|Close Your Eyes
Author: cupid-painted-blind PM
Because your eyes will only show the truth, and the truth is not what you want to see. / Kanna escapes the Northern Water Tribe and travels south, always south.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama/Adventure - Kanna/Gran Gran - Words: 6,813 - Reviews: 12 - Favs: 19 - Published: 06-17-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6059569
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
close your eyes
for your eyes will only tell you the truth,
and the truth is not what you want to see.
Objectively speaking, it's a pretty necklace. Expertly carved aquamarine, polished until smooth and flawless, attached to a silk ribbon dyed the most livid blue imaginable - and which must have cost quite a pretty penny. It's beautiful.
And she hates it.
Pakku is no different from all the other men of the tribe: always telling her what to do, how to act, where to go, and, worst of all, what she can't do. Women aren't made for that kind of responsibility, Kanna, he had replied when she asked him if he would allow her to stand beside him rather than beneath. She thinks he's full of hot air, but she smiles anyway and tells him that of course she'll marry him, because her father is breathing down her neck about this stupid marriage business.
If and when she ever has a daughter, she thinks that she'll let her daughter marry whoever she wants, whenever she wants. None of this ridiculous seventeen-is-an-old-maid business.
Pakku smiles in a way that makes her heart ache, though, when he ties the choker around her neck. He beams at her, and kisses her passionately, desperately, lovingly - and she knows that she is a terrible person for it, but all she wants is to make him and his love for her disappear into the swirling ocean.
She cannot marry him.
But she must.
It's the dead of winter. Above her, the sky is glowing blue and green - the path to the spirit world, they say, follow the sky-lights and meet eternity.
"What should I do?" she asks, whispering her sorrows to her dead mother, hoping that the light will carry her words to the spirit world. "I can't marry Pakku. I can't stay here! They're suffocating me! I'll go mad if I have to spend the rest of my life walking one step behind Pakku, I will!" The lights fluctuate and the silence of the winter closes in on her. "Mother... What would you do?"
It seems that they point south.
She decides to follow where they lead her.
"Kanna, darling!" Pakku cries, throwing an arm around her and holding something in his hand. "I made you something."
It's a tiny rose made from ice. It's very pretty, but she's not much for flowers, and she knows that it couldn't have taken him more than half a second to make. She smiles absently and continues to sew pelts into a lovely, warm blanket. He thinks it's to be placed on their marriage bed - it's really to keep her warm as she travels away from this place.
"It's beautiful," she tells him, and places it on the ground beside her. He beams, like he always does when she speaks to him kindly (and sometimes when she speaks to him less-than-kindly, as well), and settles down to sit with her, as though they are old lovers or friends.
"This will make a wonderful blanket," he comments, touching the pelts gently. "Is this polar leopard?"
She nods. "Yes, my father gave me the pelts after last month's hung," she smiles as demurely as she can, forcing herself to play her half of the couple, at least for now. "Isn't it soft?"
"Yes," he coos, and leans in to kiss her cheek, "but not as soft as you."
Her cheeks ache from smiling. She doesn't want to hurt him - of all the people here, it's Pakku she's going to feel worst about leaving behind. She doesn't love him, no, but he loves her so much it breaks her heart, and it kills her to do this to him.
But she has to put herself first. Her entire life, she's been putting the tribe and her father before all else, and if she's going to be forced to live the life of the Northern Water Tribe, then she wants to see the world and experience freedom first.
Freedom. The word alone sets her blood on fire and makes her itch to be gone from here. To go somewhere where the sun still shines even though it's winter. To be treated based on her merit and not her gender. To be on her own, unrestrained and unhindered. To stop worrying about others and take care of herself.
She can't fake a blush, but she can fake a giggle (even though it lands sour on her tongue) and she can turn away coyly. "You flatter me," she replies.
He smiles, "No, Kanna, I don't. You're... amazing," he breathes. "I can't believe you're going to marry me."
