Title: Shadows in the Mind

Summary: Five years after the war is over, the world is finally settling into an uneasy peace. When the Avatar and his friends disappear into a swamp in the southwest Earth Kingdom, they find themselves fighting not only for their lives but to prevent another way from breaking out. Chapter 20: Sokka copes, Toph comes to grips, Zuko gives his reasons, and everybody heads home. Kind of.

A/N: Seeing as this is my last author's note for this story, I hope you'll indulge me one last time. This story has been a huge part of my life for the last year, and it's incredibly surreal to see it end. I can honestly say I've learned a lot, not just about grammar but about structure and plotting things out and writing and fanfiction writing in general – this was, after all, only the second fanfiction I've ever attempted.

Let me make this clear: if you have enjoyed this story at all, go thank JoJoDancer. The first ever conversation we ever had over AIM was about swamp!fic, when it was just a puddle of different pictures in my head, and while I have written she has also devoted a year of her life to a story that wasn't even hers. It simply would not have happened without her, and I owe her a huge debt for her hard work on this. (Hard work that mostly consisting of "GO WRITE SWAMP" and "GOD YOUR TENSES ARE AWFUL", but hard work nonetheless.)

More thanks go to Sifu Toph, who has given me a wonderful reader's perspective on many things I was nervous about when putting up chapters. She has been an invaluable resource.

There. You can go read your fic now.

Disclaimer: Still don't own Avatar.

Chapter 20 - Mihi Cura Futuri

Even despite his dazed state, Sokka heard his sister's footsteps long before she moved into his line of vision, hands on her hips and something akin to pity on her face.

Slumped in a chair on the back patio of the now-closed common room of the inn, Sokka had been quite enjoying his quiet time alone. The weather was cool, if slightly rainy, and if he watched long enough once in a while the dark clouds broke and he got a chance to catch a glimpse of the silvery crescent moon floating across the sky.

Katara tapped her foot for a moment before finally asking, "How much wine did you have with dinner?"

"Enough," he grunted. Not enough to make himself sick – he wasn't dumb, he knew he had a long ride on a hopping ostrich horse waiting for him in the morning – but enough that he finally felt relaxed for the first time in days.

Katara rocked back and forth for a moment, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like "coping mechanism," before finally shrugging and, throwing herself down in the chair next to him, asking, "Do you have any left?"

He had almost a full bottle next to him – purchased with the intent of going home in his saddle bag with just a sip to wash down both his dinner and the wine he'd had with dinner – and without hesitation he picked it up and passed it over to his sister, who uncorked it and took a long swig before stopping and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand breathlessly.

"Did Toph tell you where I was?" Sokka finally asked, not bothering to look at her as she passed the bottle back to him.

Katara bobbled her head in confirmation.

Sokka frowned. "You didn't wake her up, did you? She needs to sleep."

"You think I don't know that?" Katara shot back, reaching for the wine again. "I stopped in to check on her before I went to sleep myself and she was tossing and turning."

"I'm worried about her," Sokka confessed, eyes still on the sky, making out a silver glow haloing the cloud currently in front of the moon.

"I am too." Katara took another drink before adding, "I tried to soothe her mind a bit before she went back to sleep but it's still full of chaos…" she paused to think of the right words. "It's like a tree that's been uprooted."

"She's strong," Sokka muttered, not sure if he was attempting to reassure Katara or himself. "We all had a scare in there. She'll be okay." He thought for a moment, then asked, "Have you seen Zuko?"

He could almost hear Katara's muscles pull into a frown. "He's been holed up with Cai for most of the evening. Aang went to talk to him before dinner but I don't think he wants to talk to any of us."

"What's his problem?" Sokka had been informed, several times, of Zuko's upbringing and the traumatizing events of both his childhood and his adolescence, and of the tremendous stress he was under as the leader of the fragile Fire Nation. Sokka's response, several times, was that he couldn't really be bothered with it. He had little patience for Zuko when he started throwing, in the warrior's own words, "temper tantrums," and had even less patience for Zuko's whole attitude since they'd escaped the swamp, especially when he and his friends had risked their lives to go and fetch him in the first place.

"I think he's still mad at us," Katara grumbled, tipping the bottle back again. Sokka watched her out of the corner of her eye. His sister rarely drank. "He thought we'd abandoned him in the swamp."

"How could he think that?" Sokka demanded, but Katara merely shrugged.

