Thanks for the reviews! I really appreciate hearing the feedback from you guys!

Since it seems to keep coming up, I'll clarify something—Jin, the rightful Queen of Chyung, is not the same Jin that Zuko met in Season 2 of the show and went on a date with. Any similarities beyond a shared name and shared place of living are coincidental.

Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar the Last Airbender

XxXxXxXxXxX

A knock on the door drew Sokka's attention. He glanced at Suki, who remained in slumber. Relieved that his wife wasn't awakened, he quietly slipped out of bed to his feet and opened the door.

Sokka's eyes widened in surprise. "Azula?"

Azula gazed back at him. "We need to talk."

He glanced back at Suki exiting the room and shutting the door; they stood in the inn's hallway. "What can I do for you?" he asked, trying to keep the surprise out of his voice; he doubted he was successful.

"You need to satisfy my curiosity."

Sokka's brows rose in amusement. "What could a non-bender satisfy that The Avatar couldn't?"

"How did Mai and Ty Lee die?"

Sokka swallowed, all amusement gone as he stared at Azula, who looked… vulnerable, almost desperate if it were even possible.

"I'm not sure that's wise- "

Azula's brows tightened. "Tell me."

"Look, I know how it feels to 'satisfy that curiosity,' but it does nothing. I don't know how Piandao actually died, and it kills me. But I think it would kill me more if I learned how he actually died by Ozai's hands. To know how Mai and Ty Lee died… it could be worse than not knowing."

Azula was unmoved. "Tell me."

He tried to summon his courage; it was so much easier doing so against her father. "No. Aang will kill me."

Her golden eyes slowly began to resemble the girl from the Great War. "The Avatar is not your concern."

Sokka threw his hands in the air—to the side of course, so as not to appear threatening to a woman who appeared more and more like a Polar-dog. "He's my friend, and when he gets back here to see that Samir and your mom are safe, I'm not gonna ruin that by making his wife be all bitchy."

"Bitchy?"

His arms dropped like ice, and he began to wonder if Azula was an Airbender because it felt hard to breathe. "No, I mean… murder-y."

Azula stared up at him, and he fought the urge to look away from those piercing eyes. "You are most capable of indulging in your bluntness about my potential 'bitchiness' but not about how my friends were murdered. I find that… intolerable."

Sokka felt his shoulders collide with the door; he hadn't been unaware he backed up. "No, no. We don't need you getting all murder-y and revenge-y. Look, I'm trying to keep the peace here."

"Then you shall make an excellent Chief," she retorted, voice as bitter as ice. "A leader must share critical information with those around him, Chief Sokka."

"This isn't critical. You're not thinking logically."

"Indeed," Azula agreed, face conveying a strange tranquility. "I am emotional."

Sokka felt faint from the horror of such a statement. Azula had always been cold and ruthless, but that he could deal with. An emotional Azula was something he had no experience with—and based on the conversation thus far, something he never wanted to have experience with.

Where was Aang when you needed him?

"My father kidnapped my daughter and raped my mother, and he murdered my friends. I need to know. Tell me."

Sokka swallowed, feeling powerless. "I'm sorry. It's my fault. If I hadn't been so blind, I wouldn't have fallen for the whole 'Piandao' act. I should have known something was off."

"I know my father more than you, and I knew of his hatred for Piandao. The fault lies more with me."

"It's not a contest," he said half-heartedly.

"Tell me, Sokka," Azula said, voice soft. "There is no peace without knowledge."

"That's wisdom."

"How did Mai and Ty Lee die? What happened?"

Sokka sagged in defeat and shivered as the memories—those damned memories he tried so hard to forget but never could—assaulted his mind with horrifying precision. "Mai was struck down by lightning; she was dead before she hit the trees. And Ty Lee was blown back into the camp by… a wave of darkness. Hama threw Ozai in the same direction. He may have fallen on top of Ty Lee for all I know. Even if she somehow miraculously survived that fall, Ozai would have killed her when he found her. I'm sorry."

Azula's face pinched, eyes alight with seething displeasure, and he tensed as he saw no sign of The Avatar's wife, only the girl of the Great War. "Not before he would have raped her," she hissed, voice like a lash to his flesh.

"I'm sorry," he repeated, unsure what else to say.

"And Hama?" she asked, voice tight. "What role did she play?"

Sokka tried to fight the bitterness rising inside him. "Observer and liberator. At first, she wasn't there, but then she arrived and simply watched for a few minutes. Then she acted."

Azula's gaze rooted him in place, and he didn't dare look away. "She scares you."

"We're all terrified of her."

Something dark flashed across Azula's face. "I shall be the judge of that. Thank you for your advice and honesty, Sokka."

Then she whirled around and glided toward Hama's room, and Sokka leaned back against the door, shaking his head.

He was so glad she was on their side.

XxXxXxXxXxX

Azula found Hama not as impressive as the others described. Staring back at her sneering face, she felt nothing but disgust. This was the first Bloodbender? This was the lover of her father? This was the mother of her new sibling?

The others were fearful of her?

"I hear you are to thank for saving the lives of my mother and daughter, along with the others," she greeted, voice almost jovial; it was too easy.

Hama's face spasmed with loathing. "It was a mistake. I know who you are."

Azula sighed in faux relief. "Good. Katara told me you wished to speak with The Avatar, but he is not here—not yet. However, since you know who I am, I will more than suffice as his representative. Whom can better speak for The Avatar than his wife?"

"You are of Fire. You look just like your mother, the Fire Lady, even with those Air Nomad garbs."

"You are of decrepit reason," Azula observed, unconcerned; she sat down across from Hama. "Are we through stating the obvious?"

"You're Ozai's daughter."

"You're Ozai's lover."

Hama hissed and snarled, trying to escape from the metal molding. Azula was impressed by Toph's thinking; it was an excellent prison. She reckoned if Aang were not fully-realized—and not a Metalbender—he would have trouble escaping from it.

But it sufficed excellently for the first Bloodbender.

"I shall state another obvious fact," Azula said, portraying someone unconcerned. "You are insane—at least to the others. But I know differently. No, you are not insane. Nobody insane would catch my father's eye, nonetheless the gaze of Darkness and Chaos. You were meticulous in allying with them; you were rational. Indeed, you were emotional, to a degree quite pathetic, but your emotions never controlled you then. Your emotions motivated you, and your logic guided you. But now, you hold no logic, only emotions." Azula's teeth flashed, and she felt nothing but contempt for the woman who was so pathetically deceived by her father. "Pathetic. Your emotions hinder you. You are weak, not insane. They are too fearful of you to discern the difference. But I do not fear you."

Hama's eyes teemed with chaos. "Stop chi-blocking me, and then you'll know fear. I will crush your heart with a smile."

Azula nodded. "I wondered when you would bring that up. My mother said you held my father in your grip and had the opportunity to crush his heart- "

"I would have killed him if Vaatu had not appeared," Hama spat, disgruntled. "He wouldn't let me kill his precious vessel."

"You hold an intriguing power that could be used against my father. We can get you close enough to finish what you started. Do you want redemption?"

Hama was like an Earthbender, immovable. "My price is Katara."

Azula laughed. "You misunderstand everything. We do not need you. I know that the others promised you things but let me elucidate—you are worthless. You are only alive out of a sense of obligation to help my husband in his fight against my father and Darkness and Chaos." She wondered how long they were going to maintain the deception regarding Hama's pregnancy. As long as Hama remained chi-blocked, she would be unable to feel the child. Right? Regretfully, Azula remained ignorant to many of the intricacies of pregnancy—except the fun part. She was well-learned in that, of course. "I know The Avatar's mindset more than the others, and he is furious. You have cost him much. Whatever you can give him is meaningless. He is a Bloodbender, and he- "

"Then why didn't he kill Ozai?" Hama demanded.

She smiled. "It never occurred to him to use such deadly force at the beginning. Now it does. He would crush my father's heart from across the world if only he knew his location. But I do not tell you this to gloat over your torment. And I do not do it to gain information from you. I do not want information; whatever information you hold is meaningless now. I do this to give you a chance, for I know the blessing of a chance."

"My price won't change. She should have never healed me."

Azula let lightning crackle across her fingers, and Hama's eyes darted to the sudden flash of light, the energy sizzling in the air. "You are the reason why my husband was unable to stop my father at the North; you are why he was unable to save our daughter and my mother." The lightning grew stronger, and she delighted in the wariness on Hama's face, illuminated by the lightning. "You are why my father gained Water and Air; you are why this war endures; you are why my former friends and I did not get the chance to remove the 'former'; you are why my mother was frequently raped by my father in front of my daughter; and you are why my daughter is terrified and cannot sleep at night, no matter my assurances." The lightning was getting harder to control, and it took all her effort not to blow Hama's head apart with the cold-blooded fire. But she wanted to. Oh, she wanted to! But she could not! For she remembered her sibling in Hama's womb, and she relented, lightning vanished. "The only reason I do not kill you is that you saved my daughter's and mother's lives. That, and you could be of small use to us."

Hama gazed at her with disgruntled respect. "If you weren't of Fire, Ozai's daughter, I believe we could have been friends."

She stood to her feet, shaking her head. "That implies I find your pathetic disposition charming. Perhaps it would be different if I were that girl I was, but I am not her anymore. I have evolved; I have changed; I have matured. You have done none of those things. You are still the same; you are trapped in your own emotions."

Those frigid eyes looked like lightning, shining with rage. "When I get out of here, I will kill your daughter and mother; then I will kill your brother and finally you, Ozai's daughter. And then Katara."

Only the thought of her new sibling spared Hama's life. Instead, she smirked. "I wonder if you will speak so freely when my husband arrives. You encountered The Avatar State at the North for the briefest of moments, did you not? Well, if you threaten the lives of those he holds most dear to his face, you will know Wrath when his power consumes you."

She departed the room before Hama could respond and shut the door.

"Well?" her brother asked, leaning against the wall, golden eyes measuring her.

Azula sighed. "She is grating and uncooperative."

Zuko chuckled. "I never thought I would enjoy having anything in my mouth as much as Katara. And while it doesn't beat her, it tastes good. I don't think I've ever actually said it to you, but here it goes—I told you so."

She glared at him, unimpressed before she started walking down the hall. "I see you have reacquainted yourself with Sokka."

He shrugged as he followed alongside her. "It's true."

"I believe you, Zuzu. Did you know Sokka called me a bitch?"

"That's also true."

Azula felt a smile form on her face. "You have come a long way, Brother."

Zuko looked bashful. "We both have."

She decided to save him. "Indeed. Before I met Aang, I would have killed Katara the moment I saw her. I probably would have killed everyone allied with us."

The thought revolted her.

"I look forward to the ceremony in which she's elevated to Fire Lady."

Azula gratefully accepted the change in conversation. "I fail to see the point to such a ceremony; she is already Fire Lady in all but official title."

Zuko stared at her, incredulous. "You fail to see why Ceremony is important to the Fire Nation? You know the traditions; you knew them better than I did when we were younger."

She shrugged. "My loyalty is to the Air Nomads now. I prefer its custom for marriage; Aang has rubbed off on me. According to Air Nomad Law, you and Katara are already married, Zuzu."

"Hama would hate that," her brother pointed out in pleased consideration, looking smug.

"She already hates it," Azula corrected. "I cannot help but quote Toph—'stupid bitch,' indeed. I would have killed her slowly if not for our new sibling."

Zuko's face cleared, eyes serious. "I've reached the same conclusion multiple times. Do you think Aang will kill her?"

Azula stared at him, bewildered. "Why? She poses no threat, least of all to him."

"He may not want another child of Ozai in the world," her brother said after several moments, eyes holding hers. "One who possesses Hama's blood rather than the redeeming qualities of Roku's blood."

"You already decided to raise the child with Katara- "

"And I will. But it's only if Aang agrees with it. The Avatar's judgment supersedes the Fire Lord's judgment, especially during all this."

Azula waved her hand. "You forget you, Ozai's son, are his best friend and that he married Ozai's daughter. Aang will accept it. He will not kill her. But he will take her bending, certainly—of that, there is no doubt."

Zuko nodded. "I do worry about the child- "

"I know," she interrupted. "Katara told me."

He glanced at her in surprise. "Really?"

"We have reached an understanding." Azula paused outside of the inn and stared up at her brother's face. "You do share many similarities to Father, but you will not be him; you will not be the father he was. Because the memory of our childhood will ensure you do not give your children, including Hama's child, the childhood we had."

Zuko was quiet for several moments, a tension seething inside him. "Grandfather hated Father, and he treated us the same way Grandfather treated him—well, worse, actually. The memory of his childhood didn't deter him."

Azula sighed. "Zuzu, you worry because you care. Father never cared, did he?"

"Only for himself and Mother."

A vicious fury burned her innards, and Azula hissed, fists clenching. "Do not say he cares for Mother. You know what he did to her."

Zuko held up his hands. "I know. I know. I hate him as much as you do; I want him dead as much as you do. But if he didn't care for her somehow in ways that make no sense, he would have killed her."

Azula shook her head. "He loves what she can do for him, nothing more."

"I agree."

She took several moments to regain control of her temper. "You will fulfill the role of Father more than he ever did."

A relieving sigh escaped her brother's lips; she supposed he needed someone who had been raised by Ozai to affirm his belief. "Thank you, Azula. You're right."

Azula smirked. "Well, I never thought I would enjoy having anything in my mouth as much as Aang. And while it fails to eclipse him, it tastes marvelous. I have said it many times to you, and here we are once more—I told you so, Zuzu."

Zuko groaned, face twisting in disgust. "Well played."

"Always."

XxXxXxXxXxX

Aang couldn't stop thinking—more like obsessing, he could admit—about the notion of two Avatars. He should worry about all the chi-stealers who had escaped by fleeing from him while he had helped the villages, but the thought of two Avatars consumed him. It had been catapulted to the forefront of his mind, and the more time that passed, the more frantic he felt. He needed answers somehow, but none of his past lives would offer adequate answers.

He appreciated Kyoshi's responses, how she revived his faith that he would defeat Vaatu, but she did nothing to deter the idea of two Avatars. He needed more!

His duty as Avatar necessitated he visit the one being who could answer his questions; his duty as Avatar necessitated he find the rest of the chi-stealers; but his duty as a father necessitated he find his wife as swiftly as possible so they could find their daughter.

He knew which was more important.

Aang squeezed his eyes shut, trying not to think of a joyful face with gray eyes beaming up at him. "I'm sorry," he whispered, hoping his daughter, wherever she was, understood.

He opened his eyes in the Spirit World and blurred in the direction of the center of the Realm.

The Tree of Time had the answers, and It would give the answers to him.

When Aang arrived, the Tree looked the same as It had last time, and he almost scoffed in bitterness. Of course, the Tree of Time was unaffected by everything that had happened since they had last spoken—Ozai's mastery of earthbending, metalbending, and lavabending due to Chin V; Hahn's betrayal of Arnook and Arnook's death; Bumi's death and Ba Sing Se's near-ruin; Vaatu's obtainment of Water; Samir and Ursa's kidnapping; The Northern Water Tribe's massive losses, the thousands of thousands of men who had been slaughtered; Vaatu's obtainment of Air; and everything else Aang didn't know about.

"We will share a conversation, Aang, at the end of which you shall leave frantically," the Tree greeted as Aang stepped into the large opening of It's trunk.

"You know why I'm here."

"I do."

Aang controlled his emotions as best he could. "Because you always know, right? You know All. But you refused to share with me what was going to happen? I could have prevented everything! If you told me where Vaatu is right now, I could stop him before this gets so much worse!"

"This is only one time across Time, Aang," the Tree whispered. "There will be other times and other moments. How can you judge this moment when you do not know anything past this time? You do not possess the full picture. I know All."

"Then show me the full picture!" he cried out, desperate. "Tell me what all this is for! Show me why all these deaths serve a greater cause and purpose like my people's did!"

"You know why—Balance. Balance will be restored finally. There will be Eternal Balance."

Aang's eyes widened in disbelief, and he shook his head, refusing to believe it—even though he knew it was true. "This is what you want?" he demanded, emotions surging through him. "Two Avatars? What kind of balance is that? Azula's right—it's absurd! It makes no sense if you think about it longer than a minute! With each lifetime, the world will be thrown into more disarray!" He felt the stirring of his past lives in his soul, and he calmed himself, recognizing The Avatar State was near. "I know I haven't done my job as well as I could have in all my lifetimes, some more than others, but don't you see that if Ozai and Vaatu merge permanently, creating another cycle, the world will never be balanced during his reign? In all his lifetimes, Ozai would only be after chaos! At least I have tried to achieve balance in my lifetimes."

"But you have failed in all your lifetimes, Aang," the Tree murmured, and Aang flinched, knowing it was true. "You were only capable of achieving balance, whereas I am after Eternal Balance."

Aang shook his head, wavering in horror. "You're insane!" he yelled. "This won't be Eternal Balance! You should see that! I understood the Great War, and I understood my people's downfall and demise, but this makes no sense! It's incomprehensible! You want the world to be tossed into a war every thirty or forty years when a new Avatar becomes fully-realized and challenges the elder Avatar for supremacy? You think alternating between Light and Darkness is balance? It's not!"

"No matter what I say, Aang, you will disagree and verbally fight me. If you know the End, you will seek to change it. You do not perceive All; I do. I see everything in both Realms, from the Beginning to the End. I see Raava and Vaatu's birth and their yearning to create; I see the creation of the Mortal Realm and the inconsistent divide when Raava and Vaatu fastened it to my roots, pulling the two Realms together; I see Raava and Vaatu creating the Great Spirits of Fire, Air, Water, and Earth, along with the Lion Turtles; I see the onslaught of Raava and Vaatu's combined energy fusing together to manifest the Face Stealer, who possesses parts from both his parents; I see the Lion Turtles raising humans out of the mud, and I see Koh gifting them faces; I see Raava and Vaatu in conflict, a desperate yearning for solidarity; I see Vaatu's rebellion and his pursuit of destruction to fuel his power across the Mortal Realm; I see Raava fighting back and fastening them together again; I see humans crawling on top of the backs of the Lion Turtles to escape the destruction of Raava and Vaatu; I see Raava and Vaatu's separation again due to Wan's ordained interference; I see Wan's ascension and triumph over Vaatu; I see- "

Aang felt exhausted. "I get it, Tree of Time."

"Do you see, Aang?"

He swallowed. "No."

"There is more to Time than only this time; there is more to Life than only this life. You hold a limited perception and judgment; I do not. You stand in the foundations of the Immortal Realm. Do you fathom how I achieve all of this?"

He bowed his head. "I can't. I'm… limited, despite my gaze and strength as Avatar."

"You possess the strength of all your lifetimes, but that strength is incomplete, for you only know your past lifetimes; you do not know your future lifetimes. And all your lifetimes were limited, for you were limited in all of your lifetimes, incapable of perceiving All. You know more than anyone else and see more than anyone else, but you are incomplete."

"And you aren't."

"I am Complete; only I am Complete. No one else holds the answers. Why should you?"

"I need to change this," Aang said, desperation seeping from his soul; he could feel the horror of all his past lives compounding inside him. It was overwhelming! "This path you chose will lead to death unlike anything the Realms have ever seen. Two Avatars is catastrophic; it's a perpetual conflict. There will never be peace. This isn't the way to balance."

"You forget that Life is bigger than any mortal. Life cannot die, Aang. It endures, fights, and thrives, no matter what happens. Do you forget your people?"

Aang's eyes flashed. "I never forget my people."

"But you forget that, though they are gone, they still live in you and the children you will sire by your wife. Life cannot die. You may disapprove of Life's direction and my mercy in giving Choice, but- "

"Choice?" he demanded in disbelief. "There is no choice here! I choose for this not to happen, but you're ignoring me! You're just brushing it aside like it's insignificant, and it's the opposite of insignificant! No, there's no choice. You're just using us. We're… tools to you."

