Sokka whistled a happy tune as he weaved his way through the market place stopping every now and then to make a purchase. So far he had bought a new knife, some groceries and a pair of drums from a merchant from the Northern Water Tribe. He'd been thinking that he could practice a bit and try to convince Azula to dance again with some musical accompaniment. She had seemed so at peace and in control when she danced last time, as if she'd been liberated from her cell and the pain she bears on her shoulders.
At her memory he brought his fingers up to lightly touch his mouth. A slight electrical shock still stung his lips. Azula's very essence seemed to emanate fire and energy even after losing her bending and being in such a fragile state. The thought of her in her cell all alone at that moment soured his mood. He felt angry at how she's been treated and guilty for leaving her there. Sokka made a mental note to dig out his sleeping bag to keep her company in those lonely hours. Spirits know what she's been doing to herself when he's not around. He looked up at the shining full moon as he walked through the alleys feeling guilty once again.
"Yue I know you probably have a lot of moon spirit duties but could you please watch over Azula? She doesn't deserve to hurt anymore." Tears threatened to overflow but he fought them back. "I won't fail this time Yue, I won't let go of her."
Determination overflew him as he continued his way home. He admired Azula for being so strong and making it this far and more than anything he wanted to help her get better. And he couldn't deny this bond that was growing between them. It was silent but strong, a simple understanding of each other and their strengths and weaknesses. They simply clicked in a way he had never experienced before, and that was something he refused to give up without a fight.
When he finally got home he found an unexpected visitor sipping tea in the kitchen with Katara and Aang.
"Dad!" He rushed over to his father, not caring that he considered himself a grown man, and hugged him tightly. It had been a while since they had seen each other and the fear of him leaving at any given moment due to the war still hadn't disappeared.
"Good to see you Sokka." Hakoda hugged his son back with equal energy, visibly pleased to see his son again.
"So now that Sokka is here can you please tell us what the deal with you two is?" Katara asked eyeing Aang and her father suspiciously.
"Well you see um, this isn't an easy thing to say." Aang started
"Son you should take a seat." An alarm went off in Sokka's head. Las time he'd heard his father like that was when he told him about his mother.
"Whats wrong?" Worry soaked his voice as he slowly sat down at the table.
"Well you see it's about Azula." Aang said carefully.
A slight relief washed over Sokka. "I've been meaning to talk to you Zuko about that. I don't think keeping her locked up is the best idea. Maybe we can let her out once in a while, integrate her into society. And um."' He looked over to his sister nervously avoiding her eyes at all costs. "Toph's going to leave pretty soon to start her metalbending school and with an extra room we thought that maybe we-"
"Sokka." Aang's stern tone caught everyone's attention. Sokka could really see how much he's grown up, how he's been forced to act and deal with adults at the ripe age of 12. He respected him so much for that.
"I'm afraid we won't be able to do that." His voice was very firm but Sokka could see how hard this was for him, those baby eyes looked anguished, in too much pain for them to belong to a kid.
"King Kuei has decided Azula's punishment son."
"What do you mean? I thought this was her punishment." His voice was serious and calm, but it had a slight edge to it, as if waiting to lash out.
"The Earth King felt that wasn't enough. He sentenced her to execution."
The last word echoed inside his head almost as if it was making fun of him. His whole system seemed to have shut down for a second and geared back on at triple the force and speed. The chair he had been sitting on toppled over as he stood and slammed his fists on the table, knuckles turning white. Failure has consistently followed him everywhere and this time it would cost someone their life. Zuko had trusted him to help his sister, to protect her from herself. But most of all he'd failed her. She opened up to him and that was a promise in itself and now all of that, all of her would be gone.
"How could you let this happen?" He directed his eyes to the Avatar and then his father. His voice grew louder. "How can you let Kuei kill her. She's just a kid." He practically shouted the last words not really looking at anyone. "She's a fourteen year old girl like your daughter and your girlfriend."
"Don't compare me to that-that monster." Katara who had been quiet until that moment stood to stare her brother in the eyes. "I can't believe you, how you've fallen into her trap. She's just using you, that's all she does. Can't you remember how she almost tried to kill us? And now you're all day with her and come home with this stupid smile on your face almost as if"
"As if what?" Sokka interrupted her, desperation in his voice.
