Chapter 1: No Good Deed
No Good Deed
“So... why are we going back to visit the Sun Warriors, Zuko?” Aang asked as he lay on his back atop Appa's head, arms folded underneath his own head.
The young Firelord looked down at his friend from his spot at the front of the saddle, and sighed. “I got a message from them. They requested that you and I meet with them.”
Aang pursed his lips and looked doubtfully at him. “You didn't touch some important relic of theirs again, did you?”
“Oh, okay. Just making sure. That does make me wonder what they might want, though. And I thought they didn't want anyone to know they still existed?”
“They still don't as far as I know,” Zuko responded wryly.
“Then how did they send you a message?” he questioned dubiously, looking askance at the firebender.
“One of them showed up at the palace dressed as a Fire Nation citizen and demanded to see me,” the Firelord replied. “It was the snarky one from when we were there the first time. You know,” he mused suddenly, “I always thought he was rooting for us to get fried by the 'masters'.”
Aang laughed. “Oh, him? You're probably right – he kinda did give off that vibe, didn't he?”
“So where'd he go?”
“I don't know – after he'd passed on his demands he disappeared the same way he showed up.”
“And that would be how?”
Silence fell then as the two lost themselves in their thoughts, both wondering just what the Warriors could need them for.
Both Aang and Zuko bowed politely when they were led to the chief, and the man indicated for them to take a seat while tea was poured out for them. Once the polite preliminaries had been dispensed with and the tea sipped, the chief broached the topic they'd come to discuss.
“You are here to see the masters. They wish to speak to you both.”
The young airbender blinked several times in surprise, then glanced at his equally surprised friend. “Uh... do you have any idea what this is about?”
The chief grinned and both young men flinched, remembering seeing that grin the last time they were here – when he'd told them that because they now knew about their secret society they'd have to be imprisoned there. It was the grin of a prankster – one Aang wore often... though maybe not quite as sadistically as the chief did.
“Nope.” He shrugged and his grin widened, showing a lot of teeth. “But don't worry – I don't think you have anything to fear. The masters both fed recently, so they shouldn't be hungry.”
The Avatar and the Firelord gulped.
Once again mounted atop Appa as the sky bison flew away from the hidden society, both young men were quiet, thinking about their visit with the masters. Needless to say, neither had expected what they'd discovered.
“It's so strange that something that you did well over a hundred years ago came back to help us in the war,” Zuko said slowly. “And even more crazy... to find baby dragons! If uncle hadn't lied to Azulon about killing the last dragon, this wouldn't even be possible.”
“Yeah,” Aang agreed softly, his expression nostalgic and a little sad. “I can't believe that Ran is the dragon that me and Kuzon saved from those poachers all those years ago. Or that the reason that they gave me the firebending vision was because of that.”
“Well,” the firebender returned sardonically, trying to cheer his friend up, “you know what they say... no good deed goes unpunished.”
The monk scoffed. “Yeah, and we get to tell that to your uncle, too.”
Zuko rolled his eyes. “Uncle's gonna love this, you know. The fact that the newest dragon has been named after him in gratitude for the lie that saved them from extinction is going to really make his head swell.”
Aang started laughing. “Yeah... now Iroh really is a dragon of the west!”
Chapter 2: Bathing Miss Bei Fong
Bathing Miss Beifong
"... smells a little ripe around here," Katara muttered under her breath as she cut a glare sideways at the lounging Toph, who pinged her with a pebble for her trouble.
"Quiet, Miss Fussybritches. So I don't like to splash around in the water like you do. Deal with it."
"Toph, if you get even one more layer of dirt on you, you're going to start sprouting vegetation!" Katara shot back, arms folded across her chest in aggravation. "And if the stench gets any worse, you'll smell like a panda-pig pen!"
Aang and Sokka snickered, at which the girl sent a small shower of pebbles their way, grinning sassily as the two scrambled up from their spots to try to avoid getting smacked. "I'm an earthbender. Dirt is my friend."
"But it's not our friend," Sokka said in an annoyed tone as he felt his poor abused head for damage.
The blind girl shrugged carelessly. "That's not my problem."
"What are you complaining about?" Aang grumbled sourly at the water tribe teen, his hands also busy feeling around his scalp for scrapes or bumps. "At least you've got hair to sort of cushion the blows."
"So grow it out, baldy," Sokka shot back.
Before the two could start arguing Katara summoned a small water-whip warningly, and the two went silent, eyeing her warily.
Toph shifting once more pulled their attention back to her, and a cloud of dust and dank, musty smells wafted enthusiastically around her. The other three members of the gang immediately scooted to the far side of the little camp, positioning themselves downwind of the younger girl and next to Appa, who'd been smart enough to stay downwind of the earthbender from the moment they'd set up camp. Momo joined them there, curling up on the bison's head after chittering in reprimand at the girl.
They spent the rest of the evening glaring at the earthbender...
Who didn't really care.
The next morning Toph blew out of her earth tent and stretched, grinning. She was in a mighty fine mood, and nothing was going to get her down today – not even her grouchy friends. With a sunny smile she walked off into the woods to find a little privacy and just enough water to brush her teeth. While she loved the dirt she didn't like it in her mouth, and her teeth were always sparkly clean - even if they were the only things on her that were.
The minute she disappeared the other three members of the team were out of their blankets with their heads together. "So we all know what to do?" Sokka whispered, and the other two grinned and nodded. "Then let's get to it!"
Katara headed immediately for the river they'd camped near to wait for the signal from Aang. The avatar floated himself silently up into the top of a tree along the path that Toph had disappeared down, and Sokka stationed himself a little further down that same path, loitering there so he could warn the younger teen when the girl got close.
"What are you doing, Boomerang Boy?" Toph asked as she came upon him, and he whirled, clearing his throat like he'd been about to use the little boy bushes before she'd come along and was dreadfully embarrassed by her interruption.
"What am I doing?" he yelled, seemingly irate. "I'm trying to take care of some personal business, if you must know, Toph!" he finished loudly, hoping he'd been loud enough for Aang to hear.
He had been, and as soon as the boy heard the older teen's voice he sent a burst of air towards Katara, who he could just make out in the river shallows a little distance away.
The moment the funnel of air breezed over her, she bent two nice, big blobs of water from the river, bending some soap into one and then sending them both back to the monk, who caught them and waited quietly for their dirty friend to pass beneath the tree.
The startled shriek lifting over the wilderness was the signal that operation 'Bathing Miss Beifong' was a success, and by the time Aang floated down from the tree the other two were already gathered around the very angry, soaked, but clean Toph and laughing like hyena-lizards.
There was little in the way of warning but the dangerous expression on the waterlogged girl's face – which really didn't help the three teens laughing their heads off since her hair was now covering most of it and making her look like a drowned leopard-rat – but the giggling stopped quite abruptly as a nice, long shower of dirt suddenly rained down on them from out of nowhere.
It was dead silent for a couple of seconds, and then the forest rang with the enraged shout of "Toph!" that came from Katara's throat as the fine soil the other girl had dumped on them trickled down into her hair, through her undergarments, and into unmentionable places that were now very itchy and uncomfortable.
"What? You douse me, I douse you. Now we're even." She began to stomp off, snapping over her shoulder, "And stop glaring at me – it's not like I can even see it, so you're just wasting energy – energy you're going to need to go get clean again."
The three now very dirty teens muttered a few choice swear words they weren't really supposed to know at their ages as they sulked their way to the river to get cleaned back up, Toph's name liberally sprinkled here and there between said swear words.
"... know how hard it was to get all that dirt off me?" Aang growled at a once-again lounging Toph.
Katara shot the monk a deadpan glare as she combed through her still-damp locks. "What are you complaining about? At least you don't have hair for it to get into! Do you know how long it took to get all that dirt out of it?"
"Do you know how long it took me to get all that dirt into my hair?" Toph interrupted before the airbender could reply, and Aang, Katara, and Sokka just stared at the younger girl in bemused silence, unable to think of anything to say in return. "You keep your water away from me, and I'll keep my dirt away from you. Deal?"
"Only if you keep your smell away from us, too," Sokka groused... only to gulp and close his mouth as Toph lifted a finger and more dirt rose to hover over the now-cringing teen's head.
"That's what I thought."
Chapter 3: Family
Katara eyed the back of the complicated prince that had just up and joined them after months of chasing them, and wondered what was bothering him. He'd been even more quiet than usual after they'd returned from tracking down Yon Rha, and she was a little surprised by that.
Yes, he was normally a pretty quiet guy but he was even more so now, and it was a bit strange that he was the one that seemed morose and confused rather than her, since it was her mother's murderer they'd been after. It had nothing directly to do with him, and yet the whole thing seemed to have bothered him greatly.
Her brow furrowed a little as she remembered how he'd acted after coming back with Sokka from the Boiling Rock Prison with Suki and her father in tow. He'd been just as withdrawn then, and it had taken a little while for that to fade, despite the interference from his sister's attack at the Western Air Temple. He'd woken up from his daze for that fight, but then gone right back into it anytime they weren't doing something to take his attention away from whatever it was that was bothering him. And she'd also noticed him watching her and Sokka a lot, almost as if he didn't understand their interactions.
She figured he probably didn't, what with the way his family was and all, and that really bothered her.
Back then she hadn't cared much why he was upset, because so was she. He was partially responsible for Aang's death even though he hadn't actually been the one to land the killing blow, and even though she'd now forgiven him for his previous actions there were times it was still hard not to get angry when she'd remember how the young monk's lifeless body had fallen into her arms. His beautiful, soft gray eyes had almost been lost to her forever, and it was hard to think about that and not get upset. But she was getting better with it, and right now she was concerned for Zuko and wanted to help him if she could.
“Hey,” she said softly as she approached him and sat down next to him, curling her legs comfortably to the side.
Zuko glanced at her sideways for a moment and then his eyes flicked away, but not before Katara caught the lonely, sad expression in them. A wave of sympathy went through her for him, and she gently touched his shoulder.
There was no answer for a couple of minutes, but she waited patiently, letting him gather his thoughts.
“What's it like to have a real family?”
Katara blinked, a little surprised at his opening query, but not really at the topic. She'd just thought he'd lead into it a little more slowly and cautiously.
She sighed as she thought about his question, running through her memories. Her family had been broken by the war, that was true, but she'd had one that was very different than his – she still did. A small smile lit her face.
“It's like what we all have, Zuko. Me, Aang, Sokka, Toph... and you. We're family.”
The firebender looked at her in shock. “You... you count me as... family too, after everything I've done? But we're not related at all! None of you are except you and Sokka.”
She shook her head at him. “Family is where you make it. Families are the people that care about you, that love you. Iroh is your family, but the Firelord and Azula? Not family. And us... we care about you, too. You're a part of us now and we don't like to see you upset.”
“So... you're saying that blood doesn't mean anything, that... love... does?” he asked, almost looking scared to say the word 'love', like he was afraid that the moment he said it she would rescind her words and leave him hanging there with a laugh.
