"Tui and La, great Moon and Ocean Spirits: hear my prayer. Bless the lands of our fathers. Protect our brothers and sisters of ice from the domination of fire. Be with us, great spirits. Grant us courage and strength. In this, the darkest hour of our world, provide us with the light needed to see the path before us, and the will to follow it."
Katara recited the prayer just as her mother had taught her: lying face down, legs tucked up under her body, arms stretched out before her. Her knees and forehead were pressed painfully against the hard, cold sandstone flooring of her bedroom in their temporary Ba Sing Se home.
Recently, she had made her own addition to the prayer. After uttering the portion that had been passed down to her, she continued, "Spirits, protect us on this journey and guide us to its safe completion. Watch over us as we venture into the unknown, and guard us as we attempt what seems impossible."
Finished, she extinguished the two sticks of incense she had lit—one representing the spirit world, the other the physical world— then set about releasing her long chocolate curls from their elaborate style, separating her braid from the bottom up, unraveling her bun, and removing the bands which held her looped bangs. At last, she crawled under her warm, scratchy green blankets, and tried to relax.
Unconsciously, she reached up and touched her mother's necklace, running a finger over its smooth surface and gently tracing its circular shape. A deep sigh she couldn't account for escaped her lips, and she rolled onto her side, curling her body into a secure little ball.
When did everything become so hard? she caught herself thinking. If she was here right now, I could ask her… why things happened this way.
She stoked her mother's necklace again.
For what felt like hours Katara waited for sleep to come, willing it to take her away from this awful place, wishing it would remove the terrible thoughts she couldn't prevent from continually swirling through her mind—the worst memories of their past, and her most sinister predictions of their future. But sleep refused to wash over and comfort her. Every time she began to drift off, she would be startled awake by a horrific image—a glowing face shining alone above a scene of death, her brother and father lying in a heap among the dead, and a large silhouette of a man encased in flame, jeering at the lone, shining figure, preparing to finish it all—always the same.
It was no good. She abandoned the effort to gain sweet unconsciousness.
Katara moved as stealthily as she could past the other bedrooms lining the hallway, crossed the living area, and went through the thick, gilded door leading into the kitchen. Circling around the large, wooden dining table in the center of the room, she made her way to the stove to boil a kettle of water.
After several minutes, the door creaked open slowly behind her. She jumped slightly, her breath catching in her chest, and turned around quickly.
"Oh, Sokka… It's you. You scared me," she gasped, her hand clutching her chest and her breath releasing in relief.
"S-s-sorry," he replied blearily, stifling a yawn. He shut the door quietly and moved toward her, rubbing sleep out of his left eye and scratching his stomach. "You couldn't sleep either, huh?"
"No," she sighed. "Can I make you some tea?"
He grunted his consent and flopped down onto one of the green pillows surrounding the dining table.
"You know," Katara said after a while, removing the kettle from the fire and adding tea leaves, "It's still strange to be living in this house. We grew up in tents, and spent the last few months sleeping outdoors and napping in Appa's saddle. It feels weird to be staying in a nice home like this."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," he responded somewhat absently, now picking diligently at some sleep in the corner of his right eye.
She poured the hot tea into two porcelain, flower-patterned cups and settled down on the pillow next to his.
"Thanks," he muttered, taking his cup without looking at her.
His eyes were glazed and distant, contemplative perhaps. Katara hesitated a moment before speaking again.
"You know what else is weird?" she asked cautiously.
"Saying the prayer mom taught us every night. After the North Pole, it means something different to me… after—"
"Yue became the Moon Spirit," he finished for her.
Katara looked at him intently, as though she expected him to do something, say something. She didn't know how he would react to the subject.
He still wasn't looking at her.
After a moment's pause he said, "I feel exactly the same way."
Katara wondered if she should press him further or not. Already she could feel a burning, prickling sensation in the corners of her eyes, but fought it.
She decided she should ask him more. They hadn't ever really talked about it.
"Do you pray to her?" Katara asked, her voice trembling slightly.
