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|New Friend, Old Memories|
6-New Friend, Old Memories
Katara and friends settle to rest temporarily, giving her brother the opportunity to scrounge up some much needed food for the team. After his unsuccessful foraging, they trail a mysterious young earthbender to his hometown in hopes for dinner, where they encounter a bit more than their first hopes. Preparing to leave, Katara takes the time to properly address the young man, Haru, and finds they have certain unmistakable similarities.
Of particular note, I find it interesting how often fans earn the misconception of how Katara is 100% responsible for all of the 'Haru' involvement here. Aang actually had a lot to do with this chapter, but people attribute Katara to it instead! He is the one that insinuated they follow after Haru, for example.
This is where a break-off begins. There was a bit more added in this chapter than was in the series; after here the chapters I write are going to begin deviating from the series chapter numbers. Why? I cut-off this chapter half-way through the episode, at a proper conclusion point. The next chapter will continue past that, as there is plenty of detail that can fill both to create two chapters out of this one episode. Expect that chapters to come will also receive such interest!
Of note, Katara and Haru shared a bit more of a speech than the simple short one as was shown in the series. This chapter also depicts how much Katara is inwardly changing, struggling against her own weakness. This is vital in how she is shaping who she is becoming.
"This isn't good." Katara muttered as she dug through their belongings on Appa's saddlebags. Pushing back the bundle, she turned to Sokka and Aang, who were both lazily lying in the front of Appa's saddle as he continued to fly the direction Aang had left him going. "We should have got more food while we were in Omashu. There's enough left for us to eat one more meal for lunch, but then we're out." Of course, it would have helped if I had have taken the basket of food I bought instead of just leaving it at Kyoshi Island... ugh!
"Not to worry; I've got us covered." This ought to be rich. Sokka peered over Appa's side, down at woodlands below. "Just set down there for today, we can have our meal, then I'll find us some more food while you guys rest. You'll see; we'll be just fine."
"Sounds great! Appa could use a rest anyway." Aang leapt up and headed for the reigns.
Katara closed her eyes and shook her head. Well, maybe he'll surprise me.
They set down amid a forest, beside a flowing brook which fed from an underground stream beneath a raised grassy terrain. Katara smiled, it was beautiful. Climbing down from Appa's saddle, she carried a bundle of their supplies with her.
Aang and Sokka began to discuss the adventures of Bumi and Aang on the mail chutes back at Omashu. Rolling her eyes, she decided to have no part of that for now. Instead, she proceeded with cleaning the last of the fruits, which Momo had so graciously found them back at the Southern Air Temple, in the crystal clear waters of the brook.
Dipping her hands in the water, she found the water was cool, a refreshing reminder of home. Her mind wandered as she entranced herself with cleansing the food in the water, enjoying the memories of her Gran Gran, but the memory of her mother crept back once more. I miss you. Downhearted, she finished her task preparing lunch. "It's ready guys."
Sokka scaled Appa's side before setting down next to his sister. "Aww, fruit? That's it?" He exclaimed emphatically.
Aang leapt into the air and floated down to gently set his feet next to Katara. "Looks great! Thanks Katara."
Katara smiled and nodded to Aang. She shoved some in both their hands in reply. "Yes, but this is the last of it. Sokka, you had better eat it! And then we're counting on you to find us some more food." Immediately she began to help herself.
"Oh come on! I'm going to find us some real food next, you'll see." He dropped to sit on the grass in between Katara and Aang, as they both sat down to enjoy their food as well. As he did, he stuck his lunch into his mouth forcefully. "I can't wait to sink my teeth into a juicy piece of meat again, freshly cooked...ooh."
Aang had begun eating as soon as Katara had handed his food, but paused as Sokka added he would hunt for meat. "But I don't eat meat." Aang lifted an eyebrow as he stated a fact he thought was already well known.
"Fine, fine. I'll keep my eye out for things sticking out of bushes or grass; since you both seem to enjoy eating things like that." Sokka grumbled.
"What do you think we are; rabbit-monkeys?" Katara asked inquisitively, dropping her eyebrows to give him a hard stare as he finished an apple.
"Eh." Giving a half-hearted shrug, he tossed an apple core into the creek. "Maybe you're cousins to them."
"Right...and you're my brother." She rolled her eyes as she leaned back against the stone slab the underground creek flowed from. "Just go find us some food rabbit-monkey."
Aang laughed as he flipped onto his back by the water. "Whatever." Sokka climbed to his feet and turned past Appa. "You two get your beauty sleep. Next time I'm back, be ready for some dinner!"
After some time had passed, Katara and Aang had moved up onto the grassy land above the stream. Katara lay on her back, stretched over her sleeping bag with Aang not far off. "What was it like, being stuck inside that jennomite?"