She must move quickly, before anyone will have a chance to stop her. She spends days secretly stowing food and fresh water and warm pelts away on a little kayak by the south gate, and finally, in the dead of night following a furious blizzard - when the sky is completely clear and the blue and green lights are urging her to go and the tide is just beginning to recede - she finishes packing and leaves. She does not tell anyone where she's going, not even her best friends. They would only tell her to stay, or they would tell her father about her plans and he would force her to stay, or they would tell Pakku and... well, she doesn't know what she would do if she had to face Pakku.
She almost leaves the necklace behind, and has a note written, explaining to him where she has gone, why, and when she plans to return, but instead she decides to be selfish and keep the necklace - it's hers, after all - and the note drops from her hands half a mile out to sea, and dissolves in the current before it can reach her old home.
It's just as well, she thinks. He wouldn't want to read it anyhow.
Her first stop was planned to be the abandoned Northern Air Temple, but when she gets close to the shores of the eastern continent and actually sees the mountains blocking her path (and is barely able to make out the shape of a temple, far away and practically impossible to reach) - she decides instead to continue east and make for Ba Sing Se. It's a little far, though, and her food is running out. She's reasonably certain that, if pressed, she could catch fish and cook it on the beach when she makes camp, but she would far rather avoid skinning and gutting fish if at all possible.
It's never been one of her favorite past-times, and besides, fishing is boring work.
She reaches the shore north of Ba Sing Se almost two weeks out of the Northern Water Tribe, and she basks in the (admittedly weak) sunlight, which she has missed desperately. She empties her kayak and shoves it out to sea, realizing too late that she could have sold it for good money.
"Oh well," she tells the wind. "No sense worrying about it now."
It's still cold, but warmer than the Northern Water Tribe, and she walks south without a care. For the first time in her entire life, Kanna tastes freedom, and oh, what a sweet taste that is. Even though its aftertaste is slightly bitter, as she remembers what she has left behind.
She wonders how Pakku took the news that she has gone. Maybe he convinced himself that she had been captured, and tried to stage a rescue attempt. Or maybe he ranted and fumed and screamed for days. Or maybe he had already forgotten about her and moved on to the next pretty girl with blue eyes.
(She doubts it, but she hopes so, because the idea of Pakku spending days in his hut, crying at the loss of his fiancee, hurt her to imagine.)
The gates of Ba Sing Se loom against the horizon; she will be there by noon tomorrow. Her camp is small, and more than a little lonely, just one girl wrapped in a polar lepoard blanket in front of a little fire on a cold, windy, empty night.
Briefly - but only briefly - she wishes that she had been strong enough to stay.
"One room, please," she says quietly, handing over a small amount of coin to pay for her room. She does not have much money, and what she'll make from selling supplies along the way may not cover the cost of living. It's all right, she thinks. She has plenty of skills that she can sell.
And, well, if all else fails, she's certainly pretty enough to con a few unsuspecting men out of coin. It's not noble, but freedom is heady on her tongue and a small, wicked part of her wants to find out just what she's capable of when all restraints have been removed.
"Aren't you a mite young to be traveling all alone, sweetie?" the innkeeper asks, and all of her instincts scream to play the subservient maiden. Instead, she raises an eyebrow and cocks her hip.
"I'm glad you think me so young," she replies with forced bravado. "But I've been around more than long enough to have earned the right to travel alone." The innkeeper laughs heartily.
"I didn't mean anything by it, milady. You're from the Northern Water Tribes, I take it?" he asks, indicating to her clothing. She flicks her hair back with slight insolence.
"Originally, yes," she replies, "but I haven't been there in a long time. It's too cold." She's lying: she's always loved cold weather.
"I hear that, yes. Is it true they have a city made of ice?"
She smiles. "Oh, we do. And it sparkles in the sunlight like it's made of diamonds. It's truly a sight to behold."
The innkeeper sighs. "I've always wanted to go there, you know." He hands over a key.
"What's stopping you?" she asks, before she can control herself. The man scoffs.
"Can't just abandon my business, now can I? Besides, it costs money to travel so far."
