All Standard Disclaimers Apply: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or anything related to it.
"Kana!" Yugoda cheerfully skipped through the thin crowds that were spread out across the market place. A wide smile was on her face as she searched out her best friend. When she caught sight of the blue clad young woman, she let out a sharp gasp.
Kana was seated just behind one of the fish display racks, slumped over on a wooden stool. Her arms were crossed in front of her, resting on the edge of the rack, as her head laid on them. Her eyes were drooping; as if she would fall asleep any second… on top of the day's left over fish.
The fisherman's daughter couldn't help but feel tired after her hectic, partially self-imposed, schedule from the last two weeks. As the fiancée to one of the tribe's future waterbending masters, she had assorted duties to his family and to the upper echelon of the tribe. That meant attending dinners with the chief and escorting Pakku everywhere he went with his family.
The first few days, Kana wondered how Pakku even had time to come visit them in the docks when he had gatherings with the families of other council members almost every other night. The gatherings themselves were a draining experience.
Kana was constantly kept on guard. Women from respected families, who typically dealt with the marriage arrangements of their daughters, didn't take too well to the newcomer. Sesi, her future mother-in-law, had mentioned numerous times that Kana, on her mother's side, had a very respectable family history, but in the end; Kana was still a poor fisherman's daughter. Therefore, her engagement to Pakku was frowned upon.
Several times, Kana had wanted to lunge at a girl's snide remarks at one councilman's house. She had never felt so disrespected and pathetic at the same time. Pakku had to cut in and casually lead Kana away before she could throttle the girl. Such moments were not fleeting and were actually becoming more and more frequent with each event she attended.
Pakku was only at her side half the time. As a male member of the tribe, he often split off and went with the other men while Kana was left with his mother and sister in the den of tiger seals to fend for herself. She had tried to hint that she needed a break from it.
She wasn't married to him, yet, and still had duties to her own family to complete. This meant that before she headed up to Pakku's area of the city, she had to work at the market with her aunt. Her family dinners with her parents were suddenly gone, as she was obliged to sit in for his. At the most, she saw her parents for a few moments in the morning before she ran out to work.
It was so much work being a daughter for two families. She prayed that Pakku would get the message whenever she told him she was tired or wanted some sleep, but he was too lost in showing off his future wife to everyone that he didn't get it.
Kana scowled as her thoughts lead the way to irritation. Of course Pakku wouldn't get it. She frowned. I'd have to scream it at him if I even want him to get a clue.
"Kana!" A voice shouted somewhere on the street and the young woman lifted her head up tiredly. She squinted and tried to find the owner of the voice. She quickly spotted Yugoda waving as she rushed over. The petite young healer reached her friend and let out a few pants of breath before looking over, concerned. "Kana, are you okay?"
"Yes," Kana gave Yugoda a small smile. "Of course, I am…"
"Hmm…" The other teen wrinkled her nose and eyed Kana with scrutiny. "You almost fell asleep on the fish rack. You can't be completely okay."
"I'm just a little tired," Kana yawned as she sat up straight on her stool. "I didn't get home until late last night... one of the councilmen had a dinner last night that ran late."
Yugoda frowned. "Then you should go home and get some sleep after this. You're usually up at dawn to get to the market on time to open it for the morning rush."
"I know, but I can't today," Kana dismissed the thought easily. "Pakku's cousin's son is having a thing and-"
"Kana, you can't attend every single function Pakku and his family attends!" Yugoda exclaimed. "Not when you're working all day!"
"I have to," Kana insisted. "I'm supposed to be Pakku's fiancée. I need to go to these things and represent his family. If I don't, they'll automatically assume I'm disrespecting them someway by not attending and I don't need his family's stupid friends and associates having another thing against me."
Yugoda stood beside her with clear blue eyes looking at her with sympathy. Slowly, they lowered and looked down at her booted feet as she silently shifted weight from one foot to the other. "I just don't want you to tire yourself out…" Yugoda whispered. "You've spent so much time with Pakku and his family lately that we hardly see you. When we do, you're tired and still trying to keep up with everyone. It's not good for you to wear yourself out."
Kana closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "I know… I know…" she repeated quietly. "But this needs to be done. You know I have duties to Pakku's family now, just like you have duties to Anyu's."
"But Anyu doesn't keep me away from my friends for hours at a time!" Yugoda exclaimed. Kana jerked her head back and Yugoda met her gaze. "You turned sixteen a few days ago and we haven't even had a chance to celebrate…" Her voice was quiet and sounding a bit hurt.
Kana bit her lower lip. "I'm sorry, Yugoda… I've just been really busy recently and with everything that's been going on with Pakku and his family," She ran a hand tiredly down her face. "I'm sorry if I haven't been able to see you guys lately."
Yugoda let out a heavy breath and crossed her arms. "It's okay... I mean… we've all been busy. Buniq's wedding is coming up and the twins have been training at their respective husband's families' shops in the eastern market. You know, Anyu and I were talking the other day. Remember how your mom used to always throw a party for us on your birthday? We just realized she didn't do that this year."
Kana raised her hands and rubbed her temples. A thin lipped frown was on her face. "Pakku's mother insisted she take over this year and threw one for me a few days ago."
Immediately, Yugoda's eyes widened. A sad look swept across her face as she reached out and grabbed on to Kana's arms. "She threw you a party? Why didn't you tell me? Or invite us!?" She implored as her grip tightened.
Kana shook her head. "And drag you guys into that mess? My dad had a horrible time. He spent the whole time sitting with my mom, practically being ignored. Whenever I tried to talk to him, Pakku dragged me off to meet yet another one of his family's friends. It was boring and stuffy and the food wasn't even that good."
"Still…" Yugoda trailed off sadly. "You could've told us and we would've come. Maybe we could've made it better."
"I didn't want you guys to have to face some of those people," Kana frowned. "The girls are always so shallow and are only out to marry a rich man or a future bending master. The sons are arrogant jerks. Half of them believe that Pakku is going to break off the engagement once he's 'tired of me'! They already scrutinize me, I didn't want them to do the same to you guys."
"And we don't want you to go through it alone," Yugoda told her. "We work better in groups, you know. Like we did when we were little."
"We're not little any more, Yugoda."
"But we still work well," The healer smiled at Kana and gave her arm a comforting squeeze. "Going there all the time is wearing you down… come and hang out with us here sometimes."
Kana smiled back and nodded. "I'll try."
"Don't just try. Do," Yugoda insisted. "We have a day of rest coming up in three days. I'll get the girls and Anyu, and you and Pakku can meet us up at Miki's. We can celebrate your birthday together, like we did when we were kids."
Kana chuckled and nodded her head tiredly. "Three days? Cutting it a little close, don't you think?"
"Don't underestimate me," Yugoda grinned. She took a step back and released Kana's arm. "Remember, three days. I'll even make my specialty clam dish for you!" She added as she headed out the booth. "I have to get going. I have dinner at Anyu's tonight. And don't forget to get some rest!"
"I will." Kana assured her. Yugoda gave one more wave of her hand and then headed down the street. As soon as she was out of sight, Kana slumped over in her chair. She looked around at the dozen or so remaining fish and let out a heavy sigh. She needed to close up. Pakku would arrive soon to pick her up.
Kana forced herself off the comfortable stool and grabbed a pair of tongs. With years of practice, she expertly placed the remaining fish into iced crates to be stored in the back. She untied the remaining dried fish from the rafters and put them into another box. Kana had lifted the box of dried fish just as Pakku came into view.
"Kana!" Tiredly, she ignored him and trudged into the backroom with her arms full. As she shoved the box into its place with her foot, Pakku peeked into the room and smiled brightly. "I see you're all done here. Are you ready to go?"
