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|Return to the City of Pain|
August 13, 2012
Return to the City of Pain is the second chapter of Republic City after spending five years away, just in time for his anniversary.. It features Aang returning to
This is kind of a sloppy chapter, to be honest. I couldn't really figure out how exactly I wanted Aang's return to play out, so I went with the first reasonable situation that came to mind. I hope you enjoy it though.
Katara and I strolled down a paved path in the Republic City Park, with a thirteen-month-old Kya cooing in joy while in her mother's arms. We were heading for the playground that the city had built in the park not too long ago. Kya had just begun to learn how to walk; what distance she could at least. Katara and I had this idea of seeing who Kya would come to if we put her in the middle of her and I. I don't know why we were tempted to find out the answer, but I'm sure it was just another one of our in-the-moment ideas—ideas that just popped into our heads and said to ourselves, "Why don't we give it a try?"
So that's what we were doing here. It was a Monday afternoon, so the playground was more likely to be less populated than it would have been during the weekend with all the parents off work. Besides, we kind of liked having the park to ourselves. It was easy to keep an eye on Kya while she played in the sand, and plus, just watching her be in her own little world was a joy that we'd never pass up.
It didn't take much longer until we arrived at the playground. I'm sure you've all seen a public playground before, so I'll spare you the layout other than the usual—a couple swing sets, slides, seesaws, monkey bars, and a big sandbox.
We set Kya down on the ground and onto her feet and she stared at us both in confusion. I doubt I could get into that little head of hers even if I tried. After we made sure she could stay standing on her own, we parted ways. When Katara and I took our short distance from her, she seemed even more confused, wondering what in the world we were doing.
"Kya," Katara called with a cute baby voice, "come on, come to Mommy!"
Our child turned to her mother and she smiled widely. "No, Kya, come to Daddy!" I called to her, bending my knees as I clapped my hands and held my arms out.
The baby girl then turned her head to me and made a cute gurgle as she turn her entire body my way. I couldn't help but glance at my wife with a smirk of dominance. She retorted by sticking her tongue out at me playfully.
"Come to Momma! Come on!" she attempted to become her daughter's destination.
Just like that, Kya turned around again. I had apparently lost her attention. "Mommy" was now our daughter's choice of destination, no matter what I tried. I couldn't do anything but watch as she slowly walked towards her mother, wobbling left and right, trying to keep her balance. I was sure that she was going to fall...but she didn't. She walked straight into my wife's arms. Katara picked her up and softly tossed her up in the air.
"Good job!" she exclaimed proudly.
I sighed in defeat, "Look's like she's a Mommy's girl..."
"Don't take it personally," she began, "I'm sure she still loves her daddy. She just prefers her mother," she stated as she rubbed noses with Kya.
I chuckled softly, "I would, too, if I were her..." I stated as I approached her. We shared a sweet kiss and gazed into each other's eyes. I then took Kya into my arms and placed a kiss on her cheek. "You love your daddy, don't you?" I asked her.
In response to my question, Kya's small little hand grabbed my nose and squeezed it; filling her with laughter.
I shrugged, "I'll take that as a yes..."
Katara laughed and we enjoined hands as the three of us headed back home...as a family...
I was woken up by the sound of the brakes grinding against the tracks and slowing down the train I was traveling on. I had apparently been out for a while... The entire train ride, as a matter of fact. Last thing I remembered was boarding and taking a seat. I must have fallen asleep without realizing it. That had to be it because I had another one of those dreams. These dreams—they'd been recurring for the last five years. Each time it was different, but the scenario was always the same. I'd dream of what my life would be like if...if Katara hadn't passed away. Each time, I could swear that it was real.
I know what you're thinking: "A lot of dreams feel real." Well, I can say with all honesty, that these dreams couldn't feel more realistic. With most dreams you can only remember blurry images and maybe even a sentence or two. But with these dreams, I could recite every detail as if it just happened.
Eh, what did it matter anyway? They were just dreams, and that's all they'd ever be—dreams. But God knows that I'd do anything for them to come true...
I guess that you're wondering what I've been doing with my life for the past five years, aren't you? Well, then, just be patient. I'll fill you in... Though I gotta tell ya, you probably won't agree with most of it. Back then, I thought it was all natural. But now, my entire insight on it all, and what I became, well it just makes me sick. I didn't even notice what I'd become until it was too late.
