Goodnight Not Goodbye
Her final moments with Aang tumbled through Katara's mind in a series of jagged flashes. With her eyes still closed and her tears bleeding into the pillow tucked beneath her head, she remembered his smile that morning…how he had watched her so intently as if he were memorizing every movement, every word… She remembered the light brush of his fingers across her hips as he had winded her through the crowd of their family and friends, how he had whispered funny little jokes in her ear along the way. She remembered the tender way he had kissed her shoulder as they had cuddled in bed later that evening. And from far away, as she drifted off to sleep, she could still hear his voice telling her how much he loved her…
And then sometime in the middle of the night, something inexplicable had shaken her from her sleep. It was a vague, but innate sense that something was wrong. Katara had awakened with her cheek pressed against Aang's chest and she had listened for the steady cadence of his heartbeat just as she always did, expecting that the soothing lub-dub would lull her back to sleep. But in a twist of morbid irony it was the stunning lack of sound, the echoing silence that jarred her completely awake.
He had still been warm to the touch then and, at first, it was almost as if he were sleeping. She had shaken him, smoothed her hands over his face compulsively, his name spilling from her lips again and again in a desperate plea for him to "wake up." And for a moment, just one fleeting moment, Katara had let herself pretend that she could wake him, that what she knew was true wasn't true at all…because the truth was simply too awful to contemplate.
When the reality came crashing in on her, however, everything that happened afterwards was a screaming blur. She remembered yelling…or she thought she did, but they had come running nonetheless. There had been pounding footfalls and streams of apprehensive faces, keening sobs of grief, urgent cries, and frantic resuscitation attempts, thumping and thumping and thumping on Aang's chest until finally there was Zuko's shattered pronouncement to all present that "the Avatar was dead."
At first she didn't even realize that the broken sobbing she heard reverberating in her ears was her own. Something cracked open inside Katara then, something deep and primal and excruciating. She had fallen to her knees because her legs would no longer support her. Her heart shriveled into something distorted and icy in those horrifying moments before shattering into irreparable pieces. Katara had been sleepwalking through her life ever since.
Their family and friends had mourned Aang and born his body back to the place where he had been raised as a child for a traditional sky burial. The ceremony had consisted of cremating Aang's remains and baking them into bread that was to be scattered for the birds. Aang had told Katara about the custom years and years ago, shortly after they had discovered Gyatso's remains at the temple. The idea was for the birds to take the essence of the deceased with them when they took to the skies, to return that person to the place where all airbenders belonged…among the clouds.
Sokka had come to her afterwards as she was tossing the bread bits and watching the birds swoop down to pick them up, galled at the realization that they were actually gobbling up pieces of what remained of her husband. At the time Aang had described it to her, the ceremony had sounded so beautiful and honorable. But actually taking part in it now, all Katara felt was an undeniable churning in her gut and a fierce need to sob. Nothing about it felt "beautiful" or "honorable."
The moment her brother placed his hand on Katara's shoulder, she stiffened a little. She was torn between wanting his comfort and wanting to be left alone. Sokka, however, seemed to sense her silent vacillation and chose to stay with her, filling the former need and ignoring the latter.
"It's ironic, don't you think?" he began in a tear roughened voice, "We found him together and now we're saying goodbye to him together. I was strangely unprepared for that. I was so sure that he'd outlive us all."
"You know Aang," Katara murmured, "He never was big on following your plans, Sokka…but he tried."
"I'm going to miss him," he whispered, "I do miss him."
Katara's hands began to shake with the effort she expended to keep a tight rein on her emotions. "I miss him too…more than you can imagine."
"You did the right thing today, Katara," Sokka told her gruffly, "Aang would have wanted to be brought back here. He would have wanted to be buried this way."
"I wish that gave me some kind of comfort, Sokka."
