AN: This has taken too long to post. First I was having trouble joining two pieces of this chapter that I'd already written, and then the computer they were stored on BSOD'd on me. I managed to finally recover my files yesterday. Please enjoy.
When I awoke the next morning, it wasn't with any real excitement. I had stayed up too late thinking, and though I felt horribly selfish for it, I'd come to the conclusion that I really did need some time to figure myself out. I had been taking care of others for so long; I wasn't willing to go on that way without exploring what other possibilities lie in wait.
What I really wanted was to go out and further my waterbending and my healing. Into the night, thoughts of returning to the foggy swamp to learn their style or going back to the northern tribe to learn absolutely every bit of healing that could be taught to me, excited me. Sure I was a great healer, I'd been faced with terrible injuries during and after the war, but I didn't know everything there was to know yet. And I was the only southern bender in the world, that wasn't currently imprisoned and insane, and it was up to me to bring our style back. Perhaps some digging of my own in the world's great libraries or even going back to face Hana would reveal more of the southern style than the little that I currently knew.
I had options, and I felt it was essential to my culture, and to me, to explore them. I couldn't do that tied to Aang, and I couldn't expect him to give up his work for me. I didn't know how long this quest of mine would last, and I didn't want to lose Aang, but I would feel guilty for making him wait, I'd feel guilty for leaving him behind, if I went off on my own selfish quest.
The logical thing would be to break it off on good terms, even if only temporarily. It would allow us each to focus on the tasks we had in front of us without being tied down. And if things changed, and Aang found someone else in the meantime, I wouldn't hold it against him. I couldn't expect him to wait. It would be better this way.
And if one day, when I'd learned as much as I could from the other waterbenders out in the world, we were both still free, I'd go back to him, and we could be happy and have an adult relationship. For surely in a few years Aang would become the great man he has the potential to be. Perhaps taking care of himself for a while would help him gain the maturity he needed to be well rounded.
So many thoughts had gone through my mind, and I'd talked myself into what I wanted. The hard part, however, was acting upon my plan. I really didn't want to hurt Aang. I'd have to be delicate and explain what I wanted to do thoroughly for him to understand I wasn't just running away from him. This was something I had to do. I sure did hope he would understand, working to keep the traditions of an entire culture alive himself.
I forced myself up out of bed and managed to make it to breakfast while the others were still sitting around the table, but, before I had a chance to load up my plate, Aang was pecking me on the cheek and heading out.
The rest of us spent the day catching up. Sokka, Suki, Toph and I took a walk down to the zoo Aang had built our first time in the city, while we gave Zuko and Iroh some time alone. It was absolutely wonderful to be around my brother and my friends again. I'd missed their company terribly, and the morning was so enjoyable, I'd practically forgotten all about what had plagued me into the night.
We made it back to Iroh's in time for a late lunch. As we sat in the back room of Iroh's teahouse, it really felt like my family was back together again, and I didn't want this to have to end.
"So Zuko, how long are you staying for?" I knew why Sokka was asking. He had mentioned wanting to take him to the poetry house he frequented whenever he was in town; it had been something about trying to get Zuko to "lighten up and work on his public speaking", though I agreed with Suki that it probably wasn't an entirely appropriate place for the firelord to show up at.
"I'm actually leaving tomorrow morning."
"So soon? But I had this really great place I wanted to show you!"
"If it's the poetry thing, I've told you before; you are never going to drag me there."
"You have no idea what you are missing, man. But seriously, tomorrow? Why so soon? This reunion is just getting started!"
"My advisors are mad enough that I took this much time to visit. Besides, the trade ship I caught a ride on is leaving tomorrow."
"I'm actually planning on heading out the day after tomorrow, too. Metalbending doesn't seem to teach itself, and I'm sure everyone's been slacking off without me around." As the conversation turned to Toph's metalbending students, it was hard for me to pay much attention. I just didn't want this to end so soon. I must have looked as distracted as I was, because Suki asked if I was alright.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just so glad to have us all together again, the thought of you all leaving makes me a bit sad. I've missed you all, is all."
"And we've missed you." Suki squeezed my hand. "We really don't get together often enough, do we? It's kinda crazy how we've all grown up and have all these responsibilities now. Can you believe it's been nearly four years since the end of the war? And we haven't all been in one place in ages! We really should work on that."
