Sapphire eyes watched steadfastly as the small canoe slowly disappeared into the icy mist beyond the frozen shores of the South Pole. She could barely see Sokka's silhouette as he maneuvered the craft between the chunks of frozen ice. Katara's tightly braided brown hair now seemed to melt into her blue overcoat.
The old woman lifted her hand over her chest and whispered a silent prayer to gods she had long stopped praying to for their safety. As her precious grandchildren vanished from her gaze, Gran-Gran stepped back and began to walk back to their tribe.
The snow crunched beneath her feet with each small step she took. It was necessary, she thought to herself. The children, especially her granddaughter, had to see the world. They had to experience life outside their tiny tribe.
"You let them go?" a confused voice asked as she entered through one of the many breaks in the snow wall that surrounded the few tents and ice structures.
"Of course," the old woman rasped out as she walked passed one of the tribeswomen. "There is a world beyond our icy walls, beyond the frozen plains of our pole that they must see."
"But the Fire Nation!" another woman gasped. "Grandmother Kanna, they could be killed!"
"You saw what those Fire Nation men did when they arrived!" another woman agreed, exasperated, as she pointed to the crumbled remains of their wall.
"I know that they did not kill anyone. I know that they could've done more," Gran-Gran stopped before the entrance to her tent. She slowly turned around and looked at the dozen or so pairs of blue eyes that settled on her. "And I know that they kept their word and left once they took the boy."
"They just don't see us as a threat," another woman spat out as she crossed her arms and looked away. "That's why they left us alone."
"Or somewhere, even the Fire Nation still has honor," the old woman told them. "You have never left this village. You are ignorant of the world outside and it is that ignorance that would've consumed my grandson had he not left."
"And Katara?" someone else asked. "Katara is only fourteen…not even fifteen yet, Grandmother Kanna. She's too young to leave!"
"The world will teach Katara things I could not," Gran-Gran admitted sternly. "She would never be content to stand by helplessly and even if I did not let her go, I could not stop her if she wished to go."
"But why? Why did you let them go?"
For a moment, the oldest woman in the tribe went silent. Her old, crinkled eyes slowly went across the tiny village; a far cry from when she had first arrived to the shores of a glorious frozen civilization. She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. The cold, salt-laden air filled her lungs; the same air she had first inhaled when the last Water Tribe trade ship from the Earth Kingdom docked just an arm's length away where she now stood.
Blue orbs opened and for just a second, she could see the houses built of ice, the towering walls, the curved bridges and sprawling market place. She could see the man she married laughing with the same smile Hakoda and Sokka both inherited. And almost as soon as she saw it, it faded away.
"Grandmother Kanna?" a voice asked, bringing her attention back to the present.
The old woman looked at the circle of women around her and the children that had gathered around their legs. "To let them go and live their lives to their fullest, without any regret, is the best I could ever give them. I will not hold them back from the world…I believe there is something more for them beyond our village."
Before anyone else could say anything more, the old woman turned around and slipped silently into her tent. Without Katara by the old clay stove, blowing into the glowing embers to encourage the fire, and Sokka in his corner, filling the tent with the sounds of sharpening stone against metal, the small tent seemed large and empty.
Carefully, she walled around the floor lined with animal pelts. She made her way to her sleeping area and slowly sat down. A small fire in the center of the tent warmed it as the old woman shuffled through her belongings and finally pulled out an old leather bag.
Knotted and wrinkled brown hands began to untie the latch with the utmost care. How long had it been since she last opened the bag? The draw string was pulled open and revealed a thin, worn, blue cloth. Old eyes crinkled more at the sight. Shaking hands slowly pulled out the cloth.
The old overcoat fell on her lap. Its former deep blue had been faded with time, just like her eyes. Her hand slowly caressed the nearly bare threads as it ran over the material. The once deep blue color was unique to the Northern Water Tribe. Thin lips pursed. Perhaps her grandchildren would see her home tribe…and everything she left behind. Her eyes closed.
Then Katara could learn waterbending and become the master Kanna always knew she would be. After all, it had been years. Perhaps, things had changed.
Kanna opened her eyes and looked back down at the worn article of clothing. She could still remember the first time she saw that coat…and the man who had bought it for her one cold winter night.
Northern Water Tribe, Many, Many, Many Years Earlier…
"Hmm…" Full pink lips pulled into a tight line as clear blue eyes narrowed critically. Sure, it was a nice color and style, but was it worth the price they were charging? It's a little steep….
Brown hands that tapered off into neatly trimmed nails were hidden beneath thick, warm gloves as she adjusted the basket of vegetables and fish against her hip in front of a shop window. The cloth was a vibrant shade of blue. It stood out from all the other shades immediately and was what caught her eye in the first place.
For a moment, she had fantasized buying the high quality piece, but after finding out the price, she knew it was currently beyond her grasp. Perhaps next month, after she earned some money helping at her aunt's booth in the market place, she could afford it. As long as it was still there when she returned. Her reflection in the window looked defeated as the white fur that lined the edge of her hood framed her face. Only part of her hair loopies could be seen pressed against her cheeks.
A heavy sigh escaped her lips and she forced herself to turn away from her dream coat. Her family wasn't exactly wealthy and even if they were, she doubted her father would just allow her spend without a care in the world. She was raised to work hard for her things. She supposed that was fine. It did mean she'd appreciate it more.
She looked over her shoulder longingly at the coat. And she would definitely appreciate that piece. No, not now...focus, Kanna, focus! She told herself sternly. She stood up straight and readjusted the woven, leather lined basket of groceries she had purchased on her way home from her aunt's booth.
Her father and his brothers were fishermen, her father being the youngest of five brothers. With her older female cousins married off and older male cousins also out fishing, she was left with her uncle's wife to man their booth in the market place. Her aunt had told her go home early to cook dinner.
News had reached them that her mother, the midwife of their neighborhood, had to rush over to someone's house for a birthing. Kanna thanked her aunt and then rushed off to gather some fresh food to cook. With some time left over, she had decided to do a little window shopping before heading home.
"Kanna!" Somewhere inside, Kanna groaned. Perhaps it was a bad idea to window shop. She should've gone straight home. Her father would be hungry when he got back from fishing with his brothers. "Kanna!" And she would not be currently under the gaze of her best friend.
"Yugoda…," Kanna trailed off. She knew that glint in the other fifteen year old's eyes. That eager, earnest look that meant she was going to drag Kanna off somewhere.
"Kanna! Kanna, are you busy?" the young woman stumbled to a stop in front of her best friend.
"I just finished some grocery shopping," Kanna said, lifting up her basket. "Did you just get out of class?"
"Yes!" Yugoda said energetically. Kanna smiled softly. Her friend was so cute. Short and petite with a big smile. If Kanna was a betting woman, she would have to say that Yugoda would get married first, regardless of the fact that Kanna was three months older.
"Great, so what are you up to now?" Kanna took a step forward, hinting that she would like to get going, but Yugoda grabbed on to her free arm.
"What?" She should've known.
Yugoda beamed her wide smile. "Getting you," she told her cheerfully. "Ever since you started working full time at the market, we hardly ever get to see you any more."
"Well, we're all busy now," Kanna reminded her. Almost all her childhood playmates were waterbenders and attended school in the day time to harness and master their abilities. Like her non-bending friends, she had taken up a job in the market. "It's understandable."
"But we miss you," Yugoda sighed heavily. She tugged on Kanna's arm and pulled her forward. "Come on, let's go!"
The taller brunette's eyebrows furrowed. "Go where, exactly?"
"To the lodge!" Yugoda beamed.
"The lodge? What…." Kanna's eyes drifted from her friend and up the tiers of their city to the structure at the very top. It suddenly seemed far away from where they were currently standing. "Yugoda, I don't have time to go up there! I need to go home!"
"Just for a second!"
"Let's see…we have to walk all the way up there…just so I can stay for a second? Not worth it."
"Please!" Yugoda pleaded. She tugged on Kanna's arm. "Come on, Kanna, we hardly ever get to see you know a days. We've even seen the twins more and they're working in the eastern market. I even ran all the way here to get you…."
Guilt gnawed at the older female. Yugoda had a point. She had been neglecting her friends recently. She carefully readjusted her basket as she thought. "Okay, fine," Kanna relented. Yugoda gave a happy squeal. "Just for a second, though! I need to get back. Mom is at a birthing and won't be home to make dinner, so I have to do it."
"Great! I told the others I'd come get you," Yugoda said. She looped her arm around Kanna's free one and began to lead her up to the lodge. "We've all been so busy lately, we should get together soon. We have less than a year before we're eligible to be married."
Kanna sighed heavily. "Don't remind me," she said tiredly. "My uncles have already begun the so called 'search' and my cousins' husbands all have brothers who are apparently interested."
"They always say that, Kanna," Yugoda assured her. "I'm sure it's not as bad as you think. I mean…if your cousin Sedna's brother-in-laws are as handsome as her husband, you won't have to worry about a thing."
Kanna crinkled up her nose. "Sedna's husband and all his brothers are nothing but a bunch of little perverts. Handsome or not, I won't put up with a man who has a thing for Earth Kingdom women's underwear."
"Really?" Yugoda's eyes widened and Kanna nodded. "That's expensive…does Sedna mind?"
"Who said Sedna's the one wearing them?" Yugoda's eyes doubled in size. "Yeah, I know…Don't tell anyone I told you, though." Yugoda nodded and they walked up the steps to the lodge. "So, what are we going to be doing? I can't stay long, you know."
"We're going to watch the boys bend!" Almost instantly, Kanna turned around and headed down the steps. Yugoda's arm flew out and grabbed on to Kanna's hand before she managed to get too far away. "You're almost there! You can't leave now!"
"I knew there was something fishy about this," Kanna frowned as her eyes narrowed. "I'm going to take part in that sea cow parade up at the lodge!"
"It's not a parade!" Yugoda whimpered. Kanna was basically correct. The plaza in front of the lodge was where the older male waterbending students practiced. After the girls would get out of class, they would often go there to watch.
When they were little, Kanna and Yugoda used to tag along with Yugoda's older sister and Kanna's older cousins. Oh, how Kanna had wished she could do what those boys did. It always seemed so much more fun than Yugoda's healing. However, girls weren't allowed to learn other techniques. Not that she could anyway. She wasn't even a bender.
When she realized that girls couldn't participate with the boys, she no longer found any reason for her to stay and watch. It was only a punishment, she figured, having to watch something she could never do. Besides, there were more important things. Like dinner and…. Her mind drew a blank. Oh, spirits, her life was boring.
"Yugoda! Kanna! Up here!" another voice shouted. Kanna looked up and saw the half dozen girls standing to the side waving enthusiastically at her. "You made it!"
Yugoda looked back at Kanna. "See? Everyone waited for you."
A heavy sigh escaped the non-bender and she nodded. "Okay, fine…" She tugged her basket closer to her and stomped up the rest of the stairs. Yugoda smiled triumphantly as she led her to where their friends were.
"Kanna!" Several girls threw their arms around the newcomer as they brought her into their little circle.
"She almost didn't come," Yugoda told them. "She has to go home, soon, though. Dinner."
"Good job, Yugoda," another girl said as she slung her arm around her shorter friend. "Kanna can never say no to you."
Yugoda chuckled. "It's the skill of a best friend."
"Right, right…" Kanna sighed. She was pulled forward and stood amongst her childhood friends by the edge of the area. All around the plaza framed by totem poles, were young women and children.
A dozen or so young men were inside the area, all showing off their bending to their audience. "So...anything interesting?" Yugoda asked as she peered into the crowds. She could recognize a few other waterbenders and waved.
"Nothing yet," one of their friends said, disappointedly. "Pakku hasn't even come out yet."
Yugoda frowned. "Aww…"
Kanna sighed. Her basket was getting a bit heavy. "Guys, I really should be going home. My dad's going to come home and-"
"Just want until you see him, Kanna," another girl assured her as she squeezed Kanna's hand reassuringly. "He's the best waterbender of the lot!"
"I'm sure he is, but-"
"There he is!" a girl's voice rang through the plaza and, instantly, a series of yelling and shouting filled the area. All at once, the crowd that had surrounded the area pressed forward and Kanna let out a yelp.
"Hey! Watch where you're pushing!" Kanna clutched her basket closer to her as she was pushed forward along with her friends. "Yugoda!"
"There he is, Kanna!" her friend exclaimed excitedly as she pulled Kanna beside her. She pointed to the tall figure walking out of the lodge with an older man.
Kanna raised an eyebrow and glanced down at her friend. "Master Sae Kung?" He was the advanced boys' waterbending master.
"No," Yugoda sighed heavily. "The one next to him!"
"The tall, cute one with the dark brown hair." A friend grinned cheesily on Kanna's other side. Kanna rolled her eyes focused on the figure as he walked down the steps along side Master Sae Kung.
Dark brown hair was pulled back and tied to keep out of his face as the young man dressed in deep blues smirked. Kanna narrowed her eyes as she studied him critically. That shade of blue dye was expensive.
"…the son of councilman Siku and his wife." She heard someone behind her say.
So, he was a little rich boy. Now it made sense. "Okay, I've seen him," Kanna said as she tried to tug her arm away from Yugoda. "Can I go now?"
"You have to see him bend! He's at the top of his class." Yugoda insisted.
Kanna looked back, past the crowds. The sun was setting and she mentally swore. Her father would be returning from the sea soon and she hadn't even started cooking yet.
From the stairs, Pakku spoke to his waterbending 'master' casually. He blissfully ignored the irritated look on the older man's face as they walked down the steps. "And that is why your octopus form was off today, Master Sae Kung."
"Yes…," the older man gritted his teeth. "Thank you for pointing that out, pupil Pakku."
"Even masters make mistakes, sir," Pakku told him. As they reached the bottom of the stairs, the loud voices surrounding the plaza could be heard. The young waterbender came a stop and grinned.
"Looks like you have a crowd, pupil Pakku," Master Sae Kung mused, somewhat annoyed. The crowds had doubled since the Siku's prodigal son made his debut under him. Before that, Pakku had been home taught by his father, another waterbending master. "You seem very popular."
A haughty smirk tugged at Pakku's lips. "Can you really blame them?"
Yes, I can. "At any rate, as a student here, please make sure that the crowd disperses without any trouble," the master said as he swiftly walked passed his student. "I will see you tomorrow morning."
"Have a good night, Master Sae Kung." Pakku gave a respectful bow and waited until the old bender slipped through the crowd and headed down the second set of stairs to the city below.
"Pakku!" another male voice shouted behind him. "Are you going to stand there all day or are you going to show your admirers why exactly they showed up?" the voice laughed amiably.
Pakku grinned and turned around to face his class mate. "Gladly."
Back in the crowds, Kanna half-heartedly watched the confident young man show off his skills against three waterbenders his age. He was obviously the best of the group and was not shy about it. Grumbling, Kanna turned around and frowned.
Her way out had been blocked off by a rather large group of female admirers. Wonderful. She was about squeeze her way through and escape while her friends were distracted, when a voice caught her attention. She stopped in midstep and lowered her head dejectedly.
"What do you think, Kanna?" one of her friends asked. "Amazing, isn't he? He's been training under his father privately for years."
"They're from the north side," another friend informed her. A content sigh escaped her lips as dreamy eyes focused on Pakku. "The eldest son of his family, too."
"Good for him," Kanna sighed. "Okay, I've been here for several minutes now. By the time I get home, it'll be dark."
"If you're going to be late anyway, you might as well stay with us," Yugoda suggested.
"No." It was a firm and steady reply. "I have to get home. Come by the booth one day and visit me."
"Can you come tomorrow?" another friend asked. "We'll hunt down the twins. I'm sure they'd love to see this!"
Kanna let out another heavy breath. Did the not understand what she was trying to say? "I can't come back tomorrow! You know I have more important things to do than watch some spoiled rich boy show off!"
"Spoiled rich boy?" The crowds had suddenly gone silent and Kanna could feel eyes plastered upon her back. Beside her, she could see the wide, surprised eyes of her friends as they fixed themselves on the figure standing behind her. A small, mocking laugh sounded behind her. "I'm sure you're not talking about me."
Kanna lowered her head and mentally cursed her luck. So much for sneaking away unnoticed, and getting back home. Gripping her basket against her, she turned around and slowly brought her eyes up.
High quality black boots. Brand new dark blue pants. Brand new dark blue over coat rimmed with…was that artic weasel fur? She blinked and shook her head. No time to get distracted by the inviting, fluffy white fur. She lifted her head up and met the half-amused, half-smirking look on his self assured face.
Pakku kept the look of sheer confidence on him as he watched the drab blue clad girl turn around and face him. Big, deep blue eyes were narrowed into annoyed slits as she lifted her hooded head to meet his gaze defiantly. Her heart shaped, brown face was framed by the white fur that lined her hood. He could barely make out the small tuffs of brown hair escaping it.
"Well, unless Anyu over there suddenly struck it rich," Kanna said, lifting her chin to acknowledge one of the young men the new guy had been showing off against. "Then, yeah, I am talking about you. Spoiled rich boy. All you're doing is showing off. The only reason you're so good at bending is because you have time to practice."
Ice blue eyes narrowed. "In order to become a master bender, one must practice," Pakku retorted. "That is a given. I thought even children can figure that out."
"And the reason you have so much time to practice is because, unlike the rest of us, you don't have the responsibilities of helping your family or work," Kanna replied sharply. "So your father spent a lot of time teaching you. That only means you had a lot of leisure time. It's not like you had chores or anything. You didn't have to work as hard as everyone else here to control your bending."
"She does make a good point…," another male bender mumbled. Pakku looked over his shoulder and shot him a glare.
"So, I'm apparently unworthy because my family can afford to spend time teaching me?" Pakku asked, annoyed. "I'm sorry if I was given an advantage." He grumbled sarcastically.
Kanna merely lifted her nose at him and turned back around. She didn't have time to deal with him. She had food to cook. "Yugoda, guys, I'm heading home. I'll see you some other time."
She took two steps when a male voice reached her. "You can think whatever you want," Pakku's mocking voice sounded. "But in five years, I'll be the next waterbending master and you…you'll be just another woman gutting fish for her husband in the market place."
Kanna's jaw locked. Her fingers dug into the basket in front of her and she whirled around. A deadly gleam was in her eye as she stomped forward. She shoved her basket in Yugoda's arms as she passed.
"I'm sorry," she hissed in a low voice as she stood inches from Pakku's taller figure. "If you think that there is something wrong with working hard for a living. But I would rather be another woman gutting fish for some faceless husband in the market place than be the poor, sad woman who will have to put up with you for the rest of her life!"
She heard him take in a sharp gasp as she whirled around. Kanna snatched the basket from Yugoda and stormed down the stairs. As her friends called after her, Pakku stood rooted in his spot, his eyes wide.
"Did…did she just say that…?" he began to mumble. His face twisted into a scowl. She had just insulted him! "How dare she!"
Behind him, the other male students began to try to appease the crowd and take attention from the shocked and now furious waterbender.
"Pakku," Anyu placed his hand on the other bender's shoulders and shook his head. "I didn't know you were so sensitive regarding what someone says about you."
The young man let out a scoff and twisted his shoulder away from the other man's hand. "Hardly," Pakku stated coolly. He ran one gloved hand through his hair and turned back to his peers. As he lifted up his hands and bended up a ball of snow with ease, he mocked the very idea. "What should I care about the opinion of some temperamental girl who can't even bend?"
Kanna fell against her door as she panted and fumbled with the door knob. She had made it half way down the stairs from the lodge as dignified as she could, then took off running. She had taken every short cut she knew of as she wove through the city, trying to get to her house before her father.
As she dashed passed the docks, she could see the boat her father and uncles were on and mentally groaned. She had pulled all her strength together to make it to their house before her father made it back. As soon as the door opened, she stumbled through and ran up the stairs to their flat. Their house was right by the far edge of the southern docks. Further down was were the trade ships from other countries docked. Smaller fishing vessels docked closer to where they lived.
That would prove a problem considering it wouldn't take her father long to return.
Kanna burst through the door and practically threw her basket of groceries into the kitchen as she made a beeline for her bedroom. Tugging off her sweater, she quickly changed into thinner house clothes and headed for the kitchen.
By the time the door opened and her tired father came through, she was half way through cooking dinner. As she lifted a spoon to her lips, her father's head peeked from behind the wall to the kitchen and smiled widely. "I thought I smelled something good."
"Hi, Dad," Kanna beamed him a smile as she shoved down the guilt. "Catch anything good today?"
"You'll have quite a time at the market with today's catch in the morning, Kanna," the man said as he walked in and looked over his daughter's shoulders. "Trying for sea prunes again?" He placed his hands on his stomach and pretended it hurt. "I don't know if I can survive another batch."
"Mom said it was good," Kanna retorted proudly. "She liked it."
Her father laughed and patted her on the shoulder as he passed. "Once you're finished, pack some for her. I'll go drop it off at Hey's house."
Kanna perked up. "You know Mom's there?"
"Your Aunt Nauja met us at the dock," the man told her. "I had stopped by there on the way home and Akna has her hands full." Kanna's smile faltered.
"Is the birthing going okay…?" she asked solemnly.
Her father lowered his eyes. "We don't know…let's just pray to the spirits that it will be a successful birth," Kanna nodded and returned to her pot. "I'm going to rest a bit before I head out."
"I'll call you for dinner, Dad."
"I'll eat when I come back from the meeting." he said from the open area. Kanna looked over her shoulder and frowned.
"Chief Sura has called a meeting…," he trailed off, unsure how to explain it to his daughter. "It's a serious topic and will affect trade."
Kanna's eyebrows furrowed. "I see…."
"I'll tell you about it when I get back," he assured her. "Don't worry too much, Kanna. I'm sure the fish trade will be fine."
Kanna nodded and gave her father a smile. "If you say so, Dad…." She let out a sigh and stirred her pot. "Looks like I'm on my own tonight…"
"If you need anything, your cousin Chu is next door."
"I know, I know…," Kanna rolled her eyes. "I'm fifteen, Dad. I can stay a few hours by myself at home. I do it all the time."
The man chuckled and stretched out on one of the cushions. "Tomorrow, you'll need to get up early. Your aunt will need help setting up at the market."
"Get up early," Kanna mentally nodded as she nodded and began packing a meal for her mother. "I got it."
"Pakku!" A petite woman stood at the door step to the frozen yard beyond their home. Her hands were clasped together in front of her as thick blue robes protected her from the cold. A soft frown reached her face as she watched her son repeat yet another move. "Pakku!"
"What is it, mother?" Pakku raised his arms and moved to the side as he concentrated on turning the snow around him into ice.
"It's late," the woman told him, exasperatedly. His thick over coat was folded neatly to the side. Sweat was dripping on his forehead from hours of concentrated practice. "You should get to bed soon."
"Let him practice, Sesi," a deep voice said from within the large house. She turned around and saw a tall, dark haired man approaching her. His dark blue outer wear was still on as he stood by her side and looked out at his son.
"Siku," Pakku's mother bowed her head respectfully. "Is the meeting over already?"
"For tonight, yes," Siku nodded. "However, tomorrow we'll have a council meeting with Chief Sura and the masters."
"It is dire times then, my husband…," Sesi whispered. She turned back to her son outside.
"Pakku!" Siku's strong voice cut through his son's concentration and the ball of snow Pakku had been controlling fell lifelessly to the ground.
The young man turned around immediately and faced his father with a quick bow of his head. "Yes, Father?"
"Tomorrow, I have a meeting with the council," he told him sternly. "I need you to go to the southern docks tomorrow and meet with some Earth Kingdom merchants. I am expecting a package for your sister's dowry and need you to pick it up."
Pakku bowed his head obediently once more. "Yes, Father."
"Early tomorrow morning." Siku stressed. He turned around and headed back into the house. The woman at his side looked back at her son and smiled warmly.
"Get some rest, Pakku."
The young man nodded and returned her smile with a small one of his own. "I will, Mother." He watched as both parents disappeared into the house before he returned to his practice.
His hands rose and so did the snow he had dropped earlier.
Spoiled rich boy.
Pakku gritted this teeth. Her defying, stubborn voice had plagued him since she left. What was her problem, anyway? He didn't even know who she was, how dare she judge him?
His body twisted to the side, bending the snow with him as he did so. What was wrong with being rich? So his father, the greatest waterbender in the city, just happened to teach him himself. What was wrong with that? He was lucky to have enough time to spend on his bending.
Didn't work for it? Of course he worked for it! It just wasn't the kind of work she thought it was. Just because he didn't spend his other time toiling over a stove or freezing his nose off over the water fishing, didn't mean he didn't work at mastering his bending.
If anything, he worked harder than all those other students. Didn't they realize what he had to live up to? His father, his grandfather, all his forefathers had been master waterbenders. There wasn't a man in his family who didn't marry a waterbending wife just to ensure waterbending progeny. He had a lineage to uphold.
He had been striving since he first bended, to live up to the reputation his family had come to attain through the generations. Just because she didn't understand that didn't mean she could immediately categorize him as some spoiled rich boy. So what if he never went hunting or gone fishing? He had to bend.
The snow fell to the ground and Pakku stared at the pile. His chest rose and fell with each ragged breath as he narrowed his eyes. So what if he didn't know how to do much else? He turned around and looked past the yard and down the tiers of the eastern part of the city at the glowing city before him.
His family's wealth and status didn't come from hunting or fishing. It came from bending. So what did it matter if he didn't know how to do other things? He knew what mattered.
"So what…," Pakku repeated to himself quietly as frowned and gritted his teeth. So what if she's right?
She could smell the salty sea air drifting into her cold room and rolled over on her bed. She tugged the thick fur blankets up to her head and groaned.
Get up early….
Her father's voice echoed in her head and she immediately sat up. Long brown hair that had neatly been in a braid when she went to sleep, was now a loosely coiled mess with a good handful of hair escaping around her. Her hands rose and rubbed her half-asleep eyes before reaching up and unbraiding her tangle of hair.
She ran her fingers through it a few times before letting out a heavy breath and making a mental list of what she had to do that day. It was a lot. She wrapped her arms around herself and looked over at the window by her bedside. The morning sun was about to break in the horizon.
Her father was probably already out at sea with his brothers. She wondered if her mother had finally returned home from the birthing. Silently, she hoped it went well. Kanna reached over and grabbed her robe. She still had to practice her flute for the festival at the beginning of the new moon before she went to the market. She would join her cousins in performing in their neighborhood as they did every year.
Kanna crawled over to the edge of her bed and sat beside the window. In the distance, she could see the ships docking in their spaces, waiting for the day to begin. Sighing tiredly, she folded her arms across her window sill and gazed out at the ocean beyond their gates in the distance. Her arms rose and pushed the windows open.
Years ago, when she would go to the market with her mother, she would awe at the different items the traders from other countries brought. She would hear the stories of the Earth Kingdom and wondered what would it be like to be in a place where the season was a perpetual springtime? Just like in the scrolls they sold.
A wry smile graced her face. One day…when she was older. She would go aboard a ship, not just to play with one of the Earth Kingdom children she had met, but to travel. She'd get to see what was out there; what was beyond the market and whatever future staying in the Northern Water Tribe would give her.
"The wife of a fisherman…," she mouthed quietly, remembering the words of the bender she had met the other day. "At least a fisherman can get me out of the city…."
Baring the cold, she slipped into her house boots and went to retrieve her instrument. As she examined the wooden instrument, she sat back on her bed and brought the flute up to her lips.
When his father said early, he had assumed before the break of dawn early. He was apparently wrong. The Earth Kingdom trading shops that were docked at the southern docks had yet to open and begin trading for the day.
Grumbling, Pakku scowled. Nothing was open yet. He couldn't even get something warm to drink. For what seemed like the tenth time, he began pacing the length of the docks impatiently. He still had to get up to the front of the lodge for morning bending lessons with Master Sae Kung.
He was halfway back down to where the ships were docked when he heard something break the empty silence of the morning. He paused in mid step and looked back over his shoulder. A wooden flute? That early in the morning?
He stopped completely and craned his neck to the sound of the high pitched melody. His mother played the flute quite well, he remembered, but whoever was playing now, as much as he hated to admit it, was better. Narrowing his eyes, he began to weave through the narrow inner streets and follow the sound.
With each step, the sound seemed to grow stronger…more powerful. Silently, Pakku slipped through the narrow alleys until he came to a street corner just a few feet away from the every edge of the docks.
He stood in his place and listened for the sound. He was close…it was right above him. His head was drawn upwards to the third story window of one of the houses…and he froze.
His hands unclasped at his sides as he watched long brown hair billow in the cold morning breeze. Soft pink lips were placed against the tip of a wooden flute as deep sapphire eyes calmly looked out to sea, far beyond the docks and ice walls. Slender fingers danced across the holes of the instruments with each note as free strands of hair danced around her soft face.
Pakku stood in his spot, mouth slightly agape as his eyes drank in the sight of the young woman sitting by the window, playing the flute. For a moment, he completely forgot about the chilling wind or the very reason he was there in the first place.
There was just him, her, and the sound of her flute. Slowly, his eyes drifted closed as he lost himself in the music. Each smooth sound filled his veins as he saw the young woman in front of him, playing for him and only him. She'd look at him with those blue eyes and he'd happily drown within them. He knew he would.
He didn't know how long he was standing there. He didn't even realize that she had stopped.
"Pakku!" a hand slammed on his shoulder and the bender's eyes flashed open. His body seemed to jump as the hand removed itself from his shoulder. "Are you all right?"
"What…?" The young man turned around and saw one of his fellow benders standing there looking at him with a raised eyebrow. "Anyu…what are you doing here?"
"I live in the area," Anyu said as he crossed his arms over his chest. He frowned and looked at the other pupil. "What are you doing here? This is a long way from the east side."
"Oh…," Pakku shook his head and rubbed his forehead. "My father sent me to the docks to pick up something from the Earth Kingdom merchants."
"Well, this isn't the trading docks," Anyu smirked.
"I'm aware of that," Pakku hissed. "I was just going for a walk and…." His voice trailed off and suppressed the urge to look back at the open window. His eyes narrowed and shot an annoyed glare at Anyu. "Why am I even wasting my time explaining it to you? I have an errand to run."
He brushed passed Anyu with a scowl and the other young man laughed. "See you in class then. I'll tell Master Sae Kung you'll be late!"
Pakku growled and whirled around to reassure his fellow student that he would not be late, only to find that Anyu was already jogging up the street. Pakku narrowed his eyes and frowned. He turned once more and paused as his eyes settled over the now vacant window.
A tinge of disappointment bubbled in his stomach. He would've liked to see her once more before he left. Pakku frowned and shook his head. He had to get back to the docks. With one last look at the window, he turned and jogged off.
Kanna placed her flute back into its case and walked back across the room to her window. She reached out to close it and stopped. Her eyes immediately narrowed into guarded slits as she watched the dark blue-clad figure running into one of the streets across from her house.
The corner of her lip curled up distastefully as she grabbed the edges of her window and pulled it closed. Great… she thought to herself sarcastically as she closed the doors. She snorted and turned her head away. "Exactly what I want to see first thing in the morning…spoiled rich boy."
Originally written as a requested prize for LJ back in 2007 - this story of a young Kanna (GranGran) and young Pakku came about and stretched 10 chapters long. Since its original post, I've changed the spelling of GranGran's name from "Kana", which I used before the official spelling came out, to "Kanna". If you have any questions, please let me know. Thank you for taking time and reading!
Blue eyes peered around the corner of the hall. It was still early; the dawn had yet to break. To his knowledge, his family was still asleep. Carefully, Pakku looked over his shoulder. Outside the windows, it was still dark. Yes, he was positive his family would still be sleeping.
"Pakku?" Blue eyes went wide as brown fingers curled into the ice walls. He nearly jumped out of his skin as the curious voice called out from behind him. "What are you doing up so early?"
Immediately, the young waterbender whirled around. His mother stood at the end of the hallway, just outside the room she shared with his father. The middle aged woman smiled weakly, abet confused, as she watched her son paste himself against the frozen wall, as if willing himself to blend into it.
"Mother…." He really didn't know what else to say at a time like this. He was just going to take a quick walk and be back before breakfast. No one was supposed to be the wiser. He tried to relax and not seem too obvious as his heart slammed against his chest nervously. "Good morning."
"Good morning," the woman said. She tilted her head to the side questioningly. "Are you… going somewhere?"
Her eyes studied her son's clothes and Pakku mentally grimaced. He wasn't exactly dressed for morning practice in the courtyard outside their house. Instead, he was dressed to go out. Pakku could feel his mother's knowing gaze. "Ah… just a brief walk, Mother…," he stammered, his eyes subconsciously darting towards the door. Did she know he was sneaking out?
"Oh? Where are you going for a walk? It's still early."
Inwardly, Pakku died a little. "Er…nowhere in particular." The southern docks. "I thought a brief walk would be a good way to get the blood pumping." And see her. "I'll be back before breakfast." I just want to hear her play. He didn't want to lie to his mother, but he didn't really feel like admitting he was sneaking out to try to get one little glimpse at some girl he'd never met before, just to hear her play the flute.
"As long as you're back before breakfast," his mother asserted with a nod. "Don't stay out too long or else there won't be anything left for you."
Pakku nodded his head quickly. "Yes, Mother. Of course." He lowered his head and gave her a respective bow before rushing across the house and practically running out the door. As soon as it closed behind him, he fell against the side of the house and let out a heavy sigh of relief.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to calm himself. So far, so good. His mother didn't suspect a thing. Opening his eyes, Pakku pushed himself from the wall and started down the street. He had to hurry or else he'd miss her completely.
Back inside his house, a tall man stepped out into the main living area. "Did he leave again?"
"Third morning in a row," his wife replied softly as she began wandering around the kitchen to prepare breakfast. She paused over a metal pot and frowned. "Where do you think he's going?"
The tribal councilman walked towards one of the windows and peered outside. He could vaguely make out his son's figure hurrying down the street. "Maybe he met a girl."
Slender fingers carefully closed the wooden case and she locked the latch. "You're improving," a smooth voice said from the door of her room. Kanna looked up and smiled.
"In a few years I'll be as good as you, Mom," Kanna chuckled. Her mother lifted up a freshly laundered parka. "Ready to go?"
"I'm just waiting for you," the older woman said as she stepped back. Kanna tugged the warm piece of clothing over her head and pulled it down. She gathered her braided hair at her nape before pulling the hood over her head. "We need to buy some thread so that I can mend your dad's thick coat before he leaves for the high water season."
Kanna nodded. "Mei Li's ship arrived yesterday. They always carry some of that nice Earth Kingdom thread."
"The Bei Fong merchant ships only carry the finest goods," her mother replied as they headed towards the door. "Maybe Mei Li's mother can give us a deal."
Kanna chuckled and closed the door behind them as they walked down the stairs. Mother and daughter huddled beside each other in the cold of the morning as they headed towards the docks where the Earth Kingdom trading ships were parked. By now, the sun had risen and women were making their way towards the docks and market place to do their morning shopping.
Several people waved to them as they passed. They, too, were ready for some morning shopping; an old woven basket lined with sealskin was resting across Kanna's mother's back as they walked down the frozen streets.
"Akna!" A voice called from the docks. The two women looked up and saw a smiling, rotund woman waving from the deck of one of the Earth Kingdom trading ships. "Akna! I knew you'd be coming today!"
A wide smile spread across the older woman's face as she smiled at the merchant. "You saw Suka this morning, didn't you?"
"He might have mentioned it on his way out to sea," the merchant chuckled. "Come on aboard! We have some new things you might be interested in. You, too, Kanna! Mei Li will be up in a moment!"
"Looks like we have no choice, Mom," Kanna said as they looked up at the massive trading ship baring the crest of the illustrious Bei Fong family of the Earth Kingdom. Her friend's merchant family had been working for the Bei Fongs for generations. "Better get going."
The Water Tribe women climbed up the wooden plank and on to the deck of the ship, where the plump merchant woman was waiting for them. "So what are you looking for today? Woven rugs? Ceramic jars?" she asked as she led them into the galley.
"How about some thread?" Akna smiled warmly. "The high water season is coming soon and I want to prepare Suka's clothes."
"Ah… I have just what you need," the merchant said. "Spider worm thread from the Eastern Earth Kingdom. Durable… said to last years, and best of all, water resistant."
"Since he'll be on the water for weeks at a time, that will be necessary. What colors do you have it in?"
Kanna stepped away from her mother for a moment to look at the items on the shelves. Critical blue eyes studied the assortment of jars, plates, and other little trinkets that were for sale. As she bent down to get a better look at a porcelain vase, she could make out a blur reflected on its smooth surface. A blur that was heading right for her.
"Kanna!" Two strong arms were thrown around her shoulders as Kanna let out a yelp. "Let's go to the market!"
"Can't," Kanna said as a pale skinned brunette finally let her go. She turned around and smiled widely at the green-eyed young woman before her. "I need to go shopping with my mom."
"Aww…," The other teenager pouted. "But I crossed an entire ocean to see you!"
Kanna let out a little snort. "I'm so touched."
"You should be, it's tiring," Mei Li retorted. She looped her arm around Kanna's shoulder and pulled her forward. "Ma! Auntie Akna! Can Kanna take me to the market place?"
"If it's all right with Akna, it's all right with me!" Mei Li's mother shouted over her shoulder.
"That's fine," Akna added. "Just stay out of trouble."
The two girls grinned from ear to ear as they rushed out. "We will!"
Akna sighed as she held some blue thread in her hand and shook her head. "Last time they said that, poor Anyu broke his arm…."
"So…," Kanna glanced over at her friend as they walked towards the market place arm in arm. "Anyone proposed yet?"
"Like I told you last year… and the year before… and since we were ten," Kanna began coolly. "No."
"I'm not lying!" Kanna insisted. "Really. No one has asked."
"Are you sure?" Mei Li frowned. Kanna nodded.
"Psh… then you're just dense," Mei Li brushed off. Kanna rolled her eyes. "Your parents probably know and just aren't telling you."
"My parents would tell me if they accepted a proposal," Kanna insisted. "And since they haven't told me anything, this means, that no one has proposed yet. Nor do I think they will."
"And why not?" Mei Li asked as she tugged her friend along. "You're almost the marrying age here, right?"
"And you're pretty. Big blue eyes… full pink lips… and long brown hair, if you'd ever take down your hood." Mei Li said as she reached up and tapped the fluffy white hem of Kanna's hood.
"I told you, my ears get cold," the other girl said defensively. "Besides, I don't have time to parade myself around to 'catch a man', as the others put it so gracefully. With all my cousins getting married off, Aunt Nauja needs help with the booth at the market."
"She has… What? Six daughters?" Mei Li snorted. "How could she not have help?"
"All except for one is married and the youngest one isn't exactly the most competent worker," Kanna replied. "And my other aunts have jobs. Mom's a midwife and would probably give away all the fish if she tried to help at the booth."
"So it's up to the ever reliable Kanna to save the day, huh?" Mei Li sighed heavily. She lifted her hand and pretended to wipe a tear from the corner of her eye as she let out a sniff. "And here I was, hoping to be invited to a Water Tribe wedding."
The duo entered the open area market and Kanna wiggled her arm from her friend's hold. She turned and shrugged as she walked backwards, so she could face her friend. "Hey, you never know what will happen when you come next year."
Mei Li rolled her eyes. She opened her mouth to reply, when here eyes widened and she reached out. "Kanna! Watch out!"
"Huh?" The blue-eyed girl turned around and slammed face first into a solid object.
"Kanna!" Spirits, what did she run into?
"Kanna, are you okay?" The girl stumbled back and lifted her gloved hand to her nose as she looked up at what she had run into. She vaguely made out Anyu's concerned face to her left and Mei Li's worried voice behind her as she locked eyes with a tall, icy-eyed brunette glaring down at her. Kanna felt the blood draining from her face. Her morning had started off so well…when did it all go bad?
"What is wrong with you?" he spat out as his lip curled into a disgusted sneer.
The apology she was going to say vanished from her lips as she gritted her teeth and glared back at him. "What's wrong with me? Who stands in the middle of a busy market place; getting in everyone's way?" Kanna snapped.
"Kanna, are you all right?" Mei Li was at her side and looking over her friend.
"I'm fine," Kanna hissed behind gritted teeth. "Spoiled rich boy over here nearly caused an accident."
Pakku's eyes widened. "Spoiled rich boy…?" he trailed off. His eyes narrowed as he studied the young woman in front of him. His jaw locked as he realized who had run into him. "It's you."
"The name is Kanna, spoiled rich boy," the young woman said proudly as she lifted her head up. "Or is your head too filled with bending to even say a person's name correctly?"
A challenging look graced Pakku's proud face. "Maybe your name just isn't worth saying, fish gutter."
A low growl came from Kanna's throat just as another body stepped between her and the waterbender. "Kanna, calm down."
"Anyu," Kanna snapped as she turned her heated glare at her childhood friend. "I suggest you take your little friend away before I lose my temper."
"Oh… your temper, eh?" Pakku mocked coolly. "I'm terrified."
"Anyu!" Kanna gritted her teeth as her hands clenched at her sides. The older teen sighed heavily. "Do something about your little friend!"
"First, he's not exactly my friend. Second, just ignore him, Kanna. He's as much a part of this tribe as you and I, and can go anywhere he pleases," Anyu told her calmly. Kanna still continued to glare at Pakku as he lifted his chin and gave her a self-satisfied smirk. "Besides, he's just mad because he got up early and missed – Ah!"
Anyu's head was slapped to the side as a ball of water exploded around his face. He turned his face to the other waterbender and growled as Pakku stood there, an annoyed look on his face as his cheeks tinted pink.
"See!" Kanna said as she pointed at Pakku accusingly. "He's not even fit to be amongst normal people, Anyu! No one goes around randomly hitting people with water balls!"
"Yeah, no kidding," Anyu frowned. He lifted up his hand and carefully wiped the water off his face. He glanced back at the girls. "Waterbenders are out today. Why don't you two visit Chena and the others? She said she'd be at the eastern market with the twins," he suggested.
"Good idea," Kanna nodded. She sent one more sharp look at Pakku before she looped her arm around Mei Li's and pulled her forward. "Let's go. There's obviously not enough room here for us and the spoiled rich boy's ego."
"Ego!" Pakku took a step forward and opened his mouth to yell, when a ball of water slammed into the back of his head. His mouth snapped closed as he turned around and glared at his fellow student.
Anyu smirked. "Now, we're even."
"You deserved it the first time," Pakku hissed as he bended the water off his face. "No one asked you to butt in."
"I was just trying to get her to calm down. You didn't have to be such a jerk. She was going to apologize before you opened your mouth," Anyu told him as he crossed his arms. "But you're the one who's in a bad mood because you missed that girl."
Pakku's cheeks instantly flushed. "What are you talking about? There is no girl-"
Anyu let out a snort. "No girl? This is the fourth morning I've seen you, standing on that street corner, staring blankly into nowhere. You saw a girl and you like her," Pakku opened his mouth to retort, only to be cut off by Anyu's hand. "Why else would a man trek across a city, before dawn, for? I highly doubt you're here for the fish markets."
Pakku lifted his nose and turned his head away. "You know nothing."
"I know more than you and that's what matters," Anyu said. He turned around and began heading down to the market place. "By the way… if the girl is the one who's playing the flute…." Pakku froze in his spot. His eyes widened as his arms fell to his sides limply. How did he know? Anyu looked over his shoulder coolly and frowned as he saw Pakku's reaction. "She's already spoken for."
"He's kind of cute."
"Now, you're just in denial…," Mei Li smirked from ear to ear. "Who is he? I haven't seen him here before."
"A councilman's son from the northern part of the city," Kanna replied. "He just started bending with the other students, I think."
"Oh…," Mei Li looked over her shoulder; down at the street where they had walked from. "Still… he's cute."
"You can discuss that with Yugoda and the others," Kanna told her. "They go up to the lodge every day, after bending class, to watch him bend."
"Aww… I suddenly wish I lived here."
Kanna rolled her eyes. "You say that every time you come here, but in the end, you can't wait to go back home."
"Well, can you blame me?" Mei Li asked. "As great as snow is, I don't think I can survive here for the rest of my life. I miss the green grass… the rolling hills… the spring days where I can walk around without five layers of clothing."
Kanna chuckled. "That I'd like to see. Maybe one day I should go with you." Beside her, Mei Li stopped. Kanna looked back and gave her friend a questioning look. "What is it?"
Two green eyes were focused on the hard packed snow at their feet. Slowly, the merchant's daughter looked up. "I'm not supposed to tell anyone… but… well, you know about the Fire Nation, right?"
Kanna nodded her head. "Yes…."
"They've begun to raid the Western Air Temple," Mei Li said as she took a step forward. Kanna's eyebrows knitted, unsure of what to make of the information. Mei Li let out a heavy sigh. "They're advancing, Kanna."
"What are you talking about?" Kanna shook her head and cracked a small smile. "That's impossible. They can't possibly thinking about…."