"Someday it will," he promised, "But right now…"
"Right now it doesn't seem fair or right or good and it doesn't make saying goodbye to him any easier," she uttered as she continued the drop bits of bread almost mechanically, "I know in my heart that he lived a full life. We had children and grandchildren. It was a good life. And I made him happy, didn't I?" She turned a desperate glance towards Sokka. "I did make him happy, right?"
"Katara, no one made him happier."
"Then why isn't he here right now?" she wept, "I don't understand it. If he could keep himself sustained in an iceberg for 100 years why couldn't I have gotten just a fraction of that time, Sokka? Just a little while longer…"
"I don't know. I don't have the answers, Katara. I wish I did."
She turned back towards the birds. Already they had picked off the remnants of all she had dropped and were loitering around in search for more. She sighed and granted their silent appeal. "I don't want any answers, Sokka," she whispered numbly, "I just want him."
After they had committed Aang back to his ancestral roots, the family had returned to Air Temple Island with heavy hearts and feeling a little lost. But Katara had not felt very much of anything. It was as if she had disconnected from her body and was watching some other Katara, some stranger live her life. There was an odd sense of comfort in feeling nothing…wanting nothing.
Worried for her, her children had taken leaves of absences from their own lives in order to care for their grieving mother. It was difficult for them to watch her grow more and more unreachable and despondent as the days started to blend into weeks. Katara was depressed. That much was understandable. Yet, her anguish seemed to go far beyond grief. It was almost as if she had forgotten how to live entirely.
That wasn't too far from the truth. Katara was numb and tired and most days she could barely muster the desire to even open her eyes in the morning. But she did open them and she made herself rise from the bed and she pushed herself through the mockery of a daily routine all the while feeling as if she'd been gutted. Not living anymore, only existing, only waiting…hoping, praying, wishing for an end. All of those gloomy thoughts tripped through Katara's mind, weighing heavily on her fragile psyche as she contemplated the prospect of slipping from her bed and facing yet another cold, bleak day without her husband.
She crept from underneath the covers in measured increments, rolling upright with the same deliberate lethargy. Katara had to force herself to sit up straight, to slip on her robe, to brush her hair, to leave the lonely confines of the bedroom she had shared with Aang for more than thirty years. The effort she expended felt not unlike running a marathon nonstop at top speed. She was exhausted by the time she stepped out into the corridor beyond the bedroom door.
Almost instantly, however, Katara was inundated with a familiar sense of panic and dread as she yet again was assailed with the haunting reality that facing the day meant facing it without Aang…and she didn't want to do it. She couldn't do it. Not this time. She didn't have the energy to go through the motions, not when Aang had taken everything that was vital inside her when he left. Overwhelmed, Katara did an abrupt about face then, needing desperately to seek refuge in the one place that was still brimming over with Aang's presence…where she could still smell him and feel him and be surrounded by him.
Yet, as she reached for the door handle to retreat back inside her bedroom, the hushed tones of her children's concerned voices reached Katara's ears from across the distance. She stood momentarily frozen, her mother's instincts crying out to comfort them even as there was a part of her that simply could not bring herself to care. Still, in spite of that insidious apathy, something stronger compelled Katara forward. She drifted quietly down the hallway, the muffled strains of their conversation becoming more distinct as she drew closer.
"…is her home," Tenzin was saying, "She wants to be here, Kya! How is uprooting her at one of the most unstable times in her life supposed to help matters?"
"Do you think being here makes it any better?" Kya argued, "She barely comes out of her room anymore, Tenzin. She doesn't eat. She doesn't interact. It's not healthy."
"Dad has only been gone a month, Kya," Bumi interjected gruffly, "We're all still pretty raw, okay. Give her a break! Let her deal with it however she needs to deal with it!"
"I'm not trying to manage her grief," Kya denied in a wooden tone.
"It sounds like it," Tenzin snapped, "You can't just walk in here and tell everyone what to do! Mom will be okay. She needs time. She just lost the man she's loved since she was a child. I don't expect her to shrug that off."
