There was something relaxing about the waterbender's hands in his. Something that made this task seem far less challenging than it appeared to be.
Aang paced around Appa's saddle, struggling as he tried to swallow Roku's words - he had just nine months to do what had taken his previous incarnations several years to do or the world would be doomed to end in fire.
Panic entered the young airbender's mind. Nine months? Nine months or goodbye world? I'm twelve years old! How can I accomplish all this before summer ends? What am I going to do? I thought being told of my identity four years early and being told I had to separate from Gyatso was bad enough...'
Sokka, seeing Aang pace around on the flying bison, warned him, "Would you sit down? If we hit a bump, you'll go flying off. What's bugging you anyway?"
The Avatar couldn't believe what he heard. What does he THINK I'm worried about!? Calmly as he could, though that inflection of fear still in his voice, he responded, "It's what Avatar Roku said. I'm supposed to master all four elements before that comet arrives."
"Well, let's see. You pretty much mastered airbending and that only took you a hundred and twelve years. I'm sure you can master three more elements by next summer," Sokka replied back, sarcasm in his voice. Talk about something Aang didn't need to hear at that point.
"I haven't even started waterbending and we're still weeks away from the North Pole. What am I gonna do?" Aang said, clearly shaken.
That's when he felt Katara's hand on him, pulling him down across from her. "Calm down. It's going to be okay," she assured him.
As Aang sat on his knees, now facing the young waterbender, her hands in his, he could feel himself relaxing a bit. Those hands, her words, her smile...they spoke to him in a way that said she believed in him, and would stand behind him in this mission. It only got better when she said "If you want, I'll teach you some of the stuff I know."
The Avatar felt a smile spread across his face. "You'd do that?" He asked, in disbelief but in much better spirits. Here was his close friend offering him such a large helping hand.
The waterbender nodded and advised, "We'll need to find a good source of water first."
"Maybe we can find a puddle for you guys to splash in," Sokka answered with further sarcasm, which drew a glare from his sister before she turned back to Aang with a caring grin.
His hands still within her grasp, Aang could feel his breathing slowing down, and his mind coming more to rest. It was a reminder that he would not have to do this alone. "Thank you, Katara...I'm so glad you're offering this."
"Anytime," Katara replied. "As we told you back at the Southern Air Temple, we're here for you, Aang, for anything." She tightened the grip on his hands further. "We'll make sure you get this done."
Aang looked down to their intertwined hands once again. Oh, how he wish he could hold those hands every day...they brought such a calming presence to him in this moment. It wasn't the first time either, as he thought back to when she gripped his hand and brought him out of his pain after he found out of Gyatso's murder...what pain and rage he had felt back then...but her hand in his helped relax him and assure him of his newfound friendship...the shattering of a lonely feeling.
Now, her hands in his meant that she would help him, no matter what the situation...and as long as Aang had Katara, nothing would be impossible. His mind came to rest. How lucky I am to have Katara...I can't thank her enough...nine months is still not easy, but with her, all things are possible.
What a feeling the simple locking of the hands brought.
Aang's been busy with meeting after meeting, paperwork on top of paperwork. He's sleepy, and Katara is going to make sure he rests...
Not every 15-year old has to contend with this load of work.
It's just a bit different when you're the Avatar and, although it had been three years since its end, you have a world still reeling from a war of one hundred years that ripped at every piece of its delicate balance.
So was the case for Aang.
Sitting in his icy South Pole home, the Avatar sifted through several scrolls; appeals from people all throughout the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation, arguments about continued Fire Nation colonization in parts of the country. There was all the talk about adjusted trade routes and the formation of this so-called "fifth nation" which would comprise all the colonies.
Aang had to answer these people in debates at the peace meetings - which he just had two weeks of - and then afterward in these written appeals. He also had to figure out the proper plan for the world to balance itself.
So goes the Avatar's duties.
The young airbender had been up for three days - almost straight. He could sneak in an hour of rest here and there, but other than that, it had just been straight paperwork. He felt that he had to it for all the world's leaders and all the people he pledged to serve in his position.
However, one couldn't help but wonder when he could put his own basic needs into view. Sure, he had his duty to the world...but that didn't mean he couldn't skip sleep and throw together everything at once.
If there was anything Katara wanted to see the most at any point in the last three years, it was to see that Aang was in his best personal state while performing his duties. Back before the Day of Black Sun, she had been the first one to desperately get Aang to rest as he attempted to stay up for multiple days straight.
Thus, when she last saw Aang the night before, and found out of his current sleep drought, she quickly tried to get him to rest - alas, this was to no avail, as he quickly dismissed her and said that the work needed to be done as soon as possible, lest protests begin.
But this waterbender has always been determined.
That doesn't change.
Today - she vows that Aang will get a good night's sleep.
As night fell on the Southern Water Tribe, a bright moon illuminating a clear sky, Katara left her igloo and made the short walk to her boyfriend's home. Seeing the door closed, she assumed that he was continuing his paperwork. Still, she would not go home without the Avatar at rest.
