A/N: This story follows Smoke and Mirrors. I thought I'd write one last bit of Kataang fluff before I tried my hand at writing Taang. We'll see how that goes.
"What are you doing?"
At Aang's sleepy questioning Katara jumped, startled by the sound of his voice. Instead of being tangled in the sheets and snoring softly as he had been when she'd crept from the bed minutes before, he was now wide awake. She turned a glance towards the bed to find him rolling onto his back as he rubbed sleep from his eyes with a broad yawn. He squinted at her in the weak morning light. Katara favored him with a fond smile before resuming her task.
"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm packing."
It had been little more than a week since Azula's state funeral and Aang was only now beginning to fully recover from her attack and the near month he had spent as her prisoner. He was still painfully thin and continued to struggle with residual fatigue, but the lingering bruises from his ordeal were gradually beginning to fade. Dark rings of exhaustion no longer shadowed his eyes and his rosy color had returned. He was as easy with his smile as he'd always been, especially since learning he was going to be a father.
With the return of his strength, vigor and good humor, Katara had known it was only a matter of time before he made preparations to join Sokka, Suki, Toph and Iroh in the middle Earth Kingdom where some small skirmishes of rebellions still flourished. In the days following Azula's death, he had indulged her desire to keep him bedridden with minimal activities. Truthfully, he had liked having her wait on him and had milked her attention for all it was worth. However, Katara was fully aware that, while he didn't say anything, he was preoccupied with the situation in the middle Earth Kingdom. Which was why she was hardly surprised when, after declaring him recovered enough to travel, he announced his desire to leave for the middle kingdom the following day.
Aang shifted onto his side, propping himself onto his elbow so that he could watch her flitter from one corner of their guest bedchamber to the other. "I can see that you're packing," he remarked drolly. "What I don't understand is why you're packing." He took the time to admire her backside appreciatively as she bent over to retrieve a fallen article of clothing. "You know I never travel with anything more than the clothes on my back."
"Um…who said I was packing for you?" came Katara's flippant response.
The reply provoked a baffled frown. "You're not?" Aang roused himself slightly. "Then why are you doing it? I thought you and Appa weren't leaving for the Southern Air Temple until tomorrow."
"Nope," Katara replied with a glib sigh. "I'm going with you."
At first, he laughed because, after their discussion the previous night, he couldn't believe she meant to be taken seriously. She had to be joking. But it quickly became apparent that Katara wasn't joking in the slightest. Her expression as she regarded him was resolved and defensive. Aang gaped at her.
"What do you mean you're going with me?" he balked. "I thought we agreed that you would be safer if you went back to the Air Temple and waited for me." He remembered in glaring detail how painstaking it had been to convince her of reason…at least he thought he'd convinced her. Her next words to him, however, let Aang know that he had failed miserably in that task.
"No, you said I should go back to the Air Temple and I said that sounded like a good idea," Katara clarified.
"Exactly. You agreed."
Katara paused to regard him with a stubborn raise of her eyebrows, hands on her hips. "Actually no, I didn't agree, Aang," she refuted, "I never said those words. I merely acknowledged that it was a good idea, which it was. That doesn't mean I'm going to do it, which I'm not." They had spent literal weeks apart and, in that time, Aang had nearly died twice. The Spirit World was going to have to yawn open and swallow her down whole before Katara let him out of her sight again and her expression said exactly that.
"You've got to be kidding me," Aang groaned.
"I'm surprised you'd think I was joking. You've always said I lack a sense of humor."
He watched her continue to pack, his concern mounting. "Katara, this isn't funny!" She simply shrugged. "Please tell me you're not serious about this," he implored. She pulled the bell-cord for Kuei's servants. "You're serious about this," Aang mumbled to himself, growling under his breath when a servant materialized and Katara quickly rattled off instructions to him for readying Appa for travel. She did it smoothly and efficiently too, as if he weren't sitting behind her fuming and petulant. When she turned back to face Aang again, he was glaring at her. "I can't believe you just did that," he accused her. "Why must you be so stubborn all the time, Katara?"
