Disclaimer: I do not own ATLA. That belongs to Mike and Bryan. Me just borrow. You no sue.
A/N: This story isn't truly M, but I went with the rating just to be on the safe side.
Katara's drowsy mumble drifted up to Aang out of the muted darkness of their bedroom. He froze in place as his ceremonial robes, which he had removed only moments earlier, pooled at his feet in a heavy sweep of rustling fabric. Even with the breaks in the echoing silence from the wind howling so ferociously outside, each sound he had made when he crept into their room at such an early hour had reverberated in his ears like a mighty crash of thunder. He had cringed with each step, a fruitless endeavor given the fact that he'd awakened his slumbering mate anyway.
"Sorry," he whispered contritely, "I was trying not to wake you."
"Too late." He could hear her shifting around in the bed only seconds before the candlewick on the bedside nightstand flared to life and bathed her features in its flickering orange glow.
It was the first time that Aang had seen his wife in nearly three weeks, the longest they had ever been apart in their entire relationship. She looked exactly as she did every time she had been roused from sleep, as she had for the last eighteen years that they had known one another and yet Aang still caught his breath as if seeing her for the first time. Even adorned in a simple, cotton nightgown and with bed-tousled hair, eyes puffy from sleep and the surliest expression imaginable Katara was breathtaking to him.
It was only in that precise moment that Aang truly understood how much his prolonged separation from her had affected him and how very incomplete he'd felt without her. Only when he was with her did the world make sense. Of course, explaining that to her now would probably be an exercise in futility since Aang could discern by the expression on her face that Katara was in no mood to hear it.
Slumping forward with the realization, he sighed rather inanely, "Hi."
"Hi yourself," she sighed in return. Katara briefly took in his state of slightly damp, semi-undress before she declared in a mildly accusing tone, "You're late."
Aang slumped a bit more. "I know. I'm sorry. It was a crazy trip like you wouldn't believe!"
Her expression lost some of the hostility darkening it as blue eyes softened with concern. However, despite that, Katara was careful to keep her tone of voice even and brisk. "What happened to you?"
"Well, I was delayed in leaving the city to start and then, after I left there, I made a stop off at Toph's metalbending school to deliver a package for Zuko and then unfortunately…" he explained in a helpless tone, "I ran into a storm on the way home…"
"I know," Katara said, gesturing to their bedroom window, which occasionally rattled with each errant, stiff wind gust and some splattering of rain. "It's been like that for a few hours now…more wind than rain." She surveyed Aang with brimming blue eyes, her body finally losing some of its rigidity. "I was worried about you."
He wanted to close the distance between them then and draw her into a hug, but Aang suspected she still was a bit annoyed with him, so he didn't make the attempt. Instead, he said, "I would have sent word if I had been able."
"You were lost in a storm before with Appa," she mumbled in unnecessary reminder, "I guess I'm a little paranoid about these things. My mind went to awful places."
"It wasn't as bad as it sounds. You said it yourself. It's more wind than rain."
"Obviously, it was more challenging than you thought. I know it has to be very late. I didn't fall asleep that long ago."
"The trip was rough on Appa. He's getting older, you know, and doesn't fly as fast as he used to."
"That's exactly why I proposed that you take Ceba with you to Republic City instead. But you didn't want to do that, remember?"
"You know why," he retorted in an accusing whisper.
She did know why. Truthfully, Katara had known at the time she had made the suggestion that it had been a futile one. Although Ceba was strong and swift and the most agile of Appa's calves with his new mate Jalus, in Aang's eyes no sky bison would ever be as capable as Appa. Even if Aang had been willing to take Ceba to Republic City, Katara highly doubted that Appa would have been receptive to the idea. For better or worse, he and Aang were attached to each other and Katara suspected that the two would continue to fly together until they were physically unable.
And she understood that. She truly did. Unfortunately, her resentment over the fact she saw so little of her husband these days was obliterating all her feelings of empathy.
"We had a deal, Aang," she reminded him brusquely, "You said you would be here in time. You were supposed to be here. We were all expecting you."
"Katara, I know that," he sighed for a third time. "I feel bad. Don't you think I feel bad?"
