A/N: This pretty much came to life because I'm sad that Katara never got to meet Gyatso…and my mind was trying to work that in somehow and I was like, wait…what if Roku actually did his job as Avatar and the war never happened…? And how can Kataang still work out?
Uploaded due to the nagging of my friend, known to you as Rast. She found this in my files and wouldn't leave me alone until I agreed to polish it and post it.
Aang is sixteen here, btw, so you can figure out everyone else's ages from there.
Some pray to marry the man they love,
my prayer will somewhat vary:
I humbly pray to heaven above
that I love the man I marry.
— Anouk Aimee
Katara sat alone on the rocky slope leading down to the sea, looking out at that vast expanse of dark water and every time the wave crashed on the seawall and sent up the spray her heart clenched, fierce, while the ocean wind dried the tears on her cheeks.
Katara was angry, she was furious but she'd never been one to hold that state for long. Like an ocean wave, a vicious crash and flood, and then receding once more into stability. The sky was dark, sun setting behind a bank of clouds, and a storm rolled slowly in toward her from the ocean. Far away, out over the abyss, rainfall blurred the dark horizon with silver, far away the lightning crashed and the thunder boomed and the waves danced in the storm winds.
And here she sat, shore-bound, stuck to this piece of rock in the Fire Nation, no boat heaving beneath her feet, no rigging creaking above her, rain lashing down onto the deck while the waves pummeled the vessel.
There would be no running from this mess—not now, not ever—and the chains of this unwanted destiny closed tight around her until she couldn't even breathe.
When her mother had died, two years before, she'd gone quietly insane in the depth of her grief. Hakoda withdrew into himself and Sokka was, well, Sokka and she'd stepped up and thrown herself at the duties unfulfilled. Not only domestic chores, cooking whatever her men brought home, cleaning their home, cleaning their clothes, repairing broken equipment, sewing nets and sails and cleaning fish and butchering seals and mending hulls and roofs and hearts. Being what they needed, quiet and fierce and when she fell down at night, too exhausted to sleep, she cried silent and bitter tears and never even let the steady rhythm of her breath falter.
Hakoda had no idea what to do with her and Sokka was so wrapped up in his own concerns that it was a good while before anyone realized she was tearing herself apart.
In the little kitchen, chopping carrots and peeling and cutting potatoes and garlic and onions and seal meat and dropping everything into the cooking pot, mindless, willing herself into mindlessness while Sokka and his gangly friends lounged at the table in the next room, dirty boots propped up on her table, voices high and grating on her ears, the heat from the fire pleasant on her skin, the cold bite of air in the room, bright lights — too bright, blinding bright — and she was trying so hard to hold herself in one piece, trying so hard to keep the harsh words behind her teeth, male laughter grating on her ears but their words were a blur of sound in her mind, eroding self-control. The bright steel of the blade cut neat slices out of the vegetables, biting into the wood of the table and a voice suddenly rang clear in her ears.
"—exactly how a woman should be, knowing her place, making dinner for the men—"
And it wasn't anything she hadn't heard before, really, but the knife slammed into the wood and there was a sudden silence and she was breathing so hard through clenched teeth and Sokka sat up, eyes on his sister, her teeth bared and her eyes are too fierce to even look at, wild blue and full of an almost mindless anger. The stew boiled over, hissing into the flames, water so furious that the cast iron pot shook, and there was a sudden sound, loud and yet hushed, a loud whispering sound that he knew was the snow melting off of the outside of their house, sliding down. He took her shoulders in his hands and after a long, long time her eyes cleared and she began to breathe evenly again. And she then looked down at her hands.
The one had never unclenched from the knife handle and the muscles were cramped from the force, but she'd closed the other around the steel blade and now blood was flowing freely from the deep gash in her palm. She watched it, uncaring, lifting the hand and the blood flowed down her wrist, dripping from her elbow, bright crimson against the dark wood of the table.
Sokka met her eyes and saw what she couldn't say: Enough. More than enough.
It was Sokka that convinced Hakoda to let them go, Sokka who ranted and lectured and yelled and finally brought their father around to the idea.
