I love you, not for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.
It was the first anniversary of the war that supposedly ended, despite the uprisings and rebellions.
One year since they've seen each other.
She hadn't set foot on Fire Nation territory since the day of his coronation, even though she was the ambassador. Too many other summits and conferences had taken place outside of the once all-powerful nation.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
When he's not making amends for his ancestor's many faults, he's stopping the revolts, and when he's not busy doing that, he's trying to fix a broken relationship that can't seem to ever have passion.
Sometimes he just wants to give up and run away again, but he's in charge of far too many people for that.
The palace looks even grander than she remembers, which probably has something to do with the fact that everything around it is in absolute shambles. She shakes her head when she sees the Nobles and Lords dancing around in the ballroom, unable to get the feeling of enjoyment.
All she wants is to see him, but her eyes won't let her search for what her heart wants.
He's feeling unreasonably hot with all the extra clothing on, his neck drenched with sweat that won't escape from the elaborate fabrics and ornate stitching. The Avatar hasn't arrived yet, which seems to be of no concern to the guests, who are happily drinking Fire Whisky and sampling the traditional dishes.
What if she doesn't come?
A round of applause bursts from the guests when Aang walks through the gigantic double doors, and she bites her lip when she sees him. He's gotten taller, much taller. That same goofy grin hangs on his boyish face.
It's still the same; and she doesn't think it will ever be different.
He watches as the rest of the Avatar's companions follow him in, his face stern but pleased to the crowd as Aang walks to shake his hand. He can't help but notice that the monk has gotten taller, but Aang quickly turns to watch the rest of them enter.
His stomach is twisted into knots; his insides squirming around making him want to throw up. What would Uncle say?
She keeps her head lifted high, a small smile placed on her graceful face. Loud applause breaks through her ears, but she knows that it's all fake. The entire anniversary is a false reason to celebrate, because no one's really won the war yet.
Her heart is sinking when she realizes she probably won't be alone the entire night.
As they assemble in a line to greet the Fire Lord, he almost passes out from overheating in those ridiculous robes.
He's more anxious by the minute to see her.
Her hand is firm in his, and his palms are wet with sweat, and she meets his golden gaze briefly when the shake hands. The gorgeous dress she is wearing catches on his sleeve, which pulls a chuckle from the over-dressed crowd.
The very touch of his hand sends a spark through her being, and she holds her breath when he unhooks her dress from his sleeve.
He is talking with many prominent men, telling jokes that make them laugh out of politeness, when he is given a short reprieve from his Uncle.
He doesn't know how much more of this he can take.
"There are so many beautiful women here, my nephew," his old and comforting voice calms him. "You should be dancing!" Two daughters of a wealthy general hang on his arms as he smiles kindly at his nephew.
You should ask her to dance before it is too late.
She is dancing with Aang when he comes over to her for the first time that night. Aang bows respectfully, with the notion that he will dance with her again later. A light blush tints her mocha cheeks, but she her expression remains unchanged.
I've been waiting for too long.
Her hand is light in his, and he twirls her around with ease. Her sapphire dress spinning around her figure, which is more filled out than it was a year ago. A few strands of hair fall out of her beautifully styled do.
He wants to tuck a stray piece behind her ear, but he can't bring himself to even look into her eyes.
The song ends, without any conversation passing between them, and just when she is about to be asked to dance by another man, he pulls her hand back.
She is full of happiness when he brings her back, meaning that he did not want her to go just yet.
"Would you like to see the gardens? They are beautiful at this time in the evening."
Come with me, he means to say. They will be gone from prying eyes and unwanted glares.
"I'd love to."
Just take me away, her heart sings.
They pass the short distance in silence, the moon cascading soft rays down her back, illuminating the small sapphire stones sown into her gown. Her arm is in his, and a soft breeze kisses the back of her neck, relieving her of being uncomfortably warm.
Every part of his brain is screaming for him to touch her, but he is a gentleman, and he would never dishonor a woman.
"How is Mai?" she asks. Polite conversation ensuing.
She is dying to know if he is still with her, if he could possibly be in love with her.
He doesn't want to talk of Mai. He wants to talk of her.
She is silent now, unable to think of anything to say. They've reached the edge of a small pond; it glistens and sparkles, bathing in the moonlit sky. Sprinkled stars glimmer across the sky. The flowers are everywhere beside the pond, and she wants to look at them.
She can't stand the silence, but she has already been pushed aside from conversation once.
"How is the Southern Water Tribe?"
