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|A Harsh Reality|
Chapter14-A Harsh Reality
Words of Avatar Yangchen:
Memories are, perhaps, one of life's most loving and cruel gifts
They allow us to relive moments of happiness and love, warming our very souls as they flow through us.
They also force upon us the moments of fear, terror, doubt, and unrivaled hatred.
Many will force themselves to forget these terrifying memories, seeking to revel only in the moments of happiness.
Few succeed, and those that do can only be called fools.
They are blind to the harsh reality, and live in a world of bliss...a false world.
We must forgive where forgiveness is deserved, but we must never forget.
We must never abandon a memory, no matter how horrible it may be, lest we abandon the lesson we learned.
The memory burns this lesson into our minds.
Never allow something like this to occur again.
Ba Sing Se, Royal Palace Infirmary courtyard...
The sea of anxious people was not a surprise. There were many cries of "Avatar Aang, you're back!" and "He's awake!"
Aang smiled as the crowd surrounded them, all questioning his health and whether he was all right. He nodded again and again, showing them the back of his head and his stomach. They all hung on to every word that issued from his mouth.
"Actually," he told them, "Katara here was the one who really saved me. She healed the wounds." He placed an arm around her shoulders and she pressed into his side. There were several "Awwws" throughout the group.
"And now," he called out, "we have to go. But first, I want to give a sincere thank-you." He paused. "Who here was Katara's healer?"
After a moment of silence, a tentative hand rose into the air.
Aang smiled. "Come forward."
A young woman roughly twenty years of age stepped from the group, smiling bashfully beneath her auburn hair.
"What is your name?" Aang asked kindly.
"Kiri," she answered softly.
"Kiri," he said, "I want to give you a personal thank-you for taking care of Katara while I was unable. I will never forget it." He gave her a full bow. "You have an Avatar forever in your debt."
Kiri blushed. "It was my honor, Avatar."
"I will never forget it." He repeated, still smiling as he turned to Katara. "Ready to go?"
She nodded enthusiastically, limping forward.
Aang frowned. "You're not going to hop home." He told her. "Come on, I'll call Appa." Swift as the wind, he picked her up in his arms, the crutch still in her grasp.
"Thank you all," Katara called out, blushing.
With that, Aang stepped through the dispersing crowd towards the edge of the courtyard
He pulled the trusty whistle from a fold in his infirmary robe and took a deep breath, releasing it into the mouth of the whistle.
"Aang, I'm fine..." Katara said, grinning. "I can walk until Appa gets here."
"You sure?" Aang questioned, concern clouding his eyes.
"Positive." She reassured him, nodding. "I've been getting around all week, haven't I?"
"I suppose you have," He said, placing her on her foot again. "But put your broken arm through mine," he insisted. "I don't want you to fall."
Katara rolled her eyes. "You worry too much" She teased, but slid her wrapped arm through his.
Satisfied, he began to walk, tugging her with him.
Moments of Perfection and Unimaginable Pain.
After several minutes, Aang pointed to the sky and exclaimed "There's Appa!"
The ten-ton bison gave a joyful bellow as he landed in front of the pair with an earth-shaking impact.
"Hey, buddy!" Aang laughed. Letting go of Katara's Arm, he jumped up onto the center of Appa's arrow and buried his face in the fluffy fur.
Katara shook her head, chuckling.
"You're such a kid! She called, hobbling towards them. "Maybe you ARE too young for me!"
Aang gave her a playfully sassy look as he slid down. "Love, you should have thought of that before you met me at the altar!"
Katara smiled. Grunting, she hopped the rest of the way to Aang and Appa. She stopped to pat Appa's nose before leaning back to rest against Aang. "I'm just kidding," she said, "you're definitely not too young for me." She picked up his hand, tracing the arrow that decorated the back of it.
"I know," Aang said. "You're such a tease."
"A lot more fun than I used to be, huh?"
Aang shrugged. "You know, I never really thought that you weren't fun...probably because I was always in a daze when I looked at you." He laughed. "I was so obvious...the only one who never seemed to notice was you." He tugged her hair.
Katara elbowed him in the side gently, still teasing. "I noticed, Aang. I just chose not to acknowledge it."
