When Aang awoke, it was very dark, yet peaceful. He felt as if he'd slept too long, or not long enough. Drained, as if he'd worked all day and ha nothing to show for it. To top things off, his back hurt like fire.
He stood and noted everyone's position in the cavern. A second look around was at the cavern itself. High ceiling, narrow walls, just enough space to move back down a gentle slope if they were in danger of being discovered. Toph had outdone herself.
Everyone was asleep, including two newcomers, the Earth King and his "bear" (Aang still believed it had to be some kind of bear. Maybe an otterbear, or a beardog. Either way, it sure looked weird!). Toph was sprawled near them, and Sokka between her and Appa. Momo was curled up on top of Appa's head, and Katara was on the other side, near where Aang had just been.
He looked at Katara. Her hair was loose and wild, and he caught a flash of her, surrounded by Dai Li soldiers, arms up, controlling eight tentacles of water around her. He shuddered, turning away. They'd almost...
He couldn't think of it, and he didn't think he'd be able to sleep, so he stepped out of the cave, looking around. No Fire Nation Soldiers, no people of any kind. But there was a brook where he could wash up. He felt grimy. And still odd, like he'd been surrounded by wool.
He stripped to his loincloth, then stepped out to the stream and raised his arms, trying to bring a spout of water to him to douse himself. Nothing happened.
He looked at his hands, annoyed, then spread his feet, dropping into a balanced stance for waterbending. He was tired, that was all. He just needed to concentrate. He raised his hands again.
He blinked, looking down at his hands again. They began to shake. Something is definitely wrong, came the thought, unbidden and in Sokka's voice. It was fitting, he thought, trying to push down his panic. Sokka always had a keen grasp of the obvious.
Okay, don't panic. Waterbending isn't working. Try something else. It was a reasonable thought, and so he followed it, stepping out of the water and onto the ground, further from the water, but also further from the cave. What he was about to try would wake Toph, he was sure, but hopefully once he was done, she could go back to sleep and he wouldn't wake anyone else.
He dropped into a low stance, feet wide apart and balanced, hands fisted on either side of his waist. Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel the Earth. Make the rock move. It won't want to. You have to make it. He raised his foot, then brought it down hard on the ground.
Before he could allow himself to panic, he moved his forward foot back and lifted his hands, circling them in the air, then pushing them forward. Not even a breeze left his hands.
His breathing became rapid, and with it, his heartbeat. He'd couldn't bend. He couldn't even think. But remembering was easy. He remembered the first time he'd bent water, angering Katara so much that she yelled at him. He remembered Avatar Roku telling him that if he were ever to be killed in the Avatar State, it would destroy all of the previous avatars as well. But I didn't die!
He remembered Aunt Wu's voice, telling Katara she would marry a powerful bender, and sank to his hands and knees with a sob.
Katara woke, bleary eyes and dry mouthed. She was always thirsty after a fight, and last night had been a bad one.
She clenched her eyes shut, her fists balled in frustration, as she watched, once more, Aang rising from the ground eyes and arrows aglow, before an even brighter light blinded her and he was falling, limp and lifeless.
If it hadn't been for Zuko's uncle, they would have been caught. And though she knew the Fire Nation's stand was to keep Aang alive but helpless, to keep the rise of another Avatar from happening, she had no delusions about her own importance.
Even so, it wasn't her own death that had frightened her. Aang had been in the Avatar state. He had dropped so quickly, with no control at all. She'd thought he had died.
She turned to her right to check on Aang. He should be sleeping.
He should be there! She looked around frantically before a low voice reached her ears.
"Something's wrong with Aang." Katara started, turning to face Toph, who looked just as tired as Katara felt, and worried. It didn't escape Katar's notice that Toph didn't call him Twinkle Toes.
"He's outside right now. He was trying to earthbend and it woke me up. He had the stance right, his breathing was good, but nothing." Toph's voice sounded small. "I can't tell what happened after, but it must not be good."
Without waiting for Toph to say anything else, Katara was on her feet, walking out of the cave and searching for Aang.
She found him a few feet from the cavern entrance, on his hands and knees, weeping. "Aang?"
When he looked up, it nearly tore hear heart in two. He was still on all fours, but his face was more broken than it had been after Appa had been taken from them. His mouth worked, and afresh sob tore from his throat.
She knelt next to him, taking him into her arms and rubbing his back, gently because of the burn that hadn't completely gone away. Once again, she remembered nearly wasting the water on that traitor's scar, and shuddered.
Aang tried to push away, but she wouldn't let him, until, finally, he collapsed against her, sobbing. She didn't ask what troubled him. Not yet. He would tell her when he was ready.
"I can't bend." His voice was hollow, and so soft she thought she'd misheard. He looked up, so like he'd looked when they'd first found him, like he'd looked after his eyes opened on the flight away from Ba Sing Se. "I can't bend."
His voice sounded resigned, lonely, hopeless, and Katara pulled him closer, whispering in his ear. "Your body's received a great shock, Aang. Your chi is out of balance. That's all it is."
When he pulled away, she knew he didn't believe her. Instead of letting him go, she pulled him by the wrist to the water's edge. "Push and Pull."
Aang looked at her as if she'd kicked Momo in the head and laughed about it, but Katara took one hand in both of hers. "Please, Aang. For me."
Another look flitted across his face, as if she weren't being entirely fair, but he took his stance and closed his eyes. Swallowing thickly, he rocked back, then forward, his hands following the movement flawlessly. Katara stood back, eyes on the shore.
The water moved. Sluggishly, but away from the current enough that it was noticable. Katara smiled, letting out the breath she hadn't been aware she was holding.
"Look, Aang. You're doing it." She kept her arms crossed and her feet planted, to show that there was no way she could have helped, and Aang looked back at her. Tears streamed down his face, and for a moment she thought that he was still upset. When he whispered "Thank goodness," she walked to him and hugged him.
"It's going to be all right."
A/N: This is why Avatar Snare 7 isn't done. Because this ONESHOT ate my brain. So I wrote this ONESHOT and am posting it in all of it's ONESHOT glory.
This is only a ONESHOT!