Er, hello. My name is Moira and this is actually my second work of fan fiction and…and I have reason to believe that, after realizing that I've come up with a second fic without having updated my first fic, people will be out to kill me. Specifically, people from the Fruits Basket section (i'msorryi'msorryi'msorry!). In which case, excuse me for a minute while I contact my lawyer so I can write my last will and testament.
In any case, I'd like to thank you for checking this fic out. It's a multi-chaptered story, but it is in no way as complicated and long-winded as my first fic. (Thank the gods.) Some stuff about this fic, though:
1. It's not an AU, meaning it takes place in canon-universe, although I'm pretty sure when the later episodes come out the story and its plot will have to be classified as AU.
2. I've only watched up to Book 2:04 (The Swamp), so the story will contain hints and spoilers to the previous chapters. Be forewarned.
3. It is shamelessly Aang-Katara. I mean, it's so heavily slanted toward Aang-Katara that the two of them could probably go penguin-sledding on it. I love the dynamics between these two, and not the least because the tension between them is right there on screen for anyone to see. Still, this is only my preference and not to be taken as gospel, unlikely as that might be.
4. I'll be putting in extra characters, some of whom will be playing major roles, and I'm going to do my best to at least keep my OCs interesting.
5. There are dark, violent parts, parts where pain and injury are inflicted upon others. Be forewarned.
(Note to would-be Furuba assassins: Yes! Yes! I'm working on it, I swear! I still love my first fic and I'm not yet giving it up. This is just a break, a break!)
Disclaimer: If I owned "Avatar: The Last Airbender," I would be living the good life on the profits instead of sitting in a dingy office and scratching out fics on the sly. Sadly, I don't, so there.
BREATH OF SILVER, HEART OF GOLD
Darkness. A steady roaring filled his ears and the smell of smoke stung his nostrils, choking him with every breath he drew. Fear began to hum through him as the air around him grew hot, unbearably hot, as though he had been dropped into the heart of an invisible inferno. Every instinct urged him to flee but his body refused to obey, and he could only drift helplessly within the burning darkness.
What's going on? What's happening to me?
The darkness broke, crumbling into a million black flecks that wafted through the air like tainted snow. Released from the darkness, he lifted his hand to catch one of the flecks, which crumbled even further, smearing blackness across his palm. The roaring had grown louder, mingled now with the sound of distant screams. The world came into focus, and he found himself standing on one side of a wide hall with rows of pillars on each side. Many of the pillars were cracked or split, and the polished floor was marred by holes and fragments of splintered wood and bits of weaponry. Fires burned everywhere, and through the jagged hole where the ceiling and one wall used to be, he could see the night sky lit up by flames, blazing red-gold against the plumes of black smoke. With rising dread he turned toward the two figures standing in the middle of the hall, one of them looming tall and menacing, immersed in shadow despite the ring of fire surrounding him, the other crouched in a battle stance with one leg extended and staff held ready, saffron clothes already sporting several scorch marks, looking small and frail despite the expression of desperate determination on his face.
It's the Fire Lord, he realized with a chill. And—and me!
The two figures exchanged words, but he couldn't hear them. Still, he could guess what they were saying, as he saw his other self shout his reply, tightening his grip around the staff until his hand shone white. Then the two moved, launching themselves at each other. Twisting streams of fire raced across the room like snakes while his other self dodged desperately, deflecting as much of the flames as he could with gusts of wind and trying to get as close to the Fire Lord as he could. Whenever he got within striking distance, however, the Fire Lord would unleash rings of lightning that would fling him back against a pillar or send him crashing to the floor. He spun twister after twister with his staff to cut through the fire and lightning, but the lines of burning red-gold and brilliant blue-white wove past the gales like living things, and he could only do what many others had derisively predicted before: duck and evade.
He watched, frozen to his spot, as the two battled it out, but it was painfully obvious how the fight would go. Then, to his horror, a voice rang out loud and clear, cutting through the dull roaring of the flames.
He spun around, eyes going wide, as a familiar figure appeared beside him. His heart wrenched when he saw the rips in her blue robes and the ragged wound on one arm that she hadn't had a chance to heal yet. Her gaze swept across the hall, and the expression on her beautiful, soot-stained face shifted from realization to dismay to fierce resolve.
Katara, he breathed. Katara, get away from here! You shouldn't be here! From the corner of his eye he could see his other self mouthing the same words, his face drawn with fear.
"No," she answered, steel ringing in every word. "I won't let you face this alone."
