Aang's eyes flashed abruptly open and he bolted upright, gasping for breath. The sudden movement caused exploding pain to radiate through his back and chest and he groaned with the unexpected sensation. He blinked back the automatic tears that sprang to his eyes. Seconds later a pair of gentle hands came out of the darkness to press against his shoulders and tenderly nudge him back into the pillows. His throat worked in a spasmodic swallow as he lifted his eyes to find Katara's somber features filling his line of sight.
"Careful," she cautioned him softly as she readjusted the twisted sheets over his body. "You shouldn't be making any sudden movements like that. You're still healing, Aang." He nodded his understanding at her mild admonishment, though he wasn't completely sure of all the details, and let himself relax. Satisfied, Katara leaned back and perched herself on the edge of the bed so that her hip aligned with his. "Did you have a nightmare?" she asked him.
"I think so," he breathed out with a confused frown. "I dreamed Azula used Zuko and me for target practice."
"That was no dream," Katara replied, nodding to the swathe of bandages around his torso. "You both almost died."
Aang squinted up at her, clearly fuzzy on the details. "We did?" Katara confirmed his question with a wry nod. "What happened? Where…where are we right now?"
"We're back in Ba Sing Se at Kuei's palace. We weren't able to leave because you and Zuko were so gravely injured. Neither of you fared very well when you faced off with Azula," Katara told him. "But, to your credit, she did take cheap shots at you. She could have never bested either of you in a fair fight."
"Well, that's good to know," Aang grunted, though the question of Azula's prowess in a fair fight seemed a moot point when he was the one laid up afterwards. "How's Zuko?"
"He's recovering just like you," she said. "He's had it a bit harder though. Azula really nailed him."
"I'm not surprised. You know how it's always been between them…sibling rivalry, only the nutso, psychotic kind," Aang mumbled. "Makes me glad I don't have a sister." He briefly closed his eyes, trying to grasp hold of the memory of what had transpired, but the recollection flirted on the edges of his consciousness and he couldn't quite reach it. Frustrated, Aang grabbed for the corner of the sheets, intending to get the details straight from the ostrich horse's mouth. He started to push himself upright so that he could scoot from the bed, but Katara was quick to block his intentions.
"Where do you think you're going?" she challenged him.
"To see Zuko," he replied. "That 'not' dream I had was pretty intense. I want to see for myself that he's alright."
"Forget about it. You are not leaving this bed, Aang," Katara stated implacably. "Lie back down." Aang opened his mouth to argue only to be met with Katara's narrowed stare of displeasure. "Now," she commanded.
Aang dutifully reclined back into the pillows. "Yes, maam," he acquiesced in a mumble.
Katara sighed over his pouting expression. "I don't mean to be so tough on you," she murmured. "It's just…I lost you for nearly a month, got you back for barely a day and then almost lost you again. I think I'm entitled to be a little bit overprotective, okay?"
"Okay," Aang relented with a sigh of his own. He glanced down at his bandaged chest before flashing Katara with a weak, but grateful smile. "I guess I should thank you…again," he surmised. "Are you trying to make some kind of habit out of saving my life?"
Eyes sparkling with laughter, Katara replied in a matter of fact tone, "It's not so much a habit anymore as it's become a hobby for me."
His sharp crack of laughter immediately dissolved into a pained groan. "Oh, don't make me laugh," he beseeched her, cradling his throbbing center. "It hurts really bad."
"I'll bet," Katara murmured sympathetically. "Do you want something for the pain?"
"No," he sighed tiredly, lifting his hand briefly to brush his knuckles across her jaw. Just that small gesture of affection taxed the remainder of his strength, however, and Aang suddenly felt very, very tired. "I feel like I've been out of it for days already," he said. "I want to keep talking to you. I don't want anything that might make me sleep. I'm sure I've had plenty of it."
Katara's lips curved in a soft smile. "You'd be right about that. Four days to be exact," she clarified.
"I've been out for four days?" Aang balked. "I feel like I'm sleeping my life away!"
"Well, your injuries were pretty serious," Katara explained. "Azula's arrow punctured your lung and the waterbender who healed you wasn't as skilled as I am. She couldn't quite repair all the damage. And by the time I was able to help, there wasn't much I could do about most of it either."
"Why did you need another waterbender to heal me?" Aang wondered in confusion.
"You're not the only one who had an encounter with Azula that didn't go well," she hedged vaguely.
