Title: Home Again
Author: Winter Ashby (rosweldrmr)
Disclaimer: Avatar the Last Airbender © Michael Dante DiMartino & Bryan Konietzko
Summary: They met again, years later, in passing... The last time Katara had seen Longshot, they were deep under Lake Laogai. (Katara & Longshot)
Authors Notes: I am made of crack pairings. I'm convinced of it. If you cracked me open with a bat, like a piñata, crack ships would pour out of me. I don't know where this came from. I think I was rewatching Lake Laogai, and there is one moment when Longshot is standing next to Katara, and that was all I needed. Also, I couldn't find ANY fics for these two. How sad. Doesn't Longshot need some love too!
They met again, years later, in passing.
He was taller than she remembered, and slimmer. Though, the quiver always did make him seem larger than he was, she supposed. He wore his hair in much the same way he used to, pulled tight and tucked under the large, overhanging brim of a straw hat.
She didn't recognize him at first, she had no reason to. The last time Katara had seen Longshot, they were deep under Lake Laogai. She knew nearly nothing about him then, all those years ago – before her world changed. In fact, thinking back on it, that was the only time she ever heard him speak. And as she watched him walk past her in a tea shop, she realized, it was almost the same as not knowing him at all.
If it hadn't been for the hat, she might never have noticed. But something about it caught her eye, stirred a memory deep inside her that she hadn't managed to erase. After all, how could she have known she would see him again, in the Fire Nation of all places?
"May I?" she asked, standing over him, casting a long, wayward shadow over his table. He didn't look up, and for some reason, it made her feel nostalgic. Because, even if she barely knew him – there was always something about his presence, it was strong and insistent. Like, he could articulate his mind perfectly without even acknowledging you.
He gestured, with a slight nod, and she sat without hesitation.
They each sipped their tea in silence, like strangers sharing a table. And in so many ways, they were. And in other ways, the ways Katara tried not to think about any more, they were more connected than most. Because even though it might have looked to outsiders like they weren't connected, she knew that he remembered her too.
She studied him, in short, fleeting glances over the brim of her cup. His clothes were worn and faded. He was obviously traveling. And as she continued to drink, she could almost make out the face a young girl who used to be at his side, but Katara couldn't quite remember her name just then. She didn't ask what happened to her, and she got the uneasy feeling that he understood this gesture, and reciprocated by not asking her why she also traveled alone. For this, she was grateful to him.
When she was done with her tea, he allowed her to continue sitting. The feel of the wood under her palms, and the chill as the sun began to set at her back all told her that she needed to leave. It should have been easy to just move on. To pretend like she'd never seen him. But she couldn't. There was something about him, about being around him that Katara couldn't tear herself away from.
It was comforting to be in the presence of someone who knew her, knew her tumultuous history with this world – and not feel obligated to talk about it. She didn't have to relive the moment Aang sacrificed himself to bring down Sozin's comet. She didn't have to tell him that burring her brother was like losing her home, or the pain of resorting to blood bending in that final battle. He didn't need harrowing tales of her adolescence adventures, or to know what it was like to be loved by the great bridge between the worlds. Or the horror of who she turned to for solace when the last battlement fell.
She ran her fingers through her short hair and pushed those thoughts back and down. This is why she hid from the world. This is why, even though she loved and missed Toph, she turned down her offer to live with her in the country over and over again. She didn't want to be reminded. She didn't want to remember. She couldn't be that person anymore. And it made it convenient that he knew almost nothing about that girl.
He stood, slowly, and pushed the rim of his hat up just enough for Katara to catch a glimpse of his eyes. She followed him out of the shop, wordlessly, and down the path to a nearby town.
When they checked into an inn, Katara paid and neither one of them corrected the woman at the desk who called him her husband. Nor did she really mind that the room had only one bed.
There was something about him. His silence, his history, it made him safe. He knew her, her name (presumably), but didn't feel the need to use it. And even though he existed in her past, it was so much so on the periphery of her life, just in passing, accidentally meetings, really – that she didn't mind it. She didn't mind him.
Or the single bed.
That night, he slipped into the sheets and his bare shoulder touched hers as the night faded into morning before she could regret her decision to stay with him. At dawn, she felt him go, and rolled over to sink into the space he left behind. It was a reaction, filling the space he no longer occupied, something her body did without thinking. She woke up a few minutes later.
She was cold.
She got dressed and sat at the window, darning his bag as the sun crested in over the mountains to the East. By the time she was done, he'd come back with breakfast.
Their fingers touched as she accepted the meager fruit tart.
She didn't blush, and he didn't look away.
She wasn't sure who moved first, whether it was him to her or her to him. But in the next moment of time, they were connected. Lips and hands. Skin and hair. A trail of unspoken words and history, like the ties of destiny and fate had bound them together. Like, maybe, this was always supposed to happen.
