Author’s note: In which the fighting is over, there is sequel foreshadowing…again and the author closes on a sweet note to wind down from all the excitement.
Previous chapter: link
Next chapter: link
The battle of Ba Sing Se was almost over. Lia had come across Bumi at some point, and together they were cheerfully knocking out the last of the tanks that had been guarding the city. Lia looked at the sky. With the comet moving over them, heading for the west, everything was bathed in a crimson light, casting sinister shadows on the buildings. Contrary to what people might think the comet was neither Agni’s nor her doing. Separated, they had little control over nature’s forces. Allowing herself to contemplate that for a moment, she wondered if her equal and opposite would make an appearance. After all, by stopping the war they would have most certainly ruined his fun. Yes, she decided, he would have to appear. But where? Looking around, she suddenly knew. Agni wouldn’t trifle with the Avatar Spirit, and Ba Sing Se was Earth Kingdom territory and therefore immaterial to him. Pulling herself together she took flight. She had to reach Sozin and she had to reach it fast.
Katara had never focused more intently on healing someone before. Even when Aang had been wounded, it had been the Spirit water doing most of the work. Now all her skill and concentration fuelled the glowing water. Zuko winced in pain but the healing began to take effect and he found his body relaxing. Opening her eyes, Katara smiled at him, not bothering to stop the tears from running down her cheeks.
“Thank you, Katara,” Zuko managed to whisper, still weak from the lightning.
“I think I’m the one who should be thanking you,” Katara answered, pulling him into a hug, mindful of his injury. Zuko wrapped an arm around her, pulling her closer, needing to feel for himself that they had both made it alive. They met in a kiss that ended abruptly when something landed with a thud nearby.
Both turned, Zuko much less gracefully than usual, to see Azula unconscious on the ground. Standing over her was a young man who looked at all three of them with an expression torn between amusement and annoyance.
“Now that won’t do,” he said smoothly to the unconscious Azula, as if berating a child. “You can’t go and ruin my fun like that! Now how am I going to amuse myself?” He grinned as he cast his gaze over the destruction caused by the Agni Kai, and satisfaction radiated from his golden eyes. “A battle befitting of my name,” he said, addressing Zuko now, who was staring at him warily. “You have shown exceptional growth prince Zuko. Lia was right to take an interest in you.” He bowed to the firebender gracefully. “You will make a fine Fire Lord.” He took a few steps away from Azula and called over his shoulder. “Don’t judge her too harshly. She was hardly in control of her actions.”
Katara wasn’t sure what was going on, but she remembered Lia’s story about hers and Agni’s involvement with the royal family. Wordlessly she helped Zuko to his feet, one hand wrapped around his waist for support and the other close to her water pouch.
“We need to check on Azula,” Zuko told her quietly. Katara nodded and helped him walk over to his sister. A part of her could not help but pity the firebending girl. She didn’t have any more choice over her fate than Zuko had over his banishment.
Agni watched their progress towards his latest pawn and shook his head.
“No,” he said making a movement to their direction, “that won’t do. That won’t do at all. I’m afraid I’ll have to stop you.” But before he had the chance to do anything a fireball landed at his feet. Lia landed in front of Zuko, Katara and Azula, glaring coldly at Agni.
“You’re right,” she said as she took in the situation. “That won’t do at all.” Agni smiled and took another step closer, silently daring her. “Katara,” Lia said, never taking her eyes from the Spirit in front of her, “please make sure that all three of you are out of the way and near water. This will be messy.” The waterbender nodded and with Zuko’s help carried Azula off to where she had been initially standing, by a fountain.
The two Fire Spirits took their places at opposite sides of the courtyard, neither saying a word, though their expressions spoke volumes. Lia’s face showed only cold fury, Agni’s barely contained excitement. Wordlessly they attacked at the same time, Agni with small, sharp blasts and Lia with a steady current that swallowed up his flames. It twirled around Agni without actually touching him and for a few moments it was sent back and forth between them before Lia grew tired of the game and banished the flames with a move of her hand. Running towards her opponent, she continued blasting him with fireballs which he dodged, leading her around the courtyard and occasionally sending a blast or two of his own in her direction. The more time passed, the more of Lia’s control was drained and her attacks grew in speed and force. She was aiming to kill, balance be damned.
A pained moan distracted Zuko and Katara from the deadly fight and they both turned back to Azula, just as she opened her eyes. For a moment it seemed as though she didn’t recognise them. Then her memory came back and she sat up with a gasp. Katara made a move to keep Azula from straining too much. They had no way of knowing if she was hurt or not and besides, Katara was still slightly suspicious of the princess. Azula looked around, taking in the situation. The waterbender watched her with a mix of suspicion and concern, while her brother’s face showed only worry for her. Azula found herself wondering what was this all about. She expected to be left in the middle of the courtyard.
“Azula,” Zuko started hesitantly. His sister had made his life a nightmare for the last few years but now he knew that that hadn’t been explicitly her fault. His thoughts on the matter were not clear but for now he allowed his worry to override everything else. “Are you all right?” he asked softly.
