I was staring at the wall, zoned out, mind blank. The world was spinning around me, but it seemed like the Air Temple was frozen in time, silent except for the sound of Aang practicing his waterbending beside the main fountain. He had been at it for days now, wanting to perfect some techniques as a present for Katara. To make things easier on her.
The sound of a knock broke the silence and I turned in time to see Iroh let himself into my room. On his shoulder was slung a bag of medical supplies, in his hands a bowl filled with steaming water and a soaking washcloth.
Having done twice a day since we got back from the volcano, I knew what to do. I took off my shirt and unwrapped my arm, letting the soiled bandages fall to the ground. The strange looking scabs stretched my skin as I straightened my stiff arm. A burst of pain shot through my shoulder as my muscles flexed. Everything hurt; one side of my body had been basically torn to shreds by the sharp volcanic rock and the healing process was slow. Very slow.
I could barely pick anything up with my bad arm, and walking was nearly impossible. My leg and shoulder had gotten the worse of it. Iroh wouldn't let me look at my shoulder, but I knew that a good chunk of skin was gone; it was a miracle I didn't bleed to death. If it hadn't been for Iroh…I probably would be dead.
After we escaped and were flying away on Appa, my adrenaline finally ran out, after that…I don't remember a thing. Iroh told me I fell into shock, soon after I was unconscious. To stop the life from bleeding out of me, he took my dagger and used I it to cauterize the worst of my wounds. Iroh wouldn't tell me anymore of what happened. I imagine it to have been horrible…the smell, the sight of my burning flesh. I'm glad I was unconscious. I tried to ask Sokka a few times about what happened on that saddle, but his face always drained of color and he refused to talk about it.
Hands touched my forearm and rotated it gently, examining the wound. "How does it feel?"
I looked at Iroh's concerned face and lied. "Better than yesterday."
He nodded. "It does look better, not as inflamed."
I shrugged, distracted.
"Let me look at your ribs…" He took the bandages off of my midsection and whistled.
"Bad?" I asked.
I felt his hands apply pressure to my ribs and I winced in pain. "Yes, but your ribs will be fine. I was worried about those the most. Sprains and breaks take the longest to heal."
My mind was sluggish from lack of sleep, but I forced myself to say something in reply, anything. "I'm glad they're not broken…"
"Would you like me to examine your leg?" He asked slowly, his face showing concern.
"Please." I gently pulled off my pants, taking special care not to touch my injuries. My entire thigh was covered in white bandages that were wrapped loosely to ensure that my injuries could breathe. Slowly, I unwound a bit of my bindings, giving Iroh access unwind the rest and examine my thigh.
"It looks a lot better." He grabbed a washcloth from the bowl of warm water and pressed it to my skin, soaking up the blood that had oozed from some of my open wounds. I hissed in pain and stiffened, but made no complaint as he began washing me. Once satisfied, he reached into his bag and pulled out a small bottle of ointment. I had used this same ointment before, and I knew it would sting, so I braced myself for the pain as he smeared it on the worst of my wounds.
I tried to bite my tongue to stop from yelling out, but it still came out lout and clear. Iroh paused briefly, but continued smearing it on my leg.
He rustled through his bag of medicines until he found the leaves he was looking for. He handed them to me without explanation, but I knew what to do. I rolled them into a ball and began chewing them. Within minutes, the plant did its work, the pain numbed and I relaxed enough to let Iroh wrap my leg in some clean white bandages. "I just wish Miss. Katara was awake, she'd be able to do a lot better than me…"
I closed my eyes and sighed, not wanting to think of her.
The bandages tugged painfully on my skin and I waited patiently for him to finish. As soon as he was done I struggled to stand, intending to leave, but he grabbed my wrist, the only part of my arm that had avoided injury, and forced me back down. "Prince Zuko…"
"Zuko." I corrected, not looking him in the eye.
Iroh sighed. "Zuko…I brought you some food. Please eat it."
I nodded absently. "I will."
Iroh waited for me to make a move towards the food, but I continued to sit and stare at the wall. After a minute, Iroh gave up and walked away, leaving me alone. As soon as the door clicked shut, I took a deep shuddering breath.
What was wrong with me?
Iroh was back, I should celebrate. Our attack was successful and I was the only one hurt…everyone else had escaped injury. They were safe. Everyone. Yet I couldn't be happy, I couldn't eat or sleep because of Katara. I wanted her to be back to herself. Her annoying, smiling self.