"Let's make a deal to all see each other again at Sparky's birthday party!"
"What? I'm not having a birthday party!"
"Of course you are! Iroh is already planning it."
"What! Why am I always the last person to find out about these things?"
"Oh yeah, like you didn't expect it. Iroh always does something for your birthday." And with great timing, Iroh came in carrying fresh tea and dessert for us.
"Uncle, is it true?"
"Is what true nephew?" Iroh answered with an eye crinkle.
"About the birthday party?"
"It is indeed nephew. I am looking forward to a bit of vacation in the firenation, and I cannot think of a better time to come than to celebrate your birthday. And while I am there, I might as well make it an international event. There's nothing like a good party, after all."
"And when were you going to tell me all this, uncle?"
"When it was too late for you to cancel it, of course. You work too hard nephew. A fun event like this will be good for you, politically as well as for your sanity."
"What would be good for my sanity would be a nice, quiet evening, without secret parties being planned without my knowledge. There's nothing I can do to stop this, is there?"
"Nothing, nephew." With a smile Iroh left us to our desserts and walked back into the front room of his shop.
"Oh, cheer up, Zuko." Sokka said with a slap on Zuko's back. "This just gives us all a reason to reconvene in two months. And then again in seven for our wedding! We may not have seen much of each other the last few years, but here's to a pact that we'll make the effort in the months ahead." Sokka raised his teacup and we all followed suit, clinking our cups together. Dessert was passed in cheerful silence as we enjoyed our sweet treats and the knowledge that we'd see each other again soon.
That afternoon Sokka took Suki on some sort of romantic adventure, and Toph went to pester Aang in the library, where he'd been since breakfast. Zuko and I spent the rest of the day lounging about Iroh's house, reading and enjoying quiet company.
"You ready to tell me what you couldn't talk about the night of your birthday?" A few hours into the silence I was caught, having been staring at the same page in my book for much longer than was necessary.
"No. Not really."
"I'm thinking of breaking things off with Aang, at least for a little while."
"What? Really? Why? Because he took off on your birthday?"
"Maybe a little, but not really. It's really selfish, and I feel really terrible about it, but I want to learn more about waterbending. I want to refine my healing skills and master more than just northern style. I know I'm a master, and I know I'm skilled at healing, but I feel like everyone else has advanced so much since the war, and I just haven't had any chance to learn much else between life at home and travelling with Aang. It was always reconstruction or chores or basic healing. I want more than that, and I can't expect Aang to wait around for me while I try to find it."
"You know Aang would wait."
"I know, but I don't want to feel pressured because he's waiting. Like I said, selfish. I know it's selfish, but I feel like it's something I need to do."
"You want my opinion?"
"You know I always do."
"Uncle has some proverb I can't really remember that he likes to tell me, but what it means is that you should always take an opportunity to better yourself, as it will allow you to then contribute to society more adequately. I think you should go for it. If it seems selfish at first, think of the good you can do with the skills you may learn, and how you'll be able to better help those around you after."
"Look at you, getting better with words." I was teasing, I knew. "Thanks Zuko, it's what I needed to hear."
"I've had a lot of practice the last few years at getting my words out right. I used to be so horrible at explaining things, my advisors wouldn't know what to do with me. Do you have a plan? What are looking to learn?"
"I want to learn more about waterbending healing. I learned the basics while in the north, and have depended on instinct and experience since, but I didn't give it the attention I should have while I was there. I was too busy worrying about learning to fight. I kind of scoffed at what was considered woman's work while there. Now I regret that.
"But I'm not only interested in healing using my waterbending. There are so many other methods of healing that exist in this world. I'd love to get a better understanding of them and see how I can combine them with my waterbending. I know the earth kingdom has methods using things like acupuncture and other physical methods of healing. And I was quite interested in the use of various herbs and teas to heal while in the fire nation."
"Well, you are always welcome to come to the fire nation to learn. One thing that has been not as successful as I'd like it to be is the healthcare system at home. So little emphasis has been put on it, if you'd be willing to visit on your travels, I'd gladly have our best physicians teach you everything they know about herbal remedies, if you could pass on some of your other healing knowledge.
