A/N: I think this is a conversation that Sokka and Katara really need to have after 'The Southern Raiders', don't you?
I'm still a fan of my own personal canon, so I'm adapting it to what we now know. Why? Because I'm good like that. This does, however, mean that it doesn't fit with my other stories, but if you have read them you'll pretty much know where I'm going with some of this.
Disclaimer: I own no one. Title from the song of the same title by 'The Fray'.
Summary: After she returns from her mission with Zuko, Katara realizes that some things can't be taken back. Sokka and Katara sibling story, post-Southern Raiders.
How to Save a Life
Sokka was waiting for her at the end of the dock. Katara saw him the moment she let Zuko go. He was just standing by Appa, hands at his sides, looking at them all with this distant look on his face. It was almost like he was watching someone else's family reunite. Concerned, Katara had jogged down the dock and come to a stop in front of him.
She had tried to smile, although she still didn't quite feel like doing so. "Hey."
Sokka looked for a moment like he wanted to say something to her, and it wasn't going to be very pleasant as his expression changed to one of hurt and anger. Then it faded back in to a look that was blank and unreadable as he whispered "I'm glad you're back safe" before turning and walking away as fast as he could without running from her.
The haunted look in her brother's eyes confused Katara for only a heartbeat. Then she remembered. "Then you didn't love her the way I did". The thought that she'd said something so awful, so hurtful, to Sokka…it made the young water bender feel sick to her stomach and left a dreadful taste in her mouth. Of course Sokka had loved her just as much as Katara had! She shouldn't question…
But she did. The horrible truth of it was she did. Sokka had already confessed, even if he didn't realize that she knew, that he could not remember what their mother had looked like. And how could he not, when Katara saw her mother every time she looked at her older brother's face. He looked just like her, the same eye color and shape, the same nose, the same reassuring smile. How could he not remember her every time he saw his reflection?
And now he hadn't wanted revenge. He hadn't wanted to hurt the people that had destroyed their family. He had always been the one so keen to take out Fire benders! Why had he backed down when there was a chance to kill the person who deserved it most?
Maybe he had known, somehow, that he couldn't do it even when he'd never hesitated before. That he was either too strong to allow himself to be like that man, or else to weak to give him what he deserved. Like her.
Katara hated that she was even thinking these things. It wasn't fair to Sokka; it felt unkind and disloyal to her family. Until she had some answers, however, the questions would not stop, and only Sokka could give her that. Maybe he could provide for her the sense of closure she hadn't quite reached yet.
She followed the path her brother had taken through camp, ignoring the curious look she received from
Suki and the evil glare Toph shot her way, until she finally came to the place where Sokka had stopped. He had pulled out his sword, and as she watched he flew through kata after kata to strike a nearby tree. The bark was already chipped away down to the wood in an uneven mess at around her brother's sword level, and the pieces were piled around the roots like solid snowflakes.
Sokka looked to only be practicing, but Katara knew that wasn't the truth. Her brother had a habit of releasing intense emotions through practicing with his weapons. He had spent hours after their grandfather—a man Sokka had been very close to—had died, tracking imaginary fire benders through the snow, and after the siege at the North Pole, Katara had awoken many times late at night in the weeks that followed to find Sokka running through every move he knew for every one of his weapons. It had been a terrifying sight to see her older brother, face coated in sweat and tears, forcing himself to perform just one more throw, one more attack on an enemy only he could see.
When he got like this it was because there was too much pain for him to handle alone, but instead of asking for help he would try and solve it this way. It never worked for long, those feelings she knew he was trying to hide from everyone always resurfaced sooner or later only to be buried somewhere far away instead.
Like the ocean that surrounded their home, Sokka refused to give up his demons.
Her brother turned sharply, black sword striking off another uneven chunk from the tree, before he said, in a voice that sounded all wrong in its lack of emotion, "this talk is going to have to wait, Katara."
