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Chapter 7 – True Safety
Words of Avatar Yangchen:
Many feel safety within their own minds.
Within their hearts.
Or within their abilities.
These havens are an illusion, and provide only false safety.
Our minds can be bent to the will of another, and we destroy ourselves in the process.
Our hearts can be shattered at a moment's notice, and we destroy our ties to the ones we love.
And our abilities may fail us when we need them most, destroying our confidence and will to continue.
Only in the presence of the one closest to us are we truly safe.
With their encouragement, we find the strength to overcome any challenge.
With their friendship, we stand firmly against the most fearsome storms.
And with their love, we are driven to protect them with our lives.
Ba Sing Se, Upper Ring...
A month had passed since Aang's attack and Suki's death. Life had moved on, though Sokka still walked around like a zombie most of the time.
Much to Aang and Katara's delight, the Firebender rebel attacks had dwindled to almost nothing. Though it was good news, Aang cast fervent looks at Katara at least once every few minutes. With Aang home so much more, there was a lot more time to spend with each other, and they were hardly apart. They took daily walks around Ba Sing Se, stopping occasionally to eat or get a drink. Girls were constantly giggling and pointing at Aang, much to the discontent of Katara.
It was no secret that Aang had grown well. He was muscular, tall and handsome. Just about every teenage girl in Ba Sing Se had shot him an appreciative rake of the eyes. Of course, Katara got the point across that SHE was not to be messed with, and often pulled Aang around a corner to avoid a group of giggling girls.
On one of these days, Katara and Aang were walking hand-in-hand down the upper ring of the city when Katara said, "Aang, do you know what today is?" she arched her neck to get a good look at his face.
He nodded. "It's my 3-year anniversary for defeating Ozai."
Katara smiled. "And what's tomorrow?"
Aang squeezed her hand. "Our three year 'together' anniversary."
Katara nodded her head happily. "Three years of almost-perfect bliss."
Aang swung their hands back and forth. "No doubt about that." He agreed.
They both bowed as some upper-ring nobles bowed to them. "Thank you, Avatar!" they chimed.
"Of course." Aang answered humbly.
They continued walking. "Would you like something to eat?" Aang asked Katara in a lighthearted tone. "It's about noon."
Katara nudged him with her shoulder playfully. "Are you asking because you're concerned for me or because YOU are hungry?"
"You got me."
They both laughed as Aang pulled Katara into a restaurant labeled "The Food Palace." "You would think they'd name it something more eye-catching." Katara chuckled. "Food Palace sounds like somewhere Mai would eat."
She was interrupted when a wall of screams and cheers bombarded them as they strode through the doors. It was a chaotic pack of ravenous fans, all cheering for Aang, who grinned broadly and blushed.
"I guess they remembered, too." He said raising his voice above the fanatic screams. He inclined his head to every person that bowed to him, shaking hands with the occasional townsperson eager for his acknowledgement. Quite a few girls begged him for a handshake, and nearly fainted as soon as his hand touched theirs. Katara ignored that, and politely exchanged greetings with boys that wanted her attention.
When one particularly rambunctious teenage boy called out, "I LOVE YOU, KATARA!!", Aang quickly released her hand and slipped an arm around her waist instead, clearly trying to get a point across. Katara heard him mumbling to himself, and let out a small giggle. "Relax, Aang." She teased.
He flashed an apologetic smile at her.
Suddenly, a waitress appeared and whipped out a pad of parchment. "I'm so sorry," she stated, "I can take you to our private room. Come."
She whisked away, closely followed by Aang and Katara. They sighed in relief when they passed through a doorway that shut as soon as they entered.
"There is NO quiet restaurant in Ba Sing Se, is there?" Katara said, straightening her dress. "I feel like I just walked through a herd of screaming ostrich-horses."
"Ba Sing Se just seems to know stuff." Aang pointed out, scratching his bald head.
The waitress they were following motioned to an empty table. "There you are, Avatar." She said, bowing. "Enjoy, Miss Katara. The manager will be here momentarily." She bowed again and made her exit.
Aang stepped over and pulled out Katara's chair for her, pushing it back in when she sat down. Then, he edged around and sat in his chair with a huff.
"I hate crowds." He said, wrinkling his nose. "I always feel pressed." He laughed.
Katara raised an eyebrow when she heard how odd his laugh was. She became curious when a warm red color flooded his face. He was getting fidgety, too.
"Um...are you all right?"" she asked slowly, reaching across the table to cover his hand with hers.
He laughed. "Yeah, yeah...just fine, don't worry about me."
Katara squinted her eyes in suspicion just as the manager suddenly burst into the room. A large, boisterous man, the manager easily created a feeling of comfort and happiness.
