A/N: This is going to be a long author's note. Feel free to skip to the story.
So it's been a million years right? I couldn't think of what to write. Seriously, I wanted to just drop the story. I didn't want anything else to happen, and I wanted to end things with the wedding. I wanted it there. But there was something else I needed from these characters. I needed to say goodbye to them. I needed to make sure that they lived.
If you've ever seen the movie Ever After, the quote at the end describes my feelings. "And while they did live happily ever after, gentlemen, the point is that they lived."
When I started this story, I was in a very different place than I am now. At the risk of getting too personal, a lot of things happened. I reflected it, partially, in this story. I felt, though, that my original story had slipped. It kind of ran away on me, and I've been chasing it ever since.
I hope it hasn't been too lengthy, angsty, or sad. I hope that you loved these characters as much as I did. I hope they meant something, that maybe they were more to you than words on a screen.
I chose to do a major timeskip on this last chapter, because it's been a while since I've touched this story. They aged so much in my mind, that this was the only way forward. (If you're curious, I was kind of crying when I wrote this.)
So, from as deep down as I possibly can, thank you for coming on this ride with us, with me. I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint. I hope we meet again.
And for this chapter: I hope you bawl your eyes out. I'm sorry for being mean.
And I'm sorry this took so long. One last windmill tilt for us, okay?
Healed and Hunted
A Final Goodbye
Chapter Forty Nine
Fifty or So Years Later
She never stopped feeling lucky. In her earlier life, she'd felt that nothing had ever gone her way. Anything that ever happened was merely a turn, a plot twist, in someone else's grand story. While she'd always had things to be grateful for, none of it was ever hers.
But this was. This life was hers, and she belonged to it.
Her moment in the setting sun came at a grand seventy-odd years, filled with smiles and tears. She watched everyone around her age and wither like old plants (except Toph, who though the least vain, hadn't aged a day since they were forty), and when she began to suspect she was just as wrinkly as the rest of them, Lee would kiss her nose and tell her that Toph was blind and had no idea what she looked like.
The hospital room was quiet, though there were quite a few people in here. She had had this odd thought, when she was younger, that she would outlast all her friends. That she would be the last to go. But death comes for everyone, she supposed, and her number had come up first.
Her brother was sitting, holding her hand to his cheek. His skin was soft, still shaven after all these years. He was crying, covering his mouth with his other hand. He hadn't cried like this when their mother died, or when Hakoda died. It was kind of sick, but she was touched by his tears.
Her eyes drift over to Jason and Kyoshi, who are looking down at Kat's children, whose own children were sitting in the waiting room, watched over by a helpful nurse. It wouldn't be for long, anyhow. They said she maybe had the night left.
Kat's two children are holding each other by the window, neither of them certain what to say. They were angry at her for keeping this from them for so long. She'd hidden the condition for as long as conceivably possible, which came to an end less than a month ago. Somehow they felt they had been cheated. They would forgive her, though, before the day was done.
Her oldest grandchild, of twenty, was expecting a child of her own. Kat would never get to meet it, but she told them they weren't allowed to name it after her. She thought there were plenty of family names without adding hers.
Aang had long since stopped reading out of his prayer book. Toph had told him to knock it off, because it was only making the air gloomy. No one wanted to listen to it, least of all Kat. It was pointless, anyhow, Toph argued, since they all knew God had been waiting on Kat since she was born. It made Kat smile. Toph didn't believe in heaven.
Dying was a funny thing, and Kat realized she had some pretty odd complaints. There was nothing on TV, and the radio wasn't playing anything she liked. She hadn't liked anything since the early 2000s, anyhow. Her grandchildren assured her the music was great.
And it was raining. Kat had no problem with the rain, loved it, after all these years. It made her think of dancing on his feet, of falling in his arms all those lifetimes ago. She closes her eyes, and she's 24 again. She sees his stupid hair, and his stupid pants, and his stupid piercings, and wondered how on Earth she'd ever fallen in love with such a dork.
When she opens her eyes, she is nearly seventy, and it's raining.
"Think it'd kill me to go for a walk?" She asks, trying to sound light.
The joke was poorly received, Kyoshi burst out in tears. Kat felt bad. It wasn't a time for jokes, but she hated to be serious and heavy her last hours on this planet.
"C'mon, it was funny." She tried again. Breathing was becoming a chore.
"Funny, mom? Really?" Asks her son, who looked so much like his dad it hurt.
"Of course it was funny. They're just all sensitive. We must've raised 'em wrong." Said her husband, who was crawling out of her bed to help her up.
He was calm, she thought, for a day as big this. In good spirits, too. They'd done nothing but sit together for that first week after her diagnosis. That was six months ago. In that time, they'd planned her funeral, the service, fixed her will. Things you were supposed to do when you found out you were dying.
"We're going for a walk. Anyone coming with us?" Lee continued, grabbing her hand. He had to help her to her feet, and in no small way. She could hardly carry herself. Somehow they managed to make it look as if she was standing mostly on her own.
