a/n

Team: Water Tribe
Round: 2
Category: Drabble
Prompt: 2. (Word) Order; 3. (Word) Bar; 8. (Prompt) Depression
Word count: 649
Other: AtLA


With Just the Dawn as Company

He woke up over water.

The sun was still low on the horizon, glittering pale gold over the bay waters. For a moment, Aang didn't remember where he was. He shot up with a gust of wind beneath his feet, staff ready in his hands. Then—he remembered. He dropped his staff and sat back down, a small cloud of dust rising around his legs.

It was an impulsive thing to leave in the middle of everything like he did—impulse bolstered by a tugging sensation deep within him that pulled him eastward. He'd flown through the night, not even stopping long enough to retrieve Appa. The compelling urge to just go was too strong. When he'd finally collapsed, exhausted, onto a narrow outcropping overlooking Chameleon Bay, it was deep night. The only reason Aang woke now was because he'd felt the sun rise and stir his qi, something he began noticing after learning from the dragons.

Now that he wasn't caught up in the urgency he'd felt last night, driving him back to the Eastern Air Temple, Aang couldn't stop his mind from trying to sort all the things reeling within him into some kind of order. The hurt from Katara's choice to abandon traveling together resurfaced again, keen as ice biting against bare skin. To entertain the thought that she would no longer be there for him to reach out for comfort or even simple conversation settled gloom around him like a shroud. No small part of him wondered how long she'd been wanting to leave, if she had ever really wanted to go with him to begin with.

Curling forward, Aang cradled his head in his hands. Despondency clawed at his heart like a living thing, threatening to squeeze the air from his lungs in a few hiccuping breaths. He felt dragged downward as if he was a sinking ship with too many breaches in the hull to stem the flooding. Maybe he had done something wrong—something to make her want to go. The light from the rising sun warmed his skin without him really feeling it as he wracked through his memories to try and pinpoint any moment that could have foretold Katara saying Zuko needs my help more now. Isn't that what they had been doing already by going to all those Earth Kingdom towns? Wasn't that helping?

Within the spiral of his despairing thoughts, Aang could feel qi welling in answer within him. A year ago, he would have been sent into the Avatar state, completely unable to control the swift, virulent surge of his emotions, but now—now nothing happened. That avenue of release was barred and locked to him. Instead he felt the knotting and twisting of all that fettered energy in the center of his back.

Clenching his jaw tight enough to hurt, Aang let out a sound of frustration that startled a cluster of birds perched on the rocks not far from him.

"I have to fix this," he announced, lifting his gaze to pinks and oranges pooling across the sky. He knew all at once that then, at that moment, he didn't mean fixing things with Katara. There were things he needed to confront that did not begin with her. His face flooded with heat, only now realizing how childish he had been. He was so worried about making things work with her, he had avoided addressing the bigger issue. Again.

Aang had spent all of his life only knowing how to be an airbender, and how to sidestep problems like one. But, he wasn't just an airbender.

Feeling a weight settle between his bones, Aang stood again and picked up his staff. He was tired of having this problem, over and over, stuck in a mire of his own making. He launched himself off the outcropping, continuing eastward.

He was the Avatar. He would learn to finally act like one.


a/n: For those interested, I have updated the first chapter of this with a "director's cut" version that includes a few additional scenes and such. I had to cut the scenes to stay below 4000 words in the original posting, but now that the first round is over, I'm now able to update it with the completed version.