How was it that sunsets were so beautiful?
She asked herself this, silently, in her own thoughts, although there would have been no one around to hear her anyway. How was it they could be so beautiful? Or maybe that wasn't the right question. Maybe the better question was, how could red and orange come together so harmoniously, blend into one another to create such a thing of beauty?
And how could they just as easily come together in such an ugly form?
He lay outstretched before her, rolled over gently on his right side so that she might have a better look at... the injury. The dim light from the candles cast a shadow in such a way that the colors were darkened, clouded. But she knew they were still the same raw red and orange as before, still the garish colors of a wound that was far from healed. They were the colors she couldn't seem to make go away, even though she had spent hours at his side, hands covered in water until they had become so swollen and pruny that she could barely hold anything afterward. But that, she knew, was a small price to pay if it meant bringing him back.
Alright..., she now thought, ...time to do this. With a careful flick of her wrists, she drew the water from the bowl to her fingertips and watched as it took on a life of its own, glowing a faint white as she prepared to work on the injury.
Red and orange, she told herself as she went to work, belong only to sunsets.
He heard what she told him. The glow of the empowered Avatar rising to the top of the Catacombs, ready to wipe out the entire opposition that was gutting them, threatening the mighty capital and perhaps the only real hope to win the war. Then, sadly, the flash of lightning that emitted from the wicked princess' fingers, jolting into the young man's back, sending him falling to the ground in a bloodied mess, blurring the line which separated life and death.
He also remembered looking at him on their traveling companion as he was snugged in her arms; even that fleeting moment of happiness quickly whisked away as he fell into a dangerous sleep. A sleep from which he may not ever awaken from. His sister never left the young bender's side, trying to heal that ugly wound that dominated his back.
She had not been the same ever since that awful night. The bright young waterbender he knew felt hopeless, a feeling he had never seen her reach. The worst part for him was, he could do nothing about it. She did not want to talk, she just occupied to herself, but with every day the world's hope did not come back, she grew more closed off. It was like several giant walls like that mighty one in the capital city had separated him from his younger sibling...he was no earthbender and there was no hope of bringing them down. He just mused along the beach, flipping his look between the sunset and the tent where his sister stood by their mutual friend, doing all she could to bring him back.
I just you with me, sis...I just want to talk to you again, like...
He looked to the tent again - no sign of her heading out. He knelt on the beach, looking out to the ocean, hoping for a sign of her return.
Failure shouldn't have hit her so hard. Surely its blows would be softened by the eighth, the ninth, the tenth strike. But it did.
Like a dagger whose blade never seemed to grow dull, failure came over her. It came over her hands, which now trembled so much that they flung droplets of water, never mind the fact that she was still bending. It came over her eyes and nose, which tingled with that burning sensation that comes when one is close to crying. It came over her entire body, which stiffened and drew into itself like an armadillo curls up in its shell. And the rage, the frustration, the utter hopelessness... and the utter helplessness.
She felt like screaming at the top of her lungs in that moment, she was so tense. Then she remembered that Aang was in the room and, as though he were only in a light sleep, instead of a deep, dark one, and might awake at the slightest noise, she bit down on her tongue and remained silent.
She rose shakily to her feet, feeling pain creep into her legs from kneeling too long. She bent over, rolling him ever so gently back into his reposeful position, and covered him with a blanket. Then, with one last glance back at the young boy's fragile form, she slipped out the room, letting the useless water that covered her hands fall in little shards of ice to the floor.
He picked up some sand into his hand and let it flutter off into the chilling sea breeze that made waves in the open air. All too perfect a symbol for the sinking feeling that had penetrated the group at the little Water Tribe establishment over the past several days as the Avatar still lay unconscious in that tent, guarded by two spear-wielding men, spirits forbid the Fire Nation reach the camp and try something.
He looked down in worry, thinking of her, thinking of their friend...he could not even helped having some hope himself when the Dai Li's secret was busted - what a lift for he who was considered the group's cynic - but it had been taken away from him, from them...but worst of all, from her.
