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Chapter 4 - Aftershocks
Words of Avatar Kyoshi:
Consumed by terror.
Consumed by hatred.
There is no difference.
We feel the earth tremble and roll beneath our feet, and pray for release from the clutches of fear.
Or we pray for the release of a painless death.
Sometimes, we fear that the quaking of the earth may never cease.
But as the rumbling dies down, the dust settles, and we regain our confidence...
We fear that it may return.
And return it does.
Ba Sing Se, courtyard...
It was Azula; there was no doubt about it.
The regal, beautiful, and evil smirk that always donned her expression lingered on her face as they gazed at her in amazement.
"Azula?" Sokka said. "How in the world..." he trailed off, shaking his head.
"I thought that she had finally cracked..." murmured Katara. "I haven't seen her since Sozin's Comet, but last I heard she was taken to an asylum."
"Me, too," Aang said. "Zuko told me."
"She probably escaped," said Toph, "she is an evil mastermind, after all."
Aang frowned. "Well, whatever she is, she needs to be taken away. Toph, make a prison. Sokka help her keep guard." Reaching into his pocket, Aang pulled out his Appa whistle. "I'm going to Iroh's tea shop. Zuko and Mai are visiting. They should know what's going on." Taking a deep breath, Aang blew the noiseless whistle, and then turned to Katara.
"I'm going with you." Katara interrupted.
Aang smiled. "I was going to ask if you wanted to." He turned grim again. "Plus, I don't think I could let you out of my sight that long. Almost losing you was enough heartbreak for a year."
Katara nodded. I could say the same... she thought idly.
They all turned when a loud bellow announced Appa's arrival. He landed with a loud thud and grunted in satisfaction. Momo jumped from the saddle and flew to Aang's shoulder.
Aang smiled, rubbing Appa's nose. "Hey, buddy." Letting out a long sigh, Aang leaned against Appa's fuzzy head, holding on to one of the massive horns. "We're going to see Iroh today. You ready to fly?"
Appa grunted and lowered his body slightly, raising his tail.
Aang turned to Katara, holding out his hand. "You ready to go?" She smiled and took his hand, interlacing their fingers. Finally, Aang turned to Toph. "Don't let her escape. We won't be long, but you know Azula."
Toph gave him a thumbs up and raised a huge cage around Azula's body
"Hurry back!" called Sokka. "I, for one, don't want to get barbequed!"
Aang tugged Katara in front of him, and sent her floating up to Appa's head with a soft air current. He then jumped up next to her in an enormous bound.
"Come on, Appa. Yip yip."
Bellowing out, Appa slammed his tail to the ground, and they ascended over Ba Sing Se.
"It takes about fifteen minutes to reach Iroh's" Aang told Katara. She nodded, and turned to him when the last word of his sentence broke.
The rain had stopped, and Katara could easily identify tears running down Aang's face. She had no doubt that he was beating himself up over the people he had killed. Eyes softening, she asked, "Want me to hold the reins, Aang?"
He turned to look at her. After a moment of silence, he said in a soft voice, "Katara, you're hurt."
Huh? she then remembered her partly-healed arm.
"Oh, I forgot about that." she murmured. Her arm was still red and puffy, but a lot of the blisters were gone. It actually wasn't hurting all that much. "I'm fine." She said. She knew Aang wouldn't accept that. Sure enough, his big gray eyes were staring her down.
"Katara." he stated flatly.
As if I could resist those eyes she mused. Summoning water from her pouch, she bent it to cover her arm. Soon, it began to glow blue, and a low hum filled the air. Aang watched her until she was completely healed. As she drew the water back into the pouch, he took her arm and rubbed the skin with his thumb, his bottom lip trembling.
"What is it?" Katara asked.
Sniffing, Aang blinked hard. "Nothing." He muttered, and then turned away.
"Aang," Katara said, "please don't try to hide anything from me. It's not like I'm going to laugh, and I'm not going to mock you." Reaching over, she placed her fingertips on his cheek and turned him to face her.
"I love you, and you know it. So why are you afraid?"
Aang closed his eyes, pressing his face into her palm. "I know you do...and it really helps me to hear you say it." He covered her hand with his own. "I'm afraid that when today finally sinks in, you...you'll realize how dangerous I am, and...and you..."
"Won't love you anymore?" Katara finished.
Aang's eyes leaked over again. Lips pulling back in silent sobs, he nodded. "Katara...I KILLED those people. I killed them, and didn't even realize it." He paused. "What if they had someone who was waiting for them? What if someone they truly loved was waiting for them to walk back through a door that they would never, EVER enter again?" opening his eyes, he took Katara's face between his hands.
"Imagine..." he whispered, "Imagine sitting at home, waiting for your love to come through the door. Imagine a stranger walking in to tell you that he was found dead. How would that feel, Katara?"