“That's what I'm saying.” She smiled encouragingly at him and squeezed his shoulder before letting her hand fall. “I'll let you alone to think about it, but remember... we're your family now, so you can tell us if something's wrong. We can't help you work it out if you don't say anything, and that's what family does – they help, love, support, and protect each other. Just like we do,” she added, gesturing at herself and then the rest of the gang behind them.
With that and one last smile she stood up and walked back over to the campfire where the others were just relaxing on the beach as dusk fell before going back to the house to sleep, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
But they were a little bit lighter than they had been as he pondered on what she'd said and how it had made him feel, and by the time he returned to the group his face had lightened and his eyes had opened up just a little.
He was still hiding a great deal of himself away in those eyes of his, though Katara didn't think he knew just how expressive they really were, but it was still a start.
One that everyone was happy to see.
Chapter 4: Stop the World
Stop the World
“What if... what if I don't come back?”
The normal night sounds that Katara had become used to since leaving the South Pole warmed the evening all around her, but she was unable to notice any of what she normally considered soothing.
All she could think of, all she could hear were the words that the Avatar had said to her the morning of the failed invasion... and what they meant.
There was no getting around the fact that Aang was the Avatar. And worse, he was the Avatar in a world that had been at war for a hundred years, a world that needed saving more than it had at pretty much any other time in history. Fighting Ozai was the pinnacle of that saving, but that didn't mean that he also wouldn't be in danger even after the war was technically over.
Feeling cold suddenly, she pulled her legs to her chest and folded her arms around them, curled up tightly to combat the loneliness she was feeling. In the time since she'd found Aang and he'd erupted into her life in such an explosive fashion she'd forgotten what it was like to feel alone. He was her best friend, and he had been from almost day one.
But the kiss... the kiss changed everything.
It brought love into the equation.
It wasn't that she didn't return the feelings he'd expressed in that kiss... it was that she did. Which meant that she stood a great chance of being left behind to grieve a lost love, with as many people as currently seemed to want him dead – especially as he'd already died once and come close several times. She'd die for him in an instant, there was no question about that, but in a moment of clarity she realized that dying for someone else was the easy part. It was the one left behind that had to somehow survive their entire world being destroyed. It was the survivor that would get the bad end of the deal.
She'd been through that once already with her mother – she didn't think she'd remain sane if it happened again.
Stop the world, she thought just a bit bitterly. I want to get off. How can I let myself give into my feelings knowing what – and who – he's got to face? I'm so scared, she sniffled to herself, her eyes tearing a little as she stared up at the star-filled swathes of sky she could see from her spot along the railing at the edge of the structures. I... I just can't let myself get any closer. It will be horrible enough to deal with him dying even just as a friend. I can't risk... anything else.
She'd have thought with her decision made she'd have felt better, but for some reason she already felt like Aang was gone, and the sheer, agonizing pain that welled up inside her strangled her voice and choked off her air. It was like she was already grieving...
With a stifled sob, she realized she was.
Chapter 5: Hate Mail
Katara sighed as she closed the door of their house in Ba Sing Se, looking ruefully at the pile of mail in her hand. While most of it was perfectly average mail, she could already see that a couple of the letters were not going to be any fun, despite the fact that they were addressed to her.
They were quite literally hate mail.
This had actually been going on for some time. Aang had a very large fan club made up of a lot more girls than boys, and some of them had begun sending her rather nasty letters once they'd all found out that she was the Avatar's girlfriend and, as he'd put it more than once, the love of his life.
And while he seemed to enjoy the interest these 'fans' showed in him and his culture, to him the girls were the same as the boys. He never paid any attention to their attempts to flirt with him, and most of the time didn't even realize they were trying. Toph had said once that Aang didn't notice the difference between a roomful of girls and one of boys because to him they were all just people to hang around with. The only girl that he noticed was one was Katara herself, and he'd thought she was the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen from the moment he'd met her. (Which he'd also told her repeatedly.)
Nonetheless, it was rather disconcerting to receive these letters, which of course were never signed. All Aang's fans knew that she was a Master Waterbender, already considered the best in the world, and not a one of them were willing to face her in case she got too angry and they got more than they bargained for. Atop that, there was the fact that the young airbender would not appreciate anyone openly coming between he and his girlfriend, nor the disrespect to Katara, himself, or his people's teachings that such things as hate mail would certainly show.
That was why she had never told the monk about the letters, always careful to burn them so he wouldn't ever get the chance to read the ugliness in them. Sometimes she just burned them without opening them, but sometimes she couldn't help it and did read them. She started to open one, but then decided that she just wasn't feeling up to dealing with the nastiness that could and did get thrown at her in them and left it alone.
With a small sigh of resignation she went into the common room and was surprised to find most of the group lounging around. With raised brows she asked, “No one has anything to do?” as a general question to the room, and everyone just shook their heads, looking a bit bored, truthfully.
“Oh, well, here's the mail,” she said, moving around the room to pass out the various letters. When she got to Aang she tried to grab the letter for him from the stack without dropping anything, but she didn't have any luck in that endeavor. His letter was stuck between several of hers, and she dropped the entire pile right in front of him.
Kneeling in a quick rush she tried to brush aside his instinctive move to help her. “It's okay, I've got it,” she breathed out rapidly, and Aang cocked a brow at her, suddenly suspicious.
“What's going on?” he asked her in a low tone.
“Nothing!” she managed to get out in a mostly normal voice, but it was too late and he was picking up the one she'd already opened.
He glanced down at it and then frowned as his eyes focused on what was there without him really meaning to, and Katara's shoulders slumped and her heart sank as she grasped the other letters and picked them up, returning to her feet to stand awkwardly in front of him. By the time he was finished reading his face was red with anger and he was scowling deeper than she'd ever seen.
Looking up at her from where he was still sitting he tilted his head at her hand and asked, “Those others are like this, aren't they?” although it was clear it really wasn't a question.
After a moment spent trying to figure out if she could play it off as though this had never happened before she gave it up and nodded reluctantly.
“How long has this been going on?”
She flinched a little at the obvious edge in the question. “Umm... since that time in Yu Dao when we found out about your... fanclub,” she said in a small voice. “Not long after that I got the first one.”
He shot to his feet and stared at her, completely ignoring the silence from the rest of the gang as they watched the unfolding mini-drama uncomprehendingly. “Why didn't you tell me about this?” he demanded, thrusting the now crumpled letter towards her in frustrated fury as he glanced at it again. “You shouldn't be hiding things like this from me! Has anyone... tried anything?” he asked suddenly, and Katara knew exactly what he meant.
She snorted, looking away and folding her arms. “No, of course not. These were all sent by cowards – none of them would actually have the nerve or courage to face me. And I didn't tell you because you have enough to deal with, Aang. You can't take care of everything, and people like that-” she gestured at the letter he was still holding, “-are one of those things. Even the avatar can't stomp out stupidity, hatred, and ignorance from the entire world.”
“Katara, I can't protect you if you don't tell me when there's a problem!” he shot at her, beginning to pace, his features clearly filled with worry. “Please, don't hide stuff like this from me,” he begged, not even noticing as Sokka began frowning in the background, beginning to figure out what was going on.
“Katara, what have you been hiding?” her brother demanded sternly, and the young woman first flushed guiltily, then started to get mad at all the prodding.
“None of your business!” she snapped at her brother. But before she could say anything else, the airbender himself stepped in, flashing a look at Sokka that took the older teen by surprise.
“Please let me handle this. This is a problem that stems from our relationship, and that's no one else's concern. I can take care of it,” he assured the teen in a softer though no less authoritative voice, and after a few moments of staring the young avatar down, Sokka sighed and nodded, settling back in his seat a little reluctantly.
It was extremely rare that Aang used any sort of authority when it came to those he now considered his family, so when he did Sokka tended to respect his wishes. The only reason he was reluctant this time was because there was obviously some kind of danger to his sister, not that she couldn't handle herself, he privately acknowledged after a moment. She had defeated Azula, after all, and that was no mean feat. If she could handle her, then a bunch of teenaged fangirls of the avatar's shouldn't really be a problem, he finally decided.
Aang flashed the warrior a small smile. “Thanks, Sokka.” Then he turned back to the now-fuming Katara and his voice brooked no argument, surprising his girlfriend with its firmness. He'd never been one to order her to do anything before, but apparently this situation brought out the over-protective male in him, and the waterbender had learned the hard way that trying to get a guy to stop acting in a way that was basically instinctive to him was just about impossible. “I'm going to take care of this. But if you get any more of these, you need to let me know. No more hiding things from me, Katara, I mean it.”
“I can take care of myself, you know,” she protested grumpily, though everyone could tell that she wasn't really fighting him any longer.
“I know that,” Aang agreed easily. “But that doesn't mean I won't protect you anyway, especially from things like this. Could I have the other letters, please?”
Katara growled but handed him the notes. “Fine,” she sighed, knowing it was a lost cause.
“Are there any others?”
She shook her head and plopped down on the sofa next to the place he'd been sitting. “I burned them all.”
He shot her a look at that. “How many have there been?”
She flushed and looked away, folding her arms over her chest mutinously, though she answered his query. “Eighteen,” she mumbled.
“Eighte-” Aang smacked his hand over his mouth and cut himself off, staring at her with annoyance. “Never mind,” he finally sighed after regaining control of his tongue – and his temper.
“Gee, Katara, you shoulda known Twinkletoes wouldn't take this kinda thing well,” Toph inserted, smirking. “I can't believe you thought you could hide this from him. He was bound to find out sooner or later.”
“Can we drop the subject now?” the waterbender asked sulkily, refusing to meet anyone's eyes, and Aang just shook his head.
Sometimes his girlfriend was so independent it scared him. He was afraid one day she'd get in over her head trying to protect him from the ugliness in some people, and he wouldn't be there to save her. It was a scary thought, and even scarier for the fact that this threat was because of him, because of her relationship with him. If anything ever happened to her he'd lose his mind.
Well, he'd just have to keep ahead of her. Even with her making it difficult, he would protect her.
He folded the letters and slipped them into his tunic. He'd look at them later and decide how he wanted to handle the situation, but for now he could set the matter aside. Sitting back down in his spot from earlier, he smiled charmingly at her.
“There's somewhere I wanted to take you tomorrow,” he began, pleased when she looked interested despite herself.
“There won't be any fangirls, will there?”
“Nope,” he said cheerfully, grinning at her. “I can promise that it will be a completely fangirl-free zone. So what do you say?”
She sighed, she fidgeted, she tried to drum up some of her earlier irritation, but in the end she had to give up. She simply couldn't fight that adorable smile – the one that was just for her.
I Missed You
“Hey, Appa,” Katara said, moving to sit near the newly-returned sky bison's head as he groaned at her in welcome. She smiled up at him. “I just wanted to come talk to you. I missed you while you were gone.”