Not really, she thinks. All you need is a kayak, a couple of weeks, and the determination to go. But she doesn't tell him this, instead taking the key and smiling brilliantly, and when she gets to her room, she laughs and laughs and laughs, for no reason at all.
"Oh, come on," she cries, hands on her hips, "that is a genuine Northern Water Tribe Hunting Spear! Hand-carved! It's worth way more than a measly six silver pieces! Do you have any idea how long it takes to carve one of these things?"
"No," the merchant replies dryly, "but I have a feeling you'll tell me."
"A month! And that's assuming you've killed the whale beforehand! A whale hunt can take up to three months! Three months! And then you have to cut the bones out - by hand! And then," she exclaims, getting even more riled up and beginning to attract a crowd, "you have to carve it to the precise right size, which is a pain in the neck to determine, let me tell you, and then you have to pry out a second bone for the spearhead, and carve that one by hand, too, until it's just the right sharpness. And then - And then you have to hope that someone tanned some hides so you can cut one into leather strips so you can lash everything together! This is not just a weapon! It's a work of art! And you think it's worth only six silver pieces? You, sir," she proclaims, poking the merchant in the shoulder, "are a thief! You think to steal such a priceless item!"
She's breathing heavily, and her crowd is snickering, something she's only just noticing. Color rises to her cheeks, but she ignores it and tilts her chin forward proudly. No Earth Kingdom market-goers are going to make her feel ashamed for asking a proper price for her supplies.
"That's great, sweetheart," the man drawls, "but I'm not paying any better than that for a lump of whale bone. Six silvers, take it or leave it."
This is the seventh merchant she's been to today, and the best payment she's had yet. Savages, she thinks angrily.
"Here - " a man in the crowd says, stepping forward and taking the spear from her, testing its weight and pricking the end of it. "This is a good spear. I'll pay you... three gold pieces for it." The man grins warmly, and she almost falls straight through the ground. Oh, he's handsome, and younger than she thought at first...
"Three gold?" the merchant cries. "Bah. It's not worth half that."
"Not to you," the other man replies, winking at Kanna, "but to a fisherman, this spear is worth twice that." He suddenly realizes his error and groans. Kanna smirks.
"Twice that, huh? How about six gold pieces, then?"
The crowd murmurs agreement, turning to her favor. The man makes a face. "Four gold pieces."
She raises an eyebrow. "Five," she says, crossing her arms. "Or I'll take it somewhere else."
"Like where?" he challenges, leaning forward slightly. "The docks?" There's a light mocking tone in his voice, but she refuses to rise.
"I don't have to sell it now. I'll be traveling along the coast. Surely there are plenty of fishermen there..."
The man laughs outright, and claps her on the shoulder. Her throat goes suddenly dry. "All right, my fine Water Tribe Lady, five gold pieces it is." He reaches into his pocket and counts out five gold pieces - out of many, many more, she notices, and briefly considers slipping her hand into his pocket and relieving him of a few more. But the crowd is on her side, and surely someone would notice if she picked the man's pocket, and they would turn against her in an instant.
And having Ba Sing Se turn against her would be a terrible, terrible thing. So she smiles brightly and takes the five gold. "Thank you, good sir," she replies cheekily. "You won't be disappointed."
"Oh," he says, eyes glinting, "I won't."
"Have you heard?" a man in the tavern is saying. "That bastard of a Fire Lord's had a son."
Groans echo around the room. "Someone should kill them," a voice calls, "all of them!"
But he's just a baby, she thinks, and then remembers that, baby or no, he is Fire Nation, and that means he's evil. Murmurs of assent ripple through the tables, and she keeps her head down and simply eats, trying to avoid the chaos that's brewing around her.
"My friend Tannok," a drunken man at the bar slurs, "m'friend Tannok, he said that he had a plan, to deal with those monsters once and for all."
"What plan is that, Dorkan?" the barmaid asks lightly, topping off his drink. "Drink them into submission?"
