I can never forgive myself for what I did to him. Sitting here, holding his lifeless body in my arms yet again, I would take it all back just to see his bright eyes open and look up at me one more time. I didn't know how I let it end like this, but the guilt weighed the same either way. Some could say it was partly Aang's fault for leaving without warning. I think it was my own for allowing it to get to me. It started on what was supposed to be a historical week…
3 Years Earlier
I laughed as Aang spun me again, my dark blue dress swirling around me. My hair fell around my shoulders and he pulled me close, his cheeks turning that familiar light shade of pink. There were so many different colors swirling around the ballroom that I almost forgot we were in the Fire Nation. The music was loud and very upbeat. Everyone was smiling and laughing and having a great time. It seemed hard to resist the temptation to dance, though when I glanced up at Zuko and Mai it seemed they were resisting rather well. I did, however, laugh when I noticed Zuko's foot tapping in time with the beat.
When the song slowed and finished, everyone applauded and Zuko stepped up to the front of the room. He raised his hands to quiet the room. Aang squeezed my hand before letting go and heading up to join him. I was curious, but I just assumed it was time to make the opening speech.
"I would like to take this moment to welcome everyone to the first Four Nations Summit in over a hundred years!" Zuko shouted across the room, raising his arms enthusiastically. He was greeted with loud applause and cheering. I shouted as well. "I want to thank all of you for coming out to the Fire Nation for this event. I'm truly glad for the opportunity to make things right again between all of our nations, and with the Avatar's help," he gestured to Aang, "I believe we are coming closer to finding the peace we've so longed for in our world."
I started clapping again and the rest of the room followed suit. I really was glad it was all over. Looking around at all the blues and greens, I knew everyone in the room agreed. So many of the people in here had their share of war stories to tell, and it was a relief to know there wouldn't be any more in the near future. I glanced over at King Bumi and saw tears in his eyes. It somehow made me want to cry too. I knew he remembered the time before the war, and he had to be glad he got to see more time like that before his time passed.
Zuko raised his hands again and the room quieted. "It's going to take a lot of hard work to instill trust between our nations again, but I am willing to work for it. As a descendant of both Fire Lord Sozin and Avatar Roku, I feel it is my duty to bring about a balance that I had once struggled to bring to myself." I heard whispers around the room and found myself intrigued by this news. Perhaps that is what brought him to us that afternoon in the Western Air Temple. "Avatar Aang, the floor is yours."
They bowed to each other and Aang moved to the front. "As some of you may already know, I've taken the last year to relax and spend time with the people I care about. I figured I deserved that much at least." He smiled at me and a few people laughed. "I wanted to see if the world could balance itself out, but there are still problems. I have been informed of rebellions across the Earth Kingdom, not just from the Fire Nation citizens that still reside there but from the disapproving Earth Kingdom folks that don't want them there."
I saw Bumi nod in agreement. He knew all too well considering there were some Fire Nation citizens still living in Omashu. "That's why I've decided to face my duties as the Avatar and travel to the Earth Kingdom to put an end to these rebellions." Now I was confused. "There have been other rumors of people across the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation alike trying to disturb the peace we've had for only a year. I do intend to stick around this time and I will not let another war come to pass. I hope to see the peace last until my time here is over."
I did not clap this time. Aang stared at me calmly from the front of the room and he could tell I was hurt. Why would he not tell me about this? Was he taking me with him or leaving me? I barely heard Zuko over my own thoughts as he continued speaking. Toph grabbed my arm, startling me out of a trance.
"He didn't tell you, did he?" she asked.
"Did he tell you?" I replied, slightly offended by the idea.
Toph shook her head. "No. I could tell by your reaction."
I looked over at her sadly. She looked beautiful tonight. I had helped her get ready. She didn't want to look too girly, but it was a formal event and she was helping to represent the Earth Kingdom. She wore green silk pants with a yellow trim around the bottom and a long, almost dress-length, lighter green shirt with the same yellow trim around the bottom and collar. She had a special brown knotted belt tied loosely around her waist and a yellow studded headband. She had felt weird without anything on her arms, so I let her wear brown armbands around her wrists. Her hair looked the same, but it was longer than it was a year ago so her bangs reached her collarbone.
