A/N: Hello, gentle readers! I be back! So, this is a headcanon that I have absolutely loved ever since reading Tales of Republic City by DJNS. The idea of Katara having a miscarriage and that explaining why Aang and Katara never had more children after Tenzin was always so interesting and logical to me. We know from DJNS that in her headcanon the time following this was extremely rocky in their marriage, and I've always wanted to see that 4-month period explored more in-depth – how they fell apart post-losing the baby, and how they put themselves back together again in the months that followed. D touches on it vaguely, but we don't get much detail. So…that's what I'm doing in this fic. DJNS has been kind enough to totally encourage me taking her idea and running with it, which I am incredibly grateful for. I will do my best to do it justice! I'll give a fair warning and say that this does get rather Kataangsty but as we all know, it works out in the end and there will be plenty of fluff and even smut as a reward for reading. Also, I do not have experience at all with miscarriages and marital problems that can result from them, so I did my best based on what I could surmise. Hopefully it will resonate with you as realistic nonetheless.
In terms of updates – I will do my best to update at least once a week, hopefully more, but I should put in the disclaimer here that I am moving across the country (from New York City to Washington State) in… ::checks calendar:: …exactly 28 days. I am hoping to have this finished by the time I leave but I can't make any promises. I WILL finish it, have no fear, but my schedule is going to get VERY hectic in the next month and I might need to make it a more "into the summer" project. In any case, keep checking in, and as always, thanks for reading!
Without further ado…
Chapter 1 – Five Weeks After
Suki watched uneasily as Katara stirred her pot of stewed sea prunes, her hand turning the wooden spoon idly around the casserole but her eyes, normally so blue and bright but not at all the case at the moment, not even remotely fixated on the task at hand. Instead, they were staring off into space blankly at something nonexistent in front of her, a sort of dead, haunted, hollow look lurking in their depths. Her sister-in-law gazed down at the chopped vegetables she was preparing for the salad, and chose her words very carefully before she spoke.
"You seem to be having a rough time of it lately, Katara."
Katara jumped slightly, and turned towards Suki, still stirring the pot. Her expression was oddly blank, something the other woman was not accustomed to in the slightest. It was incredibly unnerving.
I'm fine. It's fine. Everything's fine.
It was the same old song, day after day, night after night, morning after morning. By now Suki had come to realize that "I'm fine," was actually code for, "I'm about ready to fall apart at the seams."
Suki weighed her response to that with incredible prudence, and when she spoke again, her words were gentle yet firm.
"You don't seem 'fine,' Katara."
Silence. Katara blinked at her, and without responding, turned away to ladle some broth into the taller pot holding the parsnips.
Suki did everything she could to bite back the words springing forth from her lips, but in the end she lost the battle. She knew she was risking the other woman's wrath by even broaching the subject, but also knew that it needed to be broached.
"How are things with Aang?"
The effect was instantaneous. Katara immediately stiffened, the stirring ceased. Suki watched with trepidation, her violet eyes filled with worry. She braced herself for the onslaught. But it never came.
"I think I'm going to need more caraway root," Katara responded, placing down her ladle and reaching for her cloak and basket. "I should head to the market. You don't mind staying here and watching the kids until I get back, do you?" She deliberately avoided Suki's gaze as she headed out towards the back door.
Very aware of what she was trying to do, Suki stood up with her. "Katara, please. Don't do this. Don't run away. I'm your friend, your sister. Talk to me. Please. Talk to any of us. We love you. We love both of you."
There was the briefest pause, where Katara appeared to process the heartfelt plea. But ultimately, like everything else these days it seemed, she could not bring herself to try and make an effort to grant it.
"I'll be back in a half hour. Make sure the prunes don't overcook, could you?"
And she was gone. Suki watched her go miserably, letting out a sigh. It was only when her gaze drifted to the side, landing on the countertop where all the herbs and spices lived, that she noticed that there was an entirely full box of caraway root right next to the stove, perched next to the salt and pepper.