The bison nudged her gently with his nose and she laughed as she was almost pushed over. 'Gentle' was a relative term when dealing with a ten-ton sky bison. “I know.” She paused, and then her smile faded a little, though it didn't disappear. “But even more than that, Aang missed you. He wasn't himself without you. I hated seeing him like that, but there wasn't anything I could do.”
Lowering his head and growling a little Appa replied in his own fashion, and Katara nodded, now looking a little sad. “Yeah... I know you did. And that's part of why I came out here, too. I think Aang was so excited to see you that he didn't notice some of the scars you have. But some of them still hurt you, I could tell. So I wanted to heal you. Please? I hate to think of the things that must have happened for you to be hurt like that, and if I can help you I want to do it. Plus, I know Aang will just get really upset if he sees how badly you were hurt. I want to spare him that – he's got enough burdens to bury a thousand people already. He doesn't need any more, and we both know he'd blame himself for what you went through.”
He lowed, and Katara waited patiently as he thought her offer over. When he nudged her again and then laid his head down, she grinned happily. “Thanks!” She immediately got up and moved slowly around her patient, using her water to coat her hands and then placing them gently against the many spots on his body she'd noted had been injured. It took a while but it was worth it, because she could feel the great animal's body relaxing as she worked, and she was extremely pleased that she could ease him in such a manner.
She really had missed him while he was gone, she just hadn't realized how much since she'd been pushing her own worry aside trying to help Aang through. A few tears leaked down her bronzed cheeks as she worked on one especially painful wound, focusing on the inside. The skin had healed over all his injuries, but that was just a superficial healing – the worst was what was left underneath, and so many of those wounds were still just barely beginning to heal. The fur around them was even shorter in many cases, letting her know just how bad some of the injuries had been. But at least she could do something about it, and that helped her feel better, too.
“How's that feel, Appa?” she asked as she focused more intently on the injury; this one was particularly deep, a piercing wound of some sort, and she just wanted to break down and sob with the story it told – or maybe track down the monsters who'd done this to him and teach them what it felt like. But she didn't allow herself to be distracted, and as her favorite animal friend groaned in answer again she nodded. “Good.” She hesitated, then said, “I'm sorry this happened to you. We tried so hard to find you, and Aang was so desperate. Sometimes I wondered if he'd pull through... there were days when he just seemed to be fading away. And I... I prayed a lot, that we'd find you and you'd be safe.”
That wound finished, she moved around to his other side and continued working, paying not the slightest bit of attention to the passing night. She'd be tired by the time she was done but he would be healed and she could always sleep later. It was more than worth it.
Finally, she finished with every last injury about three hours before dawn and slumped wearily next to his head. Appa looked comfortable and content once again, like he had before the whole ordeal he'd been through, and to Katara that was the best part. She petted his fur and leaned into him with a sigh and a smile. “I'm so glad you feel better now. And Aang will be glad, too.”
Appa lowed again and turned his head, knocking her over on her back and proceeding to lick her affectionately as she giggled helplessly. When he finally pulled back she was pretty drenched, and she grimaced playfully at the bison and then laughed. “Yeah, I love you, too – but now I'm going to have to go take a bath before going to bed!”
Just for that he gave her one last, long, extra wet lick, and Katara went limp, laughing even harder as she lay on the ground. When she finally managed to peel herself off it, she hugged the great creature hard and pressed her lips to his nose in a happy kiss, which he returned by nuzzling into her embrace.
“Thanks for holding on until we could find you,” she whispered, and Appa sighed and then nudged her away, pushing her back towards the house.
“I know... I'm ready for bed now. I'll see you later!” she bid him goodnight, much more cheerful than she had been when she'd gone out there. Now that he was back and in top shape, things were looking up. He was part of the family too, and without him there'd been a hollow, cold place inside her heart that was now filled once again with the warmth of his presence.
Katara slept better for the rest of that night than she had since he'd been gone, and woke feeling joyful and refreshed around midday.
And Appa? He was like a brand new bison, energetic and playful just like his companion, who was surprised and pleased by the change when he woke that morning...
In both himself and his oldest friend.
A/N: I haven't ever seen anything written much about Appa's relationship with the any of the gang, and I was especially surprised by the lack of anything about how his return from their separation in season two affected everyone. I kinda think Aang's feelings on the matter would be pretty clear, and so I decided to write about Katara's thoughts instead. Plus, Appa went through a hell of a lot while he was missing, and I thought this was something that would definitely have happened – she wouldn't have been able to stand knowing he was hurt and not doing something about it.
When the Shoe's on the Other Foot
“What do you two think you're doing?”
Sokka and Suki jumped apart guiltily with a small shriek from the Kyoshi Warrior, only to see Aang standing over them and giving them the hoary eye. Neither knew what to say, looking at each other and then the avatar with dumbfounded expressions.
“Umm... nothing?” Suki finally managed to get out as Sokka just continued staring at Aang in bewilderment.
“Yeah, right,” the young monk snorted, folding his arms over his chest and rolling his eyes. “I'm not stupid, you guys. It's not like everyone doesn't know what you two are doing, but now my meditation is getting interrupted by this-” he gestured back and forth between the two older teens, “-this... cavorting around you two have been doing lately!”
“Oh!” Sokka finally managed, once again glancing at a flabbergasted Suki. “Hey, sorry, Aang. We didn't mean to interrupt your spirity stuff,” he finished awkwardly. “We'll just... go somewhere else...?”
He was cut off on a squawk as Aang grabbed his tunic and started to drag him away with a quelling glance at Suki that had her squeaking and closing her mouth before she could even get anything out.
“You, back to your room. And don't let me catch you sneaking off again!”
Wide eyes flashing between Sokka and the airbender dragging him away, Suki jumped to her feet and scooted out of the common room, so surprised by what had just happened that she couldn't even think of anything to say.
She was so stunned that she didn't even give a thought to her boyfriend, who was even now disappearing out the door into the soft Ba Sing Se night with a still-sternly glaring avatar.
It took a few, but Sokka finally remembered who was the older of the pair of them, and pulled them both to a halt, yanking his tunic out of Aang's grasp and even managing an insulted glare in return. “What was all that about?” he sniffed, straightening his clothes haughtily.
The water-tribe teen was completely taken aback when the younger boy's stern glare only got more so, and he gulped silently, not sure what was going on – and not sure he wanted to.
Too bad that wasn't on the table.
“I just got a visit from Avatar Kyoshi,” Aang said, surprising Sokka even more. What did that have to do with him? “She was very displeased with certain things that have been taking place lately, and wanted me to pass on a message.”
The older boy blinked. “Umm... okay...?”
Aang poked him in the chest with a finger and narrowed eyes. “She said to tell you to keep your mitts off Suki. She's her great-whatever-amount-of-times niece, and she's not happy with some of the 'liberties' you've been taking,” he answered the wide-eyed and now pale teenager with acid in his voice. “So no more sneaking off, got it? And she said to keep your hands where they could be seen-” he shook his head as Sokka paled even more and started stuttering, putting his hands up, “-I don't want to know! But I'd better not catch you doing anything suspicious, Sokka, or you'll be getting a personal visit from Kyoshi, are you getting my drift?”
Nodding rapidly as he watched the avatar's tattoo's begin to glow faintly with rather freaked out eyes, he turned and disappeared back towards his room as soon as Aang nodded, and the next day everyone was quite interested – and amused - at the sudden overwhelming circumspection that the teenager was showing with Suki. No one more than the young woman in question of course, who didn't know what to think when she tried to get a little frisky and her boyfriend immediately freaked out and scrambled away from her with a look at Aang through wild eyes – before he disappeared into the back of the gang's house in Ba Sing Se like a bunch of firebenders were after him.
The rest of the gang barely held their laughter in check, but they managed, and once Suki was also off on some other business they all fell over laughing... though no one laughed as hard as Aang and Katara...
Now Sokka knew what it felt like to have someone standing over you and watching every move you made, always interrupting your 'couple time' and making comments about emasculation and 'oogies' and the like. It appeared that now that the shoe was on the other foot, he was finding the whole thing a much different matter.
And if Aang occasionally gave Sokka the hoary eye just as a reminder, no one said a word... but the young monk and his waterbending girlfriend certainly got much secret amusement out of the whole deal.
Of course, that was the whole point of pranking a person in the first place... and Aang was very good at pranking people...
... as Sokka had finally found out.
A/N: I just couldn't resist. Aang and Katara had to get some of their own back at Sokka for his 'overprotective brother' act some way or other, and this just seemed to good to pass up.
Chapter 8: Father Doesn't Always Know Best
Father Doesn't Always Know Best
A light step warned the man sitting on the deck of the ship watching the night sky idly that someone was approaching, and Hakoda looked up to see his son nearing him. He smiled a little, actually glad to be pulled out of his morose and painful thoughts, and by such a welcome distraction, no less.
“Hey, son,” he greeted softly, watching with sad pride as the young boy he'd left behind morphed into a teenaged warrior in front of his eyes. He'd missed so much, and once again he questioned whether he'd chosen the right course after the murder of his beloved Kya by leaving to fight the Fire Nation. Had it really been the best thing for him to leave his two young children behind?
But then again, the war was slowly being lost and so were their people, and as Chief it was his duty to do not just what was best for his children, but his tribe as a whole. The Fire Nation had already degraded the Southern Water Tribe to almost beggar status, all the waterbenders dead and gone but his own daughter. It obviously hadn't done them any good to try to stay out of the war, and he wondered now what his own father would have thought of his policy of noninterference in an attempt to keep the Fire Nation away from their people.
It obviously hadn't worked, but as Hakoda once again looked at his son he realized that fathers were merely people too, and they didn't always know what the right path was. They could only make the best decision open to them at the time and hope for a favorable outcome.
“Hey, dad,” Sokka replied softly with a small smile in his father's direction.
“Have you perhaps come up with any further brilliant plans while you were... eating?” the older man asked after a moment, still amused at the sheer amount of food the boy could put away.
Sokka shrugged as he sat down. “Hey, I'm still growing - I need the food. As for the planning, I can't really go too far until we know if Aang's gonna make it.” His expression saddened then, and Hakoda was once again made aware of the bonds that his children now had to the young avatar.
“As determined as your sister is to see him healed, I don't think you should worry about that,” Hakoda said with a kind smile, gripping his shoulder comfortingly. “She's become something else again, hasn't she?”
The younger warrior nodded, inhaling deeply and letting it out slowly. “Yeah... she has. And you haven't even seen anything yet,” he added with a small grin and a rueful shake of his head.
Hakoda's brow rose as he looked at his son in question, allowing his hand to drop from the boy's shoulder. He leaned against the hull of the ship and draped his arm over his upraised knee. “Really?”
Gaze going far away for a few, Sokka eventually nodded at his dad. “Seriously. She could probably kick all our rears right back to the South Pole with her waterbending-” he shot a playful glare at his dad, “-but don't you ever tell her I said that.”
