Never Love Again
Rated: Teen for romance. (Kataang, crush-Jetara, crush-Zutara)
Summary: It's hard to love again, especially after you've been hurt before. Season 3 Katara with a much more pessimistic view on love.
Disclaimer: Avatar: The Last Airbender is owned by Bryke, not me.
LES: This one-shot is coming for a combination of feelings. Depression from losing my grandfather the day after Christmas and also inspired by my own views on love. This may shock some people, seeing how I write so much fluffy romance, but I've got a very negative view of love in real life. I write fanfiction as a way to get out all my hopeless romance feelings in a constructive way. I've seen too many people make asses of themselves when it comes to love, and I'll have no part of it. But no reviews saying how this is a terrible way to live. I'm fine with it, and I'm fine with myself. One more thing, though I do touch upon Jetara and Zutara, this is ultimately a Kataang fic. 100% Kataang-iness ahead!
So far, Katara didn't really have that great of a track record when it came to love.
The main problem was Katara herself. She was young, and still wasn't too sure about what she was looking for in a potential husband. Growing up in the South Pole didn't help much either; where all the boys were either younger than nine or her brother. So she had experimented, and her heart paid the price.
Her first crush happened soon after she left her cold home to travel to the North Pole with her brother and her recently-discovered friend who also happened to be the twelve-year old Avatar.
His name was Jet, the leader of the juvenile rebel group that he called the Freedom Fighters.
Katara was attracted to him at first sight.
He was really everything that a young girl would fantasize about: handsome, tall, dark, mysterious, a natural leader, and above all: he fought to protect those who could not fight back themselves.
Or so he said.
Jet had played his cards well, and he soon had Katara hanging on to his every word. Sokka, her brother, had tried to enlighten Katara to Jet's darker nature, but she would not listen. After all, how could handsome, strong, caring Jet be anything less than the hero she envisioned him as?
But Jet had shown his true colors.
He wasn't fighting to protect the innocent. He was on a murderous spree, ready to hurt or kill anyone from the Fire Nation, and wipe out an Earth Kingdom town simply because it was occupied by the Fire Nation. He no longer cared about protecting the innocent: all he wanted was to destroy the Fire Nation, and he didn't care how many innocents he would have to hurt or kill to do it.
Jet had hurt her deeply that day.
It was only understandable that, when she met up with him again in the Earth Kingdom capital of Ba Sing Se, she was less-than-pleased to see him.
He wanted to help, but Katara was ready to reject that help, even if it meant losing information about finding Appa, Aang's missing sky bison. It was only the other's insistence that made her agree to let Jet join them.
Then they found out he had been brainwashed by the Dai Li, and Sokka had suggested that she kiss him! KISS HIM! The first man who ever broke her heart! She wanted to Water Whip Sokka in the face! She was grateful to see that Aang looked just as angry at Sokka's suggestion. He would never suggest she get close to someone who had hurt her so deeply.
Aang understood her.
In the end, Katara managed to forgive him. But Jet was no longer 'boyfriend' material. He had broken her heart once, and never again. Besides, he had not survived the Dai Li attack under Lake Laogai.
Next was the crush that baffled even her: Zuko.
It had started as typical hormonal lust. No doubt Zuko was pretty handsome, if you looked past his disfiguring scar. He had a lot of the same qualities that had first attracted her to Jet: he was tall, dark, and mysterious. There was also the issue of Aunt Wu's prophecy. At first, she would have never connected it with Zuko: he was a beginner-level Firebender at best. But as they travelled, she began to see that he had the makings of a true Firebending Master. He really could become the 'very powerful Bender' that she was destined to marry.
The thought disgusted her and excited her at the same time. It was disgusting because he was the son of the Firelord: a man who ran the nation who had taken everything from her. But the 'forbidden love' idea was exciting.
But she never allowed herself to dwell too much on those ideas. Zuko was the enemy, and that wasn't going to change any time soon.
And then it came: the moment where she thought that Zuko had finally changed, that she could get to know him better, and possibly begin a relationship with him.
In the catacombs of Ba Sing Se, she could tell that he was struggled between the forces of good and evil. She offered to heal his scar. She thought that if she could remove the outward symbol of his shame, he would finally become good.
But she hadn't been able to try. Aang and Zuko's Uncle had interrupted them with Azula in hot pursuit. She had left him there with his uncle, still scarred.
And then Zuko's moment of truth came, facing down against Azula and Aang. He could attack Azula and finally join the forces of good, or he could attack Aang and slip back into darkness.
He made his choice, he attacked Aang.
The pain that Katara felt at Zuko's betrayal only multiplied because of what happened next.
Aang had been shot down by Azula, something that would not have been possible without Zuko's assistance.
Zuko's choice had led to the near-fatal injury of her best friend and the one hope the world had for peace. For the first time in her life, Katara wanted to kill. Zuko had manipulated her, tricked her, and played off her feelings and the result was her friend lying in a coma like dead for over a month.
Zuko's blow had crushed her heart. That night, as she cried over Aang's broken body, she swore that she would never allow herself to fall victim to the heartache of love again. She banished the thought of her epic romance from her mind. She would never find her true love, a man who loved her unconditionally, if she was unable to tell the jerks from the rest.