"You misunderstand, Aang. Being is better than doing. I do not control you; I do not control anyone. I see All, but I do not make All. You have Choice. If I interfered and prevented anything, you and many others would condemn me for interfering, perceiving my action as tyrannical, worse than anything Vaatu can achieve. For I would change what Is. Vaatu does not change what Is, for these things are meant to happen. Vaatu acts in accordance with what Is."

"I don't believe it! I wouldn't condemn you if you interfered! I would praise you! I would thank you!"

"Until you would not," the Tree countered. "There would come a point I interfere when you think I should not, and you would condemn me. If I interfere when something is Evil to prevent Evil, I must interfere when something is Good to prevent Good—Balance. If I prevent a death, I must prevent a life."

Aang squeezed his eyes shut as a pulsing originated in his skull; his sanity was nearly fried. "I shouldn't have come here," he whispered, breathing elevated. "This is insane! You're insane! I saw the rightness in my people's demise, but I don't see any rightness with this. Why does it have to be this way? I need to fight this! I'm going to!"

"Let it be, Aang," the Tree whispered. "Stop fighting; let go. Let your understanding stop, for you will never understand until you do; you cannot force understanding. Be, Aang, be. Do not do; be. Be until you do correctly what you must at the correct time."

"I can't see that! What are you saying? That I need to do the one thing correctly in the one moment I need to? I don't understand!"

"You are in the moment," the Tree consoled. "Had you watched your people's slaughter in the moment, you would have rejected it, for no one perceives rightness in the moment, only after the moment passes. Since you have matured and the moment passed, you understand why your people fell—as you will understand why what will happen must happen after it happens."

He remembered his similar confession to Azula, but he hadn't been serious, not truly. The weight of having two Avatars had been at the back of his mind ever since he had conceived the idea, but he had never thought it possible. The thought of finding Samir and Indra had been at the forefront of his mind, but from that sudden void due to knowing that Indra was with Vaatu and that Samir was still alive, what was at the back of his mind moved forward, and it was all he could think about.

There couldn't be two Avatars. It was wrong!

"Do you doubt your will to victory, Aang?"

Aang shook his head. "Not now, at least. But if I kill Ozai, causing his rebirth, he will rise against me again in thirty or so years. I doubt my will to victory then—because I'll be older and wearier, less hungry to triumph. I doubt my successor's will to victory—because not every Avatar is the same. There will come a battle I will lose in whichever lifetime, leaving the world defenseless against Ozai. He will take everything."

"You will be until you do what is right, Aang."

"I don't know what's right!" he shouted, throwing his hands up in dismay; the air reacted, getting stronger.

"You will."

"That's not helpful," he snapped. "It does nothing; it leaves me blind and flailing."

"You will know what to do, and you will do what is right. There will be Eternal Balance."

"I'm stronger than Ozai; I inherently possess more power. I will defeat him, but by doing so, by defeating him, I damn the world to alternating cycles. Is that what you see, Tree of Time? Is it?"

"I see Vaatu, and I see you. I hear Vaatu's utterances, and I hear yours. I see your family- "

"My family?" he asked, leaning forward. "The one now, not… the children I will have?"

"Yes. I see your wife; I see your daughter, I see- "

Aang stiffened. "Wait. Now? You see her now? Samir?"

"I do."

"She's safe? My daughter? Samir is alright?"

"She is with your wife, along with the rest of your family."

Nothing else mattered, and the fire to be reunited with Samir was never brighter nor hotter. "Are you lying to me?"

"Time does not lie- "

Aang teleported away.

XxXxXxXxXxX

"Are you sure he's on his way?" Sokka asked, peering up at the sky. "It's been a week now, and he's still a no-show."

Katara rolled her eyes. "You really doubt that Aang won't show up?"

Her brother shrugged. "Well, he didn't show up for a century, so- "

She smacked the back of his head. "You know that's different. Aang is dealing with whatever distraction Dark sent."

"Speaking of Dark," Azula interrupted. "I believe it best that we are all in agreement and understand the same things. How completely did Hama devastate Ozai's army?"

"Completely-completely," Haru said from where he sat near Jin, and Katara smiled sadly; maybe they could help each other. They had both lost so much and gained so little. "The only one left was Ozai, and then Dark showed up to save him. But Hama killed everyone who was trying to kill us."

"And who did kill you," Suki murmured, and Katara knew she thought of her Kyoshi Warriors.

Samir flinched terribly, face twisting in terror, and she nestled her face into Azula's bosom. "Stop it!"

Azula cradled Samir's head with a gentle hand and spoke swiftly, "Indeed. I believe that is enough of that subject. We shall move to another. Aang is convinced that there will be two Avatars."

Katara's eyes widened in shock, and her hand clamped onto Zuko's arm in a panic. "What?"

"Two Avatars?" Toph demanded, looking pale. "No, the Loser Lord can't be an Avatar. Doesn't he need that harmony thing?"

"Harmonic Convergence," Azula corrected. "And yes, he does. That is one of the many reasons I perceive it an absurd notion, albeit a powerful one."

Bor leaned forward. "You're sure Avatar Aang thinks Ozai will- "

"Roku agreed with him," Azula added, and Katara shuddered. It couldn't be!

"The Avatar can speak with his past lives?" Jin asked, something on her face that Katara didn't understand.

"What is it?" she asked, concerned.

Jin swallowed. "I never knew such power was possible."

"That's nothing," Sokka dismissed, confident. "You should have seen how Aang beat Ozai's ass during Sozin's Comet."

Zuko shook his head, and Katara saw the tension in his face. "You're saying that… Ozai will be reborn constantly like Aang is? Another Cycle? Another Avatar?"

"That's what Aang thinks," Azula confirmed. "But I do not agree. The Tree of Time wants balance, but that is the most absurd solution. Yes, a lack of balance is a problem, but when the solution is more problematic than the problem itself- "

"It leads to atrocities," Ursa finished, voice soft and pained. "I agree with Azula—that cannot be the solution."

"It's horrifying," Katara whispered and tightly gripped Zuko's hand. "Ozai can't be reborn over and over again."

Zuko's hand clenched painfully around hers, and she tried to squeeze back. "He doesn't deserve such power," he snarled, the scar on his face vivid to them all. "We'll stop him. I don't know how, but we'll stop him."

Toph nodded vehemently, punching her fist into her cupped palm. "Yeah. We'll figure it out. We figured it out under Sozin's Comet, and we'll figure this out."

Azula nodded, relieved. "Good. I need us all to convince Aang of this, then."

"His wife wasn't convincing enough?" Sokka asked in disbelief. "You have him wrapped around your finger!"

"I think Avatar Aang perceives this as an Avatar problem, if I may be so blunt," Ursa cut in. "My daughter is remarkable, but she is no Avatar. That is why he summoned his past lives."

Katara nodded, remembering Ember Island before Sozin's Comet. None of them had been able to help Aang; he had needed something else.

"So be prepared for his earthbending stubbornness?" Toph asked rhetorically. "Yeah, I'll punch some sense into him."

Azula sighed. "You will need to punch hard."

The grin on Toph's face made Katara shake her head in amusement. "That won't be a problem, Lightning Psycho. I'll just think of the Butcher and clobber Twinkletoes."

"Don't hurt Daddy," Samir chided, sitting up in Azula's lap, glaring at Toph as much as a child could glare. It made Katara think of Hama's child. "Be nice to him."

"Don't worry, kid," Toph said, chuckling while she cracked her knuckles. "I'll be as nice to him as I've ever been."

Sokka snickered while Samir only beamed, not understanding Toph's evasion of a promise. Quite Airbender-like, ironically enough.

"Thanks, Toph!"

"If Aang doesn't show up soon, we'll have to tell Hama she's pregnant before she feels it," Haru interrupted, voice solemn; for some reason, he glanced at Jin.

Ursa nodded. "The child will move soon, and she will begin to feel the weight. It is miraculous she has failed to notice the signs thus far."

Katara remembered the feeling of the child when she had been healing Hama, how the child was full of energy and vibrant, a pure Waterbender. It was beautiful. She had never felt a waterbending child before, and she felt a connection to the child because of it, although she knew it could not compare to the blood connection the child shared with Zuko.

They really were the perfect parents for the child.

"I'll tell her," Zuko said, and she gratefully looked at him. "Her feelings are irrelevant."

She winced. "Maybe don't say that."

Zuko's eyes were intent as he gazed at her. "She thinks your feelings are irrelevant. That's unforgivable."

"I appreciate that, but just be gentle when you do it. Don't be harsh."

"She'd kill the child the moment he's born," Zuko interrupted, adamant, and Katara knew he was right, but she wished he wasn't so harsh. "Literally, her feelings are irrelevant."

"I'm with Sparky on this one, Sugar Queen," Toph cut in, shrugging her shoulders; she leaned against Bor. "She's a stupid bitch I don't feel sorry for. I mean, she was spitting on you for something that she did—opening that tunnel wide for Fire Royalty."

Sokka nodded. "She wants to kill you, Katara. I don't think we've been harsh enough to her. She knows that we can't kill her, but she doesn't know why we can't kill her—that's our advantage."

Ursa frowned. "There is nothing Hama wants but my husband's life and Katara's life. She will not want the child; I suspect she may die from horror and shame when she realizes she is pregnant."

"The advantage we hold is that she holds no power but the power of which she remains unaware—her pregnancy," Jin cut in, voice quiet but steady. "Her bending is blocked, and when The… Avatar- " Katara didn't know why Jin's voice wavered suddenly at Aang's mention; she wasn't the only one who noticed, for Azula's golden eyes narrowed in consideration. Katara also felt more confused when Haru scooted a little closer to Jin. "- arrives, he will permanently take her bending. Her only power is her pregnancy, something she does not deserve."

Based on the nodding heads of everyone else, Katara seemed to be the only one – besides Haru, interestingly enough – who realized Jin meant that Hama didn't deserve to be pregnant, whereas the others interpreted her words as Hama didn't deserve such power that her pregnancy gave her.

"Are we certain Ozai is the child's father?" Azula asked with a strange look on her face, and Katara felt a weight settle in her stomach.

Ursa nodded. "When she learned his true identity from me, she vomited on the spot and confessed that had been laying with him, which I already knew to be the truth."

"Could she have been laying with someone else besides Ozai?"

Zuko snorted, but there was something dark in his eyes. "You know how possessive he is."

Toph chuckled, but there was something dark in it. "You think he'd tolerate his whore going around and opening that tunnel for anyone who looked at her?"

Bor sighed. "I have wondered if… the Butcher entered that tunnel."

Suki's eyes widened. "Then the lineage of Avatar Kyoshi and Chin the Conqueror endures."

"We won't know until the child is born," Katara cut in softly, glancing at Zuko in worry. If the child wasn't his father's, would he still raise him? She didn't know. It had never occurred to her that Hama may have laid with another man, nonetheless the man who scorched Toph's feet with lava and murdered Bumi. "I'm certain the child is Ozai's- "

"We all are," Azula added.

"- but we have to prepare for the possibility that the child isn't Ozai's."

Sokka shrugged. "Maybe it was Dark. Who knows what he did to her when he made her young again? I mean, he must have had to go… inside her to do it, right?"

Katara cringed. "Sokka!"

"That makes no sense, Sokka," Zuko said, shaking his head. "Aang said that Dragons and humans can't mate, so it reasons that spirits and humans can't, either. Otherwise, if Dark could do that, don't you think he'd just… go inside every woman in the world because each would be powerless to stop him?" He paled and glanced at Ursa, who sat still—too still. "I'm sorry," Zuko rushed out, good eye widening, and Katara placed a hand on his arm. "I didn't mean- … I wasn't thinking. I'm sorry."

Ursa nodded, face wrapped in a blankness that Katara knew she wasn't the only one who hated. "Think nothing of it, my son. Your reasoning was sound. Dark is not the child's father."

"Even if he were, it matters not," Azula stated, adamant. "This is almost over. They have the elements, yes, but I perceive no way they can merge permanently. And Ozai can never master Air, for he has no Master. Without Samir, there is no hope for him."

Samir's face wavered with memories, and Katara hated Ozai so much. "What do you mean, Mommy?"

Azula shook her head. "It is nothing to concern yourself with- "

"But it's about me!"

Katara watched Azula consider possible answers for several moments. "I mean that they wanted you to teach him airbending."

Samir blinked before she laughed, and it was pure and genuine, and Katara was grateful. "But I can't! I don't have my arrows. That's not smart."

"Indeed." Azula smiled down at her daughter before she looked back at all of them, and Katara wondered if Hama's child would possess such kindness and goodness as Samir, even after experiencing so much. "There will not be two Avatars, but we must prepare for more to come. According to Aang, The Phoenix will not be ready- "

Katara frowned. "Phoenix? What are you talking about?"

Azula paused, face displaying realization. "There is so much you do not know. When Aang and I were in the Spirit World, we encountered Agni and Devi attacking Wan Shi Tong, along with an entire horde- "

Sokka crossed his arms, disgruntled. "That stupid owl deserved it."

"I quite agree," Azula said, shocking Katara. "He is most arrogant and tried to attack me, a mortal whom he perceives as inferior and pathetic. But during the fighting, Aang took some of Agni's flames."

Zuko's good eye widened. "You mean…"

"Agni is even weaker, yes. Aang has used the flames to create a new spirit—The Phoenix."

Silence.

Katara was amazed; she had no idea that was possible, nonetheless within The Avatar's power.

"Damn," Toph muttered. "That's impressive."

Azula nodded. "The Phoenix will restore Fire and eliminate Jet's plague by singing its song."

Bor's brows rose. "Song?"

"Of healing," Azula clarified. "Aang said that The Phoenix will be a spirit of peace, calm, purity, and light. Its core responsibilities will be to purify each chi that has been infected by Jet's plague and mend the souls if they were damaged, soothing the hatred and rage that has consumed so many. Those with firebending heritage and the correct core of spirit will also be gifted firebending upon hearing the song."

Toph whistled. "Again, damn. He should have done this sooner."

Azula glared at Toph. "The thought has occurred to him, I guarantee you. And I guarantee you not to say such a thing to him."

"Can't promise anything, Lightning Psycho."

"Will it do anything else?" Suki asked. "Just restore Fire?"

Zuko chuckled. "It does more than that. The name is a fundamental insult to my father."

"Exactly," Azula said with a nod. "The Phoenix's purpose is to reduce Dark's hold on power. Creating a spirit of purity and light erases the image of Ozai's persona as Phoenix King, a manifestation of conquest."

Haru leaned forward. "How long until it's ready?"

Azula's eyes flickered shut in irritation. "It would be ready now if Dark had not discovered Aang's deed from Agni. There was an attack. The Phoenix was nearly destroyed, but Aang got there in time."

Katara blinked in realization. "This was when Dark tried to eradicate your spirit."

Ursa's eyes widened in horror, along with Samir's. "What?"

"I am fine, Mother," Azula dismissed and looked down at Samir. "Do I feel fine, Samir?"

Samir's face puckered as she jabbed fingers into Azula's arms. "Yeah…"

"Because I am. Koh is watching The Phoenix. But because of what happened, Aang estimates it will not be ready for about a month. Now it may be less time since he has been away. However, I cannot say for certain. Technically, Aang cannot, either, for he can only grasp an understanding by being near The Phoenix. But I think a month is a reasonable estimate."

Katara gasped in amazement. "Only another month until this is all over?"

"It seems that way," Azula said, words spaced in consideration. "But we must be prepared for Dark and Ozai, for they are desperate. Even with their possession of all the elements, they know their time is dwindling, and they will attack with abandon. Who knows what evils they can deliver in a month?"

Toph leaned forward. "But… if all goes according to plan- "

"When has it ever gone according to plan?" Suki asked in a whisper, hands cradling her stomach; Katara noticed that Jin looked sad.

Sokka's arm around Suki tightened. "We'll have lots of plans. We're not splitting up again. Fuck that." A look of realization overcame his face, and he glanced at Samir, who was staring at him. "I mean… no way."

"Nice save," Katara congratulated sarcastically.

"Like you could do any better!"

She raised a brow. "I wouldn't have said it in the first place."

Sokka glowered before he deflated. "I gotta work on that."

"But this will be over soon?" Toph demanded in interruption.

Bor ran a tired hand over his face. "It better be. There can't be another century-long war."

"We are near the end," Azula confirmed. "Ozai and Dark will be vanquished. We will know victory."

"Well, speaking of victory, could Aang do this for Air?" Sokka wondered, and Katara now had the same thought. "Could he create a new spirit to restore Air?"

Azula paused before she shook her head. "No. Fire still remains; those who possess the lineage and ancestral heritage of Fire still remain. There are none who possess the lineage and ancestral heritage of Air but Aang."

Katara saw Zuko close his eyes and bow his head in regret, and she tried to comfort him; she placed a hand on his back and rubbed gently.

"But I'm an Airbender!" Samir protested, confused. "I have it."

"And your father loves you for it and so much more," Azula assured. "But this is different; you will understand when you are older."

Samir pouted and crossed her arms. "Fine."

Zuko laughed, but there was something tight in his face. "My people are near annihilation, and he brings us back. He has every reason to not restore Fire, but he does. If only I could help restore Air."

Azula raised an inquiring brow. "Am I, your sister, not to be the Mother of Air, Zuzu? Fire is helping restore Air. You have helped by marrying your sister to The Avatar."

"You know what I mean. And I didn't marry you to him; that was all you. That was always going to happen. Even if I had forbidden you to marry him, you would have done it anyway."

"He is The Avatar," Azula drawled with a delighted smirk. "To deny him is impossible. He has more than proven that to me."

Katara shook her head while Sokka shuddered. "Thanks for that image."

"It's not as bad as what I've felt, Snoozles," Toph said, wiggling her toes. "My image is a lot more… detailed."

"Spare me," Sokka pleaded. "I need better things in my head than that."

"If you endorse our marriage as Fire Lord, Zuzu," Azula cut in, and Katara felt grateful, "it is more than enough. If you still feel guilty, you could provide Aang a dowry. After all, a princess comes with a dowry, and Aang has yet to receive mine."

Zuko blinked, astonished. "He's The Avatar."

A small laugh escaped Ursa, and Katara was relieved to see the mirth in her future mother-in-law's face. "This is an unprecedented occurrence to my knowledge. No Avatar has married into the Fire Royal Bloodline. No one knows the etiquette necessary for such an occurrence. When The Avatar can delve into the earth and find precious gems and diamonds, what need has he for a dowry?"

Katara's brows rose. "You can ask him when he gets here, Zuko."

"I shouldn't have brought this up," he groaned. "He'll bankrupt the Fire Nation if Uncle hasn't already by building too many teahouses to count."

"Iroh would not do that, Zuko," Ursa defended.

Zuko only stared at her. "Wouldn't he?"

Ursa hesitated. "Perhaps."

"Speaking of Uncle," Azula cut in, "we will need him for what comes. The Phoenix nears completion with each day that passes, and with each day that passes, Dark's fury grows along with Ozai's desperation. We must be prepared; we need our allies."

Katara nodded solemnly. "We will be. I sent my father a letter when we were at the Sun Warriors, but I don't know if he got it with everything that's been going on."

Sokka sighed. "I sent him one when we were in Ba Sing Se before we separated. Who knows if he got that one, either?"

Toph elbowed Bor. "Did you or… Bumi write Anju before everything happened?"

Bor swallowed and shook his head. "I didn't. I know Grandfather did, but I don't know what he ever said in his letters to her. She'd know the essentials, but I don't think she knows anything more."

"She is Queen of Omashu, correct?" Ursa asked.

"My cousin," Bor confirmed. "She took the throne when Grandfather and I went to Ba Sing Se."

