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|The Pain Never Dies|
September 19th, 2012
The Pain Never Dies is the forth chapter of Lost Without You. In this chapter, Sokka begins making it his duty to help Aang pull his life back together. However, it doesn't go as planned and things get out of hand.
The illuminating glow of the crescent moon seeped into our room from the open window, allowing the cool February breeze to flow past our skins. Kya was three months old, and Katara and I had just laid her down for bed. Our little joy had certainly made the day as enjoyable as her little mind could imagine. She certainly wore Momo out, as he had fallen asleep in Kya's gentle grasping arms. Now there they lay in the crib, sleeping soundly dreaming peaceful dreams till they awaken to a new day of joy. But the day wasn't just filled with our daughter's happiness, but ours as well. Seeing our daughter happy...well, that was enough to make us happy. But every day had to come to an end, and we had to force ourselves from watching our daughter sleep any longer.
I rested my hand atop hers and gave it a gentle squeeze.
She turned to me with a puzzled look on her face; like I had just yanked her out of the most blissful daydream she could imagine.
"We should follow her lead and head to bed ourselves," I said to her, muscling up an encouraging smile. "I have to get up extra early if I'm going to make it to Ba Sing Se by tomorrow night."
Her eyes trailed away back to our sleeping daughter. "I wish you didn't have to go..." she said in a soft dismay before returning to me, "Can't you just send Anil in your place?"
Me, Sokka, Zuko, Hakoda and Arnook were all meeting Kuei in Ba Sing Se the day after tomorrow. It was part of this arrangement we all made after that whole conflict during the Harmony Restoration Movement. After the Movement was discontinued and Zuko and I founded the United Republic of Nations, we put together an act where all the world's government leaders would meet twice a year—once in the beginning February and again in the beginning of November—to discuss worldly concerns and other subjects of business. Iroh would also make an appearance as one of the Order of the White Lotus' leaders if a certain situation called for it. In the last fifteen years, we've only called in Iroh about once or twice.
"So do I, but these things are necessary in order to keep the peace," I tried to reassure her. "And you know that if I could send Anil, I would. But I'm the only member of the Air Nomads left, and moreover, I'm the Avatar. It's my job to help maintain the only period of peace since the War."
I meant for it sound like I was trying to remain as committed to my Avatar duties as I was to my duties as a husband and father. But I was just as depressed about leaving as she was. Kya was born only three months ago and I wasn't any ready to leave her than I was her mother. Because these meetings were organized so that the world's leaders could meet and solve any problems, I had to leave Katara here because she wasn't a world leader. Sure, she had Suki and all the female Acolytes, but she and I both knew that being apart was like living in an empty world. The only time I didn't have to go to one of those meetings was the past November when Katara was still very pregnant. But that was the only exception. They all understood that with a baby on the way, it wasn't the best time to be traveling and leaving her alone. But now I had to leave both her and Kya alone, and it made me feel ashamed.
She tried her best to make an understanding smile, "I know, and I respect you for that. It's just..." she drifted back to our daughter, "...I hate being without you; you know that," she continued before turning to look into my eyes with love, "I guess I should look on the bright side: I'll have a piece of you right here with me."
I didn't understand at first. I thought she was talking about the island or the Air Acolytes at first, until I saw her glance at our daughter—the combination mine and Katara's love in the most precious form.
I continued to smile at her with assurance. "Come on, let's go to bed," I told her, linking her hand with mine as we strolled over to our king-sized bed, eventually parting ways when our arms would no longer reach the other. We then undressed into our sleeping attire. Katara wore an orange and yellow silk night robe—courtesy of her loving husband—while I undressed into a dark, almost Fire Nation red, orange pair of shorts. Now it was time to head to sleep. We climbed under the sheets and rested our heads against our pillows, ready for a good night's sleep.
Or at least I was...
Not even five seconds after we had laid down I began to feel her fingers walk up my arm and to my shoulder, finally walking up my head until is reached my scalp, where she then began the slide her index finger up and down the middle of my tattoo as she came closer towards me. This was her way of getting the mood started. I knew where she was going with this.
She began to plant light kisses on my cheek while I just lied there, continuing to try and seek sleep.
Apparently she saw that as a sign of resilience, and suddenly climbed over on top of my and straddled my hips, caressing my cheeks as she pressed her lips against mine. I wanted to resist, but I could never resist her lips. Passion took over and my arms wrapped around her waist and I pulled her against my body as we kissed with all our passion. She had that seductive look in her eye when we finally had to break away for breath. It was too alluring, and I almost gave it. But I couldn't, or rather, I didn't want to. Not just yet... But even so, I couldn't show it with my facial expressions.
When Katara caught her breath, she leaned down and began to kiss my neck, sucking on the skin and almost making it impossible to resist her while her hands ran up and down my chest. I admit I was lured into the passionate lust as well, running my hand down to her butt and squeezing it, causing her to moan in pleasure. My free hand rubbed against her back as I nibbled on her earlobe, resulting in throaty moans running against my neck as she continued to suck on the skin. The hand that had been grasping her butt began to rub it as well, resulting in more pleasurable moans. She must have realized that I wasn't receiving as much pleasure from her as she was me, because she transitioned from my neck to my lips, darting her tongue into my mouth and brushing it against my own. She pressed herself harder against me, and I could feel her breasts pressed against the upper portion of my chest.
I couldn't help but give into the lust. I flipped us over, causing her to yelp softly as I now laid on top of her, staring into her crystal blue eyes. One of my hands gripped the back of her head, crashing our lips together and wrestling our tongues while my other hand went to fondle her left breast. My actions nearly made the left side of her robe slide off, and before I knew it, our hips were grinding against one another, releasing passionate throaty moans from our linked lips. We were heading for the limit—the limit I was reluctant to reach until a certain amount of time had passed.
My left hand had begun to remove her robe from her shoulders when I finally found the strength to resist.
I disconnected our lips instantly. "Stop..." I said in a gasp, breathing heavily.
She stared at me, puzzled, "What's wrong? I thought—I thought we were going to make love?" she said in between heavy breaths, making me feel guilty for my decision.
