Music notes: First part was written to Prelude 12/21 by AFI, which got stuck in my head so badly after I first heard it that I went to sleep with it in there and woke up with it in there for three damn days. The rest of it was written to ATLA's soundtrack, which is just awesome, and Dissolved Girl by Massive Attack, which will change your life. No kidding. Go listen.
Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get, but rather what you are expected to give—which is everything.
- Author Unknown
He's the last hope this world has for peace. She's believed in him for so long, since she was just a little child sitting around the fire-circle in the howling cold of winter, hugging her knees to her chest while the voices of the elders rolled over the wind, spinning out the tale of the Avatar, telling of the last Airbender, keeping hope alive in the darkness of a winter that's lasted a hundred years, igniting a fire in the heart of a young Waterbender that will become her unquestioned reason for being. This belief that will shape her world.
The light goes out, and he falls. Her heart is a dead weight in her chest.
Has he ever fallen before? How can an Airbender fall? Everyone knows, they're born with wings.
She's not even thinking, now. There's nothing left inside of her to think with. Her heart is falling with him, and if he shatters on the earth then she will cease to exist. The power swells inside her, high tide riding on desperation.
He falls, but she's always been there to catch him.
A solid weight in her arms. Unthinking. Staring down at the bloody mess of him, the charred smell of his flesh strong and heavy in the lifeless air that she cannot breathe. His name caught in her heart, whispered. Fingers clench, trembling, his image blurs. She has to get him out of this tomb, out of this stale and stinking place and into the air. There is shouting and fighting, fire flashing red and blue in the green crystal light. There is blood pouring out of him.
He isn't breathing, and she cannot bring herself to check for a heartbeat because if there isn't one…
Under the stars, the others crowd around her. Heads shaking denial of the reality she has brought them. Sokka drops his head, shudders, and then moves to relieve her of her burden.
Fingers curl around him, a sharp step backward, eyes narrowed and teeth bared. She will never let him go. It might not be too late for a miracle. She has never stopped believing in him, and now isn't the time for that kind of weakness.
In the living air she holds him, trembling now with the emptiness inside of her. Frozen.
(If this doesn't work--)
No. She will not even think it, she cannot. The fear is flooding her, but she will not give in.
The first step to being a bender is letting go of your fear.
His body is slack and heavy against her, his blood is soaking into her dress, pouring out of him even though she's been fighting to stop the flow of it since he landed in her arms. The smell of blood is stronger than the burned smell now, too strong for even the night wind to blow away. Her hands are slimy with it, and it smears on her neck as she pulls out the vial, pours the prayer into her palm.
In the light of the full moon, praying to the world.
Please don't let him…
Silver water flowing through the veins that are still pumping out blood, a crimson flood that slows…stops…
Her arms tighten around his body as if by sheer force of will she can call him back there. The tears are leaking free, despite how tight she's holding on to everything, all the things inside her that are threatening to shatter. Teeth clenched, heart sealed shut to keep all the pain inside, to keep from breaking. Everything holding on so hard she's shaking with the force of keeping herself together.
In her arms, he suddenly gasps for breath. His heart stutters, falters, then catches its rhythm.
She pulls back to see those gray eyes looking into hers, smiling at her despite it all. Like nothing has changed, like nothing ever will.
I never doubted…
Later, he is lying in the chamber of her father's ship. She has worked so much power into him, healing him, holding him, binding the spirit to the damaged flesh, that she has so little left for herself she can't walk straight. She makes her way to the deck and vomits into the ocean. One hand clenched over her heart, nails biting into her palm, teeth bared and eyes tightly shut. The tears leak out anyway, an unchecked flow, and the breath hisses through her teeth because she's choking on a scream. Her heart flutters in her chest like a broken bird and her stomach is rolling like the sea.
She's on the edge of hysteria, and she knows it.
This is what it feels like. Coming face to face with your own destiny. This is how it hurts.
If I'd lost him…
Oh, but she hadn't even known until she saw him falling. She hadn't let herself know, hadn't wanted to know, and if he'd died and she'd wasted the only time they had she'd have held that bitter regret and self-hatred until she died.
I love him. I'm in love with him.
She raises one hand to press over her mouth. Like she can force the thoughts back into the darkness. Knowing it now for the truth, feeling the rightness of it spreading through her like ripples in a pond, changing everything it touched.