"That's not what I expect either," Kya flared, "But I'm not blind! Mom is wasting away here. I really think it would be better for everyone, especially Mom, if she came to live with me and Kamik in the South Pole for a while."
"No!" Tenzin exploded, balking over the prospect of losing his mother even as a grown man, "That's not what she wants! It's not what I want. Why are you pushing this?"
"Kya does have a point, Tenzin," Bumi interjected, "I don't think we should push Mom right now, but maybe being away from the island for a while would be a good thing. There's no reason that she can't come to stay with me and Hikari in the Fire Nation. She has friends there. She'd be happy."
"No," Kya disagreed, "The South Pole is her home. That's where she was born. She should be there."
"This is her home," Tenzin grated, "She built a life with Dad here in this house. The memories she made with him here are all that she has left, Kya. They're all we have left. Are you trying to erase him?"
"Of course I'm not!" she cried, "How can you say that to me? I miss him every day. But being in this house… I can't. I just can't. His memory is in every corner of it and it kills me to know that's all I have left of him! And if I feel that way I cannot imagine what she's feeling!"
"Maybe you guys should ask her before you go deciding what she does and doesn't want," Bumi suggested.
"There's no need for that," Tenzin argued, "The only one making this an issue is Kya!"
"I'm thinking about what's best for our mother," Kya muttered, "Every day she is surrounded by constant memories of Dad and they're not letting her heal. She is lonely and she is depressed and I'm not sure how much will she has to even go on! She is slipping away from us! Can't you see that?"
The silence that followed that grim declaration was deafening. From her concealed place, Katara flinched inwardly and not because Kya's allegation lacked veracity. In fact, it was so true that Katara shuddered. She leaned into a nearby wall with muted sobs as Bumi finally broke the silence amongst his siblings.
"Kya, I know that you're worried right now," he said quietly, "We're all worried. But you know how strong Mom is…how strong she's always been. You can't really believe that she wants to give up, do you?"
"Have you looked at her lately, Bumi?" Kya wept, "I mean really, really looked at her. There's nothing in her eyes anymore and that scares me. I've already lost one parent and I can't lose another. I can't…"
Katara turned away then and whisked the falling tears from her cheeks, having finally heard enough. She knew that the right thing to do would probably be to go in there to her children and reassure them that they wouldn't lose her. She should tell them that she hadn't lost her drive to fight, that her grief wasn't so overwhelming that sometimes she wished to close her eyes and never open them again. But she couldn't do those things. She couldn't make those assurances to them, though she wished she could. Not now, if ever.
She slipped out the side entrance of the house, hoping to seek out a lonely place to collect her thoughts. Somehow, as she walked aimlessly along the grounds, she managed to absently pick some wildflowers that grew along the bluff overlooking the sea. Katara seemingly walked without purpose, but when she came to the two large stones that served as markers for Appa's burial site she realized that she had meant to go there all along. Kneeling down, Katara carefully arranged the bright orange and blue flowers in front of the boulders, her fingers trembling violently as she did so.
"I meant to come here a while ago, boy," she whispered aloud, "I thought Aang and I would come together, but… I guess he's with you now, isn't he?" Katara expelled a shuddering breath, needing a moment to collect herself before she could begin speaking again.
"I've been thinking a lot about that day and I think Aang must have known. I sensed something was different…was bothering him, but I didn't press him about it. He seemed so happy and I didn't want to believe that anything was truly wrong." She whimpered a bit, tears of futility, anger and regret slipping down her weathered cheeks. "Why didn't I press him? I regret not doing that, Appa. I wish I could do it over again. I wish it could be different.
"I could really use his advice right now," she wept softly, "The children are fighting over me. Kya wants me to live with her in the South Pole and part of me can't bear the thought of leaving this place, of leaving Aang behind. But then there's a part of me needs to go…just for a little while…just until I can breathe again. So then…maybe I will. Maybe I should."