Sokka turned and stared straight into her with an almost fearsome intensity. His orb like eyes seemed to reflect something like a white light, though the room was dimly lit, and for a moment an image of Yue's brilliant white hair in the moonlight flashed inside Katara's mind. Perhaps his eyes were simply bright from tears, but… no, his eyes were dry. There was something ominous and yet compelling and spiritual emanating from him. As much as she wanted to, Katara didn't allow herself to break his gaze. More than before, her eyes were stinging in protest. His pain, at that moment, was palpable, devastating.
"No," he replied quietly, "I don't."
His voice was introspective and pondering, free of the harshness and irritation Katara had been expecting.
"Why not?" she asked, her voice quavering dangerously.
"Because… I trust her. I know she'll protect our people without me asking her to. She loved the people of the Water Tribe more than anything."
He turned back to stare at his cup. Katara was thankful he didn't see the tear sliding down her face. She wiped it away discretely.
"I'm so sorry," Katara said, placing her hand on his arm. "I know it must be hard for you."
He lifted his cup to his lips in response, passive-aggressively forcing her to remove her hand. She hesitated again before continuing.
'So… does, um… Suki know about her?"
Again, Sokka didn't respond, and Katara took that to mean Suki didn't know the whole story yet.
They were silent for a long time.
"What about you?" Sokka asked after a while.
"What do you mean?"
"What's keeping you awake?"
Katara opened her mouth to answer, but stopped abruptly at the sound of shuffling outside the door.
"Did you hear that?" she asked him shrilly, sitting up straighter.
They paused for a second, listening.
"I don't hear anything," he said, his brow furrowed in concentration.
"I guess I'm more tired than I thought," she said, shaking her head as though to clear away the clouds that had gathered in it.
"So? What's keeping you awake?" he repeated.
"Oh," she said, having lost her train of thought. "Nothing in particular."
Katara took a sip of her tea and glanced at him sideways. His expression was shrewd and disbelieving. She could feel it coming before he said it, and her heart rate quickened.
"It's Aang, isn't it?"
"It's everything," she replied evasively. He gave her a sharp look and she amended: "But, yes… it's mostly Aang."
More silence followed this, broken only by the clank of cups on the table's wooden surface. Katara couldn't help feeling as though he was thinking, as she had done earlier, of how he should proceed to press her for details. One dread-filled minute later these suspicions were confirmed.
"What do you think will happen to us once the war's over?" he asked. "Do you think you'll want to be with him?"
"Of course," Katara answered quickly. "He's a member of our family now."
"That wasn't what I meant," he said quietly.
Katara could feel her neck growing warm. Avoiding his intent gaze, she drained the last of her tea in one gulp and choked on it a little.
"I know it wasn't," she confessed once she'd collected herself.
"So?" he urged.
She busied herself with the tea pot, pouring them both another cup, playing for time. She could feel his eyes boring into her.
"I've thought about it," she answered finally with as much nonchalance as she could muster.
"Do you love him?" Sokka asked, his voice suddenly severe and full of an inexplicable urgency.
Katara looked at him in alarm, but composed herself quickly.
"Of course I do."
"I mean are you IN love with him?" he demanded, clearly vexed at her dodging his intended question.
Suddenly Katara felt annoyed as well. Who did he think he was? He'd chosen not to answer her question about Suki. It was unfair of him to practically be ordering her to respond like this.
"What's your problem? Why are you acting like this all of a sudden?"
"I'm not blind," he pressed on, pretending he hadn't heard her. "I've always seen the way he acts around you. And lately you've seemed more…" he shifted uncomfortably, "…interested, I guess."
Katara didn't reply—partly out of defiance, but also partly because she didn't know how she'd respond even if she wanted to.
"It worries me to think about you two being together," he continued darkly. "He's dangerous, Katara."
She stared at him incredulously. For an instant she felt suspended bizarrely in a state of bewilderment. Then, abruptly, as the reality of his words washed over her, she let out a cold, mirthless bark of laughter surprisingly unlike her own.