What could she have been up to since I've seen her?
"Getting bigger every day," she smiles, her fingers gently brushing the surface of the water. "The Northern tribe is helping us rebuild it, and we actually have a new band of benders."
It's too late to fix the damage that has been done, though.
"That's fantastic," he says, watching her in her natural element. His eyes followed her even movements, her silky fingers flowing just as smoothly as the water itself.
He's missed her, and he wishes she would give some indication if she felt the same way.
"Yes," she says, her voice distant. "Tonight is actually the first night that I've seen anyone since your coronation."
She misses everyone, but she hasn't been with the Avatar.
"That must be lonely," he whispers.
Do you miss me?
She sighs, something hollow that rarely came out of her mouth. "Suki's got a baby on the way."
Everyone is moving on and she is still stuck, incapable of going forward.
"That must scare the hell out of Sokka."
How has she been holding up with all of this life-changing action?
"Sometimes, I wonder what it would have been like if our situations were different," she says, hanging her head.
She lies awake at night, filled with regret that she couldn't have faced this sooner.
He wants to stop her, because, Agni, he wonders the exact same thing every night. Some alarm was going off in the back of his brain, but he didn't do anything to try and shut it off. He wanted to know if this was torturing her the same way it was torturing him, but at some point the pain was so excruciating that it almost became numb.
Don't stop talking.
She chokes on the next few words, and her eyes rise to meet his, but, unlike before, she is unable to move away.
The way her name rolls off his tongue, it's like something is on fire.
She hangs her head again, meaning to leave. It was a mistake, coming here with him, she decides.
Don't let her leave.
"Have you ever seen the Midnight Passion Flower?" he asks her, a last effort to keep her alone with him.
If she leaves, he thinks that he might not be able to bear it.
She shakes her head, following his lead. The stone path that curved through the garden was hard to see with the light of the moon, but she kept her eyes focused on him instead of the stone.
Her eyes can't seem to leave his body, scared that he will disappear.
He stops in front of a small bush, where the petals of a flower are tightly closed up around itself. He extends his hand out to show her, and she seems slightly puzzled. When he looks at her face, all he sees in her eyes is desperation.
Eyes are the windows to the soul.
"It's not bloomed," she says, finally finding that she could speak.
Her voice is shaky because she's afraid that when she starts talking, she'll confess to everything.
As if on cue, the flower unfolded itself, revealing a fiery orange and red mix on the petals, sprinkled with spots of indigo. A gasp escaped her mouth, and she reached out to touch it gently. Somewhere in the distance, a clock was chiming to tell the time of midnight.
He loved the way she gasped. It was intoxicating.
"It blooms only at midnight," he told her. She grinned at his proud expression, and he gently picked it off the stem and tucked it behind her ear, the colors almost the complete opposite of her gown.
She wants him to kiss her.
"Why does it bloom at night when it's in the Fire Nation?" she asks him. "Everything here rises with the sun."
Is it possible for the sun to love the moon?
"My mother loved the idea of flowers the bloomed at night," he says. "Even after she was gone, the flowers never died. I come here every night because they remind me that even though it isn't native to the Fire Nation, it is still able to exist with the right care."
It's possible for her to live here, too, if he loves her the way she wants him to.
"You know…" she begins softly, "Sometimes I pretend like we're all on an adventure again." Her pause attracts his attention, and she continues. "I miss waking up in an unknown forest. I miss flying around on Appa every day. I even miss cooking, for La's sake!"
She misses him, too. More than he knows.
"Yeah," he agrees. "But you forget how dangerous it was." She cocks her head to the side, looking at him differently. "We never knew if we were going to wake up when we went to sleep. We never knew if we were going to be able to have our next meal. We never knew if one of us was going to be gone the next time we landed somewhere."
He worried about her all the time, even though he knew she could take care of herself.
"That made it exciting," she whispers. "We were all together, and we were ready in a second to fight for each other's lives."
She thinks back to the bolt of lightning he took for her.
He smiles, "I would have done it a thousand times over again for you, you know."
He loved her that much.
She didn't realize that she had said that out loud. "I would take your place, you know that, too."
She loved him more.
They sat on the ground in silence, watching as the Midnight Passion Flowers folded their petals again, not ready to be seen until midnight again. He placed his hand over hers, but their gazes continued upon the flower.
It was amazing how something so foreign, so alien, could feel so right and so perfect.
Me no profit, you no sue.
And this turned out nothing like I wanted it to. Dammit.