No, Katara! he cried, reaching out to catch her as she ran past him, only to have his hand pass right through her like mist. She didn't get far, though. In the blink of an eye, the Fire Lord was behind her, bringing a hand up. She whirled around, an ice shield in front of her, but the blast of fire hit the ice dead-on, causing the water to evaporate almost instantly. Before either she or his other self could move, the Fire Lord had grabbed her and twisted her arm behind her. There was an audible crack and she screamed, before the Fire Lord lifted her and flung her against a pillar. She fell to the floor, unmoving, and with the lash of a lightning bolt the pillar collapsed, burying her in wood and rubble.
No! He ran with treacle slowness toward her, dimly aware that his cry had been echoed by his other self, who had fallen to his knees in despair. Light suddenly filled the room, flaring into such blinding intensity that even the fires seemed dark in comparison. He stopped and turned, recognizing the light and the immense surge of power, and sure enough, his other self had risen several feet in the air, borne upon a pillar of air. Light poured out from the glaring eyes and the arrow-shaped tattoos, and even knowing that this was a dream, that it was his own face he was looking at, he found himself shrinking away from the raging incarnation before him.
The Fire Lord attacked, releasing fireball after fireball, lightning bolt after lightning bolt, but all met the spinning tornado surrounding his other self and were either brushed aside or pulled into the sparking gale the Avatar controlled with ridiculous ease. Then the Avatar moved, and the earth trembled beneath the castle's foundations so that the room shook and listed this way and that. He moved again, and the wind swept through the hall, throwing the Fire Lord against a wall and sending the remaining pillars toppling over him. He moved again, and fire erupted in a blazing fountain, exploding outwards in chaotic spirals. Again, and the stones in the walls shook themselves free and flew through air, crushing everything in their paths. The destruction was savage and mindless, fueled by rage and pain and the all-consuming desire for vengeance.
No, stop, he whispered as the Avatar laid siege to the elements themselves. Please stop, he said again as the images shifted. He could see it all, see the buildings crumbling, the ships tossed about by the waves, the frightened faces of soldiers and citizens alike wondering what Armageddon had been unleashed. Stop! he cried, tears streaming down his face. Stop this! You're destroying everything! Stop it right now!
"Stop, please." He turned at whispered words, and was overjoyed to see Katara trying to pull herself out of the rubble, her face white with agony. She managed to get herself halfway out before falling back down, and she lifted her face toward the Avatar, her ice-blue eyes filled with worry and fear.
"It's over, Aang. You've won. Come back to me, please." She reached a hand out toward him imploringly, then froze. "Aang?"
He had been watching her, drinking in the sight of her, but at the sudden look of confusion and disbelief on her face, he turned to see the Avatar raising an arm toward her, the glowing eyes empty and cold. His own eyes widened. No… The air became electric as the Avatar drew in his power. No, no, please, no, stop… The hand closed into a fist, and fire shot from the outstretched arm toward the terrified girl.
o – o – o – o – o
Aang sat up with a gasp, throwing the blanket off him. It took a few moments for him to realize that what he was looking at was not a stream of fire rushing past him but the dying embers from their campfire. He took a shuddering breath and glanced around to get his bearings. There was Appa behind him, the bison's warm fur doubling as pallet; Momo curled up near the fire; Sokka snoring upon his sleeping bag; and Katara...
He gazed down at her sleeping face, watching the faint glow from the campfire play upon her features, illuminating the smooth cheeks, the small nose, the perfectly shaped lips. She had combed her hair out for the night but had been too tired to braid it up again before falling asleep, and the dark tresses now lay across her sleeping furs, soft and inviting. She murmured unintelligibly, a frown flitting across her face, before turning over onto her side to face him. A dark lock fell across her cheek and he reached out to brush it away, but drew back when he realized that his hand was shaking. "Katara," he whispered, not sure if he was trying to wake her or soothe her back to sleep.
"Bean curd puffs…coming at me…" Sokka muttered, then he smacked his lips and turned over. Aang closed his eyes and sighed before air-lifting himself upright. He stoked the fire and fed it a few more sticks, then glanced over at Katara and sighed again. With the afterimages of the dream still dancing in his head, he didn't think he'd be dropping off anytime soon, but that wasn't any reason for Katara or anyone else to lose much-needed sleep.
Another lip-flapping snore cut through his musings, and he smiled wryly. Not that Sokka has any trouble sleeping.
He stood up and walked off, deciding to head toward the stream. Traveling for nearly two days straight had taken its toll, both on their supplies and their tempers, and when Katara had spotted the gleaming ribbon of water beneath the forest cover, there had been no protests over Aang's suggestion to camp out in the nearby clearing. Sokka had immediately dragged out his fishing rod, determined to dine on something more substantial than "rodent food" before malnutrition forced his body to stop growing or worse, reversed the process altogether. When Aang pointed out that he seemed to be doing fine on a meatless diet, Sokka smirked and said, "My point exactly."