A chuckle greeted that 'threat', but Hakoda sobered after a moment and glanced at his son uncertainly, surprising Sokka. “Well, she managed to bring the avatar back to life, so I have to believe she'll be able to bring him back to consciousness, as well.” He hesitated, and then asked, “Is it just me, or does she seem to be a little more invested in his care than just as a... friend?”
At that question Sokka rolled his eyes. “Oh, it's not just you. But don't mention such a thing to her, because she'll look at you like you've lost your mind and tear a few strips off your hide if you do.”
“Ah... she's in the denial stage, then,” his father nodded, his expression understanding as he reminisced a little on the ups and downs of love.
“That's putting it mildly.”
“And what about the avatar?” Hakoda asked after a moment, wanting to get a better feel for the dynamics between the group of teens. “How does he react to her?”
Sokka laughed, waving a hand at his father with amusement. “Oh, Aang's so head over heels for her he practically combusts every time she's around.” His expression sobered, then. “He's family already, but you should get used to the idea that eventually he really is going to be family.”
So I'm going to have the avatar as a son-in-law someday, am I? “Are you sure? Perhaps it's just something that will fade away-”
“Nope,” Sokka said, holding up a hand to stop his dad. “I've played dumb to the whole thing all this time so as not to interfere with things too much, but I'm not stupid. Those two... I don't know,” he shook his head, looking out over the bow of the ship as he thought back to all their adventures so far. “There was an instant bond the moment she broke him out of that iceberg. I've never seen anything like it. It took a little while for me to warm up to him, since I was so suspicious of everything, but... I love Aang, too. Like I said, he's family now. But the way Katara loves him... well, that's a different story.” Then he got a sour look on his face that had his father cocking a brow at him in question. “But the thought of all the... the oogies to come once Katara gets over her 'he's just a friend' kick... I don't even want to think about that,” he finished with a disgusted shudder, startling a low laugh out of his father.
“Well,” Hakoda eventually replied dryly, “it seems I really have missed a lot. I'm sorry for that,” he added with a penetrating look at his son. “I wonder if I made the right decision in leaving almost every day.”
“Ever figured out the answer?”
“No,” the older warrior sighed finally, shaking his head. “I think that sometimes there really isn't a right or wrong answer, just different paths and the consequences of those paths. I was insane with grief over your mother, and I finally decided that my father's and grandfather's policy of non-interference in the war obviously wasn't doing our tribe any good, so I chose the opposite path, and... here we are.” He paused, then said, “You don't seem to be angry at my decision to go,” in a leading way, hoping to get his son's thoughts on what he had done – if he thought his father had followed the best path.
Sokka was silent for a while, laying back on the deck with his head on his arms as he stared up at the sky with a furrowed brow. After a time he finally said, “You did what you had to, dad. I understand, because I'd have probably done the same thing. I wanted to come with you, you know that... but in the end I think you chose rightly to leave me behind. We can only work with the situation we find ourselves in, after all. And we've all done that. Maybe... maybe all these decisions are finally bringing us to a place where we can defeat the Fire Nation once and for all.”
Hakoda nodded, glad his son really wasn't upset with him for the choice he'd made in the wake of his wife's murder. “Katara's angry at me, though.”
“She'll get over it.”
Sokka huffed a laugh. “Yeah. She tends to hold grudges, but she loves you and she'll eventually figure it out. Besides, deep down she knows why you left and understands it just like I do. It's more like she's really angry at the situation that caused you to leave, but you're the one she's kinda blaming that part of it on because she's confused and sad... and you're there to blame, if you know what I mean.”
His father looked him over with a small, sad smile. “You know her really well, don't you?”
“Well, it's not like there was anyone left anywhere near our ages back home to talk to, so it was always just us. So yeah, I know her pretty well, it's only natural,” Sokka shrugged casually.
It fell silent after that for a little while, the two just enjoying the peaceful moment and each others company, and Hakoda reflected that his son was growing into a fine man... and his daughter into a powerful, beautiful young woman that he wished he knew. This war has taken so much from all of us, he thought painfully as his wife's face flashed in front of his eyes.
“I'm sorry for missing so much.”
The young man looked over at his father as his apology disturbed the peace between them. “Hey, don't worry about it, dad. Life happens... and dads are people, too. Just because you have kids doesn't mean you suddenly know everything.”
The rest of the people on the deck were a little startled at the loud laughter coming from the Chief so suddenly as he shook his head with rueful agreement.
“Yes, I'm certainly no prophet from the mountaintop, but hopefully we'll all figure this thing out and maybe once it's all done we can get back to just living our lives. I'd love a chance to get to know the people that my children have become – and the young avatar, as well.”
Sokka grinned at his dad. “Well, you may as well get used to calling Aang by his name then, because sooner or later he's going to be calling you dad. And maybe...” he trailed off with a rather goofy smile on his face, then finished, “maybe there'll be a Kyoshi Warrior that'll call you that someday, too.”
Hakoda blinked in surprise. “You've got a girl? And she's a... warrior?” he asked dubiously, knowing his son's past ideas on females and fighting.
That goofy smile widened. “Yeah,” he said firmly, “I've got a girl, and she's a heck of a fighter. And hopefully you'll get a chance to meet her soon, too.”
Hakoda grinned at his son. “Then I'll look forward to meeting this young lady. She have a name?”
“Suki. She's the leader of the Kyoshi Warriors.”
“I never thought my son would ever take an interest in a female warrior,” he chuckled, and Sokka did, too.
“Yeah, well Suki kicked me around enough when we first met for me to get the message, and with Katara becoming a waterbending master... well, I learned to get past my old prejudices prett-tty quick.”
“I can only imagine,” the Chief said, privately wishing he'd been there to see that fight. Just another thing he'd missed, but with the way things had turned out, with his children finding and releasing the missing avatar, perhaps he could finally make peace with his decision to leave the South Pole to help the Earth Kingdom in the war.
If he hadn't, it was very possible the young man currently laying below decks in a coma would still be lost to the world in a cage of ice, and Hakoda had the feeling that somehow that young boy would end up saving them all...
Especially if his daughter had anything to say about it.
He relaxed and tilted his head back against the hull, letting all the heavy thoughts go and simply enjoying the rare moment of peace and the presence of one of his children.
It was a simple pleasure, and one he'd missed a great deal.
Chapter 9: I Want to be With Her Forever
I Want to be With Her Forever
“You have a great disturbance within your spirit, Aang,” Avatar Roku said softly as he materialized in front of the form of the newest avatar. “It must be something important if it was upsetting enough for you to meditate into the spirit world. What is wrong?”
The young air nomad looked up at his spiritual adviser with a deeply troubled and saddened expression and met Roku's gaze with confused and uncertain eyes, concerning the older man greatly. What could be wrong?
“Roku,” he began softly, his brows drawing together, “remember when you were showing me about your life?” As the previous avatar nodded, Aang continued. “You were married... and you loved your wife, right?”
The distinguished figure of the older man was taken aback at the question, not having expected that subject to be introduced at all. But as always, mention of his wife made him smile as his eyes softened with deep affection. “Yes... I love Ta Min with all my heart and I always have,” he agreed. Then his eyes sharpened on his spiritual charge, and he asked, “Was there some question that you have about love? I do remember you indicating that you understood about the difficulties of love when young.”
Looking almost dejected, the teen nodded and then just plopped down on the ground and wrapped his arms around his upraised knees. “I... I love Katara with everything that I am.” He paused, and Roku sat down beside him.
“The young water tribe girl that freed you from the iceberg?”
Aang nodded, looking into the distance sadly. “Yeah. But... I love her so much, Roku – I can't even tell you. Too much to want to let her go when I... when its my turn to come here and a new avatar is born,” he said, referencing his eventual death in a roundabout manner. “I don't think I can spend the rest of forever separated from her. How can you stand being away from your wife like that?” he finally blurted out, his eyes meeting his mentor's desperately, causing Roku to blink.
After a moment spent taking in exactly what was truly worrying the boy, he chuckled and shook his head, patting the monk on the back comfortingly. “Oh, Aang, where did you get the idea that you won't ever see your love again after you both die?”
Now it was his turn to blink and look surprised. “You mean... I really can be with her forever?”
“Did you think all the past avatars just spent eternity here waiting on the occasional call by the current avatar to assist he or she when needed and doing nothing else?” He seemed truly amused, and the younger boy cocked his head, a hopeful look pushing back the scared and conflicted one he'd worn since appearing in the spirit world.
“I... I guess I never really thought about it before,” he admitted sheepishly after a moment, blushing a little.
Roku laughed. “Well, I can't say that I thought much about such things either, before I got much older, anyway,” he said ruefully. “So don't be embarrassed. But yes, I'm spending my afterlife with my wife just as I spent my life with her. Well, except when I'm with you, of course.”
A bright smile pushed all lingering worry away from Aang's face and eyes, and he beamed at Roku as he released a huge sigh of relief. “Oh, I'm so glad to hear that! I've really been worried about this whole thing. Ever since she-” his blush deepened and his smile turned bashful, “-accepted me, I've been thinking about how happy I am when I'm with her, and how I want to be with her forever. But then... then I started thinking about how I'm the avatar, and I didn't know if the avatar could spend his afterlife with anyone but the other avatars. I couldn't stand the thought of losing her, not ever, and so I...” he trailed off and then shook his head. “But I feel better now. Thanks, Roku!”
The previous avatar shook his head wryly and chuckled again, truly amused. “I'm glad you found the one that was meant for you, Aang. It's always this way - when the avatar finds the one soul meant for them the bond is permanent and unbreakable. So do not worry, my young friend... one day, when you both pass into the spirit world you will be rejoined and then you will never again be apart.”
Once again the young airbender beamed, his face just lighting up with joy. “Really?”
“Truly,” he replied, his own smile lighting his features.
The boy jumped to his feet and bowed to his past incarnation as Roku also stood and bowed back, and Aang's bright smile softened a little around the edges. “I'm glad you get to be with your wife. She must have been an amazing person.” He paused a moment, and then shyly added, “Please pass on my respects to her.”
Roku smiled widely as Aang started to fade back out of the spirit world. “I will. Do the same from me to your young lady, as well. She has a remarkable spirit. Be well, young avatar.”
“Okay! Be well, Roku,” he returned happily before he vanished completely, and suddenly Roku disappeared as well, returning to his small part of eternity to pass on the message to his wife with his own soft, reminiscent smile.
The joy and terror of young love is never forgotten... no matter how old you get.
He huffed a soft laugh.
Not even in the afterlife.
Chapter 10: What Really Motivates Us
What Really Motivates Us
Zuko stared at Aang with a raised brow and disbelief in his rather expressive eyes. “You're supposed to be saving the world, and yet one person is what you're really fighting for?”
