A/N: Well, I've been trying to get out a post-war fic since I saw the finale, and I wish I could say that I've been working on this the entire time. No, actually I wrote this in about a week, I've just had a hard time knowing what to write! This will be the first multi-chaptere first person story I have written, and it was rather enjoyable to write thus far! I'm writing it from Katara's point of view because I realized that being in love with the Avatar must be very trying and amazing at the same time. I think she has a wonderful story to tell post-war, and I hope that I can portray what I want to with this fic. I began with Robert Frosts' "Fire and Ice" becuase it's one of my favoraite poems and it's theme is very central to this story. I hope you all enjoy and please don't forget to review!
Disclaimer: The characters protrayed do not belong to me, of course. They belong to Mike DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The poem is Robert Frosts', as menioned earlier.
Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
For What Has Passed, My Love, Is Now Spoken
To this day, there aren't many things that I enjoy about being in the Fire Nation capital city.
It is still difficult to walk through the long wide corridors of the royal palace and not be reminded of the fearful persecutor that once wreaked havoc on the world from his ominous throne room of flames and retribution. The hallways are lined with heavy red curtains, and golden tie backs, I am sure, hide the scorch marks I know must still be there… All these years of so called "peace" have done little to ease such thoughts and worries, and I still have nightmares of failure that some might label as senseless.
Then, of course, there is the heat, always sweltering and vice-like in its tenacity. One might try to ignore the little sweat beads that sprout the very second the sun is high enough in the sky to break through the eastern windows of the palace. But such practices are futile as the humidity fogs the very air that we breathe. And of course, we must never forget the inexhaustible fires that burn in every golden urn and statuesque candelabra throughout the royal city. These small infernos only add to the stifling heat that is the Fire Nation.
And just my simple presence in the royal palace almost always means that there is some type of political hype to oversee, or a peace treaty to revise, or a world conference to watch over. Up until this point, I've attended more of these meetings than I care to think about in the four years since the world had been ripped back from the hands of Ozai. In the beginning I went to these events with the world's best interest in mind, excited and ready to start rebuilding after a hundred years of fighting.
But the bureaucratic ramblings and unnecessarily long debates quickly clouded such intentions. More than once my quick temper and "loud mouth" – as a noble man from the Earth Kingdom capital had once put it, right before I froze his own mouth shut – have gotten me an early dismissal. Aang had asked me politely – always the perfect gentleman – and rather promptly that I now attend only the most important meetings, and leave the more trivial time consuming matters for him to deal with alone…
Funny, how the division of crop profits for Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom could take so long to divvy up, yet the decision to allow the colonists to stay in Earth Kingdom territory in the first place had only taken two days….So of course I get my fair share of alone time, as Aang attends and supervises these various meetings – some that last all day, if not all week. In fact, I can owe my solitude to one such meeting this very moment.
However, much to my chagrin – I'd much rather be in the alabaster temple of the Southern Air nomads than sitting in this too-red bath chamber – there are a few constructive, if not positive, aspects to being here.
Alone in my bath camber, I allowed my mind to wander with images of Aang shiftless and perspiring in the midday heat, of bath oils and luxurious linens found no where else on earth, and of lazy days spent reading and lounging at the fountains.
I smiled. Maybe the next week here wouldn't be as bad as I feared. Soon enough we will be at home again among the mountainous terrain and fresh open breezes that smell of evergreens and Spring. Besides, I don't get to have bubble baths at the Southern Air temple….
My smile deepened contently and I closed my eyes as I sunk deeper into the bath water, letting the little suds cover my ears so that my mind was filled with their popping and sizzling against my skin. It was easy to get lost in these tiny air pockets.
With a motion that was second nature to me always, I twirled my fingers under the water, bending little currents that swirled around the tub in a circular motion. My makeshift whirlpool soothed my muscles that were still weary from traveling the previous day.
Aang would be in the counsel meeting until after dark, he had said, and I didn't plan on getting to see him again until the morning. It was upsetting – even now it is still hard to be away from him for any length of time – but I had decided I would make the best of my solitude. So, I would spend my alone time soaking in the tub, followed by dinner in bed, and then reading myself to sleep from one of the royal library's hundreds of novels I'd found earlier that afternoon. Far from a perfect evening – how can anything be without his company? – but it would suffice…
Just then, a knock from the door in the adjoining bedchamber startled me. I opened my eyes, contemplating answering it. But then quickly decided against it… Sure that the knock was the servant from the kitchen, ready to prepare my meal, I groaned and sunk deeper into the water's warmth. I had no intentions of ending my bath early.
