Tag Archives: Sukka

Twilight of the Spirit World: Epilogue

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Author’s note: In which a short “x years later” snapshot is offered, the author teases the Korra canon in a hopefully subtle way and for once happy endings do not have strings attached to them. It’s been a journey and a half everyone!

Previous chapter: link

***Epilogue***

The summer sun heated gently the sandy beach and a gentle breeze caused small waves in the sapphire blue sea. It was a truly beautiful place, serene and picturesque, a place that would certainly calm the most troubled of minds.

“MOM! SUYIN AND BATO TOOK MY SCROLL!”

“Suyin Bei Fong give your sister her scroll back!”

“Bato! Start acting your age or your father will NOT be taking you ice-dodging anytime soon!”

Well, perhaps not all minds.

 

Not far from the seashore Toph and Suki were berating their more mischievous offspring, much to the amusement of their friends. With a huff Lin snatched the scroll that her pouting twin held and marched off to sit next to Zuko and Katara’s eldest, Izumi. Next to them, and closer to their parents was Izumi’s younger sister, Kya, and Suki and Sokka’s youngest (for the time being), Yue. The two little girls were watching in fascination Lin and Suyin’s little brother, Bumi, as he re-enacted an over-the-top rendition of the epic tale of “The Bear of Ba Sing Se”. If in the process he raised more sand than his sisters’ attempts at sandbending that was certainly not intentional.

 

With a huff the two women sat back down, Toph taking baby Tenzin from Aang. Suki turned exasperated to Katara.

“Was Sokka like that too at that age?” Katara chuckled.

“More or less,” she said, ignoring her brother’s indignant look.

“Is that true Councilman Sokka?” Zuko asked laughing. Sokka glared at him.

“I’m sure if Azula was visiting Fire Lord Zuko she would have some interesting stories to say for you too.” Zuko raised an eyebrow.

“No doubt about it,” he said dryly.

 

Before ribbing between the two men could escalate, or Toph could get involved, Kya happened to look up. Seeing a familiar portal opening in the distance she jumped to her feet, dragging her cousin up excitedly.

“Aunt Azula!” the two girls squealed in delight as a very pregnant Azula stepped out of the portal, with Ao on her side looking very much like he would prefer to be carrying his lover rather than letting her walk through the sand. The little girls were almost instantly at their sides, seemingly determined to drag them were the rest of their family was standing and approaching them at a more sedate pace.

“Wait little ones,” Azula said as she carefully kneeled to hug them. Yue giggled, feeling the baby kicked. “We have a surprise for everyone.”

“And what would that be?” Zuko asked, hugging his sister carefully and giving a friendly nod to Ao. The couple smiled mysteriously.

“Turns out that when Agni and Lia went up to that mountain of theirs, they weren’t just coming up with new firebending moves,” Ao said mischievously. Katara’s eyes widened.

“You don’t mean?” she asked. It had been nearly a year since Lia and Agni had last visited the mortal plane after all…

“Oh, yes!” Azula said enthusiastically. Zuko paled slightly. Two daughters and several nieces and nephews later this kind of code was no longer lost to him. That did not mean he cared much for the implications. When Azula and Ao had first told them they were expecting he had been torn between wanting to congratulate them and wanting to punch Ao. Sokka had actually punched him when they had announced they were expecting Izumi! Ao turned towards the portal.

“Well?” he called. “What are you lot waiting for?” Almost as if cued Agni and Lia stepped through, both with wide smiled on their faces. In Lia’s arms, wrapped in a white-gold blanket, was a new-born baby.

“Everyone, meet Kōjin,” Agni said softly as the portal closed silently behind them. Even little Tenzin turned curiously in his mother’s arms towards the new centre of attention.

 

The children immediately surrounded Lia, the shorter ones standing on their tip-toes in order to peer at the latest addition to the family.

“He’s so small!” Lin whispered, her eyes widening when Kōjin opened his eyes and turned slightly towards the sound of her voice. Lia smiled at the girl. Of all of Aang and Toph’s children she had been the one to inherit most of the blind earthbender’s brash attitude. And, like her mother, Lin tended to melt when around babies.

“Let’s go sit down,” the redhead said, “and you can hold him if you want.” Lin nodded eagerly and the group moved back to where they had originally been sitting.

 

Much later, when the sun was setting over the sea, bathing everything in a soft red glow, the entire second generation of the gaang was sat around Izumi as she read to them, with the occasional interruption from Bato, an account of General Iroh’s travels through the Earth Kingdom. Tenzin was napping in a blanket next to his father, too young to stay awake after a day of excitement, while the adults were talking quietly among themselves. Zuko turned to Lia, who was leaning against him contently.

“Are you happy?” he asked her. Lia looked around thoughtfully for a moment, her eyes resting at Agni, who was rocking Kōjin gently, lulling the baby to sleep, and gave her brother a soft smile.

“Yes,” she said. “I am.”

The End

Twilight of the Spirit World: Homecoming

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Author’s note: In which the story is almost over, hints are dropped (some more subtly than others) and everyone slowly finds their own place.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Homecoming***

The morning that dawned was glorious, the sky awash with shades of red and gold that gave way to a vibrant blue. The whole Council City was buzzing with an inexplicable euphoria and people found themselves laughing and smiling without even being sure why. And in the centre of it all Lia could be seen walking around, looking more like her old cheerful self than ever. Sokka, the first to come across her in one of the gardens, had to make a double-take to make certain he wasn’t seeing things.

“Are you…alright?” he called after her uncertainly. The fact that fire lilies were spontaneously blooming around her was a little distracting. Lia turned to look at him with a bright smile.

“Just fine!” she said. “All is good in the world!” Sokka frowned and moved closer to look in her eyes.

“You haven’t been drinking sake again, have you?” he asked cautiously. She didn’t look drunk, but then again… Lia laughed.

“No,” she assured him. “Just had a really good night is all. Oh, and I passed Suki on my way here. She said that if she doesn’t have her leachy nuts soon there will be hell to pay.” Sokka gulped, appropriately fearful of his fiancé’s recent mood-swings and hurried back inside. Lia only chuckled and turned back to her original mission of finding her brother and assuring him she wasn’t about to lock herself away from the world.

 

In another part of the palace Zuko had decided that pulling the protective brother act when it came to Azula and Ao’s budding relationship would no doubt cause more trouble than it was worth. Azula didn’t take kindly people telling her what she can and cannot do and, to be fair, Ao had been nothing if not a gentleman. There was someone else however, with a close relationship to one of Zuko’s sisters who could use a grilling. The Blue Spirit was more than happy to help him with that plan and that was how the two of them ended up prowling the corridors, looking for a certain, recently-awakened Fire Spirit, hopefully before Lia came across him.

 

Agni, oblivious to the plans of his impending pain, had also been strolling around, too wrapped up in blissful memories to notice the two overprotective men closing in on him. Until his back was slammed against a wall that is…

“Seriously, why can’t anyone just call out when they want my attention?” he complained, wincing at the bruises that were no doubt forming.

“We just wanted to have a little chat,” Zuko said pleasantly and Agni decided that the bruises were probably the least of his worries.

“You see,” Ao continued, “we both view Lia as our sister.”

“And you have made her cry more than once,” Zuko picked up the speech, his smile replaced by a threatening look. “So, if you ever think of…”

“Boys,” a feminine voice cut through the string of threats about to be unleashed. “I think he gets it.” Agni gave Lia a relieved smile and easily shrugged off Ao’s and Zuko’s hands.

“I have never been happier to see you love,” he said, walking up to her side and wrapping an arm around her waist. “Well, last night excluded,” he added with a mischievous look and teleported the two of them to the other side of the palace before what he said sank in the younger men’s brain.

 

Too his surprise Lia didn’t even call him out on possibly traumatising her two adoptive brothers. Instead she waited until they had materialised in a different room before leaning against him and laughing hysterically. Agni started chuckling as well, too happy with life at that moment to bother finding an explanation as to why they were laughing. The sound of someone delicately clearing their throat cut through their mirth.