When had this happened? Trying to use the perfect clarity of hindsight, searching back through her memories, trying in vain to pinpoint the exact moment she'd fallen for him. And failing, because it hadn't happened in a moment. It'd been happening gradually since the day she'd broken him from the iceberg, since the first time those gray eyes had blinked up at her.
Back in the Cave of Two Lovers, she'd wanted to kiss him. She'd wanted to know what his lips would feel like on hers. Before that, Waterbending, using all kinds of excuses to touch him. Knowing what she did and denying it at the same time.
Because she was afraid and confused. This was Aang, right? He was her friend. He was becoming her best friend, and she really cared about him, but…sisterly, right?
She hadn't felt sisterly about him since…well. Honestly, she'd never felt that way about him. And since she'd kissed him in the cave, since that brief hesitant contact…things had only gotten worse. But she'd been so stupid, so blind, she'd denied it so well that she hadn't even known herself until—
The image flashed through her. Aang falling, smoke pouring from the hole in his back, the scent of death all around her in the lifeless air…
She leans over the railing with barely enough strength to hold on and is violently sick. Sokka catches her before she falls to the deck, when her knees finally give way. Strong arms closing around her, and she realizes that she's shaking. Her skin is numb, the world is blurry and bright, and she can't stop the tears. She knew it was coming, this slow shattering of self-control. Hysteria.
I lost him, I lost him, I let him die.
"No, Katara." Her brother's quiet voice, speaking logic through broken words she hadn't realized she'd said aloud. "Aang is alive. It's going to be okay. You didn't let him go. He's not lost."
"It's all my fault, Sokka. I let him die."
"Katara, calm down. He's not dead. Aang is alive. I just checked on him. You're tired, you've been doing too much bending. You need to sleep."
Katara knew he was right, but with all this raw knowledge in her she didn't think she could sleep. Closing her eyes, she turned away from him.
"You don't understand. I should have stopped her."
"Katara. Listen to me. Aang is the Avatar. There's no one in the world stronger than him when he's in that state. There's nothing you could have done differently. Nothing. You got him out of there and you brought him back to life. That's nothing to be ashamed of. That's so epic no one has ever done it before. You didn't lose him, Katara, you saved him."
Breathing deep, trying to regain control over herself, she lets his words sink into her heart. And then she throws her arms around his neck and holds on so tight he has to peel her off so he can breathe.
Katara scrubbs roughly at her face with her hands, wiping away the tears, and then hugs him more gently. "Sokka, you're the best brother in the world."
She doesn't have to see his face to know he is smiling. "Yeah. I know."
Aang dreams while Katara heals the ruin of his flesh. She won't let anyone else see him. Not until he's whole again. Sealing the gaping hole in his back, healing skin and growing new tissue and burning away the infection. Her days and nights are spent there, in his body, waging war with his flesh to make it a fit home for the spirit again.
It's the hardest thing Katara has ever done.
Her brother is the only one she permits in. He's there to make sure she doesn't burn herself up in healing the Avatar. He carries her when she's too weak to even stumble across the room to the cot she sleeps on, he makes her eat and he brings her water. He holds her while she cries. Everything she has goes into this healing, body, soul, and spirit, and sometimes there's not much left to hold Katara together anymore, so Sokka does that for her. Strong arms and a soothing voice that she's relied on her whole life.
And then Aang starts to recover. Having fought so long to pull him back from the edge, she doesn't trust it at first. But there's no denying the color in his skin, the solid scar on his back that for so long was an open wound, and even Sokka can see that Aang is going to be okay. She sleeps the whole night through for the first time in a week. Laying on her cot in the darkness, listening to the soft sound of his breathing, feeling the rhythm of it, the rightness of it. Matching her own breath to his, in and out like the tide. She closes her eyes, and finally there is a measure of peace.
After that, Katara allows the others to come in and see him. She retreats to her end of the room, standing guard at a distance with her arms crossed over her chest, glaring at each person that enters her domain.
He lies in the middle of the bed on his stomach, because the wound in his back is still a work in progress. There are bandages all over his body because she hasn't had the energy to see to the minor wounds. His breathing is shallow but even, and she keeps her healer's senses tuned to his heartbeat.
Toph runs her little hands all over him, gently, her face growing more and more still. When she's done she sits quietly on the bedside for a moment, then leans down to kiss the top of his head where his hair is all fuzzy. Katara's father moves to sit in her place and Toph heads straight for Katara, enveloping her in a crushing embrace that expresses her fear and gratitude more than any words. When she finally pulls away, there are wet spots on Katara's shirt from her tears.
