A/N: So I guess this turned out to be an AU since I kind of put them in my own little world where they were grown up for their ages, and everyone was okay with the thought of the Avatar shacking up with the Fire Lord, lol. I hope you like it, I wrote it in about a day, (which is way faster than I've ever written anything) AND it's my very first ATLA fanfic. I actually only started watching the show, like, last week, so I hope I didn't get too OOC!
Its been a long cold winter without you
I've been crying on the inside over you
you just slipped through my fingers as life turned away
its been a long cold winter since that day
and its hard to find
hard to find
hard to find the strength now but I try
and I don't want to
I don't want to
I don't want to speak now
of what's gone by
and its hard to find
Cause no matter what I say
no matter what I do
I can't change what happened
I can't change what happened
No matter what I say
no matter what I do
I can't change what happened
I can't change what happened
You just slipped through my fingers
and I feel so ashamed
You just slipped through my fingers
and I have paid
--A Natural Disaster, Anathema
Katara stood on the balcony of her home, overlooking the open seas of the South Pole, its surface calm for the moment, broken only by the occasional iceberg that
protruded from the water's black depths. The sun was setting, and it was her favorite time to come outside and think.
Five years had passed since the ending of the fire nation's war, and there had been peace in all the lands ever since. Five good years of prosperity for all the nations…but it had also been five long years since she had seen any of her friends….
Everyone had split up after the war was won, finally able to go on their way. Zuko had a nation to rebuild and remold, Toph decided that she needed a lot of quality time with her parents, and Sokka and Suki had ended up getting married. Aang had wanted Katara to go with him on his journey to completely mastering the Avatar state. There was much ground still left uncovered—it took years to perfect the techniques of bending all the elements, and conquering the powerful form of the Avatar.
Katara smiled sadly. To be honest, Aang just wanted Katara to go with him. It didn't matter where. On a spiritual journey to completeness, back to the Western Air temple, to the deep jungles of the Earth Kingdom to ride the wild tiger-bunnies, it hadn't mattered to him. Just as long as they were together.
A tear slipped past Katara's eye and down her cheek. It had been the worst mistake in the world, making Aang leave without her. She thought that she would be doing them both a favor: he didn't need her occupying his time and interrupting his quest, and she could go and rebuild her home, make it stronger and safer.
But that was just a lie she had recently started telling herself to make it through the days. She didn't like the truth anymore, it seemed so stupid and selfish. Especially selfish.
Her mind went back to one of the last days they had all been together. After the war had ended and Katara had found out that Aang had lived through his ordeal she had been so happy. They had shared two kisses before that day, but both had been completely unfounded—Katara had not known that Aang had carried such strong feelings for her. But that last kiss…it had been Katara's doing, knowing full well what Aang would think. It had been sincere at the moment, but after they had time to mull over their victory and the fact that life could go on again as normal, Katara had seen what a huge mistake it had been.
She had loved Aang, but the cold, hard reality couldn't be ignored. He was the Avatar. There were things he needed to do, duties that had to be undertaken. His life was forfeited to the people of the land, and his heart could never belong to just one person. There would be no comfort in their relationship, no stability. He might be gone for months helping a group of people, or he might die trying to fix a problem.
She had been selfish, not wanting to carry his responsibilities, and not wanting such a flighty relationship. She had thought it would be too much for her to handle. Being the Avatar's lover or wife was a task almost as arduous as being the Avatar himself, and it had scared her. She was young and frightened and still full of hope for the both of them.
She had left him a few days later, not doing a very good job of explaining her actions, but hoping that he would understand. He was so young, and they had the rest of their lives ahead of them to fulfill their dreams of love. But the people still needed them, there was still work that needed to be done, and Katara would have much rather taken on the task of pulling all the Southern Water Tribes together than what would have been needed of her if she had gone with Aang.
She turned to her home and looked in through the door that led out to the balcony. Her husband sat at the table inside, making plans with her brother and father about the next addition to their newly founded Water Kingdom city.
