipulating this place. It was late into the night when Zuko finally made his appearance. Celina looked down from her tree, feeling his presence beneath her. They would always appear near each other at first though often Celina would try and move away from him.
A few nights after Celina learned the world could be manipulated Zuko caught on and figured out how to conjure up a replica of Mai. He would follow after Celina and purposely shove his pathetic relationship with Mai in her face. Celina hid her annoyance with Mai, not wanting to let Zuko know how much the imagined girl bothered her in multiple ways. This night though he didn't do that. Zuko simply looked up at Celina in the tree and walked off towards the clearing in the forest that Celina had created. Curious, Celina made the lemur disappear and followed after Zuko. He had come to a stop at the edge of a lake which sat in the clearing, looking down into the water. Celina stood behind him, arms crossed.
"What? No Mistress of Misery tonight? I thought you enjoyed badgering me with your 'relationship'," Celina questioned. Zuko didn't say anything. "Ignoring me now? What you finally learn that I wasn't putting up with your attempts to bother me?" Still, he didn't reply, he just continued to stare down into the water. "What in the world is so interesting about the lake?"
Walking up to the shore Celina looked down and was surprised to find the water reflecting memories Zuko had of his home. The Fire Nation palace was prominently featured though every once in a while there'd be memories of a beach and continuing returns to a garden pond that starred a gentle looking woman beside a young Zuko. It was strange to see him without the scar. Younger versions of Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee would appear along with a few memories featuring Iroh and a boy who Celina could only guess as Lu Ten.
Fire Lord Ozai didn't seem to make an appearance in any of them until a memory of a duel came to the water's reflection. People were gathered around to watch Zuko fight his own father. Celina's hand curled into a fist, recognizing that this wasn't like the duel she had had with Pakku. She picked out the eager malicious faces of Zhao and Azula while Iroh looked ashamed and horrified. Zuko was on his knees begging forgiveness from his father who in turn showed no mercy. Celina let out a gasp as she watched Fire Lord Ozai burn the scar onto Zuko's face.
Hearing Celina react beside him Zuko summoned fire into his hand and shot it at the water, disturbing the reflection and stopping Zuko's memories from playing out. Zuko went to walk away from Celina and the lake but stopped when she started talking.
"That's the home you're so desperate to go back to?" Celina questioned. "Spirits, you're gonna be walking right back into the armadillo lion's den."
"It's my home," Zuko quietly replied.
"It's abusive," Celina stated.
"You don't understand," Zuko said.
"Who said I didn't?" Celina said, her voice rising. Zuko's eyes widened and turned to look at Celina. "Physical abuse isn't the only kind to leave scars."
"I thought the Water Tribe was all about family and community," Zuko replied, confused as to how someone could abuse someone like Celina.
"My family wasn't the problem. It was the emotional abuse I got from everyone else," Celina explained. "My scars are harder to see and I still deal with them almost every day. But I'm a survivor, and I refuse to let someone hurt me like that ever again."
Zuko didn't know how to reply. He just stared at Celina as the world around them disappeared and both of them woke up.
Sokka had come to Celina's room, asking if she could join him and the others in explaining more to Aang about what was going on. She easily accepted, not needing the additional bribe of seaweed noodles he threw in. Walking out onto the ship's deck, Bato handed Celina and Sokka a bowl before heading over to the rest of the group plus Bato and Hakoda. Sokka hurriedly gobbled down his noodles before getting to business.
"After what happened in Ba Sing Se, we had to get you and Celina to safety. We flew back to Chameleon Bay, where we found our father and the other Water Tribe men. The Earth King decided he wanted to travel the world in disguise, so he set off alone. Well, not completely alone. Soon, the bay was overrun with Fire Nation ships. Rather than fight them all, we captured a single ship and made it our disguise. Since then, we've been traveling west. We crossed through The Serpent's Pass a few days ago. We've seen a few Fire Nation ships, but none have bothered us," Sokka recounted.
"So, what now?" Aang asked.
"We've been working on a modified version of the invasion plan," Hakoda answered.
"It's Sokka's invasion plan," Katara corrected annoyed.
"Yes, Sokka's plan," Hakoda agreed. He looked at Katara, worried about what was going on with his daughter before continuing on. "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 int Pipsqueak and The Duke," Sokka said. "I asked Celina to try and get some information out of Zuko but she hasn't gotten anything yet."
"We don't really talk battle strategy. We hardly talk at all," Celina said a bit annoyed. She dealt with Zuko enough during the night, he didn't need to be brought up during the day when she was away from him.
"Zuko!? Zuko's here? Did we capture him somehow?" Aang questioned confused.
"It's a bit more complicated than that," Katara said, looking over at her sister to explain it.
Celina sighed and set down her bowl of noodles. "With the crystal's powers down in the catacombs I didn't just send Koh away from the mortal world, I cursed him to remain in his tree forever. My parents believe he cursed me back, causing me to see the person who betrayed me every single night via some sort of mental connection," Celina explained.
Because of the nightly visits with Zuko and her passing out after healing Aang, in the beginning, it took her awhile to contact her parents to try and figure out what was going on. Her parents were relieved when Celina was finally able to sit down and meditate her way back into the Spirit World. Upon explaining what happened back in the catacombs and what was currently going on regarding the nightly visits with Zuko, Ai and Bishamon figured that Koh must be the one responsible. They were pissed at the face stealer and proud of their daughter for taking control and locking him away in his tree, if only by accident.
"I still can't believe you were gonna go out with that jerk," Sokka said.
"Says that guy who kissed the moon. Our love lives are full of unbelievability," Celina shot back.
"Wait, does everyone know about your… abilities?" Aang asked, glancing over at Hakoda and Bato.
"A select few," Hakoda answered. "When Katara explained what happened down in old Ba Sing Se she informed us about Celina's heritage. Which in turn helped us understand why she was to be your healer even if she fainted afterward."
"It came as quite a surprise but made sense with our conversation back at the abbey," Bato added.
"We agree with my daughter in keeping it secret from as many people as possible. It will help keep a bigger target off her back than she already has," Hakoda continued. He looked over at Celina who had returned to her bowl of noodles, giving him only a glance before continuing to eat.
"Plus it will come as a surprise for when we invade the Fire Nation. But that's not the only secret we have up our sleeves. We have you," Sokka said a smile appearing on his face.
"Me?" Aang asked confused.
"Yep, the whole world thinks you're dead! Isn't that great?!" Sokka said.
Shock hit Aang's face. "The world thinks I'm dead? How is that good news? That's terrible!" Aang exclaimed.
"No, it's great. 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," Sokka explained.
"No, no, no, no, no. You have no idea. This is so messed up!" Aang lamented. The horn of another Fire Nation ship blared, causing everyone to look and see one approaching up ahead. Aang stood, ready to take on the approaching ship. "I'll handle this. The Avatar is back!"
He grabbed his glider and slammed it on the floor to open it which caused was Aang to flinch in pain, clutching his side. Aang tried to bear through it but Katara ran over and placed a hand on the glider.
"Aang, wait. Remember they don't know we're not Fire Nation," Katara reminded him. He looked at Katara, submitting to what he knew she wanted him to do. The airbender closed his glider.
"Everyone just stay calm. Bato and I will take care of this," Hakoda told the group.
While Hakoda and Bato donned their Fire Nation helmets the group went to work hiding Appa, Momo, and themselves from the Fire Nation soldiers who'd be making their appearance soon. The Gaang hid inside the stairway leading below the deck.
"I hate not being able to do anything," Aang whispered.
"Hopefully, you won't need to," Toph said.
They waited, holding their breath in hopes that they could get away from this without having to defend themselves. Unfortunately, Toph discovered what they all had been dreading. The Fire Nation soldiers knew. Jumping into action Toph thrusted her hand towards the floor, grabbing a piece of metal and twisted it. The metalbender sent a fissure in the metal leading all the way up to the bridge that the other ship used to connect to their own. The bridge buckled, causing the officers to fall down into the water along with it.
Celina ran out onto the deck, the Fire Nation cloak blowing behind her. Reaching the opening where the bridge was she bended a mountain of water between the two ships before slamming it against the enemy ship. The ship was sent back several yards with some of its member having been swept into the water below, giving the stolen ship some time to start to flee.
The distance Celina gave them wasn't enough as the Fire Nation ship began to launch flaming boulders at them. Everyone tried to regain their balance as the hull was hit. Katara ran out to aid her sister in putting out fires while Toph went to work with Pipsqueak and The Duke to laugh her own rocks. The disks she shot out managed to take out a trebuchet and some of the flaming boulders that were being sent their way. The flaming boulders weren't the only missiles they were dealing with. The ship rocked at a metal projectile pierced the hull, causing a huge leak which only grew as the projectile was pulled out. Katara jumped away from the fires to the edge of the deck, looking down at the breach. Pushing her palms down she exhaled a freezing mist which descended down the ship and closed up the breach with a thick layer of ice.
"I'm gonna give us some cover!" she shouted to everyone.
Pressing her arms down she pushed down on the water between the ships causing a cloud of mist to form before lifting it up into the air. Pushing it out she caused the mist to float behind the stolen ship, clouding the view. Celina ran over as Katara was doing this and started to create a large whirlpool in front of the Fire Nation ship, causing it to spin around in hopes that it would discombobulate the enemy. The fireballs kept coming, destroying Toph's supply of rock discs and hitting the back of the ship's deck and engine. The Water Tribe girls returned to extinguishing fires as a wave of smoke gave away their location. Sokka had run out from inside the ship to examine all the damage that had currently been done.
"How we doing?" Toph asked.
"Things couldn't get much worse," Sokka answered. Proving him wrong the giant serpent, for which the Serpent's Pass was named after, burst from the water, towering over the ship. "The Universe just loves proving me wrong, doesn't it?"
"You make it so easy!" Toph sassed.
Leaving Katara to deal with any fires that were sent their way Celina ditched her Fire Nation cloak, ran over to the edge of the ship, and dove into the water. Submerged she used her bending to swiftly travel through the currents towards the serpent before creating a vortex to lift her up in front of the animal. The creature was about to strike the ship but stopped when it spotted Celina. She gently placed her hand on its scaly head and flashed her glowing eyes.
"The other ship. Attack the other ship," she urged the serpent.
The serpent let out a shriek before diving back into the water and swam over to the enemy ship. When it emerged the serpent wrapped its body around the Fire Nation vessel, stopping it in its tracks as the soldiers tried to fight it off. Celina returned to the ship's deck as the others ran over to the edge of the deck, watching.
"Thank you, The Universe! I mean, Celina," Sokka corrected himself.
"That was amazing! How'd you do it?" The Duke asked.
"What can I say. I have a way with animals," she smiled before using her bending to dry off.
Celina once again found herself leaning against the ship's railing, looking out over the ocean. After fleeing from the Fire Nation ship they managed to stop at a merchants' pier to pick up some supplies. The Gaang had gone out to get food, minus Aang who refused to leave if it meant having to cover his arrow tattoos. The food was good but Celina returned back to the ship early with Katara in order to have some time alone. She had managed to get a few moments in for herself before Hakoda approached her. Celina sighed. She'd been avoiding any conversation just the two of them since they joined up with the Water Tribe men. But tonight it looked like her time was up.
"You did amazing today. The battle strategy you and Sokka share along with the control you and Katara have over your bending is extraordinary," he complimented.
"We get it from our parents," Celina replied, still looking out over the ocean. She felt him tense a bit recognizing that Celina was referring to the separate sets of parents.
"Celina, I want you to know that spirit or not I still love you as my daughter. I hope you still consider us family as well," Hakoda told her earnestly.
She almost laughed hearing him say he loved her. Almost. "Sokka and Katara will always be my family, Hakoda," she assured him.
"But not me," he noticed.
"You still hold the title of my adoptive father. However the fatherly part has been missing for some time," she told him. Hakoda looked at her confused as to what he had done to give her that impression.
"How long have you thought this?" he asked confused.
"How long has it been since mom died?" Celina asked, turning to finally look at him. "Because it was at that point you stopped bothering with me. Who cares if the tribe is constantly tossing insults Celina's way. Who cares if Celina's being ostracized from the tribe. Not you. All you cared about was marrying me off so that I could be some other man's problem. And even then it was just an afterthought to Gran Gran before you left."
"Celina…" Hakoda tried to talk to her, to explain himself, but their conversation was interrupted as Katara came running out on the deck in tears. Hakoda looked at Celina worried before turning his attention to his daughter who had run up to them.
"What's wrong, Katara?" he asked.
"He left," she replied.
"What?" Celina asked confused.
"Aang. He just took his glider and disappeared. He has this ridiculous notion that he has to save the world alone. That's it's all his responsibility," Katara explained frustrated.
"Maybe that's his way of being brave," Hakoda said.
"It's not brave. It's selfish and stupid," Katara argued angrily. "We could be helping him. And I know the world needs him, but doesn't he know how much that we need him too? How could he just leave us behind?" Everyone was quiet for a moment as Katara's words sank in.
"You're talking about me too, aren't you?" Hakoda asked.
Celina stood off to the side. She might have problems with Hakoda but Katara loved her father and it was about time the two had a heart to heart about what she was going through.
"How could you leave us, Dad? I mean, I know we had Gran Gran, and she loved us, but… but we were just so lost without you," Katara cried.
"I'm so sorry, Katara," Hakoda apologized. Katara threw herself into her father's arms and cried.
"I understand why you left. I really do, and I know that you had to go, so why do I still feel this way? I was so sad and angry, and hurt," Katara sobbed.
"I love you more than anything. You three are my entire world. I thought about you every day I was gone, and every night when I went to sleep. I would lay awake missing you so much, it would ache," Hakoda told her.
Hakoda looked up at Celina, his eyes begging her to believe the words he said. To believe that he loved her like he did Sokka and Katara. And for a moment she did.
When Sokka and Toph got back to the ship from dinner Celina filled them in on what had happened with Aang and the plan that she had formed with Katara and Hakoda. The two were immediately on board and hurried off to get their belongings and say their goodbyes before leaving on Appa to find Aang. Celina provided cover in the form of a cloud as they headed towards the Fire Nation. Dawn had just risen when they found him, passed out on the shore of Crescent Moon Isle. Momo flew ahead, excitedly waking Aang up with cheek kisses. The others were quick to dismount from Appa when they landed, running over to form a group hug that even Appa and Momo included themselves in.
"You're okay!" Katara exclaimed.
Aang gave Katara and extra squeeze before pulled away from the hug. "I have so much to do," he said.
"I know, but you'll have us," Katara told him.
"You didn't think you could get out of training just by coming to the Fire Nation, did you?" Toph joked.
"What about the invasion?" Aang asked.
"We'll join up with my dad and invasion force on the day of the eclipse," Sokka explained.
Feeling something bumping into her side Celina looked down and found the object to be Aang's glider. She frowned seeing how broken and burnt it was. "It's your glider," she said, handing it off to the airbender. "I'm sorry. I know how much that thing means to you."
"That's okay. If someone saw it, it would give away my identity. It's better for now that no one knows I'm alive," Aang said.
Taking the broken glider in his hands Aang jumped onto a mound that trickled out lava. He looked down at his glider solemnly before spinning it above his head and implanting it in the mound. Aang jumped back towards the group just as the glider was ignited and consumed by the lava's flame.
The Gaang was officially in the Fire Nation.
Chapter 2: The Headband
Leaving the Crescent Island Aang and Katara teamed up to bend a cloud around Appa as the Gaang searched for a place to keep a low profile. It didn't take long to hop to another island and do a quick search.
"I think I see a cave below," Aang said as Appa landed.
"Shhush… keep quiet!" Sokka scolded. Aang dispersed the cloud with an airbending blast, allowing for the others to jumps off of Appa to explore. Sokka dismounted first to do some reconnaissance. "Great job with the cloud camo, but next time let's disguise ourselves as the kind of cloud who knows how to keep its mouth shut."
"Yeah, we wouldn't want a bird to hear us chatting up there and turn us in," Toph replied sarcastically.
"Hey! We're in enemy territory. Those are enemy birds," Sokka said.
He pointed up at four birds perched on a rock just behind him. One of them hopped down onto Sokka's head and squawked, causing the others to laugh. He himself was not amused. Celina walked over and held out her arm which the bird gently hopped onto.
"I think as long as no one's around, which we saw when flying over, I'm pretty sure we can speak normally. Just limit the shouting," she said, gently scratching the birds feathered head for which she received coos.
Setting the bird back on the rock Celina turned her attention to the cave that Aang had pointed out earlier and began heading towards it. The group followed with Sokka jumping ahead to ward off some imaginary threat and peer about suspiciously. Celina watched her brother with a mix of amusement and annoyance, though she understood where he was coming from. They were in enemy territory now and had to be careful. Once they were in the cave is when he calmed down a bit.
"Well, this is it. This is how we'll be living until the invasion begins. Hiding in cave after cave… after cave… after cave…," he said, deflating with each cave he said.
"Sokka, we don't need to become cave people," Celina told him.
"What we need is some new clothes," Katara added.
"Yeah, blending in is better than hiding out. If we get Fire Nation disguises, we'll be just as safe as we would be hiding in a cave," Aang said.
"Plus they have real food out there. Does anyone wanna sit in the dirt and eat cave-hoppers?" Toph asked. She punched the cave wall causing several hoppers to hops out. Momo was quick to catch one and began to chow down, disgusting the group.
"Looks like we got outvoted, sport," Sokka said to Momo before turning to his friends. "Let's get some new clothes."
After a while of sneaking around the Gaang found an open area where tons of Fire Nation laundry was hung up on lines outside being suspended over steam vents. They hid behind a rock for a bit, surveying the scene to make sure no one would see them.
"I don't know about this. These clothes belong to somebody," Aang said, having second thoughts.
"I call the silk robe!" Katara exclaimed before leaping from the rock and running over to snatch her prize from the line.
"But if it's essential to our survival then I call the suit!" Aang said, getting over it.
The four left by the rock ran towards the lines, plundering any clothing that caught their attention. With handfuls of clothes, the Gaang hurried off to a secluded beach to change, girls heading in one direction and the boys in the other, choosing to meet up when everyone was decent. Sokka, Aang, and Toph finished first.
"Ta-dah! Normal kid," Aang declared after tying the belt of his outfit over his arrow.
"Hmm… I should probably wear shoes, but then I won't be able to see as well. Sorry shoes!" Toph pondered over before making a decision. Sitting down she pulled on the upper part of the shoe and popped out the soles. "Finally, a stylish shoe for the blind earthbender."
"How do I look?" Katara asked, walking up to the others.
Aang's eyes went wide as he gazed upon Katara in her Fire Nation clothing, absolutely smitten. Even enraptured with Katara's beauty he noticed a small problem in her disguise.
"Uh… your mom's necklace," Aang pointed out.
"Oh… oh, yeah. I guess it's pretty obviously Water Tribe, isn't it?" Katara said saddened. She reluctantly removed the necklace and placed it in her pocket.
"It's only for a bit, Katara," Celina said, walking up to the group and stopping next to her sister.
Celina had chosen a deep red halter dress that ended at her knees. Around her waist was a small skirt of gold that the other gold accents in her sandals and attached necklace played off of. Her hair was half up in a bun as the other half flowed nicely down her back. Pinned in her hair was the source of her father's pet name for her mother, a fire lily. A vision of Fire Nation beauty just like Katara. Sokka looked at both of his sisters not entirely pleased with their choice of disguises.
"Couldn't you guys choose clothing with a bit more coverage?" Sokka complained.
"You're sisters are attractive, Sokka. You have to get over it," Celina replied, causing her and Katara to smirk. "Now come on, let's head into the village and find some food."
"Can't complain there," Toph agreed, already heading off.
The town wasn't far away from the laundry and even the cave they were hiding in. Before finding a place to eat though, the group stopped in a bazaar finding some accessories to go with their disguises. Toph a new headband, Sokka a top knot clasp, Celina an armband, and Katara a necklace to temporarily replace her mothers. Heading further into the town Aang took charge.
"I used to visit my friend Kuzon here a hundred years ago. So everyone just follow my lead and stay cool. Or as they say in the Fire Nation, 'Stay flamin'!" Aang said sauntering about. Seeing a man eating a shish kebab on the sidewalk Aang waved to him as they walked by. "Greetings, my good Hotman!"
"Uh, hi. I guess?" the man responded in a mixture of surprise and confusion.
"I think his lingo is a bit outdated by a few decades," Toph whispered to the group, causing them to chuckle.
Sokka took over, leading the group around town to a place to eat. Aang paused however when he noticed that they were going into a butcher shop.
"Oh, we're going to a meat place?" Aang asked uncomfortable.
"Come on, Aang. Everyone here eats meat… even the meat!" Sokka tried to convince him, pointing towards a nearby cow hippo who was greedily scavenging a pile of fly blown fish.
"We can see if they have any vegetable kebabs," Celina offered.
"You guys go ahead. I'll just get some lettuce out of the garbage," Aang declined, wanting to get away from the butcher shop.
"Alright, just don't go too far," Katara replied.
Splitting up for the moment the majority of the Gaang headed inside the butcher shop. The four of them ordered different versions of komodo chicken off the butcher's recommendations, Sokka and Toph going more so for the drumsticks while Celina and Katara went with the kabobs. After ordering they headed outside and found a nice spot nearby to sit down and eat. Sokka and Toph scarfed down their food while Celina and Katara ate more slowly, Celina savoring the new flavors the Fire Nation offered.
Finished with their food the Gaang looked around, confused as to where Aang was. He promised he wouldn't go far and yet he hadn't returned. The four gave him five more minutes before the worry got to them and they began to search for their missing friend. They split up, Katara going with Sokka while Toph went with Aang, planning on meeting back up at the cave. Celina and Toph headed back to the bazaar, Toph using her bending to try and source him out from the crowd. Celina choose to talk to a few of the stand owners, asking if they noticed a young boy walking around calling people Hotman recently. Only one of them said that a strange boy greeted them as Hotman, but it turned out to be the man who was enjoying his lunch as the Gaang headed towards the butcher shop.
They spent three hours looking for Aang before heading back towards the cave, hoping that he would be there. When Celina and Toph arrived, however, they found that the only one there was Appa. Sokka and Katara arrived soon after, Aang not in their company.
"See! This is why I wanted to stay in the cave!" Sokka exclaimed.
"The Fire Nation couldn't have known it was him, could they?" Katara asked herself, panic rising.
"He's done this to us before. We just have to trust Aang that he'll be back, at least until sundown. Then we'll take Appa and search for him," Celina told them, forming a plan incase Aang didn't show up.
Sokka and Toph nodded in agreement while Katara just started pacing. Deciding not to sit and worry like Katara the other three busied themselves with other things. Toph decided to take a nap while Celina and Sokka searched the cave and the area around it for firewood. They had just gotten the fire to start when Aang walked in, covered in soot.
"Hey, guys!" he greeted them.
"Where have you been? We've been worried sick!" Katara asked worried, throwing her arms around the airbender in a hug.
"I got invited to play with some kids after school," he answered.
"After what?" Sokka asked perplexed.
"I enrolled in a Fire Nation school, and I'm going back tomorrow," Aang happily told them.
"Enrolled in what?!" Sokka shrieked before keeling over.
"You're gonna have to give us more than that," Celina said, helping her brother to his feet.
"Look, I'm trying to be mature and not immediately shoot down your idea. But it sounds… really terrible," Sokka told him.
"Yeah, we got our outfits. What do you need to go to school for?" Toph questioned.
"Every minute I'm in that classroom I'm learning new things about the Fire Nation. I already have a picture of Fire Lord Ozai," Aang explained. He pulled out a picture of Fire Lord Ozai and then another one which was made out of noodles. "And here's one that I made out of noodles!"
"Impressive, I admit. But I still think it's too dangerous," Sokka decided after admiring the noodle art.
"I guess we'll never find out about the secret river then. It goes right to the Fire Lord's palace. We were supposed to learn about it in class tomorrow," Aang baited.
"Hmm… I am a fan of secret rivers. Fine, let's stay a few more days," Sokka relented.
"Flamey-o, Hotman!" Aang cheered, running off in excitement.
"Flamey-o?" Sokka questioned, turning to Celina and Katara in hopes to find an answer. Katara shrugged her shoulders.
"I hope he doesn't use those outdated phrases in school," Celina sighed.
Celina sat by the lake in the dream connection, absentmindedly moving her fingers across the surface of the water. The ripples flowed into different colors, dancing as they moved across the lake. The calm atmosphere was broken when Zuko entered the dream connection, appearing right next to the lake. He let out a frustrated growl and violently kicked a nearby rock into the lake. The harsh entrance of the rock caused the colorful ripples that Celina created to disappear. She frowned, unimpressed with his attitude.
"Rough day?" she asked sarcastically.
"I can't believe him!" Zuko went off, pacing back and forth. "I go to visit him in jail and he doesn't even have the respect to talk to me!"
"Iroh?" Celina guessed breathless.
"Who else would I be talking about?" Zuko snapped.
"He's alive?" Celina asked, getting up from the ground. Zuko stopped pacing and looked at Celina confused.
"Of course he is. Why wouldn't he be?" Zuko said.
She let out a breath of relief, "I thought he would have been killed after Ba Sing Se."
"We wouldn't kill the royal family," Zuko growled.
"Your father burned you over defending your own people. I would only assume the punishment for treachery would be execution," Celina pointed out. Zuko opened his mouth to protest her mention of his scar's origins but she didn't let him, continuing on. "I'm sure your sister would gladly pull that trigger for your uncle like she did with Aang and like I'm sure she would do with me."
"She wouldn't kill you," Zuko stated.
"And why not? I've tried to kill her multiple times. I think after my last attempt I'd be high up on her hit list," Celina challenged.
"I wouldn't let her," Zuko replied, frustrated.
Silence. The two shared a look of shock over what came out of his mouth before Zuko became embarrassed and turned away from her. Celina's hand found its place beneath her ribs right at her core which fluttered, reminding her of that spark down in the catacombs. He cared. But why? And why did that make her happy?
The next day was a bit more peaceful, though the group could feel the unease and nervousness radiating off of Sokka and Katara regarding Aang returning to the Fire Nation school. Only part of the nerves died down when Katara accompanied Aang to the school to drop him off. She caught a brief glimpse at it and new the location in case things went wrong and the Gaang had to break in and get Aang out of there. Toph was relaxed as ever, not worrying about it at all, while Celina tried not to focus on it. Unlike her siblings who decided to spend the day in the cave, Celina went back out to the bazaar, purchasing groceries. She was excited to try the new spices that Fire Nation had to offer, though made a mental note not to make things too spicy for everyone. Toph tagged along, preferring to get out again then stay in the cave with Sokka and Katara.
"So, how have your dreams been going?" Toph asked, starting up a conversation after Celina paid for some vegetables.
"Some nights are better than others," Celina sighed.
"How long do you think it's gonna last?" Toph asked.
"I don't know. I wasn't exactly paying attention to what Koh said after the crystals took over. If he said anything while he was still there. There could be a time limit to it or it can go on until one of us dies," Celina answered, being vague so that only they would understand.
"Is he that bad?" Toph asked.
Celina stumbled, holding her produce tight to her so that they didn't fall to the ground. "He's… he's complicated. The first night was just pure anger, and shouting matches," she started to explain.
"Did you win?" Toph asked with a smile.
"Of course," Celina chuckled before getting back into her explanation. "He got annoying after a while, bringing up his girlfriend and trying to shove her in my face. But recently… we've fought more, but it's not like it was in the beginning. It's… it's nothing I can't handle."
"Katara told us that you fell for him before what went down in Ba Sing Se. Do you still have feelings for him?" Toph asked. Celina went silent. She might not have given Toph a verbal reply but her heart rate answered for her. "Oh."
"It's…" Celina tried to explain herself.
"Complicated," Toph finished. "I don't care."
"I'm sure my siblings would disagree," Celina said.
"Well, I'm not gonna tell them," Toph told her. "They're too big of worrywarts already. They don't need to focus on something as insignificant as your feelings about an enemy."
"Thanks," Celina sighed grateful.
They continued on through the bazaar, exploring the town they got another day to explore. The Gaang all knew that staying in one place for a while wasn't a good idea. But that didn't mean they couldn't appreciate the places they explored, even if it was in enemy territory. After a while, they decided it would be best to get back to the cave with the groceries.
Sokka and Katara were still pretending to be okay with Aang gone at the Fire Nation school when they came back. Celina and Toph rolled their eyes and went to their own tasks around the cave. Toph earthbended herself up a nice spot for a nap while Celina went to work on the fire to get started on lunch. Setting the groceries down she built the kindling of the fire back up before looking in their bags for the spark rocks. Spark rocks which weren't there.
"Where's the spark rocks?" Celina asked her siblings.
Katara winced. "Sorry. Momo got bored and decided that the spark rocks were good enough toys for now. Which led to him throwing them into the ocean when he got bored again. I tried looking for them but… they're gone," she apologized.
"That's fine," Celina sighed. "I'll just head back into town and purchase a new set."
"No! You'll only draw suspicion. What firebender needs spark rocks? No, you can't," Sokka protested.
"Sokka, you know that non-benders live in the Fire Nation," Celina reminded him.
"You're not going," Sokka said, standing his ground. To make sure that his sister wouldn't go he snatched the money bag and hid it away in his pocket. "You'll just have to start it the old fashioned way."
"Fine," Celina almost growled in annoyance.
Retrieving some more wood Celina went to work spinning her stick against the more flatter wood, trying to build up enough friction. Multiple times she got close before having to start completely over. It was when the stick snapped in half just as the wood was beginning to light that she finally let loose some frustration.
"Come on!" she grumbled, picking up the broken stick and angrily throwing it with the rest of the firewood.
What Celina didn't expect was for a small burst of fire to go with it. The pile of wood lit immediately, causing a nice warm glow to encapsulate the cave as their campfire settled into a soothing crackle. Celina stared at her hand in shock, still feeling the heat of where the flame had originated. As the alarm set in, her body heat increased to one over the expected temperature of being close to the fire.
Sokka looked over, seeing the fire's light shining on the walls. "Oh good, you got the fire going," he said.
Celina didn't acknowledge him. Instead, she placed her hand on her head, feeling dizzy. Sokka noticed and asked if she was alright, drawing Katara's attention to Celina. She didn't say anything but her fainting next to the fire provided all the answers they needed.
"Celina!" Sokka and Katara exclaimed, running over to their sister.
They were quick to move her away from the fire so she wouldn't accidentally get burned. Katara then went to work trying to figure out what was wrong, pulling out her bending water.
"What's going on?" Toph asked, having woken up from the commotion.
"Celina fainted," Sokka told her.
"She has a fever," Katara said after her assessment.
"Can you use your healing abilities to help her?" Sokka asked
"I'm not sure. This isn't like any fever I've encountered before," Katara answered.
"Well you gotta try," Toph said.
Nodding in agreement Katara moved her hands to Celina's temples and began to try and heal her fever. She saw that her efforts momentarily brought Celina a moment of relief but didn't keep her temperature down.
"I'm afraid she's gonna have to get over this herself. All I can do is try and keep her comfortable while she fights it off," Katara told the two.
The three sat by Celina's side, Toph and Sokka going out and getting more water for Katara so that she could cool Celina down and keep her hydrated. With lunch completely forgotten about they were surprised when Aang finally made it back to the cave. Unfortunately, he didn't bring good news.
"Uh, guys we have a problem," he said, not yet seeing Celina.
"Not another one!" Sokka groaned.
"I kinda got in trouble at school and the headmaster wants to see my parents," Aang admitted.
"YOU WHAT!" Sokka screeched causing Celina to groan in pain.
"Sokka, keep it down," Katara scolded her brother.
"I was hoping that you and Celina could pose as my parents," Aang told Sokka sheepishly.
"I don't think that's gonna happen. Celina's currently out of commission," Toph informed Aang.
"What happened?" Aang asked worried.
"She's come down with a nasty fever," Katara explained.
"What are we gonna do? If my parents don't show up the school will get suspicious," Aang said.
"We can't just leave Celina alone," Katara said
"You and Sokka go be parents. I'll stay here and take care of Celina," Toph offered.
