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When We Were Young

Chapter Text

“Princess! We have the Destiny in our sights! What are our orders?”

Izumi’s training session on the ship’s deck would have to be cut short. She stopped midway through an attack on the three unlucky soldiers who drew the short straw that morning.

“Signal and then board. They’re friendly.” she turned around to look at the horizon. Finally after days of searching they were here. Destiny didn’t really look like a Fire Nation Navy ship, or at least what most people would think a Fire Nation ship would look like, but that’s because it had a specific purpose: eradicating piracy. And what better man to captain it than her cousin Zari, who lived most of his life with pirates.

They weren’t hard to find since Zari vowed to his mother he would send a hawk with a detailed report containing his location every week. Truthfully, it was the only way she’d agree to his new posting, since she threatened that if he didn’t check in she would take the entire Fire Nation Navy out to look for him. And he believed her. As did the Navy.

With the last letter he was easy to track, but it still took a few days. A fact Izumi was happy about since she used the time to brush up on her firebending. She was getting a bit rusty sitting around the palace.

“Greetings, Crown Princess Izumi.” Zari bowed as soon as she set foot on his ship.

“Greetings, Prince Zari.” she bowed, too, but then prepared for a hug, since they were done with formalities.

“How’s my- I’m not really sure what your son is to me…” Zari smiled awkwardly and ran a hand through his messy hair.

“First cousin once removed.”

“I think I’ll just go with Cousin Iroh. How is he?”

“You know… He’s a baby. He’s healthy and fascinated by anything that moves or makes sounds.”

“I’m surprised to see you here… Not that I’m not happy to see you and everything... I just thought you wouldn’t want to leave the little guy. Is Rei finally taking to fatherhood?”

 Izumi swallowed hard. She felt so guilty since she left her almost a year old son. But she didn’t feel guilty about leaving. Iroh probably didn’t even feel the difference as long as someone was caring for him. She felt guilty because she didn’t miss him at all. It was a horrible thing to think, she was aware, but the reason she volunteered for this mission was to get out of the palace and away from her family. She hoped separation would make her realize how much she loved her son, but it just didn’t happen.

“Rei’s fine and he has my parents and a small army of caretakers to help him if he runs into any problems.” Izumi followed Zari to the bow of the ship, “Don’t you want to know why I’m here?”

“I just figured my mom sent you to check up on me.”

“Actually, I’m here to take you on a mission. Your Spirit World expertise is required with an issue. You seem to be the Fire Nation’s first choice after the Avatar. This was a bit too small-scale for him.”

“And?”

“And your mother wanted it to be you so I could check up on you…”

“I knew it! Please promise me, Izumi, you won’t be like that to Iroh.”

I don’t think that’ll be a problem at all.

oooooooooo

It didn’t take them more than a few hours to arrive to the island where they were sent. As soon as they docked Zari thought he saw something in the distance and hurried to see if he was right. He couldn’t believe his eyes when they were close enough to recognize Oogi.

“Hey, are you here alone, pal?” Zari pet the animal that was too busy eating straw to pay any attention to him.

Izumi looked around a few times, but still couldn’t see anyone. Then she sighed, picked up a rock from the ground and threw it onto Oogi’s saddle.

“Ow.” a sound came from the saddle seconds before Lin peeked her head up. She was followed by Tenzin. They both looked disheveled, but happy.

“Mini vacation?” Izumi asked. Couldn’t those two keep their hands off each other for even one second?

“We’re actually here to help, but we got bored waiting for you.” Tenzin explained while floating down from Oogi.

“He knows spirit stuff, I have police deduction skills. We’ll be useful.” Lin followed her boyfriend down.

“You just wanted somewhere you could make out in public without anyone bothering you, didn’t you?” Izumi rolled her eyes.

“Well, we’ll also help.” Lin smirked.

“Is anyone gonna tell me why we’re here?” Zari finally spoke.

All three of them the explained what happened here a few nights ago. One of the prisons had an explosion that killed four people, but no one could find the cause. It was too large to be a product of firebending, so the locals assumed it was an angry spirit, destroying their town to get revenge.

As soon as he got to the place where the explosion happened, Zari took his meditating pose and got to work.

“We didn’t touch anything since it happened.” the woman that brought them in said.

“That’ll be good for my work.” Lin entered the cell where the blast seemed to have originated and inspected the burned remains of the victims.

“I thought you said there were four victims?” Lin asked after a while.

“I don’t think we should make noise while Zari is concentrating.” Izumi interrupted.

“And I don’t think he should be sitting in the middle of my crime scene, but here we are.” Lin snapped and turned to their host, expecting an answer.

“There were four prisoners in that cell when it exploded. We just assumed one of them was so close that there is nothing left of him. He could have even been kidnapped by the spirits…” the woman explained.

“The prisoner who’s not here, do you know which one it is?” Lin seemed like she was going somewhere with her questions.

“Yes, he was far bigger than the other three. We just brought him in that night.”

“And did he happen to have an eye tattoo on his forehead?”

“He wasn’t a combustion bender, Lin…” the Princess dismissed her question.

“Oh, no, we would have noticed something like that.” the host said.

Lin looked around some more and then used her cables to lower herself down to the ground through the hole left by the blast.

“What is she doing now?” Izumi asked.

“Retracing the criminal’s steps. If he really did cause the blast, where would he go?” Tenzin explained and jumped outside after her.

“We might as well follow him,” Zari stood up, “since I’m not picking up on anything special with the spirits here. We’ll have to rely on Lin’s instincts.”

Izumi reluctantly followed Lin together with Zari.

“It’s not instincts, kid. It’s deduction. Those bodies up there are in very strange positions.” Lin started, “They were already dead, or at least knocked out, when the explosion occurred. I think we need to track this missing prisoner…”

“It’s been three days. You really think he’s still here somewhere?” the Prince asked.

“Of course not. Look.” Lin pointed to a small dock they’d just stumbled onto.

“I’m looking, I’m just not seeing anything.” Zari said.

“He stole a boat?” Tenzin asked unsurely.

“That’s what I would do. And look, here’s the cleat where it used to be tied and the owner’s things he threw off to go faster.” Lin pointed at a couple of empty bottles, metal boxes and fishing rods sitting on the sea floor. Everything else probably floated away.

“Alright, I’ll give you this.” Izumi said, “But we still don’t know where he went.”

“He could have stolen any one of these boats, but he chose the first one on the left. I’d guess that was the direction he would be headed.” Lin turned around after saying that and started heading back to the prison.

“Isn’t our work here done then?” Zari asked, “I mean, it has nothing to do with spirits. Shouldn’t we let them sort this out themselves?”

“I’m involved now. I’m not leaving until I get my man.”

“What, you got something better to do?” Tenzin shrugged and followed his girlfriend.

“I’m going too.” Izumi was next. She thought about returning to the Palace and decided she wasn’t ready yet.

oooooooooo

Lin got a photograph of the man they were tracking and a location where they arrested him for assault. It turned out to be on the same path she deducted the boat was headed on so all four of them decided to hop on Oogi and follow the trail.

“I didn’t realize how close we were to the Fire Lily Festival until now…” Zari followed their position on a map.

“The Fire what?” Lin peeked at the map too.

“Fire Lilies are this flower that blooms for just a few weeks every summer, so there’s a tradition to organize a festival on the Fire Nation’s biggest beach to celebrate the arts. People play music, read poetry, dance…”

“Oh, stop!” Izumi interrupted her cousin, “It’s a couple of hundred people camping on a beach, getting wasted out of their minds. It’s a three-week, multi-kilometer party. You want to steer clear of that beach!”

“You actually went to that, Izumi?” Lin asked.

“Have you met my dad?” the Princess chuckled, “Of course, not.”

“Is there supposed to be that much smoke coming from over there?” Tenzin was referring to the few thick pillars of smoke ruining their view of the sunset.

“That’s the Festival. No, I don’t think so.” Zari answered.

Tenzin nodded and steered Oogi towards the giant beach. As they were getting closer it became apparent that the huge campsite was under some kind of attack, since most of the tents were burning and the people were running into the sea in small groups. Night was finally here, so the fires were the only thing that provided light.

Tenzin landed Oogi in the water and Lin made a sandy bridge from the saddle to the shore. Izumi was the first one to cross it and run to one of the screaming people trying to make it to the water.

“What’s happening to you? Who are you running from?” she asked.

“Firebenders! They’re killing people!” the woman yelled and ran off before Izumi could ask any more questions.

“We have to stop those fires!” Tenzin ran to shore and started blasting air at tents to put them out.

“What about the forest?” Lin asked, seeing the forest near the beach was also catching fire quickly.

Zari looked over and saw two firebenders shooting almost unrealistically big fire streams at the trees. “We have to stop them!” he yelled.

“Let’s go, Lin!” Tenzin called and started running towards the forest, when he saw her. His sister, Kya, fighting a firebender on the opposite side of the beach.

“Tenzin! Come on, move!” Lin didn’t understand why he suddenly stopped.

“It’s Kya.” he muttered.

“Go.” Lin told him, “Zari, you’re with me.”

The young firebender followed her immediately, while Tenzin took out his glider and started flying towards where he last saw his sister, since he couldn’t find her anymore.

An unusually strong fire blast pushed Kya back into her tent. Unfortunately, she didn’t have any water at her disposal and the firebender decided to follow after her. She was preparing to take another attack, when suddenly her attacker was knocked away by a surprise kick from her girlfriend, Nuo. The firebender didn’t seem conscious after that so Nuo helped Kya.

“Thank you.” Kya got up slowly.

“I told you the only element I needed control over was the element of surprise.” Nuo smiled and Kya smiled back.

Neither of them realized the firebender was back on his feet until it was too late. He grabbed hold of Nuo’s shoulder and Kya wasn’t really sure what he did, but she knew Nuo went completely pale in seconds and collapsed onto the floor. Kya quickly checked for a pulse and when she couldn’t feel it started crying uncontrollably. The firebender saw she wasn’t a threat anymore and moved on just as Tenzin arrived.

“Kya? Are you OK?” he sat next to her on the ground.

“They killed… Her. They… She’s dead!” Kya repeated herself through the sobs.

“Who are they?” Tenzin tried to shake his sister out of her trance, “Kya, answer me!”

“Tenzin, they got away!” Lin ran into the tent.

“Who?”

“The ones that started the fires.” she looked over to Kya and realized what had happened since she was still hugging Nuo’s body, “You have to leave her and help me put out those tents!”

“I can’t just leav-”

“Tenzin, there could be people inside!”

Knowing Lin was right, Tenzin let go of his sister and ran outside to help put out the fires. They were slow, but persistent. After a few hours the saw Kya walking dissociated from her tent and into the sea.

“Kya!” Tenzin yelled after her, but got no reaction.

Izumi, being the closest, stopped what she was doing and ran to try and physically stop Kya from walking into the water. Despite her efforts, Kya made it into the shallows and once there, raised her hands toward the sky, making a massive volume of water float above her. She walked back into the middle of the camp where the fire was strongest and released the water in the form of drops.

Her rain did help them significantly, but they still needed a few hours until every person was safe. Well, safe was an optimistic way of putting it, since now they were trapped between the sea and a giant forest fire that they’ve been unable to put out.

“We have no other choice.” Lin started, “Tenzin, you and Oogi have to start carrying these people to the nearest island.”

“That’ll take all day…” Zari complained.

“Yeah, but we can’t even touch that fire.” Izumi sighed, “I still can’t understand how those firebenders got away. It’s like they disappeared into the fire too.”

“We have to warn the Fire Lord first.” Kya spoke calmly for the first time since they found her, “These people did something… I saw one of them kill with just one touch.”

“Kya…” Tenzin tried to take her hand, but she wouldn’t let him.

“I’m not upset! I know what I saw! There was no fire, she just fell down.”

“If this really was unprovoked, maybe we should go talk to Uncle.” Zari said.

“I agree. This is an act of terrorism.” Izumi started, “My crew can ferry the people to safety, I think we should go talk to the Fire Lord.”

oooooooooo

The sun was just coming up as they were nearing the Fire Lord’s Palace. Izumi had finally convinced Kya to get some sleep since she spent most of the fly over talking about how she saw a man who can kill with his touch. They all wanted to believe her, they did, but she just seemed so distressed, they all thought she had imagined it. Dealing with loss was hard, especially for someone who had never been exposed to it so directly.

“Tenzin, she’s going to be alright.” Lin moved out of the saddle to sit next to her boyfriend while he was steering.

“I just keep thinking about what would have happened if we didn’t accidentally run into her.”

“I just keep thinking how a handful of firebenders managed to make such a big mess. Think about it, I saw, what, ten bad guys, among hundreds of others, some of them benders, they should have been overpowered immediately.”

“The people at the party were drunk, unprepared, disorganized. They took them by surprise.”

“I’m more concerned about the why, than the how…” Izumi cut in.

It was at that moment that all four of them spotted the palace, and realized the considerably big hole in it’s roof wasn’t supposed to be there.

“Wake Kya up!” Lin ordered Izumi.

“Get them down into the hole, Oogi.” Tenzin let the reins go and took his glider.

“Tenzin!” Lin jumped and grabbed hold of him in the last second before he took off. On his glider they reached the palace far quicker and landed right into the throne room through the roof.

“Watch out!” Tenzin heard Zuko shout just in time to protect himself and Lin from a fire blast. Lin quickly fought back, launching a few boulders at their assailants. It gave Tenzin enough time to realize Zuko wasn’t alone in there. His wife, sister, son-in-law and grandson were also pinned down in one corner of the room, taking cover behind anything they could find.

At that point Zari jumped down from above and started assessing the situation. Izumi followed him together with Kya who was still a bit out of it.

“Zari, hide!” he heard his mother order, but he didn’t understand why. There were five men attacking them. Not much of a match for the Fire Nation royals. He decided to disregard Azula’s words and shot a stream of blue fire at one of the strangers.

“What did I tell you?!” Azula shoved him behind one of the pillars. The boy looked back at the man he attacked and couldn’t believe his eyes. The man didn’t block the fire, but he didn’t get burnt either. He seemed to have absorbed the blast.

“What?” Zari asked while his mother was already out of their cover drawing the attacker’s fire lashes.

“They can absorb your fire and use it to fuel a stronger attack.” Mai explained.

“Let’s see them absorb rocks.” said Lin and started bending at them as fast as she could.

Upon hearing that Izumi took cover behind one of the pillars where her husband Rei was hiding with their son in his arms.

“Why’d you bring him here?” she whispered.

“We were playing in here when those people attacked. I never wanted Iroh in harm’s way, Princess.” Rei moved the baby to his other shoulder since he started fussing.

“Give him to me. My firebending won’t do any good either way.” Izumi took Iroh into her hands allowing Rei to draw out his sword and charge at one of the intruders. Mai saw him and decided to provide some cover by throwing knives at the rest.

Rei was a non-bender, but that allowed him to spend his life training in sword-fighting. That made the fact that he was disarmed in seconds all the more unbelievable. He had fought benders before, but the sheer ferocity of these fire attacks was too much for him. As soon as Rei lost his sword Zuko and Mai jumped out of their hiding place and hurried to help him. The Fire Lord had to really solely on his dual swords, but they were serving him well, as he managed to knock down one of the men.

Unfortunately, before Mai could jump in, Rai’s hand was grabbed by one of the attackers. Suddenly, the young man stopped resisting and collapsed onto the floor. Mai stopped when she saw Rai go down like he did, allowing another one of the attackers to grab her hand too. She felt an immediate surge of pain through her whole body, just before she lost consciousness. Lucky for her, Zuko anticipated the attack and was able to knock out the firebender before he killed her. Rai on the other hand was already gone when Azula ran to him to check for a pulse.

“We need to get out of here before we all end up like that!” Lin pulled Tenzin’s arm. He knew she was right but there were still four incredibly powerful firebenders between them and the door.

Azula looked at Zuko carrying his unconscious wife, then at Izumi trying to soothe her infant son. They had to do something to get away because there was no winning this fight like this.

“Fun trick you got there, boys.” she started talking while circling around the intruders, “But didn’t anyone crack blue fire yet?”

They shot fireball after fireball at her, but even at her age, she still managed to evade every last one.

“Oh, just me? Alright then.” she kept drawing their fire, but the only thing getting hurt were the pillars in the room. After the last blast Azula winked at Lin who then managed to tear down most of the pillars. Bits of the celling started falling down and it provided enough of a distraction for them to all run out into the hallway without being burned or worse.

“Lin, what are you doing?” Tenzin asked seeing Lin wasn’t leaving the throne room yet.

“I have to hold them back or they’ll follow, Tez. Go, I’ll be right behind you!”

Tenzin had no choice but to listen to her and hurried down the hall.

Now that Lin was alone with the four firebenders, she was just blocking attacks until she was sure her friends were far enough. Then she took a deep breath and slammed her fists into the floor as hard as she could. The men could just watch as the floor cracked from where she was standing and then finally collapsed, sending them all down together with tons of rubble. Lin started falling too but she attached one of her cables to what was left of the roof. She could see the firebenders being buried by the rubble before the roof started collapsing too. She felt herself falling into the same pit without anything solid to attach to.

oooooooooo

“Where’s Zari?” Zuko asked after placing Mai into Oogi’s saddle. Kya tried to do some healing on her right there and then, but there was only so much she could do with the water she had.

“Getting the damn dragon.” Azula said, not moving her eyes from the horizon, “Tenzin, we can’t wait for her forever.”

“Well, I’m not leaving without her.” his eyes were fixated of the palace ruins. She had to come out. Right?

After a few minutes, Zari flew over on the Fire Lord’s dragon. Everyone was ready, but Lin. None of them wanted to be the one to say it, but they had to leave fast if they wanted to get away. Those five guys couldn’t have been alone.

“Here, Kya, you steer home,” he gave Kya the reins, “I’m staying.”

“Tenzin, don’t be crazy. She’d want you to-” Izumi stopped when she saw the rubble around the palace move and then Lin run out, seemingly unharmed. Tenzin ran to help her get to Oogi faster and they were on their way. On their way to ask for the Avatar’s help.

Chapter Text

“Get in, get in.” Bumi let Sokka, Toph and Suyin into the house at Air Temple Island and slammed the door behind them, “Dad, they’re here!”

The three of them slowly came to the living room through the hall, assuming they’ll walk into some kind of battle plan making session. But instead, it looked more like a doctor’s office. Katara was working on healing the Fire Lady in the center of the room, while Zuko held her hand and sat by, quietly. Izumi was pacing around holding a screaming baby, while Kya was quietly sobbing in the corner. Even Lin was out of her uniform and lying down, looking like she just got a decent beating.

“I managed to get some ice from the White Lotus waterbender.” Tenzin sat next to Lin.

“Thank you.” she smiled and pressed the bag to her eye, “But I’m fine. Could have been a lot worse.”

“I know. You scared the spirit out of me.” he said and placed a kiss on her forehead.

“I think you should go talk to your sister.”

“I think I should stay here with you.”

After hearing that, she moved so that her head was on his shoulder. That’s when she spotted her mom and sister entering.

“Are you alright Lin?” Sokka asked across the room.

“It’s nothing.”

“I wouldn’t agree,” Katara cut in, “Toph, your daughter brought down an entire building on top of herself today.”

“So what?” the Chief walked closer, “She’s at her prime bending age. She should be jumping off buildings, tearing down walls, pushing the limits. Or she’ll never be better than she is now. Was it more than you could handle, kid?”

“No, Chief.” Lin mumbled hoping her heartbeat wouldn’t give away her lying.

“I’m done, Zuko. There’s nothing more I can do here. She needs to keep fighting if she wants to get better.” Katara put away her healing water, allowing Zuko and Toph to carry Mai off to another room to rest.

“Do you know what happened to her?” Aang asked.

“She was incredibly weak and cold when they brought her. Not much more I can say besides that. It seems to be worse where the… bender touched her. We’ll know more when she wakes up.”

“So we still don’t know what made those people so powerful?” Sokka cut in.

“If you want to theorize about that, Azula’s on the porch right outside.” Katara pointed, “I still have to give Lin a checkup.”

“I’m fine, Aunt Katara, really.”

Sokka listened to his sister’s suggestion and stepped outside where he was immediately surprised by the sheer number of books lying all across the porch. Azula and Zari both sat on the floor reading, while Zuko’s dragon Druk was stretched out next to them amongst the hundreds of books.

“What are you guys-” Sokka tried to form a question.

“Reading. But I suppose you’ve never heard of it.” Azula lifted her eyes from the book and smiled at him.

“Charming as always, Princess.”

“We raided the city library.” Zari explained.

“Did you have to take every book with the word fire in it?” Sokka lifted up one of the books and sat down next to Azula.

“I thought it was a good start since we still have no idea how those guys suck up all our attacks.” Zari got up to retrieve a certain book from a pile.

At that moment Su decided to join them since the living room was a bit depressing. That’s when she saw him again. Zari. He visited the city often, but the two of them just kept accidentally missing each other. This was the first time she laid eyes on him in two years. And, man, was he different. He was taller, muscular and his previously tidy Fire Nation hairstyle was replaced by a longer one that kind of reminded her of the Water Tribe, with a lot of little messy braids. He looked nothing like the gross boys at her school. Because when it came to those guys, of course she wasn’t interested when they asked her to go out with them. The whole liking boys ordeal was kind of a new thing she was still exploring, that’s why she wasn’t expecting her heart to go wild as it did when she saw him. She was just glad her mom wasn’t there to feel it.

“Oh, hi… Hey… Zari, um.” Su blushed, partly aware of how bad that was.

“Good to see you, Suyin. It’s been too long.” he smiled at her, ignoring her awkward greeting.

“What are you up to? Can I help?”

“Actually yes.” Zari picked up another book and threw it into her hands, “Start with that one.”

“Zari,” Azula interrupted him from returning to his reading, “I think Druk might need to stretch his wings a bit. You could take Suyin and make a few laps around the city.”

“Su, would you-”

“Yes!” Su enthusiastically ran to the animal where Zari helped her climb up. She was overjoyed when she realized she’d have to hold on to the Prince for the entire ride.

“You really think the answer is in one of those books?” Sokka asked once the kids were gone.

“I, for one, would like to know if firebenders can learn to absorb fire.”

“Yeah… And someone should have told Zuko.”

