What Brother Are For
I was young when Dad and all the other men left.
I was still at that age when being a woman was unimaginable. No, I could never grow to be that shape, I could never know the many mysteries of womanhood, the things that made Mom's smiles so cunning. I could never have what it takes to be a woman like my mother. It was as alien to me as the Fire Nation soldiers, with their terrifying bending that didn't heal or soothe the way my people's does. Becoming a woman was something to be scared of, and I wanted to stay a child forever.
I wanted to play all day with Sokka in the snow. Forever and ever, with no responsibilities or shame. My parents were a warm secure feeling in the back of my mind. I loved them, and I loved seeing them together, so devoted to each other. Mom was beautiful, and Dad was strong, such a noble, honourable warrior. They were perfect. My family was perfect.
But then Mom died and we didn't feel like playing very much any more. The sun was less bright, the water that embraced our land was less nurturing, now that we knew what kind of people lived on the other side. We knew now that its calm didn't mean anything.
There were things that were stronger than water.
The snow was grey with their soot for weeks.
It reminded everyone of how much was lost, how our simple, peaceful lives had been tainted. Scarred, you might say. I saw my own sadness reflected on the faces of a lot of children, and a lot of husbands. Where had the perfection gone? Dad tried hard to keep our family going with the effortless smoothness Mom had, but he had to learn so many things from scratch, and things were rough. He was trying, he always tried to smile for me, but he never knew how much it hurt me to see him crouching by the cooking fire in Mom's place, preparing something we would all recognize, but that would taste slightly different somehow.
It hurt Sokka too, but he was determined to be strong about it all, like a warrior would. It was his arms around me most of the time. He picked up on the tiny everyday reminders that made my eyes sting the way no one else did, because they hurt him too. We always slept next to each other around the fire that burned continuously in the middle of our wigwam. Dad slept on the other side, his back to us.
We would have secret, whispered conversations with each other late into the night, our faces close to one another's with our bodies stretched out in opposite directions. The fire would be like a wall, separating us from all the bad stuff that was really going on, and we could pretend we were still happy. It was the closest I ever got to that feeling of playing in the snow with him. One night, I wanted to speak the truth to someone who already knew what it was. I told him I missed Mom. He told me he knew, and that he did too, and I felt better.
I didn't hate the Fire Nation, I didn't blame them at that age. Mom had died, and I didn't understand why. I knew how, but I didn't make the connection between death and murder. I didn't hate them, I just didn't understand the Fire Nation. They were foreign and unreal. I didn't have the concept of evil. Sometimes I had nightmares about them coming back.
I would be at home, sometimes doing nothing, sometimes playing with Sokka, or cooking, stirring the hot stew with satisfaction, ready to feed my family. Sokka and Father would be there, smiling at me and looking content in a way they hadn't done in a long time. Then the door would be broken down by the towering silhouette of a Fire Nation soldier. Sometimes they would all be killed, sometimes only Sokka and Father, and I would be dragged away by my hair. I never found out where to or to what, I always woke up before I even got as far as the door.
Sokka had nightmares too, only in his dreams, he was fighting next to Father and the other men. They were trying to protect the village from the Fire Nation army. He said it flowed and poured across the snow like a torrent of disgusting huge beetles. He said he knew they would eat and destroy everything if they got past, but no matter how hard he fought, it never made any difference to their numbers. One by one the other men were defeated, until only he and Father were left, fighting back to back. Then he would be alone, and just a child, swinging his boomerang like a club. He would turn around and watch as our village was swallowed by the swarm of fire benders, and hear the women screaming.
The army would pass over, and leave nothing but smoking, black remains where his whole life used to be, and he would know that he was completely and utterly alone. That idea scared me almost as much as my own nightmares.
Dad told us he would always be there to take care of us, to protect us and what little happiness we had left. But not long after Mom died, he turned that into a lie.
Mom's death had made him angry, angrier than he let us know, and he made an army, and went to fight the Fire Nation. He said goodbye, with hugs and kisses and apologies. He thought he was doing what was best, and we tried hard to believe him. We stood with the rest of the women and children as every man and older boy of the village boarded one of the boats and slowly left us on the ice shore. I clung hard to Sokka, his was the only warmth I had left to cling to now. His arm was tight around me as he stared after the boats.
Dad told we had to look after the village now in his place, but if he cared at all, I couldn't understand why he would leave.
Sokka was the oldest boy in the village now, and I know it hurt him to be left behind, but secretly I was glad. I needed someone to cling to, always. Maybe it was selfish, but I knew I could keep him safe if he was with me. He promised that he'd never leave me behind.
