A/N: This is the last installment, considering this scene was the last to really get me, I think the one to get me most of all.
Scene Basis: During the Fire Nation's invasion of the North Pole, Katara and Aang are left in the sanctuary of the Moon and Ocean Spirits. Zuko attacks while Aang is meditating and, when she tries to protect Aang, knocks Katara out, taking the Airbender with him. Later, after making sure the soldiers and villagers have their respective directives, Sokka and Yue make their way back to the sanctuary to observe the damage Zuko has exacted. The tenderness with which Sokka treats his sister in this scene is what inspired this final chapter.
Sokka and Yue return to the sanctuary as soon as they can, and almost immediately there is something in the atmosphere that makes the hair on the back of the warrior's neck stand on end.
Something is very wrong.
"Katara! Aang!" he calls desperately into the silence, praying his instincts are wrong and everything is just fine. "Answer me!" Nothing. Please, Spirits, no...
Yue knows this place better than he does, so it is no surprise when she grabs his arm and points out a fallen form beside a tree. He steps closer, and in the moonlight he is able to make out the lithe body of a girl clad in blue…
The color drains from his face, his breath leaves him in a rush, and he charges forward with a panicked scream of his sister's name: "Katara!"
He collapses to his knees beside her unconscious body, looking her over for any sign of mortal injury. He watches her chest for movement and slides a hand under her nose to make sure she is breathing (and she is, however shallowly), and though a few bruises mar her face and more undoubtedly swell beneath her clothes, he finds contentment in the simple knowledge that she is alive.
Reaching forward cautiously, trembling fingers feather-lightly brush her discolored, swollen cheek before moving to trace the outline of her face.
"Katara," he whispers, ignoring the way his voice cracks on the first syllable and shakes through the rest. He cups her unhurt cheek gently, silently willing her eyes to open as his own fill with tears. He can't stand to see his sister look so weak. She shouldn't even be mixed up in all of this; she's only a kid... "Katara, please wake up. Please."
There is no response to his pleas, and he has to swallow the tears that blur his vision and threaten to fall. He can't lose her. Not now, not like this. Not yet. Please not yet. (Because this is far too close to how they lost Mom, and the similarities between Kya and Katara are stacked enough without death to add…)
And all at once, almost as if she's heard him and can't bear to cause him any further pain, Katara's eyes fly open. Because her first reaction is to take in a great rush of air, she crumples in on herself with violent coughs, no doubt a delayed reaction from such an impact with the tree. She is weak when the episode finally ends, leaving her gasping for air and unable to hold herself up, but this is no cause for worry because Sokka catches her immediately.
She looks up at him, taking slow, deep breaths in an effort to get herself back on track, and in her eyes there are so many conflicting emotions that he takes her into his arms without a second thought. Closing her eyes, she relaxes against him, hugging him with what little strength she has left, and breathes.
Slowly but surely she does, and everything falls into place again as he curls her against his chest soothingly, protectively, being absolutely sure to drink her in because he realizes with terrifying clarity how close he's come to losing her…
More than anything, Sokka wishes to keep her wrapped up in the safety of his arms forever, but when she pulls back after only a few seconds he understands the look he is getting.
Though when he looks again, he doesn't remember any streaming tears.
"Katara, what is it?" His voice is soft, worried, and he sweeps a stray tendril of dark hair behind her ear in a calming gesture. The loving motion brings her temporary release in the form of grateful ecstasy, never mind that her voice still quakes when she speaks.
"Zuko took Aang! I tried to fight him off, but I—" her voice breaks, "—I wasn't strong enough, and he took Aang away…!"
The dam breaks completely now, and Sokka hugs her once more, all the tighter this time. He bends down to kiss her forehead, and because he knows she needs it, needs him, he makes it last a moment or two longer than usual. She burrows deeper into his warmth as he rests his cheek atop her head.
Through all of this consoling, however, he swears in his heart of hearts that he'll avenge his sister's heartache. Aang is her best friend, the sole one to make her smile like she hasn't since Mom died, and Sokka can't thank the kid enough for that. And whether he'll ever admit it aloud or not, Aang has become something of a little brother to Sokka, someone he would willingly give his life to protect.
But surpassing all else is the drive to make Zuko pay for this, for hurting his sister and for kidnapping Aang, even if it's the last thing he does. And though he quiets his rage for now, knowing his focus should lay with more productive things, Spirits help the man who gets in his way when all is said and done and he is out for the Prince's blood.
Because he's said it before and he'll say it a million times yet: no one gets to his sister without going through him first.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading! I'm so grateful to everyone who read and reviewed/favorited/alerted this! Rock on!