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Chapter 8 – Precious Treasure
Words of Avatar Aang:
Of the countless things that we hold dear in our lives, none are more precious than these.
The rush of air as we inhale, the gentle sigh as we exhale.
The constant thud as our hearts beat.
Things that seem to speak of life.
But so, so precious.
With them comes Love, happiness, and the pleasure of sharing these things with others.
But without them...Death.
Breath, Heartbeat, That Which Speaks of Life.
Ba Sing Se, early morning, courtyard...
"KATARA!!" Aang yelled, and took off for the window. The wind howled behind him as he forced it to push him forward, making him dash to the window in a small second. The window was high off the ground, so he created the Air Scooter and tore up the wall. On the way, he became more frenzied when Katara screamed his name desperately, followed by a hacking cough.
When he reached the window, he took a huge breath and jumped in. "Katara!" He covered his mouth.
"Aang!" came her plea for help.
There was no way to see, the gas was so thick. "Katara, don't breathe it in! Cover your face!"
Aang thought quickly, forming a huge ball of wind, hoping to blow it all out the window.
It didn't work. The deadly gas hung heavy in the air, twisting and swirling.
"No..." whispered Aang. "KATARA! Where are you!?" he yelled again.
"Aang...I can't..." came her weak reply.
"NO! Katara, don't you DARE give up!" closing his eyes, Aang used Earthbending to try and sense her vibrations. He located her, and he felt something else as well, but ignored it.
She was in the corner, doubled over.
"Katara!" He sprinted to her side, maintaining the ball of air around him, and had just reached her when she collapsed in a heap. He caught her limp form. Her body shook with violent coughs and dry heaves.
"I'm here, Katara! Stay with me, okay?" he whispered desperately.
"She doesn't have much time left." An icy voice drifted from across the room.
Aang jerked his head up as a figure emerged from the twisting gas. The face was covered with a breathing mask, but he knew the voice.
His eyes blazed.
"Azula!" he snarled.
"Yes, genius, it's me. I told you I'd be back, didn't I?" she drawled.
"I don't have time for your stalling!" snapped Aang. "Get out, NOW!"
He heard Azula chuckle. "Make me."
Aang acted immediately.
He carefully let the Avatar State flood his mind, and he began to glow. Before Azula could react, his arm shot forward and sent a massive blast of air across the room, throwing her backwards and pinning her against the wall.
Standing, he opened his mouth, bellowed, "GET OUT!!" and punched forward. The rock wall behind Azula exploded, exposing the night sky.
Aang braced himself. Fire issued from his mouth, wind from his palms, and Azula was sent flying. The toxic gas was forced out of the room by the intense heat and wind currents, dissipating silently.
Aang stood in the midst of it all, breathing hard. The glow ebbed away smoothly, leaving him slightly drained.
He dropped to the ground where Katara was lying.
His blood ran cold when he turned her over.
He listened for her gentle breath...
...but he heard none of these feelings that spoke of life, these sensations that he had always felt around her.
She wasn't breathing.
"Katara!" he shouted. "KATARA!"
Frantically, he laid her down. Placing his hands on her chest, he focused on the air in her lungs.
It was polluted and dirty, excreting poison throughout her system. He began to draw the air out, forcing Katara to breathe. Then he bent over and placed his mouth over hers, using his Airbending to purify the oxygen he breathed into her.
"Come on, Katara!" he choked out. "Breathe!"
Trembling, he placed a hand over her heart. He felt the power of the full moon beaming down on his back, empowering him tenfold, and used Bloodbending to force her heart to beat. At the same time, he continued to clean out her lungs, forcing the pure air in.
"You can't leave me!" he whispered. "DO NOT leave, Katara! Please...I'll tell you what I was keeping from you..."
Using a particularly powerful surge, he made her heart beat stronger.
"Katara, I want to be with you forever..." He gritted his teeth, giving her another breath. "That's why I've been so nervous! I turned sixteen last week, and, well, your cultural tradition is sixteen!" Several tears rolled down his face, falling on her still form.
So still...and silent.
He could not hear her breath.
Aang's heart began to break at the thought of her angelic, chiming laughter.
A sound he may never hear again.
He gave her another breath.
Another surge, willing her heart to beat.
"alone!" he whispered fiercely.
He inhaled sharply when her heart suddenly gave a sluggish pump on its own.
"That's it, Katara...come on. Come back to me. I want you to be able to come to me when you need something. I want to be able to have you as my partner through any battle."
Her heart beat stronger.
"I want to be able to raise a family with you, to have a family we can call our own."
Body jerking, Katara gave a shuddering breath.
Aang continued his process.
"I know you can do it, Katara." he murmured shakily. "We can get through this together. Do NOT give up. Fight! Do you hear me!?" he brushed the hair out of her face.
A spasm ran through Katara's body, and she began to breathe while her heart started beating rapidly.
Yes, come on Katara, come back. You promised.
"I...I want you to marry me, Katara..." he said softly."I promise that I will always be there for you, no matter what. I promise I will love you forever and always. I promise I will make a good husband...and eventual father. Please, just don't leave me now. We have a whole future ahead of us."
