A/N: This idea occurred to me yesterday as I shopped for groceries, and I didn't go to sleep until I had written down the beginning. I sacrificed my sleep to bring you this oneshot, so that might explain a typo or three. This story turned out way longer than I had expected it to.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Four years after the greatest of wars yet to touch this earth, the young Avatar lived happily with his comrades in a small Earth Kingdom town on the outskirts of Ba Sing Se. Since the downfall of the notorious Fire Lord Ozai on a stormy Fire Nation night, the Avatar and his female Water Tribe friend had grown ever closer, to the point where their love became publicly known. Many did not approve, for the old ways claimed that a man as he could never love, lest he place said love in front of his duty. Nevertheless, their bond grew ever stronger as time wore on. Then, on the very night that he planned to propose to the Water Tribe girl, his three companions vanished. Angered deeply by the injustice and suspicious of the government, the young Avatar searched for an entire year for his friends until he was forced to give up and try to piece his broken life back together. Heartbroken, he fled to the Earth Kingdom Capitol, where he remains to this day…
Aang looked up from the scroll he had been reading and peered around the front of the shop, where old man Ming argued with a customer who was trying to return a bad apple. The shop he worked at was rather small, but supplied higher quality goods than most of the shops in this marketplace. For the last year, Aang had lived here in Ba Sing Se, working for old man Ming in his shop, keeping his identity unknown to all save for the government (though they'd never call upon him in the shop, oh no) and Ming, the store owner, who used to wonder why Aang would disappear for days or weeks at a time as he settled out disputed among the three remaining nations. The reason Aang continued to look up from his scroll, though, was not because of old man Ming's argument, but because of a woman standing a few feet away at the water rack. His mouth ran dry; he knew that profile, those curves, though they were donned in unfamiliar Earth Kingdom garb.
Alarmed, Aang leapt to his feet without thinking twice and almost ran over to her. Then, just as he's opened his mouth to shout her name, he closed it again and paused to think.
If she was in her right mind, she would have done something about vanishing, he thought. She could be surrounded by Dai Lee agents or worse. Yes, he would have to remain calm, act indifferent, or, as a friend had once advised him, aloof. Politely interested, but never acting how he felt inside at the moment. He would have to find out as much as he could, especially if she couldn't remember him (something he had long suspected, as he neither believed in nor trusted the loyalty of the post-war Dai Lee. Pausing to take a deep breath, he straightened his hat and made his way over to Katara, where she was inspecting the different bottles of water.
"Hello there." His voice sounded pleasant enough. "Can I help you?"
Deep blue eyes met his own, and he had a hard time maintaining his composure. Whether or not he could believe it, Katara was standing in front of him, smiling as if trying to look polite.
"Hi," she answered. "I was just comparing these waters here; my brother is very particular when it comes to flavor. Do you know anything about them?" She pointed to the rack of assorted waters.
Aang blinked, baffled by the thought that he was talking to his near-fiancé about water, and she had no idea of whom he was. Still, he sounded collected as ever as he replied, "I think your brother would like the blue one best. Definitely."
"And which one is the least expensive?"
He didn't miss a beat, though his heart seemed to. His hands were sweaty inside the gloves he wore to hide his arrows. "You mean usually, or just right now?"
Now Katara looked somewhat confused. Intrigued, but confused. Then a small, knowing smirk came to her face. "Today, I suppose."
"Ah." Aang smiled. He picked up the glass bottle containing blue water and tore the price tag off of it. "Today is your lucky day, Ma'am. Because this was just marked down to the low, low price of free." Her eyebrows raised in interested surprise. Though he was fighting a blush, he didn't forget to finish his statement. "If you agree to meet me at the Jasmine Dragon for dinner tonight, that is."
After a few moments of staring, Katara finally smiled and took the water from his outstretched hand. "All right, then," she said in a smooth tone. "Dinner it is. I'll be there for sunset."
On that note, she turned and began heading for the shop's exit in a blue of beige and green that did not quite match her eyes. Before she reached the door, though, she turned and looked back at him. She raised the bottle so he could see it and gave it a small shake. "Thank you, by the way."
He waved. "No problem."
Moments later, Katara had disappeared into the crowd. Aang stood there for a few moments as this revelation began to sink in. Had he not just reflected upon his failure to find his friends just this morning? After two years, he'd seen her for the first time and successfully asked her out to dinner. The whole ordeal had moved fast, yes – maddeningly so – but he blamed his success on the thought that he knew the way to get her attention, even if she didn't know him.
As he stood in the store, marveling his own slyness, old man Ming passed by and whispered sharply into his ear, "I hope you plan on paying for that water, lover boy."
