"Aang, are you over here?"
He turned his head towards her voice, shaking away the cobwebs from his mind.
"Up here." He said from his fuzzy resting spot on Appa's back, as he closed is eyes again. Aang heard her start to climb. In a moment she was up and settled down beside him, cross-legged and quiet.
Aang waited for her to speak, but she remained silent. Curious, he peeked at her through one eye. She was gazing around their campsite watching their fellow companions going about their own business below them but she seemed lost in thought.
"Is something wrong Katara?" Aang asked as he opened his eyes fully and sat up beside her.
"Life's never going to be the same for us after this is it Aang?"
"What do you mean?" Aang asked, as he tried to decipher her thoughts. Deep down though, he was pretty sure what she was talking about. His thoughts of late usually dwelled in the same place hers seemed to be now.
She turned and fixed her gaze on him. He could see a whirlwind of emotions flicker across her face as she looked at him. Hope; despair. Excitement; dread. Determination; apprehension. He knew how she felt; he thought they all did, even Zuko.
Katara looked back out at their friends.
" The war; the end of the Fire Nation's control over the other nations. I've never known peace. Not really. All I've ever known is pain and suffering at the hands of the Fire Nation." She clenched her hands into tight fists in her lap.
" All my life I have been driven by my hate of firebenders and my determination for revenge against them for all they've ever taken from me, and from my people. I don't know what I'll do when this is all over."
This war was all any of them ever knew, even Aang. It didn't matter that he'd been gone for a hundred years; he felt the effects of the war just as much as the others did. Possibly even more, what with his duty as the Avatar, which put more pressure on him than any of his friends could even begin to understand.
Ultimately, this was his fault. It is the duty of the Avatar to keep the elements in balance, and so far he'd done a rotten job of it. He should have ended the war a hundred years ago, the world should not of had to suffer for his mistakes. As he looked out at his friends and companions below he swore that he would end it. End it for good this time. It was time the Fire Nation learned their place. It was time that Ozai learned his place. Fire was but one of four elements. There cannot be one without the other; they must live in harmony. The Fire Nation had forgotten this elemental rule and it was time for the Avatar to re-educate them.
Aang smiled softly. " I know you Katara, you're so strong and brave; I'm sure you'll do fine." He laughed. "You'll do more than fine, you'll do great! You're an amazing person Katara, you're so smart and kind, and you're a master waterbender!
Katara smiled shyly. "Thanks Aang. That's sweet of you."
Aang blushed, and the mood lightened for a moment before Katara's thoughts became troubled again.
"I'm scared Aang." Katara whispered to her lap.
Aang couldn't bear seeing Katara so vulnerable. Gently he took her hand into his and gave it a comforting squeeze.
"Good, 'cuz I've been thinking I was the only one!" He said with a small laugh, trying to cheer her up.
It worked. She giggled softly, returning the hand squeeze affectionately. A moment later however she realized what they were doing. She blushed faintly as she looked at their entwined hands resting on her knee. Aang noticed her blush and looked where she was looking and blushed as well, but did not let go of her hand and snuck a glance at her to gauge her reaction. When she realized he was blushing too but would not release her hand, she felt her face get hotter, but stubbornly kept her hand firmly in his. She was determined not to be the scared little girl and run away like last time. They sat there for several moments, enjoying the sunny weather and cool breezes with closed eyes.
It was Aang who broke the silence. "Katara?" He asked softly, opening his eyes, but not daring to look at her.
"What do you think…we will be like in the future?"
Katara's eyes remained peacefully closed. "Well I suppose we'll be grown-up, but I can't imagine any of us really changing much. I hope we don't. I like how we are now; an inseparable family who always looks out for each other."
Aang shifted nervously. "No…I mean… I mean us. You and me. Aang and Katara." Katara opened her eyes. She felt her pulse quicken as she grasped his meaning. "Do you think we'll always be friends?"
She tried to sound unruffled as she answered. "We'll always be friends Aang. The very best of friends. Nothing will ever change that!"
"Oh." Was all he said.
Katara stole a glace at him in confusion. He looked a little hurt. She couldn't figure out why. A moment later however she realized what he had really meant to say.
He shifted again uncomfortably, and let go of her hand in the process to run his fingers through nonexistent hair and to rub his neck as he worked up the courage to continue.
"Do you ever think that…that maybe we could be more than friends?" Aang didn't dare meet her eyes as he spoke. "I mean, I mean one day, not you know, now 'cuz that would be so weird, but like in the future or something?"
Katara couldn't respond for several minutes, which only made Aang all the more anxious. If only there was a huge unit of Fire Nation soldiers nearby that could attack them right about now. That would be perfect. They might be so distracted that they'd both forget he'd ever dared breach that forbidden topic.
Aang agonized inside. He was sure that her silence meant rejection. He was surprised at how hurt he felt. Sure he was only twelve, while she was almost fifteen; practically a woman by her people's standards, he felt certain that she was The One. You know, his soul-mate. His one true love. The girl he was meant to spend the rest of his life with. Such a miracle could not be thwarted by something so trivial as age, surely. Or could it? Would she always see him as a child? Or maybe, did she just not like him as anything other than a friend and traveling companion?
His face burned bright red. "Of course, you know it was, it was just a thought, nothing important." He tried to brush off his question as something trivial and insignificant. "I understand of course Katara, you don't have to ans—!"
"Aang." Katara had reclaimed his hand in mid flight as he waved it about shakily while he babbled. His eyes widened at the touch. She couldn't help but give him a small smile. "One day."
Aang was dazed. "Hm?"
Katara giggled softly. "One day, when we are older, I would gladly consider the possibility of being more than just friends."
"Really." Katara softly stroked his cheek. "For now though, I think it would be better if we remained as we were." She withdrew her hand. "Just good friends. At least until this was is ended."
At that moment neither of them believed that their mission could fail, that they could end up captured, or worse; killed. They believed that their mission would be a sure success and that balance would be restored to the world at long last. It was a naïve dream, but at that moment it gave them a rare sense of peace.
"Hey Sugar Queen!" They heard Toph yell from the other side of camp. "What's for lunch?"
Katara rolled her eyes. Their moment was over, but it would be one that neither of them would ever forget. With a sigh she released Aang's hand and prepared to crawl off of Appa. With only a second's hesitation she swooped down on Aang and gave him a soft peck on the cheek before heading down. Aang stayed up there in a daze. He couldn't believe his luck!
"She did say what I thought she said didn't she boy?" Aang asked Appa as he flopped back into his friend's thick fur. Appa growled in what Aang felt was agreement.
"I thought so." Aang sighed happily, feeling completely utterly content. "I just can't believe—!"
It was then he heard it.
The sizzle of burning air, the crackle of electricity. He shot up and looked around for Katara. There she was, walking towards her tent, well and whole. Nothing was amiss. But then he saw her, evil faced and laughing bright blue lightning forming as she moved to attack.
Aang woke up his chest heaving, with tears streaming down his sunken face.
"No!, No, no, no, no, NO! Katara, I'm so sorry!" Aang sobbed, his arms wrapped tightly around his legs. His cries echoed throughout the prison until he slowly quieted, his voice to a hoarse whisper. "I'm so sorry Katara, I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry…so…so sorry…"
Down below his guards shifted uneasily at their posts each praying for their shifts to end, but at the same time dreading it. For now when they retire for the night and their eyes drift shut as sleep claims them, they are plagued with the screams of a boy pleading for the forgiveness of a girl they've never even met.