This whole situation was just so damn infuriating!
I reached for the food Iroh had left me. Rice and a sliced moon peach. The first day without Katara, Sokka had tried to take charge and make us dinner. He considered it his responsibility, but he ended up burning the rice, making it inedible. Soon after Iroh took over all of the cooking. I took a sniff of the food, but my stomach immediately churned. I couldn't eat this.
Momo appeared on my windowsill and waited. For the last couple of days, I had been giving Momo my food so people would think I was eating, but apparently Iroh wasn't convinced. I placed the plate beside Momo and he ate it without hesitation.
"Enjoy…" I whispered and got up, limping out of my room and into the hall. I didn't need to worry about Iroh seeing me, he was already out of sight. Maybe he went to help Aang train, or maybe he was off with Toph hunting or drinking tea. It didn't matter where he was, either way, he'd be able to find me in a heartbeat. He knew where I went.
I knocked lightly on the door and let my self in, not moving past the doorway.
Sokka's hunched figure met my eyes. He was seated in an uncomfortable looking wooden chair, his forehead resting on Katara's stomach and her hand clenched tightly in his. I couldn't see his face, but I could tell by his even breathing and motionless body that he had fallen asleep. Good. Katara had been in this state for days and I'm pretty sure he hadn't slept at all. I had slept just as little.
My eyes slid over to Katara and my heart sank. She was as still as stone. It had been three days since we returned from the prison and she hadn't moved once, not even a twitch.
I took a step forward and cleared my throat in hope that Sokka would hear me and wake up. Luckily, Sokka stirred before I had to go and shake him. Usually only physical force or food could tempt him out of his slumber, but he had probably been only half asleep, too on edge to get any real rest.
Sokka lifted his head slowly, tiredly, first searching Katara's face for a sign of life then turning his head to the door. His eyes only met mine for a second before they were turned back to Katara, but that brief acknowledgement was enough permission for me to approach.
"Hello Sokka." I clapped him on the shoulder and tried to smile at him.
"Zuko." He greeted with a smile that seemed just as forced as mine.
An odd thing had happened to us since our return to the Air Temple. The sleepless nights spent by Katara's bedside had washed away the hate that Sokka had for me. He never questioned why I was with him, why I cared so much while everyone else seemed fine about the situation. Maybe he was too concerned about her to care. Either way, we shared a bond now, one that, even though we had spoken no more than a few sentences to each other, made us close. No more glares, no more taunts, just companionable silence. We weren't friends, but we were far better than we used to be.
"How is she doing?" I asked and eased myself into a sitting position on the floor beside him.
He shrugged and finally let go of Katara's hand. "Nothing has changed." Sokka leaned back in the chair and tried to appear as if he was fine.
I nodded, not expecting a different answer. "You should go and get some sleep then."
He rubbed at his eyes out of exhaustion that was not only physical, but emotional as well. "I'm fine."
I readied myself to get yelled at. "You haven't slept in days, going on a sleep strike wont help Katara."
He glared at me. This was the first glare I had gotten in days, but it wasn't the same. He was too tired; the bags under his eyes softened the effect. "What do you want me to do then? You've heard Aang say a million times that this is the work of the spirits, that means I cant do a thing. I can only wait and make sure I'm here when she wakes up!"
I nodded, not in the mood to argue. Even so, I didn't blame him for feeling helpless because I did too.
"What can I do…" he whispered. His head hung back over the back of his chair and his eyes became fixated on the ceiling.
"I think Katara would like it better if she woke up and you had done something productive with your time. Maybe you should plan and attack or help Aang train. I don't know." I sighed and leaned forward, about to rest my hands on my knees, but pain stopped me. "Just get some sleep, okay?"
His eyebrows furrowed, "What about you then? You look just as bad as I do! When was this last time you had a meal, let alone slept?"
I was too exhausted to lie. "Not since we left that damn prison."
He seemed satisfied. "Then how can you tell me to get some sleep."
I wanted him to get some sleep so I could be left alone with Katara. I had hoped that he would go and take a quick nap, but after a few days I saw that there was no way he would get any kind of rest until she was awake. He even went as far as buying some herbs that would keep himself awake. I had to convince him to leave me alone with her…I needed to sort out my thoughts, my emotions.
