The memories of their first kiss - their, not just his - wandered through his mind vividly as he waited for her again on the Jasmine Dragon balcony. It seemed like the passage of a dream for Aang, as he stood there on the same place, realizing that it had been exactly one year since that moment had happened.
Perfect timing, unfortunately, for the sort of thoughts now overtaking this young boy's mind.
His frame had grown some in the past year, and as he lifted his hand to massage his temple from a brewing headache... he could note how his arms were slowly becoming less lanky. There was more muscle in his body, more mass that remained hidden under the fabric of an airbending Avatar's robe.
Aang clicked his teeth as he wondered, feeling the prominence of his jaw finally taking form to that of a proper teenager. Yet in many ways, he still felt like such a boy... especially in moments like this, when he waited for her.
Always just for her.
And in spite of everything that troubled his mind right then, his heart never failed to leap at the sound of her voice.
"Hey," she said to him, cheerfully and sweetly. Pure Katara.
She moved a hand to brush one of his arms as a greeting, kissing the shoulder just before she decided to rest her head against it. Aang couldn't help but place an arm around her back in return, kissing her forehead proudly as he stood a good half-a-head taller than her now.
Katara didn't notice the crinkle between Aang's eyes right away, the kind that she knew meant he had been wondering about something for far too long. Too long without mentioning it to her.
"I'm glad we got out of there," she began to say, "I could hardly get a word in to Suki!"
The commotion inside the Jasmine Dragon was something to take a break from, as everybody's attention was still focused on Suki – specifically, her neck, since it had been completely bare of a betrothal necklace, up until a few hours ago. It seemed that the entire dinner party had immediately split between men and women after that...where the women kept admiring the crafty-but-sloppy carving of the gem on Suki's neck, and the men kept chasing Sokka around the tea shop with much too personal questions.
"Yeah. It's exciting though, isn't it?" Aang caressed the girl's back as they watched the falling sunset, his voice a bit low from the wonderment. "At least now, they can officially be together."
"Mmhmm," her voice hummed in agreement, letting Aang hug her tightly still. "I mean we all saw it coming, anyway, right? Those two are inseparable."
Aang tried to smile, but he just felt this awkward weight form in his stomach as he did so. He had known about Sokka's surprise to Suki for a while now... even going as far as helping the guy put the necklace together...since no other boy seemed to master this art of making jewelry. Aang could barely recall what they talked about during the process, but he saw how Sokka's excitement about the whole surprise was slowly competing with nervous breakdowns and fast-talk. The thoughts of marriage slowly taking on a young man's sanity inch-by-inch, like his freedom would no longer be there.
And as he watched Sokka carve the betrothal stone, the boy clearly remembered how he talked about placing Suki's feelings and wants before his own... as if nothing could be more important than her.
"What is it?" Katara asked, noticing that Aang had long stopped caressing her back.
He felt his shoulders tense as he returned her gaze, knowing he couldn't keep secrets from her, even if he tried. "It's just been on my mind, lately, that's all."
"The engagement party?"
"No, more like... you, and me."
The girl raised an odd brow, letting her arm loosen the grip on his shoulder so she could see him better. They had long been in 'us' terms throughout that wonderful year, and it was strange to hear Aang going back to these formalities. She was so curious about this, that the next few words from him came as a total surprise.
"Katara, I don't think I can do this."
It came to her like the way the icecaps would suddenly break under one's feet, leaving them helpless and cold, and alone for a fraction of a second. The girl could actually feel her heart freezing in place. Her face slowly draining in color.
"Wh... what are you talking about?" Katara's voice quivered.
"I'm the Avatar." Aang spilled. He made it sound like an insult, like the fact had never crossed the girl's mind. "The world is my responsibility now, and... and I don't want to make you feel like a burden. I might never be able to give you the attention you deserve."
"'...the attention I deserve'?" The girl quoted out loud, not having a clue where this was coming from. "Aang, what are you saying!"
Her voice was rising, almost angrily. She saw the sad, unspoken thoughts in Aang's face, where even looking her on equal ground didn't seem to take that weight off. It was like he had suddenly turned into a stranger, as he kept looking at her so assertively.
"Katara, I'm not saying this whole year hasn't been great, but I know you, and I'm just trying to be realistic." Aang could hear his own voice mount to a more masculine tone as he spoke. "Is the traveling ever going to bother you? I know how much you love staying in one place to help people, and I know you'll want to go back to the South Pole eventually - it's your home – but I can't stop being a nomad. People expect me to be everywhere, and let's face it; there's going to be a moment where I'll have to choose the world over you! And... and I don't want that to happen."
