Disclaimer: I DO NOT OWN AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER
"It's time to look inward and start asking yourself the big questions;
who are you, and what do you want?"
Nothing brings him more satisfaction.
He's seen so many sunsets since the day he was unfrozen, but nothing quite looks like this one. Everything is a blurred vision of reds, oranges, yellows, a few lilacs here and there. Aang breathed in the crisp air, feeling it run through his veins, and it feels different - the good kind. The peace is infectious, sweeping through the atmosphere, through the clouds, into his lungs.
Nothing could make this moment better; and then Katara steps into the balcony with him, proving him wrong with no words at all.
They take long look at each other before they smile and embrace, and he breathes in her hair like he has a million times, feeling her warmth spread through him like the glow of a thousand embers. When he pulls back, sinking into her azure eyes, he can't help but lean in close to her mouth, pushing himself up a little on his toes to reach her, his arms tightening around her back.
She pulls away, arms sliding off of him, this foreign look in her face as she looks away from him.
"No, Aang." she said quietly, looking down. She has this half-pained, half-exhausted look on her face as she pushes a thick strand of curly hair over her shoulder. Her pastel kimono illuminates her coffee coloured skin, the retreating sun stroking half of her face with it's light. She licks her lips, a dark magenta colour, the same lips he kissed recklessly months back.
"I...I don't understand," Aang said with confusion, even though he laughs nervously to cover it up; his grey eyes are confused and a little hurt as she refuses to meet his gaze. "You said after the war. You said...you said you were confused-"
"I still am," she says in a low voice. She sighed, azure eyes lifting to his. "I can't just promise that I'm going to feel a certain way in a certain amount of time-"
"Then why did you?!" Aang said quietly, a little too sharply, his impatience coupled with his frustration and pain. "Katara...none of this means anything if I don't have you. You said on Ember Island that you didn't want a relationship in war, well guess what? I ended it! Mostly, for you! For us. I don't understand what it is I have to do in order for you to love me-"
"You can't buy my love, Aang - it isn't something you can force onto its knees like Ozai!" Katara retorted, a somewhat different look in her eyes. He hadn't seen that look before, and whatever it was, he didn't like it - it made her cold and distant. It wasn't the Katara who unfroze him one year ago. "You had Ozai to face and didn't need another reason to put you off - I didn't know what I wanted back then and I still don't, and I you can't make me feel bad for that!
"Then why did you feed me those lies?! Just to string me along and motivate me to end that war?!" Aang hissed, his voice growing louder. He felt his eyes dampen and he pressed his lips together to regain control. His words were barely a whisper. "Don't you understand? I love you. I've always loved you-"
"And what about me?!" Katara exploded. She could feel it in her heart, in her soul, as her fingers twitched at their own accord. She paced her breathing in desperation, willing herself not to loose control, not now. She closed her eyes, pulling herself together. "You've had your story Aang. You found out who you are and what you need to do - well, now it's my turn. I have to find out who I am beyond you or saving the world. On my own."
He gaped at her in horror as he pieced the words together, but she left, not wanting to hear what he had to say (or scream) on the matter - she had already made her choice. She passed her group of laughing friends as she entered the main room again, the light hearted atmosphere dampening as they watched her walk past briskly, Aang rushing to the edge of the balcony that joined to the room, his face crumpled as he watched her back retreat for the door.
"You're leaving me?!" Aang murmured, but it was enough to make Katara pause as she reached out for the handle, closing her eyes. He had this lump in his throat that sounded too prominent as he spoke, but he didn't care as walked forward a little, shaking his head in disbelief, in denial.
"After everything we've been through, after all these months of running and training and fighting, you're just deciding to up and leave? Didn't this past year mean anything to you?! Katara...I don't even know how many times we talked about what we would do after the war - and now you're just walking away, not wanting to truly live, for the first time in your life-?!"
"Don't you dare question the things that I have done for you, the things I've made myself do in order to protect you." Katara said in a low, solid voice as she whirled around. Azure eyes that were once a pastel blue colour were now so dark, so foreign to him - her voice was firmer, harsher. Her eyes flickered to her frozen friends who watched in total silence, and Katara felt a surge of shame and embarrassment. "I don't want to talk about this anymore-"
"I don't care!" Aang cried, grey eyes glistening as he strode right to her, looking her right in the eyes so that she couldn't avoid him or push the matter away. His voice sounded so weak and strangled, and already, Katara started hating herself for doing that to him. "I don't care if anyone hears. I don't care if they laugh at me. I love you, and I'm not letting you leave for the peace we've worked so hard for-"
"Leave?!" Sokka repeated, but was totally ignored by the pair. The group were still huddled around the table holding his forgotten painting, shell-shocked as they witnessed the argument unfold in front of them. They'd never heard Aang raise his voice before - let alone Katara sound so cold. Even Iroh was silent, golden eyes surveying the two across the room.
"Look," Katara sighed deeply, taking the pink flower from her hair, pressing her tears back into her eyes with bending, forcing herself to look at him. "I don't expect you to understand. I don't even expect you to like it. I just need you to respect that it's my time to find my way, now. Alone."
She took his hand and placed the flower there, curling his fingers over the petals before releasing him, turning for the door.
The rest don't know whether to look away in horror or at them in total shock. Toph gaped, Suki gasped, Sokka blinked, Iroh was silent, and even Mai watched in total surprise. Zuko felt his stomach drop, because he knows that look in her eyes. He knows what it means, for he's said and done the exact same things. He's tense, and Mai glances at him, frowning as his eyes fixate on the waterbender in worry.
Zuko knows exactly what Katara means, for he's been there - which is the very reason why he is silently supporting her.
Katara makes it a point not to apologize - she refuses to apologizes for making a decision with her heart for once, as she reaches for the door handle again. She knows that once she walks out of this tea shop, that's it. She doesn't know where she will go, she won't know how long for, or whether she can ever return. All she knows is that she has to leave. It is the only option. She has to leave.
All Katara knows is that she has to leave before she accidently kills the people she loves.
"No!" Aang cries, wrapping his arms around her tightly, pinning her own arms to her sides. It takes everything in her not to cry as she feel him sniff into her back, unable to hold in the tears that spill out of his eyes. "I think...I think I know why - just please, please don't run away from me..."
The room was so silent they could hear Aang crying against her back - the group of friends didn't know whether to leave or convince Katara to stay, didn't know whether to pry Aang off of her and demand an explanation from her or continue to pretend they didn't exist - all they knew was that they couldn't keep their eyes off of them. Zuko held onto his breath tightly.
"No, you don't..." Katara whispered, shaking her head, struggling against him weakly. She made her voice sound firmer, like a consoling mother as she wiggled a little, trying to pry him off of her in a way that wouldn't upset him more. "Aang, let go of me."
Zuko rose, alarming everyone, tentatively approaching the Avatar as he clung onto the waterbender with all his might, like a child. He laid a hand on his back, his voice soothing, consoling, understanding. "Aang...Aang, you have to let her go; this isn't your choice-"
"I know you're scared and insecure," Aang said quietly, breathing still erratic from his crying. "That I'm the Avatar now, that I won't have time for you, that I have the Avatar State and all that - but you'll always have me. I'll always be yours. Don't be angry or afraid now that you have to share me with the world, now that it's not just you and me anymore. I'll always love you, take care of you, give you everything you could ever want, just don't go. Don't ruin the life we could have together-"
"DO NOT TELL ME HOW TO FEEL!"
They all leaped back with a cry, Zuko jumping away and pinning his back against the wall in terror as Aang went flying past him, slamming into the lip of the table Sokka was once painting at. They watched in total horror as his small body convulsed quickly as he rose a centermeter off the ground, frozen there, unable to even blink. Grey eyes were petrified as they fight to skitter about in complete fear, in the loss of control he had in his body.
Katara still faced the door, panting in rage, fists balled up, once innocent face twisted in a snarl.
"Have you ever thought that maybe I didn't want that life?! That maybe this isn't about you for once?!" Katara growled, tears of rage pricking at her eyes. "Don't tell me that I ruinyour life just because I want to do something for myself. The truth is, Aang, I don't fit into your perfect little world of purity anymore - so don't you dare think for a second that me giving up everything I have ever loved is simply because I feel insecure about the prospect of sharing you-"
"KATARA!" Iroh roared above her barks. "RELEASE HIM!"
Her heart sank at the general's words, because this time, she didn't even realize she was doing it - only once Katara whirled around did Aang's body fall back onto the wooden floor with a loud bang and clatter of his limbs. Sokka and Toph rushed to the spluttering air nomad as Katara clamped a hand over her mouth in disgust, her azure eyes so wide Zuko thought they might burst out as they brimmed with tears of shame and complete fear.
"Wh-What did...what did you do?!" Mai hissed in terror, her eyes darting between the half conscious airbender, groaning on the floor as Sokka shook him lightly, Toph propping his head up onto his lap, and the quivering waterbender.
Katara stumbled back shakily, her back hitting the door behind her - she glanced at her hands, and then back at Aang. Tears slipped from her eyes like falling stars as they all stared at her in fear, in shock, in horror. Looking at Aang, her friend, her brother, laying on the floor like that with only a weak breath passing through his lungs, she knew she had to leave. Soon. Now.
She'd promised she wouldn't apologize for leaving - but Katara found herself breaking a lot of promises these days.
"I'm sorry." she mouthed, unable to forge the sound as she opened the door and fled.
