She hadn’t directly answered his questions, but still answered them sufficiently all the same.
Behind the mask, Zuko pressed his lips into a tight line. The fact that water alone had caused such an immediate and violent reaction in her told him all he needed to know about the finer points of her treatment. It curled anger in his chest, like hot cinders. He drew in a steadying breath, then released it slowly. Once he was sure she was stable, he would return to those marauders’ hideout and finish the job he’d started.
He passed the canteen out of his ungloved hand into the other, and pressed his bare palm against the side of her head again, feeling for wetness. When his fingers came away red, he paused. The flow wasn’t heavy, which bode well when combined with her lucidity. Picking up his discarded glove, he soaked it with water and pressed that against her wound. It still needed to be cleaned, even if it ended up not being as serious as he had feared.
Zuko was careful not to use too much of the water to press against her scalp—this was his only canteen, and she’d used up over two thirds of it between drinking and threatening him with it. The cave floor still glistened with moisture where her ice needles had shattered.
A strange, soft glow lined his peripheral, and with no small amount of surprise, Zuko looked back to find it coming from beneath his hand. Instinctively, he drew back. The glow remained on the waterbender’s head, brightest around where her wound was. He sucked in a breath sharply through his teeth.
She still lay still against his leg, and he fought the urge to scramble back and away. What was she doing? Was she even still conscious? Wracking his memory for waterbender abilities, he suddenly remembered something about healing. Was that what this was?
Slowly, like a receding sunset, the glow faded. With a trembling hand, he reached to touch the spot on her head that was bleeding, only to find unbroken skin, as if it had never been split open by a rock’s edge. She had only done it with whatever bit of water his glove had absorbed and trickled onto her head.
Had her captors known about this power she had? Was it how she outlived all the others? It was very powerful indeed, and it dawned on him that she would be a formidable opponent at full strength. To have the ability to take away life with the flick of one of her ice needles in one hand, and restore a body to a state as if damage had never been done with the other was no trifing thing.
Instead, he kept his voice steady and tightened his grip on the canteen. “You’re welcome,” he replied.
With the brush of the damp glove, energy ebbed from her veins. Katara knew, even without the faint glow lighting the cave, that the laceration along her hairline had all but vanished without a trace. The deeper injuries, the possible concussion and pounding headache, saw minor improvements, too. She’d need more concentrated work, however, a detail she could focus on once her captor’s intentions were clear.
At the moment, she couldn’t read him. Her assumptions of what he felt, what he was thinking, were informed only by the few others she’d healed.
As always, there was the trepidation, the fear that followed. Not a single soul to witness this act had understood it. Her grandmother once whispered in a frantic rush that is was rare, that it should be kept a secret. At all costs, she’d said. The price on her head would be higher; she should only use it the most dire of circumstances, when it meant her life or death.
Katara’s very nature kept her from concealing it completely, however. And, from the hushed sounds of awe, the prayers to her as if she were a god, to the curses, the condemnation — demon, wraith, some called her — she relentlessly pursued and saved the bleeding, the dying.
From the hard line of tension in his thigh, Katara guessed her… companion… was wavering somewhere in between. On the side of right, he had his promise not to harm her. On the side of wrong, of money, of glory— she’d seen so many righteous men fall prey to such things— he now had the invaluable knowledge that she was a waterbender and a healer.
Katara did all she could do, then. She grit her teeth and forced herself to sit up, fighting a wave of nausea at the pain radiating through her skull. Bleary eyes hardly focused on his, but she sneered all the same, “I can bend blood, too. When the moon is full.”
He breath came out hard, carrying the threat.
“Three days, monster. Whatever you do to me between now and then…” she sought a steadying breath. She was dizzy and weak, but she refused such things any place on her features. “I’ll gut you from your chest to your cock. But, with power over your blood, I can keep you alive… just long enough for you to learn what your intestines look like.”
Her threat could have very well been said to the cave wall, for all the reaction Zuko’s mask lended her. Beneath it, however, his eyes were wide, his jaw taut. While it was clear that she did not have the strength to fight him right then—and he was dubious about even in three days—it was abundantly clear to him that she was not going to cooperate easily. He wasn’t sure what he expected, but having his life threatened by someone as near to death as she’d been wasn’t on the list. It was something he would have done.
That didn’t mean he wasn’t taking her seriously. Even though she couldn’t immediately carry out her threat, he had no illusions that she would hesitate once she got her strength back, if he gave her reason to carry it out. Zuko wasn’t certain she could actually bend blood; he’d never heard of such a thing as being possible. Then again, he’d never seen healing like that before. Maybe she was bluffing, maybe not. What he did know was that if she took it upon herself to gut him, that ice she’d formed would have no trouble doing so.
For the moment, she looked as if she were fighting to even remain conscious, and her eyes were barely even steady on the face of his mask. With a fluid movement, he unfolded himself and stood. A glance to the modest pile of easy food he’d brought her showed it still untouched. Though he felt her gaze tracking him (as best she could in her condition), he took the few steps over to it, then retrieved some of the jerky. He went back and crouched before her, picking up the canteen again, as well. Now that he knew she could bend water to her will even heavily weakened, it was risky to let her have any. She could use it to attack him again, and the next time he suspected she would be far more successful. But, without it, she would certainly not survive. It was a risk he decided to take.
Though he was unsure if she could see his eyes through the holes in the mask, he matched her gaze head on. A breath of silence stretch between them, and then Zuko held out the jerky to her in his ungloved palm.
”You won’t be able to kill me if you’re dead before that.”