A/N: Because I love sibling fics and I've had a hard day, poor Sokka gets to have my frustrations taken out on him. This doesn't feel like a whole story on it's own, but I have no intention of doing anything more with it so…deal, I guess.
Disclaimer: The whole world belongs to Bryke. The world just doesn't know it yet.
Summary: When Sokka comes back injured after going hunting with Zuko, Katara realizes just how much she needs her family. Post-Boiling Rock one-shot.
In the still twilight, Zuko's panicked cry seemed to echo off the static air itself. "Katara! I need you! Now!"
Something in his voice, probably the genuine fear, made her jump to her feet instantly and head towards the hall, though she couldn't quite see in the light given off by the still rising moon, and abandoning her cooking lesson with Suki. "Zuko? What…"
The questioned died on her lips as the Firebender stumbled in to a patch of light. The red stains caught the silver moonbeams, glimmering off his clothes, his face, and coating the limp figure in his arms. The smell of raw meat flooded Katara's nostrils and she half gagged. It was blood. All of that was blood, and that boy had to be Sokka.
She met Zuko halfway to the campfire before she'd even realized she was moving, and her throat felt raw so she must have screamed too although she couldn't remember having done so. Suki was next to her, and she felt the intake of breath from the older girl more than heard her.
"Get him next to the fire, lay him down," Katara ordered, trying, unsuccessfully, to get a look at the extent of Sokka's injuries in the dim light. Zuko obeyed her, his breath raspy in the still air, and Sokka let out a small gasp of pain as he was laid down on the stone, but didn't stir otherwise.
She bent some water from the nearby fountain, calling to her the element she desperately needed and ignoring the sound of running footsteps coming from one of the nearby corridors. "What happened?"
Zuko didn't flinch away as she glanced up at him, although his eyes were abnormally large and his face pale under the blood that coated it. "We were out hunting…we ran into an Armadillo Lion cub, and before we could get away its mom showed up. She knocked me down a hole and was trying to get at me, but Sokka lured her away. I'm not sure what happened, I heard him scream, and when I got up he was down. I scared her away with a fire blast and we ran back here."
A skeletal story at best, but now wasn't the time for anything more. There were scratches on Sokka's head, by his ear, and the shirt he'd been wearing—the black tank top from the uniform he'd been wearing when he'd returned from the Fire Nation prison, as his other clothes were dirty—had been torn to shreds and there were deep scratches on his arms and chest. Something, a blood soaked strip of Zuko's shirt it looked like, was wrapped tight just under her brother's belly button. She was almost terrified of what she would see once she'd unwrapped it.
"What's going on?" Toph demanded from just outside the circle of light given off by the flames, her small voice sounding shaky with something that didn't sound natural there. "Why isn't Sokka moving? Why are his breathing and heartbeat all wrong?"
"There's been a lot of blood," Zuko whispered, his hands shaking as he clenched them into fists on the stone, and Katara felt her own heart stop somewhere in her chest.
A large steady hand on her shoulder pulled her back from the edge of panic, stopping her hands from shaking and dropping the water all over the stones. It was her father. He didn't need to say anything; she could feel it through his hands. Sokka was depending on her, and she could not let him down.
She had done that too often before.
A flash of his face, contorted in pain from so long ago. She had let him work himself sick, ignored that he might have been injured, and she'd been unable to help him, then. She had promised to always look after her brother, but it had been forgotten in her own pain. That would not happen again.
Katara took a shaky breath to calm herself as Aang went and sat down between Zuko and Suki, the latter of the two now seeming absorbed in brushing loose strands of dark hair out of Sokka's unresponsive face.
A part of her brief training under Yugoda—why hadn't she stayed for more lessons?—came back to her mind as the young Waterbender studied her brother's prone form. She needed to treat the worst injuries first, because healing scratches on a dead patient was useless.
"Zuko, can you undo the…" she gestured towards the bandage, and this time the Firebender did visibly flinch. His reluctance to do as she'd asked was visible in the movements of his hands, but still the knot was untied and the strip removed.
It was a deep wound, enough that she could see torn muscle underneath the ripped skin and new gush of red. Sokka gave out a short cry of pain as Zuko's trembling hands accidentally brushed the edge, and the other teenager turned his face away.