"We were..." I told her, "...but..." I sighed, rolling off of her so that I now lay beside her. I had succeeded to revealing a portion of her breast, seeing as how she then proceeded to cover it with a look of dismay. I continued to breathe a bit heavy, but not as much because of my airbender-enhanced lungs.
"But what?" she questions with disappointment in her voice and her eyes staring at the ceiling, obviously more than just disappointed. She turned her head towards me, "Don't you want to make love to me, though? We haven't done it in almost a year..." her voice began to trail off as she turned back to the ceiling. "I thought that, with me not being pregnant with Kya anymore, we would finally... you know..."
Now I really began to feel guilty. "Of course I do. Next to marrying you and having a child, making love to you is the greatest thing I've ever done with you!"
"Then why don't you want to now?" she questioned, rolling onto her side and propping up her head with her elbow jabbed into the pillow.
I sighed, knowing I'll have to tell her. "For years we tried to get you pregnant, Katara. When we found out Suki couldn't have children, and she and Sokka had been trying for just about as long as we had been, we almost thought that you couldn't have children either. There were nights I heard you crying in the bathroom, and it broke my heart. But...that night that we made Kya, it wasn't even for the purpose of getting you pregnant! It was just pure pleasure, and before we knew it, you were pregnant," I explain as I keep my eyes locked on hers.
"But what does that have to do with making love now? Kya's born, and she's over there in her crib with your pet lemur in a sleeper-hold...literally!" she cried quietly as she gestured a hand towards the crib on the other side of the room.
My eyes trail away from hers as I contemplate my reply. "Kya is only three months old, Katara; if we made love tonight, and just so happened to get you pregnant again, Kya would be only twelve months old by the time you give birth to another child."
"Is that so wrong?" she questioned, puzzled.
"No," I answered quickly, "It's just... What would that say to Kya? I mean, I know you and your brother are only a year apart, but..." I sighed again; knowing I wasn't going to make a real good point; I took a deep breath and started again, "I want to spend as much of my life as I can watching her grow up. If we have another child already, then we'll have to keep up with them both, and of course, the younger one will need more attention for the time being. It could send a bad message to Kya and..." I paused, not knowing how to continue. I just sighed again in defeat, rolling onto my side so that I was no longer facing her, "I'll come clean with you: It's for a selfish reason. I-I want our children to be spaced apart; not born one after another..."
After I said that, it felt like hours of dead silence had passed by, and I was sure that Katara had gone to sleep disappointed in me for stating that we would pay more attention to one child than the other. We had turned away from each other, our backs facing one another as we stared at the walls. But out of nowhere, I felt her lips press softly against my cheek.
"I love you," she said, wrapping her arm around me and pulling herself against me, resting her head in the crook of my neck.
I turned over and returned the kiss, throwing my arm over her curved body as I slid closer. Now we were facing one another, our noses just centimeters apart, looking into each other's eyes, remembering the day we first met, and the many great times and hardships that followed...
Light shined at my now awakened body and blinded my vision as my eyelids popped open, tearing me away from a highly-desired fantasy. Still half asleep, I managed to drift to my left, stupidly and remorsefully expecting to see her there beside me, sleeping soundly in her nightgown. But there was nothing except a plain brown wall. I made a stupid move... For one thing, the bed was designed for only a single user. If two were to try and share it, they'd have to press their bodies against one another. I guess a part of me was hoping that I could still be doing that with her... But that dream, it was different than all the others. Normally my dreams consisted of spending time with both Katara and Kya, but this one seemed to mainly focus only on Katara and me.
I guess I shouldn't be thinking into this too much. After all, these dreams felt completely real.
It wasn't until now that I realized that my brain was being slammed against my skull by a pair of steel fists. I sat up in the bed, rubbing my temples as I grumbled tiredly. I hadn't noticed at the moment that I was completely dressed in my pajamas, but that I had no recollection of changing. That's when I became clear of the previous night and where this great pain in my cranium was coming from. It had to be a hangover, because the only thing I remember for sure is sharing a couple shots with Kazuto, and now I was in my bed, dressed in pajamas, with no recollection of even leaving the bar.
"I'm guessing you slept well..."
The voice came from out of nowhere, but I recognized it immediately.
I turned to see Sokka sitting in a chair on the other side of the room, leaning forward with his arms rested against his legs and fingers enjoined, and a look of patience on his face.
I groaned in disgust, covering my face with my hands in attempt to ease down the incredible force that was smashing against the insides of my head, "How did you get in here?" I demanded with an annoyed tone.
"Well, there's this great invention called a door..."
I rub my eyes to get the eye-boogers out, sniffling softly, "No, I mean who gave you permission to be here?"
I heard the chair creak as he sat back, "If my memory recalls correctly, you did...a long time ago. I believe your exact words were, 'anyone's welcome on Air Temple Island!' Or was that just you being modest?"
I could really go without this smartass attitude of his...
I sniffled again; throwing the covers from off my body and taking a stand that made my vision go black for a short period of time. I slumped over to the desk on the other side of the room, opening my bag and digging through it. I pulled out a shirt and some slacks and gestured them at the councilman.
"You wanna watch me get dressed or would you mind waiting outside?" I said with much rudeness.
He reached under the chair and grabbed a pile of folded orange and yellow clothes and tossed them towards me, "Long as you dress into these."
I caught the clothes in mid-air, immediately knowing that they were—or had been—my regular Air Nomad attire.
I knew that fighting it would be pointless, so I plainly retorted, "Fine..."
Once he left, I put on the change of clothes. It had been quite a while since I had worn these... I believe it was only a few weeks after leaving this city that I changed my fashion sense. I have to admit, however, that I forgot just how appropriate it felt to wear these. A soft curve took over my lips as I looked at myself in the mirror. Maybe... maybe I should start wearing these again?
I slid open the doors to my room to find Sokka waiting just outside. My curving lips turned upside-down as I walked right past him.
"Don't you have work today?" I asked stubbornly as I plotted an escape.
Before I could even get four feet away from him, he was standing right beside me. "I took the day off. Thought you and I could spend a little time together; you know, catch up."