"Do you think he'll want me to come?" I asked, hoping for a positive answer. "I mean, he knows I'm a great bender and I could really come in handy in case people get hurt."
"I don't think he wants to put you in harm's way anymore," she said sadly. "He really loves you, you know. He wouldn't want anything to happen to you just because he couldn't stand to be away from you."
I looked up just as Aang approached. "She's right, Katara. You can't come with me this time. I don't want you to get hurt because of me."
My eyes watered without my permission and I moved my hand to keep the tears from falling. "Why didn't you tell me about this before you announced it to the world?" I told him. He looked down. "You can't leave me behind, Aang. Wherever you go, I'll follow you. You need my help too."
"This is exactly why I didn't tell you sooner," he replied. "I didn't want to give you the chance to change my mind."
I barely felt someone bump into me as the dancing continued around us. A tear rolled down my cheek unbidden. "When are you leaving?" I sniffled, trying to sound mad.
Aang's eyes turned away from mine slightly. "I have a few days. Some of tomorrow's official meetings will address my travel schedule. We'll be discussing where the worst riots are and where to go from there."
"How long will you be gone?"
"I… I'm not sure," he said apologetically. "It depends on how many there are and how long it takes to make peace between the people. It could be anywhere from weeks to months. I promise I'll try to take a break and come to visit though. I can't risk taking you with me, but I can't go that long without seeing you."
The tears finally stopped and were replaced by anger. His eyes met mine and he could see it boiling just beneath the surface. He opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off quickly. "So you're just abandoning me?" He started to reply, but I wouldn't give him the chance. "You don't think I can take care of myself against earthbenders and firebenders? Because I obviously don't remember fighting against tons of them just last year and helping you stop a war. I fought Azula and won, for crying out loud!"
A couple people nearby looked at us as my voice started rising. Toph tugged on my arm; I'm not sure if it was a signal to quiet down or go with her but I wasn't about to do either at the moment. Aang tried to grab my hand, I assumed, to take me somewhere less crowded, but I pulled away. Instead I just glared my best glare.
"I am the waterbending master that taught the Avatar," I said a little more quietly. "You would let Toph go with you if she asked, I'm sure!"
"Hey now, don't bring me into this," she said, stepping away with her hands up defensively.
"No, I wouldn't," Aang told us. "I'm doing this alone because it's my job. I don't want you to accidently get hurt, but that's not the main reason you're not going. I was taught that my duty as the Avatar is to the safety of the world first, not one single being. Katara, I love you," he tried to grab my hand again, but I still refused, "but it has to be this way. It's something you just have to understand."
And as much as I hated to admit it, he was right. I wasn't so spoiled that I had to get my way all the time, but we had only been together for a year and he was already leaving! My eyes flickered between him and the floor until I finally huffed and walked outside for some air. There was a garden nearby with a fountain, and waterbending always made me feel better. It wasn't a full moon tonight, but that was okay with me. With a wave of my hand, a good-sized stream of water floated to me. I relaxed my breathing and started moving it around. Inhale, then exhale, breathe in, and then out, until my mind was at ease.
I felt a pang in my heart as I watched her in the garden. She was upset by Aang's announcement. I didn't see her reaction in the ballroom, but I knew she always started waterbending when she was upset about something. Katara's dark blue dress swayed with her body as she commanded the water. She looked so calm. I loved watching her bend. As I walked out into the garden I noticed her movements started to become more rapid, as if she were fighting an invisible opponent. I nearly had my head taken off when one of her water whips came flying toward me, stopping just inches from my nose.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" she yelled, quickly replacing all the water in the fountain. "No one was out here when I came out, I didn't see you."
