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|Laying Memories to Rest, Part 2|
15 October 2011
This is part two of Laying Memories to Rest. For more details, read
The story, part 2
They came back before King Kuei, the infamous Catacombs now closed once more. "Your majesty, thank you for the opportunity to allow us to explore. I feel like our experience brought us even closer together. Although some awful memories lie below, I still think this was for the best," Aang spoke, finishing with a bow before the Earth King.
The young King simply nodded his head lightly to his side, etching a smile onto his features as he replied. "Whatever it was that this helped you with, I am glad for. If the Earth Kingdom can be of any more help to you, you need but to ask, Avatar Aang." Katara feigned a smile, gazing doubtfully toward Aang from the corner of her eyes. Just a little excessive...
"Thank you very much. Now then, we shall take our leave, as we would like lunch at the Jasmine Dragon," Aang spoke once more. "Enjoy the remainder of your day."
"Thank you again for all you've done for us, sir." Katara chimed after Aang with a dipping bow of her head.
He waved his hand, offering a soft chortle to the couple before him. "Go on, attend to the rest of your day, don't forget our national peace meeting next month, Avatar. Farewell."
"Farewell, sir," Aang said as they prepared to depart. The two left Kuei's chamber and started on the path towards the Jasmine Dragon, looking forward to seeing the Dragon of the West once more, and to enjoy the remainder of their last day in the Earth Kingdom Capital. Aang couldn't help but feel regretful, however, about forcing Katara to visit the Catacombs again.
Having walked hand in hand for some time, Katara suddenly slowed her pace as they entered the street leading to their destination. Her grip on his hand tightened, holding him back at the pace she had slowed to. Her eyes remained honed upon the finely crafted stone paths of the Upper Ring beneath her feet. "Um, Aang, there's something I want to say."
A mix of thoughts entered his mind suddenly. She's upset with me, I know it... "What?" He idly whispered, keeping up with the tight grip.
"It's about Iroh." She stated bluntly, allowing a moment of quiet to settle in before mustering her will to continue. "I owe him my life, we both do. In the catacombs, after you fell, he gave himself up to give me time to escape with you through the waterfall." She turned her eyes toward Aang, no smile upon her as she stared at him pensively. "If not for him I wouldn't have left..."
"Wow..." he worked to process these events. "I never knew that...I guess I should talk to him about it," he finally spoke. "Without him....we wouldn't be here, right now, and after all that happened today, I guess it is only appropriate that we have this chance to see him now."
"I never did say anything to him about that." She agreed, lifting her head to lay her eyes upon the handsome arches of the Jasmine Dragon. "Or anyone, really. Now that we're here I kind of feel bad that I never thanked him, he could have died for us."
"Well, here is your chance, Katara," he smiled at her. "I will have to properly thank him as well." The two headed into the upscale tea shop, which was gathering great business on its first day back in operation. However, people quickly took notice of the Avatar and his girlfriend, trying to get a chance to talk to them.
Katara forced a smile as she waved at the excited crowd that engulfed them. Pressing her teeth together, she leaned into Aang and whispered into his ear unhappily. "Maybe some other time; your popularity precedes you, Avatar..."
Before they could turn to leave, Aang heard an older voice fill the room.
"All right, all right, leave the young folks alone," the old man started to settle the crowd that surrounded the two. "Give them some air!" He chuckled as he approached. "Avatar Aang and Katara, it is a pleasure to see you two again. I'm glad you have made it to the re-opening of my shop."
A little child, barely eight, refused to leave and stood defiantly in front of Aang with an upturned face. He smiled at Aang, as if he were a dear friend, before speaking out. "Avatar Aang, will you come to my birthday party tomorrow?" Katara snaked her arm around Aang's arm, tugging him against her side as she bubbled over with joy at this, nudging Aang to accept.
The young Avatar placed himself face to face with young child that stood before him. "Of course I will. I can see you are a special child, and Katara and I would be honored to attend," he smiled and shook the child's hand. "We shall see you tomorrow."
"Yay! The Avatar is coming to my birthday party!" He bellowed out before even taking the time to properly return Aang's handshake, bolting back towards his family who welcomed him eagerly.