Katara watched Haru place a brief hand on Jin's shoulder, and she didn't know why; maybe she would ask when there was a chance for privacy.

"We'll wait until Aang gets here before we decide anything," Zuko said. "But we will be leaving after Aang arrives. We can't stay here. Maybe we'll go to the Caldera and meet with Uncle- "

Sokka sagged in relief. "Good. I need some Komodo Chicken again."

"- but Aang may have something else in mind."

Azula nodded. "It is possible. But his mood should improve exponentially when he knows that Samir and Mother are safe."

"I'll feel it," Toph assured. "I'll let you know."

"Very benevolent of you," Azula drawled.

"I'll be happy to see Daddy, too!" Samir piped in. "I can't wait to see him."

"And he you, Samir," Ursa said gently with a kind smile. "We will all be together again."

"Hopefully not with Hama after she pops out that kid," Sokka cut in, standing to his feet. "Come on, Toph. I need you to help me with Hama."

Toph snorted, shaking her head. "I'm tired of helping you do it. You do nothing but cower behind me. Go do it yourself."

Sokka's eyes widened in outrage, behind which fear lurked. "Fuck that!"

"Fuck your 'fuck that'!" Toph shouted back, milky eyes narrowing into a glare.

"Fuck your 'fuck your fuck that'!"

"What's 'fuck'?" Samir asked suddenly, and all went silent as eyes gazed at Azula in wariness. Katara had no idea how she would handle it.

Azula only sighed. "A word."

Samir perked up. "I've heard it before. 'Fuck.' What does it mean?"

Katara watched as Azula only stared down at her daughter. "Why do you want to know?"

"'Cause everyone else is saying it."

Azula's brows rose. "Have you heard your father or I say it?"

Samir's brows furrowed. "No…"

"If we do not say it, should you not follow our example?"

"But I want to say it. Can I say it, Mommy? Please."

"Not if you want to sound like a fool," Azula responded, tone easy and almost bored. "You do not want to sound like a fool, do you?"

A horrified look crossed Samir's young face, and Katara put a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing; she saw Zuko's face stretch in amusement. "No! I don't wanna sound stupid!"

"You never will if you refrain from saying such a word."

Samir nodded solemnly. "Yes, Mommy. I'm not stupid."

Sokka mumbled something under his breath, at which Toph snickered, but thankfully, Azula didn't call them on it.

Katara let the laugh escape her, and she felt lighter. "Good job, Samir."

"Thanks, Aunt Katara!"

XxXxXxXxXxX

"Your progress is now steady," Zaheer observed, floating above him. "Your dedication is remarkable."

Ozai opened his eyes from his mediation; his connection to the air was stronger and stronger. "This is the most important thing I will ever do. To be inefficient is a disgrace."

"Indeed. This is your final element, but it is your most important to learn," his new Master said, voice commanding and intense. "The Avatar is borne of Air; it is his primary element. If you are to challenge him, you must catch him off-guard. Even if we had years, you would not match his mastery of Air, but you will have a proficiency that surprises him. He has never fought Air before; he is familiar only with combatting Water, Earth, and Fire. But Air? The thought evades him, for he would consider it a betrayal."

He remembered his various humiliations at the hands of The Avatar. "Is proficiency possible?"

"It is. Do you know your advantage, Ozai?" Zaheer asked, walking on the unseen wind before him. "Do you know your path to victory?"

"My advantage is Vaatu," he responded. "He is stronger than Raava."

Zaheer nodded. "A good answer; a wise answer; a true answer. But I speak of something else. Something that you can do to prepare rather than rely on Vaatu."

"Such as?"

"You have experience fighting The Avatar, who commands all the elements, but The Avatar has no experience fighting another Avatar who, too, commands all the elements. You know what to expect from him, but he has no idea what to expect from you. That is your advantage."

Possibilities opened before him, and Ozai's lips curled in pleasure. "Yes, yes. He knows only his experience, which lacks a foe as capable as an Avatar; my experience brims with such a foe. I can prepare where he cannot, for I know what he can and will do; he does not know what I can and will do."

"To combat him in sheer power is suicide," Zaheer judged. "The Avatar's might rends the world. Physically, you are no match for him, but mentally, your cunning and ferocity will destroy him. Your mental advantage is how you have endured his wrath thus far; it is the advantage you will cultivate further by utilizing his weakness against Air. Refine your already refined cunning and destroy him."

"He will expect Fire," Ozai murmured, perceiving the final battle in which he would smite The Avatar with the fury of ten-thousand years. "Earth and Water will act as suitable defenses against his attacks, but Air will confuse him, and he won't know what to do. And I will strike when his confusion consumes him. I will kill him, and then I will kill my whore-daughter. Then I will repay The Avatar for the humiliation he has dealt me—I will bed his daughter as he has bedded mine. She will grow into a beauty, and when of age, she will provide the revival of Air through me. I will take all his titles from him—Avatar and Father of Air. It is perfect; it is poetic."

"It is right," Zaheer congratulated. "He took much from you; he humiliated you. As the new Avatar, you will balance his humiliation with one of your own—beautiful."

Ozai nodded. "Yes. When I loom over his broken, beaten, bleeding body, watching as the life dwindles in those damned eyes, he will realize that he was a fool. He spared me when he should not have, so I would live in shame."

"A great man," Zaheer commended, and Ozai wanted to snarl and throttle him for daring to praise The Avatar, but a part of him knew it was warranted. In The Avatar's place, he would do the same. To condemn one's great enemy to live in shame was the ultimate signal of one's power. It was power Ozai had once possessed, but The Avatar had stolen it from him, shaming him in the process.

He was going to take it back.

"My shame strengthened my will and motivated me to ascend to godhood," Ozai said. "Perhaps I should thank The Avatar. Without him, none of this is possible. It was my shame that fueled my hatred, and it was my hatred that captured Vaatu's gaze. The Avatar heralded his own demise, and that is beautiful. He will die in shame as I lived in it."

Zaheer floated closer to him. "If you are to shame him, you must know more. You must be better. Now do the forms again. Be light and swift. Conserve energy. This is likely the hardest part for you. You are borne of Fire, demanding aggression and rapid movements to present power. But Air is not Fire, which immediately unleashes calamity. Air demands evasion and conservation before it unleashes calamity."

Ozai nodded after several moments and adjusted his footwork, focusing on agility and balance. Then he moved, feeling the air around him, becoming one with it as much as he could. There were points he stumbled and lost his precision, but he endured; no wind would ever wither his drive.

"Good," Zaheer called out, descending to the ground near a large pile of stones Ozai had created earlier before Vaatu had left. "Now I will throw these stones at you, and with only Air to aid you, you must evade them. You cannot punch through them; you cannot incinerate them; and you cannot catch them and sling them back at me."

"A good exercise," he acknowledged.

"And if you master this and more, all will be yours when you are the new Avatar."

The promise of that reality spurned him on, and his motivation increased drastically. "Yes. I will remake the world in my image, and my new children will uphold my legacy. Upon my ascendancy, my seed will leave no woman untouched; all hymens will belong to me."

"Then secure that future, Ozai," Zaheer said and threw the first stone. And many others followed swiftly.

XxXxXxXxXxX

The events that had transpired left him surprised. It was rare. Surprise was a novelty he had long been resigned to never experiencing again. When was the last time he had been surprised?

Kuruk.

At the thought of that incarnation of The Avatar, Koh hissed and gnashed his teeth together, swirling around his newest sibling, whose growth was slow but effective. After he had stolen Kuruk's love's face, he had anticipated Kuruk learning the lesson necessary; he had been surprised—furious—when Kuruk had sacrificed his duties to hunt him down in the Spirit World for the remainder of his reign as Avatar.

The only benefit of that entire ordeal was that Kuruk had failed to find his lair.

But a worthy Avatar had finally come along, redeeming Kuruk's abysmal existence. Why the Tree had allowed such a pathetic Avatar to reign for over half a millennium was beyond Koh's gaze.

But the current Avatar had potential; that boy who had come to him years ago asking for the Ocean and Moon Spirits had matured, leaving a capable and resilient Avatar.

When was the last time such an Avatar had reigned over the Realms?

Far too long, even for one such as Koh. Kyoshi had potential, but she had confined herself, rooting herself in the Earth Kingdom. She rarely set foot in the other nations but to resolve conflicts, of which there were many. And Kyoshi only applied a surface-level query to the conflicts, never delving deeper to the heart of the problems. She had no balance within herself, and she never sought to have personal balance. For all his failures, Roku had possessed a keen understanding of all the nations and their peoples, his lone redeeming quality as Avatar, along with, of course, his mentorship to Aang. Yet, Roku had been unbalanced and failed to perceive Vaatu's rise, and he was blinded by his sentiments for Sozin, paving the way for the century-long war.

The Avatars were hailed as the Balance-Keeper, but very few Avatars to ever exist have been balanced. Most Avatars were imbalanced themselves, but Aang was different; he was wise and balanced—or on his way to balance.

But it was not enough. Where for every other Avatar it would be enough, for the newest incarnation it would not be.

The threat of Vaatu was ancient and unsurpassable. His father had amassed all of the elements for himself and neared ascension as another Avatar. Koh had thought it impossible, but the evidence was clear, blinding like his newest sibling.

Was Balance possible?

Koh's entire existence had been about balance, but not even he, for all his might, could assemble Balance for the Realms. The Avatar had failed throughout all his lifetimes, but this was different. This was an opportunity.

It was the opportunity that would never come again.

Watching his newest sibling's growth, Koh's stolen face split into a smile, illuminated by the light cast by the maturing Phoenix. "Not even I anticipated this, Brother," he purred. "It is clear that the Tree is after Eternal Balance, and I am primed to facilitate it. I will do what I must to see Eternal Balance reality."

"At… what cost?" the soft, weak voice of The Phoenix asked.

"Any cost."

XxXxXxXxXxX

The taste stained the inside of her mouth, and Hama felt sick all over again. The vomit had been sudden and unexpected, as well as the nausea and fatigue. She should have been brimming with energy after staying in one position for so long, but she felt lethargic.

Clearly, her body tried to fight the effects of the chi-block but failed, resulting in her illness.

Perhaps her illness was a result of her fear of having her bending taken permanently. Would The Avatar be cruel enough to take that which mattered most from her?

Ozai's daughter certainly thought so, and Katara—Katara!—had been hesitant, suggesting The Avatar would do it.

Hama didn't know The Avatar; she remembered the boy, Kuzon, who had deceived her during the Great War, but that was all. She knew the terror of The Avatar rushing at her and briefly stopping him with bloodbending; she knew the stories from Chin V, Ozai, and Vaatu; she had seen the effects of his power; she had felt Ozai's power when merged briefly with Vaatu.

But The Avatar was different.

Her trepidation seethed inside her, a weight that seemed to move and kick at her, a presence that was permanent.

She could not have her bending stolen from her! It would be worse than the chi-block!

Fear curled inside her, gripping her insides, and she gasped as tears filled her eyes. She had never known such fear—not even when she had been imprisoned. Then, her hatred had roiled; then, she had known her bending would return once she escaped. But now, even if she escaped, which was more unlikely than her escape from the Fire Nation prison, her bending would never return—because The Avatar was a thief above all thieves!

A sudden rumble from outside caught her attention, and she listened; she heard the roar of flames and the familiar sound of water rushing through the air in a brilliant, beautiful swirl, and Hama almost wept at the sound of it.

Would she ever be able to produce that sound again?

Muffled screams and shrieks drifted into the air, and she knew that Ozai's children and wife had turned on The Avatar's allies! Of course, they did! They were monsters! Who else would wed a monster and bear his children but another monster? Who else would be the children of two monsters but other monsters?

They were heirs of Sozin!

Hama gnashed her teeth together and tried to jerk her body, but the metal molding was immovable. Despite her hatred of that blind earthbending girl, she could admit that the makeshift prison was clever.

If only her chi was not blocked!

Suddenly, the door burst open, and Hama was unsurprised to see Ozai's wife enter in a rush and slam the door behind her. Also with her was The Avatar's daughter, a young pregnant woman, and the young woman who had presumed her vanity and desire for immortality.

A noble based on the look of her. Also a non-bender.

"So, that's what this is?" Hama demanded. "You murder the prisoner before The Avatar shows up because you know none of you can face him?"

"There is an attack," Ozai's wife announced, voice tight, particularly when she saw the vomit.

Hama sneered. "By you and your children, and I am to be one of your unfortunate victims, right?"

"We are here to make sure you are not attacked."

"Spare me, Fire Lady," she snarled. "You're a liar."

"The chi-stealers are who attacked."

Hama's face stilled, and panic rose within her. "Vaatu sent them? They've found me?"

Ozai's wife stared at her, face revealing nothing. "I cannot say. There are hundreds of them, and my children and the others are holding them off. I am here to ensure the safety of everyone in this room."

The Avatar's daughter glared at her, and Hama glared back. "Daddy will be here soon," The Avatar's daughter said with an arrogance that could only belong to a child of a Firebender—and she had two parents as Firebenders.

"I don't care," Hama snapped. "Your father's weak. I would kill him if I could. I would kill all of you if I could!"

The pregnant woman raised a brow, holding a hand over her swollen stomach; she was very far along, clearly. "You would kill the two Waterbenders I carry in me?"

Hama blinked and stared at the swollen stomach. "Impossible," she muttered. "You're a Child of Earth!"

"Who married the heir of the Water Tribes," the pregnant woman finished smoothly, eyes intent. "You adore the Moon. Would you kill those who the Moon adores?"

"What are you saying?" Hama demanded slowly, trying to determine the meaning behind those words. "You married… Katara's brother?"

"I did, and I carry his heirs, blessed by the Moon Spirit. They are both Waterbenders."

Hama swallowed. "Southern Waterbenders," she whispered. "True Southern Waterbenders."

"Will you harm them?"

She remained silent for several moments; she didn't want to harm them, not in the slightest, but… they were related to Katara. Hurting them would hurt Katara.

"Katara's their aunt," she said at last.

"Holding blood against a child is absurd. We don't hold blood against a child."

Hama narrowed her eyes. Why did she get the feeling that Katara's sister-in-law was talking about more than her pregnancy?

Then it suddenly occurred to her. "That's why you befriended Sozin's heirs? Have you forgotten what's in their blood? Well, the memory will return, and you'll wish you hadn't been so forgetful! One day, they'll betray you and claim their unnatural inheritance. It's in their blood."

"A most rigid understanding," Ozai's wife observed. "Someone can rise above the inclinations bestowed by blood if given the chance, Hama."

"Sozin's line begets nothing but monsters, you fools," Hama condemned, eyes narrowing on the noblewoman. "Who is she? Another fool, I imagine."

The noblewoman averted her eyes. "King Bor saved my life; I am no one."

Ozai's wife placed a gentle hand on the noblewoman's arm. "Do not let her modesty fool you. She is the Queen of Chyung."

Hama sneered and looked away. "A Queen of Nobodies, you mean. Chyung is weak—just like The Avatar."

"The Avatar is not weak," Chyung's queen whispered, face flashing with something that Hama failed to decipher; it intrigued her. "He is many things, but weak he is not."

"He is weak of spirit. He does not do what must be done."

"Daddy's not weak!" The Avatar's daughter cried out, and the air in the room swirled lightly. "He's strong! He's The Avatar!"

"Who has let things progress to where they are now," Hama dismissed in disgust. "He is too weak to do what must be done."

"He has learned, Hama," Ozai's wife warned. "My husband will see the fruits of his understanding when Aang untethers his restraint."

"We'll see."

"We will."

The shaking and screams from outside had noticeably stopped.

"Your children are dead, Fire Lady," Hama taunted after several moments. "Sozin's heirs are no more."

Ozai's wife's gaze dropped briefly to Hama's middle before looking back up at her. "No. Sozin's heirs live still. My children are not dead; they are not killed easily."

Suddenly, the door opened and Ozai's daughter entered the room, and Hama noticed immediately the change in the air. It was triumphant; The Avatar's wife powerfully held herself, tall and vivid, highlighting her Air Nomad garbs.

"The threat has been neutralized," Ozai's daughter announced, golden eyes gleaming. "We had help. Someone arrived finally."

Incapable of controlling her reaction due to the immediate overwhelming fear ravishing her being, Hama felt the blood drain from her face, and she noted dimly that Chyung's queen had the same reaction.

The Avatar's daughter's eyes widened in delight, face alight in radiant joy. "Daddy!" she screamed in jubilation and dashed out of the room in a gust of wind, and Ozai's daughter was right behind her with a contented expression on her face.

Hama watched Katara's sister-in-law walk calmly out of the room, leaving her alone with Ozai's wife and Chyung's queen.

"You should greet your son-in-law," Chyung's queen advised stiffly. "I will watch Hama."

Ozai's wife glanced at Chyung's queen. "Are you sure?"

"Yes."

Hama was left alone with Chyung's queen as Ozai's wife left.

XxXxXxXxXxX

Aang had seen the flare of sapphire flames in the distance, blazing into the air, and he flew faster than he had ever flown—so fast that the wind was painful even to him.

As he approached, it became apparent why Azula was fighting.

The chi-stealers.

While he knew Azula, Zuko, and Ursa could not have their chis stolen, the thought of his daughter near the chi-stealers immensely worried him. The worry morphed into panic, for he knew how strong chi-stealers were, so much stronger than any mortal, non-bender or bender. A single strike from a chi-stealer would kill his daughter and could cripple his wife and friends.

Flaming buildings met his gaze as he barrelled to the earth, smashing into the ground with enough force that the entire league in which the town sat trembled down to its foundations.

"Twinkletoes is here!" Toph shouted in relief from somewhere in the distance. "He's gonna fuck up all these losers!"

He dashed toward the sound and saw Toph, Bor, Sokka, Katara, Zuko, Azula, and a mustached earthbending man—was that Haru?—fighting in a large circle, backs facing each other as they repelled the forces of the hundreds of chi-stealers. But where was Samir?

Zuko lashed out with a fire-sword—Sozin's famed fire-blade!—and looked up to see him, and the relief on his face was unmistakable. "What are you waiting for?" his friend roared over the sounds of battle.

Aang let the fire in his hands radiate in the air, watching as all the chi-stealers surrounding his family hesitated, turning toward him. He increased the power in the fire—a pleasant feeling—and they rushed at him. He didn't waste a second and attacked, body moving on instinct as bodies blazed toward him, the fire inside him their target.

The elements answered his commands, and he ruthlessly wielded them, either using enough force to knock out the chi-stealers or inflicting them with enough pain that they fled in terror.

Within moments, his family joined his attacks, and the chi-stealers dwindled in number, either unconscious or fled.

"Twinkletoes, you gotta work on your timing!" Toph shouted, smashing a boulder into one of the unprepared chi-stealers, who immediately fell unconscious. "Where have you been? These fuckers are strong!"

"Something came up!" he shouted back as he drew water and surrounded several chi-stealers, crushing them together. "Keep going!"

Their attacks were seamless, consistent, and endless, and Aang slowly began to work his way through each individual chi-stealer, purifying with energybending as he went.

Soon, the attack was over, and former Firebenders laid, panting on the ground, trying to reorient themselves to their surroundings.

"Very timely," Azula greeted as she approached him, and he knew by the way she carried herself that Samir was safe. "Our daughter has been waiting for you."

Sokka stomped over. "We all have! Where the fuck have you been? I keep thinking I'm gonna be eaten!"

Aang blinked, trying to make sense of Sokka's words as Katara smacked her brother's arm, shooting him an exasperated smile. "We found everyone, as you can see."

"And an extra," he murmured as Haru—it actually was Haru!—smiled warily at him. He dimly noticed that Azula had vanished into one of the buildings.

"It's good to see you again, Aang."

Aang bowed his head. "You, too, Haru. I wish it were under better circumstances."