Well first, you're probably wondering what I'm doing on this train, right? I guess this is as good a place as ever to start anyway...
The train had reached Central City Station, the center train station in Republic City. It'd been just a little less than five years since I'd seen this city.
I hated this place. It was too full of memories I wanted to forget. The only reason I was alive was because it'd be too much trouble to die. I tried to run away from here, but no matter what, I couldn't run away from what happened...to you, Katara. The only thing I accomplished by leaving was realizing that you were still here. You'd be forever tied to this city. That was something I could never change, so I chose to accept it. I finally decided to return to Republic City—or in my case, The City of Pain. That's all that this place gives me anymore. But then again, no matter where I go, my pain and suffering follows.
I grabbed my bag and headed for the exit. The moment I stepped out those doors and caught a whiff of that city air, I knew that there would be no turning back. I was going to spend the rest of my life here...
My usual attire was packed in my bag. At the moment, I was wearing a two-piece suit, containing coal-gray jacket, a white shirt with a stiff, square collar, and some stockings over black shoes. My hair had grown out a lot, as I hadn't shaved it bald in the last few years. My bangs had grown to the point where they practically covered my arrow. I didn't care... I used to be so insistent on wearing it proudly, and now it didn't really matter. Why should it? It was just a tattoo anyways.
I left Republic City some time after Katara's funeral. Zuko offered to let me stay with him and Mai in the Fire Nation while I sorted stuff out. But there was nothing to sort out... She was dead, and that was that. Nothing would ever change that... But either way, after thinking it over, I took up his offer. But really, it was just my attempt at running away.
The service had ended. She was now six feet under the earth. That was where she'd stay until time itself came to an end. I'm ashamed to admit that, somehow, I didn't cry throughout the whole thing. The most I did was shed a few tears, most of which were during the eulogy I gave. I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to show how much I loved her, but my body just wouldn't let me. I felt like I got rid of all my cries on the night she died. I wish that wasn't the case...
If anyone's cries were noticed the most, they were Kya's. She cried throughout the entire thing. I had asked Sokka to take her to the funeral with him for me because I was afraid that I'd lose it again and go hysterical. Like the kind man that he is, he had agreed and brought her with him and Suki. All the while, every time I looked at her, I couldn't help but think, "Only a week old and she's having to say good-bye to the mother she'd never get to know."
With the service over, I tried to hurry to the carriage that was waiting for me just outside the graveyard. I didn't want to speak to anyone, I didn't want to see anyone. Hell, all I wanted to do was just go home and hide in a corner for the rest of my life.
"Aang, wait!" a voice called after me.
I recognized it immediately and stopped in place, turning around to face my dead wife's father as he caught up with me.
"What do you want?" I asked him harshly. I already said I didn't want to see anyone, but I especially didn't want to see him.
"There's, uh... there's something I think you should have," he told me, taking a small brown, rectangular box from a pocket inside his coat. It had the national insignia for the Water Tribe carved on the top.
I glanced down at the small box, then back to him, "What is it?"
He shrugged casually, "Open it," he urged me.
I sent him a cold look before turning my gaze to the box and bringing it into my hand. I slowly flipped it open it to find Katara's most prized possession. I wasn't surprised... I should have known he'd try this.
"It's her mother's necklace," I said carelessly. "What of it?"
Hakoda sighed, "You know it's significance, and, well, I figure that when Kya is old enough to understand, she should learn it's significance to her mother. It was the one thing Katara had of her mother, so I think it seems logical that it should be the one thing Kya has of her mother."
I knew what he meant, and I knew he was right. It'd been passed down for generations, and it was only right to continue that passing. I don't know what happened, but then, something inside of me just, sort of, cracked. Tears began to develop in my eyes as I accepted the possession.
"Thank you, Hakoda..." I managed to say as I wiped my eyes, a smile making it's way to my face. I was glad to know that I was still showing emotions for her. It reminded me that even though I could never see her again, she still had a place in my heart.
"You're welcome, son," he patted me on the shoulder, trying his best to work up a smile. I knew it was hard on him. Then I remembered what he did. In a way, I wish I didn't. Maybe then I could be relinquished of some of this anger that was dwelling inside me.