Katara nodded and got up from Celina's side, leaving it open for Toph to take her place. "Just try and keep a cool cloth on her forehead," Katara instructed.
Toph nodded and took her place next to Celina as Sokka and Katara prepared their disguises.
Celina laid face down on the blank floor of the dream connection she shared with Zuko, the fever having followed her over. She had tried to create a beach or even the South Pole, somewhere cool but she couldn't focus. The fever, the fever that was reminiscent of the one Zuko had, wouldn't let her do anything except lay there. All her mind could go back to was just how, how was it that she firebended? Because it wasn't her spirit abilities coming out in a moment of frustration. She knew what that felt like and it wasn't that. It was actual firebending. But the fever wouldn't let her think on it, instead, it just overheated her body, putting her in a haze for what felt like hours. She almost didn't notice when Zuko entered the dream connection.
"Huh, I must be the first one here," Zuko said, noticing that a scene hadn't already been created. Celina groaned at the sudden noise in the nothingness, alerting Zuko to her presence. He looked at her in shock and worry, the fighting between the two of them disappearing for the moment. "Celina?" He knelt down next to her, gently turning her. Zuko expected her to resist him but she didn't bother, not having the strength to, something that became evident to the firebender when he noticed the sweat on her brow. When he went to wipe it away he got a feel of her temperature. "You're burning up."
"I'm… aware," she breathed heavily, somehow still finding the energy to sass him.
"Why haven't you changed this place to something that can help?" he questioned.
"Can't…. Can't… concentrate," she answered.
Zuko looked down at her, seeing the pain of the fever on Celina's face, before looking up at the blank world. He'd never been able to change the environment of the place. Either Celina would already be there and have it sorted or he'd wait for her to arrive to take care of it. The biggest thing that he had summoned was a copy of Mai. He wasn't sure he'd be able to change the whole environment. Zuko looked down at Celina. But that didn't mean he wouldn't try. Closing his eyes Zuko concentrated, trying to will the world to change to what he wanted. He needed someplace with water or someplace cool. His thought process went back to the North Pole but his mind wouldn't expand past the small bridge where Celina had saved him and his failures. He winced, not wanting to revisit any of that. Zuko switched his thoughts over to someplace that had water. Instantly his mother's garden popped up with the pond that homed the turtle ducks. A place he remembered every inch of. Around him Zuko felt the environment change, a subtle wind gently blowing by as baby turtle ducks peeped happily. Opening his eyes Zuko looked around in awe, shocked that he managed to shift the world to what he wanted.
Feeling the change herself Celina slowly opened her eyes, finding herself laying right next to a pond. Gathering her strength she dragged herself to the edge of the water before the weight of her torso caused her to fall in. Zuko was about to jump in a get her when Celina resurfaced, floating calmly on her back as her temperature was brought down a bit thanks to the coolness of the water. With the haze over her mind dispersing Celina finally had time to think of how to fight off her sudden fire fever. Getting an idea Celina closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and began to look into herself. Zuko's mouth fell in a gasp as the pond water started to glow as the turtle ducks swam protectively around Celina, reminiscent of a past dream.
Celina once again stood on the glowing path surrounded by millions of stars. Though this time there was one more path and one more orb than there was last time. The orb of her spirit powers, which had grown a bit larger than she had last look inside, had put up a shield, protecting it and the orb of her waterbending from the new problem. Celina's eyes followed down the pathway right to her spirit orb, right down to the new member. The orb of firebending was small but was ablaze, radiating heat and fear and confusion. Bracing herself, Celina held her hands out to show she meant no harm as she slowly approached. Seeing her come near the orb's heat increased, crying like a frightened newborn.
"Shush… shush…. It's okay. I won't hurt you," she tried to calm it. "I know you're scared and confused, so am I. This is so new and sudden and you're not sure how you feel about it. But that's okay. Because I'm here, and we can figure it out together."
The orb calmed down a little bit but still, the heat raged. Taking a different approached Celina started humming, calming it down as she would with Appa and Momo, as she slowly made her way towards it. The heat died down as the orbs crying lessened before completely stopping when Celina hugged the orb to her chest. It still whimpered here and there but for the most part, it was calmed. Her spirit orb slowly dispersed its shield.
"It's okay. We'll be okay," Celina said, petting the orb.
The raging heat now replaced with the warmth of the sun the orb babbled, crackling like a winter fire while giving off the scent of mixed spices. She let out a sigh of relief, feeling the fever break. With her body brought back to balance Celina gently released the orb and walked back to the beginning of the flowing path. Closing her eyes Celina returned to the dream connection.
Zuko watched as the glowing pond faded back to normal and the turtle ducks ceased swimming around Celina, now just watching her. The waterbender let out a shuddering sigh before opening her eyes, no longer in pain or discomfort. She floated for a moment before swimming over to the edge of the pond and pulled herself up. Celina sat there, just letting the water from the pond drip off her, too tired to bend it off her and enjoying the coolness it brought.
"What… did you just do?" Zuko asked, confused.
"Just a bit of self-reflecting," she answered, staring off at the pond, watching as the turtle ducks went back to doing their own thing.
"Your fever?" he continued.
"Gone," she said.
Zuko shook his head and sat down next to her. "I don't get you."
"Nor I you," Celina replied. She looked around at the garden, finally able to focus on her surroundings. "So… where are we?"
"My mother's garden," Zuko answered.
"It's beautiful," Celina complemented.
He nodded in agreement as the two fell silent, neither knowing what to do at that moment. Thoughts attacked Celina's mind. Thoughts of the night before, of her conversation with Toph, of what Zuko had just done. She equally didn't get him as he did her. But now, perhaps this was the time to get a hint or a confirmation.
"You altered this place so that I'd be able to cool down… why?" Celina asked.
"You were burning up…" Zuko went to answer.
"No. Why did you help me?" Celina questioned, turning to look at Zuko directly. His eyes widened for a moment, realizing her question, before looking away. Celina silently sighed and looked down at her hands. "We're enemies. Fighting in a war that will surely have a victor by the end of the year. Yet you still care. Enough to aide me when I'm sick. Enough to disallow your sister to kill me. Why?"
Zuko didn't say anything. Celina looked at him, waiting for an answer, and she couldn't look away until she got one. Feeling her eyes on him Zuko fidgeted, trying to build up some courage. After a few moments, he finally built up enough to look at Celina. He didn't say anything but the look in his eyes spoke for him. Celina took a breath and looked forward at the pond. Her hand went to beneath her ribs, yet again feeling the phantom of the catacomb's spark. She had gotten an answer yet it left her without clarity.
The Gaang was relieved when Celina woke up without the fever the next morning. Sokka was insistent that they leave but Aang brought up the idea of a dance party for the kids at the Fire Nation school. He said that in order to change the Fire Nation for the better they needed to start with them and to do that they needed to show them a night of fun and freedom. Aang managed to convince Katara and Toph and with the agreement from Celina, thinking that it would help get her mind off of Zuko, got Sokka to go with it. So the group spent the day organizing the party while Aang went back to the school to tell the kids. Except for Celina, Katara was insistent that after her fever Celina relax and drink plenty of water. Celina didn't retaliate and instead plopped herself down at a table Toph bended, overseeing the process and offering up advice when needed. Sokka grumbled the whole time, keeping on the beard he had used as Aang's 'father' for some reason. By the time Aang got back, he was bouncing around the cave in excitement.
"I can't believe we're having a dance party. It seems so… silly," Sokka complained.
"Don't think of it as a dance party, but as a cultural event celebrating the art of fancy footwork," Aang told him.
Celina chuckled as Aang began to demonstrate some of his fancy dance moves. Sokka rolled his eyes and Katara smiled, filling the earthbended punch bowl with water using her waterbending along with refilling Celina's cup. Toph, however, paused, feeling the vibrations of multiple feet heading their way.
"They're coming! Everyone stop bending!" Toph warned the Gaang.
"Sorry, buddy," Aang apologized to Appa was he guided him out of the back of the cave where he'd be hidden for the night. "You should probably wait out back. I know, you've got fancier feet than anybody… and six of 'em!"
Appa grumbled in response but did as Aang wanted. Just as he was hidden the kids from the Fire Nation school reached the cave's entrance. Aang was quick to greet them and helped the kids who agreed to play music set up at the stands Toph created. His excitement increased tenfold as the music started playing.
"Ladies and gentlemen, The Flamey-os! Yeah, this ought to get everybody moving," Aang said introducing the band. He turned around hoping to see the other kids just as excited as he was but saw them standing huddled together, uncertain.
"Now what do we do?" a girl asked.
"This is when you start dancing," Aang answered.
"I don't think my parents want me dancing in a cave," a boy said, hiding into the collar of his shirt.
"Yeah, what if someone finds out?" another boy asked nervous.
"Oh, boy," Aang sighed and then went to explain. "Listen, guys… dancing isn't something you think about. It's a form of self-expression that no one can ever take away from you."
"Maybe it was different in the colonies, Kuzon. But we don't do that here," the girl from before said.
"Sure you do. You have for generations. It just so happens that I know several classic Fire Nation dances. A hundred years ago, this was known as 'The Phoenix Flight'," Aang said and went to demonstrate.
As Aang show the students the different Fire Nation dances from the past they relaxed, the nerves being replaced by awe. Katara and Toph sat down next to Celina and watched him.
"Who knew Twinkletoes could dance?" Toph smirked.
"Your nickname for him sure fits nicely," Celina chuckled.
With Aang's confidence seeping into the students some of them joined Aang on the dance floor. One of which Aang dragged out and began to dance with one on one to show off more moves to the others. Celina couldn't help but notice Katara frown at this.
"Jealous?" she teased her sister.
"No!" Katara quickly responded.
"Sure," Celina chuckled.
Aang left the girl as the students got completely engulfed in the dance, trying out their own moves. Instead, he walked over to the table the girls were at, standing in front of Katara with his hand outstretched asking her to dance with him.
"I don't know, Aang. These shoes aren't really right for dancing, and I'm not sure that I know how to…" Katara trailed off, playing coy.
"Take my hand," Aang smoothly insisted.
"Okay," she said immediately.
As Aang lead Katara out to the dance floor some of the males students tried to follow his lead by walking up to Celina and Toph. Toph was able to quickly dismiss the boys who approached her. Celina, however, was swarmed by boys who were rather persistent on getting a dance with her.
"Sorry, guys, I'm recovering from a fever. I think I could only muster one dance," Celina said, trying to gently turn them down.
"And she already promised that dance to me," Sokka said, stepping in to save his sister.
Taking her hand Sokka lead Celina out to the dance floor. Their dancing wasn't as intense as what Aang and Katara's was turning out to be, going for something simple that would allow them to talk.
"Thanks for that," Celina told him.
"Why is it that every time we go to a party or a dance you're swarmed with guys?" Sokka sighed. Celina went to respond but Sokka stopped her. "Don't answer that."
Celina smiled. "You know, after all of this is over I'd like to actually dance with someone."
"We're not throwing constant dance parties while we're here," Sokka told her.
"No. No more dances for undercover missions or to get others on our side. I mean after the war. I want to get together with friends and have fun, actually dance with someone that's not my brother or someone I just used to get into a party," Celina clarified.
"Dancing with Suki does sound nice," Sokka agreed. "What dancing partner do you have in mind?"
Celina pushed away the first person her mind brought to the forefront. "I don't know. Maybe my friend Bitten. And who knows, we might find… Kuzon a firebending master while we're here," she said.
"I doubt it. What firebender would willingly help us? The closest we'll come is if one of us magically becomes a firebender," Sokka told.
"Right...," Celina replied, laughing nervously.
The sound of clapping coming from the students brought Celina and Sokka's dancing to an end. They turned around to see that Aang and Katara had finished their big number and decided to join in with the applause. Celina sighed, happy to get away from Sokka's last topic.
"He's the one we want. The boy with the headband!" a man's voice cried out, breaking everyone's enjoyment.
"Oh no," Celina muttered.
Sokka grabbed her hand and pulled her into the crowd, beginning to make their way towards the back of the cave as the rest of the Gaang was doing, hoping to make their escape. They thought they might have been caught when the man's voice came again, sounding like he caught Aang but the group was amazed to see that the students came to their rescue, all of them having tied their belts around their heads to confuse the invading adults. The Gaang smiled in thanks and quickly made their exit out the back, Aang closing their escape using earthbending. A swift jump onto Appa and they were flying through the night. Each of them let out a sigh of relief.
"We're safe now, Sokka. You can finally take off the beard," Celina told her brother.
"Oh, no, I can't. It's permanently glued to my skin," he said smugly, stroking it somehow pleased with himself.
"Way to go, Dancypants. I think you really did help those kids. You taught them to be free," Toph complimented Aang.
"I don't know. It was just a dance party, that's all," Aang shrugged off a bit embarrassed.
"Well, that was some dance party, Aang," Katara said placing a kiss on his cheek which made Aang blush like mad.
"Flamey-o, sir. Flamey-o," Sokka said, giving Aang some more applause. The girls laughed, enjoying Sokka's adaption of the hundred-year-old slang the airbender had been throwing around.
Chapter 3: The Painted Lady
Appa slogged his way down the river with the Gaang riding in his saddle, minus Aang and Momo who choose to frolic in the water. Sokka sat at the back of Appa trying to fish up some food for the group for which he was currently failing at. As they swam deeper through the river Celina became more and more uncomfortable, noticing how polluted the river was getting along with hearing a muffled soft moan coming from underneath the muddied water.
"Aang, I think you should get out of the water," she called out to the airbender.
Listening to his friend's advice Aang airbended himself up into the saddle, noticing all the goop that clung to him. "Hey, guys, I think this river's polluted," Aang said, voicing one of Celina's concerns. He bended the residual goop off himself and off anyone who might have gotten hit with his first air blast.
"Well, that explains why I can't catch a fish around here. Because normally my fishing skills are… off the hook!" Sokka joked though nobody laughed. "Get it? Like a fishing hook?"
"Too bad your skills aren't on the hook," Toph said, earning the laughs and chuckles that Sokka had been looking for.
"It looks like we'll need to go somewhere else to get food. Assuming that'll fit into Sokka's master schedule," Katara said, taking out the schedule Sokka made, looking at it unimpressed. Sokka quickly grabbed the scroll, studying it intently.
"Hm… it's doable. But that means only two potty breaks today!" Sokka said, causing his sisters to roll their eyes.
"Hey, made we can get food there," Aang pointed out.
Following where Aang was referring to the Gaang spotted a little village that sat a while down on the river. Having decided on a plan Appa flew up out of the murky water and towards a secluded spot in some nearby uplands. Celina and Katara helped get the muck from the river out of Appa's fur before Aang covered the bison with a blanket of turf to hide him. With Appa concealed, the Gaang headed down the cliffs down toward the river being able to survey the scene.
"I don't feel anything. Where is this village?" Toph questioned.
"It's in the middle of the river!" Sokka gasped.
"Sure is!" an old, excited voice called out. Looking down the shoreline the Gaang spotted an old eccentric in a boat. "My name's Dock. Mind if I ask who you are?"
"We're from the Earth Kingdom colonies. We came back here to visit family. Luckily we were able to stumble upon your village. We still have a long way to go and our food supply has run out," Celina lied.
"Wow… colonials! Hop on; I'll give you a ride into town," Dock offered.
Taking the man's offer the Gaang hopped into the boat. Dock pushed off from the dock and began to paddle towards the village. Wanting to fill the silence, Katara started up a conversation with Dock.
"Why do you guys live on the river?" Katara asked.
"Because we're a fishing town. At least that's how it was before the factory moved in," Dock explained, pointing out the factory set on the cliffside nearby the town. "Army makes their metal there. Moved in a few years ago and started gunking up our river. Now our little village is struggling to survive."
The muffled moan from underneath the water reprised as they approached the town. Celina looked around to her friends to see if any of them had heard it. None of them had even blinked. She got a gut feeling that reminded her of her family, her dad weak in bed from the 100 years war with her mother worriedly sitting by his side.
Once they reached the village Aang thanked Dock as the Gaang wandered into the village in search of a food stand. Looking around the group felt uncomfortable seeing how stricken with poverty the village was. So many people just idled around being either too sick or hungry to move much more.
"Look at this place. It's so sad. We have to do something to help," Katara lamented.
"No, we can't waste our time here! We have a bigger mission that we need to stay focused on. These people are on their own!" Sokka told her.
"These people are starving, but you turn your back on them?! How can you be so cold and heartless?" Katara argued with her brother.
"I'm not turning my back, I'm just being realistic! We can't go around helping every rinky-dink town we wander into. We'll be helping them all by taking out…" Sokka went to argue back.
"Alright, that's enough," Celina cut in before Sokka could accidentally reveal their plans. She turned to her sister. "Katara, I know you want to help these people and I would be all for it if we didn't have a deadline. Sokka's right. If we stop to help out every village in need then we won't be there in time to help the world. You need to think about the bigger picture with this."
"I guess so," Katara reluctantly accepted.
"Let's just get what we need and go," Aang suggested.
The Gaang approached the counter of a market stall. The man who popped up to run the counter was the same man who had given them a ride to the village just wearing a different hat.
"Hey, Dock. You work here too?" Sokka greeted.
"I'm not Dock, I'm Xu. Dock's my brother," the man informed them. The group looked at him baffled that he was trying to convince them that he was someone else.
"But we just saw you. You're even wearing the same clothes. The only difference is your hat," Aang tried to argue.
"Dock works on the docks, that's why they call him 'Dock', and I work in the shop, that's why they call me 'Xu'," Xu explained.
"I don't get it," Aang said, not understanding that the man didn't see how Dock and Xu were the same person.
"Me neither," Xu replied, though this time referring to why they called him Xu.
"Can we purchase some fish please?" Celina asked getting back on task.
"What can I getcha? Hey, I'll give you a special deal. If you buy three fish, I'll throw in a clam for free," Xu offered.
"We'll just take the fish," Sokka said. Celina dug some money out from her pocket and gave it to Xu who in turn handed the fish over to Katara. "Mind telling your brother we need a ride back to shore?"
Xu ducked down beneath the counter and reappeared with his previous hat, signaling that he was Dock now. "Hey, colonials. My brother says you need a lift," he greeted.
Aang looked like he wanted to argue with Dock more but Toph placed a hand on his shoulder and shook her head no. As they made their way back to where the boat was docked Celina saw Katara sadly give away one of their fish to a boy who looked to be either five or seven. She could see the guilt in Katara's eyes over not helping more as the boy ran over to his sick mother. She gave her sister a soft smile before ushering her towards the boat. The ride itself was fairly quiet, no one knowing what to say after seeing how impoverished the town was. Once again Celina heard a low moan come from underneath the water. Needing to know if what she thought was true she hung back after Dock dropped them off.
"Dock… are there any spirits who might be connected to this place?" she asked.
"Well, there is the Painted Lady, though she hasn't been spotted in while. Not that many of us have seen her. She would tend to appear when everyone was asleep. Spirits. How'd you know?" Dock answered.
"Just had a feeling," Celina replied. "Thanks for the ride."
"No problem," he smiled before starting to row back to the village.
Back at camp the benders bended the pollution out of the cooking water that Celina and Katara had gathered. Katara took some to use in the cooking pot while Celina took the other, choosing to run the clean water through the fish. Her eyes glowed as she used her spirit healing abilities to make sure that the fish would be clean enough to eat, dispelling the pollutants. It had done a decent job, the fish still retained its sickly look compared to a normal fish but looked more vibrant than when they first got it. Sokka in the meantime pondered over his schedule, trying to figure out how to get them back on track.
"Our detour into town today has completely thrown off our schedule. It's gonna take some serious finagling to get us back on track," he complained.
"Finagle away, O schedule master," Toph said sarcastically.
"Well, for starters, it looks like we'll need to wake up forty-three minutes earlier every day," Sokka said, ignoring Toph's sarcasm.
"Forty-three minutes?" Katara repeated, taken aback with how specific he was.
"Look, we only have a few weeks to get to the Fire Lord in time for the invasion and the eclipse - which, by the way, only lasts for eight minutes. And we just lost a whole day. So if we want to make up the time and stay on schedule, we have to walk up early!" Sokka justified.
"Well, I'm not waking up early," Toph dismissed.
"Or we could just cut out all of our eating breaks," Sokka suggested as an alternative.
"What?" Aang gasped.
"No way," Katara refused.
"Forget it," Toph second.
"I got it, how's this from now on, we'll take food breaks and potty breaks at the same time," Sokka said, earning ews from the others. "Hey, it might be gross, but it's efficient."
"All of what you suggest we cut will only end with us getting sick which will only set us back more. You're gonna have to think of other ways to make up the time," Celina pointed out.
"Fine. But first thing tomorrow morning we leave," Sokka said. This the rest of the group could agree upon.
The night continued on. Katara and Celina fixed everyone dinner which didn't have any hint of pollution in the taste thanks to Celina's healing of the fish and Katara's mixing of vegetables and spices. After, when everyone headed to bed, Celina set off to a secluded spot by the river. She laid some rocks down to form an altar before setting down a small bowl of stew from dinner along with some clean water as offerings.
"I know it's not much, but I pray for your health. I hope these offerings help you to live another day," Celina prayed to the Painted Lady.
Closing her eyes she felt a small portion of her spirit energy go to the Painted Lady to aid in her healing. Finished with her prayer Celina got up to head back to camp and stumbled a bit, not used to pouring her spirit powers into something that wasn't healing. She needed sleep more than anything now. But with sleep came the other complication.
After what happened at Zuko's mother's garden Celina tried to avoid Zuko and him her. It was what was best. Avoid the enemy at all costs. So feeling the need for some familiarity Celina transformed the space into her parent's garden and lost herself in it. After wandering around for some time Celina came across a familiar bench and sat down, longing taking over. It had been so long since she had last contacted her parents, not having the chance to since arriving in the Fire Nation. And after feeling the sick spirit that laid dying underneath the river she was reminded of her father lying in his bed, slowly dying thanks to the war.
Her mind went to her time back on the Fire Navy ship, creating an altar to her father as she had for the Painted Lady. The offerings had been small thanks to the limited resources and Celina had passed out after giving her father some of her spirit energy. Her parents had scolded her at once when she visited the Spirit World later, saying that she shouldn't be sending prayers to spirits. After a small whimper from her, saying she just wanted to help, Bishamon and Ai calmed down and pulled their daughter over to their bedside.
"Celina, your heart was in the right place, but you need to keep your energy for the war," Bishamon told her, a tiny bit of color returned to his cheeks thanks to her prayer.
"How does me sending you a prayer for your strength to return have anything to do with my own?" Celina questioned, still a bit upset.
"Oh, honey. You see, when a spirit offers another spirit a prayer, part of their offering is a portion of their energy, taken willingly or not in your case," Ai explained.
"I would have given my energy willingly," Celina protested before turning to her father. "Everything is a mess and I'm not sure when Aang's gonna wake up and… and… I just want you to get better."
Bishamon pulled Celina into a hug, gently stroking her hair to calm her down. "Oh, turtle duck. It's alright to be worried with the setbacks you've encountered. But I need you to stay strong. You still have your invasion plan, and with the healing you've been doing, I'm sure the Avatar will wake up soon. You need to save your energy for the oncoming battle, your victory in ending the war will be more than enough to heal me. No more prayers alright. Promise me."
And Celina had promised, much to her displeasure. She still didn't understand why she couldn't give her father a boost, especially now that she wouldn't faint each time she did so. But Celina knew that if she tried to send her father a prayer he'd just reject it and her parents would just scold her again once she visited them. That didn't mean she couldn't send prayers to other spirits though. If Celina couldn't help her father with her prayers then she could help another spirit who was dying because of the war. She just hoped it would be enough of a boost to keep the Painted Lady alive.
Waking up the next morning the Gaang was going to start packing up their campsite when they noticed Appa lying on his side, groaning. Katara was the first one to run over to him, examining the bison to see what was wrong.
"I think Appa's sick," she informed the group.
"What, Appa's sick!" Sokka exclaimed.
"Wow, Sokka, I didn't realize you cared so much," Toph noticed.
"Of course I care. I might as well just throw our schedule away now," Sokka continued. Celina slapped her brother's chest while the rest of the crew gave them the evil eye. Correcting himself he rushed to Appa's side, quickly petting his tummy. "And I'm concerned because my big, furry friend doesn't feel well."
"He must have gotten sick from the polluted water. I should have noticed sooner, then he wouldn't have been in there that long," Celina sighed, feeling guilty. Appa licked Celina, trying to tell her it wasn't her fault. In doing so though it showed how his tongue had changed color.
"His tongue is purple! That can't be good. Can you heal him?" Aang asked the waterbenders.
"It looks like he needs some medicine. Maybe we can find the right herbs in town," Katara suggested.
The others nodded in agreement and headed down towards the docks so that they could get a boat to town. Once again as they approached the docks Celina heard a low moan. Arriving everyone was surprised to find that the town was bustling, kids running around in play and adults walking about. Celina looked around confused. Had the Painted Lady taken the small amount of strength she'd given her and put it towards aiding the town? It wasn't the smartest move but she knew her father would put those important to him over himself. Shaking the thought from her mind she followed the group to Xu's market stall.
"Hey, Xu, what's going on with everyone today?" Sokka asked.
"Ah, something amazing happened last night. Food was delivered to our village by a mysterious and wonderful person… the Painted Lady," Xu explained, gesturing to the small statue that was on his counter.
"The Painted who now?" Katara questioned.
"The Painted Lady. My brother told that little lady about her yesterday," Xu said referring to Celina. The group glanced over at her to which Celina gave them a small smile signaling that she'd explain later. "The Painted Lady is part of our town's lore. They say she's a river spirit who watches over our town in times of need. I always thought she was just a legend. Until now."
"See, we don't need to help these people, they already have someone to help them," Sokka said to Katara before turning back to Xu. "All we need is medicine for our sick friend."
"Medicine? Sorry, all the medicine we have goes to the factory. That's why there's so many sick people in our village," Xu explained.
"Looks like we need to stay another night so Appa can rest," Katara said.
"I guess you're right," Sokka agreed exasperated.
"Do you have any more fish?" Celina asked Xu.
For beneath the counter Xu pulled out a fish with two heads and a fish with a singular head that was still a monstrosity. "Would you like the one-head fish or two-headed fish?"
"Two-head!" Sokka decided, turning to his friends who looked at him revolted. "What? You get more for your money that way."
Not bothering to argue with him Celina simply pulled out a coin and handed it to Xu before leaving with the others. Once back at the camp the group turned to Celina, wanting her to explain what Xu had told them.
"It was when we first arrived. I started hearing this moan come from beneath the water as we approached the village. When none of you noticed it I had my suspicions that it was a spirit. Last night I asked Dock if there were any spirits associated with the village and he told me about the Painted Lady, confirming it," she told him.
"So because we arrived she felt another spirit's presence and decided to come up and support her village?" Sokka questioned.
"Not exactly. The reason why she probably hasn't been around is because the pollution is slowly killing her. She is a river spirit, after all. So last night I kinda set up a small altar and sent her a prayer so help her return to health," Celina continued to explain.
"That was really sweet," Aang smiled.
"And it worked out pretty well," Toph commented, referring to how the village had improved.
"Yeah," Celina agreed, still feeling a bit uncertain.
"See, Katara, turns out we did help! Satisfied?" Sokka said.
"...Sure," Katara responded, being the only one to have seen the uncertainty on Celina's face.
Satisfied himself Sokka set off to go back to examining his schedule while Toph and Aang did a bit of sneaky training. The girls had taken on the responsibility of gathering more water to use for lunch and dinner, heading back down to the shoreline. Coming back up Katara headed to start working on the food but stopped when she noticed Celina heading over to Appa.
"What are you doing?" Katara asked.
"I was just gonna do a scan on Appa, see if I can help flush out the pollution he ingested that caused him to get sick," she explained.
"Oh, you don't have to do that. I… I got the majority of the pollution out when I checked him them morning. All we can do now is just let him rest," Katara hurriedly told her sister.
Celina raised an eyebrow, sensing that something was up but relented anyway. Moving on to cleaning the fish she saw Katara relax out of the corner of her eye.
When night had fallen and the rest of the Gaang went to bed Celina gathered up supplies and headed down to the small altar. Approaching she could see that the previous offerings had been removed, most likely taken after Celina left. Material offerings tended to take time for spirits to consume. She was setting up the new offerings when she spotted a figure making its way down to the water. Celina left the bits of offerings at the altar and hurriedly made her way over to them, having a feeling she knew who it was. Her suspicion was correct as even though they had tried to hide with robes and makeup and a veiled hat, Celina could see the golden armband and tied red top beneath.
"You've really got to work on your lying skills," Celina said to her sister, stopping Katara in her tracks.
Seeing that she was caught, Katara sighed and turned to address her sister. "How'd you know?" she asked.
"You jumping to stop me checking on Appa gave it away. Besides, if the Painted Lady were to come to help the village she would have come from the river or close to it. Not from the direction of our campsite," Celina answered. "So what'd you give Appa?"
"Just some berries that turn your tongue purple," Katara admitted embarrassed.
"Is it right for me to assume that it was you who delivered the village food last night?" Celina asked. Katara nodded. "Katara, I get that you want to help but this is dangerous."
"I know, I'm seriously messing with Sokka's schedule…," her sister went to admit.
"I'm not referring to that. Katara, you're parading around as a spirit, one that you have no knowledge about outside of what Xu/Dock/whoever has told us, which isn't much. If the Painted Lady is a prideful spirit she won't appreciate you pretending to be her. And you've seen what spirits have done when we get mad," Celina warned her.
Katara shuddered, memories of spirits flashing through her mind. Hei Bi's anger over his burned forest, Wan Shi Tong's anger about his library, the Spirit of the Ocean's wrath over the death of the Moon Spirit. Celina, her own sister, murdering Zhao and members of the Dai Li for what they did. She didn't want to be on the other end of a spirits anger.
"I'm not claiming to be the Painted Lady, I just want the villagers to believe in their spirit again. I want them both to be okay after we leave. If the Painted Lady gets mad at me, fine, but that's a risk I'm willing to take to help these people," Katara told her sister.
Celina sighed, knowing there was no way to talk her sister out of it. "So what are your plans for tonight?" she asked.
"These people will never get better without medicine. Tonight was going to be a mass healing session," Katara answered.
"Alright then, let's go," Celina said, freezing a raft for them to travel across on.
"You're coming with me?" Katara questioned surprised.
"Of course. It's clear that you're dead set on doing this. So hopefully with me tagging along it will not only help the mass healing session to go faster but after this, I am forcing you to send a prayer to the actual Painted Lady. Hopefully, that will lessen her anger at you," Celina explained.
Katara threw her arms around Celina, pulling her into a hug. "Thank you," she squeezed.
With her sister on her side, Katara and Celina hopped onto the frozen raft and traveled over to the village. The two split up, each taking one half of the village to heal. Celina took a moment to locate a cloak of her own, not wanting to be recognized if one of the villagers was to wake up. The two worked through the night, healing all of those who were sick, Celina having to dip into her spirit healing for at least two villagers. There was almost a problem when the two met up and were getting ready to leave, as a little boy ran out to thank the Painted Lady, but Celina was already hidden on their frozen raft while Katara silently nodded to the boy which was enough to send him back to bed. Upon returning to the shore Celina made Katara remove her costume before ushering her over to the altar, the offerings she had originally brought for the night still there. A small weight was lifted off Celina's shoulders after Katara sent the Painted Lady a prayer for her to return to health, though the tiredness of the night had caught up to them. Back at camp, the girls crashed on their sleeping bags, Katara excited to see the results of the night's doings in the morning while Celina pushed aside the task of dealing with Sokka and his schedule in the morning.
The morning had come sooner than most would have liked but just shortened Celina's time within her shared world with Zuko. He had transformed the place back to his mother's garden and was sat by the pond when she arrived. Celina hadn't approached and instead hid herself up in a tree at the back of the garden, away from the Fire Nation Prince. When morning arrived however Celina was reminded of taking on the task of dealing with Sokka's schedule, something that Katara only made harder with feeding Appa the berries again to make him look sick.