When a second set of knocks came from the door, I sank deeper. "Go away," I muttered into the water, causing little bubbles to froth around my mouth.
My ears, at this point, were now under the water – along with everything else – so the third set of knocks was muffled and muted and sounded more like a deep bass drum than knuckles rapping against a mahogany door. I associated the sound with the tribal drums I had grown up with in the Southern Water Tribe, and it almost made me homesick when the third set of knocks was not followed by a fourth.
Several long seconds passed with me still submerged completely under the water and bubbles. I had grown so accustomed to my element that I had learned to suppress my need for air almost without realizing it. I suppose it should be second nature to Master Waterbenders to be able to ignore the flame of hypoxia, but it never seems like it's just my lungs that are burning. My entire body seems to be on fire when I deprive myself of air for too long, and even I can see the poetic beauty in the intense hunger I feel in its absence.
I was contemplating the burning sensation that was pooling in my chest and filling my stomach and limbs, when the distinct sound of a familiar pair of footsteps registered in the back of my mind. The burning paused – perhaps receding just slightly – and my eyes popped open into the water at the realization of who it had been that was knocking on my door. The footsteps played across the stony bathroom tile and then froze in place only a few inches into the room.
Even through the water I could hear the surprise and anxiety in his voice as everything else in the large bathroom was completely silent. I was sure if I listened hard enough, I could hear his heart about to hammer its way out of his chest.
Within the span of a few seconds my mind scrambled around a dozen possible ways to handle the situation. Should I pretend that I had drown? Or just stay under the water until he went away or I really did drown? Maybe I should burst from the water and allow my overactive temper to remind him that he was supposed to be in a meeting and how dare he walk in on me like this! Or would his own guilt and embarrassment be more punishment than even I could serve?
Succumbing to the more-than-awkward situation at hand, I allowed the blood pulsing through my veins to stain itself across my cheeks as I peeked my head up from the water just enough to make eye contact. Immediately, the air rushed into my lungs, my body, along with his smell and I felt entirely intoxicated. His presence pervaded my senses and despite the circumstances, I was happy to see him, as always. However, I'd never been so thankful for the millions of bubbles that foamed across the surface of the water, obscuring my naked body that lay motionless beneath.
Truthfully, the bubbles weren't even needed, as his tattooed hands had found their way to his eyes. He stiffened like a board when I finally managed to calm myself enough to mouth an appropriate greeting.
"Ka-Katara…" Aang stammered as the crimson across his cheeks began spreading beneath his fingers, down his throat and across his shoulders. "I'm so sorry! I didn't know you would be… be… like this!" He seemed rooted to the spot just inside the bathroom door, as if his muscles would no longer respond to his commands to leave me in privacy.
Oddly enough, I found myself to be rather calm and collected. Strange, considering I was the one who was naked and he was definitely fully clothed… He trembled slightly and his hand was so tight across his eyes that his knuckles were turning white.
At this point, I realized that I was smiling, "Uou were supposed to be in that meeting all evening so I thought you were a servant knocking. If I'd have known it was you, I would have answered the door." Suddenly, I realized what I'd said and flushed a brighter shade of red than him – if possible. "Well I mean I would have put on clothes first and then answered the door, obviously!" I laughed nervously.
The corners of Aang's mouth finally began pulling into a smile and his posture relaxed, if just a little, at the causality of my tone and my fake laugh. It was as if he'd been fearing my reaction to his sudden intrusion.
"We uh, took a break to eat," he explained quickly. "Some of the nobleman from Ba Sing Se were disagreeing with Zuko's suggestion for a flat tax rate across the Earth Kingdom. It was getting a little out of hand, so we're reconvening after dinner."
Typical. I rolled my eyes, annoyed, yet grateful at the same time that I hadn't had to sit through hours of that. "So they still think it's fair to tax the Fire Nation colonists higher?"
Aang shrugged his shoulders as he pulled a towel from the nearby rack and extended it in my direction, his other hand still planted firmly over his eyes. "Seems that way…" he answered while bending down, as if to rest the towel on the floor near the tub.
I couldn't help myself. Aang had heard me vent on several occasions about the unfairness in the dealings that had followed Zuko's rise to the throne, but each time a new issue arose that was clearly punishing innocent people, I would express my extreme displease in such transactions. This one, it seemed, was no exception.