I turned away from him, "I got to go..." I said and began walking as quickly away from him as I could. I couldn't let something like this make me forget what he did to her and I. He betrayed us, made us believe him. I could never trust a word he said, but I did know that he was right about the necklace. Even that I couldn't deny.
I finally reached the carriage where a driver was waiting for me. I quickly swung open the door and got in, slamming the door shut. I was just about to order the driver to head off when I heard someone knock on the door of the carriage. I turned and saw Zuko peering in.
I sighed annoyingly, "Yeah, Zuko?"
"Look, uh, I know this is sort of out of the blue but...Mai and I were thinking, and if you need some time to, you know, think things through and get stuff sorted out, you're welcome to come with us back to the Capital," he explained to me.
I gave it some thought, "I might just have to take you up on that offer, but...could you give me a while to think about? Maybe some time to sleep on it?"
Yeah right... I hadn't done much sleeping recently.
"Sure thing, buddy. Just give us a call, alright?"
"Sure thing," I finished, considering the conversation over. The driver then set off, guiding the ostrich-horses out of the graveyard while I tried my hardest to keep my eye on Katara's headstone. Eventually, it vanished from my sight and I was forced to just sit back and...well, just sit back.
We were halfway to the docks when I had the craziest idea. "Driver, take me to the nearest bar, please," I told the driver. Before I knew it, we'd changed directions. Not long after, I found myself walking into a bar for the first time in my life. I had no idea what was going through my head. It was like I had no control over it. But, the thing is, I didn't fight it either. I didn't want to fight it; I wanted it to happen! Something inside me screamed, "You can't deal with this on your own! Alcohol will take away the pain!"
I practically threw myself onto a bar stool at the front of the bar, throwing my head down on the wooden counter.
"What can I get you?" asked the bartender. "Wait, aren't you—"
I didn't let him finish his sentence, "Just a cold beer; no questions asked..." I told him abruptly, not removing my face from the counter.
I could tell without looking that he was eying me curiously as he grabbed a regular beer bottle from under the counter and set it down in front of me.
I remember having second thoughts. I remember asking myself, is this what I wanna do with my life? I hesitated, raising my head and staring at the bottle for what felt like an eternity. Finally, that voice that was shouting inside me took control. I grabbed the bottle and placed the tip in my mouth, chugging down every last drop.
That was the first time I ever drank alcohol. Well, other than the few glasses of champagne I had at mine and Katara's wedding. But that didn't even compare to the amount I drank that night. I don't even remember leaving the bar... I found myself on a bench in the park with a bottle in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
Sometime after that, I left with Zuko and Mai to the Fire Nation. I told everyone that I'd be back in just a few weeks—two at the least. I had asked Sokka and Suki if they could take care of Kya while I was gone. I remember the questioning look on his face when I asked him. But nevertheless, he eventually agreed. I told them what I told everyone else, but only I knew that I'd be gone much longer than that.
When Zuko agreed to take me in, I talked him into letting me get my own apartment. He was against it at first, but I talked him into it after explaining that I didn't want to freeload off of him. I, of course, knew that wasn't the case. I knew that he would assume it was just my personality, but really, I didn't want him to get in the way of my life.
I stayed there for about three years until Zuko and I had our falling out. I had been able to hide my addictions to alcohol and cigarettes for years, but one day, Zuko finally realized that my attitude and personality had been changing. He confronted me and tried to make me quit. I wouldn't listen. He had no right to tell me what to do with my own life! And that's exactly what I told him. He soon realized that I wouldn't listen to "reason", and tried to cut me off. That's when things got serious. I wasn't going to sit there and let other people control me. You could say that things got a little "heated."
After three years of avoiding my return, I was forced to find somewhere else to stay. I didn't care... If Zuko was really my friend, he would realize that this was the only way to relinquish myself of the pain that was tearing at my heart. Eh, that wasn't entirely true. No matter what I did, the pain wouldn't go away.
Anyways, after our falling out, I left the Fire Nation and went back to Ba Sing Se. God, what a stupid mistake!