"What do you mean?" Zuko asked with a frown. "I mean, Azula told us about Indra, but we're all reunited—or most of us are."

A sinking sensation hollowed his chest. "Who died? Who did we lose?"

Bor swallowed. "Grandfather- "

Aang nodded, closing his eyes. "I know about Bumi, Bor."

"Mai, Ty Lee, and the Kyoshi Warriors were killed," Sokka said, voice solemn, eyes tight. "We got to Ozai's camp, and… he killed them. I didn't see the lie, and it cost us."

"That's been going around," Aang muttered, running an exhausted hand over his face. "It's a theme. But that ends now. I spoke with the Tree of Time."

Before any of them could ask questions, Aang whirled around as a familiar presence approached with airbending.

"Daddy!" Samir screamed in joy, rushing at him with a vibrant smile.

Aang leaped forward and picked her up into his arms, cradling her to his chest, engulfing her in his arms.

Within moments, sobs shook through his daughter.

"Daddy," she moaned through her sobs, and Aang hated Ozai.

"I'm here," he consoled gently, trying to keep his own emotions under control; he wasn't successful. The tears came, and he was so relieved. Vaatu had lied, and he didn't care. He would later, he knew, but right now, it didn't matter. Samir was alive, and she was safe. "I'm here. I'm not going anywhere."

"Stay," Samir begged against his chest, shaking in his arms. "Stay. Daddy, please."

"I'm not going anywhere," Aang repeated, closing his eyes. "I'm here. You're okay; you're okay. It's okay."

"Don't leave."

"I won't," he promised, knowing it was a vow he wouldn't be able to keep. The Avatar had to be above such things, unfortunately. "I'm here, and you're with me, right? This isn't a dream, is it?"

Samir laughed through tears and leaned back to look up at him. "It's not a dream, Daddy. See?" She pinched his arm, and he laughed with her. "See, Daddy?"

"I see, Samir," Aang said as Azula, Ursa, and Suki approached them.

Ursa's face stretched into a smile. "It is good to see you, Aang."

"And you, Ursa," he returned before he smiled at Suki, noting the large swell of her stomach, a sign of imminent motherhood; the energy was unmistakable. "You've progressed nicely. I'm glad to see you're alright."

"Thank you," Suki said, hands caressing her belly; the movement looked unconscious. "It wasn't without trials. None of this has been easy for us."

Aang felt sadness at the heaviness in Suki's face. "I know. And I'm sorry. I wish none of this had happened."

"Don't go that far," Sokka interjected. "I mean, twins! We're having twins. And guess what?"

"They're Waterbenders."

Sokka faltered. "Oh, come on! You knew the whole time?"

Aang shrugged, seeing the amusement on Azula's face. "I suspected, and the moment I saw her, I felt the energy. Two Waterbenders."

Katara exchanged a heavy glance with Zuko. "Speaking of that, we have captured Hama."

All peace vanished in a moment, and Aang tensed, the memory of Hama preventing him from saving Samir and Ursa in the North assaulting him. "Where is she? Where?"

Azula placed a hand against his chest; he hadn't even noticed that he stood up. "Wait. There is more you need to know."

"Such as?"

"She's pregnant, Aang," Katara cut in, staring at him; she looked almost worried.

Aang paused as awareness prickled at him; the looks on Katara and Zuko's faces said it all. "With Ozai's child?"

Katara's chin lifted. "We've decided to raise him. Well, Zuko decided and I joined. And we're going to. She doesn't know she's pregnant yet."

Silence.

Thoughts swirled in Aang's mind as he tried to digest everything he had just learned. "Are you thinking I would stop you?" he asked and sighed when Zuko looked away; Katara only stared back at him. "Why would I stop you? Why would I want to? It's perfect if you raise him."

Katara smiled brilliantly. "Thank you, Aang."

"Don't go, Daddy," Samir interjected, her exhausted face filling his vision. "Stay with me. Please. She's scary."

Aang tensed. "Hama?"

Samir sniffed and several new tears spilled down her cheeks. "She hurt me; she's mean and scary. She did things to me. It hurt. She… hurt Grandma."

Based on the look on Azula's face, he was not alone in wishing harm on Hama.

"Hama saved our lives," Ursa cut in, face solemn.

Aang clenched his jaw as the memory of that horrifying moment assaulted him with a Firebender's ferocity. "She's why you needed saving in the first place."

"She killed all of Ozai's army, like all of them but him," Haru added.

"You were there?"

"Sokka's group found me, and I joined them."

Azula placed a steady hand on his arm. "Everything you feel and think about Hama has already occurred to me. I have not killed her no matter how much I want to."

Aang shook his head. "I don't want to kill her. I don't want to kill anyone but Ozai. But I will kill Hama if I must. That is my burden."

"The child," Katara interjected, eyes worried, and Aang knew she was already in love with Hama's child. "You can't kill the child- "

"I wouldn't kill a child!" Aang snapped, voice rising, and he immediately regretted it when Samir flinched. "I wouldn't kill a child," he repeated quietly. "I would never."

Haru looked away from him, but Aang didn't know why.

"Then you gotta take her bending, Aang," Sokka pleaded. "Please. I can't chi-block her again. She's terrifying."

Toph nodded. "It feels like he's about to piss himself every time we go in there."

Sokka surprisingly offered no defense. "It's true. She scares the shit out of me."

"I don't want Hama here," Aang cut in. "How far along is she?"

"Three months," Katara responded. "This is our only option, Aang. We either kill her, which we won't do, or we let her go, which we won't do."

Zuko met his gaze with a tired shrug. "The only winning move is to keep her with us and watch her. If you take her bending, it makes it so much easier. All we would have to worry about is the pregnancy."

Aang glanced at Suki. "How do you feel about this?"

Suki blinked in surprise. "Me?

"You're pregnant, too. Would you feel sympathy for Hama? Do you feel sympathy for her?"

"You mean, would I have qualms with how we treat her and how we have treated her?" Suki asked knowingly. "No, I don't, and that's not going to change. As long as she is treated well and fed, I see no problems with this. I know what she's done, and I've seen her hatred with my own eyes. It's dangerous; she's dangerous."

"She held Ozai's entire army by herself," Haru said quietly, but his words were heard by everyone. "And she killed all of them with a squeeze of her fist."

Bor barely met Aang's gaze. "We have already decided, Avatar Aang. Do you agree with our decisions?"

Aang took several moments to respond. "And when she gives birth? What then? What happens after?"

Katara averted her eyes, sadness etched in her face. "I guess… she dies. I don't think there's any getting through to her. I've tried."

"As have I," Ursa added. "She is consumed by hatred."

"I'll do it," Toph volunteered, face serious. "I'll kill that stupid bitch. She would kill all of us if she could. I've had enough of people like that."

Aang knew she was thinking of Chin V, and he nodded in consideration. "She'll stay with us, and we'll watch her. Speaking of, where is she?"

"We've been chi-blocking her- "

"We?" Sokka exploded, throwing his arms in the air. "There's no 'we'! There's me! I've been chi-blocking that bitch- "

"Stupid bitch with stupid bitch-ness," Toph corrected flippantly.

"- ever since we captured her! I'm the one doing all the work! You're just standing there and moving the metal!"

Aang turned to the inn. "Then let's change that. None of you have to worry—her bending won't be a problem anymore."

"Are you sure?" Ursa asked. "If you need rest, we can wait. Master Sokka can chi-block her again, and- "

"No, I can't!" Sokka interrupted with finality in his voice. "Or, I mean, I won't!"

"- Jin is watching her right now."

"A woman we saved in Ba Sing Se, Twinkletoes," Toph supplied before he could ask his question. "She's Chyung's rightful queen."

"I'm not taking chances," Aang said and turned to the inn. "Hama made her choices; I'm making mine."

"Daddy, don't leave," Samir begged, tugging on his pant leg.

Aang crouched in front of her. "I'm going inside the inn. You should wait with Mommy because it shouldn't take long."

Samir didn't look happy, but she nodded. "Okay."

Before he entered the inn, he turned back and gestured toward all the recovering former Firebenders. "Update them on what's happened. Tell them the truth. Tell them about The Phoenix. Ask if they'll join us against Vaatu."

Azula nodded as Samir grabbed hold of her hand. "Consider it done."

XxXxXxXxXxX

Chyung's queen sat across from her, silent. The silence had descended over them ever since news of The Avatar's arrival, and somehow, Hama knew the news of his arrival worried them both.

"Do you hate The Avatar?" Chyung's queen asked softly.

Hama sensed an opportunity and nodded eagerly. "I do. I hate him."

"Why?"

"He's going to take my bending."

Chyung's queen looked disappointed, and Hama wanted to crush her heart. "You cannot hate that which has not occurred. You can only fear it."

Hama's eyes widened in outrage. "What do you know- "

"I fear The Avatar."

Silence.

"Did he take your bending?" Hama asked after several moments.

"He took my baby."

She leaned back as far as she could as she considered those words. "That doesn't sound like him. That sounds like Ozai."

Chyung's queen bowed her head. "Do you know what happened to King Kuei?"

Hama scoffed. "Of course, I did. My guards talked about it for weeks."

"I was a noblewoman in Ba Sing Se. The chaos and stress of The Avatar's slaughter caused me to miscarry."

"An indirect assault against you," she said in understanding. "But you don't hate him for causing your miscarriage?"

"I hate myself, not him. It was not my first lost baby."

"So, you fear him."

"Yes."

"Everyone fears The Avatar," Hama said. "Even Ozai; even Vaatu. You're not alone."

"But now he is here," Chyung's queen hissed, panic stretching her face. "What do I do? What would you do in my situation?"

Her eyes darted around the room, even though she knew there was no one else. "I always wanted children," she confessed. "Before I was taken when I was a girl, I was in love with a man. I wanted to have his children, and I know he wanted the same. I loved him so much; I loved him violently."

"What was his name?"

"What's yours?"

"Jin."

Hama swallowed. "His name was Kanak. I have never loved as I loved him. His waterbending was powerful, and he taught me; he was my Master. Everything I learned, I learned from him."

Jin hesitated. "Even bloodbending?"

Memories assaulted her, and the emotions roiled inside her. "No. That was my discovery. I wish he was there to make it with me."

"What happened to him?"

"What else?" she snapped. "Sozin! The Fire Nation! They raided my home, and we fought as long as we could, but Fire is Power. We failed; I failed. They killed Kanak right in front of me; they opened his throat from end to end, and I was powerless as he choked on his own blood. I tried to get to him, but it was too late. They took him from me! And I saw the unfinished betrothal necklace fall out of his pocket when he fell! They took everything from me!"

"I'm sorry," Jin consoled. "My husband was killed in front of me, too. Were you raped like I nearly was? The animal who murdered my husband tried to rape me before King Bor saved me."

Hama tried not to think of Ozai; she failed. "No. They never wanted to touch 'water filth.' They wanted to keep themselves pure; they thought their inner flames would be doused if they raped any of us."

Jin stared at her in disbelief. "That is absurd."

"I'm grateful for that absurdity; I'm grateful for their disgust; I'm grateful they considered me 'water filth'," Hama countered. "I was never touched because of that absurdity and disgust. But I lived in fear of such a fate for years; I waited for them to lose their absurdity and disgust and rape me, but they never did. But your situation is different. I was never pregnant; you were, which The Avatar stole from you. When I escaped my prison, I was still young enough to have children, but to betray Kanak like that was… intolerable. And to betray him with a Child of Fire was monstrous."

Jin swallowed and looked away. "I'm sorry."

"My advice is to kill him," Hama said. "I know it's absurd, but you must kill The Avatar. That's what I would do. If I lost my baby with Kanak because of something The Avatar did, I would hunt him down across the Four Nations until I found him and crushed his heart."

"Compelling if not impossible," Jin said unconvincingly, throat bobbing; Hama could tell her advice registered deeply. "But I made a promise to a friend that I would live."

Before Hama could respond to such weakness, the door opened, and terror was never more vivid in her mind. She swallowed as she identified him—The Avatar. There was a thick dust of facial hair on his face, and the long hair obscured his arrow, but the Air Nomad garbs swirling around a tall frame were clear.

Silence.

The Avatar glanced at Jin, who went rigid, face draining of blood; Hama was not responsible for it. "You must be Jin. I'm Aang. Thank you for watching Hama, but I'll take it from here. Watching her so vigilantly will no longer be necessary."

Hama snapped in terrified fury. "Don't take my bending!" she begged, voice rising and cracking, no longer caring that she was being weak. If it meant she could retain her bending, she would be weak forever. "Please. Don't do it."

He was resolute and immovable, face carved in stone, an Earthbender if there ever were one. "No."

She gasped and shook. "No, please. Just kill me instead. Kill me!"

The Avatar's gaze drifted over her, resting momentarily on her middle before those terrible eyes judged her once more. "No. You hold importance; your time is not over yet."

"Make it over!" Hama shrieked, trying to lunge forward in a display of a threat so he would smite her dead, but the metal molding prevented it. "Kill me, Avatar! Show mercy! I will never live like Ozai! Don't take my bending like you did his; kill me."

"You don't have a choice; you already made your choice."

"You're not giving me a choice!" she screamed.

The Avatar frowned; he was terrible. "Because your choices led to this moment."

"My choices led to me almost killing Ozai!" Hama snarled, the terror ravishing her heart. "Sokka's choices led to me being still alive and captured!"

"You made your choices; I must make mine." The Avatar turned to Jin, who stood, frozen, eyes wide, and he smiled kindly. "You should go, Jin. Thank you again."

Jin nodded stiffly and shuffled out of the room with barely balanced coordination.

Hama was left alone with The Avatar.

"Kill me," she whispered. "Please. You showed mercy to Ozai by sparing his life; show me mercy by ending mine."

The Avatar remained quiet for a long time, only staring at her, and Hama didn't interrupt him, knowing it would only anger him—meaning he wouldn't kill her. She also knew if she could stall him, the effects of her chi-block could wear off; it had been a long time since Sokka had chi-blocked her.

She tried to look for signs of the boy, Kuzon, in The Avatar, but there were none beyond the vivid gray eyes. With anger and fear, she realized she had made the same mistake as Ozai—failing to perceive The Avatar's maturity from his boyhood. He was a man who had taken the place of that boy she had encountered briefly.

The silence endured for so long that Hama lost count as The Avatar continued staring at her, almost seeming to stare through her; she tried to stare back, but she looked away several times, unable to bear such a penetrating gaze. However, as the time continued, she felt the chi-block begin to dwindle.

If she bought more time, she could kill The Avatar—or make him destroy her prison!

Hama prevented the smile from appearing on her face and remained silent, at The Avatar's mercy.

Finally, The Avatar sat across from her. "Why did you do it?" he rasped, looking exhausted.

"Do what?" she asked coyly.

"You gave yourself to Vaatu; you allied with him and taught Ozai waterbending."

"Vaatu gave me the chance no one ever did; he righted the wrong that Katara dealt me. Now, my beauty has returned, and my bending is stronger than ever. You remember, don't you?"

She immediately regretted her slight at the flash of steel in those gray eyes; reminding him of the North was a terrible idea.

"You kidnapped my daughter and mother-in-law but later rescued them. Why?"

"Ozai lied to me. I thought he was Piandao."

The thought of that deception nearly splintered her mind from the hatred coursing through her. She had missed all the signs, ignored them like a fool, and when she had grasped her chance to kill him when Vaatu was away, she had failed.

The Avatar didn't look surprised by her admission. "How much waterbending did you teach him? Would you consider him a Master?"

Hama's lips curled back in disgust. "No. He is competent, though; proficient, unfortunately. I've never encountered determination like his."

Not even her own determination to escape the Fire Nation prison compared to Ozai's determination to master the elements and become Vaatu's vessel as the new Avatar.

"Does he know bloodbending?"

"He saw me do it, but that's it. He would have to teach himself."

The Avatar looked very tired. "It's more than within his capability to teach himself, I believe. And healing?"

"The basics."

It would have been enough to save her life as Ozai's wife had suggested.

"Do you regret joining Vaatu?" The Avatar asked, gray eyes peering into her soul, and Hama, even if she weren't imprisoned, couldn't move. "Are you remorseful?"

Hama didn't try to lie, knowing it was pointless. "No. I regret that I didn't kill Ozai after I learned his identity. But Vaatu gave me everything. He gave me my second chance. Your wife said she knew the power of an offered chance, so she should understand how much I love Vaatu for the chance he gave me. It was everything that you and Katara wouldn't do. I owe Vaatu everything. He made me beautiful and strengthened my bending- "

"How are you younger?" The Avatar interrupted, looking curious.

"Vaatu restored my body to what it would have been if I had taken care of myself and not been imprisoned. He flooded my chi with his energy while I was under the full Moon."

"How does he evade my sight? How does he teleport?"

Hama scoffed. "You think he shared everything he knew with me?"

"I think he shared it with Ozai, who shared it with you."

"You think wrongly," she sneered. "Ozai never shared anything with me."

The Avatar didn't look impressed. "He shared himself with you."

It only took her a moment to understand what he alluded to. "Fuck you, Avatar!" she snarled. "You don't know anything about it. None of you do."

"I know you shared his bed. What else is there to know?"

Hama leaned forward as much as her neck allowed. "After I healed him and restored to him his arm that you took, he demanded a fuck-buddy. I obliged him."

The Avatar's face softened, and Hama hated him so much. "He raped you?"

"I was willing," she admitted, hating herself so much. "I made myself willing. It was an arrangement of pleasure. The sex was always very pleasurable despite how much I wished I crushed his penis with bloodbending once I learned his identity."

"He confided nothing to you?"

"I already told his wife everything I know."

Silence.

"I want to do what's right," The Avatar whispered, looking past her. "Logically, I should kill you; logically, I should have killed Ozai to end the Great War. But now, I make the same choice—the emotional path. I'm not going to kill you."

Hama thrashed, words tumbling out of her in a vicious rush. "You pathetic ass with your cheap manhood! You'd rather condemn me to a banal existence than kill me!"

The Avatar frowned. "Don't pretend to know my reasons. I'm not killing you for the reasons you think. Otherwise, I would, no matter how much it would pain me."

"But you're going to take my bending."

"Yes."

The chi-block was gone fully, and the Moon's presence was there! Hama smiled, feeling her face twist and contort in concentration. "I won't let you!" she shrieked.

Hama felt The Avatar's blood, and she grinned in delight; she focused, and while she had never tried using bloodbending without her hands, it became apparent swiftly she didn't need her hands. She grabbed The Avatar's blood and smiled as he went rigid, body immobile and malleable under her grip, but before she could crush his heart, her grip was ripped away by a stronger grip. She flinched at such foreign power, eyes wide as The Avatar relaxed, and before she could comprehend what had happened, Hama gasped as her body was seized by power, a grip so strong that it was impervious, even to her with an unblocked chi.

"I'm surprised you waited so long," The Avatar said, unsurprised, nonchalant.

Hama's eyes bulged in terrified realization. The Avatar had known the whole time that the chi-block was dwindling; he had been waiting for her to act. It was a test.

Heartbreak ravished her, and the tears fell as she felt bloodbending used against her. Her art form was used against her with a mastery that terrified her!

"Doesn't feel good, does it?" The Avatar asked rhetorically, eyes knowing. "You're never going to control someone again."

"Please," she begged, uncaring of how distraught she looked. "I'll do anything. I'll sleep with you if you want! Anything!"

The Avatar's eyes darkened in disgust, and the hold on her body tightened painfully, causing her to gasp, the spittle erupting into the air in a mist that she should be able to control! "What I want is peace. You deliberately sabotaged my attempts to manifest peace. I want Vaatu gone, and I want Ozai in the Gardens of the Dead."

"I'll help you!" Hama vowed, eyes frantic. "Please! I'll help you! Don't take my bending! Take me to Ozai, and I'll kill him for you!"

