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|Book 4: The Avatar - Chapter 1|
October 21, 2014
Author Note: Set after the events of The Rift (with assumptions for ending), although in this universe there is a year between the election of the new coalition and the 'field trip'.
Aang collapsed onto the grass in front of the statue of Tienhai with a heavy sigh. It was beautiful here. Whilst Tienhai herself looked back over the grounds where the long forgotten Yangchen Festival took place, the cliff surveyed a vast expanse of water, still and calm like the air that surrounded him. In the distance mountains peaked like mounds of sugar, twinkling in the sun. It had been a hard battle, but now the spirits were at peace, General Old Iron reunited with his lover from times gone past, and Lao Beifong and his old business partners nephew had agreed to halt work on the Earthern Fire Refinery. At least until a suitable alternative could be arranged.
Aang knew there was more required of him here. As much as Lao and Satoru didn't want to anger the old General again, they argued their refinery was part of the future of the world, and work couldn't stop completely. Moving them to the Colonies in itself seemed like a fitting idea, particularly as he and Zuko had been in discussion about turning Yu Dao into a much larger capital. But convincing the newly fledged business men was going to take some work.
He heard his friends coming up behind them, and looked back. Katara and Sokka had unusual looks on their faces, both guilt and determination mixed in one. He was pleased Katara looked none the worse from her experiences in the mine, but an expression of worry came onto his face regardless.
"She's still talking to her father," explained Sokka. "We haven't felt any more earthquakes so I guess it's going well." He flopped down next to Aang, and stretched out his back. "You know, earth bending has got to be my least favourite type of bending. I swear Toph is actually trying to kill me."
Aang had pulled Katara down next to him and was fussing over the cuts on her face whilst she tried to wave him away.
"I'm alright, Aang, you know I can heal this all up myself."
"I know, I know, but you know how I worry."
"Aang, there's actually something Katara and I need to talk to you about." Sokka sat himself up, a serious look somewhat darkening his usual goofy features. Aang sighed, he already had an idea of what they were going to say.
"Well, Katara and I were talking to Nutha and Niyok, the girls from our Tribe. I guess, it has been a long time since we went back there, and even though Master Pakku and dad have been trying to get it all sorted out, kinda seems like the place is suffering. We need to go back, just for a short while."
Aang nodded. "I think that's a good idea, I know you guys have been here but if we wanna make this whole new world thing work each of the Nations needs to be present when it comes to building up Yu Dao. It's not going to work if your Tribe is in ruins."
"Would you come with us, Aang?" Katara asked. "I know everyone would want to see you again and -" she blushed slightly, "I don't really want to be without you."
Aang felt a lump come to his throat when he considered his answer. "I can't. I can't trust Lao not to start this Refinery back up again. The Air Acolytes have promised to try and keep peace here and let me know if anything changes but ... well, you know. It's like they step on their own feet." He laughed weakly, seeing the look in Katara's eyes. "I need to get Yu Dao working as Zuko and I have been planning it. There's too much going on here for me to leave."
Sokka looked between the two of them, seeing the sad longing in their eyes. He clapped Aang on the shoulder and stood up.
"I'm gonna go and find Toph and tell her. I feel oogie coming on." He pulled a face attempting to lighten the atmosphere but Katara glared him down. Shoving his hands in his pockets he walked off.
Aang and Katara remained silent, looking away from one another. Aang started pulling up pieces of grass, feeling awkward. A silence rang over them for a few minutes before he couldn't stand it any longer.
"Katara it's not that I don't want to come," he blurted. "I don't want to leave you either, but you know as the Avatar I can't really disappear when there's so much to do."
"I know that, Aang. I guess, well, we've not really been apart more than a few days since the War."
Aang reached forward and kissed her on the forehead. She looked up and smiled at him, the kind beautiful smile that caused his heart to quicken a few paces.
"I love you, Katara. I'd always known that you'd want to go back to the Southern Water Tribe at some point, and I promise I'll come and see you as soon as I can."
"We won't be long, Aang. Dad and Pakku really should be okay to do this without us, but it seems like the Tribe resents us for not coming back. Plus Gran-Gran is sick -"
"She is? Katara I'm sorry, I didn't know."
