"Aha, I win again!" Through the plumes of snow that whirled up as two bodies whizzed rapidly down a hillside, Aang's voice came ringing loud and clear, proclaiming his victory. Katara sighed and rolled her eyes good-naturedly as she skidded onto level ground once again, the otter penguin on which she was mounted gradually coming to a halt. Aang had already dismounted his own penguin and stood there, grinning smugly and waiting.
"I'm starting to think you're somehow cheating," Katara told him jokingly, rising and crossing her arms in mock discontent.
"Come on now, don't be jealous," Aang replied with a teasing smile. He walked over to her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "How about next time, I'll let you win, huh? And then you won't have to deal with my gloating."
Katara smiled and lightly kissed his nose. "Hey, don't patronize me," she warned him. "I still can't get over the fact that I still penguin sled with you." She laughed then suddenly turned serious. "But, hey, I should be heading home now... Household chores to do. I'll see you tonight, though, for dinner." She and Aang shared one last quick kiss before saying their goodbyes and with that, Katara headed off.
Sokka wandered around his family's home a bit, waiting for Katara to get home with her latest adventures with Aang. It seemed like every day now, Sokka watched his sister go off with the Avatar, somewhere, on some little date. But hey, she was happy, and that was enough for him. They had their spats, but for the most part, the warrior saw the two loving each other. It was obvious where they were headed, and when he thought about that, he wasn't sure just how to feel.
Spending life with someone Katara was truly in love with, someone who brought her to levels of happiness Sokka hadn't seen since their mom passed away...what could be more delightful to him than that? He knew he could trust Aang with her, he had proven it again and again since they all first met. Still, it bothered Sokka deep down. If Katara had Aang all the time, where would that leave him? Would his sister have no need for him anymore? Though Katara annoyed him at so many points with her teasing, and though he had a girlfriend of his own in Suki, he could never imagine his life without his "baby" sister around. As he thought this, Katara returned home.
"Hey, you're home early," Katara said when she stepped inside the family's igloo and saw Sokka pacing slowly around the fire-pit. She had assumed her brother would be out at sea with their father on their fishing expedition for at least another couple hours or so.
"Oh, well, the fish weren't really biting today," Sokka replied offhandedly, running a hand through his hair somewhat sheepishly. "How were things with Aang today?"
A smile slowly spread across Katara's face. "He beat me at penguin sledding again," she told him, shaking her head dreamily. "Can you believe it? Three times in a row already!" She brushed some lingering flakes of snow from her hair. "Well, he better watch out next time," she added slyly.
Sokka let out a short laugh at this pledge. "You're still a little kid at heart, aren't you?"
"I know, I know, it's weird," said Katara. "But I guess that's just how I am around Aang." At this, she beamed, unable to contain her whirlwind feelings for the young Avatar.
Sokka saw Katara smile brightly, and that mix of feelings returned. He tried to return the smile, but that look of unease was in his eyes as those thoughts came rushing back to him. Catching this, the waterbender's smile faded a bit into a concerned look. "Everything okay, Sokka?" She asked.
The warrior tried to regather himself and answered, "Yeah...everything's great! I'm glad you and Aang are having a...great time!" He turned away, and let a frown escape as those thoughts of losing her returned.
Katara caught on to his look. "Sokka...you don't seem all right. Is something bothering you? You know you can talk to me."
Sokka sighed. "Well...guess I can't hide anything from you. Seeing you and Aang happy...well, it makes me think about things."
The waterbender wondered what this could mean. "Are things not going well with Suki?" She wondered.
"No, everything's good with me and her, though I do wish I could see her again," he admitted. Taking another deep breath, the older brother continued. "No...Katara, I won't mince words with you...I've been thinking about us."
Katara's forehead wrinkled in a concerned expression and she twisted her mouth to the side a bit. She laid a hand on Sokka's shoulder and said in soft tone, "Talk to me. What's on your mind?" The two slowly knelt to the hard snow ground before sitting cross-legged before one another.
Hearing Katara's caring tone and seeing her expressions just made Sokka a bit more upset. It was that comfort that she had always provided for him as well; his sister was always reliable for comfort. He looked away for a second before turning his face back to Katara. "I've been seeing you and Aang so happy for so long...and I know you've thought about a future with him. Don't get me wrong, I am really happy for you guys. It's been so enjoyable, for me, seeing you so happy these past two years."
"And you don't know how glad I am that you support me and Aang being together," Katara told him, silently recalling his initial wariness at the whole prospect. "It would be terrible if you weren't happy or comfortable with it." Her eyes fell to the ground somewhat sorrowfully. "But there's still something bothering you about it..."
Sokka quickly assured her, "Don't worry, I'm not uncomfortable with Aang or anything of the like." He gazed away again briefly, not sure exactly how to say what he was about to. Turning back to her, he breathed deeply once more, and began to lay it out on the proverbial table. Sokka crossed his hands, and said, "Katara...I see what's coming. I know exactly how strongly you feel about him." Remembering the focus was on he and his sister, he continued with "I'm worried...that I may lose you..."