Our grandmother was supposed to look after us now. She had a wigwam nearby, but Sokka and I refused to leave our home. Dad had built it when he wanted to marry Mom. We didn't mind spending the day with Grandma, but we always slept in our own home, by our own fire. Now that it was just the two of us, we didn't sleep quite so close together anymore. We each took a side of the fire, and sometimes when I looked across at Sokka in the night, all I could see was his shoulder, his hair, and his back.
He kept his hair the way it was, in what Dad called a warrior's wolf tail. As we grew up, the children of the last chief, he began to take his training very seriously. He was determined to be our saviour. But he had no one to train him. He spent a lot of time alone, hardly ever letting me watch him practice with his boomerang. He got embarrassed when he couldn't do it perfectly. I didn't care, I just wanted to be with my brother. He was like my other half.
But the mornings when he left without me, without telling me where he was going, I stayed with Gran, learning women's work. How to cook, clean, sew, and make things as easy as they could be for Sokka. I heard the folktales about the heroes of our tribe, brave warriors and noble water benders, defenders and healers. A lot of them were about women. I think Gran did that on purpose, trying to make me feel stronger or something. I think it worked a little.
Years passed, and I turned from a child into a "young woman," as the mothers were fond of calling me. I began to take more care of us myself. Gran was getting old, her mind was starting to dull. I started noticing a certain awareness in myself of the water and ice around me. If I concentrated, I could sometimes make it stir a little. My mother was a water bender, one of the last. There weren't any left now. Now I understood part of Sokka's frustration. There was nobody to teach me either. There was no one I could turn to for help, who could help me understand myself and control my power and nurture it.
Sokka was unsupportive and unsympathetic of my feeling of neglect when he had been dealing with his own for much longer. I was alone, and not very likely to progress. I was going to live and die on this island, but that was okay, as long as I always had Sokka with me.
I got older still and my body began to mature, making the dreaded transformation from a girl into a woman. I hadn't thought about it in years. Sokka had made his awkward metamorphosis before my very eyes. He got a lot taller, his jaw became rough as he taught himself to shave on half-remembered experience of Father. His face grew thinner whilst his shoulders grew broader. His voice broke and changed. His training began to show in the new muscles defining themselves on his arms, chest and thighs.
Who was this man that was taking my brother away from me? He wasn't a child anymore, he was leaving me behind, and he couldn't share the truth of my pain with me anymore.
My vacant grandmother and some of the other villagers helped me to understand what was happening to me when it got to the point that I couldn't ignore it anymore. They took me into my grandmothers wigwam one afternoon and for about an hour they used bad, romanticised metaphors to try and make the cramps and the mess acceptable, even desirable. I listened avidly to every word as it was the only instruction I was likely to get, while my cheeks burned as I stared into the fire. This was just another barrier between Sokka and I.
As my body changed, I found I didn't want to get changed in front of Sokka anymore. He had continued to undress where I could see him with his new, masculine body, as if he hadn't noticed the changes himself. It was times like that when I could feel that he was still my brother. I recognized the slim physique of his childhood keeping his musculature neat. He still looked like himself, and I could still feel so much love and need for him.
But I didn't want him to see how I was becoming less and less like his little sister. My young breasts were strange to me, and I didn't want him to know about them. But I still saw him looking. I knew he knew I was changing into a woman to match the man he was becoming.
My features had also lost the childish roundness, which seemed to have migrated to my hips, which were swelling alarmingly. I was afraid they would never stop. The women in the village said I was beautiful, and I started to believe them, the way children believe fairytales. I wanted it to be true.
But they had also started giving me pitying looks, and making comments to each other as I passed. I knew why, I overheard them more than once. As beautiful as I was, there was no man for me. Sokka was the oldest male in the South Pole. They all coveted him for their daughters of course. He was the son of the chief. But I was going to go to waste. There was no one to take me as a wife and complete my journey into womanhood by making me a mother. I didn't care. My brother was the only man I needed.
But whenever I did think about it, the mysterious thing that comes from a man and completes every woman, that secret knowledge of something that can't be told, I felt that I did want something more. My new body was missing something, but I didn't know what. Maybe it was what I saw in Sokka's eyes when he noticed my breasts or my thighs. It was a kind of worried curiosity mixed with heated intrigue, but it was also more than that, deeper. I couldn't put a name to it and it made me nervous. Sokka was always quick to turn his eyes away whenever I caught him looking at me like that, and I wondered what he was ashamed of.