"Me and Aang told him…" she seemed far less concerned about Zuko's attitude than he did. "You know the swamp, Sokka. It gets inside of people. He'll get over it."

"He better," Sokka muttered, "or my boomerang is gonna get inside of him and set him straight real quick."

Katara snorted, and the pair lapsed back into silence for a long moment, no sound other than the occasional shriek from the stable and the swishing as they passed the bottle of wine back and forth.

Finally, Sokka broached the subject he'd been avoiding. "How is Aang?"

There was no response other than a long sigh from Katara, and after a silence that felt like years to Sokka (but was probably only a minute or two), Katara said, "Don't you think it's funny that we both fell in love with something bigger than us?"

"Wha-?" He turned a confused gaze to his sister to find her looking up at the night sky, peering at the hazy shine as a cloud passed in front of the moon.

"Yue was touched by the moon spirit even before we knew her, and then she became the moon spirit. She'll always be up there…" Katara ran a finger around the lip of the bottle thoughtfully before adding, "…and there'll always be an Avatar."

Sokka slouched in his chair, leaning his head against the back and craning his head back to the sky. It was true. There would always be a moon, even after there wasn't a Sokka. And the Avatar – Katara wasn't the first of the Avatar's loves and she wouldn't be the last.

For a moment he felt as tiny as could be, an indescribable speck, the tiniest wave in the current of time…

And then he remembered Yue's smile. And Yue's laugh. And Yue's kiss.

"We don't stand a chance, do we?" he asked blankly, looking at his sister. She shrugged and gave him a sad smile before shaking her head in agreement. He looked back up at the moon, framed perfectly by a small break in the clouds.

"It's worth it though," he added, before closing his eyes, not caring if Katara agreed with him or not.

Toph rarely had nightmares. This was because she was practical and not much frightened her, and on the rare occasions something traveled into her sleep and haunted her dreams, she usually ended up kicking hard enough for vibrations to set her straight, thus banishing the bad dream back into her subconscious.

While Toph slept in her tiny bed in the inn, she dreamt only of blackness – for someone who lived huge portions of her life without sight, darkness was nothing new, but she'd never been in total blackness, where there was nothing; not her friends, not the soothing earth calling to her: only herself standing blindly in the dark.

My master.

Herself and the voice. It no longer taunted her when she was awake but she knew it would take far longer for her to shake it totally from her memory, the feeling of it curling around the edges of her mind and embracing her like she belonged to it and no one else.

She woke up, sweaty and tangled in the sheets with the voice that had been ringing so loudly in her head already fading into a whisper. She couldn't even remember what it had been saying to her, but she'd never forget that chill, that shiver that went down her spine whenever she heard it.

Toph rolled from the bed and landed on the floor on all fours, desperate for the stone she knew lay beneath the thin layer of carpet on the floors. For a moment she let her palms rest against it, feeling the unyielding stone even through the threadbare rug, before deciding it wasn't enough.

The night was cool but Toph was more than used to the elements and didn't bother to pull on a thicker tunic as she slipped from the room – half sure Sokka would poke his head out from the door next to hers and demand to know what she was doing – and worked her way out through the kitchen – empty except from some mice skittering around – out into the courtyard she knew was laying behind the inn, where there were also some tables that patrons liked to eat at when the weather was nice.

She'd bury herself in the earth, and then there'd be nothing but the soothing thrum of soil and stone to intrude upon her thoughts.

The ground was soggy and gave way under her feet; instantly, they were coated with mud, and with a sigh of pleasure Toph stopped and ground each foot in turn into the muck, letting it squish pleasantly between each toe.


She stiffened at the sound of his voice, surprised and slightly put out at being caught in such an intimate gesture with her native element.

"Sokka? What are you doing out here?"

She really didn't have to ask – the smell of wine hung in the air, and his voice was thick, as if he had to think hard to not slur his words.

"It's a beautiful night," Sokka informed her haughtily, as if it were silly for him to even have to acknowledge it - when in reality Toph couldn't see it – and even if she could, she knew he was wrong. She could smell the rain on the air and feel the earth sighing in relief as the water soaked into the ground. Before she could sigh and lecture him on his overindulgence, however, he called from his little seat on the veranda, "Are you feeling okay? You need your rest."

Irritation flared even as Toph tried to remind herself that Sokka only cared about her. "I'm fine!" she snapped. "Stop asking!"