“So I take it you too have figured things out?” Toph asked sweetly, in a tone that everyone who knew her agree that was scarier than any yell could ever be. The two Fire Spirits looked up, although neither bothered disentangling from the other, to see not only the earthbender, but also Aang, Sokka, Suki and Katara sitting there, looking at them in amused confusion.

“Something like that…”Agni smirked, “Shorty,” he added for good measure. Toph raised an eyebrow and drummed her fingers against the floor. A faint ripple followed her movement and the two Spirits stumbled a little before regaining their footing.

“Nicknames are my shtick Lover-Boy,” she said. “Get your own.”

“What Toph means,” Suki cut in, pausing to sprinkle her bowl of grapes with a liberal amount of curry dust, “is that it is great to see you both well and happy again.” The others looked at her nervously as she popped some grapes in her mouth.

“Um…sweetheart,” Sokka said nervously, “Are you sure this won’t upset your stomach?” Suki looked at him and then at her bowl confused.

“No,” she said, “They taste great!” Katara and Lia exchange a suspicious look, even as everyone else gagged at the idea.

 

Short of Suki’s increasingly bizarre food combinations during mealtimes (and her increasingly violent reactions when it was pointed out to her that maybe rice and melted rock candy should not go together…) the next few days were peaceful. Everyone was aware that their time at the Spirit World was drawing to a close, even if they were not eager to acknowledge the fact. This however didn’t change the fact that they had responsibilities in their own world, responsibilities they could not ignore for much longer. So it was decided that at the end of the week, they would return. No one was surprised when Lia said that she would stay behind. There was much that still needed to be fixed in the Spirit World, and even if there hadn’t, it was obvious to everyone that she was not letting Agni out of her sight anytime soon. Although she did promise to Suki, in a tone that had the women in the group smiling in secret understanding and the men looking at them incredibly confused, to be there when the time came.

 

What did cause some surprise was Ao formally asking Zuko’s permission to court his sister. Azula had already talked with her brother (in what must have been the most awkward conversation the siblings had ever had) and told him that she wanted to stay behind just a little longer, explore the Spirit World like she hadn’t had the chance with a battle for all reality looming over everyone’s head. Zuko had grudgingly agreed to allow it, but only if she didn’t travel alone. Now, with Ao’s request, his mind could rest a little easier, not that that stopped him from tagging a threatening “and you had better be a perfect gentleman” to his assent.

 

In the end, it was a smaller group than had started that stood in front of the glowing portal that would take them back to the mortal world. Toph and Katara had returned their respective Crystals to the elementals they belonged to and Aang had said his farewells to Roku, so that it was only Agni, Lia, Ao and Azula that saw them off. With last minute hugs and solemn promises for regular visits by those who stayed behind, Zuko and Katara, Aang and Toph, Sokka and Suki stepped through the glowing energy to find themselves standing under a blazing sunset in front of the Fire Nation palace, with Ursa and Iroh there to welcome them back. And it would have been a bold-faced lie if any of them said that this didn’t feel like coming home.

Twilight of the Spirit World: Ever After

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A.N.: In which the various sub-plots begin to conclude, characters discover that sometimes good things do come out of terrible situations and Agni…well, I’m not spoiling this for you even more than I already have!

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Ever After***

As it turned out the Council did not have any back-up armies hidden somewhere. In fact, it seemed they had bet everything on one decisive battle, much like the Avatars and their followers had. In the aftermath an uneasy peace had settled as those well enough to travel left for their domains and to inform those that had remained neutral of the situation. Some tentative talks of establishing a new Council had started but the consensus was that it wasn’t a first priority. Most Spirits were old and experienced enough to know how to fulfil their responsibilities without someone breathing down their necks after all. Nearly a week later and in the Council’s palace only a small number of the original arrivals remained, mostly those connected to the Elementals or the more seriously injured.

 

Among the last were also those hit by the black energy. The water Spirits, led by Yue, and Katara (who was holding on to the Water Crystal until the time came to return to the mortal world) were trying everything in their power and, while some progress had been made, most of the victims remained unconscious. Not being able to help much the rest of the gaang had taken to exploring, taking turns to make sure that Katara would remember to eat and rest every once in a while. And, amidst all that, Lia had completely disappeared. Zuko had gone to check on her the morning after she woke to find her room empty. They figured she was still somewhere in the city, but when the redhead didn’t want to be found then she would not be found even by the most determined tracker –not that Toph or Zuko had given up….–.

 

It was therefore no one’s fault really when some of those hit opened their eyes and the news didn’t reach her. Those that did hear however were relieved to learn that, other than complete exhaustion, no other side effects seemed to be lingering. Yue was hesitant to let them out of her sight just yet but she was confident that soon they would be well enough to be moved out of the healing chambers. Agni wasn’t among those first to wake, probably he had been hit in a much closer range but for the last couple of days his aura had been spiking and calming at odd intervals so they figured he would be up and about soon enough.

 

As it happened, when he woke up it was Azula who was the closest, having come to the chambers for some peace and quiet, away from the spontaneous parties that seemed to be springing up everywhere with no warning lately. So deeply she was absorbed in her thoughts, thoughts that centred on a certain lightning Spirit, that she didn’t notice Agni’s eyes opening until he spoke.

“Who rained on your parade Princess?” Azula turned her head so sharply, she could have sworn she heard something crack.

“You’re awake?” she squeaked surprised, wincing at how high her voice came out. Agni managed a small smile.

“Surprisingly yes,” he said, before pausing for a few deep breaths. He still felt so damned tired… “And surprisingly I found you of all people at my bedside.” Azula blushed a little. He had a point. While she didn’t fear his presence anymore, she didn’t go out of her way to be in his company either.

“It was quiet in here,” she explained awkwardly. Agni hummed in agreement.

“I suppose this means we won?” he asked, closing his eyes tiredly. Azula nodded and, realising he couldn’t see her, she added,

“Yes. Everyone’s been celebrating since those hit with the dark energy started waking.”

“What…about…Lily?” Agni asked, his words slurred by the sleepiness that caught him again. Azula turned hesitantly to answer and stopped herself. He had fallen asleep again. With a sigh the Princess stood and went to inform the healers. And if she was relieved not to have to explain to Agni that no one had seen his partner, well, who could blame her?

 

As it was Lia had spent the last few days in a non-corporeal state, floating around the palace and its extensive gardens. She had once told Katara that she didn’t much like to take her Spirit form, considering it impractical, and while she had been confined in the mortal world that had been true. Even in the Spirit world she tended to remain in her more human-looking state, in part to remind herself who she had been before she became fire incarnate. It was exactly these memories that she sought to avoid now, drifting around, visible only as the wispiest of smoke trails, only aware of the different incarnations of her element surrounding her. It was a serene, detached state of being, one that she would have easily made permanent if it weren’t for the most persistent memories and emotions still clinging to her psyche. Much as it hurt sometimes, she still couldn’t leave those she cared about completely behind….

 

It was with that thought being acknowledged that she forced her body and consciousness to be condensed back to her human-shaped form. As her senses slowly returned to her she saw that she was in one of the gardens, one of the older ones, with ancient trees shading the ground and Fire Lilies gently swaying at the breeze, reminding to the morose Spirit of drops of fresh blood. With a despondent sigh Lia sat against a tree, closing her eyes and momentarily blocking her Spirit-nearby-sense. Maybe if she tricked her mind in thinking that she just couldn’t feel him nearby, she could trick her heart into believe he’d come back…

 

A pleasant haze came over her, like sleepiness but not quite, and with it the sensation of warm arms embracing her. She smiled softly at what she was certain was a daydream, if not a hallucination, when a very real pair of lips brushed against her own. Immediately she pushed the person, not even pausing to see who it was, away from her, jumping to her feet and preparing to blast them away. Then her brain caught with her wide-open eyes and as fast as it had come her rage washed away. Agni was laying on his back in front of her, rubbing the back of his head, looking half-amused and half-exasperated and all-together alive.

“You really need to work on the way you greet people!” he grumbled. “You can’t still be mad at me!”