He was truly sobbing now. Heartbroken, gasping sobs. It was hard for her to watch Aang be in so much mental pain. I don't even want to imagine that...the thought of losing Aang...
Katara was at a loss for words. She didn't know what it was like to kill a person, much less nineteen. Instead, she leaned forward and kissed Aang.
She conveyed her feelings through this gentle, heartwarming kiss to tell Aang that she was there, and that she loved him. It was to show him that she chose him after everything they had been through. A simple gesture, but an agnowledgement too deep for words to describe.
When she pulled away, she looked Aang right in the eye. "You aren't dead, Aang. And neither am I. We don't have to worry right now, because we are here together." To strengthen her resolve, she picked up one of Aang's hands and placed it over her heart. She could feel it beat under his palm. "You see?" she told him. "It's beating." Then, she placed a hand over HIS heart, which was thudding strong and true. "And Aang, how could you ever think that I wouldn't love you? I chose YOU. I knew the danger it could mean to me in the future, but I didn't care, and I still don't care, because I love you, and that will never, EVER change...no matter how dangerous you are."
The worry on Aang's face was ebbing away. Looking much better, he tucked Katara's head under his chin. She curled her feet under her, and Aang slipped a hand around her waist.
Content, Katara drifted off to a pleasant dream.
Ba Sing Se, four minutes out from the Jasmine Dragon...
A slight shaking was disturbing her dream. So was a voice...
"Katara." Aang said gently.
She slowly opened her eyes. It was blurry again, and she groggily reached up to rub her face. Then she remembered.
They were flying on Appa. Shifting slightly, she realized that she was still in Aang's arms. She could feel the chilly air brushing past her, but she was pleasantly warm, cuddled next to him. Frowning, she yawned and asked, "Aren't you cold?" she felt Aang shake his head.
"Nope. It's only been about ten minutes, and you're keeping me warm. You must be exhausted, though. You were out as soon as your head hit my chest."
Yawning again, Katara nodded. It hadn't been long at all since Aang had been attacked, but it felt like days ago.
"Iroh's shop is right below us." Aang said as Appa began descending.
The wind whipped Katara's damp hair everywhere. She could see Iroh's tea shop rapidly coming closer, until Appa finally landed.
"Let's hurry." Aang said. "Azula is treacherous, who knows what she could do?" Sweeping Katara into his arms, he leapt from Appa's head and set her down. He briefly stopped to pat Appa. "Good flying, boy."
Fully aware of the fact that they looked beaten, Katara and Aang strode up to the front door of the tea shop. Taking each other's hands, they stood and Aang knocked.
From inside, they heard scuffling and speech. Then, the door was thrown open, and they were both engulfed in a bear hug form Iroh.
"Isn't this wonderful!" he cried. "Have you heard?!" he released them both.
"Heard what?" coughed Aang, massaging his ribs.
"It's my nephew!" Iroh exclaimed. "He's—"
"Uncle!" a voice issued from behind Iroh. Zuko appeared. "Don't be shouting it in the streets!" Pulling the retired general from the doorway, he stepped in his place. "Aang!" he said, grinning. "Are you-" Zuko stopped, noticing the state of their appearance.
Aang shirtless with dry blood caked on his body. Katara with burned clothes and blood on her face as well. No, they didn't look good at all.
Confusion and concern spiked in Zuko's mind. "Is everything alright?" He asked in a low voice. "Why in the world do you both have blood all over you?" He also noticed the gash across Aang's chest. "And why are you shirtless?" Stepping back, he motioned for the pair to come inside. When they passed him, he shut the door, and then turned to Aang.
"What's happened? Another rebel attack?"
Aang nodded. "Yes." pulling a chair over, he sat down with a huff. "It was raining. It seemed excellent to go out and train. I was out there when something caught my eye. I froze, and heard Katara scream my name. When I turned toward her, an arrow got me right here," he pointed to the gash, "and I fell. It didn't take long for me to pass out. I lost a lot of blood."
Zuko was sitting across from Aang, a solemn look donning his face.
Aang continued. "Next thing I knew, I was waking up to Katara pulling the arrow out of my chest. I don't know how she did it, come to think of it." He turned to Katara. "How DID you do it?"
Zuko turned his attention to Katara. She didn't hesitate. "I used Bloodbending to pull the skin from the barbs."
Aang stared at her in wonder. Smiling, she motioned him to get back to telling Zuko what happened. She hooked an arm around his shoulders for support.
"So after the arrow was out, Katara ran outside to help the others. Just a few minutes later, I heard... "Aang stopped, blinking hard "I heard her scream. It scared me to death, so I made myself walk outside. I saw Katara on the ground, and she wasn't moving. I lost it." He paused again.