Katara raised her eyebrows slightly in surprise at his words and tilted her head, looking at Sokka curiously and questioningly. "Lose me? But... how? I'll still be here, always." She frowned a bit. "You don't think I wouldn't take care of myself, that something would... happen to me, if I made that choice with Aang, do you?" She wondered if this was what he had meant.
Sokka quickly placed his hands on Katara's shoulders. "No, I don't mean it like that. Trust me, I know you are capable of taking care of yourself, and I know Aang will also be capable of the same." Releasing the grip, he crossed his hands again. "What I meant was...if you have Aang around all the time..." Sokka dropped his head sullenly and continued in a whisper-quiet done. "...you won't need me anymore. That it will just be...you and Aang. That I'll become...unnecessary..."
Katara's lips parted slightly in a surprised and incredulous expression. Left to her own devices, she would never have been able to pinpoint that as Sokka's underlying concern regarding her relationship with Aang. She was unable to grapple for words for a few fleeting moments, but finally managed to say, "Unnecessary? What in this world could ever make you believe that you'd be 'unnecessary'? To me or to Aang?"
Sokka bent his head down and gave a sad sigh, crossing his hands in his lap. He could feel tears coming on at the mere thought, but fought them off to silently speak the words. "To me, Katara..." He looked up at the waterbender. "If you're living with Aang all the time, and you're hurt for whatever reason...you'll always have him to comfort you. You won't need me...you'll have Aang." He shook his head in sadness. "I...I just don't want that to happen to us, sis...I don't want us to become separated like that..."
"It is true that Aang can be a source of comfort to me when things get patchy," Katara said slowly, choosing her words carefully as though they were standing on a glass floor that could break any second. "But what makes you think that I would just cast you off in the cold? Aang is important to me, very important. But that doesn't mean the rest of world will fall away."
Sokka nodded gently, and he knew he could not duck what he was about to admit to his sister. It was something he needed to say, now or never. "I guess it's just my...I don't know, brotherly fears setting in..." a look of fear and sadness again took over his features, and he pulled one of his hands into his sister's. "Katara...you...for all the at-times-irritating moments that we have had...you mean so much to me...I can't...I can't even put it into words..."
The young waterbender couldn't resist as the corners of her mouth tugged into a faint smile, moved by his words that, for all their ordinariness, were so poignant. She lightly squeezed his hand, saying, "You mean so much to me. To the point where I could never think for a second that you would be of no importance to me, no matter what situation I find myself in. You believe that, don't you?"
Sokka still felt a pang of fear at the thought of losing her, but her smile alone spoke so much to him. When it came to, well, most everything between them, he knew Katara was always honest. Sokka knew this would be no different. He smiled back at her and said, "I do, Katara. I trust you when you say things like this."
The warrior's look shifted down a bit again, however, as he said, "Katara...to elaborate on what I said...I just don't know where I would be without your guiding hand. Ever since Mom died, you were the one who filled her role. You took care of me, Gran-Gran, the house, heck...even the entire tribe. But what you've done for me...there's no way I could ever express my gratitude toward you for it all..."
Katara cast her eyes off to the side, her gaze sweeping over the ethereal snow that lay beneath the fur carpet on which they were sitting. Her cheeks flushed a little at the words of praise. "I simply did what I knew was right... and that included being there for you. I don't expect anything in return."
"I have another confession to make, Katara," the warrior continued, admiring eyes looking directly into those of the waterbender's. "Because of all you did, because you stepped up and took on mom's role..." He tightened the grip on her hand. "Whenever I try to picture mom nowadays...the only image I see is you...you've become so care-taking and loving just like her...that I honestly only see you whenever I try to remember her."
Again, she was unable to mask her feelings of surprise at her brother's confession as his words sank in deeper and deeper. "Is... is that really true? Wow...," she said, her eyes momentarily lowering to the floor again. "I never imagined that you would ever think of me so highly... I always thought that was just in my case."
Sokka continued to look directly into his sister's eyes, a smile lighting up his features as he thought about how much Katara had done for him throughout all their years growing up, long before they found the young man who would change their lives forever. "You did all the things Mom would do, all the cooking, all the cleaning, all the household chores, making sure we were in our best shape. Like I said, you became her...just, so much so...you really have her spirit within you. All those events, stepping up into her role when we needed it...that's why I can only picture you when I try to picture her."
Deep down, Katara felt a twinge of startled uneasiness at the idea that her brother had come to think of her so highly as to have replaced the image of their mother with her own. But the admiration and innocent sincerity in his face was so clear, so etched in his features in that moment, that she hadn't the heart at all to voice this feeling. Instead, she allowed for the hint of her smile to spread into a genuine expression of love.