 

He really shouldn’t have snuck out of the healing chambers just yet. He still felt bone-tired and even trying to conjure the smallest flame took more effort than it should. But Agni hadn’t survived for millennia by listening to what others told him to do. And more than the fact he had nearly died he was worried about no one knowing –or knowing and not telling him – where Lia was. So the moment the chamber was empty of healers he snuck out. He had sensed her the moment she condensed back to her human form and headed straight for the gardens. When he saw her resting against the tree he had acted on impulse, not knowing what her reaction would be, and not particularly hopeful either. After all, he had foiled her attempts to save his life in saving hers… Lia had never taken kindly to people helping her without permission… And yet, even with knowing all this, Agni found himself surprised when he ended up on his back…

 

For once in her life Lia found that his snark could not get under her skin. Heck, she’d listen to him snark about anything and everything if it meant that she could have him by her side without worrying about omens. With a trembling laugh she threw herself in his arms, pressing her ear against his chest just to make certain that his heart was beating again. Agni looked at her bemused, but just as he began to ask her what was going on she looked up at him determinedly.

“I love you too, you know,” she said before leaning in to kiss him. For once Agni was more than happy to remain silent. The two Spirits were too absorbed by each other’s presence to notice the petite, green-clad figure that walked away quietly with a smile.

 

Toph nodded to herself, satisfied she hadn’t needed to take any drastic measures to make those two idiots talk properly to each other. Now all she had to do was to let the rest of her friends know. And collect the bet money from Sokka. It had taken them less than a century (starting at the making of the bet, Toph would insist later) to get their acts together. And really, the Water Tribesman had known her for what? Five years now? And he still thought he could win on a bet against her? The earthbender laughed at the silliness of men in general and went off to find Aang. With all that had happened they had had hardly any time to spend alone. And she had a few ideas regarding the restoration of the Southern Air Temple…

 

On her way to where she could sense Sokka and Suki sitting together, and no doubt saying sickeningly sweet things to one another, Toph paused at the sound of quiet talking. Walking closer to the half-open door, she leaned against the wall, unnoticed by Ao and Azula who were too engrossed in their discussion of travel plans to notice much of anything going on around them. It would seem the pull of the Spirit World had caught both the royal siblings even if it was in different ways.

 

Speaking of Fire Nation royalty, when Toph finally found Sokka (Aang was heading over in their direction anyway), Suki and him where sitting with Zuko and Katara, enthusiastically planning something. Toph filled the words “Earthbending police” for later before interrupting the impromptu meeting in her signature way.

“Pay up Snoozles!” she yelled, marching in the room triumphantly.

“What?” Sokka exclaimed startled. “No way!”

“Sokka!” Katara looked at her older brother disapprovingly. “What did you bet on this time?”

“Nothing!” he said in a high-pitched tone that fooled no one. Toph decided to stir his memory.

“Lia and Agni sitting under a tree…” she started singing. Katara and Suki forgot their annoyance with Sokka, instantly turning on the younger girl excited.

“Really?” Suki asked even as Katara exclaimed “Finally!” Toph nodded, satisfied at the reaction her news caused. Grumbling Sokka reached for his purse even as Zuko stood up and headed for the door.
“Zuko?” Aang said confused as the Fire Lord bypassed him on his way out. “Where are going?”

“To find Ao,” Zuko called over his shoulder.

“Last I saw, he was talking with Azula,” Toph called after him, cackling as she sensed the firebender’s steps speeding up. Aang looked at his girlfriend confused.

“What’s going on?” Laughing, Toph pulled him to sit next to her.

“Oh, Twinkle-Toes!” she chuckled. “Where to start?”

 

As it was the two overprotective brothers of Lia didn’t get a chance to corner either her or Agni that day, and by the time everyone had turned in for the night, their drafts on the Talk they would give to the male Fire Spirit had become more elaborate and significantly more violent to the amusement of everyone else. Lia herself had gone to bed in blissful ignorance of the schemes the two hot-heads were concocting. A few hours later she was torn out of her slumber by a nightmare. At least she hoped it was a nightmare…. With everything that happened during and after the battle she was having a hard time distinguishing reality from her visions and her visions from the simple nightmares that played on her fears. Nervously she jumped out of bed and, not wanting to bother with walking, teleported herself to Agni’s room.

 

Instantly a wave of sweltering heat hit her, relaxing her tense muscles. Agni, secure in the knowledge that most people wouldn’t be barging in his room uninvited, kept the temperature in there just shy of that of a lit fireplace, with small clusters of fire floating around the room, seemingly out of their own free will. Lia gently pushed one of them away as it came a little too close to her loose hair. With steadier steps than she would have thought likely she approached the bed, observing the man sleeping there deeply and peacefully. Or maybe not so deeply, she amended in her mind, when Agni cracked an eye open and smiled to her mischievously.

“You’re welcome to join me, you know,” he said, moving closer to the middle of the bed invitingly.

“You know,” Lia said with a smile, “I think I will.”

Twilight of the Spirit World: Revelation Day

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Author’s note: In which we’re once more in countdown mode, the author incorporates LoK elements for the heck of it and the pressure is on like you wouldn’t believe it…

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Revelation Day***

Lia was gone for that day and most of the next. When she returned to where the others had made camp she was pale, quiet and had swapped her dress for armour. The crystal hung visible against her breastplate, its colour nearly black. She regarded the group silently for a few moments, before Zuko noticed her and stood up, a worried question ready on his lips. Lia shook her head, cutting him off and addressed the whole group instead.

“The army has been gathered. I can take us all there if you are ready.” Her answer came in a series of uneasy nods. Everyone stood, breaking camp and preparing their weapons. Once they were ready, they approached the Fire Spirit. “Form a circle around me,” she said. “It will be easier to transport everyone this way.”

“You sure you don’t need help with the teleporting?” Ao asked her concerned. Over the centuries he had faced his fair share of battles, and Lia’s almost mechanic behaviour, combined with Agni’s absence didn’t fill him with confidence. It was always hard to keep track of a companion in the midst of a fight, harder yet when said companion didn’t have a clear enough mind to take care of themselves. Lia shook her head.

“I’ll be fine,” she told him and the next moment they were standing at the edge of the largest and most chaotic camp any of them had ever seen.

 

Spirits of all shapes and kinds, some human-looking, some less so, hurried around, forming in battalions, putting on armour and sharpening weapons. Some searched for friends or lovers in other groups, wanting to have a few last moments of peace before the uncertainty of the fight started. Different incarnations of the Avatar walked through the different groups, some joining them, some simply pausing to exchange of few words. The gaang stared slack-jawed at the gathering for a moment before they realised that Lia was already walking towards the centre of the camp and hurried to follow her.

 

As they walked amongst the different Spirits they noticed that most of them seemed to group by characteristics or abilities. A large group of dragons flew overhead, some carrying warriors on their backs, roaring in acknowledgement when they saw Lia. A group of Spirits that seemed to be carved out of precious stones, greeted Toph enthusiastically as she passed by, making the earthbender blush slightly and hide behind her bangs. In a different section, one suspiciously covered in mist and studiously avoided by most Spirits, Koh sat, calmly observing the chaos around him, and Sokka could have sworn he saw Hei Bai pass by, carrying baskets of weapons in his back.

 

For all the noise and voices and new sights however, no one could ignore that under all that they could still hear, almost to quiet to register, a similar noise dimly coming from the enemy camp. Perhaps not surprisingly Zuko was the first to break the silence. He caught up to his sister and turning to face her he asked,
“Where exactly are we going?” Are you alright? he’d rather ask. Will you be alright once this is over and we return to our world? But he knew Lia would never answer him openly in front of everyone and so chose to stick to a more neutral ground. Lia gave him a quick glance and then turned to face forward again, although she spoke up for the benefit of the group.

“Just a little further ahead. There is a meeting going on. We are trying to come up with a strategy and I am sure your experience with…unconventional methods of war craft will be useful. From behind them they heard Sokka, Suki and Azula immediately starting to brainstorm, with Ao and Aang offering their thoughts at points. Taking advantage of their distraction Zuko turned to Lia again.