At that moment, however, a fortunate sound maybe: the flaps of the tent opening, echoing a bit in the breeze. He turned and saw his sister leave the tent after more tumultuous hours. He rose from his sandy seat and turned to her. Should I? He was hesitant...would she really want to be bothered? But he was a concerned brother, and he could not just let this go. He opened his lips and the single name slipped out a bit meekly, but nonetheless audibly.
The muscles in her shoulders tightened when she heard her name. For a brief moment, she stood there, one foot slightly ahead of the other, frozen in a half-step. It came again, a little louder this time.
For some inexplicable reason, hearing her brother call her name made the urge to cry even greater. Maybe it was the presence of another person, a person who was awake, whose senses were actually alive, who saw what she saw and heard what she heard, that made that urge greater. But whatever the reason, the burning sensation in her eyes and nose returned, even sharper this time.
No... She didn't want him to see her in such a pitiful state. The last thing she needed was to be pitied or to be touched when she felt she could break into a million pieces at any moment.... So she hurried forward, sending up sprays of sand as she trudged along the shore and trying to tune out every sound except the breeze that was blowing and the small waves lapping beside her.
He saw her turn her face toward him and felt that hope that maybe he would finally be able to speak to her, to reconnect with her after days of fear. But then he saw her begin to run, the blues of her dress begin to fade from his sight.
"Katara, wait!" He called out desperately, trying to get her to turn back, trying to reach her faster. "I..." the warrior got out breathlessly as he was moving quicker...it was too late. She had gotten too far from him, heading down the beach. "Katara..." he got out sadly, left to watch her flee from his eyesight.
He plummeted back on his knees to the sand below him, tears beginning to sting his eyes. He felt like he could do nothing in that moment to help her...a feeling of hopelessness he had feared would approach him so many times, but believed it never would...
She wanted to walk forever, to keep skirting the shore until she came to the edge of the world where the earth would no longer run under her feet.
But she knew she couldn't do that, not in a strange area where danger of who knew what kind could be lurking right around the corner. She went on until she felt sure she was out of her brother's sight, then stopped.
And dropped to her knees.
It wasn't the furious kind of sobbing that rippled through her body until her shoulders ached and she became short of breath. But the tears fell still, one following another in an exhausting stream that seemed to spring from nothing and from everything all at once.
She cried for several moments. But never once did she reach up and wipe her eyes dry, instead letting her vision remain cloudy. It was probably for the better, too, so she wouldn't see the sun that was setting as she sat there on the beach.
Night had fallen, at least literally. For Team Avatar and allies, the night had fallen perpetual since the Avatar was shot down in the former version of Ba Sing Se. Seems no one was able to muster up much of anything that didn't involve him, nor were there many attempts to lift spirits. Hakoda tried to keep everyone focused on keeping their eye out for the Fire Nation; beyond that, everyone's thoughts were with Aang.
The nights were choking...it was the point of the month where the moon was barely seen...a picture that couldn't be any more fitting if one asked - complete darkness with only a thin strip of light. Even though Summer drew near and day was dominating the 24 hours it had to split with night, the latter was winning the mental battle decisively; two simultaneous wars raging in the heavens.
For Sokka, the moon gave him his own sobering reminder about a dark moment in his own life, but that was not the focus, far from it in fact. He looked toward his lost love in the sky, not able to find her very well. Yeah, that's about right... The images of his sister fleeing from him remained quite vividly in his mind. He had been taking a lot of absent-minded walks along the shoreline, including earlier that day. His mind inflamed with those images, he set off on another one, abandoning his tent and making his way back toward the quiet bay.
It had been a long time and still she did not feel like leaving the beach. Katara knew she should return to the campsite, before the dark clouds hanging in the sky were replaced by even darker clouds. But she didn't want to leave. Not yet.
The air was heavy with a sultry sweetness, a reminder of the long days of summer yet to come. The barely visible waves glided in and out with a barely audible sound and although the night itself was warm, the sand beneath her felt cool and inviting. If she closed her eyes and tried very hard to block out her thoughts, to concentrate only on her breathing and the softly lapping waves, she could almost forget her troubles and let calmness wash over her...