The avatar looked at the prince appraisingly for a moment and then sat down with a tired sigh. It had been a long day. “Saving the world is a conceptual ideal, Zuko. It's too big for any one person to really imagine or truly be motivated enough by, even the avatar. But we all have things that do motivate us, and those things are usually personal to us – something that's small enough to the world, but of overwhelming importance to us – that gives us the strength to do what has to be done. Even against the worst odds, if that smaller thing is important enough.”
The older boy looked surprised but thoughtful. “And Katara is that for you?”
Aang nodded. “And to a lesser extent Sokka and Toph, and even you.” He shrugged as Zuko looked astounded at that admission – though thinking about it, he really shouldn't have been. “It's the people and places that we personally know and love that actually motivate us, and higher ideals like saving the world just kind of get... lucky, I suppose, to get the benefits of our willingness to give our all for something, whatever that might be.”
Staring at the young monk, the prince of the Fire Nation sat down slowly, his eyes a little puzzled as he took in the other boy's words and really thought about them.
Aang looked steadily back, and after a moment softly questioned, “Who are you really fighting for?”
Zuko's eyes lost focus as he considered his firebending pupil's words. Aang was content enough to remain quiet as his sifu searched for the answer to that, though the avatar was pretty sure he already knew what it would be.
After a time of silence Zuko looked up with the light of self-discovery in his eyes and a new knowledge of himself with it, and Aang smiled a little.
“For my uncle. I'm fighting for my uncle, and for myself,” he said, so gently but yet so firmly.
“And the higher concept of bringing balance back to the world?” Aang asked knowingly.
“Is just along for the ride,” he admitted. “Don't get me wrong, I definitely want that. But it's for me, my uncle, and my home and people more than anything else, and the world just gets lucky enough to reap the benefits of that.”
“So now you know.”
Zuko nodded. “For them I'll do whatever I have to do.”
The prince found that he understood Aang a lot better now, and was actually glad for that understanding. As the airbender had once said, separation was an illusion, and Zuko was finding that very true as he really took in just how alike he and the avatar were in some ways.
We truly are all connected. The world is one big web, and we're all parts of it. The effects of what we do ripple outward to affect everything else to greater or lesser degrees.
And so Aang will fight for Katara... but the whole world will benefit from his love for her.
As strange as the concept would have been to him just a few weeks ago, now he found it oddly fitting...
… and strangely beautiful, as well.
Chapter 11: A Love For Toph
A Love for Toph
“Avatar Aang!” the startled young man exclaimed. “Is everything alright?”
The airbender dropped lightly to his feet from his glider, twirling it closed with a quick twist and snap of his wrist. He grinned at Satoru and nodded. “Sure! I just decided to drop in-” he paused for a moment and then chuckled at the unintended pun as the young man he was addressing did the same, “-and see how things are going with the refinery and all. No more 'spirit problems'?” he asked.
At that Satoru's expression cleared and he shook his head. “No, not at all. Everything's going perfectly, actually.” He hesitated and then cleared his throat, looking away with a slight blush and adjusting his glasses. “Have you seen Toph lately?”
Aang started walking, looking around the small town that had sprung up on the island a little sadly – he could still remember it as it had once been, beautiful and untouched. “Sure,” he said distractedly. “We stopped in to visit her a few days ago.”
“Oh. Umm... how is she?” he asked diffidently, trying very hard to control the blush that was at that moment trying to take over his face.
It took a few seconds for Aang's attention to return to him from his perusal of the area, but once it did he came to a stop and looked askance at the older boy as a certain suspicion began to grow in his mind. “She's fine,” he said slowly, watching him closely. “Busy torturing and terrorizing her students... you know... doing Toph sorts of things. Why?”
Satoru brushed the question off casually, trying to regain his footing, not realizing it was already too late – he was talking to a young man that well remembered his own painful initiation into love a mere couple of years ago. “Oh, just curious. She was supposed to be stopping in soon, and I was wondering if she'd said anything to you about it.”
The slow grin beginning to brighten Aang's face gave the older boy the clue that he'd given himself away, and he sighed and his shoulders slumped as he looked with deep chagrin at the Avatar. “You're in love with Toph,” he stated, his grin widening at Satoru's expression.
“Please don't say that so loud!” he begged, looking around to make sure no one had heard. “I... I don't want that to get back to her!”
The young monk blinked, then looked a little concerned. Taking him by the elbow he guided him into the space between two buildings, and once they were alone he let him go. “So... you mean to tell me you're going to keep hiding this?” he asked.
Satoru looked down miserably and sighed. “What else can I do? It's not like she would ever return my feelings,” he replied softly.
“What makes you think that?” Aang questioned further, confused by the older boy's seeming certainty.
“Well, because she's Toph Bei Fong! She's the greatest earthbender in the world – what would she want with me? I'm not even a bender – there's no way she could even respect me that much, let alone... y-you know,” he stammered, gaping at the airbender. “She's completely amazing, and I'm just Satoru, a poor fool who's no good at anything but tinkering with machines. It's... it's hopeless,” he finished, looking away despondently.
“I know exactly how you feel,” the airbender said quietly, his gaze going far away as the other boy looked back up at him in shock.
“But you and Master Katara... I mean, I thought-”
Aang held up a hand. “We are. But I meant that I understand what you mean about not feeling good enough.”
Blinking wildly in shock at that confidence, Satoru looked completely disbelieving. “But... but you're the Avatar! How... I mean... how could you even think-”
“Because Katara's the most amazing, most beautiful woman that's ever lived. You have no idea, Satoru! Nothing that I've accomplished would have happened if it weren't for her,” Aang smiled wistfully as he thought of his beloved. “People thank me all the time for saving the world... but it's really her that people should be thanking. There were so many times that she saved all of us and made sure I'd still be around to fight the former Firelord... in fact, if it weren't for her I'd actually be dead – getting struck by lightning's no joke. So yeah, I know how you feel.” Aang blushed a little, and his wistful smile softened even further with adoration. “She deserves to be cherished for the rest of her life – and I will, no matter what happens in the future. I'll always love her.”
Satoru knew the expression on the avatar's face quite well, because he wore it every time he thought of Toph. It was just tremendously surprising to know that the most powerful person on the planet had someone that he didn't feel good enough for, too.
“How did you, you know, get the courage up to approach her if you felt that way?” he asked.
Aang pulled himself back from thoughts of his gorgeous, amazing girlfriend and sighed. “It wasn't easy, but on the day of the first failed invasion I kept thinking that I might not come back, might never see her again, and I just... I couldn't die without knowing what it was like to kiss her. So... I just did it. I kissed her, and it was the most wonderful thing in the world. And then I flew off to look for Ozai.”
“Oh,” Satoru chuckled wryly. “You kissed and ran, huh?”
The airbender grinned, rubbing the back of his head a bit sheepishly. “Yeah, I guess. Anyway, the point I was trying to make was that until you try, you won't know how she's going to react. I'll never understand what Katara sees in me – she could have just about any man in the world, but she chose me, and I thank the spirits for that several times every day. Hiding it forever is going to do nothing but make you miserable, Satoru, believe me.” He shook his head and exhaled deeply. “At least if you try and she doesn't feel the same then you know for certain and can try to move on and heal instead of being stuck in that corner wondering for the rest of your life.”
“I don't know,” the older teen began nervously. “I understand what you're saying, but still – you're the Avatar. You're the most important person in the world, and I'm just-”
“Satoru,” Aang interrupted, “stop. You're a genius! I know for a fact that Toph is fascinated with what you do. All your machines and stuff really make her curious, and even though I probably shouldn't say this because she'll kill me if she ever finds out I did,” he said with a shudder, “she talks about you a lot – probably more than she even realizes.”
A look of wonder lit the young man's face as he stared at the monk. “Really?” he asked. “Do you really think I have a chance? I mean, even above and beyond her sheer amazingness she's a Bei Fong!”
The monk shrugged. “So? I can guarantee you Toph doesn't care about anything like that, and she's not about to let anyone choose who she does or does not get involved with – including her father.” He sighed. “Look. It's up to you. No one can force you to say something to her about this, but I have a good feeling about it. I really do think you've got a shot.”
It was quiet for a few moments as the young man thought it over and then he nodded, his expression firming with determination. “You're right. I'm going to talk to her when she visits next. Never knowing if I have a chance or not is worse than knowing for sure that I don't. Thanks, Aang.”
The Avatar grinned. “No problem! I'll be rooting for you, but like I said, I think things will work out for you two. Heck, for a while back during our adventures in the war Toph had a short-lived crush on Sokka, and he's no bender, either. She really doesn't care about things like that – she's going to judge you on who you are, not what you are.”
“You're right again,” Satoru said with his own sheepish grin. “I guess I wasn't thinking about that, was I? Toph isn't the type to care about superficial things, and that's one of the things I love about her. I've been being a bit stupid about this, haven't I?”
“Don't feel like you're alone,” Aang laughed, shaking his head ruefully. “I was the same way. I think it's just something that happens when you care about someone like that. You think they're so amazing that you feel you could never measure up, never be good enough for them. I'll tell you a secret, though – they feel the same way when thinking about us guys. Katara told me that once when we were talking about this same thing.”
“I don't know about that... it's hard to imagine Toph worrying that she's not good enough for someone,” Satoru returned dubiously.
“I know, right?”
Both boys dissolved in laughter at that, because the idea of Toph Bei Fong, the self-proclaimed greatest earthbender in the world (though she was probably right about that) suffering from a poor opinion of herself in relation to anyone was absolutely ludicrous.
Aang patted Satoru on the arm once their laughter had calmed. “I'll be cheering for you. I think you guys would make a great couple,” he said, genuinely pleased at the idea of Satoru and Toph together.
The young man blushed but smiled. “Thanks again, Aang. I'm glad we had this talk – it's really been hard to keep my feelings hidden when she's around. The uncertainty's been killing me,” he confessed. “Even if she doesn't feel the same, at least I won't have to deal with that anymore.”
“That's the spirit!”
Satoru turned with a friendly wave of his hand. “Well, come on... I'll show you some of the progress we've made in the mine, since that's what you originally came for.”
Aang shook his head. “Actually... I really just came to see if there was anything you needed my help with. But I'd be happy to see what you guys are doing with the mine, so lead away!” he said, following the bespectacled young man cheerfully, all the while keeping his fingers crossed for him.
He was pretty sure the young man had Toph's attention already, so there was every chance that the last one of the gang left unattached wouldn't be for much longer.
I've gotta tell Katara about this when I get home – she'll be so excited!
Making a mental note to drop by again in a couple of weeks just to see how things had gone, Aang trailed along and watched and listened with interest as Satoru proudly showed off some new inventions he'd come up with to make their operations not only safer for the workers but more efficient, as well.
Things here are turning out very well... I think Lady Tienhai would be pleased – by all of it.
Chapter 12: The Importance of a Name
The Importance of a Name
The two men standing together in the bright sunlight talking paused as a beautiful young woman approached them with a bright smile and a chattering lemur riding her shoulder, and Hakoda smiled in welcome to his daughter.