Iroh smiled warmly, reaching out to lightly slap Aang's shoulder. "I hardly expected to see the two of you for this special occassion, and you honor my guests. What more could a man want?" He stepped forward and grabbed Katara by her shoulder as well, jerking her so that she nearly gasped in surprise as both her and Aang were pulled against him with a firm embrace.
Aang grew sort of awkward at the sudden grasp of Iroh. "Yes, it's great to see you too," he got out amidst the ex-General's embrace. After Iroh released them, Aang pondered if he should thank him now or wait. "We heard about the Jasmine Dragon re-opening, and the luncheon you planned. We figured, since it's been a while, we'd come in and have ourselves a meal."
"That's really nice what you did for those four boys." Katara added kindly, appreciation beaming up into the old, 'retired' man's golden eyes.
"It's nothing, really." He grinned smugly and turned away, slipping nonchalantly behind his establishment's front desk. "Those boys have reformed, and I earned sixteen new customers including their family. It's good for business." He added wryly, toying a grin at the couple before him.
The Avatar chuckled slightly. "That is pretty good," he added. "Katara is right though, very nicely done. Now, do you have a table for two available on the terrace?" Aang followed Katara's earlier-mentioned desire.
"Of course, with Ba Sing Se's finest view of the Middle Ring, if I may humbly add." He boasted playfully, slipping out two empty, white teacups with jade patterns racing along their side. He set these two on a silver tray, before grabbing up an empty teapot with one hand and slapping two menus on the tray, atop two saucers. "Right this way, birds of the sea."
As the two fell in behind their host, Katara meagerly called out for his attention. "Iroh...thank you."
The old man's head peered back over his shoulders at the couple in tow, lifting an eyebrow to wrinkle his aged forehead in wonder. "You are more than welcome for whatever it is I have done to please you. If I knew what it was, I would simply have to do it a second time. Perhaps then this feeble mind could remember it better." He smiled warmly in response, leaving Katara to give a soft chuckle.
Knowing that he, too, owed the Dragon his deep regards, Aang tried to trigger his memory. "General Iroh, do you remember, just over a year ago? We were all here in Ba Sing Se, and me and Katara were fighting Zuko and Azula. Well, I didn't get to see it, but you saved Katara's life that day."
The old man turned back to the couple, primarily focused on the young Waterbender. "I saved your life? I am trying to recall," he spoke in a more serious tone. "Hmmm...fighting Azula and my nephew? Oh, you mean..." He uttered, his words trailing off.
"Yes." Katara laid her fingers lightly against Iroh's dark green sleeves, setting her eyes adoringly upon this man. "Before you came, I just...I couldn't move. I felt so dead, with him..." She winced, forcing back a hard shudder by pulling her arm back to her side. "I couldn't bring myself to even think, I knew I was going to die too. If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't be here now." She paused, glancing slightly toward Aang, who hadn't known all that detail before. "...none of us would."
Aang shuddered at the thought of the catastrophic failure that day, but he knew it was time to forget that. He first looked at his girlfriend. "Katara...you...wow, I'm surprised...I always knew you as determined. But, I can understand, considering all you told me earlier." The Avatar focused his eyes back on the Fire Nation legend. "Thank you, General Iroh. Without you jumping in, Katara doesn't escape, and she doesn't heal me. Then..." He again shuddered at the grim possibility.
Katara slipped her hand to her elbow, turning away from the two as Iroh's warm voice filled their ears. "You are both welcome. I am glad to see you two lovebirds were able to survive." His voice lifted with curiosity as he continued his pace onto the balcony, but checking his eyes toward Aang. "I am also glad to see you found a way balance both great power and still maintain love." Katara said nothing, merely quirking an eyebrow in confusion at the old man's words.
"Thank you. Every moment with Katara has been enjoyable," he again was able to smile. "I couldn't imagine life without her." He went to a chair to his left, and pulled it back to allow her to take her seat. "So, Katara, would you like to sit? Iroh, we'll need some time to look at the menu, if you don't mind."