"Ouch," he muttered. "That burned."
"Yeah, yeah." She laughed. "Let's go." She pulled his hand, moving toward Appa.
No sooner had she limped when Aang picked her up from behind, sweeping her into the air. The breath whooshed out of her in surprise, but quickly returned when they landed in Appa's saddle.
"You need to warn me before you do that," Katara said, rather breathless. "When we're old, you're gonna give me a heart attack."
"Sorry," He murmured, setting her on her foot again. Katara noticed that he had gone completely serious.
"Now what is it?" She asked gently, brushing his arm.
"Nothing..." He said. "I'm just glad you're alive."
Katara stared at him for a moment. "WE'RE alive," she corrected, "We."
Aang gazed at her, trying to pull together his suddenly scrambled thoughts. The moment prolonged before he murmured gently, "I still can't believe how lucky I am to have you in my life."
Abruptly, he leaned forward and kissed her.
At first, Katara thought that she would fall, but Aang held her steady. Reassured by his strength, she brought her hands from her side, reaching up to cradle his face as an incredible warmth ran through her.
For a blissful, clear moment, it was only Katara and Aang, and everything was perfect. He slid his arms around her, pulling her closer. She didn't resist; she just delved deeper, not caring if the world were to end at that moment. He wove his fingers into her hair as he had countless times, lips still moving against hers.
"In this moment, we are the only two in this world."
"A world of love, truth, happiness, and trust."
"A world of true perfection."
The warmth, beautiful, wonderful, and relaxing, flowed through her body.A feeling that I might have never felt again... Katara thought faintly.
But, as the young couple broke apart, the troubles of a stained world were pressed upon their shoulders.
They pressed each other's foreheads together, eyes closed. Katara's lips quivered as she thought of her adversaries, and Aang immediately sensed her discomfort. He held her in his protective embrace, arms around her as if to block out all of her fears. She pressed her face against the base of his neck, wondering if they could ever be free of the mounting curses that seemed to pile on them so willingly.
At the same time, she knew they couldn't.
It broke Aang's heart to put her through this. Saddened, he held her tighter, using one hand to stroke her back in circulating motions.
"You are my life," he whispered. "I want you to know that. I promise you that I will take Azula out, not matter what." Slowly, he smiled. "And, Katara?"
Katara pulled back, looking at him curiously.
"What? You didn't think I would forget it, did you?" he kissed her again. "Happy eighteenth, love."
"But, how did you find out?" she pressed, confused.
"Your dad," he said. "I asked him right before the wedding. I was tired of missing your birthdays," he gave her an innocent smile.
Katara let her head drop onto his chest again.
"What can I get you?" he persisted.
"Nothing," she murmured. "You already gave me the best gift of all...you're alive. Plus, I think that the wedding was enough of a gift, don't you?"
"That ended in disaster," he pointed out.
"We still got married," she countered. "Just don't' worry about a gift. You've already given me everything I've ever wanted." She placed a tentative hand on his chest. "You gave me YOU."
"Thanks, Katara." He sighed. "But you know that I have to get you a gift."
"No, you don't," she added firmly.
Aang smiled. "What if I told you that your gift is already bought, made, and ready?"
Katara pulled back again. "What are you talking about?" she said, suspicious
"Nothing," he said airily. "You said you didn't want a gift."
"Oh, stop," Katara laughed, abandoning her attempts at being serious.
"No, no..." he grinned "It's okay; you don't have to have it."
Katara gave in to her helpless curiosity. "All right, fine. I want it. Now what is it?"
Aang smiled. "I thought so." Letting go of her, he crouched down and began to rummage around in one of the bags that sat on the edge of Appa's saddle. "Where did I...aha!" He pulled a scroll from the bag triumphantly.
"What's that?" Katara asked, truly curious now.
Aang beamed. Extending his arm, he offered the scroll to her. "Why don't you open it and see?"
Katara became suspicious again. Taking it cautiously, she warned, "Aang, I swear if this one of those pranks where a fake prickle-snake falls out when you unroll it—"
"It's not," he interrupted. "I promise."
She examined his eyes, concluding that he was telling the truth. "All right." Eagerly, she pulled the scroll open, examining every inch of it with excited eyes.
