that red is not the color of death
(in the end, blood is thicker than fire)
It was painful just to watch.
The princess she defeated was shrieking and spitting fire- desperation and agony laced on each one of her screams- and she had to turn away because even if it was Azula- the girl who tried to kill her and her friends- to see a person like this- behaving just like a wild, mad skunk-bear- was heartbreaking.
She turned her eyes away to face her companion.
He stood there like an ancient warrior, with his new battle scar (smack dab right there on his chest), torn clothes and worn eyes. His golden irises were set on the crumpling figure in front of them, rigid and unblinking.
She put one of her hands on his shoulders- either it was to calm him down or calm her down, she didn't know- but she itched for human contact, after everything that happened- and closed her eyes.
Two minutes and she knew something's off. He's calm. Too calm.
He didn't react. She looked at his face and her senses sent a warning. The boy beside her was in a kind of trance, somehow. The way he looked at his fallen sister, the way his palms clenched and unclenched at the sounds of the princess' screams, the way he was sweating hard and Katara was not- it was all odd.
She tried to call his name again but something bright caught the corner of her eyes and she stopped.
A pillar of light. She remembered South Pole, where everything began. She remembered the mammoth strength of an entity inside a small boy with blue tattoos on his body. Aang.
Her brain told her that she should go down there, help the one boy she had been protecting for all their time together, and she agreed that it was the logical thing to do.
But her heart reminded her of the one who had just jumped in front of her, who now carried a painful souvenir on his chest (so close, too close to his heart), who didn't want her to get hurt.
Sokka had expected- and was sure that both Zuko and Katara will caught up with Aang before him and Toph and Suki, after the Avatar defeated Ozai (Loser-Lord? Chicken Lord? Naah, who cares) but he was wrong.
They were nowhere to be seen.
Toph and Suki were discussing the fine, ancient principle of nick-naming, and Aang's sturdy gray eyes (he wondered when did the boy grew up) found his own blue ones.
The girls grew silent on the Avatar's question, and everyone's eyes hit upon the still-smoking capital.
"To the Palace." He heard his own voice.
Aang was in front, his heartbeat speeding- Toph couldn't tell if he was worried, angry, or anything else- her senses hadn't yet came back completely after the near-fall experience from the zeppelin- Sokka supported by Suki, and herself on the rear.
This was so much easier on Appa.
But her fuzzy friend wasn't here, he's there- up there with Katara and Zuko, who they haven't seen yet.
If something happened…
No. She refused to believe that anything- bad- happened to the pair. Zuko still owe her a field trip.
They arrived in front of the palace- she sensed that everything seemed to be still burning, the place sure got sacked- but the vibrations she felt made both of her eyes widen.
"There!" She pointed, to where a familiar vibration of a certain Sugar Queen and Sifu Hotman were located, and someone else who was also quite familiar.
Suki couldn't believe her eyes.
Was that Azula chained to the ground, screaming like a banshee and shouting blue fire out of her mouth?
She hated the girl, that was sure, but she couldn't make herself to comment- to say anything about the princess' appearance right now. Her hair jumbled, her eyes larger than life with insanity tinted on them… this was so far from the ever-so-controlled girl who defeated her those months ago in Kyoshi.
And there was Zuko, standing still directly in front of Azula, and Katara beside him, seemingly trying to snap him out of something. She heard Aang yelling Katara's name, and she saw the Water Tribe girl turned her face to them.
Her blue eyes pleaded them to do one and only one thing: Help me.
Aang was beside her two friends in a beat.
"I don't know- I chained Azula down there, we were just looking at her and Zuko just froze-"
"What happened- I mean, from the beginning?"
"Oh La, Aang- they were in an Agni Kai- Zuko was winning- Azula shot lightning at me-"
"Wait- She shot lightning at you? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, I'm fine! Zuko jumped in front of me- then Azula started to attack- I ran out of water so I tried to trap her there- and I did it- so I healed Zuko and we saw Azula screaming and I tried to snap him out of it but he wouldn't budge!"
Aang looked at his newest ally, the one who used to chase him all over the world, who was now mumbling incoherently, palms clenched, his eyes wild but focused on his sister.
At his voice, Zuko turned to face him, his deep (broken) voice speaking helplessly.
"I can't kill her."
"ZUZU, COME HERE!"
"She's my sister."
"I ORDER YOU TO COME HERE!"
"I told you to kill but I myself can't."
Katara looked frantically at him; pleading him to stop the Fire Nation siblings- the desperation and agony were too much-
Without warning, both royal siblings roared, fire exploding from their bodies- and everyone scrambled to shield themselves. In the end, Toph's rock tent saved everyone.
And they found Zuko emerging from all the smoke, tired and worn and looking older than all their ages combined, eyes on him and pleading, pleading him to say the words he needed to hear the most.
"You don't have to kill her."
His firebending teacher smiled with gratitude, before closing his eyes and fell forward.
They all caught him.
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