I got myself an apartment in the lower ring. I didn't do much while I was there. I got myself a small full-time job so that I could pay for the apartment. As long as no one in the government was aware of my presence in the Earth Kingdom, they wouldn't send me money like every other place I went to did. So I hid the arrows on my hands by wearing gloves 24/7, and hid the one on my forehead with my overgrowing hair and bangs. Luckily, no one really pays attention to a guy's forehead when their head is full of hair. Well, I thought I had finally ran away from my pain. Just living a normal life, where nobody knew who I was, it was enough to think that I might be able to just forget everything that happened and live like this for the rest of my life.
But then, the dreams started to become more frequent. I'd even begun to day dream. I remember that about a year into my job, I was presented with an opportunity to move up to the middle ring and start working as a waiter at a restaurant. That's when things got really complicated.
You remember how Katara and I got together, don't you? It was right here in Ba Sing Se. Like I said, I made a stupid mistake by coming here. You see, Katara and I spent the first few weeks of our relationship in Ba Sing Se, more specifically in the middle ring. Everywhere I looked, I saw memories of me and Katara. All types... All the pain that I had been trying to avoid then hit me with full force. My addiction to alcohol grew worse. I reached the point where I once stayed up through the whole night drinking and even came to work like that. Needless to say, I was fired immediately. But I still wasn't going to go back to Republic City. Not until I knew I could control my addiction to the point where I could still work.
Now that I was out of work, I couldn't pay for my cigarettes nor my alcohol. It nearly drove me crazy. I once attempted to attempt suicide because of the pain. But I couldn't go through with it. That wouldn't make it go away... It'd only make it worse. The suffering—the pain and sadness—would follow my soul for an eternity. What was the use of dying if all it would do is make things harder than they already were? Dying wouldn't bring Katara back.
Eventually, I gained some control over my addictions. I was able to get to the point where I could maintain some control over myself. That's when I figured it was time to return home—to the City of Pain.
Memories clouded my mind as I aimlessly walked down the streets of this heavily-populated city. The sun was beaming down at the city with all its heat, making the day a very sweaty one. One thing I knew this city could achieve is great heat and great cold. It had a well controlled climate. It was never too hot during the summer, but you could always hope for a white winter. I guess that's one thing I missed about this city. It's winters were the best. Katara always loved them best, too. It reminded her of her home in the icy South Pole. That's one reason we decided to move out here almost fifteen years ago. Fifteen years... A lot has changed since then. It seems that it was just yesterday that Katara and I married.
Wait! No, not just yesterday. But today! My God... How could I have almost forgotten? Now I really felt stupid; like I deserved a stern slap across the face. That's probably 'cause I did.
Today was the fifteenth anniversary of the day we got married. Now, for the first time in so long, I was happy to be here in Republic City. Of course, like I just said, I hated this city. But this day, every year since her death, I wanted to return but leave immediately afterward. No wonder why I was so persistent in getting back here today! I hadn't celebrated our anniversary in so long because I believed it to be pointless, but now that I'm here... maybe now I can make up for it.
Now I asked myself: What should I do? What would be appropriate? I couldn't take her anywhere... I couldn't make her dinner like I had done for so long. Then an idea come to mind. Maybe it could work! It wasn't much, but I had to show her that our anniversary did still mean something to me. What would she think of me if I just let it pass for the fifth year since she died?
I now had an objective to achieve. My head that had been staring at the sidewalk for God knows how long was finally picked up with a look of determination. I scanned the shops that I passed. I must have walked for hours, looking for just the right place. I couldn't go to just any store. She deserved more than that.
I must have walked for hours. The sun was just starting to set and I was nearing the docks on the edge of the city. I hadn't even realized it until I looked up and saw the large statue of me, standing proudly on Aang Memorial Island. I turned away from it, and coincidentally, I found the place I was looking for. It was a flower shop, specifically for the purpose of birthdays and anniversaries. It was called, "Ayame's Celebratory Flowers", or something like that. I didn't pay too much attention to the name. All I knew is that it was exactly what I was looking for.
I looked up at the sky, recognizing it's orange theme and deducing that sundown wasn't far away. I made no haste as I rushed to the flower shop. A small bell was shaken as I came through the door, alerting the store owner behind the counter that a customer had come in.
"Evening..." she greeted me politely.
"Evening," I greeted back. I looked around the small store. There were rows and rows of all types of flowers. But that wasn't all. There were also these candies lined up near the back of the store. Next to those were various candles and joss sticks. I smiled on the inside. This place had everything I needed. I just hoped that she would like it...