"Well, this is just great! My schedule is completely ruined! We'll never make it to the randevu point now!" Sokka complained loudly. As he did this Celina grabbed his schedule out of her brother's pack. Upon looking at it, she noticed a huge flaw.
"Uh, Sokka, your schedule is off by a month," she informed her brother.
"We're behind a month?!" Sokka exclaimed.
"Actually we're ahead by a month," she corrected. Sokka scurried over to Celina, looking at his schedule from over her shoulder. His jaw dropped when he noticed that he had forgotten to include a month in his plan. Making Celina's observation to be correct.
"Well, whaddya know," Sokka muttered before fainted, no longer needing to be overwhelmed by their process.
After rousing Sokka, the Gaang headed back down into the village since thanks to Katara's tricks they would be staying another extra day. Now knowing they had more time though Sokka was more relaxed over the loss, though still expressed that they'd be leaving once Appa was better stating it wasn't wise for them to stay in one place for too long. Walking up to their typical market stall Sokka noticed that Dock was polishing his Painted Lady figurine.
"Hi, Dock. Is Xu around?" he asked, still playing his game.
"Let me check," Dock said before dipping down behind his counter and coming back up with his Xu hat. "Hey there! Back again, are ya?"
"We need more food. Our friend is still sick and we can't leave until he's better," Toph explained.
"Oh, well that's too bad. Maybe if you guys are lucky, the Painted Lady will visit you in the night, and heal your friend," Xu said, presenting them with a platter of noxious clams.
"And maybe she'll cook us a midnight snack and we'll all have a sing-along," Sokka said, his skepticism having snuck through, earning him a glare from Celina.
He mouthed an apology. Even knowing that the spirits existed he still had a hard time believing in them unless confirmed with his own eyes or by his sister. And even with Celina's explanation of the spirit of the river he still had some doubts.
"Yeah, maybe! You know, last night she visited us again. Healed most of our sick folks," Xu explained, oblivious to Sokka's sarcasm.
"Is that why this place seems so festive?" Aang asked. Looking around the Gaang saw the villagers erecting a large statue of the Painted Lady in the middle of town square. Everyone broke out into applause when it was fully in place. Celina saw Katara smiling at the village's prosperity.
"Yep, it's all because of the Painted Lady," Xu answered before heading back to work.
"Can you believe how much an entire village can be affected by one lady? I mean… spirit?" Katara marveled.
"Well, I hope she returns every night. Otherwise, this place would go right back to the way it was," Sokka said.
"Why would you say that? Look how much better off these people are," Katara questioned indignantly.
"Yeah, now. But without her, they wouldn't be able to fend for themselves. If she really wanted to help she would use her spirit magic to blow up that factory. Oooooo….pow!," Sokka pointed out, bringing a bit of reality back to the situation, along with some silliness with his imitation of a spirit.
"Spirit magic doesn't work that way, Sokka. It's more like… Woooooo…," Aang corrected wiggling his arms.
Celina looked at them unimpressed. "Both of you have seen what I'm capable of doing and this is what you think spirit magic is? Honesty," Celina rolled her eyes, walking off back towards the boat, hoping that what Sokka had said didn't give Katara any ideas.
After dinner, Celina headed back down to the altar this time with Katara, wanting to give her respects to the river spirit as well. On their way back from the village Celina didn't hear any sickly moaning coming from below the river but knew better to assume that the Painted Lady was completely healed. After all, the river was still a polluted mess. The two set off their prayers at the exact same time after placing down the offerings of clean water and some of their dinner. Katara, finished praying first, looked up to see a glimpse of Celina's spiritual glow comes from small spots on her back as part of her energy was sent with her prayer. The glow disappeared as Celina finished, feeling tired from her low energy. Katara was quick to catch Celina by her arm as she stumbled but Celina quickly corrected herself, assuring her sister that she was okay and that all she needed was some sleep.
Being the first one to arrive in their shared space Celina transformed the blank canvas back into her parents garden. She wandered through its twisting maze, lost in thoughts about her father thanks to the situation with the Painted Lady. What caused her to freeze was when she came across her familiar bench only to find Zuko sitting on it. Why did it always have to be that bench that held her romantic problems? Feeling a presence Zuko looked up, surprised to find her in front of him even though he knew this space only belonged to the two of them.
"Sorry. I'll just…," both of them apologized as both moved to leave but paused when they noticed what the other was doing. Celina and Zuko couldn't help but chuckle at the awkwardness before silence fell over them.
"Sorry, seeing you on that bench threw me off,' Celina admitted.
"Something particular about this bench?" Zuko asked, his good eyebrow raised.
"It's just something I associate with my ex,' Celina answered, not looking at him. That shut him up.
"Oh," was all he could say.
"Is me being in a previous relationship so surprising to you?" Celina questioned, feeling a bit offended.
"No! It's not that, I just...," Zuko quickly backtracked before letting out a groan knowing whatever he was going to say was just gonna make things worse. There was a pause in their awkward conversation as both thought of what to say. "So… I guess you must miss him then. This is the second time you've changed this place to this garden."
"Actually… that wasn't my intention. It was more so because I miss my parents," Celina admitted.
Zuko looked around at the garden confused. "I thought you lived in the South Pole," he commented.
"I did… do… spirits I don't know anymore," Celina confirmed, though the last part was mainly muttered to herself.
"Then, why the lush garden?" he asked.
Realizing her mistake Celina quickly fabricated her history with something Zuko could easily buy. "Why does the North Pole have a lush oasis? There are spiritual places all over the world that bring a sort of beauty. My parents just so happened to be the guardians of one at the South Pole, the Southern Garden."
"I guess that explains how you were taught by the spirits," Zuko accepted.
Turning away from him, Celina transformed the area in front of her to create a small opening. In that small opening, she conjured images of her parents, Ai and Bishamon standing proudly in Water Tribe inspired clothes, her father holding an infant version of Celina in his arms. She couldn't let on that her parents were anything besides Water Tribe. Still, her heart couldn't help but ache seeing the imagined image of her father returned to health, finally out of his sick bed.
"Not that I remember much," Celina said, letting out a dry laugh. "This garden is practically a blend from what little I remember and the garden I met my ex in."
"Hench the bench?" Zuko questioned.
"Hench the bench," Celina nodded, not looking back at him.
"You said you don't remember much of the Southern Garden. Why is that? What happened?" Zuko asked.
"Like I said. I don't remember much, I was too young. From what I was told, everyone suspects that they left because I was sick," Celina explained.
Zuko looked back at Celina's parents, having a feeling from what she said they weren't going to have a happy fate. That was confirmed as Celina dismissed the conjured images of her parents. She replaced the scenery in front of her with her igloo in the Southern Water Tribe. Her parents were replaced with her adoptive parents standing in front of it, watching as a young Celina ran around playing with a young Sokka and Katara.
"They found me out crying in a blizzard, my parents' bodies were never recovered. Luckily I was taken in by a loving couple, right as they were starting their own family. Sure there were moments we had to deal with regarding members of the community, but for a while we were happy," she continued. "You already have an idea of what happened."
Zuko frowned as the scene transformed, already knowing about the death of her mother thanks to the conversation down in the Crystal Catacombs. The icy village of the Southern Water Tribe transformed to the wreckage after the Fire Nation's attack. Kya was gone, Hakoda was off in the distance with the other men of the tribe, preparing to go to war. A young Celina sat by the igloo, cradling her sobbing sister in her arms as Sokka stood by them on edge.
"Another broken family. This time from the war. With my second mother dead my adoptive father focused on leaving to fight, no longer caring about the little girl he took into his home so many years before. The man I trusted pushed me aside, leaving me open to all the emotional abuse from the rest of the village. I remember overhearing him before he left, telling my grandmother to marry me off. It was probably one of the darkest periods in my life."
Getting up off the bench Zuko slowly walked over to Celina, stopping a foot behind her. He reached out to touch her shoulder but drew back. Zuko wanted to so badly return to the intimacy they shared back in Ba Sing Se. But with the tangled atmosphere surrounding them, he knew it wouldn't be right.
"But then I found some light. Literary," Celina said. She changed the scene once again, wiping away the Southern Water Tribe and replacing it with a grassy field. The Water Tribe siblings all stood together before being joined by Aang flying down on Appa. The landing of the large creature surprised them but somehow ended up with the four of them laughing.
"Once again, a new family. Made up of the familiar…" As Aang jumped down from Appa a rock launched him up higher into the air, surprising the Gaang. When Aang hit the ground Toph stepped out from behind the extended rock. Her laughter caused another round of laughter. "...and new. Our whole adventures together brought me out of this shell I had created in order to protect myself. But with them, I didn't need protecting. I found my own strength and the happiness that came with it. With everything I've done, the person I've become, I hope that I've made my parents proud."
Looking off from behind Appa her parents stood watching Celina with the rest of the Gaang, smiles on their faces. Breaking from the trace she'd put herself in telling an altered version of her history Celina quickly cleared the scene back to the normal garden. She turned around to face Zuko.
"I guess we're even now," she said.
"What?" Zuko questioned confused.
"You showed me your life, now I've shown you mine," she explained. Zuko was quiet for a moment before nodding. Something that Zuko said earlier came back to Celina. "How did you know I was taught by the spirits?"
Zuko tensed as he remembered back to that moment at the North Pole. "I was… there, when you killed Zhao," he informed her.
Celina was quiet as she herself tried to remember back to that moment. The fuzziness of those memories clearing from what he told her. Saving Zuko from Zhao's deadly blow before focusing on her target. She remembered the small glimpse back at him before passing out. Her eyes widened as the memories also unlocked an epiphany.
"You're the one who brought me inside," she breathed.
He tensed once again before looking away, blushing in embarrassment. Silence once again in the garden as the tangled atmosphere became even messier.
The sun was just rising when Celina woke up thanks to her brother. He had an angry look on his face, which made Celina tense at first, thinking he somehow knew about what happened that night with her time with Zuko. But with him nodding his head over to Katara's empty sleeping bag she knew that wasn't the case. He figured out what Katara had been doing. She had just stood up from her sleeping bag when Aang and Katara made their way back to camp from whatever Painted Lady adventure they had been on that night. Katara froze for a moment seeing her brother but tried to put on an innocent act.
"Hi, Sokka! We were just… out on a… morning walk!" she tried to lie.
"Oh really? A morning walk? I know you're the Painted Lady. I know you've been sneak out at night, and I know you've been lying about Appa and feeding him purplizing tongue berries!" Sokka shouted. Toph stuck out her tongue while holding up the bag of berries, showing that it was the same color as Appa's. "Katara, we might not be behind schedule but you've still put us in danger by keeping us here longer than we should have been. We're leaving right now. And how long did you know about this?"
"Hey, I just found out this morning," Aang defended himself.
"But…," Katara tried to protest.
"Katara, he has a point," Celina interrupted, moving to pack up.
She wanted to continue to argue but Katara closed her mouth, knowing she wasn't going to win the battle. Feeling ashamed to have been caught Katara just kept quiet and began to pack up camp like the rest of the group. They had almost everything packed when a strange sound filled the air. Looking back over the cliff the Gaang spotted a detachment of Fire Soldiers on jet skis racing down the river towards the village.
"What's going on?" Toph asked, obviously not being able to see.
"Fire Nation soldiers are heading to the village," Aang told her.
"Katara… what did you do?" Celina asked her hesitantly, having a feeling that she already knew the answer.
"I… kind of destroyed their factory," she guiltily admitted.
"You what?!" Sokka shrieked.
"It was your idea!" Katara argued.
"I was joking. I also said to use spirit magic and made funny noises. Did you even think this through? The army's gonna blame the villagers. They're headed there right now to get revenge," Sokka argued back.
"Well, what was I supposed to do?" Katara shot back.
"Leave! Do nothing!" Sokka exclaimed.
"No! I will never, ever turn my back on people who need me," Katara refused and got up to leave. "I'm going down to the village, and I am gonna do whatever I can.
She didn't get far before Sokka stood up to follow her along with the rest of the Gaang.
"Wait. I'm coming too," he said, causing Katara to stop.
"I thought you didn't want to help," Katara questioned.
"You need me, and I will never turn my back on you," Sokka told her.
"Sokka, you really do have a heart," Katara smiled and tackled her brother with a hug.
"He really does have a heart, doesn't he?" Aang asked, tearing up at the moment.
Wiping away his tears the airbender looked to Toph for confirmation. All he received, however, was a smack to his chest, causing him to fall to the ground. Celina broke the emotional moment, getting everyone back on track since the Fire Nation soldiers were quickly approaching the village.
"Alright everyone, we need to hurry. It's spirit time," Celina hurried.
As Katara got back in her Painted Lady outfit Celina and Aang had snuck down to the village, getting ready to perform their roles. The Gaang had initially asked Celina to take on the role of the Painted Lady, saying that Celina's spirit abilities would be able to sell it more. But she instantly shut them down. A spirit parading around as another spirit was not something she wanted to get into, and besides, Katara had been going around as her for days. It would be foolish for her to stop now that they needed to make a grand entrance, but Celina did agree to tap into her spirit powers to help. So there she was, hiding underneath the village, waiting for Katara to appear, as a Fire Nation general shouted at the villagers.
"I thought we could live as neighbors, in peace. But I guess I was wrong. You steal our food, our medicine… and then you destroy our factory," the General growled.
"We didn't do any of that!" Dock shouted before popping back up as Xu. "Yeah, the Painted Lady brought us food. She's the one that healed our sick, not your medicine!"
"Oh, right, the mysterious Painted Lady did it. And I suppose she drew the army emblem on your containers too. This is a town of thieves and liars!" the General shouted, destroying a house with a fire blast. "Where's your Painted Lady now? We're going to cure the world of this wretched village." The Fire Nation soldiers began to demolish the town, two of them lighting a large flammable ball perched on a buoy in the river. From his hidden spot, Aang sent a gust of wind, blowing out the fire. "Light it again!"
Once again Aang blew the fire out. Heavy fog began to roll in with eerie flute music playing thanks to a team-up of Sokka and Katara.
"Look at that! Where's it coming from?" a female soldier asked, referring to the fog.
"I don't know. Something strange is going on," a male soldier replied, as ominous growling noises echoed over the river thanks to Appa.
"It's the Painted Lady. She's coming," the boy Katara previously helped said.
"There is no Painted Lady!" the General shouted.
"What is that sound?" the female soldier asked freaked out.
A repetitive thudding mixing in with the eerie music and growling, Toph adding in her own noises. The fog parted, revealing Katara in her Painted Lady costume. There was a pause as the Fire Nation soldiers stared at her in shock and a bit of fear before she rushed towards them in a burst of waterbending, landing lightly on the dock before slowly approaching the soldiers.
"Do something!" the General commanded, pushing one of the soldiers forward. As they drew closer to Katara they were rattled by an air blast. Celina looked over and saw that Aang had joined her below the dock. "Stand your ground!" Katara started to take action, waterbending two jet skis into a cliff. She raised her hand to wreak further damage, scaring the soldiers away. As the soldiers fled on the jet skis the general stood his ground. "I'll take care of you myself."
He bended an arc of fire at Katara. Aang jumped in with a column of air, sending Katara in the sky to avoid the arc of flame. As she hovered in the air he rendered the dock in two with a blast of wind, sending the General into the river. As he flounders to the top, Celina pulled upon her spirit abilities. As Katara hovered on the water in front of the general Celina used her spirit healing to cause the water below her sister to glow.
"Leave this village and never come back," Celina ordered, her voice sounding with power as Katara lip-synced to her.
Beyond terrified the General swam away, clambering onto a passing jet ski as they rode away from the village. Celina saw Sokka and Toph row towards the village as the villagers began to applaud Katara. Celina stopped her glow as Katara stepped back onto the docks before her and Aang snuck their way back up.
"I knew you'd come," the village boy smiled.
"Thank you! Me and my brothers really owe you a lot," Dock said as he approached Katara. His appreciation turned to shock as he finally got a good look at her. Her Painted Lady makeup having come off during the fight. "Hey, wait a minute! I know you! You're not the Painted Lady, you're that colonial girl!"
"Yeah, you're the lady that gave me a fish," the boy confirmed.
"She's a waterbender! How dare you act like our Painted Lady!" Dock shouted.
The crowd of villagers surged forward towards Katara in anger. Celina and Sokka shot ahead, standing protectively in front of their little sister.
"Maybe she's a waterbender, but she was just trying to help you," Celina came to Katara's defense.
"Because of her, that factory won't be polluting your river, and the army is gone. You should be down on your knees thanking her," Sokka continued, getting angry himself. Katara put her hand on Sokka's shoulder to stop him.
"Sokka, it's okay," she told him. Stepping out from behind her siblings Katara addressed the village. "I shouldn't have acted like someone I wasn't, and I shouldn't have tricked you. But I felt like I had to do something. It doesn't matter if the Painted Lady is real or not. Because your problems are real, and this river is real. You can't wait around for someone to help you. You have to help yourself."
The Gaang watched as the villagers took in Katara's words, their anger transforming into one of acceptance. Still, they all looked unsure of what to do.
"She's right, but what should we do?" Dock voiced.
"Maybe we can clean the river," Toph suggested, hidden in the crowd.
"Yeah, we can clean the river!" Dock repeated, the crowd cheering at the idea. "Thank you. You know, you're not so bad for a waterbender."
"You wouldn't mind keeping that a secret, would you?" Celina asked.
"No problem. Keeping my mouth shut is a personal specialty. My brother, Xu on the other hand, hoo! He's a blabbermouth," Dock promised.
"So, Dock, are you gonna help us clean?" Katara asked.
"No, ma'am. I'm going to get my other brother, Bushi. He loves cleaning rivers," Dock said before switching his hat, becoming Bushi. "Alright, I'm Bushi! Let's get some river cleaning done."
"Aha, I knew it! I knew you were the same guy. You're the shop owner and the boat guy," Aang said, thinking he got the man. The Water Tribe siblings shot each other an amused look.
"Oh, you must be talking about my brothers, Dock and Xu," Bushi replied with a smile.
"No, I just saw you! You switched hats and called yourself a different name!" Aang exclaimed exasperated.
"Oh, you know who does that? My brother, Dock. He's crazy," Bushi whispered.
Aang would have stayed there fuming for a while if Toph didn't come by and drag him away.
With everyone working together the Gaang helped the villagers clean up the river, mainly getting it completed thanks to the Gaang's bending abilities. Aang and Toph would bend the earth while Celina and Katara would use their healing abilities to purify the water. Everyone was exhausted after the long day but things were clean, and hopefully, the village would prosper. After dinner, Celina and Katara headed down to the altar, goodies in hand. Katara, knelt down next to the shore, running her hands through the clear water. Celina smiled and walked over to her, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"You did good, Katara," she told her sister.
Katara smiled back. Their sisterly moment was interrupted as a thin fog washed over them. Celina's skin pricked, feeling spiritual energy. Looking up the girls were surprised to find the real Painted Lady floating above the water. The spirit had a soft smile on her face.
"Thank you," she told Katara.
The spirit looked at Celina, sending her a silent thank you before disappearing before their eyes. Katara looked back at Celina, a large glowing smile on her face before tackling her sister in a hug. Celina herself looked over the river, happy that she had made an ally instead of an enemy.
Chapter 4: Sokka's Master
The Gaang sat lying on a makeshift roof covering Appa, watching the sky with awe as a meteor shower flew across the night sky. Peaceful moments were few and rare, especially while they were in the Fire Nation, so that Gaang took advantage of the beautiful moment.
"Wow, this is amazing to watch," Katara said.
"Kind of makes you realize how insignificant we are," Sokka commented.
"Eh, you've seen nothing once, you've seen it 1,000 times," Toph shrugged.
Everyone glanced over at Toph, a small look of pity in their eyes. With her amazing skills so often they forgot she was blind. They quickly shook that and returned back to watching the meteor shower, knowing Toph wouldn't appreciate the looks she couldn't see. Just in time too as one of the meteor's broke off from the rest, growing closer to the earth.
"Oh, man. You've never not seen anything like this," Sokka said.
They all sat up in amazement as the now meteorite drew closer, engulfed in blue fire. The meteorite whistled loudly as it passed over their heads, crashing in a huge explosion off in the distance. Toph stood in surprise, having felt the vibrations. Running to check out the crash site the group were taken aback by the crater of fire but gasped realizing that the nearby town could be in danger.
"The fire is gonna destroy that town!" Katara gasped.
"Not if we can stop it," Aang said determined.
"There's a creek over there. Katara, let's go," Celina noticed.
Katara nodded and the sisters ran to Appa, Celina taking the driver's position. Taking off they headed towards the creek to gather enough water.
"Toph, let's make a trench to keep the fire from coming any closer," Aang suggested.
"What should I do?" Sokka asked dejected.
"Keep an eye on Momo," Aang instructed. The creature in question flew up to Sokka and landed on his head.
"So what, I'm just a lemur-sitter," Sokka complained before patting Momo's head. "There, there. Feel better?"
Sokka sat and watched as the rest of the Gaang dealt with the fire. Aang and Toph ran towards the fire, swinging their arms down to cut a fissure through the ground in front of the raging flames. Using their earthbending they turned the fissure into a trench, pushing the fire back. Celina and Katara came over on Appa. Katara used hers to shower over the fire, putting out the majority of it. Toph joined in bending huge slabs of earth to stomp out the flames while Aang used some airbending. Celina built up her huge orb of water high above the crater. Concentrating she turned the orb of water into a large globe of ice before exploding it into snow, putting out the remainder of the fire. With the fire taken care of the benders and Appa landed next to a snow covered Sokka and Momo, looking over the snowy crater.
"Good work, everybody," Aang congratulated.
Celina used her bending to remove the snow from her brother while Momo simply shook the snow off before running around, trying to catch the still falling flakes. With the snow removed she noticed the dejected and disappointed look on Sokka's face that she hadn't seen in a while.
The dream connection Celina and Zuko shared had an awkward atmosphere to it since their last real conversation where Zuko learned a bit about Celina's family (though the part about her biological parents heavily altered) while Celina learned that he was the one who brought her to a warm place back in the North Pole. They continued to try and avoid each other in the environments they created. Try being the keyword. It seemed like every night they would run into each other. Tonight, Zuko had beat Celina to the world and transformed it to host his old Fire Navy ship. Upon arriving she was placed in one of the ship's hallways.
While she had never been on Zuko's ship it had a similar feeling to the Fire Navy ship the Gaang had hidden out on. Taking a moment to orientate herself, Celina proceeded to make her way towards what was her room on the other ship, hoping to hunker down in there for the remainder of the night. Find a spot and don't move, the perfect way to avoid each other. If only the room she was searching for wasn't Zuko's room. He had been pacing around the room, his hands curled tightly into fists out of discomfort, which was how he was able to spot Celina when she appeared in the doorway. Both froze.
"Sorry, I didn't know this was your room," Celina apologized. "I'll just head somewhere else."
Zuko didn't get a word in before Celina turned around and left, going to find another room to hide away in. She came across another problem however as it appeared that every door she tried wouldn't open. It appeared that when controlling the dream world he relied on choosing what was familiar to him, which wasn't bad. Celina would do so as well, but she would also use places she knew as inspiration to fill in the blanks and make some creative twists. It appeared that if Zuko didn't know the complete layout of a place he would just block it off.
Thinking of a place that she could go that Zuko would have been able to create Celina headed towards the observation deck. She would have preferred the kitchen, having spent more time there than the observation deck in the past, but wasn't sure whether the Prince of the Fire Nation would have even set foot in the ship's kitchen. Upon arriving at the observation deck Celina leaned against a railing and looked out over the view. It was a bit overly simplistic. Nothing but unmoving ocean surrounding the ship, no land masses in sight.
She was debating about whether or not to change the scenery when she heard footsteps approaching. Looking over at the entrance she watched as Zuko appeared in the doorway. He froze in place upon seeing her once again.
"Sorry, I just needed to get out of my room. I didn't expect to find you here," Zuko apologized. "I can leave -"
"No, it's fine. I'll just… go jump off the ship," Celina decided.
Zuko's eyes widened and it looked like he wanted to talk to her about what she said but Celina left before he could. Heading down the stairs she made her way to the deck of the ship. She knew that wherever she went on the ship Zuko would most likely show up there as well. So the ocean would be her hiding space. Her bare feet slapped against the metal of the deck as she picked up speed, running towards the railing. The leap over was easy, what she wasn't expecting however was for Zuko to grab her arm to try and stop her. Try once again being the keyword.
Tumbling overboard the two fell into the water with a large splash, detaching them. Celina was the first to resurface first with Zuko following soon after. The both of them took a moment to see that the other was fine before the shouting started.
"What were you thinking?!" Celina exclaimed.
"What was I thinking?! What were you thinking jumping off the ship?!" Zuko shot back.
"That the ocean would be the one place we wouldn't continue to awkwardly run into each other," Celina told him.
"So you'd rather drown than see me?!" Zuko shouted, not happy with her response.
"Have you forgotten that I'm a waterbender?" she reminded him.
That stopped the shouting. Zuko tried not to show how flustered he was though Celina still noticed. She also noticed that he was getting tired treading water, weighted down thanks to the armor that he was wearing. Taking control Celina transformed the scenery. The ship disappeared as Celina switched out the ocean for a field of clouds at dawn. There was a moment where she and Zuko floated for a moment before landing softly on their knees. Surprised, Zuko looked around at the new environment.
"How are you able to do that?" Zuko asked.
"Do what?" Celina asked back, bending the water off them and tossing it into the clouds which happily ate it up.
"Change the environment from mine?" Zuko clarified, a bit annoyed.
"You don't exactly have the strongest control over this place. It was pretty easy to take over, especially since you were distracted," Celina answered.
"My control is fine," Zuko said getting defensive.
"It's basic. You have the scaffolding up along with a wall or two but those can easily be knocked down and replaced by someone with more experience," Celina told him.
"We've been here the same amount of time," Zuko tried to argue.
"And yet I've taken us to multiple places with endless possibilities, some of which don't even exist, while you've boxed us into two places. Both of which you've most likely spent the most about of time in," she pointed out, ending the budding argument.
Not that Zuko didn't want to continue. He just knew that he wasn't going to win the argument. After all, he'd seen what Celina could do in this place.
"So you chose to take us into the clouds?" Zuko questioned.
"I chose to take us somewhere peaceful, away from a metal ship on stagnant water. Somewhere I'd feel comfortable," Celina answered, getting up.
"I was comfortable, it was my ship," Zuko argued, causing Celina to let out a short, dry laugh before walking off towards a large wall of cloud off in the distance.
Mad, Zuko got up to follow her, not wanting to end the start of that argument. As he tried to catch up with her Zuko noticed colorful birds beginning to rise out from beneath the clouds, flying off in different directions. Some sticking with a group while others flew solo. The sound of their caws mixed in with the wind flowing through their feathers settled nicely into the atmosphere. The background noise creating a calm that the earlier silence couldn't. It calmed Zuko down for a second before he remembered that he wanted to continue his row with Celina. Turning his attention back on the girl he watched as she walked into the wall of cloud, disappearing. He sprinted after her, not daring to let her get away from the lecture he was about to give her.
Once he emerged from the other end of the shining sun stopped him and once he's eyes adjusted the lecture he was about to spout. The Southern Air Temple stood tall in its mountains in front of them, the epicenter of the air bison, lemurs, and airbenders that flew and walked around it. A picture of what he imagined the Temple has looked like over a hundred years ago, something no one alive today would have an inkling of what it looked like. Zuko knew that this place wasn't real, it was a purgatory that he was sent to every night when he fell asleep. He looked over at the one who was trapped here with him. She stood slightly in front of him, looking over her creation. The glow of dawn casting a heavenly light on her face as the wind gently swayed the skirt of her dress and a strand of her hair. Zuko stepped into line with her, overlooking the airbenders' sanctuary.
"How do you make this? How do you make this place feel so real? So… alive?" he genuinely asked her.
"It's a mix really. My memories, some creativity, and a lot of…," Celina swallowed, feeling a bit stupid saying the next word. "...passion."
There was a moment of silence before Zuko looked over at her, swallowing a bit of his pride. "Teach me?" he asked. Celina looked over at him, surprised and contemplating a response.
The next day the Gaang headed into the small mountain town that they had saved the night before. Camping out was safer but exploring towns allowed them to see more of the Fire Nation and its people, plus they got to indulge in the food. Celina remembered back during winter when her, her siblings, and Aang snuck into the Fire Nation festival. Sokka's tolerance for spice had significantly gone up since then. Not that he displayed that as they ate dumplings for lunch at one of the town's restaurants. In fact, he wasn't really eating his tray of smoked sea slugs with his usual vigor which worried Celina. Not that any of the others noticed.
"These people have no idea how close they were to getting toasted last night," Aang observed.
"Yeah, the worst thing about being in disguise is we don't get the hero worship anymore. I miss the love," Toph said.
"Boo-hoo, poor heroes," Sokka moaned sarcastically.
"What's your problem? You haven't even touched your smoked sea slug," Katara noticed.
"Care to tell us what's been bothering you?" Celina asked.
"It's just… all you guys can do this awesome bending stuff like putting out forest fires, and flying around, and making other stuff fly around. I can't fly around, okay. I can't do anything," Sokka explained sadly.
"Sokka, that's not true at all," Celina tried to tell him.
"Yeah, no one can read a map like you," Katara said.
"I can't read at all," Toph commented.
"Yeah, and who keeps us laughing with sarcastic comments all the time I mean, look at Katara's hair, right. What up with that?" Aang tried to joke, holding up a lock of Katara's hair.
"What? What's wrong with my hair?" Katara asked embarrassed, taking back the strand and trying to stroke down any flyaways.
"Nothing, I was just trying to…," Aang tried to apologize.
"Look, I appreciate the effort, but the fact is each of you is so amazing and so special, and I'm not. I'm just the guy in the group who's regular," Sokka interrupted.
Celina and Katara shared a look before getting up from the table to sit down next to Sokka on the edge of the floor. "I'm sorry you're feeling so down, but I hope you know none of us see you that way," Katara started.
"Trust us, you are anything but regular," Celina assured him, placing a comforting hand on her brother's shoulder.
"I know something that's gonna make you feel better," Katara smiled.
"You do?" Sokka asked, still feeling depressed.
One look at her sister's smile and Celina knew where they were going next. Aang and Toph didn't ask questions as the waterbending girls took the lead. The girls lead them to a weapons shop where upon arriving Sokka's mood improved significantly.
"Shopping!" he exclaimed excited before running inside to explore.
As he went off to browse the wears the rest of the Gaang split up to look around as well, Toph choosing to stick close by Celina. For the most part, the waterbender didn't care about the weapons in the shop. With her bending, she didn't have a use for them and besides, she had seen plenty of weapons from those who've attacked them. The only products Celina showed any interest in was the knives and daggers. Sure they were useful for cooking but that wasn't the main reason behind Celina's interest. While she did have the dream connection to express her creativity with it had been a while since she spent any time carving and the itch to do so was strong.
Besides her waterbending and her siblings, carving was Celina's strongest connection to the Water Tribe. So much of what the Water Tribe used; their weapons, their accessories, their tools; were intricately carved. It was something that was always beautiful to her. And once she started learning how to carve herself, it was the only time that Hakoda would tolerate her. He was the one who taught her when she started showing interest. At the time she thought they were nice father daughter moments though she learned better after the attack. Still, Celina was able to set aside her qualms with Hakoda to admit that he was a good teacher.
For the most part, the daggers weren't really what she was looking for. Which made sense as they were meant to be used as weapons. However, the knives showed more promise. The blades were smaller which would be better for carving. She held two knives in her hand, one with a plain handle and one that had its own simple design carved into it, debating which one to purchase. The plain knife would be cheaper though Celina kept finding herself thumbing over the one with the carving. Sure it was a simple design but sometimes the most simplistic things could be the most beautiful. Deciding to treat herself, Celina set down the plain handled knife and went to find the shop owner who was pleased to sell it to her. After the knives purchase both Celina and the shopkeep noticed Sokka looking at a sword that was displayed upon the wall, a detailed dragon decorating the scabbard.