"I could ask you the same thing," she retorted lightly.
"I'm not stubborn! Besides, we had an agreement."
"No, we didn't," she denied. "I never said yes."
"But you never said 'no' either," Aang pointed out.
"Well, you have my answer now," Katara replied. "So what does it matter?"
"I don't want you to go."
"I'm sorry to hear that, but I'm still going with you."
Aang folded his arms over his chest in challenge. "No, you're not," he declared implacably.
"Yes, I am," she returned in an equally implacable tone.
"I don't want to have a fight," he announced a little wildly.
"Then let it go," she countered, "and we won't."
Under different circumstances he might have done just that. That was one of the very reasons he and Katara worked together as well as they did. He was as easygoing as she was bullheaded. He could bend when she proved to be unbendable. He was compromise. She was righteous rigidity. He ebbed and flowed with the current while she was the shoreline of earth that guided the running waters. In fact, there weren't very many subjects on which Aang wouldn't acquiesce to Katara and, in the past, doing so had never been that big of a deal to him. He had always reasoned that if it made Katara happy and it didn't kill him, then a compromise wasn't a problem. Until now. He didn't think he could compromise…not about this. Learning he was on the verge of becoming a parent had changed everything.
However, he recognized that bullying her would get him nowhere, not that he'd ever attempt to do that anyway. It wasn't quite in his nature to strong-arm anyone, but Aang also realized that this particular subject wasn't something he could afford to be passive about either. He wasn't only worried for Katara's safety. He was concerned for the safety of their unborn child as well. His knowledge of his child's existence was only weeks old and yet, already, he felt inundated with a fierce and instinctive need to protect it. With that particular concern driving him, Aang rolled from the bed and crossed the room in hopes of reasoning with her.
Favoring her with a small smile, he pulled her against him and into his body so that her back was flush against his naked chest. He slipped his arms around her waist, resting his chin against her shoulder before dropping a warm kiss there. Katara softened against him, sighing in contentment. For Katara, it was just one of Aang's many sweet gestures, his unspoken surrender in their argument. For Aang, it was a means of disarming her, because he had the terrible suspicion he was about to make her very, very angry.
"Katara," he began carefully, his breath stirring against her ear as he spoke, "I understand that you want to be a part of bringing this war to its final end and under different circumstances I'd want you there, but…" He sighed again, carefully phrasing his next words to her. "You should think about the baby."
Her reaction was swift, volatile and immediate. She stiffened and jerked out of his arms with an angry glare. "What is that supposed to mean? You don't think I'm concerned about the baby?" she accused him, bristling.
Aang wisely took a step backwards. "I didn't say that."
His mild response did little to calm her ire. Katara's blue eyes narrowed dangerously. "No, you implied it!"
"No," Aang refuted. "I'm only pointing out that a battlefield is nowhere for a woman expecting a child to be…that's all. The decisions you make now don't just affect you anymore, Katara."
"So suddenly you're the expert on pregnancy?" Katara challenged tartly. "What's next? You'll be telling me where to sleep and when I should?"
"Don't make it sound like I'm trying to control you," Aang retorted in an exasperated huff.
"Then stop sounding controlling," she volleyed back. "I want to go and so I'm going. End of discussion."
"It doesn't work that way, Katara."
"La-la-la-la-la-la-la," she sang obnoxiously, turning her back on him to begin haplessly straightening items within her radius, anything to avoid throttling him. "I can't hear a word you say."
"I'm not going to stop talking just because you don't like what I'm saying." She hummed louder, making a pointed gesture of ignoring him. Aang clenched his jaw in growing frustration. "Why are you being this way?" he sighed. "I don't think it's a good idea that you go!"
"Well, I don't think it's a good idea that you go either!" Katara flung back. "But I know you're going to do it anyway so I'm stepping back and respecting your decision! You should give it a try, Aang!"
"It's not the same thing."
"Of course, it's not the same thing because we're dealing with what you want this time!"
