He'd been sitting near the stage ledge, drinking water and mentally preparing himself for the long night of music, when Katara chose to finally talk to him.
She had not seen Song arrive for the dance just yet, but she could tell that Zuko would need all the help in the world so as to not look like a nervous wreck. Days earlier, she'd helped the young prince pick out a nice tuxedo from the ancient royal Fire Nation quarters... one that could show off the passionate color of his Nation as well as the necessary formality of a school rock band.
It turned out to be a silky wine-colored shirt over an edgy black tuxedo... and it made Zuko look more like a seductive flamenco dancer than a any sort of drummer.
"I'm a bleeding Arctic penguin," was the first thing he murmured when Katara approached him, but the tranquility of her blue dress kept him from saying anything else. She ignored him, anyway.
"Will you please quit complaining about that?" she snapped teasingly. "You're a Fire Nation prince. You're supposed to look hot."
She laughed, immediately shutting herself up while more of the band-members showed up in the same attire. Zuko shook his head in dismay, as if trying to remember why he'd decided to be friends with this girl in the first place. But a small, reassuring smile from him let Katara know that she indeed had made all the difference to him that year.
"I'm glad to see you decided to come tonight," the girl said honestly, adjusting her dress to lean against the stage with Zuko. "I can't imagine it being easy... after what happened with Azula."
Zuko nodded. "No, I wanted to come tonight no matter what. It's probably the last chance I'll ever have to act like someone my age."
The waterbender smirked, acknowledging the same black hair that hid her friend's copper eyes and concluding there would always be a bit of mystery about Zuko. But somehow... she preferred it that way.
"Are you excited about your plans next year?" she then brought up.
"It's more for my sister," Zuko rasped simply. "I'm just coming along to make sure she's okay."
Katara mentally shook her head, knowing that the close proximity of band-members were probably keeping Zuko from going any deeper with this conversation. She managed to keep it going, anyway.
"Maybe this will be good for the both of you, and you'll be able to get along again."
Zuko gave a small chuckle, looking over to her strangely. "Don't you ever get tired of being this optimistic?"
She punched him on the arm. "Anyway, I think it was brilliant idea. When do you leave?"
"In a couple days. My mother's making all these plans for my graduation ceremony before Azula and I take off. It's going to be at the Fire Nation palace... Agni knows I can't stop my mom from making it a big deal. It's open to anyone; you're welcome to come if you want."
Katara laughed. "Does it require a date?"
It took a small pause from his end, but Zuko's cheeks blushed in color, and he shook his head embarrassingly.
"Okay," she said, and as the girl noticed at the main entrance ahead, seeing the faintest silhouette of a familiar boy with a bald head and a blue arrow, walking with Toph and Teo to the school dance entrance. Katara's heart beat rapidly with delight.
Perhaps, she thought, a date to Zuko's graduation ceremony wouldn't be a terrible thing at all.
"If you wait any longer, he might get suspicious..." Zuko teased in his raspy voice, noticing the odd look on Aang's face, and Katara chuckled musically.
"Save a dance for me?" was the last thing she said while getting up, and Zuko just grinned in disbelief... watching her run off to meet her date.
It was like time had abruptly frozen to a stop, the moment he saw her running to the entrance.
Katara was flaunting the dazzling blue of her eyes in an elegant halter-top dress, just like she said she'd be wearing. Her wavy-brown hair hung down to the waist, and as she moved a hair-loop to finally meet Aang's face in the distance... it took a small push from Toph to keep him walking.
"You're not gonna faint on her again, are you?"
Teo couldn't help but bring that embarrassing scenario again, and Aang flinched.
"Wait... you knew about that?" Aang saw himself blushing even in the utter moonlight.
Toph snorted a laugh, adjusting the glass-bead bracelet on her wrist while she kept pushing Teo's wheelchair courteously. "It's not like people confess their undying love to Sugar Queen every day here, Twinkle Toes."
A small jab to his arm was Toph's final bit of encouragement, she and Teo went off towards the school dance entrance. The only thing on Aang's mind was the young waterbender, still, noticing how she kept her smile to Aang's face while she carefully walked over to him.
