Wow! I'm truly surprised at myself. I never thought that I'd be inspired to write fan fiction for anything else but Lord of the Rings. Curiously, the EIP angst hit me so hard that I was motivated to write this very short story with the FALSE premise that Katara's confusion wasn't resolved by the end of the finale. As a rule, I don't mess with canon even in fan fiction. I like to respect the creators/authors work and write within their canon framework. So, for this one time, I'll bend my rule.
I chose to write this story in first person because it's easier for me right now when considering the work I have to do for my other fan fiction. Consequently, the story will be from Aang and Katara's point of view in a more matured way. They should be 18 and 20 years now, respectively.
I'll also mention that I was given added inspiration to write this when I saw a sketch of Older Aang and Older Katara at deviant art by the artist Allagea.
I am Aang, the Avatar and the last Airbender in the world. Five years have passed since the fall of Fire Lord Ozai, which ushered in an era of peace amongst the three great nations. Since then, I have traveled the world to begin my part to restore its balance and to help rebuild the nations that had been ravished and scarred by the Fire Nation's past aggression. As mediator, I have worked with Fire Lord Zuko and the leaders of the other nations to begin the long, arduous road towards reconciliation. The prejudices and grudges against the Fire Nation would not, and could not, be removed by the work of a few years; the hurts that had been inflicted were too deeply seated in the minds of the nations and their profound distrust of the aims of the Fire Nation could not be easily swayed. Fire Lord Zuko had much to do to raise the honor and integrity of his nation from its dark pit of ignominy, and, as the Avatar and his friend, I intended to help him in whatever way that I could. In the eyes of the world, his nation was irredeemable; its past sins had been too many; the peoples of the world had through many lifetimes endured with the excessive cruelty dished out by conquering and ruthless fire nation soldiers, who, in their raids, demonstrated a wanton disregard for their lives, as they seized their homes and burned them to the ground. These memories were still vivid in their minds and it was hard for them to believe in and accept this new hand of friendship extended from their past enemy.
In those days, the ugliness of political strife became very real to me. From the small, fiery rebellions in the Fire Nation to the quiet, elegant courts of Ba Sing Se, I saw and experienced much of this during the first two years after the war. Not everyone in the Fire Nation was willing to approve of their new Fire Lord's ideals for the future of their homeland; there were many dissenters who still held to that lofty idea of the Fire Nation's supreme rule over all the lands of the world. And, while some challenged their liege lord through the proper channels, with due honor and reason, others resorted to oppose him through meticulously planned and orchestrated coups, which failed only because we anticipated them. Some were upset that Fire Lord Zuko had issued a decree to recall all his armies from the waters and lands of the other nations. Only by the leave of the leaders of these nations were a few of his armies able to remain in their lands. By this were corrupt generals, who were enamored with the pleasure that their exalted power afforded them, exposed; in direct defiance to the Fire Lord's decree, they would not and did not relinquish their conquered lands without a fight.
There had been many conflicts in those early years and there was still many more that would come after these. The Dai-Li, for one thing, was, for the most part, still at large and the Earth King, who had returned to reclaim his throne in Ba Sing Se after word of the Fire Lord's fall had reached him, desired to bring these traitors, as he so labeled them, to justice. Some had turned themselves in and pleaded for the pardon of their sovereign, and were striped free of their titles and condemned to serve in menial posts in exchange for their freedom. As to the others, well, they proved more cunning in their seclusion, in that they eluded all of the Council of Five's concerted efforts to find them and bring them to justice. Posters of the more notorious members of the Dai-Li had been circulated throughout the Earth Kingdom, which became fair business for bounty hunters who were enticed by the Earth Kingdom's offer of a handsome reward for the capture of any of these men. Yet, in these five years, only five of the twelve had been discovered.
Almost two years after the war had ended, in the midst of these troubles, the leaders of the nations were finally ready to convene in Ba Sing Se to discuss, among other things, matters of restitution. Disillusioned by the political disputes that had succeeded the war through many, many months, I never imagined that it would be an easy thing for the leaders to reach an agreement in these monetary settlements; however, I believe nothing could have prepared me for the bitter discord that arose at the time among these great men, whom I had personally come to know and respect as noble leaders. In my young mind, there was no price that could compensate for the precious lives that had been lost over the last, war-torn century. While I did understand something of the monetary grievances of the other nations that had suffered such damages by the heavy hand of the Fire Nation through the tumultuous years, it was still an unpleasant experience for me. I suppose as the Avatar and an Air Nomad, I could not fully appreciate these debates, which were, as I said before, sometimes very heated, as there was little that I valued, if anything, of worldly possessions. In the end, when that dreadful hurdle was eventually passed, and the genuine hand of friendship could begin its work, I felt relieved, and at last at liberty, to begin my travels. I had been working continuously with the leaders of the nations since the war had ended and it was now time for a vacation.