"Viruses and broken bones we have weapons for, but internal sicknesses have been becoming more common in areas of the firenation. It's been horrible. People have been passing before their time. People blame the industrialization boom in the last thirty years. We just aren't equipped to handle it. So if you'd be able and willing to help, it would be one of the greatest things you could do for my people, and I'd make sure the firenation's head physicians would welcome you and teach you everything you'd desire to know in return."
"Have things really gotten so bad? I'd seen some of the damage the industrialization had done, and I'd gladly help in any way I can."
"Thanks. Sokka told me about your run in with that factory, and how you practically blew it up while in disguise."
"He did, huh? Well, it was the right thing to do, the pollution was terrible, it's no wonder the people are having health problems."
"I agree with you. So are you only focused on healing with this venture?"
"Not entirely. I'd love to visit the foggy swamp and try to learn from the waterbenders there, if they'll teach me. The movements are so different from the northern style. And I really want to find any bit of information that exists on the lost style of the Southern Water Tribe. I have two scrolls in my possession, but I feel like I owe it to my people to bring together whatever still exists of our long lost ways.
"I've searched the library here in Ba Sing Se, but little knowledge is stored there from outside the earth kingdom. I could find a little on the northern tribe, but nothing of the southern. I just can't give up hope; I can't believe that nothing else exists on an entire style of bending."
"You have a lot you want to do, don't you?"
"Yes, this is why I can't expect Aang to wait around for me. I have no idea how long it is going to take me. I don't need to accomplish everything. If anything, healing takes my priority, and I don't want to leave on this adventure forever, I mean, I do love Aang, and I want to be with him, but it's like you said, I'm not ready to settle down yet, either, and right now it feels like I'm expected to, when there is more for me out there."
"I think you should go for it, and whenever you feel like it, there is a place for you in the firenation to learn whatever we have to offer."
"Thank you, I really do appreciate that. And I may take you up on that before you know it. Now I just have to figure out how to talk to Aang about it."
"Just tell him like you told me. I'm sure he'll understand. He knows better than anyone about wanting to restore a lost culture."
"I know you're right. But I don't know where I'll go first, and I feel like once I talk to him it'll be weird to stay."
"Then leave. Go to the north, or come to the fire nation. I have a breakup of my own to face, and I know I could use the support. And so could our clinics. You have places to go."
"I just don't want to feel like I'm running away. I hate when people run away from their problems."
"Is it running away, when you plan to go back? You are doing this for a good purpose, you aren't really running from anything. And Aang is sure to understand. I'm sure he'll fully support you on this. You just have to talk to him."
"You're right, you know. I don't know how to take this new, wise Zuko."
"Hey, I've always been wise."
"Sure, just too hot tempered to make anything of it." I got a look from Zuko as he got up and tossed his long forgotten book at me that made me crack up laughing.
"I'm going to go see if I can help uncle with anything before dinner. I'm sure the others will be back soon."
"Thanks for talking this through with me."
"Anytime," he nodded his head as he ducked out of the study. He'd given some decent advice. Being the firelord had certainly grown him up and given him wisdom beyond his years. I was actually quite impressed. But now I had all the more reason to talk to Aang, and as much as I knew I needed to do it, I still wasn't looking forward to it.
The rest of the evening was pleasant enough, and again I ignored what I'd planned in favor of enjoying the evening. Aang and Toph had come home just in time for dinner, which was filled with laughter and teasing and jokes that didn't always make sense. Sokka and Suki came back a little while after, having had dinner out at a nice restaurant. We settled in the sitting room for the evening and played games and enjoyed each other's company until each of us had droopy eyes and Iroh ushered us all to bed, saying he needed his beauty rest and we were all making that impossible.
I fell asleep quickly, and woke earlier than usual. As I lie awake, waiting for the morning to actually be morning, I once again went through my plans. The only thing stopping me, at this point, was talking to Aang. Out of everything I had planned, it seemed the most daunting task of all. But I didn't know why. Zuko was right. Aang would understand better than anyone what I needed to do. I'd just have to explain it to him and get his blessing, and then I could go study, and maybe even be back before I really noticed the time had passed.
I didn't move until I heard someone making noise in the kitchen. I then got up, got dressed, and helped Iroh make breakfast. Iroh was putting in extra effort that morning to give his nephew a proper farewell. Breakfast came and went and before I knew it goodbyes had been said and I was in the kitchen, on my own, taking my sweet time with the dishes and avoiding the fact that Aang and I were the only ones in the house.