"I don't trust you," The Avatar condemned, standing to his feet as he approached, and Hama was stricken by terror beyond anything she had ever experienced. "You're not going to hurt anyone else."

"Please, Avatar!" she shrieked as the metal imprisoning her peeled away under The Avatar's power, leaving her vulnerable. Tears blurred her vision, making him a terrifying mass of Air Nomad colors. "Aang! I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! Stop! Please!"

Blinking through her numerous tears, The Avatar's face was cast in sad resignation, and she hated and feared him more than Ozai. "You're not sorry; you're sorry that you were caught."

Hama's eyes slammed shut as The Avatar's thumbs pressed against her forehead and between her breasts.

XxXxXxXxXxX

The Fire Nation was nothing like what he had imagined. Even though he knew about the plague that had reduced Fire, he hadn't expected the devastation of the Fire Nation's capital.

Hakoda had expected the familiarity from the end of the Great War, but beyond the bare foundations of being in the capital, there was nothing but shock and even horror. He better understood how many people had died based on the empty buildings and silence that acted as a presence.

"I can't believe it," Bato muttered beside him, disbelief etched on his face. "Fire seemed so… unbeatable. It was only The Avatar that was able to stop them. I never imagined they could be so… ruined."

"Iroh was blunt in his letter," Pakku said, eyes roaming their surroundings. "Quite Earthbender-like. But not even such bluntness prepared me for this."

Hakoda agreed, silent as he led all of the men through the capital, remembering the route he had taken over a decade ago. Thankfully, almost all of the available men had volunteered for the journey. He suspected that they felt guilty that the rest of the Four Nations, including their brethren in the North, had been affected deeply by the new war, while the South had remained untouched.

During the trip from the South to the Fire Nation, he had worried over the fates of his children, who were at the heart of the new war. They were facing horrors not even he could imagine from his experiences in the Great War, and he hoped they were alive. They had to be. He couldn't comprehend his children being dead. It was impossible; it was monstrous.

"Does he know we're coming?" Bato asked, looking at the shadows of the burned-down buildings. It was sobering, for Hakoda knew from experience how difficult it was to burn anything down in the Fire Nation. Most infrastructure was designed to be resistant to flames. "He could be dead- "

Pakku chuckled. "Iroh is a Master Firebender, immune to the plague. He is strong and cunning."

"He is the Dragon of the West," Hakoda said with a heavy sigh. He still remembered the legends of terror surrounding the Dragon of the West. He had been the Earth Kingdom's scourge before his unthinkable defeat at Ba Sing Se. "Short of someone from his own family and The Avatar, I don't think there's anyone who could kill him. Maybe Katara and Toph, but I don't know."

"Not that any of them but his brother would try," his stepfather added. "Iroh is alive."

Hakoda wondered if Fire Lord Zuko, who the Dragon of the West suspected to be his son-in-law in all but official title, was still alive. What about Sokka, Katara, and Suki?

He blinked hard to dissuade such thoughts.

"We're here," Bato announced, and Hakoda didn't pause as they approached the palace.

A servant appeared from the shadows and bowed to them. "Prince Iroh has been expecting you, Chief Hakoda. I shall take you to him."

Hakoda nodded. "Thank you."

They flowed through so many halls that Hakoda lost count, the red colors blurring together into a mass of fabric that was everywhere. It was the first time he had seen such red since the Great War.

They stopped in front of a room with a massive table. Hakoda recognized it as the dining hall. It was the same massive room to which they had all congregated after Fire Lord Zuko's coronation to end the Great War.

"Prince Iroh has instructed the chefs to prepare a meal for everyone else while you and Master Pakku meet with him," the servant said.

Hakoda nodded in understanding and turned to his men, including Bato. "Go eat. You've earned it after the journey."

The men nodded and entered the dining hall, led by Bato, and various conversations drifted in the air.

"This way," the servant said, leading them further into the palace.

Eventually, they were led to magnificent doors where two Imperial Firebenders stood at attention. They were the first Firebenders Hakoda had seen since they had landed, and he tensed at the sight of those metallic skulls, fighting off the instinctive panic and fear, the instinct to fight and kill.

The Imperial Firebenders opened the doors, and Hakoda's gaze was drawn to the man behind the desk. He immediately recognized him—the Dragon of the West, the prodigious firstborn of Fire Lord Azulon, and the grandson of Sozin. Sitting in one of the chairs was another man who proudly carried himself, a clear Earthbender.

The Dragon of the West stood and bowed his head. "Welcome, my friends. I am relieved to see you."

"Iroh," Pakku greeted.

Hakoda saw the man beneath the Dragon of the West as a kind smile met Pakku's gaze. "Hello, old friend."

"General Iroh," Hakoda said, inclining his head, not taking his eyes off the Dragon of the West for a moment. He knew that beneath the jovial disposition lay a killer above all killers but Fire Lord Ozai—and The Avatar based on what Aang had done to Kuei.

The Dragon of the West turned to him. "Chief Hakoda. I am relieved that Pakku convinced you to journey here. These are dire times. This is Batsu, husband of Omashu's queen, Anju."

Hakoda inclined his head to Batsu, who had stood to his feet and nodded respectfully.

"I was sorry to hear about your wife's grandfather, King Bumi," Pakku said with a mournful look on his face.

Batsu inclined his head in thanks. "Not as sorry as my wife was. But I thank you for your condolences. 'Dire times,' indeed."

"I didn't realize the Fire Nation suffered so much from this plague," Hakoda said. "How many have you lost, General Iroh?"

"Too many," the Dragon of the West responded, all signs of joviality vanishing, revealing only a tired and sad man. "And I say that because I do not know the actual number. I have done my best to acquire estimates, but… I cannot say. No estimate is accurate. All I know is that there are very few non-Master Firebenders left. Besides my two Imperial Firebenders, I am the only Firebender within the entire Caldera—and I suspect that number would remain the same if you expand the range."

"It's like the North," Pakku said, sitting down on one of the chairs. "They were nearly wiped out from an attack by Vaa- "

"Stop!" the Dragon of the West shouted, causing Hakoda to stiffen, automatically reaching for a weapon, but he controlled himself. "Never say his name. Promise me. Promise me. Never say the spirit's name. Names have power. We refer to him as Dark."

"And if we've said that name already?" Hakoda asked carefully, assessing the Dragon of the West. "What then?"

The Dragon of the West collapsed on the couch near the desk. "You are at risk of drawing Dark's gaze. Never say his name."

"My son, Onartok, messaged me about the attack on the North," Pakku continued. "He is temporary Chief until Sokka arrives. According to my son, only one-hundred seventeen men remain in the North. They are devastated like the Fire Nation."

Hakoda had never imagined that the Dragon of the West could look so tired. "I know. And the Earth Kingdom is not any better. Chyung and Ba Sing Se are king-less, and Ba Sing Se's Upper Ring burned away; thousands upon thousands and thousands died in the attack. There is no true estimate, but so many died. Omashu is stable- "

Batsu nodded adamantly. "It is. There are no threats to my wife's rule. We have crushed any threats to Omashu and repelled attacks against us. My wife has been ruthless since King Bumi's murder—as she should be."

"Why are you here in her stead?" Hakoda asked, curious. "I am the South's Chief and sent no representative in my stead. Why does your wife send you as her representative rather than come herself? Is Omashu not as secure as you claim?"

"The Earth Kingdom is not stable," Batsu retorted. "Omashu is its only source of stability. Zaofu is about to fall; it's only a matter of time. My wife refused to leave during such dire times, even to meet with Prince Iroh."

Hakoda was satisfied. "Thank you for your honesty."

"We know my wife's cousin, Bor, who is now Ba Sing Se's rightful king, escaped Ba Sing Se's carnage, but we don't know much else. And apparently, you don't either. The South has been untouched by this conflict."

He ignored the bitterness in Batsu's voice, understanding the source of his frustration. The South had been very blessed; it must have been atonement for its near destruction during the Great War.

"We are friends here," the Dragon of the West interjected, drinking from a cup of tea. "Just be grateful none of our nations face the plight of Air."

Batsu swallowed and looked away. "Of course. King Bumi was very vocal about Avatar Aang's burden. Though, Fire approaches such a burden, I must say."

"I say not," the Dragon of the West dismissed. "There is only one of Air; well, two, actually. There are still many of Fire, even if almost all of them are non-benders or infected by the plague."

"Then are we safe here, Iroh?" Pakku asked. "You have been ruling for well over a year in your nephew's stead. Are the people outraged that the Fire Lord has seemingly abandoned them?"

"I was groomed from birth to be Fire Lord. The people know me; they have accepted my regency until my nephew returns. They are angry at this entire war, which I have revealed to them lies at my brother's feet. Those loyal blame Ozai as they should."

"How many have been disloyal?" Pakku asked with a raised brow. "I know many in the nobility were displeased with the Great War's end."

The Dragon of the West closed his eyes for several moments. "There is very few nobility left. They were either infected and ran off, or they joined my brother. Those loyal nobles have been rewarded and will continue to be when my nephew returns."

"When will Fire Lord Zuko return?" Hakoda demanded, leaning forward. "What about my children? You said you lost track of them."

"I did." The Dragon of the West put down his cup of tea. "I lost track of them after they left for the Sun Warrior Tribe. According to my nephew's last letter, they had split up. Your son took a group to rescue his Master, Piandao."

Hakoda leaned back in remembrance; his son had been fond of Piandao. "I know of him."

"As do we," the Dragon of the West said, gesturing to himself and Pakku. "He is part of the Order of the White Lotus. Your son left to rescue Piandao and either strike a crippling blow to my brother in any way he could or recover intelligence about the plans Dark has, and he brought the Ladies Mai and Ty Lee with him, along with many Kyoshi Warriors; your daughter left with Avatar Aang, my nephew, my niece, and my sister for the Sun Warrior Tribe; and the Ladies Toph and Suki remained behind with Prince Bor and King Bumi in Ba Sing Se. After Ba Sing Se fell, we know that King Bor and the two ladies escaped. Since then, I have no knowledge and have remained blind."

"I think that's where I come in," Pakku interjected, and Hakoda already knew the contents of the letter but listened attentively. "According to my son's message, Avatar Aang saved the North from destruction. He was aided by Katara, Fire Lord Zuko, and Princess Azula. They all saved the North from death. But he also mentioned that Fire Lord Zuko's mother and Princess Azula's daughter—Samir, I think her name is—were kidnapped by Ozai."

The Dragon of the West's face transformed, and Hakoda found himself instinctively searching for a weapon due to the deadly glow in those golden eyes. "What?" he demanded in horrified fury. "Of course, he did. Damn my brother. Damn him. I can only pray that Avatar Aang and my niece's daughter is alive. Ozai will not kill Ursa."

Hakoda blinked in astonishment. "What? Aang and… Princess Azula have a child together? The letter didn't say that! It said Samir is Princess Azula's daughter."

"Adopted daughter," the Dragon of the West explained. "And yes, they are married and parents to Samir. Much has happened. I myself have barely been able to keep up. I doubt the letter by Onartok would explain much beyond the events that transpired in the North."

"But that is all I know," his stepfather finished while Hakoda tried to reconcile the Aang he had known marrying the Fire Princess, Azula—the same Azula who had nearly killed him from a lightning strike. It seemed unthinkable, but then again, The Avatar slaughtering King Kuei had once seemed unthinkable. Now it was reality—just as Aang and Princess Azula. "Have you heard anything, Batsu?"

Batsu tilted his head in consideration. "If Toph is with my wife's cousin, discretion would not be their ally. There has been so much chaos and destruction that I cannot single out any event that might have resulted from Toph and Bor trying to send a message. Would The Avatar still be in the North?"

Pakku shook his head. "No. Onartok said he left for Ba Sing Se."

Hakoda sighed. "Which he would find compromised. Is he rebuilding the city?"

"I have received no such word," the Dragon of the West replied, face pinching with tension as he drank a sip of tea. "I suspect he is searching for everyone, but I cannot say. Perhaps he has launched a direct assault against my brother to recover Ursa and Samir."

"Let's hope it's successful," Batsu murmured.

"We need to be on the lookout for reports of The Avatar's sky bison," Pakku said.

The Dragon of the West nodded in agreement. "Indeed. I have sent spies to try to procure information regarding sightings of Appa. I should know more in the coming days."

"You know something now that you can share," Hakoda interjected when a brief silence descended over them. "How do you know what my daughter feels for your nephew? Have spies spied on her? I heard of such things during the Great War. They said the Fire Lord's spies were as silent and elusive as Airbenders and held loyalty only for the Fire Lord."

"No spy can match an Airbender's elusive stealth and silence," the Dragon of the West responded. "Our spies did spy on the other nations and relayed to my grandfather, father, and brother information so they could better understand and infiltrate- "

"Yes, Fire's attempt to 'culture' the other nations," Batsu drawled, posture tense.

The Dragon of the West glanced at Batsu. "I am not oblivious to the crimes my grandfather, father, brother, and myself committed under such noble ideas- "

Hakoda's brows rose. "Noble ideas?" he asked to stem the rise of his temper. "Our countrymen felt those 'noble ideas' as they died deaths they didn't deserve."

"I never said they deserved to die," the Dragon of the West countered, unfazed by the sudden animosity brewing in the room. Old wounds were difficult to heal. "If I had it my way, no one but my brother would die. But… that's not Life, is it? And yes, it was a noble idea, but only an idea. We fell for the lie that ideas can translate to reality; some ideas do, yes, but some ideas do not, and so many paid the price for our arrogance. For that, I will never stop apologizing. But I do not dwell on the past for the past's sake; we learn from the past."

Hakoda fists clenched. "We learned that the paternalistic line of Sozin propagated horror that scarred the other nations forever."

"My grandfather was as hateful as he was benevolent. Do you place the entire blame of the Great War on my lineage when you do not know the whole story?"

Batsu's eyes narrowed. "What 'whole story'?"

"Are the Children of Fire evil?" the Dragon of the West asked, taking a sip of his tea. "No, of course not. No people is evil. Only a fool or child believes otherwise. All peoples are complicated. Sozin is not to blame for the Great War, though he was its greatest recipient, making him guilty—but not to blame. Dark was behind the Great War; he corrupted the Fire Spirit Agni, who swayed Sozin along his path."

Silence.

Hakoda didn't feel surprised; nothing could surprise him anymore after everything he had faced.

"I doubt there was much swaying needed," Pakku said after several moments, and Hakoda agreed.

"Probably not," the Dragon of the West conceded. "But this new war is connected intimately to the old one; it is a direct response. Do you know why the Children of Fire supported their Fire Lord in his conquest?"

"So they wouldn't be executed?" Batsu drawled.

"Because they were terrified of Air."

Hakoda frowned, feeling astonished. "The Air Nomads were—are—a peaceful people. Fire had nothing to fear from Air."

The Dragon of the West looked sad. "Indeed, but my grandfather was a shrewd man—a brilliant man who wrongly used his brilliance. Fire Lord Sozin, on the day he announced his marriage to his second wife, my grandmother, showed Fire what Air could do—how Fire was powerless against Air. War had already been in design for years, but my grandfather needed the people's support, and he gave them a show. An Air Nomad—an emissary of Air, I suspect—had allied himself with Fire Lord Sozin, and he used his element to deadly and terrifying effect in front of all the people, at my grandfather's behest. I read the records myself. This Airbender—Afiko, his name was—suffocated three Imperial Firebenders, who are renowned for their deadly firebending prowess, at once by waving his hand, and they died before the crowd—their lives spent in purpose of manipulating my people to encourage war. Then my grandfather spread rumors of Air preparing for war to destroy Fire, amassing an Air Nomad Army. Fear was a tool wielded by Fire Lord Sozin to horrifying success. The masses wanted Air's blood; they roared for it and screamed for it; they prayed for it. It was a response to something no one had ever seen before—a violent, unrestrained Airbender. They were terrified, and when my grandfather offered them conquest, they pursued it."

"And you justified the conquest as spreading 'civilization,' right?" Hakoda asked with a deep frown.

"We did see it as culturing the other nations," the Dragon of the West said, voice pensive. "As we tamed the destructive tendencies of flames, we were to tame the other nations' destructive tendencies, for all nations have destructive tendencies. A noble idea dominated by a beautiful lie. It took me a long time to see the deception; I am relieved it took my nephew a much shorter time."

Hakoda swallowed, feeling his fingers grip the armrests on his chair. "What's your point in saying this, General Iroh?"

"This new war was fanned and fueled by hatred for Fire and resentment toward The Avatar," the Dragon of the West observed. "But there is the primary motivation—fear. Just as fear was the primary motivation for the Great War—Sozin's fear of The Avatar, Fire's fear of Air, and Fire's fear of retribution from Water and Earth for the Air Nomad Genocide."

Batsu leaned forward. "What are you saying?"

The Dragon of the West's eyes were old. "That we cannot keep making the same mistakes. Fire has been devastated, and we have been more devastated than any but Air. We will rebuild just as Air will. But we must be mindful and aware to defeat Dark and ensure that this never happens again."

"We will have much work to do after all this is over," Pakku interjected, voice cracking with age. "Nothing like this can ever happen again."

"But we must defeat Dark and Ozai first," Hakoda reminded. "General Iroh, I understand your point in raising these just concerns—and they are just, certainly; I see that now—but I don't see how it helps us defeat Dark and Ozai."

The Dragon of the West remained silent for several moments. "I fear that when we win, we will make the same mistakes we have before; I fear we will condemn those who joined Dark and seek their destruction. I am not sure the situation is as simplistic as Good and Evil. I think there is much complexity here that is being brushed aside. This is Light and Darkness, and we cannot make the mistake of perceiving Darkness as Evil. We need both; we need balance. But I am afraid—very afraid—that when this is over, we will commit atrocities out of our fear, grief, and resentment, beginning the cycle again. This is our chance to break it. The circle cannot close."

"This is complicated," Batsu groaned, running a hand over his face. "Anju should be here to talk about this, not me."

Silence.

"It is," Hakoda agreed solemnly. "Let's try something less complicated. You never answered my question, General Iroh. You said something in your letter about marriage between my daughter and your nephew. Did your spies spy on Katara?"

The Dragon of the West stood to his feet and approached the desk. He sifted through several papers for a moment before he presented a parchment to Hakoda. "This is a letter from your daughter meant for you."

Hakoda accepted the message with numb fingers; he recognized Katara's handwriting. "You read this?" he asked, anger rising inside him.

"I suggest you do," the Dragon of the West said, eyes steady

He stared at him for several moments before he was swept away by his daughter's words:

Dad,

I hope this message finds you in good spirits. Is Gran-gran alright? What about Pakku? Is the Tribe doing well? I wish I could be there myself to answer my questions, but I'm not, and I can't be. What I'm doing is too important. I hope you understand. And I'm sorry for not writing sooner, but I was angry at you for making me marry. But I understand now, and I know it was a hard decision I forced you to make. I'm sorry, Dad. At first, I was so angry by what you did, and I didn't look at it from your perspective. I was acting like a child. But I've stopped being a child—at least, I hope, although I think Sokka brings out the child in me whenever we fight—because this new war is no place for a child.

So much has happened, and I don't even know where to begin. I know Sokka wrote you a message when we were all at Ba Sing Se, but he never said what he told you. And I don't know if he told you that Suki is pregnant, but surprise! You're going to be a grandfather! And I'm going to be an aunt! It's hard to believe so much time has passed, but that's how it goes, doesn't it?

It makes me think about how I was when I last saw you, and I can admit that I'm not proud of who I was. I was still a child. I hate this new war, and I hate everything that it's done, but if I'm thankful for one thing, it's that this new war, along with reuniting with all of the Gaang, has helped me see things from a new angle. It's all helped me honestly look at myself, and I think I'm more mature now. But only everyone else can be the judge of that (it's quite immature to judge yourself mature, isn't it?). But I am confident saying that I am not the girl I was when I left almost two years ago to go to the Fire Nation to help Zuko.