"There's nothing to 'catch up' on... So why don't you just do us both a favor and leave," I inadvertently said aloud.
Dammit, I cursed to myself. Knowing Sokka, he definitely wouldn't have left me alone after that. Odds wer he already saw through my disguise, so it wouldn't matter anyway. If I had to guess, I doubt it was Anil who picked me up from that bar the night before night.
"Sure there is!" he responded cheerfully, "Come on, let's get some breakfast."
I felt like rolling my eyes, but something kept me from doing so and I was tempted to just go along with it. I found myself following him to the Dining Hall where all the other Acolytes were eating their breakfasts. The moment I walked into the room, I was greeted with many friendly smiles and head bows. I just simply tilted my head down a small bit before sitting on my knees at one of the tables in the middle of the room. One of the Acolytes approached us with bowls of some type of egg salad.
Sokka immediately began to consume the meal. Not too surprising... I, on the other hand, was pretty reluctant to eat with this raging headache.
"Try it!" my brother-in-law insisted, "Tastes pretty good!"
What use was there in avoiding the consumption of food? It was just food, and it would probably help with this raging pain. I picked up my chopsticks and proceeded to take a bite. It tasted pretty good! It was definitely better than any other breakfast I've had in a long while. But then again, the female Air Acolytes were always masters at cooking, and so were some of the males, although, the look on Sokka's face made me a bit suspicious. I couldn't explain it, but he seemed a bit—how should I say?—expectant, as if he were waiting for me to make a comment.
"So...? How do you like it?" he asked in hopes of some kind of review.
I'm questioning his intentions at this point, but I simply answered, "It's pretty good."
A confident, proud smile shined off his face, "I would hope so! I made it myself!"
I nearly choked on the leaves of lettuce that were slithering down my throat. Sokka... cooks? Normally Sokka would be one to devour food. I've never been able to imagine him preparing it himself, especially in such large quantities!
But I tried to maintain my attitude. For some strange reason, I don't feel like giving him the satisfaction of another compliment on his cooking. Just that one seemed to be one too many...
I continued my meal, keeping a calm, blank face, "Since when did you learn how to cook?"
"Well, when I can get off early, I like to come home and kick Suki out of the kitchen and prepare dinner myself. I started to feel that Suki was doing too much around the house while I was at work, so I thought that maybe I can learn to cook myself and make dinner for the three of us."
The three of us... Those four words smacked me with guilt and depression.
I felt myself slump forward a bit in reaction, "Oh... I see..." was all I could say.
Sokka was clearly remaining as cheerful as he could. "Yep... I made something similar for Suki and Kya this morning."
That caught my attention. My half-lidded, bored, and drowsy eyes shot open. I had just realized that that was the first time in a long while that I had heard her name said aloud.
"You know, her birthday is coming up real soon..." he reminded me.
I don't think I've ever referred to that day as "Kya's birthday." As far as I can remember, it's only been the day that she was taken from me. Now I knew what Sokka was trying to do. He was trying to guilt-trip me; remind me that I've practically given up Kya to him, and that I haven't seen her since she was only a week old. I wasn't going to let him get through to me, though. I made my decision. It's what was best for both me and Kya. She could grow up with a real family that included both a mother and father, filled with love and support. And I could stop myself from becoming a single father, forced to raise a child that he himself knows he cannot raise well. If I even tried, odds are she'd grow up troubled because she was raised without a mother, and a father that could never understand her like a mother would. I would fail... I didn't need to test that to be sure.
I tried to continue with my meal, but now thoughts of Kya were popping up in my head, making the headache become exponentially stronger. I could hear her cries in my back of my mind, and see that crying child held in my arms on the night she was born. Katara's final words echoed in my head: "Please...take care of Kya, please...take care of Kya, please...take care of Kya..." I couldn't stand it! It was too much!
Before I could even take note of it, my eyes were slowly flooding with water. I tried to hold them back. How could I, though? With these images replaying in my mind, it was like reliving that night all over again, numerous times in a never-ending cycle of repeats.
My chopsticks rested in the bowl leaning on the curve of the circular dishware as I covered my face with my hands, trying to regain control over my emotions. The room became dead silent with the exception of my soft sobs.
"I... I'm sorry, Aang. I didn't mean for you—" Sokka eventually said with remorse.
"Sokka..." I began, wiping my eyes clean of the tears, only for them to resurface seconds later, "...just... leave, please," I sniffled softly, "I'll... I'll come over later, okay? I just... need some time to—"
"I understand," he replied with a soft, almost sad voice. I could tell by the look on his face that he must have been feeling the same thing I was, but unlike me, he had better control over how it was displayed.
I was lying, of course, about coming over. He practically succeeded in putting me on a guilt-trip, or at the very least, a trip of grief. And since I knew him as well as I did, I knew that he would be seeing this as guilt, and he would feel compelled to trust anything I said—which he did. Just moments later, he and all the other Acolytes left the room, giving me my privacy. In a way, I guess you could say it was all an act. The tears and emotions were real; however, everything else might as well have been staged. I wanted to be alone, and I knew just how to do it. I admit... it is kind of sick to use such grief and use it as an advantage to keep others out of my business, but it was certainly an effective strategy, if nothing else.
I eventually found myself on the other side of the island, near the bison caves. The bison should have already been fed, so I wouldn't have to worry about anyone following me down here. I needed to be alone, and I needed booze. But I no long had any money to purchase it with. I knew that I couldn't have spent a whole six hundred yuans at a single bar on a single night. I was quick to come to a conclusion—Sokka had confiscated the money so that I couldn't go off and get drunk again. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Sokka's no idiot... He probably knew that even if I promised to come over—like I had just done—I would get out of it by going and drinking myself to sleep or God knows what else.
Either way, he hadn't confiscated my smokes. I was a bit surprised by that. Maybe he just didn't find them. Good thing, too, because if he had opened them and found that joint I got from Kazuto, I'd be in some real trouble. Since I couldn't get any alcohol, I decided that the nicotine would be a worthy substitute.