Hakoda runs his hand over the arrow on Aang's head, then catches her eye. She thinks he is going to speak but something about her expression stops him and he leaves as silently as he came.
Sokka has seen Aang at his worst, but he troops in among the others. None of them come as near as Toph or her father, which suits Katara just fine. She knows he's the Avatar. She knows he belongs to the world. But at this time, in this place, he belongs to her. She's the one who pulled him back from death itself, and she is not ready to relinquish her claim.
"You've really done wonders with him, Katara."
Sokka's managed to lure her out on deck, under the stars. A rare feat indeed. Katara's arms are crossed over the rail and she leans down until her chin is resting on her wrists. The silence stretches between them until Sokka sighs and nudges her with his elbow.
"The correct response is, Thank you, Sokka!"
He snorts and collapses against the railing beside her. "You know, you're awfully hard to cheer up these days. What's got you so down? I thought you'd be happy that he's doing so much better."
Startled, she blinks up at him. "What? I am! It's just…"
Sokka sighs again when it becomes clear she doesn't intend to continue, and she suddenly finds herself wishing he would go away and leave her alone to sort out the mess of her thoughts.
"I've got a lot on my mind, that's all."
Sokka changes position so that his back is pressed against the rail and his elbows are resting on it. She looks up at him and realizes where his gaze has been drawn: the pale crescent moon hanging in the sky. Something inside her softens.
"I know what you're going through, Katara. I know how…complicated everything seems right now. But believe it or not…it does get easier. You'll get through this. You have a lot of strength in you. How many other people are stubborn enough to bring back the dead?"
She snorts, and he smiles down at her briefly before continuing.
"I just want you to know that I'm here if you want to talk, okay? I know you have a lot on your mind. That's pretty obvious. If it will make you feel better, or help you sort things out to have someone to listen, well, what else are brothers for?"
Katara watches the moonlight dancing on the waves, and looks down at her hands. Palms scarred from knitting fish nets, calluses from years of rough work in cold weather. She smells strongly of the herbs from the salve she uses on Aang's back, and she's too tired to lie.
"Sokka, I love him." And she comes to terms with something else, and is too tired to keep from saying it as it occurs to her. "I think…I've always loved him."
Katara doesn't know what she expected. An outburst, maybe, a typically melodramatic Sokka reaction. He surprises her with his quiet smile, and his words surprise her even more.
"Wha...? You—you know?" His calm assurance has left her sputtering. "How can you know when I just figured it out!"
This time, there's definitely an element of smirk in his smile. "Brother's intuition?"
She wants to slap him. Sensing this, perhaps, he eases up.
"I guess I just know you, Katara. It wasn't exactly hard to figure out."
She slumps against the rail again. Not hard to figure out. Right. So why did it take Aang dying for her to figure it out for herself?
"I guess…it kind of happened gradually, and I didn't even really notice until—" Well, until she'd kissed him in the cave, but she isn't about to mention it to her brother. Hoping the darkness will hide her blush, she continues, "—until it was too late."
"I'm trying to tell you, it's not too late. Aang is alive, Katara. You saved him."
"I know, but…"
She blew out her breath. Yeah. Complicated wasn't the least of it. Because…
Because whether she wants to admit it or not, this changes so much. How can she watch him put himself in danger when she feels this way about him? How can she let him fight the Firelord when he might not come back and everything is different now because she loves him? And what is she supposed to tell him? Is she supposed to tell him?
What if he doesn't love me back?
If she is this confused, what would knowing all of this do to Aang? How are they supposed to focus on this war when…if…
Sokka leans over and grins in her face, prompting her to turn her back to him.
"I don't want to talk about this."
For a moment, silence. And then his long arms are wrapped around her and a kiss is pressed into her hair. "Okay. I get it. Just so long as you know I'm here for you."
Again, he's melted her frustration at him. She reaches up to curl one hand over his arm. "You know, Sokka, for an insufferably arrogant jerk, you're not so bad."
She can feel the laugh as it runs through him, and he kisses her hair again. "I love you too, Katara."
A/N: Intrigued? What was your favorite part? Writers love to know these things. And it makes them write faster.
I pretty much know exactly where I want to take this. The prologue here flowed pretty easily, and I'm hoping the rest of it will follow the same way.