"I hope not, but everyone is worried," the merchant's daughter told her. "Bei Fong's trading ships have stopped going to the Air Nomad Territories."
Kanna jerked her head back. Her eyebrows furrowed with concern. "Are they going to stop coming here?"
"We don't have news of that yet. I hope not, or my family's out of a job," Mei Li added lightly. "But… that's not what we're worried about."
"Then what are you worried about?"
"Some of the merchants from the Earth Kingdom… my father, amongst others, went to a meeting with your chief…," Mei Li trailed off. She looked around them suspiciously. "Don't tell anyone yet... it's just a rumor, but…." She waved Kanna forward and whispered into her ear. "The Northern Water Tribe might cut off all outside trading."
"What!" Kanna jerked her head back and Mei Li held her hands up to calm her.
"It's just a rumor," the Earth Kingdom girl assured her. "But, who knows… if you do come with us one day… you might never get to come back."
"Kanna… please?" Yugoda flashed her big blue eyes at her best friend as she clasped her hands together pleadingly. "Everyone is going to be there!"
"To stalk the rich boy, I bet." A grumble escaped the fisherman's daughter as she sat in the back corner of their little booth and counted the money they made that day. It had been a week since Mei Li's family had left on their ship. As deals were made for their next arrival, it seemed to Kanna that tribal isolation from the outside world was nothing more than a rumor… just as Mei Li had said. It didn't take Kanna long to resume her normal duties at the fish booth in the market. "No thanks."
Yugoda tilted her head back and let out a frustrated groan. "But everyone will be there!" she stressed again. "The twins are going, too!"
"The twins can go all they want," Kanna replied coolly. She kept her eyes on the ledger in front of her as she quickly scribbled some notes into it. "They work in textiles."
"And you work in the fish market," Yugoda reminded her. "You're closing at the same time! You have no excuse not to go to the lodge with us tomorrow."
Kanna's lips curled into a slight smile. She closed the box where they kept money in and turned to her friend. "That is where you're wrong."
"Huh?" Yugoda's eyes crinkled, confused. Kanna stood up and walked to the front of the booth. She stood behind the stand that held up the last few fish that hadn't been sold that day. On the other side, Yugoda was looking at Kanna earnestly.
"Tomorrow is the start of the high water season. Dad and my uncles are going to start spending days out on the water, so I will be needed to go prepare the spices for the fish smoking when they return," Kanna asserted proudly. She crossed her arms over her chest triumphantly. "It seems I won't be able to spend some time with you guys until the festival."
"That's two… three months away!" Yugoda exclaimed. Kanna nodded. "Kanna!" The younger girl frowned and thought for a moment. "Is this because of Pakku?"
The blue-eyed young woman across from her jerked her head back. Her arms slowly lowered as she mulled over the question. He had just appeared out of nowhere and butted into her conversation with her friends… and insulted her. The last time they met, he was extremely rude to her. She didn't exactly want a third encounter.
"While he's hardly more than an eyesore, he's also a big part of the problem," she admitted. "I don't feel like getting into another argument with someone whose pride fills up the entire lodge."
Immediately, Yugoda let out a pained groan. "Kanna, you can't allow one unpleasant experience to stop you from coming out to see everyone!"
"Two unpleasant experiences. Remember that time in the market that I told you about?"
"Kanna, as long as we stay away from him, you two can't get into an argument!" Yugoda insisted.
"It's not just him, Yugoda," Kanna replied proudly. "If I want to visit you guys, I want to visit you in a place where we can all sit around, talk, and catch up. At the lodge, we're surrounded by a bunch of other people and all their attention is focused on the benders, not each other. How are we supposed to catch up if all we're doing is watching spoiled rich boy and his cohort play 'whose whip is largest'?"
Kanna had her there. Yugoda bit her lower lip and tried to come up with another option. "Okay, how about this," she began. She met Kanna's curious gaze. "After we watch the benders, we'll meet you by Anyu's brother-in-law's little restaurant. It's half way between your house and the lodge. We can get something to eat and drink and catch up."
"I don't have money." Kanna answered simply.
Yugoda rolled her eyes. "We never have to pay there so long as Anyu is with us!"
Kanna crossed her arms once more and let out a heavy sigh. "And who says Anyu is going to be there?"
"He's always there!" Yugoda insisted. "So? Will you come?"
"She'll come," a voice said behind the shorter young woman. Kanna looked up as her friend turned around. A wide smile graced Yugoda's face as an older woman reached her side. Long brown hair was braided down her back as two tendrils of hair looped around the sides of her head.
Soft blue eyes twinkled with amusement as she smiled at the two girls. "Auntie Akna!" Yugoda beamed. She whirled around to grin at Kanna. "See, even your mom wants you to go."
"But, Mom…," Kanna began. The beautiful woman in front of her raised one perfectly shaped eyebrow and Kanna scowled.
"I'm perfectly capable of spending a few hours sorting spices by myself, Kanna," her mother told her.
"But Dad won't be home," the daughter insisted. "It's high water season, remember?"
"Yes, I do remember," Akna nodded. "And I also remember that I am used to him leaving for a week at a time every year. Besides, you have been working practically every day here. Don't you want to see your old friends?"
"Well…yes…," Kanna trailed off stubbornly. She let out a heavy sigh and nodded. "Fine… tomorrow at the restaurant."
"Great!" Yugoda smiled from ear to ear. "I'll tell the others in class tomorrow." She turned to Kanna's mother and gave her a thankful smile. "Thank you, Auntie Akna!"
"Of course, my dear. Tell your mother I said hello." Akna smiled warmly and Yugoda nodded before she rushed off; her hand waving good-bye to her friend as she ran up the street.
"I don't really have money to go, you know, Mom," Kanna frowned as Akna entered the booth. "And you know I feel bad about eating for free."
"Think of it as all payback for all those times you beat up those boys who picked on Anyu when you were children," her mother chuckled as she swept past her daughter. "Is your Aunt Nauja here?"
"Cousin Anana came by. She said Ke Suk's parents wanted to talk to her," Kanna shrugged. "I'm closing up shop today."
"Hmm… I see…," Akna mused as she looked around the small booth. "Ke Suk finally decided he wanted to marry Anana." Kanna paused in the middle of pulling out a large crate to place the day old fish.
"Already?" She stood up straight and looked at her mother disbelievingly. "Anana is a year younger than me."
"That doesn't mean it can't already be arranged," Akna said. She bent down beside her daughter and pulled the crate out the rest of the way. "When she turns 16, Ke Suk will present her with a betrothal necklace. It's good that he had asked early to get the approval from her parents. Otherwise, by the time, Anana is sixteen, someone else might have already laid claim to her."
Kanna let out a snort and began gathering the fish by the hooks connected to their mouths. She tossed them into the crate as her mother watched. "Does she even like Ke Suk?"
"Who knows," Akna admitted. "But they do make a nice couple. And he's from a good family. That's important."
"I know…," Kanna dropped the last fish into the crate and then began to add a layer of ice into it. Her mother's eyes softened.
"Kanna, do not worry. I promise that on your 16th birthday, someone will present you with a betrothal necklace," her mother assured her. Kanna stopped scooping out ice. She turned to face her mother; her eyebrows knit together.
"Don't get your hopes up, Mom," Kanna said carefully. A small feeling of dread crept through her stomach as she turned back to the bucket of ice and shoved the metal scooper back into its contents. "I hardly even talk to boys my age."
"You don't need to talk to attract them, my dear." Akna said softly.
Kanna's grip tightened around the metal scooper. But it would be nice if I did.
Pakku tossed his head back and laughed as he watched his opponents fall over each other. All around him, he could hear the crowds clapping and cheering him on as looked back at the other students his age. They were nowhere near his level, which was why he gave them the option of teaming up against him.
Yet, even when he was outnumbered, it was easy to win. The sun was starting to set beyond the great walls of the city and there were still dozens of people standing around the plaza watching them. Or rather, he thought, watching him.
Across the plaza, another young male waterbender stood up and brushed the snow off his clothes. He looked up and grinned. "Got me again, Pakku. Kanna was right; you really must spend all your time practicing!"
Pakku snorted. Kanna… the name of the only person on his 'dislike greatly' list thanks to her loud mouth. He hoped he could see her again. If only to put her in her place.
"Well, Anyu, it is a far cry from you," Pakku retorted coolly. "From your little show just a few moments ago, it seems you hardly practice at all."
Anyu merely laughed back and gave Pakku a mock bow. "Forgive me for having a life outside of bending."
Before Pakku would reply with another snippy remark, a young woman's voice called Anyu over. The dark haired youth turned his head and waved at the group of young women beckoning him to them. He glanced back at Pakku and smirked before walking over. The prodigal waterbender merely rolled his eyes and turned to his next set of opponents.
A few minutes and three fallen pupils later, Anyu approached Pakku once more, a slightly irritated look on his face. The prodigy turned around and smirked as lifted up his chin. "I take it your so called life isn't all it's cracked up to be?"
"Contrary to what you might believe, it is exactly what I expect it to be," the other bender told him proudly. He stopped a few feet from Pakku and lifted his gaze to meet his fellow student's. "Good friends, great family. You on the other hand, may not have these things. Luckily for you, you have been invited to join us."
One of Pakku's eyebrow's rose. Invited? Casually, he craned his neck and peered over the other student's shoulders, towards the small group of girls whispering amongst each other. Occasionally, they'd look up, meet his gaze, and then return to their little huddle, giggling. Cool eyes calmly looked back at Anyu.
"I don't think so."
A snort escaped Anyu's lips. "I figured as much, but I thought I'd ask," the youth turned around and began walking away. "I told them you'd just go home to bend some more, but they insisted I ask anyway. How an anti-social little prince like you got so popular, I'll never know."
"Anti-social prince?" Pakku choked out. He frowned and rolled his eyes. "Pardon me for being brought up with manners."
"If you say so," Anyu lifted his hand and gave Pakku a small wave as he headed towards the stairway. By now, the sun was sinking into the horizon and the students, as well as spectators, were leaving for their respective homes. "Just in case you're interested, it'll be at Miki's in the inner village."
Pakku lifted his nose in distaste and turned around. First he was spoiled, now he was anti-social. He doubted he'd miss anything the next day.
"You're missing out," Siku stated firmly. Across from him, his dark haired, blue-eyed son's jaw nearly dropped. "You should go."
"What… I…" Pakku's mouth opened, but nothing seemed to come out. He sat at the other end of the table from his father; his mother and sister on either side of them, eating silently. "Father, I barely know those people!"
"And that is the problem," the man at the head of the table told him. He held his porcelain bowl in one hand as he slurped up its contents. He lowered his bowl and met his son's horrified gaze. "You will one day be a member of the tribal council, Pakku. That means you will have to deal with and represent the rest of our tribe. How do you expect to represent them if you know nothing about them?"
Siku made a good point. Unfortunately. Pakku's mouth closed and he lowered his eyes. He sent a defiant glare at his bowl of half eaten artic octopus stew as he gripped his utensils in one hand. He'd hardly had any contact with people outside the social circles he lived around, up until he started attending lessons with Master Sae Kung and his students.
Before then, most of the tribesmen he met were the other members of the tribal council, the chief, and their families. They could relate to him; understand the pressures of being put in line for a leadership position they never asked for. He knew how to talk to them. However, his fellow students? The same people who took every chance they could to mock his privileged upbringing? If he saw any of them, it would be too soon.
"…nice girl." Pakku's head shot up as he heard his father's last words.
"I'm sorry, Father, what was that?"
Slightly irritated blue eyes met his from across the table. "I said you're seventeen and you have yet to mention a nice girl."
He could feel his face reddening at his father's words. What exactly was the man implying? To his right, he heard a small giggle and turned to shoot his younger sister a warning glare. She quickly sat up straight and lowered her eyes back down at her food. Pakku took a deep breath to relax as he turned back to his father.
"Forgive me, Father, I haven't had time," Pakku replied respectfully. "I have been focused completely on bending."
"And that is very admirable, Pakku," Siku's voice was exasperated. Of course he knew his son had been bending. Every time he came home, Pakku was bending. When he was home on break, Pakku was bending. Even at gatherings, Pakku was bending. He was starting to wonder about his son. "But you need to… expand your horizons," the man told him carefully. "Socialize more and get to know your peers. That includes the girls."
Pakku gave a nod and numbly returned to his bowl of food. "Pakku," his mother's voice was gentle and soft spoken; just like all the women he had been surrounded by during his young life. "There have been some questions about you from the wives of the other council members."
"Yes, I almost forgot," Siku nodded. "Some of their girls are turning sixteen this year, Pakku. Would you like to arrange a meeting?"
Somewhere in the conversation, Pakku's brain had shut down. All he had been doing was complaining about being called anti-social and, suddenly, his parents wanted to arrange a meeting with a prospective bride? This was not how he planned his evening to go.
"She will be a waterbender, of course," his mother reassured him. She gave him a small smile. "No man in this family has ever married a non-bender."
Pakku blinked. He jerked his head back and gave his mother a nod. "Of course," he told her proudly. Briefly, the image of a brown haired flutist danced in his mind. "In order to ensure future waterbenders, only another bender will do."
Across the table, his father smirked. "Perhaps you get to know one of those bender girls from Madam Nukka's healing class tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Pakku froze in his seat.
"Yes, tomorrow," his father continued. "You will join your peers for dinner and spend some time with them. They are your tribesman, Pakku. Never forget that."
"I won't, Father," Pakku lowered his head submissively. "I will…." He swallowed distastefully. "Keep an eye out for a prospective waterbender."
"See that you do," Siku told him sternly. "Most of your cousins your age are already married or engaged. I suggest you find a nice girl before they're all claimed."
"Anana?" Yugoda's eyes widened as she sat on the outdoor patio that overlooked one of the busiest waterways in the city. They were on the private rooftop dining area of a small corner restaurant. An animal skin tent was stretched over their heads as they sat around a metal lined fire pit on large, warm, animal pelts and pillows. Several young women all looked at Kanna as she nodded. "Anana, your cousin, who is a year younger than us?"
"The very same," Kanna told them. "Auntie Nauja told my mom this morning when we were seeing off my dad."
Across from her, another girl in blue let out a whistle. "Kanna, the women in your family sure are lucky. At fourteen, she's already engaged," The girl leaned back against the pillows and let out groan of despair. "I'm almost sixteen and no one has even asked about me yet!"
"You're not alone, Chena," Yugoda told her understandingly. "No one has asked about me, either."
"That's impossible!" A black haired girl exclaimed. "Yugoda, you're so cute and petite, there is no way no one would ask about you!"
"I bet her parents are trying to decide whom the best husband is among all those men who came to them. That's why she hasn't heard anything yet," Chena insisted. "They don't want to tell her until they've accepted an offer."
"And she's an excellent cook," Kanna added with a slight grin on her face. "What man wouldn't want an excellent cook to come home to?"
"With competition like Yugoda, it'll take both Imnek and myself to snag one man!" one of the black haired twins bemoaned. The girls laughed as Imnek nearly choked on her tea.
"I'm not sharing a man with you, Miksa, even if it means I have to be single for the rest of my life!" the younger twin proclaimed.
"What if a man did fall in love with the both of you and didn't know who to pick?" Chena asked. She looked over at their other friend. "Buniq, didn't that happen to your sisters?"
The other girl nodded. "And they both wanted him, too. My father made the final decision, though."
The girls let out a simultaneous sigh. "In the end, our parents will make the final decision to accept a proposal or not," Yugoda sighed. "Let's just hope they choose wisely."
"And for our benefit!" Chena added with laughter. The girls all chuckled around her as they fell back into their seats.
"I could hear you all the way to the street!" an annoyed voice said as the door to the rooftop opened. A frowning brunette stood at the doorway. "Can't you six artic hens stop clucking for just one second?"
"Of course not, Anyu, otherwise, we'd die," Kanna retorted sarcastically from where she sat. She looked up at her childhood friend. "What took you so long?"
A small smirk appeared on his face. "You'll never believe who I met up on my way here." He stepped to the side and revealed another young man behind him. Dressed in freshly washed, deep blue clothes with a small pink tint to his cheeks, was Pakku.
Suddenly, all the girls froze in their seats as they laid eyes on the tall, dark haired youth. Blue orbs were turned away from them as Kanna narrowed her eyes. Her hand shot across her lap and grabbed Yugoda's arm. She pulled the girl closer to her as Yugoda gasped in surprise.
Two narrowed blue eyes were sending her death glares as she offered Kanna a weak smile. "You never told me he would be here," Kanna spat out venomously, as if she had just seen her enemy appear.
"He said he wasn't going to come when we had Anyu ask-" Yugoda winced at her own words. She saw the corner of Kanna's eye twitch and knew she said the wrong thing.
"You invited him!?"
"Well… not me… Anyu…," Yugoda stammered. Kanna scowled and released her friend.
"I'm not spending my free afternoon with spoiled little rich boy," Kanna told her. "And this was supposed to be only for friends!"
"Come on, Kanna," Yugoda pleaded as she reached over and grasped Kanna's forearm and gave her a gentle squeeze. "I'm sure he's a nice guy once you get to know him."
"Don't get the wrong idea," Pakku told them coldly. "I only came because my father said I needed to 'socialize' more."
Kanna looked back at Yugoda beseechingly and held her hand up at Pakku. "See? See?"
Anyu walked towards the group and sat between his cousin, Chena, and Kanna. "I found him wandering a block away. When I asked if he was coming, he just glared at me. The second I started walking away, he started following me."
"I was not following you!" Pakku growled at the other male. Several sets of eyes turned their attention towards him. His face tinted more so as he stood uncomfortably at the doorway. He suddenly felt very vulnerable, as if all their eyes on him were studying him… judging. He was not prepared for this.
Pakku looked down at the pile of pelts and cushions the group was seated on and frowned. At gatherings with the members of the council's families, they were usually seated across a long table and served. The hostess or one of her daughters would take him to his seat and then they would be entertained.
However, here, amongst his 'peers', as his father called them, it seemed much less formal. He wasn't used to that. He frowned. The least they could do was ask if he wanted a seat.
"Are you going to sit down or what?" a shrill, annoyed voice cut through his thoughts. He snapped his head up and realized they had all scooted over to make room for him within their circle.
Anyu waved his hand over to the empty spot across from him, as if silently telling him to take a seat. Pakku lifted his head proudly and walked forward. He stood over the empty space and glanced down at the people. Three girls were on either side of him and he seemed to be sitting between twins.
Silently, he took his seat and a small cup of tea was offered his way. He took it and gave a curt nod of thanks as one of the twins let out a breathy giggle. "Well, I think introductions are in order since our new friend here doesn't know all of us," Anyu said. "Anyu." He looked over to his left and the tall, slender dark haired girl smiled at Pakku.
"Chena, Anyu's cousin." Pakku gave her a nod.
"Buniq!" The black haired girl blushed and Pakku gave her yet another nod.
"Pakku. Councilman Siku's son." He said tentatively.
"Miksa, Imnak's twin."
"Yugoda!" She beamed him a smile and then looked at the other girl. Kanna rolled her eyes and leaned back against her seat. She didn't even bother looking at the 'spoiled rich boy'.
"Kanna." She drawled out lazily.
"Oh…." He knew there was something familiar about her when he sat down. He had just assumed she was one of the many faces that came up to watch him daily. He didn't recognize her with her hood down. However, as soon as he heard her name, everything clicked, as did that familiar look of being unimpressed on her face. Pakku narrowed his eyes. How could he forget her. "The fish gutter."
Suddenly, the air around the once open and laughing rooftop became tense. Yugoda's smile fell as she turned to make sure her friend wasn't about to pelt a master waterbender's son with a pillow. Beside her, Kanna snapped her head in his direction and was about to open her mouth to growl something at Pakku, when Anyu sat up straight and frowned.
"Pakku, we invited you here to join us in friendly conversation," he said seriously. "So, if you could, keep the insults to a minimum, okay?"
"There are some of us here who want to enjoy our time, regardless of the surprise company," Kanna hissed in a low voice.
"Kanna!" Chena gasped.
"I can be civil. I'm not sure I can say the same about your friend." Pakku replied coolly; opting to address the other girls instead. Kanna let out a little 'hmph' and turned her head away.
"Err…," Yugoda looked from the waterbender drinking his tea silently, to her obviously annoyed best friend.
"So," Buniq began, almost a little too forced. She clapped her hands together as she looked at the little circle that had gathered. "Anyu, did you hear? Kanna's cousin's parents just accepted a proposal from Ke Suk."
"Ke Suk?" Anyu raised an eyebrow. "The little brat who can barely bend a snowball?"
"Careful," Kanna frowned. "He might be family soon."
"Still," Anyu grumbled. "Getting married to one of your cousins… one of Nauja's daughters?"
"Of course," Yugoda nodded. "Auntie Nauja has the prettiest girls on the south side."
Pakku raised an eyebrow as he watched the group exchange words. They began naming off particular people as they debated who was, in fact, the prettiest. Anyu would criticize all of them, citing that what was important was their cooking ability. At one point, the group burst into little fits of laughter as the girls ganged up on Anyu.
"If Kanna grows up to be as pretty as Auntie Akna, she'll have it made," Yugoda sighed happily. "My mom said that Auntie Akna was the prettiest girl in the entire village when they were younger."
"Auntie Nauja says that, too," Kanna chuckled modestly. "But Mom always says she was exaggerating."
"I heard that Auntie Akna was once in love with one of the council men's son and that one of them had sent a proposal to her parents," one of the twins said in a quieter voice. "But in the end, Auntie married Kanna's father."
"To think, Kanna, you might've grown up with those north side families!" the other twin chuckled amiably.
Before Kanna could reply, an undignified scoff escaped Pakku's lips. All eyes settled on him as he sneered as the brown haired young woman across from him. Kanna narrowed her eyes and lowered her cup to tea. "What was that supposed to mean?" she asked with a frown.
"What was what supposed to mean?" Pakku shrugged coolly. "I don't recall saying anything."
"You didn't have to say anything. You scoffed at me," Kanna paused and shook her head once. "No, you scoffed at the idea of me growing up like you. What are you implying?"
Pakku narrowed his own eyes. "If you got that much, then surely you know what I was implying."
"Then you'll know that I'm insulted," Kanna replied. She lifted her head proudly and reclined back into her seat. "But I see where you are coming from. The idea of me attending the same stuffy council gatherings with people like you isn't all that fitting."
Pakku smirked. "I'm glad to see we can agree on something."
"Then you must also agree that it wouldn't be fitting for you to have been raised amongst people like me." Kanna added.
Pakku's eyes widened slightly and he smirked triumphantly. "We do agree something."
"Of course we do," Kanna told him smoothly. "After all, the very idea of you taking on the duties of a real man is quite laughable."
The group went silent. Across from her, Chena's eyes widened with shock as Buniq's mouth dropped. The twins stared at her, as if she had insulted the gods themselves. Yugoda cringed. She'd seen the insult coming a mile away, but knew she couldn't do anything to stop it. On Kanna's other side, Anyu's eyes widened as a highly amused smirk appeared on his lips.
Pakku sat stiffly at his place, his hands tightening around the teacup as Kanna's self-satisfied smirk bore itself into his mind. "What did you just say…?"
"Oh, surely you know what I am implying," Kanna mused sweetly.
"And surely I heard you wrong," Pakku replied, barely controlling himself. "How would a woman know the duties of a real man, after all?"
"After watching the real men around her, of course," Kanna retorted. "After all… when it's a winter storm and your family is hungry… bending isn't going to put fish on the table."
"Anyone can fish, but not everyone can bend," Pakku reminded her quickly. "And in case you don't understand, bending also makes me a formidable warrior."
"A formidable warrior, huh?" Kanna's eyes looked him up and down. "Is that what your father told you when you went ice dodging? Wait…," she smirked. "I bet you've never even gone ice dodging yet."
Anyu let out a laugh and shook his head. "Kanna, that's ridiculous," he told her. "Pakku is seventeen years old. There's no possible way that he hasn't been ice dodging," He looked across the cushioned seating area at his fellow waterbender. "Right, Pakku?"
The prodigal waterbender sat rooted in his spot. His hands gripped his tea up tightly as a hot flush crept up his mortified face.
"Impossible…," one of the twins chuckled nervously. "Every tribe boy goes ice dodging at fourteen… fifteen at the latest."
Pakku didn't say a word. Kanna's eyes widened as she realized why. A wide, highly amused smile spread across her lips as she sat up straight and pointed at Pakku. "Good gods! You've never gone ice dodging!" Pakku wanted the ice to swallow him up. "What do you know? The spoiled rich boy isn't even considered a man yet!"
I'm sorry for the sudden bombardment with OCs. I only had 3 characters to work with from the cartoon and I needed supporting characters. I have a link to a quick list on my profile. I apologize for all the OCs, however. Thank you for reading!
The woman sitting by the hearth on a small pile of soft seal skin pillows looked up from the sheet music she was reading and smiled warmly as her son walked through the door. "Welcome home."
"Has Father returned already?" Pakku demanded, disgruntled. His mother gracefully pulled her head back; not expecting the sudden sharp tone her son had.
"No, but he is due back soon…," she trailed off softly. Her eyes trailed down her son's figure. His clothes were all right; nothing torn or ripped. He didn't seem to have been in a fight. If he was, she doubted he would lose with his waterbending prowess. His hair, however, looked like it had been run through over and over. A look carrying a mixture of frustration, anger, and humiliation was pasted over his otherwise proud looking face. "Is there a problem, Pakku?"
"A problem? A problem!?" he seethed. His hands were at his sides, shaking with fury as he gritted his teeth and tried to calm himself. The last thing he wanted was to damage part of their house with a bout of uncontrolled bending. He was sure his father would love that.
"Pakku, why don't I go make you something warm to eat," Sesi offered gently. She was about to stand up when Pakku held out his hands and shook his head.
"Food can't solve this problem," he told her bitterly. "I need to speak with Father."
"Then have a seat," she replied calmly. She waved her hand gently in front of her, towards one of the vacant cushions by the fire. "Get warm. Your father will be home soon."
Pakku snorted as he fell back on the cushions and crossed his arms, irritated, over his chest. "Not soon enough."
"Pakku." This time his mother's voice was stern. "I hope you do not take that tone with your father. I thought we would have raised you better than that. Now, before he comes home and you start yelling, tell me what is wrong."
The young man narrowed his eyes and turned them away. His fingers dug into his shirtsleeve as his mind whirled. He took a deep breath to try to calm himself. "You are a woman, Mother," he began in a more even tone. "You wouldn't understand."
"I'm still your mother," Sesi urged as the flute in her hands rested across her lap. "I can still try."
Pakku met his mother's gentle gaze and slowly allowed himself to relax. He lowered his eyes. "Why haven't I been ice dodging yet?"
The woman's eyebrows furrowed. "Ice dodging?"
"Yes," Pakku replied. He shook his head as his arms fell to his sides. "See, Mother, I told you that you wouldn't understand-"
"It's not that I don't understand, but what exactly about ice dodging is concerning you?" Sesi clarified.
Pakku rolled his eyes and leaned forward. "Why haven't I done it yet? I just came back from some horrible little get together and I was forced into the realization that, even though I'm already seventeen, I still haven't gone ice dodging!"
His mother looked at him thoughtfully. "Pakku, you were supposed to go ice dodging on your fourteenth birthday."
"I know!" Pakku exclaimed loudly as he threw his arms into the air and fell back into his side. "So why didn't I!"
"Because you decided that waterbending was more important," a deep voice said behind them. Pakku's eyes widened as he shot up from his seat and whirled around to face his father. Sesi looked up, a warm smile gracing her face as she slowly stood up.
"Welcome home, Siku," the woman said softly. She gave him a small bow of her head. "Dinner is already prepared. I will warm the food and bring it to the table."
The master waterbender gave his wife a curt nod of his head as she scurried out of the main living area. His cerulean eyes drifted back to his son. "I thought I told you to have dinner with your peers."
His peers. Pakku gritted his teeth as the image of an insane, laughing teenage girl pointing at him, mocked him in his own mind. "Forgive me, Father," his voice was strained. "But I could no longer waste my time with those people."
"Oh?" Siku asked as he crossed his arms and studied his son. "Why is that?"
Pakku lowered his head and closed his eyes. He took another deep breath and lifted his head up to meet his father's gaze. "I found their company rather… frustrating." His father raised an eyebrow in question and Pakku's eyes darted to the side. "But this isn't about that."
"Then what is it about?" the other man asked coolly.
Pakku met his father's eyes once more. "Why haven't I been ice dodging yet?"
His father's calm expression never changed. "I told you. You were more concerned with waterbending."
The young man's face knotted with confusion. "But…." Pakku's eyes fell to the floor, as if he were searching for some sort of answer. "When did this happen?"
"On the eve of your fourteenth birthday," Siku told him. "You probably don't remember. You were outside, waterbending as usual, and I came to tell you that in the next few days, I was going to go with you to the bay to go practice ice dodging in preparation." From the blank expression on Pakku's face, Siku realized his son had no idea what he meant and mentally rolled his eyes. "You don't remember this, do you?"
"I'm not too surprised." The older man uncrossed his arms and turned around. "You were always diligent with your bending, Pakku. That's admirable for someone your age; however, you have to learn to balance bending with the rest of your life. You pushed aside ice dodging for bending and made your decision. I was not going to talk you out of it as you seemed too adamant on mastering your octopus form at the time."
Pakku stood in the middle of the living area, a shocked look on his face as his father peered into the kitchen area to see how far dinner was coming. The young man's arms were limp as his sides as vacant blue eyes stared at the floor. Was it true? Did he really ignore a tribal tradition just so he could waterbend? Was his father right?
"Is it too late?" Siku turned around and raised an eyebrow as Pakku took a step forward and looked him earnestly. "To go ice dodging? Is it too late for me to go?"
Siku lifted his chin proudly. "You're a bit old, don't you think? What will the others say when a seventeen year old is barely doing his right of passage into adulthood?"
"They can think whatever they want," Pakku asserted proudly. He had just been laughed at by some air-headed girl, and by morning, his fellow bending student would've probably told the entire class; possibly the entire Water Tribe, that he was still a boy. He was fairly certain it couldn't get any worse… and he wouldn't let it. He was going to be considered a man and shove that in those idiots' faces if it killed him. "If it's not too late, I want to go ice dodging."
The corner of his father's lips curled up into a smirk. "Good, Pakku. Good," he answered coolly, with a hint of pride. "If you really mean it, it is never too late."
"Kanna," Her father's voice was disapproving and she cringed. "You laughed at the poor boy?" His voice was somewhat surprised. His daughter had been quite a rambunctious tomboy as a child, but he was sure she'd calmed down somewhat once she became a teenager and started focusing on helping the family.
"Well…," Kanna trailed off.
"I already scolded her and told her it was inappropriate of her to be so cruel to the young man," Akna assured her husband as he looked up from his meal. The sun was setting outside their home and a few hours earlier, Suka and his brothers had pulled up to the dock, home after a week out at sea fishing.
"Yes, it was inappropriate in general, but I think she should know how it feels from a young man's point of view," Suka told his wife. Akna was in their small kitchen, scaling some fish in preparation for the next day's meals. Kanna was sitting at the table, keeping her father company as she nursed a warm drink in her hands. The man looked at his daughter beseechingly. "Kanna, you wounded his pride."
She struggled to restrain the small scoff that was about to make its way out. "I highly doubt that, Dad. I probably only scratched the surface, if I made any impact at all," she assured him.
Her father shook his head and looked at his only child. "I'm serious, Kanna. How would you feel if someone implied you were inadequate… or said you were still a sniveling little girl?"
"Angry," Kanna replied truthfully. She sat up straight in her seat. "But I can do all the things a woman can! I can cook and clean… I work hard at the market-"
"I know you do, Kanna, I know," her father assured her as he raised his hands to placate her. "But let us say that there was one thing about you that made you insecure about your abilities in the home and to the family? It's like pouring salt on a wound if you bring it up."
Kanna lowered her eyes. Of course, a small part of her did feel a tiny sliver of guilt when she fell off her pillows over at Miki's while laughing at the spoiled rich boy, but he deserved it! He made fun of her first! Though, even as she had tried to explain her point of view to her mother, she knew she didn't have to sink that low.
Still, she didn't want him to get away with it.
"He made fun of me first…," she murmured. "He deserved it."
"It still humiliated him enough to send him running out of Miki's," Akna added from the kitchen. Kanna cringed as her father sent her another disapproving looking. "Yugoda's mother told me all about it."
Stupid Yugoda… and she wonders why we don't like telling her secrets.... Kanna thought, annoyed at her best friend. "But Anyu says not to worry about it. Knowing the spoiled rich boy-"
"He has a name, Kanna… at least call him that," her father sighed heavily as he returned to his meal.
"Fine…" Kanna sighed heavily. "Pakku," she spat out his name distastefully. "Is probably back to normal and brushed it off. As a matter of fact, I'd put down an entire day's wage that he doesn't even care what I think. After all, to him I'm just a little fish gutter."
"He called you a fish gutter?" This time, her father's voice sounded annoyed. "And what makes him think he's so much better than you to call you that?"
Kanna perked up. She knew her father wouldn't take an insult to her lightly. "He thinks he can just because he's councilman Siku's son."
The sound of metal knife falling into the ceramic basin that Akna was scaling the fish over came from the kitchen. Suka was immediately up and out of his seat, rushing over to check on his wife. "Akna? Akna, are you all right?"
"I'm fine," the woman assured her husband softly. "It just got away from me." She picked up the knife's handle once more and turned to her husband, giving him a soft smile.
Adoring blue eyes looked into hers as Kanna's father gently rested his hand on the small of her mother's back. His other hand rose and pushed back Akna's stray locks of chestnut brown hair gently. "Akna…."
"I'm fine, Suka…," she told him once more. She leaned upwards and placed a soft kiss on her husband's lips and looked at him lovingly. "It was just a surprise."
Slowly, the man gave her a small nod of his head and pulled back. Kanna looked back down at her drink and lifted it to her lips. Seeing the two of them like that was nothing new.
"Kanna, can you do me a favor?" her father asked as he walked back to the table. His daughter drank down the rest of her drink and nodded. "I have one of your uncle's jackets in my bag. Do you think you can run over to your Aunt Nauja's house and deliver it to him? It needs to be mended before we go out next."
"Sure, Dad," Kanna said as she stood up. She walked to the kitchen and placed her empty glass on the counter. "Your bag with the whale bone drawstring pulls?" She asked as she passed him and headed to the main living area.
"That's the one," Suka chuckled. He heard his daughter shuffling through his things before returning and holding out a thick blue piece of cloth for him to verify. "That's it."
"Okay, I'll be back soon!" Kanna called. She tugged up her hood as she headed out the door. She walked down the stairs of her building and then exited out into the street. She held her uncle's jacket over her arm as she headed down towards the dock.
Her Aunt Nauja and her husband; her father's eldest brother, lived with their youngest and unwed daughter across the southern docks. Two of their son in-laws fixed boats for a living and lived below the family, just over their work area. Their fish booth in the market was halfway between their house and Kanna's family's.
With that in mind, Kanna speculated it would take twenty minutes to walk there and then another twenty to walk back. With the sun setting quickly, she would only get halfway there before it got completely dark. She was right.
Clutching the jacket against her, she walked along the docks. A few more boats were docking for the night. By sunrise, the docks would be practically empty as fishing ships headed out once more. Her own father was only going to be home for three days of rest before heading out again.
"Kanna!" She heard someone calling her voice and perked her head up. Her eyes scanned the area for the owner of the voice. "Where are you heading off to?"
She saw someone waving from the edge of the docks and lifted her hand to return the wave. "Aunt Nauja's!" she called out. She walked towards the male figure standing at the edge. "What are you doing out, Anyu? Did your dad finally kick you out?"
"No," he replied as he rolled his eyes. "I just came to check on my newest pupil." He grinned proudly and Kanna raised an eyebrow.
"Okay, how long was I stuck at the fish booth that you suddenly took in some poor, unsuspecting child as your pupil?" she asked as she leaned back slightly; with her arms crossed under the jacket.
"Just three days," Anyu told her coolly. "You'll never believe what happened at Master Sae Kung's the other day."
"Chena's dream of being accepted into the waterbending class came true?"
"Don't be ridiculous, you know how those masters," Anyu retorted proudly. "They'd never let a girl into the class."
Kanna released a heavy breath. "Yeah… anyway, what happened?"
"Our favorite councilman's son came to me and asked me to help him learn the basics of controlling a ship," Anyu told her. Excitement was written all over his face and Kanna narrowed her eyes.
"You're right, I don't believe you," she stated simply as she turned and began to continue on her way.
"Wait! Wait! You don't believe me?" he gasped as he darted in front of her to keep her from moving.
"Anyu, I was there the first time you set foot on a boat, remember?" Kanna asked. "I was the one who pulled you back on to the boat after you fell in the water." He cringed at the memory and she smirked triumphantly. "See... now you don't believe it either."
"Well, believe it or not, it actually happened."
She gave a little snort. "Prove it."
Anyu looked over her head and smirked. He placed his hands on her shoulders and turned her around. A small vessel was docking and standing by the railing, with a rope in his hands securing the ship to the dock, was Pakku. "It's about to proven. Watch carefully, my friend!"
He strutted off to the dock as Kanna shook her head. She remained in her spot, her arms over her chest and a disinterested look on her face as she watched Anyu stop at the dock's edge. "Anyu!" a voice boomed from the ship.
Kanna looked up and saw a well-dressed, middle-aged man standing beside Pakku. He gave her friend a small wave. "Good evening, Councilman Siku! How was today's lesson?"
Pakku was scowling as he glared at Anyu. His father smiled proudly. "I'm impressed with your teachings. Pakku has picked up practically everything you've been teaching him this last week. Thank you for your help."
"It was just the basics, Councilman." Eyes that screamed 'I told you so' glanced back at Kanna as the young woman rolled her eyes. He looked back at the councilman and his son as they walked down the plank. "It was my pleasure teaching a fellow pupil."
"I bet…," Pakku grumbled. He knew this would just hang over his head for the rest of his life; however, he wasn't willing to seek help from anyone else and possibly spread his ineptness at ice dodging to others.
He had been fairly surprised when he arrived at his lessons one morning, expecting his peers to be laughing at him behind his back. Instead, Anyu stood beside him as they began their first lesson and told him he told the girls not to tell anyone. Kanna included. For a brief moment, Pakku had some respect for his fellow pupil. It was only dashed when Anyu stated that he would've been humiliated, too, if he didn't know what he was doing on a ship.
It had been at Siku's urging that Pakku ask someone, as the councilman would be too busy with the tribe to teach Pakku the basics. Not really knowing anyone else, Anyu had been his only choice. And the idiot had gleefully rubbed that in his face. For the last three days, he had been out at sea before and after class with Anyu. Pakku had even given up his early morning visits to the beautiful flutist to accomplish this. While it bothered him, he wouldn't back down from the challenge set before him.
When Siku had made time to go with his son, Anyu joined them and then returned to his everyday duties with his family. "You're a fast learner, Pakku, but you should thank Anyu for all his help." The councilman told his son.
Anyu struggled to keep a straight face as he glanced at Pakku. The other bender looked annoyed, but gave him a small bow of his head and mumbled thanks. "You're welcome!" Anyu smiled cheekily, causing Pakku to want to waterbend that smile off his face. He turned to the young woman behind him. "And you didn't believe me."
"Hmm…." The councilman looked up and noticed the young woman standing there. He immediately put on a warm smile as his son glanced past Anyu and scowled more so. "And who is this young lady? Your betrothed?"
Pakku barely contained his snort of laughter as a look of horror crossed Kanna's face. Anyu jerked his head back and shook his head with fervor. "No! No, this is Kanna! She's a friend of mine since we were children!" he insisted.
"Ah…," the councilman looked at the young woman and gave her a small bow. "Kanna, is it? Lovely name. Do you bend?"
Pakku mentally cringed, already knowing where his father's train of thought was leading. "No, sir, I do not." And Pakku was never more happy to hear it.
"Oh…," A look of sincere disappointment was on his face, but he kept smiling. "Who are your parents?"
"Suka and Akna, sir." The man stiffened slightly.
"Ah… I know of them," he said quietly. He gave Kanna another smile. "Well, I should take my leave. I am due at a council meeting later. It was a pleasure to meet you, Kanna."
"Likewise, sir." Kanna gave him a respectful bow back as the man turned around and looked at his son.
"Pakku, feel free to stay and speak to your friends," Siku told his son cheerfully. Pakku's eyes widened. That was the last thing he wanted to do.
"It's quite all right, Father," Pakku stated. "I'm sure Mother is expecting me home soon and I still have bending to practice for the night…." His voice trailed off as he saw his father's stern look. In his father's eyes, he needed to be more social… and what better way to encourage it than to abandon him amongst the teenaged artic wolves? "Right… I'll be home later, then."
"Excellent!" Siku's look quickly transformed into a smile. "Kanna, Anyu, have a good evening." He turned around and started to walk up towards the city. As soon as he was out of earshot, Kanna turned towards the two males.
"Have a good evening, I have to get going," Kanna told them simply. She turned around and began to head back to her aunt's house.
"Kanna, it's dark, I should at least walk you there," Anyu offered.
"Auntie's house isn't far, I'll see you later," Kanna waved her hand out indifferently. Ignoring her, Anyu started off after her. Kanna frowned and looked over her shoulder. "Anyu, did you get slapped in the head one too many times?"
"Hey, if you so much as let it slip to your aunt that you saw me and I didn't bother to escort you, she'll tell my mom, who'll tell my dad and I don't want to have to deal with another lecture from him about my manners," Anyu retorted. "So just keep walking."
"Fine…," Kanna grumbled. She paused and narrowed her eyes. "But why is he following us?"
Anyu looked back over his shoulder and realized Pakku was walking about two paces behind him. "It's the long way home. I need to waste some time," he grumbled.
Kanna smirked and looked back ahead. "Looks like spoiled rich boy is also a daddy's boy… who knew." Even as she said it, her father's scolding reached her ears and she cringed. At least she wasn't making fun of his tribal status…
"Do you always do everything your father tells you?" Anyu asked. He didn't know a teenage boy who didn't do at least one thing against his parents will… if only for a brief thrill.
"If I did, I wouldn't have to take boating lessons from you and wouldn't have to deal with this ice dodging thing at my age!" Pakku growled.
"Wait…," Kanna looked over her shoulder once more and fell into step with Anyu. He was seriously doing all of this for ice dodging? "This is all for ice dodging?" she asked in a low voice. "I didn't think it mattered to him…." She tilted her head towards the young man behind them and Pakku scowled. What were those two crude teenagers doing? He was right behind them! It wasn't like he couldn't hear what they were talking about!
"His father told me that he was supposed to go when he was fourteen, but he opted to bend instead."
Kanna nodded her head knowingly. "I knew he was obsessed…."
"I'm right behind you!" Pakku growled angrily. His face was flushed as Kanna and Anyu turned around. "I can hear every word you are saying! If you want to talk about me as if I'm not here, you could at least wait until I really am gone. Then again, I shouldn't expect much manners from a fish gutter," he added bitterly.
Kanna's hands tightened around her uncle's jacket. She whirled around and shot him a glare. "No one told you to follow us, boy-who-is-not-yet-a-man!" Kanna told him in an icy voice.
Pakku locked his eyes on her. "Only for another week," he hissed. Kanna raised an eyebrow. He looked completely serious. If he was, he was crazy.
"Pakku," she began seriously as she relaxed her stance from its aggressive one earlier. "It takes months to learn the basics of handling a boat and then at least a year to get good enough to go ice dodging. You can't possibly-"
"Another week," Pakku repeated; stronger this time. "It might take longer for children, but as you heard my father say, I'm a fast learner."
She looked at him unsurely. She glanced over at Anyu, who looked somewhat concerned as well, and lowered her arms in front of her, her uncle's jacket hanging over them. "Pakku, I've seen ships crushed on those rocks," Kanna told him as her eyebrows furrowed. "If you're inexperienced, you're not going to make it."
He let out a haughty laugh and put his hands on his waist as he lifted his head back proudly. "Oh… worried now are we?"
"Yes," Kanna stressed. "Worried that everyone else on your ship is going to be in danger because of your bad decisions and your pride!" She snapped. Pakku's head jerked back as he narrowed his eyes. "This might be just a right of passage for you, but it's still dangerous. You've never lived out by the docks… you haven't seen how powerful the ocean can be like I have. One second of hesitation, one wrong decision and your ship is falling apart; crushed between two rushing chunks of ice!"
Pakku opened his mouth to reply, but Anyu spoke up. "She's right, Pakku… two weeks from the moment you start to learn to the day of your ice dodging is too short. You need more experience."
Pakku gritted his teeth. Despite the fact that he felt he was better than these people… and the fact that a mere girl made a point he never even thought about, he had to respect their knowledge on the subject. His inexperience forced him to. His hands clenched into fists.