Her back was to him. She let out a heavy breath and then turned around. "I'm ready."
"Great! My cousin and his wife are expecting you. They haven't been able to come to by and meet you, yet, since they've been preparing for their son's celebration," Pakku informed her. "His wife is the daughter of one of the other councilmen."
"Of course…" Kana trailed off. She wasn't surprised. Half the people she had met in the last two weeks were somehow related to either a council member or a waterbending master. She ushered Pakku outside the booth and proceeded to lock up. "Pakku, I was wondering… how long do you… we plan on staying?"
"A couple of hours, maybe," Pakku shrugged. He watched as Kana closed up the booth. Her hair was slightly out of place and wet patches could be seen on her worn clothing. She also carried a subtle smell of the sea around her. She always looked that way after working in the market, but luckily, he had come up with a system. A set of clean, fresh clothes was always kept in his room. They would stop by and she would change and fix her hair before they headed to a function. From the securely looked doorway, Kana stood up and turned around. Pakku stepped aside as she walked past him. "Did you need to do something?"
I need to take a nice long nap. She wanted to say. Instead she shook her head. "I just wanted to get home earlier this time. You know, get some rest…"
"Hmm…" Pakku frowned as he walked along side of her. He glanced down at the young woman beside him and nodded understandingly. "We'll only stay for dinner and a few moments afterwards." He decided.
Kana lifted her head, surprised, and looked at him. "Really?"
Pakku nodded. "You do look tired," Pakku commented. "The bags under your eyes are getting darker."
Instantly, Kana bristled. "My bags!?" She let out a low growl and stomped forward. He insulted her. The marks under her eyes and her recent disheveled look were his fault and all he could do was point them out? "Whose fault do you think that is?" She snapped. Pakku quickened his speed to catch up with her.
"Kana, I'm just saying that you need to get some rest," Pakku told her, confused as to why she had snapped at him. "It's not good for you."
"Fine," Kana whirled around and faced him. "Tell your cousins I'm not able to make it tonight."
"What!?" Pakku froze as his eyebrows shot up. "Kana, they've been looking forward to meeting you since they heard about our engagement!"
"Then they can meet me some other time, Pakku. There is no shortage of events up there." Kana retorted as her hand vaguely motioned towards the direction Pakuu's neighborhood was.
"I already told them you were coming and even that I'd be a little late because I needed to pick you up from the market," Pakku insisted. A pleading look graced his face as he placed his hands on her shoulders. "They are expecting you."
"Even you said that I need to get some more rest and I plan to do just that," she reminded him. "I'm tried, Pakku. I don't get home until late, which doesn't give me enough sleep. I have to wake up at dawn to help with the booth. I'm busy the whole day selling, moving boxes, and preparing fish. Then in the night, I have to go up to your neighborhood for yet another dinner and don't return until late into the night! I need to get some sleep!"
"Then we won't stay too long," Pakku replied. "We'll just make an appearance and eat dinner and then I'll bring you home. You can even sleep on the gondola ride down. I'll carry you to your flat so you won't wake up if I need to." He offered earnestly.
Kana narrowed her eyes and gave him a suspicious look. "Pakku…"
"Just for tonight… tomorrow, you won't have to go to another event… As a matter of fact, for the next two nights, you can just rest up," He assured her. "I… I have a council meeting I need to attend in a few nights, but I'll just tell my mother your mom needed your help at home so you don't have to go with her to have dinner with the other wives."
Kana slowly inhaled a deep breath. The options weighed in her mind and Pakku watched her carefully. After what seemed like endless moments, Kana finally nodded in agreement. "Just dinner tonight. Not a second longer."
A wide smile crossed Pakku's face as he nodded. "Not a second longer." Kana nodded and continued heading towards his part of the city. Pakku easily caught up and walked beside her.
Kana felt something brush her hand and then another movement gently holding on to her pinky. She didn't need to glance down to know that Pakku was trying to hold her hand. She directed her eyes upwards, just enough to see Pakku's face. His eyes were directed elsewhere, but the heated blush on his cheeks gave away his intention.
She rolled her eyes. For someone as cocky as he was, he did surprise her with how shy he could be with her. Since the night on the wall, he hadn't tried to kiss her on the lips. It was always a chaste kiss on the cheek. Even then, it was a carefully measured action. He'd look around nervously, and then give her a quick peck before darting back and blushing like mad. Then he wouldn't be able to look at her in the eyes as he left. Not that she wanted him to go any further. A kiss on the cheek or none at all was more than fine with her.
Shaking her head slightly, she pulled her hand away from his, causing his larger hand to fall limply at his side. Kana could almost sense the disappointment radiating from him and grinned to herself. Silently, she wrapped a warm gloved hand around his.
Pakku nearly jumped. He looked down at their joined hands, as if in shock. Were those really her fingers curled around his? He could already feel his heart rate quickening.
"The dinner won't take long, right?" Kana asked; keeping her eyes focused ahead of her.
Pakku nodded. "N… no…" he stammered stupidly. He cursed himself for sounding like such a little boy. "Not long at all."
"I hope not," Kana mused as she sped up her walk. "Let's go. It's just a dinner for his son, right?" Pakku nodded quietly half a step behind her. He was still too overjoyed that she had reached for his hand and was currently holding it. Kana looked up ahead of them determinedly. It's just a simple dinner for a little kid, Kana. No big deal. There probably won't even be a lot of adults there. Maybe you can even relax. It's just one dinner… and then you won't have to deal with any of them for a few days.
Deep down, she knew it wouldn't be just one dinner. In her short time immersed amongst them, the tribe's wealthy and elite never threw something simple. When she saw the clothes Pakku's mother left for her to wear at their house, she knew it was going to be a long evening.
Even though they arrived late, dinner still hadn't been served. Kana had immediately been taken to meet Pakku's cousin. While cutting through the house, Kana couldn't help but wonder what happened to her quick dinner. They were stopped by almost everyone on their way to greet the couple and their child.
Most of the guests sought out Pakku to chat about how he was coming along sitting in on council member meetings. Pakku would always stop to respond, keeping his hand woven with Kana's the entire time. Minutes dragged on and Kana tugged at Pakku's arm; hinting that they were in a bit of a rush.
"Pakku…" she whispered in a low voice. A pair of blue eyes that didn't belong to her fiancée drifted over her and gave her a disapproving glance. Before she could glare at him, Pakku turned to her and gave her an apologetic look.
"Excuse us, Master Chae, I forgot that we still have to greet my cousin," Pakku said. He gave the master waterbender a quick bow of his head before leading Kana away. "Sorry, I got caught up."
"I expected dinner to have started already," Kana murmured as they walked through the hall in search of his cousin. "And I didn't know there was going to be this many people. I thought it was supposed to be for your cousin's son."
"Yeah, but he's also the first-born son of two prestigious families," Pakku told her. "Of course everyone would want to come and pay their respects to him."
Kana grumbled something under her breath. The way things were going they wouldn't be leaving for quite some time.
Two hours later, she mulled over how correct she was. She sat in the dining hall with numerous other guests, silently sipping at her bowl of soup. Pakku seemed to have completely forgotten about their earlier deal and was chatting with the councilman across from him.
Kana couldn't help but frown as she found herself trapped, tired, and irritable. Mentally, she cursed Pakku in her mind. It was supposed to be quick. Just dinner and then they'd leave. They had been there two hours and dinner had barely been served. At the rate they were going, she wouldn't get to bed until well past midnight. Stupid Pakku. Stupid dinner. Stupid 'obligations'. Spirits, would it kill them to have dinner one night without me? Are they forgetting how far my house is and how cold it gets or what I have to do in the morning?