"You have a good eye," the shopkeep spoke up, causing the rest of the Gaang to gather around. "That's an original from Piandao, the greatest sword master and sword maker in Fire Nation history. He lives in the big castle up the road from here." Having given Sokka the information the shopkeep went back to manning the shop.
"That's it. That's what you needed all along, Sokka," Aang said.
"A sword?" Sokka questioned.
"Not the sword...a master. We've all had masters to help us get better," Aang clarified.
"Not Celina," Sokka tried to protest.
"Yes even me. The Ocean and Moon spirits had been teaching me for years. And then when we visited the North Pole I studied healing under Yugoda," Celina corrected. "But I think Aang's right, you should see if you can study with Piandao."
"That's a great idea. I could've never gotten to where I am without Master Pakku. Everyone needs a teacher," Katara agreed.
"I learned from badger moles. They don't talk, but they're still good teachers," Toph added in.
"It would be nice to be a master sword fighter," Sokka said looking down at the sword. "Alright, I'll talk to him."
Sokka went alone up to Piandao's place. He wanted to do it on his own and besides, everyone knew it would look a bit odd if the rest of the Gaang came along as well. So with the day to themselves, Celina took the time to go off and search for a nice piece of wood. She didn't want anything too big, it wouldn't be wise since they were traveling. Something Celina wouldn't feel bad about leaving behind if she had to. There was a large branch that must have fallen down during the meteorite crashed. The branch itself was too big but Celina liked it's width so she ended up using her waterbending to cut off a couple of nice sized discs before returning back to the Gang's camp. Choosing one of the discs Celina started stripped the wood of bark.
When Hakoda was teaching her how to crave he started her off with snow, which Celina wasn't happy about. But after explaining that it was an easy way to teach her how to create designs without wasting resources Celina was satisfied. He taught her traditional Water Tribe designs before letting her use her own imagination. Once he deemed that she knew about the design process Hakoda moved her onto her first real material: bone. It was a large resource in the South Pole thanks to all the hunting and fishing they did, being incorporated into basically everything they used. She had been so excited. Of course, there were plenty of moments of frustration while she practiced, not satisfied with her designs in the beginning. But once she finally accomplished a design she was proud of Celina only wanted to do more. More intricate designs, bigger pieces to carve.
After becoming proficient in bone Hakoda moved her onto wood. It was an easier material to carve though wasn't as available for carving projects as bone. The carving projects it was used for was the handles for weapons that were often paired with leather for a steady grip. Seeing as she was quick with carving wood Hakoda moved on to teach her about adding color to her carvings. What resources to use for certain colors and what mixtures to use to keep some of the coloring from washing off. Celina spent some time with the colors, going back to old projects and adding them to her details.
She had become so proficient in carving that others from her village were asking her mom and Hakoda if she could carve something for them. It was something she took joy in. Especially as it came with positive interaction from the villagers. Whispers and insults turned into compliments and praise if just for a day or so.
Her proudest accomplishment, however, was Sokka's dagger. She had used the jawbone of an arctic wolf the men of the village had taken down. Celina kept four of the teeth as per tradition before carving out the blade from the bone. It was what Celina considered the most boring part but eventually she got to what she had been looking forward too. On one side of his dagger, Celina carved the face of an arctic wolf. With the blade finished she used wood for the handle, marking out places for leather gripping, before carving out the cycle of the moon, coloring it with white from crushed bone.
Sokka was so happy with his gift. He still polished it every now and then to make sure the arctic wolf could still be seen. Of course, using any Water Tribe weapons in public wasn't an option currently. It would alert the Fire Nation. Celina sighed, hoping that things were going well with Sokka at Piandao's. He deserved something nice and hopefully finding a master brightened his spirits.
Celina paused, looking down at the design she had started. Having reminisced over her gift to Sokka she had ended up carving the silhouette of her brother. It was just the outline at the moment but Celina had a good idea of what to fill it with. Though it would be smart to stop and make a fire to get some ash to sketch with before making any more markings. Besides, it was getting close to lunch anyway.
Pocketing the disc Celina went to work building up a fire. She had stopped using spark rocks to light the logs, choosing to practice her newly discovered firebending. It was a small, conjuring up a tiny flame at the tip of her finger and using that to light the kindling to start the campfire. Celina wouldn't dare do anything bigger, having seen the consequences for trying to firebend without proper teaching thanks to Aang ignoring Jeong Jeong. Besides, anything bigger would alert her friends and she did not want to explain how she could firebend, especially since she didn't understand it herself.
Lunch was simple, cooking up some veggies and fish that they stopped to purchase in town before coming back to their camp. The others, having sat around not knowing what to do instantly flocked to the fire once they smelled everything cooking. Katara was more than happy to take over, serving everything up. Afterward, Katara pulled out Sokka's map for her and Aang to look over while Celina returned to her carving, drawing out the symbol of the Water Tribe in ash over Sokka's silhouette. She wanted to have the symbol in the silhouette and not out of it.
"So where are we going next?" Katara asked. Looking over at the map she pointed at an island. "We started from here."
"No, we're over on this island," Aang corrected.
"You noodle-brains don't know what you're doing. I miss, Sokka," Toph said.
"Oh, I got one! If you miss him so much, why don't you marry him?" Katara replied, attempting a joke that fell flat. She sighed and turned to her sister who had moved onto the carving process. "Celina, can you read the map?"
"If I must but why are you guys looking at it anyway?" Celina asked.
"Aang and I thought we could plan where we head next," Katara answered.
Celina looked up from her work to glance over at the map. She pointed out the island where they were currently located along with where they were to meet with the Invasion Force. "We're on this island here and need to end up here by the Day of Black Sun for the invasion."
"Great! So we can head over here next," Katara smiled, pointing at another spot on the map.
"That's the Fire Nation capital," Celina told her sister. Katara winced out of embarrassment.
"Okay, maybe we should plan our next move later," Aang said.
Celina had finished the wooden disc dedicated to Sokka, having added some decorative markings on the front and sides. She was thinking of what to add to the back of the disc when Toph sat up from her nap in excitement.
"Sokka's coming!" she announced.
Katara and Aang woke up from their own nap, just as excited. From over the hill, the four spotted Sokka coming up the path.
"Hey, guys. What are you doing?" he greeted him. Katara, Aang, and Toph jumped at Sokka, trapping him in a group hug.
"Sokka!" Aang exclaimed.
"You're back," Toph smiled.
"We missed you so much," Katara told him.
"Say something funny," Aang asked of him.
"Funny how?" Sokka questioned confused. Still, his words sent Katara and Aang laughing, everyone breaking out of the hug. Celina slipped in giving her brother a less suffocating hug. "What's their deal?"
"I don't know. They missed you or something. I don't care," Toph tried to play off, though she had a soft smile on her face.
"Thanks. That warms my heart," Sokka smiled.
"So what are you doing back so soon? Master sword fighting all in one day?" Celina asked her brother, teasing him a bit.
"Actually I came down to get something. Though I could use some help getting it," Sokka informed the Gaang.
What he wanted help with was getting a good chunk of the meteorite. He explained to them that Piandao said that he was ready to make his own sword and that he wanted to use the meteorite to help make it. The Gaang were more than happy to help. Toph grabbed the meteorite with her earthbending and then together the Gaang rolled it up the mountain to Piandao's place. Upon arrived Sokka ran over to the door and banged both knockers, causing Piandao to step out.
"Who's this?" the swordmaster asked, referring to the rest of the Gaang.
"Oh, these are my friends. Just other good Fire Nation folks," Sokka partially lied. Piandao bowed to them, causing the others to bow back. Afterward, Sokka motioned to his master to look at the meteorite they had brought. "Do you think we can make a sword out of a meteorite?"
"We'll make a sword unlike any other in the world," Piandao approved. "You four can come in and wait for your friend if you'd wish."
The Gaang was more than happy to stick around, not wanting to be away from Sokka again after seeing just how much his absence affected them. Piandao's butler, Fat, was kind enough to bring them refreshments before going off to help Piandao and Sokka with the sword making process.
The dream connection was blank when Celina arrived, Zuko standing nearby waiting for her. She couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at him over the environment.
"I thought it would be easier to start with a blank slate," Zuko answered her unspoken question.
"Makes sense," Celina accepted. "Alright, so when building up an environment I like to use something strong or familiar to act as the roots. Be it a memory of a place or an object. The forests I create here don't really exist in the real world but I've camped out in enough of them to be familiar with the trees. I use those to anchor those forest environments. But perhaps we should start with a memory in your case."
Celina opened it up to Zuko, waiting for him to change the environment. Readying himself Zuko closed his eyes and concentrated, he had yet to figure out how to change the place without closing his eyes and imagining it in his head first. After a moment he had changed the environment to his ship like he had the night before. She had complained about that one after all.
"No, no," Celina said, taking over and reverting the environment back to its blank canvas.
"Why'd you dispel it? I did what you asked," Zuko questioned annoyed.
"Choose a less stressful memory," Celina instructed.
"It's not a stressful memory," he tried to argue.
"If you're going to continue lying to me this isn't going to work," she told him, shutting Zuko up. "Bad and stressful memories won't strengthen your creations, it just sets you on edge and makes your hold on this place weaker. I know that those can be some of the strongest memories you have but you need to move past it here, if only for your mental health. Try again."
Zuko let out a frustrated sigh but didn't try to argue with her. He closed his eyes again and tried to think of a peaceful memory. It was difficult, there weren't many memories like that. Sure there was his mother's garden but Zuko had a feeling that Celina wouldn't accept that since he'd recreated that before. There were the memories of his times with Celina. At the apartment in Ba Sing Se and then at the Jasmine Dragon. But he decided against those, knowing it would just create awkwardness between them. Remembering those places in Ba Sing Se did bring Zuko to a decision though.
Celina watched as the blank space was filled with a fountain in the Lower Ring of Ba Sing Se, surrounded by lit candles. "The Firelight Fountain," Celina said, speaking its name.
"You know it?" Zuko asked surprised.
"We were in the same city at one point," she reminded him. "I was on this first date with a guy and he showed it to me."
Both Celina and Zuko couldn't help but feel a pinch of jealousy. Celina remembering the kiss Zuko shared with the Earth Kingdom girl and Zuko imagining Celina on a date. But both quickly moved past it.
"Alright, so this is good. But let's add more depth to it. First, sound. It's alright for spaces to be quiet but most places aren't completely silent. You'll probably notice that complete silence makes things a bit unsettling. So looking at your environment what sounds do you think you'd hear?" Celina said, getting back to teaching.
"Uh... water from the fountain, it's night so maybe a cricket chirping,... we're in town but in a quiet place so occasional muffled noises of people," Zuko listed off.
"Good, add them in," Celina told him. Closing his eyes Zuko thought about the sounds and after a moment he actually started hearing them. Celina couldn't help but notice Zuko relax a little bit. "It feels better doesn't it?"
"Yeah," Zuko agreed. "What's next?"
"Letting the environment move. You got the sound of the fountain flowing but if you really look at it you'll notice that the water isn't moving, nor have the candles flickered," Celina answered.
"Gotcha," he said.
This time Zuko didn't need to close his eyes, unfreezing the scene happened naturally. Perhaps because he was starting to feel more relaxed. He looked over to Celina for approval and paused. The now flickering of the candles reflected off the fountains water cast the both of them in a soft light. For a moment Zuko was truly taken back to his date with Jin, but this time it was Celina. The date Zuko truly wished happened.
"Better," Celina complimented, dragging Zuko back to his lesson. "This is on level with your mother's garden. However, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't be able to leave the Firelight Fountain if I tried."
"I don't really have a strong memory of what the rest of the Lower Ring looked like. The most I could think of is a layout maybe," Zuko told her.
"And that's fine. You're not gonna remember the details of every single thing. But you know that there's the rest of the city surrounding this. Open yourself to this place, let your subconscious fill in the blanks," Celina replied.
"That's vague," Zuko commented, not knowing if he'd be able to do so or not.
Sensing some hesitation, Celina gently took Zuko by the hand and began to slowly lead him to the edge of the fountain area. He tensed at first but quickly relaxed, happy that Celina was touching him.
"Close your eyes and take a deep breath," Celina instructed. He did as she asked, trusting that she wasn't going to lead him into a wall as they continued walking. "I know what it's like to keep your guard up. But this place has given us a little bit of freedom to relax. Take advantage of that. Imagine for me a lock with a tiny bit of light peeking out of the key hole. Create a key and open it."
As she talked her words formed visions in his mind of the lock. And when she asked him to create a key he did just that. It was a simple gold key, no ornaments needed. Zuko's hold on Celina's hand tightened as the key slide into the lock and turned. He let out a gasp as light engulfed the lock, shining brightly.
"What do you see?" Celina asked, her voice soft.
"The lock's gone. It's just light now," he answered, his voice just as soft.
"Describe it for me," she asked of him.
"It's bright but not blinding. Strong but soft. It's… warm, like the sun," he answered.
"Open your eyes," Celina told him.
Upon opening his eyes Zuko was shocked to find that they had left the Firelight Fountain and that Celina had walked them into the market space. A few people filled the space, closing up shops or walking home. None of them paying attention to Celina and Zuko who stood directly in the center. As he looked around his eyes fell on Celina who wore a soft, proud smile. They held each other's gaze for a moment before looking down at their hands which were still interlocked. Celina took her hand away.
"And so ends lesson number one," she said.
Lesson one, a promise that there would be another lesson the next night. Celina thought back to agreeing to teach Zuko. At the time she told herself that it was because she couldn't stand his environments and that maybe if she taught him that it would be better. But the real reason poked through when she took his hand. Celina knew that forming any sort of relationship with the enemy wasn't smart. Though perhaps in this world of their own she could give way to a bit of kindness to the prince, a friendship that only existed there. She just had to make sure it didn't develop into anything else.
The Gaang sat behind Sokka as he sat in front of Piandao, the sword master holding the sword he had created. He has stayed up the night before working hard to create his sword. Piandao had allowed the others to stay the night, Fat having stepped away from the sword making process to serve them dinner and show them to their rooms. Now that sat watching their brother and friend, proud of what he accomplished.
"Sokka, when you first arrived, you were so unsure. You even seemed down on yourself. But I saw something in you right away. I saw a heart as strong as a lion turtle, and twice as big. And as we trained, it wasn't your skills that impressed me. No, it certainly wasn't your skills. You showed something beyond that," Piandao spoke. Unsheathing the sword the Gaang let out a soft gasp seeing the black blade of the sword Sokka spent so long crafting. "Creativity, versatility, intelligence… these are the traits that define a great swordsman. And these are the traits that define you." Sheathing the sword Piandao kneeled down and handing the sword to Sokka. "You told me you didn't know if you were worthy, but I believe that you are more worthy than any man I have ever trained."
Sokka stared that the sword in his hands before lowering his head in shame. "I'm sorry, Master. You're wrong. I am not worthy. I'm not who you think I am. I'm not from the Fire Nation. I'm from the Southern Water Tribe," he revealed. The Gaang gawked at him in shock and disbelief, tensing. "I lied so that I could learn swordsmanship from you. I'm sorry." He held up the sword of Piando to take.
"I'm sorry, too," Piandao apologized.
The swordmaster turned around and then quickly swung back with a sword in hand. Sokka stood to avoid the attack, using the sheathed sword to block a thrust from Piandao. Celina, Katara, Aang, and Toph stood and got ready to help Sokka but he raised his hand to stop them.
"No, this is my fight alone," he told them.
The fight was paused long enough that everyone moved outside. Sokka and Piandao stood in a fighting ring while Celina, Katara, Aang, Toph, and Fat watched from the upper part of the main building. They waited for someone to make the first move, nervous and ready to step in if Sokka needed saving.
Piandao struck, lunging forward and striking four times which Sokka deflected. He took a stab himself which Piandao moved out of the away and stabbed at Sokka, swaying back and avoiding the attack. Taking the opportunity Piandao swept his sword at Sokka's legs, but Sokka jumped over it and lunged. Another deflection but this time Piandao hit Sokka with the butt of his sword's hilt, knocking him back several feet. Sokka flipped himself backward and grabbed a post of a small bridge to regain his balance. He climbed on the post and jumped from one to another as Piandao came at him. There was a moment when Sokka jumped off the bridge when Piandao's blade came close to his face. Blocking the next strike Sokka leapt away towards the end of the bridge.
"Excellent! Using your superior agility against an older opponent… smart," Piandao complimented.
The swordmaster charged, pushing Sokka up a large stone stairway. He managed to block all the attacks but ended up being pushed against the wall of the stairway. Ducking out of the way Piandao's sword sliced through part of the wall above Sokka's shoulder. He barely dodged however as Piandao swung his sword around his head and body in two large circles. Sokka cartwheeled to the right before using the wall to propel him forward, sword extended. Piandao blocked to which Sokka responded by rolling across the stairs to the other wall, climbing on top of it.
"Good use of terrain… fighting from the high ground," Piandao commented.
Celina watched in confusion, having picked up the compliments Piandao was giving to Sokka. Was he helping her brother learn still? The fight disappeared as the two moved into a bamboo forest. All they could see was the occasional cut pieces of bamboo rolling out of the forest. They didn't stay in there long as Sokka came running out with Piandao following after him. Sneaking a look behind him Sokka managed to block an attack. He stumbled forward, stabbing his sword into the ground to stop his fall. Using his momentum Sokka swung his sword around, flinging dust at Piandao, blinding him.
"Very resourceful," Piandao commented.
Seeing his opportunity to get away Sokka slowly tiptoed away. If only he hadn't stepped on a stick. Hearing where he was Piandao charged forward. Sokka managed to dodge Piandao's first attack but when he went to parry the swordmaster caught the blade with his own sword and managed to fling it out of Sokka's hand. Seeing the predicament that their friend was in the Gaang headed down to help Sokka. Piandao swung his sword at the now weaponless Sokka who thought he was done for. Yet what really hit Sokka was Piandao's arm, knocking him back. Before he could get back up Piandao had his sword pointed directly at Sokka's head. The Gaang arrived to see Piandao swinging his sword away from their friend.
"Excellent work, Sokka," Piandao complimented. Katara, Aang, and Toph went to defend Sokka though Celina hung back, already figuring out what was going on. Piandao held up his sword catching the sheath. "I think I'm a little old to be fighting the Avatar."
This statement surprised everyone.
"How did you know?" Aang asked.
"Oh, I've been around a while. You pick things up," he answered. Fat came down to meet them, handing a cloth to Piandao so that he could wipe the dirt away from his eyes along with a drink. Sokka stood back up, finding himself to be safe. "Of course, I knew from the beginning that Sokka was Water Tribe. You might want to think of a better Fire Nation cover name. Try Lee. There's a million Lees."
"But why would you agree to train someone from the Water Tribe?" Katara asked.
"The way of the sword doesn't belong to any one nation. Knowledge of the arts belongs to us all. Sokka, you must continue your training on your own. If you stay on this path, I know that one day you will become an even greater master than I am," Piandao explained.
He picked up Sokka's sword and handed it to him. Everyone had a large smile on their faces. Sokka and Piandao bowed to each other. A bit overcome with emotions the Gaang attacked Sokka in a hug, proud of him and what he's accomplished.
His training with Piandao complete the Gaang started to make their way down his mountain, happy to have found someone in the Fire Nation that they could trust. As they were making their way down however they paused upon hearing Fat call after them.
"Wait. The Master wanted you to have this, as something to remember him by," Fat told Sokka, handing him a small bag before heading back to Piandao's. Curious as to what was inside Sokka opened it and pulled out a Pai Sho tile.
"It's a Pai Sho tile," Sokka said.
"The white lotus," Celina observed.
"What does it mean?" Katara questioned.
"I have no idea," Sokka replied. The Gaang looked back as the door to Piandao's closed, showing a lotus design on the doors surround the Fire Nation symbol. "Oh, that reminds me. Toph, I thought you might like this since you've probably never had a chance to bend space earth before."
Sokka pulled out a chunk of meteorite and handing it to Toph who started to bend it into different shapes.
"Sweet," Toph smiled.
"You know, I don't think there's such a thing as space earth. If it's from space then it's not really earth," Katara contemplated.
"Must you ruin everything?" Sokka questioned.
"I can't believe I missed you," Katara groaned, causing the others to laugh.
Chapter 5: The Beach
The Gaang lazed about at a hidden lake, enjoying a day away from Fire Nation civilization. It was nice that they had found a body of water that wasn't out in the open for everyone to see. Practically everyone rushed to jump into the water once they landed. The Fire Nation was hot as one would imagine and a nice swim was welcomed, especially for the waterbenders who'd been itching for their element. Aang was incredibly happy as he didn't have to cover up his arrows though Toph had some reservations.
"Aang, I know swimming is fun and all, but do you really think you should be exposing yourself like that? Cover up!" the earthbender expressed.
"What? I'm wearing trunks," Aang replied confused as he continued to float, Momo curled up on his chest.
"I know… it's your tattoos I'm worried about. What if someone sees you?" Toph said, voicing her concern.
"There are walls all around us," Katara pointed out.
"And we had to fly in as well. We're completely safe as long as we stay inside," Celina assured her.
"For once I'm not the paranoid one," Sokka smiled from his spot in the water, close to shore.
Toph earthbended a pillar of rock from beneath Sokka, sending him flying up into the air before he landed farther off in deeper water, stomach first. When he resurfaces Sokka let out a groan as he floated, showing off his reddened skin. Celina swam over to her brother and started healing him.
"This is supposed to be a relaxing day," she said.
"Tell that to her," Sokka muttered, sending a glare over to Toph. Not that she saw it.
Celina rolled her eyes but didn't reply. She knew nothing would come of the little tiff. Besides, it was her day off too, and she didn't want to spend it lecturing her friends. After finishing up healing her brother Celina dove beneath the water, swimming down to the bottom of the lake. It wasn't as soft as other lakes she had been in seeing that it was sitting in the middle of a crater, but it appeared that some tiny fish managed to find their way in along with some plant life.
The bottom of bodies of water relaxed her. Ever since coming across warmer bodies of water during their travels Celina loved literally being surrounded by her element. It had a calming effect on her and depending on how the body of water's ecosystem was it could improve her mood as well. It was all so quiet and peaceful beneath the water. Down there she could just forget about the worries of the world, choosing instead to watch the wildlife or have a place where she could think about things without being distracted.
Katara reacted similarly which made sense as they were both waterbenders. While Celina preferred being completely submerged her sister stuck close to the surface. She smiled, knowing a reason behind it. After all the surface was where water and air meet. Part of her wondered why Katara and Aang hadn't already become a couple, everyone in the Gaang could see that they liked each other.
Granted, it wasn't like the other Water Tribe siblings love lives were any better. Sokka had to deal with Yue turning into the moon. Then after he managed to somewhat get over her and started a relationship with Suki they were separated. Celina hoped that Suki was okay. It had been a so long since they last saw her and with Azula having infiltrated Ba Sing Se disguised as a Kyoshi Warrior she couldn't help but worry about Suki every once in a while. Celina couldn't imagine how Sokka felt about it.
And then there was Celina herself. Refusing to think about that mess she swam to the surface. Having fun with her friends would keep her mind away from those sort of feelings for a while.
The Gaang quickly fell asleep, tuckered out from a day of fun. It would have been nice if the peacefulness of the day continued on into the night but they couldn't always get what they wanted. Especially in the Fire Nation. Celina was pulled out of her short stay in the dream connection as Toph alerted the others of something coming. They woke up in time to find a man with metal limbs take a deep breath and shot and explosion at them from the third eye on his head. The five of them were blown backward. Toph was the first to recover, bending a large herd of rocks toward the man which he destroyed with another blast. Celina and Katara formed a shield out of water to avoid the next explosion, allowing for the others to get on Appa. Once up there Aang and Toph created a barrier of earth so that the girls could climb on as well as give them some coverage.
"This is crazy! How can we beat a guy who blows things up with his mind?" Sokka questioned.
"We can. I'll try to distract him," Aang replied.
Aang jumped off Appa and over the earth barrier to deal with the man. Katara was quick to get Appa airborne and start to fly them away from the man but kept close enough to pick Aang up. They watched as Aang dodged the attacks, sending occasional throws of his own through earthbending and airbending. At one point Aang was sent flying into the air. Appa acted quickly, catching his friend before flying off away from the metal man. Katara handed the reigns to Sokka and held Aang to her, looking over him for any possible wounds.
"I'm okay," he assured her though out of breath.
"Well, that was random," Toph commented.
"I don't think so. I get the feeling he knows who we are," Katara said.
"Considering we're in enemy territory, I'm surprised it's taken this long," Sokka said.
"And unfortunately it looks to be an assassin," Celina frowned.
The metal man was an issue. But he would have to be an issue for another day as the Gaang was exhausted. Having regained his breath Aang moved to the driver's spot and steered Appa to a safe place where they could rest for the night.
By the time Celina made it back to the dream connection Zuko was there waiting for her, looking out of place in his armor. Instead of the environment being blank he had managed to change it to the setting of a beach. It was still simple by Celina's standards but he had made some advances since last time. There were actually waves gently crashing against the shore with birds squawking every now and then.
"Long night?" Zuko asked.
"You can say that," Celina agreed though she wasn't willing to explain further. "I see you started without me."
"You did take a while. Thought I'd take inspiration from something recent," Zuko explained.
"Didn't take you as the beach vacation type," she observed before she turned to tease him. "Do you even know how to relax?"
"Of course I know how to relax," he replied, starting to get annoyed. Celina smirked and raised a teasing eyebrow.
"Oh really? Then perhaps you can show me how you spent your relaxing beach day," Celina challenged.
"What?" Zuko asked confused.
"This place is ours to mold. Think of it as part of your lesson. Use the things I've taught you and show me how you spent your day," Celina clarified. Zuko wanted to argue against it but Celina wouldn't let him. "Now, unless you found yourself a private beach - which I'm sure is possible with your status - there would be people milling about. Add those in."
"I didn't meet everyone on the beach," Zuko said.
"Doesn't matter. Like I said last night, let your subconscious fill them in. Our brains do it naturally when we dream so allow it to do it here," she instructed.
Taking time to steady himself, Zuko closed his eyes and opened himself up, trying to let his subconscious do what Celina told him it would do. After a moment of uncertainty, he opened his eyes and was relieved to him people on the beach, not paying attention and just going about their own business for the moment. The addition of the people also added some background noise that mixed in
"Good. You just need to work on your confidence, then it will come naturally," Celina said, taking note of where he could improve. Taking in everything though she couldn't help but feel like something was missing. "You came to the beach by yourself?"
"My sister and her friends were with me. I think it would be better to continue our lesson without them though," Zuko answered, shifting in his spot.
"Azula having a beach day, now that's something hard to imagine. Very well, I can't argue that I would enjoy their presence," Celina agreed. "Now that the place is set we stick out a bit. Perhaps we should fix that."
Zuko watched as Celina's dress disappeared and was replaced with a swimsuit and a sarong tied around her hips. The ribbon tying her hair back vanish as well, allowing for her long hair to flow freely. He felt his jaw slightly drop along with all the guys on the beach who turned and stared at her. She looked herself over, satisfied with her appearance, before looking back to Zuko. Her eyes on him again he quickly closed his mouth, urging the other men on the beach to go back to what they were doing. His dreams hadn't done her justice.
"Your turn now," she told him.
"How?" Zuko asked confused.
"It's simple really. Just imagine yourself wearing what you wore during your beach day," Celina instructed.
He nodded. Closing his eyes Zuko imagined himself in his swimsuit. When he opened his eyes Zuko had found that it had worked like Celina had said.
"That's better. Now, take me through your beach day," she smiled, ushering him to go on.
Zuko paused to think things over before leading the way down the beach to a nice spot on the sand. Upon reaching it Zuko took a deep breath and urged an umbrella and towel to appear. The towel appeared easily and on top of that laid a closed umbrella. It wasn't exactly what he wanted but Zuko could deal with it. He went to work physically setting up the spot before ushering to Celina to sit down underneath the umbrella. She complied and he joined her soon after Celina got settled.
"Uh... we mainly just sat here," Zuko told her.
Celina nodded. "Just enjoyed some conversation?" she asked.
"Not really," he admitted.
An awkward silence fell between them. Celina looked all around them, observing other beachgoers, before settling on the ocean, noticing how empty it was compared to the full beach. Zuko tried to look elsewhere but his eyes would constantly go to her.
"So… I guess you don't have beach days in the South Pole," Zuko said, trying to make conversation.
"No, not really. Not in the way you guys do," Celina chuckled. "Everything's far too cold."
"Can you tell me what beach days in the South Pole look like?" he asked, genuinely curious.
"Well, they usually happen during summer, which would be winter for you guys. Sheets of ice crack and drift off in haphazard clumps, though still keep relatively close. It's a big time for this coming of age tradition in the tribe: ice dodging. Groups of three fourteen-year-olds go out on a boat and have to navigate through the ice, gaining marks of honor at the end. It always gathers quite the crowd," Celina explained, a soft smile ghosting her face. It had been so long since that had last happened. Seven years. She missing standing with her family and celebrating. Right before everything changed.
"What mark were you given?" Zuko asked.
"The Mark of the Creative. Which wasn't even a mark before me but we had four people instead of three and Bato thought on his feet," she admitted.
"Even so, it fits. That's clear with what you've done with this place," Zuko told her.
"Thank you," she replied softly, not expecting a compliment.
From the corner of his eye, Zuko noticed a seashell sitting next to them that wasn't there before. Was he gaining confidence or just becoming more relaxed? Deciding not to think on that Zuko picked up the shell and offered it to Celina, who was pleasantly surprised.
"For you. I thought you'd like it since you're a waterbender and all," he said.
Celina smiled, accepting the shell, turning it over in her hand to see all the details. "It's very nice. We don't get many shells in the South Pole."
"Uh, well, I know with this kind you can hear something if you put it up to your ear," told her.
Celina looked at him skeptical but held the shell up to her ear anyway. Once again she was pleasantly surprised. A large smile spread across her face as she heard the sound of the ocean coming from the shell. Zuko couldn't help but smile, seeing how happy she was by something so small.
"You know, if you want we can walk the beach looking for more shells," he offered.
"Was that apart of your beach day?" Celina teased.
"No, but we can think of it as an exercise in… adding things that were never there," Zuko suggested, getting up and offering her his hand.
"That sounds lovely," she accepted.
Zuko helped Celina to her feet and the two headed off down the beach, walking along the shore in search of shells. He was worried that they'd have to stop every so often for him to conjure up more shells but found it unnecessary. It appeared his subconscious already did the work for him. Celina herself conjured up a small bag for them to put their collection in.
"So, does the Prince of the Fire Nation have any hobbies?" Celina asked.
"I haven't really had much time for hobbies outside of training," Zuko admitted.
"Training doesn't count," she said. "When you did have time, what did you enjoy doing?"
Zuko thought on it. "I used to really enjoy going to the theatre. My mom would always take us to see the Ember Island Players when we went on vacation. Their quality… lessened at one point. But there were other theatres around that made up for it."
"An art lover," Celina observed.
"Yeah. For a while I lost that connection. My uncle would try to cheer me up with music nights and different art pieces. I couldn't stand it," he admitted, picking up a shell and staring at it in his hand.
"And now?" Celina asked.
"I don't think I feel that anymore," he answered, though still uncertain. Zuko handed off the shell to Celina to looked it over before placing it in her bag. "So, what about you? Any hobbies?"
"I carve when I have time," she said.
"An artist. Your Mark of the Creative just keeps making more and more sense. Any preferences?" Zuko questioned.
"Depends on what mood I'm in really. Currently, I prefer working with wood and doing more so small pieces. Though doing ornamental carvings for weapons is nice. I wish I could do more jewelry work but the stone's a bit harder to come by and is mainly used for special occasions," she explained.
"Like what?" he asked.
"Engagements mainly. In the Water Tribe, women are presented necklaces as a proposal. You've seen the one my sister wears," Celina answered.
"Your sister's engaged?" Zuko asked shocked.