"How much more?" he asked. He took a step forward. "How soon can one learn?"
"How soon?" Anyu mulled over this for a moment before speaking. "I heard that someone once learned in two months-"
"Then I will do it in less," Pakku cut him off. The two other teens looked at him as if he had lost his mind. "In less than two months, I will go ice dodging with my father and come back a 'man' as this tribe sees it." He asserted proudly.
Anyu shook his head. "Pakku, we're not saying this to stop you or belittle you, we're telling you this as your fellow tribesmen," he stressed as he looked at the other waterbending pupil. "Two months was sheer luck. Sheer luck won't guarantee you coming back unharmed or even alive if something happens out there."
"You don't think I can do it?" Pakku smirked challengingly.
Anyu shook his head once more. "It's not that-"
"A month," Kanna cut off her friend and lifted her chin proudly. Pakku's gaze fell upon her once more and met with cold blue eyes. Beside her, the other young man's mouth dropped. "Do it in a month."
"Kanna, don't provoke him-"
"A month?" Pakku scoffed. He straightened up and lifted his own chin.
"If you're as good as you say you are, you can do it in a month," Kanna told him coolly. She smirked. "Or can you not do it?"
She watched his eyes narrowed. "One month," he spat out as his gaze bore down on her. "Stand there," he said, pointing out past the buildings and the docks to the massive wall that sealed their city away. "In one month, stand there and watch me." He told her.
Kanna didn't bat an eye. "I'll be watching."
Pakku sent her one last glare before stepping around her and storming ahead, leaving the two standing in the shadow of the narrow street alone. Anyu looked back at young woman. "Kanna, what were you thinking!" he exploded as he threw his arms in the air. "I know you don't like him and that he's an arrogant little prick sometimes, but he's still a member of this tribe and one of the best waterbenders in the entire city-"
"Exactly," Kanna cut him off once more and turned around. She began to head towards her aunt's. "So if something happens to his ship, he can waterbend himself d the others to safety."
The young man behind her gave her a quizzical look. "What…?"
"In two months time, the waters will be uneven and shifting," Kanna stated simply as she walked. "But in one month, the tides will be steady and not as strong. For about twenty-four hours, the water will be much more still and the currents won't be that strong. If he's going to pass it without enough experience, one month is his best bet."
Anyu jerked his head back and then tilted his head to the side in question. "Kanna… how did you know that?"
"I'm a fisherman's daughter," she replied as she walked. "I know a thing or two about the ocean."
"One month…," Siku watched as his son barked orders at the crew of three other men on the small sailing vessel that would be used to go ice dodging. He stood at the bow of the ship with another young man at his side. "…And who told him to do that?"
"A… friend did, sir," Anyu reported, somewhat hesitantly. He didn't want to out the girl. Pakku was in his third week of training for his coming of age ritual. He had learned much in that short amount of time, but still, his father didn't think he was anywhere near ready for ice dodging. "What do you think?"
Siku was silent. Pakku knew all the parts of his ship, he knew what did what exactly and where they were. What he lacked was experience… experience that can only be gained through time. When he had agreed to allow his son to begin training for ice dodging, he thought he'd give Pakku at least half a year. That way, he could know the ins and outs of running a ship under different water and weather conditions.
But the night before, Pakku had arrived just as Siku was heading out for his council meeting. Before his mother could even welcome him home, he proclaimed that he was going to finish his ice dodging in a month. Sesi had desperately tried to talk her son out of it, but Pakku was adamant in his decision.
Siku only said that he'd have to see how Pakku was progressing before giving the final consent; one he didn't really plan on giving. At least, not until Anyu approached him that evening training with some concern. Now, mulling over it, he began to wonder if his son could actually do it.
"A friend…," he mumbled as he lifted his hand and rubbed his bearded chin.
"What do you think, sir?" Anyu asked once more. "I'm sure if you told Pakku that a month is unrealistic, he'd relax a bit and allow himself more time."
Every day before his waterbending lessons, Pakku would wake up before the dawn and go practice his knowledge of the ship without his ship even leaving the docks. After waterbending lessons, he'd rush home for a quick dinner before heading out to sea with his small crew to practice.
To his father, it was a breath of fresh air. Finally, for once in his life, Pakku wasn't at home bending and ignoring the world. He'd made a good impression to the men on his crew; he'd even been talking more about people in his lessons. Yet, witnessing Pakku work so hard on ice dodging rather than bending was still somewhat disconcerting.
If it were another request to get his son to relax and socialize more, Siku would've easily agreed with Anyu. However, if Pakku could finish in a month….
"Your friend is brilliant."
Anyu's jaw dropped. "Ex… excuse me, sir?"
"The water is steady at that time… it's perfect for a novice like Pakku," Siku murmured. He gave a nod. "A month it is." He lifted his hand and patted Anyu on the shoulder. "Tell your friend thank you."
Stupefied, Anyu nodded as the councilman walked past him. "Ye… yes… sir…." He lifted his hand and rubbed the back of his neck unsurely. He glanced back at the high wall in the distance and released a heavy breath. "Looks like you were right…"
A blue clad figure stood at the top of the great wall that hid the city. She wrapped her arms around her warmly dressed body and peered out over the ocean. She could still make out the light of the lantern hanging on the edge of the boat as it sailed smoothly around the harbor before the city.
"That was pretty smart," a voice said behind her as a petite young woman stepped beside her and leaned over the edge. Yugoda rested her arms against the ice wall barricade that kept them from falling over into the sheer drop. "Think he'll make it?"
"I'm not sure…" Kanna mused. "But he has a good chance."
"Chena bet against the twins that he'd make it," Yugoda told her. "What would you say the odds are…?"
Kanna rolled her eyes and looked down at her friend. "I'm not giving you the odds so you can place a bet."
"But I'll split it with you!" Yugoda insisted as she looked up at her friend pleadingly. "I swear! Fifty-fifty!"
"It's a lot of money riding on this…," Yugoda urged. "Think about it… you can buy that coat you've been staring at and wanting...." Kanna froze where she stood. Her coat? Oh, why did Yugoda have to stoop so low as to mention the coat?
"No," she insisted. She shook her heard. "Besides, I don't have enough money to join your little pot anyway."
"What do you mean you don't have enough money?" Yugoda pouted. "You work all the time at the fish market!"
"Yes, but I don't always get paid for it!" Kanna insisted. "I only get paid a little here and there. Plus with Anana's betrothal, a lot of the money is going to her dowry."
Yugoda sighed heavily. "Okay, fine." She looped her arm around one of Kanna's and looked back out to sea. "Do you think he improved?"
"Yes," Kanna replied coolly. The lantern in the distance was moving along smoothly. "He's getting the hang of it."
"You've come here every night to watch him," Yugoda said quietly. She glanced up at her friend. "Do you like him now?"
She cringed as she watched Kanna's eyes narrow into little slits. "No," Kanna said. "But I got him into this. I put that idea of ice dodging in his head."
"He didn't have to take it this far, you know," Yugoda insisted. "You just pointed it out…," she trailed off and winced. "And laughed… hard." Kanna raised an eyebrow and Yugoda beamed her a weak smile. "But he didn't have to take it so seriously. His own pride got him into this."
"He just doesn't want to be laughed at again," Kanna frowned. The lantern was returning now. Pakku's practice was almost over. "Anyway, I should get going and get some rest. Big day tomorrow. We're smoking the first batch that came in."
"I'll make sure to tell my mom to stop by," Yugoda told her as they started on their way to the stairs that lead down from the wall. "By the way, did you hear?"
"Buniq just got engaged."
The ship pulled in the dock and Pakku threw down the rope. With expertise, he tied the other end on to the boat and then stepped back to look at his work. It was another successful evening accomplished. As he looked over the ship once more, he bid goodnight to the crewmen who began heading down the plank to go home to their families.
A few gave him encouraging words as they stepped off the boat. He had about one more week to go, and then his father would take them out around the bay, towards an area where he had his ice dodging. As he headed down the plank, his father's voice stopped him.
"Pakku." The younger waterbender turned around.
"I have spoken to Anyu and he has told me that he can no longer join us on your practices out at sea," Siku told him as he walked along side his son. "He has other duties to fulfill."
Pakku resisted the urge to start smiling widely. Finally, he'd be able to get rid of the man who had been giving him orders for the last few weeks. When Anyu told him that day, at waterbending lessons, Pakku had told him it was about time and that he no longer needed someone breathing down his neck. He had spent much of the day with a smirk fixed on to his face. He planned to celebrate once he got home.
"I know, Father," he replied calmly, containing his joy well. "He already told me."
"Ah, then you know," Siku nodded. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small pouch of money. "Here."
Pakku raised an eyebrow as he hesitantly accepted the small blue bag. "What is this for, Father?"
"Take Anyu out to eat for dinner," Siku told him. Pakku's eye twitched. His father could see the refusal dancing over his son's face; just waiting for him to come up with the perfect excuse to get out of it. "I'm sure you wouldn't mind. After all, your tribesman has helped you greatly. It is the least you could do."
"Yes, Pakku." A heavy hand landed on his shoulder and Pakku resisted the urge to tear himself away. "I had to miss a lot of waterbending practice to help you. And you're always saying how important it is to practice."
The corner of Pakku's eye twitched once more as his father nodded in agreement. "Take him to any place of your choice, Anyu," Siku told the other young man. "And thank you again for all the help you've given my son."
"Of course, Councilman Siku. Pakku is my tribesman after all." The older waterbender gave a nod of approval and walked away. As soon as he disappeared, Pakku whirled around, pulling his shoulder harshly from under his fellow bender's hand and glaring at him.
"Did you put my father up to this!?" He demanded.
"No, he told me earlier," Siku told the other brunette flatly. "As much as I'd hate to disappoint your father, I'm not about to force you to have dinner with me. You're not even pretty."
Pakku let out a low growl and seethed. "I'm not so ungrateful as to have to resort to being forced by you to return your generosity in kind," the young man replied. He straightened up and lifted up his chin. "Where do you want to go?" he asked as he gritted his teeth.
"It's fine, Pakku," Anyu said as he turned around and walked passed the gifted young bender. "Like I said, I'm not going to force you."
"I may not be happy about it, but my father made a good point. For all your help, I should at least pay you back," Pakku told him. He followed a few steps behind Anyu.
"Then pay me back another time, when I really need it."
Pakku wrinkled his nose in distaste as he sped up. "I'd rather get it over with now."
"Now that sounds more like you," Anyu grinned. "All right, fine. I know the perfect place. You'll like the food. Best tasting fish on these docks."
Pakku scoffed. "I bet I've tasted better."
"Don't ridicule it until you've tasted it," Anyu insisted. He led Pakku through the narrow streets, towards the market. In the day, the market was loud and filled with bustling bodies haggling for the best deals, but by the time they reached it, the outdoor market was closed down for the night. A few lights glowed over the eaves of some of the shops, but the streets were vacant.
Pakku silently followed him, his eyes glancing at every shadow suspiciously, as if he were being led into a trap. Before he realized it, Anyu had stopped in front of a small booth. From the look of the set up and the scent in the air, Pakku deduced that it sold fish in the day light hours.
At that point, it was dark within the small booth. Though, through the fur curtain that separated the front of the booth from the back, he could see some light peeking out from the back room. However, it was still dark in the booth. Which meant one thing.
"It's closed." He stated simply.
"Yes, but we're not here for buy fish."
Pakku snorted indignantly. "I would hope not…," he trailed off, looking around, slightly disgusted that Anyu would purposely take him to some run down place to eat. What kind of food could possibly taste good there?
Anyu chuckled and walked towards the doorway to the backroom. He moved aside the curtain and peered into the lit room beyond it. "Good evening, still working?"
"Can't stop, you know that," a female voice answered from with. It was faint, but Pakku knew he had heard it before. "Why have you come to bother me this time?"
He knew that tone. He knew those words said in that tone. Pakku's eyes widened and wondered if it was too late to run. There was no way he would bring her along with them to eat!
"Dinner," Anyu told her. "For three."
"Three?" Anyu slipped back outside and waved for Pakku to enter deeper into the booth. Stubbornly, the blue-eyed young man shook his head and remained rooted in his spot.
"I'm not going to bring her with us. I owe her nothing," Pakku stated proudly.
"That's what you think…," Anyu murmured under his breath.
"Who else is out there?" a curious voice asked. Anyu stepped aside and Pakku could see the shadows moving along thin ice and animal skin walls as a hand brushed aside the curtain. A young woman slipped through, her hair pulled back into a tight bun with a braid. She was dressed without her usual over coat, in thinner clothes under an apron.
Her eyes widened as she saw Pakku standing just outside the booth. "He's going to treat me out for dinner."
"To reciprocate for his… tutorage on the ship," Pakku added quickly. "Just him." He stressed as he shot the young woman a glare.
Kanna crossed her arms over her chest as she frowned. "Don't worry, I won't spoil it," she said as she turned around. She gave them a dismissing wave of her hand as she slipped back into the room. "Have fun on your little date!"
"It's not a date!" Both Anyu and Pakku shouted as the curtain fell back into place. Grumbling, Pakku stepped forward and followed Anyu into the back of the booth. Behind the curtain were three large ceramic vats covered with animal skin. In the center of the small area was a large dome with smoke coming out of a hole in the top.
Kanna was sitting in the corner with a large stick at her side; watching the smoking fish intently through it's partially opened side. "Don't even joke about that." Anyu grumbled as he walked in.
"I can't believe you would even say something like that, you crude little fish gutter! Don't you have any manners?" Pakku steamed. Kanna rolled her eyes and looked up at them.
"You're the one that burst in here without an invitation," Kanna told him coolly. Pakku's face tinted with red as he gritted his teeth. Her eyes drifted back to Anyu. "Let me guess, you want dinner from me instead?"
"If you don't mind," Anyu grinned. He sat down on the nearest stool and smiled widely. Kanna sighed heavily and stood up from her chair.
"Watch the fish," she instructed. She walked over to the counter in the back, where a pot of food was being kept warm by some glowing embers on the portable clay stove.
"Wait…", Pakku froze by the door, horror stricken, and then turned his gaze slowly to the other young man. "Don't tell me…."
"Save your money," Anyu said as he leaned forward and rested his arms on his elbows. "And tell your father thank you."
Pakku shook his head. "No… no way I'm eating anything she makes!" Pakku insisted as he pointed to the young woman scooping some food into a bowl across the room. "It could be poisoned!"
Anyu laughed and Kanna looked over her shoulder. "Who says I'm offering you food?"
Pakku's death glare turned to Kanna and he scowled. "Who said I would accept it if you did!"
"No one," Kanna said. She closed the lid over the pot and put a spoon into the concoction. She walked over to Anyu and placed the bowl into his uplifted hands.
"Thanks, Kanna," Anyu said as he looked down at the bowl of food. "Did you eat already?"
"A few minutes ago," Kanna told him. She returned to the counter and began filling another bowl. "Have a seat, spoiled rich boy." She waved her hand over her stool and Pakku scoffed.
"Of course…," Kanna murmured. She turned around and walked forward with a bowl. "Here."
Pakku narrowed his eyes. He looked down at the bowl of steaming seafood and seaweed before putting on a look of distaste. "I told you, I'm not eating anything you make."
"And I told you, I'm not offering it to you, but you're going to eat it," Kanna frowned.
Pakku curled his lip into a smirk. "Oh, really? You're going to make me?"
"Not me, actually, your stomach."
"My stomach?" Before he could laugh, a loud grumble echoed through the room. Anyu looked up and eyed Pakku warily as Kanna raised an eyebrow. The tall waterbender's face flooded with color as he tried to ignore the smug look on Kanna's face. Before he could ask, she handed him the bowl once more.
"You've been out there for a while. I'd be hungry, too," she stated as Pakku took the bowl from her. She walked away from him and took her seat. As she lifted the stick and carefully moved the fish around through a hole in the dome, Pakku tentatively brought a spoonful of her strew to his lips.
Part of him died once more as he realized Anyu had been right. It was delicious. Pakku silently cursed them both. Anyu looked up in between slurps. "So, you didn't go out and watch tonight?"
Pakku pretended to be inspecting the stew as the two talked in front of him. "I can't, I had to come here and finish preparing the fish before my dad and uncles return from their last high water trip."
"How much more do you have?" Anyu asked in between spoonfuls. Kanna jerked her head towards the vats by the wall and Anyu grimaced. "Ouch…."
"Someone has to do it," Kanna mused. "Besides, my aunt is paying me to stay late and do it. I can use the money."
"Still trying to get that coat?" Anyu chuckled. Kanna nodded.
"I just hope no one buys it before me." As the two childhood friends discussed the latest gossip around their little group of friends, Pakku silently leaned stood by the door, listening in as he slowly devoured the food.
When Anyu asked for a second helping, it had taken everything Pakku had not to ask for more, as well. When she offered to refill his bowl, as a courtesy, he turned his head away proudly and said he'd eaten what he could stomach and that any more would probably kill him. Rather than rise up to argue with him, Kanna brushed him off and continued to ignore him.
At any point during that conversation, he could've left. He'd done his bit and had dinner with Anyu. That was all he had to do. Instead he stood around and listened to them talk. So this was how it was like with close friends. Unlike that time he had spent with them on that rooftop, this was a lot more relaxed. Just the three of them and he didn't feel that all the attention was all him. That both annoyed and relaxed him.
After what seemed like hours, Kanna began putting away the smoked fish. Anyu helped her by dousing the fire and preparing to lock up. He ushered Pakku outside to wait as they closed up the booth. Pakku watched as Kanna slipped out and Anyu locked a wooden door behind them, just under the animal skin curtain.
"You've done this before?" Pakku asked curiously. It was the first time he had spoken since he last insulted her cooking.
"Anyu used to work here before I started taking on more duties for my aunt," Kanna explained as she held the pot in her hands. She handed it to Anyu silently and walked out of the booth. "I'll try to go up tomorrow to watch."
"Keep an eye on him and tell me if he's doing anything wrong," Anyu said as the three of them started up the pathway. "I'm not going to be there tomorrow."
Kanna was about to ask him why, when Pakku cut in. "What do you mean watch?" That had been the second time she mentioned it.
"Kanna goes up to the top of the wall to watch you practice," Anyu told him casually. Pakku's eyes widened with surprise. He glanced over at Kanna who nodded. "She keeps track of your progress since the girls are betting on whether or not you'll pass."
Surprise quickly turned into annoyance. "You're betting on me?" He fumed.
"Well, I can't afford it, but the girls are," Kanna grinned. "Seeing how things are going now, I'd have to say the odds against you are pretty big." She smirked to herself, knowing he was angry. That's what you get for saying my stew made you want to throw up!
"I'll have you know that you'll be eating those words in a week's time, fish gut-"
"Oh, good!" Kanna blatantly ignored him as she sped up and stopped in front of a shop window. Pakku gritted his teeth, irritated. Did she just brush him off? "It's still there!" She smiled as she looked up at the jacket on display just beyond her grasp. She looked at the two, a wide smile on her face. "If I pull another two weeks of smoking fish, I'll have enough for it."
Pakku scowled. He hated it when people ignored him. He glanced past her and towards the coat. He wrinkled his nose and turned away. "What an inferior coat… you can find better things in the shops on the other side of the city." He was lying. The deep blue dyes used for that particular piece of cloth were expensive. He knew that much.
"Unlike you, spoiled rich boy, I can't just walk into any store and buy whatever I want," Kanna hissed. "I like to work for my things. You don't need to. But you've probably never felt that sort of satisfaction, have you?"
Pakku smirked and walked past her. "Like you said… I don't need to." Kanna turned her head away sharply and walked in the other direction.
"Come on, Anyu… the air suddenly grew too arrogant for me," she grumbled as she stalked away.
The other young man rolled his eyes. "See you tomorrow, Pakku."
"Right." Pakku gave Anyu a small nod as he watched the duo head towards the opposite direction. His eyes rose back to the coat in the window and narrowed his eyes. It really was a nice coat… and would look great on him.
Thank you all for reading! You might be wondering why Kanna is suddenly nicer to Pakku. I'll let you interpret as you see fit. This is on my LJ and any questions can be posted there or PMed if you really want an answer. Thanks again for reading!
He couldn't sleep that night. Instead, he lay in bed, staring blankly at the ceiling and playing the possibilities of his ice dodging over and over in his mind. He'd been practicing twice as much all week. When he wasn't in the water, he was practicing in his mind; visualizing what to do and what to order in different scenarios.
Despite all the praise he had earned from the crewmen; that he had learned so fast and would definitely pass, he himself wasn't sure. That alone scared him.
He'd never been in a position where he wasn't sure of what he was doing to the extent he was now. Anyu and Kanna's warnings about it being too soon and his lack of inexperience hindering him constantly flittered through his mind; making him wonder if this really was such a good idea. A month was cutting it close and part of him was annoyed that he had risen up to the challenge so easily.
However, he had already decided he would go ice dodging that soon and he was not going to back down from it. His pride wouldn't allow him to. Besides, he had a reputation to live up to. And if his father had given his consent, then surely his father must have faith in him to pass the ritual of manhood.
Pakku tugged on the sleeves of his thick coat. It was early morning; he had risen before dawn once again, having been unable to sleep and feeling the need to walk off some excess energy before the event. As he quietly left his house, his father called out from the yard where he was doing his morning bending. Pakku stopped by the door as his father's voice reached him.
"Get something to eat before you head down to the docks," the older bender told him as he smoothly moved from one form to the next. "The crew will meet you there, by the ship."
The young waterbender stared down at the doorknob. "Yes, Father… Are you… going to go watch?" Pakku asked hesitantly as he stood by the door, his back to his father.
"No, your mother will be on the wall to watch you," Siku told him. Pakku gave a small nod of his head and tightened his gloved hand around the doorknob as he pulled it open. "But I will be there with her to welcome my son back as a man."
The tall young man paused halfway out the door and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath. "Then I will see you there, Father."
The door closed behind him and Siku turned around. A concentrated look on his face softened as he lowered his arms. "Good luck, my son."
Despite his father's acknowledgement that he would succeed, Pakku was still nervous. Perhaps not so much that he couldn't do it, but of the consequences if he failed to. He'd arrive home in shame; still considered a boy by tribal standards. He'd have to see the disappointment on his father's face and the pity on his mother's. No doubt Anyu and his little friends would find out… he could see the pity in their faces as well.
His gloved hands clenched at his sides. And that was considered the best case scenario if he failed. The other was that he would be dead; crushed between two floating chunks of ice before he had a chance to bend himself or his crewmen out. He shivered at the thought and then closed his eyes tightly to push the image out of his mind. He couldn't think about that. He needed to clear his mind in order to think straight.
Pakku looked up and glanced down at the docks and the large wall beyond them. The sun was rising and soon he'd have to meet his crew by the ship and set off for the most important day of his life. He couldn't afford to be distracted. He needed to calm down.
His feet stopped. Pakku found himself standing in a familiar spot. He didn't even realize he had made it that far. Blue eyes rose and slowly focused on an open window over the street. He could see blue sleeved covered arms returning into the darkness of the room, but no face.
It didn't matter, he realized. If he could just hear her… He closed his eyes and leaned tiredly against one of the cold walls of the buildings around him. He only needed to clear his mind for just a moment and lose himself in the calm reassurance of her music. Perhaps that was why he found himself back in her area of the city and waiting for her to play her flute.
Pakku waited. He crossed his arms patiently as he leaned against the wall. If she hadn't changed her schedule from the last time he had heard her, she would be playing soon.
Kanna shivered slightly as she drew her thick coat around her. She opened her window and looked out towards the sea beyond the wall and inhaled the chill, salty morning air. As she squinted, she could make out the small fishing vessels already out at sea. No doubt that her father and uncles would be arriving soon; which meant triple her usual workload.
She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck tiredly. "At least Auntie Nauja's paying me extra…," Kanna murmured. She closed her eyes and exhaled. Her fingertips placed themselves carefully over the holes of her flute. The ivory mouthpiece was lifted to her lips and she took a deep breath.
The tone was lower than normal. It was a different song than what she usually started off practicing with. Even if it was a different melody, it was still played smoothly, with experienced precision. Kanna closed her eyes as her fingers slid over and off the holes methodologically. They moved from memory, her mind clear as she lost herself in the music.
Outside her window, hidden in the shadows of a narrow street across the way, a young man also allowed himself to drown in the melody.
Pakku closed his eyes and tilted his head back to rest against the side of the building. The music slowly calmed his nerves, as if reassuring him that everything would be all right. Seconds passed. His body felt heavy. Minutes… his breathing evened out....
Suddenly, a door slammed. Pakku's eyes flew open as he startled awake. His blue eyes blinked as his arms uncrossed over his chest and fell at his side. For a second, he was disoriented. His mind whirled, trying to remember where he was and why exactly he had just fallen asleep against a wall, outside.
His eyebrows furrowed as he lowered his head. He was sleepy. Why wouldn't he be? He hadn't gotten any sleep the night before, having been kept awake by the excitement and nervousness inside. Of course the moment he finally relaxed, his body would take it as a cue to sleep.
Unfortunately, this time he couldn't indulge himself. He had a ship to get to and ice dodging to complete.
Turning away from the direction of the flutist's window, he started down the street in the direction of the area where his boat was docked. He barely made it three steps before his stomach grumbled. Silently, Pakku glared at his midsection for reminding him that he was only human and needed to eat. Wonderful….
He frowned and continued forward. There were some places to eat closer to where his boat was docked. They weren't the best places to eat, as he'd heard horror stories from the crewmen about getting sick after a meal, but an empty stomach meant a distracted mind. He could grab something there, eat, let it settle, and then take off for his right of passage. It was just convenient. As his mind dutifully planned out his morning to give him the most efficient plan, his body had other ideas.
Fifteen minutes later, he found himself walking through the southern market place and realized he was nowhere near where he had originally planned to go. As women and men on either side of the street began opening up shop for the day, one realization clawed its way up to the front of his mind: he was going to her booth.
"No…," he murmured to himself as he shook his head. "I'm just passing through… there are restaurants at the far end of the market," he asserted quietly. Of course, he was already going out of his way.
"Fresh fish!" a voice was shouting up the street. "Freshly smoked! Cut! Prime pieces for sale!" A portly woman was standing behind two wooden tables lined with ceramic bowls filled with crushed ice. Carefully spread out, in an eye-catching way, were rows of fish in different sizes. Dried fish hung from the edge of the over hang to attract customers. "We have dried fish! Several different flavors! Delicious! Great with stews!"
Stews. Pakku stopped. A woman behind the counter lowered her arms and studied the young man who had stopped directly in front of her booth before smiling widely. Dark blue clothing that was well made. He was wealthy.
The waterbender stood there, the look on his face clearly stating that he had no idea what he was doing. His stomach grumbled again and this time, a small pink tint reached his cheeks. "Uh… I…," he began stupidly.
"Interested in some fish jerky?" the woman beamed. "We have seven different flavors!" Pakku began to shake his head, but the woman was already out of her seat and reaching for one of the hanging bundles of dried fish. "Classic dried sea weed paste? Or perhaps something more exotic? Red peppers from the Fire Nation more to your liking, young man?"
He suddenly felt trapped. He didn't want any of that. He didn't know why he had ended up there in the first place. He didn't even know if it was a random fish booth or hers. He couldn't tell in the day light hours. "No… no, I… uh…."
"Oh? No jerky?" the woman looked somewhat disappointed, but quickly moved on to a wooden tray on a table behind her. "Smoked fish then?"
"No," Pakku shook his head and stood up straight, trying to regain his bearings. No jerky. No smoked fish. He wanted something else to curb his hunger. "Something like a stew." Spirits, why had he said that? He was in front of a fish booth! There was no way the woman had stew! Why had he even asked! He cringed inwardly. Somewhere, deep down, he knew why.
"You want a fish to put in a stew?" the woman asked, her eyebrows knitting together. "Then… what about some artic snapper?" she offered, waving her hand over to the rows of fish in front of him. "Great with sea weed and octopus. My niece makes an excellent artic snapper stew."
In the back of his mind, a small flame flickered. Her niece? His stomach sank. So he really had ended up in front of her booth. "Actually… I'm not here to… uh… buy fish."
The woman frowned and Pakku suddenly felt like taking a step back. "Oh? Then why are you standing here?" she asked as she narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
"I…," he trailed off stupidly. Why? Why? He opened his mouth. "I'm hungry."
He wanted to kick himself. The woman's frown deepened and she placed her hands over her full hips. "Young man, this is not a restaurant. If you want a snack, I can sell you some fish jerky, but that's all."
"I'm not looking for fish jerky, I-"
"If you want something else, I'm afraid you'll have to go else where! You're blocking the way for customers who want to buy fish and-"
"Auntie." Pakku's head snapped up and immediately zoned into the moving curtain towards the back of the booth. A brown hand held up a bowl of steaming porridge as an arm held back the curtain. "Auntie Nauja, are you hungry? I just heated up something to eat."
Before the older woman could reply, Pakku practically jumped forward and called her the first name that came to mind. "Fish gutter!"
Immediately, he regretted his words. Kanna's blue eyes narrowed into slits as her hand tightened around the base of the bowl. He could tell she was gritting her teeth; trying to control her temper in front of her aunt. Pakku inwardly cringed. She was angry. That meant he might not get any food from her and he was running low on time.
The old woman between them turned from one teen to the other and then raised an eyebrow curiously. "Kanna…," she began carefully as she looked over at her seething niece. "Do you know this young man?"
"No," Kanna spat out firmly. She turned her head away and lowered her arm. "I'll continue smoking the fish now."
"Hey, wait!" Pakku yelled as he leaned forward. His hands slammed down on the edge of the wooden rack that held up the bowls of displayed fish. "Don't ignore me, fish gutter! I'm hungry!" He barked recklessly.
"Young man, if you are not going to buy any fish-" Nauja began sternly as she turned back to Pakku.
"But she does know me! That little liar!" Pakku exclaimed irritated as he pointed to the curtain from where Kanna had disappeared behind. "She knows exactly who I am!"
"And who are you?" Nauja asked in a low voice.
"Pakku! Son of Councilman Siku and-" he began his usual introduction, only to have the woman's surprised gasp cut him off.
"Councilman Siku!" The woman's beady eyes widened as she realized exactly why he was dressed so well. The boy wasn't just wealthy; he was from one of the elite houses.
"Yes!" Pakku exclaimed. His voice lowered as he pulled back. The woman was looking at him differently now, no longer with annoyance and distain, but curiosity and glee.
"And… what exactly do you want with my niece Kanna?" Nauja asked, suddenly interested.
The implications of her question went over his head as Pakku stood up straight and crossed his arms. "She has food. I'm hungry. I want her to give me food."
"Hmm…," Calculating blue orbs studied him up and down. Nauja's eyes never left Pakku as she tilted her head over her shoulder. "Kanna! Kanna, bring Councilman Siku's son some stew!"
Pakku jerked his head back. He didn't expect that. "There's no more!" a voice shouted defiantly back from behind the curtain. Pakku immediately scowled. That he expected. The older woman chuckled nervously.
"One moment, Pakku," Nauja gave him a warm smile as she slowly took a step back and then slipped behind the curtain. Pakku craned his neck. He could hear hushed murmurings, annoyed low voices, and grumblings coming from the background, but couldn't make out exactly what they were saying. "Kanna…."
"But, Auntie…," Pakku's eyebrows furrowed. "Fine…" Her voice sounded defeated. The curtain pulled aside once more and the portly woman came out with a triumphant smile on her face.
"Just a moment," Nauja assured him. She brushed off her stool and pushed it forward. "Would you like to have a seat, Pakku?"
He thought for a moment and then smiled back at the woman before nodding. "I think I will. Thank you… Nauja, is it?"
"You can call me Auntie," she said as she stepped aside to let Pakku into the small booth. He was tall and had to duck so as not to hit the over hang as he walked beneath it and took a seat. "She'll be out in a minute. Wait right here." She instructed.
The woman gleefully slipped back into the background. A moment later, a scowling Kanna emerged with a wooden tray in her hands. She carried out a large bowl with a spoon beside it and stopped in front of him. "I thought you said you wouldn't eat anything I made because it might kill you."
"Hungry men can't be choosy," he assured her confidently. He lifted up his spoon and dipped it into the concoction. "So long as it doesn't kill me, it will have to do as I'm pressed for time." He brought it up to his lips and gave a small nod of satisfaction. "It is passing." It's delicious.
The corner of Kanna's lip twitched. "Passing…," she grumbled in a low voice. Pakku smirked as he slowly scooped up some more. He made no movement to take the bowl off her hands. By the tenth scoop, Kanna pulled back, annoyed. "Are you going to hold the bowl or do I have to hold it for you the entire time!" she growled as her fingers dig into the wooden tray still in her hands. "What do you think I am? Your personal table?"
She watched as his lips curled into a smirk. She could feel her anger rising with just one glimpse of that haughty look. "Hush, woman," he told her condescendingly. "Good tables don't talk."
The next thing that was heard was a pained scream as hot porridge slid down his face.
"Well," Anyu bit his lower lip to try to keep from laughing as Pakku rubbed a towel through his wet hair. They were standing on the docks, just before Pakku's ship. Even after several rinses with water, his hair still smelled like porridge. "At least she said good luck!"
"Yes, of course," Pakku grumbled as he dropped the towel carelessly in Anyu's extended hand and snatched the clean overcoat from his friend's other hand. "After she poured my breakfast over my head… ruining my good coat, by the way! She'll pay for that," he grumbled. Despite his words, Anyu couldn't really detect the bitterness he would've expected. Annoyance, yes, but bitterness, no.
"You did provoke her," the other waterbender reminded him as Pakku tugged the worn coat over his body. It was a spare of Anyu's. He was lucky that his fellow waterbending student had arrived to the mad fish gutter's booth just as she viciously attacked him with porridge. Of course, he wasn't happy when Anyu got her out of trouble by saying it was his fault Pakku's head and shoulders were covered with steaming porridge, but at least he had saved him time by loaning him some clean clothes. "Kanna has a temper on her."
"Yes, I got that. And a sense of humor, too," Pakku grumbled. He ran his hand through is wet hair and bended the last of the water out of it. With a hair tie, he pulled back a handful of brown and then checked his reflection on the water below the dock.
Anyu chuckled again and shook his head. "So, are you ready for this? Nervous?"
"Not any more. I can't wait to see her face when I finish this. That'll show her…," Pakku mumbled.
"Yes," Anyu rolled his eyes. "That'll put her in her place," he stated sarcastically. He let out a heavy breath. "At least she got your mind off the nervousness. You could barely concentrate in class yesterday."
Pakku snorted indignantly. "I was not nervous," he lied. "And it wasn't that fish gutter that 'got my mind off' of it. It was someone else…." He looked towards his ship. His crewmen were already on board and preparing to set off. There was no room to be nervous now, not that he was. A sense of calm had taken over him; his earlier anxiety and concern had vanished with a melody floating in the air. "She played something new today."
The young man beside him frowned slightly. "You went back?"
"I didn't see her… I just heard her play," Pakku told him. He kept his eyes on the boat. "You said she's engaged?" he asked as casually as he could.
His fellow waterbender looked surprised. "Her parents have already promised her to someone," Anyu told him carefully. He narrowed his eyes curiously. "Are you interested?"
"Does she bend?"
"Then no, I'm not," Pakku replied coolly. "I've never seen her with the others, so I figured she's not a bender."
Anyu raised an eyebrow. "Is that a bad thing?"
"You're so simple," Pakku rolled his eyes and looked back at Anyu. "It's best if I only hear her music. If I see her again, I might just forget all about her one little defect and pursue her. I doubt her parents will say no to me."
Anyu snorted. "It must be tiring to be that confident all the time…," he sighed as he rolled his eyes.
"Not when you have good reason to be," Pakku smirked. He began to walk up the plank to the boat. "If you haven't already put your money into that betting pool, I suggest you do so now!"
"Don't worry," Anyu said as he waved from the dock. "I already betted against you!"
"Remember that when you're on your knees, lamenting your sudden lack of money!" Pakku called down. One of the crewmen dragged up the plank and Pakku looked at his men. "Take her to sea!"
"Auntie, I'll be back soon!" Kanna shouted into the fish booth as she tugged her gloves on and stepped around the fish display.
"Hurry back, Kanna! Your father and uncles are returning this evening and we'll have more fish to prepare!" her aunt's voice called out as Kanna dashed down the street.
Kanna found herself nodding as she wove through the crowded market place. It was mid morning; the spoiled rich boy should've already made it towards the ice dodging area. With that in mind, she sped up. As she ran down the length of the market place, a few people called her name and greeted her.
She waved her hand distractedly as she slid to a stop and turned the corner into an alleyway. If she ran, it would be at least another ten minutes until she got to the base of the wall. Then she'd have to climb up all those stairs and make her way to the far eastern side to have a decent view of the ice dodging.
A puff of air crystallized in front of her. Yugoda, Anyu, and the others were probably already there.
"In one month, stand there and watch me." His self-assured voice echoed in her head. Her eyes narrowed with determination as she ran past the waterbenders at the base of the wall and raced up its icy steps. A small smirk reached her lips.
Let's see if you're as good as you say you are.
As she reached the top, she passed by some other people walking at the top of the wall. Beyond them, she could make out the few figures standing at the far end of the wall. "There she is!" a voice shouted in the distance as they caught sight of her.
Yugoda waved her arms in the air as she urged Kanna to hurry up. "He's about to start!"
"I didn't think you were going to come," Anyu said as he raised an eyebrow. Kanna placed her hands over her knees as she leaned forward and caught her breath. "After this morning."
"I told you," Kanna gasped as she looked up at him. "He deserved it and we're even."
"You didn't have to pour steaming porridge over him," Anyu frowned. "He could've gotten burned. Honestly, Kanna...."
"He was fine, wasn't he?" Kanna rolled her eyes. "And it wasn't that hot."
"Yes, just enough to send him screaming out into the middle of the street," her friend retorted. "Anyway, you made it."
"I said I'd come and watch… and here I am. Besides, I want to see if spoiled rich boy is all talk," she said as she stood up straight. She turned towards the wall and leaned against it as she looked over the edge. A boat was floating above the calm water; surrounded by floating chunks of ice. "Heh… let's see if he can pull it off."
"After what you set up," Anyu said as he leaned against the wall beside her. "There's no way he can fail. The water is practically glass," he told her in a low voice.
Kanna shrugged and rested over her arms as she craned her neck forward. Anyu was right, the ice was drifting slowly and the water around that area was still. "Once word gets out that he completed it after less than two months practice, Dad will hear of it, and I'm sure he won't be happy that his record was broken."
Anyu scoffed and shook his head. "I doubt he's going to brag that he, at the ripe age of seventeen, suddenly became a man."
"You're right… I don't think his ego can take it either." The duo chuckled amongst themselves before one of the girls began jumping up and down and pointing.
"He's going in!" the twins chorused. Immediately, the group pasted themselves against the ice wall.
Kanna peered over the edge. The boat was speeding up, about to enter the gauntlet of ice. She could make out the small figures on the boat holding their positions and waiting for the orders. Her eyes narrowed.
The first chunk of ice was coming towards them. A voice could be heard. The figures moved. The ship maneuvered.
Kanna closed her eyes. Maybe she should've joined in on the bet.
He fell back against the wooden deck of the boat. Puffs of air appeared above him as he finally allowed himself to relax. His arms and legs were spread out around him as his giddy laugher echoed over the now still waters. Relief and triumph washed over him as all around him, his crewmen cheered as they cleared the ice without so much as a scratch.
"You made it!"
"You're a man now!"
A feeling of satisfaction coursed through his body as the men took charge of the ship and allowed him to rest. They steered the ship back towards the harbor as Pakku took a deep breath. He was completely exhilarated, as if he could do anything. All his work, all that time and effort had paid off.
His eyes opened and looked up at the blue sky above them. This was what she was talking about. This feeling of utter satisfaction from achieving something after working for it. Pakku's eye narrowed slightly as he pushed himself into a sitting position. It really was a good feeling… one he'd never had before, but one he'd not soon forget.
"Pakku!" one of the crewmen's amused voice called out. The young man looked up at the man in front of him. The blue dressed sailor laughed and pointed towards the top of the wall. "Looks like you have a cheering squad!"
Blue eyes followed the man's extended arm. The corners of his lips tugged into a smile as he made out the warmly dressed bodies jumping up and down, waving their arms in the air. Pakku chuckled as he stood up and brushed off his clothes. They seemed more excited for him than he was.
Their boat sailed before the wall and Pakku raised his hand to acknowledge his watchers. Before he could open his mouth to call out to the male he made out as Anyu, he caught sight of another blue clad figure moving further away from the group. A shorter figure with their hood pulled up all the way…
"Your betrothed up there, Pakku?" someone asked behind him.
"What?" Pakku jerked his head back. He tore his eyes from the young woman walking away and turned to his crewmen with a confused look on his face. "Betrothed?"
"Is she up there?" another crewman asked as he finished tying the ropes to the side of the ship and walked forward. He lifted his hand over his eyes and peered up at the wall. "You were smiling." Was he? He didn't even realize it. "I bet she's a pretty one."
"Councilman Siku would only approve of the best for his son," the first crewman added as he joined his fellow sailor. "Is it the small one with the hat?"
"No," Pakku rolled his eyes. His hands held on to the railing on the side of the ship. "I'm not engaged to anyone."
"Well, then, you must have someone in mind," the youngest of the crew told him. He was still older than Pakku by a few years. "Someone from the northern side of the city, I bet."
"And a bender," the oldest of the group added. "No one in Councilman Siku's family has ever married a non-bender."
Pakku's eyes suddenly lowered. For some reason, he was suddenly disappointed by that knowledge. He shook his head and turned back to his men. "Enough of this gossiping! You sound like a bunch of women from the market place!" he chided them. The men laughed as they returned to their post. "Take us into harbor!"
Before long, the ship reached the dock. Pakku left the rest of the duties to the men as he saw a woman standing by the docks, with a big smile on her face. The plank was locked into place and Pakku quickly made his way down.
"Pakku!" the woman said as she extended her arms. "Congratulations!"
"Mother," Pakku's eyes softened as the woman wrapped her arms around her son and gave him a proud squeeze. "Thank you for coming."
"I'm so proud of you," she gushed as she pulled back. Her hands rose and cupped Pakku's chin. "You're a man now."
"About time, too!" a laughing voice shouted behind him. Pakku turned around and saw Anyu sitting on a crate, grinning as a tall man stood beside him.
"Welcome back, son," Siku said as he gave his son a small bow of his head. "And congratulations." He added in a quiet, yet proud voice.
Pakku couldn't help the smile that was pasted across his face. He lowered his eyes and bowed to the older waterbender. "Thank you, Father."
"Well, I'll let you and your family celebrate," Anyu said as he stood up. "I just wanted to say congratulations."
Pakku lifted his chin and looked at the other young man proudly. As Anyu walked away, Pakku bowed his head. "Thank you for your help, tribesman."
"Don't thank me," Anyu said as he waved his hand behind him dismissingly. "Kanna's the one who suggested you do it in a month."
"I wouldn't expect anything less from the daughter of Suka," Pakku's mother said softly as she stood to the side, a warm smile still on her face. "Her father did perform his ice dodging after two months of practice."
Pakku's head snapped up and he looked at his mother with surprise. "Her father was the one who did it in two months!?" he spat out, unable to believe it. Wasn't he just a mere fisherman?
"Using the same knowledge of the ocean that your friend bestowed upon you," Siku explained as his son looked at him unsurely. "Anyu told us. Young Kanna knew that during this time of the year, the waters are the most still where we have our ice dodging. It was your best chance to pass as inexperienced as you are."
"Aren't you lucky, Pakku," his mother said softly as she reached for her son's hand and squeezed it reassuringly. "You have good friends. You should be thankful and show them a token of that."
Pakku stared blankly at Anyu's vanishing figure. Was this a joke? There was no way he actually owed her something. Not the woman who had just, hours earlier, poured the entire contents of his breakfast bowl onto his head. How could he owe her something after that?
"Come, Pakku," Siku said as he put his hand on his son's shoulder, drawing his son out of his thoughts. "It is time for the midday meal. Your mother has cooked something special for you back at the house."
Pakku felt his head nodding. "Yes, Father…"
His mother pulled him forward and Pakku shook his head to shake himself out of his surprised thoughts once more. He'd thanked her enough, he figured. After all, he allowed her to pour porridge over his head and he hadn't frozen her to the pile of fish. That was good enough, wasn't it?
"By the way," his father's voice said to his side. Pakku looked up and saw the confused expression on his father's otherwise stern face. "What happened to your coat?"
Pakku's eyes widened. He immediately looked down at the worn blue coat he was wearing and mentally swore. He had completely forgotten that he was borrowing Anyu's coat! "Oh… um…."
"That wasn't what you were wearing this morning," his father continued on.