"Is there anything I can help you find? Are you searching for a specific type of flower?" the woman asked me as she came from behind the counter.
"Not really," I replied before considering, "except, maybe... Would you happen to have any panda lilies?"
"Panda lilies?" she pondered, taking in hand a clipboard and scanning the paper attached to it. "Yes, we do. A shipment just came in," she answered with a bright smile. "They're just down that aisle," she pointed down at a row of flowers.
"Thanks," I responded thankfully as I began to head toward the aisle she had addressed.
I hadn't noticed that she followed me down the aisle. "I don't mean to pry or anything, but since you're looking for panda lilies, would I be wrong by guessing that they are for an anniversary?"
I chortled, "No, you wouldn't. It's my fifteenth anniversary," I told her.
"Fifteenth?" she questioned, amazed by the number. "Wow... Congratulations. If I may, might I suggest a box of chocolates?"
The question struck me and I felt the need to admit a sad truth. "Um, no thank you. My wife... she's, uh... she's dead," I explained, avoiding eye contact as my own words pounded at my throat and heart.
The woman seemed to become upset and embarrassed, "Oh... I'm so sorry; I shouldn't have—"
"No, it's okay," I stopped her from blaming herself. "There's no way you could have known. You were just being friendly."
She shrugged, avoiding eye contact, "Still... That must be hard. But I guess I wouldn't know."
I didn't bother asking why. I'd just be trying to find out about her personal life, and really, all I wanted was to just get the things I came for and get out.
I picked up a bouquet of panda lilies. This was really all I came in for, but I couldn't help but head to where the candies were. I had no reason to buy candies. It wasn't like she could eat them anyway... But still, I felt the need to buy them anyway. I guess it was just my heart telling me that, "It's the thought that counts." I scanned the various boxes of candies. If she were alive, what type would she want most? I guess that was hard question to answer, because I must have spent at least a whole ten minutes considering all my options.
The woman must have noticed this, because she came up beside me and picked a white box from the shelf.
"These are our best-selling chocolates," she handed me the box with a thoughtful smile.
I smiled in appreciation, "Thanks."
"Is that all?" she asked curiously.
I took a moment of thought and grabbed a pair of joss sticks and nodded. We then proceeded to the front of the store and the lady took her place behind the counter. I guess she knew the prices right off the back of her hand, because she didn't even have to glance at the tags.
"That will be twenty yuans," she said.
I set the bouquet of flowers on the counter and reached in my pocket. I didn't have much money on me, but thankfully I had the required amount. Once I paid, I made my way towards the exit, bidding the nice woman "goodbye". When I got outside, I noticed that the sun was just minutes from vanishing from sight, only to be replaced by the full moon.
I looked up at the sky, "A full moon..." I thought aloud. I closed my eyes and smiled, "You loved full moons..." I said softly, barely noticing the droplet of water drip from my eyelids. Full moons had become Katara's favorite phase of the moon, and not just because of the increase in power it gave her. She always told me how the moon had its own meaning of love and beauty. I remember always asking her what that meaning was, but all she did is shrug. Was it because she didn't know that meaning, or was she waiting for me to realize it myself?
A little over a half-hour later, I was on a ferry heading for my home: Air Temple Island. I had been avoiding this place for so long, just as I had been the entire city. But now there was no more of that. I couldn't run anymore. I wish I could, but there was no point. There was no point to anything, really. The only reason I was celebrating my anniversary was so that I could tell myself that she was still there, in spirit, and that this is what she would have wanted. I don't know if I believe that "in spirit" part anymore, though. If she was, wouldn't she have come to see me years ago? Wouldn't she have summoned me or something? But she never did. Sometimes I think that when she died, I locked my Air Chakra forever, cutting off all my connections to the Spirit World and the Avatar State. What did it matter anyway? I didn't need them... The world was peaceful. There was no need for the Avatar anymore. Avatar Aang had practically fallen off the face of the planet and no one made a commotion about it.
I found myself looking once again up at the large memorial statue of me. I must have stared at it for the rest of the way. When I looked away, I found the ferry parked next to the dock of the island with a few Acolytes waiting for me down below. I grabbed my bag and put it over my shoulder, taking the panda lilies and the box of chocolates from the seat next to me. As I came down the boardwalk, I was surprised that nothing had changed. I had thought that without me, the Acolytes would have disbanded and left the island to become some gang's headquarters.
