Sokka woke to the sound of someone banging on the door.
Zuko was already up by the time Sokka blinked open his eyes and he saw Tenzin sit up in his bed on the other side of the room.
Zuko pulled the door open quickly, heralding the sight of Senna, her hair ruffled and her face tear stained. There was a cut on her forehead seeping blood into her eyebrows. There was a wild look in her eyes as she gasped, “Someone broke in-grabbed Korra, Tonraq chased, help, please!”
Sokka sprung into action. He pulled his boots on and grabbed his sword and boomerang. Zuko ducked out of his way, darting back to grab his dual swords and Sokka pushed past Senna, Tenzin following him. Distantly, Sokka wished that Katara was here instead of staying with Kya but it was too late to get her. Senna would have to stitch up her own cut.
He took off running in the direction Senna pointed, ignoring the ache in his knees and the way that Zuko was promising Senna that they would find Korra behind him. The promise made Sokka’s stomach clench. He had a sinking suspicion on who was behind this and if he was right, they would have a hard battle in front of them. The rumors he heard were viscous. A secret society, discontent with the world and ready to tear it down and rebuild it in their own image. It was the same type of evil they took down in their youth but it still made Sokka nervous.
Sokka led the way since he knew the tundra best and they were able to find Tonraq’s trail quickly, the snow falling from the sky not yet obscuring them. It led them south towards the shoreline.
“They are trying to get her on a boat!” Sokka panted.
“We aren’t going to let them get that far!” Zuko said.
“I see them!” Tenzin shouted and pointed ahead.
They had to run a few yards further before Sokka could spot what his nephew did but when he did, he nearly stopped in his tracks.
Tonraq was battling it out with three people and while he was holding his own in the fight, it was obvious that he could not sustain it. He was going hand to hand with a bald man while simultaneously fending off attacks from a waterbender and a tall woman who looked startlingly familiar.
“Did Combustion Man have a daughter?” Sokka shouted to Zuko.
Zuko threw his arms up. “Does it look like I know?”
“Well, I can deal with her the same way I dealt with him!” Sokka said before taking quick aim and letting his boomerang loose.
It hit it’s mark perfectly and gave Zuko and Tenzin the opening they needed. The two jumped into action and gave Tonraq the moment to shout at Sokka. “An earthbender took Korra towards the shore!”
“Got it!” Sokka continued running, grabbing his boomerang off the ground as he bypassed their fight. He pushed away a flare of worry in his chest for his family. Zuko and Tenzin were both extremely capable fighters with years of experience under their belts. They would be fine. Tonraq too, was no easy fight. He was the type of man to give the world for his daughter and that meant that he would stay alive in this fight long enough for Sokka to bring Korra back to him. There wasn’t a single doubt of that in Sokka’s mind.
He crested a hill and spotted the earthbender that Tonraq warned him about. He was running, heading towards a large battleship in the water. And there, tied up in his arms, was Korra.
Sokka’s blood boiled in anger.
“Hey idiot!” He shouted before he could stop himself. He threw his boomerang again and let himself slide down the hill. The earthbender whirled around at the sound of his voice, right in time to get a face full of boomerang. Sokka watched him stumble and small Korra go tumbling out of his arms.
Korra hit the ground with a soft whump, her baby fat absorbing most of the impact. She looked startled and confused for a moment before her eyes landed on Sokka. Her face lit up and she scrambled over to him as fast as her little toddler legs would let her before the earthbender was able to get up.
“Sokka!” She shouted, flinging herself at him. Sokka scooped her up and held her close to him.
“Who are you and what do you want with the Avatar?” Sokka called as the earthbender stood again.
“I am Ghazan of the Red Lotus and we are going to make sure that this Avatar does some actual good for this world!” He growled.
In his younger days, Sokka would’ve seen red. Aang was his best friend, his brother, his family and people insulting him had always made Sokka so angry but years of knowing Aang and knowing that he wouldn’t want Sokka to be angry on his behalf made it easy for Sokka just to pull his sword and charge at the man.