I smiled at her. She was so cute when she was embarrassed. "It's okay. I shouldn't have snuck up on you when you were in waterbending mode. You would think I'd have learned that by now."
I walked up and sat down on the edge of the fountain, patting a spot beside me. She accepted and sat in the designated seat, pulling out another sliver of water to play with. I didn't like getting my hopes up by looking for things that weren't there, but I thought I saw her smile brighten when she looked up at me. It made me feel… wanted.
"So what's wrong?" I asked, knowing she was waiting for me to start.
Her fingers twisted around, controlling the water between her hands. "What makes you think there's something wrong?"
"You always waterbend when you're upset about something," I told her. I elbowed her gently and she allowed herself to smile a little. "It's Aang, right? He didn't tell you."
She stood up almost angrily, the water splashing back into the fountain. "He could've told me first!" she yelled, startling me a little. "I mean, I understand why he has to do it. All he had to do was let me know beforehand and I would've been okay! I… would've calmed down eventually…"
When she turned back to me, she had tears in her eyes. "It's like he doesn't trust me anymore or something. He doesn't think I can handle this." She waved her hands around to emphasize the situation. The water sloshed around in the fountain, wetting my robes a little. I stood and tried to brush it off, catching her attention. "I'm sorry," she sighed, flicking her fingers so the water jumped from my robes back to the fountain.
"It's okay, I'm used to getting wet around you by now," I grinned, suddenly embarrassed by how she could've interpreted it. I studied her eyes, but she didn't seem to catch it.
"I just- when I get angry, sometimes I can't control it." She sat back down and ran her fingers through her long, loose hair. I cautiously took my seat next to her again.
"I know," I said calmly, in a tone that told her I've been there.
And just like that, I didn't know what to say. We seemed just to calm in each other's presence, and I supposed that was enough for her right now. We both stared into the heavens above us, stargazing like we had done a couple times before the war ended. Those were the times I cherished so much. Oh, what I wouldn't give to go back and change the way it all happened. If only I had told her sooner what she meant to me…
Suddenly, from the ballroom came a loud clapping noise, interrupting both our thoughts. Another slower song started to play, and I looked over at her. We were content to just sit and stare at the stars, but I had another idea.
"Dance with me," I said, standing and holding my hand out to her.
She looked up, a strange twinge in her eyes. "I don't want to go back in yet."
"Who said anything about going inside?" I asked, a mischievous grin spreading across my face.
The smile soon spread to her lips as well and she took the proffered hand. She giggled as I pulled her right up into a spin. I pulled her close, my right hand sliding across her waist as she placed her left one across my shoulders. My other hand held hers gently, and we spun with the music. Her eyes lit up beautifully in the moonlight, and there were so many urges I had to resist.
"I didn't think you liked to dance," she laughed.
"Mai doesn't like to dance," I corrected. "I would feel uncomfortable dancing with someone else in front of her, so I stay with her."
"That's sweet," she said. "So instead, you come outside and dance with someone where she can't see you?"
I opened my mouth to answer, then realized it was a setup. "It's different with you. I'm only helping a good friend feel better."
She giggled as we spun again. "If you say so, my lord," she responded, mocking my title jokingly, as only a friend like her would be allowed.
"So really, would it be that bad without Aang for a little while?" I asked, almost immediately regretting the way it came out. She started to pause in her dancing, but I forced her to keep on. "What I mean is, you can spend some time with your Gran Gran and Pakku, or visit Kyoshi Island for a little while, or you can stay here with me," I suggested. "A-and Mai, of course. You could be, like, a representative of the Water Tribe. An ambassador, if you will."
"I think I'm still a little young to be doing ambassador stuff," she said, a small smile returning. "But I'll consider your offer, Fire Lord Zuko."
"It is pretty here," I said, an enticing tone in my voice. "We could go to Ember Island in the summer and you could show off your surfing skills, or we could visit one of our training bases and you could spar with some of our top firebenders, if you miss the action, that is."