A noise from some distance away snapped her unhappily out of her trance. It wasn't a particularly loud or alarming noise, signaling danger nearby. It wasn't even the noise itself that disturbed her. It was a sense of another presence. A feeling of not being alone anymore.
She turned her head and, peering into the growing darkness, she could see the faint outline of a person trailing along the shore, coming closer. She didn't have to look closer to know it was someone in their group.
Sokka strolled along the beach quietly, looking at the quiet waves to his right, watching them collapse from whatever highs they had been at previously to just trails of water reaching their natural limits. He was rather stunned thought-wise, just not knowing where his emotions would take him at the next moment, or what to even believe at this point.
Nothing was clear to him anymore in these trying times; he would spend talks with Toph, his fellow soldiers, Bato, and even his own father just feeling kind of out there. Even a few nights gone by, he still couldn't believe it all, just, stunned over the events. That upbeat Avatar, just lying on a cot, his sister, in devastation and desperation...well, speaking of her, he looked up and saw a figure in the distance, kneeling down.
The faint moonlight made her presence well-known. Sokka rubbed his eyes, making sure it was actually her he was seeing. Fear took over his mind, worried if she would run again if he spoke her name. But just like earlier, he couldn't let go. He wanted...nay, he needed to get his sister back with him. He needed the person he had known for all his fifteen years back by his side.
Maybe I won't totally snap her out of fear...but I've got to at least get her reconnected with us all. So, like earlier that day, he spoke meekly but clear enough. "Katara...is that you?"
For a moment, she could no longer feel the humidity in the air as a shiver ran through her body. She could feel herself withdrawing to some hollow, black space inside of her. It was becoming instinctive now and, for a second, she hated herself for it. Her brother stood just a few feet away now, complete still, as though he were afraid she'd suddenly lunge forward.
She knew she wasn't being fair. To him or to herself. She knew he was hurting, too, even if he didn't spend hours by Aang's side every day like she did; she knew he was in a dark place, too. Still, she sat there like a hunk of metal, unmovable and icy to the touch. Sokka shifted slightly, but he remained where he was standing, not moving closer, but not stepping back either. She knew he wasn't going to go away.
"What?" she asked, her voice on the verge of a low growl.
He heard her voice, a mix of anger and sadness echoing through at the same time. He snapped back a bit after the word came from her lips, but he knew now was not the time to walk away. After a deep breath, he came down to the sandy ground, approaching her level. He took a cross-legged seat and looked out toward the sky for a brief moment, as if he were asking Yue for some inspiration before addressing his sister. He thought to ask how she was, but that would be a bit pointless - the past days' events and her look said it all.
With another breath, he looked to her and spoke softly, "Can we talk...you know, about...what's been going on?" He stiffened again as the words dropped from his tongue as if they were pieces of food or coins slipping from one's hand.
What's been going on... That was an easy question. The Fire Nation had captured Ba Sing Se. Aang was in a coma. They were on the run. But even as she thought this, she knew that wasn't what he was asking. There is a simple answer and a complicated answer to every question.
This time, he wanted the complicated answer.
She sighed. She didn't know where to begin. She didn't know what tender nerve to touch upon to start unraveling the whole knot of thoughts and feelings that was the complicated answer. So she turned the tables instead. "Do you remember when I was five and I got lost in that snowstorm?" she asked quietly. She wasn't looking at her brother, but she could sense confusion settling over his features. He didn't respond. She continued.
"I had been playing this game where I pretended I was an explorer looking for the South Pole. By the time the snow was falling heavily, I had wandered to the edge of our village and I couldn't find my way back. There was just whiteness, a blank sheet closing in on me. I was terrified back then. I thought I would be lost in that blank sheet forever. But now..." She paused and drew in a shaky breath. "...now, I wish I were back in that snowstorm, in that blinding whiteness. Because now there's just this darkness."