He kept Korra clutched close as he let decades of training flow through him. There was no hope for the earthbender and Sokka knocked him unconscious in moments.
“Korra!” Tonraq shouted, cresting the hill behind him. Korra immediately squirmed in Sokka’s arms until Tonraq picked her up out of them.
“Oh spirits, I'm so glad you’re safe.” Tonraq murmured, hugging his daughter tight. When he looked up at Sokka, his eyes were rimmed with tears. “Senna notified the White Lotus too. They are tying up the other three now.”
“Good.” Sokka said. He gave the unconscious earthbender a nudge with his foot. “Yeah, he’s out light a lightbulb. We’ll let the White Lotus gather them up and interrogate them in the morning. Help me get him up the hill?”
Together and with Tonraq still holding Korra against him, they dragged the Red Lotus earthbender to where the White Lotus had the other three bound and gagged. Zuko and Tenzin fell in step with them as they began the journey back to Tonraq’s home.
Senna was there within seconds of the door opening, her forehead messily healed but the relief in her eyes when she spotted Korra made every old aching bone in Sokka’s body worth it. The living room of the house was a wreck but that didn’t matter as Senna rushed towards her family.
“I am so glad you’re safe, baby.” Senna said, running her hands through her daughter’s hair. Her knees began to wobble and Tonraq brought all three of them to the ground in a family huddle as Sokka, Tenzin and Zuko could only watch.
“I was so scared.” Korra cried, burying her head in her father's chest. “I hated it, I hated it, I hated it!”
“Korra,” Tonraq said, rocking her gently. “It’s okay to be afraid. What happened to you was scary.”
“But,” Korra sobbed, fat tears running down her face. “I’m the Avatar and everyone says I have to be strong and brave and save the world but I can’t do that if I’m afraid!”
“Oh Korra,” Tonraq pulled back and looked at his daughter, tears shining in his eyes. Senna wrapped her arms around them both “Korra, you can be strong and brave and still be scared. You might be the Avatar but you’re a person first. And people get scared sometimes. And that's okay. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Really?” Korra’s voice was tiny and it broke Sokka’s heart into a thousand pieces.
“Of course, baby” Senna soothed.
Sokka kneeled down next to the trio, giving Tonraq a comforting smile and resting his hand on Senna’s shoulder. “Korra? Can I tell you a story?”
Korra looked up at him, her blue eyes shining with tears as she nodded. Sokka remembered Katara, not much older than Korra was, crying over the body of their mother. He remembered Aang, so young, too young, eyes glowing in grief and fear in the ruins of the Southern Air Temple. He remembered Toph, spiteful and angry at anyone and everyone for treating her like she was lesser. He remembered Zuko, an angry and bitter boy, just as likely to save the world as he was to burn it to the ground. He remembered himself, holding the body of the girl he loved.
He remembered every ally they met along the way, all of them too young and forced to grow up much too fast, fighting a war that didn’t belong to them.
In that moment, Sokka swore to Yue’s spirit high above that as long as he was alive, nothing like that would happen to Korra.
He reached out and took Korra’s small hand in his. “This is the story of possibly the bravest girl I have ever known. Her name was Princess Yue.”
“A princess?” Korra perked up at that as her father visibly tensed. Sokka gave Tonraq a pat on the arm and mentally apologized. He spent a lot of time forgetting that Yue would technically be Tonraq’s aunt. Only sometimes was that on purpose.
“Yes, a princess.” Sokka said. He smiled at Korra. “Yue was the daughter of the chief of the Northern Water Tribe, back when I was a teenager. And she was one of the bravest people I have ever known.”
“Really?” Korra asked. She squirmed in her father’s arms until she had turned around so she was sitting in his lap, looking at Sokka expectantly.
Sokka laughed and switched positions so he was sitting cross legged in front of her. “Yes really.”
“Was she braver than Aang?”
“Hmmm” Sokka cocked his head to the side. “In some ways, yeah.”
“Well, what did she do? You haven’t told me anything yet!”