"Oh, please!" she exclaimed, her voice filled with a rare harshness. "You don't know what you're talking about."
Looking slightly unnerved, but determined, Sokka pressed on:
"You're in denial about it. But deep down you know I'm right about this," he assured her. A shadow seemed to cross over his face, which at that moment contained the oddest expression—worry mixed with satisfaction and something like insolence, Katara judged.
"I'm going to bed," she hissed, glowering at him.
She stood up so quickly that her teacup was knocked over. With the amazing reflex born of his warrior training, Sokka grabbed her by the wrist before she could take her first step towards the door.
Numerous seconds passed like little eternities as Katara stood frozen to the spot, listening to the quiet trickling of her tea as it ran off of the table onto the floor, feeling her body shaking in anger and his firm grip on her clammy wrist.
"Katara… please…This is important."
Sokka's voice was much softer than before, but though she noted the change in his approach, it did nothing to calm her. She could feel her pulse pounding painfully inside her head. The sound of it in her ears was almost deafening. Without realizing it, she was grinding her teeth. She tore her arm away and turned to stare down at him.
"How dare you?" she shot at him, her voice trembling and furious. "How dare you say something like that about him when he's saved us so many—"
"Katara, will you please sit down?" he requested anxiously, now clearly distressed.
For what seemed like a long time, Katara continued to glare at him wrathfully. She was numbly aware of the sick feeling growing in the pit of her stomach. But why did she feel sick if she knew with such absolute certainty that what Sokka was saying wasn't true?
Slowly, she walked around the table, sat down on the pillow across from him, and crossed her arms in front of her slender body.
The last of her tea was still dripping onto the floor.
"Try to see things from my point of view," he implored her. "He's hurt you before."
"That thing with the fire was an accident," she responded coldly.
"I know that, but he shouldn't have been messing arou—"
"He learned his lesson, Sokka. Everyone makes mistakes."
"Mistakes for the Avatar are a lot more serious than mistakes for anyone else."
Katara was breathing heavily. Her eyes wandered to the steam wafting from his tea cup, and she found herself fighting the sudden urge to whip him right across the face with his hot beverage.
"And what about the Avatar State?" he urged.
She'd seen this coming.
"He's controlling himself a lot better lately. And I've always been able to pull him out of it."
"What if you were the one that upset him, though?"
Katara tore her eyes away from the swirling clouds of steam above his cup and stared at him, her eyes wide. With a stab of panic, she realized she couldn't think of an answer for it—and moreover that it was a point that had merit; from a certain perspective, at least.
"Emotionally, Aang's a ticking time bomb," he persisted in the absence of her retort. "You'd never be able to leave him or upset him in any way… you'd be trapped."
"STOP IT!" she screamed.
The tea in Sokka's cup froze and shattered, sending shards of ice and porcelain flying everywhere. He threw his arms up in front of his face just in time, but the back of his right hand received a nasty cut and began to bleed.
Sokka put his arms down and stared at her in dazed horror, then at his bleeding hand. Katara looked at it too, but couldn't bring herself to feel bad about it. Her own blood was coursing through her like hot poison, and even hotter tears were spilling down her cheeks without her consent.
"This conversation is over," she informed him, her deadly voice barely above a whisper.
Sokka, amazingly, was undeterred by her menacing pronouncement. Ripping his eyes from his bleeding hand, he plunged on with a daring she would have admired in most any other circumstance.
"Damn it, Katara," he said fiercely. "You may not like it, but I need to know you've thought about everything from every angle. You like to see the best in people so much that it blinds you sometimes. It makes you do things without thinking them through first."
"Like when?" she demanded threateningly.
"When we first saw Haru, you just went running up to talk to him. And that whole thing with Jet—"
"You're seriously comparing AANG to JET?!?!" she roared.
"No… I'm just saying you've been known to overlook the potential threat in people."
The steam clouds over Sokka's cup were almost completely faded now. Outside the door Katara thought she heard a noise again.