I made sure I was alone, glancing in every direction. Not a soul in sight... I proceeded to flip over the lid of the carton, popping up a single cigarette. I hesitated to grasp it, staring at the tipped roll of marijuana. I wonder... Would this drug truly work better than alcohol and cigarettes ever could? I contemplated on whether or not I should try and find out. I felt a strong urge to just light it and see for myself. But a part of me was screaming at me, questioning why I was even thinking over this with so much consideration. Eventually, I made a decision. I proceeded to take the cigarette I had popped out of the carton. I placed the tip on my lips and snapped my fingers.
All of a sudden, I heard a low, almost menacing growl that nearly made my heart jump out of my chest. I turned to the source and saw Appa, my trusty and beloved sky bison. Only now had I realized that I haven't seen him since I got back. I decided to ignore him and once again snapped my fingers, producing a small flame. Appa growled once more, this time much angrier.
I sent him an annoyed look as the flame disappeared, "What's your problem?" I demanded, removing the cigarette from my lips. "You've been fed, haven't you?"
The hairy bison groaned softly, lying down on its belly and keeping its gaze locked onto me. I made a "humph" of annoyance and just put paper-wrapped tobacco back on my lips. I once again made an attempt to light it. Instead of growling, this time Appa blew a soft breeze of wind at me from his mouth that sent the cigarette flying over into one of nearby bushes.
I spun around, "Hey!" I snapped. "What did you do that for?"
He just snorted in disapproval. Knowing him for so long, I knew exactly why. The old version of me would have never smoked, and Appa hadn't known that I had changed some of my ways. He didn't want me to light it, but it wasn't his choice.
I scoffed, "Things change, Appa. People change... and you're just going have to accept that," I told him, proceeding to take out yet another cigarette as I walked away from his stable. I could tell that his eyes had followed me until I was out of sight.
As the day continued on, I found that I couldn't go any longer without booze. The nicotine wasn't enough. I could still hear her voice replaying over and over again in my head. I was going crazy. I needed that voice to stop! I knew I needed to obtain money somehow. I couldn't just give up because Sokka had taken my money. Besides, I had a safe that I kept in my office in the main portion of the temple.
You remember how I told you all that the government would always send me money for my Avatar duties? Well, let's just say that they pay their Avatars handsomely well. Anyways, I knew that we wouldn't need all that money; at least, not anytime soon. So what I did was stash the majority of it in that safe. There were only two people in the world that knew the where it was hidden and its combination: Katara and I, so not even Sokka could get a hold of that money even if he tried. I needed to be sure that safe could never be broken into. Safes are usually made of steel, and with Toph's Metalbending Academy and police force of metalbenders, one of them could easily break into it. I could never allow that to happen. The money that was stashed in there, it was there for a purpose and one purpose only. When I passed away, the government would stop sending money, because it was given as a sort of "thanks" for performing my Avatar duties. Even if Katara is my wife, they wouldn't send her money for no reason whatsoever. It was nothing personal... just business. So if I were to be killed or one day die unexpectedly, I needed to be sure that the Acolytes, Katara, and any children we may have had would be financially secure for a long time, and by the time any of it ran out, hopefully, they'd find a new way to make ends meet. There must be at least 500,000 yuans in that safe by now. And like I said, I could never allow anyone to break into it, not even law enforcement. So I had the safe made out of platinum—a metal so pure that apparently even Toph couldn't bend it. Besides Katara and me, the only person who knew about the safe was the metalworker who constructed it. I know that you may be thinking that I may be a little overprotective over it, but this was the money that would keep my wife from having to deal with something like financial stability when I passed on, and if any of our children decided to go to a university, we'd be able to pay for it.
I went up to my office, suddenly becoming very nostalgic as I entered the room. There was a rug placed across the middle of the room, with a chair placed in the corner beside the doorway. My desk was placed near the back of the room, just in front of a circular bookcase that held several books and scrolls. There were times that I had to spend countless hours in here, going through all sorts of stressful and complicated documents. As I stared into the room, an old memory of mine began to come to life before my eyes. An almost transparent figure in my form, only about twelve years younger, sat at the desk with a pile of papers stacked high, as well as multiple papers from that very stack laid out across the desk. I sat there with a feathered pen in my hand, my elbow resting against the edge as I rubbed my temple in frustration.
What came next was a strange sight. An almost transparent Katara, who was instead seven years younger (since she died five years ago), walked right through me and into the room with a small tray carrying a small cup of tea and a bowl of rice in her hands. As she came around to my side of the room, she used a single hand to wipe the papers out from in front of me and replaced them with the tray.
"Hey, I was reading those!" my younger self snapped.
She didn't seem fazed by my tone, placing a kiss on the top of my smoothly-shaved head as she rested a hand on my shoulder.
"You need to eat..." she told me affectionately.
I shook my head and slid the tray away and swiping a document back in front of me, "I don't have time to eat; I told you that. I need to get this stuff done."
As always, she wouldn't take that as an answer. She once again slid the papers away and replaced them with the food. "There's no way you can work on an empty stomach."
"Katara, I don't have time! You know that when I have piles of work to do I need to be left alone! I appreciate the consideration, but I don't need you interrupting what is already nerve-racking," I snapped once again, this time much harsher and irritated than before.
I tried to get back to my work, but she grabbed my shoulders and pulled them against the back of the chair. I tried to pull away, but she gave me a firm "stay" and I gave in. Her soft, tender, beautiful hands began to rub up and down my shoulders and collarbones, making me become very relaxed. I lied back in my seat, my head swaying left and right from the relief of stress. It continued like that for a few minutes until she caressed my chin, pulling my head back so that I was staring up at her to receive a loving kiss from her lips to mine.
"Feel like eating now?" she asked so softly it was practically in a whisper.
I smiled and nodded, "Yeah... I'm sorry."
I remembered having several of these moments with her. They were practically the same thing over and over again—me busy, her trying to help me, me snapping at her for it, and her eventually relaxing me. I'm surprised that we—or actually, I—never learned to just accept she was trying to do. To this very day, I find it amazing that she never got tired of it. She always just went along with it and insisted that she do her best to relax me. No matter what I said... she never got mad, she never got annoyed, she never even said a word that would make me feel ashamed of it. I wish she had, though. Maybe then it wouldn't have happened so frequently.