Azula couldn’t help but laugh at that. Since she moved back out of hiding five years ago, she’s quite enjoyed getting to know Zuzu’s friends. Just as their children, these people proved to be way more tolerable than she initially gave them credit for. They’ve slowly embraced her into their little, whatever they called their team, but more importantly, they’ve embraced her son. And while most of them were an acquired taste in her opinion, Sokka exceeded all expectations.

“I’m just frustrated when I don’t know what I’m dealing with. And these books are useless.” Azula set the book she just finished on fire and let it fall to the stone floor to burn itself out.

“Maybe you need to take a break, too.”

“And do what? Zuko’s been overthrown, we have to act right now.”

“I could teach you a few moves with a sword, so you could come fight them with us.”

“Swatting with a pointy, metal stick? No, thank you.”

“Hey, you two!” Toph peeked her head outside, “Twinkle Toes says the generals are ready to talk to us now!”

“I can’t believe I have nothing to say to them. I’ve found nothing.” Azula started as they were walking through the house.

“Maybe they’ve unlocked some new form of bending. It happens.” Sokka gestured to Toph.

“But I’ve spent my whole life studying firebending. No way some common ruffians outclassed me just like that.”

The room they were called to was usually a place for meditation, but for now it had a giant desk with a word map in the middle and most of the world leaders gathered around it.

“How is she?” Azula purposely shoved her way to her brother.

“She’s not awake yet.” Zuko looked away, when Azula squeezed his hand tightly.

“They’ll pay for this. Whoever they are, I promise you.” she remembered the pain of losing her husband all too well and knew exactly how much crippling pain her brother was in.

Aang stood up, giving the opening word: “I look around this table and I see old friends and a lot of concerned faces. We led a war like this once before and we prevailed. We can do it again if it comes to it. Yes, a lot has changed since then. Enemies have become friends,” he looked over to Azula, “a new generation has joined the fight,” he looked to Tenzin and Lin holding hands, “and we are more connected with each other than ever.”

“But what hasn’t changed,” Katara cut in, “is that we are on the side of right. Our mission, as always, is to restore balance. With as little use of force as possible. That is why Aang will first try to establish a peaceful solution with the usurpers. With a little luck there will be no need for a battle.”

Bumi attended the meeting next to his dad, as did Tenzin and Lin. Kya on the other hand, wasn’t invited in, but joined anyway, after they’ve already begun.

“Sweetie, could you look after Mai while we’re in here?” Katara immediately tried one of her distracting techniques, making the person feel useful somewhere else, which to be honest hadn’t worked on her kids since they were ten.

“When the United Forces attack, I’m going with them.” the girl said loud enough for the whole room to hear her, “What? Tenzin is going.”

“No, he’s not.” Bumi cut in, “This is a military operation, he’s not a soldier. Neither of you are.”

“I can handle it!” Kya clearly wasn’t completely at peace with her loss yet.

“Honey, I know what you’ve been through, but this could turn into a civil war.” Katara started again.

“It’s not like what you’re used to. You’d have to kill people, Kya.” Bumi warned her.

“Maybe that’s exactly what I want!” she yelled into her brother’s face.

“Kya, please reconsider.” Aang finally felt the need to weigh in, “I know how much pain you’re in right now. But do not give in to this. Revenge is not what you need.”

“I want to fight. And so does Tenzin. He’s just too afraid to tell you. We’re the only ones that have actually faced them before.” Kya’s words kind of put Tenzin on the spot, but he confirmed everything his sister said. He really did want to help, he just didn’t feel like his father would like that. He was actually a bit jealous of Lin whose mother just assumed she was going.

“If I may interrupt,” Azula started, “I don’t think bringing them along is a good idea, but we are left without a choice. If the Avatar fails to establish terms of surrender with these men, then we’ll be at war. And the United Forces will be left without a third of its troops, since all firebenders would just aid the enemy on the battlefield.”

“Will you stay behind, too, Fire Lord Zuko?” one of the generals asked.

“As my advisor just stated, I would not be of much help to you.” Zuko answered.

“We will remain here and conduct research on these alleged new abilities in firebending.” Azula said.

oooooooooo

Suyin was now experiencing something very few people in the world ever did. She was riding a dragon! One of the last dragons. Despite that, all she could think about at the moment was how close her and Zari were.

“Enjoying yourself?” the Prince asked while they were flying over the police station.

“You have no idea!” Su threw her head back and watched the clouds, “This is so much better than being a prisoner in that house.”

“They just want to make sure no one tries to hurt them by hurting you.”

“I get that they don’t think I can defend myself, but I still hate being stuck there. Our parents are threatened too often.”

“They did the same thing years ago when you met me?”

“Yeah, they left Bumi in charge and just disappeared…” Su sighed, “I wish this dragon would just take me somewhere far, far away.”

“Wouldn’t you miss you family?” Zari asked, but Su just stared into the horizon, “We can’t take you away, but we can show you a good time, right?”

He patted the dragon’s neck while they were circling Avatar Aang’s statue. “Druk, lower.”

As soon as Zari said those words the dragon started flying straight down towards the water.

“You’ll want to hold on tight for this.” Zari didn’t have to tell her twice. Su screamed all the way down until Druk straightened his flight just before hitting the water. Then he turned upside down so their heads were just inches from the surface of the sea. Su couldn’t believe how many turns Druk did without her falling off.

“Flaming, huh?” Zari smirked back at her, “I always wanted a dragon of my own. But Uncle lets me do all kinds of tricks with his. You wanna see something really amazing? Hold on to the seat.”

Zari suddenly stood up, whispered something in Druk’s ear and jumped off.

“Zari!” she screamed before realizing he was using his firebending to gently glide down. Druk was obviously in on the trick since he dropped down to pick him up before he hit the water.

“That was… The greatest thing I ever saw!” she couldn’t stop smiling.

oooooooooo

The meeting went on for a couple more hours, going over the details of their plan in case the enemy wasn’t in the mood for a negotiation. Afterwards, Kya wanted nothing more than to have some alone time, without her parents’ pitying looks.

“Kya, I need to talk to you.” she heard Lin’s voice behind her.

“You’re not talking me out of going, Lin.” Kya tried to walk away, but Lin grabbed her arm and shoved her into the first empty bedroom she could find.

“I’m fine. I don’t need to be reasoned with. I don’t need to be comforted. I need to do this.” Kya insisted.

“That’s OK, I didn’t come to find you to talk you out of going to battle. Your revenge is your business.” Lin sat down on one of the beds in an effort to relax a bit, “I need your help. Specifically, your skills as a healer.”

“Lin, if you’re in pain just go talk to my mom, it’s not a big deal…” Kya opened the door and tried to leave, but Lin launched from the bed to stop her and pull her back in.

“I was supposed to see a doctor today,” Lin started again, still with the same dead serious tone, “But it seems that we’re on house arrest here on this island and you’re the best I’ve got since I want it to stay a secret.”

Kya nodded not wanting to interrupt her.

“I think I might be pregnant.”

After hearing that Kya wanted to scream, but Lin anticipated that and covered the older girl’s mouth before she could make a sound.

“But I’m not sure, that’s why I need you. It’s not even that likely. I just want to be sure, if I’m going to get buildings dropped on me, that it’s only hurting me.” Now that Lin was done talking she let go of Kya’s mouth, allowing her to take a big breath.

“That’s insane! Mom is going to lose it!”

“Keep your voice down.” Lin snapped.

“Does Tenzin know? Last question, promise.”

“No. I don’t want to raise the subject if I don’t have to. So can you do it or not?”

 “I helped my mother deliver plenty of babies.” Kya watched Lin lie down on the bed and lift up her shirt to reveal her stomach, “But those women were undeniably pregnant. I’m not sure if I can work anything out this early on.”

“You have to try. They want me on that boat to a possible warzone in an hour.”

Kya then took a deep breath and took her water out of the pouch. Just as she was about to start the examination, someone knocked on the door.

“Kya, if you wanna go with Mom and the waterbenders, you need to come with me now.” Bumi spoke through the door.

“I’m sorry, Lin,” Kya whispered, “We don’t have time right now. You can’t go.”

“No, you can’t leave me. I have no way to explain this.”

“I’m sorry. Just stay here with the firebenders and avoid sea food.” Kya said and left after Bumi.

Well, that didn’t help.

oooooooooo

“Alright, that was a good start, but this time try hitting me with the sword and not your elbow.” Sokka rubbed his chin.

“I can’t help it. I have reflexes.” Azula got back into the stance he taught her.

“Well, tell your reflexes to chill out.”

“I’m a Fire Princess. I don’t chill out.” she said and pounced at him unannounced. He dodged her dull blade nonetheless.

“No, you do not.” he managed to grab hold of her wrist, ending the round, “I can’t believe you never learned sword-fighting.”

“I never needed it.” she tried again, pushing him forward and trying to strike at his back, but Sokka still managed to touch her before she could deliver the strike. If he was one of those people, she’d be lifeless on the floor right now.

They kept trying again and again, but every time she failed. That is until she finally lost her nerve and firebended at him. Sokka was unhurt, but the blast still managed to knock him away.

“I apologize. I’m new to this.” she helped him up.

“Sword-fighting? I know.”

“Failure. I usually pick things up quicker than this.”

“Well, luckily for you I am almost as proficient at failing as I am at fighting.” he walked close to her and started readjusting her stance, “How about you try it like this instead?”

He took one of her hands and started moving it to let her feel how the move should be done. It was not exactly how he was taught, but this was more of a crash course anyway.

“Your problem is, you’re thinking about the sword like it’s this annoying thing that’s preventing you from winning, when you should be thinking of it as an extension of your body.”

“Don’t worry, I know you’re the only annoying thing preventing me from winning.” she grinned back at him.

Sokka wasn’t really thinking about how close they were to each other, or about the fact that his hands were all over her, at least until Azula crashed her lips onto his.

What?! He didn’t want this, but for some reason couldn’t push her away. He simply waited until she moved back herself.

“I’m sorry… You do know I’m with Toph, right?” was the first thing he said.

“I…” she looked like she’d just woken up from a dream and had no idea where she was, “I didn’t…”

She stared at him for a few more seconds, almost as confused by what just happened as he was, before she ran out of the room.

oooooooooo

“Uncle Aang, can I talk to you?” Lin stopped the Avatar just after he’d said goodbye to his wife and daughter.

“Yes?”

“I was thinking about what our plan was in case we lose the fight for the Fire Nation…” Lin finally thought of an excuse not to go to battle. Now she just needed to sell it.

“Don’t worry, Lin. We won’t lose.” Aang tried to brush her off like she was a scared little girl.

“No, I’m just asking if we have a plan in case these people try and attack the Earth Kingdom. What if this is more than a local issue?”

“I’ve radioed the Earth King’s advisors. I’m sure they’re already taking all the necessary precautions.” Aang tried walking away.

“But wouldn’t it be better if they sent their forces to the ports facing the Fire Nation. That way even if there is an attack…” she said.

“Lin, the Earth King would never let his troops leave Ba Sing Se unprotected. Not if we’re at risk of war with the usurpers.”

“The United Republic is protected by what’s left of the United Forces. Who’s gonna protect the innocent Earth Kingdom towns between them and Ba Sing Se?”

“You’re not wrong, but I don’t see how-” he was interrupted.

“Send me. I know the Head of the Dai Li still has a lot of influence on the King. I know him.”

“How do you-”

“You know him too. He’s my father. And I could be of more use trying to talk him into helping us, than chugging rocks at firebenders.” Turned out that Lin keeping tabs on her dad was finally going to be useful. She learned from a contact that he became the Head of the Dai Li about a year ago. She wasn’t really sure he’d help her, or even listen to her, but it was a good excuse.

“Alright.” Aang nodded.

“Alright? No Lin, you’re being childish? No let an adult handle this? Just OK, just like that?”

“Well, I do have one condition. Take Bumi with you. You two will negotiate cooperation between the Kingdom and the Republic.”

“Thank you. Just please don’t mention the part about my dad to my mom, you know how she gets. Just say it was your idea.”

Aang completely agreed, and even complimented her thinking. If only he knew why she worked so hard on coming up with a plan that demanded she was miles away from the action. Bumi was an unexpected twist, but it didn’t really hurt her plan. I would definitely be less boring with him coming.

Lin said goodbye to Tenzin, who could barely be persuaded to go help his parents without her. It was sweet, in a way, but she really needed some time away from him right now to think.

A few hours after Bumi and Lin, the Avatar left for the Fire Nation with the most of the United Forces. The entire Fire Nation royal family was left behind on Air Temple Island, with the addition of Suyin who was forbidden from coming despite her strong will to help.

Chapter Text

The first few days after the army left felt like decades. Azula spent all of her time, except for a few hours of sleep every day, flipping through book after book of Fire Nation history, firebending origins and masters’ handbooks. Zari and Zuko aided her as much as they could, while Su helped by radioing libraries all over the world, asking about their knowledge on the subject. Still with all their effort, the firebending style displayed by their enemies appeared to be a completely new thing.

Zari was furious about the lack of results and proclaimed he needed a break from it all sometime around day three. Zuko tried to be helpful, but in reality he only wanted his wife to wake up. He realized he let the burden of getting their throne back fall completely onto his little sister, but he felt like there was nothing they could do from where they were. He hated feeling so powerless to help his nation and he hated feeling so powerless to help his wife.

Three days after the army left Mai finally opened her eyes and the first thing she saw after her vision cleared was Azula sitting at her bedside, reading.

“Iz-Izumi…” Mai was still a bit out of it.

“She’s fine. Iroh and the Fire Lord too.” Azula closed her book and brought Mai a glass of water. The fact that Mai could already sit up surprised both of them.

“I can call Zuzu over if you’d like.” Azula started again, “Although, he finally decided to get some rest after days here next to you.”

“Don’t wake him, then.” Mai sipped and then looked around, “We’re at Air Temple Island, right? Does that mean we lost?”

“We’re still fighting actually. But we have no idea who those people are or how they do what they do. How are you feeling?”

“Tired. Cold.”

At that last word, Azula put out one of her hands, lighting a small flame and placing it close to her friend.

“What’s wrong?” Azula asked seeing Mai frown.

“I can’t move my hand.” Mai looked to her right side, but her hand remained still.

“Katara said that could happen. I’m sure it will pass.” Azula realized her words weren’t coming through to her since she just remained fixated on her hand.

“Mom?” Izumi peeked through the door holding little Iroh, “Thank the Spirits!”

Azula stood up to take the baby off her niece’s hands so she could hug her mother.

“I’m sorry about Rei, Izumi. I had no idea they could-” Mai used her healthy hand to stroke her daughter’s hair.

“It’s alright, Mom. I’m just glad you’re back.”

Mai looked into her daughter’s eyes to find solace, to remind herself all was not lost, but seeing Izumi’s tears had the opposite effect. Having spent a few whole days with Iroh and his constant, deafening crying made Izumi a bit on edge. She had to face the reality of sucking at being a mother.

“How’s my grandson?”

“He’s been a bit fussy since we’ve come here.”

After Izumi said that they both looked over to Azula as they could hear Iroh laughing hysterically.

“What? Infants are easy enough to entertain.” Azula smiled back at Iroh, “You know who’s really been fussy lately? My baby.”

oooooooooo

Even though Oogi was Tenzin’s bison, what most didn’t know was that his next favorite person in the world was Lin. Since she spent most of her time free from work with Tenzin, she was inadvertently spending a lot of it with Oogi too. And the animal grew to like her a lot. That’s why Tenzin felt comfortable allowing Bumi and Lin fly to Ba Sing Se on his bison while he traveled with the United Forces.

The ride over the Earth Kingdom was a bit long for just one day, but the two of them stuck it out without stopping. Lin wasn’t feeling particularly chatty and spent most of the trip lost in thought, but Bumi stepped in with a bunch of his crazy stories to fill the silence.

They arrived at the Earth Kingdom’s capital sometime during the night and got an attendance with the Head of the Dai Li first thing in the morning. Lin hoped that her possible pregnancy might keep her mind occupied enough to not get all worked up about her dad. He was a douche, there should be no more to it. But as soon as she laid eyes on him in the distance, all those feelings from the time she first met him came rushing back.

“That him?” Bumi asked upon seeing Kanto strut towards them. Lin just nodded, remembering how her last encounter with her dad ended with a piece of metal in his face.

“If you want me to teach him a lesson, just give a signal, you copy?” Bumi added, cracking his knuckles.

“Lin, I was surprised when my agents told me you’ve returned to the city.” Kanto started.

“I assure you this is not a social visit. This is a matter of international cooperation.” Lin spoke before Bumi had a chance to start his usual sweet-talking. She already looked so irritated, Bumi didn’t dare interrupt.

“Then we should establish some ground rules before we start this.” Kanto said.

“Agreed.”

“No hugs. No apologies.”

“Wouldn’t accept either.” Lin pursed her lips, “No calling you Dad. No mentioning Mo… Toph.”

“Reasonable. Let’s just steer clear of the mushy stuff and discus war.” Kanto turned to Bumi next and introduced himself. Then he led them both into an incredibly luxurious room where they began their negotiation. Kanto listened while Bumi and Lin took turns explaining the events at the Fire Nation and their plan to stop it from spreading to the Earth Kingdom. At the end of it all he agreed to pass this all to the King and insure he gives them the support they need. It was actually surprisingly easy.

“And very good planning ahead with the troops posted on the road to our capital, those usurpers won’t even dare challenge the Earth Kingdom when they realize we’re ready for them.” Kanto aimed his compliment at Bumi.

“Oh, no, this whole thing in its entirety is your daughter’s idea.” Bumi said before realizing they were steering clear from the family drama. A decision he didn’t really understand because Lin specifically asked to be put on this mission because of her connection to Kanto.

“If we’re done here, we would like to be on our way home as soon as possible.” Lin stood up to leave, but Kanto gestured her to wait.

“Look Lin, I’d like to break a rule. I know we said no mushy stuff, but I’d hate myself if I didn’t say how glad I am to see you again. For what it’s worth, I’m proud of you.”

Lin froze in place since those four words were all she ever wanted to hear growing up. Seeing that he won’t get a response right away, Kanto continued.

“You’re clearly a smart, capable, well-adjusted young woman. I obviously did something right.”

“What?” Lin was snapped out of her trance back into reality.

“I mean… You’re a brilliant bender, you’re important enough to be sent to represent the United Republic and as I’ve read you’re dating the Avatar’s son.” he gestured at Bumi, “Me leaving has clearly made you strong.”

“I’m not the Avatar’s son she’s dating.” Bumi explained.

“And you didn’t do anything!” Lin tried walking away one more time, but Kanto stood up to grab her hand and hold her back. As soon as she felt him touch her, she threw him against the opposite wall by bending his special earthy gloves. Then she moved one of them all the way to his neck and squeezed.

“Lin.” Bumi objected, but wisely stayed back. It was obvious Kanto tried to use his bending to get out of this situation, but his attempts proved useless against Lin. Guess, Toph was right after all. She really was at her peak bending age.

“With all due respect, which is none, you had zilch to do with how I’ve turned out! For that you can look to my mother and the man who treated me like I was his own child! Only thing you gave me was a whole lot of disappointment and hours upon hours of wondering what was wrong with me!” Lin eased up the grip of the glove letting Kanto breath normally again. Seeing she’d maybe gone a bit too far she abruptly left the room, leaving Kanto alone with Bumi.

“Listen up,” Bumi got close to Kanto’s face, “You were a useless father up until this point, but now you are presented with a chance to prove that you are not completely selfish and honor the deal you and your daughter made.”

“What makes you think I’d allow you to just leave after attacking me during a peaceful negotiation?” Kanto asked.

“You’ll do it if you know what’s good for you.”

After being done with Kanto, Bumi went to the stables to prepare Oogi for the journey home. There he also found Lin sulking, sitting on the floor. If he only knew all the things she had on her mind at that moment.

“Was that the signal?” Bumi joked and Lin chuckled to make him feel like he was helping. In reality, the only thing that could possibly put her mind at ease would be stopping by a doctor while they were in Ba Sing Se. Unlucky for her, Bumi had not left her side since they arrived and he didn’t seem to be planning on doing it anytime soon.

oooooooooo

Suyin was lying on her bed, spinning a red flower Zari gave her around in her hand when she heard a knock. She jerked up immediately and replaced the flower in her hand with a thick book.

“Su?” Lin peeked in through the crack opened door. She wasn’t really sure why, but as soon as she got back to Air Temple Island her sister was the first person she wanted to see. In the absence of Kya who could actually provide her with some answers, Su seemed like the next most comforting option.

“You’re back?” Su casually lifted her glance from the book to her sister, like she’d been reading for hours.

“Yeah, we reached an agreement.”

“Now we just wait for Mom and the others to come back.”

Yeah, now we wait… Lin felt an unbelievable surge of anxiety as soon as her feet touched the ground at Air Temple Island. She hoped it would evaporate with a bit of time, but it was only getting worse, as she begun pondering the possibility of her moving here in a couple of months. Surely, the Avatar would want his grandchild to be raised here. Lin never thought she’d miss their little apartment so much.

“You need anything?” Su asked.

“I just…” Lin sat down on the bed next to her, “Feel a bit sick.”

She really did feel unwell, but that could be for a million different reasons. She had a building dropped on her just a few days prior. That was enough to throw a person off balance. It could also be one of the early signs of pregnancy. Agh…

Lin lied back next to Su, since she couldn’t get her mind over the idea that her life was over. Her career, everything she worked for, her independence, gone, just like that.

“What are you up to, Su? Making any progress?” Lin asked.

“Um, I… No, we didn’t find anything. And I know way too much about firebending now…” Su closed the book, “But this one is kind of cool. It’s about this female master’s life experiences. But it could be read like a romance if you squint. But the general message is that a firebender should always go for what they want no matter how hard.”

“I can’t believe Azula has you reading other people’s diaries.” Lin took the book, inspected it and then put it next to the bed, “Remember when I used to read to you every night because Mom couldn’t?”

OK, that settled it. Lin was acting weird. More than her usual weird. Su might not spend so much time with her sister, but sitting on her bed? Being pleasant? Talking about the good old days? What had gotten into her?

“I remember.” Su didn’t want to say it or anything, but those were some of her best memories with Lin. The two of them, lying together on a bed like this, “You did the voices.”

