Disclaimer: I do not own ATLA. It belongs to Mike and Bryan. Me just borrow, so you no sue.
A/N: These vignettes sort of take place in the same universe as New Beginnings and The Night They Made Tenzin, but you don't have to read those stories to get these. It's all just my headcanon anyway.
Tales of Republic City
Changes and Additions
"Here we are," Aang announced as he brought Appa in for a landing along the waterfront, "This is Air Temple Island." The declaration was superfluous, yet Aang made it anyway…anything to break the monotonous and tension-filled silence that had fallen between him and Katara.
He and his family, along with Katara's elderly grandmother, had left the Southern Air Temple that morning in the early, pre-dawn hours to make the nearly sixteen hour journey to Republic City…their new home. Aang had expected the change in their circumstances to be met with bittersweet reactions from his family. He had mentally prepared himself for the tears, anguish and even outright rebellion that would accompany his announcement that he was moving the family to Republic City permanently.
Kya and Bumi, for their part, had been surprisingly open to the idea once the initial shock and dismay wore off. Katara, on the other hand, still seemed troubled despite the fact she and Aang had made the decision together. Her response seemed well beyond sadness too. Aang sensed that she was panicked and unsure as well…as if she was preparing herself for impending disaster. And, unfortunately for Aang, her anxious uncertainty had manifested itself in a pervasive silence for the duration of their trip.
At the start of the morning, Katara's uncommon quiet hadn't been so glaringly obvious. The first half of their journey had been filled with Kya and Bumi's continual childish chatter and occasional bickering. The ten year old and five year old had bounced mercurially between being loving siblings and bitter enemies with Aang and Katara intervening when matters became too heated. Kanna, too, had eased the tension filled atmosphere between husband and wife with her intermittent queries about what life was like in Republic City and whether or not she would like living there. It was, perhaps, the most engaged Katara had been since the trip began.
But eventually…Kya, Bumi and Kanna dozed off, one by one inevitably conquered by the unending tedium of the long trip, leaving Aang and Katara in uncomfortable silence. The stark change made it impossible for Aang to continue pretending that all was well. Something serious was going on with his wife. Consequently, he spent the remainder of the journey guiding Appa and silently agonizing over the reason for Katara's sudden mood shift while Katara spent the remainder of the journey curled up in Appa's saddle while silently agonizing over how to tell Aang the reason for her sudden mood shift. Unfortunately, in the end, neither of them ended up speaking a word to the other at all even while talking was the exact thing they wanted to do.
It was only when they finally landed on the island that Aang managed to swallow down his trepidation and address the figurative elephant-hippo that had somehow wedged itself between him and Katara. He twisted a glance up at her over his shoulder. Presently, she was contorting herself in a graceful stretch to work the kinks out of her back, but despite her languorous action it was impossible for Aang not to notice how haggard she appeared.
When she started to reach over to nudge her grandmother into wakefulness, he rushed out softly, "Don't!" Katara reflexively dropped her hand and stared at him with wide eyes. "Don't wake them just yet," he whispered, "I was hoping that you and I could take a walk around the grounds…maybe talk a little…"
Although, Katara's expression said that she would very much like to do exactly that, her treacherous and cowardly heart compelled her into shaking her head in refusal. "Aang, it's been a long day." She flicked a glance out towards the horizon where the sun was already sagging low and casting the city in its tawny glow. "It will be dark soon. I'm exhausted. Gran-Gran is exhausted and so are the kids. They need their baths, they need dinner and then they need sleep."
Not to be deterred, Aang swiveled to face her completely, gray eyes beseeching. "So let them rest here in the saddle for a little while," he reasoned, "A few minutes won't hurt." When she still appeared conflicted over the offer, he added in a cajoling tone, "Katara, come on. At least let me show you all the additions Zuko and I have made since the last time you were here."
Still clearly vacillating, Katara dropped a lingering glance to her children's sleeping countenances before regarding Aang again. He sat there, expression hopeful and his smile sweetly beguiling. Katara groaned inwardly. She had never been invulnerable to his smile, especially when he was trying to be charming. Despite the emotional turmoil churning inside her gut right then, she found herself smiling back at him a bit.
"Okay…" Katara finally relented with a small sigh, "I guess a few minutes won't hurt."
For the first few minutes they walked together in companionable silence, the quiet between them disturbed only when Aang pointed out a particular landmark on the island. They made pleasant small talk and passed lame jokes, but both knew that they would be unable to avoid the discord between them indefinitely. They knew they needed to talk but both were reluctant to start the conversation.