With the memory faded away, I close the door behind me and proceeded to find the safe. I approached the bookshelf and removed an entire shelf of books and placed them on the desk. Then, I removed one of the shelves itself and set it aside. By removing the books and shelf, I revealed a dark-brown, pry resistant recessed door with concealed hinges that was built into the wall when I constructed the temple. On the middle-right side of the door was a small keyhole. I turned around and opened one of the drawers in my office desk and scuffled around until I found a small brown envelope. I opened it and found a small key.
I told you that I was protective of this safe...
Once I found the key to the compartment, I unlocked the door and opened it to find the platinum safe. I twisted the dial, entering the complex combination I had set for it over fifteen years ago. As I did this, I remembered my whole reason for even having this safe made. Now it seemed I wasted all that money on the platinum for nothing...
The lock clicked as I entered the final digit. I grabbed the small handle and pulled it downwards, opening the small door to the safe. Inside were piles of yuans stacked all the way to the roof of this box of protection. I don't believe I've ever been is such desperation for money in my life as I grabbed single stack of bills that rounded out to about 200 yuans. I needed no more than that. Once done, I put everything back the way it should be. It looked as though nothing had been touched, and even the books were placed back on the shelf in the same position they had been before, with one book leaning against the side of the shelf's wall.
Hours had passed. The sun was a bright; blinding orange as it tinted the sky with that very same orange, only weaker, with small traces of blue and purple joining it to give a perfect, beautiful sunset. If only I had taken the time to enjoy it. Instead, after withdrawing 200 yuans from my personal "bank", I roamed around the city aimlessly with a newly purchased bottle of whiskey in my hand, hidden inside a brown paper bag.
I must have allowed that bottle to last until sundown, since I had bought it near noon and it was already sundown. A new record! Usually it took me three whole bottles. I must be getting better at this...whatever this is.
Over the course of the day, I debated with myself several times on whether to light that joint hidden in my pack of cigarettes. If it was any consolation, I still hadn't. I thought to myself, Maybe I can find Kazuto at the bar and get him to take this thing back.
So that's what I did.
I went to the very same bar just around the time I had the night before. I promised myself to not start drinking while I was there. If I started, I probably wouldn't be able to stop. Not in this state of emotion. I was lucky to even be around it all and control it.
But... that didn't last long.
I never took the time to change out of my Air Nomad attire before I left. The moment I got hold of that money, I might as well have been a homeless man who just won the lottery. I had roamed around the city wearing those clothes, chugging down alcohol on the streets in front of random wanderers. They may have been random, but I certainly wasn't. How many men do you see wearing Air Nomad attire while chugging down alcohol from a paper bag? They could have considered the fact that I was a troubled Acolyte, or figured it out altogether.
It's not like mine and Katara's marriage was a secret, and neither was her death. The entire city knew of the happily married couple who were the Avatar and daughter of the Southern Water Tribe chief. When she died, it wouldn't take long for the whole city, the nation, and possibly, even the world to hear of the news that the Avatar who saved all their lives had just become a widow.
I didn't even spend twenty minutes in that bar when I began to hear my name in a nearby conversation. It was like being in that Fire Nation school I had enrolled in for only a few days all over again, watching them all cast glances before whispering back to their classmates, except it wasn't a whole student body and instead a couple of surprisingly sober bums gossiping.
"That guy over there—sitting at the bar counter—don't you know who he is?" one of them asked another.
"How should I know?" he asked. "All those Acolytes look the same to me..."
"Maybe so, but do all those Acolytes have arrows on their hands?"
Dammit, I thought, twirling around in the barstool so that I now faced the numerous bottles of liquor and glassware that were placed on shelves against the wall. My hair may have been long enough to cover my arrow from a distance, but the arrows on my hands were left totally exposed. It was no doubt that the man had seen them.
"Dude, you can't be serious..." the man continued with question. "Everyone knows that Avatar Aang is a monk, the last of his kind. Implying that that's him over there, in a freaking bar, is like saying that turtle-ducks can fly. Besides, everyone knows he left Republic City five years ago, and no one's seen him since."
"Do you even know why he left?"
"Who doesn't? His wife died in her sleep, probably poisoned."
"That's not what I heard..."
I heard the other man sigh irritably, "Okay, smartass... What did you hear?"
Shut up... I mentally warned the other patron, who was storming full-steam-ahead into a conversation that I knew would throw me over the edge.
"Well, you do know that she was, like, eight months pregnant the night she died, right?"
"Common knowledge nowadays..." the other patron said, not seeming amused. "But go on..."
I wouldn't advise that...
"I heard that she actually died giving birth. I think I heard it was a daughter. Or was it a son? Either way, some say that after her funeral, he gave his child up to Councilman Sokka—"
"His brother-in-law...?" the other man interrupted.
"Yeah, and as we all know, he left for almost five years. But it looks like he's back..."
"Where'd you hear all this from anyway? How do I know you aren't just pulling my leg?"
Just make him shut his mouth!
"This guy I know heard it from one of the healers Avatar Aang had hired."
The man scoffed, "Whatever... Assuming that is what happened, you can't possibly still be thinking that bum over there is Avatar Aang. I mean, just look at his hair—it's all over the place! Avatar Aang's head was always shaven; he'd never let it grow out that much."
"Maybe he's changed..." the gossiper continued. "He lost his wife and gave up his child already—wouldn't surprise me if he started drinking. I'm surprised myself, actually. You'd think that even if he lost his wife, he'd at least give her the courtesy of raising their child. Instead he just ran away..."
By now, I had ordered a shot of vodka. Vodka didn't exactly agree with my system all the time, and after consuming almost two shot-glasses full of it, I wouldn't have much control over what I was about to do next.
I stood up from the bar and began approaching the two patrons who were still carrying on a conversation. By now they were playing a game of darts on the other side of the room. As soon as I got close to them, the gossiper became immediately afraid.