Sokka all too well knew the panic that had set in on him and their parents back when she was lost, fearing for her life, her well-being, and so much more. As he thought about what she had said at the end, however, now it seemed to really hit him...just how deep the uncertainty and sadness ran in her. He could see her trembling next to him.
"I do remember..." he began. The warrior was doing a quick check, double-check, even triple-check in his mind before the words came out - this was not the time to speak carelessly. It was rough to even think that...he never thought he would see such a sad day...not even their mother's death had her saying such things. They were of course much younger then...they were now a point that they had seen the world, had felt sadness, but had felt hope. Hope that had been ripped away from them like the scabbing of an open wound...now it bled and now it hurt.
This is what happened to his sister. This was the pain she was feeling. He mustered up all he could. "I...Katara, this is hard. There's no doubt about that." He sighed heavily... what do I even say right now? Just trying to force words out, he continued, "We can't give it all up though...we haven't done so through so much and we can't now..."
They had... they had overcome so much. All those times they could have surrendered, broken apart... they hadn't. But they could have. And that was the cruel irony; you never believe you can survive when surviving is the only thing you're fit to do.
"How..." she croaked. The word faded in the open air, uttered so weakly that it was barely a statement, let alone a question. She wanted to say his name, to address him directly, but even that seemed too much for her. She had spun a narrative, but now she was emptied of words. She wanted to cry, but she was dry-eyed. She felt as hard as rock and as soft as slush at the same time.
Anger began to flare up inside her. Not the kind that wells up until it bursts forth, but the kind that spreads widely, burning everything clean. She could see her brother tense up and she knew her anger showed. She wanted to stop it, but at the same time, she didn't care anymore. Without thinking, she picked up a fistful of sand and hurled it toward the water. The grains quickly broke apart and disappeared into the darkness, forever scattered.
She turned to her brother, fixing her gaze steadfastly upon him, searching, begging. "Tell me," she said, her voice wavering.
Sokka scratched his finger in the stand for a moment, his head down and away from her gaze. Truth be told, even he wasn't really sure how they were supposed to survive this. They literally were now at nothing. Aang was borderline dead, Ba Sing Se had likely been overrun by Fire Nation troops by now, and the invasion... Ha, the cynical side of him blared out in his head. The warrior was fighting hard in his head, trying to crush that side of him. This is not the time, shut up! The other side of his mind yelled out.
For a brief moment, this mental struggle drew his hand to his face, his eyes closing while he tried to regather himself. He had to be strong right now...for his friends, his fellow soldiers, and his family. He tried to think of all those times they found hope, how she did when he could not. With this surrounding the Avatar, only one thing came to mind.
"Sis, let's say this. For almost a hundred years, the world didn't even know if there was an Aang. He had been assumed dead. No one believed...no one but you. You knew he would be found...and look, he did. We found him, living and breathing." He sucked in another deep breath, quickly gesturing to Yue for more guidance as he continued. "...I know it's bleak. I know he's out...but he's alive. He's still with us...he awoke after a hundred years in ice. You told me before we found him that as long as there was a chance, even the slightest bit-" He squeezed his index finger and thumb closer together to make his point - "to never give up."
His arm shook as he reached out for Katara's shoulder, fearful she might swipe it away, but nonetheless, his left hand fell upon it. "We just have to keep fighting...giving up is...we can't. Dad always taught me, as well, that a true warrior never stops fighting...that's what we need to be right now, for everyone...the other nations, our family, our friends...and especially Aang."
Katara dropped her arms to her sides, trying to let the inspirational words sink in and take root, inviting some light, any light, to pour through. But the words seemed as weak as water running through open fingers.
"I know... I know I held out hope that the Avatar would one day return. And to find Aang in that iceberg, to see him emerge from that prison in all the might of the Avatar State... it was amazing. That night in Ba Sing Se, in the catacombs, watching him rise from that bed of crystals, empowered by the Avatar State... it reminded me of that day we found him the iceberg. It reminded me of that hope that was suddenly brought back to life now that he had returned." Recalling this, the faintest shred of hope stirred within her. And just as quickly, it vanished.
