Chapter Thirty-Nine – The Avatar and the Sentry
When I went home that night, I went the whole way without Dan-Tei. What had been such a wonderful day turned into a stormy evening, at least in my mind. I walked with my fingertips brushing against my lips, lost in thought and too scared to speak.
I didn't know what I was feeling. It was part guilt, knowing I had broken that promise I'd made to Dan-Tei so long ago; I'd forgotten him. It was part pleasure, because I remembered that, once upon a time, he was the person that made me happy, my first kiss. And it was part pain. Because through it all, I kept thinking of Rinzen, and wondering if the way I felt about Dan-Tei was anything like the way I felt about him. The confusion caused a pain that was nearly physical.
I got home, and Dad was there, as usual. But I wasn't late. He was just there to see me, and although I couldn't bring myself to smile, it did make me feel a bit better.
"Hi, Dad," I said softly, closing the door behind me. "It's good to see you."
I came to sit down across from him, and he poured me some tea. I guess I needed that. I took a long sip, scalding my tongue but not paying much attention. I blew on the water, cooling it with a little help from my waterbending.
"It's good to see you, too, sweetie," he answered, smiling gently. "Something wrong?"
"Nothing really," I lied.
He could tell I was lying. But the thing about my dad was that he understood when I didn't want to talk about things. So he didn't pry.
"Hey, Dad," I said eventually. He looked up from his cup of tea to listen. I pondered my words before allowing them to pass my lips. "I…I get why you kept all of this from me. Republic City, Councilman Mako, Dan-Tei…." He looked at me curiously as I continued. "I mean, it was all so I wouldn't find out about the way Mako feels about me. So I wouldn't get hurt, right…?
"Yes," he said, putting down his cup to look at me softly. "I'm sorry about all of that, Kono."
I waved away the apology. There was no need for one.
"That's…that's not what I'm troubled about," I admitted. "Now I understand why you lied to me about those things, but…." I choked out the rest of the sentence. "What about your bending?"
He drew in a short breath, suddenly disconnecting. He looked away, and I knew I would have to dig to find out.
"I lost it to Amon," he said simply. "The Equalist leader."
"You were a great bender before," I said hesitantly. "You won the probending championships so many times."
"Yeah," he said, relaxing a bit to reminisce. "I was a great bender, I guess. But I was a cheater, too. Man, your mom hated me back then."
I smiled a bit at that. That sounded a lot like Mom.
"But…Dad," I added. "Mom's the avatar."
"I know," he said. He seemed to know what I was implying.
"So…did you just…never let her help you? Or…or did she actually give your bending back?" He didn't answer me. "And then…take it away again?"
He didn't look so relaxed anymore.
"It doesn't matter what happened, Kono," he sighed. "All that matters is that I'm not a bender anymore."
"But…you could be."
"That doesn't matter, either. I made my choice. I don't deserve those abilities."
"Don't deserve them?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing. My Dad, who so worshipped benders for everything they were, had the ability to become one again, and refused.
"I used those powers to gain…popularity and fame and money. That's not what those abilities are for. Bending was built for self-defense, and I used it to bully."
"But…that's not you anymore, Dad," I insisted. "Even if you were really ever like that…you're not, now."
He was quiet. In the silence, we held each other's gazes until his broke.
"I'm scared," he whispered. My eyes widened a little, and when I recovered myself, I felt a little sad. "I'm afraid that if I ever accept that part of me back, the rest will come, too. I don't want to be that selfish, arrogant person anymore."
"Dad…," was all I could say. "Dad, a lot of things changed since then. Back then, you didn't have Mom to remind you. You don't have to be afraid of becoming that person. I won't let you. Back then, you didn't have me."
He stared at the tabletop, then let a small smile replace the wariness on his face. He nodded.
"I guess I still have a lot of things to work out, don't I?" he asked.
"Yeah," I sighed. "So do I. Let's…let's take some time. To figure out things together."
"What do you mean by that?"
I looked at him, smiling sadly.
"You haven't been a waterbender in a long time," I reminded him. "And we both need some time to think. I say…let's find you a waterbending master."
"Kono, do you really mean…?"
"I need you, Dad," I said finally. "I'm confused, and I don't know what to do. I need some time to collect myself. We both do. Please…please let me help you. And…please help me."
His gaze held true for a long time, and then:
"Okay, sweetie," he said. "Let's take some time to think."