Katara waited, motionless and hopeful, as if she expected Aang to give her an answer, as if she expected him to somehow materialize before her and render the past month little more than a fleeting nightmare. But he didn't. There was no whisper, no wind, no sound at all except for her own heartbroken hiccups. Disappointed but not shocked by the resounding silence, Katara slumped forward in defeat. She kissed her trembling fingers before pressing them against the cool surface of the largest rock in an unspoken goodbye.
"I guess I have my answer then. Take care of him, Appa. I know you will. You'll take care of each other."
She didn't realize how late it had become until she started back towards the house and noticed that dusk was beginning to settle. By now her absence had likely been noticed and her children were probably worried sick. Katara felt guilt unfurl in her belly with the thought. She hurried her gait, scrambling over the rocky terrain as quickly as she could. Her hope that she hadn't alarmed her children died a quick death when she spotted Kya atop the ridge ahead of her. When Katara was within twenty feet of the house, her daughter spotted her in the distance and came running.
"Where have you been?" she cried frantically, "You had us going out of our minds, Mom!"
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize how late it was." Katara glanced around in surprise, noting that Kya was alone. "Where are your brothers?"
"Bumi is on the other side of the island looking for you and Tenzin went into the city to search. We didn't know what happened to you! Where have you been all this time?" Kya demanded again.
"I went to put flowers on Appa's grave. Your father and I were going to do it together, but…plans changed."
The trembling in Katara's voice broke Kya's heart and immediately soothed her exasperation. "Mom, come inside now," she cajoled, placing an arm around Katara's shoulders and ushering her towards the house, "We need to talk about some things."
When Katara entered the house the first thing she noticed were the mementos spread out all over the floor, items that she and Aang had cherished from their courtship together. One object in particular caught her attention, a weathered, leather-bound book. She swept it up immediately and flipped it open. It wasn't the book that Katara found precious, but instead what was pressed inside its yellowed pages. She peeled back the yellowed parchment and found her treasure exactly as she'd left it. Katara fingered it carefully.
"What is it?" Kya whispered, coming to stand alongside her.
"It's a necklace made of flowers," she murmured, "Your father made for me when we were children. He told me later that he did it because he liked me…but, of course, I didn't know that at the time."
"And you've kept it all these years?"
Katara nodded. "It was special to me because he gave it to me. He was special."
"Does it help you to talk about him, Mom?"
"Yes. No. It depends on the moment, I guess…if I can do it without feeling like I'm dying inside." Kya flinched, but Katara only regarded her with a resigned expression. "You said you wanted to talk to me?"
"Let's sit first." Though her mother complied with the suggestion without protest, Kya found herself fearful to begin once they were seated face to face. She dreaded her mother's reaction. But, more so, she dreaded her refusal. "Mom, I know it's been hard for you since Dad died," she began tentatively, "and I know it wasn't easy to say goodbye to him, but… I'm worried about you. I'm worried when you don't eat and you don't talk us."
"I don't know what to say."
"Say anything you want," Kya invited, "Say what you're feeling."
"I'm not feeling much of anything, Kya. I want to, but I can't. Not right now."
"Mom, we're here for you," Kya half pleaded, half sobbed, "You're not alone and if you would only let us help you heal then maybe…"
"You can't do that. I don't know if anything will do that," Katara told her. She dropped her eyes and gently closed her book over the dried necklace once more, suddenly absorbed in tracing the leather spine as she whispered, "I wasn't expecting it. Maybe I should have been. Maybe I was being naïve not to. Your father was trapped in an iceberg for 100 years. I guess, technically, he was 166 years old, but I always thought we'd have more time. I really did."
Kya reached over to cover Katara's hand with her own. "So did we, Mom," she said, "I can't say that I know how you feel right now. No one can know that. But Dad left a hole in all of our lives when he died and I don't want you to feel like you have to go through this by yourself." Katara nodded, pressing Kya's fingers lightly between her own. That one, small gesture gave Kya to say her next words. "That's why I want you to come live with me."