Candles burned low over the plates and glasses that filled the table. Two hours had passed since they'd been seated at a Jasmine Dragon table by one of the Iroh-trained waiters (Iroh himself had returned home, to the Fire Nation, with the fall of Ozai), and since then they'd laughed more times than he cared to count.
Laugh pleasant and smile warm, Katara leaned her elbow and placed her chin upon it. "Well, Bonzu, I'm impressed. So far you've ordered all of my food – some things I've never even heard of before! – and I've loved them all. I mean stewed sea prunes? The name sounds awful, but it's like discovering an old favorite food. And my brother enjoyed the water, by the way. He asked me how I knew what he wanted." She paused, then added jokingly, "You're stalking me, aren't you?"
Both laughed, though Aang's was uneasy. Katara didn't seem to notice this, though, and carried on as if it were nothing.
She peered across the table at him. "Do you know why I accepted your invitation tonight?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"Well," she continued, shifting in her chair, "I did it because you seemed like a familiar face, even though I can't recall ever having met you."
At this, Aang felt a pang of sorrow run through his chest. It was time, he deduced, to try and pull her memories forth. "What do you remember about your childhood, Jin?"
Katara, who had introduced herself as Jin, frowned. "Not much, to be honest. My brother and I were in an accident about two years ago, and our memories were wiped clean from head trauma. We lived in a nearby town until just a week ago." She shuddered. "I didn't like that place," she admitted, "but they re-taught us the history of the last few years; when I came around from the accident, I didn't even remember my own brother, Taro. They kept us safe from accidentally hurting ourselves while we healed."
Aang raised his eyebrows. "So you've lived in a secret location for the last two years?"
Nodding, she responded, "It's secret so that people don't come in and scare us before we're ready to face reality yet – an intensive care unit for those whose memories have been flushed away, whether by accidents or otherwise. There's this one girl, for instance. She's blind, but they told her she used to be this great Earthbender. They said she'd been in injured in a tournament and her memory had been erased, like mine had in the accident."
How convenient, Aang thought bitterly. No doubt the Dai Lee had a place for their brainwashed victims. It's a wonder I heard nothing about it.
"So what happened to this girl?" he asked, deeply interested in and concerned for the fate of one of his old friends.
"My brother and I took her with us when we were permitted to leave. We were told not to leave the main city, but I really hated that place," she replied. "I'd really connected with her at the Safe House; we had a connection right away, even though we're so different."
"Funny how the world works, huh?" he said, again raising his eyebrows. He picked up his chilling cup of tea and drained it, then put the cup down and leaned on one hand. "What if I told you I know a little about your past?"
"You mean… you saw the accident happen?" Her wide eyes were sparkling with amazement and horror. She sat upright in her seat. "Oh, was it terrible? They told me that –" She stopped when she saw the saddened look on his face. "What?" she asked. "What is it?"
Now that he was here, Aang wasn't sure how to word his thoughts, how to tell her the truth. But it was time she knew, even if he had a hard time telling it. "I heard about it," he said quietly. He took a deep breath. "The first thing you need to understand is that what happened to you, your brother, and the blind girl was no accident."
To his surprise, Katara laughed. "No accident! Good one, Bonzu. For a second there I thought you were – " she broke off for the second time. Her smile faded. "You… you weren't kidding, were you?"
He shook his head to either side, just once. "The Dai Lee – they're a group of elite Earthbenders here in the city. They're supposed to protect the cultural heritage of Ba Sing Se and the surrounding towns, but they're corrupt – well, they took the three of you and erased your past memories."
"It's complicated," he answered, "but, in short, it was because they didn't want you to be married."
Katara's eyes widened in amazement. "I was going to be married?"
"No – well, yeah. Well, you hadn't been asked yet, but it was only a matter of time." Only a matter of hours, he added in his head. "But a lot of people didn't want you to be married to the guy, so they took you, your brother, and the blind girl away in order to leave him with nothing. They – the government, for the most part – didn't want him to be married, so they took you to a place where you couldn't be in the way."
"Why – why not? Why couldn't he be married if they – we, I mean – were in love?" Aang could tell that Katara was having a hard time picturing herself in this position.
"Because," he straightened up, more than a little nervous, "you were going to be married to someone they thought should never fall in love."
Gasping, Katara tried to speak and failed. For a few minutes, the only sounds came from the people dining all around them in the small teashop. A small laugh of disbelief came from her next. "Wow, I can't believe it… then again," she paused, thinking, "Why should I? We've only just met. You could be making up this entire story!"
So, the story didn't jog her memory. The thought tugged at his heart. He crossed his arms and answered, "Well, you always were a trusting person."
Katara opened her mouth to reply, but the magnitude of what he'd said hit her like a flying bison. "You… you knew me?"
Knew you? I kissed you! "Yes, I knew you."
She stared. "Then… who are you, exactly?"