Wow, I almost don't know what to say," she said in a quiet breath of a voice. "To be that kind of a role model... who knew." In her mind's eye, she remembered the argument they had had, the pivotal moments before they discovered Aang in the iceberg; she had berated him for what she saw as a lack of appreciation for all she did to keep the remnants of the tribe, of their family, from being blasted to smithereens.. A pang of shame jabbed at her slightly as it now dawned on her the sheer enormity of her brother's reverence for her doings.
Before he could continue onward, Sokka also needed to make good on addressing previous statements he had made. His look shifted downward again as he spoke, "Katara, I also have to add that I'm so sorry for what I had said to you in the past, you know...how I poked fun of you for being a girl and doing 'girly' things...some just, out-of-line remarks that had no place in our conversations. I had never really taken the time to fully appreciate you...and well, I said stupid things. I hope you can forgive me for all this...being a complete jerk to you, who basically helped me and our tribe survive those dark days." He continued to grip her hand tightly through this.
The inkling of shame that had clung onto her subsided for a few moments as her face brightened again. "Of course I do," she assured him with all the earnestness one could possibly muster. "What you've just said... it overshadows all those comments. Because I know now that they were never true. They were just words carelessly thrown out in the heat of things. I just wish I could have realized that sooner. I myself was a little too quick to jump down your throat with the belief that those things you said were true." The traces of guilt slithered back and she abashedly offered an apologetic and somewhat saddened smile, saying, "I hope you can forgive me for that."
The warrior cast his sister a sincere smile, looking directly into her crystal blue eyes. "Of course I forgive you. After all, it was my fault, I started the argument with my terrible comments. But yes, I have long since forgiven you for your actions back then." He rested his hands on her shoulders again. "Sis, I've got some more things to say, about you, specifically...I hope you don't mind, and I also hope that they carry some meaning to you..."
"I don't know if there's much more you can say about me," replied Katara, raising her own hands and grabbing hold of her brother's. In a gesture of reassurance, she slowly slid them off her shoulders, instead grasping hands in the space between them. "You've already said so much." At this, Sokka smiled in an expression that resembled something of a kind smirk, if ever there was such a thing; it said "There is definitely more I need to say."
"There is more, Katara," Sokka uttered, allowing his sister's hands to settle into his. "It's not just how you took care of the tribe in general, but how you always looked out for me, specifically," he started. "Remember when we were in that Fire Nation town, the one where I learned from Master Piandao? I was feeling down because I couldn't bend like you, Aang, or Toph...but who came to me first in my down state? You did. You got my spirits up, we went to that store, we found out about Piandao...none of that would have happened if you didn't pick me up when I needed it."
After a brief pause, Sokka continued. "Another moment that always sticks out to me..." his smile grew larger and more loving. "...is when you let me go reunite with Dad when we were in Ba Sing Se the first time. You gave up your own chance to do so...for me." In a rarer show of emotion, Sokka's eyes began watering up, thinking of how much that particular reunion meant to him. "That...that's one of the nicest things anyone has ever for me."
Katara grinned, all these moments long preserved in the crevices of the memory now resurfacing. Small details were forgotten, but the emotions surrounding those moments were as clear as day. "I remember both those things vividly," she told him. "Seeing this feeling of worthlessness gnawing at you. That was difficult to see... And I knew how badly you wanted to see Dad at that time. I felt it was even more I did and because of that, I knew it would be wrong of me to stand in the way of that. Maybe I didn't get to see Dad at that time, but as much as I missed him, I was more than happy to give you that chance. And happy to see your reaction," she added with a bit of a sly smile.
Sokka chuckled a bit, thinking back to how he excitedly danced and lunged at Katara after she said he could go visit their father in her place. But that moment of humor aside, he would never forget such an act of genorsity on Katara's behalf, and how much it emphasized just what a loving sister she always had been to him, despite their squabbles. "You certainly were happy," he remarked, before casting a sincere smile once again as he continued. "Also, I'm thankful for you helping to heal me after Sozin's Comet...you no doubt had Aang on your mind, but you still took time out to help my leg heal..."
"Oh, that? Of course I was more than willing to help you recover after that unpleasant injury," Katara said breezily, waving her hand in a casual, "it-was-no-trouble-at-all" gesture. "Aang would just have to wait for ten minutes a day while I took care of that," she added jokingly. Her face then sobered into a more focused, assertive expression. "But in all seriousness, I was happy to do that for you."
Sokka smiled again, but his look broke down shortly thereafter. "I only wish I could have return the favors, Katara. Instead, I gave you a lot of...bad attitude." He shook his head and looked away. "Like when we were in Jang Hui, and instead of praising you for helping that village, I snapped...plus, of course, I made fun of you all those times for doing 'girly' things, as I said earlier..."