To his surprise the princess’s eyes watered. He didn’t remember ever seeing her cry before. Azula threw her arms around her brother as she broke down.
“I’m sorry Zuzu,” she sobbed, desperate to explain about the voice. “I didn’t want to, I swear but he said I had to. That it was my destiny.” Zuko hissed in pain, his injury deciding to remind him of its presence, but he ignored it in favour of exchanging a look with his girlfriend. Tentatively, he wrapped his arms around his sister in an awkward hug.
“It’s okay Zula,” he said. “It will be all right.” That was a promise he intended to keep. Katara also placed a comforting arm around the princess’ shoulders, silently offering her support as all three of them turned to watch the battle once more.
Lia sent another current of fire at her opponent who had to bend to an uncomfortable angle to avoid being hit. Agni smiled at her. Whatever enjoyment he might find in manipulating mortals for generations, it was his fights with Lia that made him feel the most alive.
“Missed me,” he taunted. “Now you have to kiss me.” Lia narrowed her eyes.
“Kiss this!” she screamed before shooting lightning. Zuko gasped and tightened the protective embrace around his sister. He felt Katara scooting near him as Lia’s blood-red lightning crackled, and although her equal, Agni had to jump out of the way, lest the hit connected.
Rising again, the playfulness vanished from his eyes; he looked at her with an unreadable expression.
“So you are serious about this,” he finally said gravely.
“Took you long enough to get it,” the red-haired Spirit snapped under her breath before falling into a stance Katara recognised to her surprise as waterbending. A wave of magma reared up before Lia, growing in size and power as it raced towards her opponent. Agni raised an eyebrow and tried to redirect it back to its creator. When he failed to do so, he dropped his stance and bowed to Lia. She halted her attack, waiting for his next move, her eyes searching his. He straightened from the bow and took a step back.
“You have won,” he said with a small smile. “I will take a break from interfering with the mortals for a few years.”
“A hundred years,” Lia demanded coldly. Agni opened his mouth to protest but thought better of it. The wave was still looming over him.
“Very well,” he finally said. “A hundred years.” He took another step back. “Until we meet again Fire Lily.” Then he disappeared.
Lia waited warily for a few moments before returning the melted stones to their original place on the ground and rushing to her brother’s side. After taking a few deep breaths she offered him a bright smile.
“Do you get now why I hate being called Agni?” she asked casually, a tinge of humour barely audible in her voice. It must be the comet, she decided, because her fight with Agni had made her feel more alive than she had felt in a long time. Closing her eyes she made the fire that still burned at the courtyard go out. The comet was almost gone and now they could only wait for news of the battle between the Fire Lord and the Avatar.
Azula watched the red-head warily, and she tried to stay as close to her brother as possible without worsening his injury. Both he and the waterbender – she really needed to learn the girl’s name – had treated her kindly, disregarding the fact that she had aimed to kill during their fights. But what of the Spirit? Lia ended any thoughts the princess had on the matter by rising fluidly and helping the girl to her feet as well, supporting most of her weight.
“Shaking off Agni’s influence must have taking its toll on you. We should probably get you and Zuko to a bed before you collapse again.” Azula only nodded, not fully understanding what the Spirit was talking about. Katara helped Zuko to his feet and slowly, the four of them made their way to the palace. The four Sages, snake-like as they might be, could recognise a Spirit when they saw one and a glare from Lia was all they needed to return to their temple, no questions asked.
Inside, Zuko and Katara took the lead, the prince guiding them to his room. He had never been gladder to see a bed in his life. Katara’s healing had saved his life, but the wound still burned with every move he made. The waterbender helped him lie down with tender touches, before sitting next to him and holding his hand, her expression anxious. She too knew that the healing she had done earlier was simply not enough. Her eyes strayed to the two girls that stood nearby, both Zuko’s sisters. Lia’s expression was a carefully constructed mask of calm, but Katara could read the worry for her brother as well as relief at finding him alive. Azula’s guilt-ridden expression, less artfully hidden thanks to the shock and exhaustion pulled at the waterbender’s heartstrings.
“Do you want to stay with Zuko Azula?” she asked the girl kindly. “You’re not looking so good yourself and I’d rather watch over both of you until we know for sure what is going on. Neither of you are in any condition to fight.” Azula’s surprise must have shown more than she expected because even Zuko managed to crack a smile and, using his free hand, he patted the space on the bed next to him.
“Come here Zula,” he said softly. Without waiting for an answer, Lia led the girl to the bed and helped her out of her armour and between the sheets. Both of the royal siblings were out like candles the moment their heads touched their pillows. Lia turned to Katara.
“Will you be all right on your own with them?” she asked the girl. “I have one final thing to do before this is all over.” Katara nodded and then turned her attention to her two patients, tucking the blanket around their form as Lia disappeared once more. Standing over Azula, Katara brushed a few strands of hair from the girl’s face and watched in surprise as the Fire princess’ face melted to a soft smile.
“Mother…” she whispered in her sleep before edging closer to her brother.