"I went into the Avatar State, but I wasn't in control of my body. I hardly remember anything, except I wanted to kill." Sighing, he shook his head.
He's being strong...thought Katara. He's trying not to show how hurt he really is. She squeezed his shoulder reassuringly.
"Suddenly," he continued, "I was back in my body, and everything was destroyed."
Zuko nodded. "How did you stop?
"Katara." Aang answered, rubbing the back of her hand with his thumb.
Zuko nodded again. "And the rebels?"
Aang opened his mouth, and then closed it again. "I..." he choked out. Gripping Katara's hand like a lifeline, he clenched his jaw. "I killed them. All but one." Clearing his throat, he straightened up. "That's why we're here. We need to tell you who it was."
"I'm listening." Zuko said.
"It's Azula." Katara told him. "Azula was in the group."
Zuko shot up from his chair in surprise. "AZULA!?"
Aang nodded. "She was the only one alive. Toph felt her heartbeat."
Zuko turned. "Uncle!" he shouted. "UNCLE!"
Iroh appeared in a doorway. "What is it, nephew?"
"Yeah, what is it, Zuko?" came a monotonous voice from behind Iroh. He moved aside, and Mai strode in. "Nothing that will interfere, I hope."
Zuko looked away. "It might." He answered. "It's Azula." He turned to Iroh. "She's escaped."
Iroh froze and his face drained of color. His eyes widened. "That can't be..."he muttered.
Aang stood up with Katara. "I'm afraid it's true. We saw her with our own eyes. I have no idea how, but it was definitely her, no doubt."
"Ugh," moaned Mai, "doesn't she ever stop?" She sauntered over to Zuko's side. "Wait...that was a stupid question. Of course she never stops."
Katara grimaced. Mai was right.
"Plus, her timing is always right on." Mai added. "Of course it gets right in the way."
"But we had nothing going on...?" Aang said questioningly.
"WE do." contradicted Mai. "That's why we're here." She looked at Zuko. "Tell them"
Zuko nodded. "We're engaged." He told Aang and Katara, who burst out into huge smiles.
"Congratulations!" Katara chimed, giving Mai a hug. Mai patted her back before turning back to the others.
Suddenly, Aang remembered why they were there in the first place. "Fudgemonkeys!" he blurted. "We have to go!"
Zuko agreed. "Uncle, stay here. Mai, do you want to come?"
Mai sighed. "I would rather go than sit here with a man obsessed with tea." She strode up to Zuko.
Aang offered his hand to Katara. She took it without hesitation. He smiled at her. "Let's go."
Katara and Mai were sitting in the saddle. The breeze blew strands of hair across their faces in gentle caresses.
"So," started Katara, "Were you excited when Zuko asked?"
Mai thought for a moment. "Well, considering my normal attitude, I was ecstatic." She picked at a loose strand in the saddle. "I thought he would never ask."
"You're both twenty, right?" Katara asked.
"No. I'm nineteen."
"Oh." Katara said, "I forgot, you're Azula's age."
Aang and Zuko were also talking, sitting on Appa's head. "When did you propose?" Aang asked.
"On her birthday, about a week ago." Zuko answered.
Aang nodded, smiling. Unconsciously, he turned his head slightly to glance at Katara.
Zuko followed his glance. Grinning, he placed a hand on Aang's shoulder. "You're fifteen, Aang!" he chuckled.
Aang didn't move. "Water Tribe tradition is sixteen..." he murmured, "She's seventeen."
"But," interrupted Zuko, "YOU are fifteen."
Aang turned and looked Zuko dead in the eye. "My birthday is in a month. Plus, if you really want to get technical, I'm one hundred and fifteen." His gaze wandered back to Katara. "I don't know..."he trailed off. He looked back at Zuko. "I need some time to think." Zuko nodded and climbed back into Appa's saddle.
"Aang said he needed some 'meditation time.'" He explained. "So I came back here."
"Sounds intriguing." Mai droned as Zuko plopped down next to her.
Katara didn't laugh. Slightly worried, she turned to see if Aang was alright. When she started to get up, Zuko shook his head. "He needs some time alone, Katara. Let him be."
"What he needs is someone to talk to." She countered, heading forward to Aang.
Zuko then muttered to Mai "As if anything could keep them apart..."
Katara climbed over the lip of the saddle and slid down to Aang's side. His eyes were closed, but his lips twitched. "I knew you wouldn't listen." He murmured. "I was actually just reliving some old memories."
"Am I in them?" Katara asked.
Aang smiled. "Naturally." He held up his arm, and Katara immediately snuggled into his side. "I was thinking of the time when we returned to the South Pole, right after I defeated Ozai. Do you remember that?"
