A/N: I know I mentioned the possibility of making a sequel to You and Me, and I still plan to. This is just a oneshot idea that I had and wanted to write. It takes place right after the Gang goes to see The Ember Island Players. I thought it was strange that Aang and Katara would have such a heated discussion about their feelings and then the next day going back to being perfectly cordial again. So I thought about what might have taken place somewhere in between. Also, I think a lot of people may have been taken aback by Katara's behavior, and I'll admit, at first I was too. But then I thought about it some more and decided that it did make sense. So I'm taking this opportunity to get inside her head and try to explain what she was thinking that night.
Hope you like it! :)
A Spark of Hope
That stupid, horrendous excuse for a play! Katara thought to herself as she rolled over in her bed for the hundredth time, trying to erase flashes from the events of the evening out of her mind so she could go to sleep. None of this would be happening if they hadn't gone to see the Ember Island Players earlier that night. It wasn't the script or the acting that had her stomach in knots, even though that too was terrible. No, it was the conversation she had had with Aang during the intermission and the resulting rift that had formed between them. The guilt for the state he was now in and the role she had in it roiled within her as she worried restlessly, knowing she wasn't able to go comfort him. It made her feel wrong. She was always the one to reach out when one of her friends was in pain, especially Aang.
Aang. There was no one in the world she trusted more than him. The truth was that she didn't trust herself where he was concerned. He wanted something from her that she didn't know how to be, even though she wanted it too. And then there was the excuse she had given him: the war. What she had said was the truth; the war did make things more complicated, but it wasn't the whole truth.
Ever since the day they found him in the ice, she had known he was special and that there was no one else in the world like him. The more time they spent together, the more her feelings for him grew. During their travels, there had been moments when they were alone together and he would look at her in a certain way that made her heart beat faster and her breath catch in her throat, and it scared her. It was something strange and foreign and made her feel like she was standing on the edge of a cliff, about to jump off. It was hard to describe what it was like whenever he kissed her. It was almost as if an electric shock rolled through her from the touch of his lips, all the way through her core, and reaching out even to her fingers and toes. It made her so dizzy she couldn't think straight, and yet he had done it again even after she explained to him that she was confused. He had to know what it did to her.
Then there were those moments. Small moments that occurred seemingly out of the blue and which made her feel more connected to him than ever, as if something had shifted or clicked into place. During those times, it felt like the world had been out of balance and then had suddenly leveled. The two of them would lock eyes and she suspected he felt it too, even though neither of them would say anything. Sometimes it was like they could read each other's thoughts.
That's not what had happened tonight, though. This night had been nothing but a confusing mess of miscommunication for them. Ever since they had arrived in the Fire Nation, the state of their relationship seemed to be walking the line between romance and friendship, and they both knew it. However, whenever Aang tried to take another step towards romance, Katara pulled away. Because if she gave in, then she would become the Avatar's girlfriend, and she had no idea what kind of responsibility that would mean for her. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't invoke such fear in her, but the war was now coming to a head, and the fate of the world was resting in Aang's hands. She did love him, but what if she failed him?
Finally she got out of bed, resolving that she was never going to get any sleep with this conflict between them hanging in the air. She had to talk to him. She didn't know exactly what she was going to say, and she still wasn't sure if she was ready to be with him in the way he had said he wanted them to be together, but she knew she could be his friend, and that's what she had to do.
Her hand reached out to grab the door handle when suddenly there was a quiet knock. Her hand froze in midair as all the breath left her lungs. She stared at the wooden panel, knowing who was on the other side just as well as she would have had the door been see-through. Taking in a slow, steadying breath, she grasped the handle and pulled it open to see a wretched-looking airbender. He was shirtless, as he usually was at bedtime, but the troubled and weary look on his face alerted Katara that he had gotten as much sleep as she had.
"I know you probably don't want to see me right now," he said in a quiet, sad voice. His eyes wouldn't meet hers, and he kept them focused on the floor with his brow furrowed.
"That's not true, I-"
"Don't worry; I'm not going to say the same thing I said to you at the play. I'm not expecting anything of you." His eyes closed as if in pain and his head dropped a couple of inches.
There was something about his entire demeanor that reminded her of something she had seen before, but she couldn't quite remember what it was. For some odd reason, she had a sudden image of a koi fish. The North Pole? Why was she thinking about the North Pole?
He let out a heavy sigh and finally looked at her with resignation mixed with sorrow. "I'm sorry for putting you on the spot like that, and for… kissing you. I don't know what I was thinking. Maybe I was just trying to help you make up your mind… or something." A frustrated groan escaped his mouth and he snapped his eyes away, glaring out at the air beside him with self-hatred radiating from him in waves.
"Aang, please…" Her voice shook with emotion as she tried and failed to find the words to say.
He turned to her again, but with his eyes once more on the floor. "I know. You're confused, and that's okay. There's so much that rides on us right now, and we don't know when it's going to be over or how it's going to end."
Very slowly, yet purposefully, he looked into her eyes again with his gray ones. Stormy in both color and emotion. "But I won't make it if I've lost you. I don't care if all you want to be is my friend. I mean... I do care, but that doesn't matter right now. I need you, Katara, and I'm sorry that I made you run away from me."
There it was again; the feeling that she had seen this before, but not directed at her. She noted the way his shoulders slumped, the defeated-looking frown, and the hopeless way in which he spoke. But most of all, she saw it in his eyes. They were empty, as if the fire in them had gone out, and all that was left behind was loss.
Then the connection between this and the memory of the spirit oasis at the North Pole hit her like a ton of bricks. Only it wasn't Aang in the memory. It was Sokka. She recalled the image of her older brother as he realized the girl he loved was gone. It was heartbreak. Nothing could describe the horror she felt. She had never wanted to see Aang like this, and it was even worse knowing that she was the reason for it. She still wasn't brave enough to admit what she wanted for herself, but she knew what she wanted for him. She wanted to see his eyes light up again.
She reached out and gently touched him on the arm, looking steadily into his face with all the warmth she could muster, trying to make up for the lack of it in his eyes. "You will never lose me. I can't tell you for sure how things will end up, but I can tell you that as long as you let me, I'll be with you. You'll always have my friendship, no matter what. I was on my way to come say that to you when you knocked, but I guess you read my mind."
"You do that to me all the time," he murmured, peering at her as a small smile began to turn up the corners of his lips.
She matched it with a smile of her own and recognized that they were having one of those moments again. They were opening up to each other, revealing a portion of their souls as everything slid into place with a resounding sentiment of rightness.
He looked at her hand on his bare arm and blushed, and she let it fall shyly as she apprehended how long she had been touching him.
"I'll let you go back to bed now," he said, swallowing nervously.
"Uh, yeah," she mumbled back. "We both need a good night's rest. There's no telling what tomorrow could bring."
The date of the comet's arrival was getting closer and closer, and while they had already determined that Aang wouldn't try to face the Fire Lord yet, they still needed to prepare themselves for whatever might happen on that day when it came.
"Okay. See you in the morning." He turned and began to leave.
"And Aang," she called out to his parting back. "I don't think of you as a brother."
He stopped in his tracks to give her one last glance over his shoulder before returning to his room. She saw him bite his lip, trying and failing to keep a jubilant grin from spreading over his face, and she saw a little flicker return to his eyes.
It was a spark.
It wasn't a lot, but it was something.