As Long As I Have You…
"I got my menses tonight."
Frowning slightly, Aang placed the book he had been reading facedown in his lap and peered at his wife over the wire brim of his reading spectacles. She was ready for bed, dressed only in her nightgown and a thin blue robe. However, rather than climbing in beside him for a bit of snuggling, Katara continued to brace herself in the doorjamb of their bedroom door, the expression on her face a mixture of disappointment and exasperation. She slumped forward when he didn't react right away, muttering under her breath.
"Um…well, alright," he mumbled as she finally crossed the room and climbed into bed with him, "…thanks for sharing that with me…I guess."
Seemingly oblivious to his sardonic tone, Katara flopped onto her back with a dramatic sigh and contemplated the ceiling. "I don't guess I was expecting it," she murmured almost inaudibly, more to herself than to Aang.
Still, her dear husband reacted as if she had screamed the words directly in his face. "Wait? What? What are you talking about?" he burst out, "Did I miss something? Did you think you were pregnant?"
"No! Yes! Well, I thought it was possible that I could be, but…I'm not."
Aang relaxed back into the pillows with a relieved sigh. "Well…okay then."
He started to reach for his book again when Katara reared upright. "That's it?" she demanded, "That's all you have to say…'well…okay then?'" she concluded in a mock impression of him.
"What else can I say? I'm kind of getting to hear this on the tail end of things. You thought you were pregnant but it turns out you're not. Crisis averted." Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple. Aang's second attempt to resume his reading was thwarted as well.
"It's not 'crisis averted' at all. Aang, don't you realize what this means?" Katara wondered plaintively.
He lifted his shoulders in a noncommittal shrug, foolishly choosing to answer that question rather than treating it rhetorically. "That you'll be super grumpy for the next four days?" he ventured.
"Oh that's great, Aang! Make jokes! Yeah, just do that because it helps so much!" Before Aang could even fully process what was happening or what he had done to tick her off so much, Katara flopped onto her side, punched her pillow once in frustration before fully presenting him with her back.
Aang blinked at the rigid line of her spine in disbelief. "Are you really mad at me right now? But…but what happened? I was only sitting here reading!"
"Just forget it," she mumbled, "I'm tired and I'm crampy and I'm going to sleep."
That laconic response had Aang dropping his head forward with a longsuffering groan. He had been married to her long enough to discern that while her lips said, "I'm tired and I'm crampy and I'm going to sleep," in reality Katara would simply lie awake for hours and stew in her fury. And, if Aang didn't address that fact, he would surely pay for it later. Resigned to his fate, Aang set aside his book and removed his glasses before shifting around to stroke Katara's stiffened back with the tips of his fingers.
"Whatever I did to annoy you, I'm sorry," he whispered. He knew she had softened towards him even before she shifted onto her back to favor him with a small smile. It was evident in the nearly inaudible sigh she expelled with his apology and the subtle draining of tension from her body. "Tell me what's bothering you," he urged her softly.
She seemed to have difficulty meeting his eyes, which alarmed him. It was only then that Aang realized that whatever was bothering Katara had to be something serious. She wasn't generally snappy and, when she was, it was always because she was troubled in some way. As he mentally prepared himself for whatever that something was, Katara finally found the courage to meet his anxious stare. He was a little disheartened to spy the telltale sheen of tears sparkling in her limpid blue gaze.
"Aang? Would you…would you be disappointed if I couldn't have more children?" she asked meekly.
Her query visibly floored him. He blinked at her in speechless shock for a few seconds before he managed, "What…where did that come from?"
"I want to know. Just be honest with me."
"Katara, I don't know why you're asking me this."
"Well…" she began with some hesitancy, "…Tenzin will be four years old in another two months. And Kya's fourteen now with fifteen not too far away and Bumi is almost ten. They're getting older and so are we."
"Is that what's bothering you? That we're getting older?"
"In a way…" she hedged.
"Just say it, Katara."
"Okay…well, ever since we found out that Tenzin was an airbender, I've been wondering if maybe you were thinking about having more children so that you could…so that we could…"
"What? You mean like you and I are supposed to singlehandedly repopulate the world with airbenders? Yeah, let's jump right on that," Aang joked. However, while he chuckled in amusement it didn't escape Aang's attention that Katara didn't laugh at all. In fact, her gaze skittered away guiltily. His mirth faded in an instant. "Katara? You weren't thinking that…were you? You have to know that's completely insane, right?"