And then, the worst thing yet happened.
Aang began to become more openly affectionate with her.
At first, Katara let him entertain his feelings. After all, she could recognize a childhood crush when she saw it. More than one of the boys that she watched over at the Southern Water Tribe had developed such crushes on her. One even went as far as asking her to marry him, when he was only nine years old.
Aang had been travelling with her for nearly a year. It was only natural that he begin to look at her that way. But she knew that childhood crushes would fade with time, and it would probably hurt him worse to confront his feelings, so she resolved to let the issue resolve itself.
But the issue didn't resolve itself.
As they travelled deeper into the Fire Nation in disguise, Katara began to wonder if maybe she had labeled Aang's feelings wrong. She had diagnosised him with a childhood crush, and estimated that his infatuation with her would fade in a few weeks. But his infatuation with her did not cease or fade. It only seemed to grow stronger. He also grew more confident about displaying his feelings. His gazes and touches lingered longer, he held her in embraces for longer than was necessary, and he even began to flirt with her!
Katara tried to keep him at arm's length, to let him know without actually telling him that his attentions were unwelcome, but he had a most unnerving ability to slip passed her defenses.
The first time was at the Fire Nation dance party. She had watched Aang dance, and he never, once touched any of the girls he danced with. The times when they had grown up were different. The dances that Katara was familiar with all involved touching in some way. But, one hundred years ago, touching had probably been considered too provocative and sensual for a public dance like this one. So she saw no harm in dancing with Aang, just this one time.
How very wrong she was.
During the dance, Katara lost her sense of self, almost like she had blacked out. Her conscious mind had shut down, allowing instinct to rule. It wasn't until after the dance was over that she realized what she had done: shared a very provocative dance with Aang. She mentally scolded herself. But he had only recently taken her vow, so she allowed herself that one slip-up.
Too bad that wasn't the only slip-up.
The Invasion on the Day of Black Sun had arrived, and Katara stood with Aang on top of the submarines, prepared to tell him goodbye for what may be the last time she would ever see him.
Her conversation began well enough… until Aang slipped passed her guard and kissed her.
Her conscious mind did not have time to respond to him sudden kiss, so her instincts took over once again. For the briefest of moments, she kissed him back, and let out a soft groan of disappointment when he pulled away.
Katara could not even begin to describe how disappointed she was in herself. It was one thing for Aang to kiss her suddenly, but quite another for her to enjoy it!
When the invasion ended, Katara made a conscious effort to avoid him. Thankfully, Aang seemed to get the same idea. He was constantly busy with his training under Zuko, who she still had not forgiven in the slightest, and Toph, so there was very little chance for them to see each other or talk.
But Katara knew it was coming. She realized she should have known for a long time.
It finally happened just a few days before Sozin's comet was due to come. Truthfully, she was sick of the play. It shoved her mistakes with Jet and Zuko back in her face. Aang seemed even more distraught to the point where he stood up and walked out of the theater.
She realized later that she shouldn't have followed him, but at the time, she only saw her friend hurting. Katara didn't want to fall in love with him, but that didn't mean she didn't care about Aang. He was her best friend.
It was outside the theater that Aang said out loud what Katara had feared hearing for months. He loved her. He said it!
Katara stuttered, unsure of how to respond. After all, she didn't want to hurt Aang. She just didn't want to get hurt in a relationship again. But before she could tell him so, he took her silence as affirmation, leaned forward, and kissed her.
Something snapped in Katara's mind. Her ability to extend him understanding ceased and she momentarily forgot that the last thing she wanted to do was hurt his feelings; so she snapped. "Aang! I don't feel the same way! You're just a friend to me!"
She instantly regretted her outburst. Aang took a step back from her, the slight beginnings of tears in his eyes.
Katara gasped, horrified, when she mentally reviewed what she just said. She had meant to let him down gently. But she might as well have taken his heart and stomped on it. It was probably a terrible thing for a boy in love for the first time to experience. "Oh, Aang… I didn't mean it that way… I meant…" Katara began, trying to ease the effect of her harsh words. But it was too late. She had said it, and there was no way for her to take it back.
"It's all right." Aang said suddenly, sounding as emotionless as he did when Appa was stolen. "I believe you made your feelings clear. You don't feel the same way about me."
"Aang, I didn't mean to say it like that…"
"But you did mean it." Aang said. "I guess I should… go." With that, he turned and walked away, leaving Katara alone.
Katara started after him. "Aang, wait…" But it was too late, he had all ready left.
Katara sighed to herself. "Who am I kidding?" She could make all the vows she wanted, but the heart wants what it wants.
She could deny it all she wanted, but her heart knew the truth. She was lying. She lied to his face. Okay, maybe she didn't fully return his feelings. She didn't love him. But she was certainly well on her way to it.
That night, a new person was added to 'Katara's List of People I've Crushed On': Jet, Zuko, and now Aang.
Unfortunately, Aang was in the middle of an emotional breakdown like when Appa was stolen. She had to talk to him, at least explain why she said what she said. She had to make him understand, she owed him that much.