"Scary." She turned her head to her left, resting her cheek on the stuffed front of the sleeping bag. "At first it was just freakish, but when it started to trap me and I couldn't move, I actually started getting scared. That stuff hurts if you move right when it grows...but I knew you'd get us out." Rolling over, she bent her knee forward slightly as she cupped her hands beneath her head to gaze at Aang. "I've never seen you fight like that before; I was really impressed."
Aang laid his head back, gazing up into the blue sky between overhanging branches. He was quiet for a moment, but a smile rested on his lips. "The last time I saw Bumi, he wasn't much of an earthbender. He could earthbend yes, but not like that. We sparred for the fun of it." He chuckled at the memory. "He tried so hard, but in the end I won the match. He told me to expect the day when we would have a re-match, and he would show me the true power of earthbending." Again the silence crept over, before Aang let out a soft sigh. "You did, Bumi. You did."
Katara stared intently at Aang. She couldn't help but smile at his pleasure. "It must feel great to have seen an old friend."
"It does." He still wistfully stared up; obviously he was recounting the events of his reencounter with Bumi in his mind.
"I just hope all of your friends aren't that crazy." Letting out a soft laugh, she rolled onto her back again. "Get some rest; we have to be up in a few hours."
"Right, goodnight Katara." Aang stated which didn't seem all that appropriate seeing as it was midday still. But regardless, the two began to drift into a soft sleep as they awaited Sokka's return.
Some hours later, Katara's eyes slipped open slowly. The sun's bright rays fought against her eyes as she squinted up to the sky. Did I oversleep? Sitting up, she glanced around her and spotted Aang lying on a tree trunk nearby. "Morning. Sleep well?" Aang questioned mildly, more than relaxed with his arms crossed behind his head. "I've already packed up, just waitin' on Sokka now."
Oh, right. She stretched her arms out as she opened her mouth into a wide yawn. "I think so. Good morning Aang, but technically, it's not morning." She greeted before crawling out of her sleeping bag to begin packing it up.
"Close enough!" He cheerfully replied as Momo flew to their ledge. Momo's chirps turned Katara's attention, where she spotted Sokka approaching with a small bag in his hand. She had just finished folding the sleeping bag together when Aang airbended off of the tree and landed beside her and Sokka excitedly, all kneeling or squatting on the ground together. "Great, you're back! What's for dinner?"
"We've got a few options." Sokka exclaimed as he pulled open the bag, before pulling out an oval shaped nut in his hand. "First, round nuts. And some kind of oval shaped nuts? And some... rock shaped nuts." He pulled out a rock, and eyed it curiously. "That might just be rocks." He added, tossing it over his shoulder. "Dig in!"
I can't believe we trusted him to find us dinner. She clutched two nuts, and eyed them each in turn. Glancing aside to Aang, they shared a confused expression. "Seriously..." Be nice, be nice... She attempted to remain kind, perhaps he really did try, though she couldn't imagine how. "What else you got?"
Sokka's face gave away the answer, nothing. He reached into his bag and fished around as if he were going to find some mysterious food he hadn't placed there. Now what are we going to eat... She fought off the urge to scold her brother, when the ground beneath her shook fiercely and a loud rumble echoed just out of sight. "What was that?!" Sokka shouted in surprise.
Katara spotted Momo playing with a rock and freak out when he dropped the rock and a second slam echoed. "It's coming from over there!" Aang shouted. Katara took off with Aang as they ran to check out what was causing this ruckus.
"Shouldn't we run away from huge booms?!" Sokka argued, but she wholly ignored Sokka as they peered over a log at the source of the crashes, missing whatever he last said following this. A young, green-clad man stood in a small ravine, hefting boulders into the air as he guided them around his body, poised in a well-balanced stance.
"Hwah!" He thrust his arm out into a solid punch, the boulder slammed into the side of the ravine, embedding itself in the ground.
Katara's eyes widened in surprise at the young man. "An earthbender..." She quietly whispered to Aang as Sokka knelt beside the log joining them.
"Let's go meet him!" Aang excitedly encouraged.
"He looks dangerous. So we better approach cautiously." Sokka added with stealthy wisdom.
Hearing him, but hardly paying him any mind, Katara leapt over the log immediately at Aang's suggestion and ran into view of the young man. Cupping her hands beside her mouth, she called out loudly. "Hello there! I'm Katara! What's your name?"
He turned to stare at her, dropping a boulder where he had just picked it up with his bending. He gasped, just standing still and staring at her. What's his problem? Her smile faded to a confused, parted frown; the young man seemed terribly nervous. And sure enough, he turned and bolted off as fast as he could, leaping into the air and bringing a small avalanche of boulders down to bar them from following.
As Aang and Sokka approached from behind, she heard Aang shout at the top of his lungs. "Nice to meet you!"