"So!" he boomed. "The rumors of having the Avatar in my shop are true!" He reached out a beefy hand and shook Aang's vigorously. "It's truly an honor, Avatar."
Aang nodded. "Please, call me Aang."
The jolly man chimed a laugh. "And this must be Katara!" He rumbled, bowing in her direction. "I've heard of you all over town!" he shook her hand energetically. "I see the rumor of you two being an adorable couple is true, too!"
Katara smiled at Aang, turning bright red.
The manager turned to Aang. "My name is Shen. I hear you turned sixteen last week, Aang. I wish you another happy year."
Aang grinned. "Thank you, Shen."
Shen hoisted his pants. "So, what'll it be for you two?"
Over the next hour, Aang and Katara enjoyed a wonderful lunch. Tray after tray of fabulous dishes were placed before them, and they were soon stuffed.
After a particularly rich, creamy bowl of pudding, Aang pushed back from the table with a loud scrape.
"Ugh..." he groaned, "I feel like I just ate Appa." He patted his stomach.
Katara wiped her mouth on an embroidered napkin. Nodding her head, she too pushed her chair back from the table.
"So," she said conversationally, "what was your problem earlier, Aang?" she ran her fingers through her hair. "Come to think of it, you haven't been able to look me straight in the eye for days now. What's up?"
Aang fumbled the spoon he had just picked up. "Huh?" he asked stupidly. "What do you mean?" he avoided her eyes and turned red.
Katara's lips twitched. "You know what I mean."
Aang turned an even darker shade of red. Propping his elbow on the table, he gazed off into the distance. "It's nothing,' he murmured, "let's pay and head home."
Aang stood, pacing around the table to pull Katara's chair out. Taking her hand, he helped her stand. His heart dropped when he saw her head dipped low, avoiding his gaze. Expression softening, he placed the side of his hand under her chin and pulled her head up to face him.
"Hey..." he whispered, "don't worry...it's nothing negative. I've just been...considering some stuff lately. Don't be upset...you'll see in time."
Katara stared into his eyes. Gradually, she nodded. "I trust you."
Aang kissed her forehead. "Let's go."
As they proceeded to find Shen, they silently grasped hands, trying once again to press through the stifling crowd. When they did finally locate the burly manager, he refused any kind of payment.
"Your efforts to free the world have saved us," he said, "the least I can do is give you a proper meal, especially on the three-year mark. Thank you, Avatar Aang." He bowed low in respect.
The walk home was very quiet. It was only one-thirty, but their meal was beginning to set in, and Katara felt like having a nap.
As they ascended the steps to the house, Sokka walked out of the door. He had a big bouquet of flowers, and his face was splotchy and red. When he saw Aang and Katara, he waved.
"Going to see Suki." He rasped. "Toph is working." Without waiting for an answer, he trotted down the steps, wiping his nose.
Aang and Katara proceeded into the house. Momo pounded on Aang as soon as he was through the door and licked his head.
Katara scratched behind Momo's ears, opening her mouth wide in a wide yawn. "I'm feeling a nap coming on..." she raised her arms above her head. "I'll be in my room if you need me."
Aang watched her stride to the entrance of the hallway. Grasped by a sudden feeling of remorse, he called out, "Katara."
Katara halted, turning toward him with one slender hand placed on the wall. "Yes?"
Aang flitted to her side, the light breeze wafting her silky hair with gentle strokes. He caught her up in a firm hug, lacing his fingers through her hair to press her forehead to his shoulder.
Surprised, but happy, Katara gripped him around the waist in return.
"I don't like having you upset at me." He said his voice muffled by her head. "I know I've been hard to cope with for the last few days, but please trust me when I say that it's for something good."
"I'm not upset, Aang."
"Yes you are...I know you. I know you don't like it when I keep stuff from you. I know you're not super upset, but you are just a little put off. That's worse than you being happy, and I live to make you happy."
"More to keep the world in balance." Katara pointed out. Aang shook his head.
"No. To make you happy is what I think is more important." He released her, but placed his hands on her shoulders. "C'mere..." he murmured, "I want to tell you something." He steered her to the couch. Sitting down, he pulled Katara's head into his lap and proceeded to play with her hair. The calming sensation made her close her eyes in pure content.
"Do you remember when we were in Ba Sing Se with the Earth King? Right after we got Long Feng arrested?"
"Well, when we got those scrolls, and I found out that there was a Guru waiting to train me, I remember being so sad that we had to be split up. But, I was mostly upset because I was leaving you."
Katara smiled. "What were you going to say before Sokka interrupted you? You were acting so weird."