"How was she today?"
Suki shot her husband a look which clearly stated, "not good." Sokka sighed, putting down the file he'd been perusing from Council, his blue eyes filled with worry and dread.
"He wasn't home yet. I…" she hedged, afraid to voice the words aloud but unable to deny the truth. "I think he's getting more and more scared to come home every night, to be honest."
Sokka groaned, rubbing his temples. "Of course he is. Avoid and evade. Classic airbender to the core."
It was impossible to miss the bitter tone interweaved in his voice. Once again, Suki found herself weighing her reply carefully, before sitting down next to him and placing her hand gently on his shoulder.
"Sokka…I love Katara too. And I know that she's your sister and how protective you are of her. But the truth is…well…she's being…it's…" she trailed off guiltily, not wanting to voice the unpleasant, unspoken truth between them out loud. For some reason, it would feel like a betrayal.
Sokka huffed out a sigh of frustration. "I know. She's giving him a good reason. It's so strange. On the one hand, I resent him for it, but on the other hand I don't blame him at all. If I were constantly getting snapped at and yelled at and shut out, I wouldn't want to come home at the end of the day, either."
Suki kissed his temple comfortingly, her eyes dropping down to her lap. "I'm scared for them, Sokka."
Her husband had to clear his throat several times before he could answer her. "I know. I am, too. I just…never, Suki. I never thought in ten million years I'd ever see these two like this. They were always the one thing I could count on to remain stable, you know? It's like a law of nature. The earth goes around the sun, what goes up has to come down, and Katara and Aang will adore each other until the end of time. That's just what it was. And now…"
"Don't say that," Suki interrupted quickly, squeezing his hand. "Sweetie, please, don't say that. Don't even think it. They love each other. I don't doubt that for one second. They still love each other more than anything, and that's exactly why this is so awful and so painful. Love is not the problem."
"Then what is?"
"Lack of communication," Suki clarified. "Guilt. Shame. Regret. Fear. There are a lot of problems here. I'll grant you that. But lack of love is absolutely not one of them."
Sokka nodded, squeezing her hand back. "I know. But what if love isn't enough anymore?"
He lifted his eyes to hers, and was disheartened to see that she didn't know the answer to that any more than he did.
He looked at her from across the bedroom, dressed in a long, white, floor-length strapless dress with blue trim, leaning into the vanity to loop in an earring, and couldn't help but feel an overwhelmingly intense surge of emotion – a pang of love so strong he thought he'd faint with its force, mixed with an aching longing that pierced his chest acutely. He wanted nothing more than to touch her, press his face into her styled hair and inhale the scent of her shampoo, kiss the hollow of her warm neck and the curve of her bare shoulder, wrap his arms protectively around her middle and hear her giggle in response as she snuggled against him – but he knew that none of those things, now only a sweet memory, would happen even if he tried. So, he remained rooted to his spot on the other side of the room with the bed between them, and tried to focus on smoothing out his ceremonial robe. Still, his gaze still insisted on drifting back to her, drinking in her beauty. His throat ached and he was suddenly overcome with a strong urge to cry, but he blinked back his tears.
She met his gaze in the vanity mirror, over her shoulder, and granted him a small smile. Aang felt his heart give a small leap for joy – she hadn't smiled at him in so long. Most people would have probably said that it had been so long they'd forgotten what it looked like, but he could never forget Katara's smile and how it lit up her whole face, making her even more beautiful than she normally was – if that were even possible.
"You look beautiful, Katara," he whispered reverently. He hadn't meant to. The words were there and he simply couldn't stop himself – he didn't want to stop himself.
Immediately after, however, he tensed, wondering if he'd made a mistake. His compliments hadn't succeeded in doing much lately other than aggravating her. He held his breath, awaiting the inevitable snippy retort, or, worse yet – far worse – silence. No acknowledgement at all. Continuation of the cold war that raged between them all day and night, every day for the last month and a half. Since the loss.
