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Title: Home Stretch
Fandom: Avatar: the Last Airbender
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama
Words: 2,500
Notes/Warnings: Written for the Rare Women ([livejournal.com profile] rarewomen) fic exchange, for [archiveofourown.org profile] mortaltemples. Pre-series, and contains internalized patriarchal bullshit. Also mentions of Kanna/Pakku.

This was going to cover more of Kanna's life, but she and Hama had to have a 2000 word conversation about stuff. So I shall have to revisit 'Gran Gran had an exciting life off-camera and pre-series'.
Summary: Kanna has almost reached her destination. Now she actually has to face starting a new life at the South Pole.
Disclaimer: Avatar: The Last Airbender copyright Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko/Nickelodeon and this derivative work was created without permission.

When Kanna first met Hama, she had thought the waterbender was a man.

It had been a long time since she had left the Northern Water Tribe. She had left the boat she had taken at one of the few trading posts the tribe maintained with the northern Earth Kingdom. She may be many things, but Kanna was not a thief. She bartered away her jewelry and furs, piece by piece, as she made her way down to the other side of the world, all the goods she had left. In the end, she had only the betrothal necklace Pakku had made once she purchased the boat to continue south to the pole. Kanna knew she was poorly equipped, and more than once considered stopping in the Earth Kingdom, at least for a bit. But the scent of the sea, the longing for familiar foods and a climate that didn't make her feel like she was in a sweat lodge drew her on.

But, really, she should have wintered over on land. The Earth Kingdom boat was barely meant for the open seas and was shaky with only a woman's hand on the helm. Kanna would have preferred a Water Tribe skin boat, light enough to skim over the waves like a sled over ice, and proper winter clothing, leather stitched water-tight and warm enough to protect against a surprise dunking. But the sight of sea ice made her heart sing. She'd never been taught how to hunt or fish, but she could at least look for sea weed and pockets of freshwater ice to stretch her supplies.

Kanna did her best to haul her boat onto the ice -- Earth Kingdom boats, even small ones, were not designed to be treated such, but she couldn't exactly tie it to a dock that didn't exist, and look for a place to make a cold camp. There was nothing for a fire. Back home their fires, built in carefully-insulated stoves to protect the ice walls, would be fueled by dried dung, but Kanna hadn't seen the herds of buffalo-yaks or ox-goats that produced the best dung. But a cave would shelter her from the wind and provide some insulation, and she was used to sleeping in rooms of ice.

It was then she saw the hunting party, a quartet of humans in blue hide clothing, protecting them from the cold, mist-ladden wind. The details were different from what people wore in the North, and there wasn't the care that the upper and middle classes of the city took in decoration so that even when warded against the cold, no one would mistake them for commoners. But the basics were obvious.

Kanna nearly lost her nerve, but then stepped forward, waving. "Over here!"

The hunters had a sled, but no beast of burden to pull it. However one was not needed, as she saw one crouch at the rear and push, sending the ice and snow back and the sled forward. A waterbender, then. Pakku had few kind things to say about southern waterbenders, but Pakku was a harsh critic, even on his own bending forms. And other things. It still hurt to think about Pakku, but it became easier every day.

If Pakku were here, Kanna was sure he'd critique the bender's form, but to Kanna's eyes, the bender did well enough. The sled picked up speed, sailing across the ice like a boat in a good wind, but slowed and glided to a stop near Kanna. The men got out, and Kanna forced herself to calm down. These were her people now, even if she was used to thinking of a group of strange men with spears as potential threats to avoid. She was not going to lose heart. Not now, when she was almost there. "My name is Kanna. I don't have a home village any more."

One of the men turned to her. She couldn't make out any of their faces, between the heavy hoods, scarves and slit-glasses to cut down the glare from the snow. "What happened? You aren't some kind of exile, are you?" Kanna knew that exile was sometimes used as a punishment. Or, in some cases, things could get so difficult that leaving was the only option. As she had done. "You aren't dressed to be out in this weather."