"I just wanted to say hi." Katara added half-heartedly with a shrug, curious what was wrong with that boy.
"Hey, that guy's gotta be running somewhere. Maybe we're near a village!" As Aang proclaimed this, Katara grinned broadly, seeing where he was going with this. "And I bet that village has a market!"
Dinner! "Which means no nuts for dinner!" She leapt forward and began chasing the path the young man had fled in with Aang. Sokka had shouted something about nuts. She wanted nothing more to do with that topic.
After having run for some minutes, she slowed down to a walk. Just ahead of them, seen from over the top of a hillside, a small walled town came into view. A series of small green-roofed buildings lay evenly clustered within its' walls, with a large building standing at the farther center beyond the entrance. "It's beautiful." She smiled as she halted in her steps, taking a moment to recover from their run.
"Omashu was bigger." Sokka protested as he slipped down the hillside, leaving her behind.
"And it had mail chutes!" Aang laughed as he leapt into the air and slid down the hillside behind Sokka, reminiscent of the mail chutes he had used for slides in a similar fashion.
Katara rolled her eyes, now left behind. "Boys." Making her way to the hillside, she carefully descended it, not wanting to risk falling.
"Aah!" Like him. She grinned humorously as Sokka rolled to the bottom of the hillside with plenty bounces. Thankfully, he wasn't hurt, as he leapt back up onto his feet at the bottom. "I'm okay! I meant to do that, it was... more fun. Yeah, fun." He called up as Aang landed beside him.
They hadn't waited that long for Katara to reach them before heading into town, leaving her a step behind. Once reaching the bottom she hastily made her way after the two, disgusted they were leaving her behind. It didn't matter they had left Sokka behind earlier, that was different, that was Sokka.
However, once they reached the main entrance for the town, they stopped. She smiled warmly at the sight. How sweet! They actually remembered me and are waiting on... "Maybe you should hide your arrows somehow." ...or not. She frowned hearing her brother speaking to Aang, but took the opportunity to catch up regardless.
"Right...how am I going to do that? I don't have any of Appa's fur left, and that stuff was itchy – I am not doing that again. I still feel like I need to scratch my head!"
Sokka peered around the corner of the entrance, stroking his chin as he gazed at passersby with his eyes squinted tightly in quiet contemplation. "Honestly I think you stand out more than Aang." Katara added as she crossed her arms, jeering at her brother as just his head obtrusively poked around the corner.
Ignoring her, Sokka switched to a broad toothy grin as he leaned back. "Some of them are wearing hats! We just get you a hat, and you keep your hands conveniently positioned so nobody sees the tattoos!"
"I'm up for that!" Aang exclaimed. "Sounds stylish." Immediately he sped forward, darting around Sokka and entering the town.
"Wait! Stop!" Sokka called as he lunged out after Aang, but he was already gone.
Katara laughed as she stepped past her brother. "Kind of defeats the purpose for the Avatar to buy his own costume, doesn't it." She stated rhetorically, comically mocking him. "Nice plan."
"If either of you would sit back for one minute and actually listen to what I have to say..." Following after Katara, since she had already walked past him, his voice grew further agitated. "...Oh forget it."
As they rounded a corner, they spotted Aang standing by a small shop. "Great hat! I'll trade you some nuts for it."
Nice, Aang. I'm sure he'll want to trade... hey! It's him! Her eyes settled on a boy walking across the street. It was the young earthbender from earlier! "Hey!" She stated quietly, more-so for her own surprise. Smiling broadly, she ran after him as he went inside a nearby shop.
Swinging the doorway open, the sun's rays gleamed into the dark shop. The boy was standing by a counter with an older lady behind it. His back was to her, but this didn't stop her from addressing him. "Hey, you're that kid!" The boy turned around and gasped at her as she continued. "Why did you run away before?"
Aang and Sokka walked in behind Katara, in time to hear Haru's reply. "Uh...you must have me confused with some other kid." He feigned her to be disillusioned, shrugging coolly in reply.
Aang approached, stepping just behind Katara. "No she doesn't. We saw you earthbending!" He stated with a welcoming smile. She noticed now that Aang had somehow convinced the man outside to trade his straw hat for a handful of nuts. Uh...he's got talent, I'll give him that.
The look that overcame the boy and the older lady's face was astounding. Katara sidestepped and watched as the older lady ran past them and slammed the door and window-blinds shut. "They saw you doing what!?""They're crazy mom! I mean, look at how they're dressed!" The boy held his arms out and pointed at the three of them, none in particular. Huh? What's wrong with my dress? Katara reached up and grabbed at her dress. She felt uneasy, not knowing whether or not to feel like she had just been insulted.
