Chapter One: His Story
Aang sat close to a burning fire, gently coaxing it to burn a bit brighter and warmer with his firebending. Once where he wanted it, he pulled his knees up to his chest and laid an arm across them, gazing blankly into the fire. Behind him Appa groaned and rolled over in his sleep. It was late, and he knew it, but he just wasn't tired. His mind kept buzzing with thoughts that kept him awake. He sighed and slouched back to lean against Appa and gaze at the sky. Why do things always end up going ways I don't want them too?
It had been a rough few days for him. Heck, it had been a rough few years for him. Being the role model for an entire world was taking its toll on him and he felt more like he was eighty instead of eighteen. Thinking back, his defeat of Fire Lord Ozai was easy compared to the political debates and financial problems that plagued the nations in the aftermath of the war. And it was he, the Avatar, who had to play mediator to it all. He was almost jealous of his friends. After the war, they got to return home and pick up their lives. They got to live like normal teenagers. Aang never had the chance to leave the spotlight.
While he was busy at summit meetings between the nations, helping sort out budgets and campaigning for funds to rebuild parts of the Earth Kingdom, Water Tribes, and Fire Nation that had been decimated in the war, Katara and Sokka had returned to the South Pole with their father, and Suki and the freed Kyoshi Warriors had gone back to their village to salvage what had been destroyed. Zuko had taken up the mantle of Fire Lord, but he had been raised to take on such responsibilities and took to them with ease. In fact, in most of the letters Aang had received from him, Zuko seemed to enjoy his new role as leader of the Fire Nation. And Toph, well, the last Aang had heard, Toph had returned back to her family in Gaoling. He hadn't seen much of her after the war, except at a few special events to celebrate their achievements, and of course, when Sokka and Suki had gotten married.
He had managed to keep in touch with the others though. For quite some time, he and Katara had nurtured their budding romance, and he made many frequent visits to her and Sokka in the South Pole. Those were probably the best part of the recent post-war years. However, more and more problems that required his attention kept him away and eventually his visits to her were far and few between. They exchanged letters regularly, but it never seemed enough and he often longed to see her. He wanted to hold her in his arms and shower her with kisses.
That was why he was so excited when he heard the good news that she had been offered the prestigious role of an ambassador of peace on behalf of the Water Tribe. That meant that she would likely be coming to live in Ba Sing Se permanently. However that was where things went sour for Aang.
-Back in Ba Sing Se-
Aang had spent the day pacing the halls of the Earth King's palace, checking and rechecking to make sure everything was in order before Katara and her father arrived. Aang couldn't remember ever being more excited over one of the monthly meetings between representatives from all the nations. Impatiently, he pulled the most recent letter from Katara out of his sleeve and read it.
I've got some great news! During a recent trip to the Northern Water Tribe, my father and I had a discussion with Chief Arnook. It's been difficult for my father to travel from the South to the North, then to the Earth Kingdom in order to make sure that the needs of both Water Tribe's are reflected to the Nations Council. Sokka isn't yet prepared enough to step up to the role of Chieftain and it is difficult for either my father or Chief Arnook to leave the poles without proper leadership in order to come to the Council meetings. So it was decided that a representative was needed to stay in Ba Sing Se and deliberate on behalf of our people.
You wouldn't believe it, but they chose me! They decided that since I've had previous dealings with people from the different nations that I'd be the best candidate for the job. It will be so great, I'll be coming to live in Ba Sing Se, and then we will be able to spend more time with one another. My father and I will be arriving in one of the harbors in a few days and from there we'll be taking a caravan to the city. We'll be arriving before the next council meeting. I can't wait to see you!
Aang smiled as he read the words again. When he'd first gotten the letter he felt like bursting with joy. He was finally going to spend time with her like they had when they were younger. It was as if fate was putting everything into motion for him. For months before he had been gnawing over the decision, and when he'd finally made up his mind and planned to make a trip to visit her, some diplomatic problem arose that he had to help take care of, and his plans kept getting pushed further back. But now, it seemed that he was being given the chance.