Aang jerked to attention as if she'd just smacked him hard across the face. "Is that really what you think…that I'm making this all about me?" he wondered quietly.
The underlying hurt in his tone helped to quell much of her rage and, just as it had done since when they were children. She had never been able to withstand her irritation in the face of his bruised feelings, and so, Katara found herself softening against the hurt brimming in his gray eyes. "Aang, I know you're not being selfish," she sighed. "That's not what this is about. I get that. But you need to understand that this is not your decision to make. Being married does not mean I have to do what you say."
"I'm not asking you to 'do what I say,' Katara," Aang argued. "I'm asking you to listen to reason."
It was not the wisest phrasing and, as a result, Katara's anger returned just as quickly as it had faded. "So now I'm not listening to reason?" she snapped in offense.
Her reaction had Aang groaning aloud. He threw up his hands in exasperation. "Arghh! You're impossible when you're like this! You're going to be mad no matter what I say!"
"Yeah, well you're no day at the beach either," she muttered under her breath, but not so low that Aang failed to hear her.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Aang snapped.
"It means that I don't stand a chance in this argument with you because you already think you're right," she replied tartly. Before he could even attempt to figure out what that statement meant or even pose a response to her, Katara demanded suddenly, "Don't you trust me, Aang?"
"Of course…of course, I trust you," he answered, though he had little idea what trust had to do with it.
"Then trust that I will take care of myself and our baby," she said. "I've always taken care of you, haven't I? I won't give anything less to our child. I won't let anything bad happen."
Rather than comforting him, however, Katara's words had Aang slumping in defeat. Her line of reasoning was abundantly clear. She was not going to back down. She was not going to consider his viewpoint at all. He was angry that she wouldn't listen to him. But mostly, he was fearful of all the things that could possibly go wrong if she accompanied him…things that would likely be beyond his control. He had recently spent nearly an entire month as Azula's personal pet. If he couldn't manage to protect himself, Aang doubted he would prove more effective in protecting his wife and child. That lack of confidence in himself had him lashing out at Katara.
"So you're just going to do what you want and it doesn't matter how I feel about it, right?"
"You act like I'm not taking your feelings into consideration, Aang, and that's not fair!"
"You're one to talk!"
"Fine!" Katara grated in a flare of temper. "You want it to be this way…go right ahead! But remember, you started this, Aang!" She presented him with her back, arms folded across her chest stubbornly. "I'm not talking to you again until you apologize to me!"
"Well, then I guess these are the last words we'll ever say to each other because I'm not apologizing!" Aang tossed back childishly.
Katara whipped around to glare at him. "Good!"
"I'm glad it's great!"
"I'm glad you're glad!"
Aang growled under his breath. "You just have to have the last word don't you?" he bit out angrily. "You are so infuriating!"
"The same goes for you!" She took a defensive step backwards. "You know…I don't think I want to be around you right now," she declared with a haughty sniff.
Seemingly unperturbed by that announcement, Aang folded his arms across his chest and nodded towards the exit. "There's the door. Don't let it hit you."
His response took Katara so off guard that for a moment she stood there, half expecting him to take it back. When he didn't, she raised her chin a notch higher, raked him with a contemptuous glower and stomped out of the room. Only when she was gone did Aang drop his mask of bravado. He sank down on the edge of the rumpled bed and buried his face in his hands with a sorrowful groan.
The silent treatment lasted for three, misery-filled days. Pride was undoubtedly a factor, aided by the escalating rebellious chaos in the Earth Kingdom and the growing urgency to contain that chaos. Consequently, it was easy for Aang and Katara to place their marital discord in the background and ignore one another. Aang occupied himself on the battlefield, while Katara occupied herself with healing the soldiers that returned from it. In the evening when both were too exhausted to move, it seemed the perfect excuse for going to bed yet another night without setting matters straight between them.
