James reaches the edge of the woods just as the sky begins to blush with the first hint of sunrise. After walking all night James feels as if he has sufficiently put enough distance between him and home to merit sleeping for a few hours. Dropping his pack just inside the tree line, no point in sleeping out in the open if he can help it, James drops to the ground beside it. He'll sleep for a few hours and then begin walking again. He would be exhausted come night fall, but he doesn't want to waste perfectly good daylight hours by sleeping. He can catch up on sleep tonight, once he has found somewhere to stop. Pushing himself back to his feet, James takes the stance from earlier, and stomps his right foot hard. Two rectangular slabs of rock shoot from the ground and meet each other at a point, forming a crude triangle. A stomp from his left foot brings a third slab of rock up behind the other two, closing in the back of the triangle. James eyes his crude tent and decides it will work just fine for a few hours rest. He crawls inside, drags his pack in behind him and unties his food bag from his belt. Glancing out the front opening he decides he might as well leave the front open so the sun will wake him in a few hours once it has crested the trees. Curling into a ball James tries to find a spot with minimal twigs and rocks digging into his skin. Finding no such spot, James groans and maneuvers his pack into a more comfortable pillow shape before falling asleep.
James wakes abruptly, way to soon in his opinion, to the sound of footsteps coming his way fast. Scrambling out of his makeshift tent, James surges to his feet and finds himself surrounded by those same 'Freedom Fighters' he had squared off with during the night.
"What the hell?" James looks around to see the boys holding slingshots, rocks, and what appears to be rope. "What is going on?"
"We decided," the same six-to-ten year old James talked to last night, this morning?, steps forward, "that letting you intimidate us was a bad decision. Our reputation is one of fierce warriors and we can't have you spreading lies about us letting you go."
James can't help the snigger that escapes him. "Trust me," he holds his hands out placatingly, "I will not be the reason people don't take you seriously." James looks around at the boys, "And what reputation? I had never heard of you guys until last night."
"Grab him," the ten year old leader orders and James springs into action. Thrusting a palm forward he sends the back wall of his tent forward, and throwing both his fists to either side, sends the two side walls careening in opposite directions. James uses the few moments of confusion to grab his pack and run for it while the so called 'Freedom Fighters' are dodging slabs of rock and regrouping.
Bursting through the tree line, James charges across the field on the other side. Much to his dismay, he hears the boys charging behind. Stones whizz by, whistling as they sail over his head and around side of him. A few hit, but they bounce harmlessly off his bulging pack. Something pulls at his ankle and James goes down hard. The ground comes up to meet him and the hit knocks all air from his lungs.
Looking around behind him, a difficult feat because of the pack, James sees a length of rope with a stone attached wrapped around his ankle. What the hell? Reaching down to untangle it a rope wraps around his wrist and then all of the boys are upon him. Wrists tied and ankles bound, James find himself being dragged by his wrists on his stomach back into the woods before he has time to put up a defense. It takes three of the bigger boys to drag him much to his amusement, and James doesn't make it easy; pulling back on the rope and dragging his feet. Eventually though they cross back into the tree line and smooth grounds turns to sticks and rocks scratching and tearing painfully at his skin, tunic, and pants. The boys pause just inside the tree line, and James takes advantage of the slack in the rope to slam his fists into the ground. A slab of rock rises in front of the little group, blocking the boys from going further forward. James intends to use the rock as a weapon, of dragging it towards him and forcing the other boys to scatter, but one of the 'Freedom Fighters' moves first. A foot stomps down on one of his wrists hard and fiery pain sears down James's arms. James clenches his teeth against the pain, Avatar Kyoshi that hurt.
"Oi!" A voice calls and James turns his head to see the ungrateful idiot he saved last night standing next to another boy dressed like one of the so called 'Freedom Fighters'. "What the hell are you doing?" The ungrateful idiot continues, walking closer to where James is lying tied up on the ground.
The six year old leader steps forward, brandishing a stick sharpened to a point. "We are bringing in the traitor, and don't you dare try to stop us, thief."
The ungrateful idiot stares down at the leader, crossing his arms across his chest, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Why is he a traitor? For saving me?"
The leader holds the ungrateful idiot at stick point. "We decided that anyone who goes against us must be siding with the Fire Nation. Earth Kingdom traitors are given no mercy."
The ungrateful idiot scoffs. "Well that's Buffalo-Yak shit. I think you are all just pissed that he interfered last night, so you waited until he was asleep before ganging up on him." He looks around at the group of boys. "I know I'm right."
The leader waves his stick to point at James lying on the ground. "He is a spy for the Fire Nation," the stick swings back at the ungrateful idiot, "and we fight the Fire Nation." The rest of the boys surrounding James give a wild cheer, all of them thrusting tiny fists into the air.
The ungrateful idiot laughs. A deep, mocking laugh that rings around the woods and swells to fill in every open space between the trees. James feels a stirring of fear forming in his gut.
The ungrateful idiot stands in front of the 'Freedom Fighters', the remains of his mocking laugh still echoing through the woods, and uncrosses his arms. He spreads them wide, holding them away from his body palms up. "You want to fight the Fire Nation? Fine." Both the ungrateful idiot's hands burst into flame. "But I promise you I will burn this whole forest to the ground with all of you still in it." The flames in his hands grow bigger, soar higher, until the flames begin licking at the underside of the branches above the ungrateful idiots head.
"Get him!" The leader cries, and all the boys surge towards the ungrateful idiot holding fire in his hands.
