A/N: Woot! My second Taang piece, my first Taang one-shot. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar.
The war is over, but the suffering has just begun. Countless lives have been lost on both sides—Aang knows this, but he only feels utter grief for one particular loss. A loss that should have been prevented. A loss that never should have happened. He feels shame that he is not grieving for all the others, but at the same time, he is stubborn and selfish: a friend died, a sister died! One that he loved in more ways than one has died, and he feels that just this once, he is free to mourn like all the others who have lost their dear ones.
But he is the Avatar, and people are pressuring him, and he has duties to carry out. So he keeps his selfish grief of the one to himself, does everything asked of him without speaking. He becomes a spiritless body, an emotionless mind, an empty soul, as if he is nothing but one of the corpses that still remain on the battlefield days after the war has ended. Even still, Aang knows that even if the war is over, the strife has just begun, unsettling in its fervor.
Aang takes a moment for himself, staring out at the endless distance, the horizon: where the earth touches the sky and all is peace. He hears footsteps behind him, and knows who it is. The Avatar does not turn to greet the newcomer, however; he only stares into the blinding horizon with eyes glazed over like the one who has been lost.
"Aang," says the newcomer quietly, "How are you feeling?"
When he doesn't answer the newcomer, she stretches her arm around him to encompass him in a comforting half-embrace that he does not return. Aang shrugs the warm arm off his shoulders, stepping away hostilely.
"Nothing's wrong. I'm fine," he snaps in a cold, uncaring voice that isn't his own. He must take leave of emotion—ignore his feelings—do what he was born to do: keep peace.
"Aang," she says softly, pleadingly. He turns and gazes into the warm blue eyes that he used to admire so, before the time of suffering, before the time of suppressed grief. Right now, he can not bring himself to look at a girl; he knows he was forbidden from love, he knows it, but he persisted anyway. And now he has to suffer the consequences. That can not happen again, he tells himself. Never again.
He turns away. "Don't touch me," he says softly. "I don't want you to be hurt too."
There is a moment of silence, and then the two burst into tears and embrace each other with all their strength. The girl's face is red and her eyes blurry; his own face probably looks as bad as hers—he feels the streaks of tears that have already rolled down his cheeks.
"Aang," she whispers in his ear, "It's okay to cry; it's okay to have grief. It's okay if you just want to escape from it all." He nods, and she smiles sadly. "Sokka and I can fill in for you for a bit. Just—get out of here. It's not good for you to be like this."
He understands that she knows he has become an empty soul. "Thank you, Katara. I—I will."
She exhales and hugs him once more. "Where will you go?" she asks, as if it were any other perfectly normal conversation.
And for the first time in days, he grins. "I think I know just the place," he states, but it is more to himself than his companion.
He ventures through the murky swamp alone, unafraid of the place, even if it is shrouded in spiritual mysteries. Aang already knows about the eeriness and the visions and the mystery. He has been here before; he remembers it so well. This is where he got the first glimpse of the one he would grow to love over a span of a few months. This is where he found out that he would meet her in the future. This is where visions abound of people loved and lost.
He secretly hopes to see her again, but he knows his wish is probably in vain.
Deciding to find a place to sleep, he chooses a spot at the base of a great tree. He knows that everything is connected within the swamp, and that he could find her if he wished—but right now, all he longs for is for rest and solace from all the grief and stress and pressure. His sleep is deep and dreamless.
Aang awakens in the morning to eerie chirpings of birds and insects. He rubs his eyes, and a flash of white darts past his eyes. Thrashing about, Aang scampers to his feet, startled. "Hello?" he calls, even though he knows it is probably just the swamp gas playing tricks on his eyes.
But no—he sees it again, the flash of white: a girl in a fancy dress, giggling and running from.
His heart leaps, and he chases her through the swamp, through the trees. She always seems so far ahead, but so close at the same time. Aang feels as though he is fated to chase her forever until the end of time.
But when he looks up again, the girl has stopped: she is silent and still, standing at the base of a great tree that Aang recognizes as the heart of the swamp. "Toph?" he calls. The girl does not turn around; her skin seems somewhat pale, and her back is turned to him.
His heart skips a beat or two as he sprints to where the girl in the fancy dress stands: he chases her, but this time, he catches her and his soul becomes full once more.
A/N: It is unimportant if Aang and Toph are both dead, or if Toph is dead and Aang is still alive, or if Toph and Aang are both somehow still alive. The point of this is that love transcends all things. Yeah. So. Hope you liked it.