The tears fell openly down her face as she tried to push back the cold, empty feeling inside of her. She hated what her life had become without Aang. There was no happiness, no love. She thought that she could make her life work without him, but she could not. Her marriage was one-sided and loveless, her husband would do anything for her, she knew, but she did not care for him at all. Her heart had been taken before she had even realized it was missing, and when she tried to give it away all that was left was the simple respect she had for all mankind. And so that's what her marriage was based off of. Her respect for Thoi.
From the other side of the door, a human shadow fell over her, and Katara quickly tried to hide her tear-streaked face. A voice, deeper than it had been five years ago, but still so full of youth and vigor, said softly, "Katara? You okay?"
"Oh Sokka," she whispered, and held her arms out to her brother. He had grown to his full height, and had filled out like a warrior, and she had some trouble encircling him in her arms, so she just hugged him awkwardly and buried her head in his shoulder.
"I miss him so much, Sokka. We never should have left him." Her voice broke, "and now we don't even know where he is!"
Sokka sighed and hugged her tightly. "Don't worry, Katara. Hawky will find him." He snorted, "All he has to do is follow Oppa's scent and BAM! Avatar city."
Katara looked up at her brother and smiled slightly. "I don't think hawk's follow scent trails, Sokka." Her smile faltered. "And it's been months since we sent him out."
"Hawky's the best," Sokka stated proudly. "He'll find Aang."
Katara lifter her head off of her brother's shoulder and looked out towards the moon that was rising in the darkening sky and Sokka followed her gaze.
"I hope you're right, Sokka."
This was bad. Aang hadn't been out of his room in days and he wasn't eating any of the food that the servants were taking to him. Zuko finally decided that he had to have a talk with the young boy—this was getting foolish!
He knocked on the door, but there was no answer. He knew Aang was inside: he could hear Momo's tiny, encouraging chirps. Zuko pushed the door open and stared at the wasteland that was the Avatar's bedroom. There were plates still full of stale, old food sitting on the table and floor, and the contents of Aang's traveling pack thrown across the room. Marbles, decks of playing cards, meditation rocks and other various things were strewn across the floor, as if Aang had pulled them out in the hopes that they would get his mind off of things, but quickly forgot about them.
"Aang, you in here?"
There was a groan from deep under the covers of the bed, and Zuko carefully stepped his way through all the junk to stand beside it. He pulled one corner of the sheet back to reveal a lump of flesh that slightly resembled the Avatar. There were dark circles under the boy's eyes, and it looked as though the boy hadn't shaved his head in a few days. There was a thick five o'clock shadow growing.
"This is pathetic, you have to get out of bed," Zuko snapped.
"She broke my heart, Zuko…" came the mumbled response.
Zuko snorted. "You're too young to have your heart broken, Aang. You don't understand what love is."
"If my heart's not broken, then what is this pain in my chest?" Aang turned his body over and buried his face deep in his pillow. He was so small curled up in the middle of his bed, just a child…
Zuko sighed. His father had never had 'man-to-man' chats with him, and he doubted that the monks at the air temple had any with Aang, being opposed to all earthly feelings and everything. But it seemed that Zuko had to be the bigger man and talk Aang out of his delirium.
He sat down gently on the edge of the bed and thought about his words carefully. "Aang, sometimes women do things that don't make a lot of sense…and sometimes a young heart can mistake certain first-time feelings for something as strong as love, when in reality you're mind just doesn't know any better…."
Aang poked his head out of the covers. "Are you saying that you think I didn't really love her?"
"I don't know," Zuko said hurriedly. "I just think that you haven't experience enough of life to be so depressed about losing the first thing you had."
"Aren't you upset that you lost Mai?"
Zuko thought about this. "Well, see, I had been physically attracted to Mai, but that's not the only way to be attracted to someone. And sometimes you have to let a good thing go, and if it comes back to you, then it was meant to be."
Aang sat up at that last statement and looked Zuko in the eye. "Really?" he asked hopefully.
It was one of the hardest things he had ever done in his life, but Zuko managed to lie straight to Aang's hopeful face. "Yeah. I think if you let Katara go, she'll come back to you on her own. And that's the best way to have it."