The IV stand came with her, as he walked her out through the hall. Various nurses gave them sad looks, pitiful ones that hurt her heart. They would have normally objected to a patient as sick she was going out in the rain. But she could count on her fingers the hours left, and she'd be damned if she was going to die in bed.
Their family followed them as far as the glass, but they all hung back. Her siblings, children, and grandchildren all standing there, looking at her. It had taken nearly fifteen minutes to move as many feet. She must've been a sorry sight.
When he opens the door, the heat hits her moments before the rain does. Lee's hand squeezes her shoulder. He escorts her out to the bench where they sat in her healthier days, and Kat realizes she hasn't been outside in almost two weeks.
The rain soaks her hair, and she dips her head back to expose her face to the water. It was a clean rain, heavy and unyielding. She couldn't have asked for a better day.
"I'll be along shortly," he told her, suddenly.
She nods, "I've been waiting on you this whole time. I can wait a bit longer. Maybe Uncle will finally have enough time to teach me Pai Sho."
He clears his throat, but says nothing. For a very short moment, she thinks he won't.
"Thank you for saving my life, Katara." His voice had aged so well. He was quiet when they met, and he was quiet now. But the sound was dear and precious to her.
She takes a peek at him, and he's sitting still, arm around her, enjoying the rain. For all the world, they probably just looked like an old married couple out on a date in the rain.
Kat gave a small chuckle, "Anytime. Let's do it again real soon."
Her eyes closed, and the rain drowned out any answer he may have given. Kat was tired, after all this time. She rested her head on his shoulder, breathing him in one last time.
Behind the Glass
She and Jason stared, heartbroken. Kyoshi had never seen a sadder sight, nor anything more beautiful. She remembers how strong they both once were, how full of light they had been. She remembers their children being born, them at her wedding. She's known them nearly her whole life, and she didn't know what to do without them.
She sees her aunt rest her head on her uncle's shoulder, and he laughed about something. She has no idea what they're saying. She doesn't know what one would say in that situation.
Minutes tick by, and the rain lightens up. Her uncle is staring down at Aunt Tara. His next movement breaks them all. He grabs her head, and kisses her forehead. He keeps his mouth there, tilts his head upwards and his shoulders shake. And she knows, and they all know.
Katara, mother of two, grandmother of five, aunt to three, sister to four, wife of one; is no more.
Toph is the first to sink to her knees, because she probably felt the heartbeat fade through the concrete. Toph is sobbing, and then they all are. Kyoshi buries her face in her husband's shirt, and he holds her tight.
Life ends, Kyoshi knew, it all ends. Sometimes it ends so peacefully, it was like falling asleep. Sometimes you had warning, you got to make arrangements. You got to say goodbye. And while she knew not all were that lucky, it was hard to feel they had been given a gift. Saying goodbye and watching goodbye were two different things.
"This was our first date. Do you remember? You were there." Lee is looking at the painting. The same one from all those years ago. This museum was now entirely full of Kat's art. Aang had bought it out, and demanded she fill it.
Kyoshi is holding his arm, wiping her face, "I do. You brought her…some sort of flower she didn't like."
"Did I? Ah, it's been too long." He moved to the next one. An old painting, one of Kyoshi when she graduated high school. Kat had called it Brat Grad.
Kyoshi sighed, "She really hated her art, didn't she?"
"She used to. But after Kya was born, she started painting because she had something to paint. She told me that she used to do art to forget, but then she started using it to remember."
They were here for the last release. Her last two pieces, which he hadn't seen. One was a sculpture that Toph had transported, and the other was a painting she'd left in their bedroom. It was covered, and Lee knew better than to look before-hand. Things were not to be done out of order. Kat would've killed him.
They reach the crowd of people- press, fans, authors, art enthusiasts- and see their family standing beside the sculpture. Losing Kat had been hard on everyone, and it seemed that everyone had cleared their schedule for a few days.
"Well, are we all ready then?" Lee asked, sighing.
This was to be Kat's last act here, last thing she did. Last thing she'd wanted of her name. She'd done great good in her time, to the education system, and to the world. She never really cared for it, though, because all she'd done had been for those closest to her.
They answered a few questions, but then decided to hurry the reveal along. Lee was an old man, he joked, and had no patience for standing about.
The sculpture was of Aang, which was surprising to Lee. He hadn't really been expecting much of anything. In the sculpture, Aang was sitting, meditating, with his fists together at the knuckles.
"The sculpture reads Avatar Aang of the Air Nomads." The curator of the museum said with a little confusion. Normally, Kat included a message with these sorts of things. She was dramatic like that. (They kept these notes beneath or around the art.) But, this time she didn't. Perhaps there wasn't time, or perhaps she thought it needed no explanation.
"Wow," Aang said, blinking, "I haven't seen these in ages. These are really old. She made one for me. I... I didn't expect to have one."
While he had no idea what it was, it was apparently enough to draw tears out of a tired old monk. Someone in the crowd whispered something about a resting place for the Avatar.
His heart pounded in his ears as they placed the final painting in its place, as they reached for the covering. He expects something wonderful, like the two of them together. Or maybe a family portrait. Or something.
