Author's Note: This is it-the last chapter. This ending is exactly as I wanted it from the very beginning, so don't get mad at me. Huge thanks goes out to everyone who read this-whether you started at the beginning or just began, I love you for reading it. I love everyone who reviewed, and everyone who gave me a hand. Thank you all so much!
Thanks to kasplosion, arizony, Katsumara, CarmlLuv, Avagrl-kataang-lova, the golden warrior, leaf, Mikeybigbro, the person who didn't sign (idk who u r), and avatar4629 for reviewing!
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender.
"Katara?" Gran Gran opened the door of her granddaughter's room. She sat on the edge of the bed and touched Katara's shoulder. It was early Monday morning, and Katara would usually be downstairs eating breakfast already. Her grandmother assumed her alarm hadn't gone off and wanted to check on her. However, it was clear to Gran Gran that Katara was simply ignoring her alarm.
Katara, already wide-awake, turned over to face her kind grandmother. Even the long hours of sleep couldn't eliminate the haggard, tired look Katara's face had held since that fateful night. Two days after the Winter Solstice dance, and Katara had done little outside of her room.
Friday night after her talk with her father, Katara had allowed Song to guide her to Toph's house, where Suki joined them. For the first time since her father's death, Meng was also there, and all four of her closest friends tried to comfort Katara. However, Katara neither wanted nor needed comfort, and she left early. She returned home to sleep in her own bed, and didn't leave her room after that. Her grandmother, having nursed many broken hearts of her own in her youth, let her be. She knew that Katara would come out when she was ready, not a moment before.
However, now the time had come for school to start again. As much as Katara dreaded it, she had to return to the institution that had haunted her dreams for three straight nights.
Every night in her dreams, Katara had revisited the end of the dance. The moment when she saw Aang and Song in a tight, joyful embrace. Then she would run home, and Meng would come and explain everything. She would want to be alone, but Aang would arrive. He fought back in her dreams, twice as hard as in real life. Every moment of that night, relived. Every healing wound, reopened. And she awoke every night, sobbing, until she cried herself to sleep and the process restarted. Each memory becoming increasingly painful.
Sokka, whose room was next to hers, awoke each night when he heard her sobs. It pained him to see his baby sister in such deep sorrow, knowing there was nothing he could do. But he tried. He had brought food to her each day, begging her to take at least a few small bites. His father had done the same, but no one but her grandmother, her gentle grandmother, could convince her to sit up and eat.
Two days had felt like two weeks as Katara tried to figure out what she was feeling. She wasn't hurt-she was confused. The worst part was, she didn't even know what she was confused about.
"Katara?" Gran Gran tried again. "Sweetheart," she paused. Katara sat up.
"Do I have to go to school today?" Katara begged with a hint of fear in her voice.
"Actually, Principal Boomi called this morning," Gran Gran began.
"Oh great, what did Sokka do this time?" Katara interrupted. Gran Gran chuckled.
"Your brother did nothing...unless you know something I don't. Your principal called about the snowstorm last night. Master Pakku and his students can't compete with the heavy snowfall, so they're closing the school for the day," Gran Gran explained. Katara finally smiled, her entire body overcome with relief. She had another day to sort out her frustrations. "I came up here to tell you that you have a few visitors downstairs."
Katara sighed, not responding. On one hand, she wanted to know who cared so much as to visit her when they could be sleeping in. On the other hand, she didn't. It was easier to imagine a nameless, faceless, Koh of sorts than to allow herself to be pulled into something real. Finally, her gentler side took over, and she asked the question she had been putting off for days.
"It's the girls," Gran Gran smiled, grateful that Katara had found the strength to have visitors. Katara nodded deftly. She didn't know what she had done to deserve such amazing friends, but she had gotten them. Gran Gran left the room and walked purposely down the stairs.
"You can go on up."
"Katara?" Suki knocked on the door. "Can we come in?" Silently, Katara stood up and walked to the door. She turned the knob, expecting to see Suki and Song, and maybe Toph and Meng. Instead, her eyes met the pair that was so familiar she almost fainted. There, outside her bedroom, was Aang.
Katara's breath caught in her throat. She turned to Suki.
"You tricked me," she accused, though her tone was grateful. She reached out and hugged her friend.
"I helped," Song cut in, joining the hug.
