Sokka, with an unusually heavy heart, walked away from the bed and slowly made his way through the wide opening to the second-floor balcony. The night air was cool, but it did little to soothe him. The feel of her fever seemed to be burned into his hands. He was painfully aware of the blood pulsing through his own body, pumped through his veins by a frantic heart that still hadn't quite calmed down.
Every time the breeze rustled through the branches, Sokka's heart did a leap. He was more jumpy than usual. He was guarding Suki while she slept, but he wasn't quite sure he was up to the task. On top of being worn down and beat up from the day's battle, he didn't feel he was fit to guard her. Lately he was feeling like he would never be good enough to protect anyone he cared about, even if he was on top of his game.
He reminded himself wearily that he wasn't the only one guarding Suki at the moment. Aang had the first floor covered, Toph was under a rock tent outside, and Zuko and Katara were stationed at either end of the upstairs hallway, not far from Suki's closed bedroom door.
Katara had spent a long time working on Suki, doing everything she could to heal Suki's many injuries. She was also tired and in pain from the day's events, but Katara wasn't one to let such petty things get in her way, especially when someone she cared about needed her.
By the time she was done, Katara was dripping sweat and on the verge of tears of exhaustion.
She had turned to Sokka after not looking up from Suki for what felt like hours and said, "I… I think she should be okay now. She won't be waking up for a few days, though. I did… what I could."
Sokka had given her a reprieve from speaking by wrapping her in a tight hug that she collapsed into with a weighty sigh. Her words, her tone—they hadn't been completely reassuring, but they were at least something for Sokka to hold onto.
Zuko, who had stayed by Sokka's side the whole time, had silently squeezed Sokka's shoulder in a subtle show of support. Katara had to lean on Zuko just to make it out of the room, the door of which Zuko had shut behind them so that Sokka could be alone with Suki.
Now Sokka repeated Katara's words in his head as he moved to the corner of the balcony and gripped the railing.
She should be okay. She should be okay. She should be okay.
His mind kept tripping over the word "should," which was killing him with its inherent uncertainty.
He heaved a sigh and then looked back at Suki lying under the covers he had pulled up over her. She was on her back, a disconcerting worried look on her face as she breathed somewhat unevenly in her sleep.
He looked away and took a couple of steps backward, slumping against the hard wall and squeezing his eyes shut.
When Sokka finally opened his eyes, he saw that he was no longer alone. His heart gave a familiar violent pang as he looked to the brilliant figure in the middle of the balcony.
She didn't say anything, only looked at him as he forlornly looked away.
"Is this a dream?" Sokka asked quietly. His tone held no excitement, no humor, none of the warmth that it was usually so permeated with.
"She's strong," Yue finally said.
Sokka knew who she was referring to.
"Yeah, she is," he agreed. "Probably stronger than me."
He gave Yue a furtive glance, and seeing a faint smile on her face, he corrected himself, "Okay, yeah, she's definitely stronger than me."
"She's beautiful, too," Yue said softly.
Sokka held one of his elbows, not voicing his agreement.
Tilting her head slightly, Yue suddenly said, "You have to let go of me, Sokka."
Sokka's head snapped toward her as he stood up straight, no longer leaning on the wall. "What? No! You said you would always be with me!"
Yue smiled fondly at the life that had filled his voice. "I am always with you, and you're always with me," she assured him. "I see the way you look at the moon, Sokka. I can feel your sadness when it's a new moon or even when the night sky is filled with clouds. But I also see the way you look at her."
Sokka was looking away again, as if he was ashamed.
Yue slowly walked toward him, and his eyes were forced to turn back to her. Despite everything, he couldn't help but feel that spark of happiness buried in his heart that was reserved specially for those times when she was in his eyes.
Now only a foot in front of him, she said, "You're so wonderfully loyal, Sokka."
He shook his head. "Not like you."
"This isn't what I want for you. You're weighed down by guilt," Yue said, a frown crossing her lovely features. "Just like I was."
Sokka searched her eyes, concern etched on his face. He asked incompletely, "Does that mean… Do you… regret?"
"No," she said simply, her voice completely confident.
Sokka hung his head and returned to the railing, wrapping unsteady fingers around it. Yue turned away from him and went into the bedroom. She lightly touched the fragile-looking girl and closed her eyes.
"Katara did a wonderful job," Yue told Sokka.
And Katara had done a wonderful job using the skill she had, but it wasn't good enough.
Yue could see what Katara and the others could not—the damage on the inside that only the most skilled human healer would be able to fix.
Suki wouldn't make it to the morning.
Sokka, still looking over the balcony, asked in a tight voice, "Is she going to be okay?"