"Take all the time you need. I will return." Katara took her menu from Iroh, setting it to the table as she sat opposite of Aang over the white, draped table beneath the shade of an emerald green umbrella. She sat in silence for a moment, keeping her eyes focused on her boyfriend curiously, but fumbled for her menu a moment later as Iroh made his way inside.
The Avatar quickly skipped through any dishes made of meat that appeared on the menu, as he retained the vegan diet he obtained as an Air Nomad. He sought out any vegetable dishes, but before that took a peek at the Waterbender in front of him. She was now focused on the food items before her. The silence between them continued.
Katara laid the menu to the table, staring at it uneasily. Sliding back into her seat, she fidgeted before resting her hands atop her lap. "Ahem." She cleared her throat quietly, averting her eyes from Aang to stare toward Iroh. "I'm ready." She asserted her readiness for their luncheon. Is he going to say anything about that, or pretend I didn't hear it...
Aang finished browsing the menu, his mind now made up. "Yeah, I'm ready too. I guess we should place our orders then," he looked back to Katara. Aang's sight caught Iroh's, and he moved his head slightly to his left, as if to gesture the old man to return to their table.
She loosed a quiet sigh, waiting patiently as Iroh approached and laid a tray on the table with a teapot full of complimentary jasmine tea, a treat he had designed in favor of his teashop's name. "Thanks." Katara handed him her menu, slipping her hair loopy back against her hair while turning her attention to him. "Your assorted finger sandwiches would be fine, please."
"And for you, master Avatar?" He questioned, turning to Aang as he reached to claim his menu as well. Katara settled her eyes on Aang, unintentionally lowering her eyebrows slightly as if also questioning him for his words.
He steered his gray eyes back to the Fire Nation legend. "I would like the steamed dish of vegetables, with a side of leechi nuts, and a cup of white dragon bush tea." Iroh took the orders from the two down on a small notepad.
"Very well, your tea will be out shortly."
As Iroh left to put their order through, Aang placed his eyes back on Katara. "Anything else you want to talk about?"
"I'm sorry I never told you about what happened in the catacombs." She softly muttered, distracting her attention by focusing herself on pouring a cup of jasmine tea. "...or while you were in a coma."
He picked up on the second half of her sentence, however quiet it was. He arched an eyebrow up as he began to speak. "Wait, Katara? Those weeks I was out? What happened during that time? All I know was that we went from here to your Dad and the Southern Water Tribe warriors, then of course that Fire Navy Ship...what else?"
She set her cup to the table, staring into its warm liquid dimly. "When Iroh saved me, I carried you up that waterfall and through that grate I took you to." She paused, her breathing slowly becoming rapid as she took the cup to her lips in attempt to sooth herself. "Well, anyway, when we left on Appa we still had to get to Dad...we ended up stopping at an Earth Kingdom forest, just beside the coast. Oh, and...Bosco and Kuei were with us." Keeping her head tilted toward her cup, her sapphire eyes raised to his. "But you were still asleep. I tried to heal you but I just...wasn't good enough. I have never felt so useless in my life..."
No wonder she was looking so sadly at the waterfall... "So, Kuei left while you guys were going to Chameleon Bay? And...you were trying to heal me? That whole time? Katara...I..." he became at a loss for words, looking around the room, and into his cup of tea. Eventually, he steered his eyes back up to her. "Katara...you're not useless...."
She shook her head in slight disagreement. "You were out for weeks, I couldn't do anything. Dad was more helpful than I was...he would only let me do healing session with you. He took over after we shown up." She closed her eyes and leaned back against her chair, holding back her tears by focusing on another sip of tea before continuing. "All I could do was heal, and that didn't do anything...every time felt the same."
Aang's look sank into a more worried one. "Katara...let me tell you the same you told me while we were down in the Catacombs." He spotted her hand still on the table, and reached out to put his over it. "You did everything you could...I wish I could have supported you, but....yeah. You're not a failure though, and you're not useless. You still helped all the same, just like I know you." His look changed to a smile, more supporting of her.
Katara cupped her fingers around Aang's hand, holding him as a man's melodic hum filled the air. "Oh, sorry if I am intruding. I will not be long." Iroh wore a handsome smile as he laid down a tray, quickly sliding off their orders.
