Katara's never feared the dark before. After all, she often practices her bending at night, when her powers are at their strongest. There's something inexplicably calming about the quiet, silken rustling of wind past the walls, the dark backdrop of a night sky making each gleaming star glow brightly, and a warm memory of her father telling bedtime stories.
Now, though, Katara finds the dark oppressive—like walls pushing in on her from all sides until she can't see and she can't breathe and she needs someone's help now.
Her nightmares have been getting worse.
One night, when it's particularly bad, she thinks she finally understands what Hakoda once said about warriors returning from from battle confused and broken and lost inside, with no voice of reason to guide them any longer.
Inexplicably, images of Aang flash across her mind—frozen in an iceberg, battling firebenders, locking up crime lords, dead in her arms—
He had lost the fight with Ozai. He had been killed.
"No!" Katara screams. This isn't happening! "No, Aang!"
As if from a great distance, someone shouts, "Katara? Katara, wake up!"
She sits bolt upright, only to find that she's in her own bed with her boyfriend lying on the ground next to her—always the chivalrous one, she thinks, though she knows the real reason is that Sokka would never get over them sharing a bed this early on anyway. The depths of fear in her wild blue eyes are reflected back in his concerned gray ones.
"Katara, what's wrong? You were screaming and crying and—what happened?"
Sweating profusely, she collapses back onto the sheets. "Just a bad dream, Aang. No big deal."
Aang laughs derisively. "Right, Katara. Look, my earthbending is nowhere near as good as Toph's, and it's especially terrible when I'm in bed, but even I can tell you're lying. Something bad happened, didn't it?"
Her voice muffled by the blankets, she responds, "I lost you, Aang. You—you died, Ozai took you away from me."
"Oh, spirits," he says, demeanor changing in an instant. "No, Katara. I promise I'm not going anywhere for a long time."
As if to prove his point, he climbs onto the bed beside her, pulls her into his arms, and lets her head rest over his heart. She can hear the steady thump-thump-thump of life pounding under his ribs.
"See?" he asks, almost playfully. "Still beating."
"Good," she mumbles into his chest, "see to it that it stays that way."
Absentmindedly, Katara takes one of Aang's hands in her own—feeling the warmth of the palm where it had met fire, bruises and scrapes from punching at rock, fingertips worn smooth by water, and calloused places where his hand fit around his staff.
She's finally found an airbender to sweep her off her feet, and take her breath away, too.
And as she drifts off again—safe in Aang's arms—she understands the moral of Hakoda's tales: why the broken, battered warriors always found their solace in love.
A/N: Hope everyone had a great Halloween this year! :)