“Will you be alright?” he asked her quietly. She turned to look at him surprised, her hand going reflexively to cover the crystal.

“I always am,” she told him softly, but didn’t resist when he pulled her to a quick hug.

 

Ahead of them, around a large table almost completely covered in papers, stood a group of Avatars, Roku included, Oma, Shu, Yue, La, and, to the gaang’s surprise, Agni, dressed in black armour and looking more grave than anyone remembered seeing him since he had started travelling with them. By unspoken agreement the group broke, everyone heading towards their elemental counterparts, with Aang and the non-benders staying with Ao. It caused no small amount of stares when Lia took her place next to Agni, even though she refused to look at him. Instead she turned her attention to Kyoshi who was standing opposite of her.

“Any news on the Air elementals?” she asked in a measured tone. If the female Avatar was surprised at their arrival she did not show it.

“No,” she said instead. “We hope this means that they are choosing to remain neutral on the matter.”

“What of the Air crystal?” Sokka asked. “We do not have it but the tower was pretty much destroyed so…”

“Without the Air elementals there is no way of knowing whether the Council managed to take the crystal or not,” Roku said frowning.

“What about the plan you told us about Roku?” Aang jumped in. “How are we going to awaken the Avatar Spirit?” An uneasy looked was swapped by the older Spirits. True that had been the plan since the beginning, but it was one rife with risks.

“It is not as simple as you may imagine,” La said finally, his voice similar to waves crashing on the shore. “The Avatar Spirit is the Spirit of Life, birth from the union of Raava and Vaatu, Order and Chaos. It cannot be controlled or predicted. Moreover, it would severely diminish our forces.” Azula looked at him with a frown.

“How so?” she asked, leaning against the table.

“It would require the combined energy of all the Avatars together to awaken it,” Avatar Kuruk explained. “If we follow this course of action we cannot participate in the battle. Our side will be deprived of at least a thousand warriors.”

“Do we have a choice?” Toph asked, before the conversation turned to calculating the odds. That never helped.

“What do you mean child?” Oma looked at her like she could already guess the earthbender’s next words.

“Do we have an alternative plan? Anything other than charge blindly and hope for the best.” Toph shrugged. “I’m usually all for the head-on approach but in this case…”

“Toph is right,” Lia said. “At this point we do not have a choice. We do not know exactly what the Council has in store, but if it is anything like those blasts they used when I first returned, well, we cannot afford to hold back.” She gave Aang a sharp look, already guessing where any opposition might come from. “They will definitely not.” The airbender didn’t look happy, but didn’t contradict her either.

“It might be best if this…” Zuko paused, uncertain of what awakening the Avatar Spirit might entail. He continued nonetheless. “Close to the camp. Then in case everything goes wrong we will have one last line of defence.”

“For whatever good it might do…”Agni muttered but gave an approving nod to the Fire Lord. “But you are correct. If it comes down to it we will at least have enough time to send you children back and seal any passages between our worlds.”

“What do you mean, seal the passages?” Aang asked alarmed. Agni gave him a grave look.

“We cannot allow the Council’s bid for rewriting how the universe works. One way or another they will need to be contained.”

“But to completely seal the gates…” Yue looked hesitant, and most of the other elementals nodded in agreement. “This has never happened before. How do we know it will not cause a worse disaster to the mortal realm than what we are already facing?”

“Yue,” Lia spoke up for the first time, turning to face the youngest Spirit present, “you and I both know better than anyone that the mortals always find a way to survive, and even prosper, at the most adverse of circumstances. We will have to trust that this trend will continue.” Another round of nods, some more confident than others, rippled across the table. Katara took a deep breath and spoke for the entire gaang.

“What do you need us to do?” she asked decisively.

 

Each one of them was assigned to a different battalion, though there was little doubt they would sooner or later find each if only because after all these years they tended to gravitate together. Around them the warriors were beginning to line up in a surprisingly orderly fashion. Toph and Aang were the first to separate, with the earthbender roughly pushing her boyfriend towards the barrier the other Avatars were slowly forming, with explicit instructions as to where he was to take her for a date as soon as they won the battle. Aang, knowing better than to disagree with her, enveloped her in a tight hug and moved to join his other incarnations. Toph paused only to punch Zuko to the arm and wolf-whistle at Sokka and Suki who were kissing (“It’s for good luck!” Suki exclaimed with a blush.) before joining the gemstone Spirits.

 

Getting over their slight embarrassment, Sokka and Suki waved at the reminder of the group and joined a group near the middle that seemed to be formed mostly of Spirits formed out of what could only be described as solidified energy. They didn’t try to put their thoughts to words, both firmly of the belief that a casual farewell was the best way to ensure you’d find someone on the other side of the battle.

 

Azula embraced her brother and Katara tightly, her throat too tight for words. Ao moved to stand to her side, their affinity with lightning making them the perfect long-range offensive. Zuko looked at them both sternly, one hand firmly wrapped around Katara, the other pointing at them warningly.

“Look after each other,” he ordered them. His eyes focused on Ao. “Once this is over, we two need to have a talk.”

“Zuko!” Azula exclaimed, indignant embarrassment overpowering the pre-battle nervousness. Ao however simply nodded and took her hand.

“That we do Fire Lord,” he said with a slight inclination of the head before he led Azula away to where they’d be stationed.

 

Katara chuckled softly, shifting so that she could face Zuko.

“Did Sokka pull a stunt like this with you?” she asked idly. Zuko shook his head.

“No, he was too afraid of Lia’s reaction, so close to our encounter with the Combustion Man, remember?” The waterbender nodded, a concerned look passing through her eyes.

“Lia will be alright, right?” she said hesitantly. Zuko sighed and tightened his grip.

“I don’t know,” he admitted quietly. “I wish she would talk to me instead of hiding away.” Katara pecked him on the cheek comfortingly.

“We’ll get through this battle,” she said strongly. “Then we’ll make sure she is really alright.” Zuko wasn’t sure things would work quite that well, they never did with their little group, but, with the pre-battle hush slowly falling over the entire battlefield, he nodded once. Together they moved towards the front lines, with the other close-range warriors.

 

While these last minute conversations and promises were happening, Lia stood at the very edge of the battlefield, eyes closed, as she concentrated on the shifting energies around her. So deeply she was in her meditation that the sudden flare of energy right next to her seemed like a small star. She opened her eyes and turned to face him. Agni’s expression was almost mournful as he stood there, his hands rigidly on his sides like he was forcing himself to not embrace her. For an endless moment they looked at each other silently.

“You know that I love you, right?” Agni finally said in a resigned tone. “It doesn’t matter how often we scream at each other or you try to kill me, it doesn’t change anything.” Lia parted her lips to say something but he cut her off. “Don’t. I just wanted you to know for certain. Just in case.” With these words he turned to leave, completely missing the way her expression crumbled in despair. Wordlessly Lia turned once more forward to face the battlefield, refusing to let her tears fall.

Twilight of the Spirit World – Closure

Standard

Author’s note: In which some long overdue conversations happen, there is hard character development and the author wonders whether she should stop tormenting her characters…

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Closure***

The first thing the group realised when they stepped through the thick mist was that Koh’s territory was an exotic paradise compared to what they were facing. The parchment-yellow and ash-grey fog that surrounded them thinned at places to reveal cracked rocks and skeletal trees. The sky and sun were hidden completely and the only light came from Zuko, Azula and Agni’s hands, the ruby crystal around Lia’s neck and the odd flash of light that appeared and disappeared without warning. Silence seemed to swallow them, not even their footsteps echoing. Nervously they huddled even closer together and hurried to catch up with Lia.

“Slow down, will you?” Ao said eventually, his voice resonating oddly, almost like the rumble of thunder. “If we end up losing we’ll waste even more time in here.”  Lia turned to look at him annoyed.

“It’s not my fault you can’t keep up,” she snapped. “We’re not going on a picnic, so hurry…” she trailed off, a look of fear flitting across her face. She clutched the crystal with one hand before turning on her heel and rushing forward again.

