A week had passed since their return to Kyoshi Island. In that time, the Water Tribe Warriors sent messages to every resistance force they knew of, and to the forces housed in the Northern Water Tribe. Each day brought back another response, and each one lengthier and more long-winded than the last. Lee spent most of his time on one of the Water Tribe ships, although temporary lodgings had been created in the village. He wanted to maintain minute contact between himself and the villagers of Kyoshi. He saw the way the people looked at him. They remembered what he did, just as he thought they would, and although his appearance wasn’t as harsh as it was before, there was no mistaking that scar or the eye hidden within it, fixed into an eternal scowl, as if he were daring them to do something.
This particular day, however, had forced Lee off of the ship. Sokka, who’d made a full recovery, had gotten word that the first of their reinforcements, the Foggy Swamp Tribe Water benders, would be arriving that day. Lee didn’t want to go, mainly for the fact that he’d get countless dirty looks, but Sokka was now being more invasive than ever about his friend’s thoughts and the like, and each time, Lee felt more and more like the boy had found out about his crush and was merely tormenting him for some unknown perverse pleasure. He didn’t say anything, and like any other time Sokka dragged him somewhere, the Fire bender followed, saying nothing.
They walked for nearly an hour, long passing the village at the foot of the mountain, crossing its rocky paths, to find themselves at the rocky cliff that looked onward to the Earth Kingdom, too far off to be made out. Light played off the sea, making Lee smile a bit. The simpler things always made him content, and watching this scene was as simple as it got. “It’s beautiful,” Sokka said suddenly. Lee turned to look at him, his smile still there.
“Yeah, it is,” Lee told him. He looked back at the scene and sat down, his legs hanging over the steep cliff face. “Mai would have made fun of it, saying that it was sickeningly sweet. But she never meant it. At least, I think she didn’t. There were times when I just didn’t get her. Looking back on it, I don’t think she was right for me at all.”
“Then why did you date her in the first place?” Sokka inquired.
“She was there for me when even my uncle turned his back on me. She was kind, and honest, when everyone else was fake. She listened to me,” he said, looking at the other boy. “She understood me.”
Sokka nodded and looked away, no doubt thinking about Suki or Yue, Lee thought. “That must have been awful,” he heard Sokka say.
“Having someone understand me?” Lee asked in a slightly teasing tone.
“No!” Sokka practically shouted. Lee smiled a bit as the boy whipped his head back with a flustered look on his face. “I meant that it must have been awful living in a place like that.” Sokka sat down close to the boy, but kept his legs on solid ground. Lee’s pulse quickened as he did so.
“It’s not too different now,” Lee told him. “People still refuse to talk to me, out of pity or spite. Even today, there are only two people who I’ve ever given my trust totally to.”
“You’re uncle’s one,” Sokka said then. “I already knew that one. Who’s the other?”
He had no idea why that single word had such a huge effect on him. He would have guessed it, given time. Lee didn’t talk to many people, and as far as he could tell, he spoke to Sokka the most. But still, it had caught him off-guard. His hear raced, then slowed down, then sped up again, all in the space of a moment. “Wh-why me?” Sokka questioned nervously.
“You’re the only one, out of everyone, who had made an effort to get to know me,” Lee said soberly. “That goes a long way, as far as I’m concerned, Sokka.” The dark-skinned boy blushed a bit. Lee smiled and brought his legs back onto the ground, but still sat. Once again, thoughts unbidden fell into Sokka’s head, about how Lee looked really good, only this time, he didn’t have a dim fire or a panicked Fire bender to blame his thoughts on.
He noticed the boy slowly lean closer to him, and his body, as if magnetized to this boy’s aura, started moving in as well. First a few feet apart, then a foot, then, only a few inches. Lee was getting dangerously closer to Sokka, his eyes starting to close, for a reason Sokka couldn’t discern. Thoughts began to race into his head as finally, only an inch or two separated them apart. Just as their lips were about to make contact, a loud ship’s horn was sounded.
Both snapping to their senses, they whipped their heads around to see, off in the distance, several swamp skiffs, each manned by a leaf-clad Water bender. Blushing, Sokka got up, offering a hand to Lee. “Let’s go,” Sokka said softly to the boy, the blush still on his face. Lee took the hand, causing a thrill to race up his hand and into his body. He let go of the hand the instant the other teen was up. He walked on the mountain trail, refusing to look behind him as the two made their way back to the village.
When at last they arrived, the members of the Foggy Swamp Tribe were already at the harbor. He could see his father speaking with the elder of the tribe. He grinned at the strained smile his father gave as the man spoke to him. Bato was showing the other members of the tribe the empty homes that much of the warriors were occupying now.