"Pakku," The councilman's wife across from him raised an eyebrow at him as she looked over from Kana. "Is there something wrong with your fiancée? A young woman shouldn't be scowling like that."
Kana's hands tightened on her spoon. She hadn't even realized it, but the woman didn't have to point it out. Kana lifted her head and noticed the looks in her direction. Some disapproving, others annoyed.
"Ah, Kana is just a bit tired from work." Pakku told the woman.
"Tired?" the councilman looked at Pakku questioningly. "Pakku, I did not know your bride worked." His tone struck a cord with the young woman and she stiffened in her seat. What was so bad about working?
"She works at the market in the Southern Docks, sir." Pakku replied politely.
"The docks?" the councilman frowned more so. He looked directly at Kana. "That is no place for the wife of a future councilman to work, Kana."
Pakku opened his mouth to reply, when Kana sat up straight. "Is there something wrong about working in the market, councilman? It is an honest day's work and people do need food." She replied sharply.
"You'll be marrying into a prestigious family," the woman beside the councilman explained. "Like my daughter married into. Working such a job is no place for woman in your position. Your husband's family has a reputation to maintain and you wouldn't want to tarnish it."
Kana could feel a vein about to pop from her head. "How exactly would I tarnish it by working hard and supporting my family?" Kana asked in a low voice. By now, she was gripping her spoon so hard, Pakku's sister thought it would break.
"Kana," Pakku said quietly as he tried to calm her down by gently stroking her arm. "The councilman's wife was merely stating that-"
"That I'm going to shame your family because I'm a fisherman's daughter and work at a fish booth in a market in the docks," Kana spat out, her eyes narrowed as she glared at the woman. "I understand clearly what she was stating." The entire table had gone quiet. Everyone was now looking at her.
"She has quite a temper on her," the councilman said casually. "You would do well to find a less… problematic bride, Pakku. I do have another daughter, you know. She knows her place and how to act in public."
In his mind, Pakku knew he couldn't stop Kana. The grip on her arm tightened in a weak effort to stop her from rising, but that didn't stop Kana's reply.
"Forgive me, councilman," Kana said in a low, almost mocking voice. "I apologize if I cannot meet the standards you have for your wife and daughter."
Pakku's eyes widened. Kana? Apologizing after being insulted? His stomach tightened. Something was wrong. This was not going to end well.
The councilman lifted his chin proudly as the corners of his lips curled into a near sneer. Kana placed her spoon carefully into her bowl. It had been a long day. A long tiring day and she had enough. Enough of the looks, the comments, the sneers.
"I am sorry," Pakku mentally swore as Kana stood up from her seat. "I am sorry that you do not approve of me working to help my family. I am sorry that you don't see me as someone good enough to marry into someone's family because of where I'm from, what I do, or who my parents are. Sorry that I cannot be as selfish, spoiled, needlessly arrogant, and vain as your wife and daughter!"
"Watch your tongue, young woman!" The councilman shot out of his seat and loomed over the table; his glare locked with Kana's. "How dare you insult my wife and daughter!"
"How dare you and your wife insult my job and my family!?" Kana retorted.
"Pakku!" The councilman turned to the waterbender that was seated beside Kana. "I suggest you do something about your future wife! Her rudeness will not be tolerated! I demand you put her in her place and order her to control herself!"
"Control myself!?" Kana choked out angrily. "If anyone is being rude, it is-"
"Kana!" a voice shouted beside her. The young woman's jaw snapped shut and she whirled around. Pakku sat rooted in his seat, his eyes focused on the empty bowl in front of him as his hands clenched his knees tightly. His face was emotionless, but he was trembling slightly. "Sit down."
His voice was low and serious. Kana's fiery fury stumbled. If she didn't know better, she would have though he was ashamed. "Wha… what?" Kana's voice was quiet and confused.
Pakku took a deep breath. "Sit down," he repeated once more, slower. "You are… being rude and… embarrassing us."
He took the councilman's side. For a moment, Kana felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her. Pakku, who since their engagement, has remained by her steadfastly had just taken the side of someone else. Kana had been the one insulted first. Pakku knew it. He heard it.
Her hands trembled at her sides as they curled into a fist. She suddenly felt abandoned. "I see…" she said as calmly as she could. Her eyes bore into the ice table in front of her. She didn't want to look up and see the triumphant smile on the man who insulted her. She forced herself to sound calm despite the anger and frustration boiling within her. "Forgive me… I have been… very tired lately. Perhaps it was not a good idea to come when I am not rested."
Pakku lifted up his head and looked at her. I'm sorry, Kana. I'm sorry, but I had to do something. You left me no choice. I didn't mean to side with him! His eyes seemed to beg her to understand.
"I should return home," Kana said as she clenched her jaw. "I am… unwell." Silently, she gave a small bow of her head.
"Kana…" Pakku reached out as she turned around and walked out of the hall.
"Pakku," another voice called out to the young man. "Go escort Kana home," Siku told him sternly. His eyes clearly showing that he was displeased with what he had seen. "She is feeling under the weather."
The younger bender lowered his eyes and gave his father a curt nod. He stood up and gave the silenced hall an abrupt and apologetic bow before walking after Kana. By the time he emerged from his cousin's house, Kana was already reaching the sidewalk.
"Kana!" Pakku called out. If she heard him, she ignored him. The bender sped up his walk into a near run to catch up with her. "Kana, wait!" She did exactly the opposite and sped up. "Kana!"
The young woman could hear him calling her name. She could make out his rapidly approaching footsteps behind her, trying to catch up. Gritting her teeth, she quickened her pace and hoped he get the hint to leave her alone. Pakku could be just as stubborn as she and so, when his bare hand finally reached forward and grabbed on to the sleeve of her over coat, she wasn't surprised.
"Let me go, Pakku," she told him in a low voice as she tried to shrug off his hand. Pakku refused to release her as he pulled her back. She stumbled around and glared at him. "I said let me go!"
"Kana, about what happened in there-" he began with an exasperated look on his face.
"What happened was you completely took that man's side when you know he was the one that started it!" Kana growled. She tore her arm from Pakku's grasp and took a step back.
"Kana, I didn't want to stop you! I completely agree; the councilman did deserve your wrath after what he said about your work and what you're doing to help your family," Pakku told her imploringly. "But he is still a councilman and deserves respect. You shouldn't have yelled at him or insulted his family."
"Oh, so, it's fine for him to insult what I do, and by extension, what my family does because he's a councilman!?" Kana demanded furiously.
"No! Of course not! That's not what I meant!" Pakku insisted. He ran his hand through his hair, unsure of how to phrase what he was trying to say. "It's just that a certain degree of respect is due before a councilman. A certain… protocol is necessary when you are addressing him, no matter what the subject may be."
"Is it within this 'protocol' to blatantly point out that I have a temper and that I'm not good enough for you and will shame your family?" Kana snapped.
Pakku frowned. "He was out of line, Kana," he agreed. "I know that-"
"If you know that then why didn't you say something?" Kana shouted. "You just sat there while he went off and then took his side!"
"He was out of line, but you were, too, Kana," Pakku replied. "You know it, too. You shouldn't have insulted his wife and daughter."
Kana closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "He insulted my way of life; my family's way of life. He dismissed our hard work as inferior. He dismissed me and everyone like me as inferior. And inferior to what? A daughter who sits around talking all day while wearing nice clothes. I wasn't about to let him go without telling him that. Him and the rest of those so called elite in that house!"