"It's alright, Aang, we only just found out ourselves. I guess that's part of the problem, we don't know what's going on back home. People must look at Gran-Gran and think so badly of us." She looked down, a dark blush rising on her face. "She's been a mother to me, and I haven't even gone to see if she's okay."
Aang reached forward again, this time cupping her chin and kissing her on the lips. They lingered, breathing in each other's scent, before breaking apart. She looked up at him, her eyes still hooded, and he flashed his wide grin at her before kissing her on the forehead again.
"It'll be okay, Katara. Even Sokka said that you won't be long, and when you get back I'll have to kiss you for an entire week to make up for it!"
Katara gave Aang a look he hadn't seen before, and he felt heat rising in his face. She edged closer to him, her lips brushing his ear. "I'd like that."
Aang grinned nervously, blushing profusely, "err ..."
They both jumped and looked round to see Sokka standing in the distance leaping and waving for them to come join him.
"Seriously, you gotta come see this!"
Aang and Katara looked at each other, she blushing prettily and Aang letting out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding. The both laughed nervously and got up to join Sokka. As they walked Aang looked back at the statue of Tienhai, her beautiful stone face gentle and sweet, and smiled.
Aang and Katara walked hand in hand along the trail that lead towards where the Earthern Fire Refinery stood, Sokka walking ahead of them. It was densely packed, trees pushing in on each side of the pathway, but it was comforting. Walking along here reminded Aang of the year they had all spent together, traveling, hiding, camping, and he admitted to himself that he missed it. They still had the odd adventure now, but it wasn't quite the same. He caught site of a Forest Rose dangling ahead of them, he reached forward and plucked it, handing it Katara, who giggled and smiled back at him. Sokka looked over his shoulder, pulled another face and stuck out his tongue. Katara splashed water across his face with a flick of her wrist.
"So what is it you're wanting to show us?" Aang asked, with a smirk.
"Hey, my sister can get away with splashing water on my face you but, sir, are still on probation. I consider that look on your face as one more reason why you can't date my sister."
"Hah! As if you have any say," Katara snapped.
"Are we forgetting that I am the leader?!"
"I'm the Avatar," Aang added, raising an eyebrow at Sokka.
"I'm the Avatar," mimicked Sokka, in a high voice whilst mouthing with his hands.
They finally reached the end of the trail and walked out onto the site of the Earthern Fire Refinery. Aang grimaced as he looked upon the beaten land that was once so sacred to him and his people, and vowed that he would return it to its former beauty. Lao and Satoru did not get to stay here.
The Refinery itself was a ruin. General Old Iron had smashed it to the ground, Aang himself had to confess he hadn't been too careful about what his air bending had destroyed. Despite this, the workers were still here, trying hard to clean up the remains. Overlooking the entire process was Lao, Satoru and Toph. Satoru looked downtrodden, but Lao and Toph were in remarkably good spirits.
"Sokka, I'm confused, we've already seen the Refinery. Aang might have blown it up a bit." Katara glanced sideways at Aang who tried and failed to hide his grin.
"Hey, I may be the Bridge between our world and the Spirit World, but if a big old armoured spirit wants to sit on this metal mess then who am I to argue?"
"Yes, but do you see what I see? Look! Toph and her dad are actually talking. Out in the open! Like people!"
Aang looked over and noticed Lao had put his hand on his daughters shoulder, his other arm sweeping across the ruins of his business, talking animatedly. No doubt he was keen to get his daughter involved in its restoration, though Aang hoped he could convince them to wait until he could find a better location for them.
"She looks happy," said Katara. "Do you think she's going to want to stay with her father?"
"I'm not sure about that," Aang responded. "She still has her metal bending school. Plus Zuko and I have something in mind for her."
Sokka looked over at Aang with narrowed eyes.
"You know, I get that you and Zuko are like Avatar and Firelord, but you can't be making plans for us without our knowing."
"It's just been a thought," Aang replied. "Plus, you were IN that meeting. You agreed!"
"I may not have been listening."
