A/N: Following Crossroads of Destiny, this is a series of shorts focusing on the emotions and thoughts of the Gaang as they suffer through the toughest crisis of their young lives, the very near death of Aang at the hands of Azula. First person perspectives. Enjoy
Crossroads of Desperation
Chapter 1: Katara
Nothing was right. His pillows, his blankets…nothing was situated right, and yet I wasn't sure if he was too cold or too warm. I can't get him to stop shivering. Should he be reclining against his pillows or laying flat against the bed? Should I try to get him to drink a little more water or maybe another healing session? Though the last one didn't do so good…didn't do anything really, but I don't know what else to do. I can't stop myself. Because if I stop, my hands start shaking, and if my hands start shaking, I start wondering why and then everything comes crashing back to my mind like a wave carrying all my regret and pain and I'm pulled under, drowning in my grief and…
Why can't I stop my hands from shaking?
I pull back from that line of thought and try to busy myself again, occupying my mind and my hands by rearranging the blankets around his body, making sure he's tucked in, even though I know he is. Still, I have to make sure, because if I don't concentrate on that, then I'll be fixated on how still he looks. He almost looks peaceful in his dreams, but he just won't open his eyes. As much as I want him to, he won't open them; those beautiful gray orbs that laughed with hope and joy, shimmered with dreams of peace and compassion…glimmered with just the smallest hope of love whenever he looked at me. He thought I didn't see it, but I did. I was just too afraid something would happen. Something like this would happen…and it did. And I'm swept with a new wave of regret that he may never know. I may never get the chance to tell him. Spirits don't let him die.
I have to turn away. I can't see him through the blurring of my eyes anymore, and I'm so consumed by that realization that I don't recognize that my hands have started shaking again. Why did this happen? He was so full of life, so full of the joy of living that he burst with happiness at even the smallest discovery. And now he's laying on this bed, so still, so cold, like all the joy has been sucked right out of him. It doesn't seem real. He doesn't seem real. All the goofy smiles and playful antics, all the happy laughter and thrill of discovery and exploration, and all that's left of him is this shell lying against the mattress.
All that I have are the questions. Why? Why did this happen? Why wasn't I better prepared to stop Azula? Why did I trust Zuko? Why won't he open his eyes? How did it all come to this? What will I do if he…? That question is never finished. Thank the spirits I don't have the strength to finish that thought, because my lungs have seized on me. I can't breath, I can't see and the only sound I can make is the choking sobs that keep tearing themselves past my lips despite my best effort to hold them in. And I suffer for my efforts. My head feels like it's splitting along the seam, this pressure at the corner of my jaw keeps building and my eyes are bleeding tears that won't stop. And my hands won't stop shaking. Why won't my hands stop shaking?
A heavy hand drops on my shoulder as I whipped around, hoping, desperately praying that Aang has woken up, offering his comfort like always. But it wasn't.
Sokka must have heard my breakdown and came to see. And it was that sudden, meaningless hope that perhaps, just maybe, Aang had woken up, but that dream was just another foolish display of my misplaced optimism. Just one more shattering disappointment I couldn't handle. And strength in my legs gave out as I slumped against the wall, sliding to the floor while my pain renewed its efforts to smother me in my grief.
For a moment, Sokka was torn, turning between Aang and me. Even if I couldn't see him, I knew what was going through his mind. That maybe my uncontrolled sobs, my unrelenting suffering meant the worst had happened, that Aang didn't…no, I can't even voice that thought. But still, it was a very real possibility, even if I couldn't face it. And my tears continued to fall, and the shaking in my hands had taken over my entire body. Not since my mom have I felt this helpless, this…hopeless. There was nothing I could do. I'm just not strong enough to deal with this, and that helplessness only escalated my uncertainty. I'm lost without him…and I never told him. And that regret was thrown back into my face every time I looked at his prone form tucked beneath the blankets. Why did this happen?
My thoughts were silenced as Sokka's arms wrapped around my neck in a hug that was as awkward as it was comforting. I couldn't do anything but feel even more guilt. Here was my brother, not known as the most comforting person, trying his best to take some of my grief onto himself, to help unburden my heart while his best friend lay in bed, unmoving and so very close to death. I felt weak, and helpless and useless in that moment, but at the same time, I only wanted someone to protect and care for me. Because I was tired. Tired of caring so much that it hurt, and tired of dieing a little inside every time I thought of Aang.