His unspoken pleas for leniency and forgiveness were met with the stubborn jut of Katara's jaw. "I tried holding dinner for you," she said, "The children complained and complained, but I insisted on waiting because you said you would be here and—,"
"Katara, please understand—,"
"—Finally, I had to accept the fact that you weren't coming and we went ahead and ate without you." She fixed him with a disappointed stare. "It's not quite the homecoming I had in mind."
He met her dejected gaze with his own. "It's not the one I had in mind either. Do you think we can start over?" She averted her eyes then, as if she were steeling herself against softening towards him. Aang suspected that was exactly what she was attempting to do. He supposed he couldn't blame her.
It was always like this. She'd protest over his frequent trips away from home. Aang would charm and cajole his way into forgiveness and the matter would be forgotten…until the next time. And that was the problem. The issue never truly resolved itself. Eventually, Aang would leave again…and Katara would find herself raising their children alone. It wasn't fair to her at all and Aang knew it. Unfortunately, he was at a loss as to how to fix it too.
Still, he entreated her nonetheless, his expression silently pleading for her understanding. "I don't know what you want me to say. I hate this as much as you do, Katara."
"I'd ask that you promise me that it will never happen again, but I wouldn't want to force you to lie."
"Stop what?" came her petulant reply.
"Stop acting like you don't know that I would have been here if I could."
"No, of course you would have been here, Aang. After you handled the newest and latest crisis in Republic City and after you and Zuko finished whatever new order of business had come up and after you shot the breeze with Toph! Yeah, you would have gotten around to us eventually!"
"Toph is being considered for a very high position within the city! I needed to ask her in person if she was on board!"
Katara kicked aside the covers and swung around to face him, crossing her arms with a mutinous glare. "There's always a good excuse. I'll never win this argument because, technically, you're not doing anything wrong!"
"It's not about winning anything, Katara."
"Says you," she mumbled, "But you're not the one being constantly bumped aside for the more important things! I am and your children are!"
"You're not being fair! You know that you and children are a priority to me, Katara! You are the priority! None of this would even matter without you!"
"Well, I haven't been feeling like the priority very much here lately, Aang," she tossed back in a muttered underbreath.
"I know. I know," Aang acknowledged penitently, "And I'm sor—,"
"You're sorry. You're sorry," Katara cut in, "I know this! I've heard it dozens of times before, Aang, and honestly I'm getting a little sick of hearing you say it because, after you're done, nothing ever changes!"
Wisely recognizing that any attempt to plead his case to her would only make Katara more recalcitrant, Aang decided to change the subject altogether. Cautiously, he crossed over to the bed and took a tentative seat beside her. An awkward beat of silence stretched between them before he finally broke it.
"I looked in on Kya and Bumi when I came in," he told her. "Kya managed to give me a full recap of everything I missed these last few weeks in under a minute and without taking a single breath. If we didn't already know for sure she was a waterbender, I'd definitely put money down on her being one formidable airbender!"
"She must have given you the abridged version," Katara grumbled good-naturedly, "True detail would have taken a minute and a half."
Encouraged by the grudging smile he heard in her tone, Aang continued. "Bumi, on the other hand, barely even mumbled a hello." He paused to bite back a smile. "No, that's not completely true. He did yawn something about his boomerang coming back to him, but it didn't make a lot of sense to me."
Katara emitted a small laugh. "Yes. Well you see, after much trial and error and several near head injuries, our son has finally figured out how to make Boomerang come back to him."
It was a skill the little boy had been trying to perfect for months now. A few weeks of visiting with his Uncle Sokka in the South Pole had left the precocious five year old with the determination to master the skill, much to the chagrin of his older sister (who usually suffered the indignity of being his unsuspecting target.). Bumi had concluded that if he couldn't be a powerful bender like his parents and sister then he would become a powerful warrior like his uncle instead. Imagining the elation and excitement his little boy must have felt over finally reaching his goal filled Aang with pride…and regret.
"I'm sorry I missed that," he murmured.
The smile faded from Katara's lips. "I'm sorry too. You miss a lot of things when you're gone."
And just like that, they were once again locked in the old argument. Aang dropped his head forward in frustration. "You can't think that I want it this way."