Pakku jerked his head back and frowned. "Kana… If this is about what they've been saying…"
"It's about what they've been saying, doing, and thinking, Pakku," Kana told him. She waved her hand weakly at the house they had left behind as a worn look graced her face. "I… I can't keep doing this, Pakku. All these dinners and events that your family has to attend are always filled with those people. All they do is give me looks and make me feel unwanted. I'm tired of fighting them off. I'm tired of ignoring them. I'm just…"
Her arms fell limply at her sides. Pakku's face softened as Kana lowered her head, tiredly. His own eyes lowered guiltily. It was partially his fault. He had been dragging her off all those events, completely forgetting about her already full schedule and duties to her family. All he had been concerned about was showing her off to his family's peers.
"I knew that it was going to be different from where I come from," Kana admitted. "I knew that there would be stricter rules to follow and a more formal code to adhere to, but… they always say I'm too loud or I have a temper or I'm lacking in manners."
"Kana," Pakku told her gently. "You're not lacking in anything-"
"I don't want to be like them, Pakku," Kana told him wearily. "Like those girls in there who only have to sit pretty and be quiet and then marry the son of an equally wealthy family before having heirs. I can't be like them!"
"I know," Pakku assured her. "That's why I want to marry you."
Her eyes crinkled up as she looked up at him beseechingly. "Then why did you tell me to sit down?"
Pakku's eyes met hers, suddenly looking just as spent as she did. "You were raised a certain way… and so was I," He offered weakly. "Perhaps, I did what I was trained to do my entire life. What I was taught was the correct way to act."
Kana lowered her eyes. A small part of her was disappointed when she heard that. "I see…"
"Kana," Pakku's hands carefully held hers in his. His eyes were lowered, examining her warm hands in his as he wove his fingers between hers. "I should've let you rest… Just forget about what happened tonight. You're tired and edgy… you need to get some rest," His hands closed around hers and he lifted his head to meet her gaze. "Let me walk you home."
Silently, Kana lowered her eyes. She pulled her hands away from his, allowing her hands to slip away from his, and took another step back. "I can make it back on my own, Pakku…
His heart sank as Kana began to turn around. "Kana…"
"Give me some time to rest, Pakku…" Kana told him, sounding exhausted. "I'll see you…" She buried her hands in her pockets.
Pakku stood in his place, watching her fleeting figure walk away on the snow packed sidewalk, unsure of what to do. His breath crystallized before him as his hands returned to his sides. His shoulders slumped and he looked down. "I'll see you, then…"
They were different. Anyu might have insisted otherwise, due to their personalities, but Kana knew better. She and Pakku were different. Their upbringing made them different people. She had always known that, but now the difference stood out more than ever. Whenever she compared herself to the women she had met when she was with him, she knew she could never be like them.
It just wasn't her. Pakku understood that, she realized, but he was still bound by custom and tradition.
"It's difficult to adjust," Akna told her daughter as Kana sat at the breakfast stable. She had spent the last two days going over everything that had happened to her since she became engaged and with each lingering thought, she found herself feeling more and more cornered. Not just by the marriage, but by the tribe. The thought terrified her. "But you will get used to it."
It doesn't feel like it… "Maybe…" Kana murmured. Her arms were curled on the table in front of her as she rested her head on it. Beside her, her father chuckled.
"They can afford to be more formal there," Suka told her. "So, it's understandable."
Kana merely grumbled. She hadn't told her parents about the episode with the councilmen. In fact, she hadn't told anyone. She didn't want to deal with the questions or have her mother force her to go and make an apology to the pompous council member.
"Kana," her mother smiled warmly as she reached over and stroked her daughter's braided hair. "It'll be fine."
"I hope so…" she mumbled. She shoved the last piece of bread into her mouth and then sat up. "I'm going to the market now."
"Your mother and I will be attending the tribal meeting tonight, Kana. Will you be home for dinner?" Suka asked.
"No, she's meeting Yugoda and the others at Miki's tonight," Akna told her. She looked at her daughter and smiled warmly. "Have fun, dear!"
"I will." She tugged her hood up over her head and headed out the door. The door closed behind her and she headed downstairs. She just finished pulling her gloves up as she emerged into the street.
Kana walked past the docks. Some fishermen were unloading their catch from their latest fishing trip. Others were preparing for another outing. Kana squinted as she made out a familiar figure carrying large, wooden traps into a small boat. "Kahasi?"
"Hmm?" He lifted his head and smiled brightly as he placed one of the crab traps into his boat. "Morning, Kana! Going to the market?"
She nodded as she walked towards him. "Same as always. What are you doing?"
"I'm going to set some crab traps up while the tide is good," the fisherman told her. "Oh, congratulations on your engagement!"
Kana wanted to frown at the reminder, but forced herself to smile. "Thank you."
"Pakku is a fine young man," Kahasi said as he lifted another trap and placed it carefully on to the boat. "He'll make a fine husband for you."
"I hope so…" Kana mused. She shifted uncomfortably on the door as her eyes darted in the direction of the market place. She suddenly didn't feel talking to a familiar face about her engagement. "Well, I better get going…"
"Yes, you should," he chuckled. "Your Aunt Nauja is probably already waiting."
Kana gave him a small, genuine smile. "Before I go, I'm glad I ran into you," she said as she shoved her hands in her pocket. "Yugoda and the rest of us are having a little party at your cousin's tonight."
"Miki's?" Kahasi asked, raising an eyebrow. "I'm surprised you all don't live there considering how much time you guys spend on that roof."
"It's a nice roof," Kana told him proudly. "Anyway, you're invited! It's to celebrate my-"
"Sixteenth birthday! Spirits, Kana! I'm sorry! I completely forgot!" Kahasi lifted his hand and slapped his forehead. "Usually your mother throws a party for you and all of us come…"
"Well, not this year, but we're still getting together," Kana assured him. "So, can you come?"
"Ah…" Kahasi eyed his boat lined with crab traps and then gave her a weak smile. "I'll try, but no promises. I need to pick these up before the waters get too strong and sweeps them away."
Kana nodded understandingly. "It's tonight, promptly at sunset," Kana reminded him. "Please come if you can."
"Sure thing, Kana," He reached over and patted her hooded head. "Now, get going. You have to work before you can party."
Kana chuckled and waved her hand at him as she headed towards the market. By the time she reached it, her Aunt was already setting up. Kana quickly took her place inside the booth and in a matter of minutes, was sitting back on her stool, haggling with a woman about fish.
In the afternoon, just as Kana finished selling the last of the dried fish jerky, she heard her name being called from somewhere in the street. She craned her head forward and looked through the sea of blue and white for a familiar family. She didn't need to even find that face the second she spotted green and yellow amongst the blue.
"Mei Li!" Kana jumped off her stool and ran to the front of the booth as a pale skinned brunette rammed into her with a crushing hug.
"Kana!" The merchant's daughter smiled widely as she hugged her friend.
"Mei Li, what are you doing here?" Kana laughed as the two of them held on to each other's arms as they jumped happily in the middle of the street. "You're not supposed to arrive for another few months!"
"Oh, the family that owns the ship my family works on sent us back early," Mei Li shrugged. She grinned from ear to ear as she looked at her friend knowingly. "But, guess what I heard from your mom earlier…"
Kana tilted her head to the side questioningly. "That we're having a little party at Miki's?"
"Besides that!" Mei Li beamed. "That you're engaged!" She threw her arms around her friend once more and hugged her. "Congratulations, Kana!"
All of Kana's energy was suddenly gone. "Oh…"
"Oh?" Mei Li jerked her head back and frowned as she held Kana at arms length. "What do you mean 'oh'? You don't sound happy. Do you not like the guy?"