“Well, if you would let me talk and not interrupt me with questions, I might be able to tell you the story quicker!” Sokka booped her nose and Korra erupted into giggles, her tears forgotten in a way that only little children could.
Sokka leaned back on his hands and let himself be sentimental in his old age. “So. Yue. Yue was the first person I ever really really loved.” He shot a look over his shoulder at his husband. “Sorry Zuko.”
Zuko snorted. “I already knew that. It doesn’t change anything.”
Sokka laughed and looked back at Korra. “When Yue was born, she was really really sick. That happens sometimes with babies and it can be really scary. Yue’s parents, Chief Arnook and his wife, were both scared that baby Yue might die. So they prayed to Tui and La. You know who Tui and La are, right?”
“Yes! The Moon and the Ocean spirits!”
“Exactly!” He gave Korra a small high-five. The little girl beamed at him.
“They prayed to the Moon and Ocean spirits for them to save Yue. And the Moon Spirit, in a great act of compassion, gave Yue a little bit of their own life force. So Yue lived, all thanks to the Moon Spirit.
“I met Yue when traveling with Aang during the war. We went to the Northern Water Tribe so Katara and Aang could both learn waterbending. Yue was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She was kind too. She knew that thanks to the Moon Spirit, she had a duty to her tribe to be the type of person they could be proud of. And she was.
“We were fast friends and fell in love pretty quickly. But Yue was betrothed to someone else and knew that it was her duty to marry that dude, despite him being super annoying. She liked me a lot better and told me. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.” Sokka shrugged. “I didn’t know what we were going to do but...I didn’t end up being able to figure it out.”
“What happened?” Korra asked, voice small but her face pulled into tight focus on Sokka. It was obvious that she was taking in every single word he was saying and if her earlier remarks proved anything, she was going to internalize it. Sokka was going to have to pick his words carefully.
“Well, the fire nation attacked.” Sokka said simply. He could feel Zuko’s wince from behind him and reached out blindly to pat his husband's leg. “They did that sometimes.” He explained to Korra. Tonraq snorted.
“Anyways!” Sokka continued. “The Fire Nation attacked the Northern Water Tribe and the leader of the Fire Nation army, a man named Admiral Zhao, broke into the sacred grove in the middle of the Northern Water Tribe. Inside the grove lived the physical bodies of Tui and La.”
“Zhao broke into the grove and despite both Aang and General Iroh telling him not to, Zhao killed Tui, the Moon Spirit.” Sokka swallowed. “Waterbenders get their powers from the moon and Zhao thought that if he took out the Moon Spirit, he could cripple the waterbenders and destroy the North that way. And he was right, to a degree. The only thing he hadn’t counted on was Yue.”
Sokka coughed into his fist and took a steadying breath before continuing. “Aang, with the help of La, fought off Zhao and eventually got the entire Fire Nation to retreat. But Yue….Yue realized that she could save the waterbenders and her tribe. Because Tui had given her some of their lifeforce when she was a baby, Yue had the last part of Tui’s spirit inside of her. So, she sacrificed herself in order to save Tui. It was the bravest thing I had ever seen. And even though it was the right thing, the brave thing, Yue was still scared. I knew she was.
“But her fear didn’t outweigh her bravery and her sense of duty. If anything, her fear made her braver. Because it meant that she was doing the right thing.” He reached out and took Korra’s hands in his. Her hands were tiny, still chubby around the wrists with leftover baby fat, despite being nearly six years old. Her hands would one day shape the world but for now, Sokka just squeezed them tight and gave Korra a smile. “That's how it works sometimes. You are going to do some amazing things in your life, Korra. And you are going to be scared while doing them. But that will never make you or them less amazing, you hear me?”
Korra nodded as solemnly as a little girl could before pulling her hands out of Sokka’s to try and stifle her yawn. Sokka laughed and reached out to ruffle her hair. “Well, by the looks of it, it might be bedtime for baby Avatars. You and your parents have both had a hard night.” He shot a look at Tonraq and Senna. “Go to bed, alright? We will clean up in here.”