"We knew that the only way you would talk to Aang was if you thought you weren't," Suki explained as they pulled away. Katara looked between the two girls and the boy beside them.
"Can I talk to you two first?" she asked. Song caught on to the almost desperate tone immediately. Her expression turned serious, and she and Suki followed Katara into her room. They all sat cross-legged on the lush blue carpet. Song stood up and reclosed the door, shutting Aang out of the private conversation.
15 minutes later, the girls reemerged. Katara looked relieved, like a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Seeing Aang, a bit of the weight fell back down. Though he saw this, Aang didn't mention it. Instead, he asked her one simple question.
"Can I show you something?" he asked quietly. Suki and Song, standing behind him, nodded encouragingly. Katara took a deep breath and nodded. Aang smiled. He led her down the stairs, grabbing her coat for her at the door. She took it wordlessly and slipped her arms into the heavy material. He opened the door, revealing a horse. Katara's jaw dropped.
"Katara, I want you to meet Appa," Aang introduced. He held out an apple for the horse. Appa graciously grabbed it. Katara took a wary step forward and reached out her hand. Aang grabbed her wrist and guided it to the horse's nose. "He's a Kabardin. I've had him ever since I was little." Katara barely heard what Aang said as she stared at the gorgeous horse in front of her. She traveled back slowly, finally reaching the simple saddle.
"Here," Aang offered. "Let me give you a leg up." She accepted his help, and he hoisted her up onto the horse's back. Aang pulled himself up in front of her and handed a riding helmet over his shoulder. "Ready?" he checked.
"Yeah," Katara nodded, wrapping her arms around his waist to steady herself. Aang grinned. She had finally spoken to him-a good sign in his mind.
"Where are we going?" Katara asked, her voice a combination of confusion and annoyance. Appa was walking through a heavily wooded area, his feet traveling effortlessly through the blanket of snow that covered the ground. At last, they came to the top of the hill. They could see the whole town over the edge of the cliff. Katara gasped, taking in the site before her. Aang hopped down off Appa's back and reached up to help Katara.
"Aang, what is this place?" Katara asked, breathless.
"A special place," he revealed. Katara understood that their location was unimportant, and they were silent for a moment. Katara rubbed her bare hands together, and Aang mentally smacked himself for forgetting to grab gloves for her. He was still wearing his riding gloves, so he offered them to her. Ignoring her refusal, he removed his gloves and gave them to her.
"They're not the best, but they're better than nothing."
"Thanks for coming with me," he said sincerely after a few more minutes of content silence.
"I'm not ready quite yet," Katara sighed, knowing the question that was coming. "But you should know that there's nothing I want more than to be with you." Aang looked at her and smiled.
"Then I'll wait for you. As long as I know that, I'll wait for you," he agreed. She took his hand and kissed his cheek in thanks, making him blush. Then she walked backward to Appa, her fingers slipping slowly out of his. He followed her and helped her mount, reclaiming the spot in front of her. She reached her arms around his waist again, this time feeling more comfortable in the embrace.
In front of her house, Katara felt Song, Suki, and Sokka watching them. She and Aang stood together in a comfortable silence. Hakoda peeked out of the window over the teenagers' heads.
"You shouldn't be spying on her!" Sokka exclaimed. Hakoda chuckled at his son.
"Well neither should you." Suki and Song hushed the boys, straining their ears to try to pick up some scraps of the conversation going on below them.
"I had a really nice time today," Katara began.
"Me too," Aang quipped. He walked her to the door, ignoring the four heads in the window upstairs. Without another word, he kissed her cheek and returned to his horse, looking back only to check that she was safely inside.
Safely inside, Katara chuckled. Suki and Song had sprinted down the stairs, with Sokka and Hakoda close behind. When Katara didn't speak up, Suki couldn't take it.
"So?" she demanded.
"We're friends," Katara shrugged. "Someday we'll be more, but for now, we're friends."
Oddly enough, everyone was okay with that.
Maybe it was because they knew Aang wouldn't give up without a clear refusal. Maybe it was because the new situation gave them some kind of closure. Maybe it was the knowledge that Aang would always be a friend first and a lover second. Or maybe it was knowing that someday, everything would be right, and Katara and Aang would be together. Whatever the reason was, they let Katara pass through them and return to her room. She left the door open and, as Sokka passed, could be seen looking at the picture of them with a smile on her face.
And he was okay with that.