Aang was going to ask Katara to be his bride. For six years he had been in love with this woman and now it was finally time to take the next step into the future. He was so sure that she would accept his proposal. After all, she loved him too, and they'd often talked about marriage and what their lives would be like as adults. And now here they were, fully grown and ready.
He paced about a bit more and checked himself in a nearby pond. Had he shaven? Were his clothes wrinkly? Did he have bad breath? Aang quickly breathed into his hand and sniffed. Everything seems perfect! He smiled to himself and reached into his pocket, pulling out the special gift he had tucked away. The betrothal necklace glinted in the mid-afternoon sun and he closed his eyes to imagine the look on Katara's face when he gave it to her and proposed.
"Hey there trouble. Lost in daydreams again?" a soft voice called from behind him. A bit startled, he shoved the necklace back into his pocket and turned around. He blushed and rubbed the back of his head with his hand. Katara stood a few paces ahead of him, smiling broadly at him before bounding at him and gathering him in a warm embrace. "I think you got taller."
"Hi Katara." he said in a quiet voice, squeezing her gently before they parted from the hug. "It's been such a long time."
"I know, since Sokka's wedding at least." she smiled again and tilted her head to the side, blushing just a bit. This was when Aang took a good long look at the woman he loved. He was taller than her now, by two or three inches at least. Her long brown hair was no longer braided down her back, but was piled neatly into a low bun. She still had her trademark hair loops, but they were intricately braided and decorated with bright blue and silver beads and pinned into her bun with long blue sticks with white dangling pearls on the end. Her dress was reminiscent of what the nobles in the Earth Kingdom wore, but was made of dark and light blue fabric and trimmed in white. Around her neck, her mother's necklace still remained.
"You look amazing." Aang praised her as he entwined his hands in hers.
"Thanks." she replied, leaning in and hugging him tightly again, this time kissing him softly.
"How is Sokka by the way? And Suki, has she finally adjusted to living in the South Pole?" he questioned.
"He's as energetic as ever. He's still trying to whip the youth into shape and prepare them to be 'strong warriors of the Southern Water Tribe.' Suki, well, Suki has her hands full with little Rizu. I can't imagine how a two year old could cause so much trouble, but I suppose he gets that from Sokka. And she's gotten used to the cold, just not the food." she replied, smiling at the mention of Sokka's antics and sighing at Suki's parenting problems. "But life has been good."
Hakoda had appeared behind them at the top of a set of stairs and called out to them that the representatives were already gathered. "Come on, we'd better get to the Council meeting before we're missed."
"Right." he agreed, taking her hand and leading her into the chambers where the meeting took place that day. It nearly broke his heart when he had to let her go and take his place at the head of the oval shaped table. He watched as Katara sat down between her father and a pudgy representative from one of the outlying Earth Kingdom regions. At the far end of the table sat the Earth King and a stand in for King Bumi, who was back in Omashu overseeing the restoration of the city. On the opposite side of the table from Katara were a couple more Earth Kingdom representatives and representatives from the Fire Nation.
Even after so much time had passed between the war and now, people still seemed to have an aversion to Fire Nation citizens. Because, even though they sat next to the Fire Nation representatives, the man and woman from the Earth Kingdom had left enough space for at least two people to sit between them and the other representatives. He sighed and rested his arm on the table. The last thing he wanted was to listen to the arguments he knew were going to occur that day. He just wanted to sweep Katara off her feet and away from the whole dreary mess.
The meeting started, and while it started out civil, it broke out into a fight over who deserved what. They were the same disputes that happened every month. One nation complained that another was getting too many of the few precious resources that were being provided, such as funding for new projects or the manpower to accomplish them. On top of that, this meeting was also scheduled to discuss new trading routes between the nations and battling over taxes on the imported goods.