"I know," Katara confessed gruffly, "I heard you and your brothers talking earlier."
Her daughter's eyes flashed guiltily. "You heard us?"
"Yes, I did."
"Are you angry? Is that why you left before? We're not trying to dictate your life, if that's what you're thinking."
"No, that's not what I'm thinking," Katara contradicted softly, "and that's not why I left. I left because I felt guilty…because I know that you children need something from me right now. You need comfort. You need support. You need to know that everything will be okay. And I can't give you those things. I can't make those reassurances for you."
"You don't have to. Let us comfort you for a change. Let us reassure you, Mom." Kya cradled her mother's face in her hands, holding Katara much the way she had held Kya when she was a girl. "Listen to me. You are going to be okay," Kya told her, "You are going to get through this. And one day, it won't hurt like it hurts right now. The pain will lessen. I promise you." Kya said the words with absolute conviction even though she had never experienced a loss as profound in her own life. Yet, in that moment, she felt like she was channeling her father, acting as a conduit to speak his words to her mother.
"Yes," Katara whispered after a beat of silence.
"Yes, you believe me?" Kya prodded, stunned.
Katara offered her a faint smile, her first in little more than a month. "Yes, I'll go home with you."
The move turned out to be the best decision for Katara after all. Tenzin hadn't been thrilled with the idea in the beginning. However, when he visited a few weeks after and witnessed his mother slowly begin to emerge from her self-imposed shell of grief, he began to agree with Kya's assessment. Their mother had needed time away from the island.
Back home in the South Pole, Katara found herself surrounded by her grandchildren and scores of potential waterbending students. They helped to keep her busy. Between instructing her pupils, spending time with her grandbabies and preparing Miki for the birth of her first child, Katara had very little time to focus on her own grief. In a strange way, helping others was helping her. Very gradually in the ensuing weeks she learned to smile again and then, eventually, to laugh again as well. However, while Katara's life in the South Pole proved to be rich and active, the raw ache Aang's passing had left in her heart remained. It was a little less acute than it had been at first, but still there.
Only four short months after Aang's death, his namesake was born. Katara chose to commemorate the occasion by setting off on her own to find the spot where she and Sokka had first discovered Aang in a towering chunk of ice almost 55 years before. The iceberg was long gone now and the sea had frozen over anew in that time. But Katara didn't need landmarks to know that she was in the right place. She sensed it. Aang's energy still seemed to linger in that spot. She could feel it crackling all around her. And, as if to confirm her instincts, Katara soon spotted a flock of penguins loitering not too far away.
With a small smile, she recalled Aang's winsome invitation to her, only moments after they first met. "Will you go penguin sledding with me?" She had thought he was a little odd at first, definitely a bit eccentric and yet she had agreed to the request anyway…and it had been one of the best decisions she had made in her life. That strange boy had turned her world upside down in countless ways and saved her, literally and figuratively, in countless others. Feeling enveloped in Aang's presence, Katara stood there contemplating the penguins and wondered if an elderly woman of 68 years should really attempt to toboggan a live penguin down a snowy hillside.
She could practically hear Aang's laughing whisper in her ear, "Sixty-eight is definitely not too old."
"Says you," she grumbled to the wind, "Remember this was your idea when I break my neck."
But the sledding was the easy part. Catching one of the slippery creatures proved to be the difficulty. Katara felt a little silly stalking the flock across the frozen tundra, but the entire time she could practically hear Aang's mirthful encouragement in her mind, egging her on. It was the most real his presence had felt to her in months.
Finally, after much perseverance and several misses, Katara managed to pin one down. Quickly, before reason overtook her and she lost her nerve completely, she hopped onto the animal's back and went zipping down the slope at break neck speed. As the landscape passed her by in a dizzying blur of ice and snow, it was as if her entire life with Aang played out before Katara's eyes.