"Looks like you were right about that guy being Avatar Aang," the other man said to his friend. He turned to me, seemingly friendly, "Look, he's an idiot—a guy who loves spreading rumors that aren't true. We had no intention of offending you."
I had no control over myself, and after everything they had said, I didn't really care.
"What gives either of you the right to talk about my wife or her death, or my daughter for that matter?" I demanded darkly.
"But it's true, isn't it?" the gossiper cried out, demanding an answer while pointing a finger at me accusingly.
Using quick speed, I grabbed the man's finger, twisting his arm around to the point where if I twisted anymore, it'd easily break his arm. "Whether it is true or not is none of your business," I said and got a firm grasp on his upper arm, just below the elbow, and his wrist and twirled him around, sending him stumbling backwards and ramming his back into the corner of a pool table.
A couple patrons were playing at that table, and one of them had set their bottle of beer on the corner that I had thrown the guy into. When he was rammed into the corner, he had knocked it over and it spilled all over the green layout, with some of it seeping into the slots the corners. They threw curses at him left and right, but surprisingly, no one took a swing at him. Good... I wanted to do that myself.
I grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, which was stained with dirt, and lifted him off his feet. He was looking into my eyes with fear, and it was clear that he was sorry for what he had said. Too bad he hadn't been earlier.
"I-I'm sorry for what I said; just please don't hurt me!" he pleaded hopefully.
He pulled him closer to my face, "You should have thought about that before!" I then threw him against the wall. His back slammed against it, creating a damaging hole in the plaster. He landed on his hands and knees, groaning softly as his friend came to his aid, asking if he were okay.
"Your friend should learn to use his manners," I said harshly as I proceeded to leave the bar.
The moment I turned around, I immediately heard—or rather felt—a piece of earth being removed from the ground. Using the seismic sensing Toph had taught me, I determined the actions taking place behind me. The man that I had shoved into the wall was an earthbender who decided to exact revenge. He removed a rock from the ground of the building, and given the bottom of it sharp points so that I'd be punctured with small stabs when it made contact with my body. He jabbed the earth forward at rocket speed. But I had already anticipated the trajectory of the object. In one swift motion, I caught and crushed the rock from behind and spun around, forming a flame in my fist that I then shot at my attacker. The flame hit him square in the chest and he was pounded against the wall once again, only this time he fell flat on his face, unconscious, rather than catching himself with his hands and knees.
The friend looked to me with shock and horror. "What have you become?" he asked, his whole body quavering.
I scoffed, "Like you ever really knew me..." I said coldly in his face and turned back around, only to be greeted with several staring, shocked eyes directed at me personally. The whole bar had been frozen in time. Patrons playing pool had their cue sticks in hand, standing straight up in the air beside them, drinkers sat at tables with glasses of whiskey that had barely been touched, and even the bartenders had stopped what they were doing. I scanned the room with my eyes. Each and every set of eyes was either full of surprise or fear, and sometimes even both. It was like they were all waiting for me to move, to move even a single muscle so they could all cower behind something. My drunken self didn't feel any change in emotion. I simply continued forward, snatching a shot of tequila from the bar counters and snapping the glass towards my mouth, sending the alcohol directly down my throat. I breathed out my refreshment in satisfaction as I threw the glass straight to the ground, spreading shards of glass all over the floor.
I threw open the door and left the establishment, leaving behind a crowd of stares.
About five or ten minutes had passed as I drunkenly and aimlessly roamed the streets. I didn't know where I was going or what I was intending to do. I just seemed to be walking just to be walking. That is, until something changed up the night.
All of a sudden, I heard a firm, seriously tone say from behind me, "Avatar Aang, I'm going to need you to come with me."
I knew the nature of his voice. It had come from a law enforcer—one of Toph's law enforcers. It was exactly how she had trained them. "Keep firm and stable. Show them that they have to listen to you now." That's what she would tell them. I was always amazed at how much they respected her. Being trained by her was like buying a one-way ticket to a Hell of pain and aching muscles. Either way, they still formed a great and productive law enforcement program. Too bad I was now one of their targets...
I turned around with a friendly, slightly-drunken smile, "What seems to be the problem, officer?"
The officer kept a firm, almost stone expression on his face. He tried to show he had no problem arresting me, but even though his face showed it, his eyes didn't. It was like they were shaking in their sockets. He was utterly nervous, but he tried not to show it. Inside, I was smiling deviously. Getting out of this would be easy.
"I've received a report from dozens of witnesses down the street that you assaulted a civilian and refused to pay for your drinks. I'm sorry, but you'll have to come downtown with me," he said, trying to refrain from allowing his voice to shake.
"Sorry, but I have plans tonight," I lied.
He shook his head, gesturing to the canister on his belt, "Avatar Aang, I won't hesitate to bring you in by force if I must."
I snorted in a mocking way, "That wouldn't be a very good idea," I warned him.
He turned to the canister and attempted launch one of the metal wires towards me. This is when his whole firm attitude began to die on him. His hands began shaking like an earthquake, and all I could hear was the sound of metal slapping against metal as he tried to extend the wires rolled up inside. I practically waited for him to succeed in extending them for at least a whole minute before I simply turned away from him, laughing as I continued to stroll down the street.
I wasn't able to take even four steps before I sensed an attack approaching. The sound of metal scraping against metal made me alert. A single metallic wire shot out of the canister attached to the officer's belt. I quickly spun around, dodging the wire by just an inch as I shot a hand forward, sending a blast of air at the officer that knocked him off his feet.
"I told you that it wouldn't be a good idea..." I mocked him as I laughed arrogantly. I began to turn around when one of the wires wrapped around my left wrist. I shot an angry look at the officer as he proceeded to whip out another wire. I wouldn't let him take me that easily. I fired a small flame at his hands, which made him move them away from the canister to prevent from being burned. I pulled at the wire wrapped around my wrist, trying to throw him off his feet so that the grip would loosen enough that I could slip free. But he had strength—I'll give him that. I pulled and pulled, but he didn't let up. I proceeded to launch another ball of fire before I heard an additional set of voices.