"You're fine...and thank you, Iroh." She returned with a smile.
"Thank you, Iroh," Aang returned the courtesy, nodding his head.
"Let me know if you need anything else," he said, slightly bowing to the couple. He then turned to return to overseeing his customers.
Watching Iroh's departure for a moment, she turned a mournful pair of blue eyes to the finger sandwiches before her, resting her fingertips on one with meats, cheeses and vegetables, but unable to seemingly lift it. "Aang. You don't understand." She hesitated, loosing a soft breath before glancing up to him. "There is nothing in this world like...feeling you leave it. After trying for so long...I just wasn't sure if you would wake up at all." Her eyelids drifted shut, shaking her head slowly.
The Avatar tried to think of ways to comfort her in her sadness. "I'm sorry, Katara, that I couldn't help you in this time...I understand it's tough to lose the people you love...having lost all of my people, except for a select few. I also understand how hard it is to feel loss. You are not alone..." he drifted back to the day he found out that his mentor and fatherly figure, Gyatso, had lost his life. "Just remember...we all made it through. We survived. It's all in the past."
"I know that." She returned quickly, distracting her mind by beginning her lunch. "And you lived." She whispered a moment later with a smile, affording an upwards glance to him. Her eyes relayed the same loving adoration she had given him on that day, flooding herself with the joy of seeing her loved one rejoin her in life once again.
Aang smiled brightly, happy to see her come out of the brief funk. He looked at her with a similar adoring look before turning down to begin consuming the meal prepared for him.
After a short time passed of light conversation, providing time to finish their meals, Katara slid her chair from the table and stood. "Aang?" She addressed, turning to walk toward plush, lime-green pillows lining the edge of the balcony. "Were you going to even tell me what Iroh meant when he said when he mentioned power and still loving me?"
Aang's eyes lit up in shock. "Uhhh...well, there's a lot to explain, kind of complicated...but, yeah, I will." He rose from his chair and took her hand. The couple walked towards the balcony's edge, the view of Ba Sing Se on that sunny afternoon now directly in front of them.
"I was hoping you would." She chided, releasing his hand as she tossed a fiesty expression toward him, smiling to drop herself into one of the large green pillows to recline. Chuckling, she patted the pillow immediately next to her. "Join me."
He sat down next to the Water Tribe girl, relaxing in the pillow she offered him. "As you wish," he began. "Katara, do you recall the first time we were here, and I went to see Guru Pathik at the Eastern Air Temple to try and master the Avatar State?"
"How could I forget." She jibed at Aang roughly, lowering her eyebrows in displeasure. "If only I had never suggested we split up..."
"Believe me," he said as he placed a hand on her shoulder. "I wish we didn't have to do that either." He remembered that by the time he had reunited with her, she was imprisoned with Zuko, and, unbeknownst to him, the fall of the Earth Kingdom was already in motion. Then came the worst moment of his life. His head dropped a little in this memory. "Anyhow, while I was there, I had to unlock seven chakras to master the Avatar State."
"Okay. Though, I don't know much of what this 'chakra' thing is. I was proud of you for figuring it out and mastering the Avatar State with the Guru in just that short trip...that was impressive Aang." She tilted her head, smiling toward him sweetly.
"Well, Pathik explained to me that chakras are like little pools of energy in our body, and, that like a river, they flow through us. Each chakra is blocked by something, and if we remove that block, our energy can flow freely. As I said, there are seven. When I cleared these blocks, I could go in and out of the Avatar State at will." He then sighed. "To be completely honest Katara, at that time, I didn't fully master the Avatar State."
Confusion crossed her as she sat up, turning to him perplexedly. "Um, alright, well you're a fast learner then because I saw you use it yourself. You did, didn't you? I mean; master it and use it yourself."
"I almost got there with Pathik. I had unlocked the first six chakras, flawlessly. Then I got to the seventh, and...I couldn't do it, at that time..." his voice started to trail off, his eyes focusing off her and to the ground.
She only stared in quiet for a moment, but Aang didn't continue. "Aang, it was your first time. It may have given you some trouble but you did succeed...be proud of yourself."