But then, it had always been like that between them. Although, they were best friends and there had never been any secrets between them, marriage and children had made the waters of communication a bit tricky for them to navigate at times. They could talk about anything and everything with each other…but that didn't mean that all things were easy to talk about or that there weren't things, at times, said by one that the other might not want to hear.
With a creeping sense of dread, Aang suspected that this might be one of those times. However, in keeping with the promises they had made to each other, Aang knew they couldn't skirt the issue between them any longer…just as they had never skirted hard issues in the past. With that in mind, he sucked in a fortifying breath and simply decided to dive right in.
"Do you regret coming here with me, Katara?" he asked bluntly.
The question brought her up short and had her jerking her blue eyes to his face in a dumbfounded stare. "What? No! Why would you think that?"
"What else am I supposed to think? You've been moody and tense ever since we started packing up the Air Temple to come here. You've barely spoken two words to me this entire week!"
"Way to exaggerate there, Aang! You know that's not true!"
Gaping in disbelief over her flat denial of something he felt was rather obvious, Aang whipped around to face her. "Right. I guess if you don't count asking me what I want for dinner or if I have clean underwear or conversations about the kids or the move, then yeah, it is true, Katara," he insisted a little irritably as he ticked off each point on his fingers, "As far as having a real conversation…just being together, being us…we haven't done that in a while. I feel like the only time we really connect on a personal level is when we're in bed together…and even that's been sporadic lately."
Cheeks blazing with embarrassment and anger, Katara fired back, "Well, welcome to life, Aang! This is what happens when you have children. We can't have lazy days in bed all day anymore. There are children to feed and chores to be done! So yeah, more often than not, it's responsibility and monotony. I'm sorry if that disappoints you! It can't always fun and games," she mumbled, arms crossed defensively. "Maybe you'd know that if you were around more."
Aang blinked at her, caught somewhere between dismay and annoyance. "Wow…"
Katara refused to retract her words even if, deep in her heart, she regretted hurting him by saying them. "It's true, isn't it?"
"Did I say I expected it to be 'fun and games?'" he flashed back. "I know it's not! I get that, but… We had a relationship before we had children, Katara! My commitment was to you first! I love our children, but you're the one I'm going to spend my life with! Our marriage is the priority for me. Us! Always! You say you miss me when I'm gone, but when I'm actually here you can't be bothered!"
Tears welled in Katara's eyes with the accusation. "That is not fair!"
Aang averted his face as much in obstinacy as he did to avoid seeing her cry. "Well, that's how I feel," he maintained.
Hurt by the accusation, riddled with guilt and more than a little hormonal, Katara sought refuge in righteous indignation and dripping sarcasm. "Aang, I have two small children, a school and an entire temple to care for…not to mention being the primary caregiver for my aging grandmother! I'm sorry if I failed in making you feel like you're the center of my universe! Please, forgive me, oh mighty Avatar."
The reprimand smarted and Aang flinched in guilty reaction. "That's not what I meant."
"Then what did you mean?"
"I want to make time for us," he stressed.
"And you think I don't?" Katara cried, "Who do you think was holding things together when you were gone all the time, huh? Why do you think I did that? So you wouldn't feel so burdened and there would be time for us!"
He deflated then, his argument rendered moot and insignificant in the face of that immutable fact. "I know that," he whispered, "I know, Katara. And I'm sorry that all of the responsibility fell on your shoulders. I know it wasn't right, but I'm trying to fix it! Why do you think I suggested we come here? I want to be available to help you with this stuff."
"But will you really be available, Aang?" Katara lamented tearfully, "I mean…nothing has really changed except that we're closer. You're still as busy as ever. You're going to be in council meetings day in and day out with Zuko, Sokka and Toph trying to make this city into a haven for benders and nonbenders of all nations and I'll be…I'll be…"
"You'll be what?" he prodded when she trailed off into broken silence.
Katara shook her head sharply and presented him with her back. "Nothing."
However, Aang was not going to be deterred that easily. He saddled around her so that she had no choice but to face him head on. It was a tactic that she had taught him. "Say what's on your mind, Katara," he urged, "Tell me. Do you resent me for being away and leaving you alone with the kids? Are you feeling left out? Are you feeling burdened? Are you having second thoughts about serving on the council? What is it, Katara? I can't help if you don't tell me!"
