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The Return Journey
They chatted enthusiastically on the journey back, both very relieved that they were on comfortable talking terms. Aang told her all about how he and Teo had fixed up ramps all over the temple, of a very interesting game of catch with The Duke and Sokka (in which The Duke begrudgingly obliged to be the ball), his Firebending training, and how Zuko wasn't such a jerk after all (she politely disagreed with this statement, but he didn't press her), and his time with the Sun Warriors.
Katara listened keenly as he told her about the Firebending masters, and nearly jumped out of her skin when he told her of their...'scaly' personalities.
"Dragons!?" she yelped.
"Yeah, I know! I was really worried...Zuko told me they were extinct!"
"Well," she said grumpily. "That's what you get for trusting Zuko I suppose." Aang glanced at her over his shoulder. She continued: "Wait, so...the only reason you were worried is because you thought they'd died out?"
"Of course! It's part of the Avatar's duty to protect the balance of nature." He paused. "It was such a relief to find out I hadn't failed again..." said Aang softly.
Katara said nothing, but tightened her hold about his neck and nuzzled his shoulder. He sighed contentedly, and she smiled. "What other reason would I have to be afraid?"
"Well, I don't know," said Katara dryly. "Maybe because they're dragons?" Aang burst out laughing, which Katara felt rather than heard over the wind.
"Oh, right, I forgot about that!"
Katara grinned. "Forgot?" she exclaimed dramatically. "You could have been eaten! Singed to a crisp! Drawn and quartered! How could you forget?" She emphasized each potential situation with a tickle to the ribs, something which Aang, engaged in flying the glider, could do nothing to prevent.
"Katara!" he gasped between giggles. "Katara, stop!"
"Sliced and diced!"
"Ha ha ha, stop it!"
"Become an Airbending appetizer!"
"Turned into a chew toy!"
"Katara! Ha ha-"
"Roasted to aaaAAHH" The last part of that phrase was turned to a shriek as the edge of the glider clipped the canyon wall. She instinctively tightened her hold on the airbender beneath her, screwing her eyes shut. Once the initial stab of panic and ebbed away, Katara became aware of a light flutter against her face.
It tickled. She cracked open an eyelid.
Her cheek was pressed up against Aang's; the fluttering she felt were his eyelashes as he blinked.
She felt a slight burning sensation from the Avatar's suddenly heated cheeks.
"I warned you," he murmured. She grinned, and readjusted herself back behind his shoulders.
Katara was particularly thrilled to be able to be herself again. As the flight dragged on, somewhat longer than she remembered, the conversation became more and more one-sided as Aang slowly succumbed to drowsiness. But that didn't stop her: there was so much to catch up on! She babbled on about Waterbending techniques she'd discovered, promising to show him when the moon returned, what the rest of the Gaang had accomplished while he had been off "playing with Firebending monsters" (Aang suspected she might not have been referring to the dragons), and elaborated on Toph and Sokka's attempts to sabotage her work. Honestly, she told him, deep down she really appreciated them for giving her the break.
"And the Waterbending practice," she added slyly.
Without the moon or Sokka's astronomical charts from the underground library, it was difficult to tell what time it was, though Katara suspected it was getting to that strange part of the night when it was so late it could almost be considered early.
Their landing was considerably heavier than the feather-like touchdown at the Pai Sho table, so much so that Aang stumbled. Naturally Katara followed suit, still gripping tight onto his shoulders as she was. He pitched forward with little more warning than a "Whoa!" and the pair fell flat onto the rocky ground.
Katara gasped, clambering off of the boy's back and springing to crouch by his head. He had fallen on his face, arms and legs spread like a starfish.
"Aang? Aang, are you okay?" He groaned as she gingerly flipped him over. His nose was lightly grazed, but asides from that he appeared to be unharmed. He mumbled something, his eyes still closed. Frowning, Katara leaned in close, her ears straining.
Suddenly, the Avatar sat bolt upright, their foreheads colliding with an echoing 'bonk'.
They recoiled with a mutual yelp of pain. Katara fell heavily onto her rump, clutching her head and grimacing. The force of the impact had put Aang onto his back again.
"Ow," he croaked.
"Ow," Katara agreed.
"It's alright." She crawled back over to his side. "Are you okay?" she repeated.
"Yeah, I think so," Aang sat up again, slowly this time, raising his fingers to his nose. He winced, and a few droplets of blood budded from the graze.
"Come here," Katara smiled grimly. Aang shuffled closer, stifling a yawn.
"What time is it?" he asked thickly, as Katara dabbed at his nose with a wet strip of cloth. He recoiled with a hiss.
"Don't be such a baby," scolded Katara, grabbing his chin between her fingers to hold him still.