However, despite the reasonable reasons and the righteous indignation, neither was happy and it showed. Even Sokka, who was notorious for his oblivious nature when it came to romantic matters, easily picked up on the tension between sister and brother-in-law. On the fourth day, with the rebel forces defeated and relative peace finally restored to the Earth Kingdom, Sokka couldn't bear the tension any longer and was determined to take matters into his own hands. He decided he would pull Aang aside and probe for answers while Suki would corner Katara and get her side of the story.
Sokka prepared himself for the task of emotional browbeating, fully expecting that he would have to painstakingly extract the details of the fight from Aang. It was while he and Aang were loading up Appa in preparation that Sokka tentatively broached the subject. He was surprised to find, however, that contrary to what he'd expected, the nineteen year old Airbender was more than ready to spill his guts. In fact, it didn't take much prodding on Sokka's part at all. He merely looked and Aang and it all came tumbling out.
"Katara's mad at me," Aang blurted without preamble.
Digesting that, Sokka leaned into Appa's furry flank and surveyed Aang with a speculative stare. "So what'd you do?"
"I didn't do anything!" His vehement denial earned Sokka's skeptical snort. "Well, maybe something," Aang amended in a mutter. "I guess…" He blew out a billowing sigh of frustration. "Actually, I don't know what I did. She shouldn't be mad at me at all! I should be mad at her!"
"Right," Sokka indulged. "Aang, buddy, let me set you straight on something. Your woman is pregnant. You've pretty much lost the privilege of being mad at her for a long time to come. Just ask Zuko."
Aang growled under his breath, attempting to pull at nonexistent hair and then growling again because it wasn't there. "You see? The whole situation is driving me crazy!"
Sokka swallowed back his laughter. "I can see that."
"I thought I was right," Aang rambled. "But I guess she was right. But I still feel right even though I was wrong. And even though she's right, it doesn't feel like she's right because it still feels wrong. And the thing is, I was trying to do the right thing, but she tried to make it out into the wrong thing because she didn't want to be wrong, even though it turns out she was really right. You know what I mean, Sokka?"
His question was met with nothing more than a disoriented frown. "No," Sokka answered finally. "No, I don't know what you mean. Was any of that supposed to make sense to me?"
Aang heaved another sigh and slid down Appa's flank to the mossy earth below. "I didn't want Katara to come with me on this trip," he confessed glumly. "We fought about it and now she's not talking to me." He scowled to himself. "Or maybe I'm not talking to her. I kind of lost track."
Sokka edged down beside him and scratched his brow thoughtfully. "What do you mean you 'fought about it?'"
"I told her not to come," Aang recounted. "She said she was going to do it anyway. I told her to think of the baby. She accused me of trying to control her. I told her she wasn't considering my feelings and she thought I was being unfair so now she's not talking to me."
"Or you're not talking to her," Sokka interjected.
"Yeah, one or the other," Aang acknowledged dully. "I guess it doesn't really matter since not speaking is not speaking and it sucks."
"So talk to her," Sokka advised simply.
"No," Aang refused with a stubborn scowl. "I still feel like she didn't consider me at all. It's not like I ever insist on having it my way…" he went on in thoughtful consideration, more to himself than to Sokka. "You'd think, just this once, she could…"
"…Agree?" Sokka finished astutely. "Katara? Don't hold your breath!"
"Well, I guess that leaves me exactly where I am then."
Despite his obstinate resolve, however, Aang didn't look at all happy about the prospect. Sokka nudged him. "So why didn't you want her to come?" he wondered.
"I was afraid something would happen and I wouldn't be able to protect her and the baby."
The idea left Sokka snorting. "You're kidding, right?" However, one glance at Aang's somber features told another story entirely. "Whoa, you're serious?" he balked. "Aang, come on!"
"Why? Why is that so ridiculous?"
"Because you're the Avatar, that's why," Sokka reasoned drolly. "No one is more powerful than you. If you can't protect Katara and the baby then who can?"
"Have you forgotten that Azula held me prisoner for nearly a month?" Aang reminded him in an ironic tone. "I still have nightmares about it. I couldn't even protect myself in that situation, remember?"