She could almost hear him wilting. "Look," Toph added, much more gently this time. "You'll know. You don't have to ask." No one could spot when Toph needed help better than Sokka, and he was one of the few people on the planet she grudgingly accepted it from. There was no reason to hover over her.

He thought about this for a moment before apparently deciding to accept it, because his next words were an almost petulant sounding, "So why're you out here anyway?"

Toph bent over, planting her hands firmly in the dirt as well. "Couldn't sleep."

"You should try."

"So should you!" she shot back.

He couldn't argue with that, and after another couple of moments of stupid silence Toph extricated herself from the mud and stalked over to him, holding out a hand impatiently.

"…What?" he asked warily, staring at it as if she were holding a live snake.

"C'mon." Toph finally reached out and snagged him by the forearm, bodily dragging him from his chair and out into the grassy garden area she'd been standing in.

"What are you doing?" he asked when she stopped almost directly where she'd been standing before, one of her feet finding the same groove it had been standing in before.

"This," she informed him, bracing her arms on his chest and pushing. He must have been drunker than she had originally suspected, because with a whoosh of air he landed on his back like a sack of rocks - and normally she'd have had to add an extra kick to his knees to get them to buckle.

"Hey!" Sokka protested, not trying to get up. She smirked at him before spinning on her heel and collapsing down directly next to him, allowing her arms to flop above her head as she sprawled on the ground, breathing deeply the scent of the earth beneath her.

"You remember when we got stuck in the desert?" she asked, wondering if she'd be able to get the mud out of her ears. Eventually, Toph decided. The next time she took a bath.


"The swamp wasn't much better, when it came to the vibrations. Everything was all swirly and fuzzy because of the water and the slime, and what earth I could feel was in so much pain from being torn apart by that spirit."

He didn't say anything in response, even though Toph could feel his heart beating harder than normal. "We should go inside." He said finally, his voice oddly flat. "You need to get some sleep."

"So do you," Toph pointed out.

"You're right." But he lay still, and a moment later shifted, stretching his arms above his head and then clasping them across his chest. "…Want to just stay here?"


"Okay." And those were the last words either one spoke for a long time. Eventually Toph's eyes drooped closed, a true smile on her face and a feeling of relief in her mind.

Morning dawned crisp and annoyingly bright, with birds chirping and the sounds of animals and carts heading towards market filtering through the window. For Ty Lee, who'd spent a sleepless night debating what to do, it was a most unwelcome sight.

It wasn't her decision that was worrying her as much as how she was going to tell Mai – Mai, who already thought Ty Lee did not care about Azula, Mai who thought that Ty Lee had been willing to abandon their friend. Ty Lee didn't want to validate Mai's suspicions, but how could she not?

There was nothing waiting for her in the Fire Nation.

Maybe someday, but not now. Not when she had the chance to resume her tour of the Earth Kingdom that had been interrupted by Azula's search for the Avatar and the war. Not when she had a chance to decide where she wanted to go for herself for the first time in years.

Mai, she suspected, would want to return to the Fire Nation with Zuko. Not for the first time Ty Lee found herself wondering exactly what had happened between the pair in the swamp, what they had experienced or decided together. Mai seemed far more trusting of the Fire Lord than Ty Lee thought wise considering their history. A far more treacherous part of Ty Lee's brain suspected that Mai was only attaching herself to Zuko because (or despite of) his similarities to Azula – Azula might have been brash and aggressive, but Zuko was equal parts determination and bravery, and a little part of her she refused to acknowledge thought Mai was clutching at things that were familiar to her.

Which made what she had to tell her best friend all the harder.

Rolling out of the bed and stretching, she opened the windows to peer outside at the stables, which were already bustling with the sight of soldiers gathering supplies and readying the ostrich horses.

"It looks like Zuko is going to want to leave soon," she remarked, frowning.

The bundle that was Mai rolled up in the sheets twitched. Then, "You're not coming, are you?"

Ty Lee's jaw dropped and she spun around to stare at her friend, who was still facing away from her. Taken entirely off guard, she spluttered for a second before Mai finally chose to disentangle herself from the blankets and sit up, finger-combing her hair back into some semblance of order. Catching sight of Ty Lee's shocked face, Mai merely cocked an eyebrow and pointed out, "It didn't take a genius to figure it out."

"I – well – you –" Ty Lee struggled for words before finally blurting out, "Is that okay?!"