Aang smiled for the first time in days. "Thanks, Zuko. You really cheered me up."
It had been weeks since the bird had found Aang, and he was getting antsy. It had been the best surprise of his life to see Hawky settle on Oppa's head that warm morning, and once he had read the message from Sokka he had jumped on Oppa and had taken off from the Fire Nation empirical city as fast as he could. But the South Pole was thousands of miles away, and Oppa wasn't as young as he used to be. Stops were nothing but a nuisance to Aang's excitement, and he had to force himself to not cut them short. If he even remembered to take them at all.
Thank goodness Zuko was there for just that sort of thing. If it hadn't been for him, Oppa might well have fallen right out of the sky from sheer exhaustion.
At least that was what Zuko stated.
Aang just scoffed whenever the other man mentioned this; Oppa was his bison. Aang knew he would never let the riding go on that long. Aang would just push the animal's limits a tad, but give him lots of cabbage to make up for it.
"What do you think they look like now, Zuko?" Aang yelled over the rush of wind. Katara and Sokka were no longer just a girl and boy. They were grown up now, a man and a woman. They would be taller and more mature looking. Maybe Sokka had grown a mustache!
Aang glanced back at Zuko. At 22, all traces of the boy that had been the prince of the Fire Nation were gone. Now a king looked back at him through one good eye. The scar around the other was less pink than it had been five years ago, now more of a normal fleshy color, and new skin was constantly growing over the finally healed wound, making the flesh smooth and shiny. Always bigger than Aang, Zuko had filled out to the stature of a warrior-king, all muscle and sinew. There was still some baby fat around his face and body, but the soft edges of his facial features had been sharpened by age and his high cheekbones and straight nose made him look imposing.
"I bet Sokka's grown a mustache!" Zuko yelled back, and Aang excitedly flicked Oppa's reigns, picking up the speed. Hopefully they would be at the Southern Water Tribe kingdom by nightfall.
He was a little nervous about seeing Katara after, what Zuko liked to call, 'the blatant smashing to smithereens of his young and naïve heart', but the monks had always told him that forgiveness should flow out of his heart easily, and grudges only make the body quick to anger and the mind weak and easy to break.
Of course, forgiving Katara and letting go of his anger had been one of the hardest things he had ever done. For weeks he did nothing but meditate and go for long flights to try to sort his feelings out. Zuko had been right, his heart was naïve. He couldn't understand why Katara had left and why it had hurt so badly when she had rejected him. After a time, he came to understand those particular feelings, but he never did understand why she had led him on in the first place. For just a few days he had felt as though everything in the world was right and perfect. But then that all came crashing down when she said that she was leaving. It was this that Aang found the hardest to forgive her for.
He had been just a child who was hopelessly infatuated with her, and for just a few hours she let him believe that he would get everything he had dreamed off. He was still bitter over this, but five years of not seeing her had given him time to cool down. He was much wiser and much more patient now then he had been five years ago. If she wanted to let him know what her actions had meant, she would tell him. If not, he would just pretend that little bit of their lives had never happened. Like those few days had just been lost in time. He wouldn't make her feel uncomfortable; there was no need for such childishness.
Wow, he thought, I really have grown up….
Zuko made them take one more break before the last bit of the journey. Oppa stretched out on the green grass, melting the thick patches of snow that were sitting on the land with his warm, heavy breathing, and Aang and Zuko sat on his tail to stay dry.
Zuko pulled a melon out of his bag and cut it in half, giving one piece to Aang. As he took it, Zuko let his fingers graze the younger man's hand.
"Are you going to tell them?" he asked quietly.
Aang smiled at him. "They might already know, Zuko." He leaned back on Oppa's tail and ate his fruit with one hand while the other lazily looked for Zuko's free one. "I mean, almost everyone knows about us."
The young Fire Lord stared at the tattooed hand that was mindlessly roaming across Oppa's tail and took it in his. Aang closed his fingers tightly around Zuko's, silently reassuring him. He knew it wasn't just the thought of their old friends finding out about the two of them. Zuko had brought Aang out of the hard Katara-obsessed times. He knew how much Aang had cared for her, how crazy he had gotten without her.