They were gone for almost a year.
The moment she stepped off the dock and onto the boat, he could see the change in her. And that first night, she stood on deck with her arms spread wide while the wind tugged her hair and clothes in all directions. He felt that she was finally allowing herself to breathe again. The tension did not vanish entirely, but the urgency of it did. The wild, dark undertone that he'd seen in her eyes that day in the kitchen faded more with each quiet day, with every mile they put behind them. She began to practice her bending again, and this eased her even more. They spent most of their time out of sight of any shore, drifting from one Earth Kingdom port to the next. Even though he'd made the trip for her, it was one of the best years of Sokka's life.
It was good for her. She finally began to uncoil, to loosen up, to be Katara again. Laughing and smiling and being a pain in the ass.
So when the time came he was reluctant to return home as well, but looking at Katara's face, Sokka knew that she wanted to drop their compass into the sea and sail right into the horizon, never looking back.
Neither of them were prepared for what happened when they got home.
Everyone was, of course, happy to see them, eager for the news they brought of the world and the goods they'd acquired in the Earth Kingdom.
While Sokka demonstrated a new style of hunting crossbow to the warriors, he watched Hakoda pull Katara aside. Their father tried to put his arm around her but she slipped away. When they were some distance from the crowd, they stopped, facing each other. Sokka saw Katara's eyes go wide, her jaw drop open and then clamp shut. A look of black fury passed over her face, contorting her features, and for a moment Sokka thought he felt the ice beneath him tremble.
Later, when they were alone, he confronted his father about it.
"What did you say to her?"
He'd never seen his father look so uncomfortable, not even when he'd tried to give Sokka the 'talk', only a year earlier and way too late to educate his nineteen-year-old son on any aspect of sex. It had been one of the most awkward moments of Sokka's life, made all the worse when, in effort to save them both, he'd admitted to knowing everything already, which had resulted in an entirely different and yet somehow all the more excruciating lecture on virtue and proper moral standards.
Hakoda blew out his breath. "Son, you remember when that group of Air Nomads came here when you were a kid? And Katara went penguin sledding with that little boy?"
"Dad, I don't understand what this has to do with—"
"That kid is the Avatar."
Sokka tried again. "Dad, that's great, but I still—"
"Your sister is betrothed to marry him."
Arrangements were made, supplies were gathered, messenger hawks went back and forth in a flurry of activity. The monks of the Air Nation wished for the Avatar to have time to get to know his intended before they set off together for the North Pole to begin his training to master the elements. Many locations were suggested, discussed, refused, before the Fire Nation capital was chosen. In the wake of the accidental deaths of Lu Ten and Ozai, Firelord Iroh's son and brother, it would provide the opportunity for political discourse and for the Avatar to meet the new heir, one Prince Zuko.
These things were made considerably more difficult by Katara's refusal to speak to anyone.
"I just don't understand why she's so angry about this," Hakoda said to his son on the last day, as they were loading up the boat. "He's the Avatar, she should be happy to get such a good match."
Sokka winced. Things between his father and sister had been tense for a long while, and the death of their mother had not made any improvements. "She's upset because she feels like—like everything's out of her control. She hates that." And, he thought to himself, she feels betrayed because you've been keeping this secret for ten years.
Hakoda sighed, tying off some loose rigging. "She's just being stubborn."
"Then I guess it runs in the family."
He dodged a mock punch from his father, who smiled unwillingly.
"Hey, I learned from the best."
The trip took only a few short weeks, but with the tension on board from Katara's brooding silence and refusal to speak and Hakoda's equally stubborn insistence that she do just that, everyone on the boat was ready to drown both their Chief and his daughter after only a few days of her sullen glares and his shouting rants. Sokka did the best he could to act as a buffer between them.
"He's right about one thing, you know."
Brother and sister, camped in the crow's nest beneath the stars. Katara had sought shelter here from Hakoda the day before and now refused to go back down where he could corner her and yell more.
"Sokka, please don't start."