What I've seen, what I've heard—I hope my children never experience it. I thought nothing would ever be worse than the Great War, and while this new war hasn't eclipsed it yet, I have this feeling, and it's getting stronger the more time passes, that this new war will. I have a feeling that something terrible—that many terrible things—will happen before we stop Vaatu. (And just so you know, never say "Vaatu" aloud! Aang has told us enough to take his words to heart. By saying his name, you can invoke his presence, making him aware of you.) I hope I'm wrong, but I fear I'm not.

Aang is stressed out. While it's not as bad as before he was going to face Ozai during the Great War before Sozin's Comet and before the Invasion, I think it will get worse—that's a running theme, isn't it? Because Vaatu and Ozai are a much more terrible enemy than the Fire Nation and Ozai. I'm worried for him, but I know he'll be alright. He's changed so much from that boy I knew, and for a long time, I kept trying to find that boy rather than seeing him as the man that he's become now. I mean, he's tall! He's even taller than Zuko, and Zuko is very tall! And Aang has grown his hair out, covering his arrow; he's so different. And it was really hard to accept—because it felt like the boy I knew died. And that's my fault because I was selfish and didn't keep in touch with him after the war. I've worked to regain his trust and get to know him again, and while there are similarities to that boy he was, there are many differences.

Aang is now darker and grim, more fierce and stubborn; he's all the elements now—a true, fully-realized Avatar. When Gran-gran told legends of The Avatar when I was young, those legends always contrasted vividly with the boy I freed from that iceberg. But now it no longer contrasts, and it's sad. He doesn't need my help, not like he did so long ago; he doesn't need a mother anymore. It makes me sad. Because there's part of me that wants to go back to how things were when we were so close and inseparable, all of us, but Life goes on. Aang isn't the boy he was, and I'm not sure I'm the girl I was—at least, I hope I'm not the girl I was.

And Zuko is different, too, although nowhere near as much as Aang. Being Fire Lord has made him colder and more ruthless, but I still see clearly that boy I knew during the end of the Great War—whereas I don't really see the boy that Aang was. Zuko has grown a lot, and he actually looks so much like his father—except his beard (and scar, of course) actually makes him look different at the same time. Oh, and he has a beard, too. I think the Water Tribesmen would approve, don't you? And it's a good beard, like a really good one. Also, Aang has started showing signs of a beard because he's stopped shaving. It's weird because I never imagined him with any facial hair, but Azula seems to enjoy him with it.

I should explain: Azula—as in Princess Azula of the Fire Nation, heir to Sozin, daughter of Ozai, and Zuko's sister who shot Aang full of lightning under Ba Sing Se during the Great War—has joined us now, and she and Aang are married under Air Nomad Law. I know, right? Isn't it insane, Dad?! But I've slowly gotten used to the idea because Azula has changed just as much as Aang has, although there are a lot more similarities with who Azula was. She will be the Mother of Air after all this is over, and I just hope she makes Aang happy because he deserves it more than anyone.

Speaking of happiness, I have something to tell you, but I don't know how to say it but tell you that even though I wasn't seeking it out, at least after my first blunder, I did find the alliance you wanted for the Tribe. It's Zuko, Dad. I love Zuko; I'm in love with the Fire Lord. Surprise?! I know Zuko's name was on the list you gave, but it was also the only one underlined. I never knew why it was underlined. Was his name underlined because you didn't like him but knew he was a good option economically and politically? I've thought about that, but I don't think so. How could you not like him after he saved you from the Boiling Rock? I don't know why his name was underlined, but it doesn't matter—because I've chosen him.

I hope you're not mad. But even if you are, I don't care. I love him, Dad, and when all this is over, we're going to marry, and I'll be Fire Lady. I know I'm being optimistic—my standard state, I guess—but I think it will work out. I know it will. He and I share a connection that I've never felt with anyone else, certainly none of the other men on the list—and those are only the ones I've actually met. The Fire Nation will accept it in time if not immediately, and so will the Water Tribes. My babies are going to look like him; he'll be the father of my children. I look forward to it, and I'm not scared of what people will say or think. This is my decision, Dad, and even if you disapprove, I'm going to do it, anyway. And if rank needs to be pulled, the Fire Lord outranks the Southern Chief of the Water Tribes. I'm sorry, but I'm not at the same time. I hope you understand.

On that grim note, can you begin prepping the men for war? I think Aang and us are going to need all the help we can get. Just so you know, me, Zuko, Aang, Azula, Ursa (Zuko's mom), and Samir (Aang and Azula's daughter who is also an Airbender! Isn't that amazing? Almost as amazing as Aang and Azula being married and having a daughter, isn't it? Oh, and Samir is adopted, in case you were wondering. From what I know, her birth parents were a whore in Ba Sing Se and a Fire Nation soldier who visited her brothel after Zuko demanded all the troops withdraw from Ba Sing Se when the Great War ended. Apparently, many of the soldiers visited the many brothels of the Lower Ring, delaying their official return to the Fire Nation by almost two years—and some returned even later than that. They were too busy having fun with whores. Between you and me, I think Zuko's still kind of—probably more like very—sour about it.) are at the Sun Warrior Tribe. Zuko bonded with a dragon! There are dragons left, Dad! And Zuko named him Druk. He's small, but he'll grow. And I got to see Avatar Roku again for a little bit (it's an Avatar thing). I'm sorry I'm rambling, but Aang just let me know it's time for dinner, so I guess I'll end things here.

I hope this letter prevents you from worrying, but I know it won't. Be safe, and I can't wait to see you in Ba Sing Se. That's where I told you to go, right? Reading back, it looks like I forgot, so I'll tell you now. Bring everyone you can to Ba Sing Se, and we'll meet you there. I love you, Dad, and I can't wait to see you!

Katara

Silence.

"Congratulations on your imminent grandchild," the Dragon of the West said, voice soft and kind. "Your line is strong."

"How did you get this?" Hakoda demanded, eyes on fire, outraged that his daughter's intimate thoughts and feelings had been violated without her knowing. "I can't believe you read this! This is a violation of her- "

"I needed the intelligence," the Dragon of the West defended, looking nonplussed. "These are disturbing and pressing times. I hated reading through such intimacy meant for your eyes, but I needed to."

Hakoda hated that he understood the flawless reasoning of Sozin's grandson. "Fine. But you'll tell Katara you read it."

Unfortunately, the Dragon of the West didn't look bothered by such an ultimatum. "It would be my pleasure to tell my future daughter-in-law. It only confirmed my suspicions about her and my nephew, something most pleasing. Probably the most pleasing news I have heard since before this new war began."

"But how did you get it? This should have reached me in the South."

"The message was found on a chi-stealer—I suspect it was a Sun Warrior messenger who had been infected—and it was brought to me."

His eyes widened. "More people than you have read this?"

"Yes," the Dragon of the West notified, eyes resigned. "Not as many as you believe, but others, including myself, read it. I needed verification that it was her. I estimate no more than five people outside of yourself have read its contents."

That was five too many for Hakoda's taste, but he nodded in understanding. "And your nephew and my daughter?"

The Dragon of the West's bushy eyebrows rose. "I more than support the match. I assumed you would, as well."

Hakoda hesitated. "I do, but in the Water Tribes, both parents must give their consent to each other for their children to marry. Fire Lord Zuko's mother is away, and I never want to be near his father- "

"I stand-in as Zuko's father," the Dragon of the West said, eyes daring him to reject such a declaration. "I support the match, and I know already that his mother does, too. We spoke on the subject numerous times before your daughter and my nephew left to help Avatar Aang."

"Good. I want my daughter to be happy if possible."

The Dragon of the West's golden eyes glimmered with delight. "A wish I have yearned for my nephew, as well. But worry not, Chief Hakoda. You did not see the two together as I did; they bring each other happiness—so much happiness. But even more importantly, they bring out the best in each other."

"It's all I've ever wanted from her," he admitted, a weight releasing in his chest. "I told her she had to marry, and I gave her a list of acceptable men to marry across the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation. Then I gave her two years to decide who she would marry, and if she didn't choose by then, I would marry her to King Kuei of Ba Sing Se."

"Pretty standard," Batsu said, nodding his head.

"My nephew was on the list?" the Dragon of the West asked, not batting an eye at Hakoda's admission.

"He was," he confirmed.

"If he were not, would you oppose the match?"

Hakoda remained quiet for several moments. "As a father, I would not; as a chief, I would have to."

The Dragon of the West nodded in understanding. "That is the burden of the powerful. Sentiments such as love are discouraged. But when love finds a way past all obstructions, it is all the more fulfilling. I am relieved my nephew and Lady Katara have found happiness in each other. It is time for the Four Nations to grow, and their marriage will symbolize peace and serenity. We will work not to bury ourselves in further wars."

XxXxXxXxXxX

"The one promise you can keep, indeed," Azula murmured, lying on Aang's chest. They had just finished an intense and vigorous session of sex. It was a release of all the stress and chaos they had each carried since the North. Things were not okay—they never would be as long as Vaatu and her father endured—but things were better.

"I'll be keeping it for the rest of my life," Aang said in amusement. "The fun work, right?"

"The most fun. Although, I may say differently upon giving birth—at least for a little while."

Aang shook his head. "I'll keep that in mind when, as you give birth, you threaten to castrate me for getting you pregnant."

"Castrate?" she echoed in surprise. "I would never castrate you for impregnating me."

"Well, maybe I was exaggerating- "

"I would shoot you with lightning."

Her husband chuckled. "There it is. I was wondering."

Azula smirked up at him. "Then we keep the fun part, but you get a sliver of the pain I will endure."

"I'm not sure I'm comfortable dying."

"But your death would occur as new life comes into the world," she mused. "The Avatar is about balance, after all."

Aang sighed. "You've thought this through, haven't you?"

"Only now," Azula defended. "I think it is better to have a distraction."

"From what? We have Samir and your mother. What else- … Mai and Ty Lee," he said in realization.

The pain roared to life. "My father killed them," she said, words spaced as she tried to control the turmoil roiling inside her. "I asked Sokka to tell me what happened, and he did. I know what happened; I know how they died. Ozai deprived me of the chance to… create something new with them."

Aang's arms wrapped around her. "I'm sorry you didn't get that chance."

Azula closed her eyes. "They were good friends to me; they were more invested in me than I was in them, and I suspect it was due partly to fear. I wish I had been a better friend—a real friend."

"I know."

"And I cannot tell them my regret, for they are in the Gardens of the Dead," she whispered. "Just like King Bumi and so many others."

"My people," Aang whispered back, voice soft. "Countless others."

Azula raised herself and stared down at him; her black hair fell around their faces like a curtain, providing intimacy and trust. "Have you visited the Gardens of the Dead?"

His gray eyes blinked in surprise. "No."

"Why not?"

"I'm afraid of what I'd see," Aang said quietly after several moments. "I couldn't face my people; I can't face Bumi; I can't face anyone. I mean, I saw Gyatso when I went back, but it was only him. I can't see the others; I can't see their judgment, not yet. And I'm afraid I'd do something that I'd regret if I went there."

Azula nodded in understanding, her hair ruffling around them like waves of black silk. "Like what?"

Aang averted his eyes, but after briefly looking at her breasts, he looked away, turning his head. "Like finding Sozin's spirit and destroying it; like finding Afiko and torturing him again, but even worse than the first time; like… trying to do what Vaatu's done."

Her eyes widened as she inhaled sharply. "You mean… taking a spirit out of the Gardens and placing it into another's body?"

A shameful nod met her gaze; he still looked away from her. "I've thought about it since I learned about Jet. It's tempting if not… evil."

"Monstrous," she added in consideration. "Will you? Would you?"

"I haven't so far, and I don't even know how I would do it- "

"But you have suspicions."

"I do. But I can't do it, no matter how much I have felt the urge." He hesitated for several moments. "I'm worried that… you and everyone else would want me to… bring back someone you've lost unfairly."

Azula's fingers gently but firmly gripped his bearded jaw and turned his face until their eyes met. "Nor would I or anyone ask you to do such a thing. It is monstrous. I regret what happened to Mai and Ty Lee, but I would never demand you do something so vile. It was their time, and it is cruel and unfulfilling, but we all have a time that comes, even Avatars."

Aang's gray eyes rooted on her face, the intensity shining therein taking her aback. "If Ozai kills me, if I die- "

"Impossible," Azula interrupted with a shake of her head. "No Avatar reigns only for twenty-two years, nonetheless the strongest Avatar to reign thus far."

"One-hundred twenty-two, almost twenty-three," her husband corrected softly. "Roku died at seventy."

"An anomaly," she dismissed.

Vivid gray eyes stared up at her, piercing her soul. "But if—when—I die, don't talk about The Avatar; don't say that I was The Avatar; don't say I was the Last Airbender; don't say I ended the Great War; don't list my achievements. None of that matters. Tell people that I fought to do what's right, and I tried to do it, tried to do better. If I meet my day, my time soon, don't say anything but that I wanted peace and that I gave my life to bring about peace and balance. Don't say I was a victim—because I'm not. Say that I was a lover, for I have loved; say I was a fighter, for I have fought. And I will always love and fight. Avatars have extensive funerals, I know, but I don't want a long one, not a traditional one as my predecessors have received in which months and even years are spent grieving and celebrating their lives. I don't want that. I want the burial of my people. And I want you to find me again in my next life as you found me on Ember Island before all of this began."

Silence.

Azula's hands felt hot even to her, and she shook her head, the boiling emotions inside her so close to the surface. "You are not going to die," she hissed, the presence of tears imminent, "not before we finish what we have started. Understand, Avatar? We will vanquish my father, and we will revive Air. You are The Avatar. Your time is not over; it has only begun."

Aang smiled, but there was an exhaustion she had hoped that their vigorous sex had erased. "I hope you're right. I have faith I'll beat Ozai—I'm more certain about that than anything—but I don't know what's going to happen."

"Our triumph will happen," Azula insisted.

"Perhaps our triumph is only possible by my death."

"We will win, you will live, and it will be good."

"I can't always see what's good," Aang lamented, face drawn in anguish. "I don't know what's best. This isn't like the Great War when I knew what was best—not killing Ozai. This is different. I can't see any option that doesn't damn us all. The Tree wants two Avatars."

Azula stiffened in horror, grief forgotten. "You asked It?"

"I went. That's what took me so long. I needed to know. It wants two Avatars. It wants Eternal Balance, It said."

"Take me there right now," she demanded, reaching for her garbs. "Take me to It."

"No."

She stilled and turned back to face him, eyes narrowed. "I'm serious."

"I know," Aang agreed solemnly. "That's why I'm not taking you."

"The audacity of the Tree," Azula hissed. "It is probably correct that you do not take me there. Speaking of doing something you would regret—although I cannot say if I would regret it."

"I would."

"And that is enough?"

Aang nodded, slight amusement on his face; she was relieved the exhaustion had vanished. "It is."

"Because you're The Avatar."

"I'm constant."

One of Azula's brows rose. "You are The Avatar, constant when all else is fitful."

"I'm constant, but you're my constant."

A small laugh escaped her despite her efforts. "Very smooth, Avatar. That is a good one; it is so good I suspect you have used it before. Kuruk, perhaps?"

"It's true," he defended. "You're my constant."

"Until I am not, replaced by another in your next life."

Aang leaned up, causing her to readjust her balance, but he pulled her lips to his. "That is the burden we both bear," he whispered. "Will you do as I asked?"

"What about?"

"When I die."

Azula frowned, and she did not let him kiss the frown away, leaning her head back. "This is serious."

His arms encircled her, bringing her breasts to his chest. "Why do you think I ask it of you?"

She smacked his arms away. "Stop seducing me. That is my job."

Aang grinned. "So you admit it."

Azula refused to let him evade the issue. "Why are you so persistent about this?"

"I don't know when else we could have this conversation."

"It has nothing to do with King Bumi?"

Aang released her and sighed. "Maybe. I don't know what his wishes were, but you'll know what mine are."

"It is prudent," she admitted, feeling dissatisfied. "But if I wish not to know your wishes?"

"That's not very wife-like."

"Did you not admit that your wife could never be conventional?"

Irritation swept across his face. "Why are you so persistent in not knowing my wishes?"

Azula glared at him for several moments. "The thought of you dead is not a pleasant one, Avatar. I will not lose you, and you will not lose me. We will survive, and so will Samir."

Aang stared at her, face indecipherable; it never ceased to surprise—and impress—her that he could look so unreadable, giving nothing away. "If you died, what would you want me to do?"

She blinked in surprise before thinking. "Well, I would like you to tell of my titles. Really, the opposite of what you told me. Tell of my beauty and skill. I want all the glory and remembrance, and I want the memory of who I really was to be in your keeping. I care not if anyone else but those I love knows me. Let everyone else know of me; you will know me."

A small smile played on Aang's lips. "Speaking of an answer so good you suspect it's been used before…"

"We balance each other out. We both are sly with words meant to woo."

Aang shook his head. "Bumi used to try to teach me, but I always failed. I could never talk to girls when I visited him in Omashu before… everything."

She shuffled forward on her knees across the bed, going to him. "Are those good memories?"

"Beautiful ones," he corrected, eyes drawn briefly to her swaying breasts. "I remember him as he was then. To think of him as dead is… backward. I like to think about those beautiful memories I have of him. There's nothing more beautiful than beautiful memories."

Azula raised a brow. "More beautiful than me?"

Aang shrugged unapologetically. "Yes."

A smirk stretched across her face. "Sex makes you blunt."

"You're included in my beautiful memories, you know."

"Well, we just finished creating beautiful memories," she mused. "But I understand. I think on the beautiful memories I hold of Mai and Ty Lee, even though I never recognized those memories' beauty when I was younger."

Aang nodded, silent for several moments, gaze locked on something past her. "Bor apologized for… Bumi. He feels guilty about it. Apparently, he thinks he could have saved him."

"Do you blame him?"

"No. He told me everything that happened. He went into… exact detail."

Azula frowned, watching his face waver with sadness. "Then I blame him for providing you those grim details."

Aang glanced at her, eyes heavy. "No. I asked him."

"Why?"

"You asked what happened to Mai and Ty Lee."

Azula sighed and relented. "I know. But I wish you spared yourself from further pain. You have already endured so much."

"Maybe emotionally, but not physically. Bumi got worse physically than I ever have."

Her brows rose, and she ignored the familiar guilt. "Not even my lightning strike under Ba Sing Se- "

Aang shook his head. "His limbs were cut off by lava, one after another."

Azula cursed under her breath, horrified and furious in equal measure. "Butcher, indeed. I would butcher his entire bloodline if possible for what he did to Bumi—and thus, you."

"Chin V got his revenge just like Bumi got his, and each died for his revenge."

"Do I sense an Air Nomad proverb about to pass your lips?"

A rough chuckle escaped him. "I'm just thinking about the pain he went through. He was limb-less. And he had to use his face to kill Chin V and free Bor, who killed everyone else. I've been trying to imagine what he felt, what he was thinking as he died. Was he at peace? Was he furious? Was he relieved Bor was alive? Was he vindicated because he killed Chin V? Was he in pain?"

"You will drive yourself mad ruminating on such things."

"The Tree of Time already drove me mad."

Azula shook her head. "Do not mention It to me."

Aang grabbed her hands, cradling them in his larger ones. "Will you be okay? Don't think I didn't notice you switched the subject away from Mai and Ty Lee."

"I will be," she replied. "They have been dead for weeks, apparently. They are at peace, and it is more than they ever received from me. Ironic that my father is the one who provided them that peace."

"I know what you're doing," her husband said after consideration, eyeing her knowingly. "You're rationalizing it but rationalizing it doesn't change what you feel."

"I am not," she denied.