For almost four years now the two boys had been together. They had made it out of the war as friends, and had made it through the re-establishment of the Fire Nation as an equal faction in the land as lovers. But now Zuko felt threatened. And it wasn't like he could use his temper or his fire bending abilities to get out of this one. All he had was his trust and his love in Aang, and Aang's word that the feelings he had for Katara all those years ago weren't there anymore.
He looked over to see Aang smiling up at him, and he gave the boy a small smile back.
"There's nothing to worry about, Zuko," Aang said happily. "I'm sure they'll be very happy for us!"
But Zuko could see in Aang's eyes that the air bender didn't entirely believe that himself.
Katara had just made it back inside from a long day of watching the sky and was on her way to her bed chamber when Suki stopped her in the hallway.
"Wow, Suki, look at you! It seems like you get bigger every time I see you!" Katara laughed as Suki pulled a face.
"I know, it feels like it, too." She rubbed her hands along her pregnant belly and smiled. Her face was not painted in the Kyoshi warrior make up any longer—it had not been for years, since her first pregnancy—but Suki still wore the warrior outfit. Katara knew exactly how she felt; some things could not be given up so easily.
"Sokka wanted me to find you," Suki said. "There is talk in the village about a large creature landing near the snow caves just outside of the town."
Katara's breath stopped in her chest. Could it really be…?
Suki seemed to read her mind, "I think it is, Katara. Sokka wants to head down there and have a look. What do you say?"
Katara's eyes filled with tears and her heart swelled. She couldn't believe it. After all this time, all this misery…. "Come on, Suki," she said, and held her hand out to her sister-in-law to help her walk a little faster. "Let's go find out."
"So what do you want to do tonight, Zuko?" Aang asked happily, balancing himself on one of his air-balls and making it spin him around in a circle.
Zuko sat back heavily in his chair, removing his army gear and dropping it wearily onto the floor. "Nothing. I'm exhausted."
"Aww, c'mon, Zuko. We've been working at rebuilding this town for months, and everything is almost done now." Aang floated over to where Zuko was sitting. "I think we need a little fun."
Zuko smiled. "I would like a little fun…"
They had the servants bring some blue tea seed wine over to Zuko's chambers and the two of them drank. Aang had been nervous—the monks were very opposed to alcohol—but his teenage curiosity had gotten the better of him, and Zuko was now trying to breath in between long bursts of laughter as he watched Aang try to balance drunkenly on his air-ball.
The air had grown heavy and hot, and the boys had shed their shirts and shoes, but it didn't seem like enough. Sweat dripped down Zuko's back and Aang was constantly wiping at his forehead, his face scrunched up in concentration as he tried to jump up onto the ball of spinning air. There was a split second of success where Aang's foot actually caught at the very center of the top of the ball, and he rode it for a few inches across the room, coming towards Zuko. But the momentum of the ball was too fast for Aang's sluggish reflexes and he ended up tripping head first onto Zuko's chair, sending both of the boys crashing to the floor in a heap of dizziness and laughter.
"You know what?" Aang asked.
"Hmm?" Zuko tried to get back up, but Aang was laying on top of him, facing up towards the ceiling, and it didn't look like he had any intention of moving.
"I am so over Katara," Aang stated firmly. "I don't even think about her any more."
"That's good," Zuko praised. "Seeing as how you didn't bath or eat for a week after she left. It's good to know that eleven months later you're finally over her."
"Yeah!" Aang agreed enthusiastically. "But why do you think she didn't like me back?" he asked.
Zuko made a desperate reach for the wine bottle, and was able to grab hold of it. He didn't even bother to try to reach for a cup; he just drank out of the flask and then handed it to Aang. "I bet--" Zuko hiccupped and grabbed the bottle out of Aang's hand. "I bet she didn't want you to think that she was a better water bender than you, so she left to spare your feelings. And your pride!"
