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Hand in Hand

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The streets of Kyoshi Island smell like gunpowder and gyoza. There is salt in Katara's hair and on her tongue, but as she walks the streets with a candied apple in her right hand and a piece of mochi in the other, all she tastes is sweetness. The windows of the houses are all open, and a silk banner flies in every place where a silk banner ought to fly; there are sparkling green streamers dangling from welcoming doors, and she can hear the clink of pai sho tiles, can smell the sizzling of hot oil on the wok.

Ty Lee walks the streets beside her, but whereas Katara is using her feet, Ty Lee walks with her hands. She balances precariously on her strong palms, and when Katara smiles down at her, Ty Lee beams even brighter. There are ribbons in her hair and seashell earrings dangling from her lobes. She looks so happy. It's hard to remember sometimes that Katara once hated her.

Or perhaps hate is not the right word. Katara isn't sure she even hates Azula. Pities her, more like, and doubly so now that she gets to walk free and light while Azula lives behind stone and iron. Ty Lee doesn't talk about Azula much, and in the beginning Katara disliked her for it. But these days she knows that Azula is a cold sorrow, the kind that is better kept hidden, and Katara knows now that when Ty Lee loves, she loves too deeply.

Katara has been living on Kyoshi Island for three months. She has been studying with the Kyoshi Warriors, learning the tricks of blade and body that she hopes will complement her waterbending. It has been two years since the end of the war with the Fire Nation, and she used to think her waterbending was enough, but traveling with Aang has taught her just how many strong enemies there are, enemies that even Aang's gifts and Zuko's political machinations can't erase. In the two years minus three months of traveling with Aang, Katara has been beaten, punched, thrown off a tower, chained in a cavern, and drugged to the gills. This is when she is trying to protect Aang; no one really comes after her. What they do to Aang is worse.

It seems strange that the end of war could bring so many new cruelties, but the world, Katara has learned, is indeed strange. There is no use trying to fathom it.

So, the Kyoshi Warriors.

So, Ty Lee.

She came to the island also for Sokka and Suki. She hadn't seen Sokka for a very long time, what with them going their separate ways after the war, and her eyes grew wet at the sight of her stupid older brother waiting for her by the docks. They'd spent four days excitedly sharing news and reminiscing before Sokka and Suki were called away to consult on a nearby island. Both of them are in high demand these days, and Katara begrudged seeing her brother go, but other people need him more than she does, unfortunately.

She and Ty Lee have been staying with Suki's family: her mother Akane, her father Kazuo, and her little sisters Haru and Midori. Katara pretty much loves Suki's family by this point, and she thinks it's pretty obvious where Suki gets her strength and good humour. Ty Lee loves them too. She spends a lot of time playing with Haru and Midori, showing endless patience when they demand to see one of her tricks or to help them sew clothes for their dolls. "I have sisters," Ty Lee laughs when Katara asks her about it, and Katara is wistful.

"I wish I had sisters," she admits.

"Okay then!" Ty Lee says. "We'll adopt each other then!"

Now they're walking the streets of Kyoshi Island on Kyoshi Day. Ty Lee finally stands up to hook Katara's arm within hers, and Katara wonders if she's ever been this happy.

(The answer is yes, of course. She was this happy with her family, she's been this happy with her friends, and she's been this happy with Aang too, but somehow those memories seem dim in comparison with Ty Lee's open smile).

Down by the water, some of the villagers are setting off fireworks. The sun is dipping below the horizon, but they make their own light: fierce, radiant, colourful. Katara claps after each performance, and at one point she thinks even the Unagi peeks out of the water, but that could just be her imagination.

"Ah, that was so good! Just like back home." Ty Lee covers her mouth with her hand. "Oops, I mean--"

"It's okay," Katara tells her. "You're allowed to talk about home."

"Am I?" Ty Lee asks. "People hate the Fire Nation. They try to be nice to me, but I can tell they're still...they're still angry."

And they have a right to be, Katara thinks, but she quashes it down and says, "Things will change. You just wait. And I'm always happy to listen to you talk about home if you're willing to put up with me talking about mine."

"I love your stories about the South Pole," Ty Lee says. "They're so..."

"Exotic? Adventurous? Cold?"

"They're so you," Ty Lee finishes, and Katara isn't sure what that even means. Half the time she doesn't understand what goes on in Ty Lee's head. It's one of her favourite things about her.

They leave the fireworks and pick their way back into the village proper. When Akane sees them, she nudges them inside the house and says, "Girls, you're late! We were going to start eating without you."

"No we weren't," says Midori, kicking the table leg. The table is heavy with gyoza, fried fish, curried vegetables, sushi rolls, and little scallion pancakes that Akane urges them to dip into a special cod sauce that tastes like radishes. Katara and Ty Lee sit cross-legged between Suki's two sisters, and together the family navigates through the labyrinth of food and drink that Akane has prepared. It's probably a good thing that Sokka isn't around; he'd have eaten more than his fair share of it, it's so good.

They try to help Akane clean up the dishes, but Akane waves them off. "Are you kidding me? I'm not touching any of it until tomorrow," she says. Haru and Midori are swept away by a group of friends and Kazuo retires to sit on the steps with his wife and fan themselves lazily as fireflies start to float in the air. Katara and Ty Lee go off to the training hall where they run through their katas. Even on holidays one cannot forget proper training; the body grows weak otherwise.

They have their solo kata but they have their paired kata as well, and Katara loves those best. She and Ty Lee sweep towards each other with their glinting fans, and when they are the moment of juncture, Ty Lee quick-steps to the right while Katara moves to the left. It's athletic and graceful now. When they are in full uniform, it will be beautiful.

Katara can still hear the fireworks going pop, pop, pop. The training hall is illuminated through the windows in sequences like a shadow play.

Ty Lee brushes a strand of hair from her face. "What are you thinking about right now?" she asks.

"This," Katara says, and she reaches between them to take Ty Lee's hand.

Ty Lee's eyes widen. "What about the Avatar?"

"Why do people think I'm practically married to Aang?" Katara says crossly. "I'm not wearing his engagement necklace, am I? The future is the future. We'll see."

"But you love him," Ty Lee says.

"I love a lot of people," Katara says truthfully. She squeezes Ty Lee's hand, and Ty Lee's hesitance changes into a bone-breaking smile that goes up, up, up like a twisty display of fireworks. Katara giggles until her belly shakes with food and laughter, and Ty Lee leans against her, tilting her head up for a kiss.

The celebrations are still ongoing. They'll rejoin them, later.