“This place reminds me of that swamp we ended up in before we met Toph,” Katara said suddenly. “You don’t think what Koh meant is that we’ll see the people we lost again?” She and Sokka exchanged a nervous look.

“I saw Toph,” Aang offered. “Maybe whoever we see will be here to help us?”

“These are the Mists,” Agni said grimly. “Only the lost walk them and the longer they stay the more they loose of themselves. I doubt they’d be of any help.”

“Then why would the Water crystal be here?” Azula asked him confused. To her surprise his answer was almost gentle.

“Who would dare to knowingly venture in a place like this?”

“You mean we’ll be affected too?” she asked scared. He pointed at the crawling tendrils of mists, tendrils that were more solid than they should probably be, that seemed to surround them like predators stalking their prey.

“If you listen carefully you can hear the lost,” he said before speeding up to walk next to Lia.

 

Toph was the first to understand what he meant. Her more sensitive ears caught the sound of the lost first and she visibly shuddered. It didn’t take long for the others to understand why. The deeper they moved the louder the voices became, unintelligible cries of agony, ecstasy and fury, all blending together so that it wasn’t clear if it was one person screaming or a multitude. Zuko blasted a few tendrils that moved too close for comfort and the mist seemed to retreat for a moment.

“I don’t think they like fire too much,” he remarked. Azula smirked, glad to be able to do something about the situation and she started using the tendrils for target practice, even as they continued to walk. She didn’t miss Ao’s appreciative look either. If her shots started becoming more elaborate, no one commented on it.

“It’s too quiet,” Suki said suddenly, causing everyone to pause. She was right. Nothing, not even the crackle of fire could be heard and even the tendrils had seemingly retreated. Then, with no warning, the fog descended and covered the group. They scrambled to keep hold of the person closest to them as cold fingers seemed to brush against their faces, chilling their breaths even as the air left their bodies. The retreat of the fog found them divided and further from each other than they realised.

 

Aang and Toph found themselves standing at the entrance of the Southern Air Temple. The airbender shuddered. It looked just as it had when he, Katara and Sokka had first visited it together and a part of him relived the terror and rage that he had first experienced there. Toph seemed to sense his turmoil.

“This is the Temple you grew up in, isn’t it?” she said quietly, the softness of her voice belaying the strength of her grip on his hand. Aang gulped.

“It is,” he said. “You know, even after meeting Zuko for the first time, even with Katara’s and Sokka’s warnings, I didn’t believe that the Air Nomads were lost until I came here. Why would the mist bring us here though?” Toph frowned and took a step forward, dragging him along.

“If the mist is made out of lost things then perhaps you need to find whatever it is you lost here. We’ll just have to start looking.”

 

Together they walked through the quiet and empty halls until they made it to what must have been an orchard once. Now the trees stood dry and half-wild, some of them having long fallen and rotted away.

“Do you think I can do it Toph?” Aang asked suddenly, leading his girlfriend towards a few steps and sitting there with her.

“You’ll have to be more specific Twinkle-Toes,” she said dryly. “I think you can do plenty of things.”

“Do you think I can revive the Air Nomads? Keep them from disappearing?” he paused and looked around. “It’s not just for the sake of the Avatar circle. I don’t want all the legacy that my people will have to be stories and ruins.”

“I don’t think things will be as dark as you think Aang,” Toph said seriously. “You ended the Hundred Year War…” Aang opened his mouth to interrupt her but she covered it with her hand. “Let me finish!” she chided. “Your story inspires people. There will be those that will wish to follow your way of living; the Air Nomads’ way of living. It will be slow going but we can restore the temples. And if you are worrying about the next Avatar not having an airbending master well…” she paused and blushed. “Our children are as likely to be airbenders as they are to be earthbenders.” Aang blushed as well at her words and smiled shyly. Suddenly the wild garden didn’t seem as unwelcoming as before.

“Promise me we’ll take it one day at a time together?” he said. Toph leaned against him.

“I promise,” she said.

 

Behind them the mist started to thin.

 

When the mist cleared Sokka and Suki found themselves, to their endless surprise, on a small boat in the middle of the ocean. The sky above them was cloudy and its reflection gave the water a strange milky-white colour. The couple looked around, trying to find the shore or, better yet, the way back to their friends. There wasn’t any wind and the only thing rocking the boat was their own movements. Finally Sokka exhaled in exasperation.

“How on earth are we going to leave this place?” he whined, flopping on his back and staring at the sky moodily. Suki nudged him with her foot.
“I thought you are the idea guy,” she teased him gently. “Why don’t you put that big head of yours to use?”

“This isn’t our world! Half the time I don’t even understand why things happen the way they do here!”

“When has that stopped you before from being brilliant?” a voice said from above them. A soft voice that Sokka recognised immediately and had him jumping to his feet searching frantically for its owner.

“Yue?” he called out hopefully.

 

Above the boat the clouds parted to reveal the moon and from it descended the former Princess of the Northern Water Tribe. She smiled at the pair kindly.

“It’s good to see you again Sokka,” she said, hovering in front of the boat, just out of reach. She turned to Suki. “And it is good to finally meet you Suki.” The Kyoshi warrior nodded carefully at the Moon Spirit, glancing quickly at Sokka, nervous at his tense silence.

“It is good to meet you too Yue,” she said at last. “I have heard a lot about you.” She fell silent again, not sure what else to say.

“Was it my fault?” Sokka blurted out, looking at Yue desperately. “Was there anything I could have done?” She looked at him serenely but sadly and shook her head.

“No,” she said at last. “This was meant to happen. It would have always happened.” Her expression crumbled for a moment. “But I am sorry to have caused you grief. I never meant to hurt you.” They looked at each other and for a moment all that could have been seemed to make the gap between them even greater.

“How could it have been either’s fault?” Suki broke the silence, looking at both Sokka and Yue sternly. “You were children trying to fix the problems the hatred of the previous generations caused. And from all the stories I’ve heard you both did more and sacrificed more than anyone had the right to ask of you.” Sokka looked at her stunned but Yue smiled.

“You are very wise Suki,” she said. “Take care of him for both of us.” Suki nodded quietly, a silent message passing between the two women. Then Yue turned to Sokka and place a palm on the side of his face. “Be happy,” she whispered before disappearing. Sokka turned to Suki and silently hugged her, the guilt of Yue’s death finally leaving him.

 

Around them the mist disappeared.

 

“This is too weird,” Azula said exasperated, looking around at the courtyard she had played in many times as a child. Next to her Ao was examining their surroundings curiously.

“This is where you grew up?” he said surprised. “How come you’re a warrior?” She turned to him in surprise and he took a hasty step back. “I did not mean to say that! But seriously, this place looks to comfortable!”

“You don’t look like a Water Spirit anyway,” Azula retorted, “so I guess nothing is at appears.” She gave him another look. “I still think your eyes are beautiful though.” She blushed as red as her tunic and slapped a hand over her mouth. Ao blushed too but he managed a flirty smile.

“Same goes to you princess,” he said. “I think I get it,” he added more seriously. “This is a place where truths are revealed. That’s why we can’t control what we say. Once we save reality as we know it, do you want to go traveling with me?” He groaned and banged his head against a nearby tree. “Great!” he muttered. “That’s exactly how I planned asking you.” To his surprise Azula laughed.

“Let’s save the world before we make any travel plans, shall we?” she said and reached for his hand. “Now how about I show you around and we look for an exit?”

 

Neither noticed the courtyard melting as they left it behind.

 

The clearing shook as yet another fireblast hit one of the few trees not to be burnt down yet. Lia doubled over, breathing heavily as she tried to conjure the energy to continue with her destruction of the landscape. Agni stood to the side, well out of her range, frowning worriedly. When the mist had first cleared they had found themselves in an idyllic clearing, one that belonged to the distant past, with trees and flowers that had not survived the shifts in spiritual energy that had caused the first benders to appear. When one more tree fell to the ground he decided enough was enough. He marched up to Lia and grabbed her hands just as she released her energy. It rippled between them for a moment before being absorbed by the crystal.

