Title: the Final Summoning
Fandom: Avatar: the Last Airbender/Final Fantasy X
Rating: T, for violence and dark themes
Characters/Pairings: the Gaang without Zuko, but with a focus on Sokka and Katara. Cameos from other characters. Canon pairings, but mostly unrequited.
Summary: Katara is a summoner. Sokka is her first, and last, Guardian. Fusion with Final Fantasy X.
Notes: So. Someone a while back posted a story titled "Pilgrimage" and I jumped at it like you don't even know because I thought this was what they were going for. They weren't, but I thought this fandom needs that fusion. So I wrote it. Recommended listening: the Final Summoning by Jared Hudson at ocremix. I tried to write this so that those unfamiliar with the game could understand everything, but it's extremely difficult to do. At my LiveJournal, you can find some links to help the reader orient themselves better in the world.
the final summoning
(someday the dream will end)
In the future, a man from the past will show up on the shores of Besaid and change the world. This is not that story.
He spends every day from the ages of seven to seventeen praying that it will not come to this.
It comes to this.
"I'm going to become a summoner."
Oh, God, he thinks, Oh, God, no.
Sin is a monster, created from humanity's hubris, who shows up to destroy settlements and cities and lives, who breeds fiends and poisons minds, but who can be defeated. This is how it can be done: someone chooses to follow the path of a summoner, a person who uses strong white magic, summons and controls aeons - beings, crafted out of Yevon's power, who protect and aid the summoner when called - and is capable of sending the souls of the dead to the farplane, the afterlife. This person begins the Pilgrimage in Besaid, aided by Guardians - people who will protect the summoner on the Pilgrimage - of his or her choosing, stopping at every Temple of Yevon, and praying at each to be allowed to use another aeon. The Pilgrimage ends at Zanarkand, and the summoner sacrifices his or her life to perform the Final Summoning, and that aeon, with Yevon's blessing and the entirety of the summoner's power, destroys Sin and brings about the Calm.
It usually takes around ten years for Sin to return, and the cycle begins again.
The summoner who performs the Final Summoning is lauded as a High Summoner, and his or her statue is placed in the temple of their homeland. It's a small token, and Sokka's always felt that it was lacking, somehow.
His mother was the last High Summoner, and his father was her Guardian. He's raised his sister alone, and now this.
"No," he says, desperate and terrified, "No, you can't."
She whirls on him, eyes flashing, determined, and he can't help but think that she doesn't really understand. Katara has always had a problem with hoping too much, and she probably thinks that she can, with sheer force of will, survive the Final Summoning. It doesn't work like that. It's Sokka's place to convince her to give this up.
"This is my duty," she cries, color rising to her cheeks. "Sin is back, and it's going to kill so many people. Someone has to do it. And I can. I'm the best white mage in Macalania. If anyone can do it - " if anyone can survive it " - it's me."
He stares at her, all of his nightmares coming true before his eyes, and he closes them against the horror. "Then I'm going with you," he says softly. "I'm your Guardian."
When he opens his eyes, she looks stricken. "No - you - what about Suki?" she asks, sounding afraid, "she - she needs you here!"
"You need a Guardian," he replies firmly. "I won't let you do this alone."
"But Suki - "
"She'll understand. Might even come herself." He prays to Yevon - to the god who didn't listen to any of his other prayers - that she says no. His life is one thing, but he won't risk his fiancee's life for this. Guardians have a nasty habit of ending up dead; there's always at least one who doesn't come back from the Pilgrimage, who dies to protect his or her summoner. He'll be that one, if he must, for Katara.
"You can't - I won't let you - " Katara splutters, and he looks at her, eyes cold and hard.
"This is my decision," he says, in a final tone. "I'm the best warrior in Macalania, and I know you better than anyone else. If anyone can protect you, it's me."
"Sokka - " she cries, dangerously close to tears. "Sokka, you can't."
"Either I'm your Guardian or you're not a summoner."
Please, oh please keep saying no.
She closes her eyes. "All right."
He stops believing in Yevon.
Suki joins them on the boat to Besaid, where the Pilgrimage begins. None of them have ever left Macalania, never had cause to, and Suki spends the first week at sea throwing up over the starboard side, before she finally gets her sea legs and can keep food down. He and Katara take to the water without a bit of trouble; they've always had an affinity for water, for swimming and boating and diving. Sokka had dreams of being a famous blitzball player - a full-contact sport played underwater, with a ball and a bunch of people all trying to kill each other while crowds cheer them on - but he gave up that dream years ago. Katara needed him then, and she needs him now.
She spends the whole trip trying to convince him to go back.
"I can do this alone," she insists. "I'm the best white mage in Macalania," she keeps repeating, a stacatto mantra that doesn't mean anything, "I can do this alone. I won't risk my friends' lives."
