A/N: last drabble, last day of kataang week, and i seriously just depressed myself with this one. thank you SO MUCH to everyone who has faved/reviewed/liked/reblogged my drabbles or made the choice to follow me (a terrible choice, really). you guys are amazing, and this one is for you!
Katara and Aang count all of their goodbyes, starting with the one that was almost permanent.
1. The Emerald Walls of Bai Sing Se
Of the two, Katara is the one to remember the day distinctly. She had felt betrayed: her trust, so freely given, and so wrought with complications, had been thrown in her face. She should have learned from Jet, where a troubled boy does not always mean a repentant man; she should have never offered Zuko her friendship. Because without Zuko, Azula would have never had the strength to slap Aang out of the sky, as easily as one strikes down a fly. Katara can remember the glowing brilliance of his eyes, the sheer power that was not rage, and not uncontrolled emotion. Aang was a fully realized Avatar in that moment, powerful and wise, and with all the purpose of a thousand Avatars before him.
And Azula had killed him.
He fell, gracefully, from the air, and into her arms, and Katara thought she understood the rage of the Avatar, when his blood was coating her skin and his flesh was burned away. If she had the power to do so, she would have slaughtered everyone in that cave. The rage she had harbored for her mother's killer dampened in the moment they took Aang from her.
That he comes back at all restores her faith in miracles.
2. The Southern Raiders
Rage is a curious thing. Rage is the Fire Nation, so full of action and terrible force. It is quick to injure, quick to destroy, and very hard to dampen. Rage is something Katara is well acquainted with, coming from a world that seeks to knock her down. Rage is the face of the soldier who burned her mother to a crisp, is the General who tried to destroy the moon.
Rage is Zuko, and she distrusts Zuko. Even if she could trust him, she could never like him. He's too full of fire for the people who have brought him low, and she can't help but think that the right trigger will set him off the wrong path again. She knows he's fighting for redemption, and she knows he wants it, but he's slipped up before, and she watches him with narrow eyes, waiting for the stumble that will bring him down.
But he is the one who can bring her to the man who killed her mother, and Katara would dance with the Fire Lord if she could have her vengeance. Being near Zuko, the enemy of so long, has awaken her rage. She's tired, and cold, afraid and stretched thin. The whole world is counting on them to end this, and she can't be perfect forever. The offer is on a silver plate, and she is tired of feasting on the scraps.
She wants Aang to see this, wants him to understand, but he won't. How can he preach about forgiveness and tolerance and love? He wasn't there, on that day! He didn't see the sky rain ash, didn't hear the screams, didn't have to see his mother's mangled corpse, burned in the effort to protect him! How can he understand?
They part on bad terms, without a single note of tenderness, and Katara resolves to harden her heart, because the loss of Aang's trust is cripplingly. But this is real, and this is necessary, and she isn't perfect.
She doesn't realize until she is home, with unbloodied hands, that Aang was not saying goodbye to her. He was saying goodbye to the rage that festered in her like a wound. That rage is gone, leaving her exhausted, and sad, but free, light as air.
And she realizes, too, that no matter how far they have to travel, they are always going to come back.
3. The Firelord
It's not a proper goodbye. There is no resolution for that night on Ember Island, and he disappears without a trace before the Invasion can begin. But she is the last thing he thinks of when he heads out to Battle, and the first thing he sees when he opens his eyes on a world that is finally free from war.
4. Colonial Problems
The Gaang can't be together forever. Sooner or later, they splinter apart, because there isn't a common goal anymore. Zuko leaves to be Firelord, Toph to run a school. Sokka decides to train with Kyoshi Warriors, and then travel the seas with Hakoda, perhaps to help rebuild the South Pole. Katara is with Aang. The notion is simple, fraught with no complications: she is with Aang, wherever he needs to go.
Eventually, though, Katara is forced to concede that she cannot go everywhere.
Aang dislikes this thought. To him, Katara is more than just his girlfriend (or his soulmate, but he hasn't dropped that word, just yet). Katara is his Master, his friend, his love, yes, but she also represents an important member of the reconstruction stage. She is a representative of a Tribe nearly annihilated, and she is the most caring, loving person he knows. Things tend to fall apart without Katara helping to guide the way, and now she can't be with him, now when he needs her more than ever?
"This is stupid," he tells her on the night before he is due to leave. They're walking in the garden, the soft autumn wind blowing the newly-bloomed rose petals into the night. Katara stops to pluck one from the bush, carefully removing the thorns with her fingers, before twirling it in her hands. Aang watches her, appreciating the graceful movement. He sometimes wonders why she wasn't born a Princess, herself.
"The world needs the Avatar more than they need me." She reminds him, tapping him lightly with the flower. He scrunches his face, making a silly expression, and she giggles.
"I need you," He tells her firmly, taking the flower from her hands and tucking it into her hair, where it blooms at her temple. "And the world needs you, too. Not just a Master Waterbender. Master Katara."