"Oh… I had… stained my coat during breakfast," Pakku rambled as he looked at his parents. "I wasn't paying attention… I was in a hurry and I spilled something on my coat, so I traded with Anyu. He said he'd get someone to clean it for me."
"Well, some of the other council members are arriving for dinner at our house this evening," his mother's soft voice mused. "And the rest of your clothes are being cleaned."
"That's not a problem," his father assured her. "We'll just buy him another coat."
"Oh, yes!" His mother clapped her hands together and smiled up at her son. "I saw this lovely, deep blue coat in the window of a shop on the way here. Would you like that one, Pakku?" She turned to her husband eagerly. "Siku, can we go by the shop so we can show him?"
His father gave an approving nod. "Of course," he agreed. "How about it, Pakku? You deserve a nice, new coat now that you're a man don't you think? You can't look unkempt in front of the other council members."
Pakku narrowed his eyes. "On a shop window?" he asked. His mother nodded.
"A beautiful deep blue, Pakku. It'll look wonderful on you."
The corners of his lips tugged up. "Come to think of it, Father, you are correct. I could use a new coat," He looked at his mother and smiled. "And I agree, mother… it will look wonderful on me."
"I won!" Yugoda jumped up and down in front of the fish booth as Kanna shook her head. The taller girl was smiling to herself as Yugoda held out a pouch of her money. It had taken a week to finalize the bet and for the winners to get their money, but it was finally in her little brown hands. "I knew he'd pass!"
"Good for you," Kanna said with amusement. The moment Pakku had passed those last few chunks of ice, Yugoda's shrieking revealed that she was one of the winners of their little bet. It was all the other girl could talk about since she won. Kanna was at least glad her friend was happy. She grabbed a fish with some tongs and tossed it into a large ceramic jug that reeked of spices. "What do you plan to do with that money?"
"Oh… I have something in mind…," Yugoda beamed cheerfully as she drew the small bag of money closer to her. "It's a secret, though." She added, trying to sound mysterious.
Kanna chuckled and placed her hand on her apron-clad hip. The front of the booth was lit only by a lone torch in the corner. The rest of the market had closed up, leaving the fish booth the only one with an actual person still lingering around. Kanna was entrusted to finish the seasoning of the left over fish and was staying late to do that.
"Just make sure to use it wisely," Kanna told her friend as she blew a strand of stray brown hair out of her face. "Maybe buy a waterbending scroll to help with your healing."
Yugoda shook her head. "I'm doing fine. I'm at the top of my class," she assured her friend. "Nope, I know exactly what to spend this on!" She looked from side to side and then leaned forward conspiringly. "Want to know on what?"
"I thought you said it was a secret." Kanna asked. She grabbed a wooden stick that was resting over the table behind her and shoved it into the fish and spice mixture inside the vat. With both hands, she painstakingly stirred it.
Yugoda let out an exasperated groan. "You're no fun… come on, guess!"
"I don't know? One of those exotic pets you've been talking about?"
"No, my parents already said no."
Kanna raised an eyebrow. "Hair ornaments."
"I have no more room in my drawer for a new one," Yugoda told her. Her smile grew larger. "Guess again! Here's a clue… it's for a friend."
"Buniq's wedding present!" Kanna asserted, not once breaking her stirring.
"No! It's for you!" The frustrated waterbender pouted.
"But I'm not getting married." Kanna tilted her head to the side and Yugoda let out a heavy sigh.
"Never mind…," she mumbled. "Anyway, just don't buy any new clothes, okay? I want to make sure you don't have it yet."
"Don't worry about that," Kanna said with a tired smile as she continued to stir the vat. "I won't have any money until my aunt pays me for my work. That won't be for at least another week."
Yugoda signed heavily. "That long? But your dad and uncles got back a week ago!"
"And it's been a busy week," Kanna reminded her. "Which is good; because that means we have plenty to eat and sell. We're almost done with the fish preparation."
"How much longer do you have to work late?" Yugoda asked. "Chena and the others are wondering when you're going to come hang out with us again."
Kanna let out a tired breath. "This is the last batch," she assured her friend. "As soon as these are smoked and packed away, I'm back to my old schedule. Then we can have dinner at Miki's again."
"Promise?" Yugoda asked. Kanna nodded.
"Good, I'll tell the others," Yugoda said as she stood up straight. She paused and looked at her friend. "Umm… do you mind if we invite Pakku again? You know he and Anyu are pretty good friends now… even if they won't admit it."
"What do I care?" Kanna shrugged, still stirring the vat. She'd almost forgotten about him. She hadn't seen him since she caught his relieved figure falling across the deck of his boat after ice dodging. "As long as he keeps his mouth shut, I don't have a problem with spoiled rich boy."
Yugoda rolled his eyes. "We're still inviting him."
"Go ahead," Kanna lifted out the wooden stick and looked into the vat. The strong scent of spices assaulted her nose and she pulled her head back. "But I won't be held responsible for any of my actions towards him."
"Right…" Yugoda tucked her small pouch into her pocket. "Okay, I'll drop by tomorrow!"
Kanna gave her a nod of her head and then waved as Yugoda turned and walked up the street happily. The fisherman's daughter turned her attention back to the fish and reached to the side to grab the lid. As soon as it was securely on, she walked around it and began to push it towards the room inside. It took her a few minutes, but she finally shoved it back into place beside the other vats against the wall.
She went to wash her hands before hanging up her apron and wiping her brow. Tomorrow, she would spend the entire day smoking fish… but at least she would've earned enough to finally buy her dream coat.
Kanna was just locking up the booth when heavy; rushing footsteps alerted her to someone else's presence. She turned around just as the curtain fell back into place and smiled. "Hey, you're back early. It's not tomorrow yet."
"Kanna!" Yugoda panted as she rushed into the booth, out of breath and looking flustered. "Kanna, your coat is gone!"
The other young woman tilted her head to the side, confused. "No, it's not… I'm wearing it."
"No," Yugoda said as her hands clamped down on Kanna's upper arms. "Your coat," she stressed.
Expressions danced across Kanna's face as the words registered in her mind. Slowly, her amused smile straightened into a tight line. Blue eyes widened and Yugoda could see the color draining from Kanna's face.
"What…? No, that can't be. I talked to old man Aguta last week and he said he'd hold it for me!" Kanna exclaimed.
Yugoda's face relaxed somewhat. "Then maybe he just put it away. It's not in the window display any more."
Kanna's eyebrows furrowed. "Are you sure?" she asked as she lifted her arms and pried her friend's hands from her arms.
Yugoda nodded her head vigorously. "Yes! I'm positive!" Across from her, the other young woman's eyes lowered and crinkled up.
"I'm going to go check." Kanna asserted as she gently pushed Yugoda away.
"Do you want me to come with you!" the shorter girl offered as she followed Kanna into the street. The blue-eyed brunette shook her head.
"No, it's almost dinner time," Kanna said as she headed determinedly up the street. "Go home."
"Are you sure-"
"I'll see you tomorrow, Yugoda." Kanna stressed. The waterbender frowned sadly and looked down before turning around and heading in the direction of her house.
Up the street, Kanna's purposeful steps quickened into a brisk walk, into a jog, and finally into a full run. As she ran up the icy pathways and headed towards the corner store, her hood bounced up and down until it fell over her shoulder. Her braid fell out as she skidded to a stop in front of the glass window.
Her gloved hands rose and planted themselves against the cold glass as she peered inside. The wooden bust that displayed the coat was not naked, but not wearing her coat either. Instead, a light blue coat rimmed with soft white fur was in its place. Shaking her head, Kanna pulled back from the window.
Her eyes darted to the door before grabbing on to the handle and pulling it open. A small bell above her dinged as she stepped inside. From behind the counter, an elderly old man looked up from where he was sitting in front of his counter; a needle and thread in one hand as he lowered a piece of blue cloth with the other.
"Good evening, Kanna. How goes the fish smoking?" the old man asked, giving her a warm smile.
"Aguta," Kanna said as she walked into the small corner shop. "The blue coat by the window," she began, motioning her arms towards the window display. "What happened to it?"
"Ah…." She didn't like the sound of that expression. Kanna's eyes crinkled up as the old man lowered the needle and thread. He met her gaze with a sad one of her own. "Kanna… I know how much you wanted that coat…," he trailed off and Kanna felt her heart twist. She knew what was coming next. "I tried to talk them out of it, but they were insistent on buying that coat."
A wave of disappointment suddenly wrapped around the young woman. Her lower lip trembled as she raised her hand and placed it over her heart. "But… I asked you to hold it for me…," she said weakly.
"They paid double the asking price, Kanna," the old man. "And my family needs to eat… I'm sorry."
Her eyes lowered and focused on the floor as she her gloved hands dug into her worn coat. "I've been working for weeks to buy it…," she whispered. "I was going to buy it next week…."
The old man's eyes lowered sadly. "I am sorry, Kanna. It was hard for me to refuse them. After all, they have done a great deal for trading regulations and my family has benefited from them greatly…."
Kanna closed her eyes. She had worked so hard... She took a deep breath and lifted her head up. "I understand, Aguta."
"I can sew you something else," the old man offered. "Half price, Kanna. Something the shade of your eyes." He added hopefully. He watched as the young woman slowly shook her head.
"No… no, it's fine," Kanna told him quietly, her voice raspy and unable to contain her disappointment. She turned around, her lowered head still looking at the floor. "Thank you for the… offer…."
"I really am sorry, Kanna. I was very reluctant to sell it, even for double the price," the old man assured her. "But Councilman Siku's son insisted that he wanted that coat and wouldn't leave without it."
The downcast figure stopped; her hand on the doorknob. Slowly, her head rose and she turned around. "Did you say Councilman Siku's son?" she asked in a low voice. The old man behind the counter nodded.
"Pakku, I believe his name was."
Her hands began to shake. Fury bubbled inside of her as her grip around the doorknob tightened. "I see…," she said, barely controlling her voice. "Have a good evening, Aguta."
"To you as well, young Kanna." It took everything in her not to slam the door behind her. Kanna gritted her teeth.
How dare he? Kanna fumed as her hands clenched at her sides. Her eyes narrowed as her body trembled with anger. He knew. He knew full well that she had been working for that coat. Her heart twisted within her chest, threatening to rip as anger consumed it. How dare he buy it when she was so close! Didn't he have any decency at all!
Her eyes began to grow blurry as she stood in the middle of the street. Hot tears rimmed her dark lashes as choked on her own breath. She sniffled and lifted her head up. Her eyes blinked back the angry tears that threatened to fall as she wrapped her arms around herself.
She was cold.
It was a cold night. A breath of air turned into a most cloud in front of him. A man stood by the open courtyard before the Chief's palace as he watched his son move in smooth circles; commanding the water around him to dance. Siku let out a heavy breath. After the ice dodging, Pakku had returned right to where he left off; waterbending.
"Better luck next time, old friend," a man stood beside the councilor and looked at the younger waterbender before them. "But you can't expect him to change so quickly."
"What exactly was quick about it, Sura?" the councilman asked informally. "It's been months since he first joined Master Sae Kung's class and he's still waterbending at every opportunity."
"He's just dedicated, that's all," Sura assured him. "It's not a bad thing. He'll become an excellent waterbending master and an important part of the tribe."
"But he doesn't know the tribe," Siku frowned. He shook his head. "Perhaps it was an error to teach him myself instead of sending him to take classes with the masters."
"What better way for a child to learn than with their parents?" the Chief smiled. "Give him some more time. He has already been more social, hasn't he? He's made a friend, you said."
"Anyu," Siku nodded. "But what about girls? He has absolutely no idea how to deal with them outside of… this…," Siku sighed as he lifted his hands up. Sura looked around. Elegantly dressed members of the tribal council were had gathered for a large meal; it was formal. "None of the daughters have even given him a second look."
"Do not worry about your lineage so much, Siku," the Chief chuckled. "Pakku will marry when he finds the right young woman. No family in their right minds would reject a proposal from Pakku. He is your son, after all."
"Maybe I should just arrange a marriage for him…," Siku mumbled.
"Would you really? I thought you hated arranged marriages," the other man asked in a low voice. The waterbender looked at his son and narrowed his eyes. "He'll be fine. He's part of a tribe… a community. He'll find his place together with his people and become more social soon."
"Father," a voice said in front of them. The two men looked up as the younger waterbender bowed before them. Pakku lifted his head as he stood up rigidly. "I know that the party is still going on, but may I return home now?"
Siku shot the Chief a look and the tribe's leader chuckled. He looked at Pakku and gave a nod. "You are free to return home now, young Pakku. Isn't that right, Siku?"
"If the Chief excuses you, it is fine," Siku said in a stern voice. Pakku bowed his head once more and calmly made his way to the exit. His father looked at their chief. "Social."
Sura let out a heavy breath and patted his friend's shoulder reassuringly. "I said soon, not immediately."
They watched as Pakku informed his mother where he was going and then quickly walk out the door before she had a change to protest. He quickly walked down the steps from the Chief's palace and passed the lodge. He found his family's gondolier easily and instructed him to take him home. He could return later to pick up Pakku's family.
Without question, the man on the boat steered them down the narrow canals around the city, until they reached Pakku's neighborhood. The waterbender disembarked and made a beeline to his house. As soon as he was in, he rushed to his room.
This might be his only night to do it. His family was back at the Chief's palace and they would be there for another few hours. Pakku dug through his room and pulled out a neatly wrapped package. He laid it across his bed and untied it.
If Anyu was correct, she would still be working in the fish booth late into the night, if only to finish up the rest of the fish that needed to be smoked. And she would be there alone. Pakku spread apart the wrappings and looked down at the deep blue coat that was folded inside.
A smirk tugged on his lips as he reached down and lifted the coat by the shoulders. He moved it in front of his body and ran a hand down its length. So soft… A smug look graced his face. He could only imagine how she would look when she saw him with the coat.
Kanna slowly dragged her emotionally drained body up the steps of the wall. Her coat was wrapped tightly around her, her hood up and her braid tucked neatly inside. She couldn't go home yet. Not when her eyes were still red and she choked every time she tried to speak.
She kept telling herself that it was nothing. He was just selfish and to let it go. After all, they were part of the same tribe. They were one community. Such a trivial thing wasn't worth branding him with her eternal hatred. Kanna felt her heart clench once more as the hurt washed over her.
But he had known. He had done it purposefully to spite her. Even though they argued and didn't get along, even though she poured porridge over him… he didn't have to go that far. Knowing that, she couldn't help but feel hurt, disappointed, and angry. She decided to go for a walk.
If she went home, her parents would ask her what was wrong. Her father would offer to buy her another coat. Her mother would only assure her that there were better ones out there. Kanna slowly lifted her eyes as she reached the walkway at the top.
Their words would offer her no comfort. Not after all her hard work was suddenly discovered to have been for nothing. Hours toiling over a steaming pit, days of her clothes reeking of smoke and spices, endless amounts of time moving vats, crates, and prepared goods around their shop. For nothing.
Kanna stopped over the wall and looked up at the dark sky. He knew that she wanted that coat. He knew that she was working for it. How could he be so cruel as to practically steal something from under her? Did he hate her that much?
"After helping him get through his stupid ice dodging…," Kanna hissed under her breath. "Arrogant, spiteful little…." Her hands turned into fists in front of her.
"Fish gutter," a voice cracked behind her and she whirled around. She had been so consumed in her personal anguish that she hadn't even heard the young man approaching. As she laid eyes upon the tall, darkly dressed waterbender, her temper flared once more.
"You…," her voice dripped with venom as her body trembled with fury. Her hand shook at her side, itching to slap him and barely being controlled. "How could you?"
He had stood in front of the closed up fish booth for a few moments, half unable to believe that it was closed and half unable to believe he had just wasted his time. For a split second, he was frustrated wither her. She was supposed to have been there that night; it had been part of his plan. Instead, he was met with empty wooden stands and a locked door.
Of course, deep down, he knew it wasn't her fault. It wasn't like she had purposely stood him up. After all, how could she if she didn't even know he was coming? In fact, no one but him knew. It was entirely his fault that he wasted his time.
At least no one saw me…he thought to himself as he took a deep breath and began to head back to his house. He took one step and stopped. His parents wouldn't be home until later, they wouldn't even know he left. Pakku turned around and decided to take the long way home.
He had reached the edge of the docks when he caught the lone figure climbing up the long set of stairs to the top of the wall, just past the guard tower. It was a female tribe member and her arms were wrapped around her body. Her coat a dull blue after much use.
Pakku did a double take. It was getting late and she was wandering around alone? Not that it was dangerous within their tribe. Everyone practically knew everyone else or knew someone that did, but it was cold and at night and the top of the wall was windier than the rest of the city, meaning it was colder there than where he stood; sheltered from the wind.
Is she crazy? A frown went across his face as he narrowed his eyes. Perhaps all the smoke from the fish preparation had done something to her head. A small smirk tugged at his lips. She might have been doing something stupid, but at least it would give him a chance to do what he came for.
After all, he wouldn't have another chance like this again.
Quietly, he turned around and headed towards the sheer cliffs and the stairs that were carved from their icy sides. Two tribe warriors stood at their posts on the bottom and on the top of the stairs. They regarded him with a nod of their heads as he began his ascent. The higher and higher he got, the more he could feel the cold nipping at his exposed skin.
He silently thanked the gods that his coat was crisp and new and did its job well. Regardless, the force of the wind against his face was annoying. He wondered how the guards could stand it. As he reached the top step, he noticed another guard perched in the watch tower to the side.
Pakku furrowed his eyebrows. He didn't remember seeing so many guards before. He let out a heavy breath as he reached the top of the wall. Across the long walk way, he could see her lingering somewhere in the middle; facing the cold, whipping wind without batting an eye. Her lips were pulled into a thin line.
She's not happy. His mind told him. Warning bells went off in his head, telling him that now was not the time to approach the usually hostile young woman. But he had come so far…and wouldn't have a chance like this again. Pakku continued forward.
His gloved hands tightened around the object he had carried, as discreetly as he could, all the way from the northern side of the city. He'd never done this before and felt awkward. How did one do this again? He'd seen his father do it multiple times. He'd even rehearsed what he would say for days after he bought it.
Of course, that was in the setting of her the market place. He had now gone completely out of his way and she would want to know why. His heart leapt to his throat as he paled.
What if she thinks I like her? Oh, gods…no… He stopped in his tracks, wondering if he should turn around and return. No…don't be ridiculous, Pakku. This is common in our tribe. She won't think anything of it, he asserted. He took a deep breath and continued on his way.
As he neared her, he could make out her definitely unhappy, if not angry, features as her gloved fingers dug into the ice barrier in front of her. Pakku stopped a few paces from her and lifted his chin proudly.
Kanna didn't move. She didn't even realize he was standing there. Pakku frowned and glared at the side of her head. What was she so distracted about that she didn't even hear his booted feet crunching through the snow? The ignorant woman. Probably thinking about preparing fish again….
Pakku took one step closer and took a deep breath. "Fish gutter." His eyes widened. Did his voice just crack? Wasn't he past that stage?
The young woman turned around, surprised by the voice. The surprise on her face quickly gave way to raw anger and for a moment, Pakku thought she was going to take a swing at him. Narrowed blue eyes glared into his head as her entire body went rigid.
"You…," Kanna spat out. Pakku raised an eyebrow. What was her problem? He saw her hand twitch at her side and he resisted the urge to step back, just incase she decided to strike him. "How could you?"
"What in the spirits' names are you blabbering about now?" he frowned as he met her glare equally with one of his. There he was, coming all the way from across the ice city to pay her poor, common behind a visit and she was giving him attitude!
"You know exactly what I'm 'blabbering' about!" she growled as she gritted her teeth.
"No, I don't," Pakku replied, as calmly as he could. He shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other, his hands gripping the brown paper wrapped package nervously. "Did someone steal some fish today or what?"
Kanna's fists shook at her sides. "Don't pretend you don't know!" she yelled, frustrated. "You did it just to spite me!"
He jerked his head back in surprise. "I did what?" he frowned. His hand tightened around the package a he crossed his arms over his chest. "If I did something to spite you, by all means, please tell me so I can actually do it!"
She looked like she was about to rip her hair out in frustration. "You know what!" she yelled. Pakku smirked to himself. He didn't know what he did, but if she was so irritated by it, he wouldn't mind admitting to it. "You knew I wanted it! You knew I wanted it so much, but you still took it!"
His smirk fell and a frown replaced. Pakku's arms immediately uncrossed as he took a step forward. "Wait just a moment," he cut her off before she could continue her rant. "I did not take anything of yours," he asserted proudly. "There is nothing of yours that I could possibly want!"
"Don't lie to me!" Kanna spat out, disgusted. "I spoke to old man Aguta! He told me you came by and that you insisted on buying it!"
Pakku fumed. "First of all, I am not a liar! Second, I don't even know who this old man Aguta is!"
"Old man Aguta!" Kanna shouted, as if yelling his name would somehow make Pakku remember. Her arm motioned down to the city below them. "From the shop? On the corner of the main canal and the southern market! He makes coats!"
His eyes widened. Oh….
Kanna's face took on a haughty look as she crossed her arms and lifted her head up. "So you do remember."
Pakku frowned. His eyes narrowed and met her accusing glare once more. "Is that what all your shrieking is about? That coat!"
"Yes!" Kanna exclaimed. "That coat! The one I was working so hard to earn money for! The one I have been eyeing for months! The one I was saving up to buy in one week! And you bought it!"
The waterbender stared at her, as if she had lost her mind. "Yes, I did buy it. What's your point?"
As soon as he opened his month, he knew another round was on. Kanna threw her arms into the air as she took a threatening step forward. "You don't get it, do you!" she hissed. "You knew I wanted to buy it, but you still bought it! It would've been something completely different if someone else, who didn't know I've been saving for it, bought it. But you knew! You knew and you still took it from me!"
"I didn't take anything from you," Pakku reasserted. "You may have wanted it, but it didn't belong to you yet! For your information, my mother had seen it and wanted to buy it for me."
Kanna stared at him, her jaw partially opened as Pakku stood in front of her, confident with his argument. Was her serious? Did he really think that would make it better? Slowly, she shook her head. "That doesn't change the fact that you knew I had been working hard for that and still took it," she said in a solemn voice. She tore her eyes away from his and stepped back. "Forget it…what's the point of arguing if you don't even understand."
She turned her head back to the ocean and released a heavy sigh. Pakku furrowed his eyebrows. "All I understand is that you're angry because you didn't get a coat!" He paused warily. "I can remedy that."
"Leave me alone, Pakku," Kanna let out a tired breath and turned her head away. She began to continue her walk home. "I'm tired and I don't want to have to deal with you tonight."
He let her get about three steps before he began to walk after her. "I didn't come all this way just to be yelled at by you!" he declared as he quickened his step to catch up with her. "Will you just stop for a moment!" He scrambled to get in front of her and turned around. He held his arms up to stop her from going any further.
"Pakku," Kanna began in a dead pan voice. "I'm done here. I have to get home."
"Just because you're done, doesn't mean I am!" Pakku told her sternly. He shoved the brown wrapped package forward. "Here!"
Kanna's eyes looked at him questioningly. The waterbender's head was turned away, his body stiff, as he held out the package with rigid arms. He seemed to be avoiding eye contact. The young woman rolled her eyes. "I'm not throwing your trash away for you."
"What?" Pakku's head snapped back and his cheeks flushed. "It's not trash!" He insisted as he pushed it forward once more.
"Fine, I don't care. Just get out of my way."
Pakku let out a heavy breath. "Why are you being so stubborn? Just take it!"
"No," Kanna said as she pulled back. She eyed the package suspiciously. "I'm not just going to take something when I don't even know what it is."
He debated telling her. "It's nothing dangerous. Will you just take it?" he persisted. Kanna looked up at him as if he were offering her some of that illegal cactus juice she kept hearing about.
"Now that you point out that it's not dangerous, I can't help but think it is." She stated simply. She shook her head and turned around. "Fine, if you won't get out of my way, I'll just go back."
"What!" Pakku yelled. He gritted his teeth and tilted his head back, looking up at the dark sky beseechingly. He didn't want to have to actually tell her what it was. She was supposed to automatically know, wasn't she? He looked back at her retreating figure and then at the package still in his hands. He'd never have a chance like this again. He narrowed his eyes. "Fish Gutter!"
His voice cut over the sound of crashing waves below. "What?" Her voice sounded tired as she turned around. Her eyes immediately saw on the brown, paper wrapped package flying towards her and on instinct, she held out arms and caught it. As she looked down at it, dumbfounded, she could hear Pakku's triumphant yell.
"Hah!" Pakku was smiling from ear to ear as he pointed at her tauntingly. "It's yours now!"
"I told you, I don't want it." Kanna repeated. She tossed it back at him. Pakku darted forward and caught it before it landed at his feet.
He frowned. "You don't even know what it is!" he retorted as he tossed it back at her.
"All the more reason to not want it." It fell into her hands once more and she took a deep breath. Her eyes met his passively. "Fine. What is it." It was a demand more than a question.
Pakku smirked and almost puffed out his chest with pride. "A surprise."
Silence drifted between them. Pakku stood there in wait, expecting her to finally give in and open the package. Kanna shook her head. She closed her eyes and exhaled. "Pakku, I don't feel like dealing with your ridiculous games tonight. I'm tired. I have work tomorrow. And, to be honest, I really don't want to see you now, in the near future…perhaps ever again. That being said…." Kanna lifted her head and looked directly at him. She lifted up the package in her left hand. "I don't want this."
Rather than toss it back at him, she extended her arm over the ice barrier. Pakku's eyes widened. It hung over the crashing waves below. She wouldn't. She wouldn't dare. His face paled. Kanna released the package.
"Hey!" He darted forward, his arms reaching out to grab the thank you present before it slammed into the icy waters below. He felt it brush past his finger tips as his eyes widened with horror. "No!" He leaned forward.
"Watch it!" Somewhere behind him, a voice cried out, but he didn't pay any attention to it.
His arms were flailing as his body teetered over the edge. His eyes focused solely on the package as he extended his arms and threw them upwards. A stream of water bended from the solid ice wall and wrapped around the falling package. Pakku gritted his teeth as he brought the ball of water higher and higher until it was within arms length.
As soon as it was, his body stretched forward and he grabbed it. He hadn't noticed the arms around his waist, or the pull of those arms that was keeping him from falling over the edge. Or even the fact that half his body was now hanging dangerously off the side of the wall. His heart nearly stopped at the sight of the sheer drop he was just moments from taking.
Pakku clutched the package against his chest with one arm as he used the other to help pull him back. His feet touched the ground and he was pulled downwards against a smaller body. He heard heavy breathing beside him as a visibly shaken young woman released him from her secure hold and crumbled tiredly beside him. Kanna fell back against the ice barrier, her head tilted against it as she closed her eyes and let out heavy puffs of air from her lips.
Pakku found himself doing the same; sitting right beside her with the package still held tightly against him. He hadn't even realized he was out of breath from his little escapade. He opened his eyes and looked up at the barrier. Had he really almost jumped off the wall…to go after the very thing she had lamented about being robbed of and then thrown away?
Kanna could feel her heart falling back into its steady rhythm from its earlier erratic beating. What was in that package that he'd completely disregard his own safety for? The fool! She turned towards him, her cheeks flushed with anger and her eyes narrowed. "What's wrong with you!?" she snapped. "Have you completely lost it!?"
Still panting slightly, Pakku turned his head to face hers. She had grabbed him. Without a second thought, she had reached out and grabbed him to stop him from falling. Never mind that she could've fallen after him or that, as a waterbender, he could've saved himself.
"Me?" He asked. His arm lowered and fell tiredly to his lap. The present tumbled between his legs. "What's wrong with you?" He had meant for it to sound more stern, more condescending. Instead, it sound exasperated.
"I'm not the one who nearly jumped off the wall after some stupid package!" Kanna retorted. "You could've drowned!"
He let out an indignant snort and shook his head lazily. His eyes looked up at the sky, amused. "What kind of waterbender would I be if I drowned?"
She bristled and crossed her arms as she turned her head away from him. "What if you were knocked unconscious when you hit the water and couldn't bend? What if you couldn't bend fast enough?"
A small chuckle escaped his lips as he glanced back at her. "Careful…you almost sound like you care."
She gave a little 'hmph' and gritted her teeth. "Admittedly, you're worth more to the tribe than some stupid package. Alive, anyway. And if I'm here with you when you jumped to your death, I don't want to be faced with all the questions. I'm sure firmly stating that you're stupid won't satisfy the tribe."
Pakku let out a small sound of disbelief. He shook his head and looked down at the package. "To think, I snuck out…came all the way across the city…just to have you call me stupid."
"I call you that all the time, you're just never around to hear it."
The corner of his eye twitched. With a smile painfully pasted on to his face he held out the package. "Here. Just open the thing."
Kanna pushed it away. "No-"
"Don't even say it," Pakku cut her off and pushed the package back against her chest. "I nearly fell off the wall because I was going after it. You can at least open it."
"You haven't even told me what it is," Kanna stated. Regardless, her hands reached out and took it. "For all I know, it's some sort of elaborate prank…like fish guts or something." She eyed the package suspiciously. It was wet.
Pakku scowled. He lifted up his hand and bended the water out of the package. "As funny as that would be, I wouldn't risk my life for a prank."
"Then what is it?"
Pakku let out a heavy sigh and turned his head away. "A thank you…." He grimaced. "Gift."
Kanna's head jerked up. "What?" She turned to look at him, trying to see if he was joking or not. "You are giving me a thank you gift?"
Pakku gritted his teeth. He could feel his cheeks warming at the accusation. "My father suggested it."
Kanna narrowed her eyes. She lifted up the package and pushed it back against his chest. "Your thanks go to Anyu, not me."
"I gave my thanks to Anyu already," Pakku stated as he lifted his hand and pushed the package back. "This is for you."
She eyed him suspiciously as she drew the package back against her. "Why?" Beside her, Pakku rolled his eyes.
"Do I have to explain it to you?" he frowned. He looked away and stared at the glistening city before them. "The one month thing…," he began quietly. "You knew the water would be at its most placid state…that's why you egged me on to doing my ice dodging in a month's time."
Kanna's eyes lowered and looked down at the package. "Anyu told you," she accused softly. The corner of her lip tugged up. "He talks too much."
"I see we at least agree on something," Pakku smirked. He turned back to look at her; the package still on her lap. He frowned impatiently. He didn't come all that way just to see her stare at a package. "Are you going to open it or what?"
"I'm still trying to deal with the shock that someone as spoiled as you is capable of being thankful," Kanna smirked. Pakku scowled.
"Fine, if you won't open it, I will!" His hands reached over and plucked it off her of lap. Kanna let out a yelp as Pakku stood up, bringing the package with him.
"Give it back! You said it was a thank you gift to me!"
"You're too slow," Pakku insisted. "At this rate, you'll just stare at the wrapping like some transfixed child."
Kanna puffed her cheeks and reached forward. "I'll open it! Just give it to me!"
"Oh…so, now you want it?" Pakku smirked. He held it up, just out of her reach.
"Give it to me!" Kanna growled as she jumped and swiped at it. Her fingers barely brushed its bottom. "You spoiled, arrogant little…Give it to me, Pakku!"
A cough interrupted their little display and Kanna froze just as she prepared to jump up. Her eyes widened as her hand remained in an outstretched position. She could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks as across from her; Pakku's horrified eyes were fixated on the guards that had joined them.
"We came to…er…make sure you were all right," a somewhat uncomfortable voice said behind her. "We saw you almost fall off the wall." She recognized the speaker and yet silently prayed she was wrong.
"Are you two all right?" the other guard asked. Kanna refused to turn around and face them and their knowing looks as her arms fell to her sides.
"We're fine," Pakku stated, his voice eerily calm despite his rapidly beating heart and the humiliation churning in his stomach. His arm slowly lowered to his side. "Just…talking."
"Talking…," the second guard repeated, obviously not believing him. "Then I suggest you two keep your talking to a minimum before one of you falls off the wall. Understood?"
"Yes, sir." Pakku lowered his eyes and tried to focus them anywhere but on Kanna or the two Water Tribe guards.
"And Kanna?" The young woman cringed as her name was spoken. She knew she recognized the voice. Why, oh, why did the guards have to change shifts just when she was alone with the spoiled rich boy?
"Yes…." She slowly turned around and lifted up her head. "Cousin Chu."
Pakku's eyes widened. Guards were one thing, but a relative? Oh, spirits, why did it have to be a relative? Pakku immediately took a step back from Kanna, attempting to put more distance between them as he brought the package behind him as discreetly as he could. "Ah…this isn't what it looks like!" he insisted as the two guards studied him. "We really were just talking!"
"Shut up," Kanna hissed in a low voice. She turned back to her cousin and gave him a pleading look. "We were talking about ice dodging, cousin. That's all."
The young guard gave her a small grin and tilted his head to the side. "Is that Councilman Siku's son? Aunt Nauja was talking all about him the other day-"
"That's enough," the older guard cut in between the mortified teenager and her cousin. He gave his companion a disapproving frown before looking back at the young woman. "I trust no more stunts will be pulled?"
"No, sir," she answered meekly.
"Good," The guard turned around and pulled her cousin along with her. "Have a safe night, you two."
The two teens stood rooted in their spots, their faces downcast until they were sure the two guards were out of hearing range. Kanna lifted her head and bit her lower lip. Her cousin would surely include this in the next round of family gossip, however, at that moment, she had more important things to deal with.
Before Pakku could react, Kanna reached forward and snatched the package from his hands. "Hey!"
She darted a few steps back and gave him a haughty look as her gloved hands worked the ties. The woven ribbon that had held it together fell to her feet as she looked down and unraveled the paper. Pakku crossed his arms and watched her face.
Her eyes widened and he heard her take in a sharp gasp. Her movements all but stopped as she pushed away the folds of brown to reveal the thick, deep blue material hidden beneath. The tense look on her face softened into an unguarded, thoughtful look. Gentle blue eyes instead of piercing orbs. Soft, parted lips left breathless instead of a curled snarl.
"Pakku…." A warm voice instead of a shrill yell.
Pakku found himself looking away, suddenly embarrassed. He had expected her to look surprised; shocked even, but not thoughtful. It was a vulnerable look on her; something so foreign to his eyes, that for a moment he didn't know what to say.
"This was…the only time I could give it to…," he found himself rambling. He didn't even know he was talking. "I don't want to admit it, but if it weren't for you…I probably…maybe…there would've been a chance…kind of…not…succeeded…perhaps." He finished lamely.
From the corner of his eye, he saw the brown paper wrapping blow away in the wind and found himself turning back to look at her. Her eyes were still focused on the coat, showing disbelief. Kanna gently stroked the fine white furs on the collar with her gloved hand. I can't believe this is actually…mine…
Pakku shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. "Uh…thanks…for your…er…just thanks!" He looked back at her, hoping to catch more of a reaction than just awe. He waited for a moment longer. Kanna's eyes still remained transfixed on the coat. "I hope you know," he added, in an attempt to fill the silence. "That we're even now. I don't owe you anything." No response. Pakku narrowed his eyes. "That's why I came tonight, you know."
Her head nodded slowly. "I…see…."
He scowled once more. That was it? He looked at her condescendingly. "It's a nice coat. It'll replace that worn out rag you're currently wearing," he told her haughtily. "I didn't have to thank you, you know. You didn't tell me what you did. Not to mention that you poured porridge over my head….Anyway, I'm just doing this to show that we're even. And don't tell Anyu about this. I came out tonight so no one else could see or ask questions. So, this is just between us," he continued on.
Kanna nodded once more. "Yeah…."
Pakku stared at her. Was she going to just stare at the piece of cloth the rest of the night? Was that much of a shock? He turned his head away. "Well…we're even now," he repeated. "That's it. Have a good night."
He straightened up and walked past her, his head held up proudly. He was about ten paces behind her, when Kanna finally turned around. "Pakku!" He stopped. Kanna clutched the coat against her as she bit her lower lip. She lowered her head in a small bow. "Thank you."
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he thought he should've reacted with a snide comment. Something clever that waved his superiority over her. Instead, Pakku kept his eyes in front of him; willing himself not to turn around and look at her. "You're welcome."
His voice was unsure. Kanna smiled slightly. "Good night, Pakku."
The young waterbender took a deep breath and closed his eyes. The cold wind suddenly felt good against his skin. He began walking forward. "Good night, Kanna."
"Fish! Fresh fish! Seasoned fish! Dried and smoked!" Kanna shouted half heartedly over the wooden stands that held up the booth's merchandise. A few passers glanced over at what remained after a full morning of sales. A few smaller fish were spread out sparsely over the ice that kept them cold. Some dried pieces still hung over head on the rafters.
Most of the fish had already been sold, which meant that all her hard work had been for something. And profitable. Now, late in the afternoon, she was at ease. Her aunt had left her to close for the night, and after she cleaned and locked up, she was free.
She looked down the street, towards the sun looming over the horizon, and let out a heavy sigh. Yugoda would appear soon to collect her for their scheduled dinner with their friends. Knowing how eager the young waterbender could be, Kanna decided to get started on cleaning up.
She was had just finished placing the left over fish in some iced boxes for the night when a knock sounded at the door. "It's time to go!" Yugoda's energetic voice boomed through the back room.
"I knew you'd be coming early," Kanna said as she turned around. She wiped her hands on her apron before reaching back to untie it. "Is everyone there already?"
"Almost," Yugoda beamed her a smile. Kanna lifted the apron over her head and hung it on a hook in the wall. "We just came by to pick you up."
"We?" Kanna asked as she followed the other girl out the door. Yugoda giddily hopped out as Kanna turned and locked the door behind her. "You girls didn't have to come all the way here to get me."
"Well, we girls didn't," an amused voice said behind her. Kanna turned around and found Anyu chuckling as he stood beside his perpetually scowling friend. "I thought at this age you could finally tell."
Kanna raised an eyebrow and lifted her chin. "Well, if it's you two, I don't think there really is a difference."
Yugoda covered her mouth with her hands to keep from laughing out loud as Anyu jerked his head back. He glanced over at his fellow waterbender and gave him a nudge with his elbow. "What? No snappy comeback?"
Pakku's blue eyes narrowed as he stood stiffly that Anyu's side. His stony look met Kanna's wary eyes and he took in a deep breath. "We've come to a…truce…of sorts."
Yugoda tilted her head to the side curiously. Anyu raised an eyebrow and glanced over at Kanna. The fisherman's daughter looked slightly suspicious as her mind tried to detect any sarcasm or danger from Pakku's words. "Kanna?"
She blinked, breaking her concentration, and turned her head back to Anyu. "Yeah…we've reached a truce." She agreed.
Anyu let out a heavy sigh and stepped forward. He looped one arm around Pakku's shoulder and pulled him forward as he looped the other arm around Kanna's. "You two…I'm so happy…you're finally growing up into mature adults."
Kanna rolled her eyes and shrugged his arms off. "Great," she began dismissingly as she walked a few steps aside to Yugoda. Without turning around to urge them to follow, she looped arms with Yugoda and began walking. "So when will you follow?"
Yugoda let out a snort before trying to muffle her laughter. Anyu rolled his eyes and followed after them. "Girls…."
The corner of Pakku's lips curled up into a smirk. He followed beside Anyu in silence as the girls in front of them chattered away. Yugoda was telling Kanna all about her latest advancement in the healing classes, while Kanna listened intently.
"Seriously, though…I really think I can be good enough to teach classes one day," Yugoda continued on.
Pakku's eyebrows furrowed. The way things were going, he'd be able to teach his own class soon. A sly smirk graced his lips. Perhaps a few more months and he would be able to beat his own master. After all, he was very gifted and had been groomed since he was a child to be the greatest waterbender in the North Pole…perhaps even the world.
It would only be a matter of time before he'd become a master. It was basically a right in his family. His ancestors had taught Avatars for crying out loud. At that thought, a faint sliver of disappointment hit him. Pakku shook his head. That was ludicrous. There weren't any more Avatars. The last one had disappeared years before he was even born. He would never have the honor of being the Avatar's waterbending master.
Pakku stared ahead blankly, his eyes fixated on the bobbing blue hood of Kanna in front of him. He'd have to make due with merely being the best waterbending master of the tribe. His eyes squinted at the dull blue before him. That would surely be enough for her.
Her? For a split second, Pakku wondered if he'd gone insane. His eyes were ripped away from Kanna's back as he shook his head to fight back the thought. Her being the girl in the window, his mind assured him. Not sarcasm girl.
Pakku raised his eyes once more.
"Oh, don't be ridiculous, Anyu!" her nagging voice boomed as they walked down the icy side walks.
Her eyes were narrowed and her eyebrows were furrowed. Her lips were curled into a near snarl as she argued with her childhood friend. A few stray brown strands fell over her face as she unhooked her arm from Yugoda's and began making hand movements to exaggerate her point.
Such a far cry from the girl a few nights ago on the wall…,a small voice whispered. Pakku swallowed painfully; his throat suddenly feeling dry. Her features had been softer, then. More pleased at the surprise than angry. She had looked…happy. Yet, even now, there was something intriguing about the flush on her face and the joy laced remarks she spouted as she snarled at Anyu.
"…child's play. Right, Pakku?" Anyu's faint voice reached his ears.
"It is not!" A shrill female voice cut through is senses and Pakku quickly drew himself out of his concentrated thoughts. They had stopped in the middle of one of the bridges that crossed the numerous canals of the city. Kanna had her arms crossed and was glaring at Anyu as Yugoda stood beside her; her lip jutting out in a pout.
"It is," Anyu insisted beside him. The other young man stood up proudly. "You'd never be able to cut it against real waterbenders."
"Excuse me!" Yugoda nearly screamed, obviously insulted. Her big blue eyes flickered over to Pakku. "What's so funny?"
Pakku raised an eyebrow. "Funny?"
"Wipe that stupid smile off your face," Kanna ordered as she put her hands on her waist. Pakku's lips immediately fell into a frown as his eyes widened. He had been smiling? Since when? And why was his face warm? "I should've known you'd agree with Anyu," she all but accused.
"The entire tribe agrees with me, Kanna," Anyu told her casually. "Male waterbenders are just better in general." Yugoda's arms crossed over her chest and she turned her head away distastefully with a 'humph'. "Right, Pakku?"
Kanna turned her glare at Pakku. The male waterbender straightened up and lifted his chin defiantly. "Of course."
"Ugh!" Kanna threw her arms in the air and whirled around. "Forget it, I'm not arguing with you guys. Come on, Yugoda."
"Right!" Yugoda and Kanna linked arms once more and sped up. Anyu shrugged it off and followed without question. As they reached the corner of the street, Yugoda glanced over to her side and caught their reflection on the glass. Beyond it was a coat on display. Her eyes widened and she reached out with her other arm and tugged on Kanna's sleeve. "Oh, Kanna! Did you ever find out who stole your coat?"
Stole? The corner of Pakku's eye twitched.
"Someone bought your coat, Kanna?" Anyu asked. "Who?"
If he noticed Pakku tense up beside him, he didn't say anything. The nobleman's son looked at the girl who stumbled a bit in front of him. "Coat…?" she asked, trying to seem casual.
"Yeah, did someone buy it?" Anyu asked, frowning. Pakku felt his heart beat coming up. Surely, she wouldn't tell them. That was their deal, wasn't it?
"Yes, someone bought it," Kanna stated. "A week before I could."
Pakku paled. He glanced around nervously and began to mentally plan out escape routes away from the group.
"Did you find out who?" Yugoda asked.
Pakku felt his heart stop. This was it. She wouldn't lie to them. She wouldn't lie to her friends for his sake. After all, they were her friends and he was just some guy that kept insulting her. His little secret would be out. Then, surely, her little girl friend would read too much into the gesture and rumors would start.
Rumors? What rumors? His mind chorused. All you did was give her a thank you gift. A gift you've never given anyone…let alone a single young woman. Oh, gods... Pakku felt his heart sink. His father would find out. His mother. The entire tribe. Everyone would think he was after Kanna. Kanna! The fish gutter. Before he could think more into it, the said young woman answered.
"It doesn't matter." Pakku's head snapped up, surprised. "But old man Aguta said that he'd make me a new one for less if I wanted."
"Oh, that's good," Yugoda seemed relieved as they continued walking. "And for less? Even better."
"Well, if it's less expensive, it may have worked out for Kanna," Anyu added. He grinned widely. "That means tonight she can pay for her own food."
Kanna looked over her shoulder and shot him a glare. "Are you calling me cheap?"
"No," Anyu assured her. "Not at all," Kanna gave him a wary look and turned her head forward. "It's just that sometimes I feel that my friendship with you is often being taken for granted since you only go to Miki's when I'm with you so you can get free food," he concluded.
Yugoda let out a tired groan as Kanna's hands shook at fists at her sides. "Oh, that is it, Anyu."
She darted forward and Yugoda called after her. She turned back to Anyu. "You just had to push her, didn't you?"