"But it was different in Ba Sing Se... Aang fell, right into my arms... but there was... nothing afterward..." She could barely get the words out.
This was the challenge for Sokka. No matter how he tried to spin things, no matter what his words were, no matter what he could inspire - he knew these were facts: he did not see Aang be struck by lightning. He did not see his lifeless form tumble to the ground. He did not hold him dead, watching the figure who became a final symbol of hope for the world become lifeless. He was not there...he did not know that pain. Most of all...as much as he considered Aang a close friend, like a little brother to him - he was not as close to him as Katara was. There was something more, he felt...but that was not relevant. There was so much in play that he just could not understand...saying he did would be a significant lie - not just to himself, but to Katara.
Once again, his mind searched for the words. What could he say to his broken sister? He had provided the light for her before...but now he couldn't. Was he failing as her big brother? He had to muster something; every second he sat in silence, he knew she would fade further away from him, tumbling into the void that enclosed her. He put his thoughts into words.
"Katara, I'm not going to pretend that I know that feeling. I felt that loss when Yue died, but that was nothing compared to this..." He looked once more to the late princess's lunar form before continuing, setting his gaze on his sister. "But...there's always light in the dark. We have to keep moving to find it. Just as there's a shred of moonlight tonight, there's a shred of life still in him." Another deep breath and his voice grew softer as his arm inched around toward her other shoulder. "Remember...you found that life. You used that spirit water and it was you who brought him back. He still has life thanks to you. We have hope thanks to you...please, don't surrender to the dark now...there is still something, and it's all because of you."
She saw the sliver of moonlight edging along the clouds, struggling to break through and shed its light. It was trying hard... she was trying hard. She dropped her gaze and shook her head.
"It's not enough... The world doesn't seem to think it's enough. Because if it did, he would be awake by now. My healing would have an effect. Why isn't it having an effect?" She asked this more to herself than to Sokka. He opened his mouth slightly, prepared to say something, but she continued speaking, a cold sarcasm stinging her words. "I'm supposed to be the healer of our group. I'm the one with the special ability to relieve pain and cure injuries. I'm the only one." A bitter laugh escaped her throat. "And I can't. Don't you see? I'm powerless. I'm supposed to help and I can't."
Sokka's mid-lined expression dipped to a frown. He had seen Katara be humble about her waterbending abilities before, but this...this was just putting herself down. This was not her. She was mentally smacking herself endlessly over the past few days, and now it was boiling to the surface. It seemed nothing could cheer her up at that moment; his words just hitting a wall of ice and now he was starting to get down on himself.
If I can't snap her out this funk or even get her to just feel a little better... he buried his hands into his face for a beat. ...then I'm a failure of a big brother. What kind of brother would I be if I left my sister depressed, unable to even get her to not frown or cry or something...
He popped back up to continue trying - he had to. "It's not an easy injury. I won't claim I know medical science, but...it's such a deep wound. I think all you already did what healing will allow with something like this. The fact that you brought him back to life...that alone is a great accomplishment. You were the one who placed that spirit water where it needed to be and gave him life. How many healers could claim that? You've helped and you have shown power. With the injury otherwise, I think it's just natural limits with the internals of the body that no healer can reach, and we just have to let it play out." He sighed, fearing again these words would have no impact. "Just..."
The warrior tried to speak, but words would not come out...just seeing the cold form of his sister, completely lost and feeling beaten, shattered his heart deeply, fragmenting like ice whipped by water. Speaking of water, his eyes began to light with it ever so slightly and he tensed up. He pulled his arm from her shoulders and used his hand to grip one of hers. "I just...I want you back, sis..."
Katara gazed down at his hand that now held hers, tenderly, pleadingly. That wasn't me reviving Aang... that was only the spirit water, she wanted to say, but she silenced herself.
She saw the pain-stricken look on her brother's face, in his eyes. It was sorrow that went beyond the grim situation they were facing, beyond the catastrophic events that had occurred in Ba Sing Se and beyond the hardships they were all enduring. It was sorrow for her.