"It can't," she whispered back, surprising herself with the desperation she heard in it. They had to talk about this. She had to know.
He stopped, dropping his hands to his sides and turning to face her, as she had known he would. His eyes, frighteningly void of any emotion, rose to meet her's. "What's so important that I have to stop my practice? Still angry at me for not accompanying you on a suicidal journey?"
"It wasn't…" Katara turned away, her face burning. She hadn't thought of it before, but if Yan Ra had been in fighting condition like he'd been that day so long ago, there was a chance he would have killed her. "If you really believed that, you wouldn't have let me go."
"There was no letting involved. I tried to stop you once, remember?" Something came alive in Sokka's eyes right then, a deep hurt and guilt that seemed to swallow Katara up as she stared at them.
"Sokka…about that…I was out of line. I shouldn't have said that to you. It was hurtful, deliberately so, and I was wrong." She smiled at him hopefully, but Sokka just threw back his head and laughed. It was an unnatural sound, sounding horribly out of place, with a sharp edge of anger and loathing in it that made Katara physically recoil.
As abruptly as it started, the laughter stopped, and Sokka's frigid eyes rose again to fix on her's as he clutched his sword in a white knuckled grip. "But you're not sorry, are you? Neither of you were EVER sorry!"
Katara felt her breath close off in her throat. She knew, somehow, exactly what he was talking about. To her it was just one more horror of that awful day, half forgotten as it blurred with everything else, but as she looked at the tears lurking just behind Sokka's eyes she knew what moment he was talking about.
She could still hear her brother's childish voice, breathless and half-laughing, as he ran into the igloo where she and Hakoda were standing, frozen and horror struck by what was before them.
"Dad! Dad! We drove them off, and I helped, and they didn't…" the door to their home had been thrown aside, and Sokka's obviously deliriously relieved face seemed for the moment to light up the room, "hurt…any…"
Sokka had trailed off as he neared Hakoda's side, his childish blue eyes suddenly widening in fright. "What…mom? Mom, are you okay?"
He had moved toward her, something neither Hakoda nor Katara had had the courage to do yet, but stopped as Katara had started sobbing and sunk to the floor. Sokka had stared at her, obviously confused as he still did not seem to realize just what had happened, until Hakoda had seized him roughly by the hood of his coat.
It didn't make sense, what their father had done, but at the time it hadn't mattered. He was hurting, and he had wanted it to stop. Katara understood now, in a way she hadn't then, just how badly he was hurting, and how easy it was to direct that pain at an undeserving person.
Katara hadn't stopped crying as Hakoda had turned her brother around and started shaking him so hard his teeth knocked together. "Why did you let Katara come back here alone?" Hakoda was yelling, something he hadn't done before then or since. "Why weren't you here protecting her? You should have protected her! If you'd just done as your supposed to she wouldn't be dead right now! YOU killed your mother!"
Sokka had tried to sob right then, a choked noise that sounded like "I didn't, I didn't", but it was cut off as his mouth was slammed shut by a few particularly hard shakes.
It was probably lucky for her brother that Bato had chosen that moment to come see where his best friend had gone, and didn't ask questions before jumping in and pulling the larger man away from his son.
"Hakoda, stop this! Have you lost your mind?" A particularly sharp movement from Bato had loosened her father's grip on Sokka's coat, and the little boy had fallen backward in to the snow. Sokka didn't hesitate as he jumped to his feet and fled from his father in his fear.
"Why didn't you protect her?" Hakoda had yelled to his son's retreating back, struggling against Bato's hold that was now keeping him in place. "Why didn't you love her enough to save her?"
Sokka had disappeared for the rest of the day, Katara still did not know where, and when he returned the next morning none of them had spoken of what happened. Sokka had not asked why he had been blamed, and Hakoda offered him no apology.
Katara knew her father regretted what he'd done almost the moment Sokka had vanished from sight, and that his inability to look at her brother for days afterwards had been shame—his constant reassurances now that he was proud of Sokka and loved him still an attempt to repair that damage.
