If he were honest with himself, which was something he often ignored, he was one hundred and seventeen years old. Yet since he was stuck in an iceberg for a majority of those years, mentally, he was seventeen and thought of himself that way.
Aang knew that in those seventeen years of his conscious life, he had a lot to be thankful for. Not only had he met many precious people, but he had also helped stop a war that had raged for far too long.
He should be happy, but he was not. He had thought at first that perhaps it was because he and Katara had finally decided that the on-and-off dating had to stop, at least for a little while. When Katara had kissed him after the war, he thought he would be the happiest child around. But then as he grew, he realized numerous things, the first was that he really had been a child. There was no such thing as a fairy tale romance, unless one put in the energy into it, and even then there were ups and downs. It certainly seemed that it had started that way, but then, he would feel the need to push her away. Inevitably, this would lead to an argument, he would leave for a while, he'd return and they would make up somewhat. Even then, there were certain boundaries that Aang would not cross with her, ones that were normal in relationships. In the end, they had both made the decision to stay friends.
He still visited her. He still loved her in a way, but it didn't feel complete to him.
So he had continued to train, to help people when he could, to visit his friends, and remained uneasy. It felt like it was a slow build up of pressure bubbling on the inside, making his stomach turn and his heart race. It wasn't always terrible, but it certainly wasn't going away. He had opted to keep his thoughts to himself.
But to make things worse, he felt as if his powers were becoming harder to use. He couldn't understand why, since he seemed to be training even more, and he did not want to bring it up with anyone.
It was the eve of the Spring Celebration, and he had decided to visit Zuko. His friends had said it would be fun to meet up. They had all been busy repairing the land that had suffered for so long.
The breeze from his balcony was calming. Soon, it would become far warmer in Fire Country, so now was the time to savor the cooler air. He could hear the voices of his friends chatting amicably, the deeper sounds of his male friends and the higher pitches of the ladies. He could hear Zuko as well, the young lord apparently finding some time to relax.
He felt hot. Too hot. So he grabbed onto the wind as was his nature. Seconds before, he knew something was wrong, but he could not stop it. It was as if the very wind had turned against him, carving into his skin all around him, and all he could do was cry out. He did not feel the blood flowing from him. He thought he heard someone cry his name. But he was falling, falling, falling, until finally he heard the snap of his arm breaking and the sharp pain in his body against the solid Earth, and then there was merely cool water, surrounding him in a cocoon.
Everything was dark and empty around him, but despite it all, Aang could see himself. He knew that he existed, but it was as if everything around him was gone. Yet, he could hear the soft breeze through trees and the gentle sound of waves hitting the shore. His body was warm, as if it were lying on the hard ground underneath the sun. He began to walk, but suddenly, he felt something grab his ankle, and tug him down.
He would have attacked, and maybe at least have made a sound, but nothing left his lips, and he could not move. It was as if he was being held in place so as not to float away, and it was he himself who was holding onto his ankle.
There was something disturbing in seeing himself with such a look on his face. It was a half smile, the kind that screamed 'you're nothing but dirt underneath my feet.' His eyes, however, were the exact opposite of his when in the Avatar State. The darkness of the eyes made it impossible for Aang to look away.
"You don't know anything," said this other Aang. "You think you do, but you're so very foolish and naive...unworthy to be called the Avatar."
"What do you mean?"
"You try to master the elements, but there's something missing, isn't there? You're missing one step to becoming the Avatar, and far more than those other beings before you. But you're just a fool. You'll never understand, because you're too scared."
"Scared of what?" he yelled, feeling his temper rise.
"Scared of darkness," said his image, before pulling him down into the abyss.
What woke Aang up was the dull throb in his arm. He was fairly certain he was drugged by the fact that he was finding it difficult to open his eyes, and thoughts were hard to grasp. When he finally managed to peel open his eyes, focusing on one thing became a problem. He made a sound in the back of his throat very similar to an injured animal's keen.
Ever so gently, his hand was enveloped in warmth as someone took it and gently squeezed.
"It's all right, Aang," said Zuko softly. "You're safe here. I should tell Katara that you're awake."
Aang nearly closed his eyes until Zuko mentioned leaving. Suddenly, with the little strength that he could muster in his drugged state, he squeezed Zuko's hand and made another noise.
'Please,' he wanted to say, 'don't go yet.'
Talking, however, was far too daunting at this moment.
"Just a few more minutes, then," said the king. It was only then that Aang allowed himself to slip back into unconsciousness.
When Aang awoke again, he was thankful that he could finally look at the ceiling without it wavering right before his eyes.
"Zuko," he groaned.
"Sorry, Twinkle Toes, but it's me on guard duty this time."
His whole body felt as if it were on fire. Shifting on the bed was painful, as if tiny electrical bolts were shooting through him. He stopped for a second, fearful that he was going to vomit merely from the pain.
"Shit, are you okay?" Aang knew that Toph had always spoke her mind, but usually she was good at keeping her language clean unless under extreme duress. She must have really been worried.
On the other hand, Aang was starting to worry as well.
"No," he said, gritting his teeth.
"Hold on. I'll get Katara!"
Aang decided it was best to keep his mouth shut until further notice. Just as sudden as the sharp pain had come, it suddenly disappeared, and he was left shivering at the change in temperature his body felt.
"Aang! Are you okay? What's wrong?"
He had not realized that he had closed his eyes until he opened them to look at Katara. The whole group was there now, looking at him with varying degrees of worry mixed with other emotions.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"I thought that was our question," said Sokka.
"Don't you remember what happened, Aang?" asked Suki. "We were just chatting when we heard you yell, and then we saw you fall...you...you..."
"It looked like you were...attacking yourself," said Katara.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked.
"Well, the wind...it was slicing into you, and then you hit the ground..."
"You actually broke your wrist only, but your arm was really bruised. I tried to heal you, but its like your body's rejecting it," said Katara with a frown.
"Rejecting...? Is that why you drugged me?"
"Since the healing wasn't working, we figured that was the next best thing," said Zuko, scratching the back of his head in a sudden bout of uncertainty.
Aang looked at his bound wrist, his mind still attempting to process what he had been told. There was no reason for Katara not to have been able to heal him even a little bit, but all his cuts had been cleaned and bound, not healed. Now that the drugs were wearing off and he didn't feel like he was in an inferno, his various wounds were starting to throb.
"Aang, what happened? You've never had problems air-bending beforehand," said Sokka.
"I know. I don't understand it either. I..."
Memories of utter darkness entered his mind, and being pulled down into the depths of nothingness made him sick. This time, he couldn't stop himself as he lunged to the side of the bed and threw up.
"Shit!" said Sokka, managing to mingle his disgust and worry into that one word
Zuko managed to get to Aang first, rubbing his back as the teen shivered. Tears of frustration and pain slipped down Aang's face, which angered him. It felt as if his whole life was a piece of thread beginning to unravel.
"Aang, it's okay," began Zuko.
"No, no it's not, Zuko," interrupted Aang. "You don't understand that I can't bend like I used to, that it's like the elements are against me now, and there's something inside of me that I don't understand! Everything that I've done, all the progress I made to become the Avatar is draining out of me, and if I don't figure out how to fix this, it's going to kill me."