I really just needed to do it, now. I couldn't put it off any longer. It was either do it, or be happy continuing on the way I was. Could I be happy living my life with Aang, helping him help the world? I could, I loved Aang, and just staying with him would have been so easy, but I would likely have regretted never going out on my own, for the rest of my life.
Did I want to break up with him forever? No. I cared about him. I just didn't want either of us to be held back. I didn't know how long it would be until I came back to him. I couldn't expect him to wait for me if someone else came along in the meantime. I, and I refused to admit this to myself, didn't want to feel obligated to hurry back because someone was waiting for me.
I knew I had to do this now. The house was nearly empty. Zuko had left for the docks, Iroh had already opened his shop, Suki and Sokka had gone shopping, and Toph was out in the yard, "showing the earth who was boss", as she had put it. I collected a deep breath and walked into the study where Aang had been since breakfast.
"Aang, can we talk for a moment."
"Sure Katara, I was just planning on heading down to the university. If you want, we can walk together and talk on the way."
"No Aang, I'd rather do this here, in private."
"Why? What's up?"
"Well, I don't really know how to say this. See, I'd like to take some time to work on my bending, my healing in particular. I'd really like to go back to the North Pole and learn some of the things I was too stubborn to learn when we were first there. I know you are really busy with your avatar duties, and I know you need to focus on all the work you have been putting in to the city plans you've been working on, so…"
"I get it, Katara, don't worry! I know I've been busy, but we could totally go up to the north for a weekend and you can learn the things you want to."
"Oh. Well, actually, I'm not sure you understand, this isn't something I just want to do quickly. And it isn't just the Northern Tribe I want to visit. I want to further my waterbending, and learn everything I can about healing, not just from the Northern Tribe."
"But Katara, you already are a master water bender, and you are amazing at healing. I get that you want to learn more things, but we don't have lots of time to spend on things you already know."
"No Aang, you don't have time. That's exactly what I want to talk about. I want to go do this, and I know I can't expect you to come along, because you have more important things on your plate. Which is why I think we should take a break."
"You want to break up with me?"
"Not forever. Just while I'm travelling. It isn't fair for you to wait for me while I'm away."
"You're right. It isn't fair. But I think we can be apart for a couple months. Why would we need to break up?"
"And what if it's not just for a couple months, Aang. What if I'm gone a year? What if I'm gone two? I don't entirely know where this is going to take me, and I don't want to feel rushed because you are waiting for me to get back. I don't want you to miss out on things because you are waiting for me, when I don't know how long this will take. I haven't planned everything out yet, but this is something I need to do."
"You're being selfish, Katara."
"Fine, I'm being selfish! Everyone else had improved so much lately, and I feel so stagnant. I want to do more with my bending, why can't I have that?"
"Well, don't let me be the one to hold you back! If you want to break up, fine! We're broken up! Go and do whatever you want. I thought we learned and improved together, but if I just hold you back, then you don't have any reason to stick around."
I couldn't believe the horrible turn this had taken. Aang was storming out. I didn't want this to be so angry, I wanted to part on good terms, with his blessing. How did it go so wrong?
"Aang, wait!" I followed after him, but he ignored my words. "Aang it wasn't supposed to be like this. I love you! I just need some time for my own bending. Please let me explain better."
"Save it Katara, just go do what you want." And with one last angry look, he flew off on his glider.
I stood on the porch in complete shock at what had just happened. Did he really just fly off, angry, without letting me explain? How did this turn out so wrong?
It wasn't until long after Aang's shape disappeared from view that my disbelief was replaced by hurt and anger. How could he be so angry at me, when I just wanted his support to further master my element? How dare he just fly off in the middle of the conversation because he didn't like how it was turning out?
I could feel the furious tears forming in my eyes, but I refused to let them fall. Instead, I stormed to my room and shoved all of my things into my bag. I was unattached, that had been made clear, and so what was stopping me from starting my journey right away? Besides, I was so mad at Aang at that moment, I didn't want to be there when he came back.
"Everything alright, Sweetness?" I quickly wiped at my eyes to make sure no tears were there, before I turned around.
"Everything's fine. Why wouldn't it be?"
"You sure? You know, I was just in the yard, once the yelling started I could hear everything. You know you can talk to me about it, Katara, if you want."