"You know how dangerous that is! You know what would happen if they caught you earthbending!" She leaned forward, forcing her point upon her son.
"Open up!" A man outside shouted as he beat his fist into the closed door.
Sokka ran forward as the old lady stepped back, eyeing the door in worry. Slitting the blinds open, he gazed at a group of men clad in red armor on the doorstep. "Fire Nation! Act natural."
All around her, everyone began to panic and scurry to find a position they felt was natural. They were moments away from being confronted by everyone's worst fear; being captured by the Fire Nation. She saw a bowl of cherries on the nearby counter and snatched it up into her arm, shoving a small handful in her mouth just as the older lady opened the door nonchalantly to the Fire Nation soldier.
Katara winced. These...aren't cherries. She didn't know what they were, but they tasted sour. She bit back her surprise as she lifted another of these cherries between her fingers, acting as if she would eat it.
She felt the man's eyes on her, and froze. She nearly felt sweat on her forehead for a moment as she pondered what would be best to do. "Ah!" Aang shouted as the lid of a barrel he was leaning on beside Katara collapsed beneath his pressure. He tripped and fell forward, dunking his arm into the water barrel.
Oh Aang! You're going to get us all in trouble...again!! "What do you want?" The lady addressed the soldier, averting his attention. "I've already paid you this week." ...paid him? Katara didn't know what to make of the lady's words, but she didn't like it.
"The tax just doubled." He calmly asserted. "And we wouldn't want an accident would we?" He separated his hands, and cupped them one to the other in front of him. A heated glow of red filled the room as fire began to circle between his controlling hands. "Fire is sometimes so hard to control."
Katara took a single step back, as did most everyone else. She worried for a moment something bad was about to happen. But silently, the lady dropped her head in grief, turning to walk past Katara with her eyes downcast, gazing at the wood boards below. She proceeded behind her desk, where she withdrew a strongbox and carefully opened it. Katara watched as the lady handed him a small handful of coins.
"You can keep the copper ones." The man idly responded as he turned, dropping the copper coins to the floor as he headed out the door, shutting it with a firm swing behind him. Katara scowled hatefully after the man as he walked. How could he be so selfish and cruel to just anyone!
"Nice guy." Sokka jeered with the man out of sight. "How long has the Fire Nation been here?" He questioned, turning back to the lady.
"Five years. Firelord Ozai uses our town's coal mines to fuel his ships." She responded.
"They're thugs!" The boy responded hatefully. "They steal from us; and everyone here's too much of a coward to do anything about it." He asserted as he stood, ceasing leaning on the counter. He crossed his arms, his eyebrows creased in a sharp scowl behind his long brown bangs.
"Quiet Haru!" His mother addressed him sternly. "Don't talk like that."
"But Haru's an earthbender! He can help!" Katara jumped into the argument, defending Haru's hostility towards the Fire Nation. In this, she shared his anger.
"Earthbending is forbidden! It's caused nothing but misery for this village!" Her voice grew stern as she dipped her head forward, gazing at her disobedient son from the corner of her eyes. "He must never use his abilities."
"How can you say that?" She interjected in surprise. Katara approached the two, stepping closer to Haru to speak more directly to his mother. "Haru has a gift! Asking him not to earthbend is like asking me not to waterbend." She drew her hand to her chest. "It's a part of who we are."
"You don't understand..." She shook her head, dismissing Katara's argument.
"I understand that Haru can help you fight back. What can the Fire Nation do to you that they haven't done already?"
"They could take Haru away!" The lady drew her palm close to her chest as her words grew sincere. "Like they took his father..."
At this, Katara was defeated. Her eyes filled with sorrow as she turned to gaze on a sorrowful Haru. Just like they took my mother. "I'm sorry." She closed her eyes and turned to quietly walk back to Aang and Sokka.
"I admire your courage young lady, I do. But you don't understand what we have gone through, it might be best that you leave." Her voice was quiet and low, as she lifted her eyes to stare at the trio before her. "This village is no longer a safe place to be lingering."
"Look, sorry we caused such a fuss. We really came to this town just for some dinner, we're out of food. After that we'll be out of your hair." Sokka gave a soft shrug as he finished his statement. "Come on guys, let's go." Sokka turned and made his way out the door, followed by Aang. Katara however, lingered behind for a moment.
A heavy weight gathered over her. This town bore an air of sorrow and defeat, all too familiar to her as it reminded her of days at home. How many lives will be affected before this war is over? The Air Nomads, the Southern Water Tribe, the people of Kyoshi Island, and now here... She shut her eyes, sorrowful over all the hurt she'd seen in her short lifetime. Now I'm just going to walk away again... She succumbed to this however, and walked out the door, gently closing it behind her.
