Written for the 31_days prompt "then, tell me what you'll do to me."
Characters: Katara, Hama
So although I'm extremely dubious about the woman-taught, moon-powered, eeevil waterbending of 'The Puppetmaster', I apparently buy into it here. Well, it was an excellent episode.
Katara curled the last of the water round the dishes with a flourish, grinning across at Hama. The old waterbender, sitting bolt upright at the table, knobbly hands wrapped round a bowl of tea, smiled back slowly and crooked a finger.
Katara started, a sudden pull on the rope of water between her hands. The water sagged, then flowed out in thin skeins through her fingers, catching the last of the sunset as it spiralled out and down into a pot of tomatobeans on the windowsill.
Hama lowered her hand.
“Waste not, want not.”
“Sorry,” said Katara, a little sheepishly. “I’m just not used to waterbending with anyone who isn’t Aang. Except for when I was training under Master Pakku, of course.”
“It just felt different.”
It was true. Aang never took the water from her like that when they bended together. Even when they were sparring, water arcing between them in tough loops and curves, sheeting into sharp ice or crackling out into vapour, it always belonged to both of them, its touch on Aang’s skin her touch.
Hama shook her head.
“That’s what training up North does for you,” she said. “I don’t imagine any of those boys had ever been in a real fight until you bought the Fire Nation to their doorstep. It’s no good being fussy with your bending, Katara.”
Her expression softened.
“But that isn’t the same as being impolite.”
She hooked up a stream of tea from the pot, let it sink into an empty bowl.
“Here. It’s been a long day.”
Katara sat down, let her fingers hover in the steam. Tiny flurries of sediment mushroomed up in the green tea, sank back down. For a moment, although Aang and Sokka and Toph were safe upstairs, although her father was where he had to be, out gathering their forces for war, although she was no longer the last waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe, her throat felt tight and hot, her eyes stiff with tears.
Katara raised her head, made herself look round the kitchen, its rough white walls and dark wood bathed in soft orange light, ropes of garlicplums hanging from the ceiling, fat-bellied pots gleaming on the shelves. She huffed out a breath.
“Would you mind?”
Hama had moved her chair round behind her, Katara realised, was lifting her hair, holding up the blue and white comb that was her last possession from the South Pole.
Katara shook her head, flopped her hair out over the back of the chair.
Hama began to ease the comb through it, carved bone moving in short slow strokes.
“Such lovely hair,” she said. “Though you’re no better at keeping it untangled than your grandmother, I see.”
Katara blinked, the image of a younger, messier Gran-gran hovering before her.
“We’ve been camping,” she protested. “And it’s hot and sticky all the time!”
Hama sighed past her ear.
“Just like Kanna,” she said. The evening settled around them.
Katara leant back, her tea cooling in front of her, steam fading out in the glow of the lantern overhead, the faint tang of sea-prunes catching on her tongue. The comb whispered through her hair. She sucked in a breath, held it, let it frost in her mouth, closed her eyes.
And opened them, of course, to a stuffy Fire Nation night, not to the hard-won warmth of her childhood, treasured up under oil lamps and old skins and ice.
She drank her cold tea, carefully, between tugs of the comb.
“Why did you stay here?” she asked Hama, her voice level. “You don’t have to say if you don’t want to.”
Gran-gran made it all the way to the South Pole from the other end of the world, she thought to herself. She held herself still.
Hama put down the comb.
“People are people everywhere, my dear,” she said. “Even in the Fire Nation. There’s no-one who’s not made of blood and bone.”
She ran her fingers gently through Katara’s hair.
Katara bit her inner lip. She thought of the sharp-fingered Princess, of dead Jet, of Prince Zuko, lying so sweetly about a lost mother down under Ba Sing Se. She wondered if Hama could teach her how to forgive.
Later, holding the old woman’s blood stiff in her veins under the full moon, she understood how much she had already learned.