Katara's eyes snapped open for an instant before she squeezed them shut again, coughing and gagging violently.
Aang turned her on her side as she continued to recover. Relief flooded his body.
"Thank the Spirits..." he exclaimed, "Thank the Spirits..." He looked up through the hole he had made in the wall. He saw the full moon gazing back at him, and the faint outline of a figure he knew very well.
Princess Yue smiled back at him, her body glowing in the ghostly moonlight.
Thank you... he mouthed. Yue gave the faintest of nods before closing her eyes and melting away.
As Katara started to sit up, Aang looked back down and held her for support. Her body shook and she abruptly threw up. He took little notice, nonchalantly wiping it off of his arms and rubbing Katara's back as she coughed again and again.
As her body finally began to calm down, Aang pulled her to him and held her, ripping off a piece of his pants to gently wipe off her face.
She was shaking violently. Aang touched her forehead, and winced at how hot it was.
"Aang..." she managed to whimper between her chattering teeth, tears streaming down her face.
Aang's throat clenched. "I know, love." Her forehead was burning up, but her body was freezing. He turned and pulled a blanket from her bed, gently tucking it in around her quivering form as he held her. He kissed her and rocked back and forth, trying to calm her down.
"It was Azula," she whispered, "she got in here somehow."
Aang placed his hand on the side of her head, softly caressing her temple with his thumb and brushing the tears from her cheeks. Katara tried to speak again but was overtaken by a series of weak coughs.
"Shh..." He pressed his lips against her hair. "Do you know how badly you scared me just now?"
"I'm sorry, Aang. It was almost impossible to stay awake..." she rasped.
She sniffed hard, and tried to speak again. "Aang...I was gone. I was literally out of my body...I was in a weird place, and I saw Princess Yue...and my mom. She had come to see me, and told me that I couldn't leave yet...and she showed me you. I could see and hear you...I was watching while you were saving me."
She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, tasting the clean air that flowed into her lungs and relishing the sensation.
"I never thought it would feel so good to just...breathe..."
Aang brought her closer and shared in the delight as her breathing and heartrate returned to normal. "There are no words for my relief right now" he whispered.
A Whole Future Ahead of Us.
They sat there for a several minutes, Katara shaking, Aang holding her. Many times, Katara would start coughing again, and Aang would massage the nape of her neck as she balled up in vicious fits of spasms.
"You need water." Aang whispered.
Katara was about to protest when Aang placed a finger on her lips.
"No. I'm going to get you some. I'll probably make some soup, too."
Grunting, he stood up, holding Katara closely. Adjusting so that she was more comfortable, he nudged the door open with a tap of his foot. Walking sideways into the hallway, he set off to the living room.
"So what was it like?" Aang asked.
"Seeing your mom again."
Katara paused, coughing. She covered her mouth, looking thoughtful. "I really don't know...I was thrilled, but sad."
"Why were you sad?"
"Because I knew I had to get back to you, and leave her."
They reached the living room, and Aang laid her down on the same couch Suki had been placed over a month ago. He wrapped the blanket around her again, and whisked to the kitchen.
"Don't go to sleep," he warned, "I don't want to lose you again."
Katara watched him as he went from cupboard to cupboard, rustling around until he found a cup and a bucket. Then, he used Waterbending to draw water from the sink, depositing some in the bucket and the rest into the cup, which he blew on with a gentle whoosh.
Katara saw tiny ice crystals form around the glass. Her eyes still followed Aang as he reached up to a top shelf and grabbed a bottle of healing herbs. Opening it, he took a few of the leaves and crushed them into powder, sprinkling it into the cup.
"Iroh taught me that." Aang said when he strode back to Katara, setting the bucket down beside him. "Here...drink up."
Katara gladly accepted the cup. She could hardly lift it to her mouth, she was so shaky. Aang noticed and placed his hand over her trembling one to steady her. "There you go..." he said softly, drawing the top to her lips.
She took a small sip, and eagerly tried to gulp more when she felt how much the icy water soothed her burning throat.
"Careful now," Aang warned, "the herbs will just help your throat, but your body needs to get rid of the toxins. You're probably going to have a rough time with your stomach for a few days."
Aang was proven right when the water Katara had forced down too quickly came right back up.
"Ouch!" she croaked. "That really burned."
Aang sighed. "I know. Take it more slowly." He airbent another bucket from across the room and waterbent the regurgitated mixture of fluid and bile into it. "Your body needs to recover."
"Maybe I'll wait on the soup." She murmured, laughing weakly.
Carefully, he lifted her head and slid onto the couch, placing a pillow on his legs so she would be more comfortable. "Drink more," he said, "but slowly."
Katara obediently drank more of the soothing herb-water. Gritting her teeth, she forced it to stay down, then sipped some more.
After keeping down a few mouthfuls, she told Aang, "You're really good at this kind of stuff." She clamped a hand over her mouth when the water tried to make reappearance.
Aang drew some water from the clean bucket and bent it around his hands as Katara had taught him. He lowered his hands to her temples, gently massaging them with two fingers as the water began to glow. "Sometimes, I wish I didn't have to be. It hurts me to see you in so much pain."