Hakoda's hand tightened on her shoulder, "Katara?"
She swallowed back the bile that rose in her throat, forcing herself to look at the wound. It didn't seem like this was really happening. Sokka always seemed so strong, so untouchable. Could he really be lying in front of her, unconscious, depending on her healing skills to even give him a fighting chance?
Even if she did her best, with all this blood he might still…
She couldn't allow herself to think about it. Not now. She had to block out the little frightened choking noises Suki was making, and Toph's movements to sit by Zuko and try and figure out for herself what no one would tell her. All that had to go, and leave just her and her patient.
Katara knew she had to think of him as just that, a nameless solider who had been wounded. If she thought of this bloody mess as her brother, her playmate, her protector, her best friend, she would break.
Almost on instinct, her hands moved as they needed to along the deep wound, the water in her hands trying to coax the wounded tissues together. Sokka gasped in pain, trying to turn away, and Hakoda let go of her shoulder so he could grab him and hold him still.
Out of the corner of her eye, Katara noticed Toph grab Zuko's wrist hard in both small hands—had there been time, she might have felt sorry for him—and wondered how terrifying it must be to hear but not see what was happening to her friend.
The chi paths beneath her fingers slowly connected, pulling the edges of the wound slowly together. It did not completely heal, it was still a raw and painful looking wound, but it wouldn't kill him from blood loss right now. She could continue with the healing later, in small sessions like Aang's, until he had recovered.
She continued working up his torso, giving her attention to the deepest scratches. One on his arm went down to the bone, and she could barely manage to seal it enough to cover it.
Only when she'd gotten control of most of the bleeding, done everything she really could, did Katara allow herself to look into her brother's face. He looked so pale in the moonlight, and peaceful. A little boy lost in dreams under the watchful gaze of a Spirit that loved him.
It was only then that Katara finally allowed herself to cry. They were silent tears, but they fell fast down both her cheeks and splashed on her brother's still hands as she fought not to sob. This was the best she could do, but it still might not be enough, and this was so stupid because it was just hunting! He wasn't supposed to get injured hunting, something he'd done since he'd been big enough to toddle. If he was going down it needed to be in battle, and not like this. Sokka would never have forgiven himself for dying like this.
She could just picture him complaining to Yue, to their mother, about how unfair it was that life hated him so much it had robbed him of a glorious death, and in spite of herself Katara laughed. It was a thick cold sound, like melting spring snow, and left a bad taste in her mouth.
The rest of the group had been silent once she'd started healing, and they all looked at her now in surprise. It was Aang who finally spoke up, reaching out one small tattooed hand to hold the one she had placed over her tears. "Katara? Sokka's going to be okay, isn't he?"
"Aang…" She started, and then faltered. What could she say, when she didn't know?
"Of course he will, Aang," Zuko smile was obviously forced, and didn't seem to be fooling anyone, but it stayed on his face anyway. "You've known Sokka longer than I have, and even I know he's way too stubborn to let something like this keep him down."
It was true, as Katara was only too keenly aware. He'd been so stupid not to tell anyone he'd been injured in the Fire Nation raid, and they were all stupid, grief stricken or not, to have not noticed until he'd collapsed with fever brought on by the infection. And she'd been unable to help as he'd lay there fighting it off, and her father had walked away from the tent—not strong enough to watch another person he loved be ripped from him.
He'd pulled through that with only the scar on his thigh to show for it. Maybe he could pull out of this one too.
"I'm going to try and finish up dinner," Suki whispered, though her eyes never left Sokka's face. Katara wasn't hungry, she doubted anyone was, but she could appreciate Suki's need to be busy with something instead of sitting here and waiting for a sign that might never come. "Aang, Toph, why don't you guys come help me?"
Aang stood, almost eager to be away from all of this, but Toph made no move to budge from her spot beside Zuko, and Suki didn't ask a second time as she and Aang traveled back to the fireside.
Katara moved to take Suki's vacant spot, and gently pulled Sokka's head so it was pillowed in her lap. There was no indication that Sokka noticed the change at all.
Silence fell once more, broken only by her brother's shaky breaths and sighs, and occasionally some of Katara's own soft sniffles. She couldn't stop the tears that were now landing on his face. She even found it fascinating, if odd, that her own tears landing gave Sokka the look of crying for himself.
