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|Shadow of Doubt|
Chapter 9- Shadow of Doubt
Words of Avatar Roku:
Love has many enemies, both mortal and immortal.
Mortal enemies provide no threat to Love.
One such mortal enemy is Death, to whom all must bow in the end.
He claims many, but Love reunites those he has taken, for Love is merciful, and eternal.
There is, however, an immortal enemy of Love that has lurked in the hearts of every being since the beginning of time.
This enemy is Doubt.
He festers and rots, a horrid creation born from the fear of losing the ones we love.
Oftentimes, he is used as a cruel instrument by a person filled with jealousy, seeking to drive others apart.
But for those who live in constant fear, he manifests and spreads without encouragement.
In his foul tongue he claims to offer us peace and safety from fear...
...by abandoning those closest to our hearts.
The Voice of Doubt: Jealousy.
Ba Sing Se, two weeks after Aang's proposal, inside Team Avatar's home...
Katara was sitting on the side of her bed when a subtle knock brought her out of a trance. Massaging her upset stomach, she called, "Come in, Aang." She knew it was him.
Sokka would have barged in; Toph would have pounded the door off of its hinges.
Sure enough, Aang opened the door soundlessly and stepped inside. Closing it behind him, he grinned at Katara as he sat next to her, crossing his legs. He was carrying a tray with a teapot and several cups, which he placed between them. "Iroh just taught me how to make this one," he said, filling one of the cups and holding it out to her, "it's similar to the stuff that heals your throat, but this doesn't really heal...it just makes your stomach feel better. Just be careful, though; too much will make you feel worse."
Katara took the cup, smiling at Aang's glowing expression. "How come you're so happy?" she asked as she lifted the rim to her lips.
Aang reached toward her neck, lifting the pendant that he had carved ever so carefully. "I just love seeing it on you." He explained, moving his hand to brush his fingertips across her cheek.
It had been two weeks since Aang had proposed to Katara, and the news that The Avatar was engaged had spread across Ba Sing Se like wildfire. People constantly showed up at their front door, bringing gifts and congratulations. Everything was blissful.
That is, everything except for one vexing problem.
As soon as they were engaged, it seemed like a switch had been flicked. Suddenly, Firebender rebellions were everywhere, causing havoc and pulling Aang away from his time with Katara. Every time Zuko showed up at the door to request help, Aang tried to say no. He tried to explain that he was taking this time to prepare for the wedding.
Katara had been steadily recovering since Azula's attempt on her life, between Iroh's soothing remedies and Aang's gentle healing, but some of the toxins that had ravaged her body were still lingering. Despite this, she had accompanied Aang several times to fight an uprising, ignoring his firm protests.
Other times she had begged him not to go, saying that Zuko, Toph, and Sokka could handle it themselves. He always ended up going, leaving a put-off Katara with a kiss and a promise that he would come back.
He always returned, but when he did he was exhausted and often hurt. Katara had healed many burns on his body that he could not heal himself, each time scolding him gently for not being more careful. Pushing these thoughts from her mind, she thought of the wedding.
"Can you believe it's so close?" murmured Katara, catching his hand. "Doesn't seem like that long since we first met, huh?"
Aang laughed. "Bet you never imagined you would be marrying the Avatar; much less the Avatar you happened to find in an iceberg, of all things."
Katara nodded in agreement, taking another swig of the cool medicine.
Suddenly, Sokka burst into the room, not bothering to knock. "Hey, lovebirds," he said, "someone's here to see you."
Aang and Katara glanced at him, both gazes containing a hint of annoyance.
"All right..." Aang muttered. He stood. "You can stay and finish your medicine." He told Katara, feeling her forehead. She had a fever.
Sokka shook his head. "No, I think that you should both come."
"You'll see." With that, Sokka left the room, twirling his sword to and fro carelessly.
Katara cast a questioning look at Aang, who shrugged. "Well...shall we?" he offered his arm to her. She took it as she slid off of the mattress. As they strode through her doorway, she stopped, a sudden urge rising from her stomach.
Aang halted, turning toward her. "You okay?"
Katara covered her mouth. "Be right back!" she managed to gasp, and dashed for the bathroom.