"The question," he responded, reaching over and pulling one of his gloves off, and then the other, "is who are you? Still…" He raised one hand and pulled the hat off his head, exposing the blue arrow that he usually hid in public. "My name is Aang," he greeted her in a somber tone. "I looked for you for the longest time… Katara." The word left his mouth as three whispered syllables.
The next thing he knew, Katara had buried her face in her hands at the table and begun to cry. He tried to leap up to console her, but it were as if he'd been glue to his seat. Instead, he pulled his hat back on his head to lessen the chance of being interrupted by an outside party, and waited for her to speak. When she looked up, tearstains had already made their way down her pretty face.
"They cornered us in the alley," she breathed. Her shaking hands covered her nose and mouth, but her eyes remained fixed on his. "Toph was knocked out first from above, then Sokka. I tried to keep them away, but there was t-too many." A tear rolled down her cheek and she closed her eyes. "Then, I was being brainwashed by a Dai Lee agent, and then… nothing. I didn't even know my name. It's all coming back to me now."
Aang said nothing, allowing Katara to feel emotions that she had not remembered having up until now. Instead of interrupting, he reached into his pocket and placed the right amount of money and a generous tip on the table before he rose to his feet. He then walked over to where Katara still sat, in shock, and got down on one knee in front of her. The eyes of the other diners burned on his back, but he paid them no heed. He reached a hand up and brushed a stray strand of hair from her tearstained face. She opened her eyes and turned to him.
"Let's go," he whispered.
Katara nodded, got up, and followed him out the teashop's door. The night was warm enough, but a drizzly rain had begun to fall from the sky and over their heads. Aang turned his face to the clouds for a brief moment before squinting into the darkness to make sure that they were safe.
They hadn't been walking for more than a minute or so when another startling revelation came to her mind. Katara stood straight suddenly, and put one hand to her mouth as if keeping back a gasp. "I – I," she stammered. She turned to Aang, and he to her, quizzically. "I'm a Waterbender!"
All of this was still crazy to him, even after hours of talking to Katara. He'd searched for her for over a year, never finding even a hint of information as to where his friends were, and then she had walked back into his life as if they had never met. And now they stood together in the dim light, with her memories back into her mind as slow as could be, and she was beginning to rediscover all those things that had once made her who she once was, things like Waterbending. The image of her kneeling on the floor in a Kyoshi Island house with a bowl, struggling to keep a stream of water in the air, jumped into the front of his mind. Aang couldn't hold back a laugh at this memory. The sound of his laughter burst forth from nowhere, startling both Katara and the woman passing by.
"Why are you laughing?" Katara sounded as if she would like to be offended, but she seemed to have lost the ability. Between her hands was a small stream of water that she had Bended from the rain while Aang had been mulling his thoughts over. The water fell from her control and splattered down her front.
Instead of answering her question, Aang bent his knees, grabbed her around the waist, and picked her up in a tight bear hug. She screamed in surprise, throwing her arms around his neck to steady herself as he spun in a circle. That scream became a laugh, which morphed into tears until she could only sob into his chest with a combination of happiness and terrible sorrow for what time had been lost. Aang felt tears spring to his eyes as well, but instead of crying he allowed himself to laugh and be glad that she had returned to him regardless of the chances.
His spinning slowed to a halt after a number of turns and he set her on her feet. Cold rainwater from the puddles splashed over her shoes and soaked her feet. Both their clothes had become soaked from the drizzle alone. Katara hugged him around the middle and pressed the side of her face into his chest.
"I can't believe I remember," she sighed. "Do you think that Toph and Sokka will remember as easily as I did?"
"I don't know," he responded slowly. One of his chilly hands moved down her shoulder and rested on her waist while the other held the back of her head gently to his chest, seeking solace in her warmth. It was all so unreal, and yet he could feel her heartbeat and hear her breathing. A thought occurred to him then, accompanied by the flickering image of Jet's dilated eyes. He had to know just one last thing.
"The Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai."
Katara picked up her wet head and looked up at him, confused. "What?"
"Nothing," Aang replied hastily, reddening slightly. "I was just… never mind." He hugged her again and murmured, "I can't believe you're here, after two years."
Laughing, Katara gave him the bright smile that had always made his heart melt. "Did you really think a simple thing like mind control could keep us apart forever, Aang?"
Aang smiled and took her hand, and they began to walk down the road.
"Come to my house," said Katara. "I've got two friends there that I think you'd get along with rather well, like you've met them before or something…"
A/N: A Kataang oneshot with no kissing? What is this blasphemy? Anyway, yeah. I like the idea of this memory loss theme, so don't be surprised if you read more of it in the Oneshot Shorts collection.
Thanks for reading!
Written out longhand over the course of one day (9 pages written, 5 typed).