"No," Dorkan replies testily. "He said he's gonna ass- ass- kill the Fire Lord and his evil progeny. Got all the tricks to do it right, too."
"Right," another man says, rolling his eyes and taking a deep draught of his beer, "He's just going to walk into the Fire Nation and kill its leader. Maybe when he's done with that, he'll ressurrect the Avatar and we'll have a giant party."
Dorkan sneers at the man. "The - Azu... Azulon's gonna make an attempt on Ba Sing Se - " Here, everyone scoffs at the futility of it. " -And Tannok, he's got a real nice spear - " Here, Kanna's heart leaps into her throat. " - that he can throw from the walls. Fire Lord's gonna be at the front of his army, right? All Tannok's gotta do is aim right. Apparently this spear is, I dunno, magic or something."
"A spear?" the barmaid repeats, a hint of a laugh in her voice, "That's his plan? To chuck a spear at the Fire Lord? Well, let's all go get ready for peace," she cries sarcastically, rolling her eyes.
"Nonononononono," Dorkan insists, "it's a magic spear, I think. It's Water Tribe, you know, and their weapons are all, I dunno, dedicated with the blood of babies or something, but everyone knows the Water Tribes make perfect weapons."
Kanna cannot breathe.
"Just because it's Water Tribe doesn't mean it's magic, you idiot," someone says. "It just means it's another spear."
"Why don't we ask the little Water Tribe gal sitting over there?" Dorkan slurs, stumbling over to Kanna's table and placing his hands on her shoulders. His breath is rank with alcohol and he doesn't appear to have bathed any time recently. The whole tavern is staring at her, and she suddenly feels very small and insignificant.
"Um," she whispers blankly, frightened against her will.
"Oh, leave the poor girl alone," the barmaid says, throwing her towel onto the bar and marching over. She takes Dorkan by the shoulders and guides him back to his seat. "Sorry about that, darling," she calls over her shoulder. "Drunks, you know."
"Yeah," she replies, laughing uneasily, "I know."
She lays in her bed for hours, wondering what to do. Her spear might kill the Fire Lord - shouldn't she be proud? Instead, all she feels is sick.
Oh well, she thinks. Oh well.
If the Fire Lord is planning to attack Ba Sing Se, it's in her best interest to be elsewhere.
The next morning, she packs her things again and leaves, moving south making for the Full Moon Bay. It's hard to get the image of a handsome smirk and an arm around her shoulders out of her mind, though, and several times she almost returns to the city, either to try to dissuade Tannok or to help him in his quest, she isn't sure.
Instead, she keeps walking, and wishes that she could see the northern lights leading her on.
On the ferry, she meets a boy of about her age, who tells her that his name is Adan. He's cheerful and sort of cute, and because she's lonely, she encourages his obvious crush.
"So, Kanna, where are you going?"
"I don't know," she replies truthfully, leaning against the railings of the deck. "South."
"Why? What's south that you want to get to so badly?"
She doesn't respond, instead turning the questioning back on him. "Where are you heading?"
"Omashu," he answers firmly. "I've got an aunt there, I think..." He rubs the back of his neck and shrugs. "You could come with me," he says brightly. "There would be plenty of room for you stay!"
"I don't think so," she says with a slightly sad smile. "I've got to keep moving south."
"Why?" he asks, a little petulantly.
Because that's where the lights told me to go, she answers in her head, but doesn't say as much because, wow, would she look crazy if she did. It's hard to explain to outsiders what the northern lights are like, and what they mean to her. She shrugs evasively.
"I just do. Have you ever had something that you just had to do?" she implores, looking past him to the sunset. "You don't know why, but you've just got to do it, and there's nothing that can stop you?"
"No," he says, sighing. "It must be a good feeling."
"Not really," she replies. "It's actually pretty uncomfortable." She tries to laugh, but it isn't funny. He humors her anyway.
"Where'd you get that necklace?" he asks, apparently determined to know everything about his companion. She touches it, and feels a slight twinge of regret, which she swallows quickly.