She pinned him with an affronted glare full of accusation. "Why is it insane?"
"Katara, the Air Nation was made up of thousands and thousands of airbenders. I was never going to produce enough children to even scratch the surface of that deficit and, honestly, I don't want to try! It's not my responsibility to do that and it's not your responsibility!"
"Aang, I'm not an idiot! I know that we were never going to be able to singlehandedly fill the world with airbenders again," Katara sighed a little impatiently, "That was going to come about as a result of our children and our children's children and their children."
"But we only have three children and only one of them is an airbender. I don't even know if it's even possible that Kya and Bumi's kids—,"
"—if they even have kids," Aang interrupted.
"If they have them," she conceded meaningfully, "…I'm not sure those children will be airbenders or not, so then that responsibility falls squarely on Tenzin's shoulders."
"Katara, I don't want to put that kind of responsibility on him. It's not fair."
"I agree," she said, "Which is why I thought if we had more children…possibly more airbender children…it would take the pressure off of him."
"It's possible, but nothing is guaranteed. We could have a string of non-benders and then what?" When she seemed to reject that argument and began retreating inside herself right before his eyes, Aang gathered her into his arms and held her close, unwilling to let her close off from him emotionally. "Listen to me," he whispered against her temple, "I'm thrilled that Tenzin is an airbender. I'm glad to know that part of my heritage won't die when I do…that I'll be able to pass on the airbending tradition to someone else. But I've never, ever considered the possibility of kick-starting my race again. I've never put that kind of pressure on myself and I don't want to put it on our children either."
"But I saw your face that night, Aang," Katara uttered hoarsely, "That night that we found out Tenzin could bend. You had this look…this look I've never seen before…"
"I was happy."
Katara twisted a haunted look up at him. "It was more than that. You saw your people in Tenzin that night. I know you did. I saw the hope in your eyes. Something changed in you…something really profound and it changed me too."
His evasion fell on deaf ears. Katara had been married to him long enough to know how to circumvent the effort he put forth to avoid difficult subjects. "I think part of me has always wanted to give your people back to you. From the moment I realized you were an airbender and I had to tell you that you were the last, I've wanted to take that pain from your eyes. I've wanted to restore what you lost in the war. You gave me back my hope and I wanted to give you back yours."
"And you did that," he insisted, "You gave me a family and a home and more love than I ever imagined, Katara. That's not a small thing."
"But can you honestly tell me that it was enough for you?"
"Yes! I don't look back anymore, Katara. I can't. Because if I were to wish for anything different then I wouldn't be here with you right now. We wouldn't have the life we have together…and I wouldn't trade that for anything."
"Don't say things like that," she muttered hoarsely.
"It's true. Katara, you can't resurrect my people anymore than I can resurrect your mother or Kanna…or the baby we lost. It is what it is."
"But in a way, we can resurrect them, Aang," she argued, "We can bring back your people through the children we have together."
"No, Katara. I don't want that. And if I ever put that kind of pressure on you—,"
"It wasn't you, it was me," she interrupted quickly. "I put the pressure on myself. I don't think it was even something I was truly conscious of doing, but the feelings definitely kicked up with a vengeance after we learned about Tenzin."
"Okay, I can relate to that. I won't say that the thought didn't cross my mind but, it was just a thought. Just a silly fantasy I briefly indulged in because, suddenly, I wasn't the last of my people anymore. It was a reality I never imagined would happen."
"Don't you see, Aang? There's nothing silly about that. There's nothing wrong with missing your people and wanting that connection again. And I wanted to give that to you.
"It's not like I've been consciously trying to get pregnant because I haven't," Katara rushed to explain when he opened his mouth to argue, "But, we also haven't been very careful this last year either."
"No, we haven't."
"And, I'm sure you'll agree that there's been…that we have…well, with the extra time we've had, we…"
"You're trying to say that we've been sexing it up a lot lately?" Aang provided accommodatingly, "Regularly testing the integrity of our mattress springs? Engaging in the naked cardiovascular workout? Doing the do? Does this cover it for you?"