The ungrateful idiot grins and the fire in his hands grows bigger, big enough to ensnare surrounding trees and set them ablaze. James watches in horror from the ground as fire arches from tree to tree until a circle of burning wood surrounds them. The 'Freedom Fighters' scatter, their retreating screams drowned out by the angry popping and snapping of wood on fire. The ungrateful idiot holding fire waits until the last of the 'Freedom Fighters' have run before shaking the flames from his hands. He brings his hands in towards his chest, palms down and elbows out. James watches the boy breath deeply through his nose and presses his palms down against the air. His hands wavered, pressing down harder as if the air itself was fighting back. James watches in awe as the surrounding flames sputter and die, the only signs of the almost-forest-fire left are a few smoking black marks etched into the surrounding trees and the heavy smell of smoke lingering in the air.
"Cowards," the ungrateful idiot mutters, dropping his hands back to his sides. He spins in a quick circle, James hopes he is checking to make sure all the fires are out, before the ungrateful idiot races over to James' side. "Are you okay?" He asks, dropping to his knees besides James. He makes quick work of the ropes around James' ankles, untying them before tossing them over his shoulder. He clutches James's shoulders, helping James shift and sit up with wrists that are still tied together.
James nods, watching the ungrateful idiot untie his wrists. "You're a fire bender." Pain jars his arms when the rope tugs against his skin and James can't help the hiss of pain that escapes.
"Sorry," the ungrateful idiot murmurs, unwrapping the last of the rope and throwing it to the ground. "Yeah, I am." the ungrateful idiot looks back up at James, and James notices the clenched jaw, and the defensive hunch to his shoulders. The idiot is waiting for James to judge him. To scream and call him a traitor or worse, even after this idiot had just saved his life. James can imagine most people in the Earth Kingdom don't react well to meeting a fire bender.
James drops his eyes to the wrist he can already tell is swelling and groans. "Great," he mutters, slouching as much as the pack on his back will let him. "Little bastards broke my wrist."
The ungrateful idiot is quiet for a long moment before speaking. "Told you not to try and save me. The worse they did was try and stone me."
James gives the ungrateful idiot a wry grin. "Did they know you were a fire bender?"
The boy shakes his head, looking up into the trees rather than at James. "Not exactly something I advertise."
James watches the ungrateful idiot for a moment before holding out his good hand. "James," he says.
The ungrateful idiot looks at him in confusion. "I'm a fire bender," he points up to the black marks on the trees that are still smoking, "and you want to shake my hand?"
James nods, keeping his hand extended. "You just saved my life. I think I can manage shaking your hand."
The ungrateful idiot grins and takes the offered hand. "Sirius," he says, giving James's hand a solid shake. "Are you sure you're okay?"
James nods. "Outside my broken wrist, yeah." He holds his broken left wrist out to Sirius who doesn't touch it, but looks over it closely. "The best I can tell you is that you won't be earth bending with it anytime soon." He points to James' pack. "Any medicine in there?"
James shakes his head, "No, didn't think to pack any. How did you know to come find me?"
Sirius points at the only 'Freedom Fighter' who hadn't run when the fire show started. "He came and found me. Reminded me that I owed you one and said the rest of the little tormenters were pissed that you had intervened." Sirius shrugs. "After that it was only a matter of following the yelling."
James can't help grinning, "Consider us square." He looks over at the boy who has moved closer while they talked. "Who are you?"
The boy scuffs his foot along the ground. "Peter."
"How old are you, Peter?" James asks. Peter doesn't look nearly as young as the rest of them had.
Peter shrugs, "Around sixteen I think."
"Then how come you aren't the leader of that little gang?" Sirius asks, plopping down on the woodsy ground. He winces, pulls a twig out from underneath him, and throws it to the side. "You're a lot older then that little terror that is their leader now."
Peter shrugs again before joining them on the ground. "They took me in after my family was killed by Fire Nation soldiers."
Sirius winces upon hearing that. "I'm sorry," he says to Peter, picking up another twig off the ground.
Peter continues, "The Freedom Fighters took me in and after Jet left, he was our first leader," Peter clarifies at James's confused look. "I had hoped I would get the position, after all I was the next oldest. Suddenly that boy started claiming Jet had picked him for the job and I found myself working damage control."
"Thats awful," James murmurs, watching Peter pick at the twigs in the same way Sirius was doing.
"What are you doing out here anyway?" Sirius asks and James turns to look at him.
"I'm heading to the Misty Palms Spring Oasis." James tells him, wondering how much a broken wrist will slow him down.
"Never heard of it," Sirius shrugs. James looks to Peter who shrugs as well. "I've heard of it, but I couldn't tell you where it is."
James groans, letting his head fall forward. "I'll have to get there eventually, right?" A twig hits him in the nose and James looks over at Sirius. "Was that necessary?"
Sirius ignores his question. "Want us to come with you?"
James looks back and forth between Sirius and Peter, his surprise turning into the beginnings of hope. "Really? You want to come with me?"
Sirius shrugs and throws another twig at him. "Not like I have anything better to do."
James takes that as a 'yes' and turns to Peter.
"I can't go back now, they'll turn on me for helping you." Peter looks from James to Sirius and back. "Do you mind?"
James can't help the grin spreading across his face. "Not at all."
A twig hits him in the ear. "Quit grinning like that." Sirius dodges the twig James throws back in retaliation. "It's creepy."