"Hey, if she can put up with Pakku here, she should be able to put up with me easily," Anyu grinned.
Beside him, Pakku looked insulted. Before he could open his mouth to snap back at Anyu, he caught the sight of something white flying towards them. Pakku barely had time to step out of the way as Anyu was pelted in the face with a snow ball.
"How's that for friendship!" Kanna yelled from the side walk beyond the bridge they were crossing. A triumphant look graced her face as Anyu lifted a hand and wiped the remains of the snowball off his face.
His eyes narrowed and he raised his hands to bend a ball of snow within them. "Big mistake, Kanna. Big mistake!"
He took off running and Yugoda yelled. "Anyu! Kanna!" she screamed as she scrambled down the bridge and ran after the duo. "Stop it before one of you falls into the canal!"
As she waved he arms frantically over her head, Pakku allowed a chuckle to slip through his lips. Shrieks and yells echoed before him as the trio of childhood friends ran around; flinging snow. Looking down at them now, he realized that must've been how it was for them growing up.
And part of him was envious.
Just as his face softened, a gently packed, freezing ball exploded against his face.
"Yay! I got him!" an enthusiastic voice shouted at the foot of the bridge. Yugoda ran back and slapped gloved hands with Kanna as Pakku narrowed his eyes.
"Great shot, Yugoda!" Kanna exclaimed. Anyu was laughing before them; his own coat covered with evidence of exploding snow balls.
So…that was how it was going to be, huh? Pakku narrowed his eyes. "If you think your meager little snow balls can beat a waterbender like me…," he began threateningly as he stepped forward. His arms smoothly moved up in front of him as snow gathered from the ground. "You better think again."
"Heh…," Kanna met his predatory gaze with a challenging one. "Well, then…looks like a new strategy is in order, Yugoda…."
"Oh no, Kanna! What are we going to do?" the other young woman feigned concern. The two of them smirked.
They darted forward and each grabbed one of Anyu's arms, as if having planned it all along. The surprised male let out a gasp as they pulled him forward. "Pakku, catch!"
Blue eyes widened. "What?"
With a strong shove, the girls pushed Anyu's body forward; sending the young man stumbling over his own feet and coming straight for Pakku. "Get out of the way!" Anyu yelled as his arms flew forward.
Pakku's arms flew out to try to ward his friend away, completely forgetting about the snow ball he was forming. "Anyu! Stop! What do you think you're-" Pakku let out a heavy grunt as the weight of the other man's body fell on top of him.
Conspiring giggles disappeared down the street, along with rushing footsteps as the two men lay together on the snow. A second later, a large ball of snow fell on top of them.
Anyu let out a heavy groan as he opened his eyes and looked down at an equally horrified Pakku. "Ah! Get off of me!"
"You get off of me!" Pakku shouted. They shoved each other away frantically, refusing to look each other in the eyes as they scrambled to opposite sides of the bridge. Pakku looked disgusted and earnestly brushed off his clothes as Anyu scowled across from him, also brushing the snow off his clothes.
After a few moments of awkward silence, Anyu looked up. He looked past Pakku and towards the direction where their two female companions had disappeared down. Blue eyes narrowed. "I know a short cut."
Pakku raised his head and narrowed his eyes. "Then what are we waiting for?" he frowned as he stood up. He lifted his hand and bended another snowball over it. "Lead the way."
He was cold, shivering, and couldn't feel his nose, yet he did nothing to bend the now frozen water out of his clothes. His boots crunched on to the snow filled ground before his house. As he entered, two figures sitting by the fire looked up.
"Pakku, welcome home…!" A sharp gasp ended his mother's warm voice as she shot up from her seat. Her son had a dazed look on his face as he walked in. "Pakku! You're soaking wet!"
At that, his father narrowed his eyes. "What happened?" he practically demanded in a stern voice. His wife was hovering around their son, bending the frost that layered his clothes off worriedly.
"Hmm?" Pakku blinked and looked down, contently, as his father. "Nothing happened, Father."
Siku arched an eyebrow and settled back down against his cushions. "I take it you enjoyed your time with Anyu and the others?"
"My time with…." The young waterbender trailed off as a small smile graced his usually tightly pressed lips.
Oh, he had a good time, all right. A great time. The happy shrieks from a group of girls as they rained snow balls down at the unsuspecting males. Their shrieks turning into surprised cries as he and Anyu retaliated. The looks of disgust at wet cloth as they reached the top of Miki's and found several drenched young woman.
The way they fell over each other to tackle Anyu; even so much as bringing him into the fray. By the time Anyu's cousin arrived with their food, everyone was soaking and laughing in a tangled mess amongst the cushions. He had let himself go; allowed himself to be like them and it felt good.
Siku watched the expressions dance across his son's face. Triumph. Pride. Amusement. Joy. "Waterbending battle?" he asked casually.
"Pakku! Did you get into a fight!" Sesi gasped as she lifted her hands and cupped her son's cold face.
"Well…," Pakku smirked. "It wasn't so much of a fight. Anyu's friends started it and before I knew it there were a lot of snowballs and taunting. Childish things, but those girls just wouldn't stop."
Siku looked back down at the parchment he was reading; hiding his smirk from his son. "Did you at least let them win?"
Confusion graced Pakku's face. "Why would I let them win?"
His father merely chuckled and shook his head. "Go and change, Pakku. You still have a long way to go."
"A long way to go from what?" he asked.
"Pakku, come," his mother urged as she ushered her son forward. "Let's get you changed before you freeze!"
"I can change on my own, Mother!" Pakku insisted, only to be prodded into the hallway.
Siku looked up from his parchment and craned his neck. "By the way, what are your plans for the festival!"
"Festival?" Pakku's head stuck out from the corner. Siku could still hear his wife telling Pakku to hurry and change. "I was going to go to the Chief's with you and Mother."
"Why don't you spend it in the lower village with your friends." Siku ordered, more than asked.
Pakku's eyebrows furrowed. "But-"
"It's been a long time since I saw a youthful look on your face, Pakku," Siku told him as he returned to his parchment. "Frankly, I think it's refreshing."
"There you go," a voice said behind her as a heavy blanket went over her shaking shoulders. "Honestly, Kanna," the man's voice chuckled as he sat down across the fire pit. "A snow ball fight at your age."
"They started it, Dad…" Kanna shivered as she shifted closer to the fire.
"I'm sure they did," Akna chuckled. She knelt down beside Kanna and handed her a warm cup of left over whale blubber soup. "It's always their fault isn't it?"
"Okay, I admit, I threw the first snowball," Kanna admitted as she took a sip from her drink. "But if they were real gentlemen, they would've stopped."
"Teenage boys are hardly ever gentlemen, Kanna," her father grinned as he leaned back against the cushions. His wife joined him at his side, curling up next to him as his arm went across her shoulders. He smirked. "Did you at least win?"
"Suka!" Akna scolded. She jerked her head away and batted his arm.
"Well, I just want to know…," the man insisted. He looked back at his daughter. "Did you?"
Kanna rolled her eyes and curled up in a ball. "No…we even took the short cut to get up to Miki's so we could surprise them…," she grumbled. Kanna took another sip from her cup and then sat up proudly. "But we did get some good hits in!"
Suka tilted his head back as he laughed. "That's my girl," he laughed as he looked back at her fondly. "Always so determined. By the way, are you ready for the festival? I hear you practicing every morning."
Kanna nodded her head eagerly. "I'm all set, Dad. My duet with Mom this year is going to be the best performance yet…although that piece was pretty hard to learn."
"From what I hear, it's perfect," her father assured her. His arms tightened around the woman at his side as he looked down at her intently. "I'm the luckiest man in the world to have such a talented daughter and wife."
"Oh, really?" his wife smiled slyly.
"Yes, of course," Suka told her. He looked back at Kanna. "My daughter and wife can play so well, it makes the gods fall from the skies in jealousy."
"Sure, Dad…" Kanna rolled her eyes, but pleased at the compliment non-the-less.
"Ah…I knew I married you for a reason," Akna said as she leaned up and kissed her husband's cheek. "Such a charming man…I fear if we ever had a son…or even any male descendents that he'd be just like you. And then women from all four nations will be falling all over him."
The man puffed his chest out proudly. "You make it sound like a bad thing."
Their daughter rolled her eyes. Kanna chugged down the rest of her soup and then stood up. "Well, I'm going to leave now and take a nice warm bath before I go to bed," she said as she clutched the blanket around her shoulders. She placed the cup in the kitchen and passed her parents as she headed for her room. "Goodnight!"
"Oh, Kanna!" Her mother turned around in her seat as their daughter passed. The young woman stopped in mid-step. "About tomorrow, did you want to come with me and your father? I want to get something nice for us to wear to the festival and you know your father has such a good eye for fashion."
"A gift is a gift," Suka admitted shamelessly.
Kanna paused for a moment. The image of the blue coat hidden away at the bottom of her chest came to mind. Her fingers dug into the blanket around her shoulders as she shook her head. "No, Mom…I think I have something to wear."
"All right…are you sure?" her mother asked.
"I'm sure, Mom."
"How about I pick up some hair ornaments for you, then, Kanna?" her father asked. He gave his daughter a warm smile. "You should wear your hair down that day."
"Down…?" Kanna turned around and look at her parents still wrapped in each others arms. She wrinkled her nose and thought for a moment. "I can use some knew clips for my hair loops…."
"Done," her father assured her. "Good night, Kanna."
"Goodnight!" She disappeared into the hall and made her way into her room. She closed the door behind her, she slowly made her way back to the mirror on her table. The blanket her father had wrapped around her shoulders fell to her arms as she raised them and began to unravel the tightly woven braid.
She ran her hands through the thick chestnut length a few times before examining herself in the mirror. Hmm…Kanna mused as she tilted her head to the side and smiled at her reflection. Maybe I really will wear my hair down…
He asked himself how he had gotten roped into what he was doing; standing by the banks of a canal that cut through a neighborhood he didn't even live in; creating ice arches. All he had remembered was leaving his house early in the morning to catch a brief moment of relaxation by listening to the mysterious flutist, before heading down to the docks to pick up something for his father from a trading vessel.
He vaguely remembered Anyu and Yugoda following him; against his will, and then dragging him off visit the fish gutter. Then talking happened and the next thing he knew, he was assigned the task of helping decorate the main canal of the southern neighborhood for the up coming festival.
This is all her fault, his mind hissed, irritated, as he painstakingly focused his waterbending and extending the ice arch over the waterway to the other side, where Anyu was doing a similar task. She waited until you were distracted and then suckered you into helping her and her little group with her personal duties.
Pakku's eyes narrowed once more as his fingers tightened. Now he was stuck by obligation to make that long walk from his house across the village, all the way to the southside to help everyday until the festival. Wonderful. Just wonderful.
A sound crack resonated in front of him and his eyes widened. Damn it. He didn't realize he had caused his carefully created ice arch to crack at his frustration... again. Across the canal, Anyu was shaking his head.
"First you kept making them lopsided and now you're cracking the ones you actually made correctly," the other waterbender stated dully. "Are you even trying?"
"Of course I'm trying!" Pakku snapped as his cheeks heated up with embarrassment. Several pairs of eyes glanced over him curiously as he gritted his teeth. It was ridiculous. They were simple ice arches. If Anyu could do them, he should've been able to do them without any problem. But no... it was apparently harder than it seemed; not that Pakku would admit it. Puffing out his chest, he crossed his arms stubbornly. "And they weren't lopsided; you were just at a wrong angle!"
"Yes, and I'm sure we were all at a wrong angle," Kanna mumbled as she walked past him with an arm full of paper lanterns that would be hung up on the edges of the canal. Pakku whipped his head around and snarled at her.
"You know, I didn't have to do this! I don't even live in the neighborhood!" Pakku snapped. He uncrossed his arms over his chest as he lifted his chin up proudly. "You should be lucky I'm even offering my precious time to your little decorating committee."
"What precious time?" Anyu snorted from across the canal. Yugoda was beside him, tying the paper lanterns in place at the base of his perfectly formed ice archway as she nodded in agreement. "Waterbending classes have been put on hold until after the festival!"
Pakku could feel his face heating up again. His arms fell weakly to his sides as he struggled to come up with an explanation. "He was probably going to waterbend again," Kanna said as she put the lanterns in a pile beside her before picking one up and tying it to the base of another arch. "And from the looks of his ice arches, he needs all the practice he can get."
Across the canal, Anyu and Yugoda, as well as a few other tribe members helping with the decorations snickered. Pakku's face felt even hotter than before and he turned to the young woman a few paces from him. "If you're going to ridicule my work, I'd like to see you do better!"
"If I could waterbend, I would," Kanna said as she finished tying the first lantern. She turned to look and him and met his challenging glare with one of her own. "Anyu's been doing it since we were kids and even Yugoda can make better ice arches than you."
Pakku glared at her. "If you're going to complain, then you can forget my help, you ungrateful little-"
"Kanna!" The blue-eyed female's head perked up as she straightened her stance and began looking around the area. Her eyes settled on two adults approaching her and she smiled.
She lifted her hand and waved. "Mom! Dad!" Pakku felt his heart stop. Her parents? Why did he suddenly feel the urge to crawl underneath a glacier? Kanna momentarily abandoned her pile of lanterns as she walked towards the two adults. Pakku watched as the couple made their way towards their daughter. Both had long, dark hair pulled back and were dressed in drab blue clothing, a sign of her less than affluent status.
He remembered that her father was a fisherman and her mother a midwife. He tilted his head to the side. He didn't know any midwives who weren't benders. No wonder Kanna's clothes were always so worn. They probably can't afford it, he thought to himself as he felt a bit of pity for her.
"I got you something," her father said as he lifted up a small blue pouch from his pocket. "I hope they are to your liking." He grinned as he opened the top of the drawstring pouch and shook two little blue clips on to his daughter's extending palm.
A wide smile graced Kanna's face as she looked down at the simple blue clips. "Thanks, Dad! They're great!"
Pakku casually craned his neck forward to get a look at them. He raised an eyebrow. What was so great about them? They were small and didn't have any decorations or engravings. His sister's and mother's were all either inlaid with some sort of stone or carved. Theirs were also much larger.
"I told you your father has excellent taste," the woman said.
Pakku suppressed his snort. What simple taste the man had.
"The blue stone is from the heart of the Earth Kingdom, Kanna. The metal clasps inside are Fire Nation," her father said as he pointed out the details to his daughter. "Notice the texture of the finish...; that's Airbender work for you; I couldn't believe I found such a great old piece on that trading ship! I'm surprised no one had bought it already," he gushed proudly.
"How do you even know?" Three sets of eyes rose and met Pakku's. Embarrassment rushed through him once he realized he had spoken when he hadn't meant to. Three sets of blue eyes locked on to him and he suddenly felt over exposed.
Her father raised an eyebrow and coolly scanned Pakku up and down. The young bender struggled not to fidget under his gaze. "A friend of yours, Kanna?" he asked calmly. Regardless, the man's voice suddenly sent Pakku's heart rate spiking.
The man was a fisherman, Pakku tried to reason. There was no reason he should've been scared of Kanna's father of all people.
"He's Anyu's friend from waterbending class," Kanna shrugged casually as she placed her new hair loop clips back into the bag. "Pakku."
"Oh...;" her father gave him a nod. Pakku swallowed nervously. Was it just him or did the man's eyes become narrower? Pakku paled. Perhaps he had heard of all the things he'd said to Kanna. This was not good. "Siku's son."
"Yes, sir!" Pakku stood up straight and inwardly grimaced as his voice broke. Kanna raised an eyebrow.
"My name is Suka," the man said as he gave the young bender a nod of his head. "I am Kanna's father. This is my wife and Kanna's mother, Akna."
He stepped aside as his wife gave Pakku a small bow of her head. As she lifted it, Pakku saw a warm smiling face framed by long brown hair loops. "You are the one who did his ice dodging in such a short period of time?" the woman asked. Pakku blushed. She really was as beautiful as he'd heard. "Congratulations. You should be very proud of such an accomplishment."
Pakku nodded dumbly. How did she end up with Kanna's father? For a common woman, she carried herself as well, if not better, than those women in his part of the city. It was a far cry from her daughter's most unrefined manners. "This scrawny kid? Are you sure?" Pakku frowned. He looked back at Kanna's father who was looking at him with disbelief. "Kanna, are you sure it's this boy?"
"I found it hard to believe, too, dad." Kanna agreed.
Pakku tried to repress his scowl and failed. So... that was where she got it.
"Kanna, Suka...," Akna reprimanded them lightly. "I'm sure it was well deserved," she said as she turned back to her daughter. "Now, how is the decorating going?"
"We'd be done with the ice arches by now if Pakku over there wasn't so inept," Kanna stated calmly. Pakku's jaw nearly dropped.
"I'm not inept!" he shouted, his face burning up. So he had made one or two or fifteen mistakes.
"Then why can't you make a decent ice arch that isn't lopsided or cracked!" Kanna retorted.
"Maybe it's because I don't want to be here, but you're forcing me to help you anyway!" Pakku shouted back.
"Forced you! No one forced you! You agreed to it of your own will!" Kanna yelled, her eyes widening at the accusation. Pakku had been hungry and offered his waterbending if Kanna let him have some of her stew. They needed the people and he had been eying the pot like a starving leopard seal; it seemed like a good deal at the time. However, she didn't force him.
"You purposely waited until I was distracted to get me to help!" Pakku insisted. He had already been shoveling food into his mouth when Kanna agreed to his services for food proposition.
"And why would I do that!" Kanna snapped.
Pakku let out an indignant snort and lifted his chin up smugly. "Isn't it obvious? You wanted my help. I am the best waterbender to come out of this tribe since-"
"Pakku! Those ice arches aren't going to bend themselves!" a voice shouted across the canal.
"Kanna!" Yugoda shouted. "You can introduce Pakku to your parents later!" She giggled as she lifted her gloved hand to cover her mouth. "We still have work to do!"
Anyu grinned, his eyes twinkling with mischief as he stood beside Yugoda. "And I doubt arguing with her is going to impress her parents, Pakku!"
Kanna instantly realized what he was implying and, if she could bend, she would've bended the bank to swallow her up. She felt all the blood draining from her face in horror. Before she could open her mouth and yell at them to get back to work, Pakku stepped forward.
Completely unperturbed, the male waterbender pointed to Kanna's parents as he leaned over the edge of the waterway to yell back at their friends. "Why in the world would I want to impress her parents!" Pakku yelled. Kanna raised her hand and ran it down her face. "I don't need to impress them! They already know who I am!"
The corner of Kanna's eye twitched. "For love of...." Grumbling to herself she turned around and began gathering the lanterns in her arms once more. Was he so socially inept that he had no idea what Anyu was implying? The idiot.
"What are you laughing at!" Pakku yelled, frustrated. He heard shuffling behind him and turned around. Kanna was walking past him, heading towards the other end of the canal. "Now what are you doing!" He demanded.
"There is no use hanging up lanterns on the arches here if they're all messed up and need to be taken down anyway," Kanna stated without looking back. She had hoped he would be able to help and cut their time in half. She had obviously expected too much from him. People were getting distracted with him around; nothing was going to get done. And now, thanks to Anyu and Yugoda's brilliant joke, rumors would start to fly about her and the spoiled rich boy. That was the last thing she needed. "I'm going to start on the other end."
Pakku's eyes narrowed. "You ungrateful little.... I came all the way out here to help you out and you brush off my help so easily!"
Kanna stopped. For a moment Pakku wondered if she'd attack him; he always found himself a bit jumpy around her. Slowly, her head looked over her shoulder and met his gaze with an exasperated one. "Just go home."
Across from them, Anyu and Yugoda had to strain their ears to hear what Kanna was saying. From the look on Pakku's face, it was less than pleasing.
"What?" he spat out, unable to believe what he was hearing.
Kanna let out a heavy sigh, her breath turning into a crystallized puff before her lips. "You're just getting in the way, Pakku. You can't make the ice arches and there really isn't anything else you can do that we can't. If you can't help and will just keep making these mistakes, we don't need you. We have a schedule to stay on and-"
"You don't need to explain the whole thing to me!" Pakku snapped; his face twisted in a scowl. "I knew coming here was a mistake!" He whirled around and began stalking up the canal.
"Pakku!" Anyu shouted.
"Have fun with your little festival!" Pakku shouted as he shoved his hands in his pockets. "I'll see you in class, Anyu!"
He disappeared around the corner and Anyu and Yugoda looked at each other uncertainly. Across from them, Akna looked at her daughter's back. "They were just joking, you know," she whispered softly. "You didn't have to dismiss him."
"If she was uncomfortable being around him, she can," Suka told his wife. His eyes were on the corner where Pakku had disappeared around. "What a strange boy...."
"I'll be down the canal if you need me," Kanna said out loud as she continued walking. "Anyu! When you're done; go back and redo the arches the spoiled rich boy couldn't do!"
"Yeah... okay...." Anyu nodded. He watched his friend walk over the bridge and continue down the canal.
"She looked scared for a second...," Yugoda sad as she lifted up another lantern from her pile.
"Well...if someone implied that I'd marry Pakku," Anyu said as he stepped back and prepared himself to create another ice arch. "I'd be terrified, too."
He stepped back; his arms raised in the air as he bended a long strip of water over his head. His face was twisted in concentration as he extended one arm out and then froze the strip of water into an arch. His eyes narrowed as he gritted his teeth. His hands clenched and the ice arch shattered back to the snow covered ground.
Pakku had never felt more humiliated. Not since she laughed at him for not having gone on his ice dodging ceremony yet. It was worse this time, much worse because he was supposed to be an excellent waterbender. He was supposed to carry the weight of his generation of benders on his shoulders thanks to his sheer skill. He was the son of masters. He was a prodigy. He should have been able to make a simple ice arch.
He'd seen Anyu and several other waterbenders in the area do them. It was a simple move. So why couldn't he do it? Why couldn't he do the simplest task? What was worse was that everyone knew he should've been able to do it, too. Her unimpressed eyes had haunted him from his first crooked arch to his last cracked one. And to put salt on his wound, she kept bringing it up.
He was inept. She could do better. He was just getting in the way.
A frustrated growl escaped his lips as he threw his arm out in front of him and bended away several feet of snow before him. He stood in his place, his face flushed from both his humiliation and his frustration. His shoulders rose and fell with heavy breaths. From the doorway, his father watched him silently.
Pakku had arrived earlier than expected. Siku had expected him to spend the entire day and early evening with his friends and didn't expect him back until night. Therefore, it had surprised him when he returned from a council meeting and Pakku was in their yard once more, bending away. Sesi had told her husband that Pakku refused to eat and had been irritable since he returned. The councilman uncrossed his arms and stepped out of the house.
"What happened now?"
The young man turned around and faced the stern look of his father. Pakku willed himself to be calm as he stood up and tugged his coat straight. "Nothing, Father. When did you get home?"
"Later than you, which was unexpected," Siku frowned. "I thought you were supposed to spend the day helping your friends decorate the canal for the festival in the southern neighborhood."
"They decided my help was unnecessary," Pakku replied calmly. "So I was dismissed."
His father's eyebrows furrowed. "Who dismissed you?"
Silently, Pakku had prayed that his father would not ask that. He closed his eyes and cursed his luck as he shifted from one foot to the other. "Kanna did."
Siku's eyes widened. He remembered her; she was Akna's daughter. The one he met at the docks that night. "Kanna? Anyu's friend?"
"Her mother and cousins are in charge of decorating for the festival and Kanna volunteered to spearhead it this year," Pakku began blabbering restlessly. "So she roped me doing helping make ice arches-"
"Ice arches are difficult to make," Siku replied. "It takes a lot of practice to even make one straight across the canal."
Pakku's head snapped up. "How did you know that?"
"Waterbending classes were canceled to help with the decorations," Siku told his son, as if it were obvious. "The waterbending students go back to their respective neighborhoods to help with the ice decorations. When I was your age, I had done ice arches for our neighborhood several years already."
The younger waterbender's eyes crinkled up. "Then why haven't I done that!?"
"Typically, only those in the classes do it. You never had classes until this year so...," Siku trailed off as he watched his son fall to the ground; seated with a defeated look on his face. "Pakku?"
"I really must've looked like a complete idiot...," he mumbled, dazed. "No wonder she was acting up...."
Siku raised an eyebrow. "Kanna?"
"Gods!" Pakku ran a hand down his face and let out a heavy groan.
"Pakku!" a voice shouted beyond their yard and Siku looked up. He saw Anyu rushing forward, waving his arm in the air.
"Ah! Hello, Anyu!"
"Great...," Pakku trailed off, annoyed. "Just what I needed...."
"Councilman Siku," Anyu bowed his head respectfully as he reached the yard. He looked down at Pakku seated on the ground and raised an eyebrow. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing!" Pakku grumbled He stood up quickly and faced his classmate. "What are you doing here? Don't you live down there?" he snapped, pointing distastefully towards the docks. Anyu ignored him.
"Thought I'd apologize for myself and Yugoda," Anyu told him. "We shouldn't have teased you and Kanna like that. She's really sensitive about marriage-"
"Marriage!" Pakku paled. When did it become about marriage? "What... what are you talking about?"
Anyu tilted his head to the side, confused. "That's why she got mad. We were teasing her about you introducing yourself to her parents and it sort of sent her over the edge when she was already irritated and-"
Pakku's eyebrows furrowed. "Wait... wait...Why would she get angry because I introduced myself to her parents?"
Anyu stared at him dumbly. "Gods, you really are that stupid." Behind them, Siku let out an amused snicker and Pakku turned around, surprised.
"By introducing yourself to her parents, it is kind of like meeting them to ask for her hand in marriage, Pakku," Siku chuckled as he leaned against the door frame. He watched as his son's face slowly begin to redden with the realization. "Do you understand?"
"What? But...I...her...she...," Pakku stuttered dumbly. Suddenly, his eyes widened and his jaw dropped. "Wait a second! She was insulted!" He shouted as he whirled around to glare at Anyu. The other bender lifted his hands up to ward him off. "How dare she be insulted! I should be the one who's insulted! She could only be so lucky if I ever meant to do that!"
Anyu rolled his eyes as his friend threw his arms in the air and whirled around. "Pakku-"
"Only so lucky!" Pakku shouted as he walked past his father and disappeared into the house.
"He's a lot livelier now that he has friends," Siku stated with a small smile. He turned back to Anyu. "So...how did Suka and Akna react to my son?" He asked proudly. "Were they impressed?"
Anyu smiled weakly. "Ah...."
"And he called me strange!" Pakku's ramblings could be heard through his door as he paced his room that night, still seething. "As if I'm not good enough for his angry, ill-mannered daughter!"
Didn't they know who he was? He was a prime specimen for a groom. Any family in their right mind in the tribe would want him as their son-in-law. He came from an established, honored waterbending family. He was an amazing bender in his own right. Intelligent and not to mention handsome. Why be modest if it was true?
But he had heard what Kanna's father said as he rounded the corner. Strange. Like the man had any right to criticize him after raising someone like Kanna! Pakku let out a snort. She had pride for no reason. Her family was less well off than his, her father was just a plain fisherman, and she couldn't even bend!
If anyone should've been insulted at marriage to between them, it should've been him.
It should've been.
Pakku fell back against the cushions of his bed and he closed his eyes. So, why didn't he find the prospect as horrible as he should have? The thought of it lingered in his mind long after Anyu left. He easily envisioned himself coming home to her cooking... and to that content smile like the one she had when she was surrounded by her friends. Even though she was crude and sarcastic, he found himself smiling when he remembered her laugh from their snowball fight.
However, she still couldn't bend. Pakku's eyes opened. That basically sealed their fates. Disappointment spread through him as he stared up at his ceiling. Still..., he thought to himself. I can't just sit back and let them think I'm not good enough for her. His eyes narrowed determinedly as he pulled himself into a sitting position. Not to mention that he still had ice arches to finish. After all, he couldn't allow himself to look stupid.
Pakku stood up and headed out his door. As he opened it, he jumped back and let out a sharp gasp as he saw a man waiting outside his room.
"Good, you've decided to come out," Siku told his soon as he tossed him his jacket. "Let's go."
Pakku tilted his head to the side as he looked from his father to the jacket in his arms. "Go where?"
"To the canal," Siku said. "You have ice arches to make."
"I'm dreaming," Kanna mumbled as she stood on the bridge and looked over the carefully constructed arches that cris-crossed the main canal that cut through the southern part of the city. "Right, Yugoda? I'm hallucinating, right? Too much flute playing as gone to my head."
"No... I can't play the flute and I see what you're seeing," Yugoda added, her voice equally stunned as she stood beside her friend.
It was early in the morning and Kanna had gotten up to do run a few errands for her aunt when Yugoda intercepted her and dragged her to the canal. What she saw before them took her breath away. Up and down the canal, tribesmen and women looked up at the intricately crossed arches that had mysteriously popped up over night.
They completely clashed with the simple arches that they had been planning and only took up half a block instead of the full six, but they were so beautiful, Kanna didn't think she could bear to have them taken down. She wasn't the only one swept away by the sudden appearance of the arches. Numerous people had already gathered to get a look of them.
"What is this...?" she whispered.
"What do you think!" a voice shouted below them. Kanna and Yugoda's eyes flickered down and saw the young man standing below the bridge they were on; on the banks of the canal. "Am I inept now!?" He smirked smugly.
Yugoda's eyes widened. "Pakku, this is amazing! Did you do it by yourself!"
"Well," the male waterbender began, almost modestly as his cheeks reddened. "I hate to brag but...yes. Yes, I did."
"It's so cool! Isn't it, Kanna?" Yugoda gushed as she turned to her friend. The brown haired non-bender was leaning against the side of the bridge, studying the arch canopy critically. "Kanna?"
"So...," her voice was confident. "This is what you've been done the last few days? Not bad...."
Pakku stumbled back a step, as if he had been dealt a physical blow. "Not bad...?" he mumbled. His eyes narrowed. "Is that all you can say-"
"It was a good plan," Kanna stated. Pakku frowned. "You couldn't create arches that went across the canal straight, so instead, you cris-crossed them to create an ice arch canopy. You used an elaborate design that, if you look closely, doesn't require any straight paths. Basically, you're making up for your weakness."
"Kanna!" Yugoda frowned. She looked at Pakku, who was gritting his teeth and clenching his hands, and back at Kanna. "Kanna, that wasn't necessary...," she whispered in a low voice. "He really tried...."
"I'm not done," Kanna added, silencing her friend. Her eyes drifted from Yugoda to Pakku and back to the arches. "Its imperfect, Pakku."
His eyes closed tightly. Imperfect? All his work, which was a thousand times better than what she had planned, was simply imperfect? He didn't know what to say or what to think. All he could feel was the fury rising with her cold words. Didn't she know how much he tried those last few nights? Didn't she know how he sneaked down from his house, across the city, to show her and her entire neighborhood that he wasn't inept? And all she could say was that it was imperfect? She had some nerve.
Pakku gritted his teeth. "Fine!" he shouted as he turned around and raised his arms. Suddenly, all his work seemed pointless.
"That's what I like about it." His body froze. His head snapped up and looked back at the young woman above him. Kanna was resting her head on her hands as she looked over the ice archway he had created; a happy smile on her face. "It's more beautiful when it's not perfect." He could almost detect pride in her voice, but this time, it was for what he had done.
Pakku's arms dropped to his sides as an unfamiliar feeling swelled up inside of him. His hand lowered to his chest.
"Kanna! Kanna, Mama is calling for you!" a young voice said in the distance.
"Oh, shoot! Aunt Nauja!" Kanna gasped. She looked at Yugoda. "Start putting up the lanterns. I'll be back after I run some deliveries for my aunt."
"Okay," Yugoda nodded.
Kanna darted to the side and then quickly stopped. She whirled around and leaned over the edge of the bridge once more. "Pakku!" She waved her hand in the air and smiled brightly. "Thanks! I'll see you later!"
His hand rose weakly and gave her a small wave in return. "Kanna...." He watched as she ran down the other side of the bridge.
"Uh-oh...," a voice said behind him. Pakku nearly jumped out of his skin as he heard it. He turned around and saw Anyu standing there, holding a box full of paper lanterns. Pakku suddenly felt as if his friend could see right through him.
"Anyu! Good morning-"
Anyu cut him off as he dropped the wooden box in shock. Pakku cringed. "Oh Gods...," the other waterbender mumbled as his face paled. "Your face...! I know that look, Pakku."
Unknowingly, Pakku raised his hand and touched his face. "What...what are you talking about?" he began nervously.
"Pakku," Anyu rushed over suddenly and grabbed his friend's arm. He pulled Pakku aside and looked at him seriously. "Pakku, are you in love with Kanna?"
The festival was going to start the next evening and they were still putting on the finishing touches to the decorations around the floating stage where various 'talents' from around the neighborhood would perform in front of their tribesmen. It had been hectic the last few days with everything coming down to the final touches.
Pakku lifted his eyes up as casually as he could. Kanna was on a ladder, hooking a string of artic orchids to the flagpoles across the canal. His heart started beating quickly and he forced his eyes back to the flag ties he and Anyu were working on putting up. His face was heating up again and he was suddenly glad that Kanna was all the way across the canal and couldn't see it.
He didn't know what to make of Anyu's accusation that he was in love with Kanna. He didn't know whether to laugh because it was ludicrous, scoff because it was beneath him, or both because somewhere between her challenging him to complete his ice dodging in a month and that moment by the bridge, all his thoughts somehow led back to her.
The thought scared him.
He never really put much thought into marriage. He had assumed he'd have some sort of arranged marriage. When his parents found someone they felt was suitable to join their family, they would send him in her direction. They'd get married and have waterbending children. That was how he had expected it to be.
Then Kanna entered his life and all of a sudden, unfamiliar emotions rose up that he'd never experienced before. He was nervous and jumpy when she was around. He felt the need to show her just how good he was, like an arctic rooster puffing itself up to impress a hen. He'd gone out of his way for her without even thinking of it. He even found himself respecting her.
"Surely, it must be some sort of spell." He had theorized five nights earlier, after coming home soaking after falling into the canal. After all, why else would he dive off a bridge in an effort to catch her when she slipped? She didn't fall in, of course, but by the time he had realized she had regained her footing and was perfectly fine, his face had slammed into the icy cold water of the canal.
Then again, his theory was unfounded. Kanna couldn't even bend; how could she possibly cast some sort of spell over him. Night after night, he battled with himself. How could he, a refined son of a noble house with a great life ahead of him fall for the sweaty, ill-mannered fisherman's daughter who, as far has he knew, had no suitors what so ever? It was so wrong; it must've been some sort of cosmic joke.
Yet, he arrived at her Aunt Nauja's fish booth dutifully every morning to help her carry assorted decorations from the back room to the main canal. As she rambled on about decorating ideas and errands for her aunt, he had listened intently, happy just to be with her for a moment without being at each other's throat as they would be the rest of the day.
And then he found that he liked getting into arguments with her. There was something he found attractive when she was yelling at him and flailing her arms in the air. Twice she had pushed him into the canal before storming off, but that didn't stop him. In fact, it was more of a challenge than anything else. He could take anything she gave him; he was a man like that.
"Hey!" her voice cut through his senses and he blinked. "Pakku, are you going stand there all night?"
"Huh...?" He looked up towards the sidewalk above him here Kanna was standing with Yugoda, giggling, and Anyu sharing Kanna's look of irritation at him.
"We're going to be late," Anyu said.
The young waterbending prodigy wracked his brain to remember what exactly they were going to be late for, but couldn't think of anything. "See, this is why I didn't want to bring him," Kanna grumbled as she crossed her arms. "We're going to be late and might miss it all together because of him!"
"Kanna," Yugoda sighed. "We'll make it on time. Don't worry. Besides, Pakku is our friend now."
"And this is a tradition we've all been doing since we were kids," Anyu added. "Pakku should be allowed to join us." He leaned forward and whispered. "Besides, it's not like he has a lot of other friends... and he has helped a lot with the festival preparations."
The non-bender snorted. "Yeah, fine...," Kanna mumbled.
Pakku scrambled up to the sidewalk and smiled as he clapped his hands together to get rid of the snow caked on his gloves. "So, what else do we have to do?"
"We're done," Kanna stated. Pakku blinked. He opened his mouth, but she cut him off before he had a chance to speak. "We're going up to the peak. To meet up with the others."
"Oh...," Pakku nodded. "What for?"
"It's a surprise!" Yugoda assured him. She looped arms with Kanna and then pulled her forward. "Let's go!"
Sighing tiredly, Kanna began walking, followed behind by the two males. Yugoda looked over her shoulder. Anyu and Pakku were talking about what time Pakku should arrive the next day. Yugoda's arm tightened around Kanna's as she pulled her friend closer.
"What is it?"
"Haven't you noticed Pakku's been kind of...weird lately?" Yugoda asked, unsure of how else to say it. Kanna raised an eyebrow.
"More so than usual?" she smirked. Yugoda rolled her eyes.
"You know what I mean," she said in a low voice. "He's been looking at you a lot, you know."
"Good, it means he's paying attention to my orders," Kanna nodded to herself. Yugoda sighed once more.
"Hasn't he been picking you up at Auntie Nauja's fish booth lately? You always arrive with him and he's carrying most of your stuff..." Yugoda pointed out.
Kanna narrowed her eyes. "What are you saying?" she frowned. The girl beside her clamped up and stood up straight. She shook her head wildly from one side to the other.
"I've gotten the same things from my aunt and cousins lately, Yugoda," Kanna frowned as she sped up. "I don't need it from my friends, too."
"But Kanna, aren't you even a little curious-"
"No, I'm not," she replied sharply. Yugoda looked chastised and Kanna let out a tired sigh. She shook her head and looked at Yugoda. "Yugoda, even if he were, it wouldn't work out anyway. First, his family wouldn't let him marry a non-bender. Second, I thinkI can do better than Pakku of all people. He's an arrogant, stubborn, socially awkward..."
"...and isn't exactly up to my level," Pakku ended in a quiet voice as he spoke to Anyu. "So, it's impossible to think that I'd, even for a second, be attracted to Kanna."
"That's nice, Pakku, but you've done nothing but talk about her whenever she's not around," Anyu replied dully. Beside him, Pakku blushed. "You ran into a pole today because you were looking at her, you fell into a river for her, you pick her up every day, and whenever you have the chance, recently, you've been trying to get her attention."
Pakku's jaw nearly dropped. "I have done no such thing! That's crazy."
"Is it?" Anyu asked. "You created an ice playground for the neighborhood children because Kanna said she wasn't sure if there was enough activities for the children to enjoy."
Pakku turned his head away and scoffed. "I happened to agree," he grumbled. He sped up his walk. "Besides, the fish gutter is the exact opposite of what I'd want in a woman. I'd like someone refined... like the flutist," Anyu let out a groan and Pakku jerked his head back. "What?"
"I told you, she's already promised to someone else," Anyu sighed. "And she's not even a bender."
"Well...," Pakku trailed off, flustered. "I'm just saying! That's what I want in a woman!"
"Oh, please...," Anyu shook his head. "You don't know anything else about her."
"I know she can play an instrument very well and only the most refined of women can do that!" Pakku stated confidently.
Anyu raised an eyebrow. "You know what? I'm going to sit back and watch this."
"What are you talking about?" Pakku frowned.
"You'll see tomorrow," Anyu sighed. "Your flutist will be performing." Pakku nearly stumbled over his own feet. He turned to look at the other bender.
"I am," Anyu replied. He looked back at Pakku, who had stopped in his shock. "And I'm just going to sit back and watch."
"Sit back!" Kanna's hand rose, gripped Pakku's shoulder and pulled it back down. "Just be patient!" She ordered for what seemed like the hundredth time that night.
"We've been here for over an hour already!" Pakku shivered as he fell back into the snow beside her. To his other side was Anyu as the group laid side by side atop the glacier plateau above the city. He scowled as she crossed his arms over his chest and stared up at the dark sky above them. "What are we waiting for!"
"Relax, Pakku," Anyu said calmly. "It'll come."
"I'd like to at least know what I'm wasting my time here for," Pakku grumbled. "It's cold... and I've been laying on the snow for so long, I can't feel my nose!"
"It wouldn't be a surprise if we told you, now just sit down and wait for it!" Kanna growled.
A few feet from them, their other friends were sprawled on the ground, also looking up at the sky. The girls that were engaged had brought their fiancees to meet their friends on their pre-festival tradition.
"If he doesn't want to stay and wait for them, just let him leave, Kanna," one of the girls further down sighed tiredly.
"Finally, some words of reason," Pakku grumbled. He sat up and brushed off his pant legs. "I'm going home."
"Pakku...," Anyu frowned. "Can't you give it a few more minutes?"
"You've been telling me that for the last half hour!" the annoyed male said as he pushed himself up. "I'm tired and I'm cold. And I'm hungry. I've had enough of this nonsense, so I'm going-"
"There!" Both Kanna and Anyu grabbed Pakku's shoulders and shoved him back down.
"What...!" Kanna reached over and grabbed hold of his head; tilting it to look up at the sky once more.
"That is what," Kanna said, more relaxed. Beside her, Pakku's body settled into the snow; his eyes wide as he watched the brilliant colors dance through the sky above them.
Pakku's eyes widened. "Oh." He supposed that it was worth it. The lights swirled above them and he relaxed. Very worth it.
"Make a wish!" Yugoda shouted. She closed her eyes and murmured something under her breath.
Beside her, Anyu did the same. This is ridiculous.... Pakku rolled his eyes. They weren't children any more. It was one thing to watch the lights, but to make a wish? Gods, they were adults, weren't they? He turned his head over to look at Kanna and felt blood rush to his face.
Her eyes were closed and her full, pink lips were murmuring something quietly as she smiled. After a few moments, she let out a content sigh. Warm cheeks were flushed as she made her wish and then opened her sapphire eyes to the sky above them. He couldn't help but stare.
"Did you make a wish?"
Her voice snapped him out of his trance and he realized she had turned her head to face him. A warm smile was on her face as snow brushed brown hair fell over her face. Suddenly, he was nervous. "Wish...?" his voice almost cracked and he grimaced.
Kanna let out a laugh and turned her head back to the sky. "Make a wish, that's why we do this every year."
"Oh...well...what did you wish for?" Pakku asked quietly.
Kanna took a deep breath and lifted her chin proudly. "I wish to see the world."
"The world?" Pakku asked, raising an eyebrow. That was completely illogical. "Kanna, with the Fire Nation as it is now-"
"The war won't last forever, Pakku," Kanna cut him off. "I know that. But for now, I'd be happy to see just what is beyond our tribal waters...even if it's just the Earth Kingdom.... It's a big world. Don't you want to see what else is out there? Explore? See new things, taste new food...?"
The young man beside her released a heavy breath. "And the other places?" Pakku questioned. "The Air Nomad Territories? The Fire Nation?" The way things were now, there was no way Kanna would ever be able to go there and freely explore.
"One day, I'll see all of it," Kanna whispered confidently. She turned her head over and looked at Pakku. "You should come, too...see just how big this world really is. You can even follow me, if you want."
"Outside of the Northern Water Tribe...? I like this city enough, thank you," Pakku murmured as he looked back at the sky. Still, curiosity tugged at him. "That's what you really want?" He glanced back at her, unsurely.
"Yes," Kanna nodded. "I wish to see the world." She repeated.
"Okay," Pakku said quietly. "Since I don't believe in all of this, I'll give you my wish," he stated proudly. Kanna raised an eyebrow in question. "Glowy lights!" Pakku suddenly said loudly as he tilted his head towards the sky. Anyu nearly jumped before turning glare at Pakku. Kanna began to laugh. "I wish for Kanna to see the world!"
"You wish for that every year...," Anyu sighed as he lay back in his place. Kanna ignored him and smiled widely.
"Thanks, Pakku," Kanna chuckled as she shook her head. "For your sake, I hope that one day you'll follow."
Pakku scoffed and curled his arms behind his neck. "Don't count on it."
Music flooded his senses as the smells of different kinds of foods wafted in the air. Dazzling lights were strung along the main streets as Pakku wandered around, almost lost in a daze. When he was helping decorate, he didn't know it would all look like this at night.
The lanterns beneath them illuminated the ice arches. The lights and flags they had hung up wavered above the crowds as throngs of people wandered up and down the sidewalks of the main canal. People were eating as they walked; talking and laughing amongst each other as the sounds of drums beat somewhere in the background.
All in all, it was completely different than what he was used to at the Chief's Palace. Choral music wasn't heard over the quiet voices of men and women from some of the most respected families in the tribe. Everyone in the southern neighborhood was dressed for comfort, just a little better than normal. No one was dressed in long, thick fur lined robes.
It was just much more relaxed, Pakku realized. He took a deep breath and could smell something sugary in the distance. He licked his lips as his eyes scanned for whatever stall was selling sweets. Almost immediately, he zoned in to the ice cream booth. He'd always had a bit of a sweet tooth, but he hardly ever had a chance to get something to satisfy it. The Chief's events never had that sort of dessert.