"I don't. Thank you Toph, but I really just don't." I turned and continued stuffing things in my bag. I wouldn't take everything, just what I absolutely needed.
"You're packing. Why?"
"I'm leaving. I made my decision, and now there is no reason for me to stay here. I might as well get started."
"I get it. Where you gonna go?"
"North. It's early enough; I might be able to catch a trade ship before the tide goes out."
"What about everyone else? You're not going to say goodbye?"
"I don't have time. Thank Iroh for me. I'll send my brother and him both a letter explaining things." My bag was almost full to the rim. I swung my extra water flasks on and buckled my belt. "I just don't want to be talked out of this. I have to go before it's too late."
I set my bag on my shoulders and headed for the door. "Sorry Toph, I have to do this. Bye." And then I was off, jogging towards the bay, almost missing the quiet "Bye Katara," from Toph in my rush. I had told Toph I would try heading north, but as I ran, I remembered Zuko's offer the day before.
Before I knew it I was at the docks, standing in the shadow of a large Fire Nation ship. Part of me was angry at myself to running away like I was, but the desire to flee and the hurt and the anger had won out, and I was getting on that ship. I approached the loading plank, and as I was about to board two guards grabbed me and pulled me away.
"You do not have the authority to board this ship. There will be no stowaways to the Fire Nation," the larger of the two said as they pushed me back onto the dock.
"I am here to see Zuko; he would let me on this ship in an instant."
"The fire lord doesn't let common folk board his ship to see him, nor are common folk allowed to call him by his name, you disrespectful little…" At the title common folk, my anger reached an unspeakable high, and I could feel the emotions and the water crash together to cover the two guards in a wave plenty large enough to stop the chatty one mid-sentence.
"I am not common folk!" I nearly shouted, but my giant wave seemed to have made a large enough racket to bring several others to the side of the ship. I didn't focus on them until Zuko's voice came from the center of the group.
"What is going on here? . . . Katara? What happened?" And when my eyes found his face, every emotion inside of me spilled over, and I was crying, no longer capable of anything else. "Katara?" he was right next to me an instant later.
Somewhere between a gasp for air and an onslaught of fresh tears I managed to give him the only explanation for my unexpected appearance I could muster. "He flew away!" And that was it.
My body was shaking with rage and hurt and everything else I could possibly feel at that moment, and the tears came stronger and faster. I couldn't see, couldn't speak, couldn't hear. I was so consumed.
I think at some point my legs might have given out because I could recognize that I was being lifted and carried somewhere. Then crying out my emotions was my world. I felt more like a child than ever before. I wanted to be an adult, make my own decisions, choose my own path, not be burdened by the need to take care of Aang, but now I was more of a child than I had ever known him to be.
I remember the thoughts swirling in my head, and remember crying until I couldn't remember anything anymore. I must have cried myself out and fallen asleep, because when I came to, my eyes were dry.
I could feel the water all around me, the motion of the waves soothing, calming. Though I didn't have to worry, really, my tears were all dried up. When I opened my eyes I saw red. I was on board Zuko's ship, heading towards the Fire Nation, lying in a bed in some room that was red. Really red. So red even the light glowed red. When I sat up to take in my surroundings I was surprised to see Zuko in a chair across the room, a scroll in his hands.
He didn't say anything, but he was looking my way, aware that I was awake. What could I say to him? I felt foolish, he had taken me along without any explanation from me, and I couldn't even figure out what to say to him.
"Zuko. . . I. . ."
He held up a hand, "You don't have to say anything. You are here. If you want to tell me what happened, then do so when you are ready, but if not, you are welcome either way."
"Thanks, Zuko." He gave a grunt in response as he stood and stretched a bit. "Zuko?"
"What time is it? Was I out long?"
"The sun just went down. You were asleep only a couple hours." Without warning my stomach gave a loud grumble. With it I felt a blush on my face.
"I guess I haven't eaten since your farewell breakfast this morning. Could you perhaps spare some food for a hungry waterbender?" He rolled his eyes at me and gestured for me to follow.
As I stood I realized that I probably looked worse for wear, as crying the way I had didn't exactly do wonders for the way you looked after, and as I tried to flatten my hair a little, I realized that sleeping with it open didn't do the best for my appearance either.