“Hi, sweetheart, and you, too, Momo,” he chuckled as the excitable creature flittered over to him and landed on his shoulder, chittering happily. Hakoda looked at his grinning daughter and asked, “Where's Aang?”
She shrugged wryly and motioned back over her shoulder towards the Fire Nation Palace. It was the chosen venue this year for the Council of World Leaders, which Avatar Aang had created on a bi-yearly basis in order to keep relations open between nations. “He's still inside somewhere.” She paused for a moment and then smiled at her father's friend. “Bato, could you give us a few minutes?” she asked softly, her eyes going serious.
The older man just nodded, and after a glance at Hakoda, who was beginning to look concerned, turned and ambled off into the depths of the gardens.
Once he was out of earshot the Southern Chief looked at his daughter. “What's on your mind, Katara?”
Her smile widened a little and she shook her head. “I didn't mean to worry you – it's nothing bad. There was just something I needed to talk to you about.”
Looking increasingly confused, Hakoda gestured for her to walk with him and turned, putting his hands behind his back. “Well, then, why don't you let me know what's on your mind. Does this have anything to do with Aang and your betrothal?”
“Well, sort of, I guess,” the young waterbender chuckled, blushing a little. After a moment she sobered, however. “He and I were talking a few days ago. Just idle conversation, really, but I brought something up to him and he agreed with me. The thing is, I... I need to ask you if it's okay first. I mean, I suppose I don't need permission, but it's kind of a respect thing.”
“Oookay...” Hakoda peered at his daughter, wondering what could have her this flustered.
Coming to a halt, she met her father's gaze and straightened her shoulders, drawing in a deep breath. There was really no way to lead into this easily, so she decided to just come out and say it. She only hoped it didn't hurt him too much.
“Well, I... I want to know what you think about... about Aang and I naming our first daughter after mom,” she blurted, wringing her hands a little anxiously, watching her father's gaze carefully.
Hakoda blinked, wondering if he was hearing things wrong. Had his daughter just asked him...? “What?”
The waterbender shrugged a little uncomfortably. “I've always wanted to name my first daughter after mom,” she began, looking sad for a moment before meeting her dad's gaze with a small, though far-away smile. “Even before...” she trailed off, and then shook her head and forced herself to continue, despite her father's shocked expression. “But now, well... I didn't want to just do it without talking to you about it first. I didn't want to surprise you and possibly bring up painful memories.”
The Chief's eyes lost their focus on the here and now as the subject triggered a flood of memories of his beloved wife, and Katara was pained to see the haunted look in them at mention of her. After a few minutes, though, he brought his gaze back to the present and his hopefully waiting daughter with a smile that carried only a hint of his pain.
“That's a great idea, my dear,” he sighed softly. “I think she'd have been very honored that you held such affection and respect for her as to do such a thing... and I'll be honored to have a granddaughter with that name to remind me of just how special she really was.”
“Are you sure?”
Hakoda nodded, his smile lightening until there was no sadness left. “Yes, I'm completely sure.” He cocked a brow at her. “Have you mentioned this to your brother?” he asked curiously.
His daughter shook her head with a roll of her eyes. “Are you kidding me, dad? If I brought up such a subject he'd immediately start demanding to know if we had a reason to be asking such a thing right now and threatening to emasculate Aang if we did. I figure I'll wait to bring this up with him until after the wedding.”
The water-tribe Chieftain laughed a little at the mental picture those words evoked, knowing Katara was dead-on with her reading of what her brother would do as soon as such a subject was broached. “I take it you wish to avoid alerting Sokka, then?”
Katara flushed and narrowed her eyes. “No, not really, I'm just trying to avoid having to kill my own sibling, because if he goes after Aang I'm going to freeze him to the nearest surface and use him for target practice,” she said with a rather evil look in a dangerously sparkling blue gaze.
Hakoda laughed again, louder this time.
Even as adults his children hadn't grown out of fighting with each other, and he had the funny feeling they never would. They'd probably be arguing and carrying on when they were ninety and on their deathbeds. He shook his head.
Kya, I wish you could see how well our children turned out, he sighed, looking up into the bright blue sky that reminded him so much of his deceased wife's eyes.
But somehow, as they both walked back towards the palace's council room to continue the meeting, he thought she did know, and he smiled to himself. Someday he'd join her in the spirit world and find out for sure, but for now he would be content to call his first granddaughter by his wife's name.
It was, after all, a very special name, one that had belonged to the most amazing woman, and he was certain that merely by association any little girl named Kya would be just as amazing.
Chapter 13: What Fools Fear Makes of Us
What Fools Fear Makes of Us
“Aang, can I talk to you?”
The young avatar looked up at the water tribe boy and nodded. “Oh, yeah, ummm... I wanted to talk to you, too,” he finally managed to get out around the guilt clogging his throat.
Sokka sat down next to his friend and said, “Go ahead. What'd you need to talk about?”
The airbender blushed, looking down at his hands as he twiddled his thumbs with shame. “I wanted to say I'm sorry about keeping that letter from your dad from you guys. That was a terrible thing for me to do. I hope you can forgive me,” he tagged on, though the fact that both Sokka and Katara had in the end chosen to stay with him above going to find their father should have been answer enough to that.
“I'm glad you brought it up... this is what I wanted to talk to you about, too.” He sighed. “I can't speak for Katara, but for myself I forgive you. I have a question though,” he said, looking at the younger boy quizzically and continuing when he nodded his willingness to answer whatever the query was. “Why did you do it? I mean... this just doesn't sound like something you'd do.”
Aang exhaled and Sokka was taken aback at the sudden weary sadness that aged the boy's eyes until they seemed far too weighed down for someone of his years.
After a pause to gather his thoughts, the monk said, “I was afraid. I thought... that you guys would leave me and go with Bato. I didn't want to lose the only... friends... I had left, I guess, though I know that sounds bad.” He winced and then shook his head – he'd almost said 'family' instead of friends, and he didn't want to presume. They probably didn't see him the same way. “The fear just... pushed me into making a really foolish choice that almost ended up forcing you guys to do the very thing I'd been afraid of to begin with. How dumb is that?”
Sokka was silent for a while as he thought about that, and then he nodded as though he understood. “What fools fear makes of us,” he agreed. After a moment he slung an arm around the younger boy's shoulders and hugged him for a few seconds. “Don't worry about that again, Aang. We're not going to leave you – you're family now too, and if we'd decided to go see dad we would have just taken you with us.”
The Avatar's eyes lit up and the teenaged warrior reflected on the fact that it didn't seem to take much to make the young monk happy. “Really?” he asked. “You really mean that?” When the older boy nodded, Aang grinned. “Thanks, Sokka. That means a lot to me. I'll try not to let fear make a fool of me again, but in case I fail, I'm going to apologize beforehand. So, I'm sorry if I get stupid anytime between now and... well, the rest of my life, now that I think about it. I'm pretty good at doing dumb things, and I don't think that's going to change anytime soon.”
The older teen laughed as he pulled back and put a hand to his chin, looking thoughtful. “Hm... a preemptive, blanket apology. Something like that might come in handy,” he mused.
Aang frowned in confusion and tilted his head. “For what?”
At that Sokka grinned and once more slung an arm around the younger boy's shoulders with a conspiratorial air this time. “Well, for whenever we say something stupid and offend a girl. As guys, it's what we do, you know. Although I've never figured out why it's that way... it hardly seems fair that we're cursed to make fools of ourselves in front of them all the time.”
Aang blinked. “So... let me get this straight. Fear makes fools of us, and then some weird force of fate makes us make fools of ourselves in front of girls.” When Sokka nodded, he finished with, “Is there anything else we need to worry about?” in an odd tone.
“Yup. Puberty makes fools of us, too,” he returned cheerfully, though Aang couldn't see what there was to be cheerful about in the current subject.
“Well, what's the point of worrying about not making fools of ourselves then? If it's going to happen that much, there really isn't going to be any time of the day that we aren't looking stupid in front of ourselves or someone else!” Aang dropped his head into his hands with a dramatic groan as the older boy pulled his arm away with a grin. “It's all a cosmic joke, isn't it? Our whole lives are a joke.”
“Aww, it isn't that bad,” Sokka chuckled. “Eventually we seem to outgrow it.” A few memories of the times before his mother had died floated through his head, then... and with a small grimace he decided he'd better revise his statement. “Mostly, anyway,” he tacked on ruefully just to be safe. Even dad didn't seem to be totally immune to the stupidity, if I remember some of the looks on mom's face sometimes... and the looks on his as he tried to dig his way out of the hole he'd dug himself into.
“Anything else I need to know?” Aang asked dejectedly in a muffled voice.
“Just that we make the biggest fools of ourselves in front of girls we li-” he stopped and gaped down at the boy in shock, and then jumped away from him to point his finger in his direction accusingly, “-you like my sister!”
The airbender groaned again, louder this time. “I've been making that much of a fool of myself in front of Katara? Aww, man!” Aang's head shot up as he said that, and he looked at Sokka with horror. “This is terrible!”
Both males went silent and stared at each other wide-eyed when what the airbender had actually just admitted aloud truly sank in.
Katara jumped in surprise as Aang dashed through camp in a whirlwind of air followed several seconds later by her brother waving his fist around and shouting at him. She watched with wide eyes as they disappeared into the distance, and then she shook her head with a sigh.
Boys. They were all idiots. Loveable idiots sometimes, but idiots nonetheless.
Chapter 14: Because He's Aang
Because He's Aang
“Twinkletoes still thinks you're only with him until you can find someone better,” Toph said in a lightly disparaging tone as she joined Katara at the balcony of Iroh's tea shop. It had been a year since the end of the war, and the gang had joined up here to celebrate this most important of anniversaries together.
The older girl choked before looking at her friend disbelievingly. “What? No, he doesn't! He knows better than that, Toph. Why would you think something like that?”
The earthbender shrugged. “Because it's true.”
Katara frowned, looking down at the shorter girl uncertainly. She knew Toph pretty well by now, and she was fully aware that she wasn't the type to say stuff like this without a good reason. But what...? I mean, surely Aang really doesn't think that, does he? Maybe she just took something wrong... “How do you know that?” she asked cautiously.
“He said it, that's how. You know, earlier when we were at the ceremony, and all those guys were trying to catch your attention. I don't think he meant for it to be overheard, really, but he forgets about my senses all the time, so...” she cracked her knuckles, stretching up on her tiptoes and then stretching her arms over her head casually, “... well, you get the drift.”
The waterbender was dumbfounded. “But... that's the craziest thing I've ever heard! Why would he think something like that for even a minute?”
“I know, right? I mean, he's the Avatar. It's not like any other guy could compete with that, anyway.”
Lips turning down at that comment, Katara cast a glare at the younger girl, well aware that even if she couldn't technically see it, she would nonetheless be well aware of the expression she was being regarded with.
Toph smirked knowingly. “What?”