Her brother spread his hands and sighed. "This Airbender—" He struggled for the name. "Avatar Aang, it's not his fault. So however angry you might feel towards Dad, it wouldn't be right to take it out on the guy, you know?"
Blue eyes like a stone wall. Inwardly, he sighed.
But she must have taken his words to heart because after that, she eased up a little. She still refused to talk to their father, and would leave any room Hakoda entered, but she began to treat everyone else normally again. Sokka breathed a sigh of relief.
It wasn't to last.
The fight between Hakoda and Katara on the steps leading into the Fire Nation palace was the worst they'd ever had.
Sokka had seen Hakoda pull Katara aside as they unloaded from the ship, he'd watched in growing concern as, on the walk through streets crowded with a curious and friendly populace, she'd slowly gone from being merely sullenly angry to the kind of near-mindless rage he'd seen after their mom died. He looked at his father, the set of his jaw and carefully controlled breathing, and realized he was just as angry.
So when Hakoda pulled Katara aside again before the Water Tribe delegation entered the palace doors, Sokka tried to stop him.
One hand on his father's arm, gently tugging, voice quiet and urgent. "Dad I don't think it's a good idea—"
"Not. Now. Sokka."
Sokka didn't hear what Hakoda's first words were, but he did hear Katara's screaming response, and then Hakoda roared back at her.
Watching them from the sidelines, resigned, Sokka wondered if they knew how alike they really were.
Hakoda pushed, unrelenting now that he'd finally gotten a response from her. He didn't seem to realize that pushing her only ever made things worse. Feeling boxed in and cornered in the first place, events spinning wildly out of her control, she only wanted the space and freedom to come to terms with this destiny being forced upon her.
The water began boiling in the fountains on either side of the steps.
The constant badgering on the voyage, and now this humiliating display right on the steps of the Fire Nation's palace—his words going unheard but the roaring and furious tone of his voice battered through her mind.
Teeth clenched, shoulders hunched in defense, flinching as if his every word were a blow…
Her nails bit into her palms as angry tears began to well up in her eyes.
"Enough. Enough, enough, enough!"
He might not have heard her words over his own endless tirade, but when the fountains exploded and scalding water rained down on either side of the group—a carefully constructed "umbrella" preventing anyone from being hurt—he finally got it.
They stared at one another, father and daughter, the silence broken only by her harsh breath and the sound of water falling on stone. One pair of blue eyes wide with disbelief, the other narrowed in anger and wet with tears.
Katara turned and ran, back down the steps and into the city. This time, when Sokka told him to leave her alone, Hakoda listened.
That was how she came to be there at the edge of the world, alone and hurting in a way she was very familiar with, a bitter inarticulate fury at this restriction on her life that was receding into a more hollow kind of feeling. The way she always felt after she cried so much. Empty and wasted, almost, like there weren't any feelings left inside of her. Everything washed away in the flood of angry tears.
Feet crunched on stones, warning her of someone approaching. She sighed. She was over being mad, but not really ready to go back yet and face Hakoda. Sokka would just have to be patient.
But it was the Airbender himself who stood there, yellow-orange robes and a large pendent around his neck; the mark of a Master.
Katara stared at him, feeling unprepared and undefended and utterly surprised. He's just a kid!
Well. Okay. In all fairness, he wasn't, really. But he looked it—hesitant and unsure of her. Wary. A guarded hesitation darkened his soft gray eyes. The blue tattoos were very striking against his skin.
She had no idea of what to say to him. He, evidently, couldn't think of anything either and, after a moment, he sat beside her.
For a long while they didn't say anything at all. Katara was painfully aware of his shoulder and hip, where they touched hers, but she didn't turn her head to look at him and the shape of the boulder forced him to sit at such an angle to her that he was mostly behind her and she couldn't see him from the corners of her eyes.
She resolved to ignore him until he went away, trying instead to focus on the beautiful storm churning out over the ocean, but her mind kept coming back to the night in the crow's nest with Sokka, his words about misplaced blame ringing in her head until, finally, she sighed and let go of the last vestiges of anger.
Katara turned toward the young man sitting beside her, abruptly, startling him so that he nearly fell off the rock and she had to catch his shoulder to balance him.