"A friend," she lies. "It used to belong to a friend of mine. She... um," she has no excuse at hand, but he takes her silence to mean the worst, and immediately takes on a sympathetic air.
"I understand," he says softly. "We've all lost people to this war, haven't we?"
"Yeah," she chokes, the lie bitter on her tongue. "Yeah, we have."
Adan is reluctant to leave her, insisting that she travel to Omashu with him, and she finally concedes, because it's on her way.
"But only to Omashu," she says firmly, "and then we part ways. I'll only spend a few days in the city, and then I'll keep going."
"But Omashu is south," he replies, grinning hugely. "How do you know that it's not where you're supposed to be?"
"I just know," she says sourly.
"You can't know that for sure," he insists, linking arms with her. She glares at his arm, but doesn't pull away. After all, he has agreed to carry her pack for her, which is enough to merit her kindness, at least for a while.
"I can," she tells him, even though she can't. "Omashu is not where I'm supposed to be."
"Just wait until you get there," he says eagerly. "You'll see how amazing it is. My aunt will make you some amazing food and you'll fall in love with it, I know it."
He reminds her unflatteringly of Pakku, and she hides her wince. "Food? I doubt the food your aunt makes in Omashu could hold a candle to anything of the Northern Water Tribe."
"You'd be surprised. Besides, don't you eat, like, sea prunes or something up there? I can't imagine those are any good."
"Oh, but they are!" she replies fervently. "They're thick and juicy, and, mmm, when you bite into one, it's like a flood of... of delicious," she groans with the memory of them. "They're the most amazing food in the world."
Her visceral remembering has had an odd effect on her companion. He turns red and coughs, shifting his pants uncomfortably, and pulls his arm out of hers. A tiny, wicked part of her is glad for this reaction - she's just starting to find out what she can do to men, and it's a fantastic feeling, to watch him squirm because of her.
She smirks evilly, and continues. "Nngh, now you've got me remembering all the food from up there. Oh!" she gasps, purposefully. "The taste of seal jerky and tentacle soup..." she groans for effect, and notices that Adan is sweating.
This power feels good.
"W-well," he stammers, running a hand through his hair, and swallowing hard, "Ah - um, well, my aunt, she... she can make some, uh, really good food..."
She smiles brightly, and links an arm into his. "That sounds wonderful, Adan. I can't wait."
It happens suddenly; the town they're staying in is attacked by the Fire Nation, and Kanna faces a choice - to stay and fight or run. Adan, an earthbender of only questionable talent, is determined to fight, but she has a feeling that fighting means death.
"Adan, please," she hisses, clinging tightly to his arm and pulling him down to hide behind the makeshift barricade with her. "This isn't a fight we can win. There are only a handful of earthbenders here, and that's an entire regiment! Let's stay down and escape when we get the chance."
"And leave these people to die?" he asks incredulously. "How can you suggest that?"
"How?" she cries. "Because the only alternative is dying with them! You have to choose your battles, Adan, did no one ever tell you that?"
"That's rich," he spits, "coming from you."
It hits her like a slap to the face. "What does that mean?" she asks coldly. He glares.
"You never choose to fight, do you? You're always running away."
The breath leaves her lungs, and tears sting her eyes from the smoke around them. "What makes you think I'm always running away?" she whispers hoarsely. "What makes you think I don't fight?"
He scoffs savagely, "You just keep repeating that you've got to go south, but you're from the north, and I'm not as stupid as you think. I've figured out what that necklace really means." His eyes are accusing, and slightly hurt. "You're running from a marriage, aren't you? Did you even tell him you were leaving, or did you just scamper off in the middle of a night, like a coward?"
Her hand stings, and before she's fully aware of it, she's slapped him - hard - and she speaks without thinking, harsh, venomous words: "Fine, then. If you're so caught up in the glory of fighting, go out there and die with them. And when it's over, there won't be anyone left to bury you."
She throws his arm away from her and crawls off. She half-thinks she can hear him calling out to her, but she ignores him and the smoke obscures her vision before too long.
She does not see Adan again.