“That has nothing to do with it, Toph! Do you really think I'm that shallow? I love him because he's Aang, not because he's the Avatar. I'd still love him just as much if he weren't.” A light blush crept up her cheeks and she turned back to the beautiful view before them almost shyly. “Don't get me wrong. I mean, the Avatar's great and all, but... while Aang might be the Avatar, the Avatar isn't Aang. There will only ever be one of him, and I thank the spirits every day that he's mine. I respect the Avatar, but I love Aang. You know what I mean?” She let out a heavy breath and her hand came up to lay over her heart, a small smile curving her lips just a little. “He's everything to me, because he's Aang. My peaceful soaring boy.”
Inwardly smiling, still, Toph wasn't about to let anyone see her softer side and so she harrumphed, folding her arms across her chest and letting her chin jut out aggressively. “Yeah, yeah, yuck. How do you always know how to bring the sap? Jeeze,” she muttered, shaking her head. And it's a good thing Katara can't 'see' the way I can, or she might have been too embarrassed to say everything she just did. But I'm glad she did, because Twinkletoes really needed to hear it. Now, if he can stop being a wuss and just talk to her about this, maybe he'd get over this stupid inferiority complex of his.
She scoffed at herself after a moment.
Yeah, right. This was Aang she was thinking about, after all. When it came to anything to do with Katara, he became a total jellyfish.
Coming out of the back room of the Jasmine Dragon, Aang paused and looked around with a small frown, wondering where Katara had gotten to. He felt jittery and nervous, his gut roiling with the awful feelings of jealousy and insecurity that had been coaxed earlier from the darker side that all humans had, even the Avatar. He knew he should be finding a good, quiet spot and meditating, doing his best to work his way through his overwhelmed and terrible emotions. But he couldn't even focus for two seconds on what he knew he should be doing, instead searching almost desperately for his girlfriend.
“-earlier when we were at the ceremony, and all those guys were trying to catch your attention. I don't think he meant for it to be overheard, really, but he forgets about my senses all the time, so... well, you get the drift.”
The young Avatar choked on an indrawn breath and turned red, coming to an abrupt halt just on the inside of the door as he listened in to the two girls out on the balcony speaking.
Oh, spirits, I forgot about Toph's hearing, he realized with a sense of panic. And she's telling Katara! Is she going to be mad at me... or worse? He shuddered and his shoulders slumped. Thanks for ratting me out, Toph.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that he tried to make himself move away so he would no longer be considered snooping, he was caught fast by an almost fatalistic sense of curiosity. Maybe this was actually a good thing – at least now he'd know how she was going to react to the fact that even the Avatar could be an idiot, instead of just being worried about her possible reaction.
“But... that's the craziest thing I've ever heard! Why would he think something like that for even a minute?”
She sounds really indignant – oh, man, she's definitely going to kill me... he swallowed hard.
“I know, right? I mean, he's the Avatar. It's not like any other guy could compete with that, anyway.”
Aang blinked. And then blinked again as there came a definite pause in the conversation. Frowning, the teen peeked around the frame of the door, for some reason wanting to see Katara, to see her reaction to what the earthbender had just intimated.
His eyes widened. Whoa! That's a really dirty look, he winced, glad he wasn't on the receiving end of it, though he knew he'd better prepare himself for the one he was going to get as soon as she saw him again. Toph was lucky she was blind and couldn't truly see it.
Breath catching for a moment as he took in what Katara had to say on the subject of their friend's words, he sighed as something that had been cold and tight somewhere deep inside him eased at her impassioned rebuttal. And he found that he understood exactly what she was saying when she claimed that while he was the Avatar, the Avatar wasn't him. Of course, he'd always known that, but he hadn't been aware that she understood the concept of what the Avatar really was so very well. He shouldn't be so surprised, though, he realized ruefully. Katara had always known him – even better than he knew himself at times, and he couldn't help the rush of love that washed over him as his eyes softened on the waterbender with deep and abiding affection.
He had to admit to feeling really foolish, however, and he was pretty sure his girlfriend would be pointing that foolishness out to him as soon as she finished taking Toph to task, so he inhaled deeply and stood up, squaring his shoulders and preparing to step out of hiding.
It was time to face the music.
And maybe if I give her the round lemur eyes, she'll be amenable to a little 'couple time' after I've apologized for being so stupid?
He could only hope so, because right now all he wanted to do was hold her in his arms... forever.
Katara watched Toph disappear into the city with narrowed, thoughtful eyes, her attention not really on her earthbending friend, but on her boyfriend, instead – and the talk they most definitely needed to have. Her frown deepened as she considered what Toph had told her, truthfully a little hurt to know that Aang really believed such a horrible thing.
But then a sense of shame swept over her, and her face fell even more. His fear was most definitely her fault – after all, she'd been quite stupid about her feelings for him, and for a time there towards the end of the war she'd hurt him terribly and confused the issues between them with her avoidance, pushing him away and basically rejecting him. She was very ashamed of herself for it; she was simply being a coward when it came right down to it – she'd loved Aang for a long time, she just hadn't wanted to face that fact because of the difficulties of maintaining such a relationship with the Avatar. And especially with the Avatar in a world torn by a hundred years of war – a world that seemed to have an inordinate number of people in it that wanted him dead.
She sighed. “I've hurt him,” she murmured to herself, a single tear tracking its way down a smooth, milk chocolate cheek. “Now I need to heal him.” She turned away from the beautiful evening view and started to head back into the shop to track down a certain airbender, but then stopped when she took in who was standing behind her with a rather shamefaced expression marring his even features.
“I'm sorry, Katara,” he began, a hand coming up and rubbing the back of his neck as he averted his gaze from her with a blush, leaving her with no doubts that he'd overheard her conversation with Toph, but Katara wouldn't allow him to go there – it wasn't him who should be apologizing.
It was her.
“No, Aang,” she responded immediately, speaking up before he could get anything else out, surprising him. “I'm the one who's sorry. This is my fault,” she continued, her own expression of shame settling on her face and confusing the Avatar.
“Umm...” he began, looking at her hesitantly now, unsure what to say to that confidence. “How... I mean...”
“We've never talked about certain things,” she interrupted, closing with him and reaching out a tentative hand towards him. “About how I... how I acted after you kissed me that time on the Day of Black Sun. How I avoided facing what was between us and pushed you away,” she continued determinedly, despite the sheen of guilty tears in her eyes. “What I did back then... it was wrong. I was trying to avoid getting hurt by hurting you, and because of what I did then, you've kind of had... these feelings of uncertainty, feelings of worry that I might change my mind. You're afraid of being hurt again, I understand, Aang. And that's my fault. These worries were brought about by my past actions, and that's why I'm not mad about the fear you've been harboring in the back of your mind. I'm the one that put that fear there, and I'm the one that needs to address and remove it. To heal it. I never did... and that's what's brought us to this moment here. So, I'm the one who's sorry. More sorry than you'll ever know, because... well, because I do love you, more than anything else in the world, more than I could ever put into words, and I hate myself for hurting you the way that I did. The way that I have.” Her hand started to drop back down, away from him as she finished her little speech, but he reached out and grabbed it up, wrapping his own around her soft, sweet one with loving warmth.
“Katara, it's okay. I understand why you acted the way you did back then. To be honest, I've thought about those same things sometimes. Being with me... it's dangerous, and there's times I've thought about, well... breaking up with you for your own good,” he said, his glance fluttering down to his feet before moving back up to meet her eyes again at her inadvertent gasp and desperate clutching of his hands. “I don't want you to get hurt because of me. I don't think I could live if that happened. But... I know that isn't the right way to think about this. To do that would be disrespectful to you, because you have the right to decide for yourself what you want. If I... if I left, it would be taking your choice away from you, and I can't do that. That's why I haven't left, and I won't, don't worry,” he soothed, a trembling smile meeting her frantic eyes as he pulled her closer. “So... I guess what I'm trying to say is, I forgave you for all of that a long time ago, even though we never actually talked about it. This stupid jealousy that I get whenever some guy tries to talk you up... it's something that I need to deal with – a flaw that I've been letting control me when I shouldn't. I was being stupid, I know that. But I'm better now, you've healed me – I can let it go.” His smile smoothed out and turned loving. “Hearing the things you said to Toph... they really helped. It doesn't hurt anymore, though I didn't mean to eavesdrop.”
His girlfriend chuckled nervously, her grip on him not easing with his assurances. “I know... I'm actually glad you did overhear, though. We needed to talk about it.”
“Yeah,” he agreed sheepishly, “I know. And I'm glad we have. So...” a mischievous twinkle lit his silver eyes, “now that's out of the way, would you consider joining me for a walk on this beautiful evening, Master Katara?” he asked, bowing gallantly over her hand as she blushed and smiled at him with affection, her fear easing at his manner.
“I'd love to, Avatar Aang,” she replied flirtatiously after a moment, allowing him to chivy her out of the melancholy, fearful mood the previous topic had instilled in her. There was no point in lingering over it, after all; she'd said what she needed to say, apologized, and he'd forgiven her. It was time to put it in the past and move on, and she was more than willing to do so. I'll just focus on proving my love to him every day and in every single circumstance, until he knows with no doubts that I will never change my mind – that I'll always love him, she decided as he grinned at her and slipped his arm around hers, coming to her side to lead her off into the balmy night air over Ba Sing Se.
Now... if I can just convince him that I need some 'couple time', she thought, glancing sideways at him. The round lemur eyes might work...
And they did.
If anyone ever asked Katara what the one thing she disliked most about being part of the team that had saved the world was, they would probably be surprised at her answer, because that answer was parties. She absolutely detested the endless, boring, repetitive parties that they were all forced to attend.
Most specifically, she hated the fact that, at these so-called parties, every girl in attendance tried to come between her and Aang. The more daring even got together and did whatever petty little things they could think of to torment her, probably hoping she'd eventually give up and break up with the handsome young avatar.
Still, it was tremendously aggravating, and despite the fact that it drove her crazy, she never said a word to her boyfriend. She didn't want him to feel guilty, and she knew he would. After all, it wasn't his fault he was gorgeous, fun-loving, charming, and caring, and that pretty much every girl in the world wanted him for themselves.
On this night, however, things had been worse than usual. Aang had been dragged off for a serious discussion by several nobles, even though he'd been promised by the Earth King himself that tonight would be a night strictly for socializing and fun, and every girl in attendance had then taken the opportunity to say and/or do something spiteful to her. That was why she was sitting here, at a small table in a corner by herself, rather than at the main tables with the rest of the party guests. It was just safer and less stressful that way.
Unfortunately, it looked as though this time it wasn't going to do her too much good, as two young women, smiling edgily, were even now approaching her. With a sigh Katara reached up and touched her fingers to the small necklace that Aang had made for her back in the beginning of their adventures, when Zuko had gotten his hands on her mother's necklace. She didn't often wear it, just for the simple fact that she didn't have many dresses that went with it, but this time she'd actually gone out and bought a pretty dress specifically so she could wear it, much to Aang's pleasure. And now that two more harpies were about to corner her, she fingered it for courage and patience.