His eyes really were very beautiful.
"I don't like it when people tell me what to do," she said by way of introduction, desperately ignoring the thought that, soon, this man would be her husband. "And sometimes I have problems with my temper." Ah, might as well get it all out of the way now. "And I get cranky if I don't get enough sleep and I am probably too competitive. People that don't do their fair share of the work drive me absolutely crazy. And I hate papayas."
He looked like he didn't have a clue what to do with all of that. Thrown off balance again. She became aware that she hadn't released his arm, and could feel the heat rising in her cheeks. This seemed to rally him.
"I'm Aang," he said, reaching around and placing his other hand over the one she had curled around his arm. "I get up way too early in the mornings and I don't eat meat and it really bothers me when people think that's weird and, okay, I don't usually have trouble with my temper but, uh, my mentor would probably say that it's because I prefer to run from my problems than confront them. I really, really like animals and I can play pretty much any instrument there is and—oh yeah! I'm the Avatar."
This last was admitted a little sheepishly, as if he thought it should have been in the list of his flaws, or as if he hadn't quite gotten used to the idea yet and kept forgetting.
She stared up at him, tilting her head a little to do so. He smelled like incense and, not unpleasantly, like hay. She wasn't sure what was supposed to happen next.
"I've met you before," he said after a moment. "We came to the South Pole."
The memory was like a bright flash in her mind: the sharp smell of ice, the ringing of bells on the bison and the bright yellows of the Air Nomads mixing with the blues of her people. And the metallic smell of fish and the indignant squawking of—Katara laughed unexpectedly. "I took you penguin sledding!"
Aang's smile lit up his whole face. He was obviously very pleased that she remembered. "And we crashed into your brother's snow fort."
"And my mom made us hot chocolate." She could vividly remember Kya smiling at them over the steam, and the taste of the treat, sweet and bitter at once, and the way it had warmed her stomach. Kya's eyes crinkled in a smile, the way her nose scrunched up when she laughed.
Aang stared at her, his own smile faded and she sighed and tried her best to let go of the unexpected stab of pain that memory brought her. She refocused her attention on him.
"And now we have to get married."
He winced at her word choice, which she immediately regretted. But there was no way to take it back.
He supposed he could tell her he was sorry, but he wasn't, really, because she was really very beautiful. There was something about the way she looked at him, the tilt of her head and the way the wind tugged at strands of her hair, something in the sharp contrast of those shockingly blue eyes against the darkly tanned skin, the way the subtly floral scent of her mixed with the ocean breeze, something about the freedom of her laugh, the way she tilted her head back, blue eyes shining with humor, and Aang was instantly lost. His heartbeat thundered in his chest and he couldn't seem to catch his breath or his balance.
The end, game over. Spirits! I never even stood a chance!
He'd known, of course, how opposed to the idea of marrying him she was. She hadn't answered the letters he'd sent and he'd heard the monks talking about why the arrangements were proving to be so difficult.
He'd known for a long time that he was the Avatar, having been slipped the information on accident when he was only ten, but the monks had made the best of it and trained him well.
And he had, of course, always known he was to marry Katara.
When he was young, it hadn't seemed to matter too much. But as he got older and his priorities in life began to change and his friends shut him out because, well, he was the Avatar… He'd hoped. He'd built up fantasies in his mind and then torn them down again, happy with just the idea of her, excited to see what she would really be like, if she was anything like he'd imagined, like he remembered. Thrilled with the expectation of being completely wrong about her.
But when it had been announced to the world that Aang was the Avatar, when negotiations with the Southern Water Tribe had begun, and then faltered, when every one of his carefully-worded letters had gone unanswered… Well, a guy can take a hint. He couldn't help wondering if there was someone else and so he'd tried to prepare himself for the possibility of rejection. That she wouldn't want him. Or that she was a horrible person anyway and he was, actually, better off without her. The vision had been mistaken. He'd done his best to build up a wall of protection around his heart, to ready himself for disappointment, to guard against the pain of being rejected, again, the way all of his friends already had. He'd thought himself well prepared for the encounter.
