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|Book 4: The Avatar - Chapter 5|
November 2, 2014
Three weeks had passed since the Avatar and his companions had visited the mines to discuss a coalition of businesses. Aang had taken Zuko back to the Fire Nation the day after the second council meeting, and then he and Toph had travelled back to the Earthern Fire Refinery to pick up Lao Beifong and Satoru to begin discussions at the Yu Dao Mines. From what Aang could understand the discussions had gone well, and he was happy to leave Toph to oversee things.
Currently Aang was sitting back at the calm oasis, alone once more, sitting with his legs crossed and his hands on his lap. His eyes were closed as he tried to meditate, but it was something that he had been struggling to do lately. Now that Yu Dao was starting to take steps to become the nations capital he had hoped it would become, he knew that he should start focusing on his own nation again. The Air Temples. But he didn't know where to start. What Yuddha has said in the first meeting still shook him, and he found himself overwhelmed with fear when he thought about the Temples. There had been a time when restoring the Air Nation had filled him with excitement, but now the weight of responsibility bearing down on him made it hard to even think about. Of course he would love to see each of the Air Temples restored to their former beauty ... See the Southern Air Temple shine as brightly as it did in the days he lived there. But who would live there now? He could train the Air Acolytes, and they could train others in turn, and the Air Nomad way could return to the world, but for now the Temples would lay empty as they had done for over one hundred years. Without air bending there would be no soul ... no spirit. The only chance the world had was for him to father air bending children, and the idea seemed less and less appealing the longer he had to think about it. He wasn't ready to be a father, he couldn't put the weight of this upon Katara. Maybe in the future. But now it had become his duty rather than his desire to start a family.
Aang sighed and slumped down, giving up his meditation attempts. He looked down into the pool, wondering how Katara was doing.
It had been almost four weeks since the Southern Water Tribe teens and Kyoshi Warrior had left the Fire Nation. Travelling by ship had been slow, but it was now that they finally came across the boundaries of their home.
"Look!" Sokka leaned over the front of ship, gesturing ahead of him. "That wasn't there last time!"
Katara and Suki ran over to look at the large wall of ice that stood ahead of them. There was a parting in the center, the end of each wall had the national emblem carved delicately into it, the crescent of the moon large and powerful. Nutha came over to join them and Katara turned to look at her.
"I thought you said that the Southern Water Tribe had suffered since we had left. So far things are looking pretty good," she said, accusingly.
"A big fancy gate doesn't mean things are going good, Katara," Nutha replied solemnly, crossing her arms over her chest.
They piloted through the gates and continued for thirty more minutes before they started to spot the familiar walls of their home. Katara felt her heart leap up into her mouth, she hadn't realised quite how much she missed home. She looked over at Sokka who's face was a picture of glee, a huge smile on his face, his fists held high. He turned to her and pulled her into a hug.
"We're nearly home, Katara!"
The captain called out to them that they were going to dock, and Sokka all but bounced across the deck, holding Suki's hand.
"We get to see dad, and Gran-Gran!"
Niyok and Nutha were also excited, though Katara could see the sadness in Nutha's eyes. She tried to recall what they had told her in the iron mines ... that without their job they couldn't have eaten. How could things really be that bad with Pakku here? And dad?
The ship pulled in and the group of five headed to the runway and saw several familiar faces smiling at them. At the front of the small crowd stood Hakoda, beaming as he looked upon his children for the first time in over a year.
"Dad!" Sokka darted down the runway and threw his arms around his father. The two hugged tight as Katara and Suki walked towards them, grinning broadly.
"Katara ..." Hakoda pulled her into a hug. "And Suki, it's nice to see you again."
Katara looked back towards Niyok and Nutha, they were being pulled into a tight embrace by their parents, with tears running down their cheeks. She couldn't help but smile at their happiness.
"I've missed you, dad," she said, hugging him tight.
"I've missed you too."
"How's Gran-Gran," she looked up at him. "Nutha said she was very ill." A solemn look settled on her fathers face. "I can't believe it ... it took us so long to get here, we never came back. Dad I am so so sorry." She hadn't expected to, but she suddenly found herself burrying her face in his chest and starting to cry. He father held her tight and kissed her head.