Kana shook her head as she led her friend back into the booth. Her aunt had left to get some of her own market shopping done for the day. "Pakku isn't a bad guy, but-"
"Pakku!?" Mei Li's grin suddenly reappeared. "Wait… is that the guy that was with Anyu? The tall, cute one you ran into?"
The Water Tribe maiden's cheeks burned at the embarrassing memory as she pulled up another stool for Mei Li to sit on. "Yes… that guy."
"Well… I knew there was chemistry between you two," Mei Li mused proudly. "I knew it from the beginning. It's all about chemistry you know. You two had sparks flying."
"We're complete opposites," Kana sighed tiredly. "Like fire and water."
"Then you had steam flying." The Earth Kingdom girl corrected as she took a seat beside her friend.
"Mei Li…" Kana rolled her eyes. "Pakku is a nice guy… behind his arrogance and stubborn mentality. And I know he'll be a good provider. He's going to be a future bending master and councilman."
"So what's the problem?" the other girl asked. "He's nice, he's talented, he's got a good future ahead of him, and he's easy on the eyes. I don't know how high your standards are, Kana, but I'm starting to think they're unreachable."
"It's not Pakku himself exactly," Kana said in a quiet voice. "It's his… world…"
Mei Li raised an eyebrow. "I'm not following you."
"His world, Mei Li," Kana explained. "His neighborhood, his family's peers, and being wealthy. It's having to attend all those gatherings almost every night, and having to act a certain way in front of certain people. The tribe has really strict rules and laws and codes and formalities, but there is just so much they restrict! The other day, I yelled at a councilman!" She added in a low voice.
The merchant's daughter crossed her arms over her chest. "Why did you yell at a councilman?"
"He insulted me… and I couldn't take it any more, Mei Li. I was just so… so tired of it all. I couldn't take it… I felt so suffocated and trapped. Everything was getting to me, I just... snapped!" Kana let out a heavy breath and shook her head. "I don't think I can do this…"
"Now, Kana…" the other girl told her calmly. "You're just nervous about the change. I'm sure you'll get used to it. It can't be as different as you think."
"Sometimes, I wish I could just stay here in the southern docks…it's so much more…relaxed here…" Kana trailed off.
Mei Li rolled her eyes. "Why not take it a step further and go all the way down to your sister tribe. They're tons more lax with the rules then they are here."
Kana's head snapped up. "Really? You've been there, haven't you?"
"Several times when I was younger and in the southern Earth Kingdom, we sometimes meet up with Southern Water Tribe traders," Mei Li told her. "Really nice people… and they're not as rigid with the rules here. I heard they have female waterbenders there that don't just heal."
"Really?" Kana's eyes widened with interest. She'd never heard of such a thing. Healing was the only thing female waterbenders were allowed to do in the north. She opened her mouth to ask more questions when another voice cut hers off.
"Kana!" The two young women lifted their heads as two more teenagers made their way through the crowds. "Hey! Mei Li! Back so soon or have you been exiled?"
"I missed you guys, too, Anyu." The Earth Kingdom girl rolled her eyes as Yugoda smacked Anyu in the arm.
"I heard your boat was here so I figured you'd come," Yugoda told her enthusiastically. "Excellent timing, by the way. Can you come to our little party?"
"Of course," Mei Li nodded. "When do we leave?"
"As soon as Kana's aunt comes back," Anyu told them. "We passed her on the way here."
"We're kidnapping you!" Yugoda smiled cheerfully.
"Oh, I'm scared." Kana smirked.
"By the way," Anyu said. "I saw Pakku yesterday. I asked if he was coming and he said he didn't know we were getting together."
"Kana, didn't you invite him?" Yugoda frowned. Kana shrugged.
"I wasn't really feeling up to seeing him again after a few nights ago. I just wanted to go home and sleep." Kana told them.
"Anyway, I told him to come," Anyu told her. "But he can't make it. Something about a meeting with some councilman."
"I don't mind," Kana said proudly as she lifted her chin. "If he can't make it, I'm more than happy."
"Kana," Yugoda frowned as she looked at her with chastising eyes. "Don't say that. It's been a few days since you last saw him right? He probably misses you. I bet right now, Pakku is thinking only of you."
"I disagree," The council members all turned their eyes towards the young man seated beside his father. "I don't believe that closing our doors to the Earth Kingdom merchants and even our own sister tribe is the answer."
"Pakku," one of the councilmen told him. "We have been over this. You have to understand that it is necessary for our survival."
"There must be another way," Pakku replied. He sat rigidly to his father's right side as he addressed the council. For the last few days, he had been sitting in on meetings amongst the council members who were discussing the radical plan. "We can't just shut ourselves out from the world."
"The Fire Nation is approaching and we need to find a way to keep our citizens safe, Pakku. That is our main priority; to protect our tribe." another councilman told him.
Pakku could feel his resolve slipping away. He had argued against it from the beginning. They would lose money from trade. They would be left behind on news of world events. They would lose complete contact with their southern sister tribe. The only thing way they knew what was happening on the other side of the world was through the news the Earth Kingdom ships brought.
Worst of all, none of them would be able to leave or return. "What about our merchants who are in the Earth Kingdom?" Pakku asked. "Will we be shutting them out, as well?"
The Chief took a deep breath and shook his head. "The last of the merchants will be arriving tomorrow morning, Pakku."
"What!?" The young man's eyes widened. "But the law hasn't been enacted yet! How could they possibly know?"
"Rumors have been going around. That is why there has been a sudden influx in the number of Earth Kingdom merchant ships in our harbor lately. They want to trade once more with us before we close our doors to them," Chief Sura explained. "Our own vessels have been notified to return."
Pakku's eyes looked at the group disbelievingly. "But… it hasn't been announced to the Tribe…" Kana doesn't know…
"We did not want to cause alarm," The eldest councilman told Pakku. "But at our tribal meeting tonight, we will feast with the last of the Earth Kingdom merchants before we send them off."
"We know it is a harsh decision, Pakku," the Chief told him. "Some of the merchants are personal friends of ours. Some for generations, but we must do what we must do for the sake of the tribe."
"You're young," the head councilman told the young bender sympathetically. "This may seem unnecessary, but we are faced with a raising power from the Fire Nation. They have already attacked us once and we need to be ready for that. This is just one of the ways we are trying to protect our people."
"If we leave our doors open, they will find us so much easier by following the trade ships." Chief Sura added.
Pakku bit his lower lip. "But they can still follow the trade routes."
"We've already thought of that," Pakku's Uncle, his mother's brother, told him. "And we will need your help. You and every available waterbender we have."
Pakku looked at his father, confused. Siku kept his eyes down on the table. He had been against the plan as well, but eventually felt there was no other way. For all they knew the Fire Nation would be at their doors at dawn. "We will be… shifting the ice bergs around us to create a gauntlet of ice. Then we will build up the ice around the city to change the coast around us."
Pakku narrowed his eyes. "We're going to hide…"
"There is nothing else we can do," the Chief sighed tiredly. "Pakku, our first priority is the protection of the tribe."
"But we won't be able to leave. It's like we'll be trapped here!" Pakku gasped.
"Pakku," Siku looked at his son sadly. "When I agreed to this plan, I agreed for your sake as well as those of your mother and sister. I know you disagree, but think of Kana."
"I am thinking of Kana!" Pakku exclaimed. His eyes softened. Every time he had opened his mouth to speak to the council. Every time he had so much as sat down with them, he thought of her and of her dreams. Kana wanted to see the world and he promised her she would.