What he gets is two cups of coffee, one half-finished and the other full to the brim. He blinked, not sure what to think. That was it? That was the last thing she wanted to be remembered by? Cups of coffee?
"She titled this one," the curator took a breath, pausing to read the inscription, "Tomorrow Morning. And, this one has her note, good. Sorry I can't be there to finish my cup. Guess you'll have to drink enough for both of us."
With her words, he understood. Life was made up of moments, she'd always said. Little things you never think about until they're gone. Things that hurt the most because you don't even realize you've done them until it's too late. Like he had this morning. When he'd made too much coffee.
Kat always knew.
Kyoshi gripped his arm, "Uncle Lee. I don't know what to do without her."
Neither did he. He thought, prayed, that he wouldn't be long behind her. He had no desire to leave his children behind, but it felt like he hadn't caught his breath in days. Her funeral was tomorrow, and he wasn't sure he could manage.
Still, he smiled and said, "All we can do is listen to her, and keep trying."
He thinks back to her wedding, to the delivery of her children, to her first day of school. The casket is in the front of the room, open for viewing, and Sokka can't look.
He doesn't want to see this, not this. He's seen all of her life, but he can't do this. He feels his heart beat painfully, and he thinks about the past seventy years. She'd been so happy, and done so much, and she was gone and nothing was ever going to change that.
He sits down in the front row.
They all want to speak, because she was a magnificent person, but only a few of them manage. Sokka goes first. He tries not to look at anything in particular as he speaks.
"My sister was…well, she was something else. You always want to use the phrase larger than life to describe someone. That wasn't true. Kat wasn't larger than life. Kat lived, and she lived every day. She took the challenges as they came, she fought the battles. She laughed, and cried, and yelled and danced. I wanted a funny story to tell you. Something that would make this all seem less hard. I can't, though. Nothing is ever going to make this easy. Not for any one of us here. We're going to feel this for the rest of our lives. Kat wouldn't want us to dwell, so we won't. But for today, at least, let's just let her know how loved she is. I have had the singular honor to have known her her whole life, and I thank you all for sharing in that life."
When he sat down, Lee rose to his feet. The old man stepped until he was next to Kat. He looked down before looking back to the crowd.
"When we found out she was sick," Lee cleared his throat and paused. The pause grew and stretched, and he started again, "When they told us she was sick, we went home, and we sat in bed. I asked her what she wanted to do. She said I'm thinking about making a cup of coffee."
He paused for the watery laugh the crowd gave. It was so like Kat.
"She told me there wasn't much to do. She'd traveled the world, and done some good. She'd raised two great kids. Said she'd married and tamed a hellion. That her family had done well. She had no regrets, she told me. Except, perhaps, the time she spent as the Ava's PR rep. Said her boss was terrible."
"She said she was scared. She never cried though. At least, not in front of me. She finished a few paintings. I have instructions to burn all the unfinished ones. She said she'd hate to end up like other artists, people wondering at all the things she never completed.
Kat was an amazing person. And I have never loved or been loved by anyone like her. I don't think anyone has. All of us here know the kind of person she was. She was warm, and kind, and selfless. And she was impatient and drank too much coffee and never turned the lights off after she left a room!
I haven't had to live without her for fifty years. And now that I do, I can't remember how. She is in everything I do. To me, she isn't gone. I can hear her complain about how I keep leaving my socks on the floor, or thank me for bringing home milk. My heart aches, because I know she isn't here. She's far from me, and I can't-" he had to clear his throat again, "It's a hard thing to deal with. But Kat's left her mark. And I know…I know she'd be glad you all came today. She didn't like funerals. Said they always picked hurtful songs to play. So. I'm sorry for this. But I have my orders."
Sokka couldn't stop himself from snorting when Lee clicked a button and Rick Astley blared over the speakers.
Never gonna give you up.
Sokka could have kicked his sister. What a brat. Rickrolled her own funeral. That was so early 2000s. That was so long ago, no one here even understood the reference. But it wasn't for them. Sokka knew it was for the old people in the room. The people who had known her longest. The people who were her life-long companions.
She was gone, but somehow or another, she had found a way to make him smile on his worst day. The power of Katara was not something he should have ever underestimated. He couldn't believe it, but. Here they were, a bunch of very old folks laughing at a funeral. It was morbid, and hilarious.
And a good way to say good-bye.
Sokka finally looked into the casket. Her hair was done up, in those silly hair loopies she had worn as a girl. She wore the traditional clothes of their tribe (if an Alaskan village could be called such), which he didn't even know she still had. But, no. She must've had them made, the old ones wouldn't have fit. She looked beautiful.
His baby sister was gone, now. But she was, as Lee as so aptly put, still here.
Kat was going to be a story, in time, the same as the Ava would. But people would remember her name for a lot of different reasons. It was all, he thought, anyone could ask for. To be remembered. His own name would fade, and Suki's. But not hers. Not for a while, anyhow.
Suki kissed his forehead, and he closed his eyes.
Goodbye. I love you.