Aang smiled as he watched the anxious light fade from her eyes.
"Aang," she stated, confused, "why did you get me a painting of a house?" she turned the open parchment so that he could see.
He grinned even wider. "Read the caption, love."
Katara turned the scroll back to her, scanning the caption. Suddenly, her eyes widened. Her jaw dropped in amazement and her heart fluttered in disbelief. "Aang...you didn't..."
"You built us a house?" she added, stunned.
"Yup. Actually, I just did the plans. Some benders in the South Pole built it."
Katara stared at him, gaping. "When did you do this?"
"When I found out about your birthday, I sent off the plans immediately, asking them to have it finished with a painting sent by today." He grinned.
Dumbfounded, Katara stared at the gorgeous house in her hands. "Is this for real?" she muttered rhetorically. "Aang, it's beautiful..."
"And it's in the South Pole," Aang said. "I thought you would like to live there so you're close to family and friends. And, since you're really the only family I have..." he looked at his feet. "Well, it's not really a hard choice, is it?" Abruptly, he turned away. "Let's head home, I'm sure Sokka and Toph will be glad to see us" he said quietly.
Katara re-rolled the scroll.
She instantly knew why he had grown so sad in that small second.
She shook her head, watching Aang slide down to Appa's head.
He rarely talks about the Air Nomads, and when he does... She shuddered. The pain in his voice...it's unbearable.
Katara was about to slide down next to him when someone shouted out from the ground.
"Avatar! Master Katara!"
In unison, the couple looked over Appa's side. It was a small group of men, five in total. They were all professionally dressed.
"Can we help you?" Aang asked, ever polite.
"Yes, actually" answered the man in front. "We were just wondering if we could ask you two a couple of quick questions."
The smallest of frowns creased Katara's forehead. However, when Aang glanced up her, she nodded in exasperation.
He inclined his head. Wordlessly, he stood up, picked up Katara, and jumped to the ground. Bending his knees slightly, he placed her on the stone-paved road.
"Excellent!" cried the spokesman. "We won't take long. Now, you two are the thing that all of Ba Sing Se are talking about." Motioning, he brought a man with a scroll and brush to the front. "So, Avatar, you first. How did it feel not being able to help your wife at the wedding?"
Katara internally groaned. Glancing up, she saw Aang's jaw clench. For a moment, Katara thought he might hit the spokesman. However, he merely replied, "Excruciating," through locked teeth.
"Write it," the man said, tapping the scribe. "Do you blame yourself for the disaster there, Avatar?" he asked Aang.
Aang now clenched his fists. "Yes." he replied darkly.
Sensing danger, Katara pried one of his fists open and slipped her hand into it. That seemed to calm him down a touch.
"Last one," the man murmured, nudging a man how was also holding a scroll. "And, Avatar," he said grandly, "now that you are married, do you and Katara plan on re-populating the Airbenders?"
Aang and Katara froze, both of them instantly going tense.
Katara couldn't believe her ears.
"Excuse me?" Katara said hotly.
"You know what I mean!" the man laughed. "Isn't it your duty to have little Airbending babies flying around the house? I mean, there's a whole nation to repopulate!"
The couple turned scarlet. Completely taken aback, they stared at the man furiously.
He did not seem abashed in the slightest. He just grinned idiotically, looking from Katara to Aang. "Well?" he pressed.
Katara stared at him, infuriated that someone could have the simple nerve and selfishness to ask a question like that. "Did you seriously just say that?" she asked stiffly. "That is an extremely personal question."
The man shrugged. "Everyone is dying to know."
Aang seemed to have gone temporarily immobile. He hadn't moved an inch, hadn't said a word. His eyes were cold, his expression colder. Concerned, Katara touched his face.
"Do you need a minute?" she murmured, motioning away from the men.
Aang nodded stiffly. He turned around and walked away, leaving her to face the man.
And face him she did.
Immediately after Aang walked out of sight, she whirled on the men.
"Do you have ANY respect!?" she snarled. "Do you even have a conscience!?"