"Then try to understand," the Chief told him gently. "Pakku… Do you want Kana to die in a Fire Nation attack?"
A cold chill ran down Pakku's spine. His eyes widened. "No…" he breathed out, unsteadily. "Of course I wouldn't."
"Then do not risk her life." Siku told his son.
Pakku felt his chest tightened as he fell back against his seat, suddenly feeling defeated. Risk Kana's life? He's sooner risk his own. He ran a hand down his face and closed his eyes.
"We will need your cooperation on this, Pakku," the Chief told him. "Will you help us with the changes?"
Kana's face floated in his mind. The happy, beautiful face of hers that night she wished upon the dancing lights in the sky. He would do anything to make dreams come true, anything to help them become reality, but he wouldn't put her life in danger for them. He couldn't.
Pakku looked up at met the eyes of his tribe's leader. "Chief Sura, you have my full cooperation."
"I can't believe this will be my last time here…" Mei Li whispered sadly. She sat on the edge of the dock, just beside Kana. Hardly anyone was there that night. Kana and the others had skipped out on the tribal meeting. Most young people their age didn't attend, at least until they were married.
"Mmm…" Kana licked the top of the ice cream as she nodded. It was late, but the frozen treat was still good. Mei Li lapped up the tasty desert. "But you'll be back next year."
The Earth Kingdom maiden, whose legs were swinging over the edge stopped. Beside her, Yugoda glanced over. The green clad girl slowly slumped her shoulders. "Actually…" she began hesitantly. "I won't."
Kana paused in mid lick and turned to look at her friend. "You won't?"
"Are you getting married to someone back in the Earth Kingdom?" Yugoda asked, confused.
Mei Li shook her head. She lifted her head and looked at her friends sadly. "I didn't know how to tell you guys… but… we heard that the Northern Water Tribe was going to close its doors to all trade."
"What?" Kana raised an eyebrow and shook her head. "That's not possible. We do a lot of trade, so it would be a big loss to the tribe if we stopped."
"I agree with Kana," Yugoda nodded. "We can't just close up. Especially not so soon. Besides, nothing has been announced to the tribe."
"But the council has been talking about it," Three sets of eyes looked over at the lone male. Anyu was seated behind them on a crate. "Pakku was mumbling about it yesterday."
"But it would've been announced, wouldn't it?" Kana asserted as she tilted her head to the side. "To the tribe…" She suddenly sucked in her breath. Her face paled as the realization struck her. "The tribal meeting tonight…"
She burst through the open doors of the lodge with Anyu, Yugoda, and Mei Li all at her heels. She was panting as she stood at the doorway. The tribesmen had already dispersed. "No…" she breathed deeply as she stood up and stumbled into the room. A feeling of dread washed over her. "It can't be over…"
"Kana," a quiet voice said her name from the elevated seats at the front of the lodge. "What are you doing here?"
Blue eyes rose slowly and fixed themselves on the lone figure seated on the ice seats, just before the roaring waterfalls behind him. "Pakku…" She had never been so glad to see him. "Pakku, is it true?" Kana stumbled forward, tired and winded from her run across the city. "Are they really going to close the doors?"
The young man sat silently on his father's vacated seat. He didn't want to tell her. He didn't want to be the one to tell her and crush her dreams in one simple word. Pakku turned his head away. You'll hate me. You'll be angry with me… but you have to understand why I did it… his mind pleaded with her.
"Pakku," Kana repeated his name as she stopped before him on the floor. She looked up at him and narrowed her eyes. "Pakku, answer me! Are they going to close the doors!?"
Pakku hesitated. He could feel her frustration radiating from her and reluctantly met her eyes. "It is…" He began carefully. "In the best interest…" He could see the shock on her face. "Of the tribe…"
"No…" Kana whispered. She shook her head. "Pakku, that's crazy! They can't isolate us from the rest of the world!"
"There is no other choice, Kana," Pakku grimaced. He suddenly sounded just like those old men he had been arguing against. "The Fire Nation is a danger to the tribe and if they find us, the entire tribe will be in danger."
Kana looked at him imploring. "Pakku, you can't let them do this!" She gasped. "Can't you talk to them? Tell them otherwise? There has to be another way!"
"I tried, but in the end, they were right." Her head snapped up at him. For a moment, her eyes searched his.
"You… agreed with them?" she asked, swallowing the lump in her throat. Pakku's face was blank as he nodded.
"Like I said before, it is in the best interest of the tri-"
"It's imprisonment, Pakku!" Kana yelled. Pakku closed his eyes tightly. "Once they close those doors, we'll be trapped!" He already knew that. "We'll never be able to leave-"
"And you'll never be able to return!" Pakku shouted suddenly. The three other teens at the doorway silently watched as Pakku stood up and jumped down to the floor in front of Kana. "I know you want to leave and see the world, Kana. I know that's your dream, but if you leave, you won't be able to come back!" Kana's jaw locked. Her chest heaved up and down with heavy breaths as Pakku looked at her with stern, blue eyes. "Don't you understand that this is for the safety of the entire tribe!? It's either isolation or death!"
Kana stared up at him, the word isolation ringing over and over in her head. "But…" She trailed off, unsure of what else to say. The only thing she knew was that somehow, the two choices were the same.
"It's already been decided anyway," Pakku informed her as he ran a hand through his hair wearily. "The council has decided and all the merchant ships have already been notified."
She suddenly found it difficult to breathe. The air was thick and hot within the sprawling ice walled room. "You… promised me…" Her voice was weak and strained as the stunned look reached her face. She lifted her head and looked at him. "You said-"
"I know what I said," Pakku began, exasperated. He didn't want to hear her pained words. Each one was like a stab in his heart. "I know what I promised you, Kana. I said that you'd see the world one day and that I'd follow you, but we can't do that now! The world is at war! The Air Nomads been wiped out, Kana, and I will not let that happen to our tribe!"
"But there has to be another way…" Kana breathed out. "We can't just hide for the rest of our lives."
"Kana," Pakku told her. "I had to make a choice between your dreams and your life," He said as he reached forward and clamped his hands on her shoulders. "I'd rather you remain safe inside the Northern Water Tribe then risk your life outside of it. I know what you want, but we cannot risk the entire tribe because you want to see what green hills and leaves look like up close. The tribe's lives must come first, you know that."
She knew that. She knew that and accepted that, but not for her. She couldn't stay in the tribe her entire life. She would regret it. Her eyes glazed over. "I… can't stay here…"
Pakku frowned. "Kana, stop it," He demanded as he gave her a little shake. "Now, you're just being stubborn. The council has already decided-"
"The council doesn't rule my life!" Kana suddenly screamed. She shoved Pakku away and stumbled backwards. "It's too much, Pakku!"
"Kana, our survival depends on our way of life and the choices we make," he replied sternly. "The council, our rules, our customs and traditions have gotten us this far. I won't turn my back on them!" He insisted. He looked at her, his face begging her to understand. "I love you, Kana, but it is my duty to uphold our way of life. And if our way of life keeps you from being killed at the hands of the Fire Nation, I'll gladly support it with my own!"
Kana's eyes narrowed. "What if the Fire Nation finds us, anyway? It is not certain that they won't!"
"What is certain is that they will be looking for us!" Pakku argued. "Kana, stop for a moment and think about this! Think about the safety of your family and friends! Don't put your pride and your wants before them and the rest of the tribe!"
She went silent. Pakku kept his eyes on her as he hoped she would understand. She lowered her head and closed her eyes tightly. He was correct. She would not risk the lives of parents or Yugoda or Anyu or any of her other friends. But her life was her own, wasn't it?