"Welcome Home, Avatar Aang!" cried out Anil, the head Acolyte and the representative for the Air Nomads on the Republic Council.
I couldn't help but smile at the welcome. I guess it was kind of nice to know I was missed. However, I was curious as to how he knew I was coming, or even how he knew it was me specifically. Well, now that I think about it, Anil was no idiot. He was probably a lot better at noticing my weakly-hidden tattoos than anybody that just happened to glance at me. That...or he just wasn't a guy to forget a face.
"Hello, Anil," I greeted him, shaking his hand as I finally made it off the boardwalk.
"How was your trip?" he asked me.
Trip, I thought questionably. I leave for almost five years and he calls that a trip?
"It was okay, I guess..." I answered as we walked.
"We were just about to have dinner in the dining hall. Would you like to join us?"
"No, I'm fine," I quickly answered. "I had a long day; I think I'm just going to head to bed."
I caught a glimpse of him eying me in wonder, but I just ignored it. I had a liable reason to be tired. I'd been on a train since ten this morning, and now the moon had taken over the sky. As we made our way up the flights of stairs leading to the courtyard, I began to wonder why Anil wasn't asking why I had a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates. Usually that would be something he'd ask about, and even offer to put the flowers in a vase. Maybe he already knew, but then again, maybe he just didn't feel like asking. Why am I even pondering this? It isn't like it would make much difference. It would just be a stupid question.
Finally we made it up the stairs. Now I was really tired. I'd almost forgotten how many stairs there were. Or maybe I was just out of shape... I guess I have been pretty lazy these last couple years.
"Is there anything you need before heading to bed?" asked Anil curiously.
"Just silence..." I answered harshly as I left him and headed for the building where my room was. The master bedroom was on the edge of the island where the boy's dorm was at.
I don't know why I had been so harsh to him before I left. I hadn't noticed it yet, but this place brought out the worst of me. Well, what can you expect from a city that only gives you pain?
As I walked down the hall of the dorms, I realized that I hadn't been in this particular part of the island since the night Katara died, especially our room. After that night, I put it strictly off-limits. Even I hadn't gone in there since then. I was too afraid to...
All of a sudden, I thought I heard crying. The crying of a child even. My heart began pounding rapidly, like it was trying to jump out of my chest. Logic wasn't playing any role in my head as I began rushing to the room where the crying was coming from. Not much to my surprise, it was coming from the same room where our child was born. I swung the door open with as much speed and force as I could control, expecting to find Katara lying there, holding our crying daughter. I could almost hear her soothing voice trying to calm her...
But it was only my imagination... The room was empty—dead even. It was dark, only small traces of light seeping in from the closed window on the other side of the room. I let out a deep, depressed sigh, realizing that my mind had been playing tricks on me. Dirty, evil, and depressing tricks...
One thing I noticed was that the room hadn't changed a bit since the last time I came in here. The Acolytes had respected my wishes. I guess they're nothing if not loyal. I was happy about that. The room hadn't even been cleaned at all! Even the sheets were as messed up as they had been the morning that her...her body had been removed from the premises.
A grateful smile rose to my face as I closed the door behind me and began to approach the bed, hesitating almost every step. I had walked into a room that replayed that tragic memory non-stop. Which each step I took, I could see faint, almost transparent figures surrounding the bed. I was one of those figures. And so was Sokka, Suki, and even Hakoda. All the other figures were the Acolytes and healers.
A scream of terrible pain broke the dead impression this room was giving. It was filled with life...well, imaginary life. I knew what I was witnessing in my head. I wanted to turn away, run out of the room and never look back. But I couldn't... What was the use of running from something that would stay locked in your head forever?
That's what I told myself as I forced my body to continue forward. The closer I got to the bed, the more the memory began to fade. The screams began to fade, but the water dripping from my eyes didn't.
I allowed my bag to slip off my shoulder and fall with me to my knees as we both reached our destination. I threw my arms out onto the mattress, allowing my head to stare down at the floor as water dripped from my eyes and onto the carpet.
"I'm home, Katara..." I said, my voice so soft that it's trembling. I brought myself to pick my head up, almost sure that I'll see her lying there on her chest with that beautiful smile of hers. But I don't... but I knew the next best thing.