“This isn’t real,” he told her forcefully. “You’re gaining nothing by burning everything to the ground.” Lia tried to wrench her hands free.

“It’s my memories that conjured this place up,” she spat. “If I want to burn it I will.”

“Perhaps, but the memory will remain!” Agni shook her angrily, trying to get through before she began to truly panic. He had noticed the signs since she had realised that the fog would conjure memories back to life, but truth be told he wasn’t certain what might happen to Lia if she really managed to destroy one of her most important memories. He wasn’t very eager to find out either. Tightening his grip to force her to look at him he forced himself to speak calmly. “You cannot escape what has already been done. Let’s just try to find our way out, okay.”

 

For a moment it seemed like Lia didn’t understand what she was told. Finally she jerked her head in a sharp nod and pulled away, striding towards the edge of the clearing, doing her outmost to ignore the destruction around her. For once she didn’t object to Agni walking by her side. They had almost reached the edge when a childish voice, carried by the wind, caused Lia to freeze in place, all blood draining from her face. Agni wrapped an arm around her waist letting her lean against him as her breathing grew ragged and her hands started to tremble. The voice was louder now, coming closer, and Agni turned them both to face the burnt land just as a black-haired, brown-eyed boy dressed in green appeared. He couldn’t be more than ten years old and the only indication of his nature was the unearthly pallor of his skin. He took one look at them and with a bright smile threw himself to Lia’s embrace. In turn her trembling increased as she looked down to a face she had not seen in millennia.

“You’re dead,” she said hoarsely even as her arms moved to cradle the boy tightly. He nodded against her.

“I don’t mind,” he answered, his voice muffled from where he rested his face on her shoulder. He pulled back a little to look her in the eye and frowned, for the first time realising that his sister wasn’t exactly looking happy. “You…you can’t be blaming yourself?” he exclaimed in disbelief. Lia frowned and let go of him.

“I’m the very incarnation of fire, the thing that killed you Hisao!” she said angrily brushing a few tears away. “And even if I weren’t a Fire Spirit, I was your sister. It was my job to protect you, not the other way around!” Hisao bit his lip and then, more carefully this time, hugged his sister again, pulling her to sit on the ground.

“It’s okay,” he said quietly. “It’s okay to be sad.” His arms tightened around her as she started crying.

“I…just…miss you…so much,” she choked out. “It wasn’t fair!”

“I miss you too. But think of all the things that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t become a Fire Spirit.” Lia shook her head.

“Agni would have managed,” she said.

“Maybe I would have,” Agni said suddenly, kneeling on her other side. “But I wouldn’t have given to our people all that you gave them.” Lia looked up surprised. He managed a small smile and wrapped his arms around her too. “We are equals in everything and don’t you forget it!”

 

Tremulously, hesitantly, the tears seemed to slow down. Lia looked at her brother to find him watching with a hopeful expression.

“I’ll always miss you,” she told him. “And I will always be sad that I lost you the way I did. But I think I am ready to start moving on.” Hisao gave her a bright smile and stood up. All the wisdom drained from his expression as he turned threateningly towards Agni.

“And you treat my sister nicely mister!” he ordered the Spirit before giving the redhead one last hug and with a cheerful wave disappeared in the woods. Agni, still startled by that last comment had barely had time to recover when Lia leaned against him, turning to curl with her side against his chest as the emotional turmoil finally took its toll and she fell asleep.

 

A bright light covered them.

 

Katara and Zuko turned abruptly at the sound of footsteps behind them. They had been walking through ankle-deep water since the fog had transported them away from the others. Seeing nothing they warily turned to continue walking when the water in front of them started rippling. It rose and formed a figure that slowly condensed to a woman dressed in Water Tribe clothes. Katara took a step back in shock.

“Mum?” she whispered in disbelief. Kya opened her eyes and smiled lovingly at her grown-up daughter.

“It’s so good to see again sweetie,” she said, spreading her arms to embrace Katara. The waterbender didn’t any more encouragement. She rushed to her mother’s arms laughing and crying at the same time. When the two finally parted Kya looked at Zuko first and then Katara.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to this nice young man Katara?” she asked almost playfully. Katara blushed but moved to her boyfriend’s side.

“Mum, this is Zuko,” she said. Kya looked at them silently for a moment, taking in the way they held hands and leaned into each other and the necklace that hung on Katara’s neck, a blue ribbon and a finely carved sunstone.

“It is nice to meet you Zuko,” she said finally, nodding her head in greeting.

“It is an honour to meet you ma’am,” Zuko answered, nodding respectfully back.

“Mum what are you doing here? We were told this is where the lost souls go.” Katara’s eyes widened in fear. She couldn’t bear to imagine her mother roaming this desolate place forever.

“Don’t worry dear,” said Kya. “This is also a place for lost things to be found. Just like I found you.” She reached under her parka and pulled out a brilliant blue crystal. “The Spirits wished to entrust you with this and I couldn’t miss a chance to see my little girl again. So offered to wait for your arrival so that I might give it to you.”

 

Katara extended her hand to take the crystal, her eyes widening as she became almost hyperaware of the water surrounding her. In front of her, her mother’s spectre started fading.

“Wait,” Katara cried. “I thought we’d have more time!” Kya shook her head.

“My time is over Katara. You know this.” By now she was a mere echo. “I love you sweetie. And tell your father and brother that I love them too.”

“I love you mum.” Katara whispered as her mother completely disappeared from sight. Slowly she pulled the chain from which the crystal hung around her neck and took Zuko’s hand.

“Are you okay,” he asked her hesitantly.

“Yes,” she answered, and to her surprise she said the truth.

 

Everything around them disappeared.

 

Aang and Toph thought they were the first to stumble out of the swamp and into clean air. To their surprise they found Agni leaning against a tree, with Lia wrapped protectively in his arms, fast asleep. Toph smiled softly. She didn’t need sight to tell that their hearts were beating in sync.

Twilight of the Spirit World – Prologue

Standard

Author’s note: In which the author glosses over four years’ worth of material and the comic continuity is COMPLETELY ignored.

Next chapter: link

***Prologue***

The first few years after the war rolled by faster than anyone would have expected. The reconstruction process forced the gaang to stretch thin, each one of the teens returning to their respective nations.

 

The end-of- war negotiations went surprisingly smoothly, especially with a vengeful Spirit on call to glower at anyone trying to take advantage of the lack of political experience of the new Fire Lord and –to a lesser extent- of the Avatar.

 

When Katara finally found out the story behind Zuko’s scar it was only the fact that she was in Omashu at the time, helping out with the repairs from Bumi’s liberation campaign that prevented her from having a little “chat” with Ozai.

 

Lee got his visit at Sozin and spent two memorable months touring not only the Fire Nation but also the Earth Kingdom with the Fire Lord, the Avatar and their friends.

 

The Southern Water Tribe grew from a small village to a bustling city with the return of the warriors and the introduction of more waterbenders from the Northern Water Tribe.

 

Sokka divided his time between the South Pole and Kyoshi Island, prompting an endless stream of jokes from not only Toph but also his entire tribe.

 

While Ty Lee felt more at home than ever amongst the Kyoshi Warriors, Mai decided that staying anywhere for more than a few days was a waste of her precious time and gratefully took up Zuko’s offer to travel through the Fire Nation in search of any problems that might arise with the return of his father’s soldiers.

 

Aang managed to convince Toph to see her parents again. He regretted it when Toph’s father caught them kissing in the garden and launched a speech on what his daughter’s boyfriend – Avatar or not Avatar – was not allowed to do. Toph offered not to visit them again until after their second child was born. In hindsight, that was a bad idea considering that Aang fainted while flying Appa.

 

Zuko proposed to Katara under the full moon on their third anniversary. This prompted Suki to propose to Sokka on their fourth anniversary. Another thing on the long list of things that no one would over allow Sokka to live down.

 

Azula re-mastered lightning when she was sixteen under the careful guidance of Lia.

 

Iroh’s teashop in Ba Sing Se became a regular hangout for the gaang whenever they were there. It also became internationally famous for its Pai Sho tournaments.

