Always There for Me
Rated: K+ for tiny hints of romance (Kataang)
Summary: It's the one year anniversary of Katara's mother's death, and Katara, driven by her grief, runs away into the frozen tundra. Her life is saved by a mysterious stranger. Who is he? Is he even real?
Disclaimer: "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is owned by Bryke, the wonderful Kataang Gods that they are. XD. Love your work, guys, and keep working hard on Korra!
LES: This is probably the lowest rated story that I've ever written for Avatar. Who'da thunk? I don't know if this is a common thing for fanfiction writers, but have you ever had that story idea for a long time, and every time it pops into your head you keep thinking: "I'll write it later… I'll write it later." And then, before you know it, a year has passed and you still haven't written down that damn story idea? This story is that story for me. It's literally been on my mind since I first finished watching A:TLA and I'm only now writing it down. Oh well, I'm on a major writing-kick right now. Works out great for you guys, right?
Edit 10/15/2012: Oh! And check out this wonderful fanart done by aogs of this story!
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Katara, a nine year old Waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe, had previously been of the opinion that the last year was the hardest time of her life. But that was nothing compared to the anniversary of the day that her mother had died.
It was cruel. She had just started to accept the fact that her mother was gone, and that she was not coming back, and now she was faced with this undeniable proof that she was gone forever. It brought back all of her bad memories of that day: the attack, rushing to find her mother, running to find her father, and then running back to her hut to find her mother lying motionless on the ground… the burns… the blood…
Katara felt her throat close up in grief, and she gasped for air as tears began to fill her eyes. The adults knew why she was so upset, but they could do nothing for her except give her looks of pity. The entire village had been devastated when Kya was killed, for she was a gentle spirit and well-loved by everyone in the village. But their grief could not compare to her widowed husband's and her children.
Hakoda had internalized all of his pain this last year, barely even acknowledging this wife's passing. In fact, the only clue that he had given his children of the anniversary all day was when he pulled his children into a long embraced that morning.
Katara began to panic as her lungs continued to fail to draw air into her. It was only when she began to turn pale that people realized that something was wrong.
"Kanna!" One of the men yelled for Katara's Gran-Gran. "Quick! Katara's having another panic attack!"
The only person who was able to calm Katara down was her Gran-Gran, who came rushing out of the hut as soon as she heard the man call for her. She instantly pulled the gasping girl into an embrace. "Come on, now, my little Waterbender. Breathe. There is nothing wrong with you. Calm down. Breathe… slowly."
With Kanna's gentle assistance, Katara was able to calm down and her breath came easier.
"That's right, girl. There's nothing wrong with you. Just breathe."
Even though Katara was no longer struggling for breath, tears continued to run down her face. "I can't stand it anymore, Gran-Gran! I miss Mom so much!"
"I know. I know. We all miss her." Kanna said. Like everyone else, she was very fond of her and was proud to consider Kya her daughter-in-law. "But the dead do not want to look down on the living world and see their loved ones in pain because of them. They would much rather see you being strong and living life for them."
"It's so hard to be strong." Katara cried.
"That's why it takes a strong person to be strong." Kanna said. "I know that you're a strong person. You just need some more time."
Kanna stood up and walked back into the hut, leaving Katara alone out in front of the hut.
"I'm not strong." Katara cried. "I can't take it." She looked at the hut, but couldn't stand to go back inside. All she would see is the ghost of her mother's dead body, she'd see the blood stains that had been washed away a long time ago, but Katara could still see them.
With no other option left, and unaware that she was not thinking clearly at the moment, she turned and began to walk out of the village, out into the frozen tundra.
It took many hours for Katara to realize what sort of trouble she was in. She hadn't intended to walk so far into the wilderness, but she had kept moving endlessly, and by the time she looked back for the village, she realized that she could not see it, nor any sign of habitation. She looked around herself, looking for a familiar landmark, and saw none. She had never been this far away from the village before.