Katara twisted her mouth to the side, a look of puzzlement muddling her features at the mention of the events in the Jang Hui fishing village during the war. Sokka must have taken notice of her confusion because he raised his head a bit and said, "Don't you remember? That fishing village we visited... I berated you for destroying that Fire Nation factory." He raised his eyebrows in curiosity.
Katara shook her head as would a wet polar bear dog, as if to shake off her confusion. "No, I remember..." she began slowly. "I'm just surprised that that would be a point of guilt for you... I mean, yes, we did argue at one point and it's true that I wasn't very happy about your avid commitment to 'stay on schedule'" - she emphasized those last three words - "...but don't you remember? What happened afterward, I mean?"
Her brother didn't say anything. She knew that he remembered, but she said it anyway. "You came up to me, just as I was about to head off to the village on my own, and declared that you would come with me to help fix the situation. And then you made a promise to me, a promise I'll never forget," she told him, all the sentiments of that moment flooding into the present, taking on the form of a bright smile. "You promised that you would never, ever turn your back on me," she said, after a moment's silence. "Don't you remember that?" Her smile only widened at this.
Sokka turned back to Katara, gripping her hands again, his smile returning to his features. "Of course I do," he answered. "I meant that then, and I still mean it now...I will never turn my back on you, no matter where your life takes you, whether with Aang or someone else..." He chuckled a bit at saying "someone else", the chances of her winding up with anyone other than Aang were equivalent to the South Pole turning into grasslands. He quickly turned more serious, but still smiling, and said "...I will always be here for you, Katara...even if sometimes I didn't express it properly, such as before I told you that in Jang Hui. You mean so much to me...you're just as important to my life as someone like Dad or Suki." His smile brightened more, admiring his sister and all he had done for her. "I always will be here for you, and I know you will be here for me. Don't ever be afraid to turn to me if you need it." Gripping her hands tighter, he added, "the spirits blessed me to have someone like you as a sister...I don't have any doubts about that."
The smile on Katara's face only seemed to light up her features even more. "Ah, well, I know that the spirits have been just as, if not more, kind to me. You don't have to reinforce the idea that you'll always stand behind me... I've already known that to be true many times. In these days after the war when all the reconstruction efforts just seem to keep piling up on us, when Aang and I have had our fights... "Why, going back to our time in Jang Hui, as a matter of fact... Not long after had you made that promise to me than there you were, standing before that crowd of angry villagers and defending my name as a waterbender and a poser as the Painted Lady."
Sokka smiled and nodded, thinking back to standing up for Katara back then. "You were doing the right thing for that town, you helped them chase those Fire Nation thugs away...and yet, there they were, criticizing you. I couldn't let that stand," he said. "What you did for that village is one of many reminders of just how much you'll never turn your back on anyone." He continued to smile as he added, "I'll say this, Katara...no matter how long I live, though, I will never forget, also, of all the times you were here for me. No time more than all the years between mom's death, dad's departure, and our journeys with Aang. You were the person I needed in life then...and there you were."
Katara shifted her weight, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around her legs. She was so unaccustomed to being spoiled with such praise, especially from one person alone. But this encomium from her brother would not be without reciprocation.
"But I can't take all the credit for keeping our family grounded in the throes of chaos," she said after a few moments. "Especially after Dad left the South Pole to fight in the war... I mean, where would I have been if I had to look after our tribe on my own? Forget looking after our tribe... simply if I had to walk into any empty igloo every night with no one there but myself?" At this, her smile dimmed a bit, her thoughts grazing the edges of this horrid idea.
"Imagine a twelve year-old just sitting around a fire without anyone to sit with or talk to..." She shook her head slightly, as if to swat off these images like pesky beetle-flies. "After everything that had happened already, I don't think I could bear anything like that on top of it... And that's where you come in..." She sighed sharply and tensed her shoulders a bit. "I mean, I know I criticized you for 'doing nothing' to help me back then... nothing except try to get those little kids to listen to you as you talked about being in combat..." Her mind momentarily hearkened back to her biting remark about him "playing soldier," as she uttered these words. "But to walk into our igloo at the end of the day and see you tending to the fire or simply sitting there, waiting for me to come home" - at this, her shoulders relaxed and she looked at him with an earnest smile, the beginnings of tears coming to her eyes - "well, there's no other thing I would have wanted to see more..."
Sokka gave his sister a compassionate smile. "I knew, after a busy day of doing everything you could for the tribe, that you would want someone to talk to you, and, I'm glad I could be that person for you. I would never let you just walk alone...we both needed comfort in those times..." he thought about how the tribe was, at one point, down to just a few villagers; days that seemed so far away since the North helped reconstruct their home, but still, they were a part of their mutual history, and would never fade. "I have to return the favor to you, Katara. After Dad left...it was hard. But likewise, no matter how tough your day was, you always took the time to talk to me. You always showed me that same compassion, being there for me in those lonely times...I wanted nothing more, either. To know I had that someone I could always trust to be there, to brighten the dark...I can't thank you enough, for all that." The warrior felt tears of his own pooling once again, especially as he watched his sister's began to water.