Katara nodded, laughing.
Absolutely, Without A Doubt.
Above the South Pole, two minutes out from the Southern Water Tribe...
It was so exciting to see the South Pole again. As Katara and Sokka eagerly watched over Appa's side, they were practically bouncing with excitement. Aang smiled when he saw how anxiously nervous Katara was.
"Relax, Katara," he said, "You'll do great. I know it."
They were in for a shock. As they turned a last bend around a glacier, all of their jaws dropped.
It was gorgeous. The animal skin tents were gone and in their stead, beautiful structures made of ice and stone, glistening in the early morning light. Plus, it had grown at least ten times in size.
"Is this where you guys found me?" asked Aang in amazement. "It was a lot different back then!"
Katara and Sokka didn't answer. They were stunned. "Pakku wasn't kidding!" exclaimed Sokka. "He really did want to rebuild it!"
Katara was close to hyperventilating. Aang touched her shoulder. "Katara?"
She jumped. "Oh, sorry, Aang. I'm just nervous. It's been over a year since we were here. I can't help but wonder...if anybody will have forgotten me. What if I'm treated different?"
Aang laughed. "Katara, the only reason you would be treated different is because you're a world-known hero. If you're treated different, it will be because they respect you more than ever."
Katara smiled. "Thanks."
As they flew into the city, people pointed and stared. Soon, people began to scream and cheer. When they landed, they were assaulted by a very large crowd. Many were screaming Aang's name, and many were also screaming Katara and Sokka's names. Their smiles could not have been bigger.
Standing, Aang took Katara's hand and whisked her off of Appa. Sokka followed shortly, falling on his face in the snow. There he was bombarded by his little warriors, who were much bigger now.
Gradually, the crowd began to part, and Kanna came striding through the middle, Pakku following close behind.
Tears springing to her eyes, Katara flung herself into a long overdue hug.
"You've grown, my little Waterbender." she whispered. Katara smiled.
"It's so good to see you again, Gran." Katara mumbled. She released her and turned to Pakku, letting Sokka receive a hug.
That's when it happened.
A young, strapping warrior stepped out from the crowd. Sturdy, confident, and proud, he strutted right up to Katara.
"Katara!" he boomed. "My name is Mahoca. I am originally from the Northern Tribe, but I came to help the South Pole rebuild."
Everybody was staring. Aang was glowering behind Katara, not liking how good-looking Mahoca was.
Katara blushed furiously. "Um . . . hello." She squeaked back. Mahoca beamed.
"I know we do not know each other well," he continued, "but I can already tell that I like you. Please, consider my offering to you." With a flourish, he pulled an engagement necklace from his pocket.
Several people hooted. Aang, however, turned bright red with protective jealousy. He and Katara had only been 'together' for about a month, but Aang had had feelings for her since long before that. That, and the fact that no one seemed to recognize that Katara was HIS girl, made him very jealous.
Poor Katara was on the spot. Blushing, she was opening and closing her mouth like a fish out of water. Fumbling, she grabbed one of Aang's hands in both of hers. Her message was clear: HELP!!
Grinning excitedly, Aang squeezed her hand, and then dropped his. Walking past her, he whispered, "I got this." Stopping in front of Mahoca, he stated, "Back off, bubs. You don't wanna get in my way."
Katara smacked her forehead.
Mahoca stepped back. "You're the Avatar!" he stuttered.
Aang rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I know. But, listen, Mahoca, if you—"
He was interrupted by Katara. She covered Aang's mouth and stepped in front of him. "What Aang is trying to say is that we are...well...together."
There was a moment of silence.
Mahoca blinked. "Wait...so you're the Avatar's girl now?" He began to look extremely embarrassed.
Katara pulled Aang up next to her. Smiling, she said, "Absolutely." The crowd cheered and whistled for the young couple.
Mahoca was on the spot now. "Well...I guess...um..." He turned and walked away.
Aang laughed, embracing Katara.
Over Aang's shoulder, Katara could see Kanna and Pakku smiling and nodding in approval.
Ba Sing Se, above Team Avatar's home...
"You were terrible," Katara giggled, "Back off, bubs! Who knew you had it in you?"
Aang squeezed her. "So...you don't mind the title Avatar's Girl, do you?'
Katara laughed. "Definitely not."
"Good." Aang said. Leaning, he glanced over Appa's side. "We're here." Pulling the reins, Aang yanked Appa to a standstill. He turned around.
"Zuko, we're here! You two ready?"
Zuko and Mai nodded.
Giving the reins a little snap, Aang sighed, "Back to the battlefield."
They descended toward the scene of bloodshed that suited Azula's deranged soul so well.
As always, be sure to check out the rest of the series, more chpaters coming soon!
For the collective works of the author, go here.