Other people had shown up, walking gracefully past Katara and Aang as they awkwardly stared at each other. Seconds seemed to stretch into minutes, standing face to face, neither of them sure who should speak first... and oblivious about the time passing by.
"You look..." Aang felt his heart pounding harshly, as if it were blocking his vocal chords. He tried to keep his eyes from darting all over Katara's formal attire, but he couldn't stop. "You look amazing–ly... um... great... tonight."
Katara giggled, bashfully touching her mother's necklace. "Thanks, Aang."
She offered him a hand, and the two walked arm-in-arm into the Praying Mantis High School's Year-End dance... with Aang feeling like he had never gotten off of Appa.
"You look beautiful."
Smellerbee winced, turning her head to see her dance partner hide a rare grin as they both found empty seats encircling the Praying Mantis gym. The scrawney girl just rolled her eyes, pursing her lips so as to not feel so foolish... wearing an undulatory red dress that accentuated curves to her figure.
If it weren't for this year's ballroom theme, Smellerbee would've gladly traded the dress for her regular baggy pants to win the usual Year-End dance competition. Longshot kept his grin, guiding her to a seat and determined to act more gentleman-like for that evening... regardless of the faces Bee would shoot at him.
But then, she saw Mai walk into the room, looking quite uncomfortable in a silky black halter top and matching dress pants... and Smellerbee sighed, feeling somewhat better that she wasn't the only one feeling uncomfortable tonight.
Jet had strolled in afterwards, wearing a formal tuxedo with his usual messy hair, and girls turned heads as they noticed the Earth-dweller place a hand promisingly around Mai's waist. Girls gaped even more when they realized that Mai was laughing softly at the boy's gesture. Ty Lee caught that connection like a rat-viper, and she jumped out of her seat and skipped with her ballerina gown over to Mai, practically pulling the girl's arm to sit next to her.
More people started filling up the seats, Jet amusingly letting Mai go with Ty Lee to probably dish out on boy-related secrets. The Earth-dweller easily found Pipsqueak among the incoming crowd, and started talking to him and his environment-loving girl, Jin. She gave Haru a high-five greeting the moment they passed by each other, and the Omashu director found sanctuary among the faces of Toph and a few other Earth-bending football classmates.
"What's with the gloomy faces, boys?" Coach Bumi made his presence known with a snort. "Come on... go win some girls' hearts tonight!"
He held his smile wide, snorting and giving casual-but-brutal high fives to any young student who looked like he needed a confidence boost. Even though chaperones didn't need to acquire dates, the school herbalist quietly appeared at Bumi's side for comfort among this very adolescent crowd. She'd even brought her cat, Miyuki, along on a leash... and many girls came over to pet it.
Yue had shown up by herself, elegantly and gracefully, with a beautiful snowy-white dress that looked like she'd come down from the heavens... or like she was expecting a wedding proposal at any moment. And right behind her came Sokka, stumbling almost in his own foot had it not been for Suki holding onto his arm steadily.
Many of the girls had put on their ethnic Kyoshi make-up and garb, and Sokka had decided to show his loyalty as a warrior by placing his own honorable Southern Water tribal make-up for the dance. It looked rather ridiculous... since he was the only boy present who'd decided to wear make-up that night... but Suki didn't seem to mind it at all.
The only girl who taken a break from the Kyoshi make-up was Suganya. She came in with Xai, Loung, and Brei An as a fearsome foursome among the crowd, bringing in garb that nobody in the school had ever seen before. People glanced at them strangely, seeing the colors in their fabric that were no different from their respective nations' tribal blues and earth tones. But the way they wore those fabrics... so loosely like cosmopolitan monk robes, was definitely something to behold. And as Xai stepped into the lights of the dance room, people realized that his head was sporting a new mark: a blue arrow hand-painted as a replica to the Avatar-in-Training's own genuine tattoo. Looking closely at the foreheads of the other three students, people discovered the same blue marks on Loung, Brei An, and Suganya proudly.
Apparently, the young boy had taught them well... and Aang looked over at them with so much hope in his eyes. He almost couldn't help the tears forming in his eyes, trying to contain himself in front of Katara as she watched the airbenders enter as well.