Aang continued to fill out a response to a series of delegates from the Earth Kingdom, his eyes continuously closing as he fought off sleepiness. He was about three-quarters of the way through what he needed to do, and was hoping to finish it all, risking yet another lost night. He heard the knock at the door and turned his head. In the best voice he could, he muttered, "come in".
Katara opened the door. "Aang. How are you --" she stopped as she moved closer and saw Aang's tired look. She saw bags under his eyes, which kept threatening to shut themselves up for several hours. She also saw himself almost falling off the chair as his head drifted downward. "Oh my...Aang, how long has it been since you've slept!?"
"I took an hour-long nap about 12 hours ago," the Avatar mustered up.
"Just an hour?" The waterbender question, her voice dropping into a tone of worry. "Come on, let's get you out of this chair before you fall off it..."
Aang complied with this, getting out of the desk for what seemed like the first time in ages. What he had failed to mention was that he fell asleep right at the desk, which had given about a full day just sitting there in total. He knelt on the ground, Katara across from him, her hands on his shoulders.
"Aang, you look like you're about to fall onto this floor and sleep for about the next week," Katara said. "You really need to get some rest."
"But Katara," the Avatar began to protest. "I have to respond to those Earth Kingdom delegates, I have to tell the Fire Nation colonials about the pending republic, I have to also let Zuko know how well the conversations are going, establish future meetings with Kuei --"
Katara placed a finger over his lips. "Sweetie, it doesn't all have to be done tonight. I'm sure they'll all understand. You've been working tirelessly for the last three days and have gotten a lot done. You deserve to have a good night's sleep," she spoke calmly.
"Katara, I get what you're saying and all..." Aang mused, "but you know I have a duty to the world to make sure this all flows smoothly."
"That is true," the waterbender answered, "however, you also need to keep yourself in mind, Aang. You can't just go without sleep for days on end. If anything, not sleeping is making it worse. You're really tired and, after a while, you can't think straight. Remember before the Day of Black Sun? Or that time when we ran from Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee all night?"
Aang rubbed his eyes. "I suppose you're right, Katara. There's just so much to deal with..."
"You didn't have to master the elements in one day, did you?" Katara questioned him with a slight chuckle.
"Sometimes, it just felt like that..." the Avatar mused, thinking back to the fact that he had just nine months to at least get decent training or else the world would end in fire. "I don't want to let everyone down, though..."
Katara shook her head. "Stop worrying about letting everyone down. Getting sleep won't bring about the end of the world."
"I didn't tell you, Katara," Aang began. "During my nap before, I dreamed I had a full night of sleep, but when I woke up the next morning, I was getting word that the Earth Kingdom citizens were in full rebellion against the Fire Nation, and a new war was beginning. It was getting like the Battle for Yu Dao, but even worse...people were dying, their town was burning down...and I knew I had to get back to business or else that might happen."
Katara pulled him in for a hug, and dropped her voice to a whisper-quiet tone. "You know that won't happen just because you get some sleep. Everyone will understand, Aang. They aren't expecting you to solve anything overnight. This is why you have these meetings. Don't worry so much...you need to get rest...you and the world will be better for it. If you go much longer, it will really begin to hurt you..."
Aang nodded his head but quickly pulled it off Katara's shoulder, feeling himself drifting off. "I don't know..."
The waterbender cupped his right cheek in her hand. "Please, Aang..." she then smiled as she thought of something. "I'll tell you what...if you sleep, I promise that I will cuddle up with you."
"You'd do that?" Aang said, his looks brightening at the idea. "But, what about your brother or dad finding out?"
Only a light chuckle came from Katara. "Aang...I'm 17...and how many times have we cuddled up in the past? Sokka tells me he's surprised if I'm not laying next to you nowadays. So is Dad. As long as we're not doing anything else..." she thought back to stern warnings she had been given about her being with Aang. "...we'll be fine."
The airbender nodded, and the two got up. "Okay...I'll try to sleep."
Katara grinned, and the two made their way upstairs to his bedroom. Without hesitation, Aang fell onto the bed, right on his back. Katara came around to the right side, causing the Avatar to shift a bit to the left, allowing his girlfriend room. She placed herself in, throwing her arms around him, and lifting her head onto his shoulder.
Aang wrapped an arm around her back, trying to relax. Still, he murmured the words, "Earth...Fire...war...no...must help..."
"Not tonight," Katara whispered, kissing Aang on the cheek. "It's sleepy time. Take your rest. The world will not collapse...you've done your job the best and longest you can for now. Everybody needs to sleep...I'm here for you, Aang...sleep." She gripped him tightly.
"Katara..." Aang whispered back. "Guide me..."
The waterbender gently shut his eyes. "There. Now you can drift off. Don't worry about a thing...sweet dreams."
"I love you..." The airbender muttered as he rested his head on top of hers.
"I love you too," Katara replied with the same low voice. "I always will. You are my world, Aang...and tonight, I'm safe."
Perhaps that was the assurance he needed, because at that moment, Aang drifted off to sleep, smiling brightly once more...how Katara had missed that smile. She could only return it as she too drifted off to the world of dreams alongside him.