The waterbender drew in a breath and exhaled slowly, deeply. She could almost feel the words of their conversation swirl around them, their warmth and sentiment nearly tangible. "Well," she finally spoke, both cheeriness and quiet reflection mingling in her voice, "I think it's safe to say then that we both found solid ground in each other's presence... And that's what family is meant to be, right? The people who keep you tethered to the ground when everything else just..." - she made scattering motions with her hands - "breaks off into pieces and floats away. On our own, I don't know if either one of us would have been able to hold it together long enough to see through to the end of the war... and spirits know what would have come out of that..." She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment and held a gloved hand to her forehead. Coming back to the present then, she looked up and said with the hint of a grin, "But thankfully, there's no ending to that story."
Sokka smiled at her again, wondering what acts he could have done to have such a loving sister like Katara. "I have no doubts that why we are where we are is because of you. You're exactly right...without you, our family and tribe would have never lasted...you saved us all, sis." He took a deep breath before continuing. "With that said...my hope is that you'll never forget me...I guess maybe it's just my own brotherly...shock, if you will, also...watching you grow up so fast, moving through life...you're not little anymore, for sure," he noted with a chuckle. "I guess I was just worried that you wouldn't need me anymore..." A slight loss of his smile was recovered, however, as he went back to what Katara had said to him in this conversation. "...but I know now that will never be the case."
Katara raised her hand and pushed his shoulder lightly. "Oh come now, did you really believe I would walk out of your life completely? Where you got that idea I'll never know..." She shook her head and her eyes swept over the ground momentarily before lifting upward to gaze again at her brother. There was something of a sheepish smile on his face, as though he, too, were wondering how that thought had entered his mind.
Seeing this, her expression softened and she shifted her weight so that she now knelt on the floor. "Oh, come here...," she said in a quiet voice, grasping him by his shoulders and folding her arms around him in a tight hug. She let out a content sigh, her mind still wrapping around all that had been said thus far.
Sokka was more than happy to return her hug just as tightly, smiling brightly and relaxing in her embrace. The warmth between them could easily melt the ice that surrounded them both inside and around the South Pole. He rested his head on the waterbender's shoulder as he continued to think of how grateful he was to have her. "There is no one else I would want more as a sister," the warrior whispered into his sister's ear. "You have meant so much to me in all the years we've been on this Earth...you've always been here for me...things changed all around us, and continue to do so...but you're there through it all...and I know you will continue to be, Katara...I know you will..." he further tightened their hug.
The corners of her lips tugged upward even further and she closed her eyes, so that there was nothing but words to hear and the feeling of a hug. "That is one thing in this world I can promise," she replied slowly. "And I know, without your even saying it, that you'll be the same to me." A fleeting silence followed before she let out a light laugh and said, "The spirits have been very generous with us, haven't they?"
Sokka chuckled a bit and said, "They sure have." He paused for a moment, beginning to rock them back and forth slowly. "Right now...they're giving us this moment all to ourselves...a moment for us to reflect on everything." In his mind, he played back all their memories: their laughs, their moments of comfort, their hugs, everything was coming back to him. He began to tear up again as he held Katara as tight as he could.
"There's nothing I can say to them but thank you," she said, opening her eyes at that moment and casting them up to the shadowy ceiling, as though she could see them dancing around right before her. Then she spoke again, clearly yet gently. "And I have you to thank, too. I... I don't know how many ways I can say it... but yes... thank you." She spoke those last two words with a ringing clarity.
"Thank you, Katara," Sokka replied just as clear. "Thank you, for everything...there's no way I will ever be able to thank you enough..." And lest could the tribesman forget one more important sentence. "One more thing...it's a thing I should be saying to you more..." he smiled warmly, ready to speak the warmest affections for her. "I love you, Katara...I love you so much, little sister." A couple of tears escaped from his eyes as he relaxed even further in her arms.
A sudden feeling of warmth, real warmth, washed through her from head to toe and she drew in a breath. "I love you, too," she said quietly. Saying those words, it felt good. The personal ties between the two were always there, but it wasn't every day they sat before each other and told that to the other. The words drifted in the air now, clinging to the present. She relaxed even more in her brother's embrace.
It was a beautiful moment between brother and sister, sitting in their home quietly, hugging each other and sharing words of compassion and love. A moment for two young siblings, who had meant the world to each other through the most difficult times. As they continued to hug, Hakoda began to enter the igloo quietly, expecting to see his children most elsewhere, hanging around. That was until he stepped in the doorway and saw his son and daughter in their moment. The Southern Chief stopped and simply watched the moment, playing spectator to this show of love between the two people he cared about the most. He smiled brightly; he had seen squabbles between them, but also moments of love...however, nothing quite like this. This was the moment.