She pushed his hat up and off, tangling her fingers in his long ponytail. And he unknotted her belt with what seemed like only two fingers. It couldn't have been more than that, because his hands were on her neck, running the length of her collarbone, in her hair, on her face, over her hips as he pulled her to him.
It was all frantic, all desperate need. And she considered, as her head made impact with the wooden floorboards, that it have been just as long for him as well. He didn't speak, as was customary, as he removed her tattered water tribe robe. Seemingly carelessly, and still, somehow, his every action conveyed he knew what it meant to her. There was a reverence in the way he undressed her, like each scrap of cloth had a secret life that he could read, like words on a page.
She undid his hair, watched his dark locks frame his angled face with a specific kind of disjointed pain. She'd only done this a few times. Sloppy and young. It was always hurried, always hushed. In between lulls in battle, and a raging comet blazing overhead.
This was nothing like that.
He took his time.
She cried during. It was an expression of exhaustion, like a sigh after you slip into a hot bath after a long day. The tears were just there, just a part of who she was. Water and salt from inside her, part of her, falling away. Like a mask, or a crab-spider shedding its outer shell after it'd grown too big for it. The tears were transition from her old life, always in hiding, wandering the Fire Nation trying to find a place for herself in this new world that she didn't really belong in or to. It seemed only fitting that she be left behind as the world moved on to a new golden age of peace and prosperity. What did Katara know of peace? What did she know of the Avatar, outside her perfectly constructed Aang-shaped-concept? How could she learn the name of a new avatar when the one before was still seared into her memory, and heart, and life?
But Longshot, with silent concentration, and steady hands took all that away. The burden of the life she thought she would never be free of, the feeling of guilt for living when so many others did not… he managed to just wash it away. Like the tears he scrapped a callused thumb over her cheek to remove.
When it was over, they dressed slowly. Katara bound her robe less tightly, and took off her necklace. She held it in her hand, stared at it, tried to will it to transform and meld with her new view of her life. But no matter how hard she tried, she could never manage to think of it as her necklace. It would always be her mother's. She would never marry a strong, handsome Water Tribe warrior. She would never have a handmade betrothal necklace. She would never return to the South Pole. She gave up that life a long time ago.
Longshot, still shirtless, caught her hand in his and looked deeply into her eyes; his stare was so intense it felt as though he was reading her mind, searching her memories, boring into her soul. Katara stood transfixed and was suddenly struck with how attractive he was when his hair was down.
"Leave it." He spoke and sent shivers up her spine.
She would have retorted, if she was still that other person, the one who tought maybe some day I'll go back. But instead, she just looked at him, bowless, and nodded. She left her mother's necklace on the window shelf of the inn.
They moved on, to another town, then another and another. She didn't ask where they were going, and she concluded as they sat by the ocean one evening, that it didn't really matter. Where they were was irrelevant. Who they were only held significance to the other. And outside of that, beyond the tangled, fleeting history they shared a life sprung forth from the ashes of a war that took everything.
And slowly, each time they folded up on each other, wrapped up in arms and legs, spread bare like newborns under the moon and dawning sun, it became more than just an escape. There was a trickle of hope, a spark of future that Katara was unaccustomed to feeling.
When he held her at night, it was enough. When he walked beside her on a forest path, with nothing but the shifting of dirt and rocks beneath their echoing, tandem footsteps – it was enough. She never wanted more, or asked what she knew he couldn't give. Nor did he take what he knew she wasn't free to offer.
And sometimes, at night, when they slept under the vast, expansive sky he would pull her back to his steady rising and falling chest and tuck her head against his shoulder. Then he would whisper stories in her ear, about the stars. Each star had a life and a story, and a name. And when the stars grouped themselves together to form shapes in the night sky, those shapes had names and took on lives on their own too.
Katara never asked how he knew these things, who told him such fantastic adventures of the flickering lives in the night sky. Nor did she ask if he ever told these stories to Smellerbee when he was younger. She knew not to ask these things. She didn't exactly know how she knew. It was the way he could speak without words. Just a flicker of emotion in his eyes, or a fleeting glimmer of expression on his face, or maybe it was just the impression of these things. Whatever it was, she could understand many things she couldn't before.
She learned to love the quiet. She learned to love many things. Because, without meaning to, or even really understanding it, she managed to find exactly what she was looking for without even knowing what that was. She would never return to her home before Aang, but it seemed as though The Universe, as Sokka would refer to it, had other plans for her.
But she decided, one night, under the full moon while he watched her waterbend the life out of the trees of a forest, that he must have been what she was searching for all those years she wandered, directionless. It must have been, because when she was with him, or near him, or nearly in love with him, it felt like coming home.