But it seemed tonight there would be a truce. She turned to look at him, and her eyes were shining with what he could've sworn was love and tenderness, but he was too afraid to hope anymore. Experience had taught him not to get his hopes up when it seemed Katara was having a "good" day – because, irrevocably, her disposition would change just as quickly as it had come to begin with and he'd be back to stony silence and cold distance.
"Thank you, Aang. So do you."
She had never meant anything so sincerely, but she knew he was afraid to believe her. And despite not being able to blame him, Katara couldn't help but feel hurt.
"Would you care for some more champagne, Master Katara?"
Katara nodded, accepting the flute with murmured thanks before turning to look out over the crowded atrium of Republic City Hall. The city's highest-ranking officials murmured and mingled together, laughing over flutes of bubbling champagne, complimenting each other's outfits and no doubt talking shop. Her eyes skimmed the room for her husband and found him in the corner in conversation with one of the Earth Kingdom representatives. While he to all appearances seemed to be listening intently to the man's words and lavish gesticulations, Katara knew better, and there was no escaping the distant, sad look in his beautiful gray eyes, masked with feigned interest. She felt a piercing stab of guilt.
She had put that there.
Suddenly feeling hot and suffocated, she turned and stepped out onto the balcony for some fresh air. Still cradling her champagne flute, she gazed down with empty eyes into the garden below. The first bloom had just begun, and colorful hydrangeas and tulips and daffodils dotted the pathways and the many spots under the willow trees. It was a lovely sight, one that surely should have inspired some modicum of contentment or emotion in some way.
But she felt nothing.
She swallowed hard, turning back around to gaze through the open glass doors to the atrium. Laughter, chatting, smiling, frowning…the whole gamut of human emotion was laid bare before her, but she found, with mounting alarm at the realization, that she could not partake. She could not find any interest deep within her in the affairs of Republic City, the hub that she herself had played such a large part in founding. She could not bring herself to care about the minister's children who were reaching Bumi's age, nor about the growing economy of the newly strengthened Earth Kingdom Colonies that would surely soon be separate entities from the Fire Nation altogether, nor about any of the lives of the many friends – personal and professional – that were present in that room. The only feeling she could identify was lack of feeling all together. Apathy. Indifference.
Her eyes found Aang again, who was now engaged in a quiet conversation with Anil. She waited to feel something – anything – upon seeking out her husband's handsome features and gentle smile, that all-too-familiar feeling of warmth and happiness and safety and the funny feeling in her tummy he always managed to leave her with. But, to her absolute horror, it never came. As she watched him quietly bid Anil goodbye and head over to join Sokka and Suki on the other side of the room, she found that not even Aang was able to stir up the slightest bit of sentiment within her.
Her heartbeat accelerating, she thought back to her children at home, tucked safe in their beds, and it seemed as though an empty void opened up within her, cracking apart and sucking her in entirely like a black hole, into complete non-existence. Not even her babies could incite even the smallest, fleeting feeling of anything – love, desire to protect, joy, everything she had always been accustomed to feeling in their presence. And in that moment, it was as if her worst nightmare had been realized. Her ability to feel anything was gone. Passion, love, comfort, fear, anger, all of it.
It had died along with the baby.
Her knees seemed to buckle then, and she sank down on the bench at the edge of the balcony, sucking in gulps of air through lungs that felt far too constricted. And while she wanted nothing more in the world than to cry, she found she could not do that, either.
"Do…do you need help with that?"
Aang's voice was tentative, hedging. She glanced up at him, once again meeting his eyes over her shoulder in the mirror, and there was no mistaking the fear in his voice. She swallowed hard, her fingers clumsily seeking out the laces that zigzagged down the back of her dress, and found herself nodding.
