Snapshots of Aang's thoughts over the next several years. Sometimes, he worries that he will always be following behind her.
dirty feet still small with childhood. He caught that first glimpse of her while looking up, her face above his when he opened his eyes again after a long wait in an icy womb, and so it went for a long time between them; him, craning his neck back to look up at her smile.
And so it was later after years of their acquaintance, when his growth which he had so longed for, so that she need not look down to see him, finally came. For then he shot up and up in a parody of his desire for dignity, limbs beanpoling outward twice as thin and awkward as they had been, leaving him tripping over his own toes, bony ankles sticking out from under too-short hems. Meanwhile she had left him behind again in his awkward lingering adolescence. While his glider grew too short to carry him and he came to wish regretfully for the days where he was small and compact and at least knew where his limbs ended, she had gone on, become an adult, graceful and elegant and strong. He was ever aware of her mature self; her slim dark feet over stone tap-tapping at the edge of his earthbending sense; the whispering of silk dresses; strong brown fingers bending the sea back and forth far below him while he went
gliding, high in the air, and watched from a distance.
She is going before him, but she is never going away from him. The distances between them sometimes feel intolerably vast, but with every step she takes she tosses him a grin over her shoulder, shy or sly above her dancing hair, and when it feels like his inability to catch up with her and match her pace for pace yawns wide between them she holds an arm out behind her, out to him, and his always-reaching hand meets hers. That space between them is closed instantly in the brush of fingers, the clasp of hands.
They had had small shy kisses and warm embraces almost like friendship between them for years when he was seventeen and his shoulders were filling out with muscle and his hands finally matched the size of his body again. But this time when their lips met he kissed her luxuriously against a pillar while her hands fisted in the back of his robe, and he felt like a man. (Until Zuko wandered out onto the terrace and screamed at them.)
Now they are both grown, and from the perspective of adulthood two years is a number that is ever dwindling, but he still finds himself chasing her as often as not. Duty pulls on him often and hard in a world that is still ragged from one hundred years of war, one that will be unbalanced for years yet, and she has no shortage of obligations of her own. The rest of the world needs her might and patience and tenderness nearly as much as it needs his, needs her nearly as much as he does, so they are often apart when they’d rather be together. The Fire Lord will send for his advice or some warring tribes will come supplicating for arbitration and so he’ll fly off from where they’re visiting her brother to attend to these calls, and by the time he’s returned she’ll have left to help train the ranks of waterbending students in the North, and then he’ll get waylaid on his way to join her there and by the time he makes it to the North Pole she’ll have gone back to Kyoshi with a dispatch of benders to fight off a rampaging Unagi. Still, for all their chasing around they always manage to catch each other in the end.
It’s early fall in the Patola Range when they come together with friends and family to be joined, and the silk draped over her dark hair and the soft skin of her shoulders matches the colors of the leaves in the trees, the colors of his people. It’s by following the bright colors of her mantle that he finds her before the ceremony, her slim form leaning against the stone railing of a lower terrace as she gazes down the mountainside into the sunset. He steps up beside her and, after a moment, covers the hand she’s leaning on with his. She looks up at him and smiles, glowing in the golden light, and when it’s time for the ceremony she tangles her warm fingers in his and laughing pulls him after her up the trail to the main temple.
This is how they are: she is always just an arm’s reach away.