She knew she was being selfish, drowning herself in her own emotions to a point where no one could even reach her. So she reached out just a little. She squeezed Sokka's hand, lightly, just enough to let him know that she was still there, even if not completely. "I guess I'm not helping myself, am I?" she asked quietly. "Or anyone else... you." She paused. "You know I don't want to be like this. I don't mean to..."
For the first time in many days, Sokka felt the slightest shred of hope in his mind. He was finally getting through to her, getting her attention back in this difficult game that had become so much harder...but there she was. Still, there was more at hand to be said.
"No one can blame you for feeling so down right now. It's hard for all of us..we're all in a dark place." He used his free hand to wipe the mist out of his eyes. "But now, I want to go back to another moment back home...when Dad left." He continued to gaze directly into his sister's eyes. "I remember crying more than I think I ever have after his ships sailed away. We were, essentially, without anyone. Our only family was Gran-Gran and I felt all alone...but with one exception."
Squeezing her hand ever so slightly tighter, but enough to allow a feeling to flow through this lock, he continued. "You continued to hold out hope, even through your upset feelings with him...you continued to hold me and tell me that one day, when the Avatar returned...we would have him back...and he would have done so much for the world...and for us."
He shook his head, trying to ward off dread that formed in his mind, which he explained by saying, "if I didn't have that hope from you in that moment...I don't know what I would have done. You gave me reason to keep trying...you were all the hope we had...back with no parents, no Aang. To see you the way you are now...honestly, it scares me, it breaks my heart."
He took a deep breath, just trying to be honest but also trying to avoid breaking her even more. "I don't want to see you give it all up...I just want to see you back to who I know you are...that hopeful person who gives us reason to believe in a better tomorrow that we desperately need...please, don't give up..."
Katara lowered her eyes, momentarily breaking her gaze. A tear ran down her cheek, unanticipated. She let it run, the wetness on her skin reminding her that she was only human, that it was okay to be open.
She raised her head again, looking back at her brother once more and chancing the faintest of smiles. "I wouldn't ever give up... even though it sometimes feels like I'm the verge of doing so, I would never. Why do you think I continue those healing sessions? Go in there every day and try to bring him back? I would never stop. I won't stop."
She frowned, feeling her jaw slacken again. "I don't think it's hope I'm losing, even if it does waver sometimes. I just feel like I'm losing myself... I feel like I've lost a sense of happiness that came in knowing that Aang was fine, that he was strong - that he was here. I've lost myself in this sadness and insecurity, in not knowing what's going to happen. And I'm afraid... even though I'm hopeful, I'm afraid, Sokka. Because I don't know what will happen next. No matter how much I may will something to happen, I just don't know."
Through his ears, the words entered in, finding his brain again, kicking up the gears of Sokka's mind as he processed all he had just heard. So I know she hasn't given in to the worst...but I know there's more I need to say.
As he feared, the hopeful, bright, little sister he knew was fading, and even she herself feared it. He gave up some more silence and went to his heart, digging out more of his own fears. "I know, he's not with us physically right now...and chances are, he'll be out still for quite a while. It was a lethal blow."
Sokka flashed back to their journeys with Aang previous. Even if some times the young Avatar's playfulness annoyed him, he knew it brightened Katara very much and provided a fuel for herself - more will to fight on. Truth be told, it even gave him that same reminder that there was still hope - not just in terms of the world, but for his sister. Once again, he re-gathered himself, hoping to give her more reason to brighten - if just in the slightest - and find herself.
"No, I know nothing is the same right now...but Aang is here. He's still breathing, he's still alive. He's going to come back...I don't know when, but I know we'll see him back with us, as he always was..." He sighed and crafted more words, the best he could. "Aang is strong right now, sis, he really is...the fact that he's still alive is its own testament to that...and it's through your hands...believe me, I'm scared all the same for him. But he's fighting. He's fighting...and he's got us helping him." Once more, tears dotted his eyes, and like what happened to Katara, one ran down his face, splashing their interwoven hands. "He's a brave fighter...and with our help, in our thoughts, our acts, and words...he fights. He needs us...and I know, most of all...he needs you."