Aang's eyebrows furrowed with sadness. Sighing, he closed his eyes and paced slowly to the bathroom, taking time so he didn't have to listen to her suffer. She hadn't gone a day for the past two weeks without vomiting at least once. Thankfully, it was beginning to ease up. She could stomach a good meal for a few hours now.
As Aang reached the bathroom door, it opened and Katara stumbled out. He caught her, slightly alarmed at how shaky she was. Katara, close to tears, wrapped her arms around his waist and held him tightly.
"I wish this would stop." She groaned.
Aang stroked her hair. "I know love," he said, "but it's almost over. With that medicine, you should be feeling tons better in no time." He tipped her face up to his, kissing her forehead.
"Come on. Let's go see that guest."
They set off for the front door, and Katara frowned when she saw it was closed.
"Sokka!" she called. "Did the guest leave?"
Sokka's head poked up from the kitchen, a strip of seal jerky hanging out of his mouth. "Nope," he said. "Go outside."
Aang took Katara's hand. She grasped it tightly, and they approached the door. Aang reached to the doorknob, hesitating. "Sokka," he said, "what are you not telling us?"
Sokka, plopping down in the living room, shrugged exaggeratingly. "You'll find out, Air Boy. Now go on out before I force feed you some meat."
Aang scowled. "Fine...whatever." He took the doorknob again, twisting it. Katara leaned forward in curiosity.
Aang almost slammed the door shut as soon as it opened, but he caught himself. Katara couldn't blame him; the racket was like a pack of screaming hogmonkeys.
Out in the courtyard was what appeared to be the entire city of Ba Sing Se. Countless citizens were packed together like sardines, screaming and cheering for all they were worth. Katara laughed when she saw none other than the man from Kyoshi Island, who was screaming and frothing like a banshee.
Aang grinned. "Nothing stays quiet here, does it?"
Katara shook her head incredulously. "It's like they have one mind."
They stepped down the stairs and held each other for support, stopping near the bottom as the crowd converged on them.
Questions were flung at them nonstop. Some of them were: "How many children do you plan on?" "When is the wedding?" "Why so young?" "Why Master Katara, Avatar?"
Aang and Katara were warding off a huge crowd, answering questions left and right. When one man asked why Aang had a head full of half-inch hair, he answered, "Katara wants me to have a nice hairdo for the wedding...it's a nice change, and I'll do whatever she wants me to do."
Several girls were pouting, demanding Aang to tell them why he chose Katara. He pointedly ignored them when he saw a very furious Katara glaring daggers in their direction.
After a few minutes, Katara leaned closer to Aang, tipping her head up slightly. "I don't feel so great," she whispered in his ear. "I don't want to lose my stomach in front of all these people...mind if I go inside?"
Aang shook his head. "Not at all. I'll try to get them to leave, you go lie down for a while. I'll be inside in a moment."
Katara smiled, mouthing the words 'thank you'. Then, she waved to the crowd and turned to walk up the stairs.
"Wow," sighed one of the jealous girls who was standing by Aang. "She didn't even kiss him goodbye. If I were her, I would kiss him every time I walked away. What a great wife she's gonna be." Her friends nodded vigorously.
Aang was taken aback by their nerve with Katara. A flash of anger lit in his eyes, and he turned toward the teenagers. He clenched his jaw, and forced himself to calm down. The girl that had spoken saw him staring at her, and fluttered her eyelashes, giggling. Head lowering, Aang glared at her in frustration. He shook his head slowly, getting it clear that he didn't want to hear another word. She didn't get it.
"Wow," she said, "he is so desperate to be free of her that he's looking at other girls when he's engaged...that Katara must really be bad. I can tell she doesn't deserve him."
Aang's last thread of patience snapped.
Whipping his hands fiercely, he summoned a wind current that pulled the girl toward him, stopping her when she was five feet away. He held her in midair.
The crowd went silent in a heartbeat.
Aang took one step toward the frightened teen, still glaring. "You listen to me," He spoke in a low voice, "If you are not happy with this, then I am fine with it. But, you have NO RIGHT to go around like the queen of this city, insulting Katara. Keep it to yourself." He turned to the crowd, and began to yell so they could all hear him.
"I will have you know this: Katara is the one that found me. If it wasn't for her, I would still be in the iceberg, and the war would still be raging. You could very well be enslaved right now. Sozin's Comet would have burned this city to the ground. There would be no Ba Sing Se. There would be no freedom. You would not have the clothes you wear now...you would be wearing rags." Aang let the girl to the ground, and she stumbled back, severely shaken. "You would all be enslaved or DEAD right now! Do you realize that!? If it wasn't for Katara, I would not be standing in front of you right now. You would be forced to worship Ozai, building his cities and feeding his nation!"
Aang stopped, taking a deep breath. He focused and forced himself to calm down slightly, then spoke again.
"For those of you who are happy for us, I give you the most sincere thanks. But for those of you who are just here to complain," He continued, pointing sharply to the girl who had insulted Katara, "Then please. Keep it to yourselves. I love Katara. I always have, I always will, and any of you that want to challenge that can step forward right now."
Nobody moved a muscle.
"That's what I thought," he said, relaxing. "I thank you all for coming out to see us. The wedding will be open to the community. Please feel free to attend. It is one month from today. And now, I have to return to Katara. Good day."
Aang bowed and turned on his heel, treading quickly up the stairs to the door. Yanking it open, he stepped inside and snapped it shut.
He was surprised when Katara jumped out and tackled him with a hug. Exhaling loudly, he held her against his chest tightly and rocked back and forth. She was shaking.
"Have you been sick again?" Aang asked softly.
Katara nodded. "It was that girl. Every time we walk past her in the streets, she says something...I ignore it, but this time was just over the line. That was what actually made me sick...that someone would sink that low...especially after what you did for them."
Aang didn't let go of her. "What WE did for them. Did you hear me yelling out there?"
"Well, they needed to hear it. I was dead serious, Katara. If you hadn't found me, the world would be burned and dead right now...it would all be Fire Nation. Ozai would have control over everything...including you. If you didn't find me...we wouldn't be together right now. I know I was really harsh out there, but that girl honestly pushed me over the edge. It doesn't help that I'm already edgy from making sure Azula doesn't get you."
He paused, sighed, and then added "You're as much of a savior to this world as I am..."
Katara made an inaudible sound, muffled from his shirt.
"What?" Aang asked.
"I said: I love you." Katara replied, turning her head. "And thank you for defending me."
"You know that every person out there just adores you, right?" Aang asked. "The dumb teenage girls are just jealous. Don't let them get to you."
Katara laughed, suddenly bringing up a random subject. "Do you remember how many people said 'isn't he a little young for you?' to me?"
Aang smiled. "Yes, why?"
Katara shrugged. "It was cute to see you react so angrily. You'd get that look on your face, and walk around all manly for the rest of our date."
They laughed together, and the jealous teenagers were promptly washed from their minds.
The Voice of Doubt: Worry.
Ba Sing Se, one month later...
Aang sat bolt upright, hairs on the back of his neck standing straight out. Jumping out of his bed soundlessly, he landed in a poised position, ready to strike if necessary. He listened intensely, slowly turning his head back and forth. Something had woken him; it was the middle of the night.
He heard it again.
A sharp tap on the window.
Softly padding to the wall, he barely poked his head around to investigate the scene. Sighing in relief, he relaxed when he saw Zuko standing outside of his window, ten feet down.
Grunting, Aang yanked the pane up, leaning out. "Zuko! What is it? Please don't tell me it's another rebellion issue."
Zuko only shook his head and waved a hand, motioning for Aang to come down.
Aang nodded, jumping out of his window and landing gracefully in front of Zuko. "Now, what is it?"
Zuko let his hood down. "You guessed it. Firebender rebels have surrounded the Earth King's palace, and it's turning bad. We're having a hard enough time trying to keep it quiet, but it's getting impossible! They're going to wake up the whole city at this rate, and the palace is going to be in ruins."
Aang rubbed his eyes in exasperation. "It's the middle of the night...I'll have to hurry. I don't want to worry Katara. I'll be out in a minute. Go wait at the barn, we'll take Appa."
Zuko set off at once. Aang jumped back to his window, Airbending causing his extended leap.
Landing on his floor, he immediately went to his closet, reaching inside to pull out his combat shirt. Yanking it over his head, he grabbed his staff and jogged out of his room without a sound.
Instead of heading for the door, he swiftly made for Katara's room.
Her quiet sounds of relaxed breathing made him smile as he reached her doorway. Entering softly, he conjured a tiny flame in his hand so that he could see his surroundings.