"Who says it's going to happen?" Katara felt herself stepping back, her voice firm but fragile, almost grateful that there was enough noise coming from the Jasmine Dragon to outdo this horrible conversation.
It made Aang stop dead in his tracks. That look on her face.
She had only shown that amount of anger and sadness once before, when she had left him alone after his awful attempt for a kiss during the Ember Island play. Aang knew they had come a long way since then, and she deserved more than that... especially after making a boy so blissfully happy within the course of a challenging year.
Carefully, he chose his words, ultimately giving her the choice to agree or disagree.
"I'm just scared that I won't be able to be there for you all the time."
Katara crossed her arms, but her eyebrows rose sadly, piecing together Aang's words as a few seconds of silence passed through them. It almost brought tears in the boy's eyes, and he could only stare at the horizon.
"Sounds great, huh?" Aang wondered out loud, the sarcasm sounding foreign - as if spilling from somebody else's mouth.
Katara blinked. Something immediately crossed her mind.
"Aang," she then asked quietly, coming up with the most reasonable explanation. "Did my brother talk to you?"
He sighed, turning back to her.
"That's not the point, Katara," the boy continued, his mind trying hard not to drown in those intense blue eyes. "Don't you get it? I'm always going to have to put you second in my life. What girl would want that?"
Of course Sokka talked to him, she thought. He was going to marry Suki in a couple of months, and then dedicate the rest of his life to making that girl pampered and happy.
Who else would her brother spill his nerves on... than to the boy who was supposed to be world's wisest of the wise?
She might actually kill him after this.
"Sokka's an idiot," was her sour but simple response. When Aang raised his characteristic 'huh?' brow, Katara only smiled admirably, then decided to explain her side of things.
"To be second? Over the world?"
Even to her, the perspective was there, and it made her heart almost skip a beat. She could hardly believe that this boy - whose smile she adored more than her own skin - had placed her as that big of a priority.
Another small pause passed between them, and Katara brought herself closer to him again so that he could understand her every word. Her voice was trembling nervously.
"Aang, that's not a burden," she said in the softness above a whisper. "It's an honor."
The boy's eyebrows returned to their usual place, as he felt the reassurance of an unspoken promise come back to his senses. He loved her, and that was it. That was all he needed to know before any other words would be exchanged between them.
But Katara wasn't finished.
"And to be honest... I wouldn't want anything else, than to be there for you."
The words passed through his mind so tranquilly, like an echo, Aang didn't hear himself breathe.
Katara trembled in her skin, and she paused, feeling those words come out of her like some inner truth that had been lodged in her mind forever. She could feel the weight of it coming off.
Setting her free.
Making her grin foolishly at the same speechless boy when she spoke again. Softly.
"You do know that, don't you?"
He did. She could tell by the glimmering gray in his eyes as he carefully went over to hug her again.
As if he had been wanting to do that ever since the day they met.
The hug turned into something deeper, then... into a embrace, where Aang brought his hands to brush Katara's hair, and the girl, in return, moved her arms around to scoop along the boy's back.
It felt like home to them. Like they were finally beginning to accept the other's existence as something real.
Something they could hold onto.
It was impossible to determine how long they kept themselves close, but Katara smiled, planting a small kiss to the boy's lips that said so much. A small hum in his voice accepted the kiss sweetly, and he returned it to her shortly before their arms parted.
"Did we-" As Aang struggled for the right words, he brought a hand to move some of Katara's hair from her face, and felt the joy of that privilege pass along his stomach like butterflies. "Did we just...?"
Katara felt it, too, and strangely began to fish the same words from Aang's mind.
"You mean, did we just decide to-?"
And then, after a small moment of revelation... they laughed in unison, plainly and beautifully, as they held their faces closer.
Perhaps this was the closest thing they would have to a marriage proposal, but in a way, it was enough.
A place where they didn't need to think about where or how they would live, or the work involved, the travel, the constant peace-making, the plans for a certain wedding in their future, the faces of children already floating in their imaginations... or the answers to so many other unmarked questions.
A place where it was simply... them.
A boy and a girl.
And as they laughed under the warmth of each other's skin, embracing the most precious of moments nobody else would know about... they realized their hearts had made this decision a long time ago.
It just took a little longer for them to catch on.
A/N - A gift for the canon. I have no idea why my inner-Kataang-fan decided to channel as I was driving on the road for two hours today, but it did. And it turned into this little scene. If you ask me, when it comes to marriage, couples should write their own rules and leave it up to them to decide if they want it to work. I suppose Katara and Aang will be just fine. =)