Zuko appeared from the back entrance, along with Lu Ten and a few other people carrying musical instruments and equipment. Song had also offered to help the band's set-up, and she did so as gracefully as she could wearing a lovely green hanbok.
It was when his cousin, Lu Ten, came onto the stage with a guitar strapped over his back... that it seemed like a powerful aura had made its way into the crowd, because everyone (even the chaperones) paid their respects with a bow to the future Fire Lord. He courteously waved a 'hello' to the crowd, many girls cheering by the assurance that this musical entertainment for the night would be a great one.
"Hey guys," Lu Ten grinned with his trimmed dark goatee, setting his guitar on the stage and addressing the crowd. "The band and I have a real treat tonight: the future Fire Lady Jun is singing the lead vocals."
Katara noticed Zuko roll his eyes onstage, the only one not "awww"ing with the rest of the crowd... and the girl couldn't help but laugh quietly. Aang gave her an odd look, but Katara left it at that.
"The first thing up for the night is the Praying Mantis dance competition... and this year's theme goes to the Fire Nation!" Lu Ten started jamming on his guitar, cuing his band-mates and Zuko to follow accordingly. "Get ready to salsa!"
Music soon erupted and people easily began to move into the sound of Lu Ten's guitar. An olive-skinned girl with a hummingbird tattoo on her neck played the trumpet, while a boy sporting a longer version of Loung's dreadlocks jammed on a keyboard.
As the young future Fire Lord sang his heart out to the crowd, people stepped up to the dance floor in pairs, one by one. Ms. Ursa even got escorted by her own grandfather, Principal Roku in a casual dance... perhaps to demonstrate the proper movements of salsa to the amateurs. But Smellerbee and Longshot didn't need a demonstration, stepping into the center of that circle like it had been reserved for them. Jet took the liberty of rescuing Mai from Ty Lee's giggling demeanor and brought her out to the salsa floor.
"I saw this dance before, at the Fire Nation palace!" Katara exclaimed happily towards Aang, taking both his hands immediately. "It's really simple, just try and follow my lead."
"Okay... but I can't promise I won't step on your feet," Aang teased bashfully, letting the girl teach him to dance in the smallest of hip movements. Katara giggled between her 'step fronts' and 'backs' and the boy couldn't help but feel so much at home.
Zuko tapped on a pair of ethnic bongo drums, concentrating so fiercely, he could barely catch a sight of his Uncle as he stepped up to sing along with Lu Ten. Song was blushing near the back of the stage, even more when Uncle invited her up to play the tambourine near Zuko.
Suki dragged Sokka out boldly for the competition, and keeping a small smile, the young Watertribesman attempted to copy the gracefulness of Jet's feet with every step he took. Pipsqueak brought out Jin like a giant gentleman, teaching her the basic footwork the same way Katara was teaching Aang. The pairs were forming with every beat of Zuko's drum on the stage. Even Yue had found a brief partner in Haru, her soft-spoken voice asking him if he knew the steps to salsa. Toph and Teo made up some steps of their own, boogieing and laughing to the rhythm as Haru stepped out with Yue.
Smellerbee and Longshot owned the dance floor easily, with the tall archer giving his girl a graceful whirl of her dress every so often. Her short, frizzy hair would whip out in all directions as the boy turned her, taking a breath right before Longshot would lift her up to his frame for a transitional move.
"Aang, she's here," Katara whispered. The boy turned his head.
Lights were dimming more and more, as it was clear that judging was about to begin... and just as Brei An and Loung entered the dance floor... two more figures came in from the entrance.
One was Ms. Ursa, taking her part in chaperoning the school dance in her usual ruby red robes. The other... who seemed to be hiding the brilliance of her copper eyes... was Azula, and the first thing people noticed was a pair of black velvet gloves.
Gloves that seemed to be more a part of her than the red silky dress she was wearing.
Aang watched her enter the room like she'd been entering someone's funeral very late... pretending to not catch eyes with anyone as she found an empty seat near the refreshments table. Zuko had noticed his mother come in and prepare herself for judging the dance, and he caught a glimpse of his sister sadly sitting alone.
"Someone should ask her to dance," Aang couldn't help but whisper to Katara, seeing the estranged faces people were giving Azula.