“And you were obsessed with the one about Oma and Shu, but they were both badgermoles, I think… What was that ridiculous thing called?”

Love Is Blind

“Right. I just… I wanted to say I loved doing that with you.”

“Lin, are you dying?” Su’s tone didn’t really seem all that joking.

“What?”

“Seriously? What is going on with you? You hated that you had to read to me. You were bored out of your mind. You only did it cause it was the only way I’d go to sleep.”

Was she that obvious? Even Su could pick up on the fact that Lin was driving herself mad by overthinking everything.

“I’m fine,” Lin lied, “I just… Saw my father again. And it didn’t go so well.”

“Oh.” Su was honestly relieved.

“It doesn’t matter. He’s not worth discussing…”

Maybe she should tell her about the baby. The possibility of a baby… Yeah, Su would love that! Not being the screw-up one anymore… She’s probably laugh if Lin told her. Some aunt she’d make.

Some mom I’d make…

“Lin, you don’t look so good.”

“I told you, I’m fine.”

No, telling Su would just feel too real right now. Lin couldn’t handle that.

Kya couldn’t get here fast enough.

oooooooooo

Izumi was at the end of her patience with Iroh, since she spent the entire morning rocking him to no end. That child was fed, changed, warm and played with constantly, there was absolutely nothing to cause his constant crying. Yet the entire house had the pleasure of enjoying his concert since before dawn.

“You need to be quiet…” she spoke to Iroh, “My mother needs her rest. Azula needs to work. Come on, settle down!”

You make a good point, mommy.” Bumi mimicked a childish voice behind her.

She turned around and shot him a deadly glare.

“Go away.”

“Why don’t you let me have him for a little while?” Bumi flashed his signature smirk and let himself into the room, “You could rest, or eat, or check on your mom.”

“I’m doing just fine, thank you.” she shifted Iroh from her left to her right shoulder causing him to increase his volume considerably.

“Izumi, you can’t possibly be expected to do this alone.”

“I thought I was clear when I said I don’t want to speak to you ever again! You and I are nothing!”

“Please just-”

“No! I’m not listening to your apologies, excuses or pleas. It’s too late. I moved on with Rei.” she placed the still crying baby in his crib.

“Yeah, the husband… You seem very broken up about that.” Bumi said sarcastically.

“I am!”

“You and I both know you didn’t give a flameo about that guy. You’re relieved he’s not here. You’re relieved you don’t have to play house with him anymore.”

“Shut up and get out!” she shoved him.

“That was not a denial! I don’t know if you still love me, but I know you went as far as marrying a stranger to make yourself unavailable.” he said and left.

Izumi tried to calm Iroh by talking to him some more, but it was ineffective. She was beginning to think something was wrong with that child. She could have Katara look at him when she comes back. Maybe the poor baby was in pain this whole time.

She left him in his crib briefly to go look for one of his favorite toys, which was a wooden dragon. While in the other room she suddenly couldn’t hear him crying anymore. She immediately bolted back to find him calm in Bumi’s arms.

Izumi wanted to scream at him, but stopped herself since she didn’t want to upset Iroh again.

“I’m sorry, I know you didn’t want my help,” Bumi started, “But I’m just next door and I couldn’t fall asleep to this little guy being so unhappy.”

Izumi wanted to say something, actually, she wanted to say quite a lot of things, but she just kept her mouth shut and exhaled quickly through her nose, creating a little fire stream. Bumi actually missed seeing her do that when she was pissed at him. He thought it was kind of hot.

She walked over to give Iroh his toy, which the little guy immediately took and put in his mouth. Then he babbled the specifically set of syllables she came to associate with that toy. He seemed alright now, nothing like he was screaming his lungs out no more than a few minutes ago. It was hard not to take to heart the fact Bumi calmed him down so quickly.

“I also wanted to come to say how sorry I am for the things I said,” Bumi said, “I got caught up in the moment, but you’re right. We’re not together and we haven’t been for years. I’ll back off while you’re here.”

“You were incredibly disrespectful, but you were also right.” Bumi’s eyes lit up when she said that, “I never loved him. I never loved anyone the… The way I love you.”

The fact that she used present tense surprised both of them. The tension was too much for Izumi so she moved away and sat down on the bed, putting her head in her hands.

“Be a big boy and play alone for a while, OK?” Bumi gently lowered the little boy in his crib and kneeled on the floor next to the Princess.

“I’m a terrible mother…” she finally said the words. The words that had been going through her mind for months. The words she felt were driving her insane.

“Well, that’s just ridiculous-”

“I am!” Izumi screamed and all the candle flames in the room doubled in size at the same time. Bumi grabbed hold of her hands.

“My son hates me! He’s perfectly fine being held by anyone, but me! And I’m relieved when I don’t have to see him. Just as I was relieved I’m no longer married to a man that I felt nothing but indifference for. I’m terrible because when he died in front of me, protecting our family, I felt nothing and I’m terrible because of what I’m thinking about doing with you…” tears started forming in her eyes.

Bumi didn’t answer, but put one of his hands on her cheek, finally making direct eye contact. Without a second thought he slowly closed the space between them, kissing her tenderly.

“How dare you?” she asked softly, her cheeks streaked with tears.

“I...” he was cut off when she kissed him, this time with a lot more passion and urgency, tears still running down her face.

“I never stopped thinking about you…” Bumi added in between kisses, “Never stopped loving you.”

oooooooooo

“It’s done. Azula said she’d look after Iroh.” Bumi stormed into the room and swiftly closed the door behind him. Izumi just nodded.

They exchanged a few more looks before Bumi dashed from the door to take her into his arms and lift her from the ground. She responded by wrapping her legs around his waist. They continued their hungry kisses with Izumi’s back to the wall.

“Are you sure you wanna… You know…” Bumi said, barely able to catch his breath.

“Yes, I am.”

“And I want to apologize to you. For the way things ended between us…”

“I don’t want to think about that right now.” she started kissing his neck. The last thing she wanted to remember was how he cheated on her.

“Well, for what it’s worth I am sorry. For what I did to us.” he put her down to her feet.

“You might have hurt our relationship, but I’m the one who killed it,” she felt like crying again, “I was hurt and I married myself off to a complete stranger just to keep myself from going back to you.”

“Yes, things die. But things are also reborn.” he took her palms, “Maybe it had to be burned down first, so we’d build another one from the ashes.”

She had forgotten what a sweet-talker he was. Not that she needed a big push to restart that spark. Four days had passed since she was no longer a married woman and already she found herself in Bumi’s arms again. Her lips on his, her back against the wall, her fingers in his hair, just like she remembered.

oooooooooo

“Why can’t you just be serious and answer me?” Zuko carried Iroh through the hall talking to his sister.

“Because you’re dramatizing.” Azula said.

“Does that mean you didn’t have any nightmares? Anything out of the norm?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Well, are you? Hearing voices again?” Zuko stopped her from walking forward.

“We’re at war again, Zuzu. I had a few nightmares, all under control.”

“See, that’s exactly why I don’t think you should go see him. He’ll only make it worse, trust me. He’s-”

“What? Manipulative, conniving, unscrupulous?”

“Yes! Yes, all of that.”

“Good thing that I am too.” she smirked, “Zuzu, listen to me, I don’t want to visit our dear, old dad any more than you do, but we’ve exhausted almost all other options.”

“Alright,” he sighed, “Be careful, please.”

“I can handle him.”

They both stared at each other in silence for a few moments, before they heard yelling coming from down the hall. Recognizing her son’s voice immediately, Azula ran to the source first.

“You should mind your own business, buddy.” Bumi was putting on his Unite Forces jacket back on.

“You’re the one that should stay away from our family!” Zari raised his voice. He felt like he was the only one who remembered how Bumi broke Izumi’s heart just a few years ago. And now finding them together again… Something just snapped inside him.

“Zari, this is really just between Bumi and I.” Izumi tried to defuse the situation.

“Do you think you’re doing her good with this?” Zari continued getting into Bumi’s face.

“I think that you’re a bit over-excited, maybe you should go back to your books. Or even better, take a nap with Iroh.” Bumi smirked so confidently, Zari couldn’t take it anymore. He jumped at Bumi and shoved him into a wall.

“Zari!” Azula ran to separate them before Bumi could retaliate.

“What has gotten into you two?” Zuko scolded them, before looking to his daughter, “Into all of you?”

“Zari, I expect better than this from you. No matter how you feel about him, Bumi’s your ally.” Azula started talking, making her son realize this was going to make him look like a complete child.

“I know, mother.”

“And do we attack and ridicule our allies?”

“No, we do not.” he said reluctantly.

“And why?”

“Because we save that for our enemies.”

“Exactly.” she concluded, “So both of you, save it for our enemies.”

Chapter Text

 

Azula clenched her fists, but managed to contain herself from saying anything else as manic laughter filled the room.

“Still, after so many years, you come crying to Daddy when there’s something you can’t quite figure out…” Ozai grinned at the celling.

“I thought you might care that our nation is at war with itself.” Azula said.

“Is that what Zuko’s been filling your head with? Sentiment? I couldn’t care less if your incompetent brother leads our nation into the abyss.”

“So that’s it? You’d rather see your kingdom burn than let someone else have it?”

“Think, Azula.” he looked straight into her eyes for the first time since she walked in.

“You do know something, but you want something in return.”

“Correct. My father passed down this knowledge to me. And before you start arranging a trip to the Spirit World, no, my brother didn’t get the same lesson. The Fire Lord chose me as worthy, and only me.”

Azula was relieved, at least that should be easy. Bribing a man who has nothing left.

“I can’t set you free.” she said, “I could get you transferred to a nicer cell, get you clothes, furniture, better food… We can work it out right now.”

“No. I desire only one thing,” he interrupted her, “Your son. Zari. I want to meet him, alone.”

“Out of the question.” she snapped.

“Those are my terms.”

“Pick something else! You’re living like a dog, there has to be something you’d want!” Azula go visibly upset which only let Ozai know he was on the right track.

“I think one conversation with my grandson isn’t too much to ask. I hear I’m a great-grandfather now too… Anyway, how much damage can I realistically do in that time?”

“How do I know you even have any information for me? Prove your words and then we’ll see.”

“I will only share what I know with Zari, no one else. And since you seem to care so much you have no choice, but to agree.”

oooooooooo

After hearing what they wanted of him, Zari immediately said he wasn’t afraid. He was given a choice and he chose to help. He didn’t think he’d be in any danger. Then came the warnings from his mother and uncle which honestly made him feel a bit uneasy. After that his mother led him through underground tunnels underneath Republic City filled with guards, which made him wonder why all that was necessary for an old non-bender.

“They’re not to keep him from getting out, but to keep other people from getting in to free him.” Azula explained, like she read his mind just now, “Some people can’t seem to let go of our nation’s past, even in Republic City.”

When they were in front of the heavy metal door, Zari hesitated for a second. He wasn’t thinking of giving up, but he definitely wasn’t as confident as he would have liked to be at that moment. He didn’t say anything, it was just a moment of pause in his actions, but Azula saw it. She gently cupped his face and moved the hair out of the way before planting a kiss on his forehead.

“Knock on the door when you’re done.” she gave him that last instruction and let him go in there alone. Her renowned instincts, her entire mind was screaming at her not to allow this, but they were running out of options fast.

“So you’re Zari?” Ozai was sitting next to the bars peacefully, since he’d been expecting this visit, “No wonder your mother tried to hide you from me, you’re clearly one half a Water Tribe peasant.”

Zari realized his blue eyes were the ones to give him away, since in general he looked quite average for the Fire Nation.

“Do you have the spark?” Ozai asked, to which Zari put out his hand and fired up a small blue flame.

“At least something.” a tiny, malicious smirk took over the older man’s face.

“Just give me the information.” Zari finally spoke up.

“Wait, dear boy, we’ve scarcely begun. I want to know exactly how your mother came to the idea of mixing blood with the enemy. And to think I had her marriage all but arranged… Was it a hostage situation?”

“No… You have it all wrong.” Zari said gently. When Ozai looked up at the young man in front of him, he saw sadness in his eyes, rather than the anger he expected. Zari slowly walked closer to the bars and sat down opposite his grandfather. He reached under his shirt and pulled out a wooden necklace he’d been wearing underneath.

“This was my father’s. He wore it on the day he married my mother and every day since.” Zari’s face was overcome with sorrow, “Every day, that is, until the day he died to protect the two of us. And if you’d met him, you would have seen how much he loved your daughter.”

Zari was sure if he laid it all out there, if he opened his heart that his grandfather would listen. He prepared all the things he wanted to say in his head, but now that he was really here, he’d skipped over most of them. When he finally fell quiet and looked to see Ozai’s reaction, he was met only with mocking laughter.

“Love? What a childish concept in a childish story, by an innocent cub that’s strayed too far from his mama…” Ozai kept smirking, “How old are you now anyway? Twenty? And there isn’t a discernable manly quality about you!”

Zari couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He felt frozen for a few seconds, unable to speak up, and Ozai took the opportunity to keep talking.

“I had a son, who was a bitter disappointment, but he’s a traitor, at least that took courage. I pity your mother for ending up with such a pathetic man-child.” Ozai paused to see if Zari wanted to say anything to that, “But what was she expecting, rolling around with those pigs. Of all the pitiful so-called nations on this planet I always hated your kind the most! So sad for my Azula to stoop so low, whoring around with the likes of-”

“Stop!” Zari stood up and pointed his fist at Ozai, “Don’t talk about her!”

“Or what? I know your kind! You have all the power in this situation and still you refuse to use it. You are weak! I just don’t know if it’s because your daddy was offed too early or because it’s simply in your people’s blood.”

Zari shook in frustration as tears begun collecting in his eyes. He had the man who caused so much pain in his range. The man who caused specifically his family irreparable damage. Ozai was still smirking mockingly, taunting him.  No one would miss this man, no one would mourn. Maybe his mother could finally sleep if he eradicated him from existence.

“You want this.” Zari lowered his fist and took a deep breath to calm down, “You knew… You want me to kill you.”

“Well, I have tried to do it myself over and over again, but they have made it rather difficult. Forgive me from trying to make a man out of you in the process…”

“Well, your little plan has failed.” Zari whipped his tears and sat back down opposite him, “I want the information you promised now.”

oooooooooo

As soon as the metal door closed after Zari, he ran forward and hugged his mother.

“Why is he like that?” he asked into her shoulder.

“He’s not that different from me.” Azula said.

“That’s just not true!”

“If a few things had gone differently, that would have been me… Tiny prison cell, talking to myself. But I got lucky.”

“He doesn’t even care about what happens to his kids.”

Azula purposely held back through the years while talking to Zari about how she was brought up, not wanting to unnecessarily burden the child. Maybe that was a mistake. Maybe he would have been better prepared if he knew exactly what kind of monster he was dealing with.

“Did he tell you anything useful?” she asked.

“Yeah, he told me everything he knew and where to find more.”

“Save it for when you’ll explain it to everyone at the Island.” Azula wanted to walk away, but Zari didn’t follow.

“Mom? I’m sorry you had to, you know, live with that guy…” he seemed to have a hard time forming words.

“Oh, love, that’s not your fault. It’s foolish to feel guilty over something you had no control over. Actually, the whole concept of guilt never agreed with me. What’s passed should be left in the past. That man can do nothing to us now.”

“Whenever I asked, you just said you had a really high-pressure childhood… You never mentioned how he talks to you.”

“It wasn’t always like that. There was a time, a long time actually, when I would have given anything to be like him. I thought he was the greatest man in the world, I just wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted to live up to his greatness…” she laughed, “What a joke that was. It was only when I had you that I learned you’re supposed to love your children even when you don’t approve of their choices.”

“Is that supposed to be aimed at my new position?”

“Don’t listen to me. I know you’re honoring your dad by commanding your own crew.”

“It’s actually not about dad all that much. It’s about you. I’m the son of the great Princess Azula and what have I done with my life? I thought if I put myself out there on that ship something profound would happen. When you were my age you had already conquered the Earth Kingdom all by yourself.”

“And had a breakdown and was captured and imprisoned. I’m the last person you should aspire to be like. You hear me? You need to spend your time figuring out what you want to do, not copying me.”

“Then after all this is done, could I maybe stay at the palace for a while? I know I just got my position, but I forgot how much I loved living with the family. I miss all of you.”

“If you do, we’ll have to do something about that hair.” Azula ran her hand through the unbraided part of his hair.

“Mom, quit it.”

oooooooooo

When Azula and Zari made it back to Air Temple Island they were surprised to find out that the majority of the United Forces army that left with Aang weeks ago had returned. The entire house was full of military men, while Aang was laying in the middle of the living room, Katara and several more healers all working on him at the same time.

“I take it we didn’t win.” Azula walked to Zuko from behind.

“Why would you say that?”

“Your face. What happened? What did they say?”

“Alright,” he sighed, “While we were here regrouping, our enemies were recruiting and passing along their technique. Our men were up against a force much larger than we predicted and Aang decided it was time to go into the Avatar state. While he was fighting one of the enemies managed to grab hold of him and start draining his power.”

“Wait, they drained Aang too?”

“Yes, but the man exploded before he could do any serious damage. It did knock Aang out and cause a retreat.”

“If he exploded that means there’s a limit to how much energy they can absorb and reuse. Maybe there’s even a time limit. This is good stuff, Zuzu.”

“It’s useless since it can’t be tested. Except if I round up a couple of them for your testing.”

“Hey, I’m willing if you are…” she smirked, “Zari and I were successful in draining information from our father.”

“Everyone else is fine, right?” Zari asked and Zuko nodded.

“Nice of you to join us, Snoozles.” Toph greeted Lin, who slept through everyone’s return and was just now emerging from her room. Spirits, something really felt off about her system.

“You’re back? Is it done?” Lin asked before seeing Aang was hurt.

“It would have been, but Glowy Eyes decided to take a little power nap in the middle of battle.”

“Toph!” Katara scolded.

“What? A guy tried to kill the Avatar and got blown to bits for his troubles… We just won’t take Aang next time. You, me, Lin and Kya we take them down, no problem.”

Lin wasn’t really listening to her mother since she noticed Tenzin standing in the room. It must have been horrid seeing his dad go down like that.

“Tenzin, I’m-” she was interrupted by him hugging her tightly.

“Did you convince the King? Turns out this is going to be a world problem.” he wasn’t letting go of her.

“We did.” Lin pulled away from the hug to look into his eyes before kissing him.

Unlike Mai, Aang was up and moving around in just a few hours. Guess, being the Avatar came with a lot of advantages. After Katara made sure the attack left no lasting mark, Aang called a big meeting again, this time to hear everything Zari and Azula managed to collect on their enemies.

Most of the adults around the table expected Azula to present the findings, so they were all surprised to see fifteen-year-old Zari stand in front of them with a bunch of books and scrolls. Since they all were whispering amongst themselves too much for Zari to start, Azula fired up a decent sized lightning strike through the window. The thunder made everyone quiet so the Fire Prince could finally begin.

“I spoke to former Fire Lord Ozai and he instructed me to look into the writings of ancient firebending master Akal. Of course, the text we need isn’t visible until you shine a light source underneath the paper.” the boy demonstrated, revealing hidden words on the old scroll, “Ozai also explained what he knew about the technique to me personally. Simplified, all the moves come to the same thing…”

In just a few seconds Zari had the whole room silent and paying attention. For a relatively shy kid, he knew how to deal with a crowd. But his mother already knew that. His shyness dissipated the second he was put on a stage.

Su on the other hand was the exact opposite. She was always a talkative and social kid. But presentations were a nightmare even for her. That’s why she was so impressed when she saw Zari preforming.

“Fire is life. And firebending can nurture it or snuff it out just as easily,” he demonstrated by lighting a flame in his hand and then extinguishing it.

“So you’re saying they’ve learned to snuff the life out of someone?” one of the generals interrupted.

“Well, in the poetic sense, yes. This technique was developed long ago, by firebenders who were forced to live in exile underground. Without the sun to give them strength, their bending became weak. So they found a new source: the heat coming from inside the planet. And soon some of them figured their source could be any heat, be it from a fire, another person’s firebending or another person’s body. The story ends there since it is said that most of those colonies of firebenders ended up killing each other. But the knowledge remained.”

“Are you telling me, my father was aware of this and didn’t use it to fight in the war?” Zuko asked.

“I find that hard to believe.” Katara backed him.

“I asked him the same thing,” Zari started, “He confessed he tried to do it multiple times, but couldn’t. It is a rare ability, it’s possible he just wasn’t one of those who could master it. And there also is a down side to using it… Ozai said this type of bending once learned becomes the only way that person firebends. I checked it in the texts and they all say the same thing. It’s like an addiction. Once a person willingly starts using heat to fuel their firebending, they can never go back to how they were before. They keep craving more and more heat, producing more and more powerful fire blasts until they…”

“Take on too much.” Sokka filled him in, “And then they blow, like the guy that came at you, Aang.”

“So how do we fight them, then?” the Avatar asked.

“We know what they’re using, we can fight fire with fire now. Literally.” Azula stepped in front of everyone, next to her son, “Worry, not. The Fire Lord and I will get on this issue immediately. The two of us will master this new technique and take down the usurpers.”

“What about me and Izumi, mother?” Zari asked after the meeting ended, “We can master it too.”

“Out of the question.”

“So you’re just saying no, you won’t even let us try?” Izumi cut in.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Isn’t that right, Zuko?” Azula turned to her brother.

“I think we should let them try. Your plan of the two of us talking down an entire army is rather unrealistic.” he said.

“Didn’t you hear when Zari said? It’s addictive and deadly just to use this technique, not even taking into account how dangerous war is. No! I am not our father, I will not send our children to fight our war!”

“Alright. You’re not wrong.” Zuko agreed and turned to his nephew, “Your mother and I will be the only ones attempting this. It’s for your own good.”

oooooooooo

After the meeting Zuko decided to check on his wife and fill her in on the new developments. Surely, she wasn’t going to be happy with how much danger he will be putting himself in, but he had a duty towards his nation.

“Mai, I’ve got news, Azula and Zari did it…” he walked in and found her sitting at a table, instead of lying down, while trying to pick up one of her throwing knives. He was just about to start complaining about how she needed to rest when he saw tears draining from her eyes.

