Disclaimer: Gasp! You've found me out! I am, in fact, a wealthy Nickelodeon employee writing fanfiction for my own series. Brilliant deduction. I applaud you. But seriously, I don't own, don't sue.
A/N: An incredibly long piece of fiction for me. Fear it! Fear it, I say! Don't be surprised if the mood suddenly changes in part to part, I wrote this over a span of several days, when I could squeeze in computer time between the English project, the Irish history project, and the tests teachers keep hurling at my head. It's not the spin-off from Madness most Discreet I promised.
To Have and to Hold
Late Summer had fallen upon the Earth Kingdom, bringing yellowing leaves and lazy, hot days. Suppressive heat cast a damping sluggishness over all the people. Chores and intentions were thrown aside for a nap under a shading tree, until the mild evening came with her cool breeze, and sonorous insect cacophony.
So it was that the village of Fukai stirred into life with the arrival of eventide, and her people went leisurely about their tasks under the fading, dappled sunlight filtering through the surrounding trees. Young girls swept out doorways, boys and men filled the water jugs to the spilling point for the next day.
The village matrons set out for the edge of the forest that bordered their homes, in order to collect mushrooms, and shade-herbs before the oppressive heat withered them into nothing.
A sharp gust of wind tore through the woods, so strong that Ayame, the eldest of the group, had to grab her hat to prevent it from flying off her head. The little old woman looked up from her task of mushroom gathering, and looked about for the cause of such a stir, on an otherwise utterly calm day.
Nothing greeted her surprisingly keen vision, so she returned to the task at hand. A few moments later, a younger woman, far into her last trimester of pregnancy waddled up to Ayame and clutched at her arm.
Ayame frowned in consternation, and followed the line of the girl's finger. Her look of annoyance changed almost instantaneously into one of ecstatic wonder.
"Oh! Our prayers have been answered!"
Sokka groaned as what appeared to be a small posse of women ranging from ages 20, to 500 came hustling up the dirt path, toward them.
"Grand decision, Aang. We've fallen across yet another village filled with angry women." he dead panned.
"Appa needed rest, Sokka," the Airbender objected, jerking his head in the direction of the clearing that the flying bison was now contentedly munching upon. Besides the bison's exhaustion, they also needed to resupply, desperately.
"And," chimed in Katara, "they don't look angry, at all."
Sokka grudgingly agreed with his sister, in fact the group of females had a collective look of rapture on their faces, much to the older boy's disconcertment.
He actually would have preferred them angry, he knew how to handle irate women. After all, one learns how to cope with a situation they put themselves into almost constantly. The pure joy radiating from the group was more than just a little disturbing.
They stopped within ten feet of the trio, and stood there, staring. And grinning. Sokka shuddered. After what seemed like and awkward eternity, a little old woman strutted up to the three children.
She was smaller than Aang by at least a foot, and wore her wispy hair up in a severe bun that caused all of her wrinkles to jut upward at an amusing angle. Katara placed her as even passed the age of her own Gran-Gran, and considering her grandmother was born before the start of the War, that was saying something.
The wrinkled countenance broke into a wide smile, stretching the skin to what seemed to be its breaking point.
"You are most welcome, honorable guests!" She bowed low, and reverently.
"Thank you, ma'am," Katara spoke up, returning the bow, "We are most honored to be welcome."
She would not have though it possible for the ancient creature to appear any more delighted, but the smile widened.
"Oh, how blessed we are to have such young, charming, polite, and beautiful young people come to our village!"
Sokka noted, after initially wondering how she had gleaned all that information on their collective characters from one bow and ten words, that all of this was directed at Katara.
The elder grabbed the baffled Waterbender's hand, and began to all but dragged her down the path toward the village about a quarter of a mile away, with the boys following, neglected, behind.
The entire walk to the village was filled with high-pitched chatter, as Katara was harassed over every subject from her age, to her marital status, to her dowry. Slowly, the rusty gears in her elder's brother head began to turn, while Aang still looked entirely nonplused by the proceedings. The conclusion of Sokka's arduous mental pondering proved correct.
The women scampered off into various doorways, calling for everyone to come and greet the visitors. And low and behold, the population of the village proved to be a horrendous ratio of young women to their male counterparts.
My sister, thought Sokka, aghast, is being eyed as a breeding heifer by an entire village.
While he was pondering how to be politic about threatening the entire single, male population of the area away from Katara, women hustled their brothers, brothers-in-law, sons, grandsons, nephews, it seemed anything male and human up to Katara for an introduction.
The bafflement on Aang's face faded into a puzzled frown as the boys crowded about the girl, and an uncomfortable feeling sank into his stomach. It felt like he was going to be ill, but as if the bottom of his stomach had fallen out before he could be.
Before the warrior could grab his sibling, and go running in the other direction, one of the elder males had declared there was a feast to be held in the honor of the new arrivals. Katara blanched, quite a feat considering her skin tone, and looked imploringly at her two companions. But to a teenage boy, food comes before all, even familial love. Sokka nodded, "That sounds good."
Aang was about to make an objection, he found this place had suddenly soured on him. However, his protestation fell short as one of the women grabbed Katara's arm, and dragged her along, proclaiming that she must be "prettied up" for dinner.
Sokka and Aang were led into one of the elder's house, and a small, but comfortable room. The older boy spread himself out over the nearest futon with a grateful sigh. Aang merely stood to the left of the door, still puzzling over his soured stomach. Sokka looked up at his companion's knitted brows, and attempted to lighten the mood.