We stopped spending time together. All we really had was each other, but somehow we managed to avoid each other. We never talked anymore, except for a bare minimum. But we would fight. Whenever either of us opened our mouths, it would turn into a angry clash of wills. Instantly our tempers would flare, almost with the very sight of each other. He just seemed so arrogant, insensitive, and just so male that I became incensed over nothing at all. I knew I was just taking out my disappointment and loneliness out on him, but the frustration always got the better of me. We were only really together at night, when we went to bed.
I began to dream.
They were typically varied, sometimes I was a wife with a house of my own and a husband who would take me in his arms as I worked. He would want something of me, some secret of love, and I would be happy to give it to him. But it would never get far enough for me to find out what it was he wanted. Sometimes the dreams were very vague and indistinct, just a pair of warm, soft arms holding me. They would be the healthy terracotta colour of my people's skin, sometimes with tribal bands that looked like Dad's, sometimes without. The arms were always strong and muscular, obviously belonging to a young man, someone like whom I had never met. They protected me, and loved me in a way I did not know.
I had these dreams for months, and they only got worse. I woke up feeling like I had been on the edge of achieving something that was forever evading me. I would get so frustrated that I wanted to scream, and pound my pillow and tear it. One night I awoke from the dream, and I couldn't stop myself from groaning aloud through gritted teeth.
Sokka's voice shamed me in the dark, and I rolled onto my front to look at him. He had been awake already, watching me, his chin resting on his flattened hands. The fire flickered in his eyes. Our people had beautiful eyes, I don't know why I'd never noticed before.
"Bad dream?" he said. I slipped so easily into the old routine of when we were children whispering private conversations behind the fire. I told him about my dream and how it made me feel. This was one of those moments when reality was outside.
The fire continued to dance in his eyes, keeping me from seeing into them and reading his expression. He listened quietly, hardly moving, but I could tell he understood.
"I have dreams like that sometimes. Only, I'm holding some mystery woman, and she has her arms around me too. I thought maybe it was Mom, but, I don't know, it doesn't feel like her. It feels... different. And then sometimes when I wake up," He looked away suddenly as if deciding not to tell me something, but he didn't give me time to ask about it. "I feel frustrated too, but also lonely, and confused." He smiled at me, "Don't worry, Katara, it'll work itself out. It's probably just something we don't understand."
I knew there were things he wasn't telling me, but I knew they couldn't be important. I listened to the fire burning and felt the pulse of heat coming off it.
"It's weird, there being no men around, isn't it?" I said quietly.
"Yeah, it is. I'm surrounded by women or children all the time. I think they're watching to see if I fall in love with one of their daughters. I don't like it. I just can't see myself acting like Dad used to with Mom. I don't know. I think there's something wrong with me. Something missing, that I don't know about. Like there's this big secret that all the adults know about, and they're just waiting for me to figure it out, only I don't know what it is, or even where to start looking..." He trailed off angrily and shook his head.
"I get what you mean, Sokka."
"If Dad and the others hadn't left, I'm sure I'd know what it is. Dad would have told me, and we wouldn't be like this. Do you think they knew what they were doing when they left?"
"I'm not sure. It would be better for them if they did, but better for us if they didn't." I answered, being honest for once about the betrayal I felt.
Oh Dad, what have you left us to?
"Do you think they're still alive?"
"I hope so." It was the only answer I could give. "Remember when we were little, and we used to play all day in the snow? We were so happy, how could things have changed so much?"
"I don't know, I guess it's because Mom died. And then Dad left, and now it's just us. It's hard to be happy when..." He didn't finish the sentence.
"Promise me we'll be like that again," I said suddenly on an impulse. I couldn't bear to lose the closeness we had just got back.
He stiffened. "Katara, sometimes I feel that... maybe we shouldn't."
"I don't care. You're the most important person in the world to me."
He sighed. "Alright. I promise." He rolled over dramatically onto his back. "Now go to sleep."
I smiled, my first genuine smile in a long time. I had my brother back. I moved my bedding next to his and kissed his cheek, making him grunt and frown and rub the spot with the heel of his palm. I settled down comfortably to sleep on my side, facing him. It wasn't long before I began to be afraid of having the dream again, I could feel it tingling in me, waiting. I didn't want to feel that fierce frustration ever again. What part of me was I missing? What was it that I didn't know?
I lay awake anxiously, I don't know how much time passed. I heard Sokka's blankets rustle as he moved a moment before I felt his hand on mine where it lay between us. It was warm from being under the covers, close to his body. I opened my eyes to smile encouragement to him, but when he saw I was awake, he quickly withdrew his hand.