"Well... Chan's not exactly here tonight," the waterbender mentioned, looking around. "And I don't think he wants anything to do with her, anyway."
"I have an idea," Aang paused for a second, studying Katara's face. "Would you mind if I asked her to dance with me? Just this once, I promise."
Katara couldn't fight the blush in her cheeks, but then yielded her dance steps, and planted a small kiss on Aang's arrow tattoo. The boy laughed bashfully, quickly running over to cheer the once-vicious Fire Nation princess out of her miserable state. As Katara watched him bravely lend out a hand for Azula, getting her up from her chair and taking her towards the dance circle for salsa competition... the waterbender smiled from the sidelines.
Words couldn't express how lucky she felt, having such a noble kid as her date.
Azula didn't say anything, almost repressed of emotion as Aang maintained his cheerful grin towards someone who needed so much support at that moment. To be angry at her didn't seem like an option anymore. To befriend her... well... was her choice, frankly.
Carefully, the young princess stepped into the basic salsa, without looking at Aang's encouraging eyes and the hands that held themselves in front of her. She noticed Mai and Jet dancing lovingly at the corner of the circle, and those two other Oak Tree dwellers who danced like their spirits had met in a past life. Her stomach floated as if it were empty... numb, but Aang persisted in helping a girl smile.
Katara watched the Avatar-in-Training at work, her eyes glistening.
And then the salsa rhythm picked up by the sound of Lu Ten's guitar, Iroh's enthusiastic and off-key vocals, and Zuko's intensive drumming. It was like something had ticked inside Azula's mind... something from long ago... perhaps when she was no older than five and believed the whole world revolved around music and movements. She felt herself stepping gracefully against Aang, taking the lead as he still held her hands.
One thunderous jolt of the drums were all Azula needed, and she breathed life back into her empty stomach... letting the elegance of her red silk dress show itself off in a turn. Aang followed along, making his own air-bending turn in the air to balance out the intensity.
"Go Aang!" one of the airbenders cried out within the music, and people started clapping for that strange pair... which seemed more enforced by Azula's lead.
The dance competition was still happening, and however acrobatic Azula and Aang were making themselves be... they were clearly drawing away from the salsa. And Coach Hama tapped the princess on the shoulder to get them out of the dim-lighted circle, but Aang didn't mind... because Azula was revealing the first genuine smile in a very long time.
It was scaring a few dancers out of their concentration.
But Azula still hadn't said anything to Aang, then. Her copper eyes moved slowly to meet his shimmering silver, and all she could do was just glance at him oddly, letting her smile fade in embarrassment.
"You're welcome," the boy said comically, childishly. Azula just sulked in her usual manner... running off towards Ty Lee's chair to attempt her first reconciliation.
Before Aang could laugh away the awkwardness of that dance... Katara had run to the boy with open arms, hugging him almost too tightly to breathe and saying 'Aang, that was incredible!'
All he could do was hug her back, watching the endurant silhouettes of Longshot and Smellerbee salsa dance in the center of the circle. His mind was caught off-guard, his heartbeat still racing from the recent dance... Aang barely registered the lips that were suddenly touching his so gently. He almost choked after a second of consciousness, and Katara eyes winced back open, parting from him immediately.
She couldn't hide the pink of her cheeks, looking away. "I– I don't know why I did that."
"Katara–?" he urged softly, confused. Curious.
But the song had ended, and both of their heads turned to watch Principle Roku describe the astounding performance of Smellerbee and Longshot in the salsa dance competition, presenting them with a pair of deserving gold pendants that rested on a tiny velvet pillow.
People clapped, Sokka cheering like a ridiculous maniac through his glistening Watertribe make-up, while Suki glanced at him oddly. Katara's face looked apprehensive, almost sad... but she managed to clap along with the crowd and get her mind off of what she'd abruptly done.
And while Aang clapped as well, pretending to not have felt such a sweet kiss a few seconds earlier... he noticed a new figure mingling with the airbending group. She was petite, with jaw-length hair and a blue arrow painting delicately beneath her bangs. And she wore radiant Fire Nation red airbending robes.
The boy had never been so happy to see On Ji.