Unexpectedly, against her will, Katara could feel her anger ebbing away. She looked into his eyes hard, wanting in that moment to hate him, but feeling only slightly irritated and… something else… sorry for him, maybe.
"Don't you trust Aang?" she asked him quietly, a trace of desperation in her tone.
Sokka was quiet.
"Yes," he said after a brief interlude of thought. "I trust Aang with my life."
"And do you trust him with mine?"
Relief swelled inside of her as she looked at Sokka's face and saw within it that his resolve was melting away. He was losing his momentum and his certainty. She could almost see the thoughts that were forming helplessly in his mind.
"Well…" he responded weakly. "Well, yeah, in a fight— but we're not talking about that…"
"Sokka… don't you trust ME?" she asked, quieter still. There was definitely pleading hidden amongst her words.
"Of course I do," he said at once.
"Then stop being so damned protective!" she exclaimed tearfully. "I know it's because you love me, and you've wanted to hold onto me tighter than ever since Yue died, but there're some things I think you need to be clear on."
Sokka opened his mouth halfheartedly to interrupt her, but Katara continued in a slightly raised voice: "Yue sacrificed herself, Sokka. There wasn't anything you could say or do to protect her. And, despite anything you say or don't say, I'm just going to do what I want. If I make a bad choice then I'm the one who has to live with it—not you."
Katara stood up, less hazardously than she had earlier, and headed for the door. This time, he made no attempt to stop her. She pushed it open and, to her horror, Aang was standing on the other side. He looked frozen and his face looked almost as tear-streaked as Katara's.
"Oh my god… Aang," she whispered hoarsely.
Behind her she could hear Sokka quietly moan, "Oh, man."
"I… I'm sorry," Aang stammered. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop. I was going to get a glass of water and…" he trailed off, staring at Katara with a combination of mortification and shock.
She turned to look at Sokka, appealing to him for something—an apology, an explanation—anything. But he looked as dismayed as Katara felt, and seemed unable to speak.
Katara's brain seemed to erupt in a strange, high pitched white noise—a whining sound that pierced her frozen insides. He had heard… How much had he heard? Oh, this was not good. Not good…
She turned back to look at Aang. No one had said anything for almost a minute. Someone had to say something soon. There was a terrible surrealism swirling around them that was building with every second of silence that passed. It was already so thick that it was hard to breathe. In her flustered state, Katara still managed to deduce that she would have to be the one to do something.
"Come on, Aang," Katara managed to say in a relatively calm voice, slipping her arm around his shoulders. "Let's get you back to bed."
With one last reproachful glance at Sokka, she steered him gently back down the hallway and into his room.
He didn't protest. He didn't say a word.
"I'll be back soon with your water," Katara told Aang, backing out of his small bedroom and pulling his door closed as quietly as she could. She didn't want to wake—
"Toph!" Katara exclaimed in alarm. She had turned around to find the younger girl leaning against her door frame, arms folded across her chest in a characteristic pose.
"Hey, Katara," Toph said with her usual air of casualness.
"What are you doing up?" Katara asked.
"Well, you weren't exactly keeping your voices down."
"Oh…" Katara muttered, her neck growing warm, "Sorry."
Just great, she thought grimly, so everyone heard…
"You alright?" Toph asked, a note of concern creeping into her normally indifferent tones.
"Anything I can do?"
Katara shook her head.
Toph extended her arm to Katara, who, looking down, saw she was being handed a length of torn green fabric.
"Here… take this for Sokka's hand," Toph offered.
Katara stared at Toph in complete confusion.
"How did you know—?"
"I saw it happen from in here," Toph explained without the slightest trace of embarrassment. "Couldn't help it."
Somehow, Katara thought Toph could have helped it, but she didn't feel like challenging it right then.
"Oh," Katara replied instead, taking the fabric from her and tucking it into her waistband. "Thank you."
"If you need me, you know where to find me."
Toph disappeared into her dark room and left Katara standing alone in the hallway, filled with dread and the beginnings of shame. Behind the door in front of her, and behind the gilded door off of the living area, two boys were waiting to talk to her, and she didn't want to talk to either one of them.