Kanna reaches Omashu in the height of spring, and it's a lovely sight, but she doesn't dwell on it. Guilt is heavy on her shoulders, but pride keeps her from returning to the little town to find Adan and see if he survived, or if not, to at least give him the last rites he deserved.
Irrationally, she hates Omashu, because it stands for everything she is not - it stands for young love and conviction and a boy from Ba Sing Se (lost loves are always from Ba Sing Se, aren't they?) who just wanted to show her his world. She is not a lover, but rather a thinker, and she's anything but unwaveringly brave, and she has left Adan behind, to the mercy of the Fire Nation and the dust of an empty town.
The food she eats here turns to ash in her mouth, and she tries to dispel it with thoughts of stewed sea prunes and tentacle soup, but nothing helps.
She only stays in Omashu for one day, selling most of her Northern Water Tribe things and buying supplies, and keeps moving south.
It's unbearably hot when she crosses into the Foggy Swamp. She sheds her coat, and then her top and skirt, traveling only in her underclothing, which becomes mud-splattered, soggy, and frustratingly sticky before very long.
"Argh!" she cries, tugging her foot free of the mire, and losing her shoe in the process. "This - stupid - swamp - I - hate - it - ARGH." She punctuates each word with an angry kick to the water, but then has to dig around to find her shoe anyway. She does find it, but it's filled with mud and there's an awful bug crawling around in it, and she almost just sits down in the mud to cry.
"You all right there, darlin'?" a voice asks from somewhere to her right, and she shrieks in spite of herself. A man, clad only in... leaves is standing on a skiff in the river that she is literally just now noticing, and he raises an eyebrow. Sweaty, exhausted, and deeply unhappy, she simply replies with a pitiful cry. "Aww, c'mere," he says, reaching out a hand. Something in her wants to scream bloody murder and flee as fast as she can from the creepy barely-clad man who's reaching out to her, but beggars can't be choosers, and she is certainly a beggar when it comes to companionship.
She takes his hand and he pulls her up onto the skiff, where she promptly collapses to her knees. "Thanks," she mutters, poking at her (now muddy and thoroughly disgusting) pack, worrying over the contents of it.
"Don' worry 'bout it, li'l darlin'. I'm Chit, and I'll get ya to the tribe. Ya are going to the tribe, right?"
"Um," she replies sheepishly, "I hadn't exactly planned on it..."
"Then where are ya headed?"
He's so simple and friendly, and she's had such a bad few weeks, that she almost bursts into tears at his unquestioning kindness. "South," she answers, sighing, "just south."
"Well, you gotta do better than that," he says, chortling. "Lots o' things are south. Tell ya what - Why don'tcha stay in the tribe for a coupla days? The swamp'll tell ya what to do."
"How will it do that?" she asks, cynical in spite of herself. The man shrugs.
"It jus' does. You'll know."
"But that's not good enough," she insists. "How will it just - tell me?"
"Why are ya headed south?" he counters, and she remembers - the northern lights.
"My mother," she says obstinately, "she told me to go south."
"She did, eh?" He raises an eyebrow, and seems to read her. "She tell ya this with words?"
Kanna looks down, into the slowly-moving water, and she thinks - for a brief second - that she sees Pakku. "No," she concedes. "The - The Northern Lights," she mutters, unwilling to expose her hypocrisy.
"What're those?" he asks, not seeming to care about her failings.
She sighs heavily. "Far to the north, in the dead of winter, blue and green lights wave across the sky. They're said to be the path to spirit world, if you follow them.'
"And you're followin' 'em?"
"They pointed south," she says, and then sighs. "And, okay, I was desperate to leave."
In the trees, a figure seems to flick by in the shadows - a figure in blue, with long, dark hair. She can't tell, from this distance, if it was her father or her fiancee. "I just... was," she says, unwilling to divulge everything to this strange swamp-man who seems to know everything.
"Fair 'nough," he replies, shrugging, and she finally looks up at him and realizes how he's propelling the skiff.