 

Lia did not have nightmares or visions of the future again and soon returned to her carefree self. She told no one that she always went to bed with her back turned to the Fire Lily on her bedside table and woke up facing it.

 

For four wonderful years there was peace.

 

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Epilogue

Standard

Author’s note: In which most loose ends are tied, there is shipping you saw coming and shipping you probably did not see coming, reunions, parties and Sokka’s atrocious painting skills.

Previous chapter: link

***Epilogue***

It was not surprising that Azula woke up first the next morning. Opening her eyes slightly she saw Zuko still sleeping peacefully next to her. Katara had bandaged his wounds while they were out. The princess couldn’t help the prick of guilt that she felt. Hearing footsteps she sat up in alarm, not seeing the waterbender anywhere and still feeling too drained to firebend. The door opened quietly and Azula’s eyes widened when she saw the woman that stood in the threshold.

“Mother?” she whispered in disbelief. Ursa had hardly changed since she had last seen her, although she was dressed in plain red robes now. Without pausing to think of her tiredness the girl jumped off the bed and hurried towards her mother, pausing in front of her. Ursa hesitantly took a step closer, opening her arms to embrace her youngest. Azula didn’t need to be told twice. She threw herself into her mother’s arms, feeling the last piece click back into place in her mind.

“I’ve missed you, little one,” Ursa told her daughter tenderly.

“Zuko will be so glad to see you,” Azula murmured, throwing a glance at her brother’s sleeping form. She turned her eyes back to her mother. “I am too,” she added shyly. Ursa just smiled.

“Zula?” a sleepy voice came from the bed. The princess returned to her brother’s side, helping him to sit up.

“Look who’s here Zuzu!” she said excitedly. Zuko followed her gaze and his face split to the biggest grin Azula had ever seen.

“Mom!” he said elated. Ursa walked up to her son and pulled him to an embrace as well, content to be near her children at last.

 

Suddenly a yell came from outside.

“No, you can’t bother them!” Lia’s annoyed voice rang out clearly through the door. “They’re probably still sleeping,” Katara added, just as annoyed. She had been up all night worrying over the two firebenders. The early morning visitors wasn’t helping her temper much.

“But we need to tell Zuko the news!” Sokka whined. “And why won’t you have a look at my leg? You can heal it, why do I have to walk around with a crutch?”

“Because your sister is very tired,” Lia said sternly. She opened the door to see Zuko and Ursa giving her amused looks. Azula just seemed confused by the argument. Katara appeared next to the redhead.

“We didn’t wake you up, did we?” she asked worried. Zuko shook his head.

“Zula woke me,” he explained with a smile. “Not that I’m complaining.”

“Who’s Zula?” Sokka asked appearing behind his sister. His eyes doubled when he noticed the princess. “You!” he yelled in shock, struggling to jump in front of his sister. Katara rolled her eyes, pushed him back and looked at Azula apologetically.

“They just came and I haven’t had time to explain,” she said.

“Explain what?” Aang’s voice came from behind them as he and Toph joined the group.

“Why Azula is here,” Katara said. The Avatar and earthbender looked at her confused before turning towards the bed. The princess was sitting between her brother and mother, hiding her nervousness behind a calm look. There was silence for a moment before Aang’s face split in a huge smile.

“Well, if Lia lets you anywhere near Zuko we have to welcome you to the group,” he decided happily.

“I agree with Twinkle-Toes,” Toph added. “Everyone knows that Blazes is paranoid.” Lia raised an eyebrow.

“Since when do I have a nickname?” she asked. Toph shrugged.

“It’s about time if you ask me.”

Sokka remained silent, watching the rest of the gaang gathering around the bed to share stories of their separate battles. Suki joined them soon and pulled her boyfriend along. Before he knew it, the Water Tribe boy found himself recounting enthusiastically how he had destroyed the airship fleet, seemingly not noticing that most questions came from Azula.

 

Aang had left again in the afternoon to bring the members of the White Lotus to Sozin for the final formalities that followed the ending of the war. Zuko was declared Fire Lord after both Iroh and Azula had explicitly told the nobles that in no way they would step between him and the throne. The official coronation was scheduled in a week so that he could recover enough, not that that stopped Zuko from ordering the release of any prisoners of war that were still held.

 

The day of the coronation was sunny, and Zuko wondered if Agni was doing it on purpose to annoy Lia, silently approving the new Fire Lord. He turned his attention back to struggling to pull his official robes on. Despite the repeated healings by Katara, the lightning had done a lot of damage and he hadn’t had much chance to rest and recover. He winced when a clumsy move made pain shoot through his torso.

“You need some help with that?” an amused voice came from the doorway. The soon-to-be-Fire Lord turned with a huge smile.

“Katara!” he hadn’t seen her much in the last few days, other than during the brief healing sessions. He smiled sheepishly. “I guess some help wouldn’t hurt.” The waterbender helped him pull the stuffy outfit on.

“How do you feel?” she asked him, concerned.

“A little sore,” Zuko answered truthfully, knowing better than to lie to a master waterbender/healer. “And nervous,” he admitted in a more quiet tone. Katara smiled at him reassuringly.

“You’ll do fine,” she said, placing a hand on the side of his face. “We all believe in you and we know that you will make a wonderful Fire Lord.” She stood on her tiptoes to kiss him softly. “And if you ever have a hard time Lia, Azula and I can always deal with whoever is the issue.” Zuko couldn’t help but laugh at that.

 

Iroh came soon after to talk over some last-minute issues with Zuko. Sokka and Katara met up, determined to look for their father in the hundreds of people that had gathered for the coronation. Finally, after navigating through a swarm of swampbenders they found Hakoda and Bato talking to each other.

“Dad!” they exclaimed as they rushed to the man. Well, Katara did. Sokka was still limping around.

“I heard what you two did. I am the proudest father in the world,” Hakoda said embracing them. “And your mother would be proud too,” he added, more to Katara than Sokka. Sokka looked up to notice a group of girls dressed in forest-green approaching.

“There’re my favourite warriors! I have to admit, I kind of missed the face paint. How does it feel to be back in uniform again‌?” he asked his girlfriend smiling.

“It feels great!” Ty Lee said, jumping from behind Suki. Sokka had lost count of the times he had been shocked, but this definitely took the cake. He half-jumped in front of Suki, pointing his crutch in Ty Lee’s direction.

“Careful Suki! Ty Lee is pretending to be a Kyoshi Warrior again,” he said accusingly.

“It’s ok,” Suki chuckled. “She’s one of us now.”

“Yeah, the girls and I really bonded in prison,” the acrobat explained. “And after a few Chi-blocking lessons, they said I could join their group. We’re going to be best friends forever,” she exclaimed, smiling brightly.

 

Zuko paused before the doors that would lead him to the coronation ceremony and took a deep breath. Aang was standing next to him in his formal monk robes.

“I can’t believe a year ago my purpose in life was hunting you down, and now…” Zuko trailed off.

“And now we’re friends,” Aang completed the sentence peacefully.

“Yeah…we are friends.”

“I can’t believe a year ago I was still frozen in a block of ice,” Aang said lightly. “The world’s so different now.”  Zuko placed a hand on his pupil’s shoulder.

“And it’s gonna be even more different, when we build it together.”

 

Zuko stepped out and instantly thunderous applause rocked the full courtyard. On the plateau stood Ursa, Iroh and Azula dressed in ceremonial robes for the coronation. Zuko raised his hand.

“Please, the real hero is the Avatar,” he said, taking a step to the side and allowing Aang to take the centre. “Today, this war is finally over,” he continued to address the crowd. “I promised my uncle that I would restore the honour of the Fire Nation, and I will. The road ahead of us is challenging. A hundred years of fighting has left the world scarred and divided. But with the Avatar’s help, we can get it back on the right path, and begin a new era of love and peace.” Aang stepped back as Zuko knelt for the coronation. The head Fire Sage moved forward with the crown when the unexpected happened. He paused. From the shadows emerged the figure of a redheaded woman, dressed in an elaborate scarlet kimono with golden dragons stitched on it. The Sage bowed low to her and handed her the crown. With a proud smile Lia stood behind her adoptive brother.