“Don’t look at me.” she faced away from him.

“What’s wrong?” he sat next to her and gently wiped the tears from one of her cheeks. She responded by attempting to pick up her knife with her hurt hand. Her right hand was moving now, however slowly, but it was trembling uncontrollably. However hard Mai tried she couldn’t close a fist around her knife. She couldn’t even hold the hand up for longer than a few seconds.

“Katara said it will get better.” Zuko said.

“I know I’m making a big deal out of it!” she continued through tears, “I know I should be grateful for surviving this, grateful that you and our daughter and her son are all safe here, but I just can’t! I’ve been at this for a week and this is as far as I’ve gotten!”

She tried to get a hold of the knife again, but failed.

“I get it.”

“No, don’t just say that because you love me and you have to! I know I’m being selfish and ungrateful! I just can’t help it… You don’t understand. This is something I was the best at. Something I’ve worked at my whole life. And even if this thing ever does heal, I’ll still never be as good as I was. Not with this hand, not with my left. Never! Looks like it’ll even leave a huge scar!”

“Well,” he started sarcastically, “I should just stop trying since there is no way I could ever know how it feels to have a giant scar. I can relate to many things, but definitely not to being hurt by firebender in a way that marks you forever…”

Mai couldn’t help, but let a little desperate giggle through her tears. A giggle that suddenly turned into full on laughter.

“I’m sorry, I…”

“It’s alright. I just wanted you to realize that you didn’t love me any less after my father did this to me and no one will think any less of you after this.”

She smiled at him and slowly tried to put her hand on his scar. She was having trouble and trembling a lot so he just helped her make it with his hand.

“I do get it.” Zuko said feeling her shaking fingers on the side of his face.

“Now we’re both damaged goods.” she smiled through the tears.

oooooooooo

Azula wasted no time, but immediately read through the texts her father pointed them to and got to work on figuring out this new technique. She actually found it both irritating and exciting that there was some part of firebending she didn’t have mastery over yet.

Her first step was to find herself a calming and secluded place. This was hard all on its own as Air Temple Island was getting pretty crowded since everyone returned. She ended up settling on a pier turned away from the city.

She was sitting at the pier’s end in her meditation pose when she heard footsteps behind her.

“Why is it so cold here?” Sokka asked from behind her.

“I’m sucking the heat out of the air.” she said listlessly.

“So it’s working?” he asked and she nodded. There was almost a minute of silence after that, while Sokka sat down next to her and joined her in staring at the horizon. There really was something special in watching the waves move. But if you looked far enough there was a storm coming towards them.

“Sokka.” she interrupted his thoughts.

“Azula.”

“How are you?”

“I’m fine, why?”

“I just wanted to try small talk. That’s what people do when there’s an awkward silence, correct?”

“Well, usually we-”

“Please, stop. I hate it already. It’s not for me.” she turned to him, “Why are you here?”

Well, that was the direct and to the point Azula they all knew and loved.

“I brought you a fruit tart.” he presented her with a little plate with the desert.

“Am I expected to eat that with my bare hands? I’m a princess and a bit more refined...” she rolled her eyes.

“Alright, more for me…” he was getting ready to take a bite before she snatched it out of his hands. They sat like that for a few more seconds before he spoke up.

“We’re not going to talk about how you kissed me?”

“I didn’t kiss you.” she didn’t even divert her look from the horizon.

“Yes, you did.”

“No, I mean, I didn’t kiss you.”

“You lost me…”

“You were teaching me how to use a sword. That’s something my husband Wen tried to talk me into for as long as I knew him. I always said we had time.” she chuckled at the irony of that, “So I got a little lost in my memories and you were there, a Southern Water Tribe male and… When I kissed you, I wasn’t kissing you.”

“You were kissing Wen?” he looked over to her and got a nod, “Phew! That’s great! Well, it’s not great that he’s dead, obviously…”

“Is even the thought of me so repulsive?”

“No! No. I was just afraid me turning you down would mean we’d stop being friends.”

“Mhm…”

“No, really. I was in there rocking my brain, thinking of what to say to not hurt your feelings. Cause you’re like my best friend.”

Azula chuckled so hard at that she almost spit out her tart, “Of all the ridiculous things that come out of your mouth that has got to be the worst!”

“I’m serious!” he tried, but she still didn’t seem convinced, “It used to be Toph, but we’re raising a kid together now and that kind of changes things.”

“Alright, I’ll play along… How about Aang or my brother?”

“I love them, but each of them has the perfect marriage and the perfect kids and they all just get along so well… And it just doesn’t feel like they understand. You on the other hand, our children are almost the same age, they both come from complicated homes… You, I can bitch to about Su, Lin and Toph with zero judgement.” he smiled at her, “Plus, you laugh at my jokes.”

“That actually… Sounded sincere.”

“I’m so glad we can go back to things being normal now… If you can keep your hands off me.” he teased.

“I’ll try and control my womanly urges.” she said as sarcastically and over the top as humanly possible.

“I better leave you to it then,” he stood up, “We wouldn’t want you distracted by my perfect body just inches away.”

“I was just gonna suggest. I mean, those muscles were just staring at me…”

They both broke out laughing and he slowly started walking away.

“Your hair looks nice like that.” he said, serious this time. She recently went back to the hairstyle she wore during the war.

“What?”

“Small talk. That’s how you do it.”

“Oh,” she turned, “I liked it that time.”

oooooooooo

“Ma-ma.”

Bumi turned to the other side of the bed. Only a few unconnected syllables later did her realize Iroh was calling for him. He opened his eyes and realized Izumi wasn’t in the bed anymore. He was alone in the room with Iroh trying to speak from the crib.

“Ma-ma.” the kid repeated himself, louder.

“Yeah, my Prince. We have to find mama.” Bumi picked him up from the crib and looked around some more. She was there when they fell asleep.

Bumi searched the hall as Iroh kept fussing.

“Come on, little soldier, we’re on a mission to find the beautiful princess.”

“Ma-ma.”

“Yeah, she’s your mama… Where could she-” Bumi stopped as he peeked into a room and saw Izumi kneeling on the floor reaching out her hand into a fireplace, “Izumi!”

He ran to push her hand out of the way. Now all three of them were sitting on the floor.

“I’m fine! I was trying that new firebending technique. And it’s working…” Izumi smirked, showing him her unburned hand.

“Didn’t you catch the part where they said it’s dangerous? Not to mention you got a direct order not to pursue it!”

“I can’t just do nothing! Contrary to everyone’s belief, becoming a mother didn’t make me useless…”

“What’s that Iroh?” Bumi lifted the infant to his ear, “He says it’s a bad idea… Well, that’s a little harsh… I can’t believe… The mouth on this guy…”

Izumi chuckled.

“Ma-ma.” Iroh reached out for his mother with both hands and she took him into her arms.

“Bumi.” she said softly, “He’s not crying.”

“Should he be?”

“No, I… He hadn’t stopped for the last week. Every time I held him he would scream and scream…” she sat Iroh down in her lap and took his little hands into hers.

This is what it should feel like, she knew it. She felt like this was the first time she looked at her son.

“I think I remember my mother saying something about how babies can pick up on stress in their mothers. I think she was explaining it to Toph about Su.”

Izumi didn’t really look like she was listening. She lit a fire ball in her palm and every time Iroh tried to reach it she would make it disappear. The little Prince laughed hysterically.

“I’m sorry, baby.” she kissed the top of Iroh’s head, “All this time you were just upset because I couldn’t let go of things.”

Izumi smiled as tears filled her eyes. She let Iroh stand and wobble over to Bumi.

“What exactly couldn’t you let go of?’”

“You, mostly. Being with Rei, a little part of me always wondered what it would be like if I forgave you. So I’m done pretending! I’m done with the way people started treating me after I had this baby. I’m done pretending I’m not one of the best firebenders to help with this war. Done pretending my marriage wasn’t a lie. And done pretending I don’t love you.” she leaned forward and kissed him.

“Ahem.” Zari announced his presence form the hall, “I came to apologize.”

Bumi stood up to listen.

“I realize now my behavior was inappropriate.” the Prince started, “I shouldn’t have gotten involved with things that weren’t me business. You two are both adults, as opposed to me, and I have no say in what you do or don’t do together. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you, Zari. That was really mature.” Izumi stood up and tapped his shoulder. Then they both turned to Bumi.

“I guess, I would have done the same if some douchebag tried to put the moves on Kya… You’re alright.” Bumi smirked.

“Good, now that we got all that sorted out we have work to do, Zari.” Izumi cut in.

“We do?”

“I think I can get that heat technique you talked about even without the scrolls. I want you to practice with me.”

“On the down low…” Bumi added in case it wasn’t clear.

“But what about our parents?” the Prince asked.

“They have to stop treating us like children.” Izumi said.

Zari wasn’t hard to get on board. They agreed on a place to have their training and stuck Bumi with babysitting.

“Come on, Prince Iroh.” he placed Iroh on the floor of Izumi’s room and dug out some old, wooden blocks to play with him. Bumi stacked high towers while Iroh tore them down laughing like he was having the time of his life.

“You look like your mama, you know that?”

“Ma-ma!”

“Yeah, you do. I mean I guess you could look like Rei too, for all I know. You’re just the most Fire Nation looking baby ever.” Bumi watched as Iroh chewed on one of the blocks.

“If a few things have gone a little different, I could have been your dad.” Bumi couldn’t believe he said those words aloud, “I’m not sure if that would have been such a win for you, though. I would probably blow it epically… But you can call me Uncle Bumi! And I happen to know from experience that a fun uncle comes in handy if your dad can’t, you know, be there all the time…”

oooooooooo

When Chief Sokka called for another big meeting there were a lot of questions, but he just rejected them all. He came into the room carrying a big world map that he pinned up for demonstration.

“We’ve just received a radio call. I won’t take the credit since Suyin is the one that caught it.” he pointed to his daughter who waved awkwardly. She would never admit it was while trying to catch the latest episode of this one radio drama she loved.

“It was from General Kiyi, the Fire Lord’s half-sister.” he continued.

“You spoke to Kiyi?” Zuko seemed quite upset.

“Was she captured?” Azula asked.

“Yes, she was, but she got away for long enough to get critical information to us. Your enemies have been recruiting by promising people to go back to the time the Fire Nation ran the world. They’ve been forcing soldiers to try this new heatbending technique, or whatever you wanna call it, and locking up those that couldn’t master it.” Sokka explained.

“Did she sound alright?” Zuko asked.

“She said we should protect the Northern Water Tribe, since that is where they plan to strike next.”

“Alright,” Azula stepped forward to the map, “If the intel is good we can do this. We get there, establish a good enough position and then me and the Fire Lord take them out.”

“You can’t really expect the two of you-” Aang was interrupted.

“That’s just it, with this new technique the less people you have the more of the energy you get for yourself.” Azula said.

“If you don’t blow up.” Sokka moved closer to the map.

“Izumi, strike me!” Azula yelled.

“With firebending?” the Princess seemed confused.

“Yes! Do it now!” Azula commanded and got her wish when the younger woman shot a fire stream at her. The fire swerved around Azula a few times before being absorbed into her body. Azula smirked and fired a stream of her own almost taking over the entire room. She was really careful not to hurt anyone in her demonstration, but for most of them firebending of this caliber was too reminiscent of Sozin’s comet.

“As you can see, Avatar, our training is on schedule. We’ll be ready for them.”

“I think I have an alternate plan that doesn’t include any of us practicing dangerous and unpredictable techniques.” Sokka started, “We go to the pole first and we warn the villages. Then we help them move deeper inland, leaving no one behind.”

“You want us to retreat?” Azula asked.

“In a way. If we go inland they’ll be forced to follow us into the icy tundra. Something Fire Nation people aren’t really used to. But here’s the catch! You say these people are addicted to heat. I say let’s take it away! When they’re stranded in the tundra alone, what will be their only heat source?”

“Each other. That’s brilliant, Sokka!” Azula smirked, “They’ll be forced to kill each other if we evade them long enough.”

“See? If you have a good plan, you don’t need bending at all…”

Chapter Text

Tenzin was twisting and turning in his sleep all night, making incomprehensible sounds, while Lin was lying next to him thinking about the future. He was a bit more reserved than usual since he returned from the Fire Nation and even though he didn’t say anything she knew things he’d witnessed were weighing on him. Lin saw how many men left Republic City and how many returned. It must have been a slaughter out there.

Despite all that, she couldn’t worry about Tenzin’s bad dreams right now. She was having problems with her own, mainly that they didn’t stop when she was awake. But worrying about hypothetical situations wasn’t doing anyone any good so sometime after midnight she gave up on trying to sleep and decided this had to be settled right now.

“Get up!” Lin pulled the covers off Kya. The waterbender ignored her and buried her face in her pillow. Considering how worked up Lin was that wasn’t such a good idea, since Kya found herself on the floor in seconds.

“I just need ten minutes, then you can go back to sleep.” Lin shook her up once more just to be sure and then took her place one the bed, with her shirt pulled up. She also made a hand movement to lock the door.

“I told you I’m not good at this. I have no idea what I’m doing!” Kya rubbed her eyes trying to adjust to the light.

“Please, Kya, I… There’s no one else I can go to with this. You can do it.” Lin didn’t like the fact that her level of panic was beginning to show. Kya ignored the sudden vulnerability and simply nodded. She got out her bending water, took a few deep breaths and lowered it to Lin’s stomach.

“This is going to feel a little chilly. I think…” Kya remembered her mother always saying that while doing this. She spent the next minute being completely quiet and moving her hands around while Lin tried to lie perfectly still.

Then suddenly Kya put away her water and wiped the sweat off her forehead.

“So? Did you do it? Do you finally know?” Lin asked, not even trying to seem calm anymore.

“I think… If you’re forcing me to give an answer… Knife to my throat, I’d say you’re pregnant.”

“How sure are you?” Lin sat up and pulled her shirt back down.

“I don’t know. Eighty percent?”

“Eighty percent?! Than what use are you to me if you’re just guessing?!” Lin unlocked the door and tried to storm out, but Kya stopped her.

“Hey, this is hard! As is keeping this a secret from the people that I love. But I did it. For you.”

“This is a disaster! This wasn’t how it was supposed to go!”

This happens to be my niece or nephew! I get that you’re worried, but I don’t think anyone is going to make a big deal about it. Yes, you’re both young, but you love each other and you have all of us to help you with everything. The stress is not really good for the baby.”

Lin wanted nothing more than to explode at Kya after that, but she was right! No stress, no fighting from now on.

“And I think Tenzin could really use some happy news now,” Kya continued, “He seemed really… I don’t know, traumatized after the battle. I was a bit shocked too, by what these people were willing to do, but nothing like him. And you know this would make him so happy.”

That’s exactly what Lin was afraid of. Tenzin would love this, he would just see the positives of the situation, he would finally get his way. They’d have to get married if Katara had anything to say about it, move in together and do the same thing every day until they die…

“Easy for you to say! You’re older than me, do you feel like being a mother? Giving up on everything you ever wanted to do? Being tethered to one place for the rest of your life?” Lin lashed out.

“Spirits no!”

They just stared at each other for a few seconds before Lin spoke up again.

“Is the baby OK?”

“What?”

“I did have a palace fall on me. Is it OK?” Lin was a little embarrassed she didn’t ask about that sooner, but damn it, she was doing the best job she could. How was she already a bad mom and the baby wasn’t even born yet?

“I think so. You want me to give it another look?”

Lin nodded and got onto the bed again. While Kya was working they were both distracted enough to not hear the footsteps approaching. Before either of them could react Izumi walked in.

“I heard arguing and-” the Princess started, “What are you doing? Is Lin hurt?”

“I’m fine.” Lin got up swiftly.

“Lin’s pregnant.” Kya blurted out after a few seconds of awkward silence.

“Kya!” Lin gave her a deadly glare. She waited for Izumi’s reaction, fearing this finally meant everyone would find out. The Princess did seem a bit surprised at first, but she regained her composure fairly quickly, walked to Lin and hugged her, not saying a word.

Lin not only welcomed it, but when she relaxed, returned the hug even tighter. She needed this so bad…

“I know it’s scary.” Izumi said, “I remember how absolutely terrified I was when I found out I was pregnant with Iroh.”

“That’s different, you were married.”

“And you think that helped?” Izumi chuckled letting go of Lin, “I didn’t love him. I barely knew him and now all of a sudden I was bound to him forever. It hit me hard. And I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, since everyone expected me to love every second of it.”

“I had no idea, Izumi,” Kya started, “I came to see you countless times, why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because it makes you sound like a horrible person.” Lin looked at Izumi with understanding. She also felt guilty she wasn’t thrilled about what was happening.

“Exactly. It sounds horrid to say that you might not want to have this child now. Or ever. Or that you don’t know what you’re doing with the one you already have.” Izumi took Lin by her shoulders, “Listen to me, you take your time and think about all of this. Don’t think about what anyone else expects. You can tell them later when you’re ready.”

“Yeah, right… I have to tell them now or they’ll pull me off to war.” Lin sat on the bed and put her head in her hands.

“You don’t have to do anything.” Izumi sat next to her and took one of her hands into her own, “I’ll tell them I need you to stay and watch Iroh for me. Because my life didn’t end the day he was born.”

“And have you seen Iroh? He is about the cutest baby I’ve ever seen,” Kya sat on the other side and took Lin’s other hand, “Can you imagine how cute this baby is going to be?”

“Kya! Lin, don’t listen to her. You think about what you want first and then…”

Lin kind of zoned out while the two of them had a debate around her. She could breathe a little easier now. Now at least she knew there was someone she could go to. Someone that went through it. Of course, she could always talk to her mom about it, but she figured that would cause her more stress than comfort.

For a few second she wished she had some real close friends outside this freaky family-like bunch currently occupying Air Temple Island. Everyone was too involved here. But sometimes that wasn’t so bad. If their parents didn’t know each other, she would have never become friends with either of these women, but now she was more thankful for them than they’d ever know.

oooooooooo

“Come on!” Izumi yelled and soon a ball of blue fire came flying at her. Mimicking Azula’s technique, Izumi absorbed it and a few seconds later fired it back at Zari.

“Very good!” she praised him after he took in the power from her blast.

“We’re getting decent at this.” he sat down on the ground to rest.

“Are you feeling anything unusual? Like your normal bending is off?” she sat by him.

“No, I’m fine. Swear.” he did find it a little difficult to calm down after a heatbending session with his cousin, but that felt more like the effects of caffeine than something sinister.

“Then you’re ready for the next stage.” Izumi stood up to retrieve something, “I saw Azula crack it two days ago. It was frightening and beautiful all at the same time.”

The Princess returned from behind a corner with a cat in her arms.

“I’m not killing it.” Zari said calmly.

“I succeeded this morning. It’s not as bad as it seems. If you do it right, it doesn’t have to feel a thing.” Izumi placed the furry animal in his lap. If she was being honest with herself, she was enjoying pioneering this new technique next to her aunt and father. Whether they knew it or not.

Wrong or right, it was the only way for them to win now. And it felt kind of good, holding all that power inside you, if just for a few seconds.

“I still don’t want to do it.” Zari stroked the animal’s fur.

“Think about this, then. Your mother did so much for you. Don’t you want to be able to help her when she faces those monsters out there?”

Zari couldn’t argue with that logic. Azula didn’t want to be the kind of mother who asks something like this of her child, but maybe she’d need it anyway. He closed his eyes and gently stopped his palm at the animal’s head.

“Now feel the heat pulsing through its body.” Izumi started, “Feel it radiate out into your hand, as well as out your hand onto it. Now pull it in, all of it at once!”

And Zari did. Or at least he tried. The animal in his hands did start kicking and trying to escape his grip, but it was still undeniably alive. He realized he needed a stronger pull than that put couldn’t preform it.

“I can’t! I just can’t. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just…” he released the cat into Izumi’s hands.

“Listen, it’s not easy and it’s not for everyone.” she sighed and swiftly, almost without preparation placed her hand on the animal and sucked out its energy.

“I brought lychee juice!” Suyin came into their view carrying a platter with glasses, “Nothing’s quenchier!”

When she was closer she hit the ground with her foot, creating a pillar out of earth to serve as a table and a few small pillars as chairs. She also just then realized she interrupted something tense.

“Thank you, Su.” Izumi took one of the glasses from the improvised table, “Not only for the refreshments, but for keeping our secret.”

“No problem.” Su sat down, “Our parents need to get used to the fact that we have things to offer too.”

Zari walked closer and took a glass of juice without a word. He wasn’t even making eye contact with her.

“He’s just a little disappointed he’s not getting it as fast as he’d like.” Izumi explained, seeing Su’s concerned expression.

“Hey, you probably won’t even need to use those moves anyway. If my dad’s plan goes well.” Su smiled at the Fire Prince who couldn’t help, but smile back.

“You’re not going?” he asked.

“Spirits, no! My mom made that very clear. She says my metalbending is too shabby for the battlefield. Home base for you, kid.”

oooooooooo

“And you’re sure you want to stay?” Toph asked, shoving things in a bag.

“Yeah, Mom. You said it was up to me.” Lin said.

“I know what I said. I just didn’t think you’d chicken out of this one too…”

“Mom…”

“It better not be because Tenzin’s hurt. You know, that boy can handle a few days away from you.”

“It’s not because of Tenzin.” Well, technically it wasn’t a lie. It was the pregnancy, not Tenzin. No matter how much Toph expected it, Lin’s heartbeat didn’t change.

“So it’s about the baby?” Toph asked next, sending Lin’s heartbeat through the roof, “Izumi’s kid?”

“Yeah! Izumi asked me to keep an eye on him while she’s gone. You know… Serve and protect.” Lin breathed a sigh of relief after the mini heart attack she almost had.

“Who would have known you’d wanna stay and your sister would be begging me to go…”

“You didn’t say yes, did you?”

“Of course not! Give me some credit there, kiddo. I know I’m bad at this, but that one was obvious. She’ll stay behind with Mai and you.” Toph leaned towards her daughter and Lin immediately moved forward into the hug.

“I was going for the jacket behind you, but fine.” Toph said, causing Lin to blush and let go of her immediately. Of course, they never did goodbye hugs. Stupid.

Toph put on the jacket and then stood calmly for a second or two before surprising her daughter by hugging her again.

