Avatar: The Last Airbender is the property of Nick, Michael Dante DiMartino, and Bryan Konietzko. No copyright infringement is intended.
Their flight from the Fire Nation Capital to the Western Air Temple had been nearly silent. That suited Sokka well – he had nothing to say to his friends at that point.
He'd failed. He'd failed his friends, his father, his tribe. The World. Sokka was well aware how melodramatic it all sounded in his head, but the voices of those he'd left behind when they fled, those that had died fighting his battle still echoed there. He doubted he'd ever stop hearing them.
Young as he was, he liked to think he was a fairly smart person. He had always wanted to be a leader, like his father. Eldest son or not, no one had forced that responsibility on him. In fact he'd sought it out with his eyes wide and and his heart eager. He'd watched his father for years, making those choices that guided his people to a purpose that somehow only he seemed privy to at times. He knew that sometimes those choices were hard – that sometimes there were costs to be paid. And that sometimes people were hurt by those choices, friend and enemy alike. He'd seen it and he'd thought he'd understood it, thought he'd been ready.
He'd been so sure he was doing everything right.
After many hours, Appa tired of carrying so many people, and they'd made for the Western Air Temple for shelter. The deserted monastery was imposing but not beyond attack, not from war balloons. They'd have to make plans for a course of action soon. None of them had the heart for that at that moment, though, so they'd each separately shuffled off to claim a deserted chamber for themselves for the night.
One of the consequences of being on the road the way Sokka and his friends had been was a loss of real privacy. Certainly they all had separate tents; that was a luxury they'd splurged on early in their journey. But a tent was no substitute for four solid walls around one's self. Sokka craved that now, as if taking shelter behind fortifications for a siege. He needed privacy to think, and to mourn. Somethings could only be done with privacy.
He'd found a chamber on the corner of the structure, with a decent-sized window, giving him a good vista of the sky; it was almost as if the windows were designed intentionally to offer only a view of the sky, and not the earth below them. He nodded and took advantage of the dim evening light let in by that window to set his bedroll, supplies and weapons down on the cold stone floor as he fumbled with flint and steel, lighting the small bit of kindling he always carried on him, wrapped in oiled cloth to keep it dry, just like his father had always taught him.
Sokka dashed the memory of Hakoda's face from his mind as the flame caught. It wouldn't do to be thinking of his father while handling fire, not at that moment.
He took his little flame and lit a small portable oil lamp he'd unpacked – another luxury he'd purchased early in their travels. He adjusted the flame on the device until it was just bright enough to keep him from tripping over anything as he finished unpacking. He briefly thought about making a meal of the dried meat he kept stored in his packs – again, as his father had always taught – but for once his appetite was nowhere to be found. He settled for shrugging his way out of his armor, tunic and undershirt, pulling off his boots, and spreading his blankets out on the floor. As he laid down, propping his head and shoulders up against a wall, he pulled his black space-metal jian close to his bedroll, within easy reach. It was a comfort to have the sword near him, even when battle wasn't imminent.
He laid his hand on the hilt, remembering Master Piandao's approval, clinging to it like a bit of driftwood in an angry sea. It didn't help much.
He extinguished his little lamp. The moon had risen, and it's light was brighter than it's tiny flame at any rate. Taking a deep breath to try to calm his nerves, he closed his eyes.
He didn't expect he would be alone that night.
Sokka wasn't sure, but it didn't feel like a long time before he could feel someone sit next to him, disturbing his blankets slightly. He didn't open his eyes, merely listening to soft breathing for a time.
"I know you're awake, Sokka," her voice was soft and gentle. "I know you well enough to know you won't be sleeping easily tonight."
"I knew you'd come," he said, keeping his eyes closed.
"Naturally, you're learning," the reply was faintly amused.
"I just see the pattern. You make these little visits of yours immediately after things have gone completely to pieces. Try to hammer me back into shape. A few other times, like after Ba Sing Se, when Azula nearly blew Aang into the spirit world with a lightning bolt. The night we fled with our tails between our legs. I think that's part of the pattern too," he said scornfully.
"But this time is different, isn't it?" she said. "Different because you think this is your fault."
"Isn't it?" he asked. He felt an arm wrap around his shoulders, and he opened his eyes. He didn't look at her, instead looking down at her hand as it settled on his bare chest, stroking his skin soothingly.
"Sokka, not all things are within your control. You couldn't have known that the Fire Nation knew you were coming."
"I should have," he hissed. "The fact that Azula and her sidekicks were in Ba Sing Se, that should have been reason enough to call the whole thing off. I should have assumed the whole thing was compromised."
"You had no other plan," she said. "Despite all else, this was the best course of action, your only course of action, and there was no room for change. The sun and the moon themselves dictated it." She laughed, whisper-soft. "I suppose one of them at least owes you an apology." She moved herself closer to him, and he unconsciously shifted forward to give her room to slip behind him. Her hands guided him back and he felt her cradle his head against her chest..
