Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar. Darn it.
The camp set up at checkpoint was quiet. Many warriors had long since fallen asleep, preparing for the day ahead and saving their energy for the heat of battle, but one warrior could not sleep. He sat by the fire now, occasionally poking it with a stick to keep the embers moving so the flames stayed alive, his eyes thoughtful.
It had been many days since Bato of the Water Tribe had last seen Sokka and Katara, many days since they had decided to go with their friend, Avatar Aang, instead of going to meet their father with Bato. He had admired them for their decision then, and he still admired them for their decision now. He smiled a little to himself.
Unfortunately, Sokka and Katara's father was no longer at checkpoint; he had moved on some time ago, comforted by Bato's assurance that both his children were safe with Aang.
At the thought of Aang, Bato closed his eyes.
The boy was young. Much younger then he had ever expected the Avatar to be. It was hard to believe that one so young could carry the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Perhaps that is why I understand his reasons for hiding the map.
Bato did not hold grudges. It was something he prided himself on. And in a way, it was not hard to understand the logic behind taking the map.
Aang was afraid of losing his friends. Although he had been willing to let them go in the end, he had still been afraid to lose them. For someone so young, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, his friends were his world, his lifeline.
Katara, in particular, was the Avatar's lifeline.
A small frown crossed Bato's lips as his train of thoughts shifted. Just as the young Avatar had been miserable by letting his friends go, Katara had been miserable by being let go. She had been the only one who went to say goodbye to Aang, and throughout the journey she had trailed behind Bato and Sokka, casting longing glances over her shoulder. Bato could tell even then that it took all her restraint not to go running back to Aang.
Maybe it's the other way around.
Bato didn't doubt that Katara was Aang's lifeline. From what she had told him, she was the only one truly capable of calming him down whenever he went into something she called "the Avatar State". But what if Aang was Katara's lifeline?
Bato had been there when Hakoda, father of Katara and Sokka, had lost his wife to the Fire Nation, had comforted his old friend. But among the three, it had been Katara who haunted him, so young when her mother had died, her face pale, traces of horror in her eyes from whatever she had witnessed.
He had watched her grow into a quiet, serious girl, and she had been that way when he left for war. Seeing her now, with Aang, he could almost glimpse the girl she had once been. She smiled easily at the young Avatar, laughed whenever he said something to cheer her up, and she had a spring in her step that had not been there before. Taking her with him, Bato reflected, had been almost painful, for as soon as she was away from Aang she had once again become the girl he and Hakoda had left behind.
Bato remembered the last conversation he had had with Hakoda before he left checkpoint.
"You saw them? Sokka and Katara?"
"How are they? Are they safe? Are they happy?"
"They are safe, Hakoda. And they are happy."
"They are traveling with a friend?"
"Yes. The Avatar."
He couldn't explain, exactly, how he knew Sokka and Katara were happy with Aang. He simply knew. Sokka, for all his grumbling and complaining about the boy, was fond of him in a big brother-little brother kind of way.
Unbidden, a memory surfaced within Bato's mind: Aang and Katara, walking by a stream not far from his camp, talking. He remembered how Katara had smiled and laughed at something Aang had said, remembered how she shrieked and giggled when he splashed her, remembered how a mischievous light had come to life within her eyes before she splashed him back, beginning a water fight.
Well, Aang was Katara's lifeline.
Gah... I don't like this so much, but it was something that hit me in the middle of my writer's block and I just started writing. Bleh.
Next story will be from Zuko's point of view, Turtleduck. Heh, that should already tell you what it's about.