However, today, Aang was a little distracted by Katara. She had thrown herself right into the debacle and not only was solving disputes for her own people, but was helping to come up with resourceful solutions to problems that were being presented by the other nations as well. He was in awe of her. And driven by her enthusiasm, he focused more on the meeting than he had in quite a long time, and for once things managed to get taken care of with much less fighting than usual.
He also made the occasional glances towards Katara, who would smile sweetly back at him before returning her attention back into the conversation. By the time the meeting had ended, the representatives were almost civil with one another as they left. The men and women filed out of the room quietly chattering to their assistants over whatever new decisions were made and for them to pass it on to the various others who were involved in the whole ordeal.
Katara had waited until the room had emptied, saying her goodbye to her father and promising to write at every opportunity she could, and then waited for Aang to make his way over to her. He strode over with a bit of a bounce in his step, finally glad it was all over so he could shower her with the attention she deserved.
"So." she said, pausing a minute and smirking softly. "What has changed in Ba Sing Se since I've been here last? Any new shops or…oh, I know, how is Iroh and his tea shop doing? We should go visit him!"
Aang laughed at her candid attitude and took her hand. "Well, I actually made plans ahead of time with him when I heard you were coming. He even offered to make us a traditional Fire Nation meal."
"Sounds wonderful, and I'm starving, let's go." Katara smiled and squeezed his hand. He squeeze back and led her out of the meeting room and down through the streets of Ba Sing Se.
A few hours later, they had filled themselves up on several spicy and unique dishes, as well as some of the best tea that either of them had drank in a long time. All the while Iroh regaled Katara with the various trials and tribulations of being a successful tea shop owner, as well as lamenting that Zuko wasn't sending him letters at least every other day.
Finally, as night had completely fallen over the city, they ventured out onto the veranda. Aang watched as she rushed to look at the twinkling lights sparking to life throughout the houses of Ba Sing Se. This was his chance: a quiet, romantic moment where the two were completely alone. He reached into his pocket and retrieved the necklace while she was turned away from him. He smoothed it out and wiped the carved stone with his shirt.
"Oh, Aang, this is spectacular." Katara said, turning back towards him. By this time, he was down on one knee and held out the betrothal necklace towards her. It was made of a sky blue velvet band, and he had meticulously hand carved the Air Nomad symbol into an opaque pale yellow stone.
"Katara, you have held my heart since I met you, and because of that it would make me most honored if you would become my wife." Aang spoke flawlessly, which made him glad he had practiced it every night before he went to bed. He looked up at her, but instead of seeing her face glowing with joy, she had only a half smile and looked at him in a way that made him feel like a fool.
She walked over to him and took his hands, pulling him to his feet. She was quiet for a moment and took the necklace from him to examine it before placing it gently back in his hands. Then she looked up at him. "Aang. This is such a sweet gesture, but I can't accept your proposal."
"Why?" he choked out, his voice cracking just a bit. "You, you aren't involved with someone else are you? Someone from your home?"
"No, Aang, it's nothing like that." she sighed and scowled a bit, clearly trying to chose her words so that they wouldn't hurt him. "It's just that I just accepted to be an ambassador for my people. I moved away from my home to be here. I'm just not in a position to accept all the duties that being your wife entails. And I…I'm just no longer sure how I feel about us."
"So you don't love me anymore?" he could feel his heart climbing up his throat and slowly choking him. "Is that what you're telling me?"
"No it's not. I do love you, with all my heart, but…" she spoke.
"Then, why Katara? Why?" he turned away from her and fought back his tears.
"Aang, we haven't seen each other face to face in almost three years. I need to know if we both truly feel the same way about each other still." she said, walking around to face him and placed her hands on his shoulders. "So, maybe you should hold onto that necklace, and maybe, in a few years, after I've settled, we'll see how things are."
He shrugged her hands away and looked at her, a few escaped tears trailing down his cheeks. "Katara…"
He could see that she was fighting back her own tears and she turned away from him. "I'm sorry. I've got to go home now."