I sniffle and reached inside my bag and pulled out a small picture frame with a sketch of her in it. She was smiling with all the joy and happiness that her body could create, her hands folded out in front of her while her beautiful, long, silky hair blew in the wind. My mouth curved into a happy, longing smile as I set it up on the bed. I placed it in the middle of the mattress and took the bouquet of panda lilies and placed them on the left next to her picture, and placed the candies on the right. I then took out the two joss sticks I had bought earlier, lighting the tips with my fingers and placing them in front of the small picture.
I sniffled again, rubbed my eyes to clear them of the tears as I reached in my jacket. "One more thing..." I said as I pulled out a small brown, rectangular box with the Water Tribe insignia carved onto the lid. I flipped it open, revealing Katara's prized possession: her mother's necklace. I set it down in front of the incense sticks.
I now sat on my knees, my hands placed in my lap as I stared at her picture. I tried my best to smile as I told her, "Happy Anniversary, Katara."
I ran my wrist across my eyes again, "I'm finally home again. I'm sorry I missed our other anniversaries. I shouldn't have done that. But the good news is that I'm here now for this one."
I tried to maintain a smile on my face, but it was becoming harder by the second.
"Hey, remember when...when you agreed to marry me? It was the sixth anniversary of the day we got together. I planned an entire trip to Ba Sing Se just for us. We spent the whole day at that festival that commemorated the end of the War. Then, at the end of the day, I took you to the Jasmine Dragon. I took you out on the balcony and..."
I stopped, my own words starting to twist and turn in my throat as water coursed down my cheeks.
I didn't bother stopping the newly-formed tears from falling into my lap. I began to grip my pants as tightly as I could. I couldn't take it. I couldn't just pretend to be happy it was our anniversary. I wouldn't allow myself to just pretend that I was happy at all, because I wasn't. Not one bit.
You wanna know the truth? The truth is: I didn't want to just sit here in front of this memorial I made from her. I wanted to get up and punch something as hard as I could and imagine it was the monster who took her from me. I wanted to strangle and pound it with steel knuckles for as long as my heart would allow.
"She doesn't deserve this..." I managed to say through my clenched teeth. "What made you think she deserved what you did to her?" I raised my voice, demanding an answer. "What right did you have to take her from me?!" I began to shout, my anger and sorrow gaining control over my actions.
I rose from the ground, walking around the bed and towards the closed window. I grabbed both the shutters and threw them open, revealing the dark sky pouring down rain from the clouds. I hadn't noticed the rain until now. I hadn't even heard the thunderous lightning splitting the sky apart.
I slammed my tightly-clenched fists against the window sill, staring out with a face of anger and rage. An inferno burned in my eyes as I stared up at the sky.
"WHY!?" I shouted as loudly as I could. "WHY DID YOU TAKE HER, YOU DEVILISH BASTARD!? YOU THINK YOU CAN DECIDE WHO LIVES OR DIES!? THEN COME ON! SHOW YOUR STRENGTH!" I continued to shout, watching as streaks of lightning ripped through the sky with loud claps of thunder.
"YOU THINK THAT YOU CONTROL DEATH? WELL, COME ON! STRIKE ME! IF ANYONE DESERVES YOUR PUNISHMENT IT'S ME! I'M THE ONE YOU WANTED TO PUNISH, AREN'T I!? YOU TOOK HER TO PUNISH ME! LET ME TAKE HER PLACE; JUST LET HER LIVE AGAIN!"
My breath became heavy as I just stood there, waiting for one of those bolts of lightning to take me and leave Katara in my place. But it never did...and never would. This was God's way of punishing me for disappearing for so many years. Taking my entire race wasn't enough. He needed to be sure that I paid for all the souls destroyed during the war. He took her to punish me and to help her. For taking her, He could be sure that she was reunited with her mother; the woman who was murdered because of my absence.
Finally, all my anger burst out at once. My eyes clenched shut and I roared with great volume into the sky, releasing an enormous flame from my throat.
I used all the strength and energy I had left in me. By the time I was through, I was gasping for breath as I began to slide down onto the floor. I found myself lying on the ground, breathing heavy as I cried with sorrow, whispering her name every chance I got.
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