"Looks like Earth Kingdom gear," one of the other men said. "Not ours." Kanna began to regret selling most of her original supplies, even if carrying heavy furs in the height of summer through the Earth Kingdom had been torturous. Even more than the warmth they would have brought her, they marked her as one of them. The styles were different, but there were still things that both tribes had to do the same.

"Interesting," the first man said. "Hama, take her back to the village and get her story from her. Take the sled."

"Are you sure?" the waterbender Kanna had seen said, in a higher-pitched voice that sounded more like a boy's than a man's.

"You can send someone back for us," the first man -- evidently the leader of this little expedition -- said. "Have them bring more snares while you're back, and extra rations."

"Right." The bender motioned for Kanna to get on the sled, then joined her. "It shouldn't be a rough ride. I've been doing this since I was a kid. There should be a blanket there, too, if you want to sit and wrap yourself in it. You really aren't dressed for this."

"I did the best I could with what I had," Kanna answered. There was a blanket, if a worn one that had probably been donated to the hunters when it became too old for house use. She could see the designs woven into the yarn, spun from thick fur. There was also a skin to go on top of it, to shed moisture. She covered herself in both, using the blanket as a makeshift hood.

"So, what happened?" Hama said once they got going, at a pace leisurely enough to keep talking. "I'm sorry if it's too hard to talk about, but the chief and the elders will want to know."

"What?"

"To your home village," Hama said. "I thought all of the other settlements had been disbanded since the raids have been getting bad."

Kanna paused, realizing that her original plan -- to pretend to be from some other part of the Southern Water Tribe's territory -- was hopelessly naive. She had assumed that things would be, well, like the North but a bit more primitive and easier for a woman to live independently if she had a few useful skills. "I'm from the North."

The sled skidded a bit and Hama's next words were muffled as the waterbender focused on controlling the sled. "The North? Really? The chief is really going to want to hear from you, then. He's been trying to get a message up there all year, but we have no idea if any have gotten through."

Kanna shook her head. "I'm not… I'm not here officially. But I'm not a criminal there or anything. I'm…" she looked at Hama, trying to gauge a reaction. A woman might understand, she thought. She wasn't sure if a man would. There hadn't been anything wrong with her Pakku, with her betrothal, with her family…

… just a fear that as soon as she married, she would be swallowed up. That the skills -- even the appropriately feminine ones, like her skill at medicine-making -- she had developed would be worth nothing compared to the children she could bear and raise. Her older sisters had called it cold feet, or being childish, but Kanna had watched it happen to too many of her friends. Had seen even Yugoda, who was at least Pakku's equal at bending, be praised for her beauty and grace and her prospects as a wife and mother rather than being one of the most promising healers that her teachers had seen.

Kanna had wanted to be Pakku's wife, to raise children with him, but she didn't want only that. Maybe here she'd never get the chance, never find a man who could live with the idea of a wife who wanted that, but she hoped she could at least have the chance to try.

"It's complicated," she finally said. "But I wanted to come somewhere where there wouldn't be so many expectations of me."

"Well, if you stay, you'll be expected to help the tribe," Hama said. "What are you good at? Fishing? Boats? Sewing?"

"I've never fished before," Kanna said. "It's not something they have girls learn in the North."

"Why not?" Hama said. "Most women don't go out hunting or fishing, but there's always times when everyone who can hold a spear is needed, and the elders mind the children."

That… well, it followed from what people said about the South, but Kanna still hadn't expected it. Even the boys in the neighborhood hadn't let girls play their games when they were too small to do much besides stay out of the way of adults. "It's just not what was done," Kanna said. "But I can cook and sew, and I know medicine, even though I'm not a waterbender."

"Shame about that last one," Hama said. "Since you're from the North, you probably don't know, but we could use more waterbenders. The Fire Nation target them during raids."

"The Fire Nation?" Kanna had of course, skirted their colonies on her trip south, but had assumed their war was with the Earth Kingdom. Cold made firebending harder, and their ships didn't look maneuverable enough to sail between the icebergs.

"Yes, the Fire Nation," Hama said. "You don't look like you're from there, but you picked a terrible time to show up in foreign clothing. Another waterbender would really help out."