Pakku bit his lower lip. He might as well indulge this one time. He was about to make his way over when a hand clamped down on his shoulder.
"You made it!" An all too familiar voice shouted over the sounds of the crowds that surrounded them. "How do you like it so far!"
"I'd like it better if you'd let me get some ice cream!" Pakku shouted back. Anyu laughed as he drew his hand back. Pakku mentally chastised himself for sounding like a child, but he had said the first thing that came to mind.
"Well, hurry up to the stage in a bit," Yugoda said as she peaked over Anyu's shoulder. "Kanna's going to be performing soon!"
Pakku raised an eyebrow. "Doing what? Juggling?"
Yugoda beamed a proud smile. "Kanna is going to play a -"
"Duet with her mom!" Anyu said as his hand flew over Yugoda's mouth. The smaller bender squirmed beneath him, but he kept his hold. "It's not something she talks about often."
"Oh...," Pakku nodded. He glanced over towards the stage and then towards the ice cream booth. "Well, save me a spot."
"Of course!" Anyu assured him. He gave Pakku a nod of his head before the tall waterbender slipped through the crowds and headed for the block long line before the ice cream booth.
Yugoda grabbed on to Anyu's hand and tugged down. She shot him an annoyed frown. "Why wouldn't you let me tell him Kanna was playing the flute?"
"It's a surprise," Anyu chuckled. "And aren't you supposed to go help Kanna with her hair?"
Blue eyes widened as Yugoda paled. She let out a yelp as she darted away quickly. She wove through the crowds; murmuring, 'excuse me' as she cut through. She reached the animal skin tent that had been constructed behind the stage. She pulled apart the curtains to the entrance and peeked inside.
"Hold still...." She could make out Kanna's mother in the corner, looming over someone as she moved her arms in front of her. "We're almost done."
Yugoda let out a heavy sigh and slipped into the tent. "I thought you still needed my help," Yugoda said, relieved as she reached the mother and daughter. "Nervous?" She peeked over Kanna's mother's shoulders.
"Kind of," Kanna admitted. Her flute was resting on her lap and she was rolling it around with her hands. "I'm excited, though."
"We'll be cheering for you, then," Yugoda smiled. Akna stepped aside and Kanna turned around in her seat.
"Do I look okay?" Kanna asked her best friend nervously. Yugoda put on a wide smile nodded.
"Auntie Nauja was right. You're as pretty as Auntie Akna." Kanna rolled her blue eyes beneath the eye make-up her mother had painted on to her face. Long, wavy locks of dark brown hair fell over her shoulders as she took a deep breath.
"Akna! Kanna! You're on!" someone said as the flaps to the tent opened once more.
"I'll be in the front!" Yugoda beamed widely. She darted back out of the tent and the young woman stood up.
The young woman nodded her head. "I'm ready, Mom."
Cheering erupted from the stage and Pakku's head jerked up. "Ah...here!" He tossed several coins at the man behind the counter and snatched his ice cream up quickly.
"Young man, this is too much money for-" the old man began, only to see Pakku's head disappearing amongst the sea of blue.
"Keep the change!" he shouted carelessly. Careful not to let his sweet treat collide with anything other than his mouth, Pakku slipped through the crowds. He could see the flags that framed the floating stage coming up and mentally cursed Anyu for not being easy to spot.
Raising his cone into the air, Pakku began to squeeze through the bodies that lined the viewing area; occasionally glancing upwards to make sure his food was okay. A body bumped into him and Pakku opened his mouth to yell.
"Excuse me...." His body stiffened. He knew that voice anywhere. The man in blue who had run into him quickly disappeared within the masses, but Pakku stood there, wearing a confused expression his face as he tried to search out that man once more.
"Pakku!" He whirled around and saw Anyu waving his hand in the air to get his attention. "They're about to start!" Just as he closed his mouth, the audience went silent.
Then he heard it.
His eyes widened his heart skipped a beat at the melody that he had sought out so many times before reached his ears once more. It was clear, strong, and played flawlessly; just as it always was in the morning. Gripping his cone, Pakku wove through the remaining crowds that had gone still.
He reached his spot beside his friend and looked up toward the stage.
He recognized the long brown hair instantly and felt his cheeks heating up. Her eyes were closed as she played the song from sheer memory. A small smile tugged at his lips. This was the first time he'd actually seen her face fully. Pakku's eyes were drifting closed, once again losing himself in the music, when something caught his eye. Then he noticed the shade of blue that adorned her body. It looked familiar...the coat the girl was wearing. His eyes narrowed. Too familiar. His heart began beating faster.
"Isn't she great?" Somewhere he could hear Yugoda's content sigh as he drew his eyes back to the young flutist's face. "She plays so wonderfully."
Pakku's eyes widened as he felt his heart stop. From where she sat on stage, Kanna lifted her head and opened her eyes.
His hand felt cold as he stared at the figure on the stage before him. Since he squeezed his way to his friends and laid his eyes on the flutist, he hadn't been able to turn away. Half of him was frozen in shock. There was no way his ideal flute-playing maiden in the window was the hot-tempered fisherman's daughter. He must've eaten something bad.
Then, why is she wearing the coat you bought her? A small voice asked in the back of his head. There is no other coat like that.. and with that rich a color, she sticks out. You can't mistake her for someone else. Pakku felt his heart stop. It really was Kanna.
And somewhere, deep down, Pakku felt relieved. Surprised, but relieved. The flutist and the fisherman's daughter being one in the same meant the entire time, he was falling for a more refined young woman than he thought. The idea was somewhat pleasing, almost flattering. After all, it took a certain kind of man to see someone so special under all that attitude.
Beside him, Anyu raised an eyebrow as he watched the expressions dance over Pakku's face. Shock, confusion, concerned thought, intrigue, and then a self satisfied, smug look. It was almost as entertaining as the actual performance before them. Anyu shook his head slightly. If Pakku hadn't been in love with Kanna before, he certainly was now.
On the stage, Kanna's fingers moved over the holes of her flute and mirrored her mother's flawlessly. Her eyes were closed as she focused on the notes in her head. Her hands were so used to doing the movements, she almost didn't need to think to play. The cool night breeze blew over them, ruffling her neatly set brown hair over her shoulders.
As a child, she had learned to play the flute. All the women in her mother's side of the family had played the flute, she was told. She had taken that to heart and would practice pieces every morning until she mastered them. Then, a few years earlier, her mother dubbed her good enough to perform in front of their tribe and it had become a yearly tradition since then.
By now, Kanna the flutist was relatively well known in the southern part of the village. Regardless, she always got nervous before a performance. Kanna silently thanked the gods that her friends were always nearby to offer their support.
"All her morning practices pay off, don't they, Anyu?" Yugoda sighed blissfully. "You really get swept away with her music."
"Yeah...." Anyu nodded as he stood behind her. He was looking at the young man standing with his mouth partially open to his left. Blue eyes were glazed over as mixture of curiosity and self-satisfaction graced his usually proud face. "You can say that." His eyes rose up to the sticky liquid dripping down the teen's hand.
"Hmm?" Yugoda looked up at him curiously and then followed his gaze to the other waterbender. Her eyes went wide as she let out a sharp gasp. "Pakku! Pakku, your ice cream!"
"Huh?" It took a moment for the talented young waterbender to even realize he was being spoken to. He jerked his head back and blinked before the words made themselves clear. He tore his red face from the stage and to his uplifted hand, and let out a low swear before dropping his melted ice cream.
"Pakku, didn't you feel it melting?" Yugoda asked as she dug into her pocket for a handkerchief. "You're not even wearing gloves tonight!"
"I... um...." His cheeks warmed up as looked stupidly at his right hand, unable to believe that he had allowed his tasty treat to melt in his own hand.
"What a shame," Anyu sighed regretfully. "It looked good.... and you just let it melt; trapped amongst a sea of people and body heat... now it's gone."
"Shut up, Anyu," Pakku growled distractedly. He lifted his hand and bended some water from the ground to rinse off his now sticky hand. "If you noticed, you could've told me!"
"And distract you from your glorious revelation?" his friend gasped, feigning shock. "Never!"
Pakku shot him a glare before taking the handkerchief Yugoda offered and drying off his hands. The female waterbender craned her neck towards the stage and pouted. "Oh...," she moaned disappointedly. "It's over!"
She raised her hands and began clapping as the audience followed. Anyu yelled out compliments to the mother and daughter as he raised his arms and clapped. Pakku looked around, a bit unsure as to how to react, and then copied everyone else. He looked back towards the stage, where Kanna and her mother smiled and thanked the audience before disappearing behind the thick black curtain.
"That was the best performance, yet," Anyu grinned as he looped his arm over Yugoda's shoulders. "Wouldn't you say so?"
Yugoda nodded enthusiastically. She shrugged Anyu's arm off her shoulder and then grabbed his hand. "Let's go see her now!"
"Now!" The other two waterbenders looked over at Pakku as he let out his outburst. He had paled considerably. "I mean...," he stammered, his eyes darting to the side nervously. He didn't think he was ready to talk to her yet. "Don't you think she might be...er...busy?"
Yugoda gave him a funny look before chuckling. "Don't be silly, Pakku! She'll be happy to see us."
"Yes, Pakku," Anyu couldn't stop smiling. "She'll be happy to see all of us."
Pakku's eyes narrowed as he glared at Anyu as hard as he could. He gritted his teeth and watched as Yugoda eagerly dragged Anyu through the crowds in search of her best friend. He knew... Pakku growled to himself. He knew this entire time.... His eyes widened. "...and he was hinting at it since the beginning and I didn't get it!" he fumed. The first time he had seen Pakku in the street and learned he was there to admire the flutist, Anyu had made the connection. His hands tightened into fists at his sides. Damn you, Anyu....
Without waiting a second longer, Pakku marched through the crowds, weaving in and out of the throngs of blue clad villagers. He craned his neck up, trying to look over the top of their heads in hopes of finding his 'friend' for a little chat. Without realizing it, he had made his way towards the tent behind the stage.
Figuring Anyu and Yugoda had headed inside to find Kanna, Pakku stopped before he got too close. Suddenly, it struck him. Things were different. Kanna was no longer just Kanna; a plain village girl he could tease and hang around with without a care. Kanna wasn't just a girl he was denying any interest in. Kanna was now also the girl he had been admiring; his 'ideal'.
Now that the connection had been made and the very thought of Kanna playing the flute caused certain emotions in him to flare up, he could no longer deny that he felt nothing for her or even that she had somehow cast a spell on him. Just envisioning approaching her and trying to talk made his heart race and his palms sweat. It made him nervous.
Pakku let out a frustrated groan and ran his hands through his hair. What was wrong with him? It was still just Kanna, right? She hadn't changed. It was just his view of her that did.
Calm down, Pakku... Kanna doesn't know you stalked her all those mornings. She doesn't suspect anything. Not that you admired her. Not that you liked her music. Not that you think she's pretty or that you're in love with her. Pakku paled and froze in place at his harsh self-confession. Gods, no....
He took a shaky step back. He couldn't see Kanna now. He wasn't ready. Pakku bit his lower lip and darted around the corner of the tent. He was about to make a break for his house while the others were occupied, when a familiar voice reached his ears. Pakku immediately stopped.
"...lovely up there, Akna." The young waterbender slowly came to a stop. His eyebrows furrowed as he leaned forward.
"Thank you, Siku." Pakku jerked his head back. It really was his father. And with Kanna's mother? "Did you see my Kanna? She gets better and better every year."
"Yes, yes...," Siku agreed eagerly. "More and more beautiful every year...just like her mother, I bet."
Pakku's eyes shot wide open. He'd never heard his father sound so... in love. Not even with his own wife. Frowning, Pakku took a step forward to hear better. The woman chuckled. "When she performs, it's almost like she's a completely different person, isn't it?"
Pakku found himself nodding in agreement. "I didn't recognize her when I met her at the docks with my son." His father replied.
"Oh, yes, Pakku," Akna said warmly. "He's turning out to be such a nice young man. Kanna talks about him often...well...more like complains."
Pakku scowled. His father laughed in response. Pakku shot his father an unseen glare. The least the old man could do was defend his son. "I'm just happy that my son has some good friends now," the councilman smiled. "Anyway... I just wanted to come down and watch you perform, Akna. I'd never get to see you otherwise."
Pakku raised an eyebrow and tightened his lips. He didn't like where the conversation was going. "Ah...the compliment is accepted, Siku. Though, I wish you wouldn't sneak down like this to see me. You know, Suka has no qualms with our friendship."
"I know, I know...," Siku trailed off. "And he's a good man for that. However..., you know how it is back on the other side of the village. You were born and raised there, Akna...you know it's not... proper for me to see you like this."
"And yet, you still sneak away from your wife and children to see mine," another male voice said good-naturedly. Pakku peeked around the corner and saw Kanna's father join two people. "I should be flattered."
"Suka." A smile graced Siku's face as he extended his hand and gripped the forearm of the fisherman in a greeting gesture. "My apologies."
The other man chuckled as his wife reached out to him and wove her arm around his. Clearly, they were very much in love and affectionate. Pakku had seen that many times before and had been slightly jealous. However, at the same time, he was relieved. At least he didn't have to worry about anyone cheating on their spouse.
"Apologies for what?" the fisherman snorted. "You were just greeting a friend. I'm not the jealous type."
"Unfortunately, my wife is," Siku admitted somewhat regretfully. "I should be going now. Do tell your daughter she played wonderfully tonight."
"I already have," Suka chuckled. The councilman gave them a respectful bow of his head before turning around and heading up the street. Suka let out a heavy sigh. "Years have passed and he's still madly in love with you. I almost feel sorry for him. Almost."
Akna chuckled and rested her head against her husband's shoulder. "Come on, you, I told Kanna you were taking me on a nice long walk tonight."
A groan escaped the man's throat. "Do we have to walk...?" The couple disappeared down the street and Pakku walked out from his hiding place. He straightened out his coat and glanced around, in case anyone saw him. He'd have to ask his father about his relationship to Kanna's mother later. Lost in his thoughts, Pakku didn't hear the footsteps on the ice-lined street behind him.
"Did you have a nice time spying on my parents?" a low voice said behind him.
Scowling, Pakku turned around. "I was not spy-Kanna!" The blue-eyed non-bender watched as Pakku jumped several paces back, as if horrified to see her. One of Pakku's hands was gripping his chest, as if to hold his heart back from flying out. His pale face quickly heated up as he looked down at the wide eyed, grinning fisherman's daughter standing in front of him.
"Are you okay?" Kanna raised an eyebrow questioningly. Pakku's mouth opened, but no words came out. Kanna frowned. "Pakku, seriously, are you okay?"
"Was her performance so overwhelming that you were left breathless?" another voice teased. Pakku looked over Kanna's shoulder and took notice of the small group of friends standing there. Anyu crossed his arms over his chest as he smiled smugly.
"Oh, you saw my performance!" Kanna smirked. "What did you think? Not bad, right?"
Say something, Pakku! His mind yelled. Don't just stare at her like a dead fish! "You were passable." Inwardly he grimaced at his own words. Oh, he was a smooth one. Kanna raised an eyebrow.
"And I suppose you could do better," she replied sharply.
"If I could play the flute, I bet I could," Pakku retorted proudly. What was he doing? Didn't he feel something for her? Why was he insulting her? He kept his eyes away from Kanna. His palms were all sweaty and he could feel his heart slamming against his chest. She shot him a glare and turned around.
She snorted and began to walk forward. Yugoda rushed up and grabbed Kanna's hand. "I thought you were great!"
"Anyway, let's get going," Anyu said as he began ushering everyone forward. "If we don't hit the booths soon, all the food will be gone." Murmurs of agreement went through the little group as they began to head towards the rest of the festival. Pakku stood rooted in his spot, unable to and unsure if he should follow.
"Hey! Spoiled rich boy!" Her voice pierced his thoughts and he blinked. Kanna waved her hand in the air as she walked beside Yugoda. She didn't bother turning back to look at him. "Are you coming or not?"
His heart skipped a beat. Kanna was still Kanna, after all. Pakku shook himself out of his stupor and ran forward to catch up. Pakku's eyes narrowed determinedly. Even if his view of Kanna had changed, her view of him hadn't.
He'd change that tonight.
"Was it just me," Kanna began as she walked along side of Anyu as they headed towards their block. Her best male friend nodded as he listened and shoved some blubber chips into his mouth. "Or was Pakku acting really strange tonight?"
Almost immediately, Anyu began choking on his chips. He lifted his fist and slammed it against his chest as Kanna reached back and began slapping his back. Coughing, Anyu swallowed whatever was lodged in his throat and looked up at Kanna. "Strange? What do you mean strange?"
Kanna lowered her arms and frowned. "You know...strange. Stranger than usual."
"I didn't notice anything strange." Anyu shrugged. As a matter of fact, he thought the way Pakku was reacting to Kanna and his new-found love for her was quite normal. For Pakku.
"He was even more a stuck up jerk than usual," Kanna complained. "Every time I asked him a question, he'd insult me. He never even answered the question!" She exclaimed as she threw her arms up, exasperated. "I asked if he wanted some ice cream and he told me I was fat enough as it was. Can you believe that?"
Actually, I can. Anyu thought to himself. Pakku reacted to Kanna the way a little boy reacted to a little girl he liked; using insults. The waterbender shook his head tiredly. Pakku would never get Kanna's or any other woman's positive attention like that.
"And then there was the staring...." Kanna's eyes crinkled as she wrapped her arms around herself to suppress a shiver. Anyu bit his lower lip to keep from laughing.
"Yeah, I noticed that, too."
"You're not the only one! Yugoda kept tugging on my shirt and pointing it out every chance she got," Kanna grumbled. "What was wrong with him tonight? He kept giving me these glassy eyed looks...; it reminded me of the fish we sell at the market."
Anyu snickered. He'd have to remember that one. Pakku would love it. "I'm sure it was just your imagination."
"My imagination, yours, and Yugoda's?" Kanna asked incredulously. "I bet the others noticed, as well. His mouth was open, too," she added. They reached the doorway of her building and she patted him on the back. "Okay, Anyu, I'll see you around."
"Uh-huh, good night!" Anyu waved his hand as Kanna entered the building and closed the door behind her. Anyu's hand fell and he let out a heavy breath. He looked up at the windows above him; there was a light coming from Kanna's flat. It had been entertaining at first, but after that night, he began to think that Pakku was serious. For a moment, he felt sorry for Pakku. I better talk to him tomorrow... he frowned as he turned around and headed home. If he didn't barely realize that Kanna was the flutist, he probably also forgot that I told him she's already promised to someone else.
Kanna climbed up the stairs to her family's meager flat. She had just reached the entrance to the flat when the door opened and a man stumbled back in surprise. Clear blue eyes relaxed and crinkled up with a warm smile as he realized who was in front of him. "Kanna!"
"Kahasi," Kanna smiled widely at Anyu's older brother. He was five years their senior and a well respected fisherman. "What are you doing here? Oh! You just missed, Anyu. He's heading back to your family's house now."
"That's fine, I wasn't waiting for him," the black haired man told her. "I just dropped by to see your parents."
"That's nice. Are you on your way out?" Kanna asked as he stepped aside and held the door open for her. She walked past him, removing her hood as she did so. "Hi, mom...dad."
"I was on my way home, yes," Kahasi told her. He looked over her shoulder and gave a final nod to her parents. "Thank you for having me over." He bowed his head respectfully.
"Anytime, Kahasi." Suka smiled kindly and gave the man a nod of his own head. Akna bowed her head slightly.
"I'll come by again, Kanna," Kahasi told the young woman as he gave her a smile. Kanna smiled brightly and closed the door behind him.
"So, are you going on a joint fishing venture with Kahasi?" Kanna asked as she turned around. She began to tug off her thick, new jacket in the warm living area.
Her parents exchanged unseen looks. "Not exactly," her father said. "How was your time at the festival?"
"Fun...Pakku invited us over to the northern neighborhood's festival tomorrow night," Kanna yawned. "Can I go? Yugoda and the others are coming."
"Of course you can," Akna said quickly before her husband began to speak. She moved her body in front of the table casually. "You look tired, Kanna. Why don't you go to bed?"
"I think I will...," Kanna said. She stretched out her arms and gave her parents a warm, sleepy smile. "Goodnight!"
"Goodnight, my dear!" They watched as the young woman stumbled down the hall and into her room. As soon as she disappeared into her room, her parents relaxed.
"We should tell her," Suka said in a low voice. "She's of the age."
"I know," Akna sighed heavily. She looked over her shoulder and down at the box Kahasi had brought. It was a dower for them. "We'll tell her soon...after the festival."
"Akna, we have nothing to worry about," Suka assured her. "Kahasi isn't a stranger and Kanna likes him. He's from a good, trustworthy family and he will provide a good life for Kanna."
Akna nodded and knotted her fingers into her sleeves. "Then we'll tell her after the festival," Akna breathed out. "And have Kahasi present her with the necklace."
Anyu couldn't help but look over the painfully elaborate festival decorations of the northern neighborhood. He had known it was a well to do area; after all Pakku lived there and so did many other families of council members and waterbending masters. However, the sheer opulence and grandeur stretched way beyond the decorations to the types of things that were being sold and the clothing the people wore.
Yugoda stood between him and Kanna, her arms looped within one of theirs as the two women chattered about the latest article of clothing on some wealthy old woman they had just passed. Pakku was standing in front of them, pointing out particular places in that part of the city, as if the others had never been there before.
"Which leads us back to this fountain, which was donated to the neighborhood by my great grandfather," Pakku concluded. He turned around and looked at the group. Immediately, he frowned. No one was paying attention and half of the original group had wandered off. "Were you even listening!"
"Calm down, Pakku," Anyu told him as Kanna and Yugoda continued talking. "We came here to have fun; not get a history lesson on your family's contributions."
"Speaking of fun, what do you have to do around here? I see lots of food," Kanna said as she craned her neck to the side. "But nothing in the form of games...."
"I saw an ice fishing booth down that way," Anyu said. "You girls want to give it a go?"
"Oh...I haven't ice fished since I was six!" Kanna beamed. She rubbed her hands together excitedly. She grabbed onto Yugoda's hand. "Let's go!"
"Okay!" Yugoda ran after Kanna and looked over her shoulder. "We'll meet you there!" she yelled back.
Anyu nodded and gave them a small wave of his hand. Ahead of him, Pakku took a step forward and Anyu cut in front of him. The other waterbender frowned. "Now what?" Pakku grumbled.
Anyu looked at his fellow bender seriously and released a heavy breath. "We need to talk."
"What?" Pakku drew his head back. He looked past Anyu's shoulders at the disappearing blue bodies, and then back at him with a questioning look. "Were you trying to distract the girls?"
"Pakku," Anyu said. He looked around them as casually as he could before leading Pakku aside. "About Kanna...."
"Oh, gods..., not this again." Pakku sighed heavily.
"Just give me a moment," Anyu insisted. He met his friend's gaze warily. "I know you like Kanna and don't try to deny it; everyone's been noticing those looks you've been giving her."
"Looks? What loo-"
"I'm not done," Anyu cut him off sternly. Pakku stood up straight. This seemed serious. "Don't tell her... she doesn't know yet, but Kanna's already promised to someone else."
It took a moment for the words to register with Pakku. When they did, it suddenly felt as if he had been flung head first into the deepest, coldest part of the ocean. His body tensed up and his eyes narrowed. "Oh...." His chest started to feel constricted, as if being squeezed from all sides. "Is that so?" A part of him felt empty, abandoned.
Anyu looked at his friend sympathetically. "There are other girls out there, Pakku."
No one like her...Pakku thought to himself. His chest rose and fell with even breaths. He'd barely come to the realization that he loved her and now he finds out that she out of his reach? That was impossible. It wasn't supposed to work that way. The boy was supposed to fall in love with the girl. The girl was supposed to fall for the boy. They'd get married. End of story. There was no way Kanna could've been promised to someone else. It had to be a joke or a mistake. Perhaps Anyu just heard wrong.
"Whom is she promised to?" Pakku asked suddenly. Anyu's eyebrows furrowed. He turned his eyes away and shook his head.
"Pakku, I can't tell you-"
"Is it that you can't tell me or is it because you're lying?" The question was supposed to come out as a joke, but sounded much harsher. Pakku winced at his own words, but refused to take them back. If Anyu couldn't produce a name, then surely, it was all a mistake. Even if his friend were lying, he would accept it. After all, he would just be trying to protect someone he cared about, right?
Anyu jerked his head back. "Lying? Pakku, why would I lie?"
"I know she's your best friend," Pakku continued on, ignoring the look of confusion on the other waterbender's face. "And you don't want her hurt, but don't worry. I wouldn't do that to her." That was it. That had to be it. Anyu was just being over protective.
Across from him, the other bender shook his head sadly. "Pakku, you don't understand-"
"She's lucky!" Pakku smiled stubbornly. He didn't want to hear Anyu talk any more. "To have such a great friend!" He reached up and patted Anyu's arm. "Don't worry, though, Anyu. I won't hurt her." He took a step back and Anyu closed his eyes. He took a deep breath and released it to calm himself.
"Wait...," Pakku cut him off before he could continue. He looked at his friend suspiciously before letting out a strained chuckle. "Don't tell me you're the one she's promised to!"
"What? No, I-!" Anyu didn't have a chance to finish. Pakku merely tilted his head back and laughed.
"Well, to my understanding nothing is set until the betrothal necklace is on Kanna," Pakku told him challengingly. "Good luck to you, my friend, but this is one competition I plan to win."
The other waterbender's mouth nearly dropped open. "Betrothal necklace...?" He paled. "To Kanna? Pakku, you're not serious, are you!"
"Of course I am," Pakku asserted proudly. "I've come to realize that there is no one like Kanna. If I don't act soon, someone else will take her and I'm not about to let that happen when I just found her."
Anyu shook his head sadly. "Pakku, do you even know what you're saying?"
"I know there are differences with class and what not, and that she's not a bender," Pakku rambled on. "But I'll speak to my father and deal with it myself. No need to worry her."
"But don't think of that as a weakness," Pakku continued. "I won't lose her!"
Anyu mentally swore and ran a hand down his face. "You've never even had her...."
"What was that?"
"Hey! There you guys are!" a female voice shouted behind him. The two turned around and saw Anyu's cousin waving at him. "Where are Kanna and Yugoda?"
Before Anyu could answer, Pakku slipped forward and smiled. "They went ice fishing down the street," Pakku said. He didn't look back at Anyu as he walked towards Chena and her fiance. "Come, Yugoda said to meet them there."
"Oh, okay!" Chena gave Pakku a smile and then pulled her fiance forward.
Without looking back, Pakku called over his shoulder. "Come on, Anyu!"
The young man let out a heavy breath and shook his head. I tried, big brother. I tried.... "Coming!"
"Pakku?" It was morning and the sunlight was coming through the high windows of the room. Siku paused for a moment to look around, as if to reassure himself that he was in the chief's palace library and not at home in his kitchen. The high ceiling and walls lined with carefully placed documents were testament to his reality.
That didn't explain why his son was currently slumped over against a wall, looking through a rather thick book. Carefully, the councilman approached his son, half wondering if he had made an identity mistake or if he was dreaming.
A shadow fell over his book and Pakku raised his head to yell at whoever was blocking his light. His mouth immediately snapped closed when he saw his father's confused face looking down at him. "Father?"
"What are you doing here?" Siku asked, getting straight to the point.
"Ah...," Pakku snapped the book closed in front of him. When he had left early that morning, he didn't think that he'd run into his father while looking for information on his family and wedding customs. "Just...catching up on some reading...."
Siku raised an eyebrow. He tilted his head and read the title of the book. "Marriage records?"
Pakku could feel his face turning red as he clutched the book nervously against his chest. "Must be a mistake...," he trailed off, his voice shaken. He didn't want to confront his father until he had read up on tribal marriage customs and the traditions of their family. "I was looking for...er...waterbending scrolls. Yes. Waterbending scrolls."
His father looked down at him with critical eyes. "Is that it?" he asked questioningly.
Pakku's mouth felt dry. "Ye...yes...?"
Siku frowned and crossed his arms over his chest. "Since when did you lie to your father?" His son paled in front of him. Pakku's mouth opened, but nothing came out. "Why are you reading up on marriage...?" His eyes widened and his arms fell to his side. He looked at Pakku with surprised blue eyes. "Have you found someone?"
Pakku didn't need to answer. The furious blush on his face and the shy expression in his eyes was answer enough. "Well...I...."
"Why didn't you say so!" Siku laughed. He reached out and placed a hand on Pakku's shoulder and gave him a firm shake. "It's about time! You're almost eighteen! You should be engaged already! What were you so afraid of? This is wonderful news, Pakku!"
"Tell me, tell me, who is the lucky maiden?" Siku asked eagerly. He looked into his son's eyes enthusiastically.
In front of him, Pakku bit his lower lip. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Carefully, he lifted his gaze and met his father's. "It's Kanna."
She rolled over in bed, one arm flung over her head as the other scrunched up beneath her pillow. She let out a little snort and snuggled deeper into her blankets. There was one more day left of the festival. Then it would be back to her usual, boring routine. That was not something she was looking forward to.
"Kanna." Someone knocked on her door. "Kanna, Yugoda is here-"
"Can I just go in, Auntie Akna?" Yugoda's energetic voice pleaded.
The older woman chuckled outside of Kanna's door. "Of course, Yugoda. Go right in."
"Thank you!" A second later, the door flew open. On instinct, Kanna pulled her blankets over her head and tried to disappear into her bed.
"Kanna!" Yugoda's voice easily pierced her senses as she jumped onto the side of Kanna's bed. "Kanna! Kanna, get up! I have something to tell you!"
"It can wait until later...," a muffled voice grumbled from under the covers.
Yugoda giggled and shook her head. "No, it can't! Kanna! Kanna!" Yugoda jumped up and down and shook the lump on the bed. "Kanna, you won't believe it!"
Against her better judgment, the half-asleep flutist replied. "Believe what...?"
"I'm getting married!" One second. Two seconds....
"What!" The covers were thrown off the blue clad young woman as she fought against her sea of blankets to sit up straight. Wide blue eyes, now fully awake, locked with Yugoda's as she gripped her friend's hands. "Since when? How?" Kanna's jaw locked. "With who!"
"Late last night...after we dropped you off, on the doorstep of my house," Yugoda began, blushing madly the entire time. She looked at Kanna with joy written all over her face. "With Anyu."
Their squealing pierced the entire flat as several people looked up from the table in the kitchen. "Looks like she told her...," Suka said as he took a sip of his hot drink. He could almost see the two jumping up and down on Kanna's bed like energetic five year olds.
Akna chuckled as she poured drinks for Anyu and his older brother. "I take it Yugoda accepted immediately?"
Kahasi chuckled and looked at his younger brother. "She practically tackled him to the floor. She nearly woke up the entire neighborhood with her screaming."
"It took everyone at her house to keep her from running over here and telling Kanna immediately," Anyu chuckled. "We promised we'd take her as soon as the sun rose."
"Well, congratulations, Anyu," Suka told the young man proudly. "You both will be very happy together, I know it."
"Thank you, Uncle," Anyu smiled.
"And you, Kahasi," Akna asked as she loomed over her future son-in-law. "Are you sure you really want to do this tonight?"
"I haven't spent as much time with Kanna as I'd like," Kahasi admitted reluctantly. "So when I present it to her, I'd like to have a chance to speak to her first."
"No doubt she'll accept," Suka assured the man. "There is no better match for my daughter than you."
Kahasi smiled warmly and nodded. "Thank you."
"Anyu!" Kanna's voice came from the hall and a second later, Kanna burst forth. Still dressed in her wrinkled nightwear and her hair a complete mess, she ran forward, grinning almost maniacally as she threw one arm around Anyu's neck and buried her fist in his hair. "Con... grat...u...lations!"
"Gah...thanks!" Anyu choked out before Kanna finally released him from his chokehold.
"Why didn't you tell me you were talking to her parents about marriage!" Kanna demanded.
"I didn't want you to tell her and ruin it!" Anyu snorted. "We all know what a big mouth you have."
Kanna's eyes widened, insulted. "What!" Yugoda giggled behind her.
"Kanna...," her father's voice rang out and Kanna looked up. She followed the nod of her father's head to the other man sitting across the table.
Immediately, Kanna paled and stood up straight; her arms withdrawing from Anyu's neck. She smiled sheepishly. "Ah...good morning, Kahasi...."
The man chuckled and gave her an intent smile. He lifted up his cup. "Good morning, Kanna. Care to join us?"
"Kanna," Yugoda whispered as she passed her friend. "You might want to change first?"
"Hmm? Oh!" Her cheeks heated up as she laughed weakly and slowly began to make her way back to her room. "I'll be out... just give me a minute...!" She whirled around and was about to rush back to her room when, Kahasi called out.
"Actually, I have to get going," the man said as he stood up. He leaned forward and threw Kanna another smile. "But I was wondering if I could talk to you about something...later tonight, if possible?"
Dumbly, the young woman nodded. "Sure, Kahasi, where?"
"How about the top of the wall?"
Kanna nodded once more. "Sounds good," she gave the man a smile before slipping back into the hall. "I'll see you then!"
Siku took a tired seat across from where his son was standing. Pakku shifted nervously from foot to foot, unable to look his father in the eye. Since he told the councilman, the library had suddenly gotten quieter. Siku's enthusiastic look had left his face and instead, was replaced by a look of concern. Moments of silence had drifted between the two and Pakku was growing weary of waiting for his father to answer.
"I know she's not a bender," Pakku began, knowing that was the biggest reason for concern. "But aside from that, she's perfect. A little rough around the edges, I'll admit...a rather troublesome temper and attitude, but other than that she's-"
"Pakku," his father's deep voice immediately silenced him. Pakku stood up straight, his arms pasted to his sides. "You do understand that no man in our family, especially no one that is an heir to our waterbending legacy, has ever married a non-bender."
Pakku lowered his eyes and nodded. "I am aware, Father."
"The family elders will be staunchly against it, you realize," Siku added. "On your eighteenth birthday, they were going to present you with a list of prospective waterbending brides."
The young man's head rose; disbelief written all over his face. He narrowed his eyes and shook his head. "I care not for another bride, Father. I care very much for Kanna."
"Kanna...," Siku trailed off. "How does she feel about this?"
The corner of Pakku's lip twitched. "She has no knowledge of this... I don't wish to pursue her and let her know until I can be assured that it will go through. I don't want to hurt her."
His father's expression softened. He looked at his son sadly. That sounded so familiar to him. "You know that I knew...know Kanna's mother, Akna?"
Pakku swallowed nervously. "I... I saw you that southern festival."
"Yes," Siku trailed off. "Every year, Akna performs, and every year, I go see her. It is the only time I can. Your mother may not seem like it, but she is jealous. Perhaps with good reason."
Pakku narrowed his eyes. "I over heard that Kanna's mother was once engaged or something to a waterbender from our neighborhood...," he trailed off, unsure of how to ask his father. He didn't need to. Siku nodded, his eyes fixed elsewhere.
"They... your grandfather and the family elders... wouldn't let us get married," Siku explained. "Akna's father was a waterbending master... she comes from a long line, actually. However... when the Fire Nation attacked all those years ago, her father, the last remaining male in her family, was killed. There was no one who could approve of the match. There was so much pressure for me to marry a bender. We tried to argue that Akna could still produce waterbending heirs, but the elders wouldn't risk it. Akna spent more and more time away from me, then finally returned my necklace and moved across the city. She said all she was doing was hurting me and thought it best to part ways."
Pakku looked at his father earnestly. "Then you understand?"
"Of course, I understand, Pakku, I'm not an ignorant monster that can't learn," Siku grumbled. He looked at his son beseechingly. "I support you, my boy, I do. And if you chose Kanna as your bride, then I will fight tooth and nail for the rest of the family to accept it."
"Father...." It seemed like with his father's approval, the burden had suddenly been lifted from Pakku's shoulders. A wide smile graced his face as he bowed his head. "Thank you."
"I will speak to who I need to for your sake. For now, you need to go and speak to Kanna," the man told his son. "Tell her what you feel or better yet, present her with the necklace. That'll speak for itself. As for the necklace...have you thought of a design?" Siku asked.
Pakku's smile only widened. "I have."
Kanna clapped her hands along with the music as she watched the dancers in front of her. Somewhere in the middle of the circle, Yugoda was dancing beside Anyu. In the fire and lamp light, Kanna could see the glimmer of her friend's pendant. She could make out the pendant on all her friends.
Her hand movements slowed and her arms lowered to her sides. It was the last day of the festival and everyone had a reason to be happy. Last year, the girls were lamenting being unwed and unengaged. Now, everyone was. Except for her. That piece gnawed at Kanna and she hated it.
She was happy for her friends, especially Yugoda and Anyu. She sincerely was, but a small part of her couldn't help but be jealous. They were all dancing in the circle and she was left out and alone. The smile on her lips faltered. Did no one want her? She was always afraid her tomboyish and aggressive personality would scare off potential suitors, so she had worked hard to make herself more domestic than her own mother.
Standing there now, outside the circle, she didn't think it mattered any more. She'd be sixteen soon and the only unengaged maiden that age in her neighborhood.
"Kanna? Where are you going?" Her mother's voice asked over the sound of the loud drums and the shell horns.
"I'm going for a walk and then heading up to the wall...," Kanna murmured. She gave her mother a bright smile. "I'll be home later."
"All right then! Be careful on the wall!" Akna smiled. She turned back to the dancing and continued clapping her hands.
Behind her, Kanna slipped into a narrow alleyway and headed towards a less crowded side street. She had managed to slip out into a vacant street when someone called her name.
"Kanna!" She turned over her shoulder and rolled her eyes. He was not someone she wanted to run into that night.
"What are you doing here? I thought you were going to spend the last night of the festival with your family," she said as she crossed her arms over her chest.
Pakku lifted up his nose. "Perhaps I should've with that attitude of yours."
Kanna turned her head away and began walking. Pakku followed without question. "You didn't answer my question," Kanna frowned. "What are you doing here?"
"Visiting, obviously. I saw Anyu and the others dancing back there, but saw you trying to get away," Pakku said. He looked down at her curiously. "By the way, when did Yugoda get engaged?" Her eyes widened and she stumbled. Pakku immediately reached down to help her steady herself. "Watch out! You could've hurt yourself!"
"I'm a big girl, Pakku," Kanna snapped. She stood up straight and shot him a glare. "Your hands." She stated.
Pakku's eyes lowered. He let out a sharp gasp before pulling his hands away from her shoulders. "Sorry."
Kanna merely shrugged and continued walking. "Anyu asked her last night, after we all went home."
This time Pakku stumbled. "Anyu!"
"Yes, Anyu," Kanna told him coolly. "You know...this tall... waterbender...talks way too much?"
Pakku's eyebrows furrowed. I thought he was after you... "I just didn't know."
"I didn't either," Kanna pouted. "If I weren't so happy for them, I'd be angry that he kept it a secret from me."
Pakku smirked as they reached the steps to the wall. "You don't sound happy."
"Well, look at my company. Can you really blame me?" she snapped. Pakku raised an eyebrow.
"You're more harsh than usual...," he trailed off. Kanna scowled and purposely sped up. Pakku's eyes widened. A wide grin graced his face as he jogged to catch up. "You're jealous!" He accused happily.
Kanna felt as if she were suddenly shot with an arrow. Her eyes widened as Pakku's laughter reached her ears. She halted on the steps and turned around. "Pakku, if you're only going to laugh, I suggest you head back to your little rich neighborhood before I push you off this wall!"
"Oh...," Pakku mocked as he lifted his hands and wiggled his fingers in front of her. "I'm terrified. I heard those stories when I was a child."
Despite herself, Kanna let out a heavy sigh. "What stories?"
"The ones about the ghost of a lovelorn maiden who gets revenge on all men because no one wanted to marry her," Pakku told her matter-of-factly. Kanna looked at him as if he had just said the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard.
"Gods, Pakku...you have gotten stranger...," she murmured. Without another word, she turned around and marched up the rest of the stairs.
"Hey!" Pakku stumbled after her. "Kanna!"
"I'm not lovelorn, okay? Or jealous!" Kanna snapped as she reached the top step. "I'm just feeling a little left out."
"Left out?" Pakku jogged after her and matched her pace easily.
"Last year, all of us were complaining about how we weren't engaged. Now, a year later, everyone is engaged," Kanna explained, exasperatedly. "Everyone, but me! It's like I'm being left behind because no one wants me." For a moment, Pakku was caught off guard. He'd never expected someone with as much confidence as Kanna to say that.
"Kanna, why does no one want you?" Pakku asked. Kanna shot him a glare, as if he insulted her once more. He lifted his hands to ward her off. "It was just a question!"
"You, of all people, should be able to name a few things," Kanna told him. "First, I'm loud. 'Aggressive', even. As a child, I probably scared off all potential suitors by beating them up. Anyu was a constant target for bullying, so someone had to save him...," she added quietly. She shook her head and threw her arms in the air. "And then I have these dreams of going off and seeing the world; no man wants that, Pakku. Men want a nice, quiet wife to stay at home, cook them meals, and make them babies. Boys, preferably, by the way."
"What?" Kanna frowned. "Are you going to tell me otherwise?" she snapped as she crossed her arms.
"Yes, because you're wrong," Pakku told her. He reached out and grabbed her arm; stopping her from going forward. "There are men who would be happy to put up with a loud, aggressive woman. There are even men who'd be happy to let you see the world if it made you happy."
Kanna let out a scoff. She narrowed her eyes and looked at him challengingly. "Oh yeah? Would you take a loud, aggressive woman who doesn't want to stay here her entire life?"
It was suddenly eerily quiet atop the wall. Pakku stood beside her silently, his hand holding onto her wrist firmly as he looked down at her seriously. Kanna felt her heart starting to race at the intensity of his gaze.
"One day you'll get to see the world, Kanna," he whispered in a low voice. He remembered her wish and the look on her face. "Even if I can't go with you when you leave, for whatever reason... I promise I'll follow."
And then he kissed her.
"Suka, there's someone at the door," Akna said as she wiped her hands on a rag. She looked over at her husband who was looking at a fishing map on the table. "Shall I get it?"
"Please, love," he said as he scanned over the map. Akna smiled and walked towards the door. She pulled it open and let out a gasp of surprise. "Akna?" Suka looked up from his map and stood up at the sound of his wife's gasp. "Who is it?"
"Suka... we have a... visitor...," Akna stated. She stepped aside and allowed the tall man to enter their modest home.
Suka looked just as surprised as the councilman entered their living area. "Suka..., Akna... forgive the sudden intrusion."
"Siku," Suka smiled, although confused. "What brings you here?"
Akna joined her husband at his side as the councilman took a deep breath and then bowed his head.
"Suka of the southern docks, Akna, wife of Suka," he began formally. "I am here to discuss your daughter," he lifted his eyes and met their gaze. "And my son."
His legs felt unsteady as the other man's words reached his ears. Blue eyes were wide as he looked down at the bowed head of the visitor. Did he hear him correctly? Did the councilman just request an audience with him and his wife about their children? The fisherman's eyes slowly rose to meet his wife's startled face.
Akna looked just as surprised as he did. Suka fell back on a chair. "Siku," Suka began carefully as his hand rose and ran through his thick hair. He looked at the councilman with doubt on his face. "Did I hear you correctly?"
"Perhaps we misheard you," Akna offered the councilman a weak smile. "What about our daughter did you want to speak about?"
Across from them, the revered waterbending master and councilman stood up straight. "Marriage, Akna. Marriage," Siku informed them. "My son, Pakku, would like to begin seeing your daughter with the purpose of marriage in mind. That is why I am here."
The married couple looked at each other with uncertainty evident in their faces. A silent conversation seemed to take place between the two before they looked back at Pakku's father. "Siku, we are very flattered that your son would take an interest in our daughter."
"Pakku is a very intelligent young man," Akna added. "We've heard all about him and his gifts." At that, Siku smiled proudly and lifted his chin. "However...," Akna trailed off, unsurehow to phrase it. She looked at her husband.
Suka took a deep breath and stood up. "I'm afraid we'll have to decline the offer."
The councilman's smile dropped. A shocked look graced his face as he blinked dumbly at the fisherman. Perhaps they really did not understand what he was saying. "Siku, Akna... do you understand what I am talking about?"
"You request permission for your son to see our daughter with the honorable intent of marriage," Suka clarified. "And to begin sewing ties between the families, am I right?"
The other man found himself nodded. "If you understand, then I do not see why it has been rejected."
"Siku," Akna sighed heavily as she took a step forward. She met his gaze hesitantly. "You do realize that Kanna is not a bender."
"I already know that." Siku frowned.
Suka tilted his head to the side, confused. "And...you approved of the match?" the fisherman asked. He crossed his arms and gave Siku a questioninging look. "I thought no one in your family married non-benders."