"I'm not turning around without you," he says sharply. "End of discussion."
Two weeks into the trip, somewhere around Luca, Sin attacks the ship, and none of them are prepared for it. Suki tears out her fans, but at this range, they're useless, unless she goes crazy and decides to jump onto Sin's fin. He has a sword and a boomerang, and he does reasonable damage to it while Suki deals with the sinspawn that hit the boat.
Katara, without any aeons, is forced to do nothing more than heal. Occasionally, she lets out a scream of frustration and begins hitting sinspawn with her staff, but it doesn't do much damage, and just ends up with her getting hurt. He would laugh if it wasn't so serious.
"When this is over," she snarls, slapping a sinspawn with the edge of her staff, "I'm learning black magic."
"When this is over," Sokka shouts over the groaning of the boat and the dull roar of Sin, "we're going back to Macalania."
Suki touches his arm. "She won't go," she says quietly. "She believes in this."
He blinks the tears out of his eyes, because Suki is right, and he's known it all along. Katara wants to follow in their mother's footsteps, wants to save the whole world, wants to protect everyone she knows and thousands of people she doesn't. She believes in the summoner's path. She believes in herself, and in Yevon, and in the power of both to save the world. What she doesn't believe is that she's just another in a long string of sacrifices.
It takes most of an hour to, with the help of a few Crusaders on the boat with them, repel Sin, and when it's gone, he collapses to his knees and forces himself not to cry. Katara needs him to be strong, more than she knows; if he shows weakness, she'll try to make him go back home, and he will not go back home, not now, not even if it kills him to be her Guardian.
The only thing worse than going on the Pilgrimage is not going on the Pilgrimage.
Three days later, they reach Besaid, and are greeted by a cheerful boy who waves excitedly at them when they disembark. "Hey!" he cries, and shakes their hands, "where are you from?"
"Macalania," Katara replies. "I'm here to start the Pilgrimage."
"Really?" he asks, with large, wide eyes. The kid is maybe Katara's age, maybe younger, and he's looking at Katara the same way he looked at Suki when he first met her, and Sokka is filled with both protective, older-brother rage, and the desire to grab the boy and shake him, saying something like get out while you still can! But the kid can't. There's nowhere to go that Sin won't find him.
It strikes him suddenly, and with great force, that they're all so young, and their lives are so short. Katara won't make it to seventeen. He probably won't see his eighteenth birthday.
This can't be what Mother would have wanted. If only he could make Katara see.
"You're the first I've seen," the kid continues. "I was worried no one would come, and Sin would attack us. But you're gonna be a summoner? You're gonna stop Sin?"
"Yeah," Katara replies with a bright smile. "Yeah, I'm gonna stop it."
The kid's name is Aang, and he's going to join them on the Pilgrimage, Sokka can see it. He's so young, and so innocent, probably doesn't remember a time before Kya's Calm, and, like Katara, he probably still thinks that Sin can be defeated for good, that Katara will somehow survive the Final Summoning. Sokka's not so innocent, or so naive.
When Katara goes into the Cloister to pray to Yevon for the first Aeon, he stays in the outer sanctum with Suki and watches, praying fervently - to the god he no longer believes in - that she'll fail.
Hours pass, and he starts to get antsy, waiting for her to return (with the news that she's failed, that she can't be a summoner, that they're going home), and Suki places a hand on his shoulder. "Calm down," she says soothingly, "It's going to take a while."
"I know," he mutters, "I just - " and they're alone, so he continues: "I just can't watch her die."
When Suki looks at him, it's with wet eyes. "Me either. But that's part of being a Guardian. We have to be strong enough to get her there."
"There has to be another way."
"Sokka," she says sympathetically, "if there was, don't you think someone would have figured it out by now?"
"What if that's because everyone thinks like that? What if there is a way, but everyone thinks there's not so they don't look for it? What if - "
"Sokka," Suki says firmly, always the pragmatist. "Don't give yourself false hope."
When he closes his eyes, a few tears fall down his cheeks. He rubs them away angrily, just as the door opens and Katara stumbles out from the inner sanctum, then rights herself and tilts her chin up, proud and determined and so much his sister that it almost kills him.
"It's official," she says triumphantly, "I'm a summoner."
His heart falls through his stomach and crashes to the floor. It's officially inevitable.
Aang goes with them when they leave Besaid. He hasn't asked to be a Guardian yet, but Katara hasn't turned him away, and so he goes along, thinking to protect her the way Sokka thinks to protect her. Their group is now four strong, big for a Pilgrimage, which is usually kept to the summoner and one or two Guardians. He keeps praying that someone else gets to Zanarkand first, that someone else dies, that it isn't Katara who has to sacrifice.