He opened his eyes and looked up at her. He suddenly realized this was different. She had always spoken to him, in the past, provided sympathy and comforting words, but she had never touched him like this before.
He felt momentary pangs of alarm. He was finally going mad. As if that should surprise him.
"No, Sokka, you are not going mad," Yue said, looking down into his eyes as she stroked his hair. Her long snow-white hair was unbound, and it tickled his bare shoulder.
"You're not real," He whispered. "You're gone."
"I'm as real as I'm needed to be," she said with a cryptic smile.
"Are you a ghost? A spirit?"
She shrugged. "Who can say? Those terms don't have as much meaning as people think they do. Maybe this is all in your head? There are worse places for me to be."
Something in her tone made him blush slightly. "Maybe I'm just dreaming."
"A pleasant dream, and I'm glad you care, even if you are a figment of my imagination. But it doesn't change what happened."
Yue nodded. "What happened is done. What needs to change is your view of it. And your view of yourself."
"I failed. I failed them all like I failed y-"
"And you're not going to finish that sentence," the Moon Spirit said sharply. "Because you really have no idea what you're speaking of. Yes, Sokka, I died. It was meant to happen, and I'm happy it happened the way it did. Death comes for us all, but in my case, it helps people. It means something." She smiled and her voice grew soft again. "The only regret I have is leaving you before I could really show you how much you mattered. No, Sokka, you didn't fail me at all. You were the best thing that happened to me."
She meant it, Sokka could just tell. She wasn't just humoring him or trying to make him feel better. He reached up and touched her face softly, and she leaned into his hand. She felt real, warm and soft. She smelled real, like clean arctic air over the ocean. If this was a dream it was a good dream, indeed. Far better than the waking world he'd fled.
He sighed. "It just feels like the more I try to hold onto the things I love, the further away they slip. I feel alone, Yue. I mean, Katara and Aang and Toph are wonderful, but... I feel like something's slipped away from me."
"Things do that from time to time," Yue said. "The tide moves out, and nothing you can build or conjure can stop it. But I know better than anyone that eventually the tide turns. All you have to worry about is being ready when it comes back in."
Sokka was quiet for a time. The Moon Spirit's words were wise counsel, and her touch soothing to his bruised soul. "We lost today," he said at last. His voice was strong for the first time that night. "But we aren't beaten. Not while we're alive. If Ozai wants the world, he still has to go through the Avatar, and us."
"That's the Sokka I know," Yue said approvingly.
"Something close to him anyway. So... something tells me there won't be a lot of these visits?"
She nodded. "Yes, I'm... stretching a few rules about as far as they'll go. I'd explain but it'd probably melt your brain. But I can come only when you really need me. And in time, you may not need me as much. Which is a good thing."
Sokka instantly thought of Suki, but said nothing. He definitely thought she knew.
"That doesn't mean I don't lend my aid in other ways," Yue said casually. "Nudge things. Make things fall in your favor. Or fall from the sky."
"You mean you..." Sokka looked down at his sword, in shock.
"Possibly," she said evasively.
"... So why don't you just drop a big rock on Ozai for me? I'd love you forever."
"You love me anyway, so I'm not worried, but me and my kind do have a set of rules to obey. Again, it's not permitted. But rest assured, in my own way I'm always right by your side."
"Ah, silly magic stuff. I suspected as much, but it was worth a try," Sokka said with a grin.
She returned the smile, and pulled him closer. "I'll have to leave you soon. As I said, I'm bending a few rules."
"Sneaking off to canoodle with your boyfriend, yes, very bad." Sokka said.
"Very. And I might not be able to do it many more times, if at all." Something in her face changed as she looked at him. Her eyes were still filled with love. But also mischief, and a few other things.
Things that made Sokka suddenly blush. "Wow, maybe I really am dreaming."
Her smile widened, and she shifted to lay Sokka on his blankets, facing up to her as she moved over him. "Then I'll do my best to make sure it's a pleasant dream," she said in a voice that made him tremble before moving down to kiss him.
The next morning, Sokka woke, alone.
Alone, but not lonely.
As he laid in his blankets, steeling himself for the day, he closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. Though the sea was leagues away, he could swear he could smell it.
Clean, cold air, with just a trace of salt.
He opened his eyes, and laughed a little to himself, before rising to get dressed for breakfast, pulling on his boots and the cleanest tunic he could find in his packs.
Once he was dressed, he turned to meet the others for breakfast, but stopped at the last moment, and looked down at his sword. The black blade rested on the floor in its scabbard, where he'd pulled it close to him the night before. He really didn't need to take it with him, it was only breakfast he was going to. But after a momentary deliberation, he picked it up and slung it over his shoulder, it's comforting weight settling into its familiar place.
As always, right by his side.
Author's note: At last, my first story in a universe that's become one of my favorites. I hope I didn't do too badly... really, I just woke up with this thing in my head, and it wouldn't go away 'till I wrote it. It's hardly my best work. But I feel better now, and I hope someone out there had fun with it.