She blushes, like she always does when he calls her that, and leans forward to kiss him. He still gets a little nervous about these kisses, although he'll never say no to them: to Aang, it really does feel like yesterday that he was a little kid, and she was oblivious. To go from nothing to everything is a big jump.
Her lips are soft, lingering just as a little when she pulls away. "I'll see you when you get back," She whispers, and it's both a goodbye and a promise.
5. Blood is Thicker Than Water
Aang finds it ironic that the law Katara worked so hard to push though is being broken, and she's not even here to enforce it with her icy rage.
He had underestimated Yakone. They all had. He had realized it the second he saw Toph freeze in her place (there is nothing that can stop a rolling boulder), and he swore to himself when he felt his muscles contract, pop, squirm within him. Like iron bands tied him to his seat, Aang was helpless and immobile, a puppet of some criminal's schemes, in the city he worked so hard to build. It is what helps him get to his feet to start the chase, following Yakone out onto the street.
For the first time in a considerable length of time - ten years, perhaps? - Aang realizes that there is a good chance he might not come home tonight.
Not a great chance, but a good chance. A chance, slim as it is, is a chance. A chance that this goodbye could be permanent.
When he feels his bones start to pop, Aang decides he's not ready for goodbye, just yet. And the rest, as we say, is history.
6. Birthday Misery
He has to leave in the morning, and Katara is furious.
It's not the first time, and it will not be the last. Certainly, it's not uncalled for. Widespread rioting in the Fire Nation is something that needs an Avatar, and Katara understand that. What Katara cannot understand is why the rioting needs to happen right on Kya's birthday.
Aang has tried all the usual approaches, starting with "But sweetie ..." and ending with "I don't exactly WANT to go! She's my little girl, too!" But that doesn't work on an irate mother and wife. She locks herself in their room, under the guise of packing his travelling case, and refuses to come out, even for dinner. Kya, bewildered and upset, had sought refuge with Uncle Sokka, and Bumi had gone out to throw things at other things with Toph. Aang is left to fend for himself.
Around dusk, he knocks on the door, hesitantly at first, and then a bit louder. When Katara doesn't answer, Aang opens the door, making a mental note to borrow Sokka's armor if things go south ... literally. But Katara isn't packing, and she isn't throwing things. She's sitting out on the balcony, the soft waves of her hair blowing softly in the breeze, and she looks like a statue, carved out of glowing marble. Aang swallows, mouth dry, made aware, once again, of how beautiful his wife is.
He approaches her carefully (she's a serene statue, until the temper flares), and leans on the doorframe that leads to the balcony, looking up at the night sky. It's not a full moon, but the crescent shape is lovely, nonetheless, and he likes the night sky. After a minute, he clears his throat.
"Katara, please. Please don't spoil our last night by being angry."
"Your daughter is turning four tomorrow, Avatar," comes the inevitable snap-back. "And you promised you'd be there."
"I also promised the keep the world safe and fight the enemies of peace and keep equality between Benders and non-Benders and keep balance between this world and the Spirit World. If I thought this wasn't important, I wouldn't go."
Katara turns to look at him, mouth set in a frown. "I hate it when you go, Aang. I hate it when I feel like I'm making you choose between us, and I hate it when I can't be with you."
He opens his mouth to answer, finds that he has nothing to offer, and instead takes two strides over to her and crushes his mouth to hers. Their partings are never easy, and always tinged with the fear that this time, something could go wrong. But they never leave angry, and they never leave without a proper goodbye. Katara is twining her arms around his neck, wrapping her legs around his waist, and he is ripping through the layers of silk and cotton, searching for chocolate skin amid the sea of blue robes. Her hand is on his thigh, than his cock, trying the length of him, first with her hand, and then with her mouth, pressing him up against the wall so that he can't fight back. His eyes are rolling back into his head, his fingers tangling in Katara's hair, hoarse whispers and moans falling from his lips, and he thinks he's going to die, when he feels her pull away. He meets her eyes, bewildered, and is shocked to find her smirking.
"That's for leaving," She informs him, unbuckling and disrobing the rest of their garments with a nonchalant grace, pulling her hair out of its tie, completely unperturbed.
She grips him by the shoulders, spinning them around so that she is the one pressed against the wall, and one leg curls around his waist. Automatically, he hoists her up, pressing against her warm skin, and groans when he finally sinks into her, the velvety heat of her core warming him from the inside out.
She smiles at him, her expression full of tenderness and love. "And that's for coming back," she whispers, and then lets herself give way to the pleasure he is coaxing out of her.
Later, when they've stumbled their way to the bed, he asks her, in a teasing way, how she knows he's coming back. "Because you always do," is the simple reply.
7. Parental Dispute
"It's not a phase, mom. I really want this."