Katara was hesitant to tell him more, simply because she did not want to dwell on the depressing events of the last week now that he had finally opened his eyes. Though he had drifted in and out of wakefulness for the past few days and they had managed to have a handful of mumbled conversations, this was the first time Aang was completely lucid and she didn't want to spoil it by upsetting him. However, she also knew that if he pressed her for the information, she wasn't going to keep it from him.
Something flickered in his eyes that warned her that was exactly Aang's objective and his next careful words confirmed her suspicions. "In that 'not' dream I had…" he began a little casually, "…it wasn't just Azula who was attacking Zuko." He lowered his eyes as he added in a suffocated tone, "I did too." There was a beat of silence before he actually managed to meet her gaze again. "Is that true?" he asked her around a rough swallow. "Did I attack Zuko?"
"Yeah, you did," Katara confirmed but quickly rushed to assure him when he groaned with regret, "You didn't hurt him, Aang." Her reassurance didn't seem to help and he merely continued shaking his head and mumbling, "no, no, no," over and over again. "You weren't in control of your actions," Katara explained to him firmly. "Azula did something to you…like what the Dai Li did to Jet. But even under her influences, you were still Aang. You never went after Zuko with the intention of killing him. He told us that himself."
"It doesn't matter," Aang moaned sorrowfully, turning onto his side to present her with his back in spite of the gripping pain it caused him. "Everything that happened is my fault, Katara." The memories of that day assailed him in jagged pieces, but while they were disjointed, the picture was still made very clear to him. Though Katara shook her head to refute his words, he pressed on. "You don't understand. I could have stopped it," he said. "It's my fault. I lied to you all and Zuko almost lost his life because of it."
"What do you mean you lied?"
"You and Zuko asked me over and over again if I was okay," he recounted in a suffocated tone. "I knew I wasn't. I knew something was wrong with me, but I just hoped it would go away. I wanted to go with you guys so badly that I jeopardized you all in the process. If I had stayed behind—,"
"—Then maybe Azula would have devised a new plan of attack," Katara concluded softly. She placed a hand on his shoulder and, at her loving touch, Aang turned a shamed glance at her over his shoulder. "This was Azula's doing from start to finish," she told him. "I don't want you to blame yourself."
"Don't do that," he whispered. "Don't make excuses for me. I owe you an apology. I owe all of you an apology, Katara. I made a really bad judgment call and you know it."
"You're right," she agreed. "You did make a bad call and, if you'll notice, you paid for it. If you're expecting me to heap recrimination on you after that, you're going to have a long wait, Aang."
He shifted onto his back to regard her with shimmering eyes. "I don't deserve you," he mumbled. "I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry about ly—,"
She stifled his flow of words with her lips, kissing him fervently. "Shh…" she admonished softly. "No more apologies. I have never expected you to be perfect, Aang, and I don't expect it now. You made a mistake this time. Next time, it will be my mistake. It happens. We learn from it and we move on. But I'm not angry and I'm not resentful because all I can be is happy that you're alive and here with me right now."
"I love you so much," he whispered fiercely, knotting his fingers in the hair at the nape of her neck and bringing her down against him for another kiss. He could taste the salt of her tears as the kiss deepened and he framed her face with his hands to brush them away.
"Yeah, he's feeling better." Sokka's sardonic declaration had them parting with a self-conscious laugh. Katara reluctantly pushed herself upright and turned a glance towards the door just as Toph, Suki and Sokka entered. "We just came from seeing Zuko," Sokka volunteered laughingly. "He and Mai were doing the exact same thing. I guess this means you're both on the mend now."
Aang surveyed Katara with a wistful stare. "Katara takes very good care of me," he told his friends.
"I'll just bet she does," Toph grunted playfully.
As she limped over to his bedside, Aang's eyes narrowed in concern as he noted her unsteady gait. "Are you alright?" he queried solicitously. "What happened to you?"
Toph laughed at the worried tone in his voice, further amused because it was the sixth time in four days he'd asked her that question though he, understandably, had no recollection of doing so. "You mean this?" she scoffed, gesturing towards her leg. "It's just a flesh wound. It's nothing nearly as dramatic as what happened to you and Zuko. You two are such attention hounds."
Aang started to laugh at her irreverent teasing when a sudden thought occurred to him. "Wait a second…if Zuko is still recovering then what's going on with the war?" he asked anxiously. "How bad is it? Did we lose?"