Mai threw her a strange, unreadable look. "You didn't ask my permission to skip graduation and run away from Academy."

"That was different!" Ty Lee protested.

Mai quirked an eyebrow. "How so?"

Ty Lee found herself speechless. Part of her felt relief at Mai's words – and the rest of her wanted to demand answers. The night before Mai had accused her of abandoning Azula to the swamp and now she was insisting that Ty Lee leave?

"Are you okay?" she finally asked, unsure what else to say.

Mai sighed and began to gather what few things they had, shaking out her cloak and beating the mud from her boots. "I had a dream about graduation last night," she said, her eyes focused on the task. "And I was so mad at you for skipping out to run away to the circus of all places, even though that's what you said you were going to do for, like, a year before that."

Ty Lee nodded, remembering her gushing enthusiastically about her plans the entire spring and summer before their graduation. "One of my teachers threatened to write me up for making ridiculous claims."

"But you did it anyway," Mai insisted, looking at Ty Lee out of the corner of her eye. "And you didn't look back until Azula tracked you down. And then you left the circus, and you didn't look back then either. You never do."

"I guess not…" Ty Lee shrugged, rubbing her neck, feeling uncomfortable and wanting to change the subject. "So you're going back with Zuko?"

"Yes." Mai's tone was flat.


"Why'd you run away to the circus?"

"It was my calling." Ty Lee wrapped her braid around her knuckles and tugged nervously. "It felt right. It felt like home."

"It's something similar." Mai shrugged. "It could feel like home, maybe." She stopped to think about this and amended, "If it doesn't get too boring again, too quickly."

A grin tugged at Ty Lee's mouth. "You could always run away and join me at a traveling circus. They pay good money for knife throwers – they have this one trick where they put a girl up against a piece of wood -"

The same almost-grin was being stifled on Mai's face as well. "Unlikely… but I'll keep it in mind."

Cai found him staring dumbly down at the formerly sealed piece of parchment. Zuko had practically tossed the thing aside in his irritation the day before when Bumi had presented it to him, far more concerned about his uncle's wellbeing and the reason Cai had been sent to the Earth Kingdom to meet them than to worry about some stupid message that didn't even say what he would have sworn before Agni himself he'd thought it had said.

So when the tiny thing had fallen out of his saddle bag while they were preparing to leave that morning, curiosity had finally overpowered the pain and concern and sheer anger that had been battling for domination in his head and he reached out, popped the seal, and scanned the contents of the message that had sent them on this entire journey:

Honorable Lord Zuko,

We have failed in our attempt to purchase a crate of Ba Sing Se's finest jasmine tea that is so favored by your uncle, the Admirable General Iroh. We shall endeavor to make a second attempt to acquire the desired product on the morrow.

Zuko didn't even need to read the signature to recognize the needlessly puffed up language of his top lieutenant, who'd been in charge of his entourage during the entire trip to Ba Sing Se.

"Lord Zuko, sir?" Zuko's eyes darted to where his advisor was standing next to an ostrich horse, a look of nervousness on his face. Then he realized that he could hear his teeth grinding and feel a headache coming from his frown and tense forehead, and made a slight attempt to look more approachable.


"We're ready to move at King Bumi's signal, and he's just waiting for us." Cai was still shifting nervously, his eyes flickering between Zuko's face, his ostrich horse's saddle, and Zuko's hands. Zuko followed his gaze to find that he was wringing the piece of parchment trapped between them. With a deep sigh, Zuko clenched his hands, letting the message burst into flames and fall to the ground in bits of ash.

"Do we have everyone with us?" This whole fiasco could have been prevented. How had he been sure that his uncle was sick? He'd been so sure. He could see him, confined to a bed and gasping for breath.

"Sir," Cai nodded, gesturing with his head. Zuko glanced back at the entourage and saw Mai on her own ostrich horse, definitely trying to blend in but standing out anyway. Ty Lee had come to him in the morning and told him that she would be striking out on her own, probably heading towards Ba Sing Se, but that Mai would be heading back to the Fire Nation.

"I know you told me to stay in the Earth Kingdom permanently…" she had trailed off, worrying her braid between her fingers. "But if Mai needs me…" There had been no need to finish the sentence. There would no stopping her.

