Ah, yes, here is the Kataang, dedicated to my readers (both anonymous and signed) who prefer it. You guys are awesome:D
I did the writing in present tense, because that's what I thought of it in. I'm not sure if it adds any effect, but it was interesting to experiment with. Canon wise, place this somewhere around the time of "The Chase" and "Bitter Work."
A Study of Hands
On one of the very many nights that she spends wide awake, staring at the overhead patchwork of stars, Katara randomly notices how very small Aang's hands are.
In their usual setup, she and Sokka are tucked tightly into their bed rolls, with her brother on her left and the airbender farther to her right, swathed in a thin, rough blanket that they acquired in some nameless town last week. The night is rather cool for early spring.
The newest member of their traveling party is shut tightly in her earth tent (as always, after bidding them her normal, casual "g'night",) and Appa's rhythmic breaths are really all that disturb the absolute silence of the forest clearing.
A gauzy cloud scrapes the edge of the moon but does not cross its surface, and a firefly lazily hovers over her face before floating on its wayward path: A few more of the bright insects blink in and out of existence in the taller grass at the edge of the circling trees.
Katara sighs, wishing that sleep would come and get rid of all the little thoughts drifting through her brain now. The quiet of the night leaves a lot of room for doubts, questions and regrets, and those are things that she definitely does not need at this time.
The waterbender then wonders, abruptly, why she is being kept awake. Certainly, she is tired enough that by all logic she should be fast asleep by now.
Something must be holding her back from rest. That is the conclusion which is reached.
A bit of alarm brushes her, and Katara's senses sharpen.
She is quickly satisfied by Sokka's quiet, easy breaths beside her. Katara does that often, although she will never admit it: blue eyes will snap open, and she will crawl over make sure that her brother is alright, that he has not been taken from her while she rests. (Katara did it much more several years ago, after their mother died, and again after their father disappeared into the horizon.)
Katara props herself up to see the sloping sides of formed rock in the moonlight, as well as Toph's form sprawled inside. A grubby hand reaches up to scratch her small nose, and the earthbender lets it drop once again. Toph, you really should wash your hands more often… Katara chides silently.
Besides Toph, Momo chatters and repositions himself.
Toph and Momo, check.
Katara rolls over onto her side (she was always a fitful sleeper anyway, and the movement does not disturb anybody) and finds herself facing Aang.
The Avatar's brow is furrowed slightly, a shadow shrouding his face as though he is dreaming of being pricked by a thorn. The waterbender wonders what dark thoughts could be flying through his mind… and then realizes that she has quite a list of possibilities to choose from.
Her tired eyes, which stubbornly refuse to close, wander down over the thick-lashed eyes, the mouth with the lips quirked to the side a bit, the carefully formed nose and sharp chin… and they stop, on the hand that draws his blanket tightly about him. The other hand is resting on the cool ground, palm up to catch the soft moon's light.( If anyone can catch a moon's ray, after all, it's Aang.)
Katara lays her own hand beside his, and is surprised.
His hand is so small… even in comparison to her own.
She squints to take in the details.
Aang's hands are thin and long in shape, the fingers all given relative grace and intelligence when they move. The fine bones underneath the skin, which is soft except for the rough fingertips, are very light: Katara often wonders if his bones are hollow like a bird's are.
But also, the waterbender knows that he has quite a grip on him, from snatching his hand many times over, from seeing him clench it when rage or grief floods him.
The hands seem frail, but they are very strong.
Air, after all, is a deceptive element in itself. It cannot be seen, often not even felt or heard. When Katara thinks of air in the most basic sense, she thinks of a soft breeze coming off the ocean in the early morning, running light fingers through her hair. She thinks of a field of grass sighing and bowing over slightly in waves
Yet when it is angered, the wind can rip even the deepest- rooted trees from the earth, shred the towers off of proud palaces, and blow away everything until there is nothing, nothing but a barren wasteland left in its wake.
It has a quiet, deadly power to it, which can only be brought about in the most extreme of circumstances.
How very fitting of Aang.
But even those hands, in all their secretive strength, are very small ones considering that they hold the weight of the whole world.
That, after all, is exactly what Aang's hands do.
Suddenly, Katara feels a flood of anger in her. Who could be so cruel as to place such a responsibility on someone so full of innocence, full of a simple love of life? Why prevent him from simply being Aang? He doesn't have the makings of a great conqueror: many things, but not a war lord. She knows this without question.
Yet here they are.
Such small hands.
Strong, but also easily broken. War is a harsh reminder of how frail everything dear to a person is. It's a reminder that the whole world can slip away, as easily as sand slides through one's fingers.
In her mind, Katara suddenly sees blood in the snow, hears burning and screams as she lies there under the sky.
Gone, just like that. And the airbender blamed himself for it, in part.
How could you do this to him? She thinks bitterly.
(Katara had always had that problem: she thought her own logic to be rather flawless as a whole, and it takes her a long while to realize that there are powers higher and wiser than her at work. Realizing that would be her final step into adulthood, years down the road. )
But for now, she is angry at whoever gave Aang, the boy who is such a big part of her small world, the duty to save it.
To save it by himself, no less.
To have his people fall away into mere memory, and let him live with the reminder that he is alone.
Aang suddenly draws a sharp breath, and his shoulders tighten as though he is drawing back in fear from something. His eyes clench shut tighter.
Now realizing why she was unable to sleep, Katara's hand ( which is stronger than she thinks it to be) reaches out and clasps around his.
She does not let go.
After a moment, the boy's slightly paler one reflexively closes over the cool, healing fingers, and the shoulders relax once again.
I'm sorry, Aang, she says to herself. I' m sorry that this great task was placed in such small and gentle hands. But I'll try, Aang. For you, I will try and do all that I can to share the load with you, free you of your burden as much as possible.
My hands are small, too. Come to think of it, so are Toph's and Sokka's.
But I suppose that if we hold them together tightly enough, then the world just might not slip through our fingers like the fine sand that it is.
Katara firms her grip so that she knows he will not drift away, and is finally able to close her eyes and wait for morning.
In his dream, the young airbender walks through a darkness that presses in on him.
He thinks, perhaps, that it is a shadow: A long, thick shadow which a hundred years of death and war cast. And Aang knows, instinctively, that he must outrace the darkness, get ahead of the object which casts it and do everything in his power to bring light once again.
It's a very daunting task: he cannot tell where he is going, after all… Not to mention the fact that the darkness seems to burn him like hot ash.
He knows that he should be afraid, that he should be overcome by despair by now.
But Aang also knows, somehow, that someone walks beside him.
And thus he is not, nor will he ever be.
He presses on.
A/N: Well, that was a lot shorter than I was planning it to be. Darn. (Eye twitch.)
Oh, and I own nothing. Thank you for reading!