Minutes later, while the music continued to play casually from Lu Ten's band... Aang found himself among his faithful airbenders. They talked about the Agni arena, about each other's brilliantly-authentic airbending wardrobe, and how they couldn't thank Brei An enough for teaching them how to sew the pieces. They talked about perhaps finishing the Year-End dance with a proper demonstration of air-tumbling and twirling for the students who despise gravity.
And then something inside the boy urged him to lead his friends to the Oak Tree clan, congratulating Smellerbee and Longshot personally about their winning pendants. Aang couldn't remember if he had ever introduced these two groups of people, in spite of the fact that they had faced so much turmoil this year. Jet was too enamoured by Mai to let go and shake the airbenders' hands, but Pipsqueak instantly took a liking to Loung's dreadlocks and pulled on one just to see if it was real.
It seemed that after that kiss... Katara's mind had suddenly gotten too preoccupied with things... going off to find Mr. Pakku to discuss next semester's events and activities to promote her new title as Student Class President.
Aang tried to ignore her abrupt behavior, but she kept moving towards other people in the crowd like Sokka and Toph... even talking to Haru about his one-man show, for the sake of having him speak so passionately for a few minutes. The young airbender remained patient, trying to think nothing of it... but he knew it was just a matter of time before the band would take a break... before Katara would take that chance and speak to Zuko.
"Can I talk to you for a second?" On Ji then said softly to Aang's side, while the airbenders and Oak Tree clan commenced a strong, friendly debate about gravity and its influences with dance.
The two friends quietly led each other out of the dance room, taking in the nice air that surrounded from one of the school hallways. Aang had not admired On Ji's arrow tattoo until then, when he noticed the little spiral designs that encompassed its brilliant blue.
She quietly murmured an "I'm sorry" while the two of them stared down at the courtyard's fountain, the same way they'd done so months before. Aang almost didn't know what she was talking about, but he studied the uncertainty in On Ji's face... and assured to himself it had nothing to do with Katara.
"On Ji, you don't have to be sorry for anything." He exclaimed, leaning against the locker-room wall. "This was your choice."
"I know, but I should've told you sooner," On Ji bravely let her brown eyes find Aang's face against the small light that came from the side entrance. "But I had a lot on my mind. After we... rescued... Azula, you won't believe who showed up to apologize to me."
Aang blinked, now bringing his fullest attention to his friend and away from Katara. He couldn't recall having seen Hide cause anymore fits those last few days of the semester, after Azula had willingly put an end to the bullying. He listened while On Ji continued to speak.
"He told me there was no excuse for everything he did this year, and he said I shouldn't be ashamed for being an airbender." On Ji's face had stiffened, and her hands closed themselves into her robes as if cold. "I saw tears in his eyes, Aang."
Aang gulped, trying to think clearly. "Did you forgive him?"
On Ji paused for a moment, taking in the music from Iroh's violin that came from the vicinity.
"Yes..." the word came softly, and the girl looked at her friend square in the eye, "....but nobody can forget something like that. Hide wasn't messed up; he had a choice the whole time he was on Azula's side, but he didn't act on it. I don't think I can ever see him differently."
"It's okay, On Ji." Aang planted a firm hand on her shoulder. "Nobody's asking you to like him again, and that doesn't make you a bad person."
On Ji breathed, the way she always did when something was difficult to grasp.
"He's transferring to the Fire Nation Military Academy next semester," she then stated matter-of-factly. "He said it might be a better fit for him."
Aang moved to study On Ji's wondering face. "Is that what got you to thinking about the Temple?"
"When my parents came to see the OmaShu performance, they said they'd never seen me dance with so much passion. They finally seemed to understand how important dancing is to me, too, because that was when they brought up that intensive dance program at the Western Air Temple."
Aang tilted his head, finally understanding On Ji's thought process to this difficult choice.
"This could be the best chance I have to perfect my air-dancing, and work my way to become a master," the young girl's eyes seemed to smile on their own. Aang couldn't deny that.
"On Ji, you should go for it," he said simply. "Don't stop yourself just because people are asking you to stay."
She looked off towards the particular group of Drama Club kids mingling in the dance.
