Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar.
The desert temperature had been steadily dropping since sunset. Still wary of the Sandbenders, Aang, Toph, Sokka, and Katara had set up camp a little further away from them.
Katara figured it would be safer for all of them if Aang stayed away from Sandbenders for a little while.
A part of her knew he was still Aang; nothing could change that. But he was different in a way he had never been before. His eyes were dark, almost unreadable. As soon as they set up camp, he had disappeared among the sand dunes to meditate and gain control of his storming emotions.
He hadn't said it, but Katara knew he was scared. Not of them, but of what he could do to them. She knew the experience in the desert had left him badly shaken, made him doubt himself and question his power.
She remembered her vow to simply continue watching him until she figured out her feelings. Glancing up from the fire, in the faded light, she saw his tracks leading into the sand dunes. She glanced back at Sokka, sleeping off the effects of the cactus juice, and Toph, keeping a watchful eye on the Sandbenders in the only way she knew how; one foot pointed in their direction to sense their coming.
She'd been doing such a good time upholding that vow, to.
Murmuring to Toph that she needed a few minutes alone, Katara rose and quietly slipped away after Aang.
Meditation had never gotten him anywhere to begin with.
The deep, calming breaths that had often soothed his elders and friends had never quite done it for Aang, unless he was trying to contact the spirit world. Even when he had been totally focused, his mind had always been jumping and busy.
Now he just couldn't focus at all.
He had killed.
Aang closed his eyes. There was no other way to put it. He had killed; had knowingly killed. He had killed the vulture wasp because it had taken Momo, because he had wanted to strike back somehow, make others feel the pain he felt.
But now his heart felt heavy. Killing—knowingly killing—came at a heavy price.
The breaths he had tried so hard to keep deep and soothing became strangled and rapid. Soft whimpers escaped him, and tired of fighting his emotions the young Avatar crumbled to the ground, tears pouring out of him in racking sobs.
Why Appa? He thought miserably. Why did it have to be Appa?
What if it had been Katara?
But Katara wasn't taken.
But what if she had been? What if Katara had been taken instead of Appa? What would you have done? Would you do anything to find her?
Would you kill to find her?
Aang did not know the answer, and that only made him sob harder.
It could have been anyone. He knew that now. It could have been anyone. Sokka, Toph, Momo.
It could have been Katara.
It was the sound of sobs that Katara heard as she rounded the bend, and she froze when she saw Aang, huddled and weeping.
Logic screamed at her to retreat; Aang had come out here, he wanted to be alone. He didn't want anyone to see him break down like this.
But her heart urged her to go to him, to comfort him as she always did.
He was still Aang, no matter what.
And she still loved him.
She approached, her footsteps muffled against the sand, and knelt next him, wondering whether to voice her presence or stay silent. For a moment she just knelt there, torn, before deciding to heck with it and gently wrapped her arms around him, pulling him into her lap, lowering her head slightly so they were cheek-to-cheek.
The simple, gentle gesture was the final thread for the young Avatar; he wrapped his arms around Katara's neck and turned his face into her throat, sobbing harder. Katara said nothing, just murmured soothingly, falling silent when it was obvious it was contact he needed, not words.
Gently she reached out, closed her hand over his own fisted one, drew it between them. She rested her fingers against his own, gently massaging them until they opened and she could lace her fingers with his.
"I'm still here, Aang." Her voice was soft. "I'm still here, I'll always be here, if you need me."
And though their true emotions were left unsaid, they knew without a doubt that they would always be there for each other.
So... yeah. Here it is. The final story in my Watching series. Loved writing the series, and I did my best to make this a good final story...
Read and review, please!