Chapter 7

The kids were asleep, and they sat on the darkened porch amidst an air thick with anticipation. Aang spoke words that Katara could scarcely register through the blood pounding in her ears. Instead, she watched his lips move, felt the heat of her blush, the palpations of throbbing need after an entire day together fighting the precipice of physical tension.

She nodded thickly at his suggestion, moving closer until their lips brushed.

-0-0-0-

12 HOURS EARLIER:

It was high, hot summer even in the early morning, and the impossibly blue sky dappled with little cumulus puffs was inarguably Kya's favorite birthday present. The girl yawned and stretched, willing the growing pains out of her shins and ankles. It was still dark out, and she could see the slumped form of Bumi on his bed even from her cot on the floor.

Aang had been uncharacteristically fussy about Kya's birthday.

"It's her first one outside the South Pole. It should be special" he argued. He offered up the beachfront near their island home and cajoled Katara into staying over the night prior. Katara provided a lazy protest to save face before practically skipping to pack their overnight bags.

She knew from the vague bustle in the early morning that at least Kya and Aang had awoken at dawn as they were wont to do, and Katara turned over in the warm sheets of Aang's bed (he'd insisted on taking the couch.) The mattress was firm yet forgiving and she sighed deeply as she turned over, feeling extremely well-rested.

Watching the dust motes hover in the streaming sunlight, her feelings of peace and contentment gave way to warmth and arousal. She breathed deep into the pillow, pressing her thighs together in a pleasing clench. It would be so easy, with the children likely beach-bound for the rest of the day, to smother her face here and grind her way toward a very satisfying wake-up call. But even as Aang's now months-long best-friend-with-benefits, it seemed in poor taste.

Instead, she silenced her phone, retrieved her bathroom bag and a towel, hoping for a hot (and relieving) shower. Katara was enveloped in her thoughts and busy looking into the bag when she opened the door to a face full of steam, colliding with a half-naked Aang.

"GAHH, WHY" Aang cried out as he received a face full of hygiene products exploding from the bag.

"NOOO" Katara gasped, watching the guarded contents fly into the air as if in slow motion. She was down on her knees struggling to grab everything before he'd seen, trying not to look directly at his body as he scrabbled to keep his towel up. "Sorry! I-I'm sorry! I thought you guys were out!"

"It's okay!" Aang chuckled a little as he bent down to help, "you just scared me!"

"No, don't! It's not what it looks like!" Katara yelled as Aang stooped to retrieve her yellow duck toy that had fallen out of her bag. It was on, emitting its soft vibrating noise, the mouth undulating at a provocative pace.

"It's…a rubber duck? Oh. OH!" Aang's eyes widened with surprise, then his face melted into devilish glee, handing it back to a Katara who would have elected to melt into the floor if it were possible.

"That…is not…mine?" Katara attempted to lie, which caused Aang to laugh louder.

"Is that what I think it is?"

"Can you go now? I'd like to die in peace" Katara murmured, standing up with an armful of toiletries. The duck toy was still stuck in the 'on' position, waggling its tongue in absolute betrayal.

"Wow…that is so inaccurate" he laughed, side-stepping through the door.

"What do you mean?"

"Katara, look at it! That's not how you lick a —"

She slammed the door in his face.

-0-0-0-

Later, Katara leaned back and savored the scene unfolding at Kya's party. Her daughter was coated in sand and laughing. Despite her best efforts, the child had insisted on leaving her hair down for the occasion, and Katara had to admit that the style suited her. She appeared free and unburdened with the breeze lifting it around her shoulders, creating a wavy halo of fly-aways that would have normally driven Katara towards a brush and a bottle of detangler. Instead, she watched and sighed happily.

Kya, Bumi, and Izumi were immersed in the build of a sandcastle wildly above their paygrade. Bumi and Izumi argued about the best ratios of wet and dry sand for structural integrity, while Kya contentedly perused the shoreline for shells to decorate it with.

Eventually, Bumi blew up the sandcastle with his trebuchet in a vain attempt to prove his point to Izumi, resulting in both girls tackling him and dragging him into the water.

Closer to the house and under the shade of the palms, Zuko, Mai, and Suki relaxed in chairs, chatting softly about knives, self-defense, and the best way to cook a flan. Instead of bringing up work, Zuko sipped his beer thoughtfully and seemed to read the mood around him (for once).