"Sorry," he mumbled awkwardly. I was confused, but I didn't know what the right question to ask was. He rolled off his shoulder onto his back, showing me his profile, dark against the wall reflecting the firelight. Annoyed, I closed the thin gap between us, and snuggled under his arm, placing my free arm across his stomach under his ribs to hold him close to me.
He stiffened, but I didn't move, and I felt him begin to slowly relax by degrees, until he was soft and warm beside me. I could hear his breathing start up again, and his heart beat under my hand. He moved, and I felt his hand rub lightly up and down my arm, then he turned his head and kissed my hair.
My fingers were curled over the triangle of his bare chest, exposed by the way his shirt was tied. I opened my eyes to see as I thought about how this was the closest I would ever come to the intimacy in my dreams. The chest I held now, the leg that lay pressed against mine, were the only ones I was likely to feel. I committed myself to remembering them. I lifted myself slightly so that I could see better, and before I thought about what I was doing, I gently traced my finger down the faint crease between the muscles of his chest.
We were both wide awake now, sleep was forgotten. I could see him staring at me in wonder, but I kept my focus on my finger as it continued sliding over his skin. Back up, then down again, and he shivered as I felt his heartbeat speed up. I ignored his reaction and what it might mean, it was like I was mesmerized by his body. The knowledge it was tempting me with, coyly hiding it under thin blue fabric, seemed so close, and something wonderful. The answer to some great, important question that I had half-forgotten.
I slid my hand across his ribs, pushing his shirt out of the way. He was even warmer there, he felt positively hot, but maybe my hand was just cold. It could have been, a cold sweat was gathering on the back of my neck and down my spine. His nipple was dark and cast a tiny shadow that jumped with the fire beside us.
I looked down and saw the way the two sides of his shirt were pulling free of the white belt that remained stubbornly tied and thought it looked silly that way, so I untied it. His stomach looked strange to me as I was so used to only seeing my own and he didn't have a waist like I did. His ragged breathing made abdominal muscles surface and disappear rhythmically, apparently without him knowing.
I looked at his face then. He was staring at me fiercely with a look I couldn't quite place. It reminded me of hesitation, hope, and desperation. We were closer together than I had intended. Our legs had become folded into each other. Slowly, he rose up, gently rolling himself over me. He placed his arm beside me, trapping me, and used his hip to guide me onto my back. I saw his blue eyes flick to my lips and return to mine heavy with something that made my heart skip a beat.
I couldn't tell if I was still breathing. This was behaviour I had never seen in him before, but I didn't feel threatened in any way, so I didn't stop him. And there was always that persuasive possibility of new understanding. He seemed to be offering me peace, though I knew he had no more idea what was happening than I did.
My hands went instinctively to his waist. He was a solid weight covering me, I couldn't have moved if I wanted to, he had me pinned. His body language seemed possessive and out of control, but his eyes were scared, and looking to his sister for help. But all I could do was wait. The moment hung suspended, we could either go forward or back, but we didn't know what the right decision was.
Then, he moved. His hand slipped under the fold of my robe, my skin jerked at his touch. It moved quickly up over my breast and I gasped. He squeezed gently, feeling the pliant soft flesh, and I let him. Something was digging into me but I couldn't tell what. He parted my knees with his leg, less afraid now.
He lowered his head to the crook of my neck, severing the eye contact we had been holding, and ran his hand down the length of my body, cutting open the ties of my robe and exposing me under him. The touch of his bare skin felt so strange that I wriggled, and he pushed his hips into me. I could smell him, he smelt like the colour of his skin.
He touched my hip, his fingers testing the plumpness behind, while his thumb stroked over the hollow at the front. Sokka was doing what I had just done to him; he was exploring my body, the female form that was a tantalizing mystery to him. I let my hands wander, mapping his chest and back, feeling the smoothness of his shoulder and the curve of his neck.
A determined heat was growing in the pit of my belly, whenever Sokka's hand moved closer to the apex of my thighs it flared, and I felt something close to the old frustration whenever he moved away. It was annoying, I didn't know what we were doing, or why his touch had this effect on me, but I needed more from him.
I grew curious about the thing I felt against my abdomen. I reached down until I found it, slipping my hand under the waistband of Sokka's breeches, pushing them out of the way. I couldn't see what I was doing, Sokka still lay on top of me, and we were both under the covers, but I heard my brother's sharp gasp as I tentatively wrapped my fingers around that odd part of him. He stopped moving entirely, but I didn't remove my hand as he hadn't objected.