Aang looked down at Zuko through blurry eyes. "What?" he asked, and then laughed. "That doesn't make any sense!"
Zuko flushed. "Well then what do you think it was?"
Aang thought for a moment and then a look of worry and panic spread across his face. "Oh man, what if she didn't like the way I kissed?!"
Zuko practically choked on his laughter. "She didn't like the way you kissed?! Are you like, a dead frog or something? How could you scare her away with a kiss?!"
Aang looked at him angrily, his face red from embarrassment and too much wine. "Well, it was my first time!" he said defensively, but that only made Zuko laugh louder. "I didn't say it was the way I kissed; I said what if it was!"
Zuko tried to somber up, but didn't do a very good job of it. "Okay, sorry. Let's see how you did it."
"What?!" Aang yelped.
"C'mon. Show me how you kissed her…I gotta see how bad it was!" And he burst into laughter again.
"It wasn't bad, forget I said anything!" Aang yelled hotly. "I'm not a bad kisser!"
"Oh, yeah, like I'm going to believe that now!" Zuko scoffed and threw the empty wine bottle to the side. It rolled and hit four other empty wine bottles on the floor, and he made to reach for another on the table above him, but his hand never made it that far. Aang had descended upon him ravenously and their mouths met in a harsh force of pride and bad judgment. Aang worked his mouth over Zuko's like he was trying to dispel the drunken acquisition that Zuko was making and Zuko let him.
There was a warmth from the alcohol and a gentleness in Aang's lips that Zuko just sank into, and before he knew it they were a tangle of tongues and hands and legs. Aang was running his fingers through Zuko's shaggy hair, pulling his head back gently to get better access to his mouth, and Zuko's hands were feeling their way up and down Aang's back.
Oh yeah, Zuko thought. It definitely wasn't the way Aang kissed. Zuko's mind briefly wondered where a thirteen year old boy learned how to kiss like that, but a thought fluttered through his head that it was probably all the pleasantness and joy in the boy's life. Unlike Zuko's, whose kisses were harsh and demanding, and he soon took charge of the situation. A part of his fuzzied brain registered a small whimper of pain coming from Aang as Zuko kissed him roughly, but he didn't care. The soft lips beneath his felt so good, and the warm body under his hands was so supple and slick from the sweat that Zuko lost himself completely in the moment.
Four years after that night the two men were an impenetrable force of power and camaraderie. They had learned a lot from each other about their power's and their ways of living. Aang firmly believe that if it had not been for Zuko's insistent and ragging nature he never would have had the courage or the strength to make it this far in his Avatar training. And Zuko was really taking to heart all the monk teachings on peace and unity with the Earth. Each one of the boys had something that the other was lacking, and together, they made two powerful, complete and independent people.
They had managed to rebuild over 300 major cities in the past five years, and all people treated Zuko with a deep respect he had not expected so quickly after becoming the Fire Lord, all because Aang was by his side. There was a deep happiness and contentedness that he now felt was being threatened by going back to the Southern Water Tribe and that girl, and he didn't like it. The closer they got, the more excited Aang became, reverting back into his overly-enthusiastic, child-like manner. Usually Zuko thought it was cute and endearing, but only because he was the sole person ever to cause Aang so much happiness nowadays. But here was Aang, acting like a hyperactive puppy…and Zuko didn't have a damn thing to do with it.
Katara and Sokka hadn't even waited for the guards to show up at the doors of the castle before the two had taken off running. They knew in their hearts it was Aang, and there was no need for the excessive fuss of the guards and half of the townspeople. They raced down the slopes, tripping and laughing, Katara's heart a thousand times lighter than it had been in the past five years. She couldn't wait to see Aang; she couldn't wait to throw her arms around him…
They got to the edge of the town and kept running. The snow tried to suck their legs in, but they had gained too much momentum from the slide downhill. Off in the distance they could see the impressive outline of a large, furry animal, and tears welled up in Katara's eyes. It had been so long since she had seen Oppa, had taken a carefree, joyful ride on him.
They had crossed an amazing distance in such a short time, and Oppa was close enough that Sokka and Katara could see not one but two men sliding down from his back, but Katara barely processed this information as she raced ever closer to Aang.
