It isn't until the guards throw open the steel cell doors and lead the prisoners up into the sunlight that Gua Mei knows the war is over. The sun, the fresh air, the… life of it all surprises her. She has lived underground for months, in a Fire Nation fortress, imprisoned for being a Kyoshi warrior and for helping the Avatar.
Her skin crawls as the breeze ruffles her clothing; she wants to get out of her filthy, ragged uniform as soon as possible, to wash away that horrible time. She wants, at the moment, more than anything, to pull off the green robe and its trimmings and… she doesn't know. It is simply disgusting and she feels nauseated, she wants it off so badly.
On Kyoshi, wearing the green and gold made her stand out; it was a sign of skill, of bravery and respect. Little girls oohed and aahed in the streets, starry-eyed; little boys pouted and said swords were better, anyway. The adults smiled and nodded and told her just how proud they were. But Kyoshi was a little po-dunk island at the bottom of the globe, and this was the rest of the world, where people bigger and stronger like the Fire Nation could strip you of your honor and somehow leave you feeling like a marionette with the strings cut away.
She wants the uniform off.
But then there is a flash of gold, temporarily blinding her. Gua Mei looks down to her robes, to see the sunlight glistening off of the bronze insignia embedded into her armpiece. She watches the light reflect off the symbol, swiftly moving up the golden threads woven into the stitches.
Something catches in her throat.
Yes, the uniform may be tattered and soiled, but the gold threads, the Kyoshi insignia, they're still there. And the warrior's noble blood, the fighter's honorable heart… they're still there, too.
Bumi is resting when he learns the news.
It isn't startling, not really; he'd been expecting it for some time now. After all, he knew the Avatar—more importantly, he knew Aang—and he'd felt it in his bones, the way everything was coming to a close.
Bumi is one hundred and thirteen years old, and though his mind has been improved by the wisdom brought by that age, his muscles ache and it is harder to open his eyes every morning. His body is tired.
He wonders how much time he'll have to enjoy this new peace.
The chains and pulleys groan and squeal as someone, far below, begins to lower Bumi back to his beloved Omashu.
Neutral jin, he thinks. Wait and see.
Maybe it's simply because of this new era of peace, but today, Haru sees everything with a strange, refreshing new vision.
For a moment, he simply watches the wheat in his father's field, the way it bends in the wind... His family had lost this land, then won it back again… and now, it is theirs forever: the threat of the Fire Nation, of the sound of boots pounding in the night and monstrous metal prisons, is gone for good.
Haru lies back in the grass and swears he can feel the earth rumbling beneath him, moving in the same time as his heartbeat. He finds the idea funny. He finds everything funny today.
He looks up into the great blue, laughing harder and harder and harder until his lungs and throat ache and his eyes burn from the blinding sunlight. Freedom.
"The war is over," Aunt Wu whispers, and her voice is hoarse with emotion.
"How can you tell?" Meng asks. They are sitting on the back veranda, Meng with a book of fables in her lap. The day is bright and clear, the sun so bright it's painful to look into the sky.
"There," Aunt Wu says shakily, and Meng follows her pointing finger to the clouds; she has to squint to make them out against the blinding blue.
"That means peace," Aunt Wu says, and Meng is startled to see tears running down the elegant, aged face. For all of both of their lives—Aunt Wu's sixty odd years, and Meng's short twelve, there has been nothing but the war. "That cloud, right there…it means peace."
"I've never seen it before," Meng says.
The moment the war is over, Jeong Jeong's men pack and head for the capital; only Chey stays, for one extra day, until Jeong Jeong literally has to kick him out of the remains of camp.
As soon as the other man is gone, Jeong Jeong torches the tents, burns the camp to the ground, and disappears into the forests. He hikes for five days, until mountains rise over his head and the air is damper, cleaner, fresher.
Jeong Jeong is perceptive enough to know that peace has given him anonymity; he will no longer be hunted as a deserter. He can live the rest of his live away from the savagery of humanity, away from their confusing ideals, from "honor" and armies that burn cities to the ground…
He crouches down; the soil here is soft. The land is fertile. The life is new.