Toph heard their raised voices and looked back at them. She said something to her father and walked back to them. She had grown taller since they had first met her, not by much, but when she was walking towards them with a frown on her face it became startling obvious.
"You know, I can hear you guys back here talking about me. I'm blind, not deaf." She cupped her ears towards them as if in demonstration.
"Sorry Toph, it's just nice to see you and your father are getting along," said Katara.
"Eh, I can tolerate him. You know, he's already planning Refinery Mark Two, Twinkletoes. You really need to get working on a new site for him."
"How can he be talking about rebuilding after a big angry glowy spirit pummeled it to the ground?! No offense, Toph, but your dad is a little coocoo." Sokka twiddled his finger in a circle against his temple.
"Hey, no offense taken. But I'm gonna hit you anyway." She thumped his arm, Sokka yelped and jumped back, rubbing his arm. "So, what's the plan you and Zuko have for me?"
"Oh, you heard that?" Aang said, a little embarrassed.
"Again, blind. Not deaf."
"Well, sooner or later we're going to need someone to police over Yu Dao. Zuko suggested using metal benders for it, perhaps your students when they're ready. I mean, there's always gonna be people bending fire, water and earth. We need guards who can do things other people can't."
Toph remained silent for a minute, then burst out laughing.
"Are you serious, Twinkletoes?! My students? Policing a city? I mean, hey, they're getting good, but they are not the policing type."
Sokka laughed, "I can imagine the Dark One now -" he took a stance, his hand raised high, "Oh, dark denizen of our times, why would you steal this bread? My heart aches for the sandwiches you have denied, and I cry for the hatred in your soul."
Aang frowned, and snapped, "people aren't gonna steal bread, Sokka! This is serious."
"Well, I'll leave you to convince Toph, wise Avatar. But for now Katara and I need to get ready, and I need to find Suki."
Aang lowered his fists, looking deflated. "You're going already?"
"You're leaving? Why am I always the last to know these things?" Toph crossed her arms over her chest.
"Well, as Sokka said, we need to find Suki and tell her what's going on. But Nutha and Niyok are leaving soon, what with Refinery being destroyed, so we're traveling with them."
Toph unfolded her arms for her chest and waved her hands in the air. "Hello? Anyone gonna tell me why you're leaving?"
"Our Tribe has suffered," Katara replied sadly. "Gran-Gran is ill, and we need to go back and see what we can do. They don't really have a healer there, so maybe I can save her."
"Well, Suki will be with Zuko, so Appa and I can at least take you to the Fire Nation."
"I'm gonna stay here," said Toph. "But I'll meet you back in Yu Dao in a week, Twinkletoes."
Aang nodded, then stamped down his glider so it opened. "I'm going to go and find the Acolytes and explain things to them. I'll met you guys at Appa." He leaned down, cupped Katara's chin and gave her a long deep kiss. Sokka made retching noises in the background but the pair ignored him.
"See you soon," Katara smiled.
An hour later Aang landed next to Appa where Katara and Sokka were standing, accompanied by two Water Tribe girls. One was slightly shorter than the other, but both had the characteristic ocean blue eyes, dark skin and chocolate hair so synonymous with the Water Tribe. Momo had already settled himself in Appa's saddle, eating a liché nut.
"Aang, this is Nutha -" Katara gestured to the taller of the two. "And this is her sister Niyok." Both nodded at Aang as he put his fist to his palm and bowed in the tradition Air Nomad fashion.
"Pleased to meet you."
"So we get to go on a flying bison?" Niyok asked, her hands clasped together with glee.
"Yup! Ladies, this is Appa. Appa, this is ladies." Appa looked round at this with his large gentle eyes and roared his signature roar. Niyok giggled and petted his head.
"So where are we going?" Nutha was more serious than her sister, a slight frown almost never left her face.
"The plan is Aang takes us to the Fire Palace," answered Sokka. "I have to tell my girlfriend where I'm going, plus Zuko can probably lend us an air balloon or a ship. Otherwise we're swimming all the way!"
Nutha made no effort to control the scowl coming to her face.
"Look, I know he's your friend and all, Avatar, but I still don't trust the Firelord."
"We can trust him, " Aang grinned. "And you can call me Aang."