Katara didn't answer. The soothing sensation from the healing water was helping her calm down. Another cough wracked through her body, burning in the back of her throat. "I really, really hurt..." she rasped after a while.
"I know, love...you've just gotta relax." He continued massaging her head, moving down to her neck and back up to her forehead. He frowned when he felt how hot it still was. "Drink a bit more, Katara."
She obeyed, letting more of the minty water rush down her throat. It felt good going down, but once it hit rock bottom...she shuddered, managing just barely to keep it contained.
"Katara...did you happen to hear what I said when you started breathing?"
She had been waiting for him to ask that. She knew it would come sooner or later, and now his words repeated in her mind...
"I want you to marry me, Katara. I promise I'll make a good husband...and eventual father."
She remained silent and a gentle blush spread over her face at the thought. Quiet and decisive, she ran it over and over again in her mind, and a saying from long ago sparked in her memory.
"The man you are going to marry...I can see that he is a very powerful bender."
Katara coughed again, and focused on the cool feeling of the water. "I heard you, Aang."
He stopped his massage for a moment. "Then I want to show you something. I'm going to move your head for just a second, okay?" He deposited the water back into the bucket.
Katara barely felt it when he lifted her head. He's being so gentle...I love this side of him. Maybe-- She was about to compliment this when she was suddenly hypnotized.
Aang was holding the most beautiful betrothal necklace she had ever seen over her head.
Gasping, she reached up with a shaking hand and took it from his, bringing it closer.
It was stunning. The center and largest pendant seemed to be part crystal, part moonstone. The blue moonstone was in the back, and the Water Tribe insignia was carved with intricate grace into it. The second layer was transparent crystal, pure and flawless, but she couldn't see what it was for.
"Turn it in the light." Aang whispered.
Katara did so, turning it back and forth in the glow of the lantern, and she could see. The Air Nomad symbol was carved into the crystal, but was so fine that she had to look closely. When revealed in the light, the Air Nomad crystal didn't distort or hide the Water Tribe moonstone's beauty. No, it added to it.
They seemed flow together in a flawless pattern.
They were one.
Katara was breathless. Her eyes glistened in the lamplight as tears spilled onto her cheeks.
Aang spoke. "Katara, its okay if...you know...you don't want to. I'm completely fine with it...I mean, I know we're young, but we could easily make it work. But again, I will understand if you say no."
Katara sat in silence as the reality of what Aang was asking came crashing down on her. So many emotions rushed through her...elation, love; happiness, anticipation, fear, and shyness were just a few.
And above all of these emotions, a single thought filled her mind.
This is happening...me...with Aang...forever.
Mustering up her feeble strength, she forced herself to sit up, despite her roiling stomach and pounding head. Swaying slightly, she turned to face Aang. Questions were evident all over his face as they stared at each other.
Suddenly, Katara flung her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately.
Aang almost fell backward in surprise, but regained his posture and kissed her back gently. He knew she was still in a lot of pain.
Katara pulled away just barely, her lips still brushing his. With both hands on either sides of his face, she whispered, "My answer is yes, Aang. Undoubtedly, unquestionably yes. It was never even a question."
Aang couldn't help it. Jumping up, he twirled Katara in a circle and kissed her again. "Seriously?! Katara, this is, well, I can't even wrap my head around it! Oh, man, I was SO terrified." He hugged her. "I love you...so much."
Katara recovered from being twirled, keeping down the urge to vomit. She smiled at Aang. "I love you too, Aang."
She had never seen him happier. She was feeling elated herself. His infectious smile made butterflies erupt in her chest.
"Aang..." She murmured, "We'll be together...forever."
Aang placed a hand on the side of her face, wiping away the tears with his thumb. "Forever." He breathed.
Katara swayed, coughing hoarsely. "I think I need to lie back down."
Aang nodded. "Sorry." He sat back down, pulling her with him. He lay back, placing his head on the arm of the couch, and pulled her down so that her head was on his chest.
They spoke and laughed together for the better part of an hour, planning out ideas. However, Aang insisted that Katara rest when she threw up again.
"Sleep." he said, playfully covering her eyes. "This time Azula can't get you...I'll kill her if she makes another attempt like the one tonight."
"That's not like you."
"Well, I'll go through anything to make sure you're safe. Now, sleep."
"I know." The comfort and warmth from Aang surrounded her, and she slowly drifted asleep.
Aang sighed in contentment, placing his hand on Katara's forehead. Her fever had broken.
He closed his eyes as tears ran down his cheeks in gentle streams.
The rise and fall of her chest.
The steady beat of her heart.
Thank the Spirits...thank you, Yue, for helping me bring her back.
Alive and Well.
He was still lying on the couch two hours later, holding Katara as her chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm, when the front door opened and Sokka and Toph strode in.
The sun was just barely creeping over the horizon behind them.
Sokka raised an eyebrow and Toph simply shook her head.
"So, um, Aang," Sokka started, slowly bringing his hand up to cover his forehead, "what happened to the side of the house?"
As always, be sure to check out the rest of the series, more chapters coming!
For the collective works of the author, go here.