When they got within hearing distance, Katara could see that they two siblings had startled them. A large man came forward with his sword drawn, and it took Katara a second to realize that this impressive statue of a man was Zuko, all grown up. It wasn't that he was extremely tall or broad as a barn, but compared to the thin young man standing next to him, Zuko looked much larger.
Katara's eyes drifted over to the younger man standing next to Zuko, and it felt as though her heart had stopped beating in her chest. Here was her Aang, five years older and no longer a child. His head was still shaved and he still wore a-- albeit, thrown-together --variation of his air bender monk uniform, but so much else about him had changed. He was tall now, almost as tall as Zuko. And at 17, he still had time to grow. He would probably be taller than the Fire Lord by the time he reached that age, but Katara doubted Aang would ever be as heavily built as Zuko. The air bender's slender frame just didn't look like it could handle all that muscle. In place of brute strength, Aang was sinewy and his movements flowed gracefully. It looked as though his body was built to be light and highly mobile, instead of thick and heavy.
His face still had the roundness of a child's but that was melting off of him. It seemed as though his tattoos had darkened as he dove deeper and deeper in to his role as the Avatar, becoming more vibrant now that he wasn't ashamed of his title, or hiding from it. There was a different air about him that Katara expected stemmed from this fact; he was proud and dominating, drawing all eyes to him even though the famous Fire Lord Zuko stood right next to him. Together the two were an imposing force of nature that took Katara's breath away.
Out of the corner of her eye Katara saw a blue blur fly past her and Zuko, heading straight for Aang. There was a loud, manly squeal that sounded like, "Aang!" and Sokka through himself at the significantly smaller man.
Laughter rang out across the snow covered plains and Katara's heart ached. That was Aang's laugh, the one she had lived through so many days with when she was younger. It was still the laugh of an immature, happy little boy.
"Oh, Aang!" she yelled, and finally allowed herself to follow Sokka's footsteps and through her arms around the two closest men in her life.
"I want to look at you two!" Aang said, and they obliged, stepping back and wiping tears from their faces. Katara could only imagine what Aang saw when he looked at her.
Her hair flowed freely down her back now, to protect herself from the harsh, freezing winters they had here. She wasn't much taller than what she had been when they had parted ways, but years of strenuous work had left her body thin and muscled. Sokka said that she looked more and more like their mother everyday.
"I can't believe it," Aang stated, looking from Sokka to Katara and then back again.
"You guys look so…."
"I know!" Sokka exclaimed excitedly. "And so do you!"
Just then Zuko came up behind Aang and it was like Sokka had just taken notice of him for the first time. They shook hands and spoke to each other, but Katara didn't hear a word that was exchanged. She was too busy looking at Aang, who was looking anywhere but at her. And she was too busy trying to remember how to breathe when she saw Zuko's hand reach out to take Aang's and entwine their fingers as they began to follow Sokka back to the castle.
The night passed by in a blur of good food and great conversation. They all stayed at the dinner table until well after midnight. And there wasn't a moment that passed that Katara wasn't looking at Aang out of the corner of her eye. And never once did he look back at her.
Finally, when things seemed to be wrapping up, Katara excused herself and walked out onto her balcony, alone. She couldn't believe how stupid she had been, to think that after all these years Aang would still be waiting for her. How selfish could she possibly be? He was an attractive, sweet young boy who had a zest for life that no one could match. Of course someone had snatched him up. She just didn't know if she was happy or furious that it had been Zuko.
There was a creaking noise by the door and Katara turned around to see Aang standing in the doorway, his back against the light so that she couldn't see his face clearly.
"Mind if I join you?" he asked.
Her breath caught in her throat and she couldn't say anything. He took this as a 'yes' and walked out to join her at the rail of the balcony, standing right next to her.
She finally found her voice, squeaky as it was, and managed to say, "I'm so glad that you both decided to come. Its great seeing you guys again after so long…." She trailed off and stared at him, lost in her own thoughts.