The man stepped back, raising his hands in defense. "Hey, people wanna know—"
"I don't care what people 'wanna know'!" Katara snapped. She stepped forward, suppressing the urge to send her hand across his face. "He has been through more that you could EVER imagine! Yet you have the nerve to approach him with those questions!" she jabbed him in the chest. "Its people like you who make me sick. He lost his whole people. He defeated Ozai for you, yet you still torture him with unnecessary reminders of his past."
She forced herself to calm down.
Aang wouldn't want this...
"Why don't you go back to the garbage you came from" she hissed as she began to hop away.
She had not taken three hops when she heard;
"So, is that a yes or a no on the whole repopulation thing?"
Instantly, she turned around. Eyes blazing, the ripped the water from the nearby grass, turning it black. Without hesitation, she slammed the man to the ground and froze him there, making sure his head was exposed before limping away, ignoring the gasps of astonishment.
Breathing heavily, she finally reached the alleyway that Aang had disappeared into. She could see him in there; he had his forearms propped on the wall over his head, slouching forward against them.
"Aang?" she asked softly.
He didn't answer.
Grunting, she hopped forward again. She reached him just in time to see a single teardrop fall from his chin. Carefully, she reached up and wiped away the streak it left. "Hey...do you want to talk?"
A few seconds passed before he gave the faintest of nods, but remained silent.
Katara placed her hand on his shoulder and he tensed.
"All right..." she sighed. Carefully, she released him and slid her back down the wall, sitting with her legs straight out. "I'll be right here if you need me."
Still no response.
For the next hour, time slowly slid by.
Aang didn't move, and neither did Katara. Determined to sit him out, she stared at the opposite wall, daring herself to stay still.
Another hour passed.
I know he's really upset over that question, but to take it this hard...? To the point where he won't even talk to ME? There has to be something I can...
Katara was twirling a strand of hair between her fingers when Aang finally stirred. She looked up hopefully. "Aang?" She asked hesitantly. "Are you okay now?" She could see the tears dripping off his face in cascades of grief.
"I'm sorry," he whispered hoarsely. "That's the hardest it has EVER hit me..." he trailed off.
"Don't be," Katara said. "Those men had no right to ask those questions."
Aang sighed and lowered himself to her, pressing his back against the stone wall.
"But seriously," Katara muttered, "what brought that on?"
"It's just hard...being the last one." Aang shuddered.
"I would love to talk," Katara murmured. "Why don't you just let it out?"
Aang stared her down, his bloodshot eyes blinking again and again. "Katara," he rasped, "you have NO idea how many times I have asked myself that question."
He gently tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "The one that guy asked...about the Air Nomads."
Katara had been expecting it. She took a deep breath and reached to grasp his hand in hers. "Tell me what you think of it."
He stalled, rubbing the back of her hand with his thumb. "I'm not sure..." he mumbled. "I've always thought about it...whether or not it was my 'duty'. Yeah, I've hoped that I'll have Airbender kids someday, but, not to repopulate...just for the sake of having someone like me, being able to teach them what I know."
He took a deep breath.
"Raising a family is one of my biggest goals in life, and so is passing on my knowledge of Airbending."
Katara stared at the ground, turning slightly red.
"And," Aang added, "I could never put you through that. It would be way too much to handle."
Katara gave him a small simile. "Well, I'm glad that you don't' feel like it's your duty...but Aang, I would have done it."
He stared at her, not seeming to comprehend what she was saying. Did she really mean...no. I won't, and I would never do that to her.
"What?" she asked.
"Katara," he murmured, "I still wouldn't do it. You're the one who would have to deal with all of the pain." He placed a hand on her cheek. "I would never do it. EVER." There was a hard edge to his voice.
"Katara, the only reason I want us to have kids is for the joy of raising a family...not because we have to." He stood up stiffly, grunting. Offering her his hand, he said, "Come on, we should head to the house now."
She nodded, taking his hand. She felt the wind gently push her up as he pulled.
As he picked her up in his arms, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him unexpectedly, long and deep. She pulled away slightly, a centimeter separating their lips. "Please don't shut me out like that again. When you need to talk to me, let me help you."
For the first time in hours, Aang smiled.
As always, be sure to check out the rest of the series, more chapters coming soon!
For the collective works of the author, go here.