"You know it will hurt her to see you like this…she'll blame herself, you know she will. But me…" I sighed. "She hates me; you know she does, she'll probably be happy to see me like this."
He nodded his head in agreement. "She can't stand you now. What did you do? It seemed like overnight she couldn't even look at you, and when she did it was to glare."
There was no way I'd tell him that I made out with his sister while I was technically still with Mai. "I lied to her about something I shouldn't have."
He nodded. "Sounds like you were stupid."
I ignored him. "Get a few hours of sleep, okay?"
He stared at me long and hard, but I just held his gaze. "I'll be back in an hour."
My eyes turned back to Katara. "I'll make sure you're the first to know if anything happens."
I heard a rustle of movement and the door clicked shut behind him. I ignored the pain and quickly scrambled into his vacated chair and took Katara's hand. I was surprised that it was so easy to convince him, but I didn't complain. He was probably too tired to think clearly and forgot the history I had with Katara.
From the outside, she looked fine, normal even. She wasn't pale or sick looking, her skin wasn't cold or clammy, and she wasn't tossing or turning. She could have been sleeping.
But she wasn't.
Where was she? Where had her spirit gone?
Dread crept over me. She has been in this comatose state for three full days now, was she even coming back? This wasn't her world; did they finally take her back to be with her friends and family? She used to say that she would eventually go back… and Agni, I could see it in her eyes…she wanted to go home. Her face could have been read like a book, she was worried about them. She was worried they thought she was dead, lost, kidnapped…and even though over the last month the worry had slowly faded, she knew she didn't belong here.
The spirits had every right in the world to take her back whenever they wanted.
But no, I refused to believe they took her away from us. We still needed her. What would happen when Sokka finally cut his arm off? Who would heal him? Who would help Aang with his training? Who would be able to convince Toph to take a bathe more than once a year?
I squeezed her hand tighter. Would they take her now? There was still so much that we needed to do and we couldn't even think of doing it without her.
"This isn't your world…" I whispered to her. "You don't belong here…"
But wasn't this what she wanted?
I reached up to cup her cheek, but I stopped myself before I could do it. I couldn't touch her after what I did to her. She hated me and I hated myself just as much. Even though I had emotionally checked out of my relationship with Mai a long time ago, I was still with her when I kissed Katara. I was a disgrace. Not only should Mai's father kill me, but Sokka should as well.
My hand began to fiddle nervously with Katara's green bracelet. How much of this was my fault? She was the one that wore the tight, revealing clothes; she was the one who always did that swaying thing with her butt every time she walked.
I clenched my eyes shut. No, I couldn't think about her butt right now.
Oh Agni I missed her. And I never got the chance to apologize to her and explain why I kissed her. My heart sped up at the thought of the kiss we shared, and yes…we shared that kiss. It wasn't only me; she kissed me back with just as much enthusiasm and tongue that I gave her, maybe even more. She had to hold some kind of attraction towards me, right? I mean you don't shove your tongue in just anyone's mouth…she had to like me on some level, even if it was just physical.
But that also counted for me too, why did I shove my tongue in her mouth if I didn't like her?
I froze as a thought was beginning to emerge in the back of my mind.
Did I like her?
She was annoying, self involved, and weird. She always thought everyone's business was her own business. If nagging were a sport, she would take first, second, and third. There was practically nothing about her I liked. If she wasn't pretty, I probably wouldn't even have looked at her. Everything I liked about her was physical…this was lust, not anything else.
I flinched at how mean I sounded, but I'll be damned if it wasn't true.
But Agni…she was pretty and there wasn't a day that went by that she wasn't being nice and thoughtful to everyone around her. Katara had a certain way about her, Ty Lee would call it an aura, and she was pleasant to be around. Even when she was pissed at me, I still gravitated towards her warmth and found little excuses to be around her.
I was screwed up, wasn't I?
All of that didn't matter though, she hated me and there was nothing I could do to change that. Instead of letting my brain do the thinking I let my sex drive lead…look where that got me.
Although we were always fighting, she was a good friend...kind of. Agni, I remembered the time she made us those smores…she was so damn proud of them! Don't get me wrong, they were good, but she acted like they were the shining achievement of her world. But it wasn't, they had computers, cars, ways to harness electricity that could power entire cities…why would she ever want to return? We don't have any of that.