Katara giggled a little as we danced around a weeping willow in the garden. "Sometimes I do," she admitted. "Not just the action, but all the fun times we had when we were all together, even in the middle of the war. And just between you and me," she whispered, leaning in a little, "I missed the stargazing too."
"Here they are!" a small voice shouted from just outside the ballroom. I recognized Toph's voice immediately and groaned. Katara cleared her throat nervously and stepped away from me. Aang and Mai followed Toph out into the garden, looking at us. Aang smiled and scratched the back of his head. Mai held out her hand to me.
"Let's go back inside, Zuko," she said blankly. "We have to keep up appearances, you know."
"I know," I sighed. "It just… got a little stuffy in there."
Zuko looked back at me and smiled before grabbing Mai's hand and going back in. Toph punched Aang on the shoulder and followed them in, leaving me and Aang alone in the garden.
"I understand why you have to go," I said after a few moments of uncomfortable silence. "I shouldn't have made you feel bad for wanting to do your job."
"I understand why you did," he replied quietly. "While I'm gone, you can spend some quality time with your family in the South Pole, or you can stay here. I'm sure Zuko and Mai wouldn't mind, and I know I wouldn't. Just try and keep yourself occupied with people you love and I'm sure you won't even notice I'm gone."
He grinned and I knew it was supposed to be a joke. I smiled for his sake. I didn't want to ruin it by telling him Zuko had already suggested that. "Until then, we have some time spending to do," I told him.
He gave a nervous laugh. "Um, we'll have to schedule it around my meetings, but any free time I have for the next four days is yours."
I hugged him tightly around the neck, and he returned it eagerly. "It better be," I whispered.
Three days later and I had hardly seen Aang at all. I tried to occupy myself in my own meetings, helping discuss trade routes between the Fire Nation, Earth Kingdom, and the Northern Tribe. Though the Water Tribe wasn't known for its mechanical expertise, Sokka impressed everyone with his ideas and inventions and offered his input on the goods being traded. Toph even offered to help build newer, modernized ships for both the Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom, and seeing as she was the only earthbender who could bend metal, no one questioned her involvement.
Later that afternoon, I wandered out into a garden that had a small pond. There were turtle ducks in this one, and I had some bread from lunch stashed away just for them. I sat in the shade beneath a large tree and tossed small pieces in the water for them. The babies swam right up and quacked at me for more. I found it amusing and tossed more in for them.
I heard footsteps behind me and, hoping it was Aang, jumped up excitedly. The ducklings swam to the other side, startled.
"Calm down, princess," Toph said. "It's just us."
She was dressed plainly and barefoot again, and glad for it I'm sure. Behind her, Zuko was even dressed in less formal robes. He smiled at me, but I could only look confused.
"Where's Aang?" I asked him, thinking they would've been together.
His smile left quickly. "Oh, a couple of Bumi's men swept him away as soon as our last meeting was finished."
I sat back down in the grass, disappointed. "Oh."
Toph came and sat beside me, holding out her hand. "Can I try?"
"Huh?" I asked stupidly.
"Can I feed them?"
"Oh, sure!" I said, handing her the bread. "Just break it off into little pieces and toss it in the water. The babies will come right up."
I glanced up at Zuko. He smiled and walked around the pond to where the turtle ducks were. He knelt down and gently scooped up one of the babies, one who didn't seem to be afraid of him. He carried it back and sat beside Toph.
"You wanna hold one?" he asked.
She grinned and broke off a small piece of bread, handing the rest back to me. She held the small piece in one hand, then held out her other hand to Zuko. Zuko scooted the baby turtle duck into her hand and she held the piece of bread up to it, giggling when it nibbled at it.
"They're so fuzzy and soft," she said. She put her hands together and it settled down in them, laying its head on her fingers and quacking softly. I couldn't help but "aw" at that.
I broke my bread in half and tossed Zuko the other half. "You can help me feed the other ones."
"As you wish," he said, tossing the bits in for them.