Everyone was quiet around their dinner table. Sokka and Aang sat side by side on a bench at one side, while Katara sat alone on the other. They'd purchased a small meal and had been eating without discussion the whole while. Refusing to look either her brother or Aang in the eye, she remained lost in her thoughts as she switched to finishing an apple.
Suddenly a green-clothed boy took the seat next to her. She set her apple down and thrust her head to see who it was. "Haru!" She swallowed the piece of apple she had been chewing, turning slightly to smile at him. "Why are you here?"
"Hey guys. Look, I'm sorry for earlier. I know you didn't mean any harm." Haru addressed them as he sat beside Katara.
"Not a problem. Have some dinner with us!" Aang pleasantly invited Haru to a helping of his food, sliding a plate over. Sokka however dragged his plate slightly closer to him, and stuffed a piece of boar-pig in his mouth.
"Thanks." Haru graciously slid the plate closer, and began to join them in eating. "Things have been hard lately, we can barely afford anything, or we'd have offered you some of our food."
"Yeah, I noticed." Sokka swallowed, eyeing over Katara's shoulder to the street as he saw a small group of firebenders leaving town. "The firebenders out there really are bullies. I'm sorry we can't help you guys out any, but it's important that we get going."
"About that." Haru finished chewing, and slid his plate back. "My mom sent me to find you; we want to do something at least. Come with me." He rose and headed for the door. Katara wasted no time; she slid back her plate and climbed over her seat, following after him. A moment later all four were in the street, heading for the towns walls.
"Where are we going?" Katara stepped closer to Haru as they began leaving town, turning to gaze at him.
"We own a small farm out in the hills, I'm taking you there."
"Oh, well, in that case..." Aang piped up from behind the two. "Can I bring my uh..." He pondered how to explain Appa without saying he was the Avatar. "I have a pet bison that I left outside. Can he come too?"
"I don't see why not." Haru answered with a wave of both his hands. Turning his head back to Aang, he added. "He can help himself to some hay too, we have plenty considering we lost some of our herd just before winter began; we couldn't afford to keep them. The leftover hay should still be good though."
"Thanks! I'll be right back with Appa." He turned and ran off into the wooded forest, disappearing from sight quickly.
"Interesting kid." Haru stated as he glanced back to Sokka. "Say, Katara told me her name but I don't know you two."
"Ah, that boy who just ran off was Aang. I'm Sokka, Katara's brother."
"A pleasure to meet you Sokka." Haru answered coolly, before turning and walking up a nearby hill.
It wasn't long before Appa and Aang returned, trailing up behind the three as they approached a simple round wooden building. "We're back!" Aang called out.
"Whoa, that is really some bison." Haru exclaimed as Appa walked past him and into their barn. Katara followed in a step behind, the strong lingering scent of hay and old wood boards filled the air.
"He's like family!" Aang walked in behind Appa. Katara stood just behind Sokka, beside Haru. She still felt guilty over their last conversation, and how she'd caused such a scene in front of his mother.
"Well anyway, even though I know it isn't much, my mom said you can sleep here tonight. But you should leave in the morning." Haru stated semi-apologetically.
"Thanks!" Aang turned his head back to Haru. "I'll make sure Appa doesn't eat all your hay." Appa didn't seem to agree. Katara noticed Appa turn his head back with a mouthful of hay, stopping eating for a moment to stare as if to say he was hungry.
"That's fine, I wish you well on your travels. It was good meeting you." Haru turned and headed back out the doorway.
Katara cupped her hands together, watching Haru leave with a frown on her face. I can't just let him go like this, I have to apologize. "Aang, I need to go talk with Haru. You know, because of the things I said earlier...I'll be back before dark."
"Oh, okay. Well, stay safe! See you when you get back." Aang turned to watch Katara walk out after Haru.
"I'm just not important enough to say bye to, am I?" Sokka somberly stated.
"Bye Sokka." She curtly stated as she disappeared around the corner of the doorway.
"Haru, wait." She rounded the building, he hadn't gone far yet so she sped forward to catch up with him.
"Katara? Aren't you going to stay with your friends?"
"Well, yes. But I need to talk with you first." She stepped forward beside him and joined him, as they began to walk off together. "I'm sorry about what I said earlier. I didn't know about your father."
"That's okay. It's funny; the way you were talking back in the store...it reminded me of him." He turned his head slightly, to semi-gaze in her direction at this compliment.
She smiled warmly at his words. "Thanks..." Dipping her chin down, she stared to the ground before her as she took in the compliment. He continued on.
"My father was very courageous. When the Fire Nation invaded, he and the other earthbenders were outnumbered ten to one." He turned and stared at her with determination. "But they fought back anyway."
"He sounds like a great man." She turned to smile, staring into his green eyes.