"I'll stick with Avatar," Nutha snapped.
Aang glanced over at Katara with a puzzled look on his face and Katara shrugged guiltily.
"Well, err, if you'd all like to jump on."
Appa lowered himself to the ground so his new passengers could climb on. Aang walked round to the front of him, and gave him a pet, then jumped up onto his head. "To the Fire Nation! Yip yip!"
The journey passed with almost painful awkwardness. Aang attempted conversation at several points but each time Nutha would tut or scoff. Aang had no idea why this girl disliked him so much, and this kind of tardiness was something he really wasn't used to dealing with. After an hours flying he deflated and kept his eyes forward, hoping Katara would come and join him. But for some reason she never did, and instead she sat in silence in the saddle.
The journey to the Fire Nation was, thankfully, not a terribly long one. The site of Yangchen's Festival was quite close to its borders, and Appa always seemed to enjoy flying over water, as the sea breeze lifted him higher and faster with little effort on his part. Before nightfall they had passed over the Fire Fountain City, and by midnight they had arrived at the Fire Nation Capital. Despite how hard Zuko had worked to make the place less intimidating to travelers, it was still a dark place to travel. Aang had been here many times since the end of the Hundred Year War, but he still couldn't control that horrid knot in his stomach when he remembered the times he had snuck in here and the Fire Nation wanted him dead.
Throughout the last half of the journey no one had really spoke. Sokka had spoke with Niyok about how things were at the Southern Water Tribe, and her happy, spirited voice carried across the sea as she spoke about Master Pakku and Kanna's wedding, and Hakoda's return with the rest of the army. To Aang it sounded like the Southern Water Tribe was doing well, until she started mentioned how the Northern Water Tribe had stopped giving aid about a year back, and they were having to fend for themselves. He could practically feel Sokka shake with rage as he asked how Pakku could allow that, and how the Southern Water Tribe had survived without their help for a long time before the War ended. Niyok stumbled at this point and mumbled something that Aang couldn't make out.
When Aang alighted in the grounds of the Fire Palace, the guards waving them in, he caught site of a decorated figure breaking ranks and running towards them.
"Suki!" Sokka cried, jumping off of Appa and running to embrace her, then falling into a deep kiss.
"Oogie!" Aang laughed, whilst Sokka raised a hand behind his head and pulled a gesture that made Aang choke and laugh even harder.
Appa lowered himself down so the Water Tribe girls could slide off, and Aang patted his head.
"What are you guys doing here?" Suki asked, stopping for breath.
"It's a long story," Sokka replied. "Hey, is Zuko around? I know it's late but we need to talk to him."
"Zuko's still up," Suki explained. "He doesn't seem to sleep much any more, Mai's been telling me. I'll take you to see him." She looked over at Katara and the two Water Tribe girls questioningly.
"We'll explain everything when we find Zuko, come on." Sokka took her hand as she turned to lead them inside.
Aang hung back for a second and called to Katara. He saw Nutha frown at Katara, but she followed her sister and the couple.
"What's up, Aang?"
"What's up with me? What's up with that girl?" Aang stuck out his tongue in Nutha's direction, pulling it back in when he saw Katara standing there awkwardly rubbing her arms.
"Well, she kinda blames you for Sokka and I leaving."
"It's not your fault, Aang! And besides, if we hadn't gone then Ozai would have taken over the world and there'd not be a Water Tribe to go back to. But she can't see past Gran-Gran and having to leave her home to find work."
"I can see why she'd be upset, I guess," Aang replied, but feeling an anger rising in his stomach. Katara kissed him.
"Come on, she'll get over it. Let's go find the others."
They found Zuko sat in his throne room, his chin in his hand, snoring slightly. Whatever it was that kept him from sleeping hadn't managed to keep up with here. Suki asked the others to hold back whilst she walked up to his throne and nudged hum gently. Zuko woke with a start, sat bolt upright and ran his hand through his hair.
"What's up? I wasn't asleep!"
"Firelord Zuko, the Avatar is here with some friends, they need your help."
Aang walked into the throne room, looking concerned. "Zuko are you okay?"
