Part One: Winter
Chapter One: Thirteen Candles
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Autumn had gone by like years.
Her eyes, once a beautiful blue shade, had now faded into nothingness. They were dull like the cold leaves, dead on the ground.
Her heart, once outgoing and gentle, was broken, cracked in so many places. The others were afraid to touch her, this woman trapped in an adolescent body. She looked frail, fragile, as if one touch would snap her in two. Break her like a crackling twig underfoot.
She forced herself to look at his pale and motionless body. She forced herself to accept the fact that there was nothing she could do for him.
But he needed to live, she thought, he needed to live. She wished it so badly that it hurt.
The wind chilled her heart, and the tears flowed freely.
If only her pain was outside, like his. If only her wounds could be bandaged, like his.
"Happy birthday to you," the Waterbender sang, her voice a whisper. She lay by his side, a hand clutching his, as she motioned for the others to come forward.
They had made a small cake for him, but there was no point: he couldn't enjoy it anyways. They stood around his makeshift bed, staying optimistic for his sake, although the smiles on their faces were forced and fragile.
The little girl stepped forward, her eyes opaque, and her hands clutched a small stone figurine. Gently, she placed it besides the sleeping boy, her strong, brave facade fading slowly as she felt him breathe besides her.
"Happy birthday, Twinkleto- Aang," she mumbled quietly. The room was still, the air frigid and cold, and the silence was overwhelming.
Katara nodded, once, and Toph left his side. Sokka came forward, his eyes somber and still, as Toph receded into a corner, averting her eyes. She looked as if she were going to cry, although she was trying not to... Sokka had said to be happy, to celebrate.
"But there's nothing to celebrate," she thought, and looked at the warrior, who was murmuring something very quietly into the boy's ear, placing the small cake besides him. Aang was so lifeless, so motionless, so dead... but he breathed. He breathed, but he wasn't alive.
She turned away, she left the room. She couldn't stand it anymore.
"Toph left," Sokka murmured quietly to Katara, who nodded, watching the closed door with defeated eyes. She wanted to leave, too, but she held on to Aang's hand firmly, as if letting it go would cause him to let go of his life. She turned to her brother, who was standing over them with watchful eyes, but was obviously pained. He couldn't stand it either, the harsh reality. That Aang wasn't here for his thirteenth birthday, but was in the darkness. His soul was somewhere else.
"You can go now too, if you want," she whispered to her brother. Sokka nodded, but glanced at her, his mouth a line of worry.
"And you're staying?" his eyes seemed to ask, and she nodded, gripping Aang's hand for dear life. For his life.
"Yeah." He needs me, she thought silently. Quietly, she leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on the tip of his tattooed arrow.
"Make a wish, Aang," she thought, looking back at Sokka, who nodded and left. She saw the small cake lying beside him, and tried to hold back the tears.
"You're not coming?" Mai asked. Zuko shook his head.
Zuko slid the hood over his head, veiling his scarred face with a faint shadow.
"Mai, if you think that Azula would be any happier to see me, you've evidently spent too much time away from her."
"The war's over. She's just been locked up, and you haven't seen her in ages. Don't you want to see how she's doing?" There was no reply; she hadn't expected one. "She's your sister. You're impossible sometimes, Zuko."
"So are you," he muttered under his breath, holding himself at a safe distance from the girl. Mai smiled half-heartedly, like she hadn't heard anything.
"So you're not coming to visit your sister?"
"Mai, I'm sorry."
"She can't do anything to you anymore. Honestly, Zuko."
"Next time, alright? I have to go," he muttered, and turned to leave.
"The war's over." She placed her hands on his shoulders to still him. "If you really resent Azula so much, won't it please you to see her behind bars?"
"I have other things to do."
He shifted away from her, but not before the dark-haired girl put a hand on his shoulder in a last-ditch attempt to get him to stay.
"Listen. If you're going to the army camps, let me go with you."
Zuko looked back at Mai, her eyes pleading.
"I'm sorry, Mai."
Mai stared at him quietly, regarding his words.
"You'd rather visit the army camp than Azula."
"Another day, then. Zuko, if not for her, then for me."
"Mai, I'm sorry."
His eyes burned with supressed fury, but Mai kept her composure. She said nothing.
"You're saying I'd should visit my crazed sociopath of a sister than go see if the army's alright?"
"They're not Fire Nation troops."
"I wasn't fighting for the Fire Nation when the war ended-"
"But Zuko, you're its prince now."
He regarded her with a gaze that was sure to pierce daggers in anybody other than Mai.
"You sound like Azula."
He glared at her, and she shrugged.
"Think it over, alright? If you're going to the army camps, then go," she stated simply.
The blind girl could still feel him dying.
Every breath he took threatened to give out.
She knew he was alive; she sensed his fragile heartbeat.
She knew he was dying. She felt it.
She heard it, in the older girl's sobs at night. It was quiet, soft, but she heard the crying. Toph heard the tears fall to the ground, and she heard Katara whisper at night, pleading for her best friend in the world. Toph heard the truth behind those tears.
The blind girl knew it, whenever she visited him. She touched his frail, broken bones and knew that they would never recover. She touched his mouth, and his lips, and tried to feel his smile again. The warrior knew as well.
The two of them talked together, they talked of the Waterbender, they talked about Aang. The warrior was strong, steadfast. She both admired and feared him, loved him and hated him. He had such confidence, such an air of superiority, when he knew nothing at all. And she resented him, because he wasn't the one that could feel so much and say so little. He wasn't like her.
But the warrior had said that his sister loved the Airbender more than anything else in the world. It was one thing he had known since the start, and she wondered why she hadn't felt it too.
She loved him, Toph thought, she loved him.
She felt the Waterbender's pain, and imagined loving somebody that much. And Toph never told Katara what she knew was inevitable.
It would break her heart.
Sokka mumbled something half-heartedly to Toph, and she nodded.
"Yeah. I feel him coming too."
The two of them went to meet Zuko. He had walked to the camp, a long mile from the Palace City.
"It's half empty. Why are you here?" Sokka asked, but he knew.
"I wanted to see if everyone was alright," Zuko muttered. Toph sensed his frustration, and wondered what he was angry about.
"Yeah, everyone's fine." She said. Except for Aang, Toph added silently.
"The Avatar too?" Zuko asked, looking around.
"Yeah." Sokka said, glancing at Toph warily. He had never really trusted him, even when Zuko had fought against his own father.
"Yeah." Toph repeated firmly. "But he's resting now."
"She's with him."
Zuko eyed the camp. They seemed to be the only ones here.
"Where are the others?"
"Long gone." Sokka said. He didn't like the idea of Zuko visiting while Aang was resting, and he could tell that Toph wasn't too happy about it either.
A stony silence filled the air.
Singing, cutting through the dark-
An angel's singing to me.
I don't see her face, I sense her voice-
And candles. Thirteen candles.
They blaze and the flames rise higher, beacons in the dark.
And then the candles go out as quickly as they were set aflame.
Darkness again. When you close your eyes and try to sleep,
It's that darkness, the kind that blocks out the light
But doesn't block out the noise.
Maybe it's the tears. Maybe it's the crying.
It floods the deepest corners of my mind:
A painful fragment of reality.
It reminds me that here, wherever I am now
There's somebody. Somewhere.
Her fingers light the candles,
Weaving dreams into this endless sleep.
Then suddenly, reality. Pain sinks in.
Her tears flow, and the flames die.
If you'd like to read more, reviews are appreciated! I'd like to know how I can improve.