“Whatever it is, can it wait until I come back?” Toph asked.

“Yeah, absolutely, I’m sorry I-”

“See you later, kiddo.” Toph punched her daughter’s shoulder and swiftly left the room. In a few minutes she left Air Temple Island together with Aang and Katara to try and talk the Earth King into giving them even more help with his troops.

oooooooooo

After some more practicing with Izumi, Zari got called to meet his mom before leaving for the North Pole. He was instructed to go look for her in the storage room of one of the United Forces ships going with them.

When he finally found her, it looked like she was having a spirited debate with Chief Sokka, who was checking the cargo.

“You wanted to see me, Mom.” he looked at them in confusion.

“Yes, we’re ready to leave. As soon as our trusted Chief gets over his paranoia.” Azula rolled her eyes.

“It’s not paranoia. My instincts are telling me-” Sokka was interrupted.

“I don’t even want to hear it. Zari and I will be departing in twenty minutes.” she turned around to leave, but then stopped to stare at her son’s hand, “And you? You’re shaking. What’s going on?”

“Nothing. I’m not shaking.” he hid his hands behind his back. That might not have been a good call.

“Your pupils are dilated.” Azula continued voicing her observations while Zari begged something would distract her, “How much tea did you drink? This is caffeine.”

“Let the boy live, Azula. He’s a ship captain, let him drink what he wants.” Sokka meddled, while knocking on various places along an air duct.

“You have zero credibility on the matter. Look at what you’re doing…”

“I will have you know-” Sokka stopped after peeking his head in the air duct, “Busted. Out, young lady.”

After he said that he moved away to allow Suyin to crawl out of her hiding place.

“Did Lin rat me out?” she asked.

“No. Did Lin know?”

“No.”

“Then how could she… I figured it out! You’re forgetting I’m your father. Everything you think of I’ve already thought of, everything you try to pull off, I already tried.” Sokka turned to Azula, “I told you. My instincts were right.”

“Let’s give them some space, Zari.” Azula sensed the situation was about to get personal and decided to stay out of it.

“How could you do this, Su?” Sokka started once they were alone, “Your mother told you no. Then you went to get a second opinion with me, which we told you never to do, and the answer was still no. And then you go ahead and do it anyway… This is so unlike you.”

“Like you’d know…” Su mumbled under her breath.

“What was that?”

“Like you’d know! I only see you when there’s someone threatening Team Avatar. I don’t even feel like I’m your daughter!”

“Su, we’ve talked about this. You know very well why we can’t tell people about who you are. You’d have to move away with me, become Chief someday...”

“Well, I don’t feel like I’m part of the Water Tribe! You never took me there. And now that our people are in trouble and desperately need our help, you won’t let me come!”

“Of course they’re your people too, Su.” he put his hand on her shoulder, “But you’re too young to go to war.”

Every word he said made him realize how he was trying to leave her behind, just like his father did to him the day he left to fight in the Hundred Year War. Su wouldn’t be as alone as he was, but he could see the same look in her eyes that he had.

“You said that if your plan goes well, there wouldn’t even be a fight. I can help evacuate people. Please. I don’t want to stay behind again.” she looked at him with those half-teary eyes and he just couldn’t say no again.

“Your mother is going to bury me alive.”

“Yes!” she jumped and hugged him, “Thank you! I’ll be super careful and extra helpful. You’ll see.”

oooooooooo

“Be good for Lin and Tenzin, alright?” Izumi whispered to baby Iroh before kissing his forehead and handing him over to Tenzin.

“Ask my mom if you need any help.” Izumi told her new babysitters, “She’s supposed to be on bedrest, but she’ll help you.”

“We’re going to have so much fun.” Tenzin talked to the baby, “Now wave goodbye to mommy.”

Tenzin waved slowly and Iroh mimicked him, however sloppily.

“Bye-bye.” the infant said.

Izumi felt something tighten in her throat as she waved back. These last few weeks she bonded with Iroh more than in the entire year before. They were finally getting used to each other and now she was just leaving him. Bumi noticed she was struggling and took her hand into his.

“I’ll miss you both so much!” Kya jumped and hugged Tenzin first, then Lin, “But this will at least give you two a chance to spend some alone time. Talk about things.”

Kya gave Lin a meaningful look. Like she wasn’t stressed enough as it is… Thinking about the future was hard enough without Tenzin goofing around with a toddler every chance he got. When Lin looked to her boyfriend, he was teasing Iroh by blowing air into his hair, making him giggle.

“I still can’t believe Su’s going with you.” Lin sighed.

“She’s our cousin. They’ll look after her, won’t you guys?” Tenzin tried to reassure her.

“Don’t worry. The world is in the best possible hands. We’ll all be back in a jiffy.” Bumi smirked.

“Yeah, the best… And what are you going to do, Bumi? Talk them to death?” Tenzin joked.

“Lin, control your woman!”

After Bumi said that, Izumi sensed this goodbye was about to turn into a fight and pulled him away.

“Bye, Iroh! Look after those two for me!” Kya yelled back as she followed Izumi.

oooooooooo

As planned, the people of the west North Pole were already prepared to take a journey when the army arrived, led by the Fire Lord, Chief Sokka and Princess Azula. The Northern Chief told his people to grab whatever they could carry and be ready to march to their eastern villages at a moment’s notice.

The welcome was short and the large group of people was soon on the move. Their young chief Nirak led the cavalcade, surrounded by his soldiers. Behind them, it was a mess of common civilians carrying as much as they could fit on their backs, same with their artic camels or buffalo yaks. The smallest children were carried, but most of them ran freely through the crowd, skating on the ice or just throwing snowballs at each other. Since they couldn’t leave behind the animals most of the waterbenders helped keep them heading in the right direction. They had a long way to go and were moving pretty slowly, but the general atmosphere was one of hope, not fear. Most of the sounds coming from the crowd were children’s laughter and a few traditional Northern songs.

The United Forces soldiers walked near the back of the crowd and so did Sokka and Azula.

“Cold, are we, Princess?” he teased, seeing her clothing was at least twice as thick as his was.

“Don’t you worry about me.”

Since they were there just in case the plan failed, they had nothing much to do while it was working. The two of them walked together, while Zuko volunteered to help an old woman pull her cart and Kya was catching up with some old friends. Bumi and Izumi walked alone holding hands, while bit further than them, Su and Zari were engaged in an intense snowball fight with some kids.

“It’s easy to forget sometimes, isn’t it?” Sokka asked, nudging Azula.

“What is?”

“That they’re still just kids. Yours is a captain, mine begged to go to war, but they’re just children.”

“So were we.”

“That doesn’t make it right. I’m a fool for bringing my little girl to a possible battlefield…”

“No, you’re not. Think about it like this… They’re our children, they’re always going to be targets, their whole lives. If someone wants to hurt them, at least this way they have to go through us first.”

At the exact moment she finished, about five kids tackled Sokka into the snow.

“We got you, Chief Silly!” one of children screamed while trying to mess up Sokka’s hair.

“No, you don’t! Waterbend!” he stood up, throwing snow around, pretending to attack. The children giggled and ran away.

“Kids… You gotta love them…” Sokka moved his head to try and shake down the snow. Azula had just cracked a small smile when someone took her hand. She turned around to see it was a little girl, with adorable brown curls.

“You’re pretty!” the girl said, since Azula didn’t look like she knew how to react to the situation.

“I’m sorry,” a boy ran out of the crowd, “I told my little sister you came here to protect us and now she wants to walk with you.”

“It’s alright…” Azula tried to smile, but all of this was really unusual to her. She was used to admiration from the masses. She just wasn’t used to it this up close.

“Can we see it?” two more young girls came seemingly from nowhere, “Please…”

“See what?” Azula was feeling more and more surrounded.

“The fire.” the boy explained.

Oh. She took the glove off her free hand and made a small, blue fireball. The children just stared in admiration.

“That’s so cool!” the boy exclaimed.

“It’s so pretty!” his sister added.

“Do it again!”

“Yeah, I wanna see!”

Kids kept coming, forming a circle around Azula and at some point she couldn’t take it anymore. She said something about the Fire Lord needing assistance and then started walking in the direction opposite of where Zuko was.

“Azula, is everything… You know…” Sokka followed her and stopped her by catching her shoulder, “Are you having one of your episodes? Should I call Zari? Or Zuko?”

“No! I’m fine. Can’t I be upset without you all thinking I’m having hallucinations?”

“Why are you upset?”

Azula sighed. Well, she did kind of walk right into that one…

“You wouldn’t get it.” she tried to walk away from him again.

“Try me.” he said and she stopped.

“The people of the Fire Nation used to love me. Worship me and my family. But they were never happy to see me. It was never Yippee, Azula’s here. Not when I was home, not when I was conquering in the war and certainly not when I was raiding ships as a pirate. I’m not used to Yippee, Azula’s here, she’ll save us… It’s too much.” she finished her explanation in one breath and then just looked straight into his eyes, waiting for a response.

“But you are here to save them.”

“Yes, now. But if I’d come here during the war,” she lowered her voice, “I would have burned their houses, their livestock, killed their leaders and taken their benders.”

“Listen, these are my people. And all that matters to us is that this is who you chose to be right now.” he paused, “These kids weren’t born during the war. They don’t know they’re supposed to be holding some ancient grudge. And I don’t think we should teach them.”

At that moment Azula felt a tug at her sleeve. It was the little girl from before, now holding her favorite toy.

“Fire Lady!” the girl pointed at the Princess. Azula thought about what Sokka said for a moment and then took the girl’s hand and continued forward. Sokka started telling both of them about the time he met the Avatar, when they were interrupted by the girl yelling.

“Friends!”

“You want to go with your friends?” Azula asked.

“No. Your friends.”

“My friends?”

The girl then stopped and pointed towards the end of the crowd. Azula looked over and saw tall pillars of orange flames in the distance behind them.

“Those are not friends.” she turned to Sokka.

“Go find your mommy, please.” he instructed the girl and she sprinted away.

“How did they catch up to us?” Sokka couldn’t believe his eyes.

“I don’t know.” Azula stood frozen as she watched a small group of firebenders appear in the distance amongst the dancing flames.

Chapter Text

 

“No!” Sokka started, “We’ll tell the waterbenders to build a big ice wall. We’ll keep slowing them down.”

“It won’t work.” Azula said, taking off her coat.

“It might.” he grabbed her wrist when he realized she was already walking away, “There has to be another way. You don’t have to do it.”

“What other way?! We’re in the middle of an icy wasteland! We’re surrounded by civilians! Little kids…. It was a good plan, Sokka. I’m sorry it didn’t work.” she put a hand on his shoulder.

“They found us?” Bumi ran over with Izumi and Zuko.

“Yes, the Fire Lord and I will go and face them. In the meantime you need to keep the people moving forward in a quick and orderly fashion.” Azula said, “There can’t be a panic, or people will get hurt.”

“Copy that.” Bumi nodded and ran off calling over the United Forces solders to help him.

“But you know I still haven’t managed to use the technique.” Zuko said.

“I know, brother. You’ll get it when the time comes.”

“Dad, you can’t do it and you’re still going?” Izumi looked at her father in concern.

“Mom? What’s going on?” Zari ran over with Su, seeing something was wrong. As they were running over they both noticed the firebenders in the distance.

“I have to go.” Azula pulled her hand back from Sokka, “Zari, I need you to run and tell the Northern Chief what’s going on. Go as fast as you can.”

The Prince nodded and used his firebending to propel himself towards the head of the crowd.

“Zuzu, you stay back and concentrate for now. I’ll go show them what they’re up against.” Azula said and took a deep breath before propelling herself towards the enemies.

“Chief!” Suyin called for her dad since he was just standing and staring into the distance.

“Sokka, please!” she ran close enough to whisper, “Dad.”

“It should have worked!” he said.

“I know how much you didn’t want us to stoop to their level. But fighting fire with fire is all we have now. You have to snap out of it!” she tried to pull him forward since the crowd started moving a lot faster and they were already standing alone.

“Let’s go help, Su!” he finally got out of his trance.

oooooooooo

Tenzin sat across from Iroh on the floor and used his bending to make the toddler’s blanket fly around like it was alive. The boy was enjoying this immensely and was letting the whole house know with his giggle. He got up clumsily to try and capture the blanket, but was unsuccessful thus far.

“Tez, would you stop screwing around and help me?” Lin peeked out of the kitchen.

“Let’s go, Little Prince.” he handed Iroh his blanket back, took him into his arms and walked to the kitchen. Once inside he saw Lin had taken out about a dozen containers with food inside them.

“I don’t remember which one of those bowls of goo Izumi told us to feed him first.” Lin gestured to the table.

“I don’t think it matters as long as he eats.” Tenzin was amused by how seriously Lin was taking all of this. He was about to say something when he was interrupted by Iroh’s loud babbling. It sounded almost like he was speaking a different language, but he was clearly trying to communicate with Tenzin.

“I just don’t want us to do something wrong. Izumi trusted us to take care of him and we have no idea what we’re doing!” Lin was upset about a little more than just Iroh. When it came to their child, they were the ones that were supposed to know what to do. She kept waiting for some miraculous motherly instinct to kick in, but it just didn’t happen. Maybe it never will.

“Hey, relax… This is easy-breezy. Nothing to worry about.” he took one of the bowls of food and walked back to the living room.

Nothing to worry about?! Of course it was all easy-breezy to him! He didn’t have another person growing inside of him! Spirits, she felt sick… She couldn’t remember the last time she ate, but really who could blame her? Her entire family was in great danger. It would probably be days until she found out if they’re alright. Her staying behind was supposed to give her time to think about things, but in reality she spent the whole time worrying about Iroh. Was this how it was going to be like from now on?

“Lin, check this out!” Tenzin called his girlfriend over to the other room where Iroh had just arranged a few pieces of fruit on top of each other, “He’s so cute, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, real cute. Why isn’t he eating what Izumi left for him?” Lin sat next to the two of them at the table.

“Oh, he hates that.”

“Then he won’t mind if I take it.” Lin reached over and started eating the yellowish goo. She didn’t dare ask what was in that, but it tasted fruity. Iroh got a bit distracted by her joining them and couldn’t take his eyes off her. Then he started reaching for her.

“Really? Now you want it?” Lin asked the toddler. Tenzin couldn’t hold back a chuckle seeing her glare at him.

“Here. Get up.” Tenzin instructed her and picked up Iroh. Then he gently tried placing him in her arms.

“No, I- I don’t know how-” her protesting stopped when she realized she was already holding the baby.

“Now give him the food with your other hand.” Tenzin still stood close by in case there was a need for intervention.

As Lin managed to feed him a spoon of the yellow stuff she started thinking maybe this wasn’t so bad. Maybe she wouldn’t be the most horrible mother on the planet. Maybe she’d pick it up eventually.

“See? You’re great at this.” he added kissing her on the cheek, “And it’s good practice, don’t you think?”

“You had to ruin it, didn’t you?” she asked. She could tell him now. It was a good time for it. They were alone. He just said she was great at taking care of kids. Maybe this would be the least painful time to break it to him. Maybe he could say something to her to make her feel better.

“Tenzin, I…” she started, but was interrupted by Iroh sneezing violently and setting fire to her sleeve. Well, there was something her mother never had to deal with.

oooooooooo

As Azula was nearing their enemies, one of them used his firebending to fly right to her. He landed a few meters away and aimed a rather large fire stream at her. To his great surprise Azula absorbed the whole thing and then took advantage of his confusion and jumped forward grabbing him by the neck. She looked straight into his eyes as she drained the life out of his body.

“For Mai.” she whispered to herself before turning back towards the rest of the enemy army. They all stopped, seeing what she could do now.

“You came here, looking for a fight!” she started slowly walking over to them, purposely radiating heat as not to take on too much energy on her next attack. They all watched as snow melted around her with every step she took.

“Well, here I am!” she watched each of them carefully, trying to predict who’d be the one to strike first.

“You can join us.” one of them said.

Azula snickered, “Maybe you missed it, I’ve just killed one of you.”

“We have a rule about that. If you’re pathetic enough to be taken out that easily, then your warmth is more useful than you are. We left the Fire Nation with three times this number. But sacrifices were made.”

Be the monster. Be the monster. Azula kept repeating in her mind.

“What an alluring offer. There’s just one thing. You broke into my palace and overthrew my brother. And I’m very possessive over my things.”

Be the monster. Fire is life. Life is a fire. Snuff it out. You do it, so they don’t have to.

She took a deep breath to feel the heat flow through her own body and then jumped forward to the first man. After a short dodging struggle she managed to slam her palm into his chest and drain him as well. After repeating that process two more times she unleased an enormous stream of fire on just one man, making him explode since he couldn’t take on that much at once.

oooooooooo

“We need to help her. We need to do something!” Zari watched in horror as his mother fought off an entire unit of firebenders by herself.

“Maybe it’s time, Izumi.” Bumi said, “Your father went to help, but he’ll just get himself hurt.”

“Time for what?” Kya asked.

“I’m so glad Aang is not here.” Sokka concluded seeing Azula taking down those men like they were nothing. Like they have no worth.

“We have no other choice.” Su told him, “We can’t hold them and we can’t reason with them. They’re sick. And Aang can’t touch them to take their bending away.”

“I don’t know about you, but I’m going!” Zari started running towards the fire blasts in the distance.

“What are you doing?” Izumi asked when she saw Bumi unsheathe his sword.

“Making sure the lad doesn’t kill himself. Spirits, help us…” he said and ran charging after the boy.

oooooooooo

“It’s a good thing you called me.” Mai said while Tenzin was helping her walk into the living room, “Is Lin alright?”

“I’m managing.” they found Lin holding Iroh still in a stockpot filled with water. Tenzin and her had to improvise because the boy liked creating fire a little too much and Katara’s big soup pot was the biggest thing they could find to surround him with water. Lin’s shirt was clearly scorched and was exposing her shoulder, but she didn’t appear burned.

“Oh, Spirits…” Mai sighed.

“Dunking him in water was the first thing that came to mind.” Tenzin shrugged.

“Do they all start bending this early?” Lin asked, while gently washing Iroh’s cheeks from the food. She couldn’t help, but worry about their child being a bender. Earthbenders are easy, that was just a fact, but an airbender flying around every time he sneezes or a waterbender making a giant mess all the time would be a big pain in the ass. It’s not like she could choose anyway…

“Not usually.” Mai crouched down next to her grandson with great difficulty, “Ursa told me stories about Azula starting this early. I laughed, but then I had Izumi. I think she actually started earlier. Caught my hair.”

“Ouch.” Lin moved away to let Mai take Iroh.

“The thing is they love it when they figure out they can make fire. So they just keep doing it. The best you can do is just making sure they don’t burn themselves or anyone else. They forget about it in a few days anyway. Then they discover it all over again.” Mai took Iroh into her lap on the floor, “If they get too fiery, you can anyways pinch their nose. Forces them to change their breathing, but it makes them cry, so use with caution.”

She demonstrated on Iroh.

“Also sometimes works with adult firebenders.” the older woman smiled.

“Thank you, Aunt Mai. Really.” Tenzin said.

“Please go to the kitchen and fetch any plates you can find. They’re not flammable and don’t heat up easily, so they’re perfect for him to play with.”

Lin was a little suspicious about this. She didn’t know a lot about babies, but she did know you weren’t supposed to let them play with tableware. But Mai knew best….

oooooooooo

“You’re such a pathetic excuse for a Fire Lord!” one of the enemies yelled at Zuko, while he was dodging her attacks. Then he changed tactics and started aiming a fire stream at her, the largest he could manage with his conventional bending. He was trying to overload her, but he ended up just making her stronger. Just when he was feeling tired, Izumi and Zari ran out of nowhere and matched his stream with two of their own. The woman couldn’t take it any longer and blew up.

Zari was looking at his mother, who didn’t seem to have any problems fighting a few of these benders at the same time, so he had no idea there was a firebender behind him. Luckily, he was knocked out with a rock before he could touch the Prince.

“You’re welcome.” he saw Su smiling back at Zari.

“Su, get back to the crowd this instant!” Sokka came running to them.

“No way!” she took her bending stance and continued throwing rocks at their attackers.

Azula learned a lot of new things in this battle that the book didn’t really talk about. For instance, she learned the quickest way to drain someone was to touch him as close to his heart as possible. Also, she learned that she didn’t have to use her palms to draw energy out of a person. If she had enough power already inside her, she didn’t really have to touch them at all. She was really causing the enemy some damage when something dragged her out of the frenzy she was in.

“Azula!” she suddenly heard Zuko yell. She looked over and saw one of the benders had Izumi in his hands.

“Surrender yourself or she dies!” he threatened, placing his hand around Izumi’s neck.

Azula had no idea what to do and neither did Zuko. But before either of them could react, Izumi breathed in through her nose and at the same time sucked in all the energy from her attacker’s body. He fell to the floor lifelessly while Izumi stood there, adjusting to the feeling of wielding all that power.

“What did you do?!” Azula asked.

“Zari and I practiced it in secret. We couldn’t let you take on all of it by yourself.” Izumi gestured by moving her hand and inadvertently made a huge fire blast. This terrified her. She already spent most of her childhood fearing her firebending might hurt someone. She couldn’t do it again.

“Let’s get you out of here, OK?” Bumi walked to the Princess and tried to take her hand, but she pulled away.

“No! I can’t control it!” she screamed and started running back to Kya and the crowd of Northerners.

“Go, with her!” Azula yelled, “All of you! I can handle this!”

oooooooooo

After the battle was over they all came back to find Azula again. The crowd of civilians was far away now, but the threat was seemingly gone. They found the Fire Princess kneeling on the ground, surrounded by the dead army.

“Azula, I…” Zuko stopped since, as soon as he stepped closer to her he felt incredibly cold all of a sudden.

“Mom, we should get going.” Zari ignored the cold and wanted to help her up, but she jumped from him.

“Don’t touch me!” she was shivering violently and her voice showed it, “I don’t want to hurt you. I just need a little time to… Calm down.”

“Azula, I’m coming over.” Zuko said and slowly reached for his sister while she put one of her hands around his neck. He helped her stand up and start walking after the crowd.

“We need to get back to our ships. We have to leave for the Fire Nation right away.” she said.

“No, you need to rest. We’ll meet up with Aang and the others first.”