Aang gingerly stepped up behind her, his warm, large hands, so gentle yet so strong, carefully unlacing the bodice. The warmth of her skin emanated from her, the scent of her hair and her perfume bathing him with memories of what it felt like to taste her skin, touch its softness, feel her hair against his cheek. A lump formed in his throat that he forced himself to swallow back down as he worked gently to free her from her gown.
Katara closed her eyes, lost for a moment in his touch, and in that one, brief moment, she remembered the same thing. The feel of his lips against her neck and shoulder, his softly whispered words of adoration in her ear, his scent surrounding her, his large hands smoothing over her belly and up to cup her breasts, her hips, reaching down between her legs…
When she opened her eyes again, she saw that he had untied the laces, and was now staring at her in the mirror once again. The look of pain and longing on his face was like a physical ache to her heart. She swallowed hard and whispered his name, so softly she feared he might not have heard.
With a shaking hand, clearly afraid of rebuke but unable to stop himself, Aang reached up and gently skimmed his calloused fingers over her bare shoulder. Katara stiffened at his touch, her breath hitched in anticipation of what he'd do next. Aang watched her intently, and when she didn't shove him away as she normally would these days, the need became too great and he leaned in, pressing a soft kiss to the base of her neck.
Katara felt her eyes sink closed as he nibbled his way down her neck and across her bare shoulder, pressing his body closer to hers, enveloping her in his warmth. Despite herself, Katara arched her neck in a gesture of unconscious invitation, a tiny moan escaping her lips when he hit the particularly sensitive spot below her ear. His hands gently caressed her shoulders and collarbone, before he straightened to press his lips into her styled hair. Small tendrils of it had come loose from her elaborate bun, and he pressed his face into the softness, inhaling deeply.
"I love you, Katara."
Her eyes shot open, and she looked at their reflection, seeing him so blissfully buried into her. Her stomach lurched. Suddenly, without warning, it was back – the wave of apathy and resentment, ice-cold and nonsensical and unforgiving, her intense desire to shove him away battling with her equally intense desire to hold him close, pepper his face with kisses and never let him go.
At her silence, his eyes fluttered open, meeting hers in the reflection. Instantly, uncertainty and doubt bloomed across his features. He swallowed hard and whispered again.
"I love you, Katara."
The tone was different this time, a mixture of hope and desperation and fear. In that moment, she knew how badly he needed her to say it back. But despite her best efforts to force the words out, they just couldn't seem to release their claw-like grip on her lips.
I love you too, Aang.
I miss you so much.
I'm so sorry for everything.
I've been so awful.
Please forgive me.
I need you.
I can't live without you. I don't want to.
The hurt in his gray eyes darkened, and she could see the tell-tale glossy sheen filling them with lightening speed. He looked as though someone had just stabbed him in the stomach. When he spoke again, his words were garbled with tears.
"Do…do you love me, Katara?"
The question was as painful as a physical blow.
The guilt and shame that had been rising up within her like steam in a pressure cooker popped, and before she knew what she was doing, she whirled around to face him, her own eyes filling with tears and her countenance at nigh hysterical levels.
"How could you ask me that?!" Her voice was shrill, hoarse and cracking with self-loathing. Aang flinched, stepping back from her slightly. When he responded, he could barely choke the words out.
"Is it really so hard for you to say it back?"
"That question was completely unfair and you know it!" She knew she was deflecting, knew she was avoiding, knew she was in the wrong, but, as per the pattern she'd been following for weeks now, she kept digging herself deeper and deeper.
The tears fell over his impossibly long lashes now. He made no effort to hide it. Despite it, she could see that anger was coming to his defense; and he had every intention of calling her on her avoidance.
"It's not the slightest bit unfair when you consider the way you've been treating me! You've done nothing but push me away for weeks! That is not love! I never know what to think around you anymore, so yes, Katara, I need to ask! This right here? That was the first time you've let me touch you in over a month! Ever since the baby!"
