A/N: It's Kataang. Whoo!
Yeah, it's just been that kind of week. The winter play (or, the second one - there were two this year, two!) was last week (and the other one the week before that) and...my soul was sold. Then I had to get ready for auditions for the spring musical Aida. I'm not expecting anything better then chorus, but chorus will be better then nothing...-crosses fingers-
And speaking of musicals (yay segue!) the song featured in this fanfic is "Without You" from the musical RENT. The movie version.
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: the Last Airbender
Without you, the ground thaws
The rain falls, the grass grows
Without you, the seeds root
The flowers bloom, the children play
Aang awoke blearily, blinking around the small area to try to determine where he was. The flimsy ceiling was dyed blue and was supported by long poles. Okay, so he was in a tent. Not the groups tent; this was much bigger. So that didn't answer the question of where the heck he was.
He quickly decided that getting up to answer said inquiry could wait until what felt like a hoard of rhinos in his head decided to stop stampeding. Spirits, his head hurt! Of course, so did his back. And his stomach. And there was some unidentifiable weight that had settled across his chest.
So, pretty much everything hurt.
He looked to his right, and saw…nothing. A navy wall of cloth. How helpful. Maybe the other direction would prove to be more fruitful.
He turned his head to the left and received the surprise of his life. Katara was lying next to him, a deep sleep possessing her. Somewhere along the line she had rolled over or something, causing her forearm to come to a rest above his heart. So that's what that weight was. Well, this he can deal with, no problem. So long as it wasn't the sign of some impending heart attack.
Aang had every mind to let her keep sleeping…far be it from him to wake her. He couldn't recall the exact nature of the circumstances that led him to his current position, lying in an unfamiliar tent with the sensation of having been thrown, defenseless, into the Earth Rumble ring with an irate Blind Bandit, but if he hurt, she had to, too. Her hair was down, framing her quiet face. He remembered seeing her, smiling brilliantly down at him after he came out of an impossibly thick haze that had captured his consciousness and clouded his mind. But that was the last thing that he remembered before sleep had claimed him again.
Of course, because he was trying not to wake her, he had to cough. He fought it, but eventually a cough escaped him, painfully jerking his body. Katara awoke with a start, blinking silently at him. "Aang?" she whispered. "Are you awake?"
The stars gleam, the poets dream
The eagles fly without you
The earth turns, the sun burns,
But I die without you
He realized when he tried to talk just how thirsty he was; it felt like his throat was made of sand. "W-water," he whispered hoarsely, swallowing in a futile attempt to drive away the horrible scratching sensation.
Katara scrambled to her feet, rushing over to a corner of the tent where there was a bucket of water. She bended some of the liquid into a cup and brought it over to him. She gently lifted his head up slightly, holding the cup to his lips. "Here," she said softly, letting him drink the cool water.
Aang sighed heavily, letting his head fall back and shutting his eyes. "Thank you."
She set the cup down, resting her hand against his head as though to check for fever – an automatic reaction she had picked up from her mother. "How do you feel?"
"Like I got stuck under a rockslide and forgot how to Earthbend," he declared softly, looking up at her. "How about you?"
"Don't worry about me," she commanded gently, pulling his blankets up and allowing her hands to linger on him for a moment. "You need rest, Aang. You've been through a lot."
He closed his eyes for a moment before re-opening them, looking up at the ceiling. "Where are we, Katara?"
"At Dad's camp," she responded. "This was the closest place we could think of where we would be safe."
He turned his gaze to her. "What happened, Katara? I know we were in the tunnels under Ba Sing Se…and Azula and Zuko were attacking us…"
She looked away. "Azula…Azula shot you with lightning, Aang. You almost died."
Without you, the breeze warms
The girl smiles, the cloud moves
Without you, the tides change
The boys run, the oceans crash
Once she said it, Aang remembered it. He had gone into the Avatar state, and the next thing he knew, there was some alien, searing pain ripping into his back and attacking his heart. No wonder he blacked out… "Why aren't I dead? That should have killed me."
"I know," Katara said, and he could hear the choked quality in her voice as she tried to keep herself together. "Do you remember the Spirit Oasis water Master Pakku gave me? That healed you…or, it kept you alive." Her eyes met his, and he saw tears there. "I'm so sorry, Aang…this shouldn't have ever happened."
"Don't be sorry," Aang said softly, forcing himself to sit up slightly. "You saved my life, Katara. I'd have died without you."
