Aang confesses his feelings to Katara...but things don't go as planned.
Words were failing Aang once more. He could come up with all these great professions of love in his head beforehand, but when it came time to speak them they always vanished, or came out wrong. But he was determined to tell her now, and if he hesitated much longer, Sokka and Toph would come back from gathering firewood. He couldn't decide which one would be worse, but he certainly was not interested in discussing his feelings in front of Katara's protective older brother and the gang's local heckler. So, rather than stumbling over his words and failing once more to tell her, he stood up on tip-toe and kissed her.
The result was instantaneous. Katara's face flushed a bright red, and she pulled back in shock.
"Aang, what are you doing?"
"I love you, Katara," he said. The previously elusive words, finally forced into a corner by his dramatic visual confessions, were at last grudgingly assembling themselves into sentences. "I've loved you for a long time." A flood of relief washed over him. It was finally in the open. Now they could finally be together, boyfriend and girlfriend and later-if he was very, very lucky-husband and wife...
But one look at Katara's face showed that something was terribly wrong. "Oh Gods, Aang, I...I don't..." she managed to stammer out. It was now her turn to have trouble putting words together, but the look on her face was enough to send Aang's heart plummeting clear through the floor.
"I'm sorry, Aang, but I just don't feel that way about you," Katara finally managed to spit out. Aang's body suddenly felt weak. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen! She was supposed to say that she loves him, too, and then could finally be together, and they would tell Sokka together and he would bluster about it, but Katara would make him understand and then they could grow up and get married and live together forever and ever and...
Aang fell on his knees, tears welling in his eyes. Distantly he could hear Katara asking if he was OK, pleading with him not to be mad with her, but she seemed a million miles away. He couldn't speak around the lump in his throat.
This wasn't supposed to happen!
He was so distracted, he didn't even feel the glow rising behind his eyes until it was far too late to contain.
For all its power and experience, the Avatar Spirit is actually a very stupid thing. It lacks finesse and precision, and wields its power like a sort of enormous club. Perhaps when functioning independantly of a human host it is more intelligent, but when bonded to the Avatar, it shows no signs of any intelligence at all, beyond a sort of bestial cunning.
It is for this reason that it stays hidden within its vessel, emerging only when it percieves its host to be in grave danger. It makes no distinction between physical pain and emotional pain, which makes sense, as to a spirit the two are largely one and the same.
One called upon, it knows how to do only three things: First, it identifies the source of the pain. Second, it locates the source of the pain.
And then, finally, it lashes out with whatever Element is most readily available, eliminating the source of the pain.
The glow was Sokka's first indication that something was wrong. The vibrations through the ground were Toph's. At once, they turned around and began hurrying back to the camp site. When they heard Katara's scream, they doubled their pace, dashing through the underbrush with no regard for their own safety.
When they emerged into the clearing they had set up camp in, Sokka saw Aang casually breaking free of an icy prison Katara had set up around him. Aang's eyes and tattoos were glowing with the brilliant white light of the Avatar State. The Avatar sent a burst of flame towards her, overpowering her hastily-erected shield of ice and sending her flying backwards.
"Katara!" Sokka cried out as he ran forward. he threw his trademark weapon at the levitating Air Nomad, but it did little good. With a casual gesture, Aang incinerated it in mid-flight.
"My boomerang!" Sokka cried out in dismay, but he had little time for that. He ran up to his sister's side and steadied her. "Katara, what happened? What's going on?"
"I'm not sure! Aang came up to me and told me that he was in love with me, and I told him that I didn't feel the same way, and then this happened!"
Sokka was dumbfounded. "Wait, he's in love with you?"
"Is that some sort of joke, Sokka?" Toph called out from behind, "he was so obvious, a blind person could see it!"
Appa was roaring in fear, backing away as quickly as he could. Momo was hiding in Appa's fur, poking only his head out to watch.
Toph felt a rumble as the earth beneath their feet was shifted. "Oh no you don't, twinkletoes!" she shouted, and then leapt between Sokka and Katara, slamming in the ground with as much force as she could manage. The rest of the field exploded upwards in a shower of jagged earthen fragments, but Toph managed to redirect the force, and the ground beneath them remained stationary.
"I don't think I can do that again," Toph said, panting and clutching her stomach. The feedback on that trick had /hurt/.
"Come on, Katara, we've got to get you out of here," shouted Sokka, grabbing her by the arm and leading her away from the floating figure.
"No, Sokka, we've got to help him! Aang would never hurt me, not really!"