Katara held her brother's gaze. Even as tears edged her eyes, clouding her vision, she held his gaze and in it she saw every emotion - softness but conviction, quietness but strength, solemnity but hope. She saw herself.
Something moved in her, something she felt was there the whole time but was, until now, imperceptible. She wasn't happy or at peace; nothing miraculous had occurred to wipe the shadows clean. But she trusted something that she hadn't before. For the first time, it felt as though she could look at the future without falling under the weight of its raging uncertainties. For the first time, she trusted she could stand before it. Shakily perhaps - but she could stand.
"You're right, Sokka...," she finally said after a long pause. "I know Aang is strong. I've always known that about him, even when he was at his lowest points. Even... the way he is now..." She swallowed a bit, but continued. "Every day, as I try to heal him, I can feel it... energy concentrated around the wound on his back. It's frightening sometimes to feel it there. But there's something empowering about knowing it's there. Like... like it can be unleashed at any moment. And if only it could be tapped into, he could come back... I don't know if that makes much sense. But somehow, it does."
For the first time in what had felt like forever, Sokka could feel his lips arching upward and into a smile. It wasn't a full return to her ways, but for the first time in so many days, the sister he knew and loved was showing signs of coming back. He could feel the surge in her mentality, no longer in the throes of full despair.
Recalling her remark about the energy she was feeling, he said softly, "Don't fear that. That's Aang in there...that's his life. Focus on the empowering part. All you need to know is that's his life, his will...he's so young, and yet so strong. He is a true warrior, Katara...but every warrior, no matter how strong, always needs their friends." He squeezed her hand again. "That's why we're here, and that's why we've always been. Gran-Gran was right, our destines are intertwined with his."
Continuing to maintain his smile, he added, turning closer to her, "And I'm proud of you as well, Katara, for never giving up through these days, for all that you've done and continued to do...even now that everything seems to be flying in our faces, against us...every day and night, you still stand up and continue to work with Aang. I don't know how many people would be able to work through it all...I'd probably break myself." Removing his hand from hers, he shifted his arms up and firmly planted his hands on her shoulders. "But you don't. You have always had that will to fight, and even now, I see it...you still do."
Katara reached one hand up, laying it over one of Sokka's own. A light smile played across her face at his confidence in her, in her abilities, in their ability to survive this ordeal. The trust that had sparked within her grew.
We're going to make it... Aang is going to make it... That was all she needed. That was all the universe could give her right now. And she was going to demand it.
"Do you really think things are going to change? For the better?" she asked, her voice lifting a bit now.
Sokka thought back to where they were just a few months ago, going back to the beginning of their discussion as well - reminding himself of how far they had come. He smiled even brighter.
"They will," he said quietly. "They absolutely will. Even in this dark state...things are better. We have Aang...and he has life. He will return and we will continue our journey. Will we have to make adjustments? Probably...but yes, they will get better. It's on us, though, to continue to work to make it better. But we're still in a position that's many times better than it was just a few months ago. All of us have done so much, and we will continue to do so, alongside each other." He shifted his face to an even softer expression, his eyes looking warmly upon his sister. "And one thing is for sure...I will always have your back, no matter what direction the winds may blow."
The ghost of a smile that had wavered on her face now widened. New tears sprung in her eyes, pushing the ones from before over the brim and sending them sliding down her cheeks. "Thank you... for saying all that...," she said, nearly whispering. She gingerly wiped the tears from her face. "I've been feeling very alone lately. Like no one can begin to understand what I'm feeling or where I'm at... I realize now, though, that that's only in my imagination. I have you, I have Dad, our friends. We all have each other. And we still have Aang." Just saying those words brought a new lilt to her voice.
Mimicking his sister's change of gesture, Sokka's expression grew brighter and he was now smiling broadly. What was once nothing more than a sliver of light had now emerged into a wide beam. The strip of moonlight emanating from the sky seemed to be focusing on them.