Katara loved to dance with Aang, but Aang did not like Katara dancing around him.
With 10 years of a relationship under the belt, and the pressures of working with the new United Republic and raising a child increasing, Aang had been planning to move the family closer to the republic so he could be around his duties more.
But for Katara, a proposed move wasn't so easy for her to warm up to. The South Pole had been her home for almost all of her 25 years, and she certainly didn't want to just have to shuffle baby Kya off all the sudden. She just didn't want Aang's duties to take priority over the family.
For the past several weeks, Katara was dancing around the issue every time Aang brought it up. She'd usually start talking about Kya or the beauty of the air temples. While Aang enjoyed these talks, he had been catching on to it - she would not confront the issue of leaving their longtime home and moving toward the republic. At first, it had been a harmless "we'll discuss this later" about a month after their baby entered the family, but now it had just been piling on and on and on. The days got more and more, and the pressure kept increasing on Aang - he just had to be away for another month to continue establishing the country.
Aang had figured - why not just move there as a family? Why keep his wife and daughter away from their husband and father, respectfully?
Still, he'd know Katara could not give it up.
But now, Aang was frustrated at the dance around, something that didn't happen often.
Thus, one night, after putting their young child to sleep for the night, the couple gathered in the kitchen.
"Katara, could we sit at the table, please?" Aang asked. A serious look covered his face, and when that came out, Katara knew it had to be something significant - he didn't get that too often outside of meetings.
"Sure," the waterbender said, the two making their way over, and taking a seat directly across from one another at the three-chaired table made of snow and ice. The only seat empty was the baby chair that belonged to Kya.
"Katara..." Aang began, a bit nervously, knowing the circumstances of this thought. "We really need to begin considering our future lives." He took a deep breath. "The United Republic is advancing with every day, and everyone's expecting me to be there more."
Katara knew where this was headed. She started her husband directly in the eyes and said, "I know, Aang...I just...I don't know if I'm ready for this...I know we've been around the world and whatnot...but I've mostly known the South Pole as home."
Aang sighed. "Katara, it's not going to be easy going back and forth between the tribe like this. It's getting constant now, and I'm really getting tired of it." He grew a bit more aggravated. "In my opinion, we're going to need to move if this keeps up."
"Maybe we can take a little vacation first..." Katara said quietly and nervously. "You know, we can --"
Aang was incredulous that his wife was once again avoiding the issue. "No Katara, don't do this again," he said, his voice rising. "We've ducked this long enough."
Katara simply sighed. "Aang, I'm not going around it. I'm just saying, let's take a vacation, and then we can think about it. It's a big decision, and something we should make with a clear head."
The Avatar had none of it. "No, Katara! I've been back for a week now, and my head is quite clear, thank you. You keep ducking the issue! To think, I was once criticized for that...now look at you!"
The waterbender was disgusted with the accusation. "I'm just trying to think the best for us, Aang! You just want to move us away without any second thought! Just tomorrow, pack up our stuff here, our home, and leave for that new nation without a breath! I'm not ducking anything!"
At least the airbender could be glad that his wife was addressing the issue somewhat. Still, he wasn't happy with the suggestion. "Katara, no vacations, no nights out, no nothing! No more stalling! We have got to get this dealt with."
Katara sighed once again. "Aang, can't we just forget about it? This isn't something -"
"Don't give me that," Aang shouted back. "No more stalling. I've had enough of you dancing around this issue!"
Katara couldn't believe it. He was getting mad at her for dancing around like that? "Aang, what about you always running away from your problems!? You ran away from so many things during the War, such as leaving us to fend for ourselves in the desert! You dodged the Yu Dao Battle, you -"
"Oh, you've got to be kidding me, Katara," Aang responded. "So that now makes it all right for you to not confront our future?"
The waterbender attempted to protest, but to no avail, and she had to face it - Aang was not someone who tried to run from the issues anymore. Sure, he could still be a little sensitive, but he wasn't 13 anymore, that was for sure. With one more heavy sigh, she finally relented. "I'm sorry, Aang...I just...I don't know if I'm ready for this. I've lived here for almost all my life..."
Aang relaxed as Katara faded into a quiet voice. He then reached his hands out across the table, taking hers in his grasp. "I'm sorry, Katara, for flying off the handle like that...you're right, I certainly have done my fair share of dodging."
"I can only imagine how hard this all had to be on you, Aang..." she whispered.
Aang wished he could open up again about all the turmoil he went through, but he needed to get back to the issue at hand. "Sweetie...another big reason I wish to move...really, it's also because I'm sick of leaving you and Kya alone for weeks on end..."
Katara's eyes widened and grew far more sympathetic. "I didn't even know...oh, I should be the one apologizing...I can't imagine how hard it must be to not be around us..."
"This way...I can have my meetings," Aang said, "but still be able to return to you two every day." He kissed her hands softly. "To see my favorite women in the world..."
"I would be glad for that, that's for sure..." Katara mused. "But Aang...I still need a day or two to think about it. I promise - it will not be any longer than two days. Then we can make a final decision. I'm sorry I ducked this for so long..."
"It's okay," Aang said with a soft smile. "Take your time."
"Thanks for understanding," Katara replied, grinning herself.
Though a decision was not made at that point, at least the dance was over. The two had regained their common footing, and now, they would soon be able to make the most important decision of their lives...together.
It was just those little looks that sometimes annoyed the other, but hey, they never could get mad.
Perhaps that idea of teasing the other came as soon as they were both accepted into Master Pakku's waterbending classes in the North - about a week into their training, they were both on fairly level ground. After a class, Katara made the declaration:
"Aang, I'm going to best you in waterbending by this time next week," she spoke with that smirk, chuckling a bit.
Aang wasn't threatened - he knew what Katara was up to. Returning the sly smile, he said, "Please...I'm the Avatar. You wouldn't stand a chance."
"Ha!" Katara scoffed. "Well then, Mr. Avatar, I wish you the best of luck. Just don't get upset when I beat you in a spar."
"What do you mean, 'when'?" Aang replied, chuckling himself.
Turned out she was right.
At the end of the next week, Pakku told the two friends to spar in a demonstration of what they had learned to that point. It was a close duel, but eventually, Katara overwhelmed Aang and froze him to a wall.
She could only chuckle and smirk once more. "Katara 1, the Avatar 0."
Aang was defeated, and he knew it. "Fine, Katara, you got me...this time," he finished with a wink.
They were well out of the way of any hints of Fire Nation, and Katara was feeling the urge to practice, the heat aside. Naturally, she invited Aang along, and the two stripped down to their swimwear, walking on down to the nearby lake to cool off on that hot summer's day.
Midway through their training session, Aang brought it up. "Hey, Katara...remember that one day at the Northern Tribe, when you beat me in that sparring session?"
Katara smiled and let out a soft laugh. "Yes, I do remember, Aang. I kicked your butt big-time."
"Well..." Aang continued, a smile dotting his features. "We haven't had time lately...but now we do. How about a rematch? This is a training session, and sparring is a part of training."
"Heh, nice observation," Katara remarked. "Fine...you want a rematch? You got it!" She took a fighting stance. "Good luck, you're going to need it."
The native airbender assumed a fighting stance of his own. "No, you're the one who's going to need it," he added, his smile now a confident grin. "So, I wish you the same."
Back and forth, two powerful waterbenders splashed up waves of water in a series of attacks. For several moments, neither of the two would budge. The water did concern Sokka a bit, who at one point, yelled "Come on you two! Quit making it so easy for the Fire Nation to hunt us down!" However, he was ignored, and the duel continued - they were on the outskirts of town, the two figured.
Finally, Aang found an open shot at his friend. Her leg was exposed after stretching out on a water whip. The Avatar, having assumed an octopus form, used one of its tentacles to wrap Katara's leg in and pull her down. He then ran closer to her and jumped down on her, pinning her down to the ground.
"Now we're even."
Katara accepted defeat and grinned at Aang.
"Congratulations, Avatar...we'll have a tiebreaker soon enough."
At the South Pole, Aang and Katara had a chance to enjoy a break in the action. The Hundred Year War was now two months gone, and the Avatar was not due for any meetings for a little while.
One day, as they took in a rare sunny day, Katara decided it was time.
She smirked and said, "Aang...it's time to complete our little duel series," pointing to the crystal blue ocean to her right.
The Avatar returned the smirk. "You're right...no time like now. We're at peace, the War's done...let's do it."
"All in good fun," the waterbender finished with another laugh.
The two unlocked hands and went in separate directions, separating about fifty feet from the other. Tied at one apiece, only one could become the champion of the duo.
Aang started the spar with a powerful blast of water, which soaked Katara from head to toe. Katara removed the water from her body and shot it back at Aang with a series of water bullets.
A moment later, Aang shot back with a water whip, the same move he used to finish off Katara last time. However, this time she stopped the whip by freezing it over.
"It doesn't work twice!" Katara bragged.
The duel continued, each showing off some of their best moves, though making sure they didn't get hurt - it was certainly neither's intent to cause them physical pain - just a bit of ego-bruising.
Aang took a deep breath. "Well, no wonder why Pakku declared you a master..."
"...and no wonder why I did the same for you," Katara replied. "But I'm still going to win!"
"Never!" Aang shouted, and whipped up snow, shooting it in a series of snowballs at his girlfriend.
Katara was up to this task and drained the water from the fluffy weapons, then formed a water cloak. She whipped the arms of the cloak right at her boyfriend, trapping his arms in them. "Gotcha," she said, her smirk returning to her face, then pulling him toward her, before finally taking him down to the ground, pinning him.
"Katara 2...the mighty Avatar Aang 1."
Aang looked up and saw Katara grinning at him with great pride in herself.
"I guess a man knows when he's beaten," the Avatar admitted.
Katara simply laughed. "You're darn right." She then got up and also helped Aang get off the snowy ground. "Looks like I'm better after all."
"Okay, so you may be the better waterbender," Aang said, flashing one last grin. "But I'll make you wipe that smirk off your face..." He then pulled Katara toward him and threw his lips onto hers in a passionate kiss.
The waterbender quickly found herself captured again, this time by a great love he had for her. After her initial surprise from the kiss, she closed her eyes and relaxed in the moment, hugging him tight as she became lost in him.
The kiss separated, Katara's smile now more loving. This time, however, she said, "Okay...I'll give you this. You may not be the best waterbender...but you're still the best kisser and boyfriend."
"I'll take that compromise," Aang replied, smiling himself. "Mission accomplished, regardless...your smirk is gone."
"Don't push it," Katara said with a chuckle, before the two hugged tightly again.
Yes, there will be smirks...
But they'll always end with loving smiles between the two.
"Lights will still guide you to me, Katara...even after I'm gone."
The silver-haired waterbender made her way down the stairs of her lonely home - at least, she couldn't help but feel lonely.
It had been a year since her beloved left the world, and his spirit retreated into an individual somewhere within her native land.
Katara had been living at the South Pole again for the last three years - Aang retired from United Republic affairs due to his declining health, and the couple passed ownership of Air Temple Island onto their youngest son. It was in their South Pole home that the Avatar's life reached its end after 66 biological years.
Now, the elder waterbender had been feeling lonely - she had found herself having to spend several nights at her daughter's home, with her family, if just for the company. Though Katara had been at home more recently, the feeling still haunted her. She had shed many, many tears on almost a nightly basis, so much so that Kya almost had her mother move in with her permanently.
The lonely feeling in the darkness of the nights had been at the point of killing the widowed wife.
The winter solstice had been nearing for a few nights now, and Katara swore she had been hearing a voice in her dreams in that time.
A voice that had been getting clearer by the night.
Finally, it had said on this particular night...
Katara. Go to the backyard, and to the hammock where you spent your last days with Aang. Light five candles and place them in the snow as best you can. We shall handle the rest.
Complying with this request, Katara reached into a small cabinet and pulled out four small candles. She pulled out a small book of matches from the same cabinet and made her way toward the door. Donning her parka, she opened the door and carefully walked down the icy steps, heading for the hammock.
That hammock had not changed even in the year since Aang had been gone; a blanket still decorating it to protect against the Water Tribe's cold. Katara refused to move it, even if she was on her own now. It was a still a symbol of how things used to be.
Katara dug out some snow with her bending and dug the candles into the small open areas of snow and ice; sitting a few feet away from the hammock, careful not to burn it by mistake. She lit the match and slowly but surely lit all the candles. The elderly woman sat in slight fear, wondering if a cold wind would come along and extinguish them all.
Kneeling in the snow, Katara dropped her head and closed her eyes. "Aang...are you trying to reach me?" She said, her eyes watering. "If you are...please give me a sign...I love you and miss you so..."
As she meditated, she could feel that wind biting down on her. She opened her eyes slightly to make sure the candles were still burning. They were, so she once again closed them.
Silent moments passed by in the snow, until Katara felt something odd.
The next breeze that came by was a lot warmer.
Soon, she found herself in a significantly darkened area, the candles still burning. However, there was nothing else around her. It just seemed to be an empty void with her and those lights. Tears fell down her cheeks again, as all it seemed to do was remind her of that loneliness she felt for the past year.
She turned her head and looked in the direction of the voice. "Yes? Who's there?"
Katara...walk toward me. Use the candles to guide you...
Katara picked up two of the candles and followed the voice. She wondered where this could be leading, where her home was, and what was going to happen next.
The voice grew louder.
I love you, sweetie...
More and more steps and Katara got more and more anxious. When she heard the "I love you" she couldn't help but wonder...was it really him?
You're almost there...
Keeping the candles in front of her, their light being all she had in this unknown area, she began to make out something well in front.
She drew closer and closer, step-by-step.
Could it really be? She thought, her mouth slightly opened in a quiet gasp.
She made her way to the end of the darkness.
There it was.
Suddenly, the bright light at the end revealed all.
There was a bearded man, his bald head containing merely a blue tattoo. He was dressed in the red and yellowish robes she had always known. He stood in front of a hammock, just like the one they had used at their South Pole home.
"Welcome home, Katara...I missed you," he said softly. "Place the candles on the side here..." he pointed to two small candle holders on a side table.
Katara complied, but she moved so fast out of pure excitement, that she fit them in rather sloppily. Still, they were in position.
That was it for her.
The gray-haired waterbender shed a few tears and threw her arms around the Avatar before her. "I missed you too, sweetie...I missed you too..." her head was buried into his shoulders, tears staining his clothing.
For several moments, the two stood in that bright light, hugging as tight as they could, trying to make up for a year's worth of lost time. After this event ended, Katara stepped back, keeping her hands in Aang's grasp.
"Aang...how long do we have?" She didn't want the moment to end.
"Until sunset," the Avatar remarked. "It's the solstice...so this is our only chance."
"Spirits..." Katara slowly remarked. "I just...I don't know what to do! We're here in the Spirit World..."
"Of course," Aang reminded her. "This is the time when the spirit and human worlds are at the closest, remember?"
She nodded and recalled back to the time when Aang first contacted Avatar Roku. "I didn't know I could be here though...I'm merely mortal."
"It takes an intense spiritual awareness," Katara's husband informed her. "Someone very-well connected can make their way in during the solstices with meditation. You of course not only have a connection to me...but also the Painted Lady, remember?"
"I see..." Katara continued. "Say..." she thought back to the words that entered her dreams. "Was she...was she the one who contacted me?"
"She was," Aang answered with a smile. "I sent the Painted Lady to you with that message."
Just then, the Painted Lady appeared before the couple. She smiled at Katara and said, "I owe you for restoring Jang Hui to its greatness and driving those troops out."
Katara smiled brightly at the ancient spirit. "You didn't have to do this..."
"It was the best I could do," the painted spirit continued. "I knew you probably had to be missing Aang...and he missed you too. Sorely so."
"Thank you," the waterbender said almost inaudibly as the Painted Lady made her away from the scene.
"Oh Aang..." Katara continued as she embraced him again. "Words can't explain how happy I am to see you again..."
"I can say the very same, Katara," Aang replied, reaching down to give her a light kiss on the lips. "Remember this for every solstice...light candles in front of our hammock, and meditate...and you can come. I'll be here." He smiled brightly at her.
"I'll remember," Katara remarked. "Come on...let's rest."
The candles continued to burn as Aang and Katara walked to the hammock and fell down on it, holding each other in their arms...oh, those candles. How those lights had indeed guided Katara back to her beloved...and always would.
No matter who the next Avatar was...
Katara always had Aang.
The scar still stings physically for him, and mentally for her.
The War was over for about a month, and a few members of Team Avatar were still lurking in the large apartment. Zuko and Mai had already left so the former could see to his duties as Fire Lord, while Toph left to start an earth, or potentially even a metalbending academy. This left just Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Suki to stay together.
It was early in the afternoon on a sunny day, and Aang and Katara, having just recently become a couple, enjoyed the day with a quiet walk down the streets. Aang remained in his formal robes he had gotten just before Zuko's coronation, while Katara had put her green dress aside and returned her Water Tribe clothing that she first donned just before the failed invasion of the Fire Nation.
Nothing seemed awry as the two had a conversation.
"Well, Katara," Aang said, "it's certainly something I'd have to think about. It'd be a big shift for me, culturally."
"I understand," Katara answered. "Take your time, it's not a decision you have to make now...though I'd prefer we settle it sooner rather than later."
Aang nodded and said, "I know you must be really anxious to see your family and old friends again."
"I am," Katara said. "Dad went back home after the coronation, as did Pakku...plus, of course, there's Gran-Gran..."
The Avatar knew he wanted to be around her as much as possible, but he wondered if he could make the adjustment. "I definitely don't want to keep you apart from your family. I know that --" his words were cut off as a sharp pain stabbed inside his back. "Ooh! Ooh...that didn't feel good..." he said as he came to a stop, coming down on his knees.
"Aang?" The waterbender asked with worry, kneeling down to his side. "Is everything okay?"
"Just..." Aang answered, trying to turn to her. "My back...I think that wound is flaring up..."
Katara quickly knew what her boyfriend was talking about. "Oh...do...do you want to go home, and I'll give you a healing session?"
Aang wanted to just go on as if there was nothing wrong, but the pain was as if someone had just come up and stabbed him from behind. It wasn't the first time he had felt this since that unfortunate night under Ba Sing Se, and it likely wouldn't be the last. Grimacing in pain, he was able to get a nod out along with a quiet "Please..."
She could only imagine the type of pain the young airbender was in as her look grew upsetting. Katara hated to see Aang in this type of pain, whether it be physical or emotional. She gave him help getting up off the ground and moved her arm around his back as they turned around and began a slow walk home.
They arrived back and Katara led Aang to the floor, helping him kneel down. The Avatar removed the upper half of this robing, exposing his back and the ugly wound that still left a mark right in its center. He could feel it throbbing and let out a soft hiss at the pain.
Katara grabbed her water skin from the kitchen and took a seat behind Aang. She covered her hands with the water and placed them over the wound. "You know what to do," she said softly. "Tell me where it hurts the most." The waterbender always dreaded these moments, as memories constantly rolled back to her...
As the cooling water came over his body, Aang felt Katara's hands come across the wound's upper-center. He felt that area especially throb as she made contact. "Right there," he said with a gasp. "Right there..."
Katara concentrated on the area that Aang informed her of, rubbing the bulk of the water over that upper-center. As she did, the memories started coming back...
That sharp physical pain he was feeling...
The mental pain she felt.
She was looking at the wound, and could remember the moment that lightning was entering Aang's body...
"He's going to save us all..." She thought happily as his Avatar State-induced form rose into the air, coming up over all their opponents - the Dai Li, Prince Zuko, and Princess Azula. He was about to unleash its power on all of them, enabling him and Katara to escape.
"I'm so proud of you, Aang..." her thoughts continued.
But then, tips of light escaped from Azula's fingertips, and chased themselves right toward Aang.
Aang lit up like fireworks in the night sky, and began to fall.
That look of pure happiness turned to one of shock and fear for Katara.
Tears streamed down her face as she turned her octopus form into a large wave of water. Fueled by sadness and rage, she rode the wave as fast as she could, washing out many along the way, but not caring...it was all about Aang at that juncture.
Her path came to an end just as the Avatar's body was about to hit the floor. She caught him in her arms as the wave crashed down and washed away from them.
There he was...
There she was...
Without Aang, she was nothing...and she knew it.
She looked at that burned flesh on his back and saw the now ugly sign that he was gone.
Tears fell down her face as Azula and Zuko surrounded her.
But just as Katara was about to face her own fate, Iroh swooped in and cut his niece and nephew off, allowing the waterbender enough time to flee from the catacombs. Snapping back into events, she made sure the old general's sacrifice would not wind up in vain.
Finally, after escaping, Katara brought herself and Aang's unliving form as Sokka arrived on Appa with Toph, the Earth King, and his pet bear.
As they flew away...she could only focus on Aang.
That mark on his back...the blood flowing from it, the flesh still smelling of its burns...
Most importantly, the fact that he was not living...
Her best friend...
What could have been more...
Aang breathed a sigh of relief as the cooling sensation began to dull the pain on his back. "Thank you, Katara..." He finished as a smile took over his face. "You're the best healer a guy could have asked for."
"Thanks..." Katara uttered, as tears stained her eyes. "Y-y-you're so...complimentary..."
Now it was Aang's turn to grow worried. "Katara?" He said softly, turning to her.
"I'm sorry, Aang..." she whispered, quickly throwing her arms around him. "I...I just can't help but think about what happened the last time we were here..."
Aang quickly knew what she meant, and he too felt his eyes water up. That was one of those awful moments where he felt like he had failed the entire world. He recalled how that moment made him want to go on his own just so his friends wouldn't get hurt. "No, Katara...I'm sorry for what happened that night..."
"You don't need to apologize," the waterbender said tearfully and softly. "It's not your fault, what Azula did...she surprised us all...there was nothing you could do."
"I let you all down that night," Aang lamented. "The pain I put you through..."
"That pain was and still is my own fault," Katara replied, holding him tighter. "I just...you mean the world to me, Aang...when I lost you...I felt that I had lost everything...oh, thank the spirits you came back to me..."
"You were the one who brought me back," the airbender reminded his girlfriend. "I thank you for bringing me back."
"I still thank the spirits for it..." Katara uttered. "Aang...please, let me just hold you right now...that night was worse than anything I have ever gone through...and I just need to feel you right now..."
Aang complied with this request and pulled her in closer. "Take as long as you need, Katara...and thank you..."
"Thank you for always being here," the waterbender said, absorbing Aang's embrace. "I love you so much..."
"I love you too," the airbender replied. "I hate seeing you in this much pain..."
"It will be fine," Katara said, still shedding tears but, at the very least, relaxing a bit. "Because I have you..."
"I can say the very same," Aang answered.
As the two embraced in their quiet home, the sun shining in on them, the facts were quite apparent.
They both needed time to heal.
Even in peace, the scars of war continue to sting.
Katara wasn't quite used to being the protected around Aang.
This was certainly different.
From the moment she had found him in that iceberg, Katara had sworn to protect Aang with everything she had - against both word and action. She would make sure he was healthy and intact both physically and mentally. Aang was her best friend and the world's last hope. She would guide him on the long journey to defeating Fire Lord Ozai.
Now, he had saved the world.
The tables of protection had turned.
Especially now that Katara was carrying precious cargo.
"Aang, I'm pregnant, not helpless," Katara said as her husband helped him off Appa as they returned to the South Pole following a vacation.
"Just looking out for my loved one," Aang replied, then placed a hand on her stomach. "Not to mention our incoming family member."
"I understand," Katara replied with a sly smile, "But geez, Aang, you've been holding my hand like I'm some kind of little kid." She laughed despite these words.
Aang also chuckled. "Okay, I'm sorry, sweetie."
"Heh, things have certainly changed a lot from when we were kids..." Katara mused.
"Yes," the Avatar answered, "When at times, you wouldn't let me out of your sight for more than five seconds without worrying that I'd wind up in Fire Nation clutches?"
Katara laughed once again, but to be honest, he was right.
In the five months since the waterbender learned that she had been pregnant - and even before that - she had noticed just how much the tables had turned.
Things are so much different now... Katara thought later that night as she watched Aang in a deep sleep. She herself had woken up as she had a bit of a tough time sleeping due to occasional cramping.
Instead of going back to rest - she had quietly hoped Aang wouldn't awaken and fall into a nervous breakdown - Katara went out to the porch of their home.
Protection...spirits, how did it change so much, so fast?
Katara thought back to when they visited the Southern Air Temple for the very first time, shortly after she and Sokka had freed Aang from the iceberg and began their journey toward helping him master the elements.