He can build a house here, Jeong Jeong thinks, in the shade of the mountains… he can cut the timber from the forests, and grow a little garden on the side of the house… and no one will ever come looking for him ever again…
When the news comes, some of the members of Song's village dance in the street; others fall to their knees, sobbing in mingled joy and sorrow.
Song kicks off her sandals and curls her toes into the dust, tilting her face up towards the sky. And in her mind, she memorizes the feeling, the dirt between her toes and the warmth on her face and the breeze caressing her cheeks, because it is the defining moment of her life. All of Song's sixteen years have been set against the war; and now suddenly it is gone, and she feels like a newborn, opening her eyes for the first time.
Later, two weeks after the news comes, a rather bewildered young Fire Nation soldier appears at the gate to her garden, a young ostrich horse in tow.
"Would you like to come in?" Song asks, the realization coming quickly—she wraps one slender hand around the soldier's wrist, the other around the colt's rein, as the smell of roast duck floats lazily out the window and into the garden.
Lee's mouth hurts from smiling as he watches Gow and his cronies fall into formation with the rest of the Earth Kingdom army; finally, with the threat of Fire Nation raids gone, their "protectors" are leaving for good.
Tap. A finger on his shoulder..
"Lee?" Sen Su, his once handsome face scarred from imprisonment, stands over him; Lee scoots into his shade, grateful for the respite from the relentless summer rays. "The Yao family invited us for lunch."
Lee opens his mouth to speak, to turn and go with his brother, but then an idea flashes across his mind in perfect time with the reflection of the sun off of the soldiers' polished boots.
"I'll be there in a second," he says, and Sen Su nods and turns to return to their parents.
Gow stands at the back of the columns of men; he looks distinctly irritated to be back among his comrades, to be removed from his position of power over their village and returned to that of a lowly soldier.
Lee waits till his brother is past the feed store before he dashes forward.
"Hey, Gow!" he yells, and just as the older man turns, Lee sinks his bony fist into his stomach.
The tree tells Hue. He meditates afterwards, trying to imagine what this new world will be like. If you listen carefully, you can hear every living thing breathing together. He inhales and feels millions doing the same.
Eventually, he rises and heads into camp.
"We should celebrate," Hue says to the others. Slim snaps down some unfortunate animal in agreement.
Joo Dee is entirely unruffled when she is told.
"Well," she says to General Lord Huang—the Fire Nation governor of Ba Sing Se—"I'll certainly have to make you some cookies for your journey home!"
"Two jasmine, please!" comes a familiar cry, and Pao, smiling in his kitchen, hustles to collect the pot. He mixes and wafts the herbs together, just the way Mushi taught him to, and smiles as the aroma curls up towards him, filling the small room with its scent.
He is walking back into the teashop, smiling and holding the tray aloft for his favorite customer—when he stops dead, nearly dropping the tea at the sight of her new companion.
Jin is sitting in her normal booth, but the usually empty seat next to her is now filled by a long, lanky young man, with bright gold eyes and dark hair pulled back into a topknot.
She is drinking tea with a Fire Nation soldier.
"What are you doing?" Pao asks, incredulous, as he sets the tray on their table.
Jin lets out a peal of delighted laughter. "We," she says, slinging an arm across the soldier's armor-clad shoulders, "Are starting the process of international reconciliation!"
The boy flashes Pao the peace sign, his grin, if possible, even wider than Jin's: "I like tea," he says, slurping out of his cup with indecent enthusiasm. There's a long moment of silence as Jin looks at Pao beseechingly, seeming to read his mind—should he throw the boy out?—her eyes wide and lips pouted like a little girl: please?
Really, what can he do but surrender?
"I'm going to hide in the back," Pao says, thinking longingly of a dark bottle of sake hidden behind the spice rack. "Try not to destroy my teashop."
Well, certainly not my best... but definitely not my worst? Anyway, I tried to get most of the major minor characters of S1/S2. Of course, a lot got skipped... cuz I couldn't freaking think of anything for them, but eh. Here it is, finally completed.
Hope you liked! Reviewslove.