"What's going on over there!" one of them shouted.
"Arrest him," the officer I was struggling with told them.
I shot a look at them. I extended my right hand at them, curling my fingers and swiping my hand across them. The movements created a trail of broken, shattered earth directly in front of them. Before they even had the chance to take note of it, they had already tripped over it and fallen flat on their faces. I then proceeded to launch a ball of fire at the officer in front of me. But using his free hand, he pulled up a wall of earth in front of him, blocking the flame and dispersing it instantly.
Immediately after that, I felt wires wrap around my torso, suspending my arms to my sides. Directly after that, a set of wires wrapped around the lower portion of my legs, pulling them against one another and causing me to lose balance and fall flat on my face. My head turned to the side as it made contact with the pavement. I hit the ground with a soft grunt, opening my eyes to show a raging flame in them.
"You okay?" one of the supporting officers asked the one that had approached me.
"Yeah, fine. Thanks for the backup."
"Do we have an ID on this guy?" the other supporting officer asked.
"Yes; his name is Aang—Avatar Aang."
I heard them both gasp as I struggled to break free of the wires. I mentally cursed Toph for not teaching me how to bend metal, but then I cursed myself for not taking the chance when I had it.
"Are you positive?" the first supporting officer asked.
"If the attire doesn't prove it, it would have to be the fact that he used both air and earthbending against me..." he began, "plus, he has the notable tattoos on his hands and forehead."
"Never in all my years would I have ever imagined having someone like Avatar Aang in custody..." said the second officer in disgrace. "Wait, are those smokes?"
I managed to move my head enough to see the pack of cigarettes that had fallen out of my robes sometime during the struggle lying on the ground just a couple inches away from me.
The responding officer bent down and picked them from off the ground. I immediately became worried, with beads of sweat forming the edge of my hairline. The joint was still hidden inside, and if they so much as opened the package, they'd have to be complete idiots to not notice it. I continued to try and struggle out of the wires' tight grip, but it was futile. I was forced to give in and remain helpless. I watched from the corner of my eye as the man flipped open the package.
He shook his head disgracefully, "Now I'm really disappointed in you, Avatar Aang..."
I rolled my eyes, cursing myself with every word in the book.
"What? What'd you find?" one of the officers asked.
He removed the rolled-up drug from the package. "Marijuana," he answered simply, holding it in his fingers for showcasing.
The first officer sighed, "Well, we better get him down to headquarters. I'm sure Chief Beifong would like a word with him."
I groaned loudly. Just kill me now...
It was a half-hour until midnight, and the main lobby was mostly empty, with only a couple clerks at their desks doing paperwork. Most of the officers were off duty, spending time with their families at home. There were only a number of officers on duty who took hold of the night shift, and most of them were out patrolling at the moment, with only a couple waiting to respond as backup.
The night had been quiet so far. Barely any arrests had been made in the last five hours. The most that had ever came through that door tonight were a couple petty criminals busted for breaking-and-entering. That is... until I arrived in one of their police carriages with my hands resting in my lap. After they had read me my rights and placed me in one of their wagons, they removed the wires from my arms and legs, and replaced them with handcuffs to keep my hands from doing anything irrational, while the second responding officer kept an eye on me with his hands placed close to his canister of metallic wires, ready to launch them at any moment if I made any sudden moves. The box I was being held in was like a small cell. It was made completely of metal, with windows on each side of the room, blocked by steel bars. The only way out of it was the same way in, and only a metalbender could open the door by bending a series of miniature locks concealed inside the door.
We drove for about twenty or so minutes before we came to a stop in front of the police headquarters. I heard the two officers riding in front get out while the guard and I were left alone. The entire ride I had been staring at the floor, but I knew with an utmost certainty that the man sitting directly across from me was eying me with scorn. Could I blame him? I mean, seriously? I was the Avatar, and co-founder of this city, not only that, I prevented an entire country from being destroyed and helped prevent another outbreak of war, and now here I was, arrested for a number of offenses that no one could have anticipated I would commit.
Inside, the two officers found Toph roaming the lobby, just waiting for someone to get busted so she could interrogate them and put them behind bars—if only for a short while, until a trial began.
"Well, Akio... Looks like you actually made an arrest for once," said Toph teasingly.
"Yes, we did. I was first on report and Officer Chan and his partner assisted me when the situation got out of hand."
Toph nodded in approval, "So it sounds like the offenses are assault on an officer and evading arrest, right?"
The officer known of Akio nodded, "His first offense began with an assault on an innocent civilian at a local bar and damaged the property in the process, as well as leaving in a form of robbery by not paying his bill. After assaulting me, Officer Chan and his partner, he tried to evade arrest. After subduing him, we discovered marijuana concealed inside a pack of cigarettes."
Toph seemed impressed by the officers' work. "Well done; not bad for a bunch of rookies such as yourselves. So, have you yet to identify this man?"
"Yes... we have," answered Akio, becoming a bit nervous.
"Well, then, give me his name so I can put it on his record."
"You, uh, might want to reconsider that." It was Officer Chan who had spoken this time.
"Oh? And why is that?"
"Just trust me on this one..."
Toph scoffed, "With offenses like these, I'd love to know the name of this sorry sap," she began amusingly before quickly demanding, "So out with it!"
The two officers exchanged glances and Akio sighed nervously. "The culprit's name is... well, it's Avatar Aang," he blurted out quickly, unable to deliver the news slowly.
Toph was practically holding in that old belly laugh of hers when she heard my name come out of his mouth. It took her a moment to pull herself together and retake control of her serious attitude.
"You got to be joking, right? Avatar Aang hasn't even set foot in this city for the last five years. I know him personally, and I can assure you that he'd never commit these types of crimes, or any for that matter."
"We're not joking, chief. It is really him; the tattoos prove it, not to mention his attire."
Toph became questionably silent after that. Her eyes stared up at the ceiling—not that it even made a difference. She remained like that for a while before taking in a deep breath and sighing in an almost annoying way.
"Bring him in and take him to the interrogation room immediately; don't take the time to book him or file a report. I want to have a couple words with him first..."