"When are they going to stop punishing innocent people for something one maniac started a hundred years ago?" I erupted. "It's just a bunch of childish games. Everyone says they want you to restore balance to the world, but when it comes right down to it, all they want is money and power! Is this what they expect from you? To help them claw their way to the top?" I growled, my face red at this point for an entirely different reason than it had been only seconds ago
I continued rambling about how peace wasn't peace if innocent people were still suffering, as I reflexively reached for the towel in Aang's hand. I realized that he'd recoiled slightly, not in horror but in surprise, and I suddenly found myself standing in the tub rather than pinned safely beneath the obscurity of the bubbles. I'd been so caught up in my fervor to help these people by yelling at thin air about their unjust suffering, that I had completely forgotten where I was and who was with me. Water cascaded down my exposed skin and fell to the bath with little plinks and plunks and all at once I felt the blood drain from my face, only to rush back in the deepest blush I'm sure I'd ever had. I felt dizzy.
Aang stiffened in mid-crouch, the towel still clutched in his fist as the hand obscuring his closed eyes tightened across his face. "Katara?" he asked with a squeakiness in his voice that I hadn't heard in a long time. "Don't you want me to leave before you get out?"
My pulse quickened rapidly as I struggled to grasp the gravity of the situation. My mind scrambled to fathom the fact that I was standing completely naked only a few feet away from my all-too-gentlemanly, much-too-innocent, and entirely-too-handsome boyfriend. I knew I should feel panic, embarrassment, and in the least regret. But all I felt was safe.
I knew Aang better than I probably knew myself. I knew that he was unlike any man I had ever met and will ever meet in this lifetime or any other. I knew that he had only my honor and virtue in his best interest and I knew that he'd never overstep any boundary until I helped him cross it myself. I knew that he wouldn't look unless he knew I wanted him to.
I released a relaxed breath and reached for the towel that he was holding onto for dear life. "Aang…" I stepped over the tub and almost had one toe on the tile floor before Aang loudly cleared his throat, thrust the towel into my unsuspecting hands, and jolted for the bathroom door.
"Katara, I'll just wait for you in the other room," he said hurriedly, yet somehow still with the smoothness I'd come to know from his post-pubescent voice. I could swear I heard a low groan and a rushed sigh escape his lips before he left the tile floor and closed the door abruptly behind him.
I considered his reaction strange, until I remembered that four years ago, when Aang had mastered earthbending, Toph had taught him successfully how to "see" the way she did, using vibrations from the earth to form shapes and images. I paused, and tapped my toe a few times on the hard marble-tiled floor as my eyes traveled to the door where the tile turned to plush carpeting. He wouldn't look unless he knew I wanted him to…
I pushed the obscure thought aside and scurried about the bathroom, pulling a comb through my hair before slipping into the dark blue nightgown that reminded me of home and then throwing on the contrasting crimson silk robe that came with the room. The sash was bright gold, not surprisingly, and I quickly tied a knot with it around my waist as I took one last glimpse in the mirror over the vanity.
I noted, with a sad smile, that the older I got, the more I looked like my mother. Sokka had said once that when he closed his eyes and tried to picture our mother's face, it was my face that he saw. Well, now that my hair had grown darker, my lips fuller, my eyes brighter, my jaw sharper, and my brow straighter, our faces seemed one in the same. My body had also grown, so as not to be outdone by my face. My hips had grown broader, my chest had – I think "blossomed" was the word Gran Gran had used -, and my legs had lengthened. I knew I had become the perfect image of my beautiful dead mother, which made it very difficult to look in the mirror at times.
With a reassuring breath, I adjusted the neckline of my robe and ducked out the door to meet Aang in the adjoining room. I hoped the red in the silk wouldn't accentuate the blood that was still trapped in my cheeks. Maybe Aang would just assume it was from the heat of the bath water…
He greeted me with a quiet sheepish smile. "Hey…"
I attempted to smile back – no need to make things any more awkward than they already were – though I was sure it wasn't too convincing. "Hey…"
"I uh…" he hesitated as if trying very hard to find the right words. "Sorry about… that. I should have left when you didn't answer the door."
"Aang, don't worry about it," I answered truthfully. "It's no big deal. Really…I trust you."
"You're not mad?" he asked surprisingly, genuinely.
"No," I answered, rather shocked. "Why would I be?"
He didn't answer right away. Just cocked his head to the side, his eyebrows scrunched over his grey eyes – they were always darker whenever he was thinking hard about something – and studied me silently for what seemed like a very long time.
I smiled anxiously and played with the ends of my wet hair – an act Aang once told me I only did when I was nervous or acting self-conscious. "What?"
His sudden grin – the first real full smile I'd seen from him all evening – surprised me. "Nothing. I just wish I could hear what was going in that beautiful head of yours sometimes."
I could feel the anxiety suddenly lift from the room. His eyes lightened to their usual stormy color and he stood from the armchair he'd been waiting in.
"I guess you'll just have to rely on my interpretations then," I answered as he crossed the room.
I met him halfway and we embraced. The strength in his hug and the way my head fit perfectly in the crook just under his chin never ceased to surprise me. He'd grown so much over the five years we'd known each other.
"I missed you today," I said into his chest, breathing past the scent of tobacco and wine – though he didn't partake in either, these meetings seemed to always be saturated by such scents – and smelling the sweet smell of sandalwood and breeze that could only be described as "Aang".
One of his hands traced the small of my back while he pulled the fingers of his other hand through my wet hair, "I know. I missed you too." He kissed the top of my head before responding quietly, "I'm sorry…"
I pulled out of his embrace barely, just enough so that I could look up to read the expression on his face. "Now what you are apologizing for?" I asked playfully.
He looked torn. "I keep dragging you to all these meetings. I know how much you hate them." The hand that had been in my hair was now tucking stray hairs behind my left ear. "It just seems like we never really get any time anymore, does it?"
I smiled, trying to lighten his mood. "Aang, when have we ever gotten any time? If it's not been a war to win, it's a rebellion to take care of, or a conference to attend, or a town to save." I laughed lightly, fondly at the memories we'd made together saving the world.
However, my response got the opposite reaction I'd been hoping for. His frown deepened. "I know… I'm sorry Katara." He paused, sighed, and got a distant look in his eyes. "You deserve more."
I had never really given much thought to the lifestyle I had chosen the second I'd realized my feelings for Aang. The only thought I can remember processing at the time was the intense love and affection I'd felt for the young boy that I'd spent a year with fighting for the world's freedom. I loved Aang, more than any one person had loved another, and the ramifications of falling in love with the Avatar had never crossed my mind.
Perhaps, had we lived in another era – a time of peace and prosperity, instead of war and repair – our lives would be easier. But, as it were, the Avatar's role was one of leadership, diplomacy, and liberation. He lived his life in constant servitude to the healing world around him. To outside eyes, it may seem the world's needs outweighed those of the Waterbender he fell in love with.
But, I knew better. In Aang's eyes – the Avatar's eyes – my needs were just as important, if not more so. Which was why I'd had such difficulty allowing Aang, and myself for that matter, know how deep my feelings truly ran for him until I was sure his destiny to end the century of fighting had been fulfilled.
Oh how naïve I had been… To think that taking down Ozai and pushing Zuko into his place as Fire Lord would solve all our problems… To think that the fighting was over… To think Aang's duties had been fulfilled at the age of thirteen… To think we could return the world to any semblance of peaceful in such a short time, after it had been divided for so long…
This was the war-stricken world we lived in. It was healing, true, and every day brought it one step closer to a full recovery. But I realized that we'd be lucky to see it truly peaceful again in our lifetime. Well… my lifetime. The Avatar, of course, is immortal.
I looked at him, trying desperately to gauge the distant look in his eyes. I hesitantly brought my hands to his face, resting one palm on each cheek, forcing him to look at me. "Aang, you are more than I will ever deserve," I whispered with as much resolve as I could muster. "Don't ever forget that."
His eyes found their way back to mine, and they lightened somewhat as he smiled sadly at me. "I wish you could really believe that," he answered with his sad smile.
I opened my mouth to object, somewhat hurt that he'd turned my declaration against me. But, before I could mouth the words, a set of knocks resounded from that blasted chamber door. I kept my eyes on Aang's face that was still pinned between my palms, but his gaze went to the door instantly and I deflated like a popped balloon as he pulled my hands from his face – first the left, then the right, each with a kiss to the palm before dropping them softly – and walked towards the door.
Of course, it was the servant. He was pushing an oversized cart full of various meats and cheeses and fruits, all piled onto porcelain plates that were always too delicate for my tastes. I scrunched my nose at the fact the he'd chosen such an intimate moment to interrupt, but my stomach protested, growling that now was as good a time as any.