"Come on," Sokka said, his words coming out in a husky stint beyond the emotions that seemed to strangle his voice. "I'm taking you to your room. You need some rest."
"N-no…" my words echoed only half-heartedly in my denial of his concern. I was being led from the room, and despite the weak delivery of my refusal, I couldn't, wouldn't leave Aang. "He needs me Sokka."
"And you need your rest. I promise Katara, he's not going anywhere."
My mind seemed to clear at that moment, and I pulled away from my brother, pushing off as I did to place a distance between us that stunned us both. "I won't leave him Sokka. I can't! What if something happens and he needs a healing treatment, or needs something to make him more comfortable. What if…what if he doesn't pull through," I said, my words choking on the grief that constricted my lungs and squeezed my heart with the painful misery that had consumed me ever since we arrived from Ba Sing Se. It took all my strength and the vast majority of my reserves to even voice that possibility, and doing so left me drained and empty as I dropped to my knees, fresh tears pouring from my eyes in stinging regret. "What if he dies, and I never tell him…"
Sokka was on his knees in a second, joining me on the floor and placing his hands on either shoulder. "Katara, he's not going to die."
"You don't know that!"
"Neither do you!" he shouted back. His eyes swimming with hurt and compassion, a look I've only seen once before. It was the same look my dad gave me after my mom died, and it brought a new level of despair to me. "But Katara, you need your rest. You can't…do this to yourself. You're going to kill yourself with exhaustion, you've been up four days straight and…"
"I can't leave him," I said quietly, each word spoken hesitantly as if trying to make Sokka understand. "He needs me Sokka. I-I need him too." The confession was spoken without fanfare, without dawning recognition; it was spoken simply, as though it was something that only needed to be confirmed through words. I needed him. I needed Aang, and speaking those words brought a clarity to my mind and lifted some unspoken burden that I never knew weighed on me.
I turned my face to look at Sokka, my eyes seeking out his to see what he made of my words. Surprisingly, he did not seem nonplused by my words in the least, but looked as though whatever argument he intended to make was defeated before they could be voiced. Knowing no argument would change my validating intent; he bowed his head as though uncertain what to do.
"Katara, you need your sleep," he said, his voice soft and direct; yet he failed to realize I would not relent. This was where I needed to be. He seemed to sense that as well as he shook his head in mild frustration, "Fine," he said simply, rising to his feet and pulling me along with him. Still holding my shoulders, he directed me backwards until the backs of my knees collided with the edge of the mattress, and I sat, almost forcefully, on the bed. "If your going to be stubborn about this, and you're not going to listen to me, then sleep on Aang's bed." The words seemed almost hesitant, as though Sokka couldn't quite believe he had voiced the suggestion himself.
I didn't care though; it made perfect sense to me. I did need sleep, for that, Sokka was right. And I would not leave Aang, I just couldn't. So this made the most sense. As I stood up to pull back the blankets however, Sokka quickly stopped my act by tapping me on the shoulder.
"I said on the bed, as in, on top the covers," he said, his arms crossed and a look of defiant resistance painting his features. "Aang's under the blankets, your on top them. That's the deal."
I really didn't care, I just needed sleep, and I needed to be near Aang. I had hardly acknowledged Sokka's lamenting; over-protecting demands as I moved as directed, on top the covers. But still, I snuggled close to Aang, one arm protectively over his chest as I lay my head against his shoulder.
I almost didn't pay attention to Sokka's reserved departure, or even notice that the shivering in Aang's body had ceased. All I cared was that I was with him, and I would keep him safe. Maybe, if he came back to me…I'd find the courage to tell him. But honestly, I just don't know. For now, this was enough.
A/N: Okay, as stated, this is a series of character introspections on their feelings regarding Aang's coma after being shot with lightning. It will work as Katara, Toph, Sokka, Zuko and finally Aang in that order, so five chapters total. As for the Kataang, I can't help it, they're a perfect couple, and Zutara just doesn't make any sense. Anyway, reviews are always appreciated. Danke