“All hail Fire Lord Zuko!” she said in a loud voice as she placed the flame-shaped crown on his head. The entire courtyard knelt in front of the new Fire Lord as he stood up. He turned to the Spirit to see her bowing slightly as well, though not to the ground as the rest of the people did. They shared a smile as his family stood from their bows and gathered around him. Zuko could see that Lia was, for the first time in the last few months, at peace.

 

The early afternoon found Azula standing uncertainly in front of a door, a package held tightly in her hands. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so uncomfortable and suddenly wished that someone was with her. But her brother was busy signing papers with the guidance of their uncle and the newly-reappeared Jeong Jeong, whom Zuko had made a member of the Council of advisors, and her mother was overseeing the preparations for the ball to celebrate the end of the war and Zuzu’s coronation. Get a hold of yourself! Azula scolded herself. You have faced worse things than that.

 

So, taking a deep breath, the princess knocked and opened the door to Katara’s room. Just like she had imagined all four girls of team Avatar (as Sokka insisted more than ever on calling them) were there. Following Katara and Lia’s example the other two girls had welcomed her. Azula took a moment to survey the scene. Toph was lying on the bed, seemingly overlooking everything, while Suki, Lia and Katara were sprawled on the floor chatting. They smiled at her and Azula smiled back hesitantly.

“I thought you were preparing for the ball?” she asked, unsure of what the etiquette was for this occasion. Since her very first lessons at the Fire Nation Academy for Girls it had been drilled to her that a princess ought to always follow the proper etiquette.

“Oh we were,” Suki explained, standing up to help the other girl place her package on the floor. Azula followed her and sat between the Kyoshi Warrior and the Fire Spirit. “But given the fact that none of us knows what to wear we were trying to figure it out,” Suki concluded. Azula had thought of this.

“That’s why I’m here,” she explained, gaining courage. Becoming friends with Ty Lee and Mai had been so much simpler. “I thought you probably wouldn’t have anything appropriate with you so…” she paused after a snort from Toph. Had she offended them? She thought worried.

“Ignore Toph,” Lia said eyeing the box. Azula nodded. “So I had some dresses made for you,” She finished in one breath. Even Toph looked surprised at that.

“Wow Sugar Queen! I think you just found a competitor for the title,” she said jumping from the bed.

“Thanks Azula,” Katara smiled gratefully. Said girl glowed with happiness.

 

Opening the box she took out the first dress. Although its style was obviously Fire Nation, it was made out of icy blue silk with silver decorations. Katara looked at it speechless for a whole minute before blurting out “I love it!” Relaxing a little Azula pulled out the second dress. This one resembled the uniform of a Kyoshi warrior, forest green with golden decorations. Suki squealed and impulsively hugged Azula. The firebender looked a little shocked but nevertheless pulled out a smaller, simpler dress in pale green.

“This one is for Toph,” she explained. Not hearing a reaction the earthbender approached and ran her fingers across the fabric nervously.

“How does it look like?” she asked.

“Like Aang asking you out the moment he sees you wearing it,” Lia said finally. Toph blushed and snatched the dress.

“He’d better!” she muttered. Taking out the last dress, Azula handed it to Lia.

“What do you think?” she asked. The dress was scarlet with golden flames decorating it, leaving the left shoulder bare.

“Whoever made this dress,” Lia began slowly, “is a genius!” she concluded with a huge smile.

 

Suki and Katara talked Azula into staying with them for the rest of the evening and the princess found herself slowly loosening up at their company. When they were finally ready later that evening they walked out of the room to meet Zuko, Sokka and Aang, all dressed up for the occasion. They walked together to the ballroom of the palace, chatting carelessly along the way. Zuko and Katara entered first, followed by Aang and Toph, Sokka and Suki and finally Lia and Azula. As the entire Team Avatar walked in, another round of applause rocked the packed room. Mercifully, as Lia put it, there had been no great need for formalities and soon everyone was mingling, old friends meeting again and couples dancing the night away.

 

Much to Toph’s displeasure Aang had been whisked away after only one dance by a bunch of nobles who wanted to meet him. This left her, Azula and Lia standing together chatting quietly.

“May I have the honour of this dance fair lady?” A smooth voice said behind them. The three girls turned to see a black-haired young man dressed as Fire Nation nobility. Recognizing him Azula tensed but before she could say anything Lia cut in.

“I thought you promised not to interfere with the mortals,” she pointed out. Agni offered her a Fire Lily and a crooked smile.

“But you are not a mortal.” To Azula’s surprise Lia grudgingly took the offered flower.

“Just one dance and then you’ll disappear,” she warned as they made their way to the centre of the room.

 

“Care to tell me who this guy is?” Toph asked the princess. “His vibrations were weird.” Azula regained her speech.

“That was Agni,” she managed to say, her eyes never leaving the couple dancing gracefully and silently.

“Agni?” Toph raised an eyebrow. “As in the same Agni she tried to kill a few days ago?”

“That one.” Toph cackled.

“Well that explains her vibrations,” she grinned. “And by the looks of it he has quite the crush.”  Just in time the dance stopped. Agni whispered something in Lia’s ear before bowing and promptly disappearing through the crowd. The red-head made her way to her friends.

“So?” Azula asked curiously. “What did he say?”

“Nothing!” Lia said, her blush deepening. She had placed the Fire Lily in her hair.

“I can tell you’re lying…” Toph said in a sing-song voice. “So spill.” Lia muttered something under her breath. “What was that?” Toph insisted. “We couldn’t hear you.”

“He likes the dress,” Lia said louder.

“And?” Azula prompted.

“And he said I still owe him a kiss.”

 

It took two months, during which the gaang split to return to their respective nations and help the rebuilt effort, for Toph to stop teasing Lia. Now, with the excuse of a trade agreement, they had all gathered at Ba Sing Se again. Today the Jasmine Dragon remained closed to the public as Aang, Katara, Sokka, Suki, Toph, Zuko, Azula and Lia gathered for the evening. Iroh was playing the Tsungi horn on a corner, the melody he made up filling the air. At a table nearby Azula and Suki were playing Pai Sho with Katara and Lia observing them. Aang was playing with Momo and Zuko was going around bringing cups of tea to everyone.

“Zuko, stop moving!” Sokka suddenly yelled. Everyone’s eyes turned to him in surprise. He was holding a brush and had an annoyed expression. “I’m trying to capture the moment. I wanted to do a painting, so we always remember the good times together,” he explained in a softer tone.

“That’s very thoughtful of you Sokka,” Katara smiled at him as everyone walked around to see the picture. Her face fell. “Wait! Why did you give me Momo’s ears‌?” she asked.

“Those are your hair loopies!” Sokka explained. Zuko crossed his arms.

“At least you don’t look like a boarcupine. My hair’s not that spiky!”

“I look like a man,” Azula complained.

“And why did you paint me firebending‌?” Suki asked confused.

“I thought it looked more exciting that way,” Sokka shrugged. Momo jumped on the table and chirped. “Oh, you think you can do a better job, Momo‌?” Sokka asked the lemur annoyed. Iroh put the Tsungi horn down and came to see the offending picture.

“Hey, my belly’s not that big anymore, I’ve really trimmed down!” he said. Toph spread her arms in the air.

“Well, I think you all look perfect!” she said, making everyone burst out laughing.

 

The little earthbender stopped laughing when she felt Aang walk out. She had been in Ba Sing Se with Bumi and a few of her friends from the earthbending matches the last two months and before that she hadn’t managed to confront the flighty airbender about their argument on Ember Island. Determined, she following him outside.

 

Aang was leaning against the railing, his thoughts on his earthbending teacher. During his fight with Ozai he had been forced to finally let go of Katara, completely unlocking the Avatar State at last. Now, his thoughts and meditations often turned to a petite, blind earthbender. He turned to say something to her when Toph’s hand grabbed the front of his robes and brought his lips down to hers. Aang’s eyes widened before sliding shut and he kissed the girl back. Words could wait. The world was finally at peace and everything was as it should be.