Aang motioned into the room, stepping aside so the servant could push his little cart of goodies through the door. "Looks like your dinner is here," he announced to me with a smile. He inhaled deeply, "And it smells awful," he added with a playful grin as he eyed the assortment of meats on the top tray.
I smiled sheepishly, "Sorry. I didn't think I'd have the enjoyment of your company for dinner this evening."
He shook his head. "It's no problem at all."
Despite Aang's objection, I asked the servant to take the tray of meats and set it in the hall. Which he did with an annoyed look on his face, no doubt that particular arrangement had taken the most effort and time to assemble. I apologized for the inconvenience, explaining that it was the Avatar's practice to not eat meat and I would therefore never cause him discomfort by partaking of meat in his presence. He shuffled nervously when I suggested, "Would you?"
"No, My Lady!" the servant answered quickly. "Avatar Aang, my apologies!"
Aang waved a dismissive hand and allowed the servant to return his tray of meats to the kitchen, stating "The Avatar will be Master Katara's only company for dinner tonight and we don't require any further services."
The servant bowed respectfully and was out the door in record time.
Aang chuckled as he wheeled the cart to the small balcony off my room that overlooked one of the many gardens in the Palace. It seemed, for the moment at least, he'd returned to his old self again.
We ate, for the most part, in silence. The air around us was still and I drank in his presence as much I did the wine that accompanied my dinner. Aang had never allowed himself to indulge in the frivolities of alcohol, but I had grown up in a tribal village where the adults in my tribe regularly partook in such delicacies as a sort of coming into adulthood. When Sokka and I had first returned home after our year of traveling with the Avatar, a huge celebration had commenced, not only to celebrate the end of the war and our homecoming, but our maturity as well. I found that I enjoyed the bitter liquid that had been passed around the bonfires so urgently, and soon my tastes had expanded to all sorts of exotic wines and liquors. The Fire Nation, I had discovered, had the most bold and pungent flavors of wines from very red to almost burgundy. It was, perhaps, my most favorite part of the Royal City.
With each sip, my eyes grew more and more heavy. When half of the golden decanter was gone, I raised my empty glass, inspecting the dark ring the wine had left along the lip, before setting it lightly on the table. My mind was at perfect stillness and my body in absolute relaxation. I could hear Aang's gentle breathing beside me as he too enjoyed the quiet moment.
But, as always, the moment didn't last. Soon enough he was standing up and muttering how much he was dreading going back to that wretched meeting.
"I wish you'd just take a break," I murmured as he bent down to sooth my hair and kiss the top of my head.
"Soon enough," he answered quietly. "I promise we'll get away for a while after this one." He paused and brought my face up to his, his sweet breath washing over my face as he added, "Just you and me."
In that moment, he brought his lips to mine and every nerve ending became a live wire inside of me. He moved his lips against mine and I melted into his hands as he grasped the sides of my face in the exact manner I had held his earlier. I moved my hands to his shoulders, his neck, his head, and ran my fingers along his bald scalp, feeling the smoothness of his perfect skin under my touch. Kissing Aang was like filling up with the sweetest air, and it never left me out of breath. I could breathe in his kisses for eternity and never feel the burn of hypoxia. His presence was my sustenance and his lips my life source.
Before I was ready for him to, he pulled away, breathless and smiling. It seemed that as I was floating on his air life kisses, he was drowning in mine. I smiled at the irony.
"I love you, Katara," he whispered huskily, still breathless. "I love you more than you'll ever know."
I smiled. "I love you too," I whispered back before leaning up to kiss the tip of the arrow on his head softly. "Always will... I'll see you in the morning?"
He smiled back – "Of course" – before pulling my hands from his neck and kissing my knuckles.
And just like that he was gone. The sound of the door closing behind him made it so, and I sat on the balcony for a few more minutes to enjoy the breeze before going back inside, my lungs still filled with his air life kisses.
I curled up in the silks of my bedding and read by candle light until the wick was too dim to illuminate the characters any more. When the flame finally extinguished itself in its own wax, I was drifting somewhere in the realm of not yet asleep, but not fully awake.
"You deserve more" he had said. Had I known the profound depth in his words, perhaps I would have understood them better. But, as it were, I fell asleep that night to dreams of dancing under the stars to the music of Aang's voice whispering his love for me.
A/N: I think, actually I know, that this is the longest chapter I've ever written. And I've gotta say, I think it's one of the best. I look forward to where Katara's story goes from here, becuase honestly the details are sketchy to even me at this point! I hope to get some useful, if not encouraging, reviews!