During the time of these discussions, I had met a new friend, Horonka, who hailed from the Northern Water Tribe; he was of the royal house of Chief Arnook, being the youngest son of his sister, and part of the royal delegation that came to Ba Sing Se. After the discussions had ended, when Chief Arnook was ready to set sail from the Earth Kingdom to return to his tribe, he had invited me to return with his entourage; he intended to hold a feast in my honor and in the memory of those courageous souls that had sacrificed their lives to uphold the freedom of their people. I had recollected Yue then, and my thoughts had naturally turned to Sokka, whom, at the time, I had not seen for over a year. He and Katara had returned to the South Pole with their father for a long overdue homecoming with Gran-Gran. From the very beginning, their wish had been to help me achieve my destiny; now it was their turn to look to theirs, but I confess that I've missed them through the years.
In the North Pole, Appa, Momo and I spent the better part of a year, which, by its end, marked the third year since the war had ended. Horonka, my new friend, was an excellent water-bender and we spent a good portion of our leisure time surfing the cold, icy seas of the North Pole. I found that as the years passed, this incredible power within me only continued to grow, and with it, I could create enormous waves that made for an exhilarating surfing experience. Even Horonka, who was a serious, brooding guy, who generally seemed to lack a sense of humor, enjoyed these icy escapades. I had a great time in the North Pole and perhaps because of sentimental reasons, I was especially endeared to that place.
When it was time for me to return to the Earth Kingdom, Horonka, who had always longed to travel the world, gained permission from his Chief to travel with me for a few months; those few months, however, soon turned into years as the greater need to help the peoples of the world outweighed his desire to return to his people. In Omashu, which I was now to call my home, we stayed two months before returning to Ba Sing Se. My old friend Bumi had offered me several rooms in his palace that would serve as my own quarters. For the next two years, my Avatar duties took Horonka and me to places far and wide, but for the most part, we spent our time throughout the Earth Kingdom and in the walled city of Ba Sing Se to help that once great city that was still weakened and divided in the aftermath of the Dai Li's betrayal and corruption.
Here now, I must tell of Toph, who during this last year has been much with us. A year after the war, she had returned home to reconcile with her family, which turned out to be a rockier road than even she expected. She had a big problem. Her parents no longer trusted her and demanded that she break all ties with us, whom they deemed as bad influences. It did not matter that our little gang had saved the world; in their minds, we were the culprits who were to share in the blame for Toph's rebellion; they had openly welcomed us into their homes, fed us, sheltered us, and we had betrayed their trust. Hence, Toph was absolutely forbidden to contact us, and for a long time, we could not hear anything of her; she intended to do things right this time to win over her parents even if at the beginning it appeared hopeless.
It was not until one evening, almost three years later, when Horonka and I were guests at the Earth King's bash in Ba Sing Se, that I saw her again. She was with her parents, who did not welcome me on their own accord, but did so rather because of the Earth King, who spoke well of me to them. Not only that, he spoke very highly of Toph to her parents, elaborating lengthily upon her merits as a powerful earth and metal bender, and her bravado during the downfall of the Earth Kingdom, which, I personally believe did much to overturn their excessively protective attitude towards Toph, who was, at the time, seventeen years old. That was the first glimpse of hope that Toph had of gaining their forgiveness and the extra perk of her freedom. She later told me that after the Earth King's party, little by little, her parents' attitude towards her began to change and that they actually began to be proud of her. Her mother, especially, having seen the many refugees that swarmed the lower level of Ba Sing Se, began to think of the good that Toph could do in our effort to escort the refugees from the Earth Kingdom capital back to their villages.
Not long after this, Toph joined Horonka, and I, as a guide and helper throughout the Earth Kingdom. When we were not escorting refugees, we spent our days roaming from village to village, helping to re-build homes and cities and healing the hurts left by the Fire Nation. The villagers would often reward us with food and shelter, which was sufficient enough for us, and generally, we were glad to help. We asked nothing of them but they gave to us, freely. Our lives were good, except that Horonka and Toph had a terrible penchant to bicker with one another, almost on a daily basis, which before I got used to it, would drive me insane. Now, I just shrug and accept it as an inevitable part of our lives. Their friendship, which is a genuinely good one, still puzzles me, especially since they argue over the stupidest things; at least, that was my opinion anyway. Yet, there were times when I got a persistent vibe that things were not truly what they appeared between them. There were moments when some act of kindness, whether on Toph's part or Horonka's part, that made me suspect them of liking each other in a way that was more than normal. But that thought was almost always erased by a squabble in the next moment. As it is, I don't know what to think of them and I gave up trying to figure that one out a long time ago.
Here, I must now tell of the hidden sorrow that has plagued my heart constantly through these five years, which, no matter how hard I have tried to overcome it, would not leave me alone. Before my great battle with Fire Lord Ozai, I had declared myself to Katara and was left with the tormented and stinging uncertainty of its return; she had declared herself confused and I, like an idiot, had made the situation worse by kissing her. Ah, I can barely remember this without blushing and feeling an immense amount of embarrassment. It had been a bad move on my part and one that I sincerely and bitterly regret. Still, by the end of the war, a war that she had given as one of the reasons for her confusion, nothing had passed between us to resolve the matter; we had parted as friends and with nothing more than a warm hug and a few wishes to see each other soon. I think I knew in my heart then that my hope was in vain, and it was many months after our parting that it was finally struck dead.