"Well, no. The necklace was originally our grandmother's betrothal necklace from an engagement she refused to go through with. Since then it's kinda become this family heirloom. She passed it down to my adoptive father who gave it to my mother. She passed it down to me but I gave it to Katara instead," Celina explained.
Silence fell upon them as Zuko thought over her words. He was hesitant to ask the question that popped up in his mind. "Would carve your own betrothal necklace?" Celina stopped walking and stared out over the ocean.
"I don't know. I haven't really thought about it. Honestly, I never saw myself getting married until this year," she answered.
"Really?" Zuko asked surprised. He couldn't wrap his head around that. Celina not getting married. But she was so smart and beautiful. How could someone not want to marry her?
"You forget I was an outcast back at the South Pole, which did horrible things to my self-worth. One of my biggest fears was that I'd be set up in a miserable arranged marriage. I even kept my age a secret when we traveled to the North Pole. According to their customs, I'd be married and pregnant by now," Celina shivered just imagining the scenario.
"So what changed?" Zuko asked, feeling a mixture of emotions imagining Celina married and pregnant.
"Once I got out of the South Pole though I started gaining more confidence. At first it was mainly from recognition of my bending, but then I got some advice from people I cared about. They told me I needed to start seeing myself for who I truly was. It took a while, and to be honest I have some moments where I revert, but I've gotten better. Then when I was comfortable with myself I was lucky enough that my first boyfriend who showed me how wonderful finding love could be. After that, I put the idea back on the table," Celina explained.
"So, now that the idea if back on the table… what would you want your betrothal necklace to look like?" Zuko asked.
"You're not planning on popping the question are you?" Celina nervously laughed.
"No. No! Sorry, no. That came out…. Uh. I'm just… curious," Zuko corrected himself.
The conversation paused once again as Celina thought it over. Zuko stood there awkwardly as he waited for her to reply, no longer looking for shells. He watched as a soft smile of inspiration came to her face. She returned her attention to him to gesture for him to follow her. They returned back to their spot on the beach but Celina didn't head up to the towel, stopping right in front of it. Getting down on her knees she reached into the bag and started to place the shells to create the spirit symbol that was between her shoulder blades. Zuko watched entranced as she worked. Once finished Celina wiped her hands of sand and stood back up, admiring her work.
"It's beautiful," Zuko complimented. "What symbol is it? It's not Water Tribe?"
"No, it's… my symbol," Celina answered.
Combining her heritage with a tradition from her adoptive heritage. Yeah, she liked that idea.
Celina sat underneath the umbrella waiting. Zuko had gone off to get something and while Celina offered to go with him he insisted she stay back and relax a bit. So she did and she had to admit she was having a nice time. Her and Zuko were actually getting along and opening up a bit to each other. If she didn't know any better she could have considered it a date. Hearing someone approaching Celina looked over to see Zuko returning with two ice cream cones.
"I thought since it's so hot you'd enjoy something… refreshing," he said, taking his place down on the towel.
When he went to hand her a cone the scoop of ice cream fell off the cone and onto Celina's leg. Celina immediately started laughing while Zuko sat there, unsure how to feel just yet.
"Refreshing," she laughed. Using her bending she returned the scoop of ice cream onto the cone before taking it. "Thank you. Hopefully, it tastes as refreshing as it feels."
"You're not upset?" Zuko asked.
"Of course not. It was an accident and a funny one a that," she replied before taking a lick of her ice cream. "It does taste good by the way. Good job, you've definitely gotten better controlling this place."
"How does ice cream equal me getting better at controlling this place?" he asked. He was relieved that she wasn't mad about dropping the ice cream on her but her reply confused him.
"I haven't had ice cream before so I have no idea what it tastes like. Your memory of what it tastes like helped control what it tastes like for me. Otherwise, it wouldn't have tasted like anything. And since you asked about it you've done it unconsciously. It shows how much you're improving," she explained. "Which is great for me. One of my favorite things about traveling is getting to experience different foods."
"Well, if that's the case. I did have other food during my beach day," Zuko said before he started to eat his ice cream.
"I look forward to it," Celina smiled.
The two happily ate their ice cream, talking about the favorite dishes they encountered during their travels. And while Zuko had promised her more Fire Nation food later on Celina promised to show him some Water Tribe food another night. They had been talking about food for a while when the sun rose higher in the sky, beating down onto them. Even under the umbrella Celina could feel its effects. She stood and untied her sarong, letting it fall to the ground. Zuko stared at the dropped clothing before looking up at Celina confused.
"Care to join me?" she asked, gesturing towards the ocean.
Deciding to take her up on her offer Zuko stood up and removed his shirt, dropping it onto the towel as well. When he looked back to he noticed her looking him up and down. It had been a while since Celina had seen him shirtless, and that was back when he was sick. He was definitely healthier now.
So the two of them headed down towards the water. Zuko couldn't help but chuckle as Celina ran into the waves as soon as they stepped onto the wet sand. He stood on the shore, letting the water wash over his ankles, and just watched her. She dived down to avoid an oncoming wave and then resurfaced, looking like a graceful water spirit of sorts.
"Spirits, she's beautiful," Zuko muttered to himself.
Turning to look back to shore Celina waved to Zuko. "Come on, join me! Or are you afraid of a little water?" she teased.
"I'm coming," he laughed and began to make his way further into the water.
Celina bobbed up and down in the water as she watched Zuko try and make his way towards her. He got slowed down, trying to avoid wave after wave. Deciding to help him out Celina used her waterbending to provide him a calmer path, which he was thankful for. Getting past that Zuko swam his way over to Celina with ease.
"Good to see you made it," she smirked.
"I think I did pretty well considering the ocean isn't my natural habitat," he joked, playfully splashing her.
"You dare start a splash fight with a waterbender," Celina jested and splashed Zuko back.
The two started an all out splash war, laughing as they flung water at each other. Celina was kind enough to not use her waterbending. Though it was clear from any onlookers that Celina was winning. At one point she waited for a large splash from Zuko to disappear beneath the water. His laughter slowed as he looked around him, waiting for Celina to pop back up. She didn't. What she did do, however, was grab hold of Zuko's ankle and pull him under.
Deep underneath the waves, Celina couldn't help but giggle as she saw that surprised look on Zuko's face. Once he realized what happened the Fire Nation prince couldn't help but laugh as well. Unfortunately, that caused him to quickly run out of air. Noticing this Celina was quick to act, using her waterbending to create a bubble of air for them to sit in.
"You okay?" she asked as Zuko caught his breath.
"I'm fine," he replied.
Having gathered himself, Zuko looked around the bubble. He also looked past it, observing the life beneath the water. The memories from his childhood vacations to Ember Island having helped to create the ecosystem. Another change that he unconsciously made. It was so peaceful down there.
"This is… nice," he said.
Celina smiled in agreement. "I like to do this whenever I can on my travels. It's so nice to come down here and escape from the craziness. Calms me down. Helps me think."
"I used to just sit in my room on my ship and meditate. Now that I'm back home I tend to spend time in my mother's garden," Zuko told her.
"Definitely a step up from that iron room. No wonder you default to it when taking control of the environment. It is a beautiful place though. The turtle ducks are so adorable. They kinda remind me of my dad. He used to call me his Turtle Duck," Celina commented.
"They just remind me of my mom. We used to sit and feed the turtle ducks together," he confessed.
"That's really sweet," Celina smiled.
"Guess that's something else we have in common. Good memories with turtle ducks and our gone parents," Zuko said, letting out a dry chuckle.
The corners of Celina's mouth turned up in a smile for just a moment before she fell silent. She felt a bit guilty. Zuko's mom was gone while her father was still alive. At least for now. The guilt turned into sadness. What if they couldn't stop the war in time? What if her father died? Zuko took notice of the change in her demeanor.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you upset," he apologized.
"It's not your fault. I guess I just got into my head. Being down here does leave you alone with your thoughts," Celina shrugged off.
"Do you wanna head back up then?" Zuko asked.
Celina nodded. She gave Zuko a moment to take a breath before she flooded the bubble. The two swam back up to the surface and made their way back to land. Zuko headed back up to their spot to towel off while Celina stuck by the water. He watched as she bended the water off herself and returned it to where it came from. She stayed down there a bit longer looking out over the ocean, most likely regaining some composure. The wind picked up a bit, blowing her hair gently behind her.
A soft, frustrated groan escaped his lips. Zuko knew he shouldn't be continuing on with this like it was an actual date, getting a small taste of what a relationship with her could actually be like. The two of them were on opposing sides of the war. He should have just been happy with the fact that Celina and him were on decent terms in the dream connection. But he wasn't, and he was willing to continue pushing his luck. Deciding to move along with how his beach day went Zuko concentrated and conjured up Chan and Ruon Jian who made their way over to Celina.
"Hey," Ruon Jian greeted, getting Celina's attention.
She looked at both of the boys a bit confused. None of the people on the beach had bothered them all day. In fact, Celina was certain that she or Zuko would have to make them interact with them. She looked back at Zuko who was watching them. He gave her a nod, letting her know that this happened during his beach day.
"Hi," she replied.
"I'm Ruon Jian, and this is my friend Chan," the boy introduced.
"Celina," she said.
"I'm having a party tonight. You should come by," Chan told her.
"Um, would it be okay if I brought my friend with me?" Celina asked.
"Sure, anything for the pretty lady," Chan answered.
Zuko saw Celina make a face that told him she wasn't impressed with either of the guys. But she was kind enough to thank them for the invite. Chan gave her the information and with that Celina said goodbye. She headed back up to their spot. Upon seeing that the friend she mentioned with Zuko Chan and Ruon Jian frowned. Zuko himself smirked.
As the sun began to set Zuko packed up their spot and lead Celina to a beach house where they indulged in an elaborate meal. He couldn't help but softly smile seeing Celina enjoy the new flavors. After dinner, the two changed into party outfits. Zuko smiled once again seeing Celina having changed into her party outfit.
"You look nice," he complimented.
"Thanks," Celina smiled and looked out the window.
With the sun sinking beneath the horizon and Chan's party starting at after sunset the two of them headed out, taking their time getting there. Zuko hadn't bothered letting Celina know that they had originally gotten there before the party actually. It wasn't like he had a great time and spending more alone time with Celina was appealing.
Upon arrival, Chan and Ruon Jian were eager to greet Celina. Once again Zuko noticed them frown seeing him but they quickly replaced them with fake smiles to keep up appearances. The two of them wanted to show Celina around the house but she insisted on sticking with Zuko and taking time to enjoy the party. There was no way she wanted to be alone with those two.
"What are your opinions on those two?" Zuko asked her.
Celina looked over at Chan and Ruon Jian. They smirked and winked at her in response. Zuko saw her grimace. "They come on a bit strong. Those two would be easy targets if I needed to get information," she answered. "They were seriously this...undaunted in their pursuit of women?"
"Unfortunately," he confirmed.
Wanting to get Celina away from their wandering eyes Zuko ushered her over towards a bench off to the side. There they could sit and talk out of the way,
"So… what do you think of the party?" he asked.
Checking out the party Celina found it to be a bit disappointing. Though she shouldn't have expected much after learning about the Fire Nation's lack of music and dancing. And after all, the parties she'd been to were of higher energy even with them being at varying extravagance. While this one did have some music it wasn't anything to dance to, mainly just something to have playing in the background. At least Chan provided a decent refreshments table.
"It's alright," she shrugged. "It's different than what I'm used to."
"You've been to many parties?" he questioned.
"A couple. The Water Tribe tends to go out to celebrate. Lots of food with music and dancing. And when we traveled to the North Pole my siblings and I saw just how amped up their celebrations were compared to the South. And there was the one time we crashed the Earth King's party," she listed off.
"How did you manage to do that?" Zuko asked.
"I flirted my way in via three brothers who wanted to be the hero to my damsel in distress. They were fairly nice. I ended up dancing with all three of them before losing them in a crowd," she answered. "I always enjoy dancing."
"We don't really dance," he told her.
"I noticed," she commented, looking around the room. "Being a prince and all have you ever had to dance for an event or ceremony?"
"Not really, there hasn't been anything like that at the palace since my parents were married. The events held now aren't exactly calm and peaceful. I was taught how to though. My mom and uncle were insistent that a prince should know how to dance." Zuko said.
"You'll have to show me sometime, see if the lessons stuck," Celina said, letting herself flirt with him just a little bit.
He stared a Celina in surprise before looking away, feeling himself blush. "I'll go get us some refreshments," he said, getting up.
"I'll come with you," Celina said, getting up as well.
"No, no, you sit and relax. I'll be back," Zuko insisted and headed off towards the refreshment table.
Letting out a soft chuckle Celina sat back down. While she waited for Zuko to return she looked around the room at the different decorations, absentmindedly playing with a strand of her hair and softly humming. Hearing someone approach Celina looked over and saw that Ruon Jian had walked over.
"Hello there," he greeted.
"Uh, hi," she replied out of politeness.
"How are you enjoying that party?" he asked.
"It's alright," she answered. Celina hoped that her short answers would give him the hint that she wasn't interested. Unfortunately for her, Ruon Jian was too dense to pick up on it.
"Maybe you just need to talk to more interesting people," Ruon Jian suggested.
"What?" Celina questioned, unimpressed with where he was going.
"You're a hot girl with a heart of gold. But that doesn't mean you have to hang out with that charity case all night long. Not when I can show you around and introduce you to people who aren't losers," Ruon Jian continued. "So whaddya say?"
"I say you're delusional," Celina glared.
"Oh, c'mon babe, don't be like that," he said, going to place a hand on her shoulder. She smacked his hand away, but that just made him smirk. "A feisty one, I like that."
Ruon Jian grabbed hold of Celina's hips and pulled her towards him. Her response was punching him in the face which sent him tumblings towards the ground. Everybody stopped what they were doing and turned to watch. Zuko forgot about the food he was going to bring over and pushed his way through gatherings of people towards Celina.
"In no world are you allowed to touch me, you creep! If you think I would ever go anywhere alone with you, you are seriously mistaken. And I don't care if you think I'm with a loser. That 'loser' has been more respectful and kind and chivalrous to me than you ever could," she said in controlled anger. Spotting that Zuko had returned Celina walked over to him and grabbed his hand. "Come on, let's get out of here."
Everyone watched as Celina pulled Zuko out of the house, though he was happy to go with her. The party wasn't that great in the real world or the dream world anyway.
After leaving Chan's party, Zuko and Celina took a walk down the beach, Celina choosing to walk in the water. They walked in silence as Celina calmed down, all the while still holding hands. Once Celina had calmed down she stopped walking, causing Zuko to stop as well. Their hands finally falling apart. For a while they stopped and stared at the moon hanging over the waves, causing the water to sparkle in its light.
"I'm sorry for storming out of the party like that," she apologized.
"You had every right to," he validated. "Besides, it's not like I was any better during the real thing. I got kicked out."
"How'd that happen?" she asked curious.
"I pushed that Ruon Jian guy into a vase. It shattered. I was kicked out. We ended up going back later on and trashing the place," he explained.
"Honestly, that doesn't surprise me. You did an excellent job tonight. Your control over this place has improved quite nicely," she complimented.
"Thanks," Zuko replied.
"I also had a really nice time," she told him.
Part of Zuko's heart soared hearing that. He looked upon the beautiful girl in front of him, the moonlight in her hair. He really did have a nice time with her. Spending time just relaxing, getting to know each other some more. What he'd give to return to their bubble under the water. All the things he'd been worried about bringing up had gone way better than he expected. But that was Celina. She was always surprising him and he desperately wanted her to continue doing so.
"Maybe we can go on another adventure tomorr-"
She was cut off as Zuko leaned in and kissed her. She stood there in shock as the spark was reignited. Her nerves were sent on fire as the spark headed towards her core. The flames managed to just about lick it when Zuko pulled away, afraid that she hadn't moved. Blush coated his face as Celina stared at him.
He went on, apologizing profusely but Celina didn't hear him. She was too focused on the receding rise of passion that he triggered. Her head was screaming that it was a bad idea. He was the enemy. They were fighting on opposite sides in the war. But her heart and her spirit didn't want to listen. They wanted to chase that spark of passion. They wanted more.
"Screw it," she muttered.
Not caring about the consequences Celina grabbed hold of Zuko's face and crashed her lips to his. Zuko was shocked at first but quickly fell into the kiss. His arms snaked around her waist, pulling her close to him. It was a kiss that both of them had been waiting for since the Crystal Catacombs but were too afraid to act on. Now that it was happening neither wanted it to end. The flames licking Celina's core from before reappeared. And being so close to Zuko the flames began to heat the rest of her being.
Celina's hand's moved from Zuko's face to his neck to his hair as she deepened the kiss further. Zuko was more than willing, taking the chance to playfully nip the bottom of her lip. Celina let out a soft moan, encouraging the firebender. His tongue snuck inside, dancing along with hers. Celina tangled her fingers into his locks, pulling herself as close to him as possible. Zuko couldn't help but give her hips a nice squeeze.
"Zuko," Celina moaned, pulling away for air.
Their eyes locked. The sun staring at the moon. It had been so long since she had called him by his name. How he wanted to hear her speak his name for so long. His hands rubbed her hips, massaging the soft skin that was hidden underneath.
"Celina," he whispered.
One of Celina's hand's untangled itself from his hair and slide down to Zuko's scar. She held it in her hands before leaning up and placing gentle kisses along it. Zuko's eyes closed. His breath catching in his throat as she showed such care and love to the thing he was most insecure about. As her lips left his skin Zuko dipped down and captured them against in a deep kiss before his mouth started moving elsewhere. He followed an invisible path down her jaw and towards her neck. A gasp escaped her mouth as he kissed and nipped and sucked her skin. Quickly detangling themselves from his hair Celina moved her hands to his arms, then to his waist, sneaking their way underneath his robes. As Celina felt up the toned muscles of his abs Zuko grabbed hold of her butt, causing Celina to squeak.
She pulled away from him, both their breathing heavy. The flames that were licking her inner core had started teasing her. Ever so slightly going to wrap around her core before darting back. There was only so much teasing she was willing to take but so much farther she was anxious to go. Quickly undoing the belt keeping his robes together she slid Zuko's top off his shoulders. He happily let it fall to the ground as he watched her. Her hands and eyes running hungrily over his torso before she attacked his neck as he did to her. Zuko happily surrendered to her attack, and while her hands roamed over him his hands roamed over her. His hands massages and squeezed whatever they could, carving her soft skin. Once they reached her breasts Celina's moans vibrated Zuko's skin.
Her mouth shot back up to his and without breaking contact undid the clasp of her top. Pushing the fabric away along with her skirt, the clothing fell onto the sand, leaving her topless and in her underwear. Zuko's already hardening member became fully erect as he felt Celina's bare skin against his own. His mouth watered gazing upon her bare breasts. Wanting to taste them he leaned down, placing kissing upon the soft flesh before taking a perked nipple into his mouth. Celina's head rolled back as he went to work, her hands going into his hair to hold him against her.
"Zuko," she moaned as his teeth gave her a tug.
Oh, how he loved hearing her moan his name. Encouraged, he worked her harder, wanting to hear her moan his name again. While his name didn't cross her lips just yet more moans came, along with her grinding her hips into his. This earned her a moan from Zuko who went to grind into her, desiring the friction. Celina pulled him back up to her lips as the two grinded into each other.
As the friction built up Celina got annoyed by the amount of clothing both were still wearing. Taking charge she pushed Zuko off her and onto a bed. At some point, Celina's will had taken over and changed the environment to her bedroom in the Spirit World. Not that either of them cared to notice. Celina smirked as she put on a show removing the underwear, teasing Zuko as she stripped down completely. Zuko stared in awe at the beautiful, sexy woman in front of him. The slickness between her thighs showing just how ready she was.
Slinking her way over to him Celina got down on her knees. Her hands rubbed up his thighs towards Zuko's waistband. She eased them down his thighs, his member bouncing lightly once it was released, and tossed his clothes to the side. Zuko sighed in pleasure as Celina pumped him a few times before releasing a hiss as she licked his length up and down. Celina smiled, seeing the reaction she got out of him.
Tired of waiting any longer Celina got up and straddled Zuko, hovering her entrance just above him. She looked into his eyes, making sure he wanted to do this. He nodded, placing his hands securely on her hips. Getting the go ahead Celina leaned in and kissed him softly as she lowered himself onto him. The flames of pleasure that had been dancing around Celina's core circled it, cradling her core in the pleasure. Both let out a low moan. Celina started her rhythm slow before picking up her pace, matching with their moans and sighs. She kept her hands on Zuko's shoulders, giving her something stable to hold onto as she bounced. Zuko's hand meanwhile wandered all over her body, squeezing her curves before settling his hand down onto her small bundle of nerves, massaging it. She moaned, his name coming out in a shaky breath. Her head fell onto his shoulder as she took all of him in her and rocked. As the friction built them up, sending them closer to their climaxes, the fire no longer just wanted to cradle Celina's core. It poked and prodded, wanting to overtake it.
Feeling his high coming Zuko grabbed hold of Celina and flipped her onto the bed, topping her. Her moans come out as whines as each thrust became harder and faster, quickening their approach to the edge. A few more thrusts later and the flames broke through, consuming Celina's core in a blaze of pleasure. Celina screamed out Zuko's name, eyes shut tight in pleasure, as both of them reached their climax. She panted, riding out the waves of pleasure along with a pulsing energy that accompanied it. Zuko rode his out with several more thrusts before collapsing on top of her. The two stayed connected, not wanting to separate just yet. Celina's arms wrapped around Zuko as he buried his face into his hair, muttering her name lovingly. A moment of calm.
And then reality came crashing back down.
The two of them woke at a start in their separate beds, sitting up as if they had woken from a nightmare. Realization of what they had did in their dream connection hitting them hard. Zuko couldn't help but look around his room, praying that nobody saw that of which happened in a world only he and Celina has access to, before falling back onto his pillow and staring up at the ceiling of the beach house. Celina, however, leaned forward, her head in her hands. Both of them were dealing with swirling emotions about the whole thing. But for Celina, there was something else. There was the pulsing sensation that went through her body. A sensation she had read about but once before in the sunken library.
Chapter 6: The Avatar and The Fire Lord
It was clear to the Gaang that something was going on with Celina. For a few days she had just been constantly in her head. Sokka, Katara, and Aang would exchange passing glances, remembering back to the last time she was like this. Back after the siege at the North Pole, after she killed Zhao and discovered that she was a spirit. But unlike last time she couldn't find ways to avoid her friends. Secretly traveling through the Fire Nation wouldn't allow it. Celina couldn't stop the conflicting emotions she was feeling off her face, and it only made the Gaang worry even more. Whatever it was she was dealing with seemed much bigger than past secrets.
How right they were.
Celina desperately wanted to talk to her parents but with the group traveling through different towns recently she didn't have the time. She tried to quell her racing mind by carving. Taking inspiration from the white lotus tile Master Piandao gave Sokka, she finished off her brother's wooden coin by carving the flower onto the other side and accenting the image with white that she made out of leftover bones from meals. Sokka was impressed with his sister's work when she presented it to him, though wasn't surprised having received other carved gifts from her in the past. He thanked her with a sweet smile and began to praise her abilities but became worried once again when she shrugged it off and immediately went back to carving.
If she wasn't doing something with her hands that required concentration then her mind would go back to freaking out about Zuko. Slipping another wooden coin out of her bag Celina carved out the white lotus before flipping it over. She stopped to look around at her friends, seeing which one inspired creativity at the moment. Her gaze landed on Aang who was currently helping Katara. Deciding to dedicate the coin to the airbender, Celina got to carving, going for his silhouette before the hair and headband. She was so focused that when Katara tapped her shoulder to alert her sister to dinner Celina jumped. Luckily she had moved onto the sketching stage so the small mess up wouldn't matter.
"Don't want you missing dinner," Katara said offering Celina a bowl of soup.
"Sorry, just been trying to concentrate on carving," Celina apologized, taking the bowl.
"That what been on your mind lately? Carving projects?" Katara tried to prod. The others momentarily stopped eating and looked over at Celina to see how she would respond.
"Sure," she replied before lifting the spoonful of soup to her mouth.
It didn't take Toph to know that she was lying. The four shot each other looks that silently conveyed their disappointment that she still wasn't telling them anything. Celina chose to ignore them, focusing instead on the ingredients that Katara had used in the soup. There was no way she was going to tell them that Zuko was her soulmate, especially how she found out.
Since their night together Celina had gone back to trying to stay away from Zuko. Though that didn't mean Zuko tried to stay away from her. Each night he would try and search for her, but upon seeing Celina tense from his appearance he would reel back, leaving her alone as she clearly wanted. She couldn't help but feel bad each time he would leave to give her some space. He was her soulmate, yet after a night of pure fire she turned cold. There were just too many thoughts swirling around in Celina's mind for her to figure out before she felt comfortable talking with him.
Should she pursue a relationship with Zuko even though they were still technically enemies? How much would it hurt if she didn't take things further, letting her soulmate slip away? And if she did go for the relationship how much should she tell him about her? Could they truly be together if it was only in the dreamscape they shared at night? She prayed her parents would have answers. They were soulmates after all, and her mother was the embodiment of love. Celina just hoped that tomorrow would bring the time for her to finally contact them.
Celina's prayers had slightly been answered. Aang had gotten a message from Roku while he slept, telling him that he needed to understand how the war began. In order to find out, Roku instructed Aang to head to his home island on the day of the summer solstice. It was an easy decision to make as the Gaang got onto Appa. With Aang and Katara using their bending to disguise Appa as a cloud they flew over to an unnervingly desolate island. And for Celina, there was a whole other layer of discomfort thanks to Aang's past lives dislike of her. Sure there wasn't a statue of the previous Avatar there to stare her into the ground but the island was filled with his energy which was more than enough to put her on edge.
"There it is. That's Roku's home," Aang said.
"But there's nothing here," Katara pointed out confused.
"Yes there is," Toph told them sadly, once they all had stepped out of Appa's saddle and onto the island. "An entire village. Hundreds of house. All completely buried in ash."
The five of them fell quiet, giving a moment of silence for the tragedy that happened. Afterward, Aang found a spot and started to meditate, his arrows glowed with spiritual energy. It didn't take long for Roku to appear with Fang, not that anyone outside of Aang and Celina saw. As Aang climbed onto Fang, the dragon shot Celina a wink before flying off with the two Avatars. Celina let out a small sigh of relief. For the moment a bit of Roku's energy left the island to travel with Aang, allowing the young spirit to relax if only a bit. The remaining four stood there, staring at Aang's unmoving body before Celina walked away in search of a spot herself.
"What are you doing?" Sokka asked.
"I've been needing to talk to my parents for a while. This seems like the best time to do it," Celina explained.
"But what about Aang?" Katara asked.
"I'm sure it doesn't take all four of us to watch over him," Celina brushed off, sitting down on a relatively flat rock. "If anything important happens just shake me back into reality."
Taking a deep breath Celina began to meditate, desperate to get to the Spirit World. Toph and her siblings watched as her body sat unmoving just like Aang's. They hoped that whatever Celina wasn't telling them a conversation with her parents would help calm her mind and help her to open up with the rest of the Gaang. They were a team after all. If only they walked around her to see the glowing symbols between her shoulder blades. Perhaps then they would have gotten a hint to at least one of the secrets she was keeping.
Upon entering her parent's temple in the Spirit World Celina couldn't help but relax a bit. It felt nice to be back home. Still, she couldn't dawdle. She hurried through her mother's garden, into the temple, giving brief hellos to spirits who greeted her. Crossing the entrance to her parents' room she was quickly welcomed by her mother who left her spot by Bishamon's bed to grip her daughter in a hug.
"Celina, it's been so long," Ai greeted.
"Too long," Celina agreed, giving her mom a nice squeeze in return.
Having been released from her mother's grasp she turned to her father. Celina wished she saw even the slightest bit of improvement with her father's health but that wasn't the case. With each visit she noticed how his state worsened. Though no matter what he still had a smile on his face.
"Hi, Daddy," she greeted, sitting down on her father's sickbed.
"Hello, turtle duck. It's good to see you," he replied. Gently taking her hand Bishamon could see questions swimming behind his daughter's eyes. "You look troubled, my dear."
"So much has happened and I don't know what to do," she admitted.
"Well perhaps you can start by telling us what happened," Ai suggested, taking her seat.
"I found my soulmate," Celina just came out and said.
"Oh Celina that's wonderful," Ai smiled.
"It's Zuko," she told them.
Her parents fell silent as they thought over the information, thinking back to all that Celina had told them about him. Their initial conversation months ago about how Celina was nervous to start a relationship with the son of the Fire Lord but how they encouraged it. What Celina told them after the catacombs. How they kissed and then Zuko betrayed them. Then Celina explaining how instead of being able to visit the Spirit World at night she instead is trapped in a world with Zuko.
"I can see how you have questions," Bishamon finally commented.
"How is it even possible. I'm a spirit and he's a human?" Celina asked first.
"It's uncommon but not unheard of. Though it's mainly discovered after a human dies and comes back as a spirit. It's been a long time since a human and spirit has discovered their connection while the human was still alive," Ai explained. "What confuses me however is how you discovered this. The two of you kissed previously. So what happened to make you realize he was your soulmate."
Celina's cheeks flushed crimson. "I… slept with him."
Ai tried to hide the excitement on her face while Bishamon tried to move away from the subject. Celina was her own woman who was free to make her own choices, including those she decided to sleep with. But just because he was married to the Spirit of Love and his daughter was the Spirit of Passion didn't mean he wanted to dwell on who his little girl had sex with.
"You two being soulmates would explain the dream connection you share. It's an ability spirits have when separated from their soulmate for the night. It's just not used often," Bishamon moved on.
"Which would explain why we originally thought it was a curse," Ai added.
"Would he being my soulmate explain me gaining new abilities?" Celina followed up.
"What kind of abilities?" Bishamon asked.
"I can firebend now," Celina answered.
Her parents paused yet again as they searched their memories for information. Having been some of the oldest spirits in the Spirit World they did contain the knowledge. They just needed to search for this particular information in their memory more than other frequently occurring things.
"It's rare and goes back to the human and spirit soulmate connection. If the two meet while the human is still alive then the spirit does gain the bending ability that their human counterpart has if they themselves are a bender," Bishamon remembered.
"But considering all the power us spirits have the gaining of the partner's bending abilities is inconsequential," Ai added.
"Well considering I typically pass out after using my spirit abilities it might actually do something for me. If we could find a master for Aang and me. But that doesn't matter! Zuko is my soulmate and I have no idea what to do. We're still on opposite sides of a war. Do I not say anything and deal with heartache until he dies and then deal with arguments about how I lied to him in the afterlife? Do I go for it and risk him dying or betraying me again? And if I do go for it then when should I tell him about me? About the team and what we have planned?" Celina questioned.
Sensing the beginnings of a freakout Ai pulled her daughter into a hug to calm her down. "Celina, it's alright. Breathe," she instructed. Accepting the hug Celina followed her mother's advice, tightening her grip.
"I just don't know what to do," Celina whined into her mom's shoulder.
"Unfortunately matters of the heart can be messy. No one can properly predict what a relationship with be. Not even me," Ai broke it to her. "The only ones who have true control over a relationship are the two people in it."
"What you decide is all up to you," Bishamon said.
"What we can give you, however, is some advice," Ai said. "When making your decision let it be a choice of the heart…"
"And the mind," Bishamon finished.
Celina didn't entirely like how her parents didn't have the answers to what was plaguing her the most, but she understood why. Thanking her parents for the answers they had given her Celina headed off towards her mother's garden. She needed to think and the garden's deep neverending magic was the best place she could think of doing so. For the most part on her journey, her parents' followers would simply steal glances before going back to what they were doing. Once she reached a certain part of the garden however Celina stumbled upon someone she hadn't seen in a while, sitting in a familiar chair.
The small smile Celina gave him was returned with a larger one from him. "Celina, it's been a while," he greeted back, getting up from his spot on the bench. He walked towards her and she happily accepted a hug. Even after ending their romantic stint Celina didn't feel awkward around her former flame. The relationship just turned more into a manner of welcoming friendship. Something Celina was thankful for. "What brings you into the garden?"