His gray eyes narrowed. "You don't think that's what I told myself about my people? You don't think I know all the tricks about grief?"

Azula remained quiet for several moments. "What do you want me to say? They are dead, Aang; I will never see them again. I have to live with it. Do I want to? Of course not. But I must; it is the only thing to do. I will remember my time with them, including the regrets, and I will learn from them; I will cherish those memories, those beautiful memories, as you said. I will not waste time as I did with them. I have as much closure with them as I ever will. I had numerous chances to regain a friendship with them, but I chose not to each time. I made a choice—many choices that had the same result—and I have to live with the choices I made."

"And I have to live with the choices I make," Aang whispered, exhaustion drawing his face in lines. "I hope the Tree can live with It's choices."

A sour expression crossed her face. "Something tells me It can and It will. It truly said two Avatars?"

Aang closed his eyes. "It confirmed it. It wants Eternal Balance, and It sees two Avatars as necessary to achieve it."

Azula felt fire crackle across her fingers. "Take me there. Consider it a wedding gift. A belated one."

"If I took you there, you'd do something I'd regret, and I'd do something I'd regret.

"We must do something," she insisted.

"We'll talk about what It said with everyone in the morning," Aang said after several moments, and she felt worried at the sheer exhaustion in his eyes. "Then we'll figure out where to go. We can't stay here."

"You need to rest," Azula commanded, drawing him to the bed. "Rest, Aang."

"Where are you going?" he asked, eyes dimming, as she stood to her feet.

She slowly dressed herself. "I am going to get Samir from my mother; she will not be able to sleep without us."

Aang nodded and said nothing, seeming to fall instantly into slumber.

Azula took several moments to memorize him, watching the rise and fall of his bare chest. He looked older than his almost twenty-three years of age, but she knew it was not just from the facial hair on his face. The stress of the new war had aged him, adding weight to his features, maturing him.

"A month," she whispered in reminder, hoping no delays would hinder their triumph. "Only another month."

Azula exited the room and traveled down the hall until she reached her mother's room, which she entered.

Her mother smiled at her in greeting from where she reclined in her bed. On the other side of her laid Samir, her soft breathing audible and full.

"How long has she been asleep?" she whispered, surprised that Samir had been able to fall asleep.

"Almost an hour now," her mother responded. "She was determined to stay up, but all the excitement from the day compromised her resolve."

"Did she sleep there?" Azula knew she did not need to clarify her meaning.

Her mother's face pinched. "More than I did, but still little. She was terrified. On our journey back after Master Sokka rescued us, she fell asleep in my arms. I almost feared she was dead—she was so motionless."

"I should have killed him," Azula whispered, feeling powerless. "He raped you, and he made my daughter watch."

"Do not misperceive it," her mother said just as quietly; tears were in her eyes. "He did not make her watch. I ordered her to look away and cover her ears, but… her curiosity was too curious."

Azula felt desperate before an idea bloomed in her mind; she eagerly leaned forward. "Aang can block the memories of your time under his control. He can obscure them, make you forget through energybending. He can provide knowledge, and he can take knowledge. He can take that knowledge from you, Mother."

Her mother's eyes widened in shock, and she seemed to stop breathing. "Really?"

"It is the truth," Azula insisted. "Aang will do it; I know he will."

Silence.

"I believe you, and I believe he would do it. But… I cannot have an incomplete memory of your father; I must remember the monster he is. I can never feel fondness at what once was, which I would if you obscured those memories."

Azula leaned back. "I wish I did not understand, but I do. Do you think he should take Samir's memories of that time?"

Her mother's eyes drifted over Samir's sleeping form. "That is something you must discuss with your husband. It may seem like a good idea, but all ideas are always good initially. If you obscure her memories of that time, what stops you from obscuring other memories? What stops you from obscuring memories that ultimately help her? Becoming an adult means facing horror and maturing yourself, no matter how painful it is. Do you want her to stay a child forever, or will you let her mature into an adult—as is the natural order? Once you start obscuring memories, it only gets easier, does it not? If you do it once, there will come a time when you do it twice, and then thrice, and so on."

"I do not want those memories to haunt her."

"Nor do I. Nor did I want your memories as a child to haunt you. But I did not have the power to change that, and you turned out well. I dare say that those memories are what shaped you into the strong daughter who stands before me."

"Very wise," Azula commended softly after several moments.

"Being a parent means making the hard choices, the right choices instead of the easy choices. What is right rarely correlates with what is easy. Are you going to let Samir grow or stagnate?"

"Grow."

Her mother smiled tiredly. "Now go rest, Azula. Samir will be fine here. Go to your husband and relax knowing your daughter is safe. Perhaps you can work on providing Samir a sibling."

Azula smirked at the onslaught of pleasant—beautiful—memories. "We already completed that task tonight."

The smile became more genuine. "Good. She will be an excellent sister."

"Better than I was."

"Because she has a better mother than you had."

Azula glanced at her mother in consideration. "She only has a better mother because I had a good mother who worked to redeem her mistakes. It also helps that her father is exceedingly better than mine."

The tears in her mother's eyes were no longer a symptom of terrible memories. "Thank you, Azula."

XxXxXxXxXxX

Jin had waited until The Avatar had retired for the night, and she had prepared herself, mentally psyching herself up by reminding herself over and over again of what had happened, forcing herself to remember her baby's blood staining her hands—which could never be scrubbed away. She remembered her incomplete but beautiful baby, who was as tiny as her fist, who she held in her hands, sobbing, hysterically trying to coax her baby to breathe and live; she remembered trying to reinsert her baby up her sex into her womb, but it would not work.

That was how Thryn had found her—exposing herself to everyone in view so she could try to revive her baby, but it was not to be.

Trembling with grieving fury and horror, Jin watched as The Avatar's wife, Princess Azula exited The Avatar's room, walking down the hall.

Good.

She had tried to justify her actions by convincing herself that she was committing her deed for Suki's sake, so her friend would not bear the pain of what Jin experienced—losing her baby, or in Suki's case, babies because of The Avatar's violent and unholy power.

But that was a lie. She was not doing it for Suki; she was doing it for herself and for her dead baby.

Haru had been trying to talk to her ever since The Avatar had arrived, but she had been unresponsive; she knew he felt suspicious, but she did not care.

She only cared about one thing, and Hama had given her the determination necessary.

Her terror of The Avatar had only risen drastically since she had watched his interaction with Hama before he took her bending. He had gazed at Hama with unaffected eyes, standing imperially with a look of judgment on his face. He really was a god, the World Spirit incarnate, immune to mortal suffering and torment.

It was horrible, and she pictured the same look on his face when he slaughtered King Kuei and his Council of Five—and her baby!

Jin had thought of placing a bag of supplies outside of the inn, hidden in the darkness of night, but she knew her odds of escape were impossible. She would die for her deed, and she was okay with that. She was.

Right?

Shaking her head, Jin drew on the despair, letting it motivate and drive her actions. She came to The Avatar's door and placed her ear against the wood; she heard nothing. She swelled her courage and opened the door, peeking her head inside with a prepared excuse—"Forgive me, Avatar Aang, but I wished to congratulate you on raising such a wonderful daughter."—on the tip of her tongue, but when she saw The Avatar, asleep on the bed, naked, unaware of her presence, she slipped silently inside and closed the door behind her.

She drew the knife and approached, eyes roaming over the naked body that contained such power to shake Ba Sing Se to shambles. It was the god who had taken her baby from her and killed so many people, but she only cared that he had taken her baby from her. It was all that mattered.

Was he sorry? Did he feel regret about anything? Did he know all of the suffering he had caused her? Did he know that she was not the only one who had lost a baby because of him? Did he know that he had ripped families apart just as he ripped Ba Sing Se apart? Were all those he had murdered etched on his soul?

Jin swallowed and felt the hand clenching the knife shake precariously. Could she, a weak and feeble woman, kill a god who climbed the sky, split the ocean, rent the world's foundations, and blazed in the darkness? Did she want that to be her memory? Was that how she wanted people to remember her—Murderer of The Avatar? If her babies had lived, was that a legacy she would be proud to teach them? Would she want her babies to grow up and kill The Avatar, too?

What about Samir, that wonderful girl who looked so much like The Avatar?

Her breathing quivered, but she stepped closer, staring at the human face of The Avatar, relaxed in slumber, unaware of his imminent demise. Why did a god have to look so human? So mortal? So normal? Why did The Avatar have to have a family—a wife he cherished and a daughter he adored? Why did he have to look so different from when he gazed at Hama, his enemy?

Could she kill The Avatar—even to avenge her baby?

Jin's vision blurred as tears obscured her sight, and she hastily wiped them away with her other hand. She had to see the life leave The Avatar just as she felt the life leave her baby! She had to! She had to!

The rhythmic rise and fall of The Avatar's bare chest drew her gaze, and she stood there, staring. There was something haunting about it. If she jabbed her knife into The Avatar's chest, as her grief demanded, that powerful chest would become immobile. Motionless. Still. Silent.

Where there was once a life, there would be death; there would be absence instead of presence. It would prove him to be a man rather than a god.

Realization made her stagger.

The most important fact about The Avatar was not that he was a god but a man, capable of love—epitomized by his mercy in sparing Fire for his people's genocide and the way he carried himself and acted around his wife, daughter, and friends.

It contrasted with how Jin felt, for she felt no love, none at all.

She had deluded herself into thinking she was going to kill The Avatar out of love for her baby, but that was a lie. She was going to kill The Avatar out of hatred and, thus, love for herself, not her baby. She was not killing him for a selfless reason but a selfish one.

It was haunting, and it was monstrous. It was somehow worse than the loss of her baby. The Avatar had no idea as far as she knew about her lost baby, but Jin knew exactly what she was doing; she was cognizant and aware of the depths of her pursuit.

There was no excuse. The Avatar did not murder her baby, but she planned to murder him, making her worse than him.

Her baby would be ashamed of her—just as Thryn would be!

The knife clattered to the ground, and Jin convulsed as the sobs ripped through her. "Forgive me," she whispered, barely audible. "I- I can't do it."

"I commend you for making the correct decision."

Jin gasped—she had not heard the door open!—and whirled around, eyes terrified as The Avatar's wife, Princess Azula stared at her with fire in her eyes more intense than her sapphire flames.

She collapsed to her knees, fear a physical presence that provoked her to shake in terror.

"Get up." She had never heard such a command being a noblewoman, but her body sprang up like flames seared her flesh—that was the intensity behind Princess Azula's words.

She risked a glance behind her, but The Avatar was still asleep, unaware.

"Hama is not the only stupid bitch," Princess Azula condemned, looking more imperial and terrifying than The Avatar ever had against Hama. "Say nothing and follow me."

Jin did as she was told, trembling.

When they reached the lobby of the inn, Princess Azula spoke; they were alone. "Imagine my surprise to find another woman in my quarters, staring at my husband's naked body; imagine further my surprise to see a knife raised over him. Can you imagine it?"

She swallowed. "Yes."

"Upon seeing the knife, I knew you were to try the unthinkable—assassinate The Avatar." If it were not for the furious, wrathful glow in Princess Azula's eyes, Jin would think the conversation was about something innocuous. "I was going to kill you if you tried it, but then you stopped and started to weep; you dropped the knife. You made the correct choice. But now I must ask why?" Princess Azula leaned forward, eyes predatory and dangerous. "Why would you, the rightful Queen of Chyung, think of murdering The Avatar? Revenge for Kuei's demise, perhaps?"

Jin shook her head and swallowed; she was going to die. The thought hit her with utter certainty. "I never cared for Kuei. Well, at least near the end. I did not know what to think of him when I moved to Ba Sing Se and married my husband, but it became clear to me that he loved the power of kingship. It is a curse that has befallen many great men."

"Many," Princess Azula agreed flatly. "Continue. Why would you murder my husband if not revenge for Kuei?"

"Revenge for me," she confessed, averting her eyes; she was going to die any moment. And she could not face it, so she looked away. But she would be honest; it was her only dignity in the face of her death. "When The Avatar came to Ba Sing Se and unleashed horror, so many people died. So many. No one ever knew the actual number; it was that high. And among those dead was my… my baby."

"Your child died?"

Jin swallowed. "Not as you think. The stress and chaos of The Avatar's power washing over Ba Sing Se caused me to miscarry. It was the longest I had ever carried."

Silence.

"Look at me."

Tears welled in her eyes, and she forced herself to raise her head, meeting the enraged, living flames in Princess Azula's golden eyes.

"Why did you drop the knife?"

She blinked rapidly to dispel the tears. "I could not do it."

"Why?" Princess Azula demanded. "For you could not commit the crime knowing you would be caught and killed, or due to the realization that it was wrong?"

"It was wrong," Jin said, voice shaking; she felt terrified. "It was not something I wanted for my babies. If they had lived, I would not want them doing what I thought about doing. I could not do it; it was not something I wanted to do. But Hama… she said things that touched the grief in my heart and provoked it."

Princess Azula never looked away from her; it was unnerving. "A mother's guilt, and a mother's grief. I can think of no combination more lethal—besides my father and Dark, of course. But what to do with you, Queen of Chyung?"

Jin swallowed. "If The Avatar killed the King of Ba Sing Se, he can kill the Queen of Chyung." She tried not to think of Haru and the betrayal he would feel. "No one would miss me."

"You advocate for your own death?"

"I was never going to survive this war," she admitted, trying to keep her head held high. "I know the law of the Four Nations—to murder The Avatar is treason of the highest order. No one is safe from punishment. I went into that room to murder him—I confess."

Silence.

Princess Azula's golden eyes flickered with curiosity. "Your mistake is in thinking my husband would kill you. Why would he?"

Jin hesitated. "He killed Kuei."

"Kuei allied himself with Dark," Princess Azula dismissed, and Jin's eyes widened; she never knew that Kuei had allied himself with Vaatu. "He tried to capture me and my husband, kill Toph, and when Aang fought back, Kuei did manage to kill Appa, the last link to Air, to his people. Wrath consumed Kuei and his Council of Five, along with those Dai Li agents who did not flee. That is what happened, Queen of Chyung. My husband did not slaughter out of glee nor righteousness; he reacted in boiling grief, which translated to wrath—as your boiling grief over your baby's death translated to wrath directed at The Avatar."

"So many died…" she whispered, trying not to think of her baby, trying not to think that, perhaps, she and The Avatar were similar.

Something tightened in Princess Azula's noble face. "Which he will regret always. You saw the repercussions for Ba Sing Se, yes, but you did not see the repercussions my husband faced. He drove himself mad and was haunted by specters condemning him. He passed out from the horror and stress of what he had done, and he remained unconscious for almost three weeks. His rampage was not without consequences for him. The lives of those he ended wrongly burden him, and they will always. You think him unfeeling, but he feels more than anyone I have ever encountered—including Katara and my sentimental brother."

"But you would kill me," Jin said after several moments, summoning her limited courage. "I went into that room to murder your husband, the father of your daughter- "

"I could," Princess Azula confirmed, staring at her. "But I have not decided what to do with you yet. Aang would not want me to harm you; he would likely consent for you to kill him if he knew the depths of his rampage. He will not kill you; he has more reasons—many more reasons—to kill Hama, and he spared her life."

"Because of her pregnancy."

"My husband has taken many lives, more than he ever wants to admit, but he has never wanted to take lives. He has always been forced, reacting on instincts cultivated for ten-thousand years."

Jin swallowed. "Will you kill me?"

Princess Azula encircled her, and she stood, frozen. "That would raise questions, would it not? And you have made friends while Aang and I were away. You are closest to Suki, who carries the heirs of the Water Tribes after Sokka ascends to the icy throne; you are close with King Bor and Toph, as well. Would your death cause Suki to miscarry- "

"She cannot miscarry," she interrupted in a daze, barely recognizing her voice. "She is much too far along."

"Still, there are many questions to consider: Would her twins be stillborn, perhaps, if she learned of your treachery and death? Would King Bor and Toph be furious? Would it cause a fracture amongst us all when we must be united against an enemy more dangerous than anything to ever impact the Four Nations? Then there is Haru. He has grown fond of you; it is clear to see. You are filling the void left in his heart by Ty Lee's death."

Jin inhaled shakily. "You overestimate my importance, Avatar's wife."

"Perhaps I do. But most importantly, I must consider my husband's reaction. He would be devastated to know all of this." Princess Azula stopped behind her, and Jin stiffened as fiery breath rippled across her hair. "Your honesty has saved your life. Perhaps we should keep this a secret, Queen of Chyung. After all, you concealed your aversion for The Avatar all this time. You can keep a secret. Will you keep this one?"

"You will not kill me?"

"Not unless you decide to act like a bitch again."

Jin nodded rapidly, relief filling her; she did not want to die. "Thank you for your mercy- "

"I do not do this for you; I do it for my husband and for the sake of maintaining unity amongst us all." Princess Azula walked around her, golden eyes sharp and critical, ruthless. "Will you keep the secret?"

"I will."

"My husband will not know of this—not yet, at least."

Jin wavered. "I understand."

"But you will not escape my notice again. If you attempt anything I consider threatening to my husband's life—to any of our lives—you will know why I am Ozai's daughter."

She nodded feebly, too stricken by the glow in those golden eyes.

Princess Azula hummed. "Now go to bed, Queen of Chyung. Go to Haru if you must; work on producing an heir for Chyung with him. I care not what you do. But speak of this to no one. And never approach my husband; never speak with him unless he speaks to you first. I will be watching."

Jin bowed and all but fled.

XxXxXxXxXxX

The candles burned pleasantly as Zuko inhaled and exhaled steadily, breaths controlled. He had not meditated in too long; not since their stay at the Sun Warrior Tribe. With everything that had happened, it was a relief to center himself and focus—even if Agni's light was weak and dim.

He was still a Master Firebender, and his inner flame burned, a pleasant warmth that permeated through his body.

Nothing had gone according to their plans. It was maddening. Before leaving Ba Sing Se for the Sun Warrior Tribe, they had agreed to reassemble at Ba Sing Se, but the North and Ba Sing Se were attacked simultaneously, culminating in destruction in death on a massive scale. His mother and niece were kidnapped while King Bumi, Mai, Ty Lee, and the Kyoshi Warriors were killed. His father had gained Water and Air due to his drive and Vaatu's cunning.

Their only recent victories were Hama's slaughter of his father's army, Sokka's rescue of Zuko's mother and niece, and Aang's creation of The Phoenix.

But what did that mean in the face of so much loss and horror? Could their victories ever compensate for all the losses? The North lost so much; the Earth Kingdom lost even more, and based on the rumors he had heard, only Omashu was stable; and the Fire Nation was devastated with so many people infected or killed.

Zuko felt the flames on the candles flare as his anger kindled under the surface of his control. His people had been targeted deliberately with malicious intentions that spread a plague that eradicated so many Children of Fire, Firebenders and non-benders alike. The thought of Jet enraged him, and the memory of executing him narrowly appeased his anger.

What kind of Fire Lord let such a thing happen?

To his shame, he had let such an unholy thing happen to his people, for whom he was responsible. He was the leader and protector of the Children of Fire, ordained by Agni, but he had failed. He had rectified his wrong by executing the one responsible—Jet—but he had failed to prevent it, and he was away from the Dragon's Throne, leaving responsibility to Uncle.

What kind of Fire Lord did that make him?

The dark voices in his mind whispered that Sozin, Azulon, and his father would have never let such a thing happen when each sat on the Dragon's Throne. But Zuko had let it happen, had failed to be a leader behind whom his people could rally and unite, staving off the imminent threat.

He wasn't there to protect his people.

The regret and rage burrowed in his heart, nearly drowning him, and Zuko wondered if that's how Aang felt when thinking about the Air Nomad Genocide.

He was amazed at his friend's control and grace.