She tried to ignore Sokka's pitchy complaints wafting from the picnic bench. Evidently, Aang tricked him into eating (and enjoying) a veggie burger he thought was meat. Katara could hear Aang's response, muffled in laughter, and the melody of it sent her into gooseflesh. She couldn't help but glance over. Gray eyes already sparkled in her direction, as though he'd anticipated her attention, and Aang smirked when her darkened eyes proved him right.

It was a wordless look they'd exchanged for months now. Aang and Katara were two grown adults, parents, respected contributors to the community; Aang and Katara were also behaving like lovesick teenagers whenever they managed a scrap of privacy.

"I'm serious, Sokka. Stop giving me numbers. I'm not interested in a relationship." Aang would protest from his office, only to meet Katara for a lunch of breathy kisses in her car.

"There isn't any more to tell" Katara would lie to Mai about her overly cheerful mood. She tugged at a scarf that hid purple marked evidence below her ear. "I'm just happy with my life right now…certain things are turning out very well."

Just kissing, they said, leaning against the bathroom door several nights a week. The way his lips brushed, tongue lapped, the way he always grinned when they came up for air—Katara had never experienced such intensive attention.

Physical affection is a human need, they rationalized in the broom cupboard, Katara's legs wrapped around his waist, embracing him with all her affection as he plundered her neck and throat—Aang had never felt so rescued.

The boundary creeped each time, hands heavy and breath ragged. Fingers explored and clothing inched ever higher. Just the day prior, Aang walked Katara back to her office after lunch only to find himself guided into her chair as she folded into his lap, returning every movement of her curious tongue and every playful bite against his lip. Katara's nails pressed bracingly against his chest and his thumbs were beneath her shirt tracing the underside of her ribs as she rocked sub-consciously to the cadence of their mouths.

They'd only stopped when the tryst found Katara laying back on her own desk, gasping into his mouth as Aang ran shaking fingers up her thighs and he finally murmured, "this is more than just kissing, Katara."

Now she watched him stand with her brother, eyes roving her with equal parts humor and desire. It was a confusing mixture simmering in a pot for too long, and it was almost agony to not taste him. She broke his eye contact and made for the water, hoping to wash away the questions they hadn't asked yet:

Is this more than kissing?

Are we more than friends?

will he leave me?

A conversation they both knew would come- but today Aang met her in the water, playfully swiping cold sea foam in her direction. He won her exasperated smile like he always did, and it wasn't long before their water battle devolved into an all-out sparring match that sent a defeated Aang into the rolling tide. He took a seat next to his equally bedraggled son and the family settled in for a contented sunset.

-0-0-0-

Night fell.

Katara finished one last game of Pai Sho with Bumi.

Aang brushed Kya's hair ("because he's gentler, mom!")

They met out on the porch where they shared tea under the full moon. Katara was quiet and pensive.

"What's up? You look like you have something on your mind." Aang asked.

"Can I tell you a secret?" Katara breathed, her nose barely hovering above the hot tea. Aang nodded.

"I always dread Kya's birthday" she confessed in a breathy whisper, and when she looked up from her cup, it was with a full face of self-loathing.

"I do not regret Kya. That's not what I'm saying- I would NEVER say that. The moment I found out I was pregnant, I wanted her. I needed to meet her. It didn't matter that-"

"—you knew he wasn't going to be around"

Katara nodded with a guilty bite to her trembling lip. "I was so alone. Just…her and me. I didn't want that for her, it wasn't the plan…Even Sokka said I should… but I wanted her, even though it hurt to hold her alone. I can't help but think of it every year."

Aang scooted closer and rested a hand on the inside of her folded knee. He bent his head down to meet her downcast eyes. "Katara, you do not have to justify or explain any of your choices. Least of all to me."

Before she could object to his self-deprecation, he continued. "Someone I loved once told me that 'you can't focus on what once was, you must focus on what is'. And Kya? She's…she IS amazing, Katara. Frustratingly brilliant…like you... stubborn as a mule-dog, like you." Katara rolled her eyes and made to shove him playfully.

"But she's also incredibly compassionate. And kind…like you. For what it's worth, I'm glad you're both here now, just as you are."

Overcome with gratitude, Katara dabbed at her damp cheeks and leaned in for another kiss. It was affectionate, but short-lived, as Aang pulled away for another mischievous grin.

"I'm sorry, I have to know if you used that duck in the shower… I've been thinking about it all day."