Not that that was something he'd ever do. Complaining about circumstances was one thing, but actually feeling sorry for himself was just not something Sokka would do, whatever happened to him.
Not her strong brave brother.
"I should have been paying more attention." Zuko's voice made her jump, and she looked over at the Firebender with surprise. "If I'd been paying attention to what was going on around us, this never wouldn't have happened."
She wanted to blame him, give herself a reason to be angry and someone to hurt, but Katara found she couldn't do it. Because she knew the only reason Sokka had suggested going hunting in the first place had been to get away from her and the stupid fights they'd been having lately.
He hadn't meant anything by it, really, when Sokka had said that maybe she should lay off of everyone when she'd woken him up early that morning. He'd been tired, grumpy, and not intended to imply that she was being harsh, she knew this in retrospect, but at the time it had seemed uncalled for.
He'd called her sensitive when she'd asked about it—told her she was stressed from holding an unfair and undeserved grudge against Zuko—and things between them had quickly deteriorated from there.
It was all so, so stupid. A childish fight between siblings, like they always had. She shouldn't have said he wasn't pulling his own weight with the team, and she shouldn't have challenged him to prove that he could do something other than lay about and tease everyone.
She had known, deep in her heart, what he would do when something like that was brought up. She had known it would hurt him because Sokka was her brother and she knew him better than anyone.
Or at least she used to. Since Yue had become the moon spirit—she couldn't think of it as being dead, although Sokka had once said she was—Sokka had been closed off. More distant from her, and focused almost solely on getting at the Fire Nation and beating them. Where before he'd been the first to indulge in silly antic and side trips, he was now the loudest voice for focusing on the task at hand and their looming deadline.
How was it that he could sit in front of her and seem so strong, and yet so fragile all at once? And how had she not noticed before that he was hurting?
"It's not your fault, Zuko." Hakoda gave the boy a brief, if obviously unwelcome, pat on the shoulder. "These things happen, even to the best hunters in our Tribe. Life will do as it pleases, and you either flow with it or let it break you."
This was an old saying in their Tribe, Katara knew it by heart, but never had it occurred to her before to ask which one her brother was doing, flowing or breaking?
Almost absentmindedly, Katara began running her hands through Sokka's mostly loose hair, and when he stirred at her touch she gasped in surprise.
Two ice blue eyes, foggy with sleep and pain, glanced up at her face. "Katara…why are you crying?"
"Because you're an idiot," she whispered back affectionately, returning to running her fingers through his hair. "How are you feeling?"
"Like someone…that got mauled by…a stupid cat…should." There was a ghost of a smile on his face, and Katara noticed Hakoda giving Sokka's least injured hand a tight squeeze. "Did we at least…get some meat…"
"I'm afraid not. The stupid thing got away," Zuko's gold eyes peeked out from behind his hair. "Listen I…"
"You say you're sorry…and Toph will have to hurt you. Right, Toph?" Sokka turned his head to smile at the young Earthbender, who nudged his leg with her foot in return.
"Only because you told me to. If you ask me, he should apologize."
Katara doubted that Sokka really would have left it that, normally, but he seemed too out of it to be able to care. "I'll be fine…you don't all have to look like…you're at my funeral already."
"Of course you will, big brother," he was suffering from blood loss, that much was certain. But he'd woken up, and that was a good sign. Good enough for now that she could start breathing again. "Why don't you get some sleep now?"
"Can you sing me a lull-a-bye?" Sokka whispered drowsily, obviously finding her ministrations soothing.
Katara paused, letting her fingers fall limply against his scalp. "I don't know if I remember any," she whispered, her heartbreaking as she realized it was true. It had been so long since she'd heard the songs their mother used to sing them.
A soft voice, barely a whisper, carried over to them from where Zuko was sitting with Toph's head pillowed in his lap. "Leaves from the vine, falling so slow. Like fragile, tiny shells, drifting in the foam." Zuko's voice cracked ever so slightly, but Katara dared not interrupt him, entranced by his song. "Little soldier boy, come marching home. Brave soldier boy, comes marching home."
It seemed somehow fitting that Sokka had fallen asleep, really asleep and not just unconscious again, to that.