"After the attack, they rounded up my father and every other earthbender, and took them away." They climbed a hilltop, leading to a steep drop. As Haru knelt to the ground at its top, she noticed the sunset beyond. Its beautiful, deep vibrant red filled the sky. Breathtaking. A cool breeze filled the air, pushing back her hair loops at her forehead. "We haven't seen them since."
"So that's why you hide your earthbending."
"Yeah." He paused, reaching down to pick up two stones at his feet. "Problem is." He continued as he began to swirl the two just above his open palm, dancing them one around the other. "The only way I can feel close to my father now, is when I practice my bending." He gripped his hand shut on the two stones, with his bending they crumbled into dust, flowing away in the breeze. "He taught me everything I know."
I know how that feels, Haru. I'm sorry for your loss. She stepped closer to him, and knelt down, outstretching her legs to sit gently with a lean towards him at her side. "See this necklace?" She raised her hand, touching her fingertips to the light blue medallion bound to the dark blue choker around her neck. "My mother gave it to me."
"It's beautiful." His voice was kind and soft, as he turned and gazed at her with a warm-hearted smile.
"I lost my mother in a Fire Nation raid." She turned away from him, as she drew back the memory to the forefront of her mind. The sadness of her loss led her to dip her head away. "This necklace is all I have left of her."
"It's not enough is it?" He stated rhetorically, full well knowing the answer.
They were quiet for what felt like a few minutes, leaving Katara time to consider their conversation. She closed her eyes and drew a breath, putting away the pain. "I wish there was more I could do for you Katara. I'm sorry we're sending you off like this, I really am."
"I know." She turned back to look into his eyes once again. "It's not your fault. You've already done more than enough for us."
"Well, let's get going. I need to get home before it gets dark out, I don't want to worry my mother."
"Right." She lifted herself up, rising to stand beside Haru. She smiled warmly into his eyes again, with the sun casting its' warm embrace on the two as they stood at the edge. "I hope you find your father again, at least you have that possibility. Don't let go of that." I don't have such a chance...
They rounded the side of the hill, taking a winding trail that led by an old coal mine. "You said you were a waterbender earlier, right?"
"Yes, sort of. I'm not so good at it yet." She nodded, slipping her hands behind her back.
"Why did you leave your home? I mean, I don't know of any Water Tribes near here."
Oh shoot. I shouldn't get him caught up in this; it might be dangerous for his sake if he knew Aang was the Avatar. I wouldn't want the Fire Nation taking him because of this; he's already in so much danger! She turned away from him, remaining quiet as she pondered what to say.
"You don't have to answer that. It must be painful for you."
Oh now he's got the wrong idea. She dipped her head forward, still looking away from him as she grew aggravated at herself for leading him into this confusion. "It's complicated. I can't say."
Haru gently rest his hand on her shoulder. "Forget I asked." He withdrew his hand and stepped ahead of her, following the dirt trail along the hillside. Katara smiled, trailing behind him a step now. She wasn't sure how far she'd walk with him, but she was glad for his company.
In the distance a loud crash echoed as a plume of dust and debris flowed from a nearby mine shaft. An old man groaned aloud before crying for help. "The mine!" Haru shouted, before bolting at his fastest. Clenching her fist, she darted behind him.
Closing the distance, she spotted an old, bald man lying beneath a pile of fallen rocks and dirt. "Help me...!" The man weakly called with an outstretched hand. As they reached him, Haru slammed his back against the crumbling rocks of the entrance, pressing up as hard as he could to try and sustain the rocks and relieve some of its' crushing weight.
Katara instinctively knelt down and grabbed the frail man around his waist, pulling up and away as hard as she dare. She grunted as she strained, before looking back to check her progress. Nothing, I didn't even budge him! "It's not working! We have to get help!" She implored Haru, turning to face him.
"There's no time, pull harder!" Haru shouted back at her. She noticed sand flowing like a stream from above, falling over his shoulders and settling on the ground beneath him. Just above his head loomed boulders, threatening to fall at any minute.
I can't... wait, Haru's an earthbender! "Haru, there's a way you can help him." She stared deeply into his green eyes, begging him to.
"I can't..." He muttered, looking fearfully into her eyes as he realized immediately what she was asking of him.
"Please, there's no one around to see you. It's the only way!"
At this, Haru turned away from her, grimacing. Obviously he was contemplating what she asked, weighing the penalty if he was caught. Come on...come on... Then he settled his decision. Leaping from the wall he bolted down the path, before stopping in his tracks and turning back to her. Katara slipped back after he took off, grabbing the rock wall closest to the man in attempt to brace the weight off of him.
Haru dropped into a firm stance, sliding his left leg forward. With stern determination, he pulled his right arm back, stretching his other straight forward and down with his index finger and thumb stretched out. The falling rocks and debris around her head suddenly stopped their fall, simply floating mid-air.