Aang hesitated. "Well, I was going to confess how I felt about you...but I was extremely nervous, and Sokka kind of ruined it." He began braiding a strand of her hair. "Anyways, when I got to Guru Pathik, I was embarrassed at how little I knew about the chakras. Every one of them was new to me, and the visions I had were terrifying. But, there was one chakra that was blocked by grief. I saw all of the Air Nomads in front of me...and they began disappearing, one by one. I heard Pathik's voice...he told me that their love had been reincarnated. Then, I saw a vision of your face. It was right when I had woken up from the iceberg."
"You've never told me this." Katara said.
"I know," Aang muttered, "but I want to tell you now."
He traced his fingers over her face, closing her eyes. "Relax." He whispered. "You don't know how peaceful and soft of a feeling I got when I saw your face in my vision. It was like waking up in your arms all over again. It was you that helped me get over the loss of my people. I realized that so long as I have you, I am complete."
"WE are complete." Katara corrected.
"Yes," Aang said, "We." He sighed. "Well, a few chakras later, I had to concentrate on what attached me to this world, what kept me here. Of course, you filled my mind with visions. That was when Guru Pathik told me that I had to let you go."
Katara opened her eyes. "What?"
Aang nodded. "He said that to let the cosmic energy flow, you must learn to let her go. When I heard that, I was repulsed. I told him that I couldn't let you go because I loved you. That was the first time I confessed my feelings for you out loud."
"And how did it feel?"
"It felt...right. Like it was supposed to come from my voice."
"Well, it really does sound nice coming from you." Katara teased.
As they sat together, Aang shared with her all of the moments that he could remember of trying to tell her he loved her. He told her about the fortuneteller, when he had tried to tell her, but was snubbed by the cheering crowd. He told her about Kyoshi Island, when he had tried to make her jealous with all of the other attention he was getting. Finally, he came to the most embarrassing of them all.
"Remember when we arrived at the rendezvous point on that island? It was four days before the invasion."
Katara laughed. "That's when you almost when insane from lack of sleep, right?"
Aang chuckled. "Yup, that one. Well, when you told me that I should take a nap, I told you that I had a daydream about living underwater, right? Well, I lied. In my real daydream, I told you that I loved you, then I kissed you, and you kissed me back. Then, I swept you off your feet and said, baby, you're my forever girl. Next thing I knew, I was holding thin air, and you were staring at me with a weird expression on your face."
Katara was shaking with laughter. "Forever Girl, huh?"
They laughed and joked together for a while, all of the tension from earlier washing away. But eventually, Katara slowly drifted off into a quiet sleep, chest rising and falling in the rhythmic pattern of peace.
Aang sat, cradling her head. For quite a while, he gazed at her relaxed facial expression, taking in the way her hair waived around every angle of her refined posture. A slight smile formed about her lips, and as she breathed, Aang heard a faint, chiming laugh, the same one he had fallen in love with.
A thought struck him, and he was suddenly very curious. He raised a hand and gently pressed two fingers against her forehead, focusing.
He closed his eyes and when he opened them, he found himself staring down at an open grass field, surrounded by tall trees. The sun shone bright and a gentle wind picked up, caressing the grass and various wildflowers. A sparkling stream flowed through, splitting the field in half.
Aang heard her laugh again, and another person spoke. Recognizing his own voice, he descended towards the field.
Katara was lying on her back on the riverbank with one hand extended towards the sky, pointing at the spot where he was looking down at her.
"That one looks exactly like you!" she exclaimed. She turned her head and giggled at the comical expression on the face of Aang's dream-self, who lay beside her.
He smiled and slowly withdrew from her mind, leaving her to her own pleasant dreams.
Quietly, Aang hummed a soft lullaby, scooping Katara up into his arms. She shifted in her sleep as he stood, curling in such a way that she fit right into the structure of his arms and chest. He smiled as he walked with a gentle gait.
When he reached her room, he nudged the door open with his foot. He crossed the length of it in a few seconds, gently lowering her limp form onto the bed. Still humming his tune, he pulled the shoes off of her feet and set them at the foot of the bed frame, then pulled the blanket up and smoothed it over her. Brushing her hair out of her face, he bent down to kiss her forehead.
"Sweet dreams, love..." he murmured before turning and walking back into the hallway, silently sliding the door shut behind him.
A Question of Fate.
Ba Sing Se, inside Team Avatar's home, 5 hours later...
Aang sat on the couch, turning the necklace over and over in his hands. He was contemplating the way he would ask Katara, and though many ideas flowed through his mind, only a few actually stuck.
He also reminded himself to be more careful and not ruin the surprise.
Aang's fear had nearly come to pass when Katara had woken from her nap two hours ago. He had been sitting in exactly the same spot, thinking out loud. The engagement necklace pressed against his hip, concealed in his pocket. "It has to be special when I ask her..."