For nearly an hour, we all sat there talking and feeding the turtle ducks. Toph's baby fell asleep in her lap, then she fell asleep against the tree petting it. We decided we would let her get good and asleep before we moved her, so we sat for a while longer.
"I believe Aang has most of tomorrow off," Zuko said, nearly whispering.
"It doesn't matter," I replied sadly. "Someone will find some way to wisp him away and I'll spend another day pretending to wait on him."
"He's not avoiding you."
I looked up from the water. "I didn't think he was. He loves me, and he wants to spend time with me before he… leaves me." I nearly choked on the end of my sentence. I had one more day and then he would be gone for who knows how long. "Besides, I'm sure his meetings are pretty important or he wouldn't let them keep him away this much."
"They would have to be," he said. "I don't think I could stay away from you this much if I were about to leave for a long while."
I smiled a little. "Speaking of which, where is Mai? I haven't seen her today."
"Oh, I think she's still saying good-bye to Ty Lee."
"The warriors are leaving already?" I asked, sitting up a little.
"Tomorrow, I think. Mai is gonna be too busy to see her tomorrow, so they're hanging out tonight."
I sighed. The Summit was almost over already and I had hardly seen anyone outside of Zuko and Toph. Toph would be leaving soon, going back to her parents' estate until she was needed; Sokka and Suki would be leaving for the South Pole shortly after everyone else left; Bumi still had a city to run, with Aang trudging along eventually to help with the outbursts. I wasn't sure where I would be going when it was over.
"Hey, are you okay?" Zuko asked, startling me.
"Yeah, I… just got caught up in my thoughts, I guess. Um, I think I'm gonna go ahead and turn in. If you see Aang, tell him we can try again tomorrow." I started to get up, not realizing how numb my legs were, and fell into the tree.
Zuko jumped up to help me. "We've been sitting too long."
"You don't look in too bad shape," I replied. "I think the feeling is starting to come back." I shook my legs a little, wincing at the almost painful tingling sensation in them. "You need your arms to carry her."
I nodded down to the sleeping Toph on the ground, laughing a little when I noticed that the turtle duck had climbed up to her chest and fallen back asleep. Zuko picked the little guy up and set him on the ground, receiving an angry quack in retort, then carefully maneuvered Toph into his arms. His expression looked confused for a moment.
"Uh, where is her room?"
I sighed tiredly, waving him along as I started back inside. "Follow me."
When we got to the room, I opened the door and he carried her in. There were two beds and I pointed to the closer one, rushing over to pull back the comforter for him. He set her in and I covered her up, tucking her in like the motherly person I was. He glanced over at the other bed.
"Your room too?" he asked, noticing the small blue throw blanket draped over the end of the bed.
"Yeah," I whispered. "We're in the public eye now and she needed someone to help her look… well, a little less dirty."
"Ah, gotcha," he said, heading back to the door. "Well, goodnight Katara."
I leaned on the door as he started out. "Hey, don't forget what I said."
He turned to me with a puzzled face. "What you said?"
"If you see Aang?"
"Oh, right. I won't."
I started closing the door behind him. "Goodnight, Zuko."
Another pang as her door clicked shut. What was I doing? I was giving myself false hope, that's what. Trying to spend time with her before she disappeared for another year or longer, trying to rekindle what was only a tiny spark before, all this trying right in front of Mai? It hurt to think of what it might do to her if she knew what it was really about. It was more than spending time with friends I never get to see anymore. It was about getting back a feeling I only had when I was around Katara.
My little waterbender…
As I came around a corner on my way back to my room, I nearly ran into a very disgruntled Avatar. He perked up a bit when he saw me and I suddenly felt ashamed.
"Hey Zuko, have you seen Katara around anywhere?" he asked hopefully.
"Yeah, she just turned in," I told him. "She asked me to tell you that you could try again tomorrow."
His face fell into his hands. "Oh, man! All I want is some time with my girlfriend before I'm gone for who knows how long, but apparently that's too much to ask with these people!"
"Yeah, I suppose so," I replied quickly, starting around him.
