Koa leaned over the gunwale to wave one last time at the diminishing flotilla of fisher nomad ships and the handful of poya who had followed the ship for a league before turning back. Then she looked back to where Hato was winding a crank to draw up the slack in the mainsail.
"I can't believe they gave us this ship," she said, running her hand along the worn wood railing. "Just gave it to us. They didn't even try to barter."
"Welcome to your new life as a prophet," Hato shrugged. "After all that time baking in the rowboat while Hona dragged us around, we kind of earned this."
"Don't call me a prophet, Hato. I may not have been able to convince them to knock it off, but you know that's not what this is."
He stared at her drily and locked the crank in place. "A spirit chose you to reveal a long-lost truth about the poya and entrusted you with the resurrection of the practices that made our people great. You're totally a prophet."
"I'm a hostage," Koa said with more heat. "If I don't stop all poya hunting by midsummer, Tohu will kill me. And as if that wasn't enough, we've been traveling for weeks now and we've hardly seen any fisher nomads. The fleet is so splintered, finding all of them is impossible!"
"We could have stayed outside Sowachi harbor and waited for your dad to show up like I suggested."
"We agreed-" Koa stressed, "-that we couldn't hang around there with all those soldiers just drooling for someone to punish over Aang and his friends escaping. We were lucky just to be able to sneak out." She folded her arms and set her hip against the gunwale. "Besides, I… I'm not quite ready to tell this story to my father. I'd rather practice on a few more strangers first."
Hato paused to take in her darkening mood and shrugged. "Alright, so we're just off to a slow start. That doesn't mean the cause is hopeless." He grinned his big grin and held out his arms to indicate the little craft that carried them. "It just means we needed a faster boat. And now, thanks to you and the new life you brought to those people, we're a step closer to where we need to be. That's all it takes, Koa. One step at a time."
Koa frowned at her cousin, then sat down on a cask of pickled fishes. "I know you're right, but it's so hard to stay hopeful. I wish Aang could have helped more."
"If Aang had stuck around, he probably would have found a way to make this more complicated than it needs to be. He landed you this gig to start with, didn't he?"
"He didn't mean to…"
"But he did. Listen, the kid's a decent swab but I don't think he's got the hang of all this spirit stuff yet." Hato dug around in a sack and drew out a couple of apples. "I'm glad we could help him get back to his friends, even if he did sink your dad's ship. He's got his work cut out for him."
"Yeah. He does." Koa nodded and accepted her apple. For a while, she just chewed and enjoyed the crisp juice. It was a warm day and the wind was high. Beneath the sparkling waves off the bow cruised an iridescent shadow. Koa didn't even need to see Hona now to know that she was there, but the poya's scales flashed like opals as her powerful body sped along. So much of this life was beautiful and good.
It was frightening, though, being responsible for the enormous task before her. Aang had to understand what that was like. He was the Avatar - he was going to have to deal with the Fire Nation somehow. If Koa failed, it was just her life that ended. If Aang failed…
Koa looked at her gangly cousin where he was trying to eat an apple and tie up his pants legs at the same time. "Good company'll make his work easier, though," she said.
"Yes," Hato sighed around his apple, exasperated, "but we couldn't go with him. Hano can't fly."
"I was talking about his Water Tribe friends, you gulpy-gilled egomaniac."
"Pff, what kind of good company is that? Granted, Sokka sprung me from that cell, but his sister is a total flame-banger."
Koa frowned at him. "A what?"
"A flame-banger, Koa! She's got it for that firebender who kidnapped her. Major issues. I didn't have the heart to tell Sokka, but she was moon-eyed as a nocturnal otter-fish when that guy kissed her."
Koa thought of the waterbender she had briefly met, and of how concerned Aang had been about her. "Not that I believe you're right - because you wouldn't even know the difference between a girl in love and a nocturnal otter-fish - but that's gonna be rough on Aang when he finds out."
"No joke." Hato wedged his apple in his mouth for a while to finish tying off his pant legs. Then he cast a speculative look at Koa. "It's whiskers, isn't it."
Koa blinked at him slowly, then sighed and just ate her apple. "I don't know, Hato. If a girl ever gives you that look, you'd probably better marry her fast, whiskers or no."
AN: Thank you everyone for the reviews, the encouragement, and really just for sticking around long enough for me to finish this. This is not a great epilogue. It does hardly any of the work an epilogue is supposed to do. My excuse: I debated a lot about how to end this story, because I also debated a lot about whether to write a sequel. In fact, I'm still debating, so this sorta-epilogue leaves things open to a sequel if I ever get around to it. (I'm envisioning a brief season 2 fic… thoughts?)
Anyway, thanks for reading!