"No, I don't think that at all, Aang. But things are different now. Before Kya and Bumi were born it didn't matter so much when you had to go away because I could go with you. We could go where we wanted when we wanted. But those days are over. Now, we have children. Now, you have a school here at the Air Temple and students who need you here with them. A family who needs you here. The world won't grind to a halt if you say 'no' every once in a while."
"Katara," Aang began as gently as he could, "I didn't stop being the Avatar just because we had a family. My duties haven't changed."
"Don't talk to me like I don't know! I know!" she huffed impatiently. "I'm not being unreasonable, Aang. I know you have a responsibility to the world. I knew from the very start that I would have to share you and I made my peace with that, but…but…" She paused to swallow back the tears burning her throat. "I didn't think it would be this hard. I didn't know I would miss you this much."
It mattered very little that her tears didn't fall. Just seeing the telltale sheen in her eyes and hearing the way they garbled her heartfelt words was enough to eviscerate Aang emotionally. Guilt surged in his gut anew. Silently conceding defeat in the argument, Aang drew in a deep, trembling sigh. "I don't want you to be angry with me, Katara. Tell me how to fix this for you."
Katara glanced over at him, compelled by the remorse glistening in his expressive, gray eyes. He was very much like a little boy pleading for favors right then and it was difficult to resist him when he was being genuine and pouting and remorseful. Difficult, Katara considered with an inward scowl of resignation, but not impossible. She certainly didn't want to make the situation more complicated for him than it already was, but Katara also knew that they could not continue going on the way that they had. Something was going to break…and she did not want that "something" to be their marriage.
"I don't want to be angry with you either," she conceded, "But I also don't want this to keep happening. We need you here with us, Aang. I didn't marry you just so you could be in one part of the world while the children and I are in another."
"But it's only temporary!" he argued.
"And you've been saying that for nearly a year now and nothing has changed! In fact, it's gotten worse!" she flashed back. However, the instant the angry outburst left her lips, Katara regretted letting her temper get the best of her and that was before Aang flinched in reaction. She fell back into the tousled blankets of the bed with a serrated sigh. "Let's not fight about it. We always fight about it and I'm tired of going in circles."
Aang regarded her over his shoulder in the dim fire light, trying to discern the thoughts going on behind her shuttered expression. Almost hesitantly, he asked, "Are you sorry?"
Katara propped herself up onto her elbows and leveled him with a confused frown. "Sorry for what?"
"Sorry that you married me?" he clarified softly.
The question visibly rattled Katara. Immediately, she gathered herself up and scooted to his side with quick and fervid reassurances. "No," she answered without reserve, "I'm not sorry I married you. I'll never be sorry about that, Aang. I don't want to change that. I want to be with you. That's the whole point."
"I'm trying my hardest to make this work somehow, Katara," he mumbled, leaning into her shoulder as he soaked up the tender comfort she offered. "This isn't easy for me. I know that I need to be here and I need to be there too, but I don't know how to do both at the same time."
"Maybe you can't." While Aang was still foundering for a response to her soft retort, Katara expelled a lengthy sigh and decided to let him off the hook. She framed his face in her hands and pressed a loving kiss to his lips. "Just forget it. You're home now and that's all that matters." Despite her call for a ceasefire, however, Aang continued to survey her with a wary, frustrated look. "Have you eaten already?" she asked him, already moving to scoot around him and exit the bed, "I can fix some—,"
"Katara, don't," he pleaded when she would have slipped past him. It only took one gentle tug to still her intentions to dart away. Grasping hold of her hand, Aang slowly pulled her closer until she was standing in the circle of his arms. At her sigh of acquiesce, he buried his face against the soft warmth of her belly.
"It's not always going to be like this," he whispered into her body. He had made the promise before and, thus far, it hadn't seen fruition. Aang wouldn't blame Katara if she didn't believe him. He didn't know if he believed him.
Aang didn't quite realize he was holding his breath, half anticipating her rejection, until he felt her arms go around him and the air ease from his lungs in a broken groan. Tension seeped from his shoulders as she folded her body around his, cradling him against her.
"I keep telling myself that," she whispered back, "but sometimes I get so lonely here without you and…I'm not very reasonable when I'm like that."
He slanted her a wry smile, his gray eyes dancing with teasing light. "You? Unreasonable? Never."
She glowered at him. "Do you want this apology or not?"
"You don't really owe me one, but…proceed."
