As Beauty Dies
On the pillar of life, someone once wrote:
There is no journey for love.
Love ends when it begins.
When the others are sleeping and resting from days-long fights and fatigued nights, Katara sits down and explains to him. Calm and quiet (to not wake them up).
"I have always hated you."
He laughs. Because this is not surprising, because this is like saying the sky is blue or Ozai is ugly (or he is all messed-up inside, nervous, drained—still like a marionette). "I know. You don't have to tell me that."
"Yes, but I do. I did always hate you. But I sort of like you now. You've grown on me, I guess. Or maybe it's 'cause you're not so evil and stupid like I always thought you were. Or maybe it's because we've both grown up."
He leans back against the stone pillar, rests his head on the cool marble (wonders why summer is always so hot and delirious).
"I think so."
Behind them, Katara can hear Aang sighing in his sleep and crying out for answers that he can never have. Because he is the Avatar—
And the Avatar is the one with all the answers. And strangely, none.
As beauty dies, no one is there to witness it. Its glorious death. Its tragic death. Or a death that is recondite and wasteful.
And something that will not matter after two more minutes.
But Mai is beautiful on her wedding day. In that austere, melancholic way of hers. Like the light has been filtered out, and she is a jewel shining (ironically). Shining black and porcelain.
Katara notes how pretty Mai looks.
(Dead too, but that is the part she doesn't say. Aloud.)
Zuko's son is Katara's son.
She is the one who cared for him, when Mai died when he was three. And she is the one he came to love, and touch, and hear, and all those thousand other things—
As his mother.
She loves him, she thinks. Because he is sweet and gentle, and always considerate to make sure she knows of his love. But she's also guilty, thinking of Mai pale and lithe and pitiable on that bed.
And Katara thinks that if her son (not Mai's) died, would he be like that too.
Aang grows old and fragile. His bald head is thinning, and his bones are abating. Into nothing.
He has lived for more than a century, too long for any little boy.
And that night, Katara says goodbye. But Aang is smiling and hugs her close, tells her they'll see each other again. Reincarnated of in the next—
Zuko is despondent when his son dies. And Katara does not envelop him in love.
She has loved far too much. And now, there is nothing left for her to give.
And so, she takes her son (the carcass in Zuko's arms) and sucks in the love she poured into him all those years. It is time to reap reparations. It is time to give back to herself.
Katara can hear Mai's rumbling laugh when the rain starts to fall. Mai is up there, telling her I-Told-You-So.
The first time they slept together, she was seventeen, and he was something she didn't know. There was pain, a lot. And there was nothing pleasant. And Katara tried to push him away before it augmented, escalated, terminated as something they both would regret.
But she didn't, and he didn't pull away. And so, they were relentless for years.
The second time they sleep together, Katara does not feel any better. About the situation. About her and him. And them.
Like four in a bed, meant for two.
One day, when they are both wrinkled and knobby in the knees, Zuko proposes.
It comes as a no surprise and a certain dread.
She declines, but only because it is the expected course.
He already has his heir, some boy once named Tom-Tom (son of this-and-that, brother of her-and-her). And Katara sees no point in marriage now. They are content where they are. Where they stood, tripping over air and on a polished, brazen scale.
And remembered when life was golden.