"I needed to do some thinking on something… complicated," she answered.
"Ah, a matter of love then," he guessed.
"How could you tell?" Celina laughed uncomfortably, still surprised by how much he could read her.
"I've been a follower of your mother for years. Matters of the heart get easier to spot as those years have gone by," Bitten explained.
"And what of you? What brings you here?" Celina asked, not wanting to talk about her love life with him just yet.
"Just taking some time away from the others. The garden is a truly perfect place to get lost in yourself. Self-love is just as important as other love," Bitten happily answered. He would have kept talking but Bitten noticed Celina looking back and forth at him and towards a path leading deeper into the garden. "But I should let you go."
"Thanks, Bitten. I promise we'll catch up later," Celina said before running off down the path.
It didn't take long before she reached the point in the garden where the paths became unrecognizable. But Celina didn't worry, she just continued on walking knowing she was always safe in the garden. It took a while before she came upon an opening, not even the one she had stumbled upon her previous journey into the garden's depth. The opening she did come upon was different, this one containing a pond.
She smiled softly before walking into the pond, submerging herself in her element. Sinking to the bottom of the pond Celina felt a moment of calm before diving into her thoughts. Her parents told her to choose with her heart and her mind. So Celina looked into herself about what both of them were telling her.
Her mind was saying to just leave the whole soulmates thing alone. To stay away from Zuko entirely. The end of the one hundred year war was coming. The knowledge of the comet arriving at the end of the summer made her certain of that. And Zuko was still on the side of his malicious father and crazed sister. No good would come from falling in love with an enemy, especially since it would most likely lead to death or imprisonment when the war finally ended. For which of them it happened to would be decided by the victor.
But in setting Zuko aside how would her heart handle it?
Her heart, however, was telling her to go to him. To go and kiss him and touch him and love him. He was her soulmate. The one person the universe designed for her. She couldn't help but think of the night they shared. How they got along so well, simply talking on the beach that clearly turned into a date though she was certain neither of them wanted to name it so. Then there were the kisses. How her body yearned for him. How his touches set her passion on fire.
But in accepting Zuko would she be betraying her friends?
Celina let out a sigh. The decision was a mixture of the two things calling out to her, begging her to listen. Tonight she would finally talk to Zuko. It was time to give him some answers that he was surely looking for. And perhaps he could supply her with some as well.
Just as Celina was planning on what to do she felt herself being pulled out of the Spirit World.
It was jarring going from the calmness of underwater in the Spirit World to the unsettling energy of Roku's ash-covered island. Sokka couldn't help but apologize seeing how tense Celina became after shaking her back to reality. She needed a moment to compose herself before looking to see what was going on.
The summer solstice had passed. It appeared that both her and Aang were in the Spirit World for the entire day and night as the sun had just risen. Celina shook her head, time differences between the Spirit World, the human world, and even the dream connection was consistently inconsistent. Celina was curious how she managed to stay in the Spirit World all night instead of being taken to the dream connection. Was Zuko not there to pull her back? Or could she avoid the whole experience by visiting the Spirit World before falling asleep? She would have to try the latter out in case things went wrong.
At least it appeared that her siblings and Toph got some sleep in between. Celina figured they must have taken turns keeping watch over Aang, who was now back from his own spirit journey. Getting up Celina stretched.
"Did you get to talk to your parents?" Toph asked.
"Yeah. They didn't have all the answers, but they gave me some advice so that I can hopefully figure things out myself," Celina answered.
"And what have you figured out?" Sokka questioned, hoping that she would finally tell them what had been bothering her for days.
But Celina waved him aside. There was no way she was telling them what she was planning. "Still working on it. Besides, I'm more interested in what Roku had to say."
The others were momentarily disappointed but focused back on Aang.
"So, what did Roku tell you?" Katara asked extremely curious.
"He showed me his history with Fire Lord Sozin," Aang started. "They grew up together, shared a birthday. He was Roku's best friend. The hairpiece Roku wore was a gift from Sozin before he left for his Avatar training. It was meant to be worn by the Crown Prince. Even being gone for so many years, Roku coming back as a full-fledged Avatar and Sozin having been crowned the Fire Lord, they were still best friends. Sozin was even Roku's best man at his wedding."
"If only Sozin didn't become a jerk," Sokka muttered.
"But then Sozin started invading the Earth Kingdom. Roku confronted him about it and spared Sozin in the name of their past friendship. Though Roku warned him not to step out of line again. They didn't speak or see each other for 25 years after that. But then the two volcanoes of this island exploded. Roku stayed behind to give the villagers time to escape the island. He had the first volcano under control but then the second volcano went off. Sozin came to help and with the two of them, the villagers were able to escape. But Roku got exposed to toxic smoke and Sozin left him to die. Without Roku he went onto start the war," Aang finished.
"You mean after all Roku and Sozin went through together… even after Roku showed him mercy, Sozin betrayed him like that?" Katara asked in disbelief.
"It's like these people are born bad," Toph commented.
"No, that's wrong. I don't think that was the point of what Roku showed me at all," Aang said.
"Then what was the point?" Sokka questioned.
"Roku was just as much Fire Nation as Sozin was, right? If anything, their story proves anyone's capable of great good and great evil. Everyone, even the Fire Lord and the Fire Nation have to be treated like they're worth giving a chance. And I also think it was about friendships," Aang explained.
"Do you really think friendships can last more than one lifetime?' Toph asked.
"I don't see why not," Aang replied, taking her hand.
Seeing a moment happening Katara and Celina joined in on the hand-holding. The only one who had paused was Sokka.
"Well, scientifically speaking, there's no way to prove that -" Sokka went on.
"Oh, Sokka, just hold hands," Celina interrupted, grabbing hold of her brother's hand and adding him to the connection. Together the five of them stood there looking out over the ocean, taking in the moment.
The rest of the day was relatively calm. The group left the island, something Celina was thankful for, and headed back to one of the main islands so that they could be close to villages for food. The Gaang noticed how much more relaxed Celina appeared. She had presented Aang with the coin she carved for him before dinner and gave him an amused smile when he freaked out over the gift. And she didn't go right back to carving afterward, Celina stuck around to help Katara with dinner. There were moments when they noticed Celina in her head, thinking on things she still won't tell them. But seeing her less concerned than before put them more at ease.
When she returned to the dream connection later that night Celina felt the nerves she fought off during the day finally hit. She decided what she was going to do regarding the soulmate situation. Celina hoped she was making the right decision.
As she was the first to arrive Celina transformed the place into a simple version of her mother's garden. Taking a seat on her favorite bench she waited. It didn't take long for Zuko to arrive. Celina stood up from the bench when he appeared in the opening she created. She looked hesitant but didn't feel herself tensing. Zuko looked at her for a moment before walking off deeper into the garden. All Celina did was watch him walk off before falling back onto the bench.
In that brief moment, Celina saw the conflicting emotions on Zuko's face that she was sure had been on hers for days. It appeared that their conversation would have to wait for a while longer. He had been patient with her so she would be patient with him.
Chapter 7: The Runaway
Zuko laid in bed, staring up at his ceiling. He had woken up a while ago but was too lost in thought to move just yet. His head was too muddled thanks to recent events. How the first thing his uncle said after being tossed in jail was how his great grandfather was Avatar Roku. How he had the capabilities inside him to correct the sins of his ancestors and help restore balance. And if that wasn't enough to complicate his heavy doubts then there was Celina.
Their night together was incredible. Not only did they share their bodies but it felt like they shared their souls. Never in a million years did Zuko believe that would happen. It was amazing. But he also knew that it would change everything with him and Celina.
When he had woken up after their night he tasked himself with breaking up with Mai, not wanting to unfairly string her along. He had already done enough damage by sleeping with Celina while being with her. Even if it did happen in their dream connection. It didn't take long as they got into another fight on the boat ride back. He couldn't remember how it started, just that Mai was exhausted by his hurricane of changing emotions to which Zuko shot back that it wasn't like Mai cared about what he as feeling anyway, that she always berated him whenever he tried to come to her about things that weren't ordering servants around. It wasn't exactly how he wanted to break things off but it happened.
From then on it turned into a waiting game. Waiting for night, waiting for Celina to be ready to talk, and in between trying to avoid Mai, who clearly wanted to get back together. Azula stepped in to question why he didn't just get back together with her. He simply waved his sister off, saying that it was clear from all the fighting they did they weren't right for each other. That it was better for everyone if they were just friends.
But since learning about his ancestors it was now Zuko who needed a night to think instead of Celina. Something that carried back into the day. Now in between dreaming he spent time thinking and pretending that things were fine with him. Something that was hard thanks to Azula who was constantly trying to figure out what was going on with him.
Letting out a groan Zuko got out of bed and headed to get breakfast, having spent enough time in his room. Hopefully Azula would just make fun of him for sleeping in instead of asking questions. But that was unlikely. He'd just have to get through breakfast before heading off to do some training. At least nobody questioned him when he was doing that and it gave him more time to think. After all, there were plenty of things to go through in his mind.
He planned on finally talking with Celina that night.
Celina sat on the sidelines and watched as Katara and Toph teamed up together to train Aang. They had found a secluded spot not too far away from a village that would allow them to freely bend without anyone seeing them. And with the eclipse coming up they all needed some practice. Aang stood in the middle of his friends, tying his headband around his eyes as a blindfold for the exercise.
"Ok, I'm ready for some training!" he announced.
Toph was the first to attack, bending several columns of rock Aang's way which he dodged with ease. Katara followed up with a water whip that he evaded as well, taking control of the water to recoil back into her while simultaneously hurling a small boulder at Toph. As Katara blocked the attack, Toph caught the boulder on the end of her fist.
"Good job, Twinkle-Toes. Visualize - then attack!" she instructed. Toph hurled the boulder back towards Aang who corkscrewed himself into the ground to avoid it. Unfortunately Aang's dodge caused Katara to get hit.
"Maybe you should take your own advice, Toph," Katara snapped.
"What's the matter? Can't handle some dirt, Madame Fussy Britches?" Toph mocked.
"Knock it off you two," Celina warned.
Katara didn't bother listening to her sister. Instead, she bended up a wave and drenched Toph. "Oh, sorry, did I splash you, Mud Slug?" Katara asked sarcastically.
Instead of teaming up against Aang for his training, Katara and Toph began to go against each other. Coming at each other on ramps of rock and ice the two collided and fell to the ground, shouting in rage.
With his teachers no longer paying attention to the lesson Aang stood to the side confused. Sokka took this time to try a sneak attack that really wasn't a sneak attack since he shouted what he was doing. Aang bended a column of rock which Sokka ran into.
Meanwhile, Katara and Toph had moved onto wrestling each other in a pool of mud caused by the combining of their two elements. Toph kicked mud into Katara's face which prompted the waterbender to mudbend Toph to the ground. Toph retaliated by earthbending Katara up into the air. Seeing that both weren't about to quit Celina stepped in, her eyes aglow with spiritual energy as she took control of the mud from both Toph and Katara. Both girls were shocked and turned towards Celina.
"Training's over," she told them, her voice reverberating with power.
Seeing that the girls weren't going to argue with her Celina returned the mud to the ground. As her eyes returned to normal she fell to her knees, a hand going to her pounding head. The team rushed towards her.
"I'm fine," she grunted, gathering herself.
She hadn't used her spirit abilities in weeks and previously it always involved healing.
"Should you really be casually using your spirit abilities," Sokka asked concerned.
"This is the best time to use them. Just like Aang needs to train so do I. I'm tired of passing out after using them every time that's not healing. It's better for me to start building up a resistance now where it's safe to do so," Celina argued.
"Perhaps we should get you to the water to help regain your energy. Besides, I need to clean up as well," Katara suggested, helping her sister to her feet.
"While they do that, let's go have some fun!" Toph said, bending the mud off herself.
Aang accepted instantly while Sokka paused for a moment and looked back at his sister. Celina waved him off towards them, making him feel better leaving her. Seeing them off Katara helped Celina over to the water. She got her sister situated on the edge of the water before focusing on getting herself cleaned up. Celina closed her eyes as she put her legs in the water, giving Katara some privacy while also allowing herself to relax.
As Katara slipped out of her muddied clothes she watched water creep up her sister's legs. It continued up Celina's body up to her temples before the water lit up in a healing glow. With a comfortable sigh the water returned to normal and slowly made its way back down her body.
"Feeling better?" Katara asked.
Celina nodded. "The pounding in my head is gone though my body still feels tired."
"Maybe some more time in the water will help," Katara suggested, slipping into the water herself. Celina nodded in response before leaning back on her arms, still keeping her eyes closed. "You didn't need to step in back there."
"You and Toph can be so stubborn when fighting that I doubt either of you would give up until one of you 'won'," Celina laughed dryly. "Why did you snap at her anyway? It's not like Toph was purposefully bending the rock at you."
"I don't know, she just gets on my nerves sometimes," Katara sighed, bending water through her hair to get the mud out.
Had her eyes been open Celina would have rolled them. But she left the rest of the conversation alone. She didn't need her eyes open to tell that Katara didn't want to talk about it anymore. So Celina just sat there in silence, enjoying the feeling of water on her legs as Katara finished cleaning up. As Katara got out to get dressed Celina took the moment to slip completely into the water for another small soothing session. When both were finished with their moments of self care the girls headed back to the campsite.
Katara went to work removing mud from items that somehow got hit while Celina started work on another coin. She decided to work on a coin for Toph but instead of pulling out another wooden coin Celina went on a search for a small carvable rock. Seeing as with the completion of each coin Celina gifted it to the person she thought it would be better to use a material that Toph would be able to "see" better per se.
It took her a bit but Celina eventually found the right sized rock and went to work. Carving rock took a bit longer than wood but Celina didn't mind, it was nice to work with different materials. She had just finished up Toph's silhouette when Toph herself returned with Aang and Sokka carrying a ton of provisions.
"Where did you guys get the money to buy all that?" Celina questioned.
"Toph got us money. She scammed one of those guys in town who moves the shells around all sneaky-like," Aang answered.
"She used earthbending to win the game. Classic!" Sokka jumped in to explain.
"Ah, so she cheated," Katara commented.
"Hey, I only cheated because he was cheating. I cheated a cheater. What's wrong with that?" Toph challenged.
"I'm just saying, this isn't something we should make a habit of doing," Katara replied.
"Why? Because its fun, and you hate fun?" Toph snarked.
"I don't hate fun," Katara said. Trying to prove her point she grabbed Momo and draped him on top of her head. "See? Fun."
It wasn't that convincing of an action. "Look, I'm fine with a few minor hustles here and there, especially when you're getting the money off a cheat. But Katara does have a point. We don't want to be drawing attention to ourselves," Celina stepped in, removing Momo off her sister's head.
"I'll personally make you an Avatar promise that we won't make a habit of doing these scams," Aang promised, bowing to the waterbenders.
Taking Aang's word Katara sighed in acceptance. She took some of the provisions from the three and began to work on dinner with Celina's help.
The dream connection was set up as Ai's garden once again. Celina was sat upon the bench, absentmindedly playing with the hem of her dress. Her hands would have preferred to be carving like Celina would do in the real world but she saw no point to do so here when the dream connection would get rid of it the next night. Luckily she didn't have to do much waiting as Zuko made his appearance a few minutes after Celina arrived. She stood and for a moment they just stared at each other, trying to read whether the other would walk away.
"Uh, hi," Zuko spoke, standing his ground.
"Hi," Celina echoed. "I was thinking that -"
"Maybe we should -"
They fell silent, slipping back into the awkwardness that'd been building for days. Celina let out a soft chuckle at the atmosphere, allowing Zuko to let out a breath of relief. It was a small break in their elevating tension, but it was the break that they needed.
"It's about time we talk," Celina said.
"Walk with me?" he asked. She nodded in agreement and fell into step with Zuko, heading further into the replicated garden. Zuko opened and closed his mouth over and over again, trying to find the right words. "I've been wanting to talk to you for days but I don't know where to start."
"Well, perhaps we should start with the simplest question. Do you want a relationship with me? A romantic one?" Celina asked.
"For such a simple question it certainly isn't simple outside of it," Zuko said, causing Celina to take a deep breath in anticipation. "Yes. I want to be with you."
She couldn't help but feel her spiritual core flutter. Celina unconsciously boosted the garden's flora. A trail of blossoming flowers appeared behind them amongst the hedges. Not that either of them turned around to notice.
"I want that too," she told him.
"I never thought this would happen outside of a dream," Zuko smiled in disbelief.
"You dreamed about me often?" Celina teased causing him to blush in embarrassment.
"More than I'd like to admit," he replied.
"Well, while this isn't a dream unfortunately this place isn't exactly reality. Which brings us to the more complex issues of us being together," she said, getting back onto topic.
"If only the spirits weren't against us," he sighed.
"I think the spirits are fine with us," she said knowingly. "It's more so our respective sides that would take issue. I don't believe my siblings would be thrilled to find out that I'm in a relationship with the prince of the Fire Nation."
"And I think the only thing my sister would be happy about would be the opportunity to torture information out of you. That or kill you," Zuko admitted.
"That sounds about right," Celina agreed.
"But they don't have to know about us, do they?" he asked.
"For now, no," she answered.
"But eventually?" Zuko picked up on.
"Eventually the truth will come out. Questions will be answered, family will be dealt with, and then we won't have to keep secrets from each other," she confirmed.
There was something in the last part of her sentence that made Zuko believe she was speaking about more than just the secrets about the war. But he didn't push. As she said, the truth will come out eventually, he just needed to give her time.
During their walk, the two weren't paying attention to where they were going, lost in conversation. So Celina paused when she noticed an exit in the garden's never ending labyrinth. Zuko stopped as well and looked at Celina confused. She shook off her confusion and took hold of Zuko's hand. Together they headed towards the exit, stepping out onto a cliffside overlooking the sea. Yellows, oranges, and reds reflected on the water's surface. The two stood there, enjoying the salty breeze and the setting sun.
"This is probably a bad idea," Zuko said though he had no intention of ending it.
"Well... it's a pretty good bad idea," Celina replied as the two of them shared a look. "Me and you."
Celina had been humming since she woke up, her mood brightened by the night's events. The humming had a calming effect on the camp. Katara got the first effects as the two of them prepared breakfast. It spread to the others after they ate as Celina resumed work on Toph's coin. So for a while the camp was at peace. Celina had finished Toph's coin and was going to move onto one for Katara when Sokka, Toph, and Aang returned from the town, arms full of treasures they scammed off people. Celina and Katara looked at them concerned with how much they'd been doing.
"Guys, I think these scams have gone far enough. If you keep doing them, something bad is gonna happen," Katara told the flim flammers.
"Could you for once stop being such a sourpuss and just lighten up?" Toph replied.
"Oh, I'm sorry. You think I should be more like you? Like some wild child?" Katara challenged.
"Yeah, maybe. Maybe then, you'd see how great we have it. I mean, look at us. We're traveling around the world, making easy money, having fun, with no parents to tell us what to do," Toph said.
"Ah, I see. You're acting like this because of your parents," Katara observed.
"Katara," Celina warned.
"Whatever," Toph said dismissively.
"They were controlling over you, so you ran away, and now you act like your parents don't exist. You act like you hate them, but you don't You just feel guilty," Katara analyzed.
"I do hate them!" Toph exclaimed.
"I don't think so. I think you miss them. But you just don't want to deal with that, so instead, you act like this crazy person," Katara continued.
"Enough!" Celina stepped in. She turned to her sister, glaring. "You do not get to tell someone how they feel about their parents."
Sokka and Aang stood there uneasy. Celina had told Aang about her feelings regarding Hakoda back during winter. And while Sokka tended to be oblivious at times he was able to pick up on the tension that Celina felt for their father during their time traveling on the stolen Fire Nation ship.
"It doesn't matter. These scams put us all at risk, and we don't need that. We've already got some third-eyed freak after us," Katara said, ignoring her sister's glared and returned to the topic.
"Speaking of that third-eyed freak I think I've come up with a name for him. What you think of, Sparky-Sparky Boom Man!" Sokka said, trying to release a bit of the tension. The Gaang looked unimpressed though Celina gave him a bit of an approving nod, liking the name. "Just think about it."
"We have enough money. You need to stop this!" Katara demanded.
"I'll stop when I want to stop, and not when you tell me!" Toph shouted back before storming off, creating a tent out of earth to be let alone.
"Speak of money, I'm off to spend some. See you guys later," Sokka said before heading back into town.
Sokka leaving broke up the fight in that it allowed Toph a way out. She stormed away, off to let out some aggression through bending practice. Celina followed suit though headed in a different direction than the earthbender. It had been a while since she practiced her waterbending. Hopefully that would relieve her of some frustration.
Celina returned to where Katara took her to regain her strength. It was secluded enough and after the argument she knew it was unlikely anyone would bother her. She began as she always had, simply pushing and pulling the water. Such a simple exercise and luckily she was able to get lost in the motions. A constant motion of push and pull that lasted about five minutes but for Celina held no time.
Having felt the muscles in her back relax Celina moved onto more advanced waterbending moves. Water snapped in whips all around her. Some grabbing hold of pebbles and throwing them at the rocky, cliff wall behind her. From there, spikes of ice rose up from the water. They'd shrink into the water before coming back up in different formations. Ice returned to water. A small pool of water swirled into a whirlpool. Fallen bits of foliage were caught and dragged to the bottom.
Having gotten her frustration out in a productive way along with getting some waterbending practice in Celina headed back to the main part of camp. As she returned she saw Sokka standing with Toph, a messenger hawk perched on his arm. Wanting to find out more she headed over along with Katara and Aang who were curious as well.
"Sokka, tell me you didn't buy a bird," Katara said.
"Not just a bird. A messenger bird! Now we can send messages all over the world, even to Gran-Gran," he smiled.
"Wow, how does it work?" Aang asked intrigued.
"Hm, uh, I never actually thought about that. Hawky, Gran-Gran, South Pole," Sokka told the bird. Hawky, in turn, shook his head in confusion. "I think he gets it."
The conversation was dismantled as Momo and Hawky got into a fight. Sokka tried to break them up though it didn't get very far. Stepping in to take over Celina's eyes glowed and with a loud whistle got them to stop. The messenger hawk and Momo sat up straight on Sokka's shoulders. She gave them a disapproving glare before gesturing for them to separate. Ashamed of their actions Momo headed off towards Appa while Hawky landed on a branch of a fallen tree. Sighing Celina's eyes returned to normal.
"Thanks," Sokka said, taking stock of all the tiny cuts he received from the fight.
"Come on, I'll get you all healed up and then we can work on lunch," Celina said.
Healing up her brother and helping her sister with lunch Celina started work on Katara's coin. Aang went off to do some earthbending practice, Sokka and Toph headed off somewhere making sure to take Hawky with them, and Katara hung around camp. The camp was peaceful once again. Or it was until Celina looked up to compare the silhouette of the coin to Katara and saw her sister going through Toph's belongings.
"What are you doing?" she accused. "Toph's not gonna like you going through her things."
"I don't care. Sokka and Toph were acting weird before we walked up to them so I'm trying to - Ah! Found it!" Katara said and proceeded to pull out a piece of paper. The look of victory on her face instantly transformed into one of anger as Katara saw what was on the paper. "She's so in trouble."
Curiosity getting the better of her Celina got up to see what Katara had found. What she discovered was that the paper was, in fact, a wanted poster for The Runaway with Toph's portrait printed on it.
"This isn't good," Celina said.
"The scams are ending. As soon as they get back I'm telling her off and then we're packing up and leaving," Katara said, angrily folding up the wanted poster and shoving it into her pocket.
"Hopefully, the posters haven't spread to other villages," Celina said to herself.
The atmosphere around camp tensed up yet again as the two girls waited for Sokka and Toph to return. Aang joined them after finishing up his solo training practice. Having noticed the tension he went to ask Katara about it but all he got was a disappointed glare that confused him. It didn't take long after that when Sokka and Toph finally returned, the two of them carrying armfuls of money they swindled off more villagers.
"Well, look who decided to join us. Where have you two been? Off scamming again?" Katara asked.
"Yes, we were," Toph straight up answered.
"And I suppose you don't think what you're doing is dangerous at all?" Katara continued.
"No, I don't," Toph replied.
"Well then, what's this?" Katara asked, producing the wanted poster and practically shoved it in Toph's face.
"I don't know! I mean, seriously, what's with you people? I'm blind!" Toph shouted exasperated.
"It's a wanted poster of you. "The Runaway". Is that what you're called now? Are you proud of this?" Katara explained.
"Where did you get that?!" Toph questioned.
"It doesn't matter where I got it. The fact is…," Katara tried to wave off.
"You went through my stuff! You had no right," Toph accused.
"Your stuff was messy, and I was just straightening up and I happened to stumble across it," Katara tried to lie.
"That's a lie! You're lying, Katara," Toph said.
"Celina, can't you use your spirit voice and break this up before it gets worse?" Sokka whispered to his sister.
"At this point I doubt it will do anything," she whispered back. "They're gonna need to fight or figure this out themselves."
"Fine! It's a lie. But you've been so out of control lately, I knew something was up. I knew you were hiding something, and you were," Katara admitted. Toph, having had enough, knocked the poster out of Katara's hand and began to walk away. "Don't you walk away from me while I'm talking to you!"
"Oh, really, Mom? Or what are you going to do? Send me to my room?" Toph mocked.
"I wish I could," Katara snapped back.
"Well, you can't. Because you're not my mom, and you're not their mom," Toph said, pointing at the others, mainly the boys.
"I never said I was!" Katara exclaimed.
"No, but you certainly act like it. You think it's your job to boss everyone around, but it's not. You're just a regular kid like the rest of us, so stop acting like you can tell me what to do. I can do whatever I want!" Toph shouted.
"I don't act that way. Sokka, do I act motherly?" Katara demanded.
"Hey - I'm staying out of this one," Sokka said, taking a page out of Celina's book.
"What do you think, Aang?" Do I act like a mom?" Katara asked.
Before Aang could even answer Katara began to mom him hard, telling him to stop rubbing his eyes and to speak clearly when talking. Celina and Sokka shook their heads. She really wasn't helping her case.
"I can't be around you right now!" Toph exclaimed.
"Well, I can't be around you!" Katara echoed.
The two girls stormed off in separate directions, leaving the three others looking after them. Hawky squawked plaintively.
"I know, Hawky. Why can't they just get along?" Sokka said.
Celina turned to the bird and gently stroked his feathers with a finger. It had started off as such a peaceful day.
After Katara and Toph's falling out Sokka and Aang teamed up to try and figure out how to get them to apologize to each other. They asked Celina to help them but she just rolled her eyes and passed, wishing them luck. Instead, she did an initial round of calming the animals minus Hawky who was put to work in Sokka and Aang's plan. Just like Hawky felt the unease Appa and Momo picked up on it as well. The two air creatures were very thankful for the cuddles and soft hums they received from Celina.
With the animals settled Celina looked around and saw that only she and Aang were around camp. Katara had gone off to bath while Sokka took Toph off to talk. Celina sat down, taking advantage of the quiet to go back to carving. She started Katara's coin and was determined to finish it before the sun set. Aang hung around near Appa untangling some of his fur before sitting next to Celina to watch her work. The carving of Katara, the Water Tribe symbol, and the lotus on the flip side was complete which had her moving onto the inking portion of the project. Just like Celina got lost in her carving projects Aang just watched in amazement as Celina mixed up small portions of ink and sealant before carefully coloring the carved lines.
When she was finally finished Celina pocketed Katara's coin and went to work cleaning up her inks. She planned to give both Katara and Toph their coins once their fight ended. Aang meanwhile took out his own coin, paying more attention to the details. After watching Celina work he appreciated her gift so much more.
Katara showed up after everything was cleaned up. Seeing her sister's appearance and the setting sun Celina went to work starting the fire. She expected Katara to come over to help start dinner but the youngest Water Tribe sibling just paced around nervously. Celina and Aang shot each other a look, wondering what was going on with Katara. Their question was answered as Sokka and Toph returned from their talk.
"Hi, Toph. Um, I want to…" Katara started.
"Katara, stop. You don't need to apologize. I was the one being stupid. These scams are out of control, and I'm done with them," Toph apologized.
"Actually, I wasn't going to apologize. I was gonna say… I want to pull a scam with you," she told her.
Celina, Sokka, and Aang looked at Katare in astonishment.
"What? You want to pull a scam?" Toph asked in surprise.
"Not just any scam, the ultimate scam! What do you say, Toph? Just me and you, one last go. You in?" Katara said.
"You know I'm in! Now what's this idea of yours?" Toph accepted.
"The plan is simple. This wanted poster says you're worth a lot of money. Ten times more than you've made in all your scams. So I'm gonna turn you in and collect the reward. Then you metalbend yourself out of jail and we're on our way," Katara explained.
"That sounds like a pretty solid plan," Sokka approved after recovering from the shock.
"If you two are really going through with this then we should get camp packed up tomorrow morning. There's no way we can stick around after your prison break," Celina jumped in.
"Yeah, we're on the run as it is," Sokka agreed.
The rest of the group agreed wholeheartedly. So while Katara and Toph discussed their plan more thoroughly Celina got to work on dinner. The tension from the fight had lifted and camp was at peace for the most part.
With the whirlwind that was her day Celina was glad to go to sleep. Appearing in the dream connection she felt her shoulders sag in relief as she spotted Zuko, standing on the cliff where they had left things off.
"Happy to be back?" Zuko observed.
"It's been a long day," she nodded. Walking over to him Celina went and kissed his scarred cheek. "Care to help me relax?"
If his mind wasn't already jumbled from Celina's quick peck it became even more so thanks to her question. His mind went to their night together. Zuko let out an embarrassed cough as he quickly dispelled it from his thoughts.
"Uh, um… what do you have in mind?" Zuko asked.
"Well, we never did get to have that dinner date," she suggested.
"Heading back to the Earth Kingdom then?" Zuko laughed nervously.
Even with them pursuing a relationship and the good memories they had of Ba Sing Se there were also the negative ones of what happened down in the Crystal Catacombs. It was something Zuko didn't want to approach just yet.
"Not necessarily. We already have this gorgeous view. It would be a shame if we didn't take advantage," Celina replied, catching onto his nerves.
"Well then, let me finally treat you to that dinner date," Zuko said.
Behind them a dinner table and chair appeared, a lit candle set in the middle with different dishes spread out. Celina gave him a small smile. Zuko helped Celina into her seat before sitting down for dinner himself. Looking over the table Celina spotted already poured cups of tea which by just the smell she knew he chose her favorite. Otherwise the table was filled with a mix of Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation food, some Celina was familiar with and some that she wasn't.
"You certainly selected quite the spread," Celina said.
"Well, I thought I'd show you some of my favorites," Zuko said.
"So chai is one of your favorites?" she asked, taking a sip of her tea.
"No, it's actually lychee. I just remembered that chai is your favorite," he admitted.
Celina smiled behind her teacup.
"I guess this is our first official date then," Zuko said, trying to make conversation while they began dinner.
"We messed up the order of things but we got here eventually," Celina chuckled.
"Not exactly the traditional route," Zuko winced.
Reaching across the table Celina gently placed her hand on top of his. "Zuko, I don't regret our night together if that's what you're worried about," she told him.
"No. ...Do you?"
"No. No! Of course not. That night was…," Zuko said, trying to find the right words.
"Amazing? Eye-opening? Passionate?" Celina offered.
"Yes, all of those!"
She smiled at his excitement. "It's true we didn't have the most traditional start but I would never change that. My life hasn't exactly been traditional, so why start now?"
With Zuko calmed their dinner continued with ease. He would ask Celina's opinions on each of the dishes, to which she'd answer honestly. Being a prince he did have great taste in food but Celina did have her favorites of the bunch. A few of the seafood and fish dishes made sense to Zuko but he was surprised by how much Celina enjoyed the extra spicy noodles, especially when she didn't instantly go for water.
"What can I say? I like my noodles and I like some spice," was all her response.