“You don’t understand! There’s no time! I need to get there now.”

Zuko looked at his sister and could immediately tell how serious she was.

“We’re going then. Taking the fight to them.” he said loud enough for everyone to hear him.

oooooooooo

After radioing the Avatar in the Earth Kingdom, Zuko arranged for all of them to meet in the Fire Nation at dawn. That meant they’d have to spend the entire night sailing to have any chance of making it.

After ensuring Izumi was alright for the time being, Zuko retired to his quarters. He wanted to stay by her side, but Bumi was there and he still didn’t like seeing him with his daughter. Before leaving Mai begged him to act civil around the boy, but he didn’t have to stay there and watch them together. Zuko knew his wife was right, as always, about their daughter being old enough to make her own decisions, but it still annoyed him.

He went to bed early, but even after a couple of hours sleep still eluded him. Between his hurt wife, his traumatized daughter, his missing half-sister and well… Everything that was happening with Azula, he couldn’t find peace. Sometime after midnight he’d had enough of lying in the dark, so he dressed and went outside to the deck.

After a few moments of staring into the starry sky, he realized he wasn’t alone.

“Couldn’t sleep?” he directed his question at Azula who was sitting on a bench facing the sea, crawled up in a ball with her hair down, “How are you?”

“I had to kill over a hundred people with my bare hands. Your question is stupid.”

“Sorry.” he walked over and sat by her.

“How’s Zari?” she asked, having a really hard time pronouncing his name without getting upset.

“Fine. I went to talk to him. He’s a strong young man. A little scared for you maybe. As am I.” he diverted his glance from the dark sky, to her, “Are you seeing things again?”

“No! Spirits, can everyone stop asking me that? Believe me, my mind can only think about one thing right now.”

“It’s that bad?”

“It’s like all I can think about is how to get more. Like all I want to do is burn this ship so I could feel the heat of it. And it feels like I’m dying when I try not to take in anything. Like now.” she showed her trembling hand.

“You shouldn’t have to do that. At least not alone!” Zuko rubbed his forehead, “I should be helping you! I tried, but I’m just not one of the people that can do it. It’s not my destiny. I wish-”

He was interrupted by Azula laughing hysterically.

“Are you laughing at me? I’m trying to have a moment here.” he complained.

“You’re ridiculous, Zuzu. That’s all mother talking, you know… Darling, you’re so bad at things, but that’s why I love you. She wanted so much for you not to be like Father and me, she held you back. The truth is, you have the same impressive ancestry I do. You’re an amazing firebender, I’ve seen it. The only reason you’ve always been told you’re bad is because everyone’s been comparing you to me.”

“Az-”

“And another thing, leave that silliness about destiny be for once. This technique is about taking what you want. So stop wondering if you’re meant for something and just do it.”

“Copy that, Sifu.” he said sarcastically, “I swear you’re the most protective little sister out there.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“I’m your big brother, I should, you know… Take care of you. Not the other way around.”

“Who taught you that macho nonsense? It’s like a game of Pai Sho, Zuzu. Every piece has a part to play. You’re good at ruling. I’m good at conquering. We take care of each other.”

He nodded and looked into the horizon again, turning the left part of his face to her, making his scar more visible.

Azula just started at it for a few moments, before speaking up: “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?” he turned around with a gentle smile on his face.

She answered by putting her hand at the spot he had his scar on her own face.

“Oh, that.”

“I know I didn’t do it. But I did nothing. I laughed at you. I was such an ignorant child then!”

“Hey, when you came back we said we’re not going into this. It’s not good for either of us.”

“It just baffles me that I understood so much, could manipulate people into almost anything and yet I completely missed everything that was happening in my own head. Dad was pulling my strings and I let him. He weaponized me.” she finished and looked over to Zuko. She wasn’t expecting to find tears draining from his eyes.

“So did I today.” he said, looking at the floor rather than her face.

“Oh, brother.” she kissed his cheek and hugged him, “You could never make me do anything I don’t want to. This, what I’m doing, is my choice.”

Zuko was surprised, no, shocked at this sudden show of affection. When he found his sister five years ago he couldn’t even imagine how essential she would become to him. He couldn’t imagine the real family they had now.

“I need to ask you something.” she pulled away, “About my son. If I don’t make it back tomorrow, would you-”

“No, Azula, I’m not having this conversation!”

“We knew this was a one way trip when we started this.”

“No! You’re not dying tomorrow!”

“You don’t know that!” she paused after yelling, “Listen, if I die before finishing this, don’t fall apart, please. Don’t retreat. I need you to finish it with Izumi. She’s strong enough, she knows she is. I’ll get you as far as I can. I know you’re used to being the heart while I was the head, but you’ll need to be both soon.”

“You can’t expect me to just stand there and watch you die!”

“That’s exactly what you’ll do. As your advisor I forbid you from going into the fight while I’m still alive.”

“Then I’m firing you.” he said, causing her to roll her eyes, “I just wish there was a way to end this without killing all of them.”

“Wishes are for children. We looked at this from every angle and there is no other way. These people are addicted to taking others’ energy. They’d never stop, you can’t reason with them.”

“But you used it too and you are still you.”

“But for how long?” Azula sighed and stood up to walk away.

“I’ll take care of Zari, if it comes to it. He’s my nephew.” he said suddenly, “Just try not to die.”

oooooooooo

“No. Eat your food.” Lin pushed the bowl of goo closer to Iroh, trying to distract him from what she was eating, “Just because Tenzin lets you eat whatever you want don’t expect the same from me.”

They had just a few days with Iroh, but she could swear Tenzin was already spoiling him.

Iroh just stared at her blankly for a few seconds and then dug his little hand into his bowl, bringing a little bit of his food into his mouth.

“Good.” Lin nodded and returned to eating her own food, which was prepared strictly according to Kya’s orders. Vitamins and protein for the baby. Blah.

Lin woke first as always, but this time she wasn’t the only one. She heard Iroh fussing in his crib so she decided to take a crack at looking after him alone. So far it’s been a trying three hours. He wasn’t crying or anything, he was just incredibly picky and impossible to please. In other words, he was a baby.

He went quiet for a few minutes and Lin got lost in thought, not at all suspicious to why he was silent. Before she could react he pushed his bowl of food onto the floor.

“Do you have to be watched every single second?!” she raised her voice for a second before calming down, “Yeah… Yeah, you do. Here.”

She decided to cut her food into small bits and give him some too. He wasn’t her kid. The important part was that he ate.

“You like that don’t you? Just because it’s not for you…” she cracked a small smile, “You know, the only reason I have to eat this is because I’m gonna have a baby too.”

“I don’t even know why I’m telling you this, but it’s not like you’ll tell anyone. You’re already a better choice than Kya.” she continued as Iroh stuffed his face with bread and looked at her like he was listening intensely.

“I was supposed to have all this figured out by now, but it’s been three days and I’ve decided nothing. And telling others hasn’t helped. Kya is just overly excited about being an aunt, but she is right that Tenzin would be so happy… But your mother told me having a child is really hard and not for everyone…” she smiled awkwardly, “No offence.”

“And I’m like the furthest thing from a mom. I can’t even get you to eat… I mean, OK, you are eating now, but generally. And even if I do someday want to be a mother, I can’t do it like my mom. And I can’t get stuck with a kid too young, like your mom… No offense.”

“I don’t even feel that sick anymore, maybe all of this is for nothing. Maybe Kya just isn’t as good of a healer as she thinks she is. Eighty percent…”

“Of what?” Tenzin walked into the room lazily rubbing his eyes, “You two having a gossiping session?”

“You have no idea…”

“Good morning.” he stopped while passing her to plant a quick kiss on cheek, “Why didn’t you wake me? I could have helped you with him.”

Lin saw Tenzin was having bad dreams again that night. He finally calmed down after dawn so she couldn’t bring herself to wake him.

“We managed without you.”

“As much as I love seeing you with him, which is very, I have a surprise for you.” he gestured to Mai standing in the doorway.

“I’m much better now.” Mai started, “I don’t need my hand to take care of my grandson. You two should go and help your parents out.”

“Isn’t it great, Lin? I wasn’t really sleeping in, I radioed Dad, and they said we can make it in time. Oogi is ready to go. What do you say?” Tenzin was smiling ear to ear.

“Oh, well, that’s really…”

“I noticed that you were a little absent the last few days. I’m thankful you stayed behind because of my leg, but it is really better now, so there is nothing stopping us from going to fight alongside our parents.”

“Tenzin… I…” she frowned.

“What? I thought you’d be happy. I thought that’s what’s been bothering you… If you don’t want to…”

“No! I do want to.” Lin looked around and realized Mai had left the room with Iroh to give them some privacy.

Lin breathed in deeply and took Tenzin’s hands into hers. This was perfect. She should tell him. He deserved to know.

“Then we should leave since everyone is waiting for us.” he added.

“Wait, they’re waiting for us?”

“They said that if we leave immediately we’ll make it just in time.” he started walking through the house towards the stables, “My dad sounded really concerned. He said Azula can’t take much more by herself. They could really use us there.”

“We have no choice then.” she followed him. She couldn’t even reconsider telling him after hearing their parents were in trouble. Su was there. There was no way Lin could live with herself if she sat that one out.

oooooooooo

“Alright, now, Su, just let me do the explaining and look really apologetic, like you’re really learning a lesson out of all of this.” Sokka instructed his daughter as soon as they made port in the Fire Nation. They were both taking a walk around their military camp.

“How is looking apologetic going to help with Mom? She can’t even see it.” she said.

“You’re right. We’re doomed,” he paused, “It’s finally going to happen. She’ll strangle me with my own boomerang… I always knew this is how it was going to end.”

“Oh, relax… I do tones of bad stuff all the time. She doesn’t care. I never listen to her.”

“Well, sweetie, she’s slightly less lenient with people she didn’t create. Oh, what am I gonna do? What am I gonna do…”

On the other side of the encampment Zuko greeted the Avatar and his wife who’ve just returned from the Earth Kingdom.

“Any luck?” the Fire Lord asked.

“Not really,” Aang said disappointedly, “The King refused to let any of his troops leave his Kingdom. We’ll just have to fight with what’s left of the United Forces.”

We’ll have to fight,” Katara corrected him, “You’re staying right here in this camp.”

“I agree with the Mrs, Aang.” Zuko said, “It got real ugly out there. We shouldn’t risk it.”

“How is she, Zuko?” Katara stepped forward.

“She’s in the tent, you can check on her yourself.” he pointed, “But not well. And I haven’t exactly been able to help.”

“You’ll get it, Zuko. I know you will.” Aang put a hand on his shoulder to show support, even though he wasn’t really hopeful about their odds.

“I’ll go talk to Azula.” Katara made her way into the big tent.

oooooooooo

Toph was walking around, giving out orders when she sensed a gentle walk not far from where she was standing.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!”

“Sorry, Mom.” Su said.

“What did I tell you about letting me handle this?” Sokka looked back at her while she just shrugged.

“You are unbelievable!” Toph walked over to them, making the ground shake with every step.

“Mom, I-”

“Enough! I’ll deal with you later.” she turned to Sokka, “You! How could you bring her here?! Why didn’t you bring Iroh, too? Maybe he’d like to help!”

“Listen, I’m sorry…”

“Mom, I made him. It’s all me.” Su stood between them trying to defuse the situation. She really didn’t think about this when she asked to come.

“You need to grow a spine already!” Toph yelled at Sokka first then moved on to her daughter, “And you… We don’t have a lot of rules in our house and somehow your entire life’s purpose is to break them all.”

“So we have a rule about always leaving me behind? You wanted Lin to come…”

“Lin is an adult and a police officer. You couldn’t even bend on the armor yourself.”

“You were younger than me when you went to war.”

“Don’t you compare me to my parents!” Toph yelled, “Now, march into that tent and I don’t want to hear from you for the rest of the day. You’re not going to battle! Go man the radios or whatever it is non-benders do…”

Suyin sighed angrily and obeyed, dragging her feet towards the tents. Toph was glad she was leaving since they were attracting a lot of attention with all the yelling and the ground shaking. Just as she was about to start giving Sokka a piece of her mind she felt a large group of people coming their way.

They weren’t expecting reinforcements. His Daintiness, the Earth King, made that incredibly clear. But that didn’t change the fact that she felt earthbending in the distance.

“Oh, this day just keeps getting better…” Toph said as soon as she recognized one of the men leading the crowd. People could change a lot about how they looked, but it never worked on her.

“What’s happening, Mom?” Su stopped walking away and came a bit closer to look at the arriving soldiers. Their armor also signaled they were Earth Kingdom.

“I think Aang was looking for you, Sokka. You should go see what he wants.” Toph turned the earth below him so that he was facing the other way.

“You called me Sokka? What’s going on, Toph?” he turned back around and recognized the man leading the unit of Earth Kingdom soldiers, “Is that Kanto?”

“Who’s that?” Su cut in.

“I’ll handle him, you both leave!” Toph ordered, but they both just took a step back as the soldiers were really close now.

“That’s Lin’s dad.” Sokka whispered to his daughter while Kanto took off his helmet and walked to Toph.

“Oh.” Su’s eyes widened. Now that she knew, the man did kind of remind her of Lin.

“We aren’t supposed to get any help from you ladies.” Toph said instead of a greeting.

“How do you know the old fool didn’t change his mind?” Kanto asked.

“Did he?”

“No. He’s a pompous ass, like he always was. That’s why I forged his signature and got my men over here to fight.”

“He’s not the only pompous ass.”

“Easy… You told the King your firebending miracle needs back-up, well, here we are.” he smirked, “Truth be told, I thought you’d want to hit me with a rock on sight. Well, not sight-”

“There’s still time.”

“So where’s Lin?”

“She’s not here.”

“And even if she was,” Su spoke up suddenly to everyone’s surprise, “She wouldn’t want to have anything to do with you…”

“So you’re the other daughter?” Kanto took a step towards Suyin, but Sokka immediately appeared in his way.

“You don’t talk to her.” he said.

“Oh, I see. You finally stepped up and got the girl. Sonna, was it?” Kanto was obviously enjoying taunting him.

“You must remember me, Kanto… I’m the guy that kicked your ass last time you were in Republic City.”

“Enough!” Toph waved her hands and moved the earth under the two of them to separate them, “I could take both of you! Kanto, you did say you were here to help…”

“Of course,” he put his helmet back on, “I doubt you’d be willing to convey anything to Lin for me.”

“You got that right.” Toph said.

“Well, in case you change your mind… Tell her… Tell her, I don’t want to be as useless a person as I was a father. So I’m here to make a difference.”

“The King will want your head for this.”

“Just let him try…” he said and turned to lead his unit into battle.

“Not a word to Lin, are we clear?” Toph said after the earthbenders were all far.

“Definitely.” Sokka said, “I’ll go tell Aang we got some help with holding them off for Azula.”

As he was leaving he saw Zari walking in the opposite direction.

“So that’s where Lin gets that attitude...” Su joked.

“We’re not talking about this. And your sister is nothing like that man.” Toph snapped before noticing Zari.

“Suyin, your sister’s on her way here.” he said.

“What? Why would Lin be coming?” Toph asked.

“The Avatar just told me Tenzin and Lin left some time ago and are coming to help as well.” he stopped, seeing the two of them weren’t exactly happy about that, “I thought you’d want to know.”

“We do. Thank you.” Su blushed, but luckily for her Zari already left so he couldn’t see it.

“You didn’t tell me you liked Azula’s kid.” Toph smirked. She might not have seen her daughter blush, but her heartbeat gave it away even sooner.

“Mom… Spirits, could you be any more embarrassing?” Su rolled her eyes.

“You know I can sense these things. Literally.”

“Well, it doesn’t even matter. Can we drop it?” Su tried walking away, but her mother caught her hand.

“Trust me, you want to hear this last thing.” she paused, “He likes you, too.”

“You can’t know that.” Su suddenly became interested.

“Hearts don’t lie, Oma.”

“So what? I should… Like, tell him?”

“Well, I don’t know what you want to do. I just didn’t want another Tenzin situation. Those two waited years to tell each other, since I didn’t want to get involved.”

oooooooooo

“You wanted to see me, Dad?” Kya found her father sitting in his meditating position in the grass.

“Yeah, sweetie,” he got up and invited her to take a walk with him, “I wanted to talk to you about what happened at that festival. I would have done it sooner, but I’ve been a little busy.”

“I’m not sure I want to talk about it.”

“This war could soon be over. But that’s where the real struggle begins. That’s when you need to deal with what you’ve lost and what you’ve done.”

“Oh, I know what I’ve lost. I can’t forget even if I wanted to.” tears streamed from her eyes, “I loved her, Dad. And just like that she’s…”

Aang pulled his daughter into a hug, “I know.”

“We were planning on visiting the Island after the festival. I wanted all of you to meet her. Bumi would have loved her…” she pulled away and wiped her tears.

“It’s alright to grieve, Kya. But you mustn’t let it consume you.  Seeking revenge will not bring you peace.”

“I’m not going home, Dad! I’m here, I’m helping.”

“I know I can’t ask you to leave it all and just go home, even though, Spirits know, it’d make me feel a lot better. But I can ask you to think about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Are you fighting these people to help us stop them from hurting anyone else, or are you here just to make them feel what you felt?”

“Why can’t it be both? I thought you of all people would understand…”

“I do understand. I went through it, your mother went through it, and we both came out of it stronger. It’s as important to let your anger out as it is to let it go.”

“Well, I’ll admit, at first all I wanted was to take all my anger out on them. And I did, in that first battle.”

“And did it help, Kya. Did you feel happy after?”

“No…” Kya shook her head, “I felt worse. More lost than ever.”

“That’s because darkening your own heart is never the path to happiness.”

“I get it now, Dad. This time, I’m only fighting to stop the killing. Nothing else.”

 

Chapter Text

“Are you alright?” Su asked, after listening to a good five minutes of Zari tapping his foot on the ground. When she agreed to wait for his mother to be done with Katara, she thought they’d spent the time talking, not just sitting in awkward silence filled with tapping.

“To be honest, I’ve been better.” the Prince was sitting on one of the chairs in his mother’s tent so with nothing to do being still wasn’t that easy. With some strength of will he steadied his legs and reached under his shirt for his father’s necklace. He was developing a habit of holding onto it in hard times.

“You don’t have to worry. Aunt Katara is the best at what she does, even my mom admits that. And your mom is easily the best firebender in the world, you don’t have to worry.” she may have told him not to worry one too many times for it to be believable.

“You’re not going?” he asked to change the subject.

“No, I’ve been grounded in the middle of battle… That’s gonna be a funny story when I’m old.” Su smiled, but Zari didn’t follow her lead.

“Tell me what to do?” Su asked since she was lost, “Should I keep talking? Should I just shut up? Help me out…”

“I don’t want you to shut up.” he paused after that and let go of his necklace, “You know what my parents used to do when they were in a tight spot like this?”

Suyin shook her head no.

“My mom told me that whenever they found themselves with their back against the wall, they’d make each other promises on what they will do if they manage to fight their way out alive. Just start a sentence with If we get out of this…”

“If we get out of this, I… I don’t think I have anything. I just want things back to normal right now. You got one?”

“If we get out of this,” he started, “I’m not coming back to my crew. I’m going back home and I’m enrolling in university. That’s what I want to do, I don’t care what anyone thinks.”

“If we get out of this, I…” Su looked around the room thinking, “I’m going to try and fix things with Lin. We’ve never really gotten along, but she’s been kind of nice to me lately.”

“But you have to really do the things you promise here. That’s the point.”

“I know. I’ll really do it. Your turn.” she moved to the edge of her chair to be closer to him.

“If we get out of this, I want to take you to that play I promised when we first met. Just the two of us.” he reached over and took her hands into his.

“I’d like that.” Su saw he was getting closer as well and realized this could be it. Her first kiss. She’d imagined it countless times, reading all kinds of romance novels Kya lent her, and it was finally going to happen. She was ready! She saw Zari leaning in and closed her eyes like all the girls in the books did. Finally, after what felt like forever she felt his lips… On her cheek. That didn’t count, did it?

She opened her eyes to find him studying her face for a reaction. If you want something done right…

“I think you missed.” she smiled and leaned towards him to lock their lips.

Even though the kiss didn’t realistically last that long, it was still long enough for them to get caught. They were interrupted by Azula’s fake caught.

When they saw her the kids immediately jumped away from each other, like that’d fix anything... Su even took it as far as to actually get up like she was leaving.

“Oh, don’t let me interrupt. I can come back.” Azula smiled after realizing what had happened.

“No, I was just here while he waited for you.” Su explained, heading outside.

“Just out of curiosity, who finally gave in?” Azula asked, shocking both Su and Zari.

“Mom!” Zari couldn’t believe she just asked that aloud.

“Well, whoever it was I still win the bet…” Azula shrugged and walked inside.

“What bet?” Su asked.

“With your father. Since it was rather obvious you two would eventually end up together in one way or another, Sokka and I both placed a bet.”

“Wait, you bet your children would end up together?” Zari cut in.

“Of course not. We bet on when our children would end up together. I had before the age of eighteen, so I win. And we added who’d make the first move as a bonus.”

“Well, Su made the first move so I’m afraid you didn’t win everything,” Zari smiled.

Azula didn’t say anything, just gave him a look.

“Seriously, you bet against me?” he finally realized, while Su couldn’t help but laugh a little.

“I’ll let you two talk, since that’s why we came here.” she left the tent.

There were a few seconds of silence between the mother and son, while he studied her face. She was smiling, but she still looked off, even with the new armor and tidy hair. He could see she was in constant pain and her eyes were the ones to give it away.

“Was Katara able to help?” he asked.

“Yes, she only wishes she could have worked on me sooner.”

That wasn’t a total lie. Katara was able to help with her symptoms since they were similar to withdrawal, but she could do nothing to help how it felt. How it hurt not to draw heat from anything she could get her hands on. Katara helped make Azula presentable, which is what they needed.

“I know you didn’t want to see me, but I-” he started.

“No, love. I didn’t want you to see me like this.” she stopped herself from going too much into detail, “I still wish you weren’t going.”

“You know what I wish? I wish I never asked you to go out of hiding. I wish it was still just the two of us running our fleet…”

“You don’t mean that. You got to see the world, like you wanted. You met so many people, your uncle, your cousin, Suyin.”