Katara instantly snapped erect, as though she had been slapped. His complete fearlessness to shove the elephant in the room, the one she had been so desperately trying to avoid, right in her face nearly took her breath away. "That's not true!"
The second the words were out, she knew he would shoot them down instantly. Rightfully so.
He did not disappoint. He gaped, stunned by her outright lie. "It is true! You know it's true! You barely even look at me, let alone speak to me! You won't let me touch you or kiss you or hold you, you snap at everything I say and do, and no matter what I do it's always wrong! It's like you can hardly stand to be under the same roof together! I don't understand! You won't tell me anything you're feeling since the miscarriage or what I've done to deserve this! You want to know what's 'unfair?' That's what's unfair!"
Her tears finally spilled over as well, her fists clenched at her sides. "Oh, well, I'm so sorry that it's been so difficult for you to deal with me! Please, forgive me, oh mighty Avatar!"
"Don't you dare!" he snarled, startling her with his ferocity. "You're not going to do that, Katara! You're not going to turn this around on me and make it out to be as though I'm the bad guy! Stop avoiding everything I say! Why won't you answer the question? Why won't you tell me what you're feeling?" he gripped her desperately by her shoulders, forcing her to look at him. "Why won't you let me help you? What did I do? I can't fix it if you won't tell me!"
"You wouldn't understand!" she sobbed, her voice breaking.
"How do you know if you won't let me try?" he shot back, sobbing as well.
"You can't fix it Aang!" her words were now almost incomprehensible, drowned in tears. "No one can! No one can fix it! It's gone! It's all gone, and I can't get it back!"
He didn't need her to clarify what "it" meant. He knew. The baby. The future they'd hoped for with it. Her life as she knew it. Her passion, her emotion, her strong-willed nature, the fire within her that had captivated him so intently to begin with. He watched as she buried her face in her hands, crying so hard it looked as though she were being ripped in two. Instantly, the fight drained out of him and his heart broke on her behalf. He reached for her, praying to the spirits that she would not push him away. Thankfully, she didn't.
"Please, Katara," he wept hoarsely against her temple, holding her shaking body as tightly as he could. "Please, please talk to me. Tell me what you're feeling. Let me comfort you. Let me grieve with you. Let me in. Please."
His anguished plea was her undoing, and she looked up at him, her bright, blue eyes wet with sorrow. She tried to form words, but nothing came at first, her mouth moving soundlessly. Then, finally, she managed to tear them from her throat.
"I feel nothing," she confessed brokenly. "Nothing, Aang. I don't feel anything. About anything."
He looked at her, blankly at first, then his tear-stained face clouded over with dread. Despite his obvious terror, he asked the question anyway.
"Including for me?"
There was a horrible, awful, billowing silence. Katara blinked at him, her wet blue eyes welling anew with unshed tears. She wanted nothing more than to reassure him, swear that she still adored him as much as the day she had married him, that she felt deeper for him than anything in her life, but once again, her words chose to betray her and stay buried within.
It was clear that he took her silence for her answer. His hands fell limply to his sides, and he swallowed hard, his throat bobbing spasmodically with his tears. In that moment, Aang was certain that nothing had ever hurt as much in his life, and that nothing would ever hurt as much again.
Suddenly, he felt as though he could not breathe here in this room, this room that had always been such a haven of love and comfort. He slowly stepped back from her, doing his best to ignore the wild panic darkening in her azure eyes.
Please don't go, please don't leave me, stay, I love you, I love you so much, I don't mean any of it, I'll always love you, it's all my fault –
"Oh," he whispered.
And with that, he turned on his heel and walked out.
If Katara cried or called after him, he didn't hear her. His blood pounded in his ears as he walked straight down into the foyer and then slipped out the back door, frantically placing one foot in front of the other until he arrived at the stables. When he unhinged the hook holding Appa's door closed and peered inside, he saw that the shaggy beast had lifted his massive head from his slumber, blinking at his master in concern. He let out a soft bellow of commiseration, as if sensing Aang's heartbreak, and Aang immediately approached him, burying his face into the soft white fur of his flank. Appa groaned again in comfort and Aang fell to his knees, sobbing into the bison's warmth until he was certain he was empty of tears.