"I don't think Aang's calling the shots in there anymore, Katara."
Sokka apologized, then grabbed Katara bodily and began dragging her away. Whatever else, he would see to his sister's safety, even if he had to fight her to do it.
Katara squirmed in his grip and tried to break free, but he was older and stronger than she was. "Sokka, you creep, put me down!" When he refused, she began calling out to her friend. "Aang! Aang!"
And somehow, the sound of her calling out his name penetrated through the glow of the Avatar State and was heard by Aang's dormant conciousness. He awoke, and took back control. The glow faded from his eyes as he floated down to the ground, and then sat on his knees, his face in his hands, weeping loudly.
"Aang..." katara said softly as she stepped forward, but Aang's head whipped up and stared at her.
"Don't come near me!" he shouted, tears streaming down his face, his cheeks a ruddy red. "Stay away! I don't want to hurt you!"
And with that he picked up he staff, snapped the glider open, and flew away. Appa gave out a mournful bellow, then took to the skies and followed.
"I'll go after him," Katara said as he flew off into the distance, but Sokka vetoed that.
"No, that's a bad idea. He's still dealing with this, and if you go after him it might set him off again. I'll go after him. Toph, make sure she doesn't follow me."
"Sokka, I can help-"
"No, Katara. You can't. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine. Wait here as long as you can."
He walked over to the charred mess that used to be his boomerang. He picked it up and stared at it sadly.
"Give this thing a proper burial for me, would you?" he said, tossing it over his shoulder. Then he began walking towards the east, following the path Aang had taken.
Finding Aang was not difficult. The young monk was troubled, and so he would likely retreat to somewhere that was familiar to him, and he would probably seek out solitude. There was only one place in the region that fit both criteria: the top of Pyongyang Mountain.
It took Sokka three days to walk from the ruined field to the base of the mountain. The villagers told him that it had been raining for three days, a fact which surprised Sokka not a bit. When you were the master of all four elements, the local weather patterns often molded themselves to your mood.
It took him another day to climb the mountain. The rocks were slick beneath his fingers, and twice he nearly fell, but he managed to hold on and pull his way up. Finally he stood at the top, a narrow passage the only thing separating him from his friend. Aang was sitting crosslegged, his back to Sokka, his head bowed low.
"Aang-" Sokka called out, walking forward, but stopped dead as Appa landed in between them, growling at Sokka. Whatever else happened, it seemed, the Sky Bison would protect its master.
"It's all right, Appa. Let him through."
Appa looked backwards, as if for confirmation, then stepped aside, allowing Sokka to pass. Sokka walked up behind Aang and sat down. Neither of them spoke for a while. It was Sokka who broke the silence.
"Katara wanted to come herself, you know."
"She probably did."
"She probably blames herself for the whole thing. She's stupid that way."
"It's not her fault."
There was another long silence. The rain continued to fall down, splattering on the rocks and shrubs around them. Sokka was cold in his thick Water Tribe clothes; Aang must have been freezing in his thin cloth outfit.
"She's very beautiful, you know. You're lucky to have such a beautiful sister."
"She's beautiful, and smart, and funny, and nice, and I was stupid enough to dream that I might have a chance with her."
Sokka's only response was a slightly lame, but mandatory, fraternal protest of "She's not that great..."
"I was wrong, and now I can never face her again."
"She's not angry or anything, Aang. She's mostly just worried-"
"That has nothing to do with it!" Aang shouted, whirling around to face Sokka. "/I'm/ the one who can't face /her/! It hurts, Sokka. It's not her fault, but it hurts to even think of her. Even just thinking about her, I have to fight to keep the Avatar State under control! If I were to see her again, who knows what might happen!" His voice was strained, as though he was fighting to keep himself from crying and was losing.
"She wants me to bring you back."
"I can't go. I love her, Sokka! I can't put her in that sort of danger, not is there's even the slightest chance she could get hurt!"
"She's willing to take the risk!"
"Well, I'm not."
There was another moment of silence, then Aang spoke.
"It's so hard. Not only can I not be with the person I like, I can't even be her friend. And all because of some stupid spirit."
"I know what you mean."
Aang stopped dead in his tracks.
"Yeah, I guess you do. Sorry about that, Sokka."
"It's all right. Where will you go?"
"I still need to master Firebending before the end of the summer. I'll go look for a firebending master who'll teach me. I wish I could help you guys get home, but I don't think Appa would go with you even if I ordered him to."
