I am the water.
I am the life bringer, the death bringer. I create life, I destroy life.
I am the forever cycle. I will be reborn as cloud, as rain, as puddle, as ocean. I have no infancy. I have no age. I just am.
I am the water.
The tear had not yet dried on his still face. Did the scarred side cry, she wondered? Of course it did. But the water would not come as easily.
She sat up and stretched, feeling the skin fill with her essence. It was warm and snug, far too small a container, but it worked for her, shared the same water pulse as she, a kinship of blood and flesh and soul. So she ignored the constricting sensation, just as she ignored the two other presences nearby. She needed no one else. Zuko had returned to her.
“My love,” she whispered, and knelt by his side. She turned his face, felt the flutter of his life water coursing through his veins. It was weak, and filled with darkness. She lay her head upon his chest, listening with closed eyes. Her heart beat smoothly and calmly compared to his faint and erratic thump-thumping.
"Aang, what's she—?"
"Shh! Don't interrupt!"
“I will not let you die again, Zuko.” She extended her arms and called her element to bear the young man’s body into the pool. She flowed after it, and let the boy rest in the shallows.
Moving with infinite slowness, the Waterbender grasped the poison in her mind, sifting through the blood, raking through it with her rivulet fingers. Her down-turned palms passed from his face down his chest, along his waist and down his leg, stopping at the gruesomely swollen gash on Zuko's foot.
She drew her hand slowly up, and out came the black ooze through the young man’s alabaster skin. A little snake of water wrapped around the ankle and the wound closed with a brilliant blue glow as the last of the poison left him.
She contemplated the dark pool of spider scavenger venom in her palm for a moment before letting it evaporate harmlessly into the air.
“Be reborn better, little inkling.” She murmured.
She turned back to Zuko, who lay floating on the water’s surface at waist height. It was a simple matter to heal him, now that the poison was gone. Karanna moved the life water through his body, willing it to circulate, pump through his heart, his muscles, his lungs. His chest rose as he inhaled deeply, but his eyes did not open.
She smiled at him serenely, gazing along the length of his handsome young form. A great sadness welled inside here.
She would not be here much longer. There were things that had to be undone. Bad things that needed to be withdrawn from her paradise, like the poison in Zuko’s body.
“Zuko, it’s time to wake up,” she bent and whispered softly in his ear. Her lips brushed his cheekbone.
“It’s still dark out,” he mumbled. “Let me sleep.”
“No Zuko, I need you now.” Karanna waved her arms, effortlessly using her element to bring Zuko to a standing position. He groggily staggered to his feet, his mind somewhere between dream and awake. He pouted like a small child being kicked out of bed.
“I have to go away now, Zuko,” the Waterbender said quietly. “But I’ll make things right before I go. I am sorry I could not save you the first time.”
She gazed down, and Aang and Sokka could feel her remorse, sensing it like the scent of lilies in the air. A large, sparkling tear rolled down her cheek, pulsing with a brilliant white light that matched those of the crystals in the cave. It dropped into the water, shimmering. The effect spread through the water, through the pool, up the waterfall, and out the myriad little streams crisscrossing the island.
A sound like a million birds taking wing washed over the island. And though the night sky was clear and the waning moonset lit the landscape with the last of its silvery rays, it began to rain.
"I will see you soon, my love.” She whispered. "Live this life well."
Prince Zuko opened his eyes sleepily as Karanna’s arms flowed over his shoulders and around his neck.
And using Katara’s young, supple body, the dead Waterbender Avatar kissed the Prince of the Firebenders, breaking the curse and freeing Fonquay from his prison, the souls from their crystal thrall, and the wandering wraiths of the In-Between.
Aang suddenly felt a weight and dankness lift from him. He hadn't even realized just how heavy his limbs had felt. A great gust of wind lifted him briefly off the ground, and he grinned for the first time that night.
Sokka stared at the clear sky in bewilderment, blinking the rain out of his eyes as he wondered where it was coming from.
Appa, who had been out cold and hidden in a nearby copse of trees where he had been grazing, stirred, groaned, and staggered up onto to his six legs. Momo chattered enthusiastically as the beast rose, exhausted after all he had done to keep the spidery scavengers away from the incapacitated bison. The little monsters who had surrounded Appa shrieked angrily and scurried away, deprived of an easy meal for the second time that night.
Iroh felt the rain lick his neck and he groggily sat up, his bones aching. He glanced at the empty mead bottle that had fallen from his grasp and sleepily swore, never again.