Her glare softened to a begrudging smile. "I'm sorry I was so annoyed with you earlier. It was a combination of dealing with the children's frustration, as well as my own, and being worried sick about you too. I've just…I've missed you so much and when you didn't show up tonight, I… I was really disappointed, Aang."
He tipped back his head and favored her with a wobbly smile. "Would you hate me if I told you that I was glad?"
"Yes. Very much," she declared direly, but the subtle twitching of her lips gave her away.
"I can't help it," he replied with a grin, "I like the idea of you missing me because I definitely missed you, Katara."
"Zuko's not such a welcome substitute, huh?" Katara teased.
"Not even close!" Encouraged by her smile, Aang began slowly smoothing his hands up and down the swell of her hips, soothing away her hurt feelings with his touch, disarming her with his hands and proximity… "I thought about you and the children every single day while I was away. All I've wanted this entire time was to get back to you. That is the only thing that kept me going."
Katara delicately traced the lines of the pale blue arrow on the crown of his head, trying not to fall too deeply into his limpid stare. "It is?" He nodded, nuzzling at her stomach through the thin material of her nightgown.
"I dreamed about you too," he confessed between languid, nipping kisses. In painstaking degrees, he began to inch Katara's nightgown up her legs, bunching the gauzy material at her hips.
"What kind of dreams?" she managed on a soft intake of breath.
Aang drew his fingers lightly over the bare skin of her thighs. "Well…" he drawled, biting back a mischievous, "I did keep having this recurring nightmare that Kya got married while I was away and Bumi ran off to join the circus."
"What?" That was not quite the confession Katara had expected.
Abruptly ceasing his amorous ministrations, Aang blinked up at Katara in wide-eyed innocence, fully knowledgeable of what he had just done and quite pleased with himself over it. "You asked me about my dreams." He grinned at her. "That's what I dreamed about. What exactly were you expecting me to say?" He wiggled his eyebrows at her meaningfully.
Katara stamped down the intense urge to pinch him. "Right. Right. Of course," she brazened.
He laid his cheek back against her belly with a sigh. "You think my dreams might be prophetic?"
Deciding that turnabout was definitely fair play, his impertinent wife shrugged noncommittally at the question. "Hmm…you never know," she considered airily, "Kya has been giving the side eye to Tashi lately and Bumi has always had a flare for dramatics. Anything is possible."
Aang shot up with a disbelieving grunt. And like that, the fun was over as far as he was concerned. The mere mention of his precious daughter and a boy had him leveling Katara with narrowed eyes. "That's not funny. You know I was only joking around with you."
"Why?" Katara asked with an owlish look, "Would it be so bad if Bumi joined the circus?"
"You know what I mean!" he muttered, nudging her, "You were kidding, right? Kya's not really giving Tashi the 'side eye,' is she?"
Katara couldn't completely repress her stunned laugh over his rather obvious anxiety. "Why? Is that a problem, Aang?" When his eye literally twitched, her mirth boiled over. "Oh-oh, is that fear I see in your eyes, young Avatar?"
"Don't tease me, woman!"
"What's the big deal? It's just a harmless crush! I doubt she's serious about marrying him."
"Harmless crush?" Aang balked, "Marrying him? When did this happen?"
Katara shrugged. "So what if she's been following him around like a lovesick puppy and watching him train, I'm sure it's just a phase," she continued in a breezy tone, taking supreme delight in goading him. "Then again, I do think I recall her attempting to make him a hat…"
"What? She tried to make him a hat? No! Absolutely not!"
"Aang, relax," Katara giggled, restraining him when tried to rise to his feet with the half-formed idea of waking Kya for the grilling of her life, "I'm just kidding. Take a deep breath! Kya is ten years old. She's nowhere near that stage with boys yet!"
"Well, I knew I wanted to marry you when I wasn't that much older than her," he mumbled grumpily as he relaxed, "so you'll forgive me if I'm not feeling very amused right now."
"Oh you can dish it, but you can't take it, is that it?"
He averted his face with a pout. "I'm not talking to you."
Smiling, Katara dropped a kiss to the top of his head. "Don't worry. She'll be your little girl for some time to come. The only 'boy' in her heart right now is you."
