Disclaimer: Avatar is not mine. Nuh-uh.
A/N: Umm...no, I don't know where this came from. Random angst that evolved (randomly) from my (random) observation of, "Gee, it's ridiculously cold outside." It's probably a nice, balmy -20 here...for you non-Americans, I think that runs around -30 or so C. So yeah. It's cold. Enjoy the angst that made sense somewhere in my convoluted imagination? At least I don't think this has ever really been done before, but who knows. Review? Maybe?
Requiem for the Ice
It hurt to breathe.
She had forgotten that.
The blindingly white snow reflected the weak rays of the small, far-off sun and crunched beneath her heavy boots. Katara squinted reflexively, one hand raised to the front of her fur-lined hood, half to keep the cowl in place, half to shade her eyes. In every direction she looked, there was cold, clean ice stretching to the horizons, and above there was the startlingly clear, almost painfully cobalt sky.
No clouds except high, wispy things. No trees. No plants of any kind.
She bit her lower lip, which was already raw and chapped from the frigid winds that cut across the unprotected ice sheets, and thudded to her knees. The snow barely soaked into her thick pants; it was too cold to melt, even with the added pressure of all her weight. She leaned forward numbly, stiffly, and fumbled in her attempt to mold a snowball the old-fashioned way—sans waterbending. Her gloves were awkwardly padded, severely restricting her movements, and she could not pack a perfect sphere, even though she retained dim memories of doing so a thousand times before.
Before she'd ever left. Before she had known what green was.
Her cheeks burned from the wind and from her frustration, and she threw the sloppy snowball away, only angering further when it scattered into fragments in midair. She couldn't even do that properly anymore—what had happened in these past years?
She had seen the world; she had made friends everywhere; she had witnessed the end of a century-long war. And through all that, she had donned browns and golds and reds and oranges and greens and grays…but it had been so long, not until now, that she had swathed herself in blue and white again. Had she so utterly forgotten her roots?
"There you are."
Katara didn't turn; she didn't have to. She had been hearing—and ignoring—Sokka's voice since before she could talk herself.
Her brother did not walk past her, lingering a few paces behind. "Everyone was getting worried. Zuko and Aang were about to tear apart the whole South Pole in an overly dramatic search-and-rescue. I volunteered to look so that there'd still be some ice left."
Katara continued staring dully at the distant merging of snow and sky, her eyes farther away than mere miles could measure.
"Does it hurt?" she asked at length, as if she had not even heard Sokka speak.
He frowned, hunching his shoulders a bit as a particularly biting gust swept the ice clean. "Does…what hurt?"
"Breathing," she said, and as she inhaled, the air stung at the back of her throat, pierced her lungs. "Because it's so cold. Does it hurt?"
He sucked in an experimental breath and winced as he suffered the consequences. "Yes. So?"
"I'd forgotten that," she murmured, one of her hands unconsciously tracing patterns in the snow at her side. "Or maybe it never used to hurt before."
The young man stepped closer, tentatively placing his gloved fingers on her shoulder; when she did not shake him off, he allowed more weight to settle into the gesture. "You're upset, I understand. We did just bury Gran-Gran, after all—"
"No," she said sharply, now ducking out of his grasp and rising and leaving bluish imprints in the snow as she stalked away. "We didn't bury her—you're even talking like an outsider now! We returned her to the sea. You're supposed to say that we returned her to the sea!"
He waved his hands placatingly, even though she was yelling at the ice plains, her back stubbornly to him, and could not see the gesture. "Whoa, whoa…steady there, Katara! It was…I misspoke, alright? Calm down."
She shook her head, sharp pivots on her neck, and the air burned her nostrils. "What have we come to, Sokka? We haven't been home in years, and now we come for Gran-Gran's funeral? We couldn't come up with another reason to return sooner? What's wrong with us?"
He cautiously edged closer to her, frowning anew. "I don't see what you're getting at, Sis. We all have lives elsewhere. I guess that's what traveling does…is it so wrong to change?"
Her arms folded on her chest, but there wasn't any defiance now in the gesture. "I'm so…cold," she said quietly, gloved hands rubbing up and down her arms fervently. "I can't get warm…I never used to be so cold, I know I didn't! It's all this time away—damn it, I'm a master waterbender and I'm cold!"
"It's freezing out!" Sokka rallied, getting in her face now. "We're in the middle of the South Pole—did you expect it to be like Ember Island? Of course you're cold!"
She simply stared at him for a moment, not expecting him to be equally adamant, but finally let her gaze slide from his. It was a slow, undefined movement.
"We're direct descendents," she said slowly, again as if she had not bothered listening, "and already our blood has thinned. What will you and Suki's children know of the ice, growing up on Kyoshi? Or what will mine?" She pressed her hands against the thick front of her parka, above her flat and empty stomach. The gesture seemed to spark another yet-unplumbed well of emotion, as she shook her head fiercely, near-frozen tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.
"I'm the matriarch of the family now, do you realize that?" she asked, even though it wasn't much of a question. "I'm twenty years old, and I'm the eldest surviving female. What the hell is wrong with this?" she nearly spat, her bulky gloved fingers digging as much as they could into her coat front.
Sokka ceased wasting painful breath on words and simply engulfed her slender, heavily covered frame in a tight embrace. She merely stood there and took it, not moving to return the hug, not even bowing her head into the shelter of his chest; she kept her eyes locked on an invisible point between their position and the horizon.
"I think we've gained more than we've lost," he said at length, not pulling back, even to gauge her expression. He had a strange fear that if he loosened his grip even the slightest bit, she would be gone. "Don't you?"
"But it was still such a price to pay," she whispered regretfully.
"Certainly Aang and Zuko and this new, free world were worth it, though, right?" he pressed gently, his arms tensing around her, just to see if she'd react.
She did not. "I guess it's true what they say," she remarked softly instead. "You never can go home again."
"Face it, Sokka," she said, finally pushing her way out of his hold. "We're Water Tribesmen who can't stand the cold. Where do you think we belong anymore?"
He had no reply to that, drained to his dregs, and he did not pursue her when she trudged off across the ice. He just stood there, eventually raising a hand to his mouth in an attempt to warm the air.
She had been right, after all.
It hurt so much to breathe.