"They don't; at least not yet," Siku explained. He lifted his hand and scratched the back of his head as he tried to come up with the right words. "I don't want Pakku to... to go through what I... went through." He admitted quietly. His eyes briefly drifted to the fisherman's wife.
Akna's looked softened and she looked over at her husband. Suka's eyebrows were furrowed; momentarily lost in thought. "And I don't want Kanna to go through what Akna went through," Suka replied. He lifted his head and looked at Siku seriously. "Akna... suffered because of her relationship to you all those years ago. Your family caused her much needless stress. I don't want my Kanna going through the same thing."
"Kanna is a strong girl," Akna added. "Stronger than myself, Siku, but as her mother, I do not want to see her go through what I had to go through. Your family elders are strict when it comes to marriage and I don't want my daughter to have to go through the same experiences I did."
"I'm sorry, councilman," Suka asserted before the other man could speak. "We know that all parents want their children to be happy, but we just don't feel that a marriage between our daughter and your son will work out for the best."
A look of hurt and desperation spread across Siku's face. He had spent hours debating with the family elders to get them to approve a marriage with a non-bender for hours. Hours of arguing, yelling, and compromise. Finally, the group was split, with Siku's decision tipping the scale. He had done what he couldn't do all those years ago and he wouldn't give up just yet.
"The final decision rests with me," he stated sternly. "Amongst the family elders... the decision was split in two. So long as I support the marriage of my son to a non-bender, no one can stop them."
"Siku...," Suka began. The other man shook his head.
"Please, Suka, give my son a chance," the councilman pleaded. "I've never seen him look at another girl that like before. He adores her and will treat her well. Everything she ever wanted will be provided for her. I can practically guarantee you that Kanna will live the best life possible with the best things possible-"
"Siku," Suka continued. "We can't agree to it-"
"Everything can work for them, Suka! The family doesn't stand in the way," Siku stressed. He drew his head back and looked at the fisherman warily. "Do you not trust my son with your daughter?"
"It is not that, Siku," Suka insisted. He glanced at Akna once more before looking at the other man. "Your son is a fine young man, however, Kanna is almost sixteen...do you understand?"
"Of course I do!" Siku nearly scoffed. "It is the perfect age for engagement!"
The married couple looked at each other once more. This time, Akna turned to councilman; a bittersweet look on her face. "Rarely is a maiden of sixteen without an engagement or one already planned for her, Siku," Akna told him in a calming voice. They watched his face carefully, silently allowing her words to reach him. The determined look on the councilman's face faded. "You understand, then."
Disappointment swept over the waterbender. It seemed that for the second time, he had failed in the proceedings of love; only this time it was for the sake of his son and somehow, it hurt more. His eyes glazed over as he swallowed the lump in his throat. His voice was shaking slightly. "She is... engaged?" He already knew the answer.
Suka nodded his head. "To a young fisherman who approached us two years ago; Kahasi. He's been waiting patiently for Kanna to come of age to formally speak to her."
"Is he from a good family?" Siku asked. No one's family was from as great and strong a lineage as his....
"Yes," Suka nodded. "Do you know Pakku's friend Anyu? Kahasi is his older brother. He has known Kanna for years."
"I see...." I'm sorry, my son.
Akna looked at the councilman sadly. "I am sorry to disappoint you, Siku. Pakku, too."
Siku gave the two other adults a forced smile and shook his head. "No, no... I'm sorry to have bothered you so late about this," he told him sheepishly. "I should've known that at Kanna's age, she would've already been promised to someone else...." He let out a heavy sigh and gazed down at the floor, sadly. "My son... will be disappointed." He'll be heartbroken.
She was horrified.
Every muscle in her body froze. Her breath caught in her throat, unable to make it the rest of the way out as warm lips pressed firmly against hers. Blue eyes were wide, focused only on the closed lids and all too close face of the man standing in front of her. At her sides, her hands remained stiff while below her, her legs refused to move.
The initial surprise had quickly given in to a horrified feeling as the uncomfortable feeling of Pakku's kiss made its self known. Kanna's mind struggled to understand what was going on. First, they were arguing. Nothing new about that. Then... then... oh, Spirits....
All he could concentrate on was the kiss. Did she like it? Did she hate it? Could she breathe? It was his first kiss with anyone. He had never paid attention to the act before, only really noticing a few times. However, when he reached forward and brought Kanna closer to him and subsequently kissed her, it hadn't been a preplanned action, and thus, he, too, was caught unaware of its consequences.
His eyes had closed in his nervousness. He loomed over her; his legs began weakening beneath him as the palms of his hands began to grow damp. His heart was slamming against his chest, despite his mind ordering it to calm down. Silently, he prayed that she wasn't disgusted or would shove him away.
He wasn't sure how he'd react if she did.
After a few moments, he could feel his lungs burning. He had to breathe. As his mind struggled to figure out how to properly break a kiss, his body reacted on its own. Slowly, his head drew back; lingering briefly on her soft, moist lips a moment longer before releasing the breath he had been holding in.
Kanna felt the quick rush of air against her wind-chilled face as stunned blue eyes stared blankly ahead of her.
In front of her, Pakku looked down at her face. She wasn't looking at him; her eyes were fixed on his shoulder, a stunned look in them. The hand that had gently grasped her chin slowly lowered. Kanna didn't react at all. Nervously, Pakku studied her, half afraid to say anything, yet, at the same time, wanting to break the silence.
He swallowed; his throat was suddenly dry as he hesitantly lifted his hand. "Kanna?"
The young woman closed her eyes, unable to believe what had just happened. Pakku... Pakku of all people had just kissed her. It was unexpected. It was just not done. They weren't seeing each other. They weren't engaged. She could barely consider them friends the way they acted towards each other.
Kanna's arms wrapped around her body. Water Tribe boys just didn't go around kissing Water Tribe girls for no reason. Kisses were supposed to be special. Between two people that cared about each other and now her first one had been stolen by some spoiled rich boy - without her permission!
Pakku frowned. She still wasn't talking. She hadn't even bothered to look him in the eyes after he kissed her. His hand rose and reached out for her shoulder. "Kanna-"
"Don't touch me!" Her voice was sharp and clear, defensive and hurt; cutting Pakku like a knife as he stumbled back, his outstretched hand wavering in place as he looked at her with startled eyes. Her own met his eyes with a fierce glare as she stepped back. "What's wrong with you!"
Pakku's eyes widened. His mouth opened slightly before it snapped closed and returned her glare. "What are you talking about!"
"How dare you kiss me!" Kanna hissed in a low voice. "You had no right to! I never asked for it or for your... advances!" She stuttered.
"Advances...," Pakku mumbled. He growled and gritted his teeth. "Listen, I don't know why I did it either! It just happened, okay?"
"It just happened?" Kanna's voice went lower as her vicious glare bore into Pakku. "Are you saying it was an accident?"
Was it? Pakku felt his irritation drop. He wasn't sure.
As he stood there silently, Kanna drew her head back and shook her head. "It was an accident." She asserted quietly; her voice laced with disgust.
Quickly, Pakku shook his head. "No, it wasn't an accident," he told her. "I just... you were talking about... about how no one would want you and...." He took a deep breath. "And I don't think that's the case." He silently hoped she would understand that he wanted to do it... that she meant something to him.
Kanna stared at Pakku with disbelieving eyes. She could feel her lower lip quivering as her hands shook at her sides. "I see."
Pakku's head jerked up in surprise. "You do?" he asked. A weak smile graced his face as relief started rising. "Good... I was afraid you'd take it the wrong way," he admitted softly.
"Don't worry about that," Kanna spat out as she shook her head. "I don't need your pity, Pakku."
Pity? "What?" Confusion quickly flooded Pakku's face as Kanna shoved past him angrily. "Kanna, what are you talking about!" He whirled around; his arm reaching forward and grabbing her wrist. "Kanna!"
A cold slap echoed across the wall as Kanna back handed Pakku across the face. With a forceful tug, she pulled her wrist from his grip, and then stumbled back, an angry and hurt look on her face.
"I don't need your pity!" Kanna repeated, stronger this time. "I know that I'm not fit to be a good wife! I'm not feminine or quiet like the others! I already know that! You don't need to pretend you understand! Let alone pretend to like me!"
As she raged in front of him, all Pakku could feel was the stinging pain across his cheek. He turned his head to look at her with his hand gently resting over his face as Kanna yelled at him. Even though she was angry and glaring at him, he still couldn't help but think she was the most beautiful maiden in the entire tribe. Rosy cheeks, a passionate look in clear blue eyes were incomparable to any one else he'd ever seen.
"Kanna," he began carefully. He took a step forward and looked at her with a softened face. "Kanna, I'm not-"
"You're not what!" she snapped. She put her hands on her hips as she looked at him demandingly. "Tell me."
Pakku stood in his place. "Kanna...." She looked so intense. Her face was flushed and her eyes were narrowed. "I wasn't pretending... I...." He felt warm all over. Blood pounded in his ears with every heartbeat. His hands dug into the edges of his thick coat nervously. "I like you... I think... no...." He shook his head and took a deep breath. His eyes met hers. "Kanna, I love you."
Moments passed between them; each second ripping at Pakku's resolve as Kanna stood across from him; her eyes wide as she stared at him. He hadn't meant to tell her so soon. At least not until he formally spoke to her parents, but the situation had changed, he realized. She wanted an explanation to his actions and he wanted to assure her his actions were nothing but pure.
The young man waited; his whole being in tune to her anxiously.
Then she shook her head. Her eyes glistened with unshed tears as she gritted her teeth. "I serious when I was talking, Pakku. The least you could've done was let me vent out my frustrations without mocking me!"
"Mocking you!" Pakku gasped. Frustration swept over him as he stomped forward. His arms rose and grabbed on to her upper arms; forcing her to look up at him. "Kanna, do you think so little of yourself that you believe I wouldn't want to marry you?!" he choked out.
Disbelieving blue eyes were his answer. "Don't joke like this, Pakku!" She twisted out of his hold and took another step back.
It hurt him to watch her pull herself away from him, but he won't give up so easily. "I'm not joking, Kanna! This isn't some stupid prank! I wouldn't just say something like this without thinking! I want to be with you! Is that so hard to understand?" Pakku exclaimed, almost desperately. Kanna froze in her spot and Pakku's arms fell limply to his sides. A dire look glazed over his eyes as his face softened. "Kanna...," his voice was quiet. Kanna could hear her blood pounding in her ears with each heart beat as a breath caught in her throat. "Please marry me."
And for a moment, the world had stopped. The sound of crashing waves against sheer ice wall, the roar of the wind whipping past them had all gone quiet. In that moment, there was only a girl and a boy. There was only Kanna and Pakku...neither knew what to say next.
"Kanna!" a worried voice sounded behind Pakku and the young waterbender whirled around. In the heat of their words and the stunned silence of Pakku's proposal, neither party heard the approaching footsteps of a new comer. For a moment, he wondered if it were the guards, again, coming to check on them. Instead, a dark haired man was rushing forward; a concerned look on his face as he swept past Pakku and reached for Kanna. "Kanna, what's wrong? You're shaking!"
"Kahasi...?" Her eyes widened as the man reached her and placed his gloved hands on her shoulders to steady her. She had completely forgotten that her main reason for going to the wall that night was to meet up with him. He met her gaze steadily with his as Kanna snapped her mouth closed and bit her lower lip.
Kahasi? Pakku's eyes landed on the other man. Tall, dark, relatively good looking if he was to judge. Blue eyes focused on one thing: the new comer's hands on Kanna's shoulders. And she wasn't shrugging them off.
"Nothing. Nothing's wrong," Kanna insisted as she looked away. "Pakku and I were just having another one of our arguments."
"Oh...." Kahasi glanced over his shoulder and offered the other man a tentative smile. "You're Pakku? Anyu's friend?" he asked. His hands slipped from Kanna's shoulders as he gave Pakku a small bow of his head. "I'm Kahasi; Anyu's older brother."
"Oh!" Pakku's eyes widened and he found himself nodding before he returned the bow. "Nice to meet you... ah... Kanna and I were just... talking," he added dumbly. "I apologize if our yelling alarmed you," he stated, almost mechanically. "Our talking always ends up as an argument."
The man smiled and nodded his head. He didn't seem to be the least bit suspicious, but if he was, he was hiding it well. "So Anyu has told me," he replied. He looked back at Kanna. "Are you sure you are all right?" Pakku glanced over the other man's shoulders. Kanna's eyes were downcast, unwilling to meet his.
"Fine, Kahasi...," Kanna murmured. She tugged on the edges of her coat and lifted her head up to look at him with a smile pasted on her face. "What was it you wanted to talk about?"
Talk...? Kanna had been heading towards the wall when Pakku had caught up with her. Was it possible that she was going there to meet up with that man? The waterbender's eyes widened, as he looked frantically from Kanna to Kahasi.
"Talk about?" For a moment, the fisherman looked confused. His eyes widened for a second as he remembered why he had rushed to the wall in first place. He had completely forgotten about his goals the moment he heard Kanna's familiar voice shrieking in the night wind. He had rushed over immediately. Now, the young woman looked worn. He gave her a soft, understandingly smile and lifted his hand. He carefully brushed back the stray brown strands escaping from her hair loops. He could wait. Especially after what he heard before he reached them, he needed to wait. "Oh, that... you look tired. We can talk later."
Kanna's eyebrows furrowed as she frowned. "Kahasi, I came all the way up here because you wanted to speak to me." She didn't notice Pakku tense up behind the older man. "What did you want to talk to me about?"
"It can wait," Kahasi assured her. He tugged off one of his gloves and raised his palm to her forehead. He frowned as his suspicious were confirmed and he drew his hand back. "You feel warm, Kanna. You should go home and rest."
The young woman mulled over the situation and gave a small nod. She released a heavy breath and looked back up at the fisherman. "It has been a long evening, but I'm fine," she insisted quietly.
"I can talk to you tomorrow," Kahasi assured her as he put his glove back on. "Come, I will walk you back."
"I'm sorry, Kahasi," Kanna whispered as she allowed him to turn her around. He chuckled lightly.
"There isn't anything to be sorry about, Kanna," Kahasi said. He put his hand on her shoulder and Kanna looked up at him. "Aren't you going to say good-bye to Pakku?"
The young man lifted his head up expectantly. Inside, his mind was whirling. His stomach twisted as he waited. Why wasn't she looking at him? Why wasn't she saying anything? Kanna, say something!
Pakku.... She had been trying to ignore his presence. Her eyes were kept downcast as she stopped. She kept her back to him as she lifted her head and took a deep breath. "Have a good evening."
His face hardened; hiding his faltering composure well enough to keep him from revealing his true thoughts to his fellow tribesman and the woman he was taking away. Kahasi offered him a gentle smile, and gave Pakku a nod of his head before turning around. He stood just beside Kanna as they walked to the other side of the wall.
With each step of their feet on the hard packed ice and snow, Pakku's mind raced with words that needed to be spoken: No, I need to talk to you; Kanna, stop; Hear me out; Don't leave without talking to me... Please...! His hands tightened at his sides and he took a step forward.
"Kanna!" Her name pierced the cold air and made her stop in her tracks; her face remained facing forward. Kahasi looked back at him curiously. Pakku ignored the other man and looked at Kanna's retreating figure. "About what I said...!" His heart was pounding. "I'm serious."
His voice had been solemn. He sounded sincere. Worse yet, he sounded as if he were desperate to let her know he meant what he said. To Kanna, that was the most confusing and frightening part of it all. If he meant it, it meant marriage with Pakku. She couldn't see that. In her analyzing daze, she barely noticed they were approaching the street she lived on.
Beside her, the tall fisherman glanced down. Kanna's face was twisted with concentration, and he was certain that if he didn't take her hand and physically lead her back home, she would've gotten herself lost elsewhere in the sprawling city. A small part of he smiled, remembering years ago when he used to hold her, Anyu, and even Yugoda's hands as they walked around.
He could never believe how those three ended up in different areas of the neighborhood; lost and in tears because their game of hide and seek went awry and someone couldn't be found. The tomboyish girl he knew wasn't like the quiet, brooding young woman he was walking beside.
"You're not like yourself tonight," Kahasi began as he looked straight ahead. "Was your argument with your friend worse than usual?"
I don't even know anymore... "No," Kanna shook her head and tried to lose the contemplative look on her face. "It's nothing."
"Nothing doesn't silence you. Anyu and Yugoda can attest to that," he told her. He stopped and inadvertently stopped Kanna as well. The young woman looked back at him. "If something is bothering you, you can tell me, you know. You used to complain to me all the time about Anyu." He added with a warm smile. Kanna chuckled slightly. Complain was an understatement; it was more like tell on Anyu.
"This has nothing to do with him," Kanna assured him. "I'm fine, Kahasi. I swear."
He gave her a suspicious look and nodded. He began to walk forward, bringing her forward with him. "I'm going to head out for some over night fishing trips in a few days. Keep an eye on my idiot brother for me?"
"Of course," Kanna nodded. "Someone has to."
Kahasi nodded. "Also... I'd like to talk to you before I leave. Do you mind?"
"No, of course not," Kanna assured him. "It was my fault we didn't get to talk. I'm sorry."
"I told you not to apologize," Kahasi sighed good-naturedly. They stopped and he released her hand. Kanna looked around and realized they were standing in front of her building. "Remember; you can talk to me about anything. I am older and much wiser than you three, after all." He gave her one more smile and Kanna smiled back widely.
"Thank you, Kahasi, I'll keep that in mind." He opened the door for her and followed her up to her door. "Did you want something to drink? The water should still be warm from my mom's evening tea."
"No, its fine," Kahasi assured her. She opened the door and stepped in. From the table, her parents immediately stood up. "Good evening."
"Kanna! Kahasi, how was your evening? Did you have a nice talk?" Her father asked expectantly.
His daughter didn't seem to catch his words and yawned. "No... something came up...."
"She got into an argument with her friend Pakku," Kahasi reported. Kanna wrinkled her nose at him and he chuckled. "Sorry."
"I'm going to sleep," Kanna told her parents. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Goodnight, Kanna." Kahasi gave her a nod of her head as she disappeared into the hall. Her door closed and her parents immediately turned to look at the young man; concern written all over their faces.
"Kahasi, we are sorry," Suka said as he gave a bow of his head. "We didn't know that Pakku would approach Kanna like that."
The young man stood in his spot, his eyes still fixated on the darkened hall where Kanna had disappeared to. "Has anyone come to speak to you about Kanna?" he asked quietly. They might not have noticed him on that wall as Kanna vented her frustrations to the wealthy waterbender, but he had seen it transpire. He had heard what had been said.
In front of him, the husband and wife looked at each other. Suka let out a heavy breath and Akna nodded. "Pakku's father came just a few moments ago...," the woman admitted. She looked up and studied the man she had promised her daughter to. "We... declined his offer."
Kahasi closed his eyes for a moment, feeling relief, but at the same time, feeling a new weight rest on his shoulders. He shoved his hands in his pockets and turned to look at his would be parent-in-laws. "Kanna doesn't know, does she?"
"We barely found out," Suka told him tiredly. "Kahasi, we declined the other offer for a reason. We just don't think his son would fit for our daughter."
"And we have already promised her to you," Akna added in quiet voice. "You need not worry about that."
The young man nodded. He had known the couple his entire life and respected them greatly. They were not ones to break a promise. He stood up straight and gave them a bow of his head. "Thank you," he told them as the stood back up. "But... this is Kanna's future...."
Two sets of eyes locked on him immediately. "Kahasi...," Akna began quietly. "What are you saying?"
He mulled over his words for a moment and looked away. "Kanna doesn't know about her engagement to me, however, Pakku has made his intentions known."
"He what?" Suka snapped as he frowned. "What did he say?"
"On the wall," Kahasi explained. "I saw Pakku reach forward and...," he hesitated. Kanna's parents looked at him expectantly. "He kissed Kanna."
Instantly, Suka was on his feet and heading towards the door. "Suka!" Akna gasped as she ran after him. She grabbed her husband's arm. "What are you doing!"
"That boy had no right to touch Kanna like that! They are unwed and he has not even come to speak to us and ask for permission, Akna! I'm going to speak to him and his father immediately-"
"Sir," Kahasi stood in front of the doorway, keeping Suka from walking out. "He asked Kanna to marry him."
The fisherman and his wife froze in their spots. Their eyes were wide as Akna's hands slipped from her husband's sleeves. Suka's mouth hung open before slowly closing. He narrowed his eyes critically. One thing came to the father's mind. "And what did my daughter say?"
Kahasi's eyes saddened. "She believed that he was joking, however, from what I saw and heard... Pakku is very much serious."
"Kahasi," Akna pulled her husband away and stood between him and her daughter's suitor. "Does this change anything? Do you not want Kanna to be your wife? You asked us years ago."
"I did and I do," the young man nodded. "I care for her greatly; as I do my own family. I only want what would be best for her and...." He trailed off.
Suka's face fell. "Are you... retracting... the marriage offer?"
Kahasi swallowed hard. "No... no...at least not now..." he took a deep breath. "But I need to think."
"Class adjourned!" Master Sae Kung swept his arms forward and returned all the spare water back into the pools on either side of the plaza. In front of him, his handful of students began to disperse.
Anyu reached into his pockets as he headed for the stairs. He didn't make it three steps before the sound of Pakku's voice reached his ears. "Anyu!" The waterbender let out a tired sigh.
"What is it, Pakku?" he asked, not bothering to turn around. The other bender jogged to his side and fell into step with him.
"Your brother," Pakku began without hesitation. "Kaha... something."
"Kahasi," Anyu corrected him. "What about him?"
Pakku looked over his shoulder warily as they walked down the long stretch of stairs. "Does he know Kanna?"
Anyu rolled his eyes. "Of course he knows Kanna. He's known her for years. He knows Yugoda and the others, too."
Pakku bit his lower lip; trying to figure out the best way to ask without looking completely obvious. He looked back at his friend. "I mean... how well does he... know Kanna?"
The other young man raised an eyebrow and gave Pakku a questioning look. Surely, Pakku didn't know about his brother's engagement to Kanna. Kanna didn't even know about the engagement! Carefully, Anyu answered his fellow bender. "Why are you asking?"
Immediately, Pakku jerked his head back. His eyes darted around nervously as walked beside Anyu. "I'm... well... I ran into him the other night. I didn't know you had a brother!" Pakku added quickly. "I mean... I thought that, as friends... you would've at least mentioned it."
Anyu narrowed his eyes suspiciously as he stopped at the bottom of the stairs. "Pakku, why are you following me?"
"Following...?" The master waterbender's son looked around. Had he been walking to his side of the city, he wouldn't have come this far. "Oh... I thought I'd come with you. Hang out... maybe."
The other young man let out a heavy sigh. "Fine... come on...." Anyu waved his hand and continued walking. "You've been acting really odd lately, Pakku," he began offhandedly as he looked straight ahead. "Even Kanna's mentioned it."
"She has?" Did his voice just break? Pakku felt his cheeks heat up with embarrassment as he scowled at the ground. "When did she say this?"
"During the festival," Anyu shrugged. "She's been really busy since then." Pakku gave him a questioning look. "At the fish market. Her father is getting ready for another fishing trip, so they've been preparing. I've barely seen her."
"Oh...." Disappointment wavered in Pakku's stomach. He had hoped to at least catch sight of her while he was in the neighborhood. "So... what are you going to do today? Going to your cousin Miki's? Shopping at the market?" he asked, somewhat hopefully.
Anyu shook his head as they crossed over a bridge. "I'm not a fisherman, but I need to help with the mending of the nets," Anyu explained. Pakku's face dropped and his friend smirked. "Still want to come?"
Pakku snorted indignantly and lifted his chin up. "If you can mend a few nets, I don't see how hard it could possibly be."
"Right...," Anyu chuckled. "Just don't get in the way." He stopped in front of the first floor of one of the buildings and knocked on the frame. Pakku looked up and studied the facade of the house with a frown.
"This isn't your house."
"Obviously," Anyu sighed. A voice called out from behind the door. "It's my brother's." Before Pakku would say a word, the door opened and the fur hanging over it was pushed aside. The councilman's son's eyes widened as the fisherman from the night on the wall appeared in the doorway.
"Anyu! Good, you came just in time," Kahasi smiled warmly at his younger brother. He glanced over Anyu's shoulder and offered Pakku a welcoming smile. "Pakku, welcome to my home. It's a bit of a mess right now... I apologize. I was in the middle of mending the nets."
"Oh... uh...." Pakku stammered. Anyu slipped passed his brother, leaving the unsure young waterbender behind him. Pakku stood rooted in his spot, unsure if he should enter or leave.
"Pakku, come on!" Anyu yelled from within the small flat. "You're letting the heat out!"
"Right! Sorry!" Aimlessly, Pakku stumbled in, Kahasi closing the door behind him. The room was lit with oil lanterns as netting was spread across the mats and furs. New coils of thread were waiting to be woven into the nets as the distinct smell of the ocean and fish hung in the air.
"Have a seat, Pakku," Kahasi said, motioning his hands to the free space on the floor that didn't have netting over it. "Would you like something to drink? Anyu?"
"No, I'm fine, brother."
"I'm fine, too. Thank you." Pakku said. He watched as Anyu sat across from him and ran his hands over the netting to find a place to start. Kahasi sat down next to his brother and repeated the motions. As soon as a hole was found, he reached over and began pulling a new strand through the net.
"So, Pakku," Kahasi asked coolly, without looking up as the thread wove expertly through experienced fingers. "What brings you to my home? Would you like to try your hand at net repair?"
Sheepishly, the younger man shook his head. He was lost just following the movements of their hands. "I admit I've never done it before. I might be more of a hindrance than help."
"Wow... that's a first," Anyu smirked as he mirrored his brother's movements. "Pakku admits he's not perfect. If only Kanna were here to hear that."
Pakku shot him a glare as Kahasi chuckled. "Well, if you're lucky, you can catch her before she gets off at the fish shop in a few minutes."
"Minutes?" Anyu lifted his head up; his hands still weaving through the net with practiced mastery. "It's not anywhere near sundown."
"She has to leave early. Suka will be leaving soon and she has to help her mother cook food for the trip," Kahasi explained. Across from him, Pakku shifted awkwardly in his seat. Part of him wanted to go and see if he could catch Kanna before she left. Or at least intercept her on her way home.
However, he didn't want to make it too obvious. After all, Anyu's brother had been on the wall that night. He could've heard Pakku's desperate proposal. Or worse; was his rival in the matter. His fingers nervously tugged at his clothes, suddenly feeling the urge to rush out of the meager home.
He glanced out the window and then back at the brothers quickly. It would get dark soon and he'd miss Kanna completely if he didn't leave now. He took a deep breath and began to stand up. "Well... it's getting dark out," he began as casually as he could. Anyu looked out the window. There was still light out. "I should get going."
"Thank you for coming by," Kahasi said. "I'll see you out."
"No!" Pakku nearly screamed as he headed for the door. Two pairs of eyes looked up at him, surprised. He quickly composed himself and gave a subtle shake of his head. "It's not necessary, Kahasi. Please just continue going about your work. I can see myself out."
"If you are sure...," Kahasi said unsurely.
"I'm sure!" Pakku assured him. He didn't want Kahasi to realize which direction he was heading towards. "Thank you for your hospitality! Have a nice evening! Anyu, I'll see you at practice tomorrow!" With one last, fleeting bow, Pakku ducked underneath the furs that covered the doorway and practically shot out of the building.
"He really has lost his mind...," Anyu murmured. From outside the window, he could see Pakku rushing off somewhere.
"Well... he does seem to be going in the wrong direction," his brother replied coolly. Anyu snapped his head back up and then turned to the window. Pakku wasn't heading towards his house. He was heading towards the market.
"It is fine, Anyu," Kahasi said as he remained seated on the fur lined cushions; patiently weaving thread through the netting. "It is fine."
"What are you saying?" Anyu gasped as he looked at his brother with wide, confused eyes. "He's going after your fiancee!"
"I've already spoken to Suka and Akna, brother. Everything is fine," Kahasi assured his sibling. He looked up and gave his brother a small smile. "Kanna will be in good hands."
"I'll see you tomorrow, Auntie Nauja!" Kanna said as she pulled her worn blue coat around her tighter. The woman left behind in the booth gave Kanna a quick nod before turning to deal with a customer.
The brown haired young woman looked up at the sky. It would be getting dark soon and she quickened her pace. She had to help her mother prepare the food for her father's fishing trip. If she finished fast enough, she would take a quick gondola ride up to the oasis to ask the spirits for a bountiful and safe trip for her father.
Her gloved hands moved beside her as she cut through the narrow alleys between the tall ice buildings. Usually, she didn't take short cuts, but she needed to get home quickly. And she wanted to avoid running into one particular councilman's son.
The incident on the wall was still fresh in her mind. The pleading look on his face, the seriousness behind his eyes, and the imploring sound of his voice had lingered in the back of her mind for days. She had struggled to keep busy, to keep her mind from falling back on the memory. It was not something she wanted to think about.
Marriage was one thing. She had looked forward to that since she was a little girl. However, marriage to Pakku was something completely different. They were from two different worlds. She was a humble fisherman's daughter. A non-bender. A fish market sales girl. He was the son of an esteemed councilman. A future master waterbender. A young man who had a bright future ahead of him and consequently, required a good wife.
It just wouldn't do, she sincerely believed. Kanna continued to walk, her eyes focused on her feet as her breath turned into small clouds before her lips. Another question had been tugging on her mind, one that had accepted Pakku's unexpected proposal as something real.
It asked her if she wanted to marry Pakku.
Her heart caught in her throat for a moment. While ultimately, it would be her parents who would accept or decline his proposal, if the fool even bothered speaking to them about it. Yet, a happy marriage would also depend on her attitude towards the relationship and the man. She would be able to tolerate his arrogance to some degree. She would be able to cook and clean for him and do all the things she had been taught a good wife was supposed to. And he would do all the things a good husband was supposed to: provide for her. His pride wouldn't let him do otherwise, after all.
Would she be able to have children with him? A rose tint brushed over her cheeks. It seemed like something so far away. She knew children would come along, eventually, but not so soon. She had yet to reach sixteen. Then there was the big question: did she love him?
Love in an arranged marriage always came after everything else. After the questions of status and financial security. Love, if you wanted it, would have to be cultivated between two people. Fate had been lucky to Anyu and Yugoda. Even if their feelings of love towards each other had been less than that of lovers, it would eventually become that. What of her and Pakku? Could she love him?
He wasn't a bad person. There were times when he amazed her with unexpected, thoughtful actions. Kanna wrinkled her nose. But he was arrogant and... weird.
She cringed at the last thought. Of course. What other kind of person would fall for someone like her? She shook her head and turned on to one of the main streets that lead to her building. Of course it would end up being someone weird. She paused for a moment. At least Pakku wasn't bad looking.
"Kanna!" She lifted her head at the sound of her name and froze in her tracks. Her entire body stiffened as she saw the young man in blue jogging towards her, looking somewhat out of breath. "Kanna! I'm glad I caught you."
She felt her heart slam against her chest. She had managed to evade him for a while. Another beat thumped against her chest. She knew she would eventually have to see him again. Another thump. But she didn't expect it to be so soon. Her chest tightened.
"Pakku." His name slipped from her lips and he smiled. Kanna felt her heart twist; her mind racing to find an escape route. She couldn't find one. "What are you doing here?"
"Look for you." He caught up to her and bent over to catch his breath. Then he looked up at her, a pleased smile on his face. "I heard you were... on your way home early today...," he said between gulps of air. "I got out of practice... so I thought I'd walk you home."
For a moment, Kanna couldn't breathe. Home? Home was where her parents were. "Don't worry about it, Pakku. I'm sure you're very busy-" she rushed, only to be cut off by a dismissing wave from Pakku.
"I came all the way down here to see you," he assured her with a smile on his face. An uncharacteristic red tint graced his cheeks. "I'd be happy to walk you home."
She inwardly cringed. "Ah... fine...," she murmured. A smile of triumph appeared on Pakku's face and Kanna resisted the urge to slap him. Silently, the two of them began walking down the street. They could see her building in the corner and already, Kanna began formulating excuses to keep him from going upstairs, where her parents were sure to be waiting.
The sounds of their footsteps were unaccompanied as they walked together in silence. Kanna's mind was whirling with possible excuses. Pakku's mind was consumed with trying to find a way to ask her if she had thought about his proposal without looking too eager.
He glanced down at her. She seemed to be lost in thought as well. The contemplative look on her face was soft and thoughtful. He smiled, suddenly happy that he was just close to her. As blissful thoughts ran through his mind, he didn't realize that they had reached the doorstep of her building.
It wasn't until Kanna's voice finally pierced through his clouded thoughts that he snapped out of his daze and looked over at her. "I'm sorry, what was that?" he asked, pleasantly.
Kanna drew her head back carefully as she looked at him critically. "I said we've reached my building," she repeated clearly. She stood on the first step, just below the open doorway as she backed up into the building. "Thank you for walking me back, Pakku, but I can get up to my flat from here."
His eyes widened. He wasn't ready to let her go just yet. He hadn't even asked her about the proposal. Before Kanna could close the door on his face, his hand shot out and stopped it from closing. "Wa... wait!" His voice almost cracked as he struggled to keep her from pushing the door closed on his hand. "Let me walk you to your flat!"
Kanna raised an eyebrow from behind the half opened door. "I can walk up a few flights of stairs by myself, Pakku."
"I insist!" he almost begged. Kanna bit her lower lip. She glanced behind her and up the darkened hallway that lead upstairs. "Kanna...." She turned around. Pakku was standing at the doorway, an uncharacteristically worried look on his face as he looked at her earnestly.
Her eyes lowered. "I don't think now is a good time-"
"Kanna!" a voice shouted from the stair well and the young woman whirled around. "Kanna, is that you downstairs?"
Pakku couldn't see the owner of the voice, but he was sure it was Kanna's mother. "Yes, Mom!" the dutiful daughter shouted back up the stairs. She left the door way for a moment to move closer to the stairwell. "I'll be upstairs in a little bit!"
"Is Pakku with you? I saw you two walking down the street." Kanna felt her blood stop in her veins. She could feel her stomach twisting and turning, as if anticipating whatever shipwreck was about to happen.
"I was just walking Kanna back to your building, madam!" The young flutist whirled around and took in a sharp gasp as she found Pakku standing beside her; his head lifted towards the stairs.
Kanna felt her cheeks burning. The entire building probably knew what was going on now. She quickly lifted her hands and grabbed on to Pakku's sleeve. "He was just about to go home!" she shouted over her shoulder as she tugged Pakku towards the entrance.
"Don't be silly, Kanna!" Akna's voice floated back down. "Bring him up here. We'd like to talk to the boy!"
Kanna felt the blood drain from her face. Why would they want to talk to Pakku? They couldn't possibly know about his proposal, could they? She quickly released his sleeves and looked up at him. "Have you spoken to my parents yet?" she asked in a low voice.
Pakku shook his head. "Not since they dropped by when we were decorating for the festival," he assured her, careful to keep his voice just as quiet. He tilted his head to the side questioningly as he furrowed his eyebrows. "Why?"
"Because you proposed to me!" Kanna hissed in a low voice. Slowly, she began to make her way up the stairs. She made sure her eyes were focused on the steps, refusing to look back at the young man following closely behind her. "Or am I right and that was really a joke?" She couldn't help the slight bitterness in her voice.
Before she could take another step, a firm gloved hand wrapped around her wrist and held her back. Before she could stop herself, Kanna turned around and locked on to Pakku's gaze. "I told you then and I'll tell you once more. I'm completely serious about this," Pakku stated sternly. "You may not see how much you're worth, but I do." He released her hand and walked past her silently. "If I need to speak to your parents about this, then I will."
Kanna drew her hand back against her chest. There was a fire in his eyes when he spoke to her. Determination and passion. For a split second, she couldn't breathe. Her eyes followed the shape of his back as he walked up the stairs ahead of her. He was going to speak to her parents now, she was sure of it.
"Pakku!" Her heart began to race as she scrambled up the stairs. "Pakku, wait! Stop!" she gasped as she reached him and held out her arms to stop him. "Don't!"
"Don't...?" Pakku paused. For a brief moment, she saw fear in his eyes. They were quickly replaced with determination. "Why?" he demanded.
"They're... not... ready...," she trailed off weakly. I'm not ready, her mind corrected. Pakku shook his head.
"I should at least ask permission from them to court you," Pakku told her as he stepped to the side. "I've gone out of our tribe's customs by asking you first. I should've spoken to your parents for approval," he mumbled. He gave her an apologetic look. "I'm sorry for that. No wonder you were so angry... it was so sudden."
Kanna shook her head. That was only one of the reasons. "No, Pakku, it's not that."
"Then what...," his voice trailed off as he looked down at her, his determined look weakening as another thought crossed his mind. He felt his heart stop. "Could it be that... you... don't want to marry me?" His voice was weak and strained; both hurt to realize the possibility and terrified of the answer.
Kanna searched his face quietly. He looked vulnerable all of a sudden and, yet, hopeful. She wanted to tell him that it wasn't that she didn't want to marry him, but as the moment dragged on, she knew that would be a lie. Her arms silently dropped to her side.
"Pakku...," she began carefully. "I-"
"Kanna! Pakku!" Akna's voice cut through the quiet stair well and Kanna tore her eyes away from his. "What is taking you two so long?"
"Ah! Forgive us!" Pakku immediately apologized. "We'll be right up."
His hand wrapped around hers, pulling her up the stairs without question as she climbed silently behind him. Before they reached Kanna's floor, he carefully let go of her hand. Akna was waiting at the door way to their flat and smiled warmly at the two as they reached the top step. "I was wondering what was taking you so long," she said as she stepped aside and ushered them in. "Come in! Come in!"
Kanna's feet felt heavy. As if she were being weighed down as she crossed the threshold of her house. The scent of warm stew and the sound of a crackling fire could be heard inside the flat. It should've made her feel welcomed. Instead, she felt smothered. Her mother closed the door behind them. She was trapped.
"Father?" Pakku's confused voice reached her ears and Kanna instinctively raised her head. She stopped beside the young waterbender as the three people sitting at the table stood up. "Mother?"
"Mom...." Panic was starting to lace Kanna's voice. "Dad... what's going on?" Two sets of parents talking in one room; awaiting the arrival of their children together. Her chest felt tight; she couldn't breathe. It was an arrangement.
"Kanna," her father said as Akna reached his side. "This is Councilman Siku and his wife, Sesi. They are Pakku's parents."
Her heart was racing. Dread was creeping up her body as she saw the wide smile on the councilman's face and the proud look he was giving his son. "Kanna," her mother's voice was gentle. "We have been talking and it has been decided."
Spirits have mercy on me... Kanna silently prayed.
"You are on the eve of your sixteenth birthday," Suka began. "And so, your time of engagement is near. After much... deliberation... we have accepted Pakku's offer to marry you."
Pakku. Engagement. Pakku. Marriage. Pakku... Kanna's train of thought momentarily broke. Kanna...Breathe...
"Kanna!" Somewhere around her, someone shouted. Her eyes rolled back and her legs gave way. "Kanna!" Then everything went black.
She was heavier than he thought, but then again, maybe it made sense. She spent a lot of time working in the market, carrying buckets of ice and fish around. It was only natural that she developed muscles.
"Pakku." He looked up from where he was sitting on the floor, in the same position he had been when he caught Kanna. He had completely forgotten that they weren't alone. Standing over him, while he held an unconscious young woman in his arms, were two pairs of adults. The fisherman that had called out his name knelt down on the other side of the girl. "Give her to me. I'll carry her to her room."
"I can do it." Instinctively, his arms tightened around her body. He pulled her closer to him as he met Suka's gaze. "I can carry her to her room," he insisted.
"Don't be silly, Pakku," his mother's voice wafted over from where she stood behind his father. "Let Suka carry his daughter. You aren't strong enough to pick her up."
He bristled. It took all his strength to suppress the scowl that crossed his face. "I said I can carry her," Pakku told them firmly. His arms carefully made their way beneath Kanna's legs and back. He adjusted his position as the adults around them watched worriedly. Once Pakku was sure Kanna wouldn't slip off, he took a deep breath and stood up.
His legs shook. "Careful!" Akna gasped as she reached forward.
"I have her," Pakku assured them. He straightened up and adjusted Kanna in his arms once more. "Now... where is her room?"
"I will take you there," Akna said. She brushed past the young man and led him into the hall. Pakku watched his step as he gingerly made his way through the narrow hallway. He was cautious; making sure her head and feet didn't needlessly hit the walls. Ahead of him, Akna pushed back the door to Kanna's room. "Let me prepare her bed," she said as she darted into the room. As Pakku brought the unmoving young woman into her modest looking quarters, Akna tugged down the heavy furs that lined Kanna's bed. "Here, put her here."
Pakku silently did as he was instructed. Kanna's head was placed gently on the pillow; her arms and legs resting in a comfortable position before Pakku pulled his arms out from underneath her and took a step back.
"Will she be okay?" he asked in a quiet voice.
The woman beside him gave him a small nod of her head. "She'll wake... she was only... surprised. That was all."
Pakku found himself nodding in agreement. Surprised... was that it? He hoped it was. He stood beside Kanna's mother for a moment longer. "Thank you...." His voice was quiet and Akna almost didn't hear it.
She turned her head and looked at him curiously. "What for?"
"For accepting the arrangement," Pakku explained. "I promise you, I will give Kanna everything she needs. I'll make her happy."
The woman's face softened. She smiled at him and gently patted his shoulder in a comforting manner. "Then please take care of my daughter," she replied softly. Pakku looked down at her and met her gaze. "Now... would you please leave the room?"
"Leave?" Pakku's eyebrows shot up and Akna nodded.
"She can't go to sleep dressed in her thick over clothes. I'll change her into sleep wear," Akna told him. She ushered the young waterbender towards the door and gave him the final push out. Pakku stumbled into the hallway as Akna closed the door behind him.
Silently, he stood in front of the door, staring at the worn grains on the wood. Then it hit him. Her parents had accepted the marriage proposal from his parents, which meant one thing: he and Kanna were going to get married.
Fireworks exploded in his mind as a sudden feeling of elation swept through him. Nothing could stop them now. Not family. Not rivals. He was sure that the Chief himself would bless their union. It took all Pakku's strength not to jump in the air with joy.
"Pakku," a voice at the entrance of the hallway caught his attention and he turned towards it. Kanna's father stood at the entrance and motioned for him to follow. "There are some details that need to be discussed. We'd like your opinion on them."
"Of course." Pakku nodded eagerly and followed the older man. He entered the main living space of Kanna's flat and then joined his parents and her father at the table.
"As I was saying," Siku began. "Kanna will have duties to fulfill as Pakku's wife." Beside him, the young man in question felt his cheeks burn. He quickly lowered his eyes before Suka could see him. "Such as join the other wives of councilmen and waterbending masters in assorted events. She will have to help oversee the neighborhood festivals."
"Of course, that is understandable," the fisherman said. "And do not worry about Kanna's manners. She may seem tomboyish and loud at times, but she is still Akna's daughter."
"Kanna plays the flute," Siku told his wife, almost proudly. "And very well, I might add. I am sure that she will be able to represent the family wonderfully before the Chief."
His wife gave a small, demure nod. She looked across the table at the fisherman. "Everything seems in order," the woman nodded. "When should we have someone come to pick up the dowry?"
"Ah...," Suka lifted his hand and rubbed the back of his neck. "You have to understand that we are but a humble fishing family...."
"Suka, no dowry is necessary," Siku assured him sternly. His wife stiffened beside him and looked at him questioningly.
"But... it is tradition...," she trailed off. "Surely Akna has been preparing a dowry for her own daughter."
"Oh, she has," Suka told them reassuringly. "Akna has saved much of her own dowry for Kanna; however, by today's standards, it must pale in comparison, especially compared to the dowry that you have prepared for your own daughter."
"Worry not about the dowry, my friend," Siku insisted. "What matters is that my son and your daughter will be married. We will bring Kanna into our family welcomingly. We will not need a dowry."
"I must insist," the fisherman replied. "It is small, but it will be given. Now, about the announcements."
"That's right, we must inform the tribe," Siku mused as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Pakku," he said as he looked over at his son. The young man sat up straight in his seat. "When would be a good time to properly announce this? You are in the middle of your waterbending classes, and the festival has already come and gone..."
"We can inform the Chief first," Pakku suggested. "Then the tribe."
"And what about Kanna?" Siku turned back to the bride-to-be's father. "When does she turn sixteen?"
"In a week and a half," Suka replied. "We will be celebrating it when I return from my fishing trip."
"Oh! That's right!" The councilman slapped the table in front him as he chuckled. "Forgive me, Suka. I must be holding you back from your preparations. You are leaving soon, aren't you?"