She didn't say a word as they whispered and pointed at her, but when they finally gathered enough courage to actually get closer and speak aloud, she listened impassively with a small, distant smile.
“Look at that cheap necklace,” the taller one said with a haughty sniff.
“If that's all she can afford, then she has no business at a high-class ball like this,” her friend drawled back, nose wrinkled with affected distaste. “It's so tacky.”
There was no way Katara could resist that kind of opening. “Do you really think so?” she asked, her eyes widening with fake innocence. “Aang would be sad to hear that.”
“Why would the Avatar care about a stupid, cheap necklace?” the two girls demanded, rolling their eyes at each other as if to say, 'listen to this crazy woman prattling on'.
“Oh, well, because he made it for me, of course,” she replied, her smile widening as both young women choked and almost fell all over themselves trying to backtrack – especially as the aforementioned avatar appeared next to Katara at that moment with a polite smile for the two.
He wrapped an arm around his girlfriend's waist and looked down at her. “Who are your friends, sweetie?” he asked cheerfully.
Introductions were exchanged as the girls mumbled their names with blushes crossing their cheeks at the awkward position they'd gotten themselves into.
The young waterbender, on the other hand, just smirked almost maliciously as she waited for what she knew was coming next.
“So what were you guys talking about over here?” Aang asked jovially.
Before the girls could say anything to redirect the conversation she popped up with, “We were just talking about my necklace,” her smirk widening.
“Oh, yes,” one said, an ingratiating smile on her face.
“Yes, we stopped to admire it and she told us you made it, Avatar Aang,” her friend simpered. “You're so talented!”
Katara wanted to laugh in their faces, her eyes filled with an unholy glee. Liars. She continued to run her fingers along the piece affectionately as Aang blushed a little sheepishly and rubbed at his neck, his grin genuine.
“Thanks,” was all he said.
Just then the music picked up, and Aang turned to look at his girlfriend with his hand held out. “Dance with me?” he asked. When she nodded he turned back to the two girls, who now had soured looks on their faces, and made their excuses.
Once they were whirling around the floor in easy figures Aang sighed dryly. “So what was really going on with those girls?” he asked, and Katara couldn't help but shake her head and laugh.
“No hiding things from you, eh? They were insulting my necklace because it wasn't something expensive.”
The Avatar hummed thoughtfully, not really surprised by that as he whirled her out and then pulled her back in. People could be pretty horrible sometimes. “Did that bother you?”
“No,” she replied immediately, looking up at him with a small, intimate smile. “You made this for me, and I love it. I don't care what anyone else thinks.”
“You wouldn't rather have something more fancy and expensive? One given in some big romantic gesture?”
It was Katara's turn to look thoughtful as she shook her head. “You know... I don't think that's the kind of man I'd ever want. It's easy to make some grand gesture once in a while. You don't have to even really know a person to do those things. But the guy who does little things for his love every day? To me, that's perfect. That's the kind of man whose love is going to go the distance. And that's the kind of man you are,” she finished with a fond smile at her boyfriend, affection lighting her features.
He grinned and drew her a little closer than was strictly polite, one big hand dropping a little lower on her back as he brushed his lips across her cheek. “I love you,” he whispered as he pulled back.
The young woman beamed at him, murmuring of her love in return. Truly, it was the little things that were most important to her. This necklace that she wore was a prime example. It was true that the small choker had no monetary value. Heck, it had been made out of fishing line, for heaven's sake. But that didn't matter, because the man in her arms had created a thing of beauty for her with his own hands because he loved her, and that made it worth far more than the most expensive gold or jewels could ever be.
Besides, she smirked, who else in the world had the avatar making things for them? So those girls had laughed... but when they'd found out who'd made it for her, they'd been clearly envious.
Yes... she'd keep her little things, even if she had to endure sharp-tongued taunts from all the jealous girls in the world, since at the end of the day, Aang was hers. She could find enough magnanimity in herself to ignore them, because she knew how she'd feel if she was the one who didn't have him... and all the little things that came with him.
A/N: To all those who've asked if I'm continuing this series, as well as my other Avatar fics, the answer is yes. However, updates will probably be sporadic, as I have a lot of other fics in other fandoms, and even my own original fiction, to work on as well.
I humbly thank all those who review even though I'm not able to answer them all – there's just too many. I do read them all, though, and treasure your kind words.
Chapter 16: I Know She Loves You
Aang looked up from where he was sitting swinging his legs from the ledge below Iroh's tea-house. It had been less than a day that they'd been back in Ba Sing Se now that the war had finally ended, having arrived late the evening before. Now it was just noon, and Sokka was looking down at him with a grin.
“Hey, Aang, come on. Iroh's got food! Real food, with meat!” he enthused a little deliberately, just teasing his friend.
Predictably, the teen's face wrinkled in disgust. “And that's supposed to make me want to eat? That's gross, Sokka!”
The older teen chuckled. “Oh, he's got vegetarian stuff for you, too. No worries!”
The avatar sighed, then looked pensively out at the city stretched before him. “I'm not really all that hungry right now,” he shook his head, “but thanks.”
Eyes narrowing, the older boy looked at his friend, his best friend, truthfully, and sat down beside him. He was pretty sure he knew what the problem was, and maybe it was time to bring it up. It was certain that Aang never would.
“Look, I know you love Katara, Aang. It sort of came up before, remember? When I tried to chase you after you apologized for that mess with Bato and then realized that you loved her, but you got away from me?” He chuckled at the memory. “I don't really mind, despite how I tease and torture you about it,” he told the now blushing and gaping boy next to him. “It's just natural for an older brother to be that way with his sister. But I'm warning you now, I don't want to see, well... see...”
Aang snorted. “You mean you don't want to see or hear what you make us all see and hear with you and Suki all the time?”
It was Sokka's turn to redden uncomfortably. “Yeah, it's hypocritical of me, I suppose, but I just can't stand the thought of seeing or hearing you and my younger sister. It's just... weird.”
At that Aang shook his head and looked away, a certain sadness in his eyes that surprised his companion immensely. What...?
“Well, you won't have to see or listen to me and your sister, at any rate, Sokka. She made it quite clear that she doesn't feel the same as I do for her when she rejected me, so you should save that warning for whoever she does choose,” he replied dispiritedly. “I'm not going to be a problem for you in that respect.”
He was astounded when Sokka burst out laughing so hard he fell over, and then he scowled, hurt that his friend found such a painful subject funny. How would he feel if Suki didn't love him in return, and then someone – a friend no less – laughed at him for it?
Sokka eventually sat back up once his laughter was down to chuckles, and shook his head at his now angry companion. “And you believed her?!” he chuckled once more, incredulously.
Aang's frown deepened. “What?”
“Katara was just lying to herself and you, trying to protect her heart, I guess. I understand that. I almost did the same thing after Yue... when Suki came back into my life, I tried to push her away. I felt guilty, and like I was betraying what I had shared with her for another woman.”
“And how does all that mean that Katara... loves me?” He said the word love with a deep reverence, and Sokka was absolutely certain in that moment that no one would ever be able to love Katara like this one young man did.
Settling himself a little more comfortably in case the discussion got too long and they were out here for a while, Sokka said, “Because she almost died for you.” The statement was blunt, meant to shock, and it did. No one had ever really told Aang about what had happened while he was unconscious from Azula's strike – at least not the details.
Aang's eyes were wide and stunned, and there was a growing horror in them as he gasped, “What?!” like he couldn't even draw enough breath to speak.
“When you were in that coma after Ba Sing Se, Katara worked herself almost to death trying to bring you back. She went so far that she gave you so much of her energy through trying to heal you that she almost... well, for lack of a better word, emptied herself. She barely had enough energy left to keep her own heart beating and her lungs drawing air.” He glanced at his friend, taking in the still-horrified stare and now gaping mouth, and continued. “Me and dad found her on the floor of your room, unconscious herself and barely breathing. And as soon as she woke, we had to practically restrain her from going right back and doing the same thing all over. She almost died for love of you, Aang, and then she tried to do it again. I've no doubt she would do the same thing now without thought or care for the consequences. And that's why I know she's in love with you. Because only someone in love would risk so much for another.”
Still stunned and terrified that he could have lost Katara without even knowing it, Aang continued to gape at Sokka for several seconds before he shuddered and his terror at the thought faded a little. It took him that few moments to regain his equilibrium with the realization that Katara hadn't died, that she was still alive and most importantly, just inside the tea shop behind he and Sokka, safe and sound.
He looked down, a hand coming up to clench in his robes over his heart as it skipped a beat one last time with that fear before it faded into sleep inside him. It would never be wholly gone now, because he was in love with her and she could be taken from him so easily at any time. Life was never a guarantee, only death was, as the monks had told him.
“Are you sure?” he finally questioned hesitantly, his voice barely above a whisper, as if he couldn't bear to even say such a thing aloud – as though the beauty of it would disappear should he do so. His gaze raised from his lap and he met Sokka's eyes slowly, uncertainly, hoping that the older teen wasn't just trying to give him some encouragement and that what he was saying was really true. It was such a hard thing to imagine, but he wanted it more than he could ever remember wanting anything. He wanted it more than he would ever want anything.
“I'm one thousand percent sure,” Sokka stated, nodding almost briskly. “I'll tell you what. I'll make a deal with you. I'm so sure I'm right that if you confess to Katara and I'm wrong, I'll stop eating meat for good.”
Instant shock. Again.
Well, that took care of that. Aang perfectly believed Sokka at that moment, knew he had to be right, because his friend would never give up his meat. So if he was betting with that hanging in the balance, then he was entirely certain that Katara really did love him. Aang couldn't be more sure of it now than if she'd told him her feelings herself.
His face flushed and he almost began to hyperventilate at the deliciousness of the thought. Katara loves me! She loves me! I've got to talk to her, and then kiss her, and kiss her some more, and...
His meltdown was interrupted by his future brother-in-law, who was beginning to give him a vaguely disturbed look and shaking his head.
“No, Aang! Stop! I already told you I don't want to know about any of... those things!” he sputtered rapidly.
The avatar looked at him with total confusion. “What are you talking about? Katara's not even out here!”
The other teen was waving his hands and growing redder and more cross-eyed looking by the moment. “I know what you were thinking! And dude, that's my sister! Can you not think those things about her in my presence, please?”
Aang couldn't help but laugh, his spirit now feeling light and more happy than he had ever been. “Sokka, if you don't want me around you when I'm thinking those things about your sister, then you shouldn't have been around me since like... before the battle at the Northern Water Tribe,” the avatar said cheekily, grinning wider at the horrified look on his friend's face.
Yup. He'd known that would work, and it had splendidly, he mused as he watched the other boy jump to his feet and run off yelling, “Oogies!” whatever that meant. Now on to important things...
Aang was still grinning as he got quickly to his feet and took off in the opposite direction from Sokka.
Time to find his future.