Obviously, none of that had worked as Sokka stood shaking in front of her, a hot tear escaping that he quickly tried to wipe away with the back of his hand as he turned away. He was still hurting from the accusation that he was some how responsible for that terrible loss, and she had all but accused him again.
Saying that Sokka had not loved Kaya as much as she did wasn't a far cry from saying he hadn't loved her enough to save her.
The young water bender suddenly understood why it was Hakoda had never apologized. What could she possibly say that would even begin to make up for the pain she had caused? Where there even words for the pain she felt clenching around her heart as she watched her brother's trembling form while he fought back tears.
"I didn't mean to…" She should never have doubted, not for a second. She could see the pain in every tensed muscle of his body, had seen it every time she had brought their mother up for years now. Just because he didn't want to talk about it didn't mean he didn't miss her. "I know you loved her as much as I did, and I'm so sorry I ever…I can't even tell you how sorry I am that I said that, or how wrong I was. I know Dad feels the same way."
The wind blew through the clearing, blowing Sokka's hair back behind him. It was only because of this breeze that he caught his whisper, "I'm not sure you were wrong."
"What?" Katara couldn't believe she'd heard that. She had to have misheard him; there was no other possible explanation.
"I've forgotten her, Katara. Her voice…what she looked like. Try as hard as I might I can't find her anymore, like you can." Sokka turned towards her again, no longer trying to fight back the tears now streaming down his flushed face. "I don't remember her at all, and how could you forget your own mother if you loved her at all?"
It was suddenly very important that she say the right thing. Katara could sense it in the air between them, rippled by Sokka's hitched breathing, that if she said the wrong thing her brother might just break beyond repair. Retreated to that place he had inside where no one could touch him. It always frightened her when, emotionally, he abandoned them all, and she knew it had bothered Aang when he'd disappeared there for a few days after Yue had left. They needed Sokka here with them if they were ever going to be ready to face the Fire Lord.
"I don't think," she said, as quietly as she could without whispering, "that not being able to remember means you didn't love her. Do you miss her?"
Sokka turned his face half away, and for one horrible moment Katara was sure that had been the worst thing to ask, but then his eyes slid closed over the tears and his body relaxed. "Not all the time. Not like you. But when it's late at night, and I can't sleep, and I know that you and Aang are depending on me to figure out something when I'm not sure I can…I want nothing more than to have her tell me that I'm smart enough to figure it out, and even if I can't right now that it'll be alright. That something will work out, like it always does."
Katara knew that feeling. How many times during their travels had she ached for her mother's guidance, her wisdom on what do with Aang now, or her calm reassurance that she could master that Waterbending move if she just kept trying. The times when life was hardest was when she missed her mother the very most, and so did Sokka, in his own way. "I can't image it's possible to miss something you didn't value…didn't love."
Sokka looked up at her, and in the dying light she could see the little boy that had stumbled in to their tent at dawn the day after their mother's death—frozen, frightened, and above all aching for comfort that he wouldn't be able to have for another few days, until their father could bear to face him. "It hurts so much when you talk about her. You can remember everything about her, and all I have are shadows, and the fact that it's not there hurts so much I can't stand it. I get angry at you for remembering, at her for leaving…at myself for not being good enough."
What he meant by this—not good enough at remembering or not good enough to save her—but ultimately it did not matter. He was hurting, had always been hurting, just like Katara was, and while Sokka had always done his best to comfort her she had continued to push him away. Not any more. She would not let him take a back seat to everything else this time. Aang's concern for her, more apologizes to Zuko, explaining to Toph why Sokka was so upset so they would be friends again…all of that could wait.
She moved forward and pulled her brother in to a tight hug, burying her face in his chest and letting her tears fall there. "I'm so sorry."
Slowly, almost hesitantly, Sokka's arms circled over her shoulders and pulled her closer as he rested his chin on top of her head. "I know. Me too. For everything."