"In a few hours actually," Suka said as Siku stood up and motioned for his wife to stand with him. "But please don't feel rushed. It was I who called you here."
"We are honored that you came to us first the moment Kanna's previous engagement was retracted," Siku smiled widely. Pakku gave his father a questioning look. Previous engagement? He wanted to ask, but knew it was not his place. The young bender crossed his eyes thoughtfully. The point was that he was the one marrying Kanna. "We are very lucky."
"Are you leaving? Already?" a voice asked behind them. The standing adults turned as Akna walked out from the hallway.
"We're sorry to have disturbed you, Akna," Sesi said as she bowed her head. "We lost track of time and have intruded on Siku's preparation for his fishing trip."
"Oh, nonsense, it doesn't take long to prepare now. Everything is ready," Akna chuckled. She looked over at Pakku and smiled warmly. "If you are leaving, would like you to say goodnight to Kanna? I'm afraid she's asleep now, however."
Pakku stood up beside his father as he fumbled with his hands. A pink tint reached his cheeks as he gave the woman a small bow of thanks. "If you allow me to," he glanced over at Kanna's father. " I'd like to see her once more before I leave."
Beside him, his father seemed to puff out his chest with pride. Ever the romantic gentleman, that was his son. Akna nodded and Suka gave him a small look of warning before Pakku headed back down the hall. He walked past Kanna's mother and retraced his earlier steps to Kanna's room. The wooden door was partially open.
He stood outside for a second and took a deep breath. His hand reached out and gently pushed the door open. Hesitantly, he took a step into the room. Kanna was where he had left her, on her bed. The only difference now was that her hair was down and that the blankets had been pulled up to her chin to keep her warm.
Pakku left the door partially open as he crept into her small room. This time, he was able to notice the small details of the space. The drawers against the wall that held her clothes, the wooden wardrobe in the corner, and even the bed itself looked old and worn. He remembered that she wasn't wealthy. Everything there might have been a hand me down from relatives.
Still, everything looked comfortable and lived in. Almost warm and welcoming. The blankets over Kanna looked snug and worn in. As he neared the bed, he could make out the light blue fabric of the pillows beneath her brown hair. The fabric was thin, but Kanna still looked comfortable and that was what mattered.
He paused for a moment and looked over his shoulder. He was right beside the bed and wondered if he was too close. There was a possibility that her father would walk in, and Pakku didn't want to look as if he were planning something devious. Blue eyes lowered back to the sleeping young woman.
She was prettier with her hair down, he reasserted. Pakku looked over his shoulder once more and then carefully sat on the edge of her bed. His movements were slow and deliberate, trying to keep as silent as possible so as not to disturb the sleeping person. The edge of the bed dipped under his weight, but didn't make a sound.
He looked down at Kanna's sleeping face. Despite himself, he could feel the soft smile reaching his own lips as he looked at her. Soft brown hair fell over her forehead and he reached over to brush it aside. Before his gloves could touch her skin, he pulled back. Silently, he peeled off his gloves. His hands were warm, yet clammy.
Even if her family had approved their engagement and they were destined to be man and wife, he was still nervous being in the same room with her. It was odd. The first time he had met her, just a few months ago, they had immediately clashed. She was rude, aggressive, and proud.
Nothing of what he had been brought up to believe was good in a woman. Despite what seemed to be all her faults, he'd fallen for her anyway. She had somehow entered his life and took over every thought. And he was grateful that she did. The fisherman's daughter showed him a world outside of the one he had around him. He had some semblance of a 'normal' young life with friends and laughter.
And she had been there every step of the way, coaxing him, prodding him, egging him on. Now, knowing that he would be with her in marriage, he'd never felt happier.
He slipped his gloves into his pocket and felt something cool and smooth to the touch. His hands coiled around the hard object and gently pulled it out of its cloth confines. The glistening blue surface looked back at him as it lay across his palm. Soft velvet fabric imported from the Earth Kingdom trailed from either side of the pendent.
A shaky hand lowered and slowly caressed the symbol engraved upon it. It had taken him a while to work on it. Not nearly as long as other men, as waterbending helped a great deal in smoothing and shaping the stone. However, it was prefect. The symbol that graced the wall and was woven into their lives was carved into the stone.
It was for the Northern Water Tribe. It was for waterbending. It was for the moment they met. The moment he laughed. The moment he realized he loved her. The moment he kissed her for the first time. No matter where she went, she would always be reminded of them. Of him.
His eyes rose and looked back at Kanna's sleeping face. A small smile reached his lips as he leaned forward. Warm fingertips stroked her hair back as he swept it over her shoulder. His fingers ran along the velvet choker. He held the necklace over her slender, brown neck.
It complimented her nicely. Carefully, Pakku leaned over and reached behind Kanna's neck. Making sure not to wake her, he fastened the necklace in place and then pulled back.
It was done. Kanna was engaged to him.
He felt his heart swell as he admired the glistening blue stone over her neck. He'd buy her more jewelry later on, of course, but the necklace would always be the defining piece from him.
"I promise you the world, Kanna," he whispered as he stood up. "I promise."
"Pakku?" A quiet knock rapped against the wooden door and the young man shot up straight. He whirled around, his face wearing a heated blush as he made out Akna's figure in the doorway. "Your parents are leaving now."
"Oh, thank you," Pakku gave the woman a bow as he turned to get one more look at Kanna. He'd see her again, soon. He turned his back to her and headed out the door. "I'll come see her in the morning."
"Of course." Akna stepped aside as Pakku walked past her. She reached back and pulled the door closed.
A tiny click sounded and Kanna shifted in her sleep. Warm droplets slid from the corners of her eyes.
For some reason, her head hurt. The dull throbbing at her temples woke her from her dreamless sleep. On instinct, Kanna raised her hands from beneath the heavy blankets and gently brought them to the sides of her head. As she applied some pressure to the area, she opened her eyes.
They shut almost immediately. Kanna's hands lowered and she turned her head away from the bright light coming through her window. It was one thing to have a sunny day, but it was several times brighter once the sunlight reflected off the ice walls of the buildings across from them that time of day.
Her eyes shot open. Time of day? Kanna shot up in bed, ignoring her headache and the cold air in her room as she looked out the window. From experience, the sunlight wouldn't be reflected into her room like that until well past midday. Her heart stopped.
She had over slept. She hadn't over slept since she was eight! Not since she began helping her aunt at the fish market. "Oh, spirits..."
Multiple thuds, a groan, and panicked footsteps came from Kanna's room before she tore the door open and shot out. Akna lifted her head and looked up from the sea cucumbers she was slicing on the counter as her daughter hopped into the kitchen in search of food. One hand was desperately trying to put on her boot while the other tugged her coat down the rest of the way.
"Kanna," Akna voiced her concern as she put the knife down and then wiped her hands on a nearby cloth. "What are you doing out of bed?"
"Mom, it's past midday!" Kanna exclaimed as she frantically pointed out the window. She stomped her foot on the floor to try to place it in the correct position before beginning to open all the cabinets. "Auntie can't man the booth alone!"
"She isn't manning it alone; your cousin Sedna is helping her."
"Sedna?" Kanna whirled around. Her arms were still raised and holding on to the cabinet doors as she looked at her mother with disbelief. "Mom, Sedna doesn't know the first thing about fish...." She trailed off as her arms lowered. "How did Auntie know to bring Sedna?"
Akna smiled softly and crossed the kitchen. She raised her hands and gently pressed them against her daughter's cheeks. Under her mother's critical eyes, Kanna began to squirm. "You look fine...," the woman mused. "You don't have a temperature... does your head hurt?"
Kanna pulled her head back and gently batted her mother's hands away. "Mom, I'm fine," she insisted. Her head still throbbed, but it wasn't painful. "Did Aunt Nauja send for Sedna when I didn't show up?"
"Actually, I sent for Sedna," Akna replied as she turned around. Kanna narrowed her eyes as her mother returned to the counter. "You were asleep all of yesterday and-"
"Yesterday!" Kanna's eyes widened. "Wait... no! That's not possible! Yesterday, I worked at the booth!"
"Do you remember what happened afterwards?" Akna asked. She turned around to face her daughter once more.
The young woman stood in her place, her eyes narrowed as her mind raced with memories. "I... I came home to help Dad pack for the trip... but Pakku caught me and...." She blanched. Akna nodded in affirmation as Kanna's eyes widened. A shaking hand rose and covered her gaping mouth. "No... That couldn't have...."
Akna smiled at her daughter, almost sadly. "You fainted as soon as we told you the news...."
Kanna looked at her mother with a desperate expression on her face. "Mom..." She remembered walking into her family's flat and the smell of food from the kitchen. She remembered the warmth of the room wrapping around her, becoming confining rather than welcoming. She remembered the councilman and his wife. She remembered her father and his words. Then she remembered falling and darkness.
Akna watched the expression dance across her daughter's face. Realization was followed by uncertainty, and then by horror. "Kanna," Akna began gently. "This should be a happy time for you. You're getting married. And to a young man who promises to be a good provider for you and your children."
"But...," Kanna's mind whirled. "To Pakku?" She couldn't help the whimper in her voice. "It can't be...."
Akna smiled softly. She gently tugged down the fur-lined collar of her own coat and tapped the blue pendent resting against her throat. Instinctively, Kanna mimicked her mother's actions. Soft, sensitive fingertips touched hard stone. An engagement necklace.
Kanna tore from the room, her heart slamming in her chest as she rushed back to her bedroom. She flew through the doorway and headed straight for her dresser. Her free hand grabbed the handle of the mirror lying there and lifted it up. A crescent moon and waves looked back at her from their reflection. They were carefully carved into the shining blue stone.
Kanna swallowed. She hadn't even felt it on when she woke, yet suddenly, she felt its weight against her.
"He placed it around your neck before he left the first night," a voice said from her doorway. "He caught you when you fell and carried you to your room. He came by yesterday morning to check on you. Then he returned after his waterbending practice and didn't leave until late in the evening. I'm surprised you didn't wake up with how he was talking to you." The woman chuckled.
Kanna kept her eyes on the mirror as her fingertips gently stroked the smooth surface. That was it, then. She was engaged. To Pakku.
"Kanna," her mother's voice drew her attention back to the doorway. Kanna slowly lowered the mirror in her hand as she looked at her mother. The older woman walked into the room and put her hands on her daughter's shoulders. "Pakku is a good boy. He has been nothing, if not respectful to your father and me. He has come every day to make sure you are okay. I know you two are always at odds, but give him a chance. Do not close him out of your heart so quickly."
Kanna lowered her eyes and gave a small nod of her head. She took a deep breath and pulled away from her mother. "I need to think about this...."
Akna nodded her head understandingly. "There could have been worse matches, Kanna. Be happy that he cares for you so much."
The young woman nodded and watched as her mother exited her bedroom. Silently, Kanna closed her eyes. Her fingers never left the pendant around her neck. She traced the outlines of the moon and waves once more. It was happening so fast... she didn't expect it.
She raised her hand and ran it through her thick, unbound brown hair. She looked down at the mirror once more and closed her eyes. She walked out of her room and down the hall. "Mom, I'm going to take a walk...," she called out lamely as she cut through the living area.
"Don't stay out too late," Akna replied from the kitchen. Kanna closed the door and headed for the stairs. Silently, she fixed her hair into a bun at the base of her neck and then lifted her hood over her head as she walked down the steps to the front door.
As soon as she stepped out into the hard packed snow street, she headed for the market. Even if her cousin was taking over while she was gone, she still felt the need to check up on them and make sure her aunt wasn't overwhelmed. She walked along the docks, and inhaled the cold sea air.
The area was busy with traders from the Earth Kingdom. Numerous merchants were walking around the docks with their Water Tribe counter parts; talking business. "Kanna!" a voice shouted to her side. She turned her head and offered a smile to a family friend in the midst of moving crates of fishing nets from the dock to his boat. "Congratulations!"
She jerked her head back. They couldn't already know, could they? "Ah... thank you...," she answered unsurely. Kanna shoved her hands in her pocket and lowered her eyes before quickly walking away.
The closer she got to the market place, the more frequent the congratulatory remarks became. "Congratulations, Kanna!"
"You got a good one, Kanna!"
"May your marriage be long and filled with children!"
All she could do was smile weakly and give them a small bow of thanks. Family friends openly walked up to her and congratulated her; giving her hugs and complimenting her on the fine specimen of a husband she was able to catch. Catch? Kanna kept a smile pasted on her face. I never meant to catch anyone!
It seemed as if it took half the afternoon to just reach her aunt's booth. As she came into view, her cousin shot up from her stool and began to jump up and down excitedly. "Momma! Momma!" the young woman piped as she rushed to the back room. "It's Kanna!"
The approaching young woman let out a heavy breath. It seemed as if everyone did know. As she reached the booth, her aunt rushed out. "Kanna! Congratulations, my dear!"
"Thank you, Aunt Nauja...," the suddenly drained young woman replied meekly. She forced a smile on her face as her aunt threw her arms around her and gave her a crushing hug. The woman and her daughter rambled on about how she knew Pakku was interested in her, and how no one would believe her when she told them.
Kanna merely smiled and nodded; only half paying attention. As she stood inside the booth, a few other merchants from neighboring booths came by to congratulate her, some even bearing engagement gifts for her.
"How did everyone find out so quickly?" Kanna asked as she pulled her cousin aside while her aunt spoke to the other market vendors.
"From Yugoda, of course," Sedna chuckled. "Well, Momma found out from your mom, but everyone else found out because Yugoda came running through here yesterday screaming that you hadn't told her you were engaged to the councilman's son!"
Yugoda... Kanna's eyes narrowed. Suddenly, it all made sense... kind of. "Wait, how did Yugoda find out?" the bride-to-be asked. She had been asleep for over a day; she couldn't have told Yugoda.
"Who knows," Sedna shrugged. "But who cares! You're getting married!" Gleefully, she hugged Kanna once more as the young woman stood rooted in her spot. Kanna didn't understand. Why was everyone so happy?
"Yugoda!" The name of her friend cut through her thoughts and Kanna whirled around, instantly searching for her best friend. From the crowd surrounding the booth, Nauja was able to pick out and pull in the petite waterbender.
Instantly, the two girls rushed to face each other. "You!" they accused almost immediately. "Me! Yes, you!" A frustrated look graced both their faces as Kanna let out a low growl. She reached out and grabbed Yugoda's hand, dragging her with her. "Why did you tell everyone I was engaged!" she hissed in a low voice as she pulled Yugoda into the backroom.
"Why didn't you tell me you were!" Yugoda retorted. She lifted her chin up proudly and put her hands on her waist. "I had to hear from Anyu who heard it from Pakku that you were engaged!"
"Spirits, even Anyu knows!" Kanna exclaimed as she threw her arms in the air.
"Forget about Anyu for a second and let me see the necklace!" Yugoda nearly shrieked over enthusiastically. Kanna grumbled and tugged down the collar of her jacket to reveal the blue stone against her slender throat. "Oooh..."
"I didn't even realize it was on until my mom pointed it out," Kanna grumbled as Yugoda made mental comparisons between her necklace and Kanna's. "I can't believe Pakku told Anyu...."
Across from her, Yugoda pulled back. Her nose wrinkled as she pouted. "Why didn't you tell me!" she demanded as stomped her foot on the ground childishly. "You were one of the first people I went to when I was engaged!"
"Yugoda, I fainted!" Kanna told her sternly. "Dad told me they accepted a marriage proposal from Pakku's family and then the next thing I knew, I woke up past midday. How could I tell you if I was unconscious?"
"Wait, wait...," Yugoda said as she shook her head. "You fainted? Why? Were you surprised? Are you okay?"
"I don't know!" Kanna sighed heavily. She fell back against the wall and ran one gloved hand down her face. "It's... it's just happening so fast, Yugoda. And to Pakku of all people...."
"What's wrong with Pakku?" Yugoda asked curiously.
Kanna lifted her head and looked at her friend incredulously. "What's wrong with Pakku?" she repeated, as if Yugoda had just asked her the stupidest question in the world. "What isn't wrong with him?"
"He's not a bad guy, Kanna," Yugoda insisted. "He's your friend, isn't he? And didn't you guys have some sort of a truce?"
Kanna took a deep breath and nodded her head. "Yes... yes, we do, but still... this is marriage...."
"You're just surprised," Yugoda assured her as she patted her shoulder comfortingly. "I mean, you two are always arguing and making fun of each other. This is probably just really shocking to you. You'll get used to the idea in a few days."
Kanna felt her stomach churn at the thought, but pushed away the doubt and worry that bubbled up. He had been good to her parents and respectful to her aunt. Somewhere beneath his cocky attitude, he was a thoughtful person. Kanna gave a small nod. "I'm sure you're right...," she replied rationally. "I'll give it a few days...."
"That's the spirit!" Yugoda beamed. She reached down and took Kanna's hand in hers. "Let's go!"
"Go?" Kanna was tugged forward. She stumbled out into the booth. "Go where!" she gasped. Yugoda was pretty strong for a petite person.
"Auntie, I'm taking Kanna up to the lodge!" Yugoda beamed a wide smile at Kanna's aunt as she waved. "He should be getting out of waterbending practice soon."
Kanna felt the blood drain from her face. "Wa... wait!" She pulled back, but Yugoda continued to drag her forward as they cut through the crowd. "Yugoda!"
"Come on! He'll be glad to see you!" Yugoda assured her as she excused them both and headed towards the lodge.
"No! It's fine! I can see him... later!" Much later. Kanna added.
Yugoda shook her head. "Nonsense! It'll be fine, plus I'm going to see Anyu, too," Yugoda added with a grin. She looked back at Kanna and smiled widely. "Besides, the whole tribe practically knows already, so it won't be a surprise."
Kanna felt her chest tighten. Everyone was accepting it so quickly, but to her, it was going way too fast. Yugoda rambled on and on as she dragged Kanna up the city and towards the lodge. Didn't they realize that days before, she and Pakku were screaming at each other? All of a sudden they were engaged. Didn't that seem a little rushed to anyone?
"...Give him a chance," Kanna could hear her mother's voice as Yugoda pulled up her the stairs to the plaza in front of the lodge. "Do not close him out of your heart so quickly..."
"Excellent job, as usual, Pakku." Her head snapped up as she stopped beside Yugoda. They stood on the edges of the crowd that surrounded the advanced waterbending boys class. Master Sae Kung lifted his arms and returned the water back into the open holes in the plaza. "As expected from you."
"Thank you, sir!" Pakku bowed his head, a pleased smile on his face as straightened up.
"Tomorrow we will be having an early morning class as we need to adjourn early for a tribal meeting," Sae Kung told his students as they stood in a row before him. "Be here before dawn," A series of groans swept past the group, but no one openly complained. When the waterbending master was sure his students understood; he gave them a dismissing nod of his head. "Class is adjourned."
The young men in the line immediately began to disperse. Kanna looked around her as the groups of maidens and young boys began to break apart. She suddenly felt unguarded as the bodies that surrounded her headed in different directions. "Anyu! Anyu! Over here!"
She felt Yugoda's hand squeeze hers as the female waterbender jumped up and down, waving her free hand in the air to get her fiance's attention. Across the plaza, Anyu turned at the sound of her voice. A wide smile graced his face as he lifted his hand. Before he could call out to his fiance, someone else called out to theirs.
"Kanna!" The young woman cringed. She knew that voice. Anyu felt a small breeze fly by him as Pakku darted towards Kanna with an elated smile on his face. "Kanna, you came!"
"Pakku... good after-" Kanna's eyes widened as she gasped. Yugoda had released her hand and stepped aside just before Pakku swept her up in his arms.
"I told you he'd be glad to see you," Yugoda chuckled as Pakku loosened his hold on Kanna.
"How are you feeling?" he asked intently as he lifted his hand and brushed back the stray bangs that fell over her forehead. "Are you tired? When did you wake up? Yugoda," he frowned as he looked over at their friend. "Are you sure Kanna is up to walking this far?"
"Pakku," Kanna frowned as she pried herself out of his arms. "I'm fine. I woke up earlier... I had a small headache, but its gone now-"
He frowned more so. "A headache?" He turned back to Yugoda. "Yugoda, what were you thinking dragging her up here-"
"Pakku, stop it," Kanna told him sternly as she took a step back. "I'm not a child. I'm fine. Yugoda only brought me up here because she wanted me to see you." She shot her a glare, and Pakku's look softened.
"Oh...," he trailed off, sheepishly.
"Kanna." Another voice caught her attention. She looked past Pakku and gave Anyu a smile. Her old friend gave her a small bow of his head. "Congratulations."
"Thank you...," Kanna said in a quiet voice.
"Come on, we'll all walk back," Anyu said as he took Yugoda's hand. Before Kanna could reply, a heavy arm wrapped around her shoulder and she was suddenly pulled back against a warm body. Anyu looked past her and shot a subtle glare at Pakku.
"Not tonight," Pakku smiled cheekily. "Since Kanna came up this far, I'd like her to have dinner with my parents."
"Is Kanna even up to it?" Anyu asked quickly. "She did have a headache earlier."
"She said she was fine," Pakku told him brightly. He looked down at Kanna and smiled. "Right, Kanna? You'll have dinner with my family tonight?"
The young woman stood rooted where she stood, tense and silent. Yugoda looked pleased at Pakku's offer of dinner while Anyu was frowning. Kanna frowned slightly. Why was he frowning? Did he not approve of the match? She glanced back up at Pakku. He was looking at her expectantly. Finally, Kanna gave him a small nod. "I suppose..."
"Wonderful!" His happy smile only grew wider as he turned to the other couple. "Will one of you send a message to Mom?"
"Mom...?" Kanna asked in a low, displeased voice. Pakku didn't seem to notice. She inwardly cringed as she thought of whom he could possibly be talking about. Was he referring to...?
"I'll tell Auntie Akna!" Yugoda assured them. "You two go ahead!"
"Thank you, Yugoda!" Pakku gave her a wide smile and then gave a small wave to Anyu. "I'll see you in class tomorrow, Anyu!"
The other bender gave him a curt nod before Pakku turned Kanna around and began leading her in the opposite direction. "Pakku," Kanna said, as she was lead away. "Are you sure it's fine with your family for me to join them at dinner? It's very sudden."
"Don't be ridiculous," Pakku assured her. "You will be part of the family soon. Besides, it will just be us, my parents, and my younger sister. She wanted to meet you, you know."
Kanna nodded dumbly. The feeling of pressure around her chest tightened once more. She was trapped again, but couldn't bring herself to say no. Pakku looked so eager. But I still shouldn't have to go... I mean... we're not married... yet... A small part of her asserted. Kanna opened her mouth to protest when Pakku's next couple of words silenced her.
"Your mother has been very accommodating and kind to me. She insisted I have dinner with her when I came to visit you last night," he told her sheepishly. A pink tint reached his cheeks as he looked away slightly. "Her food is always very good... I hope you enjoy my mother's cooking as much as I've enjoyed yours."
Kanna lowered her eyes. She took a deep breath. It was only one meal. One simple meal with his immediate family. Her mother's words echoed in her mind once more and Kanna bit her lower lip. She turned her head up and smiled at him. "I'm sure it will be delicious."
"You're shaking," Pakku pulled her closer to him as Kanna shivered in the aftermath of it all. "Did the food disagree with your stomach?" he asked, concerned.
Kanna shook her head. The food was fine. It was excellent, actually. What had disagreed with her was his family. His father was fine, very welcoming and happy. He even called her his daughter. Pakku's mother was welcoming enough. She seemed somewhat disappointed. Perhaps she had wanted her son to marry someone else. His younger sister was eager to meet her and kept asking her all these questions about life in the docks; like what she and her friends did for fun.
In general, his immediate family was very pleasant. However, several Aunts, Uncles, cousins, and other extended family had given her a double take, as if questioning why Pakku - the heir to their family's great waterbending legacy - wanted to marry her.
They had walked into his family's house and as soon as Sesi discovered she was over, she sent her daughter out to bring the family around so that they could meet Pakku's future wife. Then, it had become an endless stream of greeting relatives, accepting congratulations, and being grilled on her family's less than prestigious background.
While most of them had been indifferent to the situation, she had received several negative looks from older members of the family. She could tell they deemed her unworthy of Pakku. Their judgmental looks and critical gaze only made her happy that Pakku was by her side.
Never once did he leave her alone. He stood beside her throughout it all, firmly holding onto her hand and giving her a gentle squeeze whenever he thought she was becoming overwhelmed. At one point, he had even butted in as distant aunt, who was married to another council member, began to question her lineage.
It had been overwhelming. She had been caught off guard. She had felt out of place. She had felt self-conscious. There they were; the upper echelon of the tribe; dressed in the deepest of blues. She stood amongst them; a fisherman's daughter; dressed in a worn, drab blue coat.
"They were impressed, you know," Pakku said beside her. She lifted her head up and glanced over at him. He was leading her towards his family's gondola so that he could bring her home. It was late and he wasn't about to let her walk alone. "Even the family elders commented on your good manners."
Kanna nodded. "My mom was... very strict about them."
He couldn't help but grin. He honestly hadn't expected her to carry grace and poise. He hadn't left her side; half afraid she was going to run and half afraid she was going to tackle someone in his family when they became too irritating. Luckily, she was able to hold herself back well. Pakku was proud of her.
He looked down at her and met her gaze. "Even if she weren't, I'd still want to marry you."
Part of her wanted to laugh. Another part wanted to shove him away and then scream at him. Oddly, the part that won through was the one that returned his smile. "Thank you...," she said. She turned her head forward. "But I still don't know why you want to marry me."
"I told you already," Pakku replied. "I want to be with you. What more reason do you need?"
"Young Master Pakku," Kanna looked up as they reached the gondolier. He was an old man and gave her a warm smile. "There is a blanket there for you, Miss Kanna."
"Oh... thank you," Kanna nodded dumbly, as Pakku jumped into the gondola first. As he steadied the boat with his waterbending, he lifted his free hand towards the edge of the street and offered it to her. For a split second, Kanna recalled the tales her mother had told her when she was a child, the ones of a gallant bender saving the princess and sailing away with her. Carefully, she placed her hand in his and felt a flood of warmth across her face.
Pakku's fingers closed around her hand and held her steady as she stepped into the boat. Pakku assisted her into one of the seats before sitting beside her. He reached forward and pulled the neatly folded blanket that had been waiting for them up to their chests. Kanna settled in as he tucked the blanket around them.
"Head towards the southern docks, please," Pakku told the old man standing behind them. The gondolier smiled once more and pushed the boat off the sidewalk. As they floated down the center of the waterway, Pakku reached over and wrapped his arms around her. Instantly, Kanna tensed up.
She glanced up at him and saw his eyes diverted shyly. His lips were drawn in a tight, embarrassed line as he blushed. It was a bit... endearing.
At least he's trying, Kanna thought to herself. He's trying to bring you into his family. Trying to make you feel welcomed and comfortable. Just give him a chance... He's arrogant and stubborn, but he cares about you. You're lucky that he does.
Kanna bit her lower lip and forced herself to relax. Once her body settled into the space between the side of the gondola and Pakku's warm body, she found that her relaxation was no longer forced. The dull sound of water lapping against the boat. The sound of the wooden paddle moving through the liquid. The rhythmic rise and fall of his chest. They were all calming and eased her nerves.
Pakku looked down in surprise. Kanna's head was resting against his shoulder and his face heated up. While ultimately her parents made the decision to accept the marriage or not, he still wanted acceptance from her. To know that she wanted to marry him or at least would give him that chance. Was she accepting the engagement? Was this her way of accepting it? She never really told him what she thought of it all. Frankly, he had been terrified that she hated him.
He had hoped to make his intentions clear with bringing her to eat with his family. When his relatives suddenly showed up, he was afraid she was going to be scared off. He should've known better. Kanna was strong. That was one of the reasons he fell for her in the first place.
Pakku's hand tentatively reached for hers. Gloved fingers slipped between his and he felt his heart jump. A content look graced her face and the weight of fear that had been lingering in the back of his mind was suddenly lifted. Was she happy? Happy to be with him?
"This is still... sudden," Kanna said quietly as she kept her gaze forward. Sudden. She didn't know how else to describe it. "But I'll try, Pakku."
He closed his eyes and let out a heavy breath. "I'll do everything I can for you, Kanna, I swear. I'll be a good... no, a great husband. I'll treat you well and give you whatever you need. Whatever our children need."
Kanna chuckled uncomfortably. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves...."
Beside her Pakku blushed. "I still mean it," he insisted. "I'll even grant your wish," he added.
"What wish?" Kanna asked tiredly. The steady movement of the boat was lulling her to sleep.
"The one you made that night... about seeing the world," Pakku told her. He squeezed her hand reassuringly. "If you want to see the world, I promise you that you'll see it."
Kanna shifted in her seat and looked at him seriously. "You promise?"
Her clear blue eyes and softened features were graced with faint hope. Pakku nodded, transfixed by the look on her face. "Yes..."
Kanna relaxed. "Then I promise I will try to be a good wife."
She was almost asleep by the time they reached the doorway of her building. Pakku walked her up to her flat, afraid that she'd fall asleep in the stairwell and freeze to death. Kanna allowed him to without complaint. Akna was up waiting for them and thanked her future son-in-law before seeing him out.
Before he left, he was able to kiss Kanna quickly on the cheek and hoped Akna didn't see. He didn't stay to see Kanna's reaction, but since she didn't scream or shy away, he assumed it wasn't negative. Of course, she was also half asleep. Blushing to himself, Pakku headed back towards where the gondolier was waiting. He made it just past the second building when a familiar figure stopped him in his tracks. Still smiling, Pakku approached the young man.
"Anyu, what are you doing out here-"
"Why did you ask her to marry you?" Anyu said as he stood across from Pakku. "Pakku, this better not be some sick joke-"
Before he could finish, Pakku cut him off with a scowl. "I've told her already that this isn't some joke. We're formally announcing it at tomorrow's tribal meeting, Anyu. I love Kanna and I want to marry her."
"You've only known her a few months...," Anyu stressed. "And Kanna... is Kanna. She isn't like those girls where you live."
"Exactly! She's special," Pakku insisted. "That's why I love her."
Anyu took a deep breath, as if to calm himself. "Pakku, my brother gave up his engagement to Kanna... because he thinks that you are a better match for her." The councilman's son's eyes widened. He knew that Kahasi might be after Kanna, but he didn't think he was the one who was engaged to her. Anyu continued on. "He heard you that night on the wall and felt that you cared for her more than he did, so he spoke to her parents and withdrew the engagement."
Pakku felt his mouth dry. "I... I had no idea she was...," Pakku squinted. "But she didn't know... did she?"
"No," Anyu replied sharply. "And she won't find out. At any rate, my brother gave up his fiance for you. Kanna would've been my sister and, despite everything, I still consider her as such. If you hurt her in anyway...."
"I won't hurt Kanna," Pakku insisted sternly. "She will be my wife and I will give her the world." He paused and looked over Anyu. "Is this the reason you've been so rude to me lately? Anyu... I won't hurt her. I love her," he repeated earnestly.
Anyu locked eyes with his friend. "To be honest, I don't know if the match is a good one," he admitted. Pakku felt a bit of disappointment rising. Anyu was his friend and Kanna's as well. He had hoped the other bender would feel happy for him. "But, as long as you make her happy... I can't say anything. So...," Anyu extended his hand. "I wish you the best."
Pakku looked at Anyu's arm wearily before extending his own. The two locked arms and then brought each other close in a sign of respect. As they parted, Pakku met Anyu's eyes once more. "She will be happy," he assured Anyu.
The other bender gave a small nod of his head as he turned around and headed towards his own building. "Just hope it is with you."
Pakku watched as Anyu disappeared in the darkness of the alley before he headed back to the waterway. He got on the gondola and slid back into his seat before he gave a wordless nod to the gondolier. The ride to back to his neighborhood seemed twice as long without Kanna curled up against him.
By the time he reached his house, he was drained. He yawned as he slipped into the living area. His father was sitting by the fire pit, seemingly lost in thought. Pakku was going to silently slip behind him when Siku's voice called out and stopped him.
"Ah, Pakku, good," Siku smiled and waved his son to join him. "I was talking it over with some of the council members the other day and it's been decided that you will be now be attending some of the council meetings with me."
Pakku jerked his head back in surprise. "Already?"
"Well, you're engaged now and are on the cusp of becoming a master waterbender," Siku assured him. "We decided it would be for the best if you start to sit in on meetings. Get used to the way they are held and become involved with tribal governing. You will start learning now and thus when you take your place as a councilman, you will already be fully prepared. What do you think?"
Pakku couldn't help the smile on his face. Honestly, could his day not get any better? Kanna came to visit him. She had dinner with his family and survived. She accepted his proposal. He was able to kiss her without getting slapped. Now his father was going to bring him into the council.
"I... thank you, Father!" Pakku bowed his head gratefully as the councilman laughed.
"Tomorrow is the tribal meeting," Siku told him as he sat up straight in his seat. "We will be dealing with quite a few serious topics. Some of which regard the war."
"Souzin's War?" Pakku asked as he took a seat across from his father. Siku nodded.
"It seems that the Fire Nation is advancing once more...The recent merchant ships delivered devastating news to us," Siku reported seriously. Pakku's smile slowly fell from his face as a heavy feeling settled into the room. "The last of the Air Nomad Temples has fallen."
Pakku's eyes widened. "That's impossible..."
His father shook his head. "Earth Kingdom reports say that there are no survivors. It was... complete and total genocide," he looked at Pakku solemnly. "They are encroaching on Earth Kingdom territory. They are encroaching on us."
Pakku's eyes narrowed. "But we fended them off before," he recalled from his history lessons. "Didn't we? We have an army of master benders and we're surrounded on all sides by our element."
"That was before," Siku sighed heavily. "But if they are serious about this, they will try again...We have... already lost contact with our sister tribe." Pakku tensed in his seat.
He had noticed that there were no more Southern Water Tribe ships. Not for quite some time. "Are... are they..." he began quietly.
Siku shook his head. "No... we would've heard about it by now if they had been. The Southern Tribe is resourceful. They are safe for now. However, in order to reach us, they must go through waters teeming with the Fire Nation navy. It is a risk they can't take. We only hear news of them through the Earth Kingdom traders."
"Regardless," Pakku insisted. "Water douses fire. We're surrounded on all sides by water. Surely, we can defend ourselves."
"It is not always a simple matter of bender against bender, Pakku," Siku told him. "What matters now is that we protect our own. Protect the city and the tribe." Pakku's eyes squinted in the dim light of the room. He could feel his stomach twist.
"Has the council decided on something?" Pakku asked quietly.
Siku lowered his eyes to the fire pit in the center of the room. "It is not yet certain... but it may well happen. In order to protect our people, we will close off all trade with the Earth Kingdom."
"All trade?" Pakku mumbled.
His father nodded. "All trade. Our doors will be completely shut."
"Wait...," Pakku sat up straight. "What do you mean completely shut?"
"Once the last Earth Kingdom vessel leaves our docks, no one else will be allowed in; save fisherman and sentry in and out of our territorial waters." Siku explained.
Pakku slowly fell back against the fur cushions. "So no one can enter...," he trailed off. Siku nodded in affirmation.
"And no one can leave."
"Kanna!" 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.
Kanna 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 fiance 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, Kanna 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.
Kanna 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 Kanna, on her mother's side, had a very respectable family history, but in the end; Kanna was still a poor fisherman's daughter. Therefore, her engagement to Pakku was frowned upon.
Several times, Kanna 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 Kanna 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 Kanna 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.
Kanna 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.
"Kanna!" 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. "Kanna, are you okay?"
"Yes," Kanna gave Yugoda a small smile. "Of course, I am."
"Hmm...." The other teen wrinkled her nose and eyed Kanna with scrutiny. "You almost fell asleep on the fish rack. You can't be completely okay."
"I'm just a little tired," Kanna 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," Kanna dismissed the thought easily. "Pakku's cousin's son is having a thing and-"
"Kanna, you can't attend every single function Pakku and his family attends!" Yugoda exclaimed. "Not when you're working all day!"
"I have to," Kanna insisted. "I'm supposed to be Pakku's fiance. 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."
Kanna 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. Kanna 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.
Kanna 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."
Kanna 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 Kanna's arms. "She threw you a party? Why didn't you tell me? Or invite us!" She implored as her grip tightened.
Kanna 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," Kanna 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 Kanna and gave her arm a comforting squeeze. "Going there all the time is wearing you down... come and hang out with us here sometimes."
Kanna 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."
Kanna 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 Kanna'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," Kanna assured her. Yugoda gave one more wave of her hand and then headed down the street. As soon as she was out of sight, Kanna 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.
Kanna 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. Kanna had lifted the box of dried fish just as Pakku came into view.
"Kanna!" 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...," Kanna 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 Kanna 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, Kanna 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.
Kanna 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, Kanna 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.
"Kanna, 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," Kanna whirled around and faced him. "Tell your cousins I'm not able to make it tonight."
"What!" Pakku froze as his eyebrows shot up. "Kanna, 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," Kanna 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.
Kanna 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."
Kanna slowly inhaled a deep breath. The options weighed in her mind and Pakku watched her carefully. After what seemed like endless moments, Kanna 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." Kanna nodded and continued heading towards his part of the city. Pakku easily caught up and walked beside her.
Kanna 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. Kanna 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?" Kanna 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," Kanna 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. Kanna looked up ahead of them determinedly. It's just a simple dinner for a little kid, Kanna. 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. Kanna had immediately been taken to meet Pakku's cousin. While cutting through the house, Kanna 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 Kanna's the entire time. Minutes dragged on and Kanna 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 fiance 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 Kanna away. "Sorry, I got caught up."
"I expected dinner to have started already," Kanna 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."
Kanna 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.
Kanna 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 Kanna. "Is there something wrong with your fiance? A young woman shouldn't be scowling like that."
Kanna's hands tightened on her spoon. She hadn't even realized it, but the woman didn't have to point it out. Kanna lifted her head and noticed the looks in her direction. Some disapproving, others annoyed.
"Ah, Kanna 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 Kanna. "That is no place for the wife of a future councilman to work, Kanna."
Pakku opened his mouth to reply, when Kanna 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."
Kanna could feel a vein about to pop from her head. "How exactly would I tarnish it by working hard and supporting my family?" Kanna asked in a low voice. By now, she was gripping her spoon so hard, Pakku's sister thought it would break.
"Kanna," 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," Kanna 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 Kanna. The grip on her arm tightened in a weak effort to stop her from rising, but that didn't stop Kanna's reply.
"Forgive me, councilman," Kanna 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. Kanna? 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. Kanna 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 Kanna 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 Kanna's. "How dare you insult my wife and daughter!"
"How dare you and your wife insult my job and my family!" Kanna retorted.
"Pakku!" The councilman turned to the waterbender that was seated beside Kanna. "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!" Kanna choked out angrily. "If anyone is being rude, it is-"
"Kanna!" 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. Kanna's fiery fury stumbled. If she didn't know better, she would have though he was ashamed. "Wha... what?" Kanna'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, Kanna 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. Kanna 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, Kanna. 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," Kanna said as she clenched her jaw. "I am... unwell." Silently, she gave a small bow of her head.
"Kanna...," Pakku reached out as she turned around and walked out of the hall.
"Pakku," another voice called out to the young man. "Go escort Kanna 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 Kanna. By the time he emerged from his cousin's house, Kanna was already reaching the sidewalk.
"Kanna!" 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. "Kanna, wait!" She did exactly the opposite and sped up. "Kanna!"
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!"
"Kanna, 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!" Kanna growled. She tore her arm from Pakku's grasp and took a step back.
"Kanna, 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!" Kanna 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?" Kanna snapped.
Pakku frowned. "He was out of line, Kanna," he agreed. "I know that-"
"If you know that then why didn't you say something?" Kanna shouted. "You just sat there while he went off and then took his side!"
"He was out of line, but you were, too, Kanna," Pakku replied. "You know it, too. You shouldn't have insulted his wife and daughter."
Kanna 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. "Kanna... If this is about what they've been saying...."
"It's about what they've been saying, doing, and thinking, Pakku," Kanna 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 Kanna 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," Kanna 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."
"Kanna," Pakku told her gently. "You're not lacking in anything-"
"I don't want to be like them, Pakku," Kanna 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."
Kanna lowered her eyes. A small part of her was disappointed when she heard that. "I see...."
"Kanna," 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, Kanna 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 Kanna began to turn around. "Kanna...."
"Give me some time to rest, Pakku...," Kanna 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 Kanna 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 Kanna 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...," Kanna 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."
Kanna 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.
"Kanna," 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, Kanna. 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.
Kanna walked past the docks. Some fishermen were unloading their catch from their latest fishing trip. Others were preparing for another outing. Kanna 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, Kanna! 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!"
Kanna 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...," Kanna 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."
Kanna 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," Kanna told him proudly. "Anyway, you're invited! It's to celebrate my-"
"Sixteenth birthday! Spirits, Kanna! 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," Kanna 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."
Kanna nodded understandingly. "It's tonight, promptly at sunset," Kanna reminded him. "Please come if you can."
"Sure thing, Kanna." He reached over and patted her hooded head. "Now, get going. You have to work before you can party."
Kanna 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. Kanna 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 Kanna 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 face. She didn't need to even find that face the second she spotted green and yellow amongst the blue.
"Mei Li!" Kanna jumped off her stool and ran to the front of the booth as a pale skinned brunette rammed into her with a crushing hug.
"Kanna!" The merchant's daughter smiled widely as she hugged her friend.
"Mei Li, what are you doing here?" Kanna 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...."
Kanna 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, Kanna!"
All of Kanna's energy was suddenly gone. "Oh...."
"Oh?" Mei Li jerked her head back and frowned as she held Kanna at arms length. "What do you mean 'oh'? You don't sound happy. Do you not like the guy?"
Kanna 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," Kanna 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...," Kanna 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, Kanna, but I'm starting to think they're unreachable."
"It's not Pakku himself exactly," Kanna said in a quiet voice. "It's his... world...."
Mei Li raised an eyebrow. "I'm not following you."
"His world, Mei Li," Kanna 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!" Kanna let out a heavy breath and shook her head. "I don't think I can do this...."
"Now, Kanna..." 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...," Kanna 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."
Kanna'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?" Kanna'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.
"Kanna!" 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 Kanna'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," Kanna 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."
"Kanna, didn't you invite him?" Yugoda frowned. Kanna shrugged.
"I wasn't really feeling up to seeing him again after a few nights ago. I just wanted to go home and sleep," Kanna 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," Kanna said proudly as she lifted her chin. "If he can't make it, I'm more than happy."
"Kanna," 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...." Kanna 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 Kanna."
"I am thinking of Kanna!" 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. Kanna wanted to see the world and he promised her she would.
"Then try to understand," the Chief told him gently. "Pakku... Do you want Kanna 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 Kanna'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?"
Kanna'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 Kanna. Hardly anyone was there that night. Kanna 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...," Kanna 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."
Kanna 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?" Kanna 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 Kanna," 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?" Kanna 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...."
"Kanna," 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?" Kanna 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," Kanna 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...," Kanna 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, Kanna," 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."
Kanna 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!" Kanna 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 Kanna. "I know you want to leave and see the world, Kanna. I know that's your dream, but if you leave, you won't be able to come back!" Kanna'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!"
Kanna 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, Kanna. 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, Kanna, and I will not let that happen to our tribe!"
"But there has to be another way...," Kanna breathed out. "We can't just hide for the rest of our lives."
"Kanna," 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 than 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. "Kanna, 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!" Kanna suddenly screamed. She shoved Pakku away and stumbled backwards. "It's too much, Pakku!"
"Kanna, 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, Kanna, 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!"
Kanna'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. "Kanna, 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?
"Kanna?" Pakku felt his heart leap to his throat as his fiance turned her back on him. "Kanna-"
"I will not risk the tribe's safety," Kanna 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 Kanna 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.
"Kanna...?" Yugoda asked weakly as she watched the defeated young woman walk silently past them. "Where are you going?"
"I... need to go...," Kanna 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 Kanna. 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, Kanna 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, Kanna 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."
Kanna 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."
Kanna 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 are covered with snow."
Sighing heavily, Kanna 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." Kanna nodded and followed the man as they walked down the docks.
They walked quietly beside each other. Kanna 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. Kanna nodded, told him to have a good night, and then disappeared inside her building.
The door closed behind her as Kanna 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. Kanna 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, Kanna 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.... Kanna 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.
Kanna 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 Kanna announced she was leaving the tribe when she reached their boat. Unsure of what to do, Mei Li, at first, begged Kanna to return.
Then the captain of the boat refused to let Kanna on, saying it would anger the tribe. Not knowing what to do next and determined not to return, Kanna 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 Kanna 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 Kanna 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, Kanna. Choose wisely."
The next day, with the help of a Water Tribesman who had literally run into her the day before, Kanna 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 Kanna 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 Kanna'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 they 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 Kanna...," 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."