Zuko must have noticed my trying to get myself back in order, because just outside the door to the room we were in he said, "If you wish to straighten up first, there is a washroom right through here you can use." I followed him out, and went into the little room he had gestured to.
I did my best to smooth everything down, and washed my face. When I entered the little hallway again, Zuko was leaning against the opposite wall waiting.
"Much, lead away Mr. Firelord." Once food was on the table, the slight awkwardness of my random arrival dissolved, and everything switched into the comfortableness that I could always share with my best friend. Zuko was my best friend. He understood me better than the rest, he somehow always had.
Remembering this made me want to tell him what had happened after he had left that morning. Out of everyone, he would be able to understand my side of it, even if he didn't agree with the way things were handled.
"He ended up running away in the end. That was why I needed to get away from there. I couldn't stand how after all this time he still ended up just flying away when things didn't turn out like he wanted them to." I was looking down at the bread in my hands. Zuko said nothing, just let me say what I needed to say.
"He never really understood what I was trying to tell him. Maybe I wasn't the most clear, but I was trying to end things on good terms. I tried my best to keep from hurting him. But no matter what I said he just heard what he wanted. He just blew up, and he flew away.
"I don't know if I wanted to end things for good, or to just get a chance to take a break from him and do my own things, but the way he reacted just makes me so angry. And it hurts at the same time. We have done so much together. I don't want things to end this way, with anger between us. He is one of the most important people in my life. I just don't know what to do now.
"In that moment I just wanted to get away from it all, and I know I did basically the same thing he did, but it was all I could think to do. I have no idea what I want to do with my life. I have no grand plans like he does. I couldn't just follow him and take care of him while he did whatever he felt was important. I feel horrible for being so selfish, when he does so much for the world. I just don't know what the right thing for me is right now. And I don't know how to figure out what the right thing is, either." I had talked myself out, and now things were silent.
I was still looking down at the bread I was slowly tearing apart. It took telling Zuko what was on my mind after the whole situation that had occurred that morning to realize what had really been bothering me deep down for so long. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn't know where my place in the world was. I wasn't meant to be the avatar's caretaker. As much as I loved him like a partner, there was no real return of those feelings.
I knew that Aang loved me. I knew that Aang wanted to be with me. But somehow I also knew that Aang wasn't capable of taking care of me. He had such strength. He could take care of the world and lead it back into a time of love and peace. But he couldn't hold me and ease my troubles. I was always the one to hold him when things overwhelmed him.
I couldn't help but think back to Jet at that moment. How so long ago when we had first met him he made me feel so protected, so feminine. Though things didn't turn out for the best there, I had felt something that Aang had never brought to our relationship. I didn't know what it was. I didn't love Jet, but I loved Aang more than anyone.
"You know. It's okay to be selfish every once in a while."
"But it seems so wrong when compared to how selfless Aang is. All he does is for others. I should be happy just being a part of such an amazing person's life."
"Katara, I know you know Aang better than almost anyone, but you are so blind on some things. Aang is one of the most selfish people I have ever met." I could feel my eyebrows furrow at him, and he saw my face change.
"Let me explain. I would never deny Aang the greatness he has accomplished, but so much of it came from his selfishness. I remember how frustrated I was just before Sozin's comet, just before Aang went on his venture with the giant lionturtle. He had no response for how he would face my father. The only thing he could say was that there had to be a way to end the war without taking his life. All he wanted was to protect himself.
"I talked to Aang a great deal, in the time he spent in the Fire Nation right after the war, about the ideologies of the Air Nomads. Aang had been taught from early on that to reach enlightenment he had to detach himself from the world, and treat all life as sacred. For him, the thought of destroying my father meant destroying himself, so he refused to do what was expected of him.
"I know that taking my father's bending away left him so powerless that he would never be a threat to the world ever again, and that doing whatever he could to prevent taking a life was the right thing, but as much as I would like to believe he was doing it because it was right, I know that a large part of his decision was about protecting himself. His selfishness wasn't a bad thing in that case, in fact it was far from bad, but his refusal to take Ozai's life had nothing to do with selflessness. If Aang had been selfless, he would have never hesitated doing what it took to save the world.