The rest of the Firebenders did much the same. The crew members who were just plain drunk kept sleeping.
And Zuko… well, he didn’t care much about anything except that he was kissing Katara’s soft, pliant lips, his strong arms wrapped tightly around her supple waist.
And when their lips finally broke, the drained prince went limp and passed out for a third time that night, landing with a loud, unceremonious splash in the shallows.
"He always did get a bit weak in the knees when I did that," Karanna murmured to herself, smiling. She looked up, feeling a second water kinship with one of the nearby presences. It was a familiarity she had never experienced with anyone else before. She turned her milky gaze upon it.
She stared long and hard at the little boy with the blue arrow tattoos. He stared back with equal intensity. It was like looking at her distorted reflection in a pool of water. She relaxed as she finally understood who he was.
"You have a long task ahead of you, little one," she said. "Had I known it was my destiny as well, I would not have run away from it, and into... this." She looked around her former paradise sadly.
Aang stepped forward. "But you found love. Some things are worth the sacrifice," he said.
Karanna shook her head. “But the price was far too high.” She said softly. She looked up to face the inky sky, the mysterious rain pelting her cheeks. And then, with a burst of brilliant blue-white light, Avatar Karanna’s spirit left Katara's body, shooting up into the deep indigo night and dissipating like mist on the wind.
Katara slumped to her knees in the water, landing neatly in Zuko's outstretched arms.
The gentle rain tapered off. The forest was quiet once more, except for the rush of the waterfall, which no longer glowed with the iridescence of the crystals, now emptied of the trapped souls. The faintest sliver of orange rimmed the horizon. Dawn approached.
But the excitement wasn’t over yet.
Sokka felt a great unease stir within him as he and the young Avatar dragged the two sleeping “lovers” out of the shallow water, unlatching them from the other’s embrace. Just then, they spotted something creeping towards them out of the cave mouth. They could barely make out the spindly silhouette behind the falls, but Aang knew who it was.
“Fonquay.” He said dispassionately. Setting Katara’s light body down, he took a stance and placed his palms together, as though praying.
With great gusto, he pulled them apart. The cascade of water split down the centre and was drawn back like a curtain, revealing the knobby, dirty, wraith of a man standing behind it. He was naked, except for the loin cloth that, thank the gods, clung stubbornly to his pitiful form. There were no crystals about his persons, nor was he solid granite. But he was crumbling, with great clods of earthen flesh dripping off his persons.
“Avatar,” Fonquay said hoarsely. “You have kept your promise. Thank you.”
And the man tipped over into the water to join his rejected gift, the quartz statue of his would-be love. Sokka and Aang were about to jump in and save him, but the man’s body dissolved in a fizz. A scattering of dust and sand floated to the surface of the pool.
“GROSS!” Sokka gagged. “Sad… and weird... and… eeeeewww, soooo gross!”
“Speaking of sad and weird and gross, what do we do with him?” Aang indicated the passed-out prince with a jerk of his thumb.
Sokka watched Zuko suspiciously, unconvinced he was fully asleep. He thought about taking his wool sweater back, but decided he'd never wear it again anyhow, not after the Fire Nation prince had worn it. Ugh, how creepy would that be?
Still, as he mulled over the night’s events, he saw Zuko in a whole new light, though it still wasn’t a very flattering light. Sokka still didn’t like the Fire Nation prince, and would probably kill him given a sporting chance, but the prince had brought his sister to him and had almost died in the process. Plus, he had saved them all… in a passive not-doing-anything kind of way.
He wondered briefly about what had happened that would force the prideful prince to carry his sister all the way to the waterfall, and how that gash had appeared on his foot. Not that it really mattered to Sokka: they could just leave him here, or maybe throw him back in the water to drown…
Katara’s words floated to him from a not-too-distant memory:
He’s a boy, Sokka, just like you! Do you really want to see him dead? Are you as bloodthirsty as they are?
But he’s the enemy, and he’s constantly trying to kill us. Did it even make sense to think of Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation as anything else? He thought about what his dad would do in a situation like this, and when the answer came, he sighed.
"Aang, you go find Appa and load Katara on. Pack up the camp, too. I'll take sleeping beauty here back to his ship."
Aang blinked at the Water Tribe warrior’s uncharacteristically merciful decision. "Sokka, are you sure that's a good idea? I mean, the Fire Nation soldiers will all be waking up and stuff."
The water boy shook his head. "Even if they were cursed, I’m betting they'll all have some pretty bad hangovers." He grinned. “It’ll be alright. I mean, what could possibly happen?”