"It's just a graze," she said softly. "It could have been worse." Aang watched her as she pulled the cork from her water skin, bringing a little ball of water, barely the size of the pad of his thumb, level with his nose.
"Not one of my best landings," he said groggily, eyes fixed on the little floating sphere as it moved closer to the tip of his nose. As it did, his eyes slowly crossed. Katara giggled. "Ugh," he blinked, eyes focusing back onto Katara in an instant. He smiled as the water began to glow, lighting a small circle of the night.
"What?" asked Katara warily. He smirked.
"Nothing, it's just...I think it's amazing you can do that. I don't really want you to stop." Katara began to grow a little flustered under his heavy gaze.
"Don't worry," she said. "I'm sure you'll get to see plenty more of it." His brow creased in bafflement.
"At the rate you throw yourself into danger?" she laughed quietly. "I don't think I'll be able to keep my eyes off of you!"
"I wouldn't mind that," he said softly. She looked up, slightly surprised. She slowly withdrew her fingers, breaking eye contact at last when she replaced the cork. A flash of sadness passed over his face.
"All finished," she said slowly. "You might get a bit of bruise, but we'll see about that in the morning."
"Thanks," he said cheerily, sliding over to the edge of the cliff and swinging his legs over the edge. He sighed. Katara remained where she was for a moment, puzzling. "You know," said Aang after a minute or two. "I think I'll show you guys the orchard tomorrow."
"The orchard?" Katara sat cross-legged next to him. He nodded, leaning back on his palms.
"Where we grew cherry-apples and moon peaches, and sometimes plums...for the fruit pies."
"You'll like it," he continued. "We'll fill up Appa's saddlebags, and that can feed us for a while." He beamed at her over his shoulder. "That way you'll have some free time!" He yawned again.
"Some free time would be great," she said keenly. "I can show you those Waterbending techniques I told you about!" Aang nodded sleepily, his eyelids drooping.
Katara stared out at the canyon below. This had been exactly where she had been sitting a few hours ago, when she'd flicked a pebble in frustration, and thus commenced the evening's activities. Following their conversation, everything would appear to have gone back to normal. But lingering in the recesses of her mind were the little voices, ready to strike out at the slightest hint of...
She wondered if it had been the only reason he'd done it. After all, it wasn't really Aang who had said it. She had. Him simply agreeing with her didn't mean it was true.
But no, he wouldn't lie about that.
Katara started as something bumped her arm; while her mind had been whirling, Aang had dozed off, his quiet snores hardly being loud enough to alert her to his condition sooner. His head had dropped onto her shoulder. She smiled, laughing softly. Poor kid. It really IS this late. She yawned.
Crouching beside him, she attempted to scoop him up. Perhaps she was overly tired, or still dizzy from the head-bump, but Katara found to her surprise she could hardly lift him.
She gaped. Wow, she thought, grimacing as she tried again. What have I been feeding him? He's really grown! After a few attempts with little success, Katara let out a sigh of defeat, falling backwards onto her elbows to catch her breath.
Aang's head lolled forward, and no sooner had she paused to rest that she lunged forward to keep him from tipping over the edge. He must be really wiped out, she mused. He's usually a light sleeper!
Gently tugging him away from the cliff, Katara pulled him against her chest while she wondered how on earth she was going to get them back down to the fountain.
Aang shifted in his sleep and nudged his head under her chin. Katara stiffened, her breath catching in her throat. She smiled. He mumbled something indistinguishable, his mouth hanging slightly open.
"Okay Aang," she whispered, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. "Looks like we're staying here tonight."
Light streamed through her eyelids, and Katara raised an arm to shield her eyes from the blinding sunlight.
Funny...she didn't even remember falling asleep. Stretching, she wriggled upright, and the blanket fell from her torso.
Blanket? Katara stiffened with surprise, taking in her surroundings.
Somehow, she was lying on one of the sleeping mats by the fountain. It must have been early; Suki wasn't even awake yet. She usually got up at about this time to perform her morning exercises.
So if I'm here, she thought, then where's... Aang was curled up, fast asleep on Appa's forearm. She sighed, and lay back onto the mat. He must have woken up and carried me down.
It had been an interesting evening, no doubt about it. On one hand, things between them had returned to normal, no more awkwardness, but on the other...
Katara rolled onto her side. She just couldn't be sure if she knew anything anymore, particularly not how he actually felt about her, despite what he'd said.
Or how she felt about him.
At least we're back to being best friends again, she told herself firmly.
Best friends, hm? A little voice muttered in the back of her head. So much for problem solving.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out my other stories, and as always, I hope you enjoyed it!
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