"I don't like missing moments with her, Katara…with either one of them," Aang said, his tone and expression somber, "I want to be here for the first crush and first successful boomerang throw. Those kinds of memories are really precious to me. I don't want you to think that I take that lightly, because I don't."
"You're the Avatar," Katara sighed in resignation, "It comes with the territory. Republic City is still in its infancy and there's still a lot of work to do there. It makes sense that you would need to spend a good majority of your time away from home overseeing that work. I get it. I don't like it, but I get it."
Aang's expression turned hopeful as he stared up at her once more. "Do you really mean that?"
She framed his bearded cheeks in her hands so that he could witness the sincerity in her eyes when she said, "Yes. I mean it. I know I can be petulant and moody about you going away and I'm not exactly gracious about having to share you with the entire world but…I do get it, Aang.
"I know that it cost you to be away from us, just like it cost us to be away from you." She leaned in closer to him, resting her forehead against his as she whispered, "I really am sorry for not being more understanding about it."
"Don't apologize. I couldn't even do any of this without you. This is a stressful situation for you too, Katara. You get to be mad about it."
"It doesn't matter. It won't change anything. I don't want to waste the precious time we have to spend together being angry. Do you?"
His name was snatched from her throat in a stunned yelp when, without warning, he answered her question by whipping her against him and dragging her down beside him on the bed so that the tumbled back into the rumpled bedding. Katara looked up at him as if she thought he'd lost his mind. "What was that for? You're insane, do you know that?" she admonished him laughingly which only incited his broad smile, "You are completely insane!"
He nuzzled her throat with a rumbling laugh of his own. "Actually, I'm not insane. I have an idea."
His good mood was so infectious she couldn't help but smile back at him. "What kind of idea?"
"What if we moved there?"
Katara's smile faded into a blank frown. "Moved where?"
"Republic City. What if we moved to Republic City, Katara?"
For a second, she was at a complete loss for words. Though she opened her mouth several times to speak, no sound escaped her lips. She couldn't decide if he was teasing her again…or if he was being serious. Finally, after several failed attempts to form a sentence, she managed, "You want to leave the Air Temple?"
"I want to be with my family," Aang clarified, "And since Zuko needs me in Republic City and I need you, this seems like the most logical solution."
"But I thought you wanted to stay here…I thought that, when we finally had an airbender child, that you would want to raise the baby here at the Southern Air Temple."
He ducked his head at the reminder, but not so quickly that Katara didn't notice how shuttered his eyes became. "I did," he admitted gruffly, "I…I do, but…"
"But…" Katara prodded, nudging his chin so that he had no choice but to meet her gaze.
"But I have to be realistic," he sighed, "We've had two children already, Katara, and neither of them is an airbender. I'm not saying I'm disappointed about that," he rushed out when it seemed she might be poised to argue, "I'm saying that maybe it's not meant to happen. Maybe I really am destined to be the last surviving airbender and maybe I need to be okay with that."
"Aang, it's not like we're past our prime of life or anything! You're only thirty years old. We still have plenty of time to have more children."
"Katara, I can't keep impregnating you hoping that you'll conceive an airbender. I feel like I'm gambling with your womb or something." He shuddered. "I don't like the feeling."
She couldn't help but laugh at his phrasing. "What if I want to have more children…you know just because I do?"
A small smile tugging at his mouth, Aang gathered her closer so that her head was tucked beneath his chin. "I want that too, but I can't help wondering if it's the right time for us to try. Kya and Bumi already receive limited attention from me as it is because I'm away so much. Do you think it's fair to expect them to split what little time they do have with me with a new baby?"
"What are you saying, Aang? You don't want more children?" she asked tremulously.
"No, that's not what I'm saying at all. I'm saying that I think we should wait until things are more settled for us before we try again."
Mollified by his reassurance, Katara relaxed against him once more. "And you think moving to Republic City will 'settle us?'"
"I'm hoping it will."
"But…but…but…what about all our plans? The Southern Air Temple is our home, Aang!" Katara protested, "What about the school? Who's going to teach the acolytes if you're not here? Who's going to take care of the temple and the sky bison? And what about my grandmother? You know that her health has been failing and she's been so lonely since Pakku died. I wanted to stay close to home in case she needed me."
"So we'll bring Kanna with us."
"My grandmother? Leave the South Pole?" Katara snorted, "Not on your life!"