But as much as I hated to say this, I'd miss her. A lot…so she better come back, and when she did I'd be nicer to her, go a little easier on her. Well, maybe not the 'go a little easier' on her part, but she did deserve a little niceness. She deserved a lot more than she had right now.
Katara's put so much work into this that she had to get something.
She's improved so much. When I originally joined with her and Toph, she didn't even know she could waterbend. She was one of the quickest learners I've ever seen, and although she's yet to pass me, she would soon. Now she was a warrior. She looked like one too, she was strong, her eyes were now hardened from battle, and her ferocity had few rivals. She's seen and been through a lot. Death was no stranger to her now.
Ok…maybe I did like her, even if it was just a little. I had a super annoying crush on her that would probably pass in a week. No, sooner if she would wake up and open her mouth. With her like this, quiet and unmoving, it was easy to forget how annoying and aggravating she was. Yes, once she talked, when she was back to her self-righteous self I'd be completely neutral about her, maybe we could even be friends if she ever forgave me.
Crap, what do I do now? Before I was banished I had girls throwing themselves at me…I never even had to try. Should I do something? Pick her some flowers?
I've never actually liked someone before like this, I've never really had the chance to…once you get banished, there are not many girls who would be willing to date you. I never even liked Mai as much, she was just the convenient one to be with, the one I was expected to be with.
Oh gosh…dating…did I have to ask Katara out? Did I even want to take it that far? Would I be content with just being a friend?
Not for long.
I stood up and began pacing.
What in Agni's name was I going to do?
Iroh would know, but I couldn't ask him. Crap. There was no way I'd talk to Toph either, she'd just look at me and say 'I told you so'. How did that girl know that I liked her before I did?
Crap, crap, crap…I should have just listened to Toph.
Whatever I decided to do, it had to be done with honor. What was the honorable way to do this?
"Hm…That's strange…" I picked up the cup and sipped slowly, oolong tea, my favorite.
"What is it?" Iroh asked, his low chuckle bouncing off the walls. "Is he pacing again?"
I shook my head. "No…" I paused, unsure if what I was feeling is correct. "He stopped pacing…he's actually going to Sokka's room."
"Sokka's room…" He set his cup down and folded his arms. "What could he be doing there?"
"I don't know." I took another sip. "Maybe he's going to wake Sokka."
Iroh shook his head. "Zuko wouldn't wake Sokka up, you know he wants to spend alone time with Miss. Katara."
"True." I placed my hands on the ground and waited for Zuko's next move. "I'm just surprised he hasn't worn out the floor with all of that pacing."
He tilted his head and I could feel his stare. "I'm sure he has a lot on his mind."
I made a face. "Yeah, but if he would have listened to me a long time ago, he wouldn't be having this problem. I told him he liked her, I saw it before anyone else did."
"But you can also feel heartbeats, which is a sort of cheating."
I ignored his comment. "I told her the same thing, but she didn't listen either."
"Good, he needs someone who's stubborn too."
"Oh spirits, she's even more pig headed…"
He laughed. "Even better."
I folded my arms. "They are going to have one weird relationship…"
"Yes, but imagine all of the grandbabies!" I could feel his excitement.
I smiled and shook my head at him. "You're funny, grandpa."
"Thank you for accompanying me for tea today, Miss. Toph." Heat flared against my face as Iroh set the fire under the teapot flaring. "It is much appreciated."
"No problem gramps." I smiled at him. "Its nice to have someone to talk to that isn't crazy. It looks like you actually have a solid head on your shoulders."
"Thank you." He bowed his head slightly.
"I'm just glad someone else noticed the love triangle that's been going on here." I held my cup out for more tea. "Sokka's just too stupid to realize it, but the people involved are even stupider."
He laughed as he poured me more tea. "I wouldn't have imagined this would happen to him. Its amazing what this time away from the Fire Nation has done for Zuko."
"What?" I scoffed. "He was worse before?"
"Oh yes, but he has changed a lot." He sighed. "And I much prefer his choice of a girlfriend now. Miss. Katara, although I have yet to talk to her, seems much better than Mai. Aang seems to think very highly of her."
"Yeah, I bet he does." I couldn't hold back my laughter.
I could feel him smiling. "Yes, and even though I've only been here for a few days, I can tell Zuko is quite infatuated with her, even though he would never admit it. Why else would he be in this kind of emotional state?"