“But I do.” his eyes filled with tears, “It’s all my fault. If I just lived with you without looking for something more, we wouldn’t be involved in any of this. I should have been happy with what we had. You gave me everything. You always kept me safe…”

“And now I’m doing the same thing. Keeping you safe. You and everyone else.”

“But why does it have to be you? There are so many living legends out there, real heroes… It’s not fair.”

“Because we don’t need a hero right now. Those men we’re fighting are monsters and the only thing that can beat them is an even bigger monster. And I’m the only monster we have.”

“You’re not a monster, you’re my mom.” he uttered before taking a step closer to hug her. He was holding on for a long time and she started suspecting that maybe Zuko had told him this might be the last time he sees her.

But he didn’t know. He couldn’t, but somehow he was feeling it.

oooooooooo

In a few minutes Zari left the tent and announced his mother to the large crowd already waiting outside. Azula came out with her head held high, looking like she could keep fighting this war forever. Like nothing was wrong. She was supposed to lead the march to the battlefield from their camp, and she’d be damned if she didn’t do it like a princess.

“Thank you for this.” Aang whispered, standing next to Azula.

“Thank me when I’ve actually done it, Avatar.”

“I just meant… This is usually my job.”

“Let’s just call it recompense for the time I spent making your job considerably harder.”

“I wouldn’t call it considerably…”

“I would.” she smirked.

Kya was also a part of the large group of gathered people. She was standing next to her mother when she noticed Lin and Tenzin standing beside Azula. Since they were on opposite sides of the crowd they couldn’t really speak, but Kya used a series of hand gestures to make it clear she wanted to meet Lin away from the others to talk.

“What?” Lin asked once they were away from all the noise.

“What are you doing here?! You were supposed to stay where it’s safe!” Kya grabbed Lin’s shoulders, “I can’t believe I even have to say this, but this is not a child-friendly war. You saw what those people do.”

Kya stopped, since she was suddenly flooded with memories of losing Nuo on that beach.

“I can protect myself. I couldn’t stay behind knowing all of you were in trouble.” Lin insisted.

“We’re not! Azula can handle this and-”

“Did you see her?! She’s not good, Kya! Izumi will have to finish this and we have to be there to help her. It’s on us now too.”

“Lin, I don’t want to watch anyone else die…”

“Then you stay behind! Because even if I am going to be a mother now, I’m still a friend and a sister and a police officer and I will never just stand aside.”

Kya didn’t know how to respond to that. One look at Lin’s face and it was obvious nothing she said would change her mind. Her thoughts were interrupted when Su ran between them and hugged her sister.

“What’s got you in such a good mood?” Lin asked, returning the hug carefully.

“I have something to tell you. You won’t believe who just showed up last minute with an army… Your-”

“Lin!” Toph yelled, “Why aren’t you in armor yet?! We’re moving out! This isn’t your little vacation anymore! Come on!”

“Duty calls, sis. Kya.” Lin got out of the hug and ran to find her suit. She was going to be careful. Yeah… No big whoop.

oooooooooo

Princess Azula was the one to lead their forces towards the battlefield since Aang was forced to stay behind. The Fire Lord and Prince Zari walked right next to the Princess, while Izumi was in the back with Bumi.

“Are you nervous?” Bumi asked while they were walking. He wanted to keep her mind off the threat for as long as possible, and honestly, his own too.

“I’m good.”

“I just thought I’d ask since I remember you used to have those panic attacks from time to time.”

“I’m not a teenager anymore. I’ve grown out of them.”

“Sorry. Last time we were together you-”

“I know. I’m not that girl anymore.”

“May I ask what your secret is?”

“I don’t know. I just stopped thinking like that. Azula taught me some breathing techniques. And that was it…”

“Good for you.” Bumi said and looked away.

“Princess,” one of the soldiers approached the two of them, “Princess Azula requests your presence at the front.”

“I’m coming.” she said and immediately started heading for her aunt. Bumi followed behind, but the soldier stopped him.

“Just Princess Izumi, I’m afraid.”

“Listen, you-” Bumi started, but was interrupted.

“Bumi, just wait for me here. I’m sure it won’t be long.” Izumi asked and got a nod as a response. She followed the soldier to Azula next and found herself at the front of the army.

Now she could clearly see the flames in the distance. It looked like the Earth Kingdom unit was putting up one hell of a resistance. Toph couldn’t see it, but she could feel people bending and then stopping suddenly. The stopping was happening a lot and it kind of made her nervous. It’s not that she cared if Kanto died, or anything, she just didn’t want it like this.

“You wanted to see me, Aunt Azula?” Izumi asked.

“Yes, final instructions.” Azula looked at the horizon, “If I go down… I need you to finish this.”

“But I…”

“You’re the next strongest firebender we have. I don’t know if your father has it in him. Nevertheless, I’m counting on you.”

“Alright. I practiced, I got this.”

“No. You don’t go in with heat absorption, unless I’m down. Understood?”

“Why not? I can take it!”

“No. Listen, when you start it’ll hurt and it’ll be hard, but then you’ll start to get the hang of it. You’ll feel like you can do it… That’s when you stop. Or you’ll cross the point of no return. Understand?!”

“Yes. Do it, but don’t like it.”

“Exactly. And, Izumi? Remember, one day you could be the single greatest Fire Lord our nation ever had. So you have to come back.”

“I’m not sure about greatest…”

“Yes, you will be! I know these things.”

oooooooooo

They soon reached the battlefield, but before they were even there one of their enemies fired a lightning bolt at the Fire Lord. Azula realized what he was planning and jumped in front of Zuko to intercept it. The lightning hit right into her chest, but she absorbed all of it.

“I thought you said I was ready to try it?” Zuko asked.

“Not this ready.” she turned to his attacker and fired the lightning back at him, stronger this time. Zuko helped her with his fire and soon they overloaded the man’s absorbing power.

After that Azula continued taking down firebenders in quite the same way as she did on the North Pole. Others just helped occupy some of the enemies so they wouldn’t all swarm the Princess at the same time.

Izumi stuck to regular bending this time, even though she felt a slight pull to start using the new technique again. Guess, she wasn’t as far from the edge as she thought. She mostly stayed next to Bumi and Sokka in the off chance they faced something that was more than their swords could handle.

Kya kept close to her mother, since they used each other’s water often, while Tenzin lingered around Lin and Toph whose joined earthbending moves were making the ground tremble miles in every direction.

Then out of nowhere, a big fire stream comes straight for Lin. She saw it just in time to pull up a giant wall of earth in front of the blast, but it wasn’t enough. The blast kicked down the wall and sent debris and Lin flying across the field.

“No!” Kya screamed.

“Not my daughter!” Toph immediately crushed the firebender responsible beneath a ton of rocks.

“Is she…” Katara started.

“She’s alive!” Toph said, feeling the ground with her hand, sensing her daughter’s heartbeat.

“Then leave her! We cleared this area, she’ll be fine!” Katara yelled and turned around to keep fighting her way forward.

“She’s pregnant!” Kya couldn’t hold her tongue anymore. Why couldn’t Lin just listen to her?!

Upon hearing that, both Katara and Toph ran to Lin. Kya didn’t realize Tenzin was in the earshot of those news as well, but as soon as she spilled Lin’s secret he stopped everything he was doing and ran over too.

“Lin, sweetie, can you hear me?” Katara kneeled on the ground next to her and started assessing her condition, “Kya, you go on!”

Kya listened to her mother and ran further to help Bumi out, while Tenzin continued standing next to them, shocked out of his mind.

“In or out, Baby Daddy?” Toph asked, before putting up an earth tent around them to give Katara the peace to work. Tenzin knew he was supposed to be on the inside of it, but not much else. He didn’t do much except stare in shock. His head was spinning trying to cope with what he’d just heard.

“Lin, I really need you to answer!” Katara tried louder.

“Mhm… I hear… You.” Lin managed, “I’m sorry…”

She wasn’t really sure who she meant that for. Maybe for Tenzin for not telling him when she should have. Maybe for her mother and Katara for endangering their grandchild. And maybe for the baby who didn’t deserve any of this.

Then suddenly, Lin felt her mother take her hand.

“Lin, I’m going to check if the baby is alright now.” Katara said and took out her bending water to place it on Lin’s stomach.

“I’m not feeling a heartbeat for the baby.” Toph said with one of her hands on the ground to get a better feel.

“Oh, no…” Lin turned her head away from everyone as tears started pouring down her face. Then she felt her mother’s hand squeeze hers.

“What I mean is, I’ve been around you a lot these past few weeks and I never felt two heartbeats. Unless it’s really early…”

“And you felt a… Heartbeat for me?” Lin asked through the tears.

“Of course. There I was, getting ready for bed when I feel something. I didn’t get what it was right away, but it soon became my favorite thing in the world.”

“There never was a baby.” Katara concluded her examination, “Kya must have made a mistake.”

Everyone there seemed relieved, not just Lin.

“I can’t breathe.” she managed.

“That’s because your ribs are cracked. I’ll need to work on them right now.”

oooooooooo

As Azula was using her new power more and more she started feeling like a normal person again. Her mind cleared and her body stopped aching. But like any addiction, she had to be aware it wouldn’t stay like this. She had to know she could reach her limit at any moment.

Then, suddenly a giant lightning struck the sky above them. The thunder sound was deafening and it left Azula disoriented for a few moments. When she snapped back into reality she realized that every single one of her enemies had stopped attacking. She looked back at Zuko, Zari and the rest, but they looked as confused as she was.

Then she noticed someone was coming towards her. A woman, roughly her age was making her way across the battlefield while firebenders just cleared out of her way.

So she was in charge…

“That’s close enough!” Azula yelled and the woman stopped.

“The legendary Princess Azula! I see you’ve taken to our way of life.”

“It’s not a way of life, it is a death sentence!” Zuko cut in.

“You will not speak here! A firebender famous for his burn… Pathetic!” the woman shut him up.

I came here to fight you. This is between you and me.” Azula said, preparing to react to a strike at any moment.

Be the monster. Be the monster. Be the…

“You know, our original plan involved putting you back on the throne.” the woman said.

“I’m flattered, but I organize my own coups, thank you very much.”

“But look at you now! A woman who was once a firebending legend, now no more than her brother’s shadow…”

“You know, under the right light, a shadow can be much, much larger than the man that casts it.” Azula smirked, “Now are you finally going to shut up and fight me?”

“You can’t seriously believe you’d beat me with a technique I brought back from the dead. I spent my entire life studying it.”

“And I flipped through the texts over a slow weekend. But you’re still afraid…”

“I’m not afraid!” the woman got visibly agitated.

“Then give your men the signal and let’s finish this!” Azula got into her stance.

“I will kill you, don’t worry. But not until you remember me.”

“I don’t know you.”

“But you do. You just need a little reminder… Royal Fire Academy for Girls.” the woman pulled her hair back to give the Princess a better look at her face.

“Akai?” Azula’s smile disappeared.

“You know her?” Zuko asked.

“From school.” Azula said.

“No, no… Tell him. Tell your brother what you did.” Akai insisted.

“Azula?”

“She was the fourth friend,” Azula reluctantly started, “It was me, Mai, Ty Lee and Akai. Until I had to show her to her place. She was always a bending elitist, but one day she decided Ty Lee and Mai were slowing us down. Then she attacked.”

“Are you telling me this is some personal vendetta you have against my sister?!” Zuko couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“Far from it. Azula’s still welcome to join us.” Akai answered.

“Are you sure? I know we were ten, but I destroyed you in that match.”

“It was more of an ambush than a match.”

“Well, I see you’ve moved past it.”

“I have.”

“Then, what are you waiting for? Afraid I’ll beat you again?”

“So you’re a hero now? Just like that?” Akai didn’t look like she was interested in striking anytime soon, while Azula could feel her bending frenzy dissolving. She was going to start feeling withdrawal symptoms soon. And she could feel they’d be much worse.

“Trust me, I’m every bit as vicious as you remember me.” Azula relaxed her posture to appear like she could go on like this forever.

“You know what I find hard to live with?”

“That face?”

“No. The fact that you’re just forgiven now… I heard you were on the run and then five years ago, boom, here you are. A hero. My parents died in prison for what they did in the war, like they weren’t just following orders when they burned those villages! And I was left alone to fend for myself!”

“And you think I got reworded for what I did?” Azula asked.

“I’m saying, if you want to punish war criminals, Fire Lord Zuko, you should start with the ones in your family tree! And if that’s not enough, she also escaped prison and I can only imagine one does not stay on the run long without breaking the law repeatedly.”

“Princess Azula got a royal pardon for helping the nation evade a crisis, years ago.” Zuko explained.

“Exactly my point!” Akai smirked, “And who cares about the rest of us, who weren’t born princesses! I hope you see now I had no choice, but to turn to the only advantage I had. My father had scrolls describing the hardest firebending ever known to human kind. He used them scarcely, like the coward he was, but I… I had nothing to lose and everything to gain…”

Akai stopped for a second and looked at Azula carefully. The Princess was beginning to tremble, a symptom she knew all too well.

“The trick, I discovered, was to ease yourself into it. Start slow, build on it patiently… Something that you probably wish you’d done right about now.” Akai smirked.

“Enough! I challenge you to an Agni Kai!” Azula yelled.

“Why would I accept when we all know my army is stronger?”

“Because you’ve been waiting for this rematch since you were ten…”

“Fine. Just me and you. Anyone who dares interrupt will die at my hand instantly.”

Satisfied with how terrible the Princess looked, Akai jumped forward until she was a few meters from Azula and put out her hand. In seconds Azula felt an incredible coldness overcome her. So that was how it felt…

She quickly mimicked the woman’s stance and begun matching her attack. She was always a strong believer in offense as the best defense. She’d managed to drain people without touching them on the Pole and she hoped she’d be able to repeat that now.

Everyone watched speechlessly while the two women both groaned in pain, trying desperately to overpower the other. Zari should have been frozen with fear at that moment, but he wasn’t. He believed with every fiber of his being that his mother couldn’t lose. He’d never seen her fail at anything she set her mind to. She always won in the end, she always found a way. Always.

So however it pained him to watch her suffer like this, he stuck it out, since he knew… He knew she’d bounce back any minute now. Any minute now…

Then he noticed his mother was slowly getting paler with every second that passed. No! She couldn’t… Her knees trembled, then finally buckled and in just a few moments Azula was kneeling on the ground, but still fighting off Akai just barely.

This sight reduced Zari to tears. He immediately prepared himself to run over there and help her, but he was stopped by Zuko pulling him into his arms. The boy struggled and tried to break free, but Zuko knew better than to let him go. He turned so that Zari was facing away from the scene and hugged the boy without a word. After a few moments Zari hugged back and buried his face in his uncle’s shoulder to cry.

“That’s right.” Akai smirked looking down at Azula, “You know, I actually thought you’d be better.”

“I am better!” Azula used all of her strength to push herself forward in hopes of getting a better grip on Akai, but her enemy anticipated this and moved out of the way. Azula hit the ground, stopping her attack altogether. She would have been dead if Akai didn’t end her attack as well.

“This is it?! This is who you chose to protect you?! Is this the best you have?!” Akai yelled to the opposing army. Upon hearing it, Izumi took one step forward, with the intention of confronting her, but Bumi stopped her by grabbing her hand. He looked straight into her eyes and shook his head no.

Azula was already clinging to consciousness by a thread, but falling to the ground made things so much worse. Her eyes were open, but instead of seeing Akai grinning down at her she saw Zuko in their Agni Kai. It was just bits and quick flashes, but all the anger she felt back then, all that hurt came back in a sudden. No, this couldn’t be happening now… Her breathing became quick and erratic. Slowly, she tried to push the images out of her head and stand. She made it back onto her knees, but couldn’t get further up.

“I bet you regret you didn’t keep me as an ally now…” Akai said.

“I don’t regret.”

As Akai pointed her hand towards her one last time, Azula closed her eyes. She felt she was moments from losing her consciousness anyway. At least it wouldn’t hurt if she blacked out first.

The next flashes in her mind were ones she called forth. Her and Zuko playing in the gardens without any parents around. Discovering she could make her fire burn blue. Traveling with Ty Lee and Mai at her side. The look in her husband’s eyes when she told him she’d marry him. Zari beating her at Pai Sho for the first time. Zuko inviting her back home.

She wasn’t ready for that moment to come to an end yet, she would have done anything to hold on a little longer. There were so many memories…

Firebending comes from the breath.

She recalled and stopped herself from exhaling. It made her feel like she’d stopped time.

Then she felt a touch on her shoulder. A touch, but not pain.

She opened her eyes to see a very confused Akai staring down at her. She was touching her, but it didn’t hurt. Akai looked like she had every intention on finishing her, but it wasn’t happening.

Firebending comes from the breath. Lock the breath, stop the energy from flowing…

Azula stood up, still holding her breath and channeled all her strength into punching Akai in the face. As soon as the woman’s hand was off her, Azula breathed in.

“How are you doing that?! What is that?!” the panic in Akai’s voice was apparent.

“Something that allows me to do this.” Azula stepped towards her, held her breath again and tried striking one of the points on the body Ty Lee showed her. Akai dodged, recognizing chi-blocking immediately. She seemed even more scared now since she retreated as far as she could without going into the crowd.

“No! I had you! You were half dead!” Akai yelled from a safe distance.

“Oh, this isn’t over yet.” Azula looked over to her side, to Sokka who understood immediately and threw her his sheathed sword.

She caught it and drew out the blade.

“I don’t need to use my bending to beat you.” Azula smiled, “What? No draining anymore? Afraid I’ll      block it?”

Akai looked in shock, before turning around towards the crowd of her own soldiers. She put her hands in the air and almost instantly drained around twenty of them. Her own people… Some others tried fighting back, but she only sucked in their attacks.

“Akai, stop! Surrender!” Azula started, “Surrender, damn you!”

“Let’s see you ignore this away!” Akai started doing the movement for creating lightning. Since she absorbed so much energy before, the sparks flying from her fingers as she moved were huge.

Even the clouds started showing sparks directly above where the woman was standing.

“It’s too much! Don’t be stupid!” Azula screamed, but Akai didn’t listen, “Stop!”

At the exact moment Akai’s right hand was at its highest, a giant bolt of lightning from the clouds struck her. That was finally more than she could handle so she detonated. The blast threw all near bystanders onto the ground.

In a few moments all of them started getting up slowly, all of them except Azula.

“Mom!” Zari was the first one to reach the unconscious Princess. He knew he couldn’t do much to help her, so he just took her hand and called for her.

“Mom, please! Please, wake up! Mom…”

“Zari, I’m sorry…” Zuko put a hand on the young man’s shoulder in the hopes of pulling him away.

“No! She’ll wake up, if she hears me!”

“Zari…” Zuko tried.

“Mom!” Zari felt for a pulse, but couldn’t feel one.

“No…” tears blurred his vision, but he wiped them off with one move and put his hands above his mother’s body. He breathed in deeply and sent a small electrical charge through her heart.

Azula’s body twitched, but nothing changed. She was still lying down lifelessly.

“Come on, Zari…” Zuko couldn’t bare look at this anymore, so he just started pulling his nephew away.

“Leave him.” Azula spoke softly and then opened her eyes. Zari leaned down to hug her.

“You gave us quite the scare.” Zuko smiled down at her, “We need a healer over here! Kya!”

The rest of Akai’s army of firebenders was in a difficult position at that moment. They hadn’t really built a chain of command and they were left without someone to take charge. It was also a little disheartening to see Azula completely counter the best firebender they had.

Izumi saw they were looking at one another, thinking about their next move. Her aunt barely made it out alive, her dad was trying to help her stay that way…  Izumi felt it was on her to fix the situation now. She looked over to Bumi for approval and he gave her a nod.

“You are all Fire Nation citizens!” Izumi stepped forward so that everyone could see her, “And you are all unwell. Some of you chose this, others were forced or not given enough information, but all of you deserve to get better.”

Izumi made a long pause and looked over to her dad to see if he agreed with what she was saying. Then she continued, even louder.

“I have read the texts, same as you! I have abused their tricks, same as you! A Lone Flame by Master Akal reads I have never heard of a colony of our kind surviving more than a month, and I do not believe it to be possible,  for once one discovers the effects of new fire it becomes as essential to the body as air. Firebenders who’ve practiced this have a zero percent survival rate! That means if you continue down this road, you will die! But if you surrender now, you have my promise as a Princess to this great nation that you will be given the help you need, before even thinking about any kind of trial.”

She seemed to have the people’s attention, but they still didn’t show any signs of moving.

“Surrender and we will all find a way to fight this together. Surrender and live!” Izumi added and one of the men standing closest to her dropped to his knees and put his hands on the ground in front of him. More and more soldiers followed his lead until they were all down on the ground.

 

Chapter Text

 

In the week following the Battle for the Fire Nation every person who engaged in the utilization of the heat absorption technique was taken to the South Pole. Chief Sokka organized a facility there to accommodate them as they worked towards their recovery, while at the same time employed a considerable number of guards to keep them from checking themselves out. It was Katara’s idea to use a location on one of the Poles, since it provided the cold necessary to make relapsing considerably harder, as well as an abundance of healers available at a moment’s notice.

Katara also temporarily relocated to the South Pole to run the facility, while Aang returned to Republic City. Kya and Tenzin both decided they wanted to help their mother and followed her when she moved. Kya’s healing skills proved invaluable, while Tenzin made himself useful by helping people overcome their temptation through meditation.

All was going well and the first patients were released in just a week. Izumi and Zari were both amongst them since they merely scratched the surface of what heatbending could accomplish. Since the Fire Lord’s palace was still in ruins, they traveled back to Air Temple Island while Zuko got all that mess sorted out. Tenzin decided he’d had enough of the Pole and decided to return home with them.

The Beifongs were the only ones who could return to their normal lives without a scratch. Well, almost. Lin did sustain quite a few fractures from being thrown across the field. Katara did the best she could with her healing abilities, but Lin still spent the first week mostly lying in her bed. She needed lots of help in the beginning and her mother did the best she could, all the while complaining Lin should just walk it off and quit whining. Lin figured admitting her daughter was seriously hurt was too much for Toph to handle.

oooooooooo

“Mom? Did you take my suitcase from Air Temple Island?” Lin yelled from her room, “Mom!”