When I was younger, this painful truth had once or twice brought me to the black pit of despair. I cannot fully explain or describe the depth of this sorrow. I only know that the blinding pain that I felt by this love that was denied me was far more crippling than anything I had ever experienced before. Without realizing it, I had built all of my hope around Katara. I found myself questioning the Universe; I wondered why I had been placed in this time, so far removed from the era when, my people, the Air Nomads had thrived and were happy. What was my purpose in being here now, a century later? I was charged with the duty of caring for a world that no longer held any happiness or hope for me. What was my life without Katara? My Katara! How could I hate her for denying me her heart? She had been my faithful companion through all of my adversities. She had been my light when the road beyond seemed dark and impassable. She had been my joy when I was overwhelmed by sorrow. She had been my strength, my rock, my safe harbor when my doubts overpowered me. She had believed in me when I could not believe in myself. What do I not owe her? With her own healing hands she had brought me back from the cold grip of death. I was certain that without her, I would lose my way.
And, I did, for a time, until my faith was renewed in my duty, as the Avatar. I soon found that my loneliness and sadness was lessened by the reward of helping others; and, with each passing day, this purpose was strengthened within me. Only in the solitary watches of night, when I wasn't wearied by the labors of the day, did this hidden sorrow grieve me. Even in these later years, I admit that at times the long stretches of years ahead are more like a burden to me than any other doom could inflict. Yet, through this all, I have learnt to be strong. Deep within, I have always known that the path that I walk was destined to be one of separation. I had known it back when the monks first told me that I was the Avatar and I knew it now. Perhaps this was the true test of my life, to bear the courage to love without requital, for I was certain that I could never love another. My heart was and always would be Katara's, however unlucky for me.
"Jeez, Twinkletoes, are you deaf?" I felt a sharp thump on my arm, bringing me back promptly to the present; it was Toph. We were at Firelord Zuko's beach house on Ember Island. "I asked if you've seen Horonko?"
"No! Why? We're going surfing in a bit."
"I thought we were flying back to the Earth Kingdom this morning," said she, a little annoyed.
"We will, I promise," I replied as I picked up my beach towel from the porch's railing. "Here's Horonka."
"Look, Toph, you're the one who wanted to leave this early," said Horonka, as he approached in shorts and a towel slung casually over one of his tanned shoulder while Momo sat perched on his other shoulder. "The only thing I want to do right now is relax, enjoy the beach and maybe do some surfing later. We've been working nonstop these past few months. I'd say we deserve this break."
"Don't worry, Toph," I encouraged in an attempt to crush the birth of an argument in the face of Horonka's provocation, "we're going to get you to Earth Rumble in good time. Appa should get us there within a day's journey."
"He'd better," muttered she under her breath, before storming off into the house where Mai and Zuko were still within having breakfast.
"She's such a brat!" observed Horonka. "Why do you always give in to her? You shouldn't encourage her to act any more spoiled than she already is."
"Hey, where there's a way to peace, I'll gladly take it," I said in my own defense. "Besides, Toph's a good friend; any chance I get to do something good for her, I will."
"I thought you wanted to see your friends," he said frowning. "Aren't they arriving this afternoon?"
He was right. Sokka, Suki and Katara were expected in the harbors of the Fire Nation by dusk, providing that the tide was good. At least, that's what Fire Lord Zuko had told us a few days ago. That news had been somewhat of a mixed joy for me. It had been four long years since I had seen Katara; I yearned to see her…but I also feared for my heart. I had come to realize then that all these years I had been deceiving myself; as long as she was a continent away, I could be strong and even congratulate myself on being so. As soon as I was confronted with the ambivalent pleasure of seeing her again, my doubts had returned in full measure to beset me. I had to fortify myself against all dreadful possibilities; the worse of these being that she was betrothed to another; the next worse being that I was unable to enjoy her company without a tragic sense of loss. I had always imagined that by the time of our next meeting I would be comfortable enough with my own shielding to be able to withstand any news that might be injurious to my feelings and to truly rejoice with her as her best friend.
"Hey Aang, didn't you hear me?" I heard Horonka's impatient voice asking. "What's with you today?"
"Eh, yeah, sorry about that," I replied. "We'll be back in time to see them anyway. It's not often that Toph asks me to do her a favor; and Zuko's banquet is not until next week. Our friends will be here for a while."
"But you know how it is with us. We're always being called away at the most inconvenient times."
He was right again. "Yeah, but I'm willing to take the chance."
By late afternoon, our friends from the Water Tribe had not arrived, and with a little regret and some relief on my part, we were forced to begin our journey back to the Earth Kingdom.