I snorted. "Because he's crazy."
He stayed silent and thoughtful.
"She's just as crazy though."
"But from what you've told me, she's quite special, not many people have had contact with the spirits the way she has."
"Well, I just hope she doesn't have to go back to her time anytime soon…"
Iroh nodded. "I agree, it would break Zuko's-"
"Shhh!" I cut him off. "Zuko's in Sokka's room, I need to know what's going to happen."
"Sokka…" I nudged his shoulder lightly. "Sokka wake up."
He jerked awake, his eyes wide and surprised. "Huh?"
"Sokka, its late you've been asleep for hours…" I stepped back from his bed and stood there awkwardly.
It took him a second, but he sat up slowly and swung his legs over the edge of the bed and looked out of his window. Already, the moon was up and the stars were out. "Anything?"
I shook my head. "No, nothing has changed. I just thought you'd want to go back to Katara."
He rubbed at his eyes and began to get up. "Thank you."
I grasped his forearm and forced him back down. "Sokka…"
He stiffened and looked up, confusion and hesitation clear on his face. I could see the muscles of his shoulder flex as if he were readying himself for anything, an attack or a sudden escape. "If this is about that dinner I made you guys, I said I was sorry I burnt the rice, I usually dont-"
I cut him off before he could continue. If I didnt say it now, I'd chicken bear out. "Sokka…I want to court your sister."
Sokka's froze, but after a few seconds, his face contorted in laughter. "What?"
I shifted on my feet, uncertain to continue. This was not the reaction I had been preparing for, the last hour had been spent coming up with ways to pacify his anger, coming up with what to say if we started to argue. He was supposed to yell at me, attack me, tell me I wasn't worth his sister's attention…not this.
"I would like to ask your permission to court your sister." I repeated, my voice full of faked confidence and my face burning red.
"You think I-" he exploded into another bought of laughter. "That she will-" he doubled over and had to gasp in his breath. "This is great."
"I didn't know you told jokes!" He was finally able to look back at me, a tear forming in the corner of his eye.
I steeled all of my nerves and stood straight, chest puffed. "I'm serious Sokka, I would like to have your blessing."
His chuckle slowly died out until he sat there, slack jawed and wide eyed. "Wait…you're serious?"
I took a deep breath. "Yes."
"You're serious…" it was more of a thoughtful statement than a question this time.
I reminded myself why I was doing this and replied slowly. "Yes."
"Seriously?" He asked again, his eyebrows furrowed.
I backtracked franticly. "Normally I would ask your father, but since…" I trailed off. "You are the acting patriarch of the family…to do this honorably, I need your permission."
"Honorably…" he nodded slowly, his face blank. "You're crazy, aren't you?"
"I think so." I mumbled to myself. This was the only thing I could think to do. This was tradition. In the palace, if I found a woman I liked, I would have to go to the man of the family and ask his permission, if I got permission I would chase her and shower her and her family with gifts to show my wealth. I would have to prove to her and my family that I would be able to take care of her and them.
He was calm and collected, putting me on edge. "So, you're asking me."
Any moment, I expected him to grab his sword and chop my head off with it. He could probably do it too, with as much anger and rage that was probably bubbling under his calm surface right now; he could probably kill me before I even saw it coming. "Yes."
He stood in front of me and looked me straight in the eyes, his face very serious. "I thought you didn't like her."
"Um…I just…well I kind of do…but just a little." I wanted to explain myself, but my thoughts were jumbled. "Oh Agni…uh, I didn't think I liked her, but in that room I kind of had a little epiphany of sorts and I realized that I do like her…kind of."
"She hates you though...you said so yourself." Lines appeared his forehead. "You want to court her even though she hates you?"
"Yes. That's why I'm coming to you, I want to at least do something right and get your permission."
"And you think that in the near future, she'll start to like you…" he asked slowly, still half asleep and trying to make sense out of the situation.
I frowned, what was wrong with Sokka, why wasn't he yelling? "No, probably not."
"Wait, I'm still confused…" Sokka tilted his head to the side, yet still…no anger. "So why do you want to waste your time?"
I flopped around for an answer. "I need to have at least given myself a chance."
"Wait a second." His eyes sharpened. "You told me on Appa that you had a girlfriend."