"Katara..." Aang found himself at a loss for words, trying to explain himself as well as he can. He folded his hands around, as his thoughts searched wildly. "The seventh chakra...it was the thought chakra. I mastered the first six easily, but the seventh was where I had an issue. It dealt with pure cosmic energy, and was blocked by attachment."
She sat silently, staring at him as if she required further explanation. The mere term 'thought chakra' left her staring into space at him, which in itself was quite representational of what he had gone through so long ago.
"I just...I couldn't give up my attachment when I was there...because it was an attachment that was very important to me," he said, his tone becoming quieter. He looked back towards her.
Her eyes slightly narrowed, tilting her head slightly to lock her orbs of blue on his curiously. "So...what happened?"
"When Pathik told me to give up my earthly attachments to unlock the seventh chakra, I meditated to see just what that attachment was." He took a hold of her hand. "All I could see were images of you," his eyes again focused on his girlfriend. "You were the attachment that was blocking my thought chakra. I told Pathik that I couldn't do it, but he kept insisting. I had to try...."
As he took her hand, it remained limp. She simply stared at him blankly, a lingering suspicion dancing just behind her eyes that she kept from voicing.
"The next thing I could see was you drifting away, and then I was on this bridge, moving towards the Avatar Spirit. I walked closer and closer, as if I was giving you up for good for this power..." his look again turned sorrowful. "Then, I saw you, locked in chains..."
Katara turned her void, unblinking expression forward, dipping her gaze to stare into the nothingness of the floor ahead of her. Her mind raced at the memory. He saw me back then? ...he was giving me up, then? Her heart felt like it hit the floor, pondering over this, but still wondering where Aang was going with it all.
"All I saw, you were screaming out, and at that point, I ran. I ran away from the Avatar Spirit, and the bridge disappeared and dropped me back to Earth and out of meditation," his memories re-gathered. "I quickly told Pathik I had to leave because you were in trouble. He said I couldn't leave or I wouldn't be able to go into the Avatar State at all, but I couldn't keep going. I left because I knew I had to find you."
Hm... She quietly considered what he said, her blue eyes darting slightly left and right as if she were physically seeing her memories play out before her. Piecing together what he said, her eyes ceased their movement to stare at the cobblestone smitten by the warm rays of sunlight. "Well, you did go into the Avatar State, so..."
"That's where the battle we had in the Crystal Catacombs kicks in, Katara." The memories rolled back to him again. "When the Dai Li swarmed in on us, I saw that our situation became hopeless. I knew you were trying so hard, but, there was just so many of them..." he dropped his head again. "I had no choice...I hid myself in that crystal shield...and I..." he began to choke on his words, tears starting to enter his eyes, gripping her hand even tighter. "I gave you up..."
She knotted her forehead in lost wonder, a mournful and confused frown overtaking her. "Aang..." But she couldn't form a valid question, distraught over what to ask. Finally, she attempted to reclaim her senses, laying her hand on Aang's lower arm, to glance back at his tearful expression. "I don't understand...how is that possible? How can you actually do that...?" Her words came out soft and weak, laced with weighted sorrow that reached to him through her eyes.
"Katara...I didn't want to give you up...I loved you then, and I still do..." he tried to explain. "I just...it was life or death. At that moment, I knew that if I didn't give you up, we were going to lose. We might have wound up captured or killed, and Ba Sing Se would fall. It was the last thing I could do," he whispered.
She swallowed back a handful of tears, but failed as the ones she missed streamed down her cheeks. She turned away from him, hiding her face to regather herself. "I understand...it was for the better." But she couldn't stop her mind from racing, wondering just how he could bring himself to give her up forever. She had felt him dead, losing him for life was too much for her to willingly bear. Then it struck her, when he had next awoke... "Well no, actually...I still don't understand..." She wiped her cheeks free of tears, though they still stained her eyes as she set them back upon her boyfriend. "You still love me...and have said so...you do, don't you?"
"Katara...how could I not love you?" He said. "The only reason I gave you up in that moment was because it meant life or death. When I was battling Ozai though, I seemed to realize something..."
