The cold winter afternoon was clear and bright, fleecy clouds stretched thin across a watery blue sky. Aang and Katara were sitting outside of the one inn in town, leaning against the sturdy wall in contented silence, Katara unraveling her hair to re-braid it and Aang stroking the lemur snoozing on his lap.
Normally, the group had to camp on the outskirts of town, but that evening, Aang and Katara had unwittingly bought some vegetables from none other than the innkeeper's wife. When she realized who they were, she promptly invited them to stay at the inn that night, waving their concerns about money by informing them that the Avatar had no need to pay for lodging at their establishment.
"It's so peaceful here," Katara said into the quiet of the evening. She flicked her loose hair over her shoulder and crossed her arms, staring out into the forest with half-lidded eyes.
"Yeah, it is," Aang agreed, running his fingers through Momo's fur. "It's good to be in a town that doesn't have any soldiers."
"Or people wanting your help," she added.
A grin quirked at his mouth. "I don't mind that, though."
"But doesn't it get tiring?" she asked, head tilted. "Always having to run around and help people?"
"Not really," he said cheerily. "I like it. I like seeing people happy because of something I did." His grin faded and he stared off into the trees, expression thoughtful. "But...I like this too. Just sitting doing nothing."
"Yeah." She stretched and reached back to start a new braid. "I wouldn't mind staying here forever."
He shot her a grin. "Just like this?"
Katara returned the smile. "Yup. Just like this."
"Fine by me."
Momo chittered, scrambling out of Aang's lap to take flight.
"The three of us could get a house," Aang said, tilting his head back to follow the lemur with his eyes. "But it would have to be by a field so Appa could be there."
"Yeah," he said, beckoning Katara to turn her back to him. She obliged, and he took the strands of her half-finished braid in his hands, twining them together. "Maybe we could get one next to a grove with moon peach trees."
"By a river," she proposed, "so we can practice Waterbending."
He laughed. "We'd never stop if we lived by water! Sokka would get so mad."
She giggled in response. "He'd learn to deal with it. Although..." she shot him a teasing grin over her shoulder. "I didn't think nomads settled."
"We'd still travel," he said nonchalantly. "I'll take you to the other Air Temples. They're all really beautiful, especially the Western one."
"We should go to Ba Sing Se," she proposed. "Just for a visit."
"And the Si Wong desert - or, well, the oasis on it's edge. I've been there before. It was really a treat."
She sighed happily, gaze suddenly distant. "The South Pole, so I can tell Gran Gran about my adventures with you."
He blinked at her a few times and glanced down at his hands, holding the end of the completed braid tight between his fingers. "Oh, yeah. I guess you'd want to go back there, huh?"
"At least to visit." She passed the string she used to tie the braid off back to him, turning back to trace the pattern that ran along the edge of her favorite pot back home into the dirt at her side. "Maybe to live. I don't know."
He nodded, wrapping the string around the end of the braid. Without warning, he Airbended himself to his feet, holding out his hand to help her up as well. "Come on," he said, cheerful demeanor fully in place again. "Let's go explore the forest before it gets dark."
She returned his grin after a split second, grabbing his hand and hauling herself upright. "All right."
The winter woods were quiet. There was no snowfall, and the weather in this part of the world was downright mild, but even so, there were no leaves on the trees, and many of the animals were gone, hibernating for the winter. They found a stream cutting a path through the forest floor, the edges frosted, burnished autumn leaves trapped in the crystalline ice. They leapt over the stream, one after the other, and Katara paused for a moment on the opposite bank to stare down at the rushing water before they moved on.
It wasn't long before they came upon a strange, rocky, cliff-like outcropping set in the middle of a clearing. The stone was a deep gray, the surface of the rock rough, and the rocks held countless nooks and crannies, many of them large enough for them to hide in. They didn't want to risk it, mildly afraid of what animals may wait in there for them, so they climbed to the top of the rocks.
It was an impressive view. The forest stretched out before them, and they could even see the village, nestled in the trees.
"This is pretty nice, too," Katara admitted, contemplating the view thoughtfully.
He glanced over at her. "But you really miss the South Pole, don't you?"
She didn't answer right away, giving him a contemplative look. "I do," she admitted. "I miss all of the snow. I miss being surrounded by my element. But..." she shrugged, smiling. "It's worth it, traveling with you."
"I'll bring you home after the war."
She glanced back at him, their eyes locking, and it felt like centuries stretched between the two of them in those few moments. I'll bring you home after the war. After Aang defeats the Fire Lord, a battle neither of them allowed themselves to dwell on. Overcome by the need to be near him, she scooted close and threw her arms around his neck, locking him in a vice-like embrace for all of a moment before she let go again. No words had passed between them, but she knew. They both knew.
"Or we can stay here," she said again, voice softer than before.
He watched her apprehensively, and she saw that he seemed afraid - of what, she was unsure.
"You'd stay with me?" he muttered, gray eyes flicking away, and her heart lurched.
"As long as you'd like," she said, looking down at her hands. "You're...my best friend, Aang."
He was blushing, she realized, which looked more endearing than it should. She caught herself wanting to kiss him on the cheek, and gave her head a slight shake to dispel the urge. That was the second time in so many weeks that she caught herself thinking that way. Downright strange.
"I guess we could live together at the South Pole," he offered.
"We could," she mused slowly.
"Or we can just keep traveling the world together," he said. He grinned. "What do you say?"
She nodded, smiling and wondering at the warm fluttering in her stomach. "Fine by me."