Zuko tried to fight the bile rising in his throat, remembering Uncle's words of wisdom, but it was difficult.

He really needed to speak with Uncle.

"It will be good to see Uncle again if that's where we're going," he said.

Katara didn't answer him.

"It will be good to see Uncle again if that's where we're going," Zuko repeated, slightly raising his voice.

When she didn't answer him again, he opened his eyes and stood to his feet, eyes drawn to his soon-to-be Fire Lady.

Katara sat on their bed, eyes looking past him; she was distant, lost in her thoughts.

Concerned, he approached her; it was a welcome distraction to his ruminations on his failures as Fire Lord.

"What's wrong?"

She blinked, recognition returning before she stiffly shook her head. "Nothing."

Zuko sighed. "If I was younger, I'd believe that. What's wrong?"

Her blue eyes roamed his face, something in her expression that almost resembled… fear. "I'm worried."

"I see that. But why? I thought you'd be happy that we're all together again."

"I am," Katara said, looking vulnerable, and Zuko didn't understand. "I'm so happy."

Zuko stared at her, mind sifting through all the events of the last few days to determine what had upset her. "I don't get it," he said at last. "This can't be a guessing game. That's a game I can't win."

A small huff of laughter escaped her, and the brief look she sent him was fond; it gave him hope. "Unlike everything else, right?"

"There are a few things I can think of- "

Her eyes narrowed. "I'm not in the mood for sex."

"Well, that is a game I win," he muttered.

Katara's smile transformed into the beauty he adored. "It's one we both win at."

"But we're not winning now. Tell me what's wrong. You know you won't be able to think straight until you tell me."

Silence.

"What if… the child is not your father's?"

Zuko blinked. "That's what this is about?" he asked in surprise. "Really?"

Katara glared at him. "Yes, that's what this is about. And don't think I don't notice that you're avoiding the answer- "

"Because you haven't given me the chance to answer it!"

She crossed her arm under her breasts and raised her brows. "Well? Answer it."

He scoffed and shook his head. "I haven't thought about it."

"How have you not thought about it?" she demanded, voice rising. "It's all I've been able to think about since your sister brought it up!"

"What's the big deal?"

"You're not answering the question," Katara whispered, voice drawn and miserable.

Staring at her despondent expression, he realized how attached she had become to the child—or at least to the idea of the child. "You're already in love with the child," he said aloud. "Of course."

Her eyes lit up with fire. "What does that mean?"

Zuko tried to control his temper. "It means that I'm still trying to come to terms with all this, but you're already there. I'm still trying to adjust. You're leaving me behind."

Katara's eyes turned mournful. "I'm sorry."

Silence.

"I don't know if I could raise another man's child," Zuko confessed after several moments, eyes drawn to the flames of the candles. "The thought is… wrong."

"Because you're Fire Lord."

He shook his head and looked back at her. "No, that's not it. Well, that's not all of it. To raise a child means sacrificing your time and energy, the things I need most as a man and Fire Lord. Why would I do that for a child that's not mine?"

Katara swallowed. "He's not yours already- "

"He's my sibling," Zuko interrupted. "There's already… connection. I looked out for Azula growing up. I failed, of course, but I did it because I love her—because she's my sister. There's the connection. We share blood; we come from the same place; we have the legacy of our House; we have the burden. Somehow, I'd have some of that with the child, for he's my father's—just like I am, and just like Azula is. A father needs to have a bond with his child, and I would have that with the child because he's my sibling, of my blood. But I don't think I could ever have a bond with another man's child. I think I'd be doing the child a… disservice if he's another man's child. I don't think I could… love him or raise him as he should be loved and raised."

"Very noble of you," she mumbled.

"I don't even know why this is a big deal," he said, voice rising. "I'm certain the child is my father's. There's no way he would let Hama sleep with anyone else, least of all someone who had power over him as his earthbending Master. Hama is many things, but she's not—or she wasn't before we captured her—suicidal. If my father had caught her with another man, he would have killed her on the spot. I know it."

Katara wet her lips, and he didn't understand the sheen of tears in her eyes. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

Zuko shook his head and drew her to him; she cradled herself against his side. "No, that's not what I mean. I don't want an apology. I want to understand. I don't get why this is so… hard."

"You were right," she murmured against his shoulder. "I love him already. Anything that… threatens that is unbearable."

His eyes shut briefly as he understood finally. "And because there's the tiniest possibility that the child isn't my father's, you see us adopting him as jeopardized."

Katara nodded, her hair drifting over his side like water. "Yes."

Zuko remained quiet for several moments. "I may be wrong, you know; I've been wrong before—a lot."

"What do you mean?"

He shrugged, careful of her head resting on his shoulder. "I mean, remember that picture of my father you found on Ember Island? The one of him as a baby?"

Katara glanced up at him, surprised. "Why?"

"You said he was cute."

"I know."

"Even though he's a monster."

"I know."

"But he was… loveable," Zuko said slowly, trying to find the words. "As a child, he was loveable, and he deserved it. Maybe the child, once he's born, will have Earth Kingdom features, but maybe he'll be so… cute that I don't care."

Katara smiled through her tears. "That's sweet."

"You're missing the point."

Her smile grew wider. "No, I'm not. You're a good man, Fire Lord Zuko."

"Not for a lack of trying otherwise, but thanks. But I can't adopt him if he's without royal blood. It will throw the succession in crisis, especially if it's obvious that he's not of Fire Nation features, nor if he looks nothing like me."

She swallowed and nodded, face pained. "I know. That's what worries me. I've thought of nothing else since Azula brought it up. I hate this. I don't want to lose him."

"I'm sure we won't," Zuko assured. "He's my father's. I swear it on my honor."

Katara's eyes widened in shock, aware of the depth of his vow. "Really?" she asked in an amazed whisper.

He felt uncomfortable, but he nodded. "Knowing what I know of my father, which is a lot, and which is more than anyone else but my mother and possibly Azula, he's the father. Nothing else makes sense. This is nothing rather than something, okay? He will be our child."

Fresh tears spilled down her cheeks as she smiled brilliantly. "I love you."

"You should," he said, lips twitching into a smile.

She half-heartedly smacked his chest. "You're challenging that good man label, Fire Lord Zuko."

"I trust your judgment, Fire Lady Katara."

"Not yet," Katara reminded, tears beginning to subside. "Only another month."

"Longer than that," he corrected. "Once this is over, it will take a few months for our wedding and your coronation."

Silence.

"I don't even know why I was crying," she said, sniffing as she wiped away the last of her tears.

"Love," Zuko responded simply. "Why else? I mean, you only know three words—love, love, love. You love this child. You're… already his mother in your eyes and in your heart. You don't want anything to jeopardize that."

Her eyes roamed his face. "I don't know how you came from Ozai, but I'm thankful you are you. You're perfect."

He hesitated as memories of his father swarmed him; similarities sprung to mind at the same time. "I think the only reason I'm the way I am is because of him—because he showed me what I didn't want to be. Uncle helped a lot, too. But there are similarities between us. Maybe I'm how he could have been if… things were different."

Katara's soft hand caressed his cheek, delicate fingers brushing over the edges of his scar. "Then I'm thankful for him—if that makes any sense. You wouldn't be you without him, no matter how horrible he was to you."

"It makes sense," he assured.

"I love you because of him, no matter how weird it sounds. I wouldn't love you if it weren't for him—because you wouldn't be you without him and the things he did to you and showed you."

Zuko saw the flaming hand approach his face, directed at his left eye, but there was no anxiety nor fear; there was peace. "Because of him, I see clearly. Ironically, he was my father in that regard—helping me see the truth. Both him and Uncle showed me the truth in different ways."

Katara nestled into his side, face resting in his neck. "And we'll show our child—and all children after—the truth."

"We will."

XxXxXxXxXxX

Zaheer dodged his attack, and Ozai continued his onslaught; he had progressed much more swiftly since his beginning difficulties with Air. He lashed out, and the wind howled as it answered his command—a devoted servant.

His Master spun away from his attack and surged forward, augmented by air. Ozai dove to the side and rolled on his back, swinging his legs in the air, building momentum as air swirled around him. He released his hold, and the air erupted in all directions, springing him to his feet from the sheer force. Without wasting a moment, he maintained his assault against Zaheer, pushing himself, picturing The Avatar before him.

With light steps, Zaheer brushed aside his attacks, evading and avoiding as a true Airbender, and Ozai knew his advantage over The Avatar expanded.

He was training with and against a Master Airbender! The Avatar had no such advantages!

Suddenly, Zaheer spun in a blur of color before rising into the air on a tornado, looming over him. "What do you do now?" his Master called out. "What can you do?"

Ozai wished for his lightning, but he only had Air. With cunning thought, he stared at the surging and swirling air of the tornado. He reached out and connected with those winds; immediately, there was a potent presence controlling them, but he fought against the presence, trying to take control.

Cold.

Training forgotten, he whirled around as Vaatu appeared.

"What is it?" he demanded, staring up at his ally.

"My son is calling me."

"The Face Stealer?" Zaheer asked.

Ozai shook his head. "This is a waste of time. The Face Stealer doesn't matter. Time is what matters. Sleep is irrelevant during these pressing times."

"Yes," Vaatu murmured. "A mortal's revolt against Death. If one fails to fight slumber, what possible way can one fight Death?"

Zaheer hummed while Ozai grit his teeth. "We do not last, but our achievements do. The world forgot my name, but my achievement in splintering the Water Tribe remains even now, seven Avatars later—nearly two thousand years."

"If you want our achievements to endure, I need your help. In case my son designed a trap, I need you with me. I need you both."

Ozai scoffed. "You fear the Face Stealer?"

The chill in the air became biting and oppressive. "I worry he has contacted The Avatar and is attempting to trick me to lead me into The Avatar's wrath."

"Very prudent," Zaheer praised.

"Bring us to him," Ozai said. "We cannot waste time- "

Suddenly, darkness consumed him, and there was no awareness. Years may have passed him, but when he opened his eyes, he knew he was in the Spirit World.

"Father," a chilling voice greeted.

Ozai whirled around and saw what could only be the chitinous shape of the Face Stealer. A face carved in apathy stared back at him, unimpressed.

"Son," Vaatu greeted in return.

"You insult me by bringing these mortals," the Face Stealer derided, and Ozai wanted to murder. "They sully my presence."

"You forget I will not be mortal for long," Ozai interjected, voice tight with control. "I will ascend, and when I smite you with divine power, you will regret insulting me. I will be The Avatar. Do not forget your place, Face Stealer."

The Fact Stealer approached him and began to circle him, stolen face alight in subtle entertainment. "It would be a pleasure to add such a murderous face to my collection."

Ozai wished he had his fire so he could incinerate the Face Stealer. "You will no longer have the joy of your collection if you do not get on with it."

The stolen face switched seamlessly into a snarling baboon and laughed. "Such promise in your vessel, Father. I see why you chose him. But your choice was always doomed to fail. The Avatar is clever and cunning—worthy. You have provoked him to such a degree that he has cast aside restraint in favor of ruthless pragmatism."

Vaatu's shadows emanated off him, and Ozai had never seen his ally so frustrated. "He has won nothing but his own torment."

The chitinous-shaped Face Stealer coiled in a rhythm Ozai could not recognize. "For which I congratulate you, Father; I am impressed. You have achieved more than I thought you would, and you shall achieve still—until you do not."

Zaheer hummed in amusement. "I will help ensure his achievements endure, Face Stealer."

The Face Stealer's attention turned to Zaheer. "Hmm… a most clever strategy, Father. You, spirit, show respect as you should. As a gift, your stolen face remains yours."

"It is an honor to share a trait with you, Face Stealer."

"What do you want, Son?" Vaatu demanded in interruption.

The Face Stealer chuckled. "Sate my curiosity, Father. How do you plan to defeat The Avatar now that his new spirit nears completion?"

Ozai's fists clenched. "Where is it?"

"I will steal your face, mortal," the Face Stealer hissed, scornful voice like a lash to flesh. "My father and I are near equal in power; it is a risk I will pursue if you continue your disrespect."

Before he could respond, Vaatu interrupted: "I will generate an army unbeatable that will annihilate The Avatar's allies."

"Very devious," the Face Stealer commended. "Most cunning. But your cunning has inspired The Avatar's cunning."

"You ally with him?" Ozai sneered, ignoring the Face Stealer's threat. "I never thought the Face Stealer so weak."

"Weak?" the Face Stealer echoed, turning to him with the face of what looked like an earthbending man. "I arose from the union of Raava and Vaatu, connected to each of them in ways my siblings never will be. I possess aspects of them both because I sprang from their fusion, but my siblings were merely artificial creations. None of them possess the Light and the Darkness."

"You are incorruptible," Zaheer observed.

The Face Stealer turned to Vaatu. "For which your primordial intellect is responsible. My siblings can be corrupted—unlike me, for I am immune as a result of already possessing some of the Darkness. Intentional clearly- "

"Enough," Vaatu cut in, shadows writhing in the air. "What do you want, Son?"

"I have a bargain."

"Did you bring The Avatar's new spirit?"

"I am no fool, Father," the Face Stealer said with a booming laugh, and Ozai was surprised that Vaatu did not merely pulverize him. How strong was the Face Stealer? Were he and Vaatu truly equals? "I am willing to give you time. My new sibling, though, will be complete."

"In return for what?" Vaatu demanded. "Why would you betray The Avatar?"

The Face Stealer chuckled, slithering around Ozai, and he refrained from stiffening. "I want Balance, Father. I perceive only one path for Eternal Balance."

"You want two Avatars," Ozai said in realization.

A fanged baboon suddenly met his gaze, snarling in laughter. "Of course. My essence demands it. I do what I must for Balance, which necessitates my aid to you. I will give you time to ensure your ascendancy, ensuring Balance. If we reach an agreement, I will delay The Phoenix's completion."

Vaatu drifted closer to the Face Stealer. "What are you not telling me?"

"Many things," the Face Stealer dismissed. "Do not presume to demand more, Father. I can swiftly turn this encounter most unpleasant."

"And in return for your help?"

"You share the knowledge of how you teleport."

"Why?"

"I wish to visit the Mortal Realm."

"There is more to it."

The Face Stealer laughed. "Of course there is, Father. But such knowledge will remain mine alone."

Silence.

"It's a good deal," Ozai said at last, glancing at Vaatu. "He can do nothing to harm us. Even if he goes to The Avatar, he can't give us away. He knows nothing that benefits The Avatar."

"Heed your vessel's counsel," the Face Stealer encouraged, stolen eyes gleaming in anticipation. "This is your chance to buy time; it is your only chance. Without my help, you will fail to ascend before The Phoenix's completion; without my help, The Avatar will render all your striving fruitless; without my help, you will endure imprisonment again. So, will you deal, Father?"

Vaatu peered down at the Face Stealer for several moments. "I will deal, Son."

XxXxXxXxXxX

Well, that's all for this one, everyone! I hope that you all enjoyed it and I'd also really appreciate it if you left a review; it would help me out!

**Azula confronts Hama! I thought it important that Azula get some small closure by knowing what happened to Mai and Ty Lee (thanks to Sokka) and then seeing Hama, whom everyone else fears, but Azula is, of course, unimpressed—only furious. She spares Hama as everyone else has. I thought there was an interesting, shared motif between Azula and Hama. Azula—well, and Zuko, too—understands more than anyone the power of a second chance. However, Hama has been offered a chance to turn against Vaatu and try to be better, but she proves herself incapable of doing it. Ironically, Hama is not like Water; she cannot change. Yes, there was a line from The Blacklist in the Azula and Zuko conversation part.

**Aang confronts the Tree of Time! This one was a fun but challenging part to write. The Tree is not like other characters; the Tree is not human or mortal like other characters, and It doesn't have characteristics that quantify it as human-like, similar to Raava, Vaatu, Koh, Wan Shi Tong, and the Elemental Spirits. The Tree is transcendent and divine. So, Aang is never going to understand the Tree, for no one can. I tried to focus on Eastern philosophy, specifically the notion that being is better than doing, but Eastern philosophy can get really dense, and I'm at the mercy of my own understanding, and my understanding is what you see in this part of the chapter. My apologies if my understanding about it all isn't up to snuff.

**The Gaang minus Aang catches up and everyone gets on the same page.

**Ozai and Zaheer continue training and focus on strategy against The Avatar. Also, I think it goes without saying, but I feel inclined to say it anyway—Ozai's a dick.

**Koh appears and ruminates on the events that have transpired and has a vested interest in things that are happening. He's about to enter the game on a more proactive level.

**Aang reunites with the Gaang and Samir, saving them from the rest of the chi-blockers from Vaatu's attack in the previous chapter! And he learns about Hama, which he is understandably not happy about.

**Hama and Jin bond a little bit before Aang shows up! I thought it was important to give a little more backstory to Hama and why she hates Fire so much, although she already had a good reason. Then Aang shows up, and it goes about as you expect. Hama is still obstinate, and Aang takes away her bending. Really, there was no other solution.

**Hakoda and co. arrive at the Fire Nation and meet with Iroh! Also, Hakoda finally receives the letter that Katara wrote him that is mentioned in CH. 17. We also meet Batsu, Anju's husband. Anju is Bor's cousin and is Queen of Omashu; she is Bumi's granddaughter. Iroh facilitates a conversation about how the Great War happened, at least on some level, and how mistakes were clearly made, and how they can't make the same mistakes when finishing this new war—because this new war is a direct response to the Great War, fueled by resentment against Fire and bitterness towards The Avatar for prohibiting vengeance.

**Aang and Azula have a moment to bask in relief since they reunited with Samir. They also talk about things, like Mai and Ty Lee, and Aang's conversation with the Tree of Time.

**Jin attempts to assassinate a sleeping Aang and doesn't go through with it, but she's not out of the clear because Azula catches her! Azula says it in this part: "A mother's guilt, and a mother's grief. I can think of no combination more lethal." Jin's guilt over what happened and her tireless grief overwhelm her, prodded on by Hama who had encouraged her earlier on in the chapter. Jin had already said to Haru in the last chapter that she doesn't hate The Avatar, but that doesn't mean she doesn't want vengeance, and that her terror couldn't overcome her, especially when she saw how Aang was with Hama—a very bad moment to be judging whether The Avatar is a good man or not, deserving of trust or not.

Crucially, Jin had already realized she couldn't go through with it before Azula revealed herself, which saved Jin's life. Azula wants to keep the peace after everything they've been through, and she's understandably worried that if she killed Jin, it would fracture the Gaang even though they had just been reunited. And she doesn't want word of it to get back to Aang, who would be guilt-ridden if he learned even more of what his rampage at Ba Sing Se had evoked.

**Zuko and Katara discuss the possibility that Hama's child isn't Ozai's—because such a possibility must be brought up.

**Vaatu, Ozai, and Zaheer meet up with Koh, and they come to a deal. Koh is entering the game for good, no longer staying on the sidelines, and he's a big name, a heavy-hitter who can alter things severely. Koh has his own agenda, separate from Vaatu and Aang, although his agenda reflects the idea of The Avatar, ironically enough. Koh agrees to buy Vaatu time, delaying the maturation of the Phoenix in exchange for the knowledge on how to teleport in and out of the Mortal and Immortal Realms whenever he wishes.

I really thought that Koh, who is such a powerful spirit (the fourth most powerful in Avatar behind the Tree, Raava, and Vaatu), should take more centerstage for the action. Because this war affects him, as well, and with how things have gone, it makes more and more sense for him to want a piece of the pie, so to speak. Remember, Koh is more than willing to go against The Avatar if he deems it necessary. He stole Ummi's face to punish Kuruk for his transgressions against his duty, and he wasn't afraid to do it, to be perceived as an enemy of The Avatar. So, now he's not afraid to be perceived as going against Aang.

I think that was everything so leave a review and tell me what you think of the chapter. I'd really appreciate it!

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