And with those final words Katara walked away from him and disappeared in the night. They saw little of each other after that, and Aang had to push himself to stay strong and not let her rejection make him lose face. He would not run away again. However, at the next Nations Council meeting, he couldn't handle it any longer. His green-eyed, heartbroken demon came crawling to the surface.
Katara was a beautiful woman, as well as powerful, and the men around her noticed. It wasn't long before she was asked to have lunch or dinner with one of the representatives so they might discuss "politics." She had always politely turned them down, but Aang just couldn't take it. What if at some point she accepted one of those invitations? What if she fell in love with someone else? After a short break in the meeting to get some air and clear heads, where the men swarmed Katara with their compliments, the Council returned to session and he made a startling announcement.
"I'm taking a leave of absence from the Nations Council for a few months." Aang spoke in a commanding voice that silenced some bickering that had started. The Earth King was the first to jump from his seat and object, which left the entire Council shouting questions and objections to his announcement. Katara just sat there and stared at him before scowling and excusing herself from the proceedings.
"Why do you feel the need to…to…to abandon the Council so suddenly without any notice?" a young woman from the Fire Nation asked, choking on her words.
"I just feel that for too long I've spent my time mediating your debates and I feel that my time could be better spent visiting the other nations and helping them personally." he answered coolly.
"Preposterous!" the fat representative from the Earth Kingdom declared. "What do you think gallivanting across the globe will do to solve the problems of our people?"
"I think it might help stop a lot of the disputes that have been arising lately. I think that if the people saw the Avatar personally coming to help them in their time of need, they might feel more encouraged to reach out and help those around them." he shot back, shutting the man up. "What people need isn't to have some stuffy representatives sitting around a crowded room bickering endlessly. What they need is to be shown that someone in a seat of power cares, and by doing so, might promote the unity between our nations that is dearly needed."
Two days later, he had already packed away the things he would need for his trip. Most of it was the basic travel necessities as well enough food for a couple of weeks. He figured that whatever else he might need he could find in his travels. He had also provided the Council with a rough estimate for when they might expect him to return. He was busy tying things down to Appa's saddle when he heard someone shuffling in behind him. He turned around and faced the person, only to come face to face with an unhappy looking Katara. He turned away from her without saying a word and began leading the bison out of the large stable and into the yard.
"I can't believe you're doing this." she said, following him. He ignored her. He knew that if he paid attention that she might make him stay, and he wanted to be anywhere but in Ba Sing Se. He patted Appa, and climbed up around the animal's neck.
"This is foolish! You're supposed to be the symbol of peace to the world. And now you're just…just running away like a child!" she spat at him in frustration, trying to incite an argument as she moved to stand in front of Appa, forcing him to look her in the eye. And that's when he saw the tears rolling down her cheeks. "I won't forgive you if you do this Aang!"
As much as it hurt to see her look at him like that, he didn't want to be around as the suitors came knocking down her door. He had never liked competition. And, he hoped, that this little stint around the world might help clear his head. He turned away from her and lifted Appa's reigns. "Goodbye Katara. Appa. Yip yip."
And that, more or less, was how Aang found himself in his current position. He sighed and got up from Appa, who groaned again and kicked out in his sleep, bopping Aang and nearly making him lose his balance. He quickly recovered by blowing at the ground and settling himself back on two feet. He grumbled, and grabbed a few logs from a nearby pile to throw onto the fire. Once done with that he plunked back down again, crossed his arms and stared at his feet.
"Stupid Council…stupid representatives…stupid, stupid me." he complained to himself.
"Will you quit yakking to yourself you yokel? Some of us are trying to get our beauty sleep!" a feminine voice chided from the other side of the fire. Aang looked up to see Toph stomping over from her rock tent and plunked down next to the fire, warming her hands and rubbing them on her calves. "Really, how do you expect anyone to get some rest when you're stomping around like a three year old who just had his favorite toy taken away?"
Aang sighed and thought to himself. Yep, definitely not the way I saw things going at all.