My eyes widened. "No, no, no! I broke up with her!"
"How could you have broken up with her?" anger was finally showing on his face, but not for the reason I thought it would. "You talked about her on the way to the prison and now you're broken up with her, that's impossible unless you took Appa to the Fire Nation and back overnight. You've been with us the entire time!"
My face paled. "My girlfriend was…um…she was at the volcano with us."
His face barely relaxed. "What?"
I stayed silent.
"Who was it?"
"It was Mai."
"You were with knife girl!"
"Yes, but not for very long."
"This is crazy." He let out a string of curses and I knew that this wasn't good. He only cursed when he was fighting and when he was really angry.
I stuttered. "I don't know! Everyone expected me to do it so I did. She's not that bad, ok? At least not to me."
"That's because you're the prince and she wants to be Fire Lady one day! Any girl would be nice to you if you had the power to make them royalty!"
"Hey!" I yelled. "Be careful what you say to me!"
"You want me to be careful?" He took a step forward, face inches from mine. "You're the one who wants to marry Katara!"
"No I don't!" I screamed back at him.
He got closer, his nose bumping mine. "You know what courting leads to, don't you? Marriage." He spat the word at me in anger. "The only honorable end of any courtship is marriage."
"I know, but…" I threw up my arms and turned away. "I'm just confused, okay? I barely realized I like the girl today. I don't exactly know what I want to do."
Sokka's breathing slowed and he forced himself to calm. "Katara is not like Mai…she'll eat you alive."
"Is that a yes?" I asked, barely allowing myself to be hopeful.
"This is screwed up…" he sat back down and sighed. "You barely just broke up with Mai. Katara can't be your rebound."
I tried to change the subject. "But I don't like Mai, I like your sister. I haven't liked Mai for Months. I have absolutely no feelings for her."
"Tell me why." He threw his arms up in frustration. "Why do you like Katara?"
There was no use in lying. "I don't know."
His eyes narrowed. "Tell me why."
My heart started racing. "I don't know! Shes just so…so- oh Agni-Shes just so nice all of the damn time!"
"If you court her and she rejects you, what will you do?"
"I don't know!" I was getting angry again. "Absolutely nothing, if it wasn't meant to be, then I'll forget all about it."
"Oh spirits, I don't even know if I can give you a yes or no. I never thought I'd have to give a man permission to date my sister. And this whole situation…" he threw his hands into the air in frustration. "She's my sister and she isn't, do you understand?"
"Were related…we are. The same blood flows through our veins, but at the same time it doesn't. I just don't know. I wish my father was here, he'd probably challenge you to a spar for Katara or something, but he doesn't even know she exists. He doesn't even know…"
"You didn't tell him?"
"How am I supposed to tell him? I don't even know where he's at right now…" He shook his head and looked at me. "I can't challenge you to a spar, I wouldn't last five minutes."
I stayed silent.
"This sucks." He shifted his feet. "But okay, you have my permission."
I took a step towards him, but he put a hand out and shook his head. "I'm not saying this because I like you, I'm giving you a yes because I love Katara, and although she'll hand you your ass the moment you confess to her, it's her choice."
I nodded, my mind a furry of activity.
"You need to know that I don't exactly like you. Our relationship is difficult…strained. You're getting a yes only because she's going to say no and I want to see her kick your ass. Someone needs to do it."
I let out a breath that I didn't know I was holding. "Thank you Sokka."
"I love her." He repeated. "She's my sister, if you do anything bad to her, I will not hesitate to cut off your head and put it on a stick as a warning to all other men."
"I would never do anything to hurt Katara."
"You already have." his eyes searched my face. "That's why she hates you."
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.
"Be careful, she's not like other girls." He warned.
"I know." A smile pulled at my lips.
I took a step towards him and held out my hand. He grasped my forearm, but his face was still careful.
"Um, sorry to break this up, but Katara is moving around…"
Our heads snapped to the door where Toph stood, her face angled away from us. "She's awake?"
Toph shrugged. "I don't know, she's just thrashing around."
A body crashed onto mine and squeezed me tightly. The body smelled familiar, like a fresh breeze mixed with a little bit of sweat. Sokka…it had to be Sokka.