"Ask me what?" a soft voice issued from just behind his ear.
Aang jumped and instantly went scarlet as he snapped around to face Katara. He had been so caught up in his own thoughts that he didn't even notice when she crept up behind him.
He was shocked and more embarrassed than he had ever felt before, and couldn't find a single word to say.
Katara burst into laughter, squeezing her eyes shut and nearly doubling over.
She could not contain herself.
After a few moments, she composed herself enough to say "I'm sure I'll find out eventually." She placed a kiss on his cheek before pacing to the door and sliding it open, still giggling. "Gonna head to the marketplace, I'll be back in a little while." She glanced at Aang and began laughing again, his face still flushed with shock as she stepped outside.
A bead of sweat rolled down Aang's face as he brought himself back from the memory. He wiped his forehead, thanking the spirits that he hadn't been holding the necklace.
Katara had yet to return, and Aang waited patiently, consumed with his thoughts.
He was also waiting for Sokka, who was supposed to bring Hakoda to the house. Aang had sent a letter to the chief a week ago, asking him to visit for a while. It was also Water Tribe tradition to get a blessing from the father before actually asking.
Aang was just thinking about this when the front door opened. In strode Sokka, who had his father in tow. Aang jumped up immediately to shake hands with the Water Tribe chief.
"Chief Hakoda." He said, bowing in respect.
"Please, Aang," Hakoda chuckled, "I've known you for quite some time now." Turning, he lowered himself onto the couch across from Aang. "So," he declared, "what is it you wanted to talk to me about, Aang?"
Aang sat back down, turning white. "Well..." he squeaked, voice hitting a higher octave. He coughed. "Hakoda...I'm just going to say it. I want to ask for Katara's hand in marriage." Shifting, he raised the necklace that he had been working on for almost two weeks now.
Hakoda fell silent, gazing at the gorgeous ornament. "May I see it?" he asked.
Aang stood up and carefully deposited it to Sokka, who passed it to his father. Hakoda examined it with reverence.
After a minute or so, in which Aang began sweating and fidgeting around in extreme nervousness, the Chief lowered it.
Well...? Aang thought nervously.
"Aang, I have no doubt that you would make a wonderful partner for my daughter."
Relief flowed through him.
Hakoda spoke again. "All I have to ask is...are you up for this?"
Aang sat up straighter. "Of course, sir. I promise I will always be there for her, no matter what. I know that it will be anything but easy, but I am up for it anytime if I have her by my side."
"And could you love her forever?"
Aang bowed his head. "Every minute of forever."
Hakoda broke into a wide grin. "Then you have my blessing." He rose to his feet and grasped Aang's forearm. "I will be honored to call you my son."
"And I would be honored to call you father." Aang released Hakoda and bowed, then turned to Sokka. "What about you, Sokka? I want your approval, too. After all, you'll have to live with me as your brother."
Sokka raised his hands. "Hey, as long as you don't bug me with your vegetarian nonsense, I'm all for it."
Aang was feeling light-headed with happiness. Wow, he thought, this is happening...me...with Katara...forever...He smiled and sat back down, along with Hakoda and Sokka.
"So," Hakoda said, "when do you plan on asking her?"
Aang rubbed his eyes. Still smiling, he said, "Tomorrow."
Ba Sing Se, early morning...
It was about two in the morning, but Aang couldn't sleep.
Katara had returned shortly after Aang's discussion with her father, just as Sokka and Toph were leaving to escort Hakoda to the airship station.
Jittery and nervous for the day, he couldn't seem to find peace enough to sleep. He tossed and turned, grumbling at himself. Finally, he gave up, and decided he wanted to go visit Appa. Sitting up, he pulled his shoes on and whipped the engagement necklace into his pocket. Treading carefully, he pushed the door open and crept down the hallway.
He inhaled a deep breath of fresh air as he slipped outside. The full moon filled the night sky with its luminescent glow as he stepped onto the porch and a soft breeze caressed his chest.
Aang ducked and almost had a heart attack as a flying ball of fur dive-bombed him, landing on his tattooed head. The guttural chatter and constant swipes of a tongue told him it was Momo.
"Momo!" Aang laughed. "What's your problem?'
Momo was screeching and whining, constantly trying to pull Aang in a certain direction.
"What is it?" Aang asked, getting concerned. He followed Momo, starting to jog as Momo's screeches became more urgent. Momo was frantically flapping to get Aang to move faster.
Finally, they reached the other side of the house, and Aang's heart skipped beats.
There was a strange, smoky gas pouring from a window.
Aang had just realized which window it was when Katara's desperate scream shattered the calm night.
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.