Zuko had nodded. "She'll be taken care of." It should have been in a threatening manner. He'd meant to say it in a threatening manner, except not really. He was never very good at threats. Or bluffing. He didn't mind taking Mai back to the Fire Nation with him – a little part of him suspected that it was that he hated being in another's debt. Barring anything else in their history, Mai had, no matter what, aided him in the swamp. The least he could do was make sure she landed on her feet. Especially when she no longer had Azula to boss her around.

In his musing he missed words from Cai, and, startling, he looked at the advisor and barked, "Excuse me?"

Cai instantly flinched. "I don't mean to bring your judgment into question Lord Zuko. It's just that both she and the other girl who left already have been wanted by the Fire Nation for years. I don't understand why we're taking her back as a free citizen."

Zuko chewed his bottom lip for a moment, watching Mai out of the corner of his eye, and then looking back at Cai, who suddenly looked so young compared to him even though they were only three or four years apart.

"Throughout the last leg of the war Azula took Mai and Ty Lee and hunted my uncle and me and the Avatar, on personal orders from my father." Cai nodded. This was common knowledge. Zuko continued, "And while Azula had some very persuasive tactics of getting people to do her bidding, there's no doubt in my mind that both of them could have run away at any time if they really wanted to or weren't entirely comfortable with what they were doing."

Cai frowned. This was not explaining why Zuko did not want to arrest them.

"And when the war ended and I took the throne, I waited for one of them to come forward and beg for leniency like all the other nobles, to say that Azula had made them do it and that they had never trusted her." It had been a chaotic time in his life, sorting through who had been serious in their claims of regret and who had merely been cold and calculating and waiting to knock him off the throne.

"Neither one of them did. They both chose exile with Azula rather than to attempt to bargain for my forgiveness and live a life of comfort again." It had been something that had bothered him for a long time, whenever the subject of his sister had come up.

His tone changed, suddenly becoming harsher, harder. "Tell me, Master Cai." His advisor looked nervous again, and Zuko continued, "If they had succeeded in getting rid of me, in pushing me off of my throne and left you in a position of vulnerability as one of my advisors, would you vouch for me, and defend me, or would you flee?"

Cai's eyes widened, and he actually stopped breathing at Zuko's accusing question.

"Answer honestly," Zuko insisted, crossing his arms and giving his most commanding glare.

Cai closed his eyes, his face flushing red as he took a deep breath. "I do have a family to consider, Lord Zuko," he finally murmured, as if he were signing his own death warrant.

Zuko said nothing in response, and when Cai finally opened his eyes again Zuko nodded at him, not smiling but still giving the man an indication that he had answered correctly.

Mounting his ostrich horse, he glanced back at Mai, who wasn't riding as tall as she normally would have, who was sitting on her ostrich horse a little more slumped, a little more defeated than normal.

"So did they," Zuko finally said, then gestured to Cai's waiting ostrich horse. "Saddle up. I want to go home."

Despite the rain the night before, it looked like they were going to have perfect weather for the ride back to Omashu. The group could have made it back to the city in another full day if they'd rushed, but after breakfast Bumi and Aang had had a long talk and decided that, based on the current atmosphere it would be best if the group took their time, making several long pit stops in little towns and in ports to make it clear that both the Avatar and the Fire Lord were alive and well and not responsible for the other's disappearance. News traveled fastest from small town to small town, and even though they all needed rest after everything they'd been through, the job of the Avatar never went away. Preventing war, or even rebellion, was the highest priority.

Eventually they would reach the little port where Zuko's ship was stationed and from there the Fire Lord planned to split away from the group and return home – most of the public outrage and uprising was in the Earth Kingdom, and now that Zuko knew that his uncle was okay he was in far less of a hurry to return home.

He was also being far friendlier to Aang and Katara than he had the night before – after they'd saddled up he'd ridden over to them and asked Katara to look at his knee and discussed traveling plans with Aang. Katara wasn't sure what had changed his attitude, but she had a sneaking suspicion that Mai was involved, even if no one had seen one of the pair say anymore than five words to the other.

Sokka and Toph were still sharing an ostrich horse behind her. An inn employee had found the pair dead asleep in the courtyard in the middle of the night, and if Katara hadn't been fighting off her own headache she would have had very stern words for them. As it was, she made sure to leave a large tip for the hotel staff. She would have been slightly embarrassed about the incident if she hadn't been feeling so relieved – it wasn't that much of a stretch to guess why Toph had gone outside, and Katara had been in no position to help Sokka to bed herself when she'd finally left her brother the night before. It made her happy to see the pair acting like their normal selves, even if it had scandalized an entire inn full of Earth Kingdom peasants.