"It can't hurt to ask her. We've managed to coax her into traveling with us before."
"Travel is one thing. Relocating altogether? I don't know how she'll feel about that, Aang."
"It's a big step," Aang replied reasonably, "She's lived practically her entire life in the Southern Water Tribe. But, I think your grandmother has proven in the past that she's not adverse to change. I think she'd like being able to spend more time with her granddaughter and great-grandchildren."
"Maybe…" Katara conceded, "But that's only a small part of it. We can't leave the Air Temple, Aang. Who will take care of it and the school?"
Aang rested on his elbow to regard her with a thoughtful look as he mulled over her very valid concerns. "Anil," he decided after a contemplative moment, "Anil is quite capable of caring for the students in my absence. I've taught him everything there is to teach, Katara. He's ready for the responsibility."
"Anil is barely twenty years old and he has no experience at all!" Katara argued, "He still considers himself your student, Aang"
"We were younger than him and even more inexperienced when we saved the world," Aang reminded her wryly, "I think Anil is perfectly capable of caring for the Temple, a dozen sky bison and serving as headmaster to the students. He's been doing that unofficially for more than a year anyway. As far as being my student, well…I am still your student, so what's the difference?"
Katara leveled him with a warning look. "I don't think you really want me to answer that, do you?"
Aang ducked his head to kiss her ear with a soft growl of laughter. "Well, I guess it's true that you teach me other things now…"
"You're a shameless man." Despite her admonishment, he could hear the smile in her voice.
"Don't worry so much. Anil will be okay."
"It's not that simple, Aang. Yes, Anil has practically been running the temple lately, but…he's had tons of assistance too. He can't do all of this alone. He's going to need help."
Aang shrugged. "So we will get him help."
"And so that's it?" Katara prodded, "You could really leave the Temple behind to go live in Republic City?" Although, he nodded in response to her question Katara remained skeptical. "This is your home, Aang. This is where you were raised…where Gyatso died… We made a family here. This place means the world to you…and to me."
He brushed his knuckles gently over her trembling lower lip. "I'm not proposing that we leave this place forever, Katara, but…if moving to Republic City is a way for us to avoid these long separations between us, isn't it worth it?"
"Yes." Katara didn't have to ponder that question very long before jerking her head in a nod of agreement. "Yes, it's worth it. I want to be with you, Aang…wherever you go."
Aang rewarded those sweetly fervent words with an equally fervent kiss. Gentle nibbles gradually deepened into hazy passion, fueled by three weeks of yearning need. Soft moans and quiet whispers echoed in tandem with the rustle of hastily removed clothing and disheveled sheets, drowned out only by the rushing wind that pounded beyond their bedroom window. The crescendo of the storm built in time with the passion between them. Though the hour was late, Aang and Katara explored one another with languorous pleasure, as if dawn would not soon be streaking the sky, as if it were the first time between them. They joined themselves together again and again, bodies straining and slick and sensuous, arching together in an ancient rhythm that was the ultimate affirmation of their love for each other.
Afterwards, they lay spooned together in a tangle of damp arms and legs, boneless and breathless, hovering precariously between wakefulness and sleep, listening as the rattle from outside gradually died away. Aang grinned into Katara's damp tangle of hair. "Now it's a proper homecoming."
She nodded, a small grunt of laughter escaping her. "Now it's a proper homecoming…" Katara agreed tiredly, "…until Bumi comes knocking at the door in about an hour. Then it's back to reality."
Aang closed his eyes with a groan. "Shh. None of that talk now. Stay in the moment."
His teasing provoked yet another sleepy giggle from Katara. "Wow…listen to that," she yawned, drifting off as she tucked herself deeper into the warm crook of Aang's body, "…I think the wind finally stopped."
He popped open a single eye, briefly perking his ear for the dissipating sounds of the dying storm, astonished that he could only detect faint whistles now after nearly an entire night of fierce howling. It had stopped just as abruptly as it had started. Vaguely, Aang noted the strange symmetry in the dwindling storm with the restoration of peace in his marriage…almost as if the two things had been linked.
Shrugging a shoulder at the rather profound, but ridiculous notion, Aang finally lay back down and snuggled closer to Katara with a contented sigh. "Hmm…I guess you're right."