"Lose?" Sokka scoffed. "Don't you remember? After everything had settled and we were able to get you back to camp, you went straight to General Fong. You gave this beautiful, heartfelt speech about learning to settle our differences amicably and about how war and violence only leads to hatred and anarchy. You told the rebel armies that if they were looking for peace and justice, neither of those things could be achieved through war and brutality. And you told them that if they chose to fight, you would crush them without mercy. It was so awesome! Unfortunately, after we left and you basically had them shaking in terror, you took about two steps before you passed out cold. It sort of ruined the moment."
"I did?" Aang considered with a deep frown. "I don't remember any of that."
"Well, you were pretty loopy," Suki recounted. "But even when you were half dead and barely breathing, you still made this amazing argument for peace and good will. The army got the message. They surrendered directly after."
"The fact they had been getting their butts kicked all over the battlefield might have had something to do with it as well," Toph interjected wryly.
"In the meantime, Mai is acting as interim Firelord while Zuko recovers," Suki explained. "Except for some skirmishes in the middle kingdom, the war, if you can even call it that, is over. Sokka and I are going to be traveling out to the middle Earth Kingdom in a few days to help reestablish order there while you and Zuko get back on your feet."
It humbled Aang that they would assume responsibilities that were primarily assigned to him and without the tiniest hint of resentment over it either. He had an amazing group of friends. "Thanks, you guys," Aang sighed gratefully.
"Aang, you don't have to thank us," Sokka replied. "We're Team Avatar, remember? This is what we do. We probably would have left sooner, but we wanted to stick around and make sure you and Zuko were going to be okay first."
"Okay, so the army surrendered, but what about Azula?" Aang wondered blankly. "I have a hard time believing any speech I made had an impact on her…so what happened?" The bedchamber became uncommonly silent following Aang's question. Several uncomfortable looks passed between Sokka, Suki and Katara that did not go unnoticed by Aang. His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Okay, what's going on?" he demanded in mounting dread.
"Well, it's like this…" Toph began dryly. "Azula bit it."
Aang gaped. "She what?"
"She bought the farm, kicked the bucket. She croaked. She's worm food. She's pushing up daisies. Pick your euphemism," Toph said. "The gist of it is…she's deader than a door knell."
"What?" Aang balked in absolute horror.
"Aang," Katara whispered, splaying a comforting hand over his shoulder, "while Toph was needlessly brutal about the entire thing," she paused to throw the aforementioned a quelling glare, "what she said was true. Azula…she was killed. She's gone."
"I…I didn't do it, did I?" he burst out in a panic-edged tone.
"No. You didn't do it," Sokka reassured him. "But it was a done deal anyway. She had numerous injuries and it's likely one of them would have killed her regardless."
"But one of them didn't kill her though, right?" Aang surmised carefully. "There's something you're not telling me."
"It's complicated," Sokka hedged. "The bottom line is…she's gone. If it makes you feel any better, I think it's probably what she wanted anyway."
"Actually, it doesn't make me feel better," Aang replied glumly, "but thanks for trying." He expelled a heavy sigh full of sorrow. "I guess I always wanted to believe that she could be better than what she was…that maybe she wanted to be better." Aang shook his head in unspoken remorse. "Her mother must be devastated."
"Yeah, I guess you could say that," Toph mumbled under her breath, only to receive a well-placed elbow from Suki for her trouble.
Yet another strange look circulated among his friends and Aang growled in frustration to see it. "What's going on?" he cried again in mounting exasperation. "What aren't you guys telling me? Is it Zuko? Does he not know what happened?"
"He knows what happened," Toph confirmed.
"So what…did he not take it very well?" Aang wondered directly after. "I know that he and Azula had something of a love/hate relationship, but…I know he never wanted her to die."
"Like Sokka said, it's complicated," Suki interjected carefully. "Right now I think Zuko is mainly worried about his mom. She's been a mess since it happened."
"I can imagine," Aang murmured. He started to express his desire to go and see her to offer condolences, but the moment he attempted to sit upright, searing pain knifed through his torso. With a small, agonized gasp, he fell back into the pillows as his features drained completely of color. He grimaced when Katara began to fuss over him. "I'm fine…" he told her a little breathlessly. "I moved too fast. That's all."
"You shouldn't be trying to move at all," Katara scolded him.
"She's right," Sokka agreed. "Now is not the time for you to be trying to do stuff, Aang. You need to give yourself time to heal and recover this time. We won't accept any arguments to the contrary."
"Aww, guys…" Aang whined.
"Shush up and live with it," Toph declared succinctly. "You've caused us enough drama these past few weeks to last a lifetime. Good grief, give us a break, Twinkle Toes."