Zuko stood up and straightened his robe, clearing his throat. "Yes, I'm fine. What brings you here so late?"
"Well, we would have stopped for some rest but it was getting a little cold -" Aang shot Nutha a dark look. She seemed a little surprised at first, then her brows sunk even lower on her eyes. Katara tutted and barged past Aang.
"Zuko, we came here to find Suki so that Sokka could tell her that we're leaving for the Southern Water Tribe for a while."
"Hey, I could'a told her that," snapped Sokka as Suki flashed him a hurt look.
"I'm surprised you hadn't gone sooner, to be honest," Zuko replied, sitting back down in his throne. "I take it you'll be needing some transport? The air ships are no longer in use since, uh -" he shot Aang a nervous look, "since the attempted invasion of the Colonies. But we have a ship you can use."
"Thank you, Zuko," Katara replied.
"So .. why are you guys leaving," Suki asked. "I hardly get to see you enough as it is, Sokka."
"Because your boyfriend and his sister decided to abandon the entire Tribe when glowy boy over here came flying in," Nutha snapped, gesturing angrily at Aang.
Aang felt anger bubbling up to the surface, and his calm nature swiftly gave way to the wave of anger that had been building since Katara told him why Nutha was so tardy with him. "Well if glowy boy hadn't come flying in then you wouldn't even HAVE a Tribe," he yelled, throwing his hands in the air. "Hey, YOU might not even be here!"
"Aang -" Katara tried to interrupt.
"No Katara, I've had it. Avatar Avatar save us from the Firelord Avatar. Well, I did that! But still no one is happy, and I have to spend all my time flying between one group to the other like I'm some messenger hawk!"
"Whoa, Aang -" this time Sokka tried to interrupt.
"You be quiet too, Sokka!" Aang pointed a finger in Sokka's face but carried on glaring at Nutha. "So yeh, I took Katara and Sokka with me, but without them I couldn't have defeated the Firelord. They saved your lives too, you could at least try and show a little gratitude!"
The room when silent, Nutha still glaring but looking a little unsure, and Katara shooting daggers into the back of Aangs head. Seconds began to slow into hours until eventually Zuko cleared his throat. "So, Suki, you can go with them, if you want? Ty Lee is more than capable of taking care of things here whilst your gone."
Suki took her horrified gaze away from Aang to look at Zuko. "Are you sure? Zuko, you're not right lately -"
"I'm sure," Zuko interrupted, waving his hand. "I'm more than fine, you go with Sokka. They made need you more than I do."
Sokka grinned at Suki.
"Stay for something to eat, first. I'll have the cook make something up for you, please sit down. Aang, can I talk to you?"
Aang's nostrils were still flared, but he lowered his arms and nodded.
Aang left the room with Zuko, fully aware of the glares he was getting from his girlfriend. He wanted to talk to her, but the way Zuko was acting told him that whatever this was it was serious. He tried to flash her a smile, but she had turned away from him to talk to Nutha.
Down the hall, Aang realised that they were walking towards the large balcony where Zuko had been crowned as Firelord. He looked across to Zuko, his face was dark and up close Aang could see the heavy bags under his eyes. Zuko was a serious guy, but this was unusual.
When on the balcony, the Firelord let out a long sigh, then looked out over the courtyard. Aang remained silent, studying him. Zuko seemed to have grown much more than any of them. The scar on his face made him appear older than he was, and the worry had already begun to wear lines into his forehead. Despite all of this, he was a powerful man, his mouth was set so resolutely and Aang had to admire his strength despite all he had been through.
"Aang, there are a couple of things I need to talk to you about. Some good news, some bad. We've become close in the past couple of years, so I know I can tell you this first."
"What is it, Zuko?"
"Well, firstly, Mai is pregnant."
A huge grin came to Aang's young face, and he clapped Zuko on the shoulder. "That's brilliant news! Congratulations, Zuko!"
Zuko smiled weakly. "Thank you. I can't say I'm not nervous, in fact probably more nervous than excited at this point." He sighed. "But Mai is happy, and you know how unusual that is."
"So what's got you so nervous? I'm guessing it's more than future fatherhood?"