"As if you love her or something!" It was absurd how shocked he was. It had been painfully obvious to his sister, yet he didn't even notice it happening. He knew he had grown to care for Azula but he never even considered the idea of love. In the past his heart had jumped headfirst into relationships and he always got hurt in some way, so he had since been cautions with his heart.
"Katara I think you need to calm down." Aang said.
"Don't tell me to calm down! How can you not see it Aang?" Katara replied.
"I do see it." All heads turned to the young Avatar who had a very serious expression on his face. "I've noticed how Sokka has been acting different, goofy even coming home and humming or whistling happy tunes. He smiles brighter and frowns deeper. And as his friends, as his family we have to let him be happy with whoever he wants to." He turned to face Sokka. "You know I don't approve of the Earth King's decision, but there really isn't much I can do to help you or her right now."
"But Aang there must be something you can do, maybe you and Zuko can convince Kuei or -"
"You didn't let me finish. Zuko and I might have our hands attached by diplomacy, but if a hooded vigilante were to break out a young girl from prison who was condemned to death we could conveniently look the other way."
Sokka hadn't smiled that wide in a very long time. He scrambled around the table to hug his friend a joyful tear escaping his eye. "Thanks bud, I promise you won't regret this."
"If there's anyone I trust with Azula it's you, and I'm sure Zuko will too."
"Well I guess I better get ready and stuff. Busting out a former prison from jail is no easy task." He was perplexed as to how he was to accomplish that but surely he would figure it out.
Hakoda stepped towards his son placing both of his hands on Sokka's shoulders. "You've grown into a great man Sokka, I'm very proud of you."
"Thanks dad, I'm proud to be your son." Hakoda let go of his son and Sokka turned to his sister who refused to meet his stare. Aang poked her with his elbow but she only began to pick up the dishes on the table.
"I guess I'll be going then." He walked towards one of the closets and grabbed his bags. He was unsure of what would happen next so he took anything that might seem useful.
"Well um I suppose this is goodbye then." Sokka scratched the back of his head and stared at the floor. He didn't know when he would see his friends again and the enormity of what he was about to take on was dawning on him.
"Don't worry Sokka, we'll meet again." Aang said with a huge goofy grin. It was nice to see him act like the 12 year old he is.
"Of course, you can't miss Aang and Katara's wedding." Hadoka said chuckling.
"Wh-wh-what! Wedding!" Aang became flustered and red in embarrassment. "Sir I love your daughter a lot but don't you think we're still a little young for that?"
"I'm just kidding Aang. But I must say I look forward to you becoming my son in law." Hadoka said sitting down to finish his tea before Katara cleared out his cup.
Sokka snickered under his breath. "l'll be looking forward to it." He waved at his family before closing the front door behind him. He was already starting down the road when someone calling his name made him turn around. Katara was running towards him. He became slightly worried as she got closer and refused to slow down. He was bracing himself for a water whip or a good old fashion slap across the face. In less than a second he found himself tackled on the ground and his sister hugging him fiercely as if she let go he would disappear forever. Sobs shook her body and tears stained her face.
"I'm sorry Sokka." She managed to get out between sobs. "I do want you to be happy and if that includes Azula I'm just going to have to deal with it. I still don't trust her, but I trust you."
"Thanks a lot Katara. That means a lot to me." He hugged his little sister back and stared at the moon in the sky. He silently thanked Yue for all these special people in his life.
"I'm gonna miss you." She said as she started to get up.
"Like Aang said we'll see each other again, no worries." He took Katara's outstretched hand and got up too. "Besides I wouldn't miss being the best man at your wedding for anything."
Katara blushed furiously and looked to the ground causing Sokka to laugh. He grabbed his things and turned around to start his journey.
"Remember to write!" Katara yelled. "And to visit Toph, she's gonna kill you for not saying goodbye!"
"Yes mother" He called back as he waved his hand.
He was scarred, terrified of what would happen if something went wrong. Things would surely change now, that was certain, but nothing could make him back down.