"I hate lying in this bed feeling useless," Aang complained. "I bet Zuko's having a really hard time right now. This has to be a lot for him to handle all at once."
"Zuko has a very good support system," Suki reasoned. "The best thing you can do for him is to get better. We're having just as hard a time keeping him in bed because he's so worried about you. The irony would be funny if it didn't make him such a lousy patient."
"And on that note," Katara announced before they could all begin a new round of poor Mai, "…it's time for everyone to go." She began ushering them towards the door. "Aang needs his rest."
"But I don't want to rest, Katara," her husband pouted. However, he spoiled the protest with a broad yawn.
"Yeah, we can tell," Sokka snorted.
"Give it up, Twinkle Toes," Toph laughed as she, Suki and Sokka headed out. "Relax, okay. We'll be back in the morning. Promise."
Sokka flashed him a wave. "Sleep tight, buddy," he said.
"Feel better," Suki added.
Once they were gone, Katara closed the double doors behind them and leaned back into the wooden façade to regard Aang. As she expected, he was lying in the bed with a preoccupied expression on his face. Katara sighed. "You should sleep now," she urged him.
"When I'm recovered, I want to join Sokka and Suki in the campaign to reestablish order in the middle kingdom," he announced stubbornly.
Katara rolled her eyes. "How did I know you were going to say that?"
"It's the least I can do," Aang argued. "Purposely or inadvertently, my actions are the reason this conflict happened in the first place. I want to do what I can to bring back order. I need to do this, Katara. Maybe if I'd confronted Zuko sooner…maybe if I had told you from the beginning what was going on with me…" He trailed off into a mumble as he said, "Maybe it would have been different."
"Yeah, because you've always had so much control over what other people do, Aang," Katara remarked drolly. "Come on. You can't make everyone play nice. The most you can do is show them how they can be better. Set the example. The rest is up to them. As for Azula…her own family couldn't keep her reined in. What makes you think that you had a better chance of doing so? If that was the case, you could have made her good years ago."
"I still feel responsible," Aang whispered.
"Listen to me," she replied, climbing beneath the covers and carefully stretching out alongside him. She reached out to smooth the conflicted furrow from his forehead. "All this negativity is counterproductive and only impedes your recovery. You heard what Sokka said. Nothing you did or didn't do would have changed the outcome. By the end, Azula was looking for her own death."
Determined to lift his spirits, Katara pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth and changed the subject altogether. "I know what will make you feel better," she said, her blues eyes sparkling with secret merriment. "In fact, it's going to make you smile."
Her certainty as well as the underlying excitement in her voice drew Aang's half-lidded stare to her face. He lifted his hand to feather a delicate touch across her collarbone. "It'll definitely make me smile," he murmured in agreement. "But, considering my condition right now, you'd probably have to do all the work. I can't do much more than lie here and enjoy it."
His reply had her grimacing in exasperation. "Ugh, Aang…I'm not talking about that!" Katara exclaimed laughingly. "Don't you ever think about anything else?"
"Not lately," he replied candidly and without a hint of apology either.
"Well, I definitely wasn't talking about that," Katara clarified dramatically. But then her brows drew together in a thoughtful frown and she added, "Though doing that does have something to do with it…"
Confused, Aang frowned at her. "What are you talking about, Katara?"
Rather than answering him directly, Katara carefully positioned herself so that her weight would not be against him when she took hold of his hand and pressed his palm to her abdomen. At first, Aang mistook her intentions. He opened his mouth to tease her about trying to seduce him after all, but the words suddenly lodged in his throat when he caught the meaningful look in her blue gaze. He swallowed audibly as her meaning hit him a split second later. His eyes flared wide with shock and surprise.
"No way…" Aang breathed out in smiling incredulity. Katara giggled over his reaction. "Are you sure?" he asked, half astonished, half excited. "Are you really, really sure?" Katara nodded happily. "Seriously? You're pregnant? We're going to have a baby?"
Katara bobbed her head in another overjoyed nod. "I've wanted to tell you for days now…ever since I realized," she whispered, "but you've been…well…"
"Unconscious?" Aang finished irreverently. Katara swallowed back an ironic laugh as Aang's smiled widened considerably. He blew out a little, staccato breath of pure amazement. "Wow," he uttered, fascinated, overjoyed and quite nearly speechless. He framed her face in his hands and kissed her soundly on the lips. "Oh, wow…you're having my baby. I'm going to be a dad…"
"You see?" Katara teased thickly, leaning up over him to cup his cheek tenderly. "I told you it would make you smile."