After quietly thanking Yue for her unspoken guidance, he continued talking to Katara. "We'll never be alone, Katara. That's one thing our years in the South Pole always proved...as long as we have each other, there's always reason to hope. You are right about who we have and always will have..." He thought back to where they were just a few hours ago - they had gone from the mires of darkness and fear to a moment of hope and happiness. Whether it would turn out to be fleeting or not was not important - they had a moment just to smile, to hope again.
There were a few sentiments left, definers of anyone who shared a bond with another, no matter how...and so, his arms made their way around hers and he pulled her close to him, gripping his sister tightly. This left four words to top the sentiment, to seal in that warmth... "I love you, Katara."
Katara was slightly surprised by his gesture, but she allowed herself the comfort of her brother's embrace, allowed herself the release of reaching through the walls she had built around herself to return that embrace.
"I love you, too, Sokka," she whispered. There was more she knew she could say. A thank you. An apology. But after saying so many words, saying just that felt like enough.
Sokka felt like he had been lifted to the moon itself as he held his sister in his arms. His eyes closed, enjoying the embrace and the quiet air around him, he simply thanked the spirits for this moment, something that was so many days in the making. Hope was reinspired in both siblings...he knew, it would still be a long road to recovery for all...but again, there was a moment to hope once more. Not wanting to break the moment, he let Katara stay in his embrace, absorbing the new warmth which had broken through the wall of ice that seemed to had separated them for days prior.
For several moments, the two simply sat embracing each other. Katara couldn't help but think of the day when she would be able to hold Aang this way. She knew it would come someday... but then she let herself slip back into the present, taking comfort in Sokka's presence, in a rare moment. After a while, they slowly broke apart and for a few seconds longer there was only the sound of the water. It was dark, but it no longer seemed as frightening.
After the embrace ended, Sokka looked directly into her eyes again. He could see it in her - the lifting of a major emotional weight, freeing her to be warm again. He was so happy to see that, to see his little sister smiling once again, the sight that livened up so many of his days, even the darkest of them. In the days since their mother died and their father left to fight in the war, there was nothing more he valued than her smile, the breaking of fear.
With his own smile still spread across his face, he voiced this feeling. "I'm so glad to see you smiling right now, sis. Your happiness is mine, and on a night like this, it couldn't hold any more true."
Hope held her smile steady. "Things are going to change," she said. "I know they will." They will change, and for the better. You... you just have to believe in that. You do believe in that. "Thank you, Sokka, for staying by me through this night, for not letting me remain alone. And for helping both you and me realize that I haven't lost hope for the future. I think that would have been the scariest thing for me. But it hasn't happened and it never will."
Sokka nodded and pondered her words, thinking back of how he had become, at points, somewhat cynical when he nearly lost hope. But he didn't, and he had Katara to thank for that. "You're welcome, Katara...and I thank you too for keeping hope alive throughout the years. Without it, I don't know where I'd be...thank you."
He again laid a hand firmly on her shoulder in a further show of assurance and took a lingering moment to smile at his sister, happy to see her looking back at the optimistic side of things once more. The warrior then looked up at his once-love again and gesturing another silent thank you to the lunar spirit for helping to make things all right in the end. Sure, he could worry that it could all go back to that state of despair at any point...but now was not the time. They had the night to themselves and a moment to just say to themselves that, yes, things would work out in the end...and most important of all, they had each other.
Katara let out a soft sigh, feeling tired but reassured. Following her brother's gaze, she saw the crest of moonlight peeking through the shadowy clouds. She saw the faint white glow it cast on the water below, just at the edge of the horizon, and thought about her own healing hands, how they glowed with the same white light, the same semblance of hope in the midst of overwhelming darkness.
She thought about sunsets, how she had shunned their colors as garish and ugly, just like the scars Aang bore. But then she realized that the colors of sunset were the same as the colors of sunrise. And in sunrise, there was no ugliness.
There was the promise of a new day.