In desperation, she looked around herself, trying to get some sense of direction, but she could not tell one direction from the other. To make matters worse, night was starting to fall and she knew that people who got caught out on the tundra could freeze to death within minutes.
Once again, she was overcome by fear, and she crouched down on the ground, shivering with cold and fear. "Mom… Mom, where are you?" She cried out in fear.
"What are you doing out here?" A voice broke the silence suddenly.
Katara jumped in shock and moved away from the voice instinctively. She hid behind a rock from the voice.
"Whoa… I'm not going to hurt you."
"You're not… Fire Nation?" Katara asked, covering her eyes childishly against the voice.
"Do I look Fire Nation to you?" The voice asked with a laugh.
At last, Katara glanced at the person. She did have to admit that he looked nothing like Fire Nation. It was a boy, older than her, but the rest of his features were strange and definitely not Water Tribe. He was not dressed at all for the cold weather, just thin orange and yellow clothes draped over his body in far too few layers. He had no hair on his head, which showed off the strange tattoo on his forehead, going back over his head. It was a blue arrow.
"No, you don't look Fire Nation." Katara said cautiously. "But you're not Water Tribe either."
"No, I'm not." The boy said. "What are you doing out here all by yourself?"
"I'm… lost." Katara said. "I got upset and ran away from my village… and now I don't know the way back."
"Hmm. Well, you are in a bit of a pickle." The boy said, looking around, and then he pointed in a seemingly random direction. "Your village is in that direction."
"How do you know?" Katara asked.
"I happen to be a professional traveler." The boy said. "Besides, that's the direction that your footprints lead."
Katara froze and then stared in shock at the clear set of footprints that led off in the direction that she had come. For a moment, she felt supremely foolish. Sokka would have thought of that right away. How could she miss that?
"So… how long have you been walking?" The boy asked.
"A few hours… maybe?" Katara answered.
"That does complicate things a bit." The boy said. "It's getting cold fast, and traveling in the cold is just as dangerous as being caught in it. Follow me." He said, heading off into the snow while staring up at the sky.
Katara hesitated before following the boy, falling into step behind him and staring at him in confusion as he continued to stare up at the sky, muttering to himself. "Um… what are you doing?" She asked.
"Once we start heading back in the morning, odds are that your footprints will no longer be there to guide us. So I'm checking our position by the stars and moon and sun. They will be our guide tomorrow."
"Really?" Katara asked, staring up at the stars. "You can do that?"
"Yes." The boy answered. "I told you that I'm a professional traveler. When you're a world traveler, you need a system of navigation that is more reliable than just looking for landmarks."
"Oh." Katara said.
She followed him for some distance until he led her to a surprisingly warm cave. "Wow! It's so warm!" Katara gasped.
"We'll be safe here until morning." Her guide said, settling himself down against the cave wall. Katara hesitated slightly before she moved over to him, curling up against his body. "What are you doing?" The boy asked.
"You're warm." Katara said simply.
The boy laughed, and wrapped his arm around her. "Very well, then."
Katara stared up at the boy's face, pleased with the sound of his laughter. She had never heard laughter quite like it. Most of the laughter she heard now-a-days was reserved. But this boy laughed fully and completely with total joy. She also noticed that he had silver eyes.
"So, if I may ask… what happened to make you run away from your village?" The boy asked. "Especially when you knew that night was coming on."
Katara hesitated in answering. "My mother died a year ago." She said.
"I'm sorry." The boy said, sounding truly sorry.
"I had almost gotten over it, but it hit me all over again today… that she's gone and she's never going to come back."
"Well… I can't say that I know how you feel." The boy said truthfully. "I never knew my parents. But I consider the man who raised me to be my father. I don't know what I'd do if I lost him."
"Where is he?" Katara asked. "Why are you out here alone?"
The boy paused thoughtfully. "Like you, I also got upset and ran away."
"Why'd you run away?"