His heart beat the seconds out in double time as I stretched my little finger along the underside to the point where it met his body. I stroked back and forth, testing the space I had to move there, and Sokka's hands tightened where they held me. I brought the rest of my hand down, until it was flush against his body, and tightened my grip slightly.
I turned my face to look at his. He was watching me carefully, I could see in his face that what I was doing was having a profound effect on him, something that was new and alarming to him. I pulled my hand down the length of it and he exhaled heavily with a moan, his eyes fluttering shut.
I was intrigued. I loved the power I appeared to have over him, and the fascinating reactions I was getting out of him. I experimented, trapping the end between my thumb and the knuckle of my index finger, then rubbing softly. He whimpered, and something seemed to take over in him. He took my hand away by gripping my wrist tightly and pinning it next to my head.
He pressed himself as close to me as he could, and my eyes widened as the part of him I had just been playing with touched the corresponding part of me. A jolt of something shot through me; I didn't know what, but I wanted him to do it again. My legs were parted further, and I tried to angle myself to rub the same spot against him again. I was rewarded with another spark of pleasure.
Then suddenly something unexpected happened. He seemed to catch and slip inside me somehow. Sokka pushed in a little further, experimenting, and then I pushed back against him. Together we found that he fit all the way inside me. It hurt a little, I had to stretch to accommodate him, but it felt natural, like this was the point.
This odd linking of man and woman must have been what husband and wife did. It was the big secret that Sokka and I had been excluded from, we had no parents to tell us, and I did not need to know as I would never have a husband. But we had figured it out on our own, we did not need their help, each other was all it took. We knew the secret now too, they had no right to pity us anymore. We were their equals now.
This was what our bodies had been looking for, what the dreams had been yearning for. Sokka's hands were at the back of my thighs where they were wrapped around him. His head was next to mine, I couldn't see his face. He withdrew from me slightly before thrusting back in. He did it again, moving further and faster, falling into a loose rhythm. His breathing beside my ear grew increasingly ragged, and muscles I had never felt before began to spasm erratically. I sought to grind myself against him.
And then it seemed to come to a finish. With one last, deep push inside me, and one last moan, Sokka fell limp on top of me, his weight resting slightly on the side so as not to crush me. I watched the light dance on the animal hide of our wigwam above me. I realised he had felt something more than I had, but I didn't mind. I was glad to have given him that.
It was a moment before Sokka caught his breath, then he pushed himself up onto his arms, looking down at me. He looked embarrassed, and worried of my reaction, but he also looked slightly panicked, as if he was scared of what we had done. I looked back at him with as much reassurance as I could. I did not regret it.
He moved away from me and I felt him leave my body. I still ached where he had been inside me. He fumbled with his clothes, and I covered myself as well. We sat on the bundle of furs and bedding, my brother was facing away from me, but I felt good. Now I knew. The frustration was gone, I felt only happiness. The distance was gone between me and my brother, and I could tell it was going to stay gone. I was so relieved, I was... satisfied.
"Hmm?" He half-tilted his head over his shoulder to look at me.
"Thanks. I think I understand now, you really helped," I said.
"No problem, sis. That's what brothers are for," he replied, the brightest smile spreading across his face that I hadn't seen there in too long. He lay down, stretching out as far as he could, his arms above his head and his toes wiggling. "Now go to sleep."
I lay down too, but with a little distance between us this time.
The next morning Gran called me to her wigwam. I was prepared to defend what Sokka and I had done with my head held high, though I couldn't imagine how she had found out so quickly. But all she did was give me her necklace. It was a small carved pendant on a blue choker, it had been given to her as an engagement present, as was customary to our people. For some reason, she said she wanted me to have it, that she felt the time was right. I put it on with pride.
I can't say I never had the dreams again, but when I awoke from them now, I didn't feel as bad, because now I knew what I was missing, I wasn't confused and lost anymore. It wasn't such an insult to have these lustful dreams.
They were still the same as before, warm, strong arms holding me, belonging to a man I didn't know. Only now, the arms weren't quite as burly, they were younger, and felt so familiar. And when I turned around, I could always see a pair of smiling blue eyes looking back at me, and then I knew what to do.
Author's note: This story is very loosely based on a dream I had, aren't I lucky? It's a oneshot, so don't expect any more to this. I only write this stuff to keep my creative muscle flexed while I work on something longer, and to get the kinks out of my system. Any of you on my Author Alert list reading this, I can say that I AM going to write a sequel to Tokyo Nights after all, but it's going to take me a looooong time, and I'm writing a short prequel first, that focuses on Misao and Aoshi.
The rest of you, hope you enjoyed this, and please review, I guess.