"That's all right," Sokka said, "We can head down to where the Water Tribe navy is docked. My dad can give us a hand."
Aang stood up and took his staff in hand. Sokka stood up as well.
"I guess this is goodbye," Sokka said sadly. Aang nodded, then dashed forwards and hugged Sokka strongly.
"I'm gonna to miss you guys so much," he said, tears welling in his eyes.
"We'll miss you too, buddy. If you ever feel ready to come back to us, we'll be waiting."
"Thanks, Sokka," Aang said, detaching himself. "Thanks for everything. Thank Katara and Toph for me, too, and tell Katara I'm sorry."
"Will do," Sokka said as Aang leapt on top of Appa's head. "See you around, Aang."
"No, you won't," Aang said with a sad smile. And then with a "Yip Yip!" Appa was in flight, and Aang was once again receding into the distance.
When Sokka returned to Katara and Toph, Katara looked up at him hopefully, but he just shook his head and she knew Aang would not be coming back.
True to his word, Sokka and the others returned to the Water Tribe navy, but they were not sent home. Instead, all three were on the front lines when the Navy invaded on the Day Of Black Sun.
In the confusion of that day, Aang struck at the head of the Fire Nation, and defeated Fire Lord Ozai. After that, he vanished once more. It is unknown who taught him the intricate firebending techniques he employed in that battle.
In the aftermath of the war, Aang vanished again. Reports came in from across the whole world of Avatar Sightings, and it would seem he took to travelling incognito once more.
As the years passed, each of the Avatar's travelling companions found their place in the world. Toph Bei Fong returned to Gaoling after her parents' deaths left her a large inheritance. She found that she was unexpectedly good at the wheelings and dealings of merchant life, and with her at the helm the Bei Fong family's already substantial wealth multiplied tenfold.
Katara returned to the South Pole and eventually, in collaboration with Master Pakku and Healer Yagoda of the Northern Water Tribe, and with financial backing from the Bei Fong family, founded the first Waterbending School for Young Girls. Within its hallowed halls, girls of both Water Tribes could go to learn healing, combat waterbending, or whatever combination they wished. Over time, it became known as one of the most prestigious schools in the world, due in no small part to the leadership of Headmaster Katara.
Sokka followed in his father's footsteps and joined the Southern Water Tribe's military. He rose swiftly through the ranks, thanks to his keen tactical mind and natural leadership skills. After making a rousing success out of a seemingly impossible peacekeeping mission off the coast of the Fire Nation-where was beset on one side by a group of Fire Nation rebels on one side, and Earth Kingdom raiders on the other-he was given the rank of General. His name is still spoken to small children in homes, and tales of his great campaigns still told, his feats growing grander and grander with each retelling.
As for Aang, it is widely beleived that he never saw any of the others again. THere is however, one particular legend that is whispered after too much drink has flowed and it's nearly closing time. It's not known how much truth is in it.
According to the legend, sixty years after the Day of Black Sun, Katara was lying in her deathbed. She was attended on each side by some of the most capable healers in either Water Tribe, many of them former students of her school. But though they toiled day and night, they knew that her time had almost come. She was too old and sick for them to do much more than stave the illness off. In fact, according to the healers who tended her, the only reason she had not yet died was that she was clinging on to life as hard as she could, as though she was waiting for something.
Her brother had died some years earlier after an extremely successful military careers. He died peacefully in his sleep, a luxury rarely afforded to old soldiers. Toph Bei Fong had died giving birth to her second child even sooner than that. A fund had been set up in Toph's will so that the school could be maintained indefinately. The healers were baffled by what could make her hold on to life so tightly.
Then one day, a man appeared at her door. His head was bald, and a long silver beard hung from his chin. He was as old as she, if better preserved. When he stepped to her bedside, her eyes fluttered open and she smiled.
"You look as beautiful as ever," he said.
"Flatterer," she managed to gasp out through a grin. "Knew you'd...come back."
"Of course I did," the man said. Then he bent down and kissed her on the forehead. "You can rest now." It's said that at that very moment she breathed her last, and died with a smile on her face. He pushed her eyelids shut with loving care, then turned and walked out. He was not seen again.
Four months later, a girl was born in the Northern Water Tribe. In a few years, she would be taken to the Northern Water Temple, where she would pick four very special toys out of a pile of a thousand. The temple sages would nod amongst themselves, take the girl into their care, and commission a statue of Avatar Aang to join the ranks of his predecessors. A new Avatar for a new generation. In this way did the world keep spinning, and the Cycle continue.