"I found out something. Something that would change my life forever. I got scared and left. I kinda regret it now." He said.
"Are you gonna go back?"
"Part of me wants to. Another part is still afraid of the changes my life is going to go through."
They fell silent and Katara cuddled closer to the boy. "You're so warm… like a good Firebender."
"I know." The boy said pensively as Katara began to fall asleep against him.
They woke up the next morning, and began to travel back to the village. It was slow going, because Katara insisted on staying close to the warmth of her rescuer. The boy was more than willing to tolerate her closeness, wrapping his arms around her.
They talked for the few hours that it took for them to get back to the village. The only thing that never came up was that Katara never asked for the boy's name or where he came from, and he, likewise, never asked for her name.
Eventually, the village came into sight, and Katara squealed with delight. "That's my village! You saved my life!" She grinned up into the face of her rescuer.
"I could not leave a spirited young girl like yourself to freeze out there." The boy said.
"Come on!" Katara insisted, pulling on his hand. "I want you to come meet my family!"
"There will be more than enough time for that later." The boy said, smiling, but did not pick up his pace.
Katara was too excited to be getting back home that she let go of her rescuer, and rushed through the snow to the village, yelling loudly. "I'm back! I'm back!"
Within minutes, she had attracted the attention of a group of warriors, who instantly converged on Katara. "Oh, thank the Spirits, Katara!" Bato, who was leading the warriors gasped. "We were worried that…"
Within seconds, Hakoda had joined the group, followed closely by Sokka. They both embraced the young girl tightly. "Katara, oh spirits, Katara! We thought you had gotten lost and died!"
"I did get lost, Daddy." Katara said. "But I got saved!"
"Saved? Who saved you?" Hakoda asked.
"A boy. He's right behind me, right…" She turned to look in the direction that the boy should have been, only to find that there was absolutely no trace of the boy at all. It was like he had vanished into thin air. "But… he was… he saved me…" Katara said, confused.
Hakoda picked her up, and began to head inside. "Bato… did you see Katara come back with a boy?"
"No, sir, she was alone." Bato reported.
"Well… go look for a sign of this boy, just in case." Hakoda ordered, carrying Katara back into the hut.
The Water Tribe Warriors searched for some sign of the boy all day, but were not able to find a single trace of him. They followed Katara's footprints for quite a distance, but only saw one set of footprints: hers. There was absolutely no evidence at all that she had been saved by anyone, except for the fact that she had found her way home.
Some people said it was a ghost who led her home, the soul of a child who died out in the frozen tundra and wanted to spare another child the same fate. Kanna said that it could be a Spirit, for Katara insisted that the boy felt real, which a ghost would not be able to do.
The years passed, and Katara's strange experience was nearly forgotten…
A sixteen year old Katara woke up with a gasp, sitting up swiftly. "Oh dear Spirits." She gasped. She had completely forgotten about the events of that day. But she remembered it now, and she realized that she never thanked the boy who had rescued her from the ice and returned her home before vanishing into thin air. It was possible, because now she was one hundred percent sure as to the identity of her rescuer. She didn't know how it was possible, but she knew him now…
Katara jumped out of bed, hurriedly pulled on some robes until she was decent, and took off running through the halls of the Fire Nation Royal Palace until she made it to a room that she spent as much time in as her own.
Katara flung the door open and took a brief moment to see where her rescuer was. He was asleep on the bed. There was a time when he was up at dawn every single morning, a complete morning person, but ever since he turned fourteen, he had become much lazier, and more prone to sleeping in. It was just him being a typical teenager.
Katara smiled to herself and then sprinted across the room, jumped, and landed in his bed, almost on top of him.
Aang was awoken rather rudely by all the air being forced out of his lungs. He gasped for breath, sitting up suddenly, and gazing around frantically for his attacker. He was moderately pleased, and somewhat annoyed, to see that the perpetrator was actually Katara.