Kanna suddenly regretted that Yugoda had insisted on staying north, citing an obligation to her patients and to repay her training by continuing healing and teaching. Having a waterbender that knew her might have made this easier. "Do you need healers that badly?" Maybe hanging around the healers and learning what she could without bending would be some help; Kanna's parents had hoped she'd show some latent talent for bending, since it ran in their family, but she hadn't been that lucky. They had already been hinting that she and Pakku would produce bending grandchildren, and Kanna had to stifle that thought. She didn't want to deal with those feelings, even now.

"We need anyone," Hama said. "Most of us are doing construction and healing. I'm surprised no one gave me something to do before I left today, and the others will be pulling the relief sled back themselves."

"But…" Kanna shook her head, thinking for a moment. "If you expect everyone to learn a bit of everything, then that applies to benders as well."

"Of course," Hama answered. "Especially now that we're short-handed."

Kanna tried to picture Yugoda doing some of the martial arts forms she'd seen demonstrated… or Pakku, bent over, tending someone's wounds. It was all so strange… Kanna found the feeling a bit like the first time she had jumped into water over her head as a child. She could swim, and had swum, but there was still that moment of disorientation, when she had to find which way was up and felt the water pressing in all around her.

She must have said something, made some sound, without realizing it.

"It's not that strange." Hama sounded defensive. "Even if it's not what people do in the North…"

"No, I didn't mean it like that," Kanna said. She was suddenly conscious that they had come a long way, and were out on the open ice. She couldn't see the hunters any more, nor any signs of the village they were heading towards.

Hama let the sled coast again, and looked over at her. "Are you all right? You're not getting sick from the movement?"

"It's fine," Kanna said. "Just… it's…" strange, she wanted to say, but not since Hama had denied it, "I keep forgetting I'm all the way at the other side of the world, until someone says something." She hadn't spent much time outside of the city, but enough that ice and snow were familiar. "I've been traveling through the Earth Kingdom so long that any place with snow reminds me of the North."

"Good or bad?" Hama asked. The waterbender's defensive mood had faded.

"I don't know if I've decided yet," Kanna said honestly. She hoped -- she hoped -- that she had found what she was looking for.

"Well, if you can come all the way around the world, being here will be easy," Hama said. "Even with the Fire Nation being poor neighbors."

"I hope so," Kanna said, and then had to stifle a yawn. Sitting still and finally being warm was making her tired.

"You can take a nap," Hama replied. "We're still a ways away."

"I'll be fine," Kanna said. Despite that, it was getting harder to hold her eyes open. She wasn't sure she wanted to sleep in front of a stranger, but the familiar feel of the blanket and the sound of the sled was soothing, like being home. She thought she'd close her eyes for a moment, to shield them from the wind…

… but ended up being woken by Hama touching her shoulder with a mittened hand. "We're here. Sorry I couldn't wake you so you could see the town from the outside, but I had to steer."

Kanna yawned, standing up and letting the cold air bring her to full consciousness. Her legs were cramped and she stretched them before taking a few awkward steps. Removing the blankets made the cold feel all the more biting and her clothing feel all the more inadequate. But they were in front of an ice dome, which would take them out of the wind. There would also be more blankets inside and perhaps dinner.

Hama motioned her to go inside. "The chief's place. I'll go in and explain what happened, but I also need to get that sled out to the others. Then I'll probably get stuck on repair work until I fall over."

Kanna nodded. "Thank you for coming with me." She stepped inside, into a small anteroom, and removed her hood. Hama was doing the same, taking off scarf and goggles and- "You're a girl?"

Hama stared at her. "Well, yes. I know I was bundled up, but you should have been able to tell from my voice."

Kanna laughed. "I'm the one from the North, remember? I'm not used to female waterbenders going out with hunting parties, so I assumed you were just a bit young."

Hama shook her head. "If I didn't know you'd traveled the whole Earth Kingdom, I might wonder about you. But I think you'll do all right, once you get used to things here."

"I hope so."
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Becca Stareyes, Invoking Urania

December 2013

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