“How was I expected to worry about your stuff?” she heard Toph yelling from the other side of the apartment, “You’re not three!”

“I couldn’t walk!”

“You could speak! You could have told me!”

“Can you pick it up today?” Lin asked, but got no answer, “Mom! Did you hear me?!”

Lin carefully got out of bed and hobbled out of her room to find her mother. She made it to the living room, but there she only found Suyin listening to the radio.

Su scowled at her and then got up to leave, not saying a word.

“Su, wait! I can’t chase you!” Lin said, but tried to catch up anyway. Su did stop and turn around, but she still refused to say a word or look at Lin.

“I’m sorry, alright?”

“That’s such a nice apology…” Su rolled her eyes.

“Then what do you want?!”

“You know!”

“Su, I… It was a really difficult time for me. I wanted to tell you about the baby, I really did, but it… It doesn’t even matter now, it wasn’t real.”

“But you didn’t know that! We’re sisters, but you leave me out of everything!”

“This may be hard for you to grasp, but not everything in this world revolves around you!”

“You know what? This may be hard for you to grasp, but I’m going to Zari’s welcome so I don’t have to look at you!” Su grabbed her jacked and bolted out of the house.

Lin tried to run and yell something after her, but she tripped and fell flat on the floor.

“What are you doing, Linny?” Toph came out of her bedroom and used her earthbending to get Lin back on her feet. Then she helped her to the sofa.

“Why is she so mad? I don’t get it!” Lin put her head into her hands and sighed, “You’re not mad.”

“I get it. If I were you, I wouldn’t have told us either.” Toph’s tone sounded almost disappointed, “But if you’d told me, I would have helped.”

“Mom, I-”

“I know… I love that you’re an independent kid. I went even further, I only told my mother about you when I was a month away from my due date. She tried, but I could hear the judgement in her voice. This was after we made up, but I almost walked out of there and never came back.”

“That sucks, Chief.” Lin realized long ago using Chief made it easier not to get emotional.

“I’m just saying I would never do that to you.” Toph got up and prepared to go out, “I’ll tell those lilies at the station you’ll be back sometime next week, good?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Lin nodded, “Can you pick up my suitcase from Air Temple Island?”

“No, I got so much work to catch up on. I’ll be at the station night and day.”

“Guess, I’ll do it myself then.”

“That’s my girl.”

oooooooooo

“I can’t believe I missed his first time bending…” Izumi said putting little Iroh on the floor, “Come on, show mommy what you can do. Like this.”

She made a fireball in her palm to demonstrate.

“He’s playing coy now, but you should have seen him when we came back.” Bumi started, “The rug was on fire, he was traipsing around giggling and Mai was just sitting in the corner staring into the flames like she’d given up…”

 “Which I see now is not funny.” he corrected himself after getting a look.

“Boo-boo!” Iroh called from the floor.

“Well, I’ve learned that means me.” Bumi sat next to the boy and ruffled his hair a little.

“Thank you for the last week, truly. My parents are so busy getting everything back the way it was, I don’t know how a baby would fit into that. And his dad is… You know. But I don’t want him raised by servants.”

“It was my pleasure to look after the little prince. We had so much fun.” Bumi picked up the baby, “We talked about chicks. I taught him how to shave. On myself. We played catch. Well… We played throw.”

Izumi chuckled.

“Thank you.” she leaned in and kissed his cheek.

“I’m just sorry he’s too young to understand the awesome story of how his mother single-handedly stopped a war.”

“That’s not what happened… Azula is the one-”

“Only thing Azula did was face her old bully. Actually, she was the bully. So only thing she did was find her old bullyee and finish the job.” he paused and looked into the distance, “When Iroh’s in school, we should leave that part out. It does not set a good example.”

“We?”

Upon realizing what he’d said, Bumi returned Iroh to his mother’s hands and, quite literally, took a few steps back.

“I just meant… You literally talked them into surrendering. With your words… That’s way cool. Little Iroh is going to win every My mom is cooler than your mom competition ever.”

“You’re rambling…” Izumi lowered Iroh back into his crib.

“You can’t prove that.”

She walked over to him smiling and slowly took his hands.

“I love you.” she said before leaning in for a kiss.

“I love you too.” he said after pulling away, “But it’s not enough, is it?”

“Am I that obvious?”

“When you have as much experience as I do, you begin feeling it in the air. The calm before the break-up.”

“That’s odd. I remember our last break-up going differently.”

“Well, there was a lot more fire.” he said, “But I wanted this to go very differently… I was going to start with some speech about how you’re gonna be Fire Lord someday and how I’d love to be your Fire Wife. I’ve got the hair for it… And I couldn’t buy a ring, because I was with Iroh all day long, but-”

“Stop. Don’t ask, please.” she looked at the floor before finding the strength to continue, “We don’t work. We love each other so much, but outside of a world-scale crisis, we’re not good together. As soon as the danger quiets down we fall apart.”

“And you wanna end it while we’re on a roll?”

“I want to end it before someone gets hurt. Especially Iroh.”

“You have to know I would never-”

“But you would. As long as you’re out there… As long as you feel you have something to prove to Spirits-know-who…”

“To the world.”

“I told you countless times you don’t have anything to prove to anyone!” she paused, “But there is something in you that makes you seek out danger or disappear for months at a time or cheat if given the chance… That’s why I can’t marry you. I could learn to live with it somehow, but it’s not just about me anymore. The man I marry also has a responsibility towards Iroh and towards my nation.”

“All three of you deserve better. Better than me.” Bumi let go of her hands and took a step towards the door, “So we’re not taking a break, we’re really done?”

“Romantically? Yes. Platonically? I think we’ve proven here that we can’t be trusted to just be friends.”

“I get it. I’ll stay away. I’ll… I’ll go back to work, I’ll go on the first mission that comes up. You don’t have to worry about me… Promise.”

“And I won’t be marrying the first guy I see. Promise.”

Bumi was already at the door, when he took one last look at the Princess and her son.

“You know, that Rei really was a lucky bastard…” he added before leaving.

oooooooooo

“Please, Miss... Prince Zari needs rest.”

“Get out of my way.” Zari heard Suyin’s voice in the hallway and then a thump.

“But, Miss…”

Su entered the Prince’s room, slamming the door in the air acolyte’s face. Then she smiled innocently before hugging Zari.

“I’m so glad you’re back. It’s such a drag here without you!” Su realized her hands were around his neck so she removed them slowly. She didn’t really know what they were right now.

“Well, I’m as good as new!” he smiled awkwardly, “How’s Lin doing?”

“Better than she deserves…”

“Su.”

“I don’t want to talk about her right now. She’ll live.”

“What about your promise?” Zari smiled to lighten the mood since mentioning Su’s sister seemed to be the worst possible move.

“What about your promise to take me to see a play?”

“I’m not doing anything now… Want to go?” he put out his hand.

“I actually do.” she took it.

“Just so we’re on the same page… Are we going in the boy-girl way or in the two-friends way?” and to think he was usually so eloquent…

“I don’t know. I kissed you, remember?”

“Yeah, we didn’t get a chance to talk-”

“It was before a battle. It was high tension. I did it. It just happened… If you don’t-”

“I was gonna ask if you maybe want to do it again now.”

Su nodded and started leaning in before he stopped her.

“I’m sorry. I…” he mumbled.

“I don’t get it, you just said-”

“I know. But it’s not right.” he sighed, “I’m leaving for the Fire Nation in a few days and you’ve got school here. There’s no telling when we’ll see each other again…”

“Zari, just because we kiss doesn’t mean I want you to marry me.” Su chuckled, “It’s alright by me if we just have a couple of days of fun and that’s it.”

“So you’re not my girlfriend?”

“No. But I am your date to the play. Let’s just have some fun, we’ve all earned it.”

Zari cut her off with a kiss, which as far as Su could tell, was considerably less awkward and clumsy than their first.

“You want to take the dragon?” he asked.

“Flameo, yes! I wanna take the dragon.”

oooooooooo

Lin stood in front of the door to Tenzin’s room. She was so glad she didn’t have to worry about her stress harming the baby anymore, because she didn’t think she could hold it back at that moment. She took a deep breath and stormed in, stopping only when she realized the room was occupied. She expected many years of memories of that room to make this difficult, but she wasn’t prepared for Tenzin staring at her from his bed.

“Um… Lin… I…” he mumbled before giving up on speaking completely. He wasn’t expecting her any more than she was expecting him.

“We don’t have to talk. I’m just here to get my stuff.” Lin said and started collecting her clothes as quickly as her injuries allowed her, “I’ll be out of here right away. You can wait in the hallway if you’d like.”

They haven’t really talked to one another since he found out she lied. He didn’t come visit her while she was recovering, instead he volunteered to work on another continent without talking to her. She assumed that meant they were through.

“Lin. Could you just pause for a second?” he got up and stopped her hand from packing.

“Why?” she finally gathered the strength to look him in the eye.

“I want to talk.”

“But you hate confrontation. I thought I’d make it easy and just leave. I know it’s over…”

“Please, just sit with me.” he gestured to the bed and then gently helped her sit down since her leg still hurt from that fall this morning.

They sat in silence for a few moments, Lin’s gaze avoiding his.

“I’m sorry.” Tenzin kicked things off.

You’re sorry? For what?” she finally made eye contact, “I’m the one that…”

“Yes, but I ran away like I always do. I avoided you… I begged to go to the Pole so I wouldn’t have to face this. I was completely useless when I found out. You were hurt and I left you to deal with all of that alone… I’m a coward.”

“Oh, you’re the coward? If I’d just told you in time, all of that could have been avoided. I’m the coward and I’m sorry.”

Tenzin reached to cup her face with one hand and then pulled her closer to him until their foreheads were touching.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he whispered since they were so close now.

“I don’t know… I wanted to.” she sighed, “Tez, you know I’m never scared of anything. But this, when I found out, it scared me. I didn’t think you’d understand.”

“Believe me, when I heard it, I was terrified. I’m not ready! Not nearly. That’s why I stood there like a mute idiot… You handled it better than me. I almost fainted from two minutes of thinking I was going to be a father. You went through two weeks of that. I can’t even imagine how-”

She cut him off by kissing him. She’d been so stupid. Of course, he understood. He always understood. That’s why she loved him.

“So we’re not over?” she asked.

“Spirits, no! I love you.” he smiled.

“I know, but you have to be aware that I did a lot of thinking in the two weeks and I came to the conclusion that I’m not made to be a mother.”

“You don’t mean that…”

“But I do. Tenzin, I wasn’t even pregnant and I was a bad mom... I tried to be responsible, but as soon as I heard someone needed my help I couldn’t ignore it. You’re supposed to put your kids first and I don’t think I can. I know that sounds selfish…”

“It doesn’t. It’s the opposite.”

“I know you have to have children, but…”

“We have the rest of our lives to talk about that. I’m just glad to be back here with you.” he kissed her, “How are you feeling? You want to stay here where I can pamper you until you’re better?”

“Nonsense. I’m fine.”

Just as Lin said that, Bumi entered the room without knocking. He stopped when he saw the two of them sitting on the bed in an embrace.

“Am I interrupting? Are you two back together?!” he asked and got two wide smiles as answers.

“Yes, we are.” Tenzin said.

Bumi actually came to talk to his brother about his recent break-up with Izumi. He was pretty devastated, but all that was pushed to the back of his mind when he saw Tenzin and Lin together again.

“Spirits, yes! Yes!” he came charging at the two of them and pulled them both into a hug, “You guys are my favorite couple.”

“Bumi, Lin’s hurt!” Tenzin tried to push him back.

“Sorry, Lady Beifong.” Bumi fake bowed, “Dad, Tenzin and Lin are back together! Izumi!”

“Bumi, what are you doing?” Tenzin tried to make him stop.

“No, let him.” Lin smiled and Tenzin mirrored her.

“That’s great news.” Aang appeared in the hallway outside the open room.

“I’m calling Mom!” Bumi ran out.

oooooooooo

Azula’s recovery proved to be the hardest of all Katara’s patients. Her symptoms were by far the strongest and on many occasions nearly ended her life. To make matters worse, Azula’s mental issues resurfaced briefly in her darkest moments. Despite all of that, Katara forbade visitation and only allowed letters ever so often.

After six months of hard work, Katara finally cleared Azula. She was allowed to go back to her normal life. Allowed to see her family again.

It was no surprise to Katara that Azula was fully packed and ready to leave fifteen minutes after she got the good news.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wait two days so we’d go together?” Katara asked, signing Azula’s discharge letter.

“I really want to see my son as soon as possible.”

“I see.” Katara finished writing her name, but still didn’t hand the paper over to Azula, “Maybe I could do with just one day…”

“No, thank you. I’d really like that document now.” Azula made her annoyance apparent.

“Maybe just a few hours to gather my things… We didn’t even arrange for your transport to the Fire Nation. You’ll have to ask one of the ship captains to take you on.”

“I’ll manage.” Azula put out her hand, expecting to be given the paper. She looked like she was ready to start sprinting the second she got it.

“Alright then. Safe travels.” Katara sighed and handed Azula the document.

The Princess carefully put it away and gracefully left the building. She made it exactly three feet away from the door before quickly coming back.

“I know you helped everyone, not just me. I know you would have acted the same way even if I was still your enemy. I know you do all this not for friendship or glory, but… Because for some to me incomprehensible reason you want to. And I want you to know that no matter how insufferably self-righteous, hypocritical and phoney I think you are, I will never forget this.”

“Is that supposed to be praise?” Katara asked.

“That’s a thank you. Thank you, Katara, really.”

Katara was stunned, so she just nodded and watched as Azula left again. For real this time.

The Princess trudged through the snow, thinking of home. She knew only what her family decided to include in her letters, which was not much. She knew the palace was rebuilt better than before, so she was curious to see that. She also knew Zari spent the last half a year at the Fire Nation capitol, studying at the best university in the whole country. He really seemed serious about this, he even sent her a photograph of his new, now Fire Nation appropriate, hairstyle.

She was snapped out of her thoughts by a sky bison landing in her way. She expected it was her brother attempting some lame welcome, or even Zari being inpatient, but she was surprised when she realized it was just Sokka.

“Let’s go! All aboard for the Fire Nation!” he lowered himself from Appa.

“Don’t you have things to do, Chief?”

“I’m glad you asked... No. I cleared my schedule. I borrowed Appa. And I will be your chauffeur today. I’m taking you home, Princess.” he took her bags.

“That’s not necessary.”

“No, it’s not necessary, but you’re getting the full package today.” he went ahead and loaded her bags onto Appa, “During the ride, you can choose between complete silence and any of my charming stories to entertain you.”

“I choose silence.” she smirked.

“Well, you can change your choice at any time.” he gestured to the saddle, “My Lady.”

“My Lord.”

“Oh, Spirits, did she just play along?!” Sokka clenched his chest jokingly, “Now I can die happy.”

“How about that silence, Chief?”

“One long and not at all awkward silence, coming right up!”

oooooooooo

During their journey Sokka kept his silence promise so well Azula changed her mind about it in less than an hour. He was telling her all about how Zuko rebuilt most of the capital city when they finally spotted it in the distance. Since Azula grew up there she thought she might dislike the changes, at least at first, but she was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it was new and different, but also better in a way. That place changed since she was a child, it went into a new era with a new Fire Lord… It was only fitting it looked differently too.

Appa landed somewhere in the royal gardens, or at least that was what Azula assumed they were, near a giant stone wall. She noticed a small crowd was there waiting for her already. To no one’s surprise, Zari was the first one to run up to her and give her a hug.

“I’m so glad you’re home, I have so many things to show you! Uncle Zuko and I redesigned everything!”

“You helped build all this?” Azula tried her best to not sound emotional, but this was the longest she’d ever been apart from her son. She’d be happy just looking at him from a distance.

“Yeah, I met this girl in class, she’s studying architecture, and she pitched us some ideas. She ended up collaborating with our old architect and the result it…” Zari spoon around gesturing to all their surroundings, “I can’t wait to show you, you won’t recognize any of it!”

“I barely recognized you…”

“I know!” he straightened his attire, “I dressed all traditional for today since I knew you’d like it.”

She couldn’t argue with the boy, he was dressed like an old fashioned Fire Prince, he even wore the flame shaped headpiece and everything. Now that she thought about it, everyone that came to greet her was dressed formally…

“And since we know you hate public displays of emotion,” Izumi spoke up, “We agreed we each get one hug and one sentence. That’s it.”

“How about one sentence from all of you together and no hugs?”

Izumi ignored the request and walked forward to hug her aunt.

“And the sentence?” Azula asked.

“Thank you for not letting me be the one.” Izumi whispered into her ear during the hug.

“I’m next.” Kiyi stepped closer, but not all the way to her half-sister, “I’m sorry I wasn’t much help. As a royal guard I should have protected all of you, but I was captured almost immediately.”

“I know that’s two sentences, but I’m trading it for the hug.” she added.

“Don’t be sorry. The information you got to us was crucial.” Azula nodded.

The next one to hug her was Mai.

“Ty Lee is really sorry she couldn’t be here, but Kyoshi Day is this week and she has preparations to make.” Mai still seemed to be struggling with her right hand, but she looked happy. It was a bit unusually for her, actually.

“Where’s Zuko?” Azula asked, maybe two seconds before spotting him walking towards them, “Are you going to hug me too, Zuzu?”

“No, I prepared something you actually want.” he smirked.

“And what is that?”

“Something you wanted ever since you were a child…”

“To humiliate you in a fight?” Azula’s comment made everyone chuckle.

“Before that.”

“To be Fire Lord?”

“Even before that.”

“I don’t remember anything before that.”

“Then it’s lucky I was older, since I do remember.” he stood next to the big wall and instructed one of the servants to earthbend a door through it. Suddenly, Azula saw there was a podium behind the wall and quite a large mass of people gathered around it.

“What is this?” she asked.

“Follow me and find out.” Zuko stepped through the door and into the view of the masses. Unlike their previous addresses to the public this one wasn’t being done from a high and distant balcony. Zuko was standing just a few meters above the crowd when he began his speech.

“I wrote that I didn’t want a big event.” Azula frowned, “We have an agreement, he goes in front of that mob, I just advise.”

“I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.” Mai said.

“They hate me. As soon as I step out those cheers will turn into booing. Tell Zuko I couldn’t.” she turned around in an attempt to walk away.

What was Zuzu thinking?! He was always a little dim, but this? He knew everyone hated her ever since she returned. He had to hire a special bodyguard unit during the first year… Just because her family forgave her doesn’t mean the public did. They still saw her as Ozai’s weapon. The whole world did and they always would…

“Mom, wait.” Zari stood in her way, “It’s different this time. Trust me.”

“The whole world heard what you did for them.” Izumi cut in, “They all know who you are now. So what if Dad wants to show you off to them? You deserve it.”

“We’ll all be right behind you.” Mai gestured to the door, “He just said someone to thank. That’s your cue.”

Azula took a deep breath and walked through the door onto the podium in front of the large crowd. She was trying to do it as slowly and gracefully as she could, but after six months spent mostly on her own, it was a bit much. Her mind was running wild trying to imagine and prepare for every possible scenario.

Then a few seconds in, a loud applause was heard stopping Azula where she stood. She wasn’t prepared for that. Thousands of people from all clans were clapping, cheering and whistling. She looked over to Zuko with disbelief as he called her over with a hand gesture. When she finally made it to the Fire Lord she saw that Zari, Izumi and Mai were standing not far away, just like they promised.

“If you look around, think about all that you see and all that which is precious to you, know that none of it would still be here without Princess Azula. When our nation and consequently all nations were threatened by something no one had ever seen or defeated before she showed no hesitation in sacrificing herself for all of us. She protected you when I couldn’t.” Zuko declared loudly while Azula was simultaneously touched and baffled by every word. Where was he going with this? It’s like he wanted to destroy his image both of them worked so hard on.

“Princess Azula, my sister, is without doubt the best firebender I ever met. That is why today her talents become a legend. Our great-grandfather Sozin started a horrible tradition of hunting down dragons for glory, it is one of many of his mistakes I’ve tried to rectify. Today I return the title of Dragon, this time as an honor reserved for those who use their extraordinary bending abilities not only for their selfish goals, but for the greater good.”

While Zuko spoke, a couple of fire sages brought him a pillow with a shiny golden medal on it. The Fire Lord couldn’t stop smiling as he picked up the medal and held it up in front of Azula.

“Since the previous medals had a red dragon on it, the new ones will be decorated with a blue dragon in honor of the first person to earn one. Princess Azula of the Fire Nation, please accept this great honor.”

Azula hunched forward allowing her brother to place the golden medal onto her neck. She immediately looked down at it, to make sure it was real. The medal was heavy and really did have a rather gorgeous blue dragon drawn on it. She wasn’t even a little suspicious as to if this was a hallucination. She couldn’t have made it up since at no point before today did she ever even remotely believe Zuko would be able to do something like this. Or even want to.

She looked up to her brother again and saw he was bowing his head. With the corner of her eye she noticed Mai, Izumi and Zari were doing the same thing. Then she turned her head towards the crowd and watched in shock as the thousands of people all bowed as well.

Nothing they said could have prepared her for this. As she was standing so close, she noticed the Avatar and his family were in the audience too. Since everyone was kneeling she could finally see far enough into the distance to get a good look at the new palace. It was different, but definitely bigger and more beautiful. As she stared forward, Zuko’s dragon flew over her and towards the palace, making the moment even more unbelievable than it already was.

“When did I say I wanted this exactly?” she whispered.

“You were two and yelling you wanted to be a dragon when you grew up. I think you meant the kind that has wings, but I did what I could.” Zuko whispered back, as he straightened his posture once again.

Azula took another look around. She never thought she’d get it back. Zuko might have been banished for three years, but her punishment lasted for decades. And all it took to end it was her dying… Who would have known Zuko would be the one to give it all back?

Without warning, she turned back to her brother and hugged him.

“Is this something we do now?” he asked quietly.

“Don’t get used to it.” she smirked, “But how did you get them to… like me again?”

“I didn’t. You did. I just took two things they thought of as separate,” Zuko reached for his sister’s hand and raised it high above their heads, “and showed them they were two parts of the same whole.”