"Kana?" Pakku felt his heart leap to his throat as his fiancée turned her back on him. "Kana-"
"I will not risk the tribe's safety," Kana assured him as she began to walk away. "I will accept the decision made by our council to preserve our peaceful way of life."
A small part of him felt relieved, but at the same time nervous. It wasn't like Kana to just up without a fight. Regardless, if she understood, he would not question her. "I'm glad you understand…" He said as he watched her head towards the door.
"Kana…?" Yugoda asked weakly as she watched the defeated young woman walk silently past them. "Where are you going?"
"I… need to go…" Kana whispered. "Bye…" They watched her walk down the long flight of stairs outside of the lodge, completely ignorant of the people she passed.
"Aren't you going to go after her?" Mei Li asked as she looked at the young man left standing at the head of the lodge.
Pakku looked down at his feet. He had no idea what to do next. He took a deep breath and then stared out the wide open doors. He wanted to go after Kana. To tell her that it would be all right. Instead, he found himself frozen where he stood and cursed himself. "I don't think I can."
She didn't know how long she had been sitting there, but it must've been a while. Snow had started falling lightly over the city once she reached the top of the wall and she was now blanketed with it. As she slumped down and curled up against it, she faced the sprawling city in front of her. When she had first sat down, lights illuminated all the ice structures; giving the city a warm, welcoming glow.
Now, late into the night or perhaps, even the early morning, almost all the lights were off. The few that remained lit were by the docks. One by one, the last of the Earth Kingdom merchant ships left the docks. With each one that passed, she felt any hope she had leaving with them. Come sunrise, she would never be able to leave the city.
All her childhood dreams of adventure in a far away land, of sightseeing, of experiencing new things were gone. She was trapped. Trapped in her city. Trapped in her way of life. Trapped in a marriage that put her in a position she didn't want to be in. Trapped by obligation. By custom and tradition. Trapped by her own tribe.
Silently, Kana apologized for not seeing her friend off as Mei Li's family's ship raised anchor. The Earth Kingdom vessel slowly made its way into the harbor beyond the wall, just one ship amongst the fleet leaving the tribe's waters. She felt her chest constrict as she realized she'd never leave.
Is it wrong, Kana thought to herself. To want to live life the way you want? The young woman stood up and brushed the layers of snow off her body. Shivering slightly, she made headed towards the stairs. Luckily, her cousin wasn't on duty to see her out that late, by herself.
She was halfway to her house when she saw a tired man tying the end of his small boat to the dock. She stopped and looked at him questioningly. "Did you just get back?"
Kahasi lifted his head and smiled weakly. "Yes," He said. His face looked tired. "It took a while to return with all those ships," He looked over her and gave her a questioning look. "And I take it you're barely going home?"
"I was just… thinking…" she said as she looked down at her feet.
The fisherman looked down at the rope in his hands and suddenly tossed it at her. "You look like you could use someone to talk to."
Kana barely caught the rope before it hit the ground. "I've been talking enough with myself, thank you." she sighed. Without being asked, she began to tie the front of the boat against the dock.
"At least you still remember how to tie a proper knot," Kahasi said as he looked over her shoulder. "My teaching was worth while."
Kana smiled slightly and stood back up as soon as it was securely fastened. She suddenly felt a heavy weight drape over her head and let out a surprised yelp. "What the…?"
"Put it on," Kahasi said as he fixed the thinner coat around his body. "From the look of your clothes, you've been out for a while… and was covered with snow."
Sighing heavily, Kana burrowed her way into Kahasi's thick coat and then pulled his hood over her own. "Thank you."
"Come on," the fisherman said. "Your building is on my way home and I can't let you walk around unescorted." Kana nodded and followed the man as they walked down the docks.
They walked quietly beside each other. Kana moved automatically; her mind having shut down to just forget about what was going on. It wasn't until Kahasi patted her head to tell her that they had arrived at her building. Kana nodded, told him to have a good night, and then disappeared inside her building.
The door closed behind her as Kana walked up the flights of stairs to her flat. Every step suddenly seemed to weigh her down. The walk up to her to her flat felt long and tedious. She slipped inside as quietly as she could so as not to disturb her parents. They had fallen asleep on the living area cushions waiting for her.
For a moment, she looked over them. They were good parents. Great ones, actually. They had always supported her, taught her to be strong and capable. They taught her that life was only what you made it. Her mother could've hated marrying a meager fisherman after her wealthy upbringing, but Akna loved Suka and her life. And her father could've become a calloused man from his hard work at sea, but he was gentle and kind hearted; always believing in her.
They could've chosen to give up and accept what had happened to merely survive. Kana walked into her room and pulled her hoods down. Instead, they never once looked back. Her parents lived without regrets. Her parents lived.
As she walked towards her dresser for her brush and paused. On the shining silver of the mirror, she caught the reflection of the carved blue stone against her neck. Slowly, her hand rose and gentlely touched the warm surface. Without regrets…
A moment later, she had opened her wardrobe. She grabbed the sturdiest bag she could find and began shoving clothes and what other little possessions she had into it. Her flute, a hairbrush, the mirror, some hair clips for her hair loops. Her heart was pounding.
What am I doing? Her mind screamed as she grabbed the bag and slung it around her shoulder. She crept out in the hall. Where am I going!?
The figures in the living area didn't move as she stealthily walked around them and towards the door. As she held it open, she paused and looked back over her shoulder. Her eyes took in one last look at her parents. Mom, dad… I'm sorry I'm leaving like this… She closed her eyes tightly and closed the door behind her before she could change her mind. I love you…
Her feet seemed to know where she was going. Within a matter of minutes, she was out of the building and down the street. She reached the docks in no time and found herself climbing on board Kahasi's docked boat.
When she was a child, Kahasi had taught her how to use it. She and Anyu had both learned and she hoped she could still remember how. She untied the ropes that held the boat in place and grabbed the paddle tucked beneath the seat. I'm sorry, Kahasi… Don't worry, I'll leave it for you to find… she promised silently.
She pushed off from the dock and began paddling her way out. No one questioned the fisherman's boat as it slipped through the main gateway into the harbor. Without looking back, Kana pushed forward. A trail of Earth Kingdom boats were easy to follow. The last one was still in the harbor as she reached it.
They had to be out of the harbor by sunrise, but some had anchored outside of the harbor; most likely to let their crew rest a bit more before they headed for the Earth Kingdom.
Perfect… Kana leaned forward and drove her paddle into the water hard, alternating from one side to the other to keep herself going into a straight line. Her arms and waist were getting tired from the constant twisting, but she couldn't stop. She was so close.
Dawn broke over the horizon and the first rays of the morning washed across the ice-cold water. In the distance, she could make out the seal of Bei Fong on the back of a ship. Behind her, the sheer ice walls of the city began to disappear.
Kana found herself smiling as her lungs burned with cold air. There was no turning back now. …and I have no regrets.
Southern Water Tribe…XX Years Later…
Her feet crunched in the snow. She was no longer as quick as she was in her younger days. Back then; she used to chase her son around the snow to catch him. And he was one fast toddler. Now, in her old age, she was slower. Her gait was shorter, her speed had lessened… but it gave her time to think.
Gran-Gran took a deep breath; welcoming the sobering cold air into her lungs as she had that night she left the Northern Water Tribe. She could remember that night as if it had been yesterday. Every memory was as sharp and clear in her mind.
She hadn't slept and hadn't eaten for hours. Yet, she still exerted herself with every paddle stroke. By the time she reached the merchant vessel, she was worn out. To make things worse, Mei Li had panicked when Kana announced she was leaving the tribe when she reached their boat. Unsure of what to do, Mei Li, at first, begged Kana to return.