She remembered the first time he smiled at her, his infectious laugh, his buoyant manner of approaching any and all things with an almost disgustingly positive attitude. She remembered his endearing impatience and his silliness and how easily he could charm forth a smile. She remembered his kiss and his touch and lying next to him skin to skin, his breath against her neck, his fervently whispered "I love yous."
Every fight, every reconciliation, every kind word, every joke, every laugh, every smile, everything rolled through her mind in a blinding array, agonizing and exhilarating, building her up and tearing her down simultaneously… The memories came at her fast and furious, almost battering in their ferocity so that by the time she reached the bottom of the hill and tumbled from the penguin, her hair had come unbound and she was gasping for breath, weeping hysterical tears…because she knew she would never have those things again.
"Why? Why? WHY?" she screamed to the empty expanse, her grief so powerful and so uncontainable that she cracked the ice and split it open. The penguins scattered with the deafening sound, seeking refuge as the ground beneath them rumbled and shivered. Katara curled her mitted hands into the packed snow, her entire body heaving with the force of her sobs. "I can't do this, Aang," she wept brokenly, "I cannot be here without you. I don't remember how…I don't want to…"
Katara was so lost in her grief that it took her a moment to realize what was happening. The touch was soft, almost like a breeze sifting through her hair, but when Katara lifted her head she discovered Aang kneeling in front of her, bathed in an unearthly blue light and smiling at her sadly. Her breath caught in her throat, partially because she was shocked to see him and partially because she knew he was a spirit. He wasn't the older man of 66 that she remembered, but instead looked as he had in his mid to late thirties. He was dressed in a simple long-sleeved tunic and loose trousers, a crimson drape angled over his shoulder and tucked into his belt, familiar attire that used to serve as his traveling clothes. Everything about him was so familiar and yet so foreign at the same time.
However, the drastic change in his appearance was merely superficial. He was still Aang. And he looked at her as he always had, with every ounce of love he felt for her shining in his eyes. Katara lifted a trembling hand, wanting desperately to touch him but deathly afraid that if she tried he would disappear. She whispered his name.
"Can you see me, Katara?" he asked. She managed a dumbfounded nod, tears streaming unchecked. "I was afraid you wouldn't. I don't know how long I have with you."
"Am I dreaming?" she whispered hoarsely.
"No, sweetie, you're not," he replied.
"How is this happening?"
"Love is brightest in the dark, remember?" Aang quoted with a bittersweet smile, "I needed to see you again. I needed to tell you that I was sorry."
"I should have told you what was happening to me. I didn't want to hurt you."
"Being here without you is what hurts me, Aang," she said, "Nothing seems to matter anymore without you."
"You don't mean that. Our children matter. Our grandchildren matter. Our great-grandson matters. You matter. I want you to remember that. Promise me."
"I'll try, but it's so hard," she whispered. "I miss you, Aang."
"I miss you too," he whispered back, "I never wanted to leave you, Katara."
The compulsion became too strong for Katara then. She finally worked up her nerve to try to touch him then because she simply couldn't resist the desire to do so any longer. She had to feel him one last time. But just as Katara pulled her stiffened fingers from her mitten and reached out to skim his bearded jaw with her fingertips, the sound of her name being called startled her into retreat.
She glanced aside to see her worried daughter trudging over the ridge just beyond her. When she turned back to address Aang and alert him of Kya's presence, Katara was disappointed to discover he was gone. She was still frowning in dismay, her hair whipping in the stirring wind when Kya reached her side.
"Mom, why do you keep disappearing this way? What are you doing out here? I've been looking all over for you! Why are you on the ground? Are you hurt?" Without allowing Katara to get a word in edgewise or waiting for a response to any of her questions, Kya already began briskly checking her mother over for any signs of broken bones. However, Katara barely reacted to her daughter's scolding and clucking concern because she was too distracted by the incredible encounter she'd just had.