They spent a peaceful afternoon beside the stream, with Appa and Momo foraging in the forest and Sokka lounging atop a flat rock with his fishing rod and dozing. Aang and Katara practiced waterbending in the stream, and although she cheerfully congratulated him on his progress, it did little to ease the ever-increasing pressure upon him to learn as much as he could as fast as he could. He smiled though and thanked her, because voicing out his worries would only make her worry, and he hated seeing her all serious and troubled; she didn't smile half as much as he thought she ought to, to begin with. And she was beautiful when she smiled, her eyes lighting up like a clear summer sunrise. Just the sight of it was enough to take his breath away.
He plopped down upon the rock beside the stream, listening to the quiet rush of water and the faint chirrups of the night creatures. The air was cool and smelled of water, sap and wet soil, and he took deep breaths, trying to clear his mind of the disturbing images. The emotions caught up with him, however, and instead he found himself hunching over, his eyes burning and his hands clenched into fists, struggling to keep his sobs from escaping. "I can't do this," he whispered through gritted teeth. "I'm not strong enough…I can't—"
A warm hand touched his shoulder and he straightened, looking up into ice-blue eyes in a face framed by flowing dark hair. She's worried again, he thought, and summoned up a smile for her. "Hey, Katara. I'm sorry. Did I wake you?"
She shook her head and sat beside him. "Another nightmare?" she asked softly.
"Yeah." This time, she didn't ask if he wanted to talk about it, but her offer to listen was there in the tilt of her head and in the gentle understanding in her gaze. He kept his eyes fixed on the dark silhouette of the treetops, certain that if he looked at her now, she would see right into his soul. "I was fighting the Fire Lord, and I went into the Avatar state," he said haltingly. "I beat him, but then I ended up destroying everything."
He lowered his head, feeling oddly exposed and embarrassed. Her arms came around him, pulling him closer so that his head rested in the crook of her shoulder, and he closed his eyes, breathing in her scent, letting her warmth envelope him until the lingering tension drained away from his body. He marveled at how her simple touch had more power than all her waterbending skills, and wondered if she somehow knew it.
"It's okay to be afraid, Aang," she murmured, pressing her cheek against his head. "It doesn't mean you can't be strong in spite of it, and it doesn't make you any less worthy of being an Avatar. It just makes you human, that's all."
"But, Katara, I couldn't control it!" He pulled away from her, his anguished eyes meeting hers. "I—I couldn't stop the Avatar spirit. I could feel how angry it was, but it was like there was nothing left for it in this world but anger, and I ended up—" —killing you. The words choked him as his mind was filled with the image of Katara, bloodied and broken and begging him to stop. Strangely enough, it scared him more now, knowing that the real Katara was right here in front of him, still safe and still alive. "I've got to try harder," he stated resolutely, staring down into the water. "I've got to master waterbending and earthbending, and I've got to practice until I'm strong enough to beat the Fire Lord as myself, without having to call up the Avatar spirit. If I don't, and I end up going into the Avatar state like that, I could be a greater danger to all of you than the Fire Lord himself." He looked up at her hopefully. "You'll help me, won't you, Katara?"
"Silly," she replied lightly. "Of course, I will, Aang. Sokka, Appa, Momo and I will be with you every step of the way." She bit her lip, looking as though she was considering her next words. "I notice you didn't mention firebending, though," she finally said.
A steely glint entered his eyes. "No firebending."
"Aang, you'll have to learn firebending some time. It's part of your training as the Avatar," she pointed out reasonably.
"No. No firebending," he repeated stubbornly. "Jeong-Jeong was right. Fire can only consume and destroy. It's too dangerous." He shut his mind against the memory of the dream-Avatar raising his hand toward Katara and summoning the flame. "I already hurt you, Katara," he added softly. "I'm not taking any more chances of hurting anyone else I care for. Besides, if I can use waterbending and earthbending as well as I do airbending, then I could probably be strong enough to take on the Fire Lord without having to use firebending."
Instead of answering, she took his hands and placed them upon his lap, palms up. Then she laid her own hands on top of his, also palms up and her fingers open. The softness of her skin and the sight of their joined hands caused his pulse to jump. "Look, Aang," she said quietly. "Look at my hands. No scars. Yes, you hurt me—" she carefully ignored his guilty wince, "—but I know you didn't mean to, and I've already forgiven you for it. And because it happened, I discovered another aspect of my waterbending abilities, so it worked out okay in the end." She turned her hands so that they covered his, palm to palm, and he found himself drowning in her soft blue gaze. "I can't teach you firebending, Aang, but I can help you deal with this block you have against it, if you'll let me. There's no reason why something that happened in the past should keep you from reaching your full potential."