"Well, if she gets married to one of these guys, more food for us, huh?" Almost as soon as the words escaped his mouth, Sokka regretted them. The young Avatar's feelings for his sister were far from surreptitious.
Aang's frown deepened, as he shifted his gaze to the warrior.
"Why would she not eat, once she got married?"
"Because she wouldn't be with us."
Aang took on a slightly panicked look, "Where would she be!"
Sokka felt his stomach drop, "Aang," he said slowly, "Do you know what marriage is?"
"Of course," chirped the Airbender, gleefully sharing his knowledge on the subject, "It's when two people live together forever, and have babies."
The water tribe leader found himself in the very uncomfortable position of having to explain marriage to a boy who was raised by celibate monks. He had to congratulate whoever had taught the boy what he knew, he couldn't have been more vague if he had tried.
"Aang, have a seat." He did so.
"When two people get married, they're bonded together, they have to stay with each other. If Katara were to marry one of the guys from this village, well, she'd stay here with him." He decided to leave the more gory descriptions of marriage for a much later time. Besides, the thought of his sister married was bad enough, the thought of her doing that with some jerk was too much for him to handle.
"But Katara's not going to get married for a long time, she's just a kid!"
Sokka grinned, a little ruefully, "In two years, she'll be the marriageable age."
"But..but.."Aang looked two steps away from tears, "She wouldn't just leave us, like that!"
"Love's a weird thing, Aang. It makes you do weird things."
Aang sat with a plop onto his designated futon, and stared hard at the wall, his eyes wide and hurt. The boys sat in an uncomfortable, burdened silence.
The dinner feast was torture for Katara. She was subjected to what seemed like hundreds of men, boasting of their strengths and virility. She had to force herself to laugh at anecdote after anecdote, as all the boys vied for her attentions. Makeup and an uncomfortable, but admittedly beautiful dress kept her stiff and aching throughout the entire proceedings.
Aang and Sokka didn't help in the least. The latter had been too busy stuffing his face to concern himself with her sufferings, while the former had blatantly refused to look at her the entire meal. Katara felt more than a little hurt by this.
But the real sting came on the way back to their rooms. Aang walked ahead, and increased his pace anytime she called out to him. Thinking perhaps this was merely one of his games, she had broken into a jog to catch him, but he had full out run into the house to avoid her.
Now, alone in her room, she pondered his odd behavior. It had been grating on her for the last few hours, after they had left the villagers.
He had been perfectly happy that morning, talking and laughing with her. Had it been the boys? But if Aang felt neglected, he didn't sulk, that wasn't his style. He would usually pull some outrageous stunt to get her attention. This dower mood was not like him, at all. She sighed, pulling her long hair out of the ridiculously elaborate hairstyle a particular matron had coiffed it in to, before running her old whale bone comb through the tangles.
As if summoned by her troubled thoughts, a creak from the door signaled Aang's entrance. No, Katara corrected herself, this was some pale imitation of Aang. The moonlight filtering through the shutters behind her illuminated his pale skin, and cast an eerie, unearthly glow upon his tattoos. The face did not hold the usual expression of perpetual joy, as if he knew a joke the rest of the World had failed to see.
The mouth was trying to set itself into a grim line of anger but the large expressive eyes, with their reflection of pain belied that aggression
"Aang," the Waterbender breathed, reaching out for him, "What's wrong? What happened?"
The mask slipped at her gentle concern, but was quickly set in place again.
"You said we were family," He accused.
Katara nodded slowly, baffled by his vehemence.
"Then how could you just leave us!"
He sobbed quietly, the facade of ire quickly giving way under the stronger emotion.
The Waterbender was struck speechless for a moment mouthing her protestations silently, until the astonishment faded and her words were able to gain audibility.
"Aang, I'm not leaving you, I never would."
The fire of anger finally flickered and died, and his entire countenance was filled with such sorrow that her heart nearly broke.
"Sokka said you would be married soon, and then you would leave us."
"You'll be a marriageable age, and then you'll get married," muttered Aang.
Katara felt a momentary flash of anger toward her elder brother.
"Just because I'll be able to be married doesn't mean I will be. And I will never, never, get married if it means having to never see you again," she murmured, close to tears herself. She opened her arms, and he practically dove into her embrace. He clung to her, burying his face in her shoulder, with a sound halfway between a whimper and a sigh.
Neither spoke for a long stretch. Katara rocked the boy back and forth, her heart swelling for love of him. Aang continued to hold her as if she were his last lifeline. In a way, she was. If Katara had gone like Giatsu... Well, he couldn't think of that. If Katara left, it would be even worse, somehow.
The gray light that proceeds dawn found them asleep, and a love blooming. It was a naive, untested emotion, but it had become part of them now. It would grow with their bodies, experience the same throes of adolescence, and would emerge with their adults frames, a undeniable and mature affection. But for now, it slept in its child form.
Dawn had broken when Sokka awoke to find his roomate missing. He groaned, hoping the monk had not done something to get himself hurt. He quickly pulled on his outer clothing, and went to consult the best resource on Aang: Katara.
"Katara, have you.." Sokka stopped short at the scene in front of him. Katara had her arms wrapped about the young monk, one hand on his back, the other resting lightly on his head. Aang had burrowed as far into her shouldas he could humanly manage.
Sokka backed out of the room, quietly shutting it behind him. In a few hours, he would barge in, making a racket, and sing the most obnoxious love songs he could for days to come. Aang would grin sheepishly, and Katara would make numerous attempts on his life. After all, that was his brotherly duty. But for now, he would let them sleep.
A/N: Unrepentantly fluffy, and long(for me) and pointless, and boring. Why do I always hate my stories once I get to the end of them? >