He flopped back down on the pillows with a groan. "Why do you feel the need to do that?"
"You're getting lazy, Aang. Just admit it." Katara said playfully.
"So? I wanna sleep in every once in a while." Aang asked playfully.
"Aang, I couldn't get you up earlier than ten in the morning for the past week."
"And Sokka won't get up earlier than noon. Ever. Your point?" Aang said, rolling over and clearly intent on going back to sleep.
"I don't think you want to do that. I have something I want to tell you." Katara whispered in his ear seductively.
That managed to catch Aang's interest. He rolled back over and pushed himself up into a sitting position. "What time is it anyway?"
"Dawn." Katara said, and Aang groaned. "Don't you remember that you used to get up with the dawn every morning?"
"I was crazy." Aang said simply. "So, what did you want to tell me?"
"I remembered a memory from my childhood, and I think it will interest you." Katara said.
"I always love learning more things about you." Aang said, stretching and yawning. "But I don't see why I can't learn more about you when it's not sunrise."
"Ha-ha." Katara laughed dryly. "I think you'll find this memory interesting." She paused. "On the first anniversary of my mother's death, I was so upset that I ran away from the village and out into the tundra. I had walked a few hours before I realized that I was completely lost, and night was starting to come."
Aang finally seemed to wake up. He knew as much as Katara the dangers of being caught out in South Pole nights without shelter or protection from the elements. "But that's a death sentence!" Aang gasped. "I mean… you obviously survived the ordeal, or you would not be here right now, but how did you survive?"
"It was the strangest thing." Katara said. "My life was saved by a strange boy. He led me to a warm cave, let me cuddle with him for warmth all night, and then led me back home, using the heavens to guide us. But, when he brought me back to the village, this boy had disappeared without a trace. The warriors followed my tracks and found only one set of foot prints."
"He was probably a Spirit." Aang commented.
"That's what Gran-Gran said. But I dreamed about it last night, and I remembered details about this boy that I had forgotten before." Katara paused. "He was older than I was at the time, but still quite young… around twelve years old. He said he had traveled the world. He told me that he never knew his parents, but was raised by a man who was like a father to him. He said that he had run away from his home, afraid of something he had been told that would change his life forever. He wore the clothes of an Air Nomad novice, but he also bore the tattoos of an Airbending Master." Katara glanced at Aang, noting the look of growing comprehension on his face as it became clear to him who it was. "He had glorious silver eyes and the most beautiful laugh I've ever heard… a laugh untouched by the horrors of war."
"A vision of me saved your life?" Aang gasped.
"It was no vision." Katara said. "There was warmth in your touch. It was your living spirit that saved me from death."
"But… that's not possible. I was still frozen in the iceberg then. And I… don't remember any of this. I don't remember any of my time in the iceberg. One moment I was drowning, and the next I was waking up in your arms. I never once left the iceberg. How could it have been me?"
"The Avatar is unique in that his spirit can exist separate from his body." Katara said. "Your spirit was probably freely roaming the South Pole and stumbled upon a lost little girl that you helped find her way back to her village." She scooted closer to her boyfriend. "This morning, after I realized it was you who saved me, I realized something."
"I never did thank the boy who saved my life." Katara leaned into him slowly and pressed a soft kiss to his lips, which he eagerly returned. After several moments, she pulled away. "Thank you for saving my life, Aang."
"You know I would do anything for you." Aang said.
"There's one last thing." Katara began.
"After I got back to the village, I developed a mighty little crush on the mystery boy who saved my life." Katara confessed. It was something she had never told anyone before.
Aang laughed at her confession. "To think, you had a crush on me since before we even met. And I thought confessing to you that I had a crush on you from the moment we met was a little extreme."
"Are you glad I woke you up now?" Katara asked.
"Definitely." Aang said with a smile, and pulled her into another passionate kiss.
LES: Man! I'm so glad that it's finally out! Haunt me no more, story idea!