"That's what I was afraid of," she whispered, a few tears starting to escape from her eyes. "I thought I had lost you, Aang…"
Aang fumbled for her hand, grasping it softly in his own. "I'm here, Katara. Nothing's gonna happen to me."
"You can't promise that," she choked, resting her free hand on top of his.
He squeezed her hand gently. "I can't," he admitted, lowering his eyes, "no more then I can promise that you'll be okay when everything's said and done. Forget me for a moment, what about you, Katara? I can't guarantee your safety any more then I can guarantee mine. It would be better for you just to go back home. At least you'd be safe there."
She met his gray eyes with her blue ones, a startling resilience resting there. "I can't bring myself to do that, Aang. I can't abandon you. I won't abandon you, ever."
The crowds roar, the days soar
The babies cry without you
The moon glows, the river flows
But I die without you
"But what if you get hurt?" Aang asked softly. "I'm disaster, Katara. Just traveling with me is dangerous. You would be safer if you went back with your Dad. You and Sokka both. Maybe Toph could even go with you, once I learned enough Earthbending from her–"
"Why don't you want me with you?" Katara cut in, dropping his hand like an ember. "What did I do to make you not want me around?"
"That's not it!" Aang exclaimed desperately, grasping at her hand – only to have her jerk away. "Please, Katara, that's not how I meant it – "
"Well then how did you mean it?" she snapped, her eyes cutting through him like an icy wind.
"I just don't want you to get hurt…please, Katara, I just want to make sure you're all safe! Please, just go home…stay out of harms way until this is all over with –"
"Stop it," she growled. "Just stop it. I already told you I wasn't going to abandon you, and damn it, Aang, I meant it! I don't care how much of a risk I am in, you are so much more important!" She dropped her head to her chest and sighed heavily, studying the boarder on the blanket that covered Aang. When she lifted her head back up, there were fresh tears there.
"Katara…" Aang said softly, a horrible guilt weighing in on him at the sight of her tears.
"Aang," she said, her voice gentle but carrying a new resolve, "whatever happens to me, I'll be okay. But I just can't go on without you."
The world revolves, colors renew
But I know blue
Aang shook his head. "You say that," he said, "but you didn't know me for the first fourteen years of your life, and you were fine then."
"Was I?" intoned Katara. "I lived, I worked, I learned. But after Mom died, I was just sleepwalking. Hope was rare, any kind of fun was rarer. I wanted things to get better, but that little pessimist inside me that proves I'm related to Sokka insisted things would only get worse."
A small smile spread across her face that warmed Aang more then any flame ever could. Centered in his heart, he felt the warmth spread out through his body like the shoots of a morning glory, seeking out the darkest reaches of his soul and brightening them with gentle blossoms of pure hope, pure joy, blossoms that shone brighter then snow in the moonlight. He wanted to see her smile like that again, to see her happy forevermore. Happy and hopeful and looking to the future with promise, like a fourteen-year-old girl should.
Katara reached out and cupped his cheek, and he realized he was crying, too. How silly. There was nothing to cry about. He was happy. If he was any happier, he would be right on the border between elatedness and delirium, and that was a line he was going to try to avoid crossing. For the sake of the world.
"I had all but lost hope," Katara continued, tears running unchecked down her face despite her brilliant smile. "Then you came along, Aang. You taught me to hope again. I wouldn't trade that for anything, and if leaving you means loosing that hope, then "anything" defiantly includes tomorrow being assured. Because, Aang, I will die tomorrow before I will go back on the time I have known about you, even if that meant living for a hundred years."
It was, if not the best, then somewhere in the top ten moments in Aang's young life. He felt a driving need to stay here, with her, forever. Nothing, he realized in a stunning epiphany, would ever be able to break that. He would always feel this need, this draw, this desire to be near her, protect her, love her.
If it was possible to fall in love with the same person twice, then Aang had done just that. He realized some stupid little part of his subconscious that he had been intent, if not hell-bent, on ignoring was convinced that because he had managed to open the thought chakra there under Ba Sing Se, he no longer loved her.
It was now glaringly obvious that this was about as far from the truth that you can get and still be on this side of the sun.
Without you, the hand gropes
The ear hears, the pulse beats
Without you, the eyes gaze
The legs walk, the lungs breathe
There was a large part of the Airbender that was shouting that now was his chance; he had to tell her how he felt, before some other inane interruption came barging in. Then there was still that tiny part of him that wanted to hide under the blankets and wait another day. Or two. Or twenty. However long it took him to get his nerve all the way up.
