Writer's Note: As a hearty canon shipper, I have no idea what possessed me to venture into this thorny patch of fanon, but I must say it had to be done. This is probably the only fic that I'll ever write that features these pairings... so enjoy it while you can.
Note: Occurs post-series and contains spoilers.
Prologue - Breaking Up is Easy to Do
"I do love this drink," Mai found herself saying rather slowly, her voice more toneless than usual. It was as if alcohol dulled her even further, if such a thing were possible. According to Zuko, there was no such thing in the world that was duller than her.
Maybe I hadn't sharpened my knives on him enough...
The wary barkeep merely flickered her eyes over to her in response to her declaration, keeping a careful distance while trying to appear nearby. Mai couldn't blame her... too much. While she was pretty sure no one knew who she was, she also knew that she was a rather volatile drunk. And while she wasn't drunk yet, she also knew that she was close to it.
It wasn't her fault. She would have never seen it coming - not for a million miles and a million years. She had always, always, thought that she and Zuko clicked, that they were more compatible than shore and ocean wave, but apparently she still lacked. She knew this because a mere ten hours, forty minutes and fifteen seconds ago, her once love-of-her-life admitted to her with only a trace of shame that he had been carrying on an affair with Katara - Katara, of all of the women in the world - and that he wanted to divorce Mai and make Katara his Firelady.
Mai was blunt about it at first. "Make her a concubine," she had stated flatly.
Zuko didn't take that well. Neither did Katara. Mai personally didn't see the problem, since it was a perfectly reasonable suggestion; Zuko would get what he wanted, and Mai would get what she wanted, albeit shared a little.
But, noooo, apparently this was "true love", one that had been "smoldering" some such stupid thing in the past, having to do with lipstick pirates, and it was pointless to deny it any further.
Thus, Katara was in, and Mai was out.
The thing was, Mai had options. She could always head to where her parents and brother were and haunt them, maybe help her father with some of the more thorny political situations, now that she had a full half-decade under her belt, and right from the source. But when she seriously considered it, it soured her insides more than the Earth Kingdom swill she was being served, so she passed on it... for now.
Now? Now she had no idea where exactly in the Earth Kingdom she was. She was pretty damned sure still that no one knew her, but she also felt as if they all knew she was recently dumped. By her childhood sweetheart, her one true love, her first everything... for one of her closest friends, who hadn't told her a thing.
Mai scowled into her mug, noting that she could now see the bottom of it. "The cup is empty," she snapped, glaring up at the aloof barkeep. The poor girl started, then rushed to fill the mug, obviously willing to deal with a drunk Mai over a furious one.
Mai sipped, closing her eyes and propping her cheek on her hand. If she imagined hard enough, she could picture a thousand knives landing right into an apologetic Zuko... right in the crotch.
Most of the Warriors knew better than to get within a hundred feet of Suki when she was sparring. But if any of them were unlucky enough to get close enough for her to notice them there, well... that was their bad luck.
It had been like this for over a year, ever since Suki recieved a hawk and a mysteriously letter within it. She had read it, frowned, read it again, then ripped into tiny pieces and let the wind carry it away, before walking into her house and slamming the door. Many of the villagers tried to grab up enough pieces of it before she noticed so that they could get the gist of what it said, but the wind had been rather enthusiastic that day, and there were no answers to be found.
Since then, Suki never left Kyoshi Island. For four years she had been a hearty traveller, making sure she was present for the major festivals and events that only she could lead. For the rest of the time, she divided it between Kyoshi and the Souther Water Tribe - where everyone knew that Sokka, her wartime boyfriend, lived.
It didn't take long for some of Suki's closest friends to put the two together, but Suki wouldn't come out and admit it herself, even with Ty Lee, with whom she'd grown close to.
"Suki," Ty Lee tried once, in the middle of the night, when she had gotten up for some fresh air and noticed the dojo was lit with candlelight. "Why don't you just talk about it?"