Zuko shivered a little as he looked outside at the setting sun, just peaking out of the horizon before bidding its final farewell for the day. Everyone in that room knew what Katara had just done. They all knew what Katara should not have been able to do in even daylight, but somehow did anyway. The young firebender's fixated on the place where she'd once stood.
"Uncle," Zuko murmured after a while. "Is it even a full moon tonight?"
Iroh frowned, pausing with worry. "No, my nephew," he replied quietly, laying a hand on the Avatar's forehead. "It isn't."
She didn't think twice - once the stars came out, Katara shoved her clothes into her bag.
She didn't even bother to fold them or double check she had everything before she closed her bedroom door quietly, grabbing a few buns from the kitchen before making her way downstairs to the main tea shop. Katara wished she would have chosen to stay somewhere else, but her friends insisted - but she hadn't planned on running away tonight. However, after earlier that day, she couldn't trust herself to stay any longer.
She paused at the last table, which was by the door, before removing her mother's necklace and placing it carefully on the long, mahogany desk. She didn't deserve to keep such a sacred heirloom, and she knew that. She hoped that maybe, one day, she could earn it back - but until then, it should lie on the neck of a worthy daughter.
She drew in a breath as she opened the door, remembering the faces of her friends in her mind one last time.
"Wait up, peasant," someone whispered from the bottom of the staircase. And she knew exactly who it was without having to turn, though she did anyway. Zuko walked over to her, bag over his shoulder, grinning. "Can't leave without your favorite firebender, now can you?"
She glared at his grin. "Go back to bed," she hissed, turning, reaching for the door again.
"You know that's not gonna happen," Zuko said plainly, quietly, as it was the dead of night. "I'm going with you whether you like it or not."
"No you're not," Katara said firmly. "I don't care if my brother sent you to take care of me. There's a reason I'm going alone, Zuko. You saw what I did to Aang today - and that was when I didn't even know I was doing it. Are you really sure you want to take your chances, travelling with me at night?"
"Sokka didn't ask anything of me," Zuko assured, golden eyes alive against the darkness, so sincere as he turned to a more serious note, sighing. "I need to find my mother, Katara. I've been planning on searching for her for a while now, but with the war ending...I have to know where she is, if she's alive. I thought that out of everyone, you'd respect that the most - just like I'm the only one who can really respect you having to go alone for a while."
She watched him, a frown still playing at her features. She knew he wasn't lying, but the prospect of travelling with the former Prince eased her slightly - Zuko, oddly enough, was sort of an ideal partner right now. He wouldn't judge her for her monstrous abilities, as he'd done monstrous things himself. He didn't need looking after or protecting. He knew his way around the world well, having chased them for so long.
And, most importantly, he didn't criticize her for her decisions - still, she remained wary.
"What about the Fire Nation? It can't rule itself." Katara pointed out, looking up at him with concern. "You can't just up and leave your country like that."
"For the next few years, there's nothing I can really do," Zuko said after a pause, wondering if he was able to reveal such information and then not caring. "Right now, before I can make any real changes, the Fire Nation has to that it can maintain its place in the world without harming anything or committing genocide. This is mostly through trades and noble parties, things my Uncle is taking charge of."
Zuko paused. "They basically suspended me for a few years, so no one's going to come looking for me - not even my Uncle," Zuko paused, wondering whether he should be embarrassed or not for saying it. "He says it's like carefully prepping my throne like having to prep jasmine tea before ingesting it."
Katara laughed quietly, an infectious laugh that made him almost start laughing too. "That sounds like your Uncle, alright," she said quietly, though her smile eventually fell. She didn't feel satisfied with his answer, but that wasn't the worst worry on her mind. "But...this may not be just for a few years, you know. If I can't control my bloodbending, Zuko...I doubt I'll ever let myself return."
They were quiet for a moment, before he answered. "Then when I come back, I'll tell everyone you miss them."
After a long pause, Katara gave in and they left - Zuko paused before shutting the door to the tea shop, glancing at the table and seeing Katara's mother's necklace. He looked over his shoulder, seeing she was a good few paces away before gently folding the ribbon around the pendant, slipping it into his pocket - she deserved her mother's token, despite the fact that she herself didn't think so.
It was the second time he had 'stolen' her necklace; but this time, it was for a good reason, so he didn't feel guilty.
He hurried to join her side, and on the twelfth day of summer, Zuko and Katara left their lives behind.
So I guess you could say this is a total re-write of the last episode, which is fine by me, because if any of you know me at all, you'll know I'm a die-hard Zutarian, so the balcony scene was very upsetting/annoying/forced for me. This is just the Prologue - each chapter will include what happens within 6 months. You'll understand when updates get more frequent, I promise.
This is another fic I'm continuing from my Zutara Drabble Series, Frozen Ember (Chapter 16, Run). However, this one will specifically have only 11 chapters. Although, I think it will be fun to write, since I know I have a target/cut off point.