Nanaki wanted to be anywhere-school, the beach, jail-anywhere other than where she was now, which was huddled into a corner of the couch at home, her knees drawn up to her chin and her arms wrapped around her shins. She glanced up into the faces of Jinora, her father, and her brother as all three of them were riveted to the television, the screen filled with an agitated and over-excited anchorman.
"It's confirmed," the newscaster spouted, "that the Avatar has been found. She was born Nanaki Jintaro of Ba Sing Se, where she currently lives with her father and twin brother. At long last, the Avatar has been reborn into the world. Welcome back, Avatar Nanaki." The newscaster was shoved to one side of the screen, the rest of it filling up with a school picture of a smiling Nanaki.
Jintaro snapped the television off and turned slowly to his daughter. He was beyond furious. Nanaki cringed and tried to physically merge with the couch.
"What kind of game are you playing?" Jintaro roared. "How dare you go out that door and start telling people that you're the Avatar. Who do you think you are?"
"I didn't!" Nanaki wailed, "I haven't told anyone anything!"
Jinora smiled, grabbing the attention of the furious man.
"She's telling you the truth, mister Jintaro. This is my doing. Nothing could be more important than alerting the world that the Avatar has returned."
"She's not the Avatar," Jintaro howled back at the old woman. He was sho angry he was shaking. His hands gripped and ripped the air, and for a moment Nanaki was terrified to think that he might actually slap the old woman. Jinora showed no fear though, leaning on her old fashioned staff and maintaining her little smile.
"Oh I assure you sir, Nanaki is the Avatar."
Jintaro looked at his quaking daughter again, regarded her for a moment, then snorted. He looked back at Jinora.
"I don't know what she told you to convince you she's the Avatar, Miss Chu, but I assure you she was lying. If there's anyone in this family that could be the Avatar, it would be my son."
"But it's not," Jinora replied mildly, "It's your daughter. And I found her, she said nothing to me. I have been searching for the Avatar since the very day Avatar Korra passed, and I know the Avatar when I see her."
"How?" Jintaro retorted, unconvinced.
Jinora's smile never faltered but her tone carried razor blades. "I am Jinora, the grand-daughter of Avatar Aang and the spiritual guide for Avatar Korra. If you doubt me, I invite you to consult the city records, both here and in Republic City."
Jintaro waved a hand, not willing to engage in a battle of identification. "I know who you are, I recognize your name," he said. "But you've made a mistake. Nanaki isn't the Avatar."
Jinora helped herself to a seat, sitting down beside Nanaki without being invited to. She put an arm around the girl, who was near tears, and smiled up at Jintaro.
"I'd like to take Nanaki home with me tonight, for some consulting. She has certain duties as the Avatar that she will need to know."
It was too much for Jintaro. He went into a rage again.
"She's not the Avatar!"
"She can't even bend," put in Otoshi who, like his father, was angry. But he was also scoffing.
Otoshi's comment caught Jinora off guard. She looked at Jinora, moderating her tone so that the girl wouldn't feel attacked.
"Is that true, Nanaki? You can't earth bend?"
"No!" Nanaki whined. "That's what I've been trying to tell you. I can't bend! I can't be the Avatar. I'm really, really sorry Jinora but you've made a mistake. My dad's right. I'm not the Avatar."
Jinora was unmoved.
"Have you ever tried?" She asked, gently.
That stopped Nanaki in her tracks. She blinked once at Jinora, then stared at her. Cringing again, she looked at her father and was frightened by the storm she saw raging on his face. She looked back at Jinora, then looked at her feet.
"No," she said.
Jinora frowned. She had seen that exchange between daughter and father, that wordless sharing of looks and she understood what it meant. Nanaki was lying, and she was lying because her father was making her lie. More and more, Jinora intensely disliked the man. But she only nodded, and smiled again.
"That's all right," she said. To Jintaro she said, "Still, I'd like to take Nannie home with me for tonight. There are certain things she and I need to discuss."
Jintaro shrugged. Nanaki took note of the use of Yi's pet name for her.
"Take her," he said. "Keep her as long as you like. The lies she's been telling everyone are going to bring the media right to my front door and I'm going to have to work hard to undo the damage she's caused."
Jinora rose so swiftly all three members of the Jintaro family were surprised. It was Jinora's turn to be angry now, and she let it show.
"You will say nothing." she said to Jintaro, her voice a mixture of ice and venom and acid. "You will not say one word in denial of Nanaki or who she is. If I hear that you're denying the return of the Avatar, in any fashion, you and I, sir, will have words. Am I understood?"
Jintaro was flabbergasted by the old woman's change in demeanor, and the fire in her eyes. Suddenly, without knowing why, he was afraid of her. He gawked at her for almost a full three seconds, then snapped his mouth shut and bolstered himself behind his anger.
"Fine. Fine," he said. "Just take her and go."
Nanaki's heart sank. She was hoping beyond hope that her father would come to her rescue, that like the fabled white knight of cliche legend he would swoop in and tell this old woman that she was utterly completely wrong; that his daughter was not the Avatar, and that he would then take her into his arms and refuse to let Jinora take her anywhere. But he didn't.
He doesn't care what happens to me, her mind whispered.
Eyes floating in a sea of tears, Nanaki slowly unwound from the couch and got to her feet. Jinora, her father, and Otoshi all looked at her.
"I'll go pack," she said.
The room was nice, if a bit sparse. Nanaki looked around, her suitcase in front of her. The room above the tea shop was part of a suite, with Jinora occupying one of the other rooms. The floor was of bare hardwood, lacking carpeting or even throw rugs. There was a single bed with a green quilt, a small dresser drawer, a night stand, and a floor lamp. There was one window, which was open, and despite this the roof was stifling hot.
Jinora smiled, seeing the consternation and uncertainty etched onto Nanaki's expression.
"I know," she said, "It's small and it's hot. But it's yours, Avatar Nanaki, for as long as you want it."
Nanaki sat down on the bed. She was numb and cold, haunted by the reality that her father had abandoned her when she needed him the most.
"What happens now?" She asked.,
Jinora sat down on the bed beside her.
"First, you get comfortable. You won't be going to school any more, you won't need to and I don't think that you could concentrate on your studies anyway. I'll school you here, and in your spare time if you like you can work down in the tea shop and give my old bones a little help. But that's only if you want to."
Nanaki nodded slowly. "Can I have friends over?"
Jinora was surprised by the question.
"Of course you can," she said. "You're not a prisoner. And even if I said no, I don't think that would stop that darling Yi from coming to see you."
At last Nanaki lifted her head and looked at Jinora.
"What about the Avatar stuff?"
Jinora busied herself by opening Nanaki's suitcase and beginning to unpack for her. "First, we connect you to your earthbending. Once you've mastered that, then we will follow tradition and teach you to master firebending, then airbending, then waterbending. When you reach your airbending stage, I'll teach you personally."
She looked over and found that Nanaki was sprawled across the bed, fast asleep. The excitement of the day had at last exhausted her. Jinora gently pulled off the girl's shoes and moved her to a more comfortable position. She laid a hand on Nanaki's forehead and felt very sorry for the girl. A birthday gone ignored, the shock of being told who she was, a father that tossed her so casually away. She shook her head.
"It gets better, Avatar Nanaki," she said, her voice low. "I promise you, it gets better."