Aang was riding next to her this time, and when she looked up at him he must have felt her eyes on him, because he looked back at her, flashing her a half-smile before looking away again. He was still having trouble looking directly at her, and she wondered how long he would struggle with it before he could adjust yet again to a new intrusion on his life.

The previous night when she'd left Sokka and returned to the room, she'd thrown herself down onto the bed next to Aang, mumbling goodnight and not expecting any reply from him. To her surprise, he'd rolled over and returned her words, draping an arm over her waist before sniffing and propping himself up on one elbow. "Were you drinking wine?"

She had been amused by his surprise – she rarely touched the stuff, outside of a glass at dinner once in a while. "I was outside with Sokka. He got a bottle with dinner."

He had frowned down at her, before asking hesitantly, "Are you okay? Will you be okay tomorrow?"

"Of course," Katara's eyebrows had creased as she'd reached up to touch Aang's face. "I didn't have that much. I'm fine. I can hold my alcohol." Could she always, though? Had Aang been thinking of some other love, whom he'd had to take care of on nights like this in another life? Settling down again she had drifted off to sleep quickly, wondering how Ayano had held her wine.

Still, it wasn't the weirdest thing she'd ever experienced with Aang. Even how they'd met had been a surreal experience – it was something that came with the territory. Katara would never hold it against him because it was simply part of who he was. Aang had wanted her to do just that; to have her give up after some new challenge presented itself.

Nothing ever turned out as she expected. She had expected a quiet life in the decimated South Pole, with the war being fought above her and eventually ended by the returning Avatar, who stayed far away from her tribe even if stories about his amazing feats traveled to them. She had expected to help Aang, to accompany him and even teach him as he faced the Fire Lord, and she had expected a lifelong friend. She had expected, once her lifelong friend turned into a lifelong love, to spend her life devoted not just to Aang but to his cause, to serving the world as he did.

Everything that had happened in the swamp had gone against her expectations, but… that was the way it happened with them. She was a waterbender. She could adapt.

Up ahead of them, Zuko was riding with his advisor, Cai looking at him in an appreciative new light. Behind her, she could hear Sokka laughing at some petty grip of Toph's. And next to her, she could see Aang watching her out of the corner of her eye. She wondered who he was seeing before deciding it didn't matter – it was inspired out of love for her.

Maybe, she thought, touching the betrothal necklace hanging at her neck, once everything settles down again, we can settle down too.

The last thing he had felt when he had lost track of the world was fire, and when his eyes snapped open again the first thing to greet him was fire. With a shout he fell backwards, attempting to get away from the flames, until he looked around and realized, truly realized, that he was alone.

He was alone and he was still in the body. The Avatars had failed.

With a snort of disbelief he sat up, rubbing his head, and it was then that he realized that things weren't right. He had missed something, to be sure. The body. His body was different. When he'd closed his eyes he'd been in the body of the Avatar, a tall man, and now he had hair, and a thinner face, and… and…

Tiny, delicate hands.

Tiny, delicate hands that were on fire.

With a shriek – a definite, high-pitched, feminine shriek he flailed his hands to put the flames out before it suddenly struck him that he was not being burned. He couldn't believe that it did not hurt – fire always hurt.

With a blink he patted himself and made the last, most important realization of all: he was now in the body of a female firebender.

So, he thought with irritation, the fates have no sense of justice but they have certainly embraced irony.

Pushing himself up from the ground, he looked at the burning earth around him and remembered –

- fire, burning, all consuming fire and pain and fear and – and then there was someone who was not hurt by the fire, someone who's mind was crying out in pain, but not because of the fire, and he had called back -

And then he'd woken up, in this body.

Taking a cautious step forward, he was pleased with the flames, which licked at his limbs but did nothing. A slow smile curled on his face as he took in his surroundings. Fire could no longer hurt him. Fire no longer meant fear or pain. The Avatars could not conquer him with it again.

Now… all he needed was a way out.

Mihi Cura Futuri
- My Concern is the Future

A/N: Loved it? Hated it? Let me know what you think of the ending. I tried to leave everyone in a good place, I really did.

Thank you, every single person who read this story and stuck with me through the very long chapters – it has been a pleasure (…most of the time, anyway) writing this.