"You're a waterbender!" she gasps, and he glances at her.
"Sure am," he says, as though it's nothing special at all. His nonchalance throws her off-guard, and she opens and closes her mouth several times before something connects.
"But... where are you from?"
He chortles then. "The swamp, darlin'. Where're you from?"
"The Northern Water Tribe," she says firmly. "Don't change the - "
"You don't change the subject," he counters, cutting her off. "And don' lie. Where're you really from?"
"I'm not lying," she says, and then realizes that she is.
She's standing underneath the huge arches of an ancient tree, staring into the water intently.
"How could you do this to me?" a voice asks, and she whirls around. Pakku is standing there. She blinks, hard, and reminds herself that no, Pakku is not here, he's back in the North - "You didn't even say goodbye! Did you ever feel anything for me, or was that just a lie too?"
"No," she whispers. "You're not really here. This is just a - a vision."
She runs, through the muck and the mire and runs straight into another tree. Pakku follows her. "Can't you tell me? Why can't you just tell the truth, Kanna?"
"I couldn't stay!" she cries, tears stinging her eyes against the humidity and heat of the swamp. "It would have killed me to stay there! They were - you were suffocating me!"
"You never loved me," he accuses bitterly. "You could have at least told me, instead of running away. You always run away."
"No! I don't run away! I fight, I fight, I do - "
But she's lying, and even the fake Pakku knows it. "Liar," he calls after her. "You liar!"
She runs into a tall body, and Chit is standing there. He looks into her face, sees her tears, and seems to understand. "It's all right, darlin'. People of'en see visions in the swamp."
"They do?" she sniffles, and tries to shake Pakku's accusing face from her mind. Chit nods.
"All th' time."
She wants nothing more than to escape this horrible swamp and its horrible visions and its horrible humidity and its horrible insects. She never had to deal with bugs when she lived in the North Pole. Now, there's bugs everywhere, in her clothes and hair and squelching against her feet and flying around her head and she is so sick of bugs she could just die.
"So, what'd ya see?" he asks. She almost lies, but then Pakku's words scream again in her head - Why can't you just tell the truth, Kanna? - so she answers honestly.
"My fiancee. Or, well," she corrects herself, "I suppose he's my ex-fiancee now." Chit nods.
"That's what you were runnin' away from?"
"I wasn't running away!" she hisses, irrationally angry. "I was - I was going to a better future."
"Right," Chit says. "Runnin' away from th' past. Don' be ashamed of it. Runnin' ain't always bad."
"You wouldn't know that to ask people," she replies darkly. Chit laughs outright.
"Ah, people. Forget about 'em. Ain't nobody's 'pinon matters 'cept yours." He leans over and peers straight into her eyes. She notices that he's quite handsome, and his eyes are blue-gray. "D'you think ya did the right thin', runnin' away?"
"Yes," she replies, before she can hesitate. Chit nods.
"Then it was right." He waves a hand. "Don' worry about anythin' else."
Later, she'll say it's the influence of the swamp's vapors and their odd way of thinking here, but two nights later, the full moon shimmering through the trees and reflecting against the murky water, she kisses Chit.
He tastes like ash and sweat and all the mistakes she's never made.
A week after coming into the swamp, she leaves it behind, with more than a little wistfulness. Awful and humid and smelly as it was, the swamp provided an odd kind of refuge from her future and her past and all the twisted things in-between.
She spends the last of her coin to buy passage out from Chin Village, heading to Kyoshi Island and (she hopes) beyond. The weather is getting steadily colder as she continues south, and she thinks that it's a really stupid irony that she's heading into winter, again. She doesn't know why she's making for the Southern Water Tribe, not precisely. It just seems like the right thing to do.
Maybe this is where she's been going this whole time.
"So," a sailor asks, grinning and proudly showing off his biceps, "What's a pretty little Water Tribe girl like you doing out this way?"
"Heading south," she replies, like so many times before. The man scoffs.
"South? What's south? You gonna join the Warriors of Kyoshi?" He says it like it's a joke, and snorts unflatteringly. "Girl like you? Nah, you should be a sailor."
