I thought of this immediately after THE PUPPETMASTER. This is the fastest I've ever written a oneshot that I didn't completely hate. I still don't like it, but I don't completely hate it. D'oh.
This takes place one month after THE PUPPETMASTER.
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar
The full moon glared down through the treetops, reflecting eerily on the rippling surface of the river. But Aang wasn't looking at the moon. He was looking at Katara, who was sitting at the water's edge, staring blankly into the night-darkened river.
It was a strangely quiet night, especially for a forest that had been so full of life during the day. Now it seemed like the only sounds in the world were the crackling campfire and the river lapping over stones on the shore. Toph had fallen asleep a short time ago. Sokka and Aang were left alone at the fire, Sokka stirring the embers with a stick, Aang watching Katara. It must have been cold way over there by the river.
"Her hands shake when she waterbends," Aang said quietly, the sound startling Sokka.
"What?" he asked just as quietly.
Aang glanced at him. "Her hands," he said again, returning his gaze to Katara. "They shake now, whenever she waterbends. I can feel it when we're training together." He paused, looking hard at her. "She's scared."
Sokka turned his sight to his little sister as well. "What is she scared…" he began, but he stopped, a dark look coming over his face. "Hama."
Aang nodded. "She loves waterbending, but she's afraid of it," he muttered, drawing his knees up to his chin. "She's been like this for a month. I hate that she's scared. And I can't help her."
"Have you tried?" Sokka asked simply.
Aang looked at him in surprise. "What?"
"Have you tried helping her?" Sokka repeated, looking over at the young Avatar. Aang didn't respond. "You're the only one who can, you know."
"Because I'm a waterbender?"
"Because she trusts you," Sokka replied. "She cares about you. Go talk to her." Aang looked across the fire at her for a few silent moments. Sokka got to his feet. "I'm going to sleep. I'll see you in the morning." He slid into his sleeping bag and turned away from the fire.
Aang sighed. He was giving them privacy, and Aang appreciated the gesture. He got to his feet, pulling off his shirt and shoes as he went. He stopped beside Katara, rolling his pants up to his knees.
"Katara, I uh… need some practice," he said quietly, offering her a hand. "Will you help me?"
Katara looked up at him warily. "Aang… I dunno if now is the best time…" she forced out, glancing unconsciously at the moon's reflection on the water. "It's the full moon."
"I know," Aang replied, his voice barely rising above a whisper. "It's the perfect time to practice. We're both at our strongest."
Katara looked down, an involuntary shiver passing through her. "Aang…" she began.
"Please, Katara," he whispered. She looked up at him again. "For me."
She sighed, hesitantly taking his hand. He pulled her gently to her feet and waited as she stripped down to her training undergarments. He moved out into the river first, wading in up to his knees. He looked back at the shore, waiting for her. She sighed again and moved carefully after him. Once she was beside him, he moved further in, leading her out into waist-deep water before stopping and facing her.
"Okay," he said, inhaling and exhaling slowly as if this was any other training session. He assumed his stance and pulled some water from the river, balancing it between his hands. "Let's go."
Katara settled into her stance and watched warily as the water streamed toward her through the air. She lifted her hands and stopped it. Aang watched silently as her eyes widened fearfully, the water loosening between her fingers as her hands began to shake.
"Katara," Aang began, moving toward her. She shook her head, wide eyes focused intently on the water balanced over her hands, catching the reflection of the moon. She backed away, narrowing her eyes and gritting her teeth.
She didn't want to be scared anymore.
But her hands wouldn't stop shaking.
Katara closed her eyes and exhaled shakily, the water finally breaking and falling into her shaking hands. Before the water had finished its descent, Aang's hands were in hers, holding them tightly to stop them shaking. She looked up at him, surprised to find him less than a foot away from her.
"Katara, it's okay," he whispered. She looked down again, her grip tightening on his hands. Aang bent down slightly, trying to catch her eye. "Katara," he said again. She didn't look up at him. To his surprise, a few tears dripped into the river. "Katara please, don't cry."