"You're husband seems really nice, Katara," Aang said sincerely, hoping to draw the conversation elsewhere. He knew what was going to come out of her mouth but tried his hardest to avoid it anyways.
Katara gave a blank stare towards the door back into the castle. "Yes, he is. He would never do anything to harm me. And yet…I die a little inside each day that I spend with him." She turned her empty stare onto him, and there was a spark of life that came from deep within her eyes. "I don't love him, Aang. He wants me to have his children, but how am I supposed to do that when I can't even let him touch me? My days, my thoughts, the very air I breathe are all filled with memories of you. There hasn't been a day that goes by that I don't wish I had never left, Aang."
Aang said nothing, simply stared at her, waiting for her next move.
"Are you and he?..." she let the question hang in the air, the words not even able to make it past her tightening throat.
All Aang could do was stare at her sadly and nod.
Katara took a few deep breaths. "And, does he make you…happy?"
The water bender got a bold look in her eye and her brow set into a furrow. "I made you happy once. Don't you remember?"
"I remember how much it hurt when you left that day, Katara," Aang said softly. "You used to make me laugh….But he has never made me cry."
This seemed to hit a nerve deep inside of Katara, and she cried out. "Oh Aang! I never meant to hurt you! I was just so scared and selfish! I thought that I could get over you and that you could get over me and that we would be okay!"
"I did get over you, Katara," he said softly, reaching a hand out towards her shoulder, but thinking better of it and pulling it back towards himself.
"I know you did, Aang," Katara sniffled. "And if I had only known…." She turned towards him and her eyes burned an intense blue. "Is there any love left at all in your heart for me? Is there any hope for us?"
Hope. She had always been the hoper, the dreamer, the believer. And here she was, her spirit crushed, begging at his feet for some vestige of a feeling that he had long ago.
Aang's gaze fell to the floor. He couldn't stand to look into her pretty face as he crushed all of her expectations. "I have hope for a lot of things, Katara," he said softly. "I have hope that the world has been reborn and can sustain itself now that there is peace instead of war going on, I have hope when I look at Sokka and Suki and their children, and I have hope that you and I will be able to save our friendship when this is all done and sorted out, because you were right about what you said to me after we first met, when we had first made the trip to the Western Air Temple: you and Sokka are my family, my only family. And I wouldn't give that up for the world."
He looked back up at her, and took all of her in for a moment. Her skin was darker from her days of working out in the sun, but her eyes had stayed that vibrant blue, and they stood out even more now against her freshly tanned skin. As blue as the tears that fell from them.
"Kiss me, Aang. Please. I just need to remember what it is to live again."
"I can't, Katara."
"Please, just one kiss. I don't think I can go on living if you don't kiss me just once."
"Just one, just one…"
He let go of his inhibitions and opened his arms to her. She fell into them as if that was all she had been waiting for her whole life. He let his lips gently brush against hers, a modest kiss, one that meant nothing really. But she deepened it. He felt her hands creep up to the back of his head and she pulled his mouth harsh against hers. Her tears mingled with their kisses and he let his arms wrap around her waist, his hands settling modestly on her back.
He was afraid of what would happen if he kissed her back as eagerly as she was kissing him, but he decided to give her this moment, give her this piece of closure, and he allowed himself to sink into the kiss and reciprocate. It seemed that she had been waiting for this, and she pushed her body tightly up against his, as if she could just crawl inside his shirt and live there forever, warm and happy.
Aang let this go on for a few more minutes before he pulled away. "Katara, it's done. You're married to a wonderful man, and you have your brother and a new sister with you here. Your people respect and admire you for your bravery and strength. There is nothing in this world that you cannot do, and that includes going on with your life and having children with his man that loves you. I will always be here for you."
The tears still fell down her cheeks, and she did nothing to wipe them away. "How can I go on, Aang, when I've made such a terrible mistake?"
Aang shrugged. "Just know that this pain will pass. I thought I would die without you five years ago. But here I am, alive and getting on with my life. You will be able to do the same."