The part of him that was bearing on him for a confession won out. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves (it didn't work) and met Katara's eyes, keeping his gaze steady.
"Katara?" he started in a soft but firm voice, putting his best effort into not chickening out.
Somewhere in his musings, her hand had dropped to her lap. Now, she picked it up again and placed it over his. "Yes? Are you okay?"
There was concern in her voice. Not the direction he wanted to go in.
"Yes, I'm fine." Don't back off don't back off don't back off. "I…can I…um…can I…tell you something?"
"What is it?"
Breathe. Air is good. Come on, Aang, you can do this… "W-well, um, when…when I went to train with the, um, the guru…w-what I had to do…there's these…things…and they're like pools…except they're not really…and they're made out of energy…instead of…um…water."
You IDIOT! Katara looked incredibly confused. Not that he could blame her; his description couldn't be followed with a map and had no foreseeable point. Brilliant. Now she probably thought he was just plain nuts.
"Um…that's nice…" she said slowly, still not getting the point. Not that she was at fault.
"W-well see," he stammered, "there was – no, I mean, um, these pools, they were called chakras. And there was one…it was called the thought chakra, and in order to open it…I had to let something go." He took a deep breath, willing his nerves to be steady. "I had to let you go…and I couldn't do it."
He suddenly became transfixed with the pattern on the blanket; he was too scared to look up at Katara. "I've thought about it," he said softly, "and I talked a little to Zuko's uncle about it. And he said…" his voice and nerve faded simultaneously, and he couldn't get what he needed to say out. But then he felt Katara give his hand a reassuring squeeze, and somewhere he found the guts to continue.
"Iroh…well, he said…that he thought that I was wise to choose…love…over power. And I think he's right. What I did…it reminded me of Zuko, trading in his love for his uncle for some power from his sister. I don't want to be like that." He lifted his head, a new wave of courage washed over him, and he knew it was now or never. Say what needed to be said, or remain in silence. He was ready. And Spirits help Sokka should he come barging in here.
"I love you, Katara," Aang said softly.
The mind churns, the heart years
The tears dry without you
Life goes on, but I'm gone
'Cause I die without you
Katara's eyes widened. "Aang…"
Aang took a deep breath, the words out and off his mind. Some great weight had vanished. It was out, whether he liked it or not. He looked down at his hands, his heart fluttering nervously. He really wanted her to say something, just to acknowledge that she had heard him. Finally, after what seemed like forever, Katara's soft voice broke through his thoughts.
"Is…it that true?"
He only nodded. This didn't seem to be going in a favorable direction, Aang observed sadly. He shouldn't have said anything. He should've just held his peace and enjoyed his friendship with Katara. She probably didn't feel anything like that for him. He had wrecked everything. Next time, he berated himself, just sit still and shut up.
Aang continued his astounding fixation with the ground. Looking at Katara required courage that he didn't have. But as the Airbender was enduring his vision's engagement with the ground, he felt a soft hand touch his cheek and gently lift his head up so that his stormy eyes met a pair of ocean-shaded ones. He only had a few moments to observe the eyes, however, because he was shortly incapable of focusing on anything other then the soft lips that had pressed themselves against his.
Spirits, she was kissing him!
Aang was far too astounded to react to the action; it was all he could do to keep from falling over. Fortunately, his senses returned to him momentarily, and he allowed his eyes to drift shut and leaned into Katara's gentle touch. He had imagined this happening countless times, trying to figure what it would feel like, what it would taste like. Whatever his mind had conjured, this was a hundred – heck, a thousand – times better.
Katara pulled away after another couple of seconds, and all Aang could do was stare at her, completely dazed, still trying to process what had happened. His brain was still completely boggled, and he was half-convinced that he would never think straight again.
Katara, on the other hand, seemed completely lucid. Thank the spirits; one of them had to be. Slowly, she stretched out her hand and allowed her fingers to barely brush his cheek.
"I love you, too, Aang," she declared, a small smile spread across her face. "I want to stay with you, forever. And I promise, no matter what happens in a couple of months, I'll be right there next to you."
Aang snapped out of his trance when she proclaimed this, falling tiredly against the girl he had fallen in love with. "Thank you," he whispered. "Maybe I could fight alone, but I wouldn't want to face the world without you. I…" he trailed off helplessly, and Katara gently wrapped her arms around him, taking care to avoid the wounds on his back.
"It's okay," she murmured. "You won't face anything alone, Aang. I will be here."
Aang smiled, letting his eyes drift shut. It was all that he had needed to know.