"So even you had time to hang out with her today?"
I stopped and turned, not liking the insinuation he put in the question. "Toph and I found her in the garden by herself. I took Toph there to show her the turtle ducklings and Katara already had bread to feed them. Then Toph fell asleep and I carried her to their room." I put as much emphasis as I could on Toph's name, assuring him that, no, we were not alone together this time.
Aang lowered his eyes. "I- I didn't mean it like that. I'm sorry. I just meant that, for a Fire Lord, you seem to have more free time than me."
"Well, you are the Avatar," I reminded him. "You're responsible for ALL the nations, while I only have my own to think of. Plus, you have the whole 'riot in the Earth Kingdom' thing to work out."
He huffed and said quietly, "They're your people too."
The old me would've lit him up in rage, but I could only laugh at how childish he sounded. "Sorry," I said quickly, clearing my throat. "You're right, they are my people over there, but that's just it. They're over there, in the Earth Kingdom. Who are we to tell them where they can and can't live? And as long as they're over there, I have no jurisdiction. This is an Avatar matter; it's what you do best. That's what Katara respects about you."
Aang smiled and nodded and relief washed over me. "Thanks, Zuko. I still wish you would've told me about all this sooner. You know, before the Summit. People probably think I was just slacking off, and I kind of felt out of the loop."
I sighed audibly. "With you and Katara travelling, I never knew where to send any letters. I knew you'd be here for the Summit though, so I decided to hold off and wait for you to come to me."
"That makes sense, I guess," he responded, scratching the back of his head sheepishly. "So, where are you headed?"
"To bed," I said quickly, turning on my heel and walking off.
"Okay, see you tomorrow!" Aang called behind me. Somehow I could feel him waving.
Mai was waiting for me when I got back to my room. "Mai, what are you doing here?" I asked, surprised.
"I just wanted to see you before I went home for the night," she replied, smiling a little. "So, where were you?"
Why did everyone suddenly want to know what I was up to? Nothing! There's nothing going on between me and anyone else but Mai! Maybe I was overreacting. Maybe she's just curious?
"I took Toph to see the turtle ducklings," I explained. "She's never seen—well, felt them before, and I thought she should before she leaves here."
"Oh, okay," she said, sounding a bit surprised. Was she expecting another answer? "Well, I'm glad you're spending time with your friends while they're here."
"I'm glad you are too," I responded. "Maybe one day you can go down and visit Ty Lee. Kyoshi is a beautiful island when you're not being attacked by its warriors."
She came closer to a laugh than I think I've ever seen. Her hand reached up and brushed the right side of my face, then she leaned up and kissed me. "Goodnight, Zuko."
Somehow her goodnight wasn't as satisfying as Katara's. As soon as my doors closed behind me, I smacked myself in the head. A very Sokka-like move, but what can I say? He was the only male friend I had close to my age, so he was bound to rub off somehow. If only his sister—
NO! Dear Agni, what is this girl doing to me? She shows up for the first time after a year and it's already starting again!
I suppose all I could do was wait it out. She would leave with the others and then everything would go back to normal, I wouldn't have to worry about hurting Mai or Aang, and we'd all live happily ever after!
Nah, the ending is too perfect. Something will happen, I know it. I'm just not sure what.
I rise with the sun.
Breakfast was interesting. Toph started the first ever International Food Fight in recorded history, and I made sure it was recorded if only for the novelty of it. I suppose it was a going away party of sorts for those leaving later that day. Nothing says "have a nice trip" like eggs in your hair.
Aang and I only had one meeting and that was over quickly. The last official day of the Summit was going to be about having a nice and relaxing day among the members of the world. Since it was so hot out, Uncle Iroh suggested to everyone at breakfast (with egg in his hair) that they head down to the ocean for a swim. Even some of my council members and nobles took their families down to join the rest. Some of the northern waterbenders moved the ships to the cliff walls, where earthbenders remade dock landings and pathways to get to them. Bumi turned the paved ground into sand for the children to play in.