"In the same way, Aang's selfishness has prevented him from following the teachings of the monks. He was taught to detach himself from the world, but as long as I have known him he has been clinging to you, refusing his teachings to keep you by his side. He blocked the avatar state because he refused to let you go. Another selfish decision that put him before the world he was meant to save. I know Aang has done amazing things, and I don't discredit any of what he has done. You need to realize, though, that selfishness is human nature, and that if you don't take care of your own needs, if you look up to the standards you think Aang has shown in his quest for peace and balance, then you will only ever make those around you happy.
"I know you. I know you are happy when the ones you love are happy and taken care of. You have been that way for as long as I have known you existed. But you need to realize the things you want for yourself as well. You deserve your own happiness, Katara, and you should do what it takes to find out what it is that will bring you your own happiness." It was rare for Zuko to say so much at any one time, but his words struck me with a truth I wasn't sure I wanted to accept.
I stared at the pile of crumbs before me. Everything that Zuko had said had merit, in some way, but the things Zuko had said made me uncomfortable. Aang had always done what was right. He found a way to bring down Firelord Ozai without ending his life. It made me remember the desire I once had to take down and destroy the man that had taken my mother from me.
I had wanted a life for a life, but the emptiness I saw in his eyes when I was about to go through with it made me realize that his suffering was greater punishment than death. How much better would I have felt if I had gone through with it? I would have still hated him, as I still do. It would not have brought my mother back. I would have had his blood on my hands, making me no better than him.
No, taking his life would not have been the right thing; it would have solved nothing and only changed me for the worse. But I couldn't have done what Aang had told me to. I could never forgive him for what he had done. He didn't deserve it. Aang was taught to forgive and let go and tried to pass those teachings on to me. But did Aang follow his own ideologies? Or did he really put them aside when they didn't benefit his desires, as Zuko had suggested?
There were things I never talked about with Aang. The subjects of his people's extinction, his time disconnected from the avatar state, how he had known there was trouble in Ba Sing Se after he had left to learn from Guru Pathik were all examples of things that were pushed aside and accepted, things that no one had the desire to bring back up.
With Aang things were always light, and all darkness of the past was avoided when we talked about life. He always focused on the future; the only times he mentioned things of the past that were hard was when he proclaimed that they would never happen to anyone again. I realized, sitting there thinking, that it was easy to put the scary parts of our pasts out of the way when we were focused on making the future better.
Aang's positivity and light rubbed off quickly, and I always felt it was the right thing to throw myself into the work I had done with him. We never talked about the meaning of what we had gone through during our journey before the fateful day of the comet. I had discussed almost everything with Zuko in our letters over the years. My conversations with him must have been enough talk about our struggles to not feel the need or desire to try to bring them up with Aang.
Now that I thought about it, I didn't really know what Aang's thoughts were for most of what we had gone through now that they were done. It was as though, when the war was declared over, he decided that from that moment on he would only focus on the future, and only take along the things of the past he wanted along.
His never ending optimism after the war made it seem he was always working for the right thing, which, from all ways I could see it, he was. He seemed selfless in my eyes, running from village to village to rebuild, devoting time to reforming schools in the fire nation, working hard to develop a way for all citizens of the world to have access to an open understanding of those who shared the world with them. He couldn't have done all that because of selfishness.
Those were big things though, and the things Zuko had mentioned were details that changed the outlook. Was I missing the details because I didn't want to see them? For years I had worked to be a better person, to follow in Aang's example and use what I had to help others less fortunate than I was. Was my desire to be as good as what I wanted Aang to be the reason I didn't see things clearly? I had never thought such things before, but Zuko's words were changing the way I saw the past.
I sat in silence for a long time, and Zuko shared the silence across from me. When I didn't want to think anymore, I asked if there was somewhere I could find some ink and paper. I had to take responsibility for my rash actions that day. With directions from Zuko, I left him sitting at the table to write and send off a letter to my brother.
I needed to make sure at least my brother knew I was safe. It had been most of a day and into the night, but if he had found out I had taken off without a trace, who knew what he could have done? He was Sokka, and was known to overreact at times (the thought of him always being my, although often annoyingly so, protective older brother gave me a warm comfort).
It was late, or early, depending, and I hadn't met a soul in my trek to write and then find a bird to send off to my brother. As I stood on deck, watching the messenger hawk fly back in the direction we came from, the sudden voice sounding next to me almost caused me to jump out of my skin. "It is nearing dawn and you haven't had much sleep." Zuko was standing at my side, though I hadn't noticed in the slightest any indication of his arrival.