"I've received multiple hawks about possible rebellions across the Fire Nation and the Colonies. Azula still hasn't even been seen since she escaped that night, and part of me fears that she is behind them."
Aang groaned. "I had kinda hoped meeting your mum would change her ... What are these rebellions like, should we be concerned?"
"At the moment it's vandalism. But if Azula isn't already behind this you can bet she'll find out about it, and I'm worried that when she does it's going to get a lot more ... violent. We both know what she's capable of. Aang, I know you want to stay with Katara, but I think we're going to need you a lot more than the Water Tribes will."
"I know, I'm not going with Katara."
"Is that why she was giving you such evils just now?"
Aang laughed nervously, "no, I think that's because I yelled at her friend."
"We need to get Yu Dao sorted, Aang. Once the others have left, I want to hold a meeting in the city. We need to get the representatives talking."
Aang and Zuko came back into the hall to the wondrous sight and smell of the feast before them. The others had already started eating, Sokka setting the pace with three plates of food in front of him whilst Suki looked both repulsed and amused at this new turn of speed.
Zuko sat at his place at the head of the table, though elected not to eat. Aang sat down next to Katara and put his hands on hers, giving her puppy dog eyes and a sloppy grin. She glared at him a second longer, before smirking and slapping his bald head. Aang yelped as the others, beside Nutha, laughed.
"So Zuko," Sokka asked, his mouth full of food. "Why are you sleeping out here?"
"I wasn't sleeping," Zuko snapped. "I was ... resting my eyes."
"Yeh, coz that has worked on ... no one. No one, Zuko. Ever in the history of the world." Sokka shoved another fork full of meat into his mouth.
"Well, I guess you guys are going away for a while. Just, no one talk to Mai. She doesn't want anyone to know yet." He looked over at the Water Tribe girls. "I don't know you so if anyone finds out I'll blame you and have you beheaded."
Niyok cried allowed.
"Zuko, jokes really aren't your thing!" Sokka roared into his drink.
"Uhh, no. Sorry, I mean, I won't. Do that." He cleared his throat again. "Okay, well, Mai is pregnant-"
"Congratulations!" Came the voices around the table.
"But she's cranky. I mean, more cranky than usual. And she's always kicking me in her sleep. And if I mention it she'll yell at me so ... yeh, I don't sleep very much."
Suki burst out laughing.
"You mean that's why?! I thought that there was a rebellion going on something."
Aang and Zuko exchanged nervous glances.
"No no, nothing like that," Zuko said hurriedly.
"Well, congratulation, spiky guy," said Sokka, raising his drink. Everyone raised their drinks too, and Zuko smiled broadly for the first time that night.
After the meal, Zuko offered them all beds to sleep in so that they could be well rested before leaving that morning. Sokka and Suki headed off to their room, whilst one of Zuko's helpers made up a couple of beds for the Water Tribe girls. He knew Aang and Katara slept in separate rooms from the times they had visited in the past, and almost always had a couple of rooms set up for them. Aang and Katara stayed in the throne room with Zuko for a little while whilst the other went off, mostly so Katara could ask him if he really was okay with Mai.
"I'm okay, Katara, but thank you for caring. Mai is a difficult woman to begin with, let alone with all these pregnancy hormones getting a say." He tried to laugh, but you could see the terrified look behind his eyes. Katara smiled, and got up to peck him on the cheek. Zuko had become a brother to her, just as he had to Aang.
"You'll be okay, Zuko. You're the Firelord! Okay, I'm going to get some sleep."
"I'll show you to your room," Aang announced, standing up. "I'll be back in a minute, Zuko."
Aand and Katara walked hand in hand to her usual room, Katara giving Aang a curious look the whole way. When they got to the door she looked up at him. She couldn't help but marvel at just how tall he had gotten in the past 4 years.
"Something's not right is it," she asked, sighing.
"What do you mean?"
"You and Zuko. I saw how you looked at each other when Suki mentioned a rebellion. We're not as safe as we first thought, are we?"
It was now Aang's turn to sigh. "It's nothing big, Katara, and certainly nothing we can't deal with." He looked into her eyes. "I'm sorry I lost my temper earlier, I didn't mean to. She just got me so mad! Making you feel like that ... you saved the world."
