Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar.

Hopeful

Aang came back at last to the village where he'd left Katara. Over the doctor's objections, he had left a small amount of money with the assistant, at least what he thought would be enough to provide Katara's food for a few days. Because of that, he felt justified in going in to see his love before settling accounts.

Katara had been moved from the examining/operating room to a smaller room at the back of the building, designed for recuperating patients. As soon as she spotted Aang in the doorway, she jumped up and nearly bowled him over, throwing her arms around him. In fact, he had to use just a little airbending to keep his feet under him.

"So, I guess you're feeling better," he said laughingly, regaining his balance and returning her embrace. He inhaled the familiar fragrance of her hair. She had apparently been combing it out in preparation for re-braiding, and it hung loose around her face.

"Yes," she answered, then pulled back a step to survey him. "How are you? You look okay."

"I'm fine," he replied, enjoying looking at her as well. For a moment, Aang simply took in the sight of the beautiful girl before him. He reached up a hand to move the hair gently back from her left cheek. Aang had been daydreaming of kissing Katara again, but now that he was actually here with her, he hesitated.

Oh, just do it, Aang told himself sternly. Before he could think any more, he closed the distance between them, meeting his lips to hers. To his relief, she responded eagerly, as though she had only been waiting for him to take the initiative.

The kiss lasted an eternal moment, and now that Aang was no longer so worried about Katara, he was able to relax and enjoy it more. He pulled her as close as he dared, acutely conscious of every place their bodies touched. By the time they broke away, he had the strange sensation of floating without the aid of airbending. The two simply stared into each other's eyes for a while. At last, Katara smiled at him and spoke again.

"So, what happened?" she asked, sitting down on the bed and picking up the comb she had laid aside at his entry.

"Can I try that?" Aang wondered, pointing to the comb. He grinned shyly. "I've never had the chance to comb a girl's hair before."

"Okay." She shrugged, handing him the comb. Aang sat behind her on the bed, laying her tresses out like a cascade in front of him. Her dark hair was thick and slightly coarse. Handling it was an oddly sensual experience as he carefully ran the comb through, gently pulling at the tangles as he reached the bottom. Abruptly, Katara interrupted his preoccupation. "You still have to tell me your story, though."

He obliged, relating how he found Azula and what happened after that. Katara only interrupted occasionally with questions or comments. When the story was finished, Katara took the comb back and ran it through her hair a few times. Then she worked on braiding it.

"I'm glad you didn't kill her," Katara said thoughtfully. "If you ever have to cross that line, I'd hate for her to be the reason. She's not worth it. I wouldn't want to be the reason, either," she added after a pause.

"She killed Sokka, too," Aang confessed quietly, having left that part out of the story. Katara bit her lip and looked down.

"I thought so. She hinted as much when I fought her."

All at once, Katara collapsed into tears, as though she only now felt herself at leisure to grieve the loss of her brother. Aang held her until the crying ran its course, his own eyes stinging. Sokka and Katara were the only family he had known since waking up from his century of hibernation. Finally, Katara's sobs subsided and she pulled back, wiping at her eyes and sniffling.

"I'm sorry," she apologized softly.

"Don't be," Aang responded. He wanted to say something more, tell her that it was right to grieve for someone you loved, but he couldn't find the words. Instead, he said, "Ready to get out of here?"

She smiled gratefully at him and nodded. He kissed her gently on the forehead, then went back out to the front room to pay the doctor for his services. When Aang came back to get Katara, she had composed herself and finished braiding her hair. They packed up the few belongings she had with her and went to find Appa and Momo.

"So, what do we do now?" Aang asked her when they were on Appa's back, ready to take flight.

"What we were always going to do," Katara said with quiet determination. "Find you a firebending teacher and prepare you to face the Fire Lord. Let's end this."

She was staring straight ahead, and Aang regarded her for a long moment. She seemed a little older and sadder than she had been a few weeks ago. For all he knew, the same could be said of him. Aang wondered if Katara regretted leaving her home, dragging her brother with her to join the Avatar's quest. He didn't have the courage to ask her.

Still, her perseverance made her somehow even more beautiful. Gazing silently at the girl he loved, Aang knew that he was exactly where he wanted to be. He could only hope that she would feel the same way, if he did ever dare ask. He set his jaw in grim resolve. If he had anything to say about it, no one in the world would have to suffer under the yoke of war much longer. He climbed to Appa's head and took the reins.

"Yip yip," he commanded, and the companions, diminished in number but strengthened by love and adversity, flew off to meet their destiny.

Author's Note: Yeah, kind of bittersweet, but then it is partially classified as angst. I know it ended sort of quickly, but I'm not one to pad with words just for bulk. Hope you enjoyed it. I will now focus on a happier, funnier story I've been working on. Watch for Avatar in Training, coming soon to a computer near you.