Aang isn't sure where to look. He is caught in the middle of this exchange, and knows he will very shortly be called to be the formal authority on this argument, which will end up with him being the bad guy for either his wife, or his eldest son. Kya can't even back him up, since she's out frolicking in the city, and Tenzin slunk out when the argument started. Traitor.
"You're always telling me to do something with my life!" Bumi is yelling now, trembling with earnest. "And now that I've finally picked something, you don't want me to?"
"Yes, something!" Katara is yelling back, her eyes shooting sparks. "Not join the Army!"
"I told you, Uncle Zuko thinks it'll be great for me -"
"Not a valid opinion!"
"And Uncle Iroh swears that I could be great in the Army! He already wrote me a recommendation!"
Katara falls silent at this argument, and Aang doesn't blame her. Iroh is dying; there is no denying of this fact. He has lived to a gloriously old age, seen three or four Firelords take the throne, and is now living out his last days as Zuko's royal adviser. Aang can tell that Katara would dearly love to push this argument aside, but Iroh is the greatest general alive, and there hasn't been anyone to surpass him. If Iroh is endorsing Bumi, then Bumi isn't falling for a fad.
Katara switches tacks with lightening speed. "Bumi, you can't get Iroh to sign a letter for you just so you can impress that Princess -"
"Honoura has nothing to do with this!" Bumi retorts heatedly, although his cheeks do flush, just the tiniest bit. "Mom, I could really help here, I could really make a name for myself. They take non-Benders, too, you know! Kya's gonna be some awesome Master or something, and Tenzin is going to be a Councilmen and have lots of Airbabies with Lin, but I can't do stuff like that! If I can make a difference with a boomerang, why shouldn't I?"
Katara falls silent, and her expression is stricken; Aang doesn't blame her for this, either. They forget, sometimes, that Bumi is a non-Bender. A talented marksmen, a brilliant strategist, a delightful risk-taker, but he is a non-Bender is a family of Benders, and, like Sokka, he feels it, sometimes. Bumi glares at Katara, glares at Aang (which he considers distinctly unfair: he hasn't even said anything, yet), and storms off, leaving his parents to stand in the uncomfortable silence.
Later, when they are getting ready for bed, Aang says, quietly, "I think he should do it."
Two days later, they are saying goodbye again, but one of them isn't coming back, and it leads a very bitter taste to the parting.
8. The End
Her hands are glowing, a brilliant, vibrant blue: she could be the Avatar, she thinks stupidly; she could be full of a brilliant, wonderful power, and she could stop this moment, stop it indefinitely, stop the clocks and the Spirits that are coming to claim the man beneath her.
Aang's breathing is slow, and steady, and Katara swears he is sleeping. He looks so at peace; he's the only one in the room that looks it. It's like the night in Bai Sing Se, when they crowded around his corpse and let the tears flow. She's seen Sokka turn his face away to discreetly wipe away tears, and Toph has been sniffling for a good half hour. Zuko is dry-faced, but not dry-eyed. She can't look at any of them.
Tenzin is holding his father's hand, and his grip is tight, like he's afraid Aang will float away. He's growing a beard, now, too. It's different from Aang's, but he was so proud of it when it started to show. He always despaired that he wasn't exactly like his father: wasn't as handsome, wasn't as tall, wasn't as strong. Aang always said that he's glad for it: Tenzin is a great man without Aang.
Kya and Bumi are at the end of the bed, watching their mother lower her hands. Soft shake of the head, a trembling lip, but no sound. Not a word. She thinks if anyone says anything, she's going to break down.
Suddenly, Aang is holding her hand, and she looks into his face, startled, delighted, of course you're not leaving me yet - only to see the tremulous smile on his face, the softness in his features, the parting in his eyes.
"No," she says, harshly, squeezing his hand, and he shakes his head.
"Have to ... get Appa," he says hoarsely. "And go."
"It's time ... to say goodbye."
"You'll come back?" She demands, but her voice is breaking, her cheeks are damp with tears, and she thinks that pain in her chest is her heart breaking, snapping in half.
He smiles at her, that smile he first gave her when she broke him out of the ice, and whispers, "Always ... forever girl."
Then there's one last breath, and he's gone.
She thinks it obvious, if not a little predictable, when she finds Korra in the stables, loading Naga up with provisions. It reminds her of the time she was ready to leave her whole village for a boy she had only known an hour. Korra is so busy packing that she doesn't hear Katara enter, but she spins at the old woman's voice, panic and defiance flaring in her eyes.
"Aang's time has passed. My brother and many of my friends are gone. It's time for you, and your generation to take over the responsibility of keeping peace, and balance in the world. And I think you're going to be a great Avatar."
The excitement in Korra's eyes is a reminder, Katara thinks, as the girl slips out into the night. Aang isn't gone. He's there, guiding Korra along the right path, showing her the way. And he was right.
No matter how far he has to go, Aang will always come back to her.