"It's okay, Katara, you've had a lot to deal with since the War ended. I knew you and Sokka would be back eventually."
"Can we see her?" Sokka asked.
Master Pakku approached them, and rested a hand on Sokka's shoulder.
Together the four of them headed inwards towards the village. Katara looked around. It was certainly bigger than it was when they left. The igloos had made way for wooden houses, there was a couple of stalls towards the center of the village, selling fish and equipment, but Katara could tell that something wasn't quite right. It felt empty ... there had been but ten people waiting at the shore to welcome them, and though the stall was full of fish there was no one there to buy them.
"Why is it so quiet?" Sokka asked, looking around.
Hakoda looked at his son forlornly. "It's been like this a while now."
He led them into a house towards the back of the village, slightly raised from the ground with smoke drifting out from the chimney. Inside was a small living room, a wooden table in the center surrounded by cushions of cloth and fur. Pakki took the lead at this point and they followed him up the stairs at the back of the house. He gently knocked on a door at the top of the landing.
"Kanna," he called softly. "You have visitors."
"Silly Pakku, you don't need to knock," an old voice chuckled from inside.
Pakku opened the door and Katara looked upon her grandmother in the first time in a number of years, and had to try hard not to cry out loud. Before her lay a woman so thin you could see the bone around her eyes, her hair lay faded and flat upon her head and you could hear the effort in her breathing even as she lay there.
"Gran-Gran," she whispered, rushing in and placing a hand on her grandmothers cheek. "I am so so sorry. We should have come back sooner, I shouldn't have left you here." Tears began to spill down her face. "Oh Gran-Gran."
Kanna reached up and placed her thin hand against her granddaughters cheek. "Hush now, my child. You saved the world and you've been protecting it ever since. You have nothing to be sorry for, sweetie."
Sokka walked in, tears in his own eyes, and stood beside his sister. Hakoda and Pakku stayed back with Suki, their own eyes swimming with tears.
"Wha ... What is it?" Sokka asked, trying to keep his voice steady.
Kanna waved her hand. "It's not important, Sokka. Come here and give your Gran-Gran a hug."
Sokka leaned in and wrapped his arms around his frail grandmother.
"And who is this?" She asked, gesturing to Suki with a small smile on her face.
"Gran-Gran, this is Suki." Sokka held out an arm for her. "She's my girlfriend. Well, actually, my fiancé."
"Pleased to meet you, Kanna," Suki said with a bow.
"Oh Sokka!" Kanna eyes sparkled. "That is such wonderful news. If I had know I would have made an effort with my hair."
Katara giggled and kissed her grandmother on the forehead.
"Gran-Gran, I'm a healer. Is there anything I can do? Can I try?"
"My illness is beyond healing, Katara. Pakku has called the best healers from the Northern Water Tribe. You've already done all you need to do, my little water bender. You and your brother and the Avatar saved the world, just as I knew you would. And here you are now looking so strong, so grown-up, so beautiful." Katara smiled sadly down at her. "My word, the Avatar is a lucky boy." Katara blushed at this as Kanna winked at her. "Where is that little monk, anyway?"
"Still saving the world," Katara replied, rolling her eyes. "The world always needs saving."
Kanna nodded gravely, and they noticed her eyes start to drop.
"She needs some rest now," Pakku said softly. They head Kanna start to breathe heavily as she drifted off to sleep. "Come, children, let's get you some food."
Down in the living room, Pakku had made up some warm stew, and they sat in a circle around the table in the center. Katara and Sokka remained silent, their hearts breaking. Suki held Sokka's hand comfortingly. Eventually Katara spoke.
"Nutha told us that the Tribe was in trouble. I didn't believe it at first, with the gates and now the village is bigger ... there are houses not igloos. But it's so empty, there's no one here. What happened?"
"The end of the War happened," replied Pakku. "So wonderful for the world, but now there aren't many people who feel the need to stay here any longer. The Northen Water Tribe is thriving, the rest of the world is moving on, but here?" He shook his head.