Katara favored him with a travesty of a smile. "So very helpful, Aang."
"I'm naturally a giver."
He bobbed his eyebrows at her lasciviously, making it inordinately clear that he wasn't talking about matters of the heart either. Katara buried her burning face in his chest. "Yeah…so I've noticed. Anyway, the point is," she soldiered on in exasperation, "I figured that pregnancy would happen eventually, since one usually begets the other, but it hasn't. So then I really started thinking about it and now I'm wondering why it hasn't happened when, considering the circumstances, it most definitely should have." She peeked up at Aang. "So what if I can't? What if I'm physically unable to have more children?"
He reacted to that with unconcealed skepticism. "Katara, you're still young. Don't you think that possibility is a little extreme?"
"Not really," Katara mumbled, "I've had a lot of time to think about it and… I know that sometimes women…after they've lost a child…sometimes that changes something in their bodies and then they can't conceive anymore. I didn't see a healer that night…or afterwards either and maybe something went wrong. Maybe I didn't heal properly. I don't know why it happens, Aang, but it does happen. And what if it happened to me?"
"What if it did?" Aang countered, "How would you feel about it?"
Katara shrugged a shoulder. "I'm perfectly content to be the mother of three children," she told him, "I have a very full life and I'm extremely happy. But I don't know if that's a selfish way for me to think and feel considering our unique circumstances. I mean, you say it's not our responsibility but we both know that's not entirely true. Don't we have a duty?"
"I honestly don't think we do, Katara. There are things in this world that are bigger than you and bigger than me…bigger than the Avatar even. The universe allowed the Air Nomads to be wiped out and the universe will see to it that the nation is rebuilt somehow. I truly believe that. There will be airbenders again because that's the way it's supposed to be. The avatar cycle cannot exist without them. Life will find a way. It always does."
"Is that really how you feel about it or is that spiritual mumbo jumbo talking right now?"
He laughed at the dry humor in her tone. "A little of both maybe. But seriously…I'm good with three as well."
Katara shifted upright, peering at him doubtfully. "Are you sure you're not just saying that to spare my feelings?" she pressed, "Maybe you're secretly disappointed and you don't want to admit it. Or…or maybe you think I'm defective now or something."
"Yeah, that's it," Aang deadpanned, "I'm going to run out and score myself a dozen or so concubines right away. I wonder if my old fanclub is up for the task." Katara swatted him. "What? Not funny?"
"No," she huffed derisively, "Not even a little."
"Well, neither is all this stuff about you being 'defective!'" Aang countered vehemently, "Katara, since you found me in that iceberg there has been one thing that I have wanted consistently above all else."
"And what's that?" she asked petulantly.
"You." She looked at him then, melting with a soft smile over his fervent reply. "It's always been you and it will always be you. Period. If you can't have more children…fine. We'll deal with that. And if you can…fine. We'll deal with that too. But, no matter what happens, as long as you're with me…I'm happy and I have everything I want."
"Hmm…those are some pretty sweet words, Avatar," Katara sighed, snuggling back into his arms, "You really do love me, don't you?"
"And it only took you 22 years to figure it out," he teased.
"Oh shush up and kiss me," she coerced with a crooked smile, "Then after that, you can rub the ache from my tummy."
"As you wish, Sifu." Aang had only just begun to dip his head to fulfill that giggling order when their bedroom door suddenly flung open.
"Mom, Bumi won't stop mak—," Kya froze mid-rant, her irate complaint dangling mid-sentence as she fully assimilated the sight of her parents in bed and tangled in one another's arms. In that brief, appalling second, it was difficult to determine who was more horrified, Aang and Katara or their traumatized teenage daughter. However, Kya's explosive reaction that followed mere beats later firmly determined that it was the latter.
She immediately clapped her hands over her face and bolted down the hallway screaming. "Oh my, blech…my eyes! My EYES! Dad, you said you were going to read a book! What's wrong with you people? I'm blind! The oogies!"
Flabbergasted and caught somewhere between annoyance and amusement, Aang turned to regard his equally speechless wife with a wry shake of his head. "So when you asked me earlier if I was disappointed about not having any more kids?" he queried in a thoughtful tone before smothering Katara's answering burst of laughter with his lips, "I can say with absolute conviction that it's a no…not so much."