Everyone they meet looks at her with sad eyes, the same way he looks at her with sad eyes, like this beautiful, brilliant, vibrant girl is going to die before her next birthday? There are other summoners on Pilgrimages behind them - a bouncy girl in pink from Kilika, flanked by a dark woman and a man with a scar over his left eye, a stoic archer from the Calm Lands with a hard-faced woman and a man with a wheat stalk in his mouth - but they're the ones with expectations forced on them, since it was their mother who defeated Sin last. Everyone thinks that it will be them who make it to Zanarkand, who perform the Final Summoning, who will bring about Katara's Calm.
They look at her with sad eyes, but also with a sort of hope, and Sokka hates all of them.
The first time Katara performs the Sending Dance is also the first time that he thinks maybe she's right. They're arrive at Djose several hours after Sin, in time to see the worst of the devastation; a woman is sobbing into a baby blanket, a man is screaming for his wife, a child is searching aimlessly for his mother.
Katara is right. This has to stop.
"I'm a summoner," she tells one of the men, "I'll perform the Sending Dance."
The Sending Dance is a necessity, and it must be done immediately. If the Sending Dance isn't performed, the souls of the dead will become confused and frustrated, and will become one of two things: if they're exceptionally stubborn and strong-willed and bitter, they will inhabit their dead bodies and become Unsent, frozen in time, too angry and hurt to let go and move on, or they will become fiends, and attack their friends and loved ones, too angry and hurt to let go and move on.
Katara has never performed the Sending Dance before, but she knows all the steps. When she walks into the ice-cold surf, hands shaking around her staff, she glances back at them and he tries to smile. Aang gives her a thumbs up, and Suki nods at her. She takes a deep breath, and sweeps her staff out in a circle around her.
The Sending Dance is beautiful, said to be the most beautiful thing in all of Spira, but all Sokka can think of is that it's terribly morbid and terribly ironic, that the most beautiful thing in all of Spira is a dance performed on people's graves, to send their spirits to the afterlife.
No one will be there to send Katara.
At the moonflow, a group of Al Bhed kidnap Katara, and he nearly loses his mind, running into the river after the boat that he knows she's trapped on.
"We'll find her," Suki says sharply, dragging him back onto the shore and forcing him to sit down. "We'll get a boat and we'll follow them. We'll get her back." He looks at her, and he doesn't know how to say what he's thinking, something like let her go, at least it means that she's alive, just let her go.
"I'll get us a boat!" Aang cries, the loss of Katara turning him serious for the first time, and he bolts in the direction of the nearest inn. Sokka stays on the banks of the river, watching the Al Bhed ship disappear around the distant bend, and a strange calm falls over him.
Because, really, this is a good thing. The Al Bhed are well-known as heretics, evil and stubborn, refusing to give up machina, refusing to join the rest of the world in their cycle of birth and destruction. Sokka feels a kinship to them; maybe they're working on a way to destroy Sin for good. Maybe they have a way to save Katara. Maybe they kidnapped her to keep her safe.
Maybe this means she won't have to die like all the other summoners.
Maybe this will give another group time to pass them.
Aang returns not ten minutes later with a little boat and beckons them to join him. Suki hauls him up from the surf, no doubt thinking that he's in shock, and pushes him onto the boat. He stumbles to his feet, and opens his mouth to say let her go but the look on Aang's face stops him.
He's determined and angry and hopeful and scared, and he couldn't hide his emotions if he tried.
Aang shouldn't be a Guardian. He should be a kid, somewhere off where he can be safe. He shouldn't have to watch the girl he's desperately in love with die.
But Sokka can't say any of this, because it's all inevitable - it's too late to turn back. And he knows, deep down, deep past the false hope and the prayers to Yevon and the desperation and the fear, that he can't leave Katara with the Al Bhed. He's too attached to her. She's all he's got left, and he can't let her go. He promised he would protect her, he would always protect her, he would never leave her to suffer alone.
(This is, he'll think later, the point where he gave up hope.)
By the time they catch up with the Al Bhed ship, Katara is already swimming toward them, a laugh on her face. "I knocked them out and jumped overboard," she explains, as Sokka pulls her up onto the boat. If he had been looking, he would have seen one of them leap off the ship and follow them, but he doesn't notice until the girl has tugged herself up on the boat after them.
They all let out yells and pull out various weapons, but Katara just tilts her head.
"You didn't knock me out," the Al Bhed girl growls, and her spiral-pupiled eyes are unfocused. "I let you go."
"Why did you kidnap her?" Aang yells, red-faced, and the girl turns her sightless eyes to him.
"Don't you know?" she asks, voice almost distant. "The summoner dies at the end of the Pilgrimage. We're trying to save them. We've got a plan," she insists fervently, gesticulating. "We have an idea, we can stop Sin without - this," she finishes, gesturing to Katara.
"There isn't a way," Sokka says, wishing as he says it that it's a lie, but refusing to give in to false hope. "Don't you think someone would have figured it out by now if there was?"