Wow... Her blue eyes widened, feeling the tension of the collapsing entrance behind her cease. In a turn, Haru spun away from her, bringing only one leg around as his other remained firmly on the ground. "Hwa!" He shouted as he finished spinning back towards her; thrusting both his arms forward, fists extended. Katara pulled down in fright and closed her eyes. Pebbles, dust, and debris pelted her as they blew past her and towards the rock wall.
The entire mine shook, as all the rubble by the entrance blasted back into the mine, relieving the old man of his danger. With the rocks gone, Katara grew ecstatic, a completely overjoyed smile overtaking her. Haru was powerful! "Haru! You did it!" She exclaimed proudly as she laid her hands on the old, bewildered man.
Haru couldn't help but grin softly, joining her a moment later to help the man stand between their supportive shoulders. "Let's get you home."
Back in the village, Katara had walked all the way to a small home tucked in the corner of the towns' walls. Here is where they left the man, finally having gotten home. He had been an awful quiet companion to have around, wheezing and occasionally whining about pain. Aside from that she couldn't get much out of him, not even a simple thank you.
"Who was that man? He seemed too old to be in that mine." She asked Haru once they had entered the street, leaving the man's home behind.
"I don't know his name; he keeps to himself most of the time. I've seen him now and then; he enters my mother's shop once in awhile. The Fire Nation has him checking the quality and safety of the mines, since he can't do anything else."
"That's horrible!" Katara glanced behind her, towards his home. "They shouldn't be allowed to do that to that poor old man!" She swung her head away, glancing off the path to her right in disgust. If only I could stop them.
Haru laughed softly at her anger. "Yeah, it is awful they force him to work for them like that." Turning towards her, she returned her eyes to meet his. "But it's not all that bad. Rumor has it he's so slow at his job because he often sleeps on the job; which is probably true considering how late it was just now."
"Still." She retaliated. It didn't matter, it still wasn't right. Why couldn't she be more like Haru, someone who could make a difference? She could bend, but nothing like he could. "Haru." Katara calmly addressed him as they slowly walked the dark streets together. "I'm really proud of what you did. That was very brave of you."
He smiled and looked to the streets below, just ahead of them. "Perhaps. But don't tell anyone." He murmured quietly. They were whispering softly to deliberately avoid anyone overhearing their conversation.
"I won't, I promise." Aang and Sokka don't count. She reached up and laid her hand on his upper arm softly. "Your dad would be proud."
Haru let out a nervous laugh, shutting his eyes for a moment. "I know."
Afterwards, an awkward moment of silence proceeded as they drew closer to his mother's shop. "It's late. I really should be heading back." Katara stated, before remembering she had promised she would return before dark. Blew that one... "After tomorrow, we'll be gone. Hopefully we'll get to meet each other again when things calm down." Her mind ran to the fact that Aang was the Avatar. Just help him master the elements and he will stop this war.
Haru stopped in the middle of the street, turning to face his new friend. "Well, don't keep your hopes up. This town is pretty well defeated...so it might be quite some time before we see each other." He bowed his head in farewell to her. "It has been my pleasure to be with you, Katara. I wish you good luck on your journey."
She smiled and looked away, a feeling of uneasy nervousness crossing over her as he was so polite. "Thanks..." She reached up and pushed back her hair loop out of a simple nervous reaction, before turning for the entrance to the village. "Goodbye Haru."
Reaching the barn she had left what now felt like so long ago, she stepped in through the doorway to find Sokka and Aang sitting at a circular walkway serving as a second story, gazing out an open window where the moon shone wondrously through. "I'm sure she's fine, Aang. Haru's a good guy, I doubt he'd let any firebenders close to her."
She heard Sokka console him as he knelt by the window, his knees pressed up against his chest. "She said she'd be back by dark; the sun's down." She crossed her arms, gripping her upper arms as she gazed with a crooked smile up to the two. Should I surprise them, or just let them ramble on for another minute? "I'm going to go look for her."
"Absolutely not! My sister can take care of herself; she'll come back just fine on her own. Do you want her to come back and then you're stuck out there unsafely looking for her? Where would you even start?" Katara's eyes widened. What a compliment! Her brother thought she could take care of herself? She'd never heard him say such a thing before, always claiming guys were better and such other nonsense. This touched her.
Aang frowned as he turned to face Sokka, but in doing so his eyes fell to Katara. "Katara, you're back!" He bolted past Sokka and landed on the dirt floor, strewn with leftover straw.
