I remember the sensation clearly. It's so hot that it's cold. That moment when Aang burned my hands, it shaped me. It shaped him too. Yet his shaping was undone, his fear of fire was overcome. He evolved and embraced the energy and life of fire, yet my fear remained - still remains, to this day, to this moment. This moment when my courage must be tested.
My fear isn't only of the flickering, burning flames that enveloped my hands, no, that is just the core of the deep, black hole of shame that is my fear. My fear has spread and festered, left untreated as my pride would not allow me to seek help. I have known since that moment that this fear would be eternal.
On the dawn of our great battle, I am lying awake - my mind unsettled, my spirit shaken. I know I shall not sleep tonight, as my fear consumes me alive.
Beyond the fragile walls of my shelter, a shudder sounds, an echoing whisper that pulsates down my spine and curls into my heart - a tumour left to thrive and grow until it annihilates me from within. If I let it devour me, will this pain end? Will the constant fear bombarding my mind finally cease? Or will I be trapped in its lair forevermore?
Gripped in the filthy claws of fear, I fail to see the signs of another's presence.
I don't see the flutter of the curtains as he glides through them.
I don't hear his steps - soft enough to be stealthy, but still audible, evidence of his endeavour not to startle me.
I don't scent the aroma of my nightmares - albeit softer than that which I fear, potentially comforting in another life.
I don't feel his warm presence behind me, nor his arms snaking around my frozen form in a gentle embrace.
I don't sense his presence at all until his lips ghost the shell of my ear, whispering comforting words and soothing my jittering nerves.
Flinching and pulling away, I shuffle as far away from him as I can in the confines of this fabric cage. The hurt expression revealed momentarily almost makes me regret my instantaneous rejection.
But his turning away is what seals the deal.
My fear can take a backseat for once - I can embrace my nightmare for one night, if it helps another find their way. For if I can't help someone I care for, how can I possibly hope to help myself?
I slowly rise. The flimsy material of my nightclothes ripples in an unseen breeze. And I allow myself to be free from fears and worries and stress in this moment, as I tumble into his embrace.
He shudders slightly as my weight is suddenly thrust upon him. Yet he remains firm - not allowing us to fall. He is unwavering; another steady pillar in my network of loved ones, another one who shan’t let me crumble.
I feel his breath. It's warm against my frozen skin. His whole body is like a furnace - one I know should be slowly burning me alive, yet despite that it feels like a warm pelt, surrounding me and preventing me from freezing.
Our breaths intermingle and our heartbeats fall into sync. I feel safe with him.
This feeling is too enrapturing to be safety.
I feel drunk on his fire and the sensation of his warm exhalations on the exposed skin of my neck.
He makes me feel alive.
Throughout my life I've always felt that I was drowning. Slowly sinking beneath the weights of my responsibilities, and my fears. Ever since my mother died I've been forced to mature too rapidly. To become a woman of my tribe, a caregiver for my brother, and later for Aang and Toph as well.
They called me motherly. They called me overbearing. But they never understood what I had been through. How my mind is years older than it ought be, and how my instincts are too cautious for their own good.
He is different though. He has always been different.
Our lives share so many similarities, yet a plethora of differences as well, that cancel them out.
Our lives contrast and compliment each other, just as we do to each other as people.
He may not have been in my exact circumstances, just as I was not in his, but we have both suffered the pain of loss and the struggles of having to work in order to reach our potentials.
We are two sides of the same coin - battered and broken; he's the fire to my water.
If I'm not careful with my treatment of him, then I may douse his spirit. Yet he can send me up in flames with the flick of a finger, if he fails to be cautious.
If either of us missteps, whatever fragile bond we’ve managed to forge could crumble into ash.
I don't know how long we sit there, but it is long enough for the first soft rays of dawn to begin fading through the thin walls of my tent.
I'd kept my eyes closed for the majority of the time that I had been in his embrace, but as the light begins to seep through my eyelids, I finally peer up from my position buried in his neck.
His eyes are closed, his breathing even, his embrace slightly loose. My breathing hitches as I realise that he trusts me enough to fall asleep in my presence - in my embrace.
He trusts me.
I don't know why that is such an earth-shattering revelation to me. We’re teammates, allies, I’ve forgiven him for his past actions. Why wouldn't he trust me? Why can't I trust him?
As if roused by my thoughts, his eyes flutter open, and he leans towards me in a half-asleep motion.
“Katara.” He mumbles.
I shudder at the sound and scold myself for letting the sound of my name on his lips affect me so much.
Before I can reply he pulls away from me, and moves to stand, turning away from me in embarrassment and muttering under his breath about needing to be somewhere.
I don't want him to leave; if he leaves I'll be forced to return to reality, to the hardships of war and the battle that awaits today.
I leap to my feet and tackle him to the ground before he can leave, before he can leave me. It was such an abrupt decision that my own shock at my actions was almost equal to his.
He turns beneath me and touches my face gently. I am ice and he is fire. He melts my cold exterior to reveal what's beneath; I freeze his flames and keep him from raging out of control.
We are balance.
We are Tui and La.
We will win this war, for we are what the fire nation lacks: