Outside, in the royal gardens, everyone was still celebrating Zuko and Katara's engagement. Cakes and tea and wine had been brought out for the family. The palace staff showered the Fire Lord and his new fiancée with congratulations and wishes for a long marriage and many children. Aang had seen Jun spike the tea with summerwine, but pretended ignorance and drank cup after cup. It made that pain go away, just a little.
He and Azula stumbled into her bedroom, half supporting each other. He didn't so much push her against the door as fall against her when she tried to close it.
"Just to be clear," she said between sloppy kisses that more often than not missed their mark, "I'm not doing this because I love you or anything."
"Right," Aang said, pulling at the belt that held her dress closed. His mind was foggy and his hands didn't quite work the way they should have, but he persisted until the belt slipped away. He didn't step back to admire her as he would have for a different woman. He held her hips as he moved his mouth down her neck like he'd seen Sokka do to Suki. She gasped.
Azula was pulling at his shirt with shaky hands. "He'll hate us when he finds out."
"Then he'll know how it feels."
Shirt finally removed, Aang pressed his lips against Azula's again.
He shoved that feeling of guilt away, but a very real, physical pain remained, making his body tingle. Why should he feel guilty? How many times had she kissed him, but thought about Zuko? When she hugged him and asked if he could warm himself up a bit, was she just looking for him to be someone else? Or had it truly been because they were in the South and she was cold? Every moment he held dear was now tainted with doubt and unending questions.
Azula was pushing him away from the door and to the bed. When his calves hit the edge of the bed, he fell back against the mattress.
"Shouldn't I be on top?" he asked.
Azula shrugged, straddling him. "Ty Lee says it doesn't always have to be that way."
Azula hesitantly nodded, taking her dress off then sitting nervously on the bed. "I've never…you know."
"Neither have I."
Was that why she liked him better? Because he was more experienced? Aang had hoped they could grow and learn together, the same way they learned waterbending. He had hoped that they would be side by side for the rest of their lives.
"Mother likes her better," Azula said, looking away from him.
It was weird seeing her so vulnerable, and when Aang reached out to comfort her, she let him. Katara would usually pull away, or just leave the room altogether. What hurt the worst was when she whimpered his name in her sleep. He tried to tell himself that she was only dreaming about losing her best friend in the final battle, but he could never quite banish the questions that followed. Would she have cried for him in the same way? Did she whimper his name in her sleep after he'd been shot by lightning?
Shot by the woman who was naked beneath him. She smiled hesitantly at him, and placed her hands gently on his hips.
Maybe it was the Avatar thing. Maybe she didn't understand just how much of his time would be needed by others. Sure, she had her own duties as an ambassador and playing mediator for Zuko—what else did she play for him? But she travelled a lot, too. She should have understood.
"Ah!" Azula tried to pull away from him.
"Sorry," he muttered.
It had been Zuko who'd given him "the talk."
Aang had bent an entire house for her at the South Pole. It was the biggest in the entire village-turned-city.
It had been Zuko he'd gone to for advice about Katara.
She had smiled and said it was pretty.
It had been Zuko…
She never lived in it.
Azula was crying.
"Did I hurt you?" he asked, breathing heavily. He stopped moving against her.
"Not you," Azula said, shaking her head. "Don't stop."
Aang leaned forward, feeling his own pain deepen. Azula wrapped her arms around him and held him tightly. He doubted either of them would ever understand just how much pain they'd caused.
"She calls her daughter," Azula whispered.
Aang wondered when things had changed, when Katara had stopped being that sweet, innocent girl with the big blue eyes full of kindness and compassion for others. If it was the things that happened during the war, he'd tried his hardest to get her to understand there was a path back to that innocence, but she'd refused. If he had found a way to keep his principles in the war, why hadn't she? Why hadn't any of the others? He told them violence was never the answer, and had done his best to teach them the ways of the monks. Now they were forced to live with the consequences.
He didn't realize he was crying until Azula was kissing his cheeks and his eyes and his mouth. If he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine it was Katara. Azula was whispering things like "I hate her," and "He promised me," and "I was her daughter first." In return, Aang whispered back:
"I love her."
"I gave her the world."
"I thought we'd spend the rest of our lives together."
"I love her."
"I need her."
When Zuko had marched into the sitting room shortly after breakfast and kissed Katara, Aang had felt like a fool. He and Katara had broken up before, but they'd always gotten back together. He'd flown to the ends of the earth to find the right stone for her. He'd come to the Fire Nation, not to meet Zuko's mother because he'd never even received the letter, but to try one last time.
The muscles in his stomach tightened.
"I hate them," Azula muttered.
But he moaned her name.
Author's note: I'm not sure about this. It was an image in my head, and I felt compelled to write it. Originally, I intended it to be in Azula's voice, and for it to be posted as part of 5 Years, but Aang's reasons were more substantial and concrete in my mind. I'm not sure what else to say about it, other than I hope Aang's not too OOC. The next morning, both would undoubtedly regret what they've done; in the moment, both have had a bit too much to drink, and are hurting, and Aang's trying to understand what he did wrong, not realizing it's not just him. Thoughts? I've got a third planned in my head, but want to see what you think before I write it, as it might just be even more "whoa, what?" than this one.
Bonus points for listening to Adele's "Someone Like You" while you read this. I totally thought that song would work for Aang.