"Whaa, aah!" Sokka fell over backwards as Aang bolted past him, and fell with a thud onto Appa's side on his back, before rolling and tumbling to the ground below. Appa growled in surprise, reaching out and kicking the dirt by Sokka with one of his legs, before resting it right on Sokka's own leg. Katara took a step back, and held her hand to her mouth as she drew a worried breath as he finished his roll. "Gaaah. Aang!" Sokka shouted as he squirmed out from under Appa's heavy foot, rising to his feet.
She chuckled, realizing he was okay again. If there ever was anything to be discovered about Sokka, it's that he sure knew how to take a beating. "Yes, I'm sorry I took so long Aang." She smiled back into Aang's face. "I was having a long talk with Haru; we have a lot in common as it turns out."
"Well good for you." Sokka protested as he walked right past her, practically shoulder bumping her back a step.
"What's your problem?" She questioned with intense confusion. He had been so sweet just a moment ago.
"Oh I don't know, the fact we're in Fire Nation-controlled territory and you're out in the middle of them just to talk?" He shrugged before turning to a bale of hay. "We all need to get some sleep for tomorrow; we have to leave this place."
"Sokka, didn't you just say she could take care of herself?" Aang questioned as he lifted an eyebrow in confusion.
"But what about us?!" He shouted back. "She could have led the firebenders right to us without even realizing it!"
She frowned. Sokka, I'm about sick of all your sarcasm. Unintentionally, she considered the two words, and grinned. Sokkasm. She chuckled at the thought. "Well, we do all need to sleep. Just forget about it and let's rest."
"Good idea." Sokka grabbed up blankets they had stowed in Appa's saddle and tossed them towards his sister and Aang.
Aang simply set his aside, and leapt up onto Appa's back. "Hey buddy," he said as he sprawled over the back of his head, just beneath the wooden walkway that served as the buildings' second story. "Think I'll sleep here with you tonight." Appa groaned, before stretching all his legs out and rolling slightly onto his side, planting his face up against a pile of hay.
Katara picked up a lantern nearby and spread out her blanket, while Sokka threw his across a square bale of hay and crawled into it. "While we were heading back to the village, we ran across an old man caught up in a rock fall by a mine entrance." Katara turned her head to Aang, speaking more to him as she continued on. She crawled beneath her blanket, setting the lantern in her lap.
"What happened?" Aang stretched his arms over Appa's side, questioning Katara with sudden excitement.
"Well at first, we tried to pull him out. That didn't go so well, I was pulling on him as hard as I could. I thought I was going to break his legs or something, he just wasn't moving!"
Aang gasped as his eyes stretched wide, creeping closer over the side of Appa's head.
"I begged Haru to use his earthbending to save the old man. He didn't want to, because of the danger, but... then he did and completely blew the rocks away. They even floated in front of me against gravity! It was amazing!"
"It's just a bunch of rocks." Sokka implored as he stretched out over his makeshift bed.
"Go on!" Aang shouted ecstatically, shoving off Sokka's comment.
Thanks Aang. "It was so brave of Haru to use his earthbending to help that old man." She spotted Momo leap off the wooden walkway above, landing on Aang's back where he mimicked Aang's limp posture, lying over Aang.
"You must have really inspired him!" Aang exclaimed.
I did, didn't I? He would never have done that without me encouraging him. "I guess so." She turned away and smiled into the glow of the lantern in her lap, placing the palms of her hands against its' warm glass.
Sokka rolled his head back towards them and lifted it off his bundled sleeping bag he used as a pillow. "Everyone should get some sleep, we're leaving at dawn."
He began to lay his head back down, as Katara quickly retorted back to him. "Dawn?! Can't we sleep in for once?"
"Absolutely not!" Sokka retaliated, turning away from her. But then he whipped his head back to bark an unshakeable reasoning to her. "This village is crawling with Fire Nation troops. If they discover you're here Aang, we'll be eating fireballs for breakfast!" In conclusion, he rolled his head back away and dropped to his pillow. "Good night."He's right. I can't argue with him there. Still...she couldn't help but recall their last meal Sokka had a hand in, since he mentioned breakfast. "I'd rather eat fireballs than nuts." She ridiculed, twisting her eyebrows up in a humorous stare.
"Good night!" Sokka glanced back over at her, firmly adding this to not lead this conversation on any further. Both Aang and Katara began to laugh softly with one another over her perfect joke.
She lifted the lantern close to her, and blew into the top of it to put out the gentle flame within. Darkness surrounded them as she slid the lantern away from her. "Goodnight Katara." Aang said in following to Sokka, before pulling back and lying atop Appa.
Laying her head on her bundled sleeping bag, she gazed up at the ceiling of the hut with a smile. Life was feeling better for her, she found herself enjoying where she was, surrounded by Aang and her brother Sokka. Gently her eyelids shut, before she drifted into a peaceful sleep.
Props to Ianbernard for helping make this wonderful chapter template with images! (he created the images)
The Boy in the Iceberg
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