Suki said nothing, her lips clamped shut, her entire body covered in a sheen of sweat. She had obviously been working out for hours, and looked as if she could for hours more. She tumbled and swooped up and down the dojo, her forms flawless and practised, her moves not marred by her obvious rage.
"If you let it out it'll feel better," Ty Lee went on, not moving an inch from her place in the doorway. She knew the rule - if she stepped in Suki's way, she was fair game. "Everyone is really worried about you. You always stress how important sleep is, and -,"
Suki stopped, her hands out. Her head jerked towards Ty Lee, her eyes narrowed and bright. "Are you going to spar or yap?" she snarled suddenly, her voice so tight that Ty Lee started.
"Uh," the other girl stammered. "Yap?"
"Then get out," Suki answered in a tone that Ty Lee had never heard before. It was one that was furious, but also laced with deep and incurable hurt. Wordlessly, Ty Lee bowed to her, then backed out. Suki ignored this, once more going back to her forms.
Since then, no one had tried to console her. They figured her anger would burn up, she would grieve through the Long Nights, and then she would be normal.
But the winter past and she still burned with her fury. She still fought and fought - and fought and fought - that invisible demon that was always before her, never winning, never losing. She was civil enough when she needed to be, curt when she grew tired or impatient, and any other spare time was spent in the dojo. Most people figured that she probably lived there, now.
On the eve before the fifth Comet Festival, when the world celebrated the victory of the Avatar over Firelord Ozai, Suki suddenly vanished. Ty Lee and the other Warriors split up and looked everywhere for her, but they couldn't find her. All they found was a note, with the hastily-scribbled characters saying, "Gone traveling. Be back whenever. Suki."
Aang had been though a lot of hardships in his seventeen years of living.
He had had to deal with the reality of being the last of his people. Had to stumble across the remains of his father figure, had to accept that that was his new reality. He had to deal with the guilt of a hundred years of hiding while millions of people died. He had to shoulder the weight of the newborn peace, had to accept all responsibility of anything that had gone wrong.
Through it all, his partner had been Katara. She had watched him grow up, thrown her arms around him to hold him up and support him. She had held his hand, healed his wounds, kissed his pain away.
But always her eyes drifted. Always her head was tilted towards somewhere else. Her answers were never difinitive to questions that required difinitive answers. While for the first two years he had considered himself lucky to have her all there, those last three were hard to deal with.
It was like living a lie, like trying to keep smoke in his hand. It was chasing a dream, yearning for everything he felt he deserved, and yet knowing when to step away and make sure that, even now, the two people he loved most in the world were truly happy.
But happy together? He would have never guessed it would have happened if someone had asked him. We're all just close, such close friends. We have a history.
A history of lies...
A cold nose nudged his ear, dragging him from his reverie. The quiet of the night flooded his senses as he surfaced from his meditation, Momo's hunger waking him reluctantly. The ring of candles surrounding him were the only lights in the whole Southern Air Temple - his home, his refuge, his hole-in-the-wall.
Aang sighed. Momo crawled into his lap and nosed him again, this time on the arm, and Aang petted him, still a little out of it. He was hungry, too, but he was still feeling that ache, the ache he had been nursing for what felt like years now, when really it was only days. With a brief shutting of his eyes, he scooped Momo up in his arms and went to feed him, waving a hand and extinguishing the flames.
After, he saddled Appa and packed a small bag of spare clothes and fruit. He was frowning, his mind already miles away, but he couldn't help but feel a faint tinge of guilt at his plans. The monks always taught us never to indulge too much in food and drink, he thought grimly.
But then, the monks he had be taught by had never been the Avatar, and had never had to reasess his life's teachings - even now.
With a set jaw, he jumped up into Appa's saddle and grunted out a curt, "Yip-yip." With Momo perched on his head, he and Appa flew towards the Earth Kingdom with no set destination in mind. He just needed to... go and get.