When Zuko heard the shuffling steps approaching from behind, he gingerly turned a glance over his shoulder. Aang hobbled out onto the balcony. Leaning heavily against the cane he used to keep his balance, Zuko pivoted to face his friend. "Does your warden know you're out in the yard right now?" he wondered wryly as Aang came to stand alongside him.
"Does yours?" Aang countered smartly.
"Hey, I'm just saying you might not want to provoke Katara's wrath, that's all," Zuko advised him. "I've had firsthand experience with that." He shuddered. "It's not pretty."
"Don't worry. I can handle Katara just fine," Aang said confidently, but he was quick to throw a glance over his shoulder to make sure Katara wasn't lurking in the shadows behind him. When he was satisfied that he was in the clear, he turned to regard Zuko's somber profile. "By the way, you look awful," he blurted awkwardly.
"Thanks," was Zuko's droll reply. "Being used as a human pin cushion will do that to you."
"Tell me about it," Aang mumbled sympathetically. Zuko slid him a glance at his single bandage before considering his numerous ones and then leveled Aang with a look that clearly stated, "Don't even go there." Ducking his head sheepishly, Aang sighed and finally addressed the subject that had really compelled him to seek out Zuko in the early morning hours. The sun was only just beginning to peek over the horizon. "Katara and the others told me about Azula." When he made no response to that, Aang asked softly, "How are you holding up?"
"I'm okay," Zuko sighed after a lengthy pause of silence. "It's for the best, you know? She did a lot of damage."
"She was still your sister."
"Biologically," Zuko considered faintly. "Emotionally? I could have gotten more affection and loyalty from a tiger-wolf. Katara has been more of a sister to me than Azula ever was. I can't honestly say I'm grieving. I'm more worried about my mother than anything else. She's taking it pretty hard."
"She loved your sister," Aang surmised quietly.
"Yeah, she did," Zuko muttered in agreement. He expelled a shuddering sigh and pulled his lower lip between his teeth. "So your policy has been enforced. Just in case you haven't heard…the colonies have officially come under Earth Kingdom law. You got what you wanted."
Aang flashed him a sharpened look. "For the record, it was never what I wanted, Zuko," he said. "All I ever wanted was to establish peace. I never wanted to alienate you or have this come between us."
Zuko shrugged. "It doesn't matter. I guess you were right in a way," he conceded. "My pride was blinding me to the bigger picture. I just felt like my people had sacrificed so much already…why should they be expected to sacrifice more? Then I realized I was making it more about my sacrifice and not theirs. I talked to Uncle about it and he told me 'there is wisdom in discipline and glory in humility.'"
The proverb left Aang frowning. "And that's supposed to mean what exactly?"
"I don't know really," Zuko sighed in laughing chagrin, "but I'm assuming it means I made the right decision to let the colonies go."
"I think you did too," Aang said. Another stretch of tension silence yawned between them before finally managed to break it. "So…uh…" he began in an uncomfortable stammer, "You…you know what happened before…with that whole 'trying to kill you' thing… I'm really sorry about that."
"I never thought you were going to kill me, Aang," Zuko snorted. "Even as confused and out of it as you were, you still fought like an Airbender. I knew you didn't want to hurt me. It was more frustrating than frightening."
"Gee, thanks," Aang mumbled dryly.
"No offense, Aang, but I don't really find you all that intimidating."
The young Avatar scowled his consideration of that statement, unable to decide whether he should be relieved over Zuko's admission or offended by it. "Um…that's good…I guess," he finally muttered.
"I was more worried that whatever Azula had done to you was permanent," Zuko confessed. "All I wanted to do was get you back before you hurt someone…or yourself."
"It…it was a drug that she'd given me," Aang explained haltingly. "I think it might have caused hallucinations…delusions. I always felt like I was dreaming after she gave it to me. It was very hard for me to discern reality. I don't guess it was completely out of my system when I rode out with you to meet her army that day. I'm sorry. I knew I wasn't okay and I went with you anyway. You told me it was going to be a disaster and it was. I should have had better judgment about it."
"Yeah, you're right. You probably should have," Zuko agreed glibly, but before Aang could launch into a self-deprecating monologue over his succinct response, he added, "but then I'm hardly the one to criticize you about it. Good judgment isn't necessarily my strong suit either."
"But I'm the Avatar," Aang argued. "I should have known better."