"I always forget that I have to watch out for you. You are much too stealthy for anyone's good." My heart was beating much too fast at the shock of his sudden appearance. Though I gave him a smile to show that my statement was meant to be humorous, he didn't respond to my comment. Instead he stared down at me as though he wanted to say something but didn't know if he should.
"What is it Zuko? Surly your sense of humor isn't that horrible." His gaze was almost maddening, staring at me as though it was most important he figure something out. "Seriously, what is it?"
"You aren't really okay are you?" Was I? No, I really wasn't. The way he looked and the way he spoke pushed all attempts at humor out into the waters we were cutting through at breakneck speed. He was concerned, and I hadn't expected anyone, let alone him, to really show any concern for my side of the situation. Understanding perhaps, but not concern.
Somehow I realized then that as much as I was worried about Aang and hurting him, I also assumed that everyone else would see it from the same side as me. Wasn't everyone most attuned to the Avatar's wellbeing? But no, Zuko was concerned about me, even when I was trying to bring some light to the situation.
My tears were coming then. I always was much too quick to cry, no matter what emotion overwhelmed me. Now though, my tears were sad. As much as I knew things weren't working, as much as I knew I needed to get out and choose my own adventures, as much as I was angry at Aang for the way he responded to what I had tried to make easy for the both of us, I was hurt and sad by the turn of events.
I had been with Aang for so long, and I wasn't just over it because I wanted to do other things. Somehow I found myself burying my face in Zuko's shirt then, grabbing hold and sobbing. It wasn't the same as earlier, when I had made it to Zuko's ship. No, now I was crying purely for my own pain, and it felt okay to be doing so.
Zuko stood still as I cried, and after a moment hesitantly wrapped his arms around my shoulders. The tears washed away the pent up emotion that I had hidden even from myself, and as I started to regain some composure I began to think about my friendship with Zuko.
I talked to him more about the politics of the world, different training techniques between elements, and the histories that lead to where we were than with anyone else, but this was only along the lines of the fourth or fifth hug I had ever shared with him. As quick as I knew I was to cry, I was also one to quickly embrace those who I found important, and Zuko was definitely an important friend in my life. Yet he really never made it into the group in that way.
I chuckled a little at the thought of how awkward he had been that time on Ember Island before the comet when he realized he was welcomed in our group hug. I was feeling better now, my emotions in check. I was sad, yes, but there were other things for me to focus on, and I knew time would make things better.
As I pulled away from Zuko, the look on his face sent the small smile on my face into a peal of laughter. My laughter didn't help what was happening on Zuko's face. He must have thought I had lost it.
"Uhh…" Why was this funny? "Why are you laughing?"
"Oh, I was just thinking about Ember Island. Surely you remember when we were there?"
"How did you get to thinking about that? And how would our time preparing for the comet to arrive make you laugh?" If his eyebrow furrowed any further, I was afraid some sort of damage would befall his face.
"I was thinking of lighter times, and how time makes things better. Nothing to worry about. Really, I just think I need some sleep, you were right, I haven't slept much." Incredulity laced his features, and I was afraid I was going to burst into laughter again if I didn't shut my eyes soon. "Is there someplace I could turn in for the night, or what is left of it at least? I can feel the lack of sleep starting to set in."
"Oh, right, you can stay in my room, I was planning on speaking with the Captain, he should be up by now, and then grabbing one of the mats in the main cabin area with the crew." Take his room? The last thing I wanted was to put him out. I was, after all, a last minute and quite unexpected addition to the voyage.
As I opened my mouth to protest he put his hand up in a very diplomatic gesture and said, "No, I insist. Third door on the left. Think you can manage to find your way back? It's just a small ship after all."
"I think I can manage," and with a thought of how odd it was to see Zuko embracing his political prowess and using it against me when usually I would have argued (though I may have just been sleepy). I turned to make my way to his room, which I was to use for myself.
Sleep was waiting for me, and after my eventful day I was ready for it. Before I made it inside though, I swore the wind carried a whisper of "Girls are crazy!" in Zuko's voice as my hand rested on the handle. With a last chuckle I slipped into Zuko's room, where sleep welcomed me with waiting arms.