I came up with this about a week ago, and it stewed in my head for a while, so I typed it up for my sanity as much as your entertainment. I'm not sure what to think of it yet. I'll let you know once I've developed an opinion.

Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar


Night in the Fire Nation was cooler than it was during the day, but it was still warm compared to the rest of the world. Even the ocean was warmer. And on this night in particular, the Fire Nation was quieter than it was in the rest of the world. Because several hours previously, as dusk descended over the world, Fire Lord Ozai fell before the might of Avatar Aang.

And suddenly, the world was in flux. The Fire Nation collapsed, the Earth Kingdom was free, and everyone wanted revenge. So, Avatar Aang, battered, tired, and acting wise and mature beyond his thirteen years, came before the world leaning heavily on a beautiful young waterbender and declared that there would be no more fighting. No more war. No revenge, no ill will, it was over. And the sun set, and the world fell silent.

A great calamity soon descended upon the grand palace of the Fire Nation. The remains of the army were in disarray, some of the generals had fled, the heir to the throne was under in the custody of the army of the Earth Kingdom, the princess was nowhere to be found, and no one was quite sure who was in charge or what was going on.

Aang didn't want any part of it. He was tired and injured, and he needed rest. But everyone was pestering him to do this and that, so Katara shouted at everyone who came near him until they managed to get into Appa's saddle and take off into the night.

The ride was silent as they searched for a place to stay for the night. Maybe a few days. A week, at most. They came to rest on the far west coast of the Fire Nation. On the high cliffs over the ocean, the first forest they had seen in the continent grew from the rich volcanic soil, watered and maintained by centuries of sea spray. The forest was old and warm, the air heavy from the saltwater on the wind, but most of all it was quiet. Few animals inhabited this strange and ancient place, and those that did were either diurnal or very quiet.

Momo managed to find the first freshwater spring inland from the sea, and they made camp in a clearing nearby. Sokka and Toph fell asleep instantly. Aang tried, but he found that no matter how tired he was, he couldn't find rest. He sat up, the silence pressing in around him as heavily as the humid air. He ached everywhere. There hadn't been time for Katara to heal him before they left the palace.

On that note… Aang looked around. Where was Katara?

He took a moment to think, his mind too exhausted to even be worried. She would be at the spring. He knew her well enough to know that she would be near water. So he got to his feet with a groan of pain and picked up his staff, using it as a walking stick as he was enveloped by the darkness of the forest.

It didn't take the young Avatar long to reach the spring. He approached as quietly as he could, pausing among the trees. Katara was there, just as he had thought, sitting at the edge of the spring with her back to him and her legs dangling in the water. She was in her undergarments as she had been a thousand times before to teach him to waterbend. Her clothes were in a heap beside the spring, covered in dirt, burned in several places, and soaked in blood. Aang's blood most likely, he mused silently, since she had pulled him into her arms, sobbing with relief, when she found him bleeding and battered, but alive, on the throne room floor.

A sudden pain shot through Aang's back and he grunted in discomfort. Katara turned slightly, her actions very slow. She was tired too, it seemed, and didn't feel like she was in any danger. She smiled softly, the gesture not travelling to her eyes as it usually did.

"Hey, Aang," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. But the night was so quiet, he caught each word clearly. She tilted her head a little and patted the ground beside her, not quite ready to talk much yet. He leaned his staff against a tree and sat down beside her, removing his boots and rolling up his pants to dangle his legs in the water.

Silence fell between them. Aang looked around dully. The small clearing was lit by a crumbling stone lantern that looked as though it had been burning for a hundred years, maybe more. The spring must have been a sacred place a long time ago.

"Aang…"

He glanced over. Katara was looking at him steadily, an expression of cautious concern on her face.

"Are you…" she began, trailing off. She let out a quiet, bitter laugh that didn't seem to fit her. "Sorry… stupid question…"

"Yeah, I'm… okay," Aang said in answer to her unfinished question.

Katara looked down. "Good…" she said quietly. Aang gazed at the spring. It was small, clear, and immensely deep. The water wasn't bitingly cold as the springs were in the Earth Kingdom. It was warm and soothing to his aching legs.

"Here," Katara said suddenly, pulling some water from the spring. "You need some healing, right?"

"Oh… yeah," Aang muttered. He had sunk so deeply into his exhaustion, he had forgotten about his injuries entirely. The aches and pains were irritating, but any actual wounds he could have received weren't causing him any trouble at the moment. He pulled off his shirt with some difficulty, his aching arms giving him trouble.

Katara, to her credit, didn't make a sound when she saw the horrible cuts and burns covering his back, chest and arms, though it was incredibly difficult for her to bite back a gasp. She didn't say a word, just leaned close to him. And with her so close to him, feeling the heat of her breath on his neck and her cool hands on his chest, he was yanked immediately out of the stupor he had fallen into several hours before.

He felt like he should say something, anything, as her hands moved slowly over his chest and shoulders, mending his burned and bleeding skin. A dark blush rose to his cheeks and his eyes widened slightly in surprise. This sudden return of feeling came as a bit of a shock. Katara paused, flattening a hand against his chest.

He knew immediately that she felt his heart racing beneath her fingertips. She felt his breath hitch in his chest. She felt his chi rush back into motion. But after a few silent moments, she moved on, hands trailing down his arms.

Now he was confused. Why hadn't she called him out? Wasn't she concerned that he was experiencing a mild heart attack every time she touched him?

Or maybe… she knew. Maybe she knew that she was doing that to him. And maybe she didn't mention it to avoid embarrassing him. But… if she knew what cataclysmic effects she had on him… then she must know how he felt about her. …Right?

And then all thought was chased from his mind, because she had leaned even closer to reach his back. For a moment, he was sure his heart had simply stopped. But then he felt something. Her heartbeat against his shoulder. It was racing as wildly as his. This was a charming new development. He felt her swallow hard and heard her exhale slowly in an effort to calm herself.

Her fingers trailed over the great black scar on his lower back, and she was finished. She cleared her throat and pulled away from him, meeting his wide-eyed gaze with a similar look of surprise. The thickness of the air became oppressive. There didn't seem to be enough for both of them to adequately breathe. They were just so close, and the night was so still and silent, and she looked so beautiful in the glow of the lantern, eyes wide and cheeks flushed.

"Katara…" he finally managed to choke out, but he had no follow-up. She just smiled, and it finally travelled to her eyes. She lifted a hand to his shoulder and squeezed it gently.

"I'm glad you didn't die," she whispered.

He was taken by surprise. All he could manage was, "Me too."

Her smile turned into a light smirk and her hand tightened on his shoulder. Before Aang could prepare himself, she pulled him toward her, drawing him into a kiss that he wasn't ready for. His eyes went wide, but after a moment of shocked stillness, they slid closed. The blush receded from his face, but his heart maintained its furious speed. He felt her hands sliding up his arms and coming to rest on his shoulders, pulling him closer. His hands found their way to her hips, tugging her insistently toward him. She laughed a little, and he felt it more than he heard it.

Katara was definitely braver than him, he decided when he felt her tongue sliding between his lips. And that was when he lost himself completely, sinking into his senses, all touching, tasting, indulging. For once in his life, he could be selfish. Finally, there was no one judging, no one telling him not to waste time, he had a world to save. This was his, and hers. It didn't belong to the world. Just them.

And in the ancient forest, in the glow of a stone lantern, knee deep in the warm spring, the world fell silent.