She finally looked up at him, tears making slow progress down her cheeks. "I can't help it," she whispered fearfully, hands still shaking in his. "I'm sorry…"
"Don't apologize," Aang said sternly, giving her hands a squeeze. "You're not like her, Katara. You'll never be like her."
"I'm just like she used to be," Katara whispered harshly, looking away. "I could become… like her…"
"No, Katara," Aang said loudly, pulling her toward him by her hands. She looked up at him, desperate for him to tell her otherwise. "I know you're scared, but you have to master your fear. Besides, this fear is… irrational. You will never be like her."
Katara took a shallow breath and looked down again, shaking her head slowly. She couldn't handle it. Irrational though her fear was, she couldn't stop it. Aang pulled their joined hands toward his chest and leaned toward her, trying again to make eye contact.
"Look at me," he said firmly. He wasn't sure where the steely resolve was coming from. All he knew was that Katara needed his help. She looked up, miserably meeting his eyes. "You are Katara." She inhaled sharply and tried to pull her hands away from his, eyes filling with tears again. He held tightly, keeping her eyes locked on his. "You are a waterbending master. You love waterbending. You are not a bloodbender, Katara. You will never be a bloodbender."
The sound of the word seemed to hurt her more than the intensity of his hold on her hands. She faltered again, trying to break away from him.
"I would have died, Katara."
She stopped struggling instantly. He was pleading with her now, trying to bring her back.
"If you hadn't stopped her, Sokka's sword would have gone right through my chest," he continued quietly. "I'm sorry that… you had to do that for me." He looked down slightly. She stared at him with wide eyes, her breath coming at unnatural intervals. "But I would have died, so… aren't you at least a little glad you did it?"
A few moments of silence passed between them as Katara fought herself. She bit her lip, trying to breathe normally and failing. Finally, she pulled her hands from his and threw her arms around his neck, exhaling into his shoulder and taking a few gasping breaths to settle herself.
"I'm sorry, Aang," she gasped. "I'm so, so sorry… I don't ever want to do it again… I don't want to have to do it again…"
"I know," Aang whispered, pulling her tightly against him. "I'm sorry too. I won't ever put you in that position again. You will never have to do it again, I promise."
The next thing he knew, her lips were against his. He wasn't sure how it had happened, but it had happened. It was just a light kiss, slow and sweet and over far too soon, but it was enough for the moment. She didn't say a word, she just buried her face in his shoulder again. He recovered quickly enough, pulling her a little closer, smiling all the while.
"I'm glad you didn't die," she whispered after a long silence, her voice now calm. "But I'm not glad I had to..." She trailed off, but he knew what she meant.
"I'm sorry," he murmured, pulling her tighter against him.
"Me too," she sighed.
Aang could feel her hands at the back of his neck. Perfectly still.
"Your hands aren't shaking anymore," he said quietly.
Katara smiled. "No, they're not," she whispered gratefully. "Thank you."
"For talking you down or for kissing you?" he asked with a smile.
"First of all, I kissed you," she pointed out simply, the smile evident in her voice. "And second… for both."
"Well then… you're welcome," he replied quietly. "So… can we go back to camp now? This water is freezing."
"Yeah, okay," she said, nodding. She pulled away from him gently and took his hand in hers by reflex alone. He smiled and she led the way back to shore. As they reached the campfire, Aang gave her hand a squeeze.
"Still not shaking," he commented lightly.
"Nope," she yawned in reply. "Only Irrational Katara's hands shake." She fell silent, looking at her hands for a moment.
"It's okay to be irrational sometimes, you know," he said quietly.
She smiled at him. "I know," she sighed. "So when I'm all out of rationality, I'll still have you."
He smiled back. "And I'll still have you."
She kissed him again, this one just as gentle as the first. But not quite as short. When she pulled away, he felt light-headed. He just smiled vaguely as she turned away.
"Deal," she said quietly as she slipped into her sleeping bag.
Aang grinned, choosing to lie down much closer to her than he usually did so he could watch her fall asleep.
"Don't be scared," he yawned. "I'm right here."
Apparently, she hadn't quite fallen asleep yet, because she whispered in reply.
"I know… and I love you."