Her eyes lit up however when the dinner dishes were cleared and were replaced with desserts. Different cakes, cookies, and pastries covering the table. This dinner just instilled in Zuko that the way to Celina's heart was through good food. And luckily their dream connection allowed them to eat as much as they wanted with no negative effects. With all the good food Zuko provided for them Celina reinforced her promise to show him some Water Tribe cuisine during a future date.
A future date.
Even with them having talked about pursuing a relationship, Zuko's heart was aflutter hearing Celina talk about spending more time together. A smile made its way onto his face as he watched her. Something Celina caught onto.
"You seem to be enjoying yourself," she commented.
"Well, I am in excellent company," he said, causing Celina to smile. Taking a chance he decided to open up. Celina had listened to him in the past, even when he was being a jerk. "It's just… I guess I'm just a mixture of nervous and excited, but also comfortable around you. I never really felt this with Mai."
Celina's heart lurched and her core warmed hearing that he felt like that around her. And the fact that he felt this way about her and not Mai made her a bit smug. Zuko told her the previous night that they'd broken up a couple of days ago which made Celina happy. She didn't like Mai but that didn't mean she'd support being the other woman. But she sent those thoughts from her mind. Celina wouldn't ruin the night with malicious thoughts about Zuko's ex.
"My mother would say that those combinations of feelings can lead towards the best things," Celina said.
"And what do you say?" Zuko asked.
Taking hold of his hand once again she looking into his golden eyes, shining in the candlelight. "I'd have to agree."
As dinner wrapped up and the candle almost burned out the two became aware that the sun finally sank below the horizon. Dozens of fireflies blinked into existence and drew the couple's attention to a faint glow off in the distance. Curious about what the small creatures were trying to show them Celina and Zuko got up and followed where the fireflies led. Their hands brushed against each other as they walked before someone's finger hooks onto the others and soon enough they were walking hand in hand. The small glow got brighter and brighter until they arrived at an open field filled with glowing flowers. Celina had seen them before, the flowers being native to the Spirit World. But that didn't make it any less dreamy. She leaned against Zuko's shoulder, the two of them watching the fireflies dance amongst the flowers.
Feeling the romance in the air Celina and Zuko stole glances at each other. It had been a lovely first date and while the visuals in front of them was a perfect end to it the two had something else in mind. Drawing close they paused for a moment out of nervousness before connecting in a soft, gentle kiss.
Yes, a much more perfect end.
The morning had flown by. Celina made a quick breakfast for everyone while Katara and Toph went over their plan for the final time. The two other Water Tribe siblings couldn't help but be a bit nervous over a scam so big but they trusted their sister and friend. Once breakfast was finished Katara and Toph headed off towards town while the other began packing up camp. There were times that Sokka broke off to stop Hawky and Momo from fighting but otherwise the three of them got everything ready to go for when Katara and Toph returned. Left with a waiting game the three sat around, looking over maps and schedules. After a while though they noticed how much time had passed and yet Katara and Toph weren't back.
"Do you think this scam of theirs should be taking this long?" Aang questioned.
"We'd better check it out," Celina said, stuffing the map back in her bag.
"You two behave," Sokka told Hawky and Momo. "Appa's in charge."
The three headed into town, Celina pulling down Toph's wanted poster as they moved along. They had made it to the center of the village and noticed that it was oddly deserted. Something that sent everyone on edge.
"Where do you think they might be?" Sokka asked.
"Where do you think anyone is?" Aang questioned back.
"Out of the way. But for what?" Celina guessed and looked around for any hint of a reason. Turning her glaze up Celina spotted Sparky Sparky Boom man up on the roof, getting ready to attack. Acting fast Celina tackled the boys out of the way, barely managing to dodge the blast.
"It's Sparky Sparky Boom Man!" Aang exclaimed.
"You know, I'm starting to think that name doesn't quite fit," Sokka commented.
"It doesn't matter what his name is. What matters is that this was a trap," Celina said, pushing them out of the way from another attack. They hid behind a building, hoping to regain their bearings and make a plan.
"Toph and Katara!" Aang gasped.
"We have to trust that they can take care of themselves. Right now we have to deal with him," Celina said.
None of them liked the fact that their friends were trapped somewhere but they all agreed, focusing their attention on Sparky Sparky Boom Man was important. Unfortunately for them, Sparky Sparky Boom Man had the advantage of height on his side. Any time the trio tried to move out to send their own attacks he already sent one their way. They were essentially stuck in a loop of inching out and jumping back.
"This guy is too good. He shoots fire from his brain!" Sokka exclaimed.
"We should split up. He can't chase all of us," Aang suggested.
Celina and Sokka nodded in agreement. The split off into three different directions. Aang managed to make his way on to the rooftop. Sparky Sparky Boom Man spotted him in an instant and fired a blast, this time hitting his target. Aang was sent slamming into the statue of Ozai before falling face down on the ground below. Sparky Sparky Boom Man jumped down, ready to deliver the final blow. He didn't get to do so as two bolts of ice encased his head, one from Celina and one from Katara. She and Toph had managed to escape from wherever they were being held and joined back up with the group.
"Aang, get up!" Katara exclaimed as Sparky Sparky Boom Man stumbled away.
"Let's get out of here," Toph said.
Finally all back together the Gaang ran away just as Sparky Sparky Boom Man shattered the ice around his head. He prepared to fire a blast at them but Toph shot first. The boulder Toph bended towards him was destroyed by his blast but a piece of rubble flew into his forehead, hitting his third eye. Sparky Sparky Boom Man went to attack the Gaang again but with the hit to the third eye it turned against him, the air around him exploding.
"Hey, I got it. The perfect name for that guy! 'Combustion Man'!" Sokka said as they exited the village's borders.
"Good job, Sokka. Now let's get out of here before Combustion Man catches us!" Toph replied.
While Celina was still partial to Sparky Sparky Boom Man she didn't bother to argue. They needed to get away from the village and fast. Once they made it back to their old camp they climbed onto Appa and flew off.
It was night by the time the Gaang found a new campsite. Celina stuffed Toph's wanted poster in her bag before heading off to start dinner. She was amassing quite the collection of wanted and missing posters throughout her journey. As she got the fire up and going she spotted Katara helping Toph write out a letter to Toph's parents. Celina smiled. All was calm in the group yet again.
Chapter 8: The Puppetmaster
The Gaang sat around the fire. Where they had landed to camp provided them a sort of creepy atmosphere surrounded by gnarled and twisted trees, highlighted by the waxing moon. So the group decided to take turns telling scary stories. Toph had started it off with a tale about a man with a sword for a hand that everyone enjoyed. And then Sokka stepped up to tell his own story which wasn't holding up as well.
"Suddenly, they heard something down the hall, in the dark. Oooh… It came into the torchlight. And they knew the blade of Wing - Fun was haunted!"
He dramatically pulled out his sword and wailed in an attempt to be scary. An attempt that wasn't impressive to the rest of the group.
"I think I liked 'the man with a sword for a hand' better," Aang said.
"Water Tribe slumber parties must stink," Toph commented.
"We lean more on other means of entertainment than ghost stories," Celina told her.
"No, wait, I've got one. And this is a true Southern Water Tribe story," Katara said.
"Is this one of those 'a friend of my cousin knew some guy that this happened to' stories?" Sokka questioned.
"No, it happened to Mom."
The group quieted and focused their attention on Katara.
"One winter, when Mom was a girl, a snowstorm buried the whole village for weeks. A month later, Mom realized she hadn't seen her friend Nini since the storm. So mom and some others went to check on Nini's family. When they got there, no one was home, just a fire flickering in the fireplace. While the men went out to search, Mom stayed in the house. When she was alone, she heard a voice.
'It's so cold and I can't get warm.'
"Mom turned and saw Nini standing by the fire. She was blue, like she was frozen. Mom ran outside for help, but… when everyone came back, Nini was gone."
"Where'd she go?" Sokka asked.
"No one knows. Nini's house stands empty to this day. But sometimes, people see smoke something up from the chimney, like little Nini is still trying to get warm."
Katara's story rattled the group. Aang had Momo's ears wrapped around his head while Sokka chose to hide behind a tree. Katara was lost in her own tale while Celina was lost in her memories.
She had seen the smoke and Nini herself when she was younger just around the time she was learning to keep quiet about her "imaginary friends". Sokka and Katara were sick at the time so their parents sent Celina out to play. She had stumbled around the abandoned house just by chance and was surprised to see a little girl inside it. Celina remembered how the girl, Nini, said she was cold and how Celina immediately began to hug her hoping to warm the girl up. She continued to do so until her mom came looking for her. Kya's face paled seeing the scene and dragged her daughter back home.
It was clear now that Nini was just a pained soul who hadn't been able to cross over. When and if she returned to the South Pole Celina would have to go back to that house and see if she could help Nini finally find peace.
The eerie silence was broken as Toph gasped and placed a hand on the ground. "Wait. Guys, did you hear that? I hear people under the mountain, and they're screaming." The rest of the Gaang clung to each other in fear before Sokka regained composure.
"Pft, nice try."
"No, I'm serious, I hear something."
"You're probably just jumpy from the ghost stories," Katara logiced, the group hug having broken off.
"It just stopped." Just like the screams, Toph said she had heard, the group fell silent.
"All right, now I'm getting scared," Aang admitted.
Everyone besides Toph screamed and gathered together to get a better look at who scared them. As the person stepped into the firelight the group saw that it was an old woman who approached them.
"Sorry to frighten you, my name is Hama. You children shouldn't be out in the forest by yourself at night. I have an inn nearby, why don't you come back there for some spiced tea and warm beds?"
After everyone had a moment to recover Celina broke away from the group and approached Hama. "That sounds lovely, thank you." Hama smiled and waited for them to gather their items.
It didn't take long for Hama to lead them back to her inn. It was an old looking house situated on the top of a steep slope of houses. Inside though it was much cozier. Hama gathered them all into the main sitting area and poured them each a cup of lychee tea. Celina couldn't help but hide a smile behind her cup after the first sip.
"Thanks for letting us stay here tonight. You have a lovely inn," Katara complimented.
"Aren't you sweet? You know, you should be careful. People have been disappearing in those woods you were camping in."
"What do you mean, disappearing?" Sokka questioned.
"When the moon turns full, people walk in, and they don't come out." And the cozy mood was killed. "Who wants more tea?" One look at the uncomfortable looking group clued Hama into the change in atmosphere. "Don't worry, you'll all be completely safe here. Why don't I show you to your rooms, and you can get a good night's rest."
The next morning Hama gently woke everyone up to take them shopping in town. Sokka was still a bit on edge but quietly helped carry groceries as they shopped. Celina and Katara stuck close to Hama as they shopped, having had the most experience purchasing food supplies. As Hama handed a merchant three coins to pay for some meat the man made sure to brush his hand against hers. The waterbending siblings shot each other a knowing smirk as they headed off.
"That Mr. Yao seems to have a thing for you. Maybe we should go back and see if he'll give us some free komodo sausages," Katara suggested.
"You would have me use my feminine charms to take advantage of that poor man?"
"It's worked for us in the past," Celina said.
"I think the three of us are going to get along swimmingly."
As they were walking away the group overheard two men talking about how the full moon was happening tomorrow and how it would be dangerous for anyone to travel during that time. It brought the Gaang's attention back to what Hama had mentioned about the disappearances.
"People disappearing in the woods, weird stuff during full moons… this just reeks of spirit world shenanigans," Sokka whispered to Aang.
"I bet if we take a little walk around town, we'll find out what these people did to the environment to make the spirits mad."
"And then you and Celina can sew up this little mystery, lickety-split."
"Helping people… that's what we do."
Just as their whisperings ended Hama stopped and turned to address the group.
"Why don't you all take those back to the inn? I just have to run a couple more errands. I'll be back in a little while."
"This is a mysterious little town you have here," Sokka commented.
"Mysterious town for mysterious children."
And with that Hama walked away, leaving the others with a bit of unease. Katara was the first to break out of it and lead them back to the inn. Heading into the kitchen the five of them started to pick the groceries away.
"That Hama seems a little strange. Like she knows something, or she's hiding something," Sokka said.
"That's ridiculous. She's a nice woman who took us in and gave us a place to stay. She kind of reminds me of Gran-Gran," Katara replied.
"Though that mysterious children comment was a bit weird," Celina commented herself.
"Yeah, what did she even mean by that comment," Sokka jumped on it.
"Gee, I don't know. Maybe because she found five strange kids, camping in the woods at night? Isn't that a little mysterious?" Katara replied sarcastically.
"I'm gonna take a look around." Before any of them could protest Sokka left the kitchen to go investigate. He made it all the way upstairs by the time that the rest of the Gaang caught up to them.
"Sokka! Sokka, what are you doing? You can't just snoop around someone's house," Katara protested.
"It'll be fine."
"She could be home any minute," Aang said.
"Sokka, you're gonna get us all in trouble, and this is just plain rude."
He stopped right in front of a cabinet after checking a few open rooms. This one different, as the doors were stuck. After a few good yanks, the doors opened, causing several marionettes to fall, each of them suspended by their strings. The group jumped and yelped in surprise. Sokka even drew his sword in fright, falling back into the wall behind him and slid to the floor.
"Ok, that's pretty creepy," Aang agreed.
Celina took the moment to go close the cabinet doors. There was no reason to keep them open any longer.
"So… she's got a hobby. There's nothing weird about that. Sokka, you've looked enough. Hama will be back soon."
Sokka still didn't bother listening to his little sister and continued up into the attack. Up there was a door that upon examination was locked.
"Just an ordinary, puppet-loving innkeeper, huh? Then why does she have a locked door up here?"
"Probably to keep people like you from snooping through her stuff."
"People are allowed to have secrets, Sokka," Celina said. She did agree with her brother to a degree about Hama's weird statement. But she was siding with Katara on this one.
"We'll see." Sokka peered through the keyhole, trying to see if there was anything of interest. "It's empty except for a little chest."
"Maybe it's treasure," Toph piped in excited.
Celina, Katara, and Aang frowned at the idea of treasure but Sokka smiled. Drawing his sword yet again he began to try and pick the lock.
"Sokka, what are you doing? You're breaking into a private room."
"I have to see what's in there."
A small click signaled that he succeeded. Sokka rushed in while the others were a bit more apprehensive entering. Reaching down he picked up the chest and tried to open it to discover that like the door it was locked.
"Maybe there's a key here somewhere."
"Oh, hand it over," Toph sighed.
Handing the chest off Toph took her armband made of the meteorite from Sokka and bended it into the shape of a key. Toph took the key and put it in the lock, trying to turn it and make slight changes to the shape as she went.
"Come on, come on!"
"This isn't as easy as it looks."
"Guys, I don't know about this."
"This is crazy, I'm leaving."
Katara began to walk away but upon hearing a click shot right back to the group to see what was in the chest. Sokka, Katara, and Aang were so interested to see that they pushed Toph away. Celina caught Toph before she fell and chose to stay back, not wanting to get smushed like the other three. Just as they were about to open the lid the five froze upon hearing a voice behind them.
"I'll tell you what's in the box."
Sokka, Katara, and Aang yelled in fear and quickly jumped around. Celina and Toph were more slow to turn around and face Hama who had just entered the room. Sokka tried to hide the chest behind his back at first but handed it over once she approached, a look of guilt on his face. Hama gently opened the chest and lifted up the object that was inside. A simple blue comb. Celina let out a quiet gasp realizing what it was.
"An old comb?" Sokka questioned.
"Not just an old comb. A whalebone comb," Celina recognized.
"It's my greatest treasure. It's the last thing I owned from growing up in the Southern Water Tribe."
Sokka and Katara finally held the same wave of shock as their sister as they stared at the old woman.
"You're from the Southern Water Tribe?" Katara asked in disbelief.
"Just like you."
"How did you know?"
"I heard you talking around your campfire."
"But why didn't you tell us?" Sokka asked.
"I wanted to surprise you. I bought all this food today so I could fix you a big Water Tribe dinner. Of course, I can't get all the ingredients I need here, but ocean kumquats are a lot like sea prunes if you stew them long enough."
Aang grimace remembering the taste of stewed sea prunes while Celina hid her disgust thanks to years of experience.
"I knew I felt a bond with you right away," Katara smiled.
"And I knew you were keeping a secret, so I guess we're both right." A quick punch in the arm from Katara changed his tune. "But I'm sorry we were sneaking around."
"Apology accepted. Now let's get cooking."
The Water Tribe siblings were quick to fall into step with Hama in preparing the meals that they grew up with. Though it was more so Celina and Katara who helped with the cooking, Sokka more so sat around talking with them. He and Katara were more so the ones leading the conversation while Celina kept to herself while she worked. Finding out that Hama was part of the Southern Water Tribe brought back bad memories. She'd give short answers to questions Hama asked about favorite Water Tribe dishes and cooking, something the older Water Tribe woman picked up on.
But soon dinner was ready and all of them gathered around Hama's table, filled with food. Celina relaxed a little bit as she took in all the smells. While she didn't enjoy all Water Tribe food, the smell did remind her of times of celebrations and family gatherings. Hama stood at the head of the table, ready to pass around the dishes.
"Who wants five-flavor soup?"
Everyone practically raised their hand and proceeded to watch as Hama bended the soup into all the bowls much to everyone's amazement.
"You're a waterbender!" Katara gasped.
"Katara and I thought we were the only ones left from our tribe."
"That's because the Fire Nation wiped us all out. I was the last one."
"So how did you end up out here?" Sokka asked.
"I was stolen from my home. It was over sixty years ago when the raids started. They came again and again, each time, rounding up more of our waterbenders, and taking them captive. We did our best to hold them off, but our numbers dwindled as the raids continued. Finally, I too was captured. I was led away in chains. The last waterbender of the Southern Water Tribe." Moved by her story Katara got up and put her hands on Hama's shoulders, trying to console the old woman. "They put us in terrible prisons here in the Fire Nation. I was the only one who managed to escape."
"How did you get away? And why did you stay in the Fire Nation?" Sokka asked.
"I'm sorry. It's too painful to talk about anymore."
"We understand. We lost our mom in a raid," Celina said.
"Oh, you poor things." Hama pat Celina's hand while Sokka and Aang hung their heads in solemn.
"I can't tell you what it means to meet you. It's an honor, you're a hero," Katara told her.
"I never thought I'd meet another Southern waterbender. Let alone two. I'd like to teach the two of you what I know, so you can carry on the Southern tradition when I'm gone," Hama offered.
"Yes, yes of course! To learn about my heritage, it would mean everything to me," Katara jumped in excitement.
Celina still had some hesitations but knowing that Hama was a waterbender made things a bit better. "It would be an honor to learn from another master."
"Wonderful! We'll start tomorrow, but until then let's eat."
With things set up, the group settled into dinner. Celina helped Toph steer clear of the modified stewed sea prunes but otherwise, everything else was delicious. After dinner when everyone else was heading to bed Hama stopped Celina and pulled her into a sitting room.
"I couldn't help but notice that you became a bit tense while we were cooking dinner." Celina couldn't help but wince, hearing that Hama picked up on her discomfort. "Did I do something to upset you?"
"No! No. Sorry, it's not you. You've been absolutely lovely. It's just… meeting you has brought up some unpleasant memories of home. I wasn't exactly the most liked person in the Southern Water Tribe. Being odd doesn't exactly fit with some of the community, even if you are the Chief's daughter."
"I can relate."
"I have my own hobbies that even the Southern Water Tribe found odd. Ever since I was a little girl I was in love with puppets and putting on shows for all my friends. Once I reached marrying age however it was looked down on. People expected me to settle down and leave that passion behind. But us strong willed women don't leave our passions behind so easily do we?"
"No, we don't," Celina lightly chuckled.
"So I continued with my love of puppets. Sure, I lost some friends but in doing so found a friend that meant the most. My friend, Kana. I've missed her terribly. She was always so supportive about designing your own path"
"Kana? That's my grandmother!"
"By I live and breathe. The spirits must have blessed me. Not only to discover two more benders from the Southern Water Tribe but that they're the grandchildren of my most cherished friend." Hama got up from her seat and moved to Celina, pulling her into a tight hug. "Our meeting has lifted my heart to the highest of places it's been in a while. Thank you."
Celina patted Hama's back as she indulged in the hug. A woman who could understand her feelings about her Tribe. She never imagined she would meet someone like that, someone she could relate to. Perhaps the spirits were in favor of them meeting. Celina sent a silent prayer of thanks to whoever arranged their paths to cross.
Zuko was surprised when he arrived in the spirit connection to find that Celina altered the space so that it reflected one of the poles. After dinner and her conversation with Hama, Celina was feeling nostalgic for the most pleasant memories of the South Pole. She didn't bother conjuring anything relating to the village and instead put them in the middle of the snowy fields. Seeing Zuko arrive Celina smiled warmly.
"I know you're a firebender and all but I think you're gonna need something a bit warmer," she said, already wearing her old coat.
Once she said that Zuko felt the cold chill of the pole. Concentrating he switched over to a coat similar to Celina's but kept to Fire Nation colors. Upon the change he instantly felt warmer.
"I wasn't expecting you to take us to the Poles. Which one are we at? Or is it an amalgamation of the two?"
"Even more surprising."
"Yeah, well, not everything about my home was horrible. And I've been craving those wonderful parts. Care to share them with me?"
Zuko couldn't help but smile as Celina shyly offered her hand. He answered by gentling placing his hand in hers and giving it a gentle squeeze. Celina's eyes brightened before pulling him along towards what looked like a waddle of penguins.
"So we're gonna need a ride to get to my most favorite place in the South Pole. Normally to wrangle a penguin you'd need some fish for bribery. But since I'm an animal whisper - and that this place does whatever we wish - that's not needed. Just follow my lead."
"Aren't I already doing that?"
"With the penguins, Mr. Funny Man."
Once they were close to the waddle of penguins Celina let go of Zuko's hand and walked over to one of the penguins on the outskirts. The penguin was curious about her as she leaned down in front of it and gently lifted a hand for the penguin to smell. Finding Celina not to be a threat the penguin nuzzled into her palm. Seeing that she was accepted Celina began to scratch its head before moving into more affectionate pets. The penguin cooed happily as it enjoyed the attention. Celina looked over to Zuko and nodded to a nearby penguin for him to try.
Zuko was a bit nervous when he approached but trusted Celina. Besides if it didn't work out they could just conjure a penguin to do whatever Celina wanted. Luckily it didn't come to that. The penguin was hesitant at first when Zuko presented his hand to smell but after a couple of sniffs, nuzzled into his palm.
The two petted the penguins for a bit until the penguins walked out of their hands and headed behind them. With their heads, the penguins nudged Celina and Zuko up towards a hill. Zuko looked towards Celina to make sure this was what was supposed to happen and saw an excited smile on her face. At the top of the hill, the penguins stopped pushing them and headed towards the edge, laying on their stomachs.
"So what now?"
"Now we get on."
Celina quickly situated herself on her penguins back and waited for Zuko to do the same. The firebender found it awkward getting onto his own penguin, not wanting to accidentally hurt it. But he got himself situated and then with a sharp whistle from Celina the penguins were off.
The two sped down the snowy hills, the penguins taking sharp twists and turns. Zuko felt his stomach jump into his throat as the penguins launched into the air off a snowbank that was more of a ramp. There was a moment that seemed like they hung in the air before landing back on the ground. The giddiness of adrenaline kicked in. Zuko let out a short whoop of excitement as the penguins continued on.
Eventually though the penguins came to a stop close to an icy cave. Celina and Zuko got up and thanked the penguins for the ride before the animals waddled away.
"Did you typically travel by penguin?" Zuko teased.
"No, but it's the fun way in my opinion."
"I'd have to agree. Now, where did you take us?"
From the outside, there was nothing special looking about the icy cave in front of them. "It's better if I show you." Taking Zuko's hand the two of them journeyed into the cave.
They walked hand in hand for a while before the small tunnel opened up into a cavernous labyrinth of clear icy walls. Walls so clear that they acted as mirrors. Zuko stared wide mouthed at the bright spectacle, wondering how far light traveled to brighten the space. Celina watched as he broke off to walk closer to the icy walls, running his hand over the smooth surface.
"What is this place?" His voice echoing throughout the labyrinth.
"I call it the Cavern of Mirrors. It's my favorite place in the South Pole to just get lost in." She spoke gently so that her voice wouldn't echo. "But the best part is when the aurora australis is going on."
Zuko knew about the Southern Lights. He had experienced them himself during his search for the Avatar. It was a beautiful natural phenomenon that left him in awe every time he saw it. He'd stay out on the deck of his ship for hours just watching them.
Not leaving it to the imagination, Celina altered the space. The cavern darkened, Celina and Zuko's reflection fading as the walls were aglow with the wave of bright colors. A moment of silent appreciation as the two of them just took in the beautiful moment, staring at the glowing walls in awe.
It was interrupted as a ball of yellow light appeared before sprinting off through the labyrinth. Celina shot Zuko a quick look before running after it. Zuko chuckled before following after her. Dulled reflections ran across the walls, heading deeper into the Cavern of Mirrors. Adrenaline up, Celina began giggling which morphed into laughter and as if it was contagious Zuko began to laugh as well. Echoing laughter bouncing off the walls seemed to encourage the small ball of light to run faster.
The two tried their best to keep up with it but in trying to up his speed Zuko ended up tripping right into Celina. Midfall Zuko grabbed hold of Celina and twisted around so that he hit the ground first. Laughter was replaced by grunts before the labyrinth grew silent. The small ball of yellow light didn't wait for them to get up and instead continued speeding away, leaving them behind.
Celina went to get off Zuko but his hold on her tightened so instead she rolled around so that she faced him. Feeling that he was tense Celina placed a gentle kiss on his jaw before nuzzling her nose against his. Soon she felt his hold on her loosen as Zuko relaxed. Stopping her motions the two of them just stared at each other, the light of the aurora australis shining on their faces. Seeing the lights make Celina's gentle eyes sparkle, Zuko felt himself falling deeper for the waterbender. Taking advantage of the moment he reached up and kissed her. A pleasant surprise that Celina happily indulged in.
Hama took the two girls out the next day after breakfast while Sokka, Aang, and Toph headed into town. The three of them walked for a while out of the village as Hama led them to a large field. Still, as they walked the older woman started her teachings.
"Growing up at the South Pole, waterbenders are totally at home surrounded by snow and ice and seas. But, as you probably noticed on your travels, that isn't the case wherever you go."
"I know. When we were stranded in the desert I felt like there was almost nothing I could do," Katara admitted.
"That's why you have to learn to control water wherever it exists."
"I've even used my own sweat for waterbending."
"That's very resourceful. You're thinking like a true master. But did you know you can even pull water out of thin air?" Hama threw her hand out and created a circle over her head, collecting the moisture in the air. "You've got to keep an open mind. There's water in places you never think about."
Hama turned the water on her fingers to ice and threw them into a nearby tree, lodging them into the trunk. Katara looked on happily while Celina's mind took her somewhere else for a brief moment before shaking it off.
Continuing on they finally reached the field. Hama mentioned that she wanted to take them to an open place but failed to mention just how beautiful the place would be. The field was covered with fire lilies.
"Wow, these flowers are beautiful."
"They're called fire lilies. They only bloom a few weeks a year, but they're one of my favorite things about living here. And like all plants, and all living things, they're filled with water."
"We met a waterbender who lived in a swamp and could control the vines by bending the water inside them. It took me a little bit but I've taught myself how to plantbend myself thanks to the experience," Celina said.
"You can take it even further."
With a wave of her hand, Hama drew out the water from the fire lilies within a large circle leaving them dry, black, and shriveled. Using the water Hama focused it on a tall rock, slicing the top off into four pieces. Hearing something crispy near her ears Celina reached up and pulled the fire lily out of her hair. It appeared that Hama had taken the water out of that one as well.
"That was incredible. It's a shame about the lilies, though," Katara said.
"They're just flowers. When you're a waterbender in a strange land, you do what you must to survive. Tonight, I'll teach you two the ultimate technique of waterbending. It can only be done during the full moon when your bending is at its peak."
"But isn't it dangerous?" Celina asked.
"I thought people have been disappearing around here during the full moon."
"Oh, girls. Three master waterbenders beneath a full moon? I don't think we have anything to worry about."
Hama began to lead them into the forest. Katara stalled to look over the dried flowers for a moment before following after her while Celina paused to pick out a fresh flower for her hair.
They continued walking for a bit before Hama stopped them to take a break. The older woman pulled out packages of food from her skirt pockets and handed one to each of the girls. Taking time for a break the women dug into their food and enjoyed some conversation between themselves.
"I don't believe I asked how the two of you learned the art. How did that happen with no other waterbenders in the South Pole?"
"A lot of it was us just seeing what we could do in the beginning," Celina started.
"Celina figured out a lot more than I did. After we started traveling she began to teach me what she knew."
"Then we made it to the North Pole where we beat back the patriarchy while also studying healing techniques."
"Beat back the patriarchy?"
"The North wasn't exactly open to women becoming fighters."
"But we changed that. I challenged the master to a battle and convinced him to train me. After Celina battled the master though we discovered that she was on a higher level and was deemed a master herself."
"Deemed a master without any proper training. That's quite an accomplishment."
Neither Celina or Katara bothered to tell Hama that Celina did, in fact, receive training, she just didn't realize it at the time. While the girls were happy to have found another waterbender from the South they still agreed to keep Celina's connection to the spirits a secret. The fewer people who knew about it before the final battle the better.
"Thanks. But Katara's story is impressive as well. She's probably one of the youngest waterbending masters in history."
Hama beamed at the young waterbenders. "Such powerful young women. The South Pole should be honored to have you a part of their culture."
Celina smiled shyly at the compliment while Katara's eyes brightened. The three of them continued eating, Celina and Katara telling Hama a few stories about their travels, before cleaning things up and continuing farther into the forest.
Day turned to night as Hama took the girls father into the forest. Celina and Katara were a little nervous at first seeing as people were disappearing during the full moon, but upon feeling the moon's power they relaxed. Hama was right. They were three master waterbenders with the strength of the full moon. Nothing would be able to stop them. Which brought Hama to the technique she wanted to teach them.
"What I'm about to show you, I discovered in that wretched, Fire Nation prison. The guards were always careful to keep any water away from us. They piped in dry air and had us suspended away from the ground. Before giving us any water, they would bind our hands and feet so we couldn't bend. Any sign of trouble was met with cruel retribution. And yet each month, I felt the full moon enriching me with its energy. There had to be something I could do to escape. Then I realized that where there is life, there is water."
Celina straightened, flashing back to her encounter of Zhao at the North Pole. She had a feeling she knew where Hama's story was going.
"The rats that scurried across the floor of my cage, were nothing more than skins filled with liquid. And I passed years developing the skills that would lead to my escape. Bloodbending. Controlling the water in another body. Enforcing your own will over theirs. Once I had mastered the rats, I was ready for the men. And during the next full moon, I walked free for the first time in decades. My cell unlocked by the very guards assigned to keep me in. Once you perfect this technique, you can control anything or anyone."
"But, to reach inside someone and control them? I don't know if I want that kind of power," Katara shrunk back, looking at Hama in horror.
"The choice is not yours."
"If she's uncomfortable with the technique then she doesn't have to learn it," Celina said, coming to her sister's defense.
"But the power exists and it's your duty to use the gifts you've been given to win this war. Katara, they tried to wipe us out, our entire culture… your mother!"
"Then you should understand what I'm talking about. We're the last waterbenders of the Southern Tribe. We have to fight these people whenever we can. Wherever they are, with any means necessary!"
And with that something clicked in place. "You're the one who's making people disappear during the full moons," Celina figured out.
"They threw me in prison to rot, along with my brothers and sisters. They deserve the same. You two must carry on my work."
"These are innocent people you're hurting, not soldiers fighting in the war. I understand your pain but what you're doing is wrong," Celina said, trying to talk her down before things got heated.
If only Katara caught onto that. "I won't! I won't use bloodbending, and I won't allow you to keep terrorizing this town. Neither of us will!"