She remembered after Aang had found Gyatso's corpse, and went into the Avatar State as a result of the emotional toll. It was from that day onward that Katara, alongside Sokka, would be Aang's new family. The then-young waterbender also swore to protect Aang as best as she could - not from his responsibilities, of course - but just to make sure he remained in the best mental and physical state possible.
So many times, Katara would always make sure she was there for Aang whenever he needed it.
If he was stressing about the loss of his people, or the difficulty of the journey ahead, she would hug him.
If he got any injury - no matter how minor - she would heal him.
If he was having any trouble learning the elements - she would tell Toph and Zuko how to teach him. Or, such as in the case of his first day of earthbending training, give him a rest by getting him back over to waterbending.
If anyone ripped him for abandoning the world - she would defend him.
There were so many "ifs" that went against him that she would make sure would work for him during that final year of the Hundred Year War - and it even continued in the time afterward.
But times change, and so do people.
As Aang grew older, maturing rapidly, he no longer needed Katara's protection.
He could face these challenges on his own and be more accepting of all the events of the past. Of course, he still took up offers on healing; he not having learned the skill - but nonetheless, the Avatar was able to go more on his own with life in general, though he'd never mind having the waterbender - his wife and best friend - by his side.
Though Katara expected this, she didn't think the protection would reach these levels.
It started after the search for Zuko and Azula's mom and after Katara and Azula nearly got into fights many times throughout the journey. A freaked out Aang began standing closer to Katara more often in the days and weeks afterward, especially when they were around the Fire Nation Royal Family, even though Katara would keep reminding Aang that she would simply keep her distance from the Fire Lord's sister.
When conflicts flared up during the early days of establishing Republic City, Aang always stood next to Katara during any battles. This even annoyed the waterbender to a certain extent - she was a master, and for how much she loved the Avatar, she didn't need him shadowing her at every flare-up! "You have your own matters to attend to, Aang, I can handle myself," she tended to remind him.
After boyfriend and girlfriend became husband and wife, this triggered more of a protective sense in Aang; especially as they began moving closer to the idea of having children. The Avatar would protect his wife and the future mother against every potential threat, and grew so fearful during his trips that he would write to Katara daily to make sure everything was all right. This brought a mix of amusement but again, annoyance to the young adult waterbender.
Over the next two years before Katara was pregnant, Aang did relax his protective slant. He reminded himself more that his wife was indeed a master waterbender, capable of handling herself if a threat came up while she was out, and healing as well, in case she were to get hurt. He always knew this - he just didn't want the best thing to ever happen in his life to be lost under his watch.
This thought again took over the Avatar when they got the couple got the news that they were to have a child. Aang went right back into his protective ways, making sure Katara took every step right, didn't get herself into trouble by mistake...sometimes, she just wanted to yell at him that enough was enough, but restrained herself - she knew that he cared about her and their new addition, after all.
It was simply just crazy to think, how much the tables of protection had turned...the protector was now the protected. She was in that position around Sokka as well when they were little kids, but never quite like the way Aang was now.
"Oh, there you are!" Aang's voice called out. "Spirits, you had me worried, Katara!"
"Like that's the first time recently?" Katara asked, chuckling.
Aang raised his hands in defense. "Okay, okay sweetie, I get it," he said, smiling despite this. "Just cut me a break, it is the middle of the night, and I didn't see you in the house."
"All right, fine," Katara replied. "I was just thinking about things..."
The Avatar sat down next to her. "About what?"
"Just how much things have changed between us," the pregnant waterbender answered. "Remembering how I used to protect you, and now you protect me..."
"I simply want the best for our family," Aang responded, rubbing Katara's stomach.
"I know you do, and I can certainly understand that," Katara said, thinking back to how she was "Team Mom" during their wartime travels. "But Aang," she continued, covering his hand with hers. "I'm pregnant, not defenseless."
"I probably have been a bit overbearing," Aang admitted, squeezing her hand. "I just...being a husband and soon-to-be father...I just want it all to be all right."
"It will be," Katara assured him with a smile. "Don't worry, Aang. Don't worry about me, and don't worry about our child. We'll both be fine. Spirits forbid, anything happen, you know we can get out of it."
The airbender nodded idly. "I know you can...I don't want to lose the best thing to ever happen to my life...well, I should say, best person or even people, now."
"Again, I completely understand," the waterbender answered. "Just...try not to worry so much. You have enough to concern yourself with as is." She smiled brightly. "You make a great husband, and I know you will make an excellent father."
"I can say the same for you; a great wife and an excellent mother," Aang replied softly, smiling back at her.
"Just...don't be too overprotective of our child," Katara warned him with a laugh. "Or we'll never hear the end of it."
"Right," Aang said, laughing back.
Of course, regardless of those warnings...
There would always be room for protection.
Protection of loved ones is just natural.
"I'm pregnant, not helpless" recalls the sentiment - and line - Pema gave to Tenzin in "Welcome to Republic City" when the latter helped his wife off Oogi in the South Pole.