"Kuzon's not making this easy."
"He'll understand; if he really likes you, he knows it won't be forever." Aang felt a small shiver go down his neck as he looked at On Ji's sad but hopeful face. "I'm definitely gonna miss you next year, though."
On Ji smiled hopefully, throwing her arms finally around his shoulders, and Aang managed to laugh, hugging her tightly as well.
"Thanks for everything," she then said with the boldest strength of her heart. "I promise, I'll write to all of you as much as I can."
And the boy smiled, knowing it wouldn't be the same without On Ji among the small group of airbenders next semester. But he breathed carefully, holding her like the little sister he never had right before they parted.
"Don't be afraid," On Ji whispered. "Go get her."
The second half was about to commence, and Zuko and the other members of the band were warming up onstage for the freestyle-dance portion of the night. A new figure had shown up to the stage next to Lu Ten, her raven black hair hiding an eye, and one of her arms sporting a tattoo of a spiraled Komodo dragon. Aang already guessed she must have been Jun, and watching her affectionately part her hair to kiss Lu Ten on the cheek almost made the boy jealously fish for Katara's face in the crowd.
He found On Ji happily joining Kuzon under the arm and heading to the dance floor, and he finally caught sight of Katara... going out to sit on one of the stone steps in the courtyard... as if not ready to face the crowded Year-End dance yet. Her eyes were closed, as if she were taking a moment to breathe the cold, refreshing air around her.
Aang knew it could be now or never... and while the lights dimmed and Jun's voice began to sing a lovely slow-dance number... the boy's legs took him forward.
The lovely, withdrawn waterbender turned slightly and noticed the familiar bare feet of Aang, looking up then to see him fully. She wiped a side of her face, as if she'd been crying.
"Oh... Aang, I..." the glistening in her eyes were still present by the light that filtered through the entrance door, and it seemed to dance all along her face. Katara brushed her dress with her hands, about to get up. "I was just about to go and find you."
"It's okay... it's actually much cooler out here," The boy nervously set himself down on the grass beside Katara, silently suggesting that she stay put. "You alright?"
The girl sighed, nervously playing a bit of her hair as she focused on Aang's arrow tattoo.
Her voice quivered for the first time since she'd spoken about her mother. "I don't know, Aang."
"What's the matter?"
"It's just that this whole semester's gone by so quickly, I've barely been able to think..." Katara looked out into the darkened courtyard to let her thoughts flow. "...and for once, I just want things to stay the same."
"But Katara, you worked so hard to win this election." Aang's throat almost went dry. "Are you saying you want to back down?"
"No!" the girl's blue eyes. "No... it's just that, everyone's going to expect so much from me. It was so much easier when the pressure was off... I got to know Zuko that way. But now it's like I'm being forced to make a difference."
The young airbender snorted amusingly, but with absolute understanding. "Welcome to my world," he said teasingly, "Are you just scared that you won't be able to please everybody?"
Katara nodded, gazing down at the boy with an upset pair of eyebrows. "How do you do it, Aang? Helping people seems to come so naturally for you."
He shrugged against the entrance light, massaging one of his shoulders with a hand. "To tell you the truth... I never wanted to be the Avatar. No one at the Air Temple did, because they knew it would be nothing but work and responsibilities for the rest of your life. When they told me I was the new Avatar-in-Training... I was scared I'd never be able to have fun again."
Aang paused, gazing at Katara intrigued face as the outside wind brushed through her hair.
"But... after coming here, I learned that being the Avatar will get me to understand people for who they are, and it will help me step out of my comfort zone. I once didn't think I'd be able to survive outside of the Southern Air Temple." Aang smiled, continuing to speak more casually. "Helping people isn't supposed to be a burden; it's more like... a sense of service to the world. It's an adventure!"
Katara sighed. "But how do you do it without going crazy?"
The boy laughed, his inner child returning briefly in his voice. "The trick is to give some time for yourself."
She felt her cheeks blush suddenly, and it brought her face into a smile. As she heard the edgy voice of Jun sing a more fast-paced song on the stage... Katara started to speak from her heart.
"I think that's why I was so scared when I kissed you," her eyes glimmered. "It was the first time I'd done something for myself in a long time."
