Disclaimer: No Avatar pwnage for me. (sighs)

Author's Note: Don't really know where this idea came from, but it amused me nonetheless. Might not amuse the readers quite as much… if that's so, cheer yourself up by reading my fic "Beautiful!" (Yes, that was a selfish plug, wasn't it? Sorry! I'll try to keep things like that to a minimum… if you'll take a gander at my Avatar sentence collections. (is shot))

Happy reading! XD

XXX

Too Late

XXX

"Can I… talk to you for a minute?"

From the mouth of the open doorway, the timid words seemed to echo; surprised, the Avatar turned to face the unexpected speaker. An eyebrow quirked; parchment and pens, scrolls of notes and books of knowledge, were dropped from eager fingers onto the elegant desk of marble in the process.

"Katara?" The name was a question, something that still made Katara's heart ache. "Uh, sure… c'mon in."

An encouraging smile accompanied the hesitant— albeit gentle— response, but it failed to help calm the high-strung waterbender. Regardless, she did as she was told, her footsteps reverberating loudly on the water palace's floor of ice.

But she didn't do or say anything else.

Faintly confused by this, the Avatar waited patiently for her to speak, watching as she twirled a strand of loose hair around and around her finger. He always did like my hair best when it was down, Katara thought, chest tight, eyes burning, and fully aware of the probing stare that followed her from across the room.

A silent minute passed…

"Um…" Katara's head snapped up as the Avatar gave a little cough; a prelude to a valiant effort to break the heavy hush. "Can I… help you with something?"

The soft eyes hardened slightly, their tenderness replaced by cautious concern. Nevertheless, lingering in their deepest depths was a distant glimmer of ever-present amusement.

The familiar expression made her stomach drop to her feet.

"I… that is…" Katara began, voice husky from anxiety as she plucked at her tunic, regressing back to a self-conscious 14 year old before the Avatar's very eyes. "I need to tell you something. Something that's been on my mind a lot, recently… something that I should have said a long time ago. But… better late than never, right?" A weak giggle; a wordless plea.

Unaware of the gravity of the situation— of the turmoil writhing in Katara's heart—the Avatar's amusement became more pronounced; an amiable smile graced the young face. "Then by all means, go ahead and say it."

So simple… just say it. It had already taken her so long to steal her courage; she couldn't keep quiet any longer. It wasn't fair to either of them. She had to do this— she knew she had to.

And so, realizing it was now or never, the point of no return, Katara sucked in a deep breath and closed her eyes, liquid sorrow spilling in scalding streams down her cheeks and clinging to her wobbling chin as the long-overdue words tumbled from her mouth:

"I love you."

She could hear the Avatar stiffen, choking on a gasp. "What—?"

"I love you," Katara repeated, cutting off the interruption with a look of conviction, taking a bold step forward— her arms half-raised in unspoken longing. "I've loved you since the moment I first saw you… the moment I rescued you from that iceberg. I didn't know it… I didn't figure it out until later— much later, so much later. Too much later. But still, after all of this time, I feel the same. I love you. I love how playful you are, and smart, and kind, and sweet, and understanding. I love the way you make faces at diplomats and Sokka when you think they aren't looking. I love the way you take Toph's bad attitude in stride, and how you've never one thought less of yourself in Zuko's commanding presence. I love the way you never forced your love on me, no matter how much you wanted to. And I took it for granted… so it serves me right, I guess. Even so, I needed to tell you. I needed to make sure you knew what you should have known since day one— I love you, Aang!"

By this point, she could barely speak around the tears— gasping, sobbing, wheezing; her weak knees crumpled under her slight weight, her body collapsing upon the floor.

And for all of this, the Avatar did nothing. The almighty Avatar— master of the elements, mediator of the worlds, savior to its people— merely listened, gaze heavy with pity, and watched as Katara shook with the force of her agony.

Still, the confession merited a response… and Katara was forced to endure the whispered words she'd known were coming, but never wanted to hear:

"Sifu Katara… I am not Aang anymore."

It felt as if she'd had her insides ripped out with a knife— or if she were being burnt alive by the fire that was clawing up the back of her throat. In the distant recesses of her mind, she wondered if this was what Aang felt as he died— this same merciless burning and throbbing regret.

At the idea, Katara barely managed to contain a dry heave; she had to press a hand to her mouth to keep from screaming. Her head swam from tears and nausea, and she wrapped an arm around her torso to keep from being ill all over the glassy floor. Still, for a moment— for one sick, overpowering moment, when she looked up into the new Avatar's ocean blue eyes— she thought it might all be too much and that she'd throw up anyway.

"I… I know," Katara spat around the lump in her throat, whole body trembling and shaking and feeling as if it were about to shatter into a million tiny pieces… much like her heart. "I know. I know, I just… I just thought— I mean, you're the Avatar. He's in there, too, somewhere… isn't he?"

She lifted her face helplessly, prepared to mutely beseech the Avatar—though for what, she wasn't sure; confirmation, maybe? A glimpse of Aang?—, but instantly recoiled from the sympathy in her companion's gaze.

"I am not Aang," the Avatar repeated, her words full of pity and regret. She was standing, now— nearly towering over the crumbled mess that was once a beautiful bending master. "He is the past; I am the present."

"I know," Katara repeated— voice rising in tenor and volume along with her anguish, morphing into a ringing shriek. "I know, I know, I Know, I KNOW, I KNOW—!"

"But…"

The waterbending froze, breath catching in her throat as two cool hands fell upon her shoulders, encouraging her to look up into the younger girl's kind eyes— eyes that seemed somehow darker in the waning light of sunset…

The color of a storm.

For an instant, her heart stopped.

"But I know…" the Avatar continued in a tender murmur, her soft fingers drying the tears that cascaded like iridescent pearls down Katara's pink face, "I know that I loved you, too. I loved you with all my heart, with every fiber of my being. So very much, in fact…"

Warm lips descended, feathering against the young woman's quivering mouth with a gentleness akin to a summer breeze.

Aang…

"…that I love you still."

And this time, when the Avatar kissed Katara, Katara kissed back with everything she had.

XXX

I generally try to avoid ending stories with further author's notes— as I feel they distract from what you've just read— but I feel it important to point out that if Aang dies at the age of 13, Katara would only be in her late 14s/15s. Therefore, the passing of 15 years would still find her a relatively young woman. Just something to keep in mind. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed— and please review!