It was late by the time Aang crept back towards his room. The halls were dark and he pulled a tiny flame out of the air to see by. He made his way quietly into his room so as not to wake anybody and turned to push the heavy door closed.
"Have a good talk with her?" a voice behind him asked.
He jumped, surprised, and his tiny flame went out, leaving him in complete darkness with what sounded like a very angry Zuko.
There was a silent whoosh of air from the other side of the room, and suddenly the sconces around the room were all lit simultaneously, bringing into light a slightly red-in-the-face Aang, and a growling Zuko who stood across the room from him, next to the bed.
"Uh, hey Zuko," Aang said casually. "What are you doing here?"
Zuko stared angrily at him, and Aang knew what was going to come out of his mouth even before he said it. "I saw you on the balcony with her. I knew this would happen if we came here!"
"Zuko," Aang started, searching desperately for the words to try to explain his actions. "She just wanted to talk about stuff--"
"I saw you kiss her!" The flames in the torches expanded in a burst of heat and sound, and Aang became slightly worried. In the years since the war, there had been no need to use their bending abilities to their maximum extent to do anything other than working and shaping the Earth to help them build things. And it had certainly been a long time since Zuko had let anger and hurt fuel his fires.
"It wasn't what you think," Aang said desperately, taking a few steps closer to Zuko. "I was saying goodbye."
"What a nice and pleasant way to say one simple word." Zuko's words were sharp and final, stopping Aang from moving any closer, and they brought up a great sense of guilt in the younger boy.
He looked away from Zuko, trying to find the right words to articulate what he had been thinking on the balcony. "Zuko, she still loves me, and she's still one of my closest friends. She asked me for a favor, and I thought that it might help her. I thought it might help me, too. I was very confused when she left, and she finally explained why she did it. I was just so happy and relieved that I could finally, really, put all this behind me and not have to worry or wonder anymore. It felt like the right way to finally end it."
"Is it ended, Aang?" Zuko asked, amber eyes glowing with anger and staring at him from behind him long bangs. "Are you sure? You've always loved her, I know that. But I guess for the past four years the further away from her we were the easier it was for me to ignore that fact. But now we're here, and you're so happy--"
"I'm happy to see my friends again, Zuko." Aang started walking towards him again. "They became my family when I had nothing left in this world. Maybe five years ago I wouldn't have been happier if I had been able to stay with Katara, but things happen for a reason." He stepped up next to Zuko and gently pushed the other boy down to sit on the bed, and Aang followed him. "If we had stayed together, I would never have found what you and I share together. This completeness and this power that we give to each other. You're the reason that I've gotten so good at being the Avatar, you give me personality traits that the monks never taught me, that I'm lacking to be a whole person."
Zuko turned his head slightly and looked directly at Aang. His voice was soft and hurt, and full of something that made Aang's heart ache. "But you love her."
Aang brought his hands up to rest on Zuko's shoulder. "No," he stated. "I loved her." Gently, slowly, he pulled Zuko towards him, and laid a kiss softly on the corner of his mouth. Zuko was pliant in his arms, not resisting, but not accepting and Aang let go and began to move away. But Zuko turned his head slightly and caught Aang's mouth, and there was a spark of heat and electricity from the fires that burned inside of them. The fires that they reached into when they were angry, or when they would fire bend. Or when their emotions were just too hard to control.
There was a rustle of movement, and Zuko pushed Aang down to lie on the bed, straddling him. Their kisses became more fervent and heated, fingers felt like they were searing the skin where they made contact. Zuko had learned to be gentler with the monk over the past years, but tonight, with the threat of their love coming to the fore, he couldn't contain himself. There was too much anger, too much love. His kisses were strong and the hands that made their way down the sides of Aang's body and up his chest were eager. His heavier body weight pinned Aang against the soft mattress and left the boy feeling completely enveloped.
And as they searched each other's mouths and bodies, tasting the truth of their words and feeling the emotions of the other, the lights in the sconces slowly dimmed, the anger and hurt and betrayal of both boys slowly burning out of them, leaving the two in darkness with only the sounds of rustling sheets and the beating of their hearts.