"So ... people are just leaving?" Katara asked incredulously. "Why? Have they no loyalty to their Tribe?!"
Sokka cleared his throat. "We left too, Katara."
She held her head low. They had. They were no better than anyone else.
"People are struggling to survive here. There are no children being born, with new couples leaving to explore a world that wasn't available to them before. I try and convince people to stay, but the more leave the more follow, there aren't many who are willing to stay and try and build up the Tribe again."
"But ... what about the houses, the wall?" Sokka asked, cocking his head to the side. "They must have been dedicated enough to build that."
"Oh that they were," Hakoda replied. "When myself and Pakku returned we were all excited for the future, and we set to work. But it only took a few to realise they could start a life elsewhere, and the seed was planted."
"So, what can we do to stop them?" Katara asked, a fire burning in her eyes.
"You can't just stop people from leaving, Katara," Sokka said. "Gran-Gran couldn't stop us from leaving with Aang. And hey, we're hardly gonna be a good example when we go back to help Aang."
"Do you have to leave?" Suki asked quietly. They turned to look at her. Sokka frowned. "I mean, this is your home, your people."
"Yeh, but baldy -"
"Aang is big enough to take care of himself now," Suki said with a shrug. "Sokka why don't you stay here?"
Sokka looked over at his father, then at Katara, then back at Suki.
"But Suki," his voice sounded hurt. "I can't leave you."
"You wouldn't have to. I'll stay here with you."
"No no- Suki! You're a Kyoshi Warrior. You love that. You can't leave behind. I can't let you do that for me."
"You can and you will, " Suki said, hitting him playfully on the arm. "Hey, you'll need warriors here, right?"
Suki stared at her, his mouth wide, at loss as for what to say. "Suki-"
Suki leant him and kissed him.
"You guys can get married here!" Katara all but squealed. She grinned widely but she felt a sudden sadness in her heart, knowing that she would now be losing either her brother, or Aang.
Hakoda clapped his hands together. "Yes! And mother would love that. It would be the first wedding we've had here in many years."
Sokka's face was bright red and he looked giddy but pleased. He put a hand to his head, dazed, then turned and kissed Suki. Katara and Hakoda cheered, and even Pakku let a smile come to his lips.
"But Katara, what about you?" Sokka asked.
The grin dropped from her face, and her head started spinning. She had no idea what to say ... here she could become a greater Master. She could finish her lessons with Pakku, she could train new water benders in bending and healing. She and her family could build the Southern Water Tribe back up. But Aang couldn't come here. His Avatar duties wouldn't let him leave Yu Dao to live with her in her home. She found herself desperately wishing he was here with her.
Hakoda put an arm on her shoulder. "Katara? Are you okay?"
A tear fell down her cheek and she wiped it away furiously. She couldn't stand all these damn tears. "I don't know. It's all I want ... I can teach water bending. But-"
"Aang," Sokka finished. She nodded and dropped her head.
The group were silent for a while, pushing their stew around their bowls.
"I think I already know the answer to this but ... Aang can't come here?" Suki tried tentatively.
"They wouldn't even let him come with us this time," Katara sighed. "He has Yu Dao, the Air Temples. He's the Avatar, he can't just drop his duties to live in the South Pole."
"Go back to him," Pakku said softly. "No one knows how it feels to lose your love so young than I, and when I see Kanna now and think of the time I wasted-" he paused, trying to steady his voice. "I can continue to train you, Katara, whilst you are here. In time the Avatar's work will involve the Southern Water Tribe, there will be plenty of time to spend with your family yet."
"But it just ... it feels so wrong to be leaving my family for him," Katara said slowly. "I love him, but you're my family. What kind of person does that make me?"
That night, after they had gone back to Hakoda's home and their room, Katara lay away late into the night, staring up at the ceiling. She couldn't make this decision, how could she? Leave her family? Or leave Aang? She sighed.
"Aang ..." she breathed softly.
Many many miles away, Aang lay on his back, still out by the pool. It had taken all his willpower not to jump on his glider and fly to the South Pole that night.
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