Katara was sleeping; that was easy enough to see. The covers gently rose and fell with her even breaths. Tip-toeing, he slipped to her bedside. She was facing sideways, towards him. Her mouth was slightly open, and her face was clear. Her untidy hair was splayed across the bedspread, and several strands rested on her face. Brushing them away Aang carefully, very carefully, bent down and kissed her. "I'll be back before breakfast." he promised, and walked out of her room.
He was in the clear until he got to her doorway. Then, he cringed as he heard her shifting, the covers rustling and moving under her. "Aang?" Came her groggy voice, and he knew he was in trouble. "What are you doing?"
Aang leaned with one hand on the doorway, contemplating how he would explain. "Nothing," he said simply.
He saw Katara sit up. "Aang," she said firmly.
He sighed, giving up. "It's another rebellion. Zuko is here, and the others are waiting for me at the palace. Katara, I have to go..."
Katara slid off the bed, her feet whispering on the wooden floor. "Aang, it is the middle of the night."
"I know, Katara," Aang said, "That's actually better."
"How in ANY WAY is that better, Aang?" Katara whispered fiercely. "If anything, you are tired, and it makes you more vulnerable!"
"Aang," she interrupted, "do you realize that the wedding is five days away?" She folded her arms. "Do you know how I would feel if you got seriously injured?"
"But WHAT, Aang? Don't try to tell me that it won't happen, because that's not true. Aang...do you realize how often I sit at home while you're gone, hoping and praying that you will come back to me?"
Katara looked away, eyes stinging. "Every day. Every day that I can't come with you, every day that you talk me out of it, I sit on that windowsill, staring outside, repeating that silent plea that you will come back. Can you imagine the relief I feel when I see you walking through that door?" she took a shuddering breath. "Do you know how hard it is to think about you NOT coming back? What if you didn't? I would die, Aang."
Aang looked away, pursing his lips into a thin, compressed line.
"I know that you have Avatar duties," Katara continued, her voice slightly desperate, "I accepted that way back when we first got together. But this...this is ridiculous, Aang! You are gone every day! The war is over; you defeated Ozai a long time ago! So why do you still have to risk your life on a daily basis!?" she took a deep breath.
Reaching up, she gently touched her engagement necklace.
Emotions burrowed through her, and above all of them....doubt.
He leaves you at home, to wonder of his fate, to force fear upon you. It whispered to her, dark and hateful.
He's just doing his duty and trying to keep me safe she shot back. I have to accept that. I can't let his responsibilities get in the way of our life together... even I wish that things could be different.
You seem so unsure. So fearful...but there is another way...an escape from fear.
Katara began to hate the voice. But at the same time...she couldn't ignore it. She was confused, and she just couldn't understand anything anymore. If this voice was offering an escape that she so desperatly needed...
Really? she thought hesitantly. And...what is that?
What if he just...wasn't there anymore? You wouldn't be forced into fearing for his return.
You dare suggest that I...I leave him?
The decision is yours, I am simply helping you recognize the option.
S-stop...I...I love him, that will never change, and I don't need this!
Perhaps you do. It would be easier to accept and live with than the fear of losing him. You said it yourself. What if he didn't return? Your life would end. Perhaps you could end this fear now, rather than living it through...
I...n-no...I don't know...I love...
"I'm beginning to wonder how much this really means to you..." she breathed.
Katara wished she could take it back the moment she said it.
The immediate hurt and confusion that dawned on Aang's face ripped her heart out.
It mirrored her own swirling, regretful feelings.
She tore her gaze from his and forced her eyes shut, slowly bringing a hand up to cover her mouth, cursing herself. She had listened to the voice of doubt, and played right into its hands.
How could I...I...
"Katara..." Aang whispered. "Why would you say that?" he straightened up, dropping his staff.
Ignoring the hurt and confusion he felt, he crossed the room to Katara and pulled her into his embrace. Relief flowed through him when she leaned into him, burying her head into his shoulder.
"I don't know why these rebellions are popping up everywhere," he said. "I know that it hurts you to see me go so often...believe me, it hurts me to see your expression. I wish I could leave all of my Avatar duties, just so I could be with you, but you and I both know that I can't. I'm trying to get to the bottom of this."
A thought entered Katara's mind.