It was late at night, after they had gotten back to their current hideout, the Firelord's summer home, after the play. The only reason they were staying in the house of their enemy was because Zuko assured them that the Firelord would not be showing up unexpectedly.
Everyone else had gone to bed, but Katara knew that Aang wouldn't be sleeping. She knew from personal experience. One does not sleep well after a rejection like that.
Sure enough, she found him meditating in the common area of the Firelord's home. She was reluctant to disturb his mediations, but she also knew that he could never fault someone for needing to talk to him, even if he was meditating at the time.
That was one of the many good things about Aang. He was always willing to listen to her. In fact, tonight was the first night he had refused to listen to something she had to say. That was about to change.
"Aang?" She called quietly.
Aang sighed slightly, as he always did when he was disturbed in his mediations. He didn't turn around to look at her as she walked up behind him. "What is it, Katara?"
"Listen, I need to talk to you." Katara said. "What I said tonight… it didn't come out right. You deserve to know the truth, at least."
"What truth?" Aang spat suddenly. "Look, Katara, I heard you the first time. You don't share my feelings. I never should have expected you to. How could any girl want to be with someone younger, shorter, and less experienced than them? I don't need you to examine my feelings and hurt me more tonight. I really don't."
"Aang, I lied." Katara said suddenly.
"I…" Aang paused in his rant. "What?"
"I lied about what I said tonight." Katara said. "I do care about you. And I do think that I may be starting to fall in love with you. But it's not as simple as that. So I lied and told you I didn't care. But… you don't deserve that, Aang."
"Then… why did you lie?" Aang asked.
"The mistake of a wounded heart." Katara answered. "Aang… have you ever cared for someone else the way you care about me… a girl, I mean?"
Aang shook his head. "No. I thought I was going to live the life of a chaste monk before I met you, remember? There was never an opportunity for me to get close to any girl in the Temples."
"Well… I have." Katara confessed. "And… it didn't exactly turn out well."
Aang thought for a moment. "Jet?"
Katara nodded. "He was just the beginning."
"Then… who else?" Aang trailed off thoughtfully. "Ba Sing Se's catacombs… Zuko?"
Katara nodded, a little shocked. She had never realized that Aang had picked up on her connection with Zuko. With Jet, it was pretty obvious. But she thought she was better at hiding it by then. "How did you know?"
"I got jealous seeing you with him down there. I didn't know why I was jealous. But I was." Aang confessed. "So… did anything…?"
"No. Nothing happened." Katara assured him. "It was no more than a foolish crush on my part. And I'm over him now. When he betrayed us and helped Azula…" She paused. "I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive him."
"Okay, I believe you." Aang said softly.
Katara took a shaky breath. "They both hurt me… betrayed my feelings in the worst possible way. I've shown myself that I have the worst of luck when it comes to love. I'm sorry, Aang, but I don't want to get hurt again. That is why I pushed you away."
Aang shook his head. "Katara, do you know how foolish you are sounding right now?"
Katara glared at him. "What?"
"Katara, if you would honestly compare me to Jet, then you still have no idea who I am." Aang said seriously. "I'm a pacifist vegetarian monk. Do you see me ever losing sight of the sanctity of life and killing the innocent? Katara, I would sooner cause harm to myself than harm or kill another living creature. You know that about me, and yet you still compare me to Jet?"
"And Zuko?" Aang began. "Sure, our pasts are very similar, but Zuko and I are complete opposites. He's quite, reserved, he has a temper…"
"And you are loud, outgoing, and have the calmest disposition of anyone I've ever known." Katara finished.
"Katara…" Aang began. "I understand that you've been hurt in the past. And I can understand if you need some time. I'm more than willing to give it to you. But I want you to understand that I would never hurt you that way. I would sooner hurt myself than you. Katara…" He leaned forward, caressing her cheek. "I'm not going to use your love as a blindfold like Jet did, and I'm not going to betray your love and kindness like Zuko did. I know that I am young and inexperienced and that I sometimes make mistakes or say the wrong thing, but I would never intentionally hurt you. I can't. It's impossible."
Katara's hands met his fingers, pulling them away from her cheek. "Time would be nice." She whispered, just loud enough for Aang to hear.
Aang nodded. "Then you shall have it. I'll wait for you to tell me it's the right time."
"Thank you, Aang." Katara stood up. "I'm sorry for ever thinking that you would do something like Jet or Zuko. I guess I was too hurt to think clearly."
"I understand, Katara." Aang said. "You should go to sleep; it's going to be a long night."
Katara nodded, and left the common area.
LES: So, I hope this is a reasonable prelude to the Finale kiss. So, yes, the Finale kiss in this universe was kind of like Katara telling Aang that she was ready. Just a little something that I thought could go between Ember Island Players and the Sozin's Comet Finale. I believe it sticks to canon reasonably well, except for the conversation outside the theater. I changed that a little to make Aang actually confess his love then, and Katara be a little more firm with him. This actually feels really good to get out. Even though it is a sort of depressing Kataang, it is still Kataang, and I love it.