Back in the kitchen, she found Sokka mopping her tea up off of the floor.
"Let me," came Katara's kind voice from the doorway.
Effortlessly, she bended the spilt tea into an empty basin in the corner of the room.
"There." Sokka pointed at a glass of water on the table. "For Aang."
"Oh… good," she said lamely.
Sokka began to pick up the shards of porcelain covering the table and floor, and Katara joined him at it, feeling sharp pangs of guilt for the mess she'd caused. For a couple minutes, they worked in silence.
"Are you going to talk to him about this?" Sokka.eventually asked.
"I guess I have to," she replied heavily. She hadn't wanted to talk to Aang about the things he probably heard them discussing. At least, not yet—not until she'd really sorted through her feelings about everything. But now she had no choice. It couldn't be ignored or pushed aside any longer.
"Right…" he murmured distractedly. "Good."
Katara remembered the fabric tucked into her waistband.
"Uhm… Toph gave me this for your hand," she said, removing it and holding it out to him.
He took it from her without saying anything. Katara watched him struggle with it briefly before stepping forward and taking his right hand in hers.
"I'll do it," she offered, wrapping it around his palm three times and tying it off. When she was finished she looked up at him and said in a quiet, earnest voice: "I'm so sorry I did this to you."
"Well… I was out of line," he admitted sheepishly, removing his hand from hers to examine the wound's dressing. He looked up at her again. "When you talk to Aang tell him I'm…" He trailed off.
"Sorry?" she suggested.
"No…" He sighed. "Tell him I'm stupid."
"Katara… he cares about you so much. I'm just being morbid thinking that he'd… anyway… just tell him I'm a little messed up right now."
There was something arresting about the look he gave Katara then. He hadn't cried in front of Katara since the day their father left for the war, but this was the closest he'd come since then. His eyes were shining, his mouth attempted to form a reassuring smile for her, but it was something else about his expression that made Katara begin to feel warmer inside—a lightness… like some terrible burden had been lifted from him. Katara didn't know whether it had to do with her, or Yue, or the bandage Toph had made him by tearing off a strip of her own blanket, and she didn't feel like she should ask. They had both asked each other enough questions for one night, she thought.
Katara reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck.
"I'm always going to worry about you, Katara. It's a big brother thing."
"I know," she answered, resigned.
"But, whatever you decide to do," he said serenely, "you won't hear a word about it from me."
"Thank you, Sokka," she mumbled into his neck. "I love you."
She kissed his warm cheek, walked to the table to pick up the glass of water, and left.
Moments later, the feelings of warmth and relief Katara had gained from her reconciliation with Sokka began to ebb away as quickly as they had come. She edged as silently as she could down the hallway toward Aang's room, determined not to wake Toph again. The water glass she held firmly with both hands shook slightly with trepidation.
She knocked lightly on his door and opened it slowly.
He must be sleeping, she thought, seeing him laying down with his back to her. But then—
"What took you so long?" Aang's voice spoke suddenly. It wasn't a voice which suggested irritation in any way; it was eerily devoid of tone— as though he'd been brooding this whole time, half hoping she wouldn't return as she'd promised she would.
"Sorry to keep you waiting so long," she replied sheepishly. "I had to deal with the mess… and Sokka…"
She walked forward slowly and sat the glass down on a low table next to the mattress he was laying on.
"Listen, Aang… about what you heard—"
"You don't need to explain," he interrupted, still with his back to her.
"I… I don't?"
"No," he replied, still in that same expressionless voice. "I know Sokka's worried about you... and he should be… He's right."
"No he's not Aang!" she cried. "Don't say that…"
She wanted to go to him and hold him, reassure him, but suddenly she felt like she was standing in quicksand, helpless.
"I'm dangerous, Katara."
"We've been through this before!" she exclaimed, close to tears. "You promised me… you promised you wouldn't let your Avatar Spirit stand in the way of having feelings."
He didn't say anything.