She said nothing, nor even did she move or blink as she waited to hear his every word.
"When he was beating me, he pushed me back into a rock that jammed into the scar on my back, suddenly triggering the Avatar State," he explained. "I don't even know why or how...but when I came out of it, and eventually defeated him, I realized something." He looked deep into her eyes. "I had mastered the Avatar State, as Pathik said I would if I followed the seven chakras, which meant giving you up. I thought it meant I'd have to give you up forever....but, Katara...I still loved you. I could feel that my love for you still ran deep." He cupped her cheek in his hand as he continued. "I guess the Guru was wrong. I mastered the Avatar State, but I still had all my attachments, all my emotions."
"And...if you didn't still have them? Then what?" She questioned softly, noticeably a bit lost for words. "Would that have been it between us...? Even our kiss..." She reached her hand over, cupping her fingers about her elbow as her eyes saddened slightly. "I'm just...I, I don't know. I can't imagine how you could just...forget me..."
Trying to calm her fears and sadness, he held her hand tightly. "Katara...instead of focusing on the what could be...let's focus on what is. The fact is, I can balance the power and love. I still have all my emotions and love you so much." He had to explain one thing. "To go into the Avatar State, I do have to forget you...but only for that time, so my energy can flow. At the end though, I will always love you...I promise. That's what Iroh meant when he said I could balance all that power and all my love."
"Oh." She slightly settled her expression, curling her fingers back to catch on Aang's hand in return. She stared into his deep, gray eyes silently for a good moment, mulling over the fact he had to continually exercise forgetting her, due to being the Avatar. It didn't sit well. "Aang, what's it like to forget me?"
His mind searched for answers, not sure of how to properly explain it. "It feels...weird. During that time I am in the Avatar State...all I feel is that power. I just...I have no emotions during that time, because I have to release them while I'm active. Then, when it's over, I just feel relaxed and I remember everything. I got to admit, when I do come back, it's great to feel again...especially my love for you," he said as he stared into her eyes, smiling.
She lowered her eyes, staring blankly through his chest as she attempted to imagine what he was saying. It didn't work, as she couldn't even begin to fathom what being the Avatar and having all that power even felt like. Releasing his hand, she rolled to her side out of her pillow, taking a single step toward Aang before lowering herself into his. She fell in beside him, laying her head just below his shoulder as her hair cascaded down his yellow vest. "...if for some reason being the Avatar makes you give me up to save the world..." She hesitated, chancing a weak smile up to him with a light mist coating her eyes. "Let me be selfish...just once. Don't give me up..." Her voice broke, closing her eyes to kiss his shoulder gently. "Please."
His heart broke a little as tears and sorrow filled her eyes. A little tear trickled down his cheek as he wrapped his arms around her tightly. "Katara...I promise...I will never have to give you up for the world, forever. You will always be on my mind, always be a part of me. I am here, and here I will stay." He gave her a light kiss on the forehead and stroked her hair. "I will always love you. I promise."
A gentle smile swept over her, snaking her arm behind his back while draping her free arm across him. "Thank you." She raised herself over him, her long brown hair blocking out the sun as she leaned in to give him a deep, affectionate kiss. Her smile widened as she exhaled pleasantly, pulling back to lie back against his side, letting the warm rays of sunlight compete with the warmth of her sweetheart. Forever... She released a soft sigh.
He held his arms around her, moving his chin down to rest on the top of her head. He relaxed in the hug, smiling brightly and looking at her lovingly. "You're welcome," he whispered into her ear. He rubbed her back a little before closing his eyes to enjoy the moment.
I, of course, thank Vulmen for helping me write this. This is a very deep, emotional story that really is hard to do alone.
The Jasmine Dragon. Why not? It's a must-visit in Ba Sing Se, and they never really did thank Iroh for his courageous act.
I blame PSU for this story. Heh heh. He wanted a story interaction of the two revolving around uncovering these secrets, and so we started this up with the intent of publishing the results...and here we go!
We had no plans for any of the other characters in this story, just a main plot for Katara and Aang to end up in the catacombs to begin their stories. Outside of that; it was fair game as to what happened with whom.