"And you're also human. You make mistakes," Zuko sighed. "You can't go through life expecting that you won't, Aang, so get over that."
"Since when did you start dispensing the wisdom?" Aang asked.
"I think it has a lot to do with becoming a father," Zuko considered. "Suddenly, I see things much differently than I had prior to Shi and Tong's birth. The world changed overnight after they were born. It's amazing." He slid a glance over at Aang. "The same thing is probably going to happen to you. Congratulations, by the way."
Surprised, Aang gaped at him. "But…but she only just told me tonight," he stammered. "How did you know?"
"Good news travels fast," Zuko replied with a small smile. "Sokka's not very good at keeping a secret. If it makes you feel any better though…I think Mai knew long before either one of you. We've just been waiting for the two of you to catch on."
Aang digested that with a nod. "We think maybe it happened while we were together at the Southern Air Temple after our wedding," he confessed. "Katara said she'd had her suspicions, but she wasn't absolutely sure until a few days ago."
"Yeah, that's pretty much what Mai thought too," Zuko said.
"Wow…thanks for the heads up there," Aang remarked sarcastically.
"No problem," came Zuko's droll reply.
With the atmosphere considerably relaxed between them, Aang found himself wanting to be doubly sure there was no lingering resentment between them. After all that had transpired in the last few days, Aang wanted to do his utmost to leave nothing unspoken. "So then…uh…we're cool about everything?" he prompted hopefully.
Zuko reached out to lightly clamp a hand on Aang's shoulder. "Yeah, we're cool. We always will be, Aang."
"Aww, isn't this so touching?" Sokka suddenly cooed from behind, causing Zuko to snatch back his hand and the wince at the pain the hasty movement caused him. Aang and Zuko turned to find all their friends filing onto the balcony. "Are you and Aang making up in the sunrise?" Sokka asked as he closed the distance, dabbing at his eyes in mock sentimentality. "I think I might actually tearbend."
"You're hilarious, Sokka," Zuko groused. "Why aren't you people in bed? It's barely morning."
"Hmm, let's see," Katara considered sardonically, "Two injured men running around an unfamiliar palace in the early morning hours. Why would that worry us at all?"
"Am I in trouble?" Aang asked as she came to flank him. She carefully hooked his arm around her neck so that he could lean his weight against her. Though he hadn't complained of fatigue or pain, when Katara did that, Aang gratefully slumped against her.
She smiled up at him, a mixture of vexation and affection. "Do you want to be?"
"I really needed to talk to Zuko," Aang explained. He and Zuko exchanged a meaningful look. "There were some things we needed to settle between us."
"Well, I think it's sweet that Aang was so determined to fix their lovers' spat," Suki teased. "It's about time you guys kissed and made up. The tension was unbearable."
"Lovers' spat?" he and Zuko balked simultaneously.
"Hey, I'm just thankful I know you're not attracted to men," Mai teased him as she rose up on her toes to kiss Zuko's pouting mouth, "otherwise I might worry that Aang was serious competition for me."
"That's not funny, Mai," Zuko replied seriously.
"Well, you did chase him all over the world for the better part of a year," Toph considered irreverently. "All those nights in hot pursuit, sleepless and full of obsession…it could be a mask for underlying feelings of unrequited love."
"Ugh, that's just sick and wrong, Toph," Zuko declared with a disgusted gag. He and Aang traded a shuddering glance. "Aang and I are just friends." He palmed his face as the declaration rang out in his ears and struck him as being utterly ridiculous. "I can't believe I just had to voice that out loud," he grumbled.
"I was just thinking the same thing," Aang concurred in aggravated agreement.
"Don't worry, you two," Katara said as she moved to flank Aang and loosely drape her around his waist so that he could lean his weight into her body. "I'm not buying into this romantic business between you guys at all."
Both men smiled at her. "Thank you, Katara."
However, before they could gloat over the fact that they had won Katara over to their side, she added cheekily, "It's not like it could ever work, Zuko. You'd always be second in Aang's heart. It's all about me. There is no competition."
As his friends erupted into fits of laughter over Zuko's disgruntled reaction, Aang turned a glance around at them before settling on Katara's face with an infatuated smile of contentment. Even with the last month of pure, unobstructed chaos, Aang could honestly say that he was the happiest he had ever been in his entire life.
He placed his hand on his wife's belly where new life was growing…the life they had created together. They smiled into each other's eyes. "You're right, Katara," he sighed. "There is no competition. None at all."