AWS is totally killing me right now.
But uh... this could take place pretty much anytime during Season 3. In my mind, it started out taking place sometime during NIGHTMARES AND DAYDREAMS, but then by the end I was figuring it to be at the Western Air Temple (which I still haven't seen, snaps for will power). So uh... wherever you want it to be, go ahead and think of it that way.
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar
"It has to be me, Aang. The world needs you more."
Aang stared at her in horror. No… this was wrong. This was all wrong.
"Katara, what are you talking about? I won't let you die like this!"
She just smiled at him, that sad smile of hers that would have tugged at his heartstrings were he not in a state of sheer panic.
"Aang, it's either you or me," she said calmly. "You're the Avatar. The world still needs you. If one of us is going to die…"
"No," Aang interrupted stubbornly. "So what if the world needs me? I need you."
"That won't matter if you die," she continued. She was still so maddeningly calm. Aang looked around wildly, but he couldn't see anything. Just her.
"You can't die, Katara," Aang said desperately. "I can't live without you."
"I'm sorry," she said, just smiling that gentle smile. "But you have to."
Aang let out a shout of frustration. "No, how did things end up like this? How did it come down to this?"
"One of us has to die," she answered calmly. "And if that's the case, it has to be me."
"This is so messed up!" he shouted to no one. Katara just kept smiling, shaking her head. "This can't be how it plays out, I won't let you die for me!"
She smiled at him. He took her by the shoulders and shook her.
"I won't let you die for me."
"Aang, wake up."
Aang sat up abruptly, feeling as though he had just broken the surface of a river. He took great, gasping breaths, sweating and shaking and barely aware of anything around him. Until he felt a pair of arms wrap around him, pulling him against something warm… something with soft skin and a beating heart and steady breath that smelled sweet and familiar.
"Katara?" he gasped, glancing over at her in surprise.
She smiled at him, a calm smile that chilled him to the bone for some reason. She drew away from him, leaving one hand resting on his shoulder. He looked her up and down. She was kneeling beside him on the ground. She seemed unharmed… but that dream… was it a dream, then?
"Sorry, you were shivering," she said quietly, and he realized she was explaining why she had wrapped her arms around him.
"Oh, that's okay," he said quickly, shaking his head briskly. He wasn't wearing anything but his pants, no wonder he was cold. He looked around. The campfire wasn't too far away, their traveling companions slumbering beside it. Katara's was the only empty resting place. "What happened?"
"I woke up," she said with a shrug. "I didn't realize why until I heard you…"
Oh no… she heard him? What was he saying?
"You just kept muttering… I couldn't understand," she said quietly, looking down. "I was worried. You kept tossing and turning, I thought you might hurt yourself."
"Oh… thanks for waking me," he sighed. When he didn't continue, she nodded.
"Well as long as you're okay," she said warmly, leaning forward and kissing his cheek. She was doing that more and more lately…
"You care about me, don't you Katara?" he asked suddenly, surprising both of them.
"Yes," she answered instantly. He looked at her. She blushed. "I mean… well… yes, I do."
"A lot?" he continued recklessly. She opened her mouth immediately, but managed to stop herself this time.
"Well… yes," she murmured.
"But you wouldn't be willing to… uh… die for me, would you?" he asked quietly, looking away from her.
"Yes, I would," her answer was immediate again, but this time there was no trace of embarrassment.
He looked at her sharply. "What?"
She just smiled at him, looking as though she was wondering what the joke was. "I would die for you," she repeated.
He stared at her. "How can you… how can you just… how can you say that?" he stammered. "How can you say something like that without any hesitation or… anything?"
"Because it's true," she replied, shrugging. "I didn't hesitate when you asked if I cared for you. That's just as true."
"But why?" he pressed, eyes widening imploringly as he leaned toward her. She didn't flinch, just held his gaze steadily.
"Why what?" she laughed lightly, clearly trying to soothe him by staying calm. Rather, it was just aggravating him.
"Why would you be willing to die for me?" he muttered, looking away from her.
For the first time, she paused. He glanced at her. She was looking down thoughtfully. He didn't know if it was his imagination, or if it was a trick of the light, but he could swear she was blushing.
"If you had asked me that a few months ago, my answer would have been different," she said slowly.
"What would it have been then?" he asked desperately. He had to understand.
"You're the Avatar," she said delicately. His eyes widened. "If it came down to either you or me… well… the world needs you more."
"That's not a very good answer," Aang blurted before he could stop himself.
She smiled at him, laughing lightly. "No, it's not. It's the sensible answer, though, you can't deny that."
He stubbornly refused to answer.
"But my answer now… well… it's quite a bit different."
She looked away from him, taking a settling breath. "I watched you die once, Aang," she said quietly. "As long as I live, it will never happen again. Not if I can help it."
Aang fell completely still and silent. He hadn't been expecting that. He had been ready for the first answer, but this… He usually tried not to think of that fact that he had died. He had never paused to wonder what it must have done… to her.
She sniffed and hastily wiped her eyes. When she turned back to him, she was smiling again.
"Well, there you have it," she said, her voice trying to sound cheerful through the thickness of tears. "Not necessarily sensible, but… better than the first one, right?"
He didn't answer. He just stared at her. She looked away. The silence lasted so long, she was contemplating getting up and returning to her own sleeping bag. But then his arms were around her, and she couldn't have moved if she wanted to.
"Aang…" she murmured, relaxing into his embrace.
"I'm sorry," he replied, voice muffled in her hair. She closed her eyes, taking a deep breath to clear her head. Instead, she found herself drinking in that wonderful smell of his, which just served to make her head foggier.
"Uh…" was all she managed. It seemed like he was everywhere, his arms around her waist, his hands on her back, his face buried in her hair.
"I'm so sorry," he said again, pulling her closer. Before she knew it, her arms were around his neck, her head on his shoulder. She wasn't sure how it had happened, but it had.
"What are you sorry for?" she whispered, finding herself remarkably comfortable.
"I never really… thought about that," he muttered. "What it did to you… when I uh…"
"Shh… you don't have to apologize," she sighed. "Let's just… make a promise."
"Let's never get into a situation where one of us has to die," she said quietly, arms tightening around him. "I don't think I could live without you."
Aang smiled. "I promise," he replied. "I couldn't live without you either."
He felt her smile against his shoulder. "Good. I promise too."
"Do you think you could… stay here until morning?" Aang asked quietly, blushing in embarrassment.
Katara laughed a little. "I'm glad you asked," she said lightly. "I wasn't going anywhere whether you wanted me to or not."