I'm not going to let him face this alone. If he can forgive me for doubting him...
Her expression hardened, and she whispered fiercely, "Then let me come with you. If you want to get to the bottom of this, I'm going to help."
Aang pulled away slightly and was about to protest, but her glare alone silenced him.
"I want us to be able to live together without having to fall asleep every night on a hope that you'll be there when I wake up. I want it to end. I want to help you fight these monsters." Her crystal-blue eyes were staring directly into his grey ones, daring him to argue.
Aang closed his eyes. Thoughts were racing through his mind. He felt like he was being torn apart. He truly understood how she felt. Confused...helpless...she just wanted it to stop. And she wanted to help stop it. But at the same time, he wanted to keep her safe.
It was a familiar feeling.
Aang opened his eyes. Katara's were still staring into his, inches away. He pressed his forehead to hers.
He spoke slowly. "Katara, remember what happened when I woke up on that Fire Nation ship, after Ba Sing Se fell?
She blinked, and gave a slight nod.
"I ran away because I didn't want any of you to get hurt. I didn't want any of you to risk your lives to fix my mistakes. That is how I feel now. These rebellions are my mistakes, my inability to keep peace. I fight so we can live in peace together. If you got hurt I would never forgive myself." He paused before continuing. "But I also realized that love is one of life's greatest gifts. You have to let the people who love you help you...even if you want to keep them from harm."
Katara's expression softened and she felt tears rising to her eyes. "And...?" she whispered.
It sickened him, but Aang managed to whisper "I want to keep you safe, and if you feel safest by my side, helping me end these rebellions, I won't stop you."
Katara grinned, and then added "Not that you could anyway."
Aang grinned and chuckled in agreement.
The doubt she felt had melted away, and she took confidence in his words. Throwing her arms around him again, she kissed him. Aang returned the embrace, holding her tightly. She sighed and inhaled his scent.
"And, Katara," Aang whispered. He tapped the engagement necklace. "This means everything to me. You are my life. Don't ever doubt it."
"I didn't mean it, Aang." she replied. "I was just really stressed and confused."
Aang smiled. "I know. Now come on, we've got to—"a series of taps on the front door interrupted him, followed by Zuko's voice.
"Aang, you should see this."
Katara nodded to Aang. She turned to her closet as Aang ran for the front door and slid it open. Zuko stood with a messenger hawk on his shoulder, reading a scroll with a serious look on his face.
"We're coming. You take Appa and get back to the palace, there's no time to waste. We'll take my glider." Aang ordered
Zuko looked up and raised an eyebrow. "We? You would have let Katara come?"
Aang winced and looked away. "It breaks my heart, but yes, I would have—wait..." he stopped himself, noticing Zuko's choice of words. Aang's head snapped up to face Zuko. "What do you mean would have let her come?" Realization and relief filled his heart as Katara came up from behind. She had quickly dressed in her traditional blue fighting outfit and had a waterskin strapped to her side.
"What happened?" She asked.
"Sounds like you won't need that tonight." Aang replied, smiling.
Zuko grinned slightly and spoke. "A hawk came with a message from the palace. The rebellion was dispersed by Kuei and the royal guard."
The relief was evident on her face as Katara sighed and muttered to Aang, "I'm glad...but I still would have come with you," grasping his hand.
"I know," he replied.
Zuko paused, taking another parchment from the hawks back. "Their leader surrendered without throwing a single blow when he heard the Avatar might show up...and gave up valuable information regarding the rebels." Zuko turned to face them as he rolled the scroll in his hands. "This sounds really strange, but we'll handle it...you two need to get some sleep. I know it's been hard lately, but this could very well be the end of these uprisings." He turned and raised his hood, stepping down the stairs quickly.
They stood together in the doorway, watching as Zuko turned a corner and disappeared.
Maybe...just maybe...this nightmare is over Aang thought.
Katara leaned her head on Aang's shoulder. He turned and drew her into a firm hug, which she gladly returned. The cool night breeze wafted in, gently playing with her hair.
Realization slowly dawned on her. All this time, he was fighting for our future together...and finally won...how could I ever..."Aang?"
After a few moments, he answered, "Yes, Katara?"
"I'm sorry I ever doubted you." She whispered as her heart fluttered and tears flowed down her face.
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.