Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender

Author's Note: This idea just jumped into my head after the Cave of Two Lovers episode. It's my first Avatar fanfiction.

After the Cave

Sokka, Katara, and Aang were setting up camp in the shadow of the mountain upon which the city of Omashu rested, trying to decide what action to take next. Aang wanted to proceed to the city and find King Bumi. Sokka, naturally, was against going into a region now controlled by the Fire Nation. Katara had not yet weighed in, but since she usually agreed with Aang on these matters, Sokka was already mentally preparing himself for yet another ill-advised misadventure.

He looked over at his two companions, silently carrying out their routine chores. They had been unusually quiet lately, ever since going through the Cave of Two Lovers. Sokka narrowed his eyes in thought. Aang's crush on Katara had been obvious from early in their association, but Katara's feelings were less clear. She showed affection towards the young Avatar, certainly, but Sokka didn't know how far it went. After an internal debate, he broke the silence.

"You two have been acting strangely ever since the tunnel," he pointed out. "What exactly happened in there, anyway?"

The two looked at each other, blushed, and then looked away. Sokka looked back and forth between them briefly. Not allowing them enough time to give an answer, he decided to nudge a little more.

"On second thought, never mind. I don't think I really want to know," he said significantly, and then counted silently. 3…2…

"Sokka!" As anticipated, his sister had caught his implication. "Nothing happened!"

Sokka raised his eyebrows. Was that a hint of disappointment he detected? Anyone else might have dismissed it, but he knew her. Two questions were answered, then: nothing had happened, but at least part of her wanted it to.

"Right," he answered. "Well, whatever it is, work it out. I'm going to have a look around while there's still light."

Aang watched Sokka leave, and then looked over at Katara. Aang didn't fully understand the way he felt about the older girl. He just knew that he liked being around her, and when she was near, he got kind of a warm feeling all over. When she had suggested they kiss, he'd felt a strange combination of anticipation and trepidation he'd never experienced; at least, not in this life. The part of his mind containing the echoes of past Avatars found it familiar, but that wasn't much help. Afraid to seem too eager, he'd panicked and offended her instead.

Aang sighed deeply. Katara clearly did not want to talk about what had nearly happened. Neither did he, really, but he felt a need to clear the air between them. He grimaced to himself. That really shouldn't be so difficult for an Airbender to do. He decided there had to be a way to apologize without causing too much embarrassment for either of them. He couldn't go on with her thinking he found her repulsive or something.

"Um, Katara?"

"Yes?"

"I wanted to apologize for the things I said in the cave. I didn't mean them."

"Aang, you don't have to –" she interrupted him.

"Please, let me finish," Aang insisted. The hurt in her voice tore at him, and knowing he was the cause made it all the worse. He took a deep breath and looked down, preparing himself for the hard part. "The truth is, I actually…sort of…wanted to kiss you, but I was too embarrassed to admit it. So instead, I said a lot of stupid things that hurt your feelings. I never meant that to happen. I'm sorry."

There was a long pause while he awaited her response. He had intentionally used the past tense. It was easier to talk as though the incident was a one-time event, and it allowed Katara to draw whichever conclusion she was most comfortable with. Besides, he instinctively knew that the moment was gone, and he would just have to wait for another one. At least, he hoped there would be another one.

"Oh," Katara said at last, and there was more in that one syllable than Aang could readily comprehend. At any rate, it didn't sound like she was going to get angry at him. Or laugh at him, which would be worse. He risked looking up and found her studying him with an expression he couldn't quite decipher.

"I –" she broke off like she didn't know how to continue. She came over and laid a hand on his shoulder before trying again. "I'm sorry I misunderstood," she said. Her touch made Aang's heart begin to race, but he shoved that aside and broke into a grin.

"Apology accepted," he told her cheerily.

Katara smiled, too.

"Same here," she replied, pulling him into a hug. Aang sighed, savoring the contact. When Katara released him, everything was all right again.

Sokka returned to camp a few minutes later and found his sister and the Avatar practicing their Waterbending techniques. There seemed to be a subtle change in their relationship, but at least the awkwardness was gone.

"So, Omashu it is?" he guessed. He and Aang looked questioningly at Katara, who nodded.

"Omashu it is," she confirmed.

"Yes! Thank you!" Aang cried out, hugging Katara impulsively. Then they both seemed to realize what they were doing and stepped back quickly, blushing. Aang cleared his throat uncomfortably.

Sokka sighed rather theatrically, breaking the tension.

"Great. So the plan is to put ourselves in the path of danger once again. Got it," he said dryly. Secretly, though, he was not nearly as upset about it as he had expected to be. Looks like things are going to get a little more interesting….