"Okay, maybe you have a point there," Sokka conceded, but before Aang could launch into a self-flagellating monologue, he added, "But those were extreme circumstances. Number one, Azula was stark, raving mad and had been planning out her attack for like a decade." While Aang was rolling his eyes over that exaggeration, Sokka plodded onward. "Number two, despite all that, you still managed to escape and with your sanity. Yeah, you went a little nutty for a minute there, but on the whole you're still together." He slid Aang a sudden, careful look. "You are still together, aren't you?"
"Just get on with it, Sokka!" Aang sighed in exasperation.
"Okay, okay…number three and the most important one, you're married to the most awesome waterbender on the planet. Seriously, Aang, if it came down to a waterbending match between the two of you, my money would be on Katara. She can totally handle herself and you know it."
"So basically you're saying that I was worried for nothing," Aang concluded dryly. "Great…so I was a complete jerk about her coming with me and I don't even have a leg to stand on to justify it."
"Now I didn't say all that," Sokka clarified quickly.
"Then what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that I get why you were worried," Sokka said. "I won't pretend to know what you went through with Azula, but I know it was tough for you. I know you're still struggling with what happened and that, in some ways, the experience made you doubt yourself, but there's something you need to remember."
Sokka clamped a hand on Aang's shoulder, his expression solemn when he replied, "You're not the only one left with scars from that time. Katara's still struggling with it too."
"There's a party outside," Suki announced as she ducked inside Aang and Katara's tent to confront her sullen sister-in-law. "Are you going to come and enjoy it or would you rather sit in here all night and mope?" Katara quickly attempted to scrub away the evidence of her falling tears, but not quickly enough to escape Suki's notice. All teasing immediately fled from Suki's demeanor as she became fully aware of Katara's tear-stained cheeks and puffy eyes.
"Oh Katara…" she whispered, quickly scooting to the younger woman's side. "Do you want to talk about it?" Katara shook her head. "Would it make a difference if I told you I already knew what's wrong?" Suki asked.
Katara glanced at her sharply. "You know?"
"Well, I know you and Aang are fighting," Suki clarified.
"Is it that obvious?" Katara wondered in a suffocated tone.
"For you two…yeah, it is," Suki said. "I don't think I've seen you guys glance at each other in days…at least not when the other was looking anyway. So, what's going on?"
"I'm not really sure," Katara sniffled. "What started off as a little disagreement just got blown completely out of proportion. Now we're not speaking one another, which I guess is kind of my fault, but Aang started it."
"Um…kay," Suki replied slowly. "So what did you guys disagree about?"
"Aang didn't want me to come with him," Katara revealed sullenly. "He thought it would be too dangerous for me."
"Oh, I think I know what the problem is," Suki drawled with a burgeoning smile. "Aang finds out he's going to become a father and suddenly you're too delicate to sneeze."
"And you and Mai wonder why I keep putting off having a baby," Suki laughed. "Well, now you know why."
"Tell me about it," Katara groused.
"Believe me, I know it's aggravating, but you've got to cut Aang a little slack," Suki advised her. "It's his first baby. Of course, he's bound to be a little…overprotective."
"I think you mean insanely controlling," Katara corrected tartly. "This is my first baby too, but I'm not telling him where he can go and when he can. It's not fair and I don't like it!"
"You're pretty mad at him, huh?" Suki surmised.
"Then why were you crying a moment ago?" Suki queried.
"Because I'm hurt too," Katara admitted gruffly. "He actually accused me of not taking his feelings into consideration…like…like I wasn't thinking about him! But he's everything I think about, Suki, since I was fourteen years old! He's the most important person in the world to me. All I've ever wanted was for him to be safe and happy…to be with him. That he could accuse me of not thinking of him…" She trailed off into silence, rapidly blinking back the hot tears that formed in her eyes. "How could he accuse me of that?" she whispered hoarsely. "How could he even think it?"
