Time away from Katara would be good, he knew. Gyatso often spoke to him about objectivity, the need to maintain safe distances for clarity of thinking and behavior. This is why he declined her invitation to stay. This is also why he did not respond to her text message the next day, a small blurb about where she would be studying and a suggestion to join her, almost apologetic in its pleading: you should join me if you don't have class – please feel free.
A day later: hey, will be at poetry slam later. you want to join? free eats : )) let me knooowww
Even in the privacy of his own dorm room, with the lights dimmed and early morning sun seeping with difficulty through the brown blinds, Aang found he could not grow erect with thoughts of her. Each time he opened the door of dreams to join her there, on his bed or hers, Zuko appeared along with them, his orange irises as stark and unappetizing as stop lights. In a more recent dream, a third man joined them that was not Zuko but someone Aang did not know. He grew disgusted with the idea of sharing Katara, and he would force himself to study or run laps in the gym. He certainly benefitted – he felt, in the week he avoided the girl, both mentally and otherwise – that his scores increased, and he better understood all the material presented in class.
Katara's proximity to Sokka numbed him. How stupid he must have sounded babbling about this beautiful, dark-skinned girl with blue eyes! And all the while, Sokka's own grief over Suki kept him sedated and quiet. Aang had mistook his intermittent nods for understanding, but in retrospect the older boy was probably heaving with muffled sobs. Since speaking to Aang, and to Aang's knowledge, Suki had yet to contact Sokka. And Sokka was nowhere to be found. The few times Aang did knock on the older boy's door, he was met with silence or snores.
Finally, a week after his meeting with Suki, this week of Katara-free days, Aang – homesick and conflicted with his thoughts – went to the Cabbage Stand Market to buy ingredients. He was nostalgic for fruit pies and coco-melon tea, an Air Nomad tradition.
He spotted Katara almost immediately, but it seemed so surreal that he could not make any steps towards her or call her name. She was looking at the refrigerated goods, inspecting and comparing two bottles – one she held in her hand and the other remained on the shelf. She was so intent on this task that she did not notice him staring at her. The market was not large but it was long and narrow, with entrances at both the front and back. All of the sections were arranged to either side of the central hall, with a few mini-aisles near the cash registers.
Aang walked to the fresh fruit section without further acknowledging her presence there, but even as he picked through peaches and mangos, he couldn't help but feel loud, deep throbs in his chest. He wondered suddenly how an empty heart could speak so loudly to its master in the face of adversity, in the face of isolation, in the face of what he would always assume was another man. His grip on a singular mango tightened, and without meaning to, his fingers cut through the pulp of the fruit straight to its oblong seed.
Suki informed Katara of her breakup before Sokka ever got the chance. And Katara, drowning in her own version of drama, was too preoccupied to deal with it effectively. They had discussed Sokka briefly over coffee, Suki had cried into Katara's shoulder, and then each retreated to their studies, caught up in her own worlds.
"I'm an ass ," Katara admitted today upon returning from the market. "I know it. How long has it been since your break up? Two weeks? And I just leave you sulking in the room without asking you to come with me."
"You are not an ass, for one," said Suki lazily. "But you've got a nice one. And it's been nine days." She was throwing a baseball against the ceiling, resting on her back. Her voice was impassive. Katara put down the groceries and fell onto her own bed, relishing the softness of the comforter.
"You going to talk to him? Ever?" the waterbender asked. "I haven't heard from Sokka since. And whenever I go to his room, he isn't around."
Katara paused, though Suki anticipated (correctly) the follow-up question. "You don't think he's with that girl, do you?"
"The piece of cheap, flexi-ass he snagged at Rough Rhino's? I really don't care." Suki's tone suggested otherwise, but Katara didn't pry. "You know, I'm really sick of even discussing him right now."
"We can talk. You don't have to run from it."
"I'm not running," she affirmed sharply. "I'm just done. Just like you're done with Zuko."
"That's different," Katara muttered darkly. She pulled her fingers through her hair, bringing it to her nose. Jasmine shampoo and dusty air from outside. She couldn't remember Zuko's smell, she realized, and wondered suddenly if this was a defense mechanism, employed by her bitter psyche. "He paid me to abort his kid."
"You still going in tomorrow?"
"What choice to do I have."
There was another pause then. Katara stared at the backs of her arms. Little golden hairs glimmered back at her in the sunlight streaming from the window. She smiled sadly to herself and touched her stomach. "You know what's strange? It doesn't even feel any different. Nothing feels different anymore."
"I'm still going with you," Suki stated, as if she did not hear. "I don't want you going to that creepy place alone."
Katara admitted without thinking, "I wanted someone else to come."
Katara stood up, suddenly animated, and clapped her hands together. "Poof!" she remarked. Suki noticed that her eyes were wet, the mascara beginning to track short paths over her cheeks. "Gone with the wind!" Behind her, Katara's phone buzzed and lit up with a text message notification. Suki thought of Sokka, his broad caramel back encased in Ty Lee's flexible white legs, and made a face.
"Incredible," Katara announced. Her head was down over her phone, her hair covering her expression. Suki couldn't tell if her tone was bitter or triumphant. "He decides to text me now. What the fuck."
"I knew Aang had a thing for you. He's just shy."
"It's not him," said Katara. "It's Jet."
A/N: So short, but proof that I am still alive. Anticipate more updates/completed status by June/July (when graduate school is over for the year). As always send me your thoughts. They encourage me. Much love & many thanks for reading me : 3