"Please… Look at me, Aang," she whispered. Her eyes were stinging painfully again.
For a moment he didn't move. Then, reluctantly, he rolled over and stared vacantly at her lovely face.
"I know how hard it must have been to listen to the things Sokka said about you," she told him quietly. "Hearing someone close to you say out loud the worst things you've ever thought about yourself is… horrible…"
She paused, searching his eyes. He shifted uneasily beneath her gaze, but said nothing. She continued:
"I'm not going to lie to you and tell you Sokka didn't mean what he said; because he did… he meant every word, deep down. We all secretly think the worst about people sometimes… Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending what he said. He had no right…"
She trailed off awkwardly, willing herself to think up a different approach. Aang was now gazing intently at the wall behind her.
After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, she moved closer to him and kicked the mattress at his feet softly, signaling him to sit up and make room for her to join him. He looked up at her, a little flustered now, and did as she had indicated, propping himself up with his arms and scooting back to make space at the foot of the mattress. Gracefully, she settled herself down so they were facing each other. Now eye level with him, she felt her nerve mounting, and knew what she had to say.
"There's something I have to tell you, Aang."
He was looking into her eyes now with a strange, expectant intensity. She took a deep breath and fought the desperate urge to look away from him.
"I used to think I hated the thing inside of you…" she said. "The thing that wants to kill anyone in its path… the thing that turns you into a monster…"
She saw his eyes begin to swim with tears, and her voice caught in her throat. She felt horrible for re-opening such a fresh wound, but knew she had to say this… it would be worse if she didn't go on. She struggled with herself for a moment, but managed to find her voice, and continued:
"But then… but then I thought about how it restored balance to the world at the North Pole… and how it woke up when you thought I was in trouble… and how, without it, I never would have met you…"
She smiled at him— a beautiful smile— and, though he fought it, a tear slid down his face. She reached out and wiped his tear away, allowing her hand to linger for a moment, cupped against his cheek.
"You have the Spirit of the Earth inside of you, Aang," she told him. "And, like the Earth, it can be cruel and unforgiving, but there's good in it, too. I mean, if there isn't any good left on this Earth, then what the hell are we even fighting for?"
She took his hands in hers.
"That Spirit is a blessing… and it's part of who you are. Don't ever forget that, and I promise I won't either—no matter what."
Aang's face broke out into a smile. Reddening with embarrassment at his behavior, he told her: "I won't forget it."
"Good," she said, beaming at him.
For a minute they both sat grinning at each other before Katara realized she was still holding his hands and let go of them, chuckling a little in an embarrassed sort of way. She cleared her throat uncomfortably as Aang used his newly freed hands to reach over and pick up the glass of water she'd brought. He took a sip and sat it back down, then realized that she'd been clearing her throat.
"Oh… I'm sorry, did you want a sip?" he asked.
"Uhm… no thanks."
It occurred to Katara how bizarre it was that a couple minutes before she was trying not to cry, and that now she was trying not to look too eager—that a couple of minutes ago it had seemed a perfectly natural idea to be sitting on Aang's mattress in the middle of the night, and that now it seemed like a horribly nerve-racking situation to have gotten herself into. She felt sure that now would be a good time to leave, but again she was seized by the sensation of being unable to move.
"So…" she heard her voice saying, "How much of me and Sokka's conversation did you hear?"
"Sokka was asking you why you couldn't sleep," he told her, grinning again in embarrassment, knowing he'd given away that he did, in fact, mean to eavesdrop. He hadn't simply come to the door, heard Sokka's cruel accusations about him, and frozen like he'd made it sound.
Katara fought the urge to smack herself in the face. The shuffling noise, she thought, of course… If only I'd gotten up and opened the door to check what it was, none of this would have happened. She didn't blame Aang for eavesdropping, though. He heard them having a serious conversation in the middle of the night, was naturally curious to know what topic could demand such secrecy, and then, of course, he heard his name mentioned soon after that.
"So, you uh… you heard him ask me if I'm in love with you?" she asked, feeling her neck growing warmer by the second.