A grunt passed Celina's lips as she felt her body being taken over, forcing her down onto her knees. She performed bloodbending before but this was the first time she'd been on the receiving end. It was quite a shock to her system. Hama was much harsher to Katara, however. Celina watched in horror as Hama clumsily flung Katara around with her bloodbending before forcing her onto her hands and knees.
"You should have learned the technique before you turned against me."
Looking over and seeing her sister with tears streaming down her face heated Celina's core of passion. A passion that leaned more towards War's rage. The chance she had given Hama was gone. Finding a strength that came from either the full moon, her spirit abilities, or both Celina fought back Hama's bloodbending and stood up. Hama stared at her in shock which only increased as Celina grabbed hold of Hama with her own bloodbending.
"You should have asked if one of us knew the technique," Celina mocked.
Feeling Hama try to use the moon's power to try and break free as she had, Celina strengthened her grasp. The old woman let out a gasp as she was lifted off the ground and held in the air.
"Just a harmless old woman? Such a kind old woman who smiles at her neighbors and waves as she goes by? All just a big farce as you wait in the shadows for a moment to torture them. Torture them for all that you went through with Fire Nation soldiers and hey, maybe for a bit of how you were treated in the South Pole. Or was that just another of your lies too? Just something you told me to get me to trust you? To bring me onto your side so that I can continue your dirty work? Well, let me end your reign of terror right now."
What she did to Zhao would look merciful compared to what kinds of bloodbending she was about to perform. She severed Hama's vocal cords and swelled her tongue. The old woman tried to let out silent shrieks of pain. Celina began ripping tendons one by one while shutting down organs as she moved up Hama's body, slow enough to still keep the old woman alive. Not even halfway there Celina noticed how close Hama was to passing out from all the pain. So as a final move before the pain took her, Celina moved up to Hama's brain and snapped the brain stem, killing the old woman.
Celina removed her hold on Hama, causing her dead body to fall to the ground. With Hama taken care of the passionate rage in Celina subsided. Calmed down she was finally able to notice an attempt of bloodbending on herself. Turning around she saw Sokka, Katara, and Aang looking at her with horror. Katara dropped her attempt at bloodbending her sister and proceeded to look down at her hands which began to shake.
The older girl's face paled. She didn't know when Sokka and Aang arrived but what the three of them witnessed was one of brutality. And that was even without them knowing what Celina had done inside. But her concern sat with Katara. Ever since discovering what bloodbending was she prayed that Katara would never have to learn about the dark technique. Now she did, and her only examples of those who had the ability were Hama who used it to torture people and Celina who just used it to kill someone.
"Katara, I…. It's not all evil…. I can teach you how -"
The young waterbender backed away from her sister in tears before running towards a nearby tree where she vomited. Aang rushed to comfort her as she broke out in harsh sobs. Celina took a step towards Katara but stopped and turned away in shame, not for killing Hama but for scaring her family. She hugged herself and stared at Hama's dead body.
Toph and the people that Hama captured arrived upon the scene. There was a mixture of shock and relief once they noticed Hama's dead body.
"What happened here?" one of the prisoners asked.
It was Sokka who stepped up to answer. "We were in the middle of confronting her when she collapsed. Her heart must have gave out."
The people were satisfied with his answer, just happy to be free from Hama's tyranny. Toph, however, was able to pick up on Sokka's lie but hearing Katara's sobs and feeling Celina's discomfort decided she didn't want to find out the truth for now. Everyone was just ready for the night to end.
After the excitement and fun of the previous night Zuko was looking forward to Celina arriving. He planned an exciting night and molded the scenery to a beautiful mosaic patio that he'd been daydreaming about all day. One with sheer red drapes strung on poles and paper lanterns hung about between them which blew slightly in the wind. Wind that carried petals of the cherry blossom trees.
All of Zuko's plans disappeared however when Celina did arrive, tears in her eyes. "What happened?" Celina just shook her head before letting a few of the tears fall. He was quick to move to her and wrap Celina in his arms. The girl sobbed into his shoulder, holding onto Zuko for dear life.
Morphing the scenery to one of comfort to Celina, Zuko transported them to her parent's garden, complete with the bench he'd so often seen. Instead of sitting on the bench, however, the two fell to the ground in front of it. And there they stayed for the night, Zuko doing his best to comfort Celina who cried silently for her sister.
Chapter 9: Nightmares and Daydreams
The camp was rather quiet, everyone having gone off to work on plans for the upcoming invasion. After all that happened with Hama, the Gaang was quick to leave the area. Sokka took over and led them, on Appa, to a field surrounded by cliffs where some koala sheep grazed. It was the rendezvous place for the invasion force that he and Hakoda planned out before they split up.
Not much was said the night they arrived, instead choosing to head to sleep. The same night Celina cried into Zuko's arms their whole time together, something that Celina was grateful for.
Upon waking up she had calmed down but decided to seclude herself from her friends and family, believing that everyone still needed space from her. So she went to work practicing her bending abilities in preparation for the invasion. She thought she'd be left alone for the whole day until Sokka and Toph came up to her. Sokka looked uncomfortable but stood there with Toph, having paused his work on Appa's armor to talk with her.
"Uh, hey, what's up?" Celina asked.
"We wanted to find out what exactly happened last night," Toph answered.
Celina shot a glance over at Sokka before averting her gaze in shame. "Celina, please. We just want to know," Sokka asked.
"Hama buttered Katara and I up, relating to us as a waterbender and showing us different techniques, all to get us on her side. Then she took us into the forest to teach us bloodbending… something I've known how to do for a while. Katara felt uncomfortable learning the technique and with Hama pushing her we soon figured out that she was the one responsible for taking the villagers.
"We refused to side with her and she retaliated by bloodbending us, taking it out mainly on Katara. She really took it out on Katara too. So when I looked over, seeing her forced onto her hands and knees, tears streaming down her face… I snapped."
Some of the tension in Sokka's body left. He understood what led his sister to that moment. Since their father left for the war he promised that he'd protect Celina and Katara. There'd been nights where his mind imagined the day where the Fire Nation invaded their tribe and how far he'd go to keep that promise. Of course Celina would have those same urges to protect her family. It was just hard to believe how easily she could kill someone.
But then again, it was easy to forget that she wasn't human.
Celina was a spirit and with the powers also came the black and white viewing of things when pushed to rage. Like Hei Bi with his forest, Tu with the death of La, and Wong Shi Tong with his library. But because Celina looked human and because she had been raised as one it was hard to look at her like those spirits.
"How long have you known how to… bloodbend?" Sokka asked.
"Ever since Zhao and the North Pole."
Another thing Sokka often pushed to the back of his mind. How Celina killed Zhao after what he did to the Moon Spirit. He hadn't been there to see that but could only imagine what it was like after seeing what she did to Hama.
"I'm sorry for scaring you," Celina apologized.
"Thanks. Though I think you should really apologize to Katara."
"I will. I'm just giving her some time."
"Well, you better get that done before Invasion Day. Don't need siblings feuding when we go defeat the Fire Lord," Toph said.
With their talk over Sokka and Toph went back to their work, leaving Celina to her practice once again. The rest of the day went by quickly with everyone focusing on their own things in order to get ready for the invasion. Aang was acting strangely, having trained by punching a tree all day, but the Gaang chalked it up to nerves.
Celina was just ready to head to bed, ready to see Zuko again, and hoping a new day will bring about the chance to apologize to her sister.
Arriving at the dream connection, Celina stopped to take notice of what Zuko created unlike the previous night before. A mosaic patio was decorated with paper lanterns and sheer fabric, cherry blossom petals floating in the wind from the nearby tree. She had vague memories of the dream connection looking like this the previous night before having changed to her mother's garden. Zuko stood in the center of the patio, waiting for her.
"Zuko, this is…"
"Do you like it?"
"It's gorgeous." The vague memories returned along with an inkling of guilt. "Did you have this planned for last night?"
"And then I went and ruined it."
Zuko took Celina in his arms, sensing how guilty she felt. "You didn't ruin it. You just delayed it." He got a chuckle out of her, causing him to smile. "You've been there during my bad nights, even when we were still fighting. I'll be there for yours."
If Zuko were to look closely into it he would see the bit of sadness in the smile Celina held. A sadness that came from knowing that this could only exist in their dream connection, away from the messiness of the war. But she didn't let him see that, instead Celina kissed him ever so softly, thanking him for what he'd done for her. Pulling away, Celina reached up and gently stroked Zuko's scar with her thumb. He sighed into her hand. Zuko wasn't sure he'd ever get used to someone touching his scar with such tenderness.
"So, Mr. Romantic, what do you have planned for tonight?"
"Well, I was thinking about our time at the beach." Celina arched an eyebrow in amusement. A faint blush spread across Zuko's face gathering what she thought he was insinuating. He let out a nervous laugh. "Not that. I was thinking more so of when we were at the party and you mentioned how much you enjoy dancing and thought we could see how much of my dance lessons stuck."
Upon seeing her eyes light up at the idea of dancing Zuko knew he chose well.
"Well, if that's the case I think a costume change is in order."
Spinning out of his arms once Celina stopped Zuko saw that she changed. Her hair went partially up in a small bun, ornamented with purple pearls that match the jewelry which hung from her neck and ears. Her short purple dress elongated into a sweet evening dress, her corset and skirt switching shades while silvery white sleeves adorned with the same purple pearls flowed down her arms. She was beautiful. Taking her cue Zuko changed into formal robes. With them both changed Zuko unconsciously started the phantom band, playing music he'd overhear during his uncle's music nights. Nerves set in as Celina took his hand and pulled herself into him. In that moment his mind blanked on his dance lessons. Sensing his nerves Celina took his hand and placed it on her waist, set her hand on his shoulder, and then took his remaining hand in his. In position, the two started to dance.
Their movements were wobbly, mainly because of Zuko's nerves trying to remember his dance lessons, though Celina didn't say anything. The only thing she did was tilt his chin back up so that he was looking at her instead of focusing on his feet. Her eyes held a bit of initial teasing but were overall filled with what Zuko could only describe as love. Something that was impossible to look away from. There were a few more stumbled steps before the two glided across the mosaic floor. Feeling a boost of confidence Zuko twirled Celina around, causing her to let out a laugh in delight. Laughter that became contagious as the two whirled around, not caring about any missteps. The two lost in each other.
As they calmed, the atmosphere faded to a dusty pink fading into the deep purple blues of night. The lights contained magic as they highlighted features on Celina and Zuko's faces. They stared at each other, sun and moon eyes meeting in the dead of night. Celina brought her arms up around his neck, burying herself in him. Zuko welcomed it, holding a tight grip around her waist. The two stood in the center, swaying to the music.
"This has been wonderful, Zuko."
"Even though my dancing skills were rusty?"
"Yes, even though you were rusty." Her small chuckle ended in a soft, long kiss, that reminded her of something the two discussed earlier. "You know, perhaps we can finish this night off like we have in the past."
"What with us staring at each other awkwardly?"
"I was thinking more so of our night at the beach."
Zuko's eyes widened in surprise at her forwardness at first before darkening in anticipation. Celina couldn't help but let out a giggle as his grip on her hips tightened.
"I can get behind that."
Mouths collided in a hungry kiss, wanting nothing more than to repeat their steamy night together. How both of them wanted to go back to exploring each other. But unfortunately, morning came far too soon for their liking.
Waking up early put Celina on edge, especially when she discovered that it was Aang who caused everyone to wake up early. But the frustration morphed into worry upon seeing the anxiety ridden airbender.
"I need to know what day it is!"
"What?! Who's talking?!" Sokka exclaimed thrusting his sword but hitting a rock thanks to the grogginess of just being woken up.
"Relax, it's still two days before the invasion," Toph answered.
Not satisfied with the information Aang grabbed hold of a still sleepy Sokka and tugged him up. "Sokka, you've got to get up and drill your rock climbing exercises."
"In one of my dreams, you were running from Fire Nation soldiers, trying to climb this cliff, but you were too slow and they got you."
"But that was just a dream, I'm a great climber."
"Then climb that cliff. Climb it fast!" Aang told him, pointing directly at the cliff nearby. Sokka grumbled about it but slinked off towards the cliff, only doing so to quell his friend's concerns. The airbender was momentarily satisfied before turning to see Toph just about to drink some water. "Don't drink that!"
Startled by Aang's exclamation Sokka lost his grip and slipped down the cliff face. Toph responded by throwing the water satchel away and spitting the water out right on Celina and Katara. The sisters shot the earthbender and annoyed glance before bending the water off themselves.
"Why, is it poisoned?"
"In my dream, we were right in the middle of the invasion, and you had to stop to use the bathroom. We died because of your tiny bladder. And Celina, you need to get as far away from Zuko as possible, otherwise, you're gonna make him fall in love with you and you two will be too busy making out during the invasion."
"Uh…" She didn't know how to respond to that. Especially considering it was something that was already happening between them in the dream connection. Her face remained one of confusion to keep her secret hidden from those with seeing eyes, she just hoped her heart rate held fast to keep it from their resident truth seeker.
"And you," Aang continued on, this time pointing at Katara. "You need to start wearing your hair up. In my dream, your hair got caught in a train, and -"
"Aang, I know you're just trying to help but you really need to get a grip. You're unraveling," Katara interrupted.
The airbender let out a sigh. "You're right. I'm losing my mind."
At Aang's admittance Sokka, who was just about to reach the top of the cliff, slid down once again. Hearing him land Celina couldn't help but wince.
"I'll go get him," Celina volunteered.
As Celina went to retrieve her brother Katara focused on trying to calm Aang down once again, Sokka's fall having revived his fear. Sokka himself was just lying on the ground trying to regain his senses. Luckily for him, he wasn't hurt that bad but Celina pulled out her water to help with the aches in his back. Once he regained his bearings Sokka glared at the cliffside before heading off to work on the armor for Appa. For a while, things were fine as Celina went to work on breakfast while Katara watched over a pacing Aang. The airbender's anxiety getting worse with each step he took.
"It's like every time I think about how stressed I am, I just end up more stressed. I'm like a big growing snowball of nerves," Aang explained.
"Of course you are. That's 'cause you've got to fight the Fire Lord, the baddest man on the planet. And you better win, or we're all done for," Sokka piped in.
"You're not helping," Celina pointed out.
"What? It's true. That's the deal, he knows it."
Seeing Aang chatter with fear Katara approached him, placing her arms around Aang's shoulder. "You know what? I've got just the thing. Get ready to be de-stress-i-fied."
The remaining group watched as Katara led Aang off somewhere on the island, hoping that Katara's plan would help him relax. While she did that everyone else went back to what they were doing, only pausing once Celina finished breakfast. Sokka was quick to scarf down his portion and tried to go for Aang and Katara's bowls that Celina set aside, before heading back to work on Appa's armor. Leaving Toph hanging around Celina as she cleaned up after breakfast.
"So, you and His-Royal-Pain-In-The-Butt, huh?"
Celina tensed, mentally cursing. Of course her heart rate betrayed her. There was no use hiding things from Toph.
"It's nothing, just a fling."
"Your heart says otherwise."
"You're worried this is gonna affect the invasion?"
"I'd be stupid to think otherwise. I just happen to trust you enough to hope it won't affect you too much in case we encounter him."
It was an aspect Celina didn't like to think about. She knew it was a possibility that during the invasion her and Zuko would come face to face. It just harder to picture them fighting with each new night they spent together. But she also had so much at stake.
"We've been at war for a hundred years. Too many people have died because of the Fire Nation's cruelty. Both the world and my father won't be able to hold out much longer. If we do end up face to face come invasion day, I'll make sure Aang's able to do what he must. Even if it does end in heartbreak."
Toph didn't sense any lies, but she did pick up on the subtle hurt in Celina's voice as the waterbender admitted the harsh reality of a situation she would possibly be facing.
The conversation ended after that, Toph heading off to do some training just as Katara and Aang returned. Aang still looking as tense before he left. It looked like he wanted to go right into training again but Celina sat him down and forced the airbender to get some food in his system. Katara headed off to talk to Sokka about something before coming back to eat her breakfast. After a few minutes, Sokka came over, wearing his fake beard, and ushered Aang off for his own attempt to help.
Leaving Celina and Katara alone for the first time since Hama. In the tense atmosphere, Celina looked over at her sister, who was determined to focus only on her breakfast.
"Katara, we need to talk." The younger waterbender refused to look up from her breakfast. Celina knelt in front of her sister, her presence almost forcing Katara to look up at her. "Katara, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for scaring you and causing you to learn a technique you didn't want to learn."
"How could you have ever learned such a…" The disgusted look on Katara's face finished her sentence.
"It just happened -."
"Something like that doesn't just happen, Celina! You had to learn it from somewhere!"
The waterbender stopped herself from sinking down in shame.
"... my dad."
"Back at the North Pole when my dad overtook me like the Ocean Spirit overtook Aang. He became protective of me like I did with you. That's when I first… performed the technique. I just didn't realize what it was until we visited the swamp."
"That night wasn't your dad. Your eyes weren't glowing then it was all you."
"I'm sorry. I'm a spirit, and even though I try hard to see things in shades of gray sometimes anger makes things black and white."
"So you don't regret killing Hama then?"
"No. The only thing I regret is how my actions affected you."
The two fell quiet, the apology turned argument having hit a head. Celina let out a frustrated sigh as Katara glared down at her food. They needed to get back to the apology part.
"I'm sorry for all the pain I've caused you. And if you want to be angry with me that's fine, I get it. With the invasion coming up we just need to trust each other as a team so that it can be as successful as possible," Celina said.
Still, Katara remained quiet.
Sensing the conversation was over Celina walked away. She hurriedly wiped away a few tears as she made her way somewhere private and away from everyone so that she could calm down. She would have made it without anyone seeing her if Sokka hadn't been coming back, no longer wearing his fake beard. One look and he could see that his sister was distressed but when he went to try and comfort her Celina just waved him off.
After finding a quiet place to herself and letting a few more tears fall Celina calmed down enough to continue with her training. The previous day was focused on her different forms of bending, today she was determined to work on her spirit abilities outside of healing. Her mind would go back to the few times she used her powers in battle and each time it ended with her passing out. There was a high possibility that she'd be using those abilities during the invasion and she couldn't afford to pass out during so.
Starting small and simple Celina went to work using her spirit abilities to levitate different items in the air. At first she started with one object, building up the time she kept it floating. One minute. Break. Two minutes. Break. Five minutes. Break. And so on and so forth, making sure to take longer breaks whenever the beginnings of headaches started to make their appearance. Once Celina was satisfied with the amount of time she was able to keep the object levitating without getting the start of a headache, she moved onto working with multiple objects at once. She was up to three floating objects for about five minutes when Aang made an appearance.
"Uh, hey Celina."
She was surprised to see him. Besides Katara, Aang was the only other person in the Gaang who kept his distance from her after what happened with Hama. Celina wondered what caused him to finally approach her. The airbender didn't look much better than the last time she saw him. If anything he looked more stressed out than before. Obviously whatever the others tried to help him relax hadn't worked.
"Hi, Aang. What, uh, brings you over here?"
"Katara thought you might have a good idea to help me relax."
That shocked Celina the most. Aang shifted uncomfortably as Celina took the time to process what he said.
"Oh, uh, okay. Let's, um, head down to the water."
It was a silent, awkward walk down. Both too much in their heads to make the small talk. Luckily though it was a quick trip and soon both had to focus on helping Aang relax. A task that was proving to be almost impossible as the day went on. The airbender had no problem getting in the water. It was once Celina went to place her hands on Aang's temples and saw him tense that she paused.
Some of the other team members would probably chalk it up to him being on edge about the invasion. But Celina also knew what Aang saw her do a couple nights ago. Taking a deep breath she slowly placed her hands on Aang's temples, beginning the soothing session. She could feel him tense upon contact, but the soothing waters practically forced his body to relax just a little bit. Still, he was tense.
"It's hard to trust me after what you saw me do, huh?" Celina asked. Aang responded by closing his eyes. "I've used bloodbending on practically everyone on the team you know."
That made him look at her. Aang went to get out of the water but Celina moved one of her hands to his chest, keeping him in place. Dipping into her bloodbending Celina began to massage the worst of Aang's tense muscles.
"It's helped me deal with the more difficult injuries you've all received. Allows me to dive deeper into the body, take care of stuff much faster and more efficiently. Repair torn muscles and damaged organs, stop internal bleeding. It was a mixture of that and my spirit abilities that helped bring you back after what happened down in those catacombs. I've used it in all my healing sessions to help you recover from that night."
Celina nodded, continuing on with her work. With the knots massaged out, she ended the soothing session. As the water returned to its normal state Aang sat up, really looking at his friend.
They remained silent as Aang got out of the water and airbended himself dry. It was only when he went to walk away that Celina decided to speak up.
"You don't have to forgive me for what I've done. I just hope I can earn your trust again."
And with that, Aang headed back towards the campsite. Celina stayed down by the water for a while with her familiar element. Once again she needed time to herself to calm her nerves and currently that was done with playful waterbending. It had been an exhausting day and what she needed was something to kill time.
Turning around Celina was startled to see that it was her sister who came to get her. And this time around she kept her gaze with Celina. Her eyes didn't hold the anger as it had earlier. Celina didn't know what caused Katara's gaze to soften in that time from their last conversation, but she was thankful for the small weight it lifted off her shoulders.
"You coming?" With a quick nod, Celina began to follow Katara back to the campsite. Only four more words were spoken between the two. "Thanks for helping Aang."
Going into her evening with Zuko Celina was in a much better mood than she had been in a few days. And after the previous night of dancing, Celina was itching to treat him for all that he prepared for her. Luckily she arrived before he did, giving her time to prepare.
Celina set the space up with two wooden platforms in the middle of the ocean. The sun and moon frozen in time on opposite sides of the horizon, one waiting to set with the other waiting to rise. On one of the platforms sat a table garnished with some of Celina's favorite Water Tribe food and cups of lychee tea. The other platform was framed, white curtains hiding what was inside.
Not even ten minutes after she put the final touches on Zuko made his entrance. He looked around at the scenery in awe before his gaze landed on Celina, noticing how much happier she looked compared to the past couple days. That thought was confirmed even more as Celina greeted him with a long, deep kiss. Breaking from the kiss both parties had goofy smiles on their faces.
"Hi, that was a nice greeting."
"Just nice?" Celina teased, causing both of them to break out into a short laughing fit. When the laughter died down the two just held each other for a moment before returning to the table that Celina set up for them.
"So what's this?"
"I promised you dinner, didn't I? Like you, I've picked out some of my favorite Water Tribe dishes to share."
"And the other platform?"
"That's what I'm calling dessert." A promise Celina sealed with a quick kiss. "But that's for later. For now, let's enjoy dinner."
Sitting down the two toasted to a wonderful night with the tea Celina provided. Zuko was pleasantly surprised to find that Celina remembered his favorite tea. He gave her a look to which she returned with a sly smirk before digging into dinner. The meal mainly consisted of different meats, fish, and stews since the Water Tribe wasn't exactly a great place for growing plants. Their food source came from the ocean and the few animals that roamed the arctic landscape. Though Celina was sure to leave out the stewed sea prunes. There was no way she'd subject Zuko to what she thought was nasty, be it a staple dish of the Water Tribe or not.
Zuko was familiar with the fish dishes, having traveled through the Southern waters beforehand. That and fish dishes seemed to be popular amongst the Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom, and Fire Nation. Though those of the Water Tribe were known to be excellent fishers. Celina mentioned that catching fish was a great way to practice her bending abilities, especially since it ended in getting food. That got Zuko telling her about his attempt at fishing when he and his uncle were on the run, sending Celina into a small fit of giggles. Even watching her almost choke on a spoonful of soup in laughter Zuko couldn't help but stare at her in awe. He couldn't believe what he did or what spirit he pleased to get to spend this time with her. The bit in his heart that begged him for more time with her growing bigger and bigger with each night together.
As dinner continued Celina answered all the questions Zuko had about Water Tribe cuisine, like what dishes were native to the South and what dishes she experienced up in the North. He learned that her favorite of the dishes was the seaweed noodles, which wasn't a surprise after his Fire Nation food dinner. Zuko in turn, after trying everything from the spread, decided that his favorites were the dishes that featured squid and crab. Teacups were refilled and drained as the night went on, the sun and moon slowly sinking below the horizon as the two lovers chatted away. Soon enough the sky darkened to reveal thousands of shining stars filling the sky. Soft candlelight flickered, setting a mood that both Celina and Zuko were interested in diving into.
"So… about dessert?"
"Well, the Water Tribe doesn't really do desserts because of limited resources but…" With a simple wave of her hands, the swaying curtains on the other platform opened up to reveal a soft bed. "I thought I might be sweet enough."
A hungry smile spread across Zuko's face. "Well, I have been craving a specific sweetness."
Celina smirked before climbing onto the now cleared table and slowly crawled over to him. Their eyes locked together as she got teasingly closer, stopping right in front of his face. No longer wanting to wait Zuko grabbed the back of Celina's neck and smashed her lips to his. Celina couldn't help but smile into the kiss before falling into it herself. She let out an excited squeal as Zuko lifted her off the table and carried her to the bed, never removing his mouth from hers. The kiss didn't even end as they tumbled onto the bed. But eventually, they broke away for air. Celina was quick to recover, moving her mouth to Zuko's jawline and moving down his neck, leaving nips as she went along. Not getting enough skin she desired, Celina vanished Zuko's clothes and then dived into leaving kisses and bites along his collarbones.
Zuko let out a moan, feeling her hands travel down his chest and abs. Unsatisfied with the amount of skin Celina was showing he instead grabbed hold of the bottom of her dress and tugged it up. She stopped her motions to allow him to pull the garment off her, leaving Celina in her undergarments. Neither was bothered when he threw her dress to the side and accidentally into the water. No, they were too focused on other things. Instead, her hands tangled themselves in his hair as Zuko trailed his mouth all over Celina's torso, coming up to suck and tease the skin above her breasts. Over her undergarments Zuko's hands easily found her erect nipples, greedily fondling them. A simple twist of one sent Celina to let out a sharp gasp. Her body arched and hips gridded against Zuko's, desperate for more.
Zuko moaned at the friction, muttering Celina's name. He broke away, pausing to just stare at the person below him. A thin layer of sweat had formed on her skin and her breathing was steadily increasing in excitement as they continued. Celina looked at him with eyes hazed with longing, lips parted and ready for him to kiss her. Looking as beautiful as she ever was. And he was lucky enough to be with her. All of her. The beauty, the brains, and the strength that was Celina. She took the chance to open herself up to the banished, damaged prince and saw something that only his uncle had seen in him before. Someone better than what his father convinced him he was. At that moment he realized...
"I love you."
Celina took in a breath of surprise.
And then they woke up.
Frustrated. Just like Aang was clearly delusional because of his lack of sleep Celina was clearly frustrated. That's what the Gaang decided after waking up, believing it must have been something regarding Zuko. They were right, but not for the reasons they thought for two reasons. First, she was sexually frustrated. Two nights straight, she and Zuko were going at it before being interrupted by the morning before they could get to the best parts. And then there was the bigger issue.
Zuko told her he loved her. The invasion was happening the next day. The day that Aang would take down the Fire Lord and end the Hundred Year War, inevitably resulting in many deaths. A day she had to be battle ready for. And he went and told her he loved her. Celina's heart and mind were as jumbled as when she first discovered Zuko was her soulmate. So Celina hurried off to the water and dove underneath the surface, settling herself at the bottle to peacefully meditate.
Entering the Spirit World Celina didn't stop and say hi to any of the followers hanging around the temple. No, she booked it straight to her parents' room. Like always Ai was at her husband's bedside, doting over the ill Spirit of War. Celina paused in the doorway. There were times she felt guilty about bringing all her problems to her parents. They were dealing with their own emergency, one that was costing her father his life. And she was there to talk about boys. She was about to turn around and head to the garden to try and deal with it herself when her parents noticed she was there.
"Celina," Ai smiled.
"Hi, Mom." Finally entering the room Celina hugged her mom before leaning down to hug her father. "Hi, Daddy."
"It's wonderful to see you, turtle duck. Been so long since your last visit."
"Things have been hectic between traveling through the Fire Nation and everyone preparing for the invasion tomorrow."
"I'm sure that man of yours has been helping you relax," Ai teased.
"He's been nice." Her parents gave Celina a worried look, picking up on the nerves in her voice. "He has, I promise. It's just… Zuko told me he loved me last night."
"Celina, that's wonderful," Bishamon sighed.
"Why does that make you nervous?" Ai asked.
"Because he admitted it right before the invasion! Not that he'd know anything about that but it's screwed with my head. I mean, what happens tomorrow if we run into each other? Obviously I'm gonna do what I have to. I'm not gonna just let the war continue killing you just because I'm attracted to the bad boy. But, but…"
"Celina, dear, stand still and take a deep breath for me," Ai instructed. Celina stopped, she didn't even realize she'd begun to pace around the room. Trying to calm down she trusted her mother and took a deep breath. "There's no point freighting about events that might not even happen. Why don't you tell us what's really bothering you about this young man's declaration of love."
She opened her mouth to speak but no words came out. Another look was passed between Ai and Bishamon.
"Did you like it when he told you he loved you?" Bishamon asked.
"Yeah, it was nice. My soulmate actually loves me without knowing we're soulmates. There was no pressure to say it. Just us alone in our own little world and… he loves me. Zuko loves me."
"But you feel that pressure."
It was a statement. Of course Ai would be able to pick up on that. "The universe made him for me and me for him. I should love him. Especially after he told me he does. But… I don't know." Taking Celina's hand, Ai ushered her daughter onto the bed, sitting her down beside Bishamon.
"Just because the two of you are soulmates doesn't mean you have to hurry up and fall in love. You yourself get to take your time and decide when that feeling happens. And just because he's in love with you doesn't mean you have to be in love with him. Some people fall fast, some slow, and some fall somewhere in between those. And whatever rate you reach that will be the right time for you. So try and take the pressure off yourself and enjoy the journey the two of you are on."
"Trust your mother, she knows what she's talking about," Bishamon smiled, taking his wife's hand.
Celina couldn't help but give them a small smile of relief. It was hard to argue with them, after all the Spirit of Love would know what she was talking about.
For now, Celina decided to let her mother's advice sink in. She took a deep breath and just enjoyed her time with her parents. They strayed away from worrisome talk for the rest of Celina's visit. Instead, Celina chose to talk to her parents about the sweetness that was her and Zuko's dates (leaving out the more intimate portions), which Ai swooned over, and the good parts of her travels through the Fire Nation. And for those few hours together all was good.
Upon returning from the Spirit World her siblings managed to find Celina and explain to her a plan to help Aang get a good night's sleep. So together with them and Toph they went and herded several koala sheep, shaving off their soft wool to create a bed. Of course, when the airbender first saw it he instantly thought that it was a hallucination, something that he'd been experiencing all day thanks to the lack of sleep.
"Oh look, another hallucination. An imaginary bed made out of clouds."
"Actually that's real," Celina informed him.
"Yeah we spent hours working on it," Toph added.
"We made it for you," Sokka told him. "A good night's sleep will probably take the crazy away… we hope."
"Look, you guys keep telling me I need to sleep, but I can't, the invasion's tomorrow."
"No, Katara, there's still so much I haven't learned. I don't need sleep. What I need is practice. Quick, hit me."
"I'm not going to hit you," Katara said.
"You want me to do it?" Toph asked eagerly.
"Hold off on that for now," Celina instructed.
"Listen to me," Katara said, grabbing hold of Aang's shoulders. "You've been training for this since the day we've met. I've seen your progress. You're smart, brave, and strong enough."
"You really think so?"
"We all do. You've got this, Aang," Celina said.
"You can do this. You're ready," Sokka added.
"You're the man, Twinkle-toes."
"Thanks, guys." The airbender let out a yawn, not able to keep his eyes open any longer. Katara helped him onto the bed before he could fall over. "You know what? I think I am ready."
Celina couldn't help but be a little nervous as she waited in the dream connection. The l bomb Zuko dropped on her the night before causing the most of the nerves. She didn't even know what she'd say to him. But it was the last night before the invasion, and she wasn't going to miss it for anything. Their last calm night together.
If only Zuko showed up.