"It's okay, sweetie." She stood up on tiptoes and kissed him deeply. Aang wrapped his arms around her waist, and suddenly became aware that he really didn't want it to stop. He felt Katara pull away, and opened his eyes to see her smiling at him. "I love you, Aang."
"I love you too. Goodnight, Katara."
She opened her door and stepped backwards into her room. There was that odd look on her face again, the one she'd given him on the clifftop. He suddenly felt panicked, and took a step back himself, trying to indicate softly that he was headed back to Zuko. He couldn't help but see the slight look of disappointment on her face when she closed the door. He stood there for a moment, feeling confused and wondering at the explosion of butterflies in his stomach. He shook his head and headed back to the throne room.
Zuko was sat silently, his legs crossed, his fists held together, and his eyes closed when Aang came back into the room. It was something that Aang had taught him, and he was glad that it was able to help Zuko deal with the stress that came with being the Firelord.
"Should we tell them?"
Aang sat down across from Zuko, a frown on his face. "Katara already knows, I swear she sees everything. She won't tell the others, I don't think. But part of me thinks it's best we don't burden them with this."
Zuko opened his eyes. "I'm inclined to agree. I haven't told Mai, and don't plan to. For now this is something we should be able to deal with, the last thing I want is people panicking."
"Plus Sokka may not want to go if he finds out," Aang added. "He wants to see his family, but if he heard of a rebellion he'd need to be in the middle of it. I gotta give it to Sokka, he doesn't back down."
Silence sat over the them for about ten minutes, Zuko meditating whilst Aang sat preoccupied with what had happened outside Katara's room. He loved her, and he always would, but truth be told he was terrified of taking their relationship any further than they already had. When Katara hit sixteen he knew that it had been expected of him to propose, but he didn't. Katara never let on that she had considered it, or expected him to, either. She was eighteen, an adult by all accounts, but Aang still felt so young. At sixteen, nearing seventeen, he was already much more a man than he had been when he met her, but despite the trials he had been through, part of him didn't want to grow up. He didn't want to go past this goofy love that he had with her. His youth was passing him by, and he felt the desire to hold onto it as long as he could. But he couldn't deny that another part of him really wanted to know what would have happened if he had gone with Katara into her room ...
"So how is it going?" Zuko asked at least, startling Aang from his daydreams. "With you and Katara?"
It was odd ... Sokka had stood at his side throughout the War, whilst Zuko had hunted him down. But now, Zuko was the only person he felt comfortable really talking to, aside from Katara. It certainly didn't help that Sokka was Katara's brother, but he never felt like he could really talk to him about anything this personal.
"I don't know," he answered truthfully. "It's going to be really hard with her being so far away though."
Zuko studied Aang for a bit, obviously thinking over his words carefully. Eventually he said what Aang had rather expecting him to say, "so why have you not proposed to her yet?"
The Avatar rubbed the back of his head, then put his hand to his forehead and pressed down. "Urgh, I don't know! It's not that I don't want to marry Katara, but I just don't feel ready for that. You and Mai are having a baby, Suki and Sokka are engaged ... I hate to think how Katara sees this but I just can't. When me and Katara finally got together I thought we could be happy together, but there's just so much I have to do."
"If it helps I know how you feel. Everyone expected me to propose to Mai after the ceremony, but it felt like I'd be doing what was expected of me, not what I wanted. In the end, I'm glad I waited. You're a good kid, Aang, and it's clear as day that you're meant for each other. It'll happen."
Aang nodded and smiled at his friend.
"Well, I'm going to go and get some sleep, Zuko. Tomorrow Appa can take us back to Yu Dao and we can get to work. I'd wish you a good night but I'm guessing that may not be possible with a hormonal wife!"
Zuko groaned, then picked at the lettuce on his plate. "Goodnight, Aang."
As Aang walked down the hall to his room, he passed Katara's door. He paused, wondering whether he should just go in and slip in next to her, but felt that same panic again. He sighed and went into his room next to hers, then collapsed onto the bed. "I'm such an idiot," he mumbled, before closing his eyes and falling asleep.
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