"Kya, I saw your father," Katara rushed out excitedly, "He was just right here. He was talking to me."
The younger waterbender froze, her expression suspended in uneasiness. It was clear from Kya's still manner that she was having a difficult time believing Katara. "Mom, you're tired and you're cold…"
"I'm not crazy. I didn't make this up in my head. It's true," Katara insisted, "He was right here."
"You and Dad always told us that the line between the physical world and spirit world only blurred during the solstice," Kya reminded her gently, "It's not the solstice. How could you see him if it's not the solstice, Mom?"
Katara gripped Kya's forearm tightly, eyes wide and desperate. "I saw him, Kya. I did."
Kya needed only to meet her mother's lucid stare to know for an absolute certainty that Katara hadn't conjured up her father's image in a grief-stricken moment. It was impossible to deny the adamant conviction reflected in those blue depths. She didn't argue with Katara further. She knew that if any two people could find a way to connect with each other, even from the mysterious reaches of the spirit world, those people would be her parents. Their love had been that strong. She had witnessed it with her own eyes so there was no reason to doubt that their bond couldn't transcend anything, including death.
So instead of trying to reason out her mother's claim logically, Kya merely nodded her acceptance. Her first instinct was to interrogate Katara about what her father had said, to ask if he missed them as desperately as they missed him, but Kya held the impulse in check. Somehow she realized instinctively that whatever conversation had taken place between her parents it was something private and sacred between them alone…something special. If her mother wanted her to know then Kya had every expectation that Katara would share it with her someday. But, for now, Kya could respect Katara's desire to keep the details close to her heart.
Quelling the spurt of jealousy she felt over not having shared the experience too, Kya tugged Katara to her feet. "We have to get going now," she told Katara, "There's a storm coming soon and we need to get inside before it hits."
"I can handle a storm, Kya. I want to stay just a little while longer…" Katara insisted, her eyes darting about the barren setting in frantic hope for a glimpse of Aang. "I want to be here in case your father comes back. Sweetheart, please. Don't make me leave just yet."
Not wanting to deny her really, even wanting to linger for her own glimpse, Kya vacillated for a moment. But as she looked out over the vast expanse she saw nothing except miles and miles of pristine snow and cold, gray clouds gathering overhead, signaling the approaching storm. Although it pained her to do so, Kya hesitantly shook her head in refusal.
"Mom, we can't stay out here. I don't think Dad would want you to risk it, especially not on his behalf." Katara met her daughter's eyes with a disappointed sigh, unable to negate the truth in her words. Kya hugged her closer. "We need to go before the storm comes."
As Kya half pulled, half guided her back up the snow bank, Katara threw one last desperate glance over her shoulder and then, as the sun's rays turned ever so slightly, she saw him standing there, bathed in the hazy golden light of approaching dusk. This time, however, he was clad in full airbender robes, looking every inch the bending master he was and the avatar he had once been. The bright material billowed and flowed around his body in the kicking wind as he stood impervious to the cold, his focus trained completely on Katara. She smiled at him, sensing that in a matter of moments, he would disappear altogether.
"I love you, Aang," she murmured to him in her heart.
And, as the wind accelerated around her, Katara could swear she heard him whisper back to her, "I love you. We'll see each other again, Katara. I'll be waiting for you."
That one whispered vow gave Katara the needed strength to go on, to look forward to an unknown future like nothing else had…because at least now she knew that she would be with him again someday. Yes, we will see each other again, Aang, she promised as the vision of him faded away into nothingness, we definitely will.
A/N: The sky burial is a concept that Amira Elizabeth, some friends and I came up with years ago. It's based on an actual custom that is a bit more gruesome than the one I described here, but when we discovered it, we knew that it was the perfect way to say goodbye to an airbender. I wanted to use it for Aang. So thanks guys, wherever you are.
Also, thank you all for reading. I know these last couple of chapters haven't been a walk at the beach, so it means a lot that you guys stuck it out. I have the best readers ever!