Hakoda stepped away from the doorway, Katara and Sokka having never seen him. He looked up to the sky and said quietly, "Kya...this is what you've made. What's happening in there...this is all thanks to you. This is something you've always wanted...I hope you're watching from wherever you may be. These are our children, Kya." He peered back in, still unbeknownst to his children.
Moments ticked by, like the rhythmic rising and receding of waves on a beach. After what seemed like many cycles of the moon later, the two slowly separated and again sat before each other like they had at the beginning of their talk. Only now, instead of worry and confusion, there reigned an indomitable happiness and tranquility. Katara's smile ceaselessly now, no longer in the mires of doubt or concern, and she could tell Sokka felt the same.
After separating from Katara, Sokka sighed happily, feeling much more at ease than he did moments ago. He took hold of his sister's hands again. Going back to what he had said during their embrace, he said, "If I have one regret, it's that I don't say that I love you more than just at that moment. It's something you deserve to hear every day, just as that reminder that I care about you and am always here." He briefly pulled one of his hands back and rubbed the back of his head before using it to re-grasp hers. "I'm sorry for that, and from now on, I'll say it every day, sis."
Katara gave her brother an amused look, saying, "Sorry? You needn't apologize for something like that. I don't say 'I love you' enough either, really..." Upon saying this her tone had dropped somewhat, with a sliver of regret. But she perked up at that moment and told him, "But I promise, too, that I'll say it more often." She tightened her fingers around his just a tad bit.
"Don't be sorry," Sokka said with an assuring voice. "From now on, we will indeed make sure we remind each other of the fact," he continued as his smile regrew. "Heck, in fact, I'll start again right now...I love you, Katara."
Eyes all alight, she replied, "I love you, too, Sokka."
The two siblings hugged again, a briefer hug this time but with no less care or comfort. When they had pulled apart once more, Katara sat, cross-legged, poking a finger casually in the snow and dragging it along in loops and swirls on the floor. Her mind still buzzed with the words of their conversation.
A distance away, Hakoda still stood in the doorway, waiting for the perfect moment to make himself known, but it turned out he wouldn't have to wait for that.
Meanwhile, Sokka grinned, thinking about all that had been said and done. While watching with a bit of amusement as Katara make little swirls in the snow, he caught sight of their father out of the corner of his eye. He poked Katara on the shoulder, gesturing toward the doorway. "Sis, I think we have some company," he said with a bit of a chuckle.
Katara lifted her eyes, her gaze following the direction in which Sokka was pointing. When she saw their father leaning lightly on the edge of the doorway, an inquisitive smile on his face, her mouth parted slightly. "Dad?" she asked, almost as if she didn't believe he were real. "What are you doing here?" she asked, pleasantly surprised. "How long have you been standing there?"
Hakoda walked to where his children were sitting, and knelt down on the floor between them. "Not very long," he answered. "About a few minutes, but long enough to see what you two were up to," he continued, wearing a warm smile of his own. "I saw you guys while you were hugging, and I heard those I love you confessions. I've seen many great things between you two...but I think what just happened...was perhaps the greatest, most heartwarming of love, something I knew always existed between you two, even in the hardest of times." As he talked, he alternated his look between his son and daughter.
The two siblings exchanged brief glances then looked at their father with fond smiles. Hakoda laid a hand on each of their shoulders and said softly, "If your mother were here now, I think she would be very happy to see how close the two of you are." Katara swallowed a bit, the mention of her mother still a tender spot, but she couldn't help but smile quietly. It was true. Their mother would be very proud, indeed.
Sokka smiled, thinking how much their mother would have loved to have been there in that moment. He looked back to his father and Katara and said, "I'm certainly glad we had this chance to talk," he said. "It gave us each a reminder of how much we are there for the other, and that we always will be, no matter where life takes us...and how especially glad I am to have Katara as my sister."
Katara nodded thoughtfully as Hakoda said, clapping the two lightly on the back, "I think it was great that you two had such a deep conversation. I didn't hear all of it, but what I did see makes me so proud of you both." He chuckled a bit and added, "I'm hoping this means the end to your squabbles from now on," swinging his gaze from one to the other with a jesting gleam in his eyes.
Sokka and Katara glanced at one another, both with crooked smiles that said 'Well, I don't know about that...' Hakoda threw his head back and laughed aloud this time. "I'm just teasing... It's the way of the world, to argue with your siblings," he said with a wink. Then he extended his arms again, giving both a squeeze on the shoulder. "But I also know that something has changed between you two this day... and that alone makes me happy."
"There has been a change, yes," Sokka answered, "but I know that one thing that won't be changing is the fact that we will always have each other and always will be there, no matter what," he finished with another bright smile on his face, directing this toward Katara.
Katara flashed her brother a grin of her own and replied, "I wholeheartedly agree with that statement." Watching this, Hakoda let out a quiet, contented sigh, gathering the whole scene, what could be seen by the eyes and what could not, with the greatest amount of appreciation afforded to him.