My eyelids were heavy as I forced them open, and my eyes immediately rested on Zuko. His expression was strange, a mixture of fear and relief, his lips parted and his breaths were short, but overall, he looked relieved. The dark circles under his eyes were prominent, and he looked exhausted, like he hadn't slept in days. But he hung back, watching, not speaking or even trying to hug me like Sokka was.
My arms went up slowly, trembling with exhaustion, and wrapped themselves around Sokka's shaking form. "Sokka?"
He lifted his head and met my eyes, they were red and bloodshot from tears I didn't know he had shed. "Katara, are you okay?"
I looked around the room, my eyebrows knitted together, everything looked like I had left it, everyone looked like themselves… "I'm back, right? This isn't another dream… I'm back…"
"Katara! I missed you so much!" He pulled back and helped me into a sitting position. My eyes searched the room frantically. This was my room in the Air Temple. Over in the corner was my bag of supplies and extra clothes. Everything looked exactly as I left it. This was my room, there was no doubt in my mind, I was back…right? Or was this just another hallucination? I reached for Sokka, was he really here? It felt like him, smelled like him, and looked like him…this was definitely Sokka.
"I'm back?" I asked aloud.
"Are you okay? Sokka put the back of his hand on my forehead. "Do you feel sick or have a headache?"
I swatted his hand away and swung my legs over the bed. "I'm back…"
"Katara?" Aang's voice rang out from behind the old man in the doorway. He pushed his way through and lunged at me. I stiffened as his arms wrapped around me and his head buried itself in the crook of my neck. "I knew you'd be okay…"
This was too much, way too much. I couldn't handle this, my mind wasn't ready for this much information. If it didn't stop right now, I'd have a panic attack.
I stood up and Aang let me go, a smile still on his face. Without even a glance at anyone, I pushed my way out of the room. Several voiced called out my name, but I ignored them all and kept going. I wanted to get out of there; I needed to be alone,
All I wanted to do was cry.
A hand grabbed at my arm and I turned towards them, jerking my hand away. It was Sokka. "Katara, that's wrong?"
I took a step back and held out my arms like a shield. "I'm fine, I just need some alone time. I need to think."
His eyes showed hurt, but he nodded anyways.
I turned and ran from Sokka, from the Air Temple, and from everyone's watchful eyes. It wasn't until my lungs began to burn that I finally slowed to a walk. I didn't know where I was, the tightly packed trees of the forest blocked everything from view, and the only light was a green glow that the trees above me cast.
I fell on my knees and let out a shuddering breath.
None of this made sense. I didn't understand any of it.
Why did they take me back? I thought I was doing everything right? I was teaching Aang to waterbend, I was helping with planning…I was doing everything I could to make sure we succeeded. I even learned waterbending! What had I done wrong?
"What the hell!" I yelled out loud.
I didn't do anything wrong!
My fist pounded the dirt in anger and confusion. How am I supposed to fix the path I am on if I don't even know what was wrong in the first place?
"What do you want me to do!" I looked up and glared at the trees.
Rage began to take over me. How could they do this? How could they just pluck me out of my time and throw me back and forth like I was a ragdoll.
I was on my feet in seconds. "Answer me!"
I didn't want to do this anymore, I wanted to go back…but at the same time I wanted to stay. I didn't know what I wanted. I belonged there, in my world. There was no doubt about that. But at the same time, I wanted to be here more…I felt like this was my home. These people were my family more that anyone else…
My anger began to fade and sadness took its place.
What had I done wrong? I had tried so hard to do what they said so I could go home and be in my world again…but they send me back and tell me I hadn't been doing it right? And why had I wanted to return here so much? This wasn't my world…If I had asked them not to bring me back here, would they listen? Did I have a choice in any of this?
I was just so damn confused…why had they left me with so many unanswered questions?
Tears burned behind my eyes.
I stared up at the moon and sighed. I needed my brother.
My feet took me back to the Air Temple, back through the halls, and back into my room where I was sure Sokka would be waiting. He seemed not to have moved the entire time I was gone. Sokka sat in a chair he had pulled beside my bed, his chin resting in his arms, waiting and hoping I would come back soon.
I ran to him, and grabbed him from behind. In one move, he stood and twisted, meeting me in a bone crushing hug filled with emotion. I hadn't realized how much I missed him.
I hadn't realized how much I missed any of them until I was gone.
The tears finally ran down my cheeks, but it didn't matter. I was with my brother and I didn't care.
I was back.