So Aang was more than a little exasperated at himself for falling in love with her at first sight.
This is ridiculous! Pull it together, Aang! She's just a girl! You just met her! Get. A. Grip! It's just—infatuation. Crushes happen all the time…
But not like this.
Beneath the surface turmoil there lay a solid, unshakable certainty. She was the one. It was like all the pieces of his soul clicked together, forming a compass pointing directly at her. Like she was part of him, already, after a ten minute conversation.
Despairing a little at himself, staring down into the pit of his soul with something like awe, he was a little shaken by the strength and certainty of his feelings. Every fiber of his being attuned to her, the sound of her name resonating through his soul.
He hadn't doubted the vision. One did not become a Master Airbender and monk by doubting one's spirituality. But he hadn't realized it would be this intense.
Or this painful.
Because, seeing the betrothal necklace she wore, Aang understood everything. She loved someone else, of course.
Aang's eyes seemed a little sad, and she couldn't help but wonder what he was thinking about, looking at her like that. She hated herself a little for the careless words. Katara took a deep breath, and blew it out.
"Okay. While we're on confession here, I'm also pretty bad at apologies. So. Um. I'm sorry."
He looked a little nonplussed, hesitated, then opened his mouth to speak but she beat him to it.
"It didn't come out right," she said quickly. "I mean, what I just said. About marrying you."
Aang lifted his hand and, very lightly, touched the pendant around her neck. "I think I understand," he said quietly.
She stared at him blankly for a moment—what did her mother have to do with it?—and then everything clicked. "Oh! No, it's not—like that." Aang arched one eyebrow, clearly confused. "This was my mother's," Katara explained softly. "She died. This is all I have of hers."
Whatever he had been expecting, it clearly wasn't that. His whole demeanor changed. "I'm sorry," he said, meeting her eyes. "That must have been really hard for you."
She looked away and nodded. "It isn't really something I want to talk about."
When she gathered herself and looked back at him his eyes seemed brighter, but his expression was still serious.
"I've never met my parents," he offered easily. "Either one of them. It's against tradition for Air Nomads, and anyway, my, um, training was pretty intense."
Katara tapped one finger on the pendant around his neck. "I can see that," she said, smiling a little, grateful that he'd changed the subject.
"My mentor, Monk Gyatso, he raised me. I love him." He said it with no trace of embarrassment, a simple and honest statement, touching in its earnestness. Sokka, nineteen, could not bring himself to even use the 'L-word', and was too macho to even hug their father, much preferring the more manly affections of arm-punching or back-slapping.
"I'd like to meet him," she said, and was rewarded with another of those bright smiles.
"I'd like that too," he replied, cheeks darkening a little. Oh, dear, she thought. But he gathered himself quickly, cleared his throat and then met her eyes. "I have something for you," he said. "Kind of—a friendship present?" The uncertainty in his voice touched her.
Aang reached into his robe and then held out his hand, looking very vulnerable. In his palm, a little pool of silver. A necklace on a fine silver chain, and a little carved penguin. Looking up into his eyes, and then back down at the gift, she closed her throat on a sigh and schooled her expression to carefully conceal her thoughts.
Katara hadn't wanted this.
Hadn't wanted to be chained down with someone else's expectations and restrictions, hadn't wanted her destiny chosen for her, let alone by some stupid monk somewhere who'd had a vision that she should marry this Avatar, she did not want a life of pre-destined duty and fate, with no freedom, no free will, no room to be Katara.
She didn't want to like him.
But she remembered those same gray eyes and that laughter from so long ago, and she began to realize that he was in the same place she was. No way out, no way back. Time and fate drew them both forward, propelling them towards destinations unknown and unknowable.
Katara hesitated, but only for a moment, and then closed her hand firmly over his.
They might as well make the most of it.
A/N: Eh? Different enough? This is pretty short, only four chapters. It's focused on romance and character development, and has little to no war/politics.
This is as close to fluff as I can get ;)
Also, updates on this will be regular as the whole thing is already written :D