In that moment of warmth, Hakoda inched his arms around each of his children's shoulders and pulled them into a hug. "Needless to say, I will always do my best to be here for the both of you. I love you as well, and I also wish I had more time to say it...the three years when I was unable to be around you both were rough...and I'm glad to be here with you now, sharing in this talk."
Both children wrapped an arm around their father, returning the embrace. "Thanks, Dad. We love you, too," Katara answered quietly. In that moment, she felt utterly at ease, and for many reasons. But when the layers were peeled back, one by one, it was simply because she was surrounded by family.
Sokka relaxed again, this time in the embrace of his father. He placed his other arm around Katara's back, making sure he kept her close by as well. For this young Water Tribesman, the day could not have been going any better - what had started as fears about his future were now turning into pleasant reassurances and taking in moments of love within his family.
When they separated, a fulfilling silence came over them. It was the kind of silence that falls when one opens their eyes after a long slumber and sees the world in a different way, their relationships transfigured. Or maybe just as they had never seen them before. Katara exhaled slowly and folded her hands in her lap. She didn't say anything, just gazed thoughtfully and contentedly at both her brother and her father.
Sokka gave a relaxed sigh as he looked especially at Katara. His fears were put to rest, knowing he could always count on a loving family for all his days. In his heart, he knew those fears would never resurface again. He looked outside for a fleeting moment, noticing the sun was getting a bit low in the sky. He focused back on Katara and said, "Hey, I think a certain someone needs to get ready for a dinner date."
Katara snapped out of her contemplative mood and craned her neck to peer out the open doorway, seeing the sky was already mixed with the sundry colors of sunset. "Oh gee, you're right." She quickly jumped to her feet, brushing the snow off her coat and pivoting on her heels. "I better hurry!" As she jogged off, she suddenly remembered her reason for coming home earlier that afternoon and, with a chuckle to herself, thought, Those chores can wait 'til later, as she ducked through the curtain into her bedroom.
As Katara ran to get herself prepared, Hakoda said to his son, "Well, I guess it's a guys' night in for us."
Sokka nodded, "Looks like it, Dad. As if it's any surprise," he noted sarcastically while still smiling, thinking of the oodles of time his sister had spent with Aang. Still, she was happy through it all, and that was all that mattered.
Outside, the young waterbender leaned against the sloping wall of the igloo, inhaling the gelid evening air and watching as tendrils of white slipped out and faded with each breath. The darker blue of night was seeping in rather quickly and all that remained of the sun was a thin white line at the edge of the sea. She twiddled her thumbs idly as she waited for Aang to arrive for their date. When her brother came outside, she almost didn't notice, he approached so quietly.
Sokka approached his sister and placed a hand on her shoulder, slightly surprising the waterbender. "What, expecting somebody else, like a certain airbender?" He joked, knowing Aang would be there any second. "You're out of luck for now, because it's only me," he added with another chuckle.
Oh, well, isn't that disappointing," Katara teasingly replied, crossing her arms and giving him a look of mock-irritation. "I hope I don't look frazzled, at least... You crept out here so quietly, you scared me."
Sokka rubbed the back of his head sheepishly, saying, "Sorry about that..."
She dropped her arms to her sides and straightened up a bit, turning slightly to face her brother. "So, what brings you out here? Going to see me off on my date with Aang tonight?" She shot him a smile, halfway between an amused smirk and an admiring grin.
Sokka nodded, "Yep, well, that's part of it." He took a small breath before continuing, "I also just wanted to say a couple things to him, myself." Katara grew concerned for a moment, but Sokka kept her at ease, saying "Don't worry, it's nothing to worry about." He looked around the ground for a moment before refocusing on Katara, adding "It's just a couple easy-going things I want to say to him."
Katara's shoulders relaxed and she lay back against the wall of the igloo again, hands clasped together behind her back. "Oh, well, okay then," she said softly, staring up at the scattering of stars that were just now appearing in the sky.
Suddenly, they heard the crackle of soft snow being trampled on by boots and turned their heads to peer down the stretch of street. Looking in the distance, there they saw a young man, a small, gentle flame in his hand which lit the path in front of him. He was donned in a parka of gray, though his pants appeared more yellow or orange in color. He donned Water Tribe-style boots, and looking up, it was a rather familiar sight - his head free of hair, and a blue arrow running atop it. His gray eyes brightened in the lights of the fire, a soft smile decorating his features as he approached the siblings. Ah, everyone around the world knew him, but those two knew him differently.
"Hey, that guy looks familiar," Sokka joked again.
Even outside the glow of the flame, Katara's eyes lit up at the sight of Aang and she ran over to him, greeting him with a light hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Hey," Aang said, the lilt of laughter in his voice. He wrapped his free arm around her shoulders and they walked over to Sokka, who now took a half-step forward.