He reveled in watching her flush with embarrassment, even as his own pulse skipped with nervousness. Katara's pause was just long enough that he considered backtracking or apologizing for being nosey before she responded with heavy lidded eyes.

"What if I told you I did?"

Her gaze was bold, even as she continued to blush, and Aang inhaled sharply through his nose. Suddenly he was very aware of the evening's humidity, the dew point that kissed Katara's face and neck shiny all over.

Because the thought of you coming in my shower makes me want to go live in said shower.

Because you deserve it and more.

Because I want you so bad…

Say it.

Tell her.

"Why?" he asked instead, trying to maintain his light-hearted façade. Katara laughed and took a long gulp from her cup to hide her blush again.

"Are we really going to have this conversation?" she murmured wanly, to which Aang replied with flirtatious drama.

"You're right. I'm definitely not a qualified confidante of your physical needs. I only had my hand up your shirt yesterday…"

Katara mustered a mock affront and shoved him playfully while they both attempted to laugh off the tension.

"Seriously though…that thing looked…uncomfortable? I don't know how that would compare to the real deal."

"Oh sure, and sex is so much less painful. At least with a toy I actually get off…" Katara scoffed sarcastically.

"Wait" Aang paused, then continued more softly, "are you telling me…?"

"It's not like I didn't try. But seriously, why bother faking it with someone when I already know what works for me? I can't believe I'm telling you this…"

"Because there's so much more to it, Katara! Intimacy is so much more than just the sex. It's touch…" his eyes roved over her lips, and she felt her body shudder from shoulders to toes under his gaze. Her breath hitched. "It's kisses, it's air. It sounds like you had a partner who didn't understand how to follow cues, that's all."

Keyed up.

Bothered.

And still, she tried to slow the deluge just waiting to break behind their cracking dam. "Oh really? And what if a woman doesn't know how to give cues? Or…if she's too shy to?"

Two sets of eyes roaming, probing the vulnerability of her question, the nakedness of it all, the weight of her words hung stagnant in the night air.

Piqued desire churned behind trembling breath and racing pulse and the damp heat expanding between their bodies. Aang's eyes were hungry as he reached out and softly tucked loose strands of her hair behind her ear.

"She does it sub-consciously. For example, if I touch you on your neck…" he allowed his fingers to drift down the curtain of her hair, barely caressing down to her collarbone with a calloused thumb. Katara let out an unbidden gasp, and Aang smirked victoriously again.

"—and it puts goosebumps on your arms…" he gestured to the raised hair along both her arms. He neglected to point out her achingly hard nipples that were also now straining against her shirt as he clung to the last scraps of casual conversation.

"—it means if I put my mouth there, it would turn you on." he finished in a whisper, leaning still further, tiptoeing to the edge of their leaking levee.

"Do you want me to show you?" she felt his whisper against her neck rather than heard it.

He hovered just above her skin, pausing, waiting.

Her hands were trembling, her sex throbbing.

"Yeah. I do" she groaned and captured his lips then. They gasped synchronously, barely aware of the loud clang of Katara's teacup clattering down the porch stairs as she swelled against him, arms already twisting around each other, chests flush.

Squalls of wet, fervent kisses were familiar, (though messier than usual), territory. As were his long-fingered hands grasping at her waist to pull her closer still. They welcomed the destruction of their final walls like a pair of anarchists crashing through a carefully guarded barrier.

When they broke away to gasp, Katara's eyes were ablaze with all the desire she'd denied for so long. The pinkness of his desperate face, its usual crowing grin replaced with deep-set vulnerability, spurred her forward.

"Do you have a cue?" she breathed softly. Then, inching her face against his own without breaking eye contact, her lips rested against his.

"Where do I need to put my mouth to turn you on too?"

Aang moaned and crumbled into her, surging against her body, and guiding them down against the sand-covered planks. His torso over hers, bracing arms beside her head as their mouths moved was still familiar. urgency winding tight in both their centers, and she spread her legs instinctively in search of the contact with him she'd only dreamed of.

His straining arousal met her with enthusiasm before he was able to grasp once more at control., and he arched away from the heady pleasure of their entanglement with a single, hard exhalation.

It was agony to withdraw, but looming over her body, drinking in her flushed beauty, all tangled hair and sweaty skin, was its own reward. His face was a novel of desire, confession, and ache.

I love you.

I want you.

Take from me.

Please don't hurt me.

HI! There's sex after this, but you'll have to read it on AO3 (;