It took a while -- with Aang feeling like all of his muscles had momentarily fallen numb – but the boy then let a playful smile come into existence. Bravely, he move one of his hands to rest on one of Katara's.
The girl flinched, as if a spark had flown... but they both laughed it casually away, hearing the music continue to jam behind them.
"Listen, this might be the last chance we get to talk before school starts again..." Aang then started. "And there's something I've been meaning to say to you."
She grinned, letting her cheeks blush again. "Actually, you already did... Remember?"
"Oh, yeah..." Aang did his best to let his thoughts keep coming into words, doing the best he could to tighten his stomach courageously. "... but it's not just that."
Katara's elegant blue eyes locked with his, curiously and heart-warmingly.
"You keep telling me I'm an amazing person and everything... but Katara, I... couldn't have done any of this without you."
"Aang, what're you talking about?" The girl felt her frame move forward, concerned but intrigued. Her hand was wrapping around Aang's fingers, practically cutting off the boy's circulation as he tried to continue speaking his mind.
"I... I know it sounds stupid... but that first day, when you helped me find the attendance office... nobody had been that nice to me before. I remember every single detail... How you went out of your way to help a lost little kid like me."
Katara's mind winced, feeling like that word 'kid' didn't seem to fit anymore. What was happening? She thought about the things Zuko had said, about a young boy's heart becoming so strong, and so vulnerable at the same time... and how she may have been the source.
"You were the one who pushed me to talk to On Ji, and meet the airbenders... you pushed me so hard to make something of myself at this school. You never gave up on me, Katara. And... and I just wanted to say... um..."
But Aang's 'thank you' was cut short with another kiss. But it had come slower, with a stroke of Katara's hand at his cheek, involuntarily bringing Aang's face closer to her own until there was no longer any space between them.
Softly, and so willingly... those lips made the boy's world shrink from the vast complexities of Avatar training all to a single solitary moment. More music was heard in the background, people were dancing and laughing, but for Aang, everything had become so soft and still.
The next moment, when he opened his eyes, he saw Katara smiling... laughing musically as she dragged his lovestruck body back into the entrance. Back into the noise and the dancing figures that moved freely by the upbeat rock of Jun's voice. Aang found himself dancing along with them, with the girl whose hairloops jumped wildly by the energy and her grace.
He was still an airbender, and he'd never felt more unbelievably free.
Wow guys. Um... yeah, it's been one long, incredible ride. I'm seriously lost for words, and exhausted. But sooo so happy. But wow, it's amazing how a little idea and lot of fan-based nudging can create one helluva good story. I've never stayed so committed to a fanfic before, and it's honestly thanks to you guys and your constant enthusiasm that kept me going til the very end.
Well... kinda the very end. I initially planned to have this story go all the way into Aang's second semester at Praying Mantis... but let's be honest: Nobody wants absolute closure to a story – where's the fun in that? I mean, now that Katara's student body president, and Aang's her primary help for understanding the diverse student population... and all potential love interests are going off to seek bigger, better things (hah, did'ya catch that? These things don't just happen!)... there's no stopping them from getting much closer. So I decided to let you guys write second semester in your own imagination. Yayz!
I wish I could give major feedback to all the comments people made on my story... but... that might take me another year and a half. ^^ So instead, I'll thank you ALL from the bottom of my heart (with an extra dose of love to my friend Blum, and to Katsumara and Summer Sweetheart) for your ongoing encouragement to make me a better writer. I guess if there's anything I could ask from you is to write a final review as a personal shout-out to the story: What did you like? Dislike? Did this story help you cope with life? Or inspire you to write anything yourself? Sorry... I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff, and any feedback helps a writer with future projects.
Speaking of which, for those of you curious about what I'm doing next... "Healing Sessions" will be updated now and then, but just to warn you it's Zutara-based and definitely will not exceed 10 chapters (I swear!). And I'm committing more time to my original series of fiction: "Hatchlings." Basically it's about a brother/sister pair of gargoyles who 'hatch' and are raised by a human custodian working in Chicago... and... that's all I'm gonna say. If you want a sample chapter, let me know via review!
Take care, everyone, and keep reading great fiction!