"Yeah," he replied. "You didn't really answer him…"
He looked at her with the same expectant intensity he had earlier, but Katara didn't say anything. The grin slid off his face.
"Well," he went on, "you know how I feel about you."
"I do?" she asked.
He looked at her so hard that Katara felt like he could see right into her.
"I'm in love with you," he told her, and he said it with such a prompt and honest simplicity that Katara felt unnerved and completely endeared at the same time.
She was about to throw her arms around him and tell him everything she was feeling when he spoke again:
"But, I understand if you don't feel the same way about me… You deserve better."
"What are you—?"
"My work as the Avatar will never be finished," he told her earnestly. "You deserve someone who can actually be with you—devote all of his attention to you. I couldn't give you that… I couldn't give you a normal life."
"What makes you think I'd want a normal life?" she asked him. "I love traveling, and fighting, and helping people. I wouldn't want to give that up."
"Well…I just want you to be happy, Katara. Whatever you decide you want to do with your life, I'll deal with it, I promise. You don't have to worry about upsetting me, I swear."
"I know I don't have to worry about upsetting you," she said, smiling. "That's why I'm not afraid of you when you're in the Avatar State. I know you care about me so much that you'd die before you let anything happen to me. You'd never intentionally hurt me."
They were smiling at each other again.
"So…" he began, trying and failing to keep his voice casual. "Why… why didn't you answer Sokka when he asked you about… how you feel… about me?"
"Well, it really wasn't any of his business," she said. "And… I was nervous to admit how I felt. I'm still nervous to admit how I feel, actually."
She laughed a little and smiled at him again. She could tell from the look on his face that he understood what she meant.
"You remember Aunt Wu, right?" she asked.
"She told me—"
" I, uhm… know what she told you, actually," Aang confessed, cutting her off.
"I was…" he trailed off, looking painfully shamefaced.
"Eavesdropping?" Katara supplied, laughing.
"Well… yeah," Aang said with a guilty smile.
Katara smiled back fondly.
"So you know I'm supposed to marry a 'powerful bender'?"
He nodded again.
"Well…at first, I didn't even think she might have meant you," she went on, "but then, after you stopped the volcano, Sokka said what a powerful bender you are, and I got it stuck inside my head…
"I only thought of you as a friend, but after that I'd catch myself thinking about you all the time, and I'd tell myself that I was just worried about you or that it was natural when you've been living with a boy who's not your brother to accidentally think about him a certain way from time to time…
"And then, we almost kissed in Oma and Shu's cave… and when we got outside and I knew we were all going to be safe, I started to really think about what happened in there. I wanted to kiss you in that cave, and not just because I thought we were going to die… and I realized that I want it to be you—that person in my fortune that I'm going to marry and have children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren with—and that I… I love you as more than a friend or family member."
They were both silent after this. They had said all they needed to, and it was over. That wasn't so bad, she thought to herself blissfully.
Through her post-confession haze of contentment, she was still acutely aware that Aang was pulling her close to him… that he was holding her… that he was kissing her.
She wasn't sure exactly how long they were kissing. It could have been minutes, or hours… or even only seconds. She wasn't aware of time, and soon she wasn't aware of anything at all.
They both fell asleep, curled up together on his rumpled, green blankets.
The next morning, Katara couldn't remember if she'd dreamed it or not, but she thought she remembered Sokka coming into Aang's room in the early hours of the morning as they slept peacefully.
She heard someone come in, walk to the corner where a lamp was still burning on a small table, and extinguish it.
"Sokka?" she asked blearily, trying to open her eyes.
Aang was behind her, one arm wrapped around her waist, the other resting under her neck. She felt someone pulling a blanket over them both.
"Go back to sleep," Sokka's voice whispered.
He kissed her forehead softly.
"Thank you Sokka," she mumbled incoherently, "for understanding…"
He brushed a piece of hair off of her face.
"It's a big brother thing," he said.
She heard footsteps, a door closing, and fell back to sleep smiling into Aang's pillow.