"Katara, I—" He trailed off, torn between wanting to do what she asked him to and wanting to protect her. The memory of his ill-fated attempt at firebending, along with the remnants of his dream, kept intruding, however, and he finally settled on expelling a deep breath and closing his fingers around her hands. "Okay. I'll think about it," he said, smiling at her reassuringly while at the same time promising nothing.
The upward tilt of the corner of her mouth told him that she was aware of his deliberate vagueness. His smile widened to a cheeky grin, and she laughed and shook her head. They remained that way for several moments, staring at each other with his hands clasping hers. Something seemed to pass between them, and before he realized what he was doing, he released his hold on one of her hands and reached up to push a lock of her hair behind her ear. Her cheeks grew warm beneath his fingertips and she blinked at him, her eyes filling with confusion and…something else. Awareness crashed into him with jolting suddenness and he snatched his hands back as though she had burned him. Floundering in embarrassment, he ended up blurting out the first thought in his head. "I—I'm sorry, Katara! I was just thinking you look really pretty with your hair down, that's all. N-not that you don't look pretty with your hair the way it usually is, of course," he added hastily, waving his hands in front of him. "I—I mean, you could probably be bald and tattooed like me and you'd still look pretty."
Her head had lowered as soon he pulled away, but she looked up in surprise at his stream of nonsense and at his mortified expression when he realized what exactly he'd said. "Thanks, Aang," she said, laughing again. "No offence, though, but I really don't want to know how I'd look bald and tattooed like you."
"Sokka probably would," he pointed out, feeling intensely grateful that the awkwardness between them had passed.
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well, I've seen Sokka in a dress and wearing make-up, so he'd probably enjoy a little payback."
"What about Zuko's hairstyle, then?" he suggested jokingly. "Ever wonder how you'd look with just this top-knot on your head?"
"Please, no. I'd probably end up looking like Sokka." She shuddered theatrically, making him laugh, and the sight of him light-hearted again made her laugh out of gladness and sheer relief. A comfortable silence fell over them, and Aang gazed up at the sky, enjoying the moment and the presence of the girl beside him, this sweet, strong, beautiful girl he had fallen in love with. It's almost better than that time back in the Cave of Two Lovers, he thought, blushing again at the mere memory. He suddenly realized that here was a perfect chance for him to tell her how he felt about her, and he sucked in a breath, feeling his heart begin to hammer against his ribcage.
They blinked at each other, then giggled. "Um, you go first," Aang offered shyly.
"No, no, you go first. I was the one who interrupted you."
"You didn't interrupt anything. Besides, ladies first, right?"
"Oh, all right." She stared down at her tightly clasped hands, her hair partially hiding her face. She looked as uneasy as he'd ever seen her. "Aang, I, um…I just wanted to ask you if…if—oh, never mind," she said abruptly, shaking her head.
"What? If what?"
"Nothing, nothing. It can wait," she muttered, waving a hand dismissively.
"What can wait? Katara, what is it?"
"It's nothing, okay?" she insisted, shooting him a glare. "It's not really important, anyway." He gave her a puzzled look, which she pointedly ignored. "Your turn, Aang. What was it you were going to tell me?"
This time, it was his turn to fidget nervously. He cleared his throat and screwed up enough courage to meet her expectant gaze. "I, uh, there's something I've been, um, wanting to tell you. Katara, I—I think I—"
Her mouth suddenly opened in a jaw-splitting yawn, which she quickly covered with one hand. "Oops," she said sheepishly. "Sorry. You were saying?"
"—I think I should get you back to camp. It's already so late it's early," he finished lamely. Stupid, he berated himself. What is wrong me, anyway?
"Oh," she murmured, and Aang was certain he'd only imagined the momentary flash of disappointment on her face. "You're right. If we're planning to go into that next town in the morning, then we all need our rest. What about you? Are you going to be all right?"
"Oh, yeah! I'm fine now." He air-lifted himself up and offered his hand to help her off the rock. "Thanks, Katara," he said warmly.
She gave his hand an answering squeeze. "You're welcome, Aang."
He lay back down on Appa's flank and watched her get settled on her sleeping furs. When he was sure that she was asleep, he hopped back down and tucked the covers securely around her before sitting back to gaze at her some more.
I think I like you, Katara. Much, much more than normal.
That was what he should have told her tonight. Then again, she was tired and it was late. An even more perfect moment for him to confess his feelings for her was sure to present itself, and when that time comes, he'd be ready.
He allowed himself a little grin. Who knows? he thought as he lay back and closed his eyes. It might even be tomorrow.
(To Be Continued…)