Aang and Katara finally had their quality time. Not that I was watching or anything. Mai said she had things to take care of, so she didn't come down, but Ty Lee and the Kyoshi Warriors got a good volleyball game going. Katara and I even joined in for one game, but we had to make a point to Aang that bending is cheating before he was allowed to play. I think I actually had fun, and there was no Azula around to burn the net down. I thanked the gods for that small miracle.
Bumi held a sand-sculpting contest: earthbenders in one category and other benders or non-benders in another. Toph won the Earthbender category with her interpretation of the Ember Island Players' Zuko and Katara in the crystal catacombs. Everyone got a big kick out of that except for me, Aang, and Katara. Sokka entered the other category, but he obviously lost. Suki won, though, with a good attempt at Sokka in Kyoshi Warrior robes. For a non-bender, it was pretty good. Toph came over and fixed it after she won and they left it up like that, much to Sokka's embarrassment.
Then sunset came around and the Kyoshi Warriors left, along with another ship from the Earth Kingdom. Ty Lee cried when she hugged me goodbye. All I could think to do was pat her on the shoulder. It was rather awkward for me. It was after they left that Mai finally made her way down to the beach. She wrapped her arm around my waist and I put mine around her shoulders. The sky was a bright pinkish-orange as the sun set on the water. It really was beautiful.
"So," I started, turning to her, "where were you all day?"
"I just thought I'd check in on an old friend," she replied calmly. "I haven't seen her since the Summit started and I was just making sure she was alright. Is that okay with you, my lord?"
I smiled down at her. "That's fine with me."
I kissed her forehead and she laid her head on my shoulder. We watched as Sokka chased Suki with a pile of slimy seaweed and Toph and Uncle Iroh sparred a little further down. I noticed Aang and Katara out on one of the newly emptied docks talking. I quickly averted my attention back to Mai, who hadn't even seemed to notice that it strayed. The arm around my waist started pulling me back and I looked down at her.
"Come on," she said, backing out from under my arm and grabbing my hand. "Let's go back inside. It's getting dark."
I turned back to look at my friends one more time. Katara's head was turned toward me for a split second, then back to Aang. Sokka and Uncle Iroh waved and I gave a small wave back before turning and walking back with Mai.
It was a slightly awkward conversation to have, but it was something he wanted to talk about before he left so I went with it.
"I don't know when I'll be back," he said, looking rather sad. "This could be going on longer than we're hoping for, but just in case, there's something I wanted to talk to you about."
I was a little nervous. "Okay?"
"In the Water Tribes, the marrying age is 16, right?"
Aang held up his hand. "Right?"
I sighed. "Yes."
"I love you, Katara," he said. "Since you're not 16 yet, and I don't think I'm anywhere near old enough, I'm not asking you to marry me." I opened my mouth to say something, but he stopped me again. "I'm not asking yet, but I want you to know I will be back for you. I won't abandon you, so don't give up on me, okay? Write me whenever you want. I'll come and visit when I can, but I can't promise it much."
I nodded. I wasn't sure what else to say to that. I know that I'm not ready for marriage yet, to anyone! But maybe one day, when he comes back, just maybe I will be. I glanced over towards the beach to see Zuko watching me and I looked away quickly. I felt tears welling up in my eyes that I didn't want anyone else to see.
Aang squeezed my hand and smiled his bright smile. "I promise you I'll be back for you, Katara."
"I'll be waiting," I replied, finally finding my voice. "Maybe not in the Fire Nation, but somewhere. You'll find me."
I'm not promising frequent updates (I've been working on this far too long for that), but I've found myself writing a lot here recently and I keep coming back to this story. That means there will be updates EVERY NOW AND THEN, so don't rush me. I have a very busy life. Also, I think I'm staying pretty well in-character so far. Go me! :)
And please don't bug me about the Zutara project here. If you want to keep up with it, bookmark/join the Project: Re-finale group on DeviantART. We have updates now.