"Aang, can I just talk to you for a second? It's nothing bad," Sokka was quick to assure the Avatar.
"Okay," Aang replied, gesturing Katara to wait where she stood.
The two young men stood a few feet away from the waterbender, as Sokka laid his hands on Aang's shoulders. "Hey, Aang...listen," Sokka began softly. "First off, let me just say that I can't thank you enough for all the happiness you've inspired within Katara. I haven't seen her this happy in years."
Hearing Sokka say this, Aang's eyebrows rose slightly in surprise, but his expression soon settled as he observed the sincere appreciation in Sokka's face. "Oh, well, I'm more than glad to hear that I make Katara so happy," he replied with a heartened smile. "I can't even begin to say how happy she makes me...," he said, almost shyly but with a glow in his eyes.
"I'm sure you're more than happy," Sokka replied, going back to all the times through their journey when Aang had yearned for Katara. He got his wish, Sokka thought, and it couldn't have worked out any better between those two. "Listen," the warrior continued, a little more serious now, though his expression still soft. "I'm not entirely sure where the future will go...but..." he continued to think about where the two would likely be headed. "...you know how much Katara means to me. So...take good care of her, please? I don't want anything to happen to her any more than you do."
Aang lowered his hand that cupped the flame, the fire dissipating into the air, and rested both hands on the warrior's shoulders firmly yet reassuringly. "I know how much you care about your sister," he spoke, looking him straight in the eye, "and I promise you, with the spirits as my witness, that I will care for Katara without fail, as I've never cared for anything else. You can trust me wholeheartedly to protect her, for however long we may be together."
Sokka smiled warmly again. The honesty in Aang's words was palpable as he spoke of Katara and his promise to keep her safe. The warrior had no doubts about what the young airbender was telling him. "Thank you," he said, two little words that carried very much meaning in that moment, just like the words of his and Katara's talk earlier in the day. "I have the utmost faith in you." The warrior gave Aang a Water Tribe handshake. After that, Sokka thought, oh, what the heck, and pulled Aang into a hug.
As with Sokka's words in the beginning, Aang was caught by surprise at this sudden gesture, but pleasantly so and in an instant, he had returned his close friend's hug. The evident content and relief Sokka felt moved the young Avatar and, in a way, put his own mind at ease.
From only five steps away, Katara caught a glimpse of the two in the corner of her eye and slowly lifted her gaze to see the poignant gesture between two of the people she cared for the most. It was a wondrously unexpected sight that lay before her and she stood motionless in the snow, slowly drinking it in.
After a moment, the two friends separated from their embrace. It was only fitting, as Sokka always thought of Aang like his little brother, and there was a likely chance they would be brothers-in-law in a time not too distant. He rubbed the airbender's bald head a bit. "Okay, well, I don't want to hold you and Katara up any further, I've said what I needed to say," he finished with a chuckle. "Go on, have fun with my sister."
Aang laughed lightly and replied, "Thanks, I will." He started to turn, taking a step forward, before looking over his shoulder and saying, "Thank you, Sokka, for your trust in me." The seventeen year-old simply raised the corners of his mouth in another smile. Aang shuffled back to Katara and, lifting a hand and squeezing her shoulder slightly, told her excitedly, "Alright, let's get the show on the road."
"I agree with that," Katara said, pulling Aang's hand into one of hers. Before she could go, however, Sokka tapped her on the shoulder and said, "not quite yet," a sly smile on his face.
"What?" An amused waterbender asked. "Hey, can't quite go without me saying this," Sokka told her, before his look softened once again. "Take care, and have a good time, Katara. I'll see you later tonight. I love you, little sister."
Katara dropped her eyes to the ground for a brief moment before looking back up at him. "Thank you, Sokka. I love you, too." A warm smile spread across her face, from ear to ear, and the two siblings looked at each other for a moment longer before the young couple turned slowly and strode off, in step, by the light of the moon.
Sokka watched for a moment as the two stepped slowly out of sight, Aang's re-lit small fire guiding their way. He watched happily, knowing for sure that Aang would keep Katara safe, and that he forever had Katara in his life, no matter what would happen along the way. Sokka had the eternal promise of family in his life, and after an afternoon that started full of worry, it was the most satisfying conclusion. Now, his relationship with Katara was forever changed in a way that would only serve to benefit the two going forward.
- Katara and Sokka recall multiple events from within the series:
- Sokka making sexist comments to Katara in both "The Boy in the Iceberg" and "The Warriors of Kyoshi".
- Katara giving up her chance to visit Hakoda to Sokka in "The Earth King".
- The team's trip to Jang Hui in "The Painted Lady", specifically Sokka's criticism but subsequent support of Katara and her actions.
- Sokka confesses his being unable to picture their mom, instead only seeing Katara, to her; he had first revealed this to Toph in "The Runaway".