Chapter 1: Innocence
Aang watched Katara as she gracefully swooped her hands toward the ankle deep water, quietly practicing her bending stances. The fire lilies bobbed gently in the undulating water. Her pale blue dress hung loosely around her legs, dipping into the water and soaking it up, until cords of a darker blue shot up from the bottom of the skirt creating wave-like patterns. She was beautiful.
He felt a pang in his soul. He knew, but did she understand? Did she willfully hide these feelings from him or just from herself?
The image of her at dinner the night before, in a sleek white dress with sleeves that trailed almost to the floor, standing next to Fire Lord Zuko, made him cringe. The two benders had clearly been engrossed in each other's words, soft smiles playing about their lips as they spoke of old times and shared interests. It left him feeling terrified and…sorrowful, both for himself and for them. He had always sensed the deep connection between the two, especially after all they had been through together. He understood there was a certain amount of sexual attraction, though when it first began so many years ago, he hadn't been able to define it.
There he'd finally admitted it to himself in very clear terms. Sexual attraction. Though he also knew that it went far beyond mere attraction. If it were only that, it wouldn't be quite so worrisome, but their feelings ran much deeper.
And it was understandable. They were both passionate, strong-willed benders, deeply hurt by the loss of their mothers, desperate to find their own place in this world. They had fought and struggled; been hated enemies. The violence that had kept them apart had scarred both of them, fundamentally harming them. But eventually they had been brought to their knees when the weight of understanding, both of themselves and each other, had hit them. This understanding finally led to them becoming true friends. Zuko was fire and Katara was ice, but that did not mean that they were incompatible- rather it meant that there was a deep and abiding passion between them though it remained unlit. What may have been natural and beautiful had never been allowed to develop, for a myriad of reasons.
And Katara had been content. He knew she had. She loved him and the Avatar knew it, but her heart had never been completely free. There was always a place, tucked away carefully, that belonged to Zuko and Aang knew that it would always be that way. There was some part of her that he could neither fill nor fulfill and he would never be able to, simply because he was not Zuko. It was not her fault, he realized with clarity, nor was it Zuko's fault. He could see Zuko's own tenderness towards Katara, and knew they both shared a similar fate. They would always feel incomplete.
Neither Zuko nor Katara had ever overstepped the boundaries. They were blameless on all levels. They were both innocents and innocence embodied, so he had nothing to accuse them of; no reason to be angry. This is just how it was and none of them could change it.
Neither Katara nor Zuko were unhappy on a conscious level, at least not anything more than a passing feeling of loneliness and longing for that which never came to be. Yet this part of them couldn't be denied because of its very nature. It was beautiful and sacred in its own way, yet insidious and it would slowly poison any relationship they had. It would destroy his and Katara's union, which was only a month and a week away now. They had planned it to take place on his 18th birthday. And so he was at a loss again.
He loved Katara with everything he had. He'd always loved her. But in his heart, he knew it was wrong to hold her; to keep her from growing and achieving all that she was meant for. Katara loved him and wanted to be with him, of that much he was also certain. She would break if he forced her away. How could he keep her and let her go? How could they love one another freely, completely, for eternity and yet honor her and Zuko's love for one another, which wasn't going to just stop or fade away? Time had already proven that it was true love, which could not be broken or lost, even though what he and Katara also shared was true love.
And what of Zuko? He had to carefully consider him in all this as well. For it wasn't just his own life and Katara's that were effected, but also Zuko's. He and Zuko had formed a close bond over the years and deeply cared for one another. He knew Zuko's love for his two friends would keep him from speaking; from forever changing their lives, but it wouldn't be enough. In the end, they would all get hurt if he and Katara did marry, but so too would they all be hurt if his and Katara's relationship ended.
It was times such as these, when the weight of the world and people's lives almost overwhelmed him. Being the Avatar gave him clarity and a deep spiritual understanding, but it was a great burden. It gave him the sight to see what would happen in their marriage if it went forward now; what Katara and Zuko needed. And it broke his heart.