The two officers bowed respectively to her, "Yes, Ma'am," they said in unison before heading back out to the police carriage I was being held in. They opened the door and ordered me to disembark the carriage. The guard keeping an eye on me followed closely behind as I leaped down out of the miniature cell and onto the ground. The two officers gripped my arms tightly as they "escorted" me into their headquarters.
They escorted me down a narrow hallway. The walls were all blank—no pictures, no plaques, no nothing. It was just a narrow hallway that was like a one-way trip to Toph's world of harsh words and scorning. I have to say that I wasn't looking any more forward to seeing her than I was anybody else from my past. In fact, she would be last in line if I had to form one out of all the people I didn't want to see. Sokka would be right in front of her.
Toph always said she would recognize my "twinkle-toes" anywhere. Well, I guess she still did. When we entered the lobby heading for the interrogation room, she turned in my direction, looking straight at me even though she was blind.
My pace slowed down almost to a halt before the officers shoved me forward and ordered that I continued at the same pace.
The interrogation room was basically a large metal box. The only way to get in or out was to use metalbending. An opening about the size of a doorway slid to the side and into the wall in response to one of the officer's movements. They walked—or rather, pushed—me into the room. There was nothing inside but a steel table and two chairs facing each other, and a single lamp concealed in the ceiling that illuminated the room. There were cuffs attached to the table to keep criminals from doing anything harming to the interrogator and any other person accompanying them in the room. After linking the cuffs together, they removed the other set of handcuffs and took a couple steps back, placing their hands behind their backs.
The wall slid open and immediately closed after Toph stepped in. She directed her attention to the three officers.
"Give us some time alone, you three," she ordered in a respectful manner.
It amazed me how much her attitude had changed in the years since I met her.
She maintained a friendly smile as she sat down across from me. "Nice to see you back in town, Aang. Too bad we couldn't meet on better circumstances..."
"Are you kidding?" I began sarcastically, "I did all of this just so I could see you!"
I frown formed on her face. "So, I heard you were arrested for assault, robbery, damaging property, assaulting an officer, resisting arrest, and possession of marijuana..."
"I wasn't planning on lighting it!" I barked defensively.
"That doesn't matter, Aang. Possession of any illegal drug, whether with the intention of use or not, is punishable by law."
"I remember a time when all you cared about were breaking rules..." I retorted wryly.
"Look, let's just cut to the chase," she began. "I just have one question: What in the hell is the matter with you!" she cried out as she suddenly stood up from her seat, planting her hands hard against the table.
I tilted my head to the side in amusement. I was still a bit intoxicated, though, so it wasn't like it wasn't expected.
Suddenly, a peephole was revealed by the sliding of a metal place as one of the officers peered in.
"Chief, Councilman Sokka is here."
Toph kept her eyes fixated on me, "I'll be out there in a minute..." she responded. The peephole was concealed once again.
"Hm... Looks like Sokka's here to bail me out," I said with a crooked smile.
Toph snorted in doubt, "Just because we're friends, don't think you are going to get off so easily—even if you are the Avatar."
She spun around and exited through the sliding metal plates. Sokka was sitting in the lobby on one of the benches, a sense of tiredness in his eyes. He had received word of the arrest from many of the patrons at the bar I had been at. It was the first place he looked for me, since that was where he found me the previous night. When he saw Toph approaching him, he immediately stood up and proceeded to meet her halfway.
"So what did he do?" he asked with an annoyed tone.
"What, no friendly greeting?"
"Toph, right now, I'm not exactly in a friendly mood. Just tell me..."
She sighed, "He's being held for assaulting a civilian and three officers, robbery, property damage, resisting arrest, and possession of marijuana..."
A flame of anger sparked in Sokka's eyes as he breathed inwards out of aggravation. But it didn't last long as he began to think of the consequences of my actions. He exhaled all the anger in a sigh, "He'll have to spend about two years behind bars with offenses like those..."
The chief shrugged, "Sokka, I'm not worried about the offenses—I can take care of those. It's Aang that's worrying me," she sympathetically said. "This is nothing like him... The smoking, the drinking, and now the acquiring of drugs? What could be going through his head?"
Sokka sent her a disgusted look, as if the answer was obvious. "What happened five years ago is what!"
"But he's dealt with death before, hasn't he? Finding out his entire race had been killed didn't spark this kind of behavior," she stated.
"But he didn't have to watch it happen. He watched Katara die... and so did I; not to mention Suki and my father. But you were nowhere to be found! We couldn't even notify you of what happened until a day later because you were just trying to stay as busy as possible."
Toph placed her hands on her hips, "How was I supposed to know she was going to come a month early! It's not my fault I wasn't there!"
Sokka rubbed his eyes and sighed regrettably, "I know... I'm sorry I keep bringing that up. I just—I get a bit out of hand when that subject comes around."
"I know," said the earthbender, placing a comforting hand on Sokka's shoulder. "So what are we going to do about Aang?"
The councilman took a few moments to think it through. "You think you can get the charges dropped?"
She shrugged, "I probably can, but considering that there were a total of four physical assaults, it won't be easy to convince the victim and my officers otherwise. Not to mention what kind of message that could send. The public wouldn't be too keen towards the idea of letting Aang roam free just because he's the Avatar."
Sokka knew she was right. "What if we could find another sentence?"
The earthbender grasped her chin in thought, "We could put him under house arrest? If we do that, we could try and force him into changing his ways."
He shook his head in the negative, "We both know Aang doesn't respond well to force. With the state he is in now, he'd do anything to get out of it. I doubt he'd think twice about running away again and going into hiding."
"Well, what do you think we should do?"
He made a contemplative hum. "Perhaps we should put him under house arrest. Kya's birthday is coming up... If I can convince Aang to go, then maybe once he sees Kya, it will make him change his ways."
The chief formed a doubtful frown on her face, "You don't really think will work, do you?"
"It's worth a shot," he shrugged hopefully.
She sighed deeply, "Alright, we'll go with your idea. But if it doesn't work, we'll do it my way," she finished sternly.
A smirk appeared on her face, "You'll see..."
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