Korra yawned again and Senna pulled her into her arms, planting a kiss on her head before standing. She looked at her husband. “Tonraq?”
“Give me one second, alright dear?” Tonraq said.
“Of course.” Senna pressed a kiss to his temple before leaving, Korra already drifting off to sleep against her shoulder.
Sokka watched them leave before looking back at Tonraq, raising his eyebrow at the younger man. Tonraq crumpled in on himself for a moment, his head in his hands before he sat back up and took a leveling breath. “This...is not going to be easy.”
“Raising the Avatar?” Sokka snorted. “No, not at all. Did you think it would be?”
“No, but I didn’t think I would be woken up in the middle of the night to my daughter being kidnapped!” Tonraq burst out. He took another breath. “I'm sorry.”
“Hey, it’s okay.” Sokka said. He rested his hand on the other man's shoulder. “Take your own advice and remember that it's okay to be scared, alright?”
“Was that story about Aunt Yue true?” Tonraq looked at Sokka, a slight frown on his lips.
Sokka nodded. “Every word of it.”
Behind them, both Tenzin and Zuko made noises of confusion. Sokka winced on Tonraq’s behalf. “You wanna tell them or me?”
“You please.” Tonraq sighed.
Sokka turned around, groaning slightly from being on the ground for so long. “I hate being old. Okay so, you two remember that whole thing in the North that ended up with the elder son being banished?” Zuko and Tenzin both nodded and Sokka gestured back at Tonraq. “Ta-da! Here he is! Came straight down here and asked for help and I was happy to give it!. As far as anyone is really aware, he’s just another Southerner. Fun, right?”
“Wow.” Tenzin said. He looked at his uncle in awe. “How on earth did you manage to keep that secret?”
“Hey!” Sokka protested. “I’m very good at keeping secrets, thank you! I won’t be disrespected in my own tribe by my own nephew!”
“Why did you come to the Southern Water Tribe?” Zuko asked, keeping them on track as usual. Sokka was enamored with him. “Why didn’t you go somewhere more discreet, where no one would know who you were? Why risk coming here when someone from the North could recognize you?”
“I thought about that.” Tonraq admitted. “And I did stay a few days in Republic City as I sailed past it but it wasn't what I needed. I missed my home but the North was no longer an option so I came here. And, I knew that Chief Sokka would understand and wouldn’t turn me away.”
“How’d you know that?” Sokka asked.
Tonraq rubbed the back of his neck and glanced away. “Well um...I kind of knew that you and Fire Lord Zuko were...involved and I figured that you would be sympathetic because of that. Because of the whole banishment thing?”
Zuko flushed and Sokka fell over laughing. Even Tenzin snickered.
“Well, you were right about that!” Sokka gasped when he got his breath back. “Wow. Okay. Good to know.”
Tonraq’s eyes drifted, looking back at the door that Senna and Korra left though. His expression fell. “I’m not going to be able to protect her forever.”
“No.” Sokka said, sobering up. “You won’t. But where you might fail, we will help pick up the slack. I promised Aang before he died that I would help find and protect the next Avatar. I’m not going to break that promise, Tonraq.”
“But how?” Tonraq asked, his voice breaking. “How can we possibly keep her safe?”
“Well,” Tenzin stepped forward. “Maybe we could make her some place safe to live and train, here in the Southern Water Tribe. Have the White Lotus run it and guard it. That way Korra could stay here with her family and her people while also training with some of the best benders in the world.”
“That,” Sokka pointed at Tenzin. “Is a good idea. There's open land west of the capitol, not far from the old Fire Nation vessel. We could build a compound, big enough for her to train and live, with extra space for her family.” Sokka nodded at Tonraq. “Don’t worry, we won't take her from you. Never.”
“Are you sure you want her to live on a compound for her entire life?” Zuko said. “I grew up in a palace and even that was stifling at points.”
“I'm not sure how many other options we have available.” Tenzin said. “Tonight's attack proved how big of a target Korra is for people. We took down those four tonight but who knows who else out there could possibly want to put her in danger?”
