Ways Within

by Melospiza

Disclaimer: Avatar: The Last Airbender was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and belongs to Nickelodeon. I don't claim to own these characters and am making no profit from their use. I'm just borrowing them for fun.

Author's Notes: This fic has not yet been beta'd, therefore it is subject to change without notice. This also means that constructive criticism is very much welcome.

In the body of the world, they say, there is a soul
and you are that.

But we have ways within each other
that will never be said by anyone.

Warm and with a belly full of brown rice and fresh greens, Aang lay on the springy soil with his arms folded behind his head, staring up at the snatches of sky he could catch through gaps in the swamp's thick canopy. The fire was growing lower and lower and the activity of the others with him had ceased, a rumbling snore rising from somewhere on the other side of the encampment. He knew he should most likely be thinking about his vision of the strange girl in the swamp, but as he let his thoughts wander, his mind kept returning to a moment a few short hours before, when he and Katara had raised the wall of water against the swamp-men who had captured Appa.

They had worked together before, of course -- pushing and pulling the water to steal the pirates' ship and lifting water from deep in the ground through the steam vents for Jet -- not to mention when they practiced waterbending together, letting the liquid flow back and forth to each other or mirroring each other's movements. But this had been different in a way he could not entirely explain: it was as if they had been one mind, acting together out of instinct. He pushed against her, she pushed against him, each threaded into the other's harmony. Her power had vibrated through him as they had lifted the column of water, and presumably his had done the same to her. At the time it had been necessity, but now when his thoughts returned to it, the sensation seemed startlingly intimate.

It was almost like... no, it couldn't be like that, could it? Aang could feel blood rushing to his face, filling it with heat. Pushing himself up from the ground as quickly and quietly as he could, he moved a few strides away from the fire, pacing nervously. He liked Katara, of course, he liked her a lot, and he knew about things, some things that people might do if they liked each other. But he wasn't like that, and neither was she... was she?

Pausing, Aang stared into the dark water that lapped lazily against the muddy embankment. He lifted one hand to trace his fingertips lightly over his bald pate, following the shape of one of his several arrow-shaped tattoos. He had never explicitly said one way or the other, had he? It had all been implied in the vows he had taken when these marks were placed upon his body. What was chastity, anyway? Would he already have violated it with the kiss in the lovers' cave? Did it even matter, now that the rest of the monks were gone?

"This is stupid," he grumbled to the water. "It's a stupid thing to think about."

Briefly the gaping mouth of a fish broke the surface. The ripples that spread outward glistened briefly in the light of the fire behind him, their gleam against the black water reminding him of the moon, and of Katara.

For a split second he glanced around for a rock, as if dashing a pebble into the water would somehow banish the ripples and not make more ripples. And then she spoke behind him, as if drawn from sleep by his very thoughts.

"Aang?" Katara whispered. He recognized the drowsy edge to her voice. "Aang, is something wrong?"

"No," he said. He was aware of his spine having gone very rigid. "No, everything's fine."

"Oh. Okay. I just noticed you had gotten up..."

She noticed? Of course she noticed. She noticed everything. Well, almost everything.

"Everything's fine," Aang repeated, licking his lips in an attempt to restore some of the saliva to his suddenly dry mouth. "I'll come back in a minute."

"Okay," Katara replied quietly, with clear reluctance. But he could hear the soft scuffle of her footsteps retreating, could again draw a deep breath when she was not standing near him, radiating concern.

Aang stared at the water. The ripples were gone. The surface of the water was as flat and smooth as black glass, as unblemished as a fresh piece of parchment awaiting the first stroke of an ink-tipped brush.

Slowly folding his legs beneath him, Aang sank to sit on the mossy ground. He pressed his knuckles together and curled his fingers into a well-practiced shape as his eyes slipped closed. His mind would be as blank and dark as the water. He would purge himself of these troublesome thoughts. For a moment he would allow himself to retreat into a place Katara's blue eyes could not reach.