"Katara's strong enough to survive," Aang says, so sure of it, "and besides," he adds snottily, "we can't use machina to fight Sin. It's against the teachings."
"Screw the teachings," the girl replies angrily. "Can't you see? There's another way! There has to be!"
"Where are your parents?" Katara asks gently. "They'll worry about you."
"Sin killed them," the girl says shortly, settling into the bottom of the boat. "And I'm gonna stop Sin once and for all. You're gonna help me," she adds forcefully. "If I have to make you."
"Toph," Katara says, and Sokka wonders how she knows the girl's name, "Toph, there isn't another way."
"Just give me a chance," Toph whispers. "Give me a chance to do it."
Toph becomes the fourth Guardian. She looks at him, even though she can't see him, the same way that Aang looks at Katara, and he pretends not to notice. She's only Aang's age, which is right around fourteen, and, like Aang, he wants to throw her overboard and tell her to run, as far and as fast as she can, to leave this all behind, to go back to wherever the Al Bhed have been living for the past seven hundred years.
She comes because she thinks she can convince Katara not to perform the Final Summoning. Katara takes her because she thinks she can convince her to give up her people and become a Yevonite.
He wonders when they all became so resigned.
He's become an old man at seventeen, old and hopeless and waiting to die.
They reach Macalania again, and he feels a burst of hope, hope that Katara will see her homeland and get overwhelmed with the desire to stay, but it just furthers her determination to save all of them.
"This place is so beautiful," Aang breathes, and Katara smiles that brilliant smile.
"It's the most beautiful place in Spira," she explains, sweeping her arms out grandly, but then her smile falters. "It's fragile, though. If Sin attacks it - " she shakes her head. "I can't let that happen."
He loses hope all over again, and it's more painful the second time.
"We're gonna come back here after the Pilgrimage," Aang says, looking at Katara with all the hope Sokka doesn't have. "I want to live here."
She smiles at him, but it doesn't reach her eyes. "You can," is all she says.
It bolsters Aang, but it kills Sokka.
Of all the pilgrims, they reach Zanarkand first. They were always going to.
He has never seen anything like the Zanarkand Temple. A woman named Yunalesca - a name he vaguely remembers from Yevon's teachings - greets them in the outer sanctum. He's reminded forcefully of Besaid, of the conversation with Suki, of his own miniature breakdown. So much has changed since then, but Katara's determination hasn't faltered, only grown. She looks at Yunalesca with eyes stronger and sharper than diamond, and just as brittle.
She knows what she must do, and she refuses to fight it. For a single second, he gives in to the wish that she will.
"Choose a Guardian to take with you into the Inner Sanctum," Yunalesca tells Katara, gesturing to the door. "This Guardian will become the Final Aeon, and you will perform the Final Summoning."
"What happens after that?" Katara asks, and her voice wavers slightly - God, he thinks, she's only sixteen - but she rallies her strength. Yunalesca gives her a look that's filled with something Sokka refuses to name, and just says -
"You know what happens then."
"No!" Aang cries, and Katara shakes her head slowly.
"I can't - I can't choose someone to - There has to be a way," she says fervently, hopefully, desperately. "Can't I do it alone?"
"No," Yunalesca says. Katara turns to them, fear on her face for the first time since they first left Macalania.
"I can't!" she whimpers, and Sokka walks forward.
It was always going to come to this.
"I'll do it," he says, and Katara lets out a cry like a wounded animal.
"No," she howls, "no, Sokka, you can't - !"
Suki lunges forward and grabs him, saying the same things that Katara is saying. He swallows hard and smiles at his sister. "I said I'd always protect you, didn't I? I'll be there till the end. You won't be alone." He looks at Suki, a thousand sorrows in his eyes. "I love you," he says firmly, and then to Toph, who's shaking her head, tears she won't shed in her eyes.
"There's another way," she whimpers, "I know there is, there has to be."
"There isn't," Yunalesca says, but none of them need to hear it. They all know.
"It's all right, Toph," he says quietly, giving her a hug. Deep down in his soul, he's glad for this. Now, Aang and Toph and Suki will have a chance to live, to really live, the way he and Katara never could. "If there really is, you'll find it," he tells the little Al Bhed. "And you'll use it to save some other summoner."
"I'd rather use it to save you," she snaps, and he turns away before he sees too much in her face. She never had a chance to love him, just like Aang never had a chance to love Katara, just like Suki never had a chance to love him, just like Katara never had a chance to love Aang or anyone else. None of them ever had a choice, or a chance, or a hope.
Katara sobs, shaking her head desperately, but he turns away from her, swallows again, and nods to Yunalesca. He does not cry.
"It's time," Yunalesca says, and leads the way into the inner sanctum. Katara's Calm begins.
When he opens his eyes, he's not in the Farplane.