Yue didn't answer right away.
Sokka didn't remember wanting to close his eyes, but everything suddenly went dark. Somehow, Sokka's heavy eyelids were separating him from the world without his permission.
Just as Yue's hand stopped glowing, Sokka's eyes flew open again. Suspicious, he turned slowly toward Yue, not seeing her remove her hand from over Suki's heart.
"Yes," Yue finally answered. She gave Suki a small smile as her sleeping expression became peaceful.
Sokka sighed in relief, and his next breath caught in his throat, forcing moisture into his eyes.
Yue walked over to him and said, "She loves you, you know."
"She does?" Sokka asked with sudden enthusiasm. "I mean-"
Yue's smile grew. "It's okay."
Sokka almost smiled back, but a painful thought stopped him from doing so.
"What if I can't protect her?" His voice trailed off. "Like I couldn't protect you…"
"You both will protect each other," Yue asserted, taking his hands in hers. "And I swear to you, Sokka, I will always be watching over you, and the people you love."
Sokka glanced at Suki and then looked back to Yue's eyes, which were pleading with him to believe her.
"Thank you," he said in a raspy voice. "Thank you so much."
At the same time, they let go of each other's hands. Yue moved to leave, but Sokka abruptly said, "Wait!"
Their eyes met again, and his face was undeniably serious. "I want you to know… Never. I'll never stop-"
"I wouldn't want you to," Yue interrupted knowingly. In a blur of movement, she stepped toward him and kissed him on the cheek, cupping his face in her hand. Just as quickly, she was gone, and Sokka was once again occupying the balcony by himself.
His heart plummeted, only to be jerked back up by a small voice.
"Suki!" He ran and fell to his knees at her bedside. "You're awake! But Katara said it would be a few days- oh, never mind that!" He was about to dive in for a hug, but he stopped himself mid-dive, remembering that she was probably still in pain and wouldn't appreciate such violent affection. "I probably shouldn't do that, huh?" he said, scratching his head.
"Look at you, thinking ahead," Suki teased with a strained chuckle, reaching for his hand.
"Are you coherent?" Sokka asked, waving his free hand in front of her face to check.
"Are you coherent?" Suki retorted.
"No, I'm serious," Sokka said, wanting her to be fully aware for what he was about to get out of his system.
"What is it, Sokka?" Suki asked, trying to sit up.
He pulled her up into a sitting position and then sat on the edge of the bed, taking her hand again.
"Suki," he said slowly, gathering his courage, "I… I love you."
Suki smirked and said, "I was wondering…"
"…when you were going to have the guts to say that," she finished, followed by a laugh.
"I want to marry you," Sokka said just as seriously.
When Suki's face paled, losing all traces of joking, Sokka's confidence melted down to an admirable puddle.
"I mean," he sputtered, "We don't have to do it right now, just, like, eventually, probably after the fighting is over, if we're still alive and stuff, unless, unless you wanted to do it sooner! We could get married right in the middle of a battle if you wanted! That'd be dramatic, right? And girls love drama, right? And Aang's a monk, so he could do the ceremony, right? I mean, he looks a little young, but, but I have a moustache he can wear! Yeah! Unless you don't like moustaches, in which case I wouldn't make Aang wear one. And I would never grow one. Or let our sons grow them. I mean, if you wanted kids. I mean, if you wanted to marry me and then have…"
Suki shut him up by nodding emphatically and saying, "I'll marry you, Sokka."
Sokka let out an embarrassing squeak and dived in for a hug, and luckily, Suki was too happy to feel any pain.
They weren't celebrating alone, though.
The two who were listening from outside the bedroom door were hugging each other, laughing in relief that Sokka's dumb blathering hadn't prompted Suki to say no.
The one who was standing on top of a rock with her ear pressed to the underside of the balcony informed her partner in crime of the news, and he proceeded to whoop and circle wildly around her rock on an air scooter.
Yue, back where she belonged, smiled down on all of them, her hand over her chest where her heart used to be.
I felt compelled to write this one-shot instead of working on my other writings, as I've been on an incurable Avatar kick lately. I love Princess Yue, and every time Sokka references how he misses her in the series, it breaks my heart. I very much like Suki as well, especially since she seems to make Sokka so happy, but I wish we had gotten more development for her in the series.
If you have a question about anything in the story, please do ask. I'm always paranoid about details in my stories being unclear. My next Avatar piece will be a requested Zutara one-shot, and I have a bunch of short Zutara writings already on my profile if you like that sort of thing. Heh.
Thanks to everyone for reading, and special thanks go out to my lovely rootlessdream for proofreading this for me. You're a doll.