“I am for it.” Tonraq said. “I still have to talk over it with Senna, but if this is what needs to happen to keep Korra safe, I’ll do it. I’ll do anything.”
Sokka gave Tonraq a wide grin. “You are a good man and a good father, Tonraq. Korra is lucky to have you.”
“Thank you, Chief Sokka.”
“How many times do I have to tell you that you can just call me, Sokka?” He sighed. “Your daughter is the reincarnated version of my best friend! You can call me Sokka!”
Tonraq gave him the smallest of smiles. “Thank you, Sokka.”
“There we go!” Sokka clapped him on the back. “Now go hold you wife and baby and go to sleep! The bags under your eyes are giving me bags under my eyes. You’ll ruin my youthful complexion.”
“What youthful complexion?” Zuko asked. “We are both over seventy years old. We are nowhere near young anymore.”
“Hey! I resent that!”
“Goodnight, gentlemen.” Tonraq said, pushing himself up. “And thank you, again.”
“Of course.” Tenzin nodded. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” Tonraq left, leaving Sokka, Zuko and Tenzin alone in the room.
“He was right.” Zuko said. “This is not going to be easy.”
“When has anything in our lives been easy, Zuko?” Sokka said. He stood up and cracked his back, ignoring the pain it caused him. He took his husband's hand in his. “We’ve survived everything thrown at us so far. So let’s just focus on getting this new generation set up to do the same.”
Zuko smiled at him. “When did you become so well spoken?”
“I’ve always been well spoken!”
Tenzin glanced around the room with a frown. “They really did a number on this place.”
“They almost did a number on the Avatar cycle.”
“I know.” Tenzin looked at them, so serious. It made Sokka long for the days when Tenzin was just a carefree little boy. “We are going to have to do something with those four. They can’t be allowed to get anywhere near Korra again.”
“You're right but there's nothing we can do about that tonight.” Sokka said. He clapped his nephew on the shoulders. “Don’t try and bear the weight of the entire Avatar cycle on your shoulders, Tenzin. It’s only going to crush you. Tonight, the best we can do is clean up this living room so Tonraq and Senna don't have to do it in the morning.”
“Alright.” Tenzin nodded.
Sokka grinned. “Atta boy.”
Between the three of them, it was short work. Somethings couldn’t be fixed but they did what they could and left the living room looking liveable again. They walked as a group back to where they were staying and Tenzin went in first, leaving Sokka and Zuko to linger outside.
Sokka couldn’t help but look at the moon, high up in the sky. Zuko stood next to him and slipped his hand into Sokka’s.
“Are you okay?” Zuko asked softly.
Sokka hummed. “Yeah, I think so. It’s been a strange night.”
“That it has.” Zuko said. “I wish I could’ve met her.”
“Me too.” Sokka sighed and looked over at Zuko with a sad smile. “She would’ve loved you, once you stopped being the world's biggest douche.”
Zuko chuckled. “Yeah, I found I had a lot more friends after that.”
Sokka bumped their shoulders. “It happens.”
“Sokka,” Zuko said, his voice turning serious. “Just like you told Tonraq, take your own advice. Don’t try and carry the weight of the entire Avatar cycle. It will kill you.”
“I know.” Sokka rubbed his thumb comfortingly across the back of Zuko’s hand. “But, between you, me, Katara, Toph, Tenzin, everyone, maybe we can hold it up for just a little while longer. So Korra doesn’t have to go through what we did. For her and for Aang.”
“She’s the Avatar, just like Aang.” Zuko reminded him softly. “She’s going to have a rough life ahead of her. Nothing we do will stop that.”
“I know,” Sokka sighed sadly. “But maybe we can delay that for just a little while longer.”
“Okay.” Zuko smiled at him. “After all these years I really should stop being so surprised by your selflessness.”
Sokka snorted. “Yeah, whatever Hotman.”
Zuko rolled his eyes. “Come on, let's go to bed.”
Zuko led the way inside and when Sokka finally drifted off to sleep, his dreams were filled with children playing.