Kanna was shaken from her worried reverie by Bumi's timid voice, trembling with anxiety, and immediately felt her stomach lurch. She had overheard every word of her grand-daughter and grandson-in-law's exchange from the threshold of her bedroom door, but she had hoped against hope that the children hadn't been exposed. Now, it seemed, that hope was futile. She turned to see the little boy looking at her fearfully, clutching his teddy bear and his hair rumpled from sleep.
"Sweetie, it's late. You shouldn't be out of bed." She knelt down to smooth his wild, unruly locks with her weathered hand. Bumi swallowed hard, his lower lip trembling.
"I heard yelling. Mommy and Daddy. They were yelling."
For a split second, Kanna considered conjuring up a lie the little boy was likely to believe – that it had been a bad dream, that he had misunderstood. Ultimately, however, she knew that wasn't right or fair. She sighed.
"I know, sweetie. I heard it, too."
"Why were they yelling?" Bumi asked in a small voice, glancing anxiously towards the direction of his mother and father's room. "Mommy and Daddy love each other. They don't yell at each other."
Kanna pulled him close, pressing a kiss to his temple. "Sweetie…sometimes, Mommies and Daddies fight. I know it can be scary. I'm so sorry if you were scared. But all Mommies and Daddies fight sometimes. It's normal." While she knew the words she spoke were truthful, she couldn't help but feel that nothing about that particular fight had been "normal." Especially for Aang and Katara.
Bumi seemed to digest this, glancing again towards his parents' room. "Will they stay mad at each other?"
"No," Kanna said instantly, and although she knew she was mostly saying it to comfort Bumi, she knew she was also trying to reassure herself. "No, Bumi. They'll make up. I promise you, they'll make up."
She wasn't lying – she knew how deep the love between her granddaughter and her husband was, and she knew, deep in her heart, that they would find a way to work through this horrific rough patch they'd found themselves in. She just hoped, for everyone's sake, that it was sooner rather than later – and knew that, as awful as it was, there was nothing she could do to help them fix it.
"Can I sleep with you?" Bumi asked timidly. Kanna smiled warmly.
"Of course you can, little man. Come on," she whispered, leading him back into her bedroom.
Kya glanced up at her father from her bowl of rice cake batter while Kanna and Bumi set the table for breakfast. Aang's head pounded from having cried so much the night before, his eyes bloodshot and tired and underlined with dark bags. Nonetheless, Aang tried to keep his voice light as he caressed the girl's hair.
"Mom's not feeling well today, Kya. She's resting. We can bring her some breakfast later."
Kya's brow furrowed in worry. "Again? But she was just sick a few weeks ago!"
"I know. But she needs to rest today. Don't worry, sweetheart. She'll feel better soon." He tried to keep his voice confident, but couldn't help but feel like he was downright lying to his child. Still, Kya seemed to accept that as they all sat down to eat.
An hour later, she crept up to the door of her mother and father's bedroom with a tray of food, and gently knocked on it. When there was no answer, Kya peeked her head in. Katara lay on the bed with her back to her daughter, completely still except for the rise and fall of her shoulder with each breath she took. She seemed to be awake.
"I brought you some breakfast, Mommy."
Still no answer. A sinking feeling permeated the girl's stomach as she crept into the room, waiting for her mother to turn to look at her, or at the very least acknowledge her presence with some verbal confirmation. But nothing came. Kya hovered awkwardly with the tray, before setting it on the night stand next to the bed.
"I'll just…leave it here. In case you get hungry."
She knew better at this point than to expect a response, so turned and headed back the way she came, feeling unsettled and rejected. Before she closed the door behind her, she turned back towards her mother a final time.
"I love you, Mom."
Katara didn't so much as move.