“Hey, Sokka, why are you blushing?” a pubescent voice asked out of nowhere. Giving a decidedly unmanly scream, Sokka looked down to see, much to his embarrassment, Aang. Behind him he heard Lee chuckle some, causing another blush to grow on his face.
“It’s nothing, Aang,” Sokka said as he marched away to the docks.
“What’s his problem?” Aang asked Lee after Sokka had marched away. Lee walked a bit off the path and latched onto a tree, gradually climbing it.
“There was a misunderstanding of sorts while we were looking out for the Foggy Swamp Tribe,” Lee said when he was in the tree. He looked down at the Avatar as he snapped a twig off the branch he was resting on and threw it at the young boy.
“What about?” Aang asked.
“It’s personal,” Lee said casually. “I don’t think he’d want me saying.” He rolled over and out of the tree, landing on his feet perfectly. “I’d better get going.”
The next few weeks brought more and more people to Kyoshi Island. The sudden explosion of population forced a minor growth on the village as scholars and warriors burst out of the empty homes and onto the streets for a short time. Although he tried hiding it, the mayor of Kyoshi was having a ball, meeting more people now than he had in his entire lifetime.
Sokka was quickly becoming more and more proficient in the fighting style of the Kyoshi Warriors by the day, and in the process, was becoming less and less embarrassed by the traditional garb. Many a warrior dared to question the skills Sokka had learned from these women, calling their style a pathetic excuse to play a man’s game. Sokka had shown what he’d learned to these people, quickly winning the small fights he was challenged to, most of the time wearing the kimono of the Kyoshi warriors. No one expected the redirection of their attacks, and afterwards was left embarrassed for their loss, much to Sokka’s pride and pleasure.
Things between Sokka and Lee had cooled down in the interim. Sokka had written it off as them not being in their right minds, being caught in the moment. To Lee’s credit, he never brought the near-kiss up after that day, though there were times when they were alone when situations of a similar nature would almost occur, but never quite make it through with their actions. As these occurrences happened more often, and the length between them became shorter, Sokka found himself constantly thinking about the deposed Fire Nation prince and how far did their relationship extend. Were they merely friends, or was their something their, lurking beneath the surface of their actions? Sokka couldn’t tell anymore, and as the days went by, his desire to see Lee, to know what these new and sudden feelings meant to him, to them. He really would have liked to talk to Lee about these thoughts, but as the days went by, more people arrived, and most of Sokka’s time was spent in the war council, thinking up a strategy to get such a large force past the blockade, while Lee helped the incoming seamen get accommodated at Kyoshi Island.
At last, the time had finally come for the Avatar to mobilize once again. Plans had been made for the fleet to mobilize as soon as the Northern Water Tribe arrived. From there, all the forces would gather on the islands surrounding the Western Air Temple, an invasion force much larger in size than the one that had hit the Capital City months ago. From there, they would take each Fire Nation city, one by one until Azula was deposed.
It was a sound plan, or at least, Sokka thought it was. It was approved by the others at the war meetings, and as such, the group would set off again, only this time, Iroh would be sailing with the fleet, due to the fact that the old general knew best how the Fire Nation acted, and would know best how to get past roving ships and the Fire Nation blockade unscathed.
Sokka was on the Water Tribe longboat, along with Katara, Aang, Lee, and Toph. Aang, Toph, Momo, and Hawky were on Appa’s back already, waiting for the others to come. The others were engaged in their farewells.
“Kids,” Hakoda said, smiling at Katara and Sokka. Sokka could tell just by looking at him that there were unshed tears threatening to be spilled, but somehow managed to keep them contained within his eyes, a feat that Sokka failed to do, evidenced by two thin streams of tears flowing down his cheeks. “You two make me so proud, every time I see you. You’re unbelievably strong-willed, for people your age, and have shown a level of maturity beyond your years. I want you to know that I love you two, and I worry about you every time you’re away from me, but I know now that you can take care of yourselves. Good luck.” He hugged them then, all three now sobbing a bit into the tight embrace of one another. “Watch out for each other and the Avatar.”
“We will, dad,” Katara told him.
“And Lee, whatever you do or find in life, make sure that it’s the path you choose,” Hakoda told him solemnly as he let his children go. “Even now, I see you have a problem with that.” He smiled kindly at the boy.
“I will, Chief Hakoda,” Lee said softly. Lee turned to his uncle then, who was smiling widely.
“Good luck, Lee,” Iroh said kindly. “You have grown in the past few months. Continue to grow. Prove to everyone your worth.” He hugged Lee then, and to his credit, Lee hugged back, a strong embrace that showed his uncle just how deeply he cared for him. When they let go, both had shed only a few tears. “I shall see you soon, young prince.” Lee nodded, climbing onto Appa’s back. They all waved to the people on the boat before, in an exhilarating rush, Appa took off again, heading west-by northwest, in the direction of the Western Air Temple.