"Because he's a big jerk, that's why," Aang answered solemnly. Both Suki and Katara's snapped to where he hovered in the entry way of the tent. "Can we talk, please?" he asked Katara.
"And I guess that's my cue," Suki announced awkwardly. Neither Aang nor Katara seemed to notice as she scooted discreetly from the tent and left them in silence.
"So talk," Katara invited stiffly when Aang was reluctant to begin.
"I'm sorry," he burst out without preamble. "I'm sorry I've been so horrible to you the last few days. You didn't deserve it."
"No, I didn't," Katara agreed.
"I didn't mean for it to turn out like this," Aang continued contritely. "The last thing I wanted was for you to feel bad."
"But you did."
"I know," he acknowledged around a rough swallow, "and if I say 'I'm sorry' one hundred times I don't think it would be enough to express just how sorry I am. I went about this whole thing all wrong."
Rather than letting him off the hook quickly with the apology that was fairly pressing at her own lips, Katara asked, "How did you go about it wrong?"
Correctly discerning her unspoken invitation for a truce, Aang went to sit alongside her and gathered her hands between his own. "I never took the time to look at the situation from your point of view. I didn't think about why it meant so much for you to come with me."
"I was scared," Katara told him, her words thick with unshed tears. "After what happened the last time…" She paused to clear her throat before continuing, "I…I just don't want to be apart from you, Aang, not after everything that has happened. Can you understand that?"
"I understand," he replied.
"And I was careful," she added urgently. "As much as I wanted to be out there with you and Sokka and Suki, I stayed in the hospital tent the entire time. You have to know that I would never do anything to jeopardize this pregnancy. You know how much I want this baby."
"I know," he whispered. "I guess I was so wrapped up in my own fears and feelings that it blinded me to everything else. I never should have said what I did."
"It's not completely your fault," Katara confessed. "It's not like I explained to you why it was so important to me either and I did kind of plow past your feelings about it. I know in my heart you weren't really trying to control me. You were just worried. I guess I was kind of hoping you'd get over it though and accept my decision. I didn't think you'd get so mad at me." She squeezed his fingers briefly before bringing her wet blue stare up to his somber gray one. "I'm sorry too."
Heaving a massive sigh of relief, Aang gratefully gathered her closer in his arms and burrowed his face in the crook of her neck. "I'm so glad that's over. I hate fighting with you."
"Eh, it wasn't so bad," Katara considered.
Her response had Aang rearing back with an incredulous guffaw. "Not so bad? Are you joking?"
"Well, we worked through it, didn't we?" Katara replied. "Iroh always says that when a couple can overcome disagreements, it makes them stronger in the end." She smiled at Aang. "So I guess that means we're stronger now. I can't be sad about that."
"I guess…" Aang grumbled, not very convinced at all. "I'd prefer a different method though."
"No kidding," Katara teased. "But, I will say that I don't like going to bed angry. I hated that. That was the worst part of our entire fight because sometimes my mind would go to all these awful places and I wouldn't think very nice things about you."
"So let's not ever do that again, okay? If we have a disagreement, let's settle it before we go to sleep. I don't want us to go to bed mad at each other."
"And I'll try to be more compromising in the future," she added after a pensive moment. "I know I can be inflexible sometimes and I want to work on that. You can't be the one that always bends, Aang. That's not going to work out for very long, don't you think?"
"And besides, that's what marriage is all about…compromise. Right?"
"Right," Aang agreed with a soft smile.
"And so we'll be stronger and better and happier," Katara concluded, "even when we don't agree."
"That sounds good to me."
"I was hoping it would," Katara whispered, pulling him down for a lingering kiss that gradually evolved into two…and then three…
"You know, I think I've changed my mind…" Aang murmured when their kisses gradually became affectionate nuzzles.
"I'm glad we fought after all," he decided capriciously.
"Really? And why is that?" Katara laughed, hardly aware that he was leaning back and pulling her down with him until their bodies were completely flush.
"Because," he said, smiling as he searched out her lips for another kiss, "making up is the best part."