Part of her wants to be coy, but another part of her is just tired, so she waves him off. "I'd be a terrible sailor," she sighs, "and I just want to go home."
"Home?" he says, laughing. "Where's home?"
It's a good question.
Kyoshi Island is very pretty, and very unwelcoming to her. She shouldn't be surprised - really, she isn't - but she needs their charity now that she's out of money and running out of food and thousands of miles from the only place she's ever called home.
"Please," she implores a woman who is sweeping her doorstep, "just a little food, it's all I'm asking. I'll do anything you need me to. I can sew, and I can carve bone or wood or - Please."
The woman peers at her, and then at her now-ragged pack. She notices the soft fur poking out of it, and reaches out to it, tugging the blanket out. Kanna cries out as the woman holds out her beautiful, hand-sewn polar leopard blanket. "I'll give you three gold pieces for this blanket," the woman says, running a hand over the fur.
"It's worth at least twice that!" she cries, protesting with more force than she expected. Something in her is diametrically opposed to parting with the blanket - she remembers Pakku running a hand over it and kissing her cheek and telling her that she was amazing. The woman gives her a critical look.
"Three gold pieces, and a week's worth of food and a place to stay."
A small part of her cries when she nods and agrees to the deal.
"This boat," a girl - named Miyumi - tells her, "should get you to the Southern Water Tribe. It's getting to be winter there, though. Are you sure you want to go there?"
"Yes," she answers firmly, desperate to escape Kyoshi Island and all the unwelcoming looks she gets from the people here. They're a slightly xenophobic people, the islanders, and their warriors - frightening in their facepaint and outlandish outfits - have made no secret of the fact that their guest is not wanted and should make her exodus from here as soon as possible. Only Miyumi has been kind to her, as the daughter of the woman who bought her blanket, and the one who's room she's been sharing for the past few days.
"Well, this'll get you there, though why you want to go is totally beyond me. Didn't you say you were from the North Pole?"
"I was," she says, "once. But I'm not anymore."
"How can you not be from a place anymore? You grew up there, didn't you?" Miyumi helps her tie the rigging and set up the sail properly, handing her a crudely-drawn but hopefully effective map. "The map of the south is kind of fluid, though. The ice shelf freezes pretty solid, so you'd better make it there fast, or else you'll get stranded in the middle of sea ice."
"I know the dangers of boating in cold water," she says shortly, looking out to the water impatiently. "I'll be okay. I hear they go ice-dodging down there. Maybe I'll run into some of them."
"Ice-dodging? What is that?"
Kanna shrugs, and breathes in the salty scent of the sea, realizing suddenly how she has missed it. "I don't know, but it sounds fantastic. I'm gonna go," she declares, nodding, and smiles. Miyumi laughs.
"All right, then. Don't be a stranger, Kanna," she says, hugging her warmly. "Kyoshi's not that far from the Southern Water Tribes by boat, so you'd better send me letters and visit every now and then."
She laughs. "Of course. I'll visit you soon."
She's lying - she won't see Miyumi again for another five years - but it's a comfortable sort of lie. Kanna is starting to believe that those are all she says. She pushes the thoughts away and takes off in the little boat, hair flying around her in the startlingly cold breeze, feeling more alive than she has in years.
"The south will be good for me," she tells herself, nodding to dispel her fears. She looks up, and wonders if the south has lights in the sky like the north does. "This is the best thing I've ever done for myself. I'm... happy I did this."
The lie falls flat even to her own ears, but there's nothing around to hear it except the ocean, so she doesn't have to face it yet.
A young waterbender named Hama greets her at the gates of the city, and marvels at the distance she has traveled to get here.
"You must have had some adventure," she says, taking her to meet the leader of the tribe. "You'll have to tell me about that sometime."
No, Kanna thinks, I really don't.
A/N: So help me God, this fic. I have been writing for five hours straight. Review. Even if it's just to tell me that I fail at life epically. GAH.