Then the captain of the boat refused to let Kana on, saying it would anger the tribe. Not knowing what to do next and determined not to return, Kana anchored Kahasi's boat and then jumped into the freezing cold water. The last thing she remembered as she felt herself sinking away was Mei Li's hysterical screaming.
When she woke up, they were far from her home. Even if everyone thought she over did it and had gone to such an extreme, she was glad she had done it. After all, it worked and she was no where near the Northern Water Tribe. Mei Li chastised her for even attempting to swim from one boat to the other in the frigid waters. After Kana recovered from her cold, she took a job on the ship.
For the three years, she had traveled the world on boat and on caravan in-land. She had seen the green meadows, the colorful flowers, and the amazing fauna of the Earth Kingdom. And after three years, she began to miss the ice and snow. She began to miss the way the sun hung in the sky for days at a time during parts of the year. She missed the colored lights in the dark indigo sky and the brightness of the snow.
It was strange. After feeling trapped within the ice city, she had started to miss it. Perhaps not exactly their way of life or their strict customs and traditions, but she had missed it.
Then one day, she and Mei Li had stumbled upon Southern Water Tribe traders in the port city they were stopped at. After some inquiries, Mei Li learned that the Southern Water Tribe was recalling all it's vessels as well. It was too dangerous for them to continue trading considering their proximity to the Fire Nation.
It saddened her to hear that. It meant that the Southern Water Tribe would close its doors, too. During dinner that night, Mei Li asked her if she wanted to go with them. The situation dawned upon Kana that night. If she didn't get on that ship to the South Pole… there was a possibility she would never see the ice and snow again.
"Whatever you choose," Mei Li had told her that night. "I will respect it. You've lived your life with no regrets up to this point, Kana. Choose wisely."
The next day, with the help of a Water Tribesman who had literally run into her the day before, Kana snuck into the ship. She was discovered shortly after. They were about to turn around and go back, when the same man who helped her on to the ship request that she stay. Oddly, the crew listened to him.
It made sense later, when they arrived at the South Pole and he was swept up in the welcoming hug of a well dressed older woman he addressed simply as 'Ma'. She had become good friends with him during the trip and learned a lot from him. She had figured upon meeting Ma that he was the son of merchants. She had been wrong. He promised her he'd help her find a place to stay and a job for her, as Kana refused handouts. She never dreamed she'd end up working for the Chief as sitter for his grandchildren,or staying the Chief's home, with the chief's family.
With his family… Gran-Gran thought to herself as the target of her walk came into view in the distance. She had found it a bit ironic how she had run away from an engagement that would bring her into the tribe's elite only to enter into another. But Mei Li had been right. The southern tribe was much more lax and she was given so much more freedom.
A few years after she first arrived, she found herself watching the southern lights outside of the lodge by herself. The man who had stayed at her side since she arrived, her best friend in the tribe, came out to join her. Then he asked her to marry him.
No engagement necklace. No dowry. No formalities. It was just a man and a woman and a question. Just seconds after she said 'yes' she found herself with her arms wrapped tightly around the man; kissing the Southern Water Tribe's youngest prince.
Years later, she would be holding on to him once more; kissing his blood stained lips as his soul slowly left their world. The war had finally made its appearance into Kana's life.
Now, the old woman stood before the ice locked piece of metal. If they had any benders left, she would've wanted them to sink it. At the same time, she always came to see it… to remind her of what was out there.
The Fire Nation.
It had been the catalyst for change in the end. Because of the Fire Nation, her tribe had closed its doors, and she had subsequently left because of it. Because of the Fire Nation, she found herself in the South Pole and married to a wonderful man. Because of the Fire Nation, she lost her husband, her husband's family, and her son's beloved wife.
It separated her son from her and his children. It separated her from her grandchildren.
"Katara… Sokka… where are you now?" the old woman whispered into the cold air. Her breath turned into a small cloud in front of her. Were they safe? Were they helping the Avatar? Was Sokka protecting his sister? Was Katara watching her brother?
Gran-Gran looked over the old Fire Nation ship. Memories of the day of their attack still lingered in her mind, but she refused to let it consume her. Since Katara found the Avatar, what Gran-Gran once thought was impossible was possible.
The war will end, she thought to herself as she paid her final respects to her dead husband with a bow of her head. The war will end because I refused to live with any regrets…
A small smile rested on her face as she turned around and headed back. Her walk back to the small settlement wasn't rushed. She had already prepared dinner and was having one of the women watch it for her while she went out on her walk. As the remaining village elder, no one questioned her.
"Gran-Gran!" a voice shouted ahead of her. She lifted her head. One of the village women had come to get her.
"What is it?" the old woman asked in a scratchy, worn voice.
"Come, quickly! You must come see this!" she urged as she met the elderly woman and took her hand. "It's amazing!"
Gran-Gran scoffed. "It better be with you dragging me like this…" The younger woman merely laughed as she led Gran-Gran back to the village.
As the low, snow wall came into view; Gran-Gran could see something else beyond the settlement. Something was bobbing in the water, just beyond the icy shoreline. A ship. Her eyes squinted and then suddenly widened. That was not her son's ship. It wasn't even a Southern Water Tribe ship. Regardless, Gran-Gran recognized it immediately.
"Northern Water Tribe…" The words slipped from her lips, but were unheard by the village woman.
"Gran-Gran!" Another woman raised her hand waved them over as they entered through the small gate in the back of the village. "Gran-Gran! Tribesman from our sister tribe in the north have arrived!"
"I gathered that…" Gran-Gran replied gruffly. She broke free of the woman's grasp and headed towards the large group of women and children that surrounded some of the newcomers. As she approached, the women held their children back to give her room to walk through. With each step, she felt her heart race. It had been so long since she had seen, let alone, spoken to someone from her birth tribe.
Why did the come? What did they want? Who did they send? A thousand questions ran through the old woman's mind as she reached the center of the crowd. Did her grandchildren reach the other pole already? Were they safe?
"Ah, esteemed tribesmen," one of the other women said as she bowed her head. "This is our remaining elder." She stepped aside.
The questions in the old woman's mind came to a crashing halt. She looked up at the tall, gray haired man standing in front of her. His narrowed blue eyes studied her intensely, just as hers were studying him. Neither said a word to each other.
Around them, the younger tribe members began to exchange worried glances. Just moments earlier, the old man who had arrived first was smiling. Now, a stern look was crossed over his face. Gran-Gran's look was not exactly pleased either. The air was tense and heavy with unspoken words.
"Gra… Gran-Gran Kana…" one of the women began carefully, in an attempt to lessen the tension. "This is Master Pa-"
A slap rang through the settlement, making the women gasp and the men behind Pakku stare with open mouths. The master waterbender slowly turned his head back to face the old woman as he lifted his hand and rubbed his sore cheek.
Gran-Gran's tense posture relaxed a bit. Two simple words came out of her mouth as she stood there proudly. "You're late."
Pakku moved his jaw slightly before lowering his hand. Blue eyes settled on a set he hadn't seen for years. He had so many questions, so many things to say. Instead, he smiled intently. Proud eyes softened as they looked at her.
"…But I still followed you."
A.N. – The end! Thank you all for reading the story! I hope you enjoyed it. Please forgive the painfully long chapter. Thank you to LotF for reading over this and to thefireisblack on LJ for requesting the Pakana. There are actually two scenes removed to keep the chapter at a reasonable length: the scene where Kana first meets her future husband and ends up going to the SWT and the scene where he asks her to marry him. Still, I hope you enjoyed reading it. Thanks again for reading! - DamageCtrl