"I'm pregnant, okay!" she cried wildly when it seemed he wouldn't stop hammering at her. That shut him up. Aang sucked in a sharpened breath and completely forgot to release it. Katara slumped forward, suddenly feeling drained and defeated in the aftermath of their argument and her agitated confession. "That's what's wrong. I'm pregnant."
It was a long time before she found the courage to lift her eyes and look at him again and, when she did, he was still staring at her with the same staggered expression. "Well…" she pressed a little desperately, "…say something."
Aang had to swallow several times before he could speak again. Finally, he managed a croaked, "When?"
"I think it might have been the night you came home…the night of the storm."
"That was nearly two months ago, Katara!"
She winced in guilty reaction. "I…I know."
"You've known this whole time and you didn't say anything to me?" Aang cried, still a bit dazed by her news. Now it became clear to him why she had seemed so tired lately and why she had been so incredibly moody. "Why would you do that?"
"I didn't know the whole time," she interjected defensively, "But I have for a while now…at least a few weeks."
"Why didn't you say anything to me?"
Katara threw her arms up in a frustrated gesture. "It's complicated!"
His insistence seemed to fluster her even more. "Oh my goodness, Aang! You and I had just finished having this long conversation about how we would wait to have more babies. We were making all these plans for enrolling Kya and Bumi in regular school and talking about how much time we would have to spend together and…well…"
"You thought I would be disappointed," Aang finished for her in quiet summary.
Katara inclined her head in a small nod and peeked up at him through the damp fan of her lashes. "Are…are you?" she asked hesitantly.
"Are you?" he countered with equal hesitation.
"I asked you first!"
"Well, I asked you second!"
Katara rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Aang, come on!"
Recognizing that he couldn't evade her any further, Aang dropped his head forward with a heavy sigh. "I don't know what to say to you. I'm afraid that, no matter what I tell you, you're not going to like my answer."
"Just be honest with me," Katara urged him, her tone trembling despite the certainty of her words. "I want to know."
"Okay," Aang replied, pausing to take a deep breath, "I'm not disappointed at all."
Katara regarded him with wide, wet eyes filled with surprise and…relief. "You're not?"
He smiled and dropped a gentle kiss to the tip of her nose. "No. Did you really expect me to be?"
"Aang, you just went through that whole spiel about how I don't make any time for you only five minutes ago," Katara reminded him skeptically. "If you feel that way now, then how are you going to feel with a new baby in the house?"
"It was never my intention for you to feel like you have to choose between me and the kids, Katara." When he noticed her difficulty meeting his eyes, Aang gently nudged her beneath her chin and brought her reluctant gaze to his earnest one. "I don't want our relationship to get lost in the day to day. I don't want us to ever take what we have for granted. You're my best friend and I want it to stay that way."
"I want that too," she whispered.
"And earlier, what I said to you, it was out of line and completely wrong. I was being a brat because you weren't talking to me and, instead of simply telling you that I was hurt and confused, I picked at you. I'm sorry."
"Well, it's true," Katara considered drolly, biting back a smile, "You are a brat…but I love you anyway. Apology accepted."
"Gee, thanks." He tried to make a disgruntled face at her but spoiled it by laughing. He framed her face in his hands and smacked her lips in a sound kiss. "I can't believe you're pregnant!"
"I can't believe it either. I've been trying to wrap my head around it this whole time."
"I should have told you, Aang," Katara confessed after a quiet moment of introspection, "I'm sorry I didn't. I know I hurt you by being so quiet and moody, especially because you didn't have an explanation for why I was acting that way. You would think I would have learned by now that avoiding a problem only makes it worse, but…I guess I was feeling really overwhelmed. I don't think I was ready to talk about it. And then, by the time I was ready, I was too scared to do it."
"And what about now? Are you still scared?"
"I'm not so much scared as I am uncertain," she replied, "You have to admit that the timing is really lousy. We're going to have our hands full in the next few months splitting our time between Republic City and the Southern Air Temple until Anil is ready to take full responsibility for the temple. Then there are your avatar duties, the children and the added responsibility of caring for Gran-Gran and… Well, it's really not the best time to have a baby, is it?"
"Probably not," Aang conceded, but before Katara could even decide if she felt disappointed and saddened by the admission, he added, "But I want to."
Katara sagged against him, leaning her forehead into his shoulder with a grateful sigh before eagerly turning up her face for his kiss. "Me too."