As Aang sat in his small earth ball, being blasted at continuously by Ozai, so many thoughts ran through his mind. The main one that stuck out was that he needed the Avatar State. He knew he needed it. He only half believed what he had said to Toph about it the day before the invasion. He knew, if he tried hard enough, that he could call it back to him, but still he wasn't sure he wanted to He wasn't sure he wanted to give her up. The heat started to seep in through small cracks the fire blasts were making. Aang tried to keep his concentration in the ball, but he wasn't sure how much longer he could hold on to it.
I need the Avatar State now.
He moved his hands up, wrapping his ball in another layer of earth for reinforcement, then began to meditate. He saw all the past Avatars, his past lives, flying past him and disappearing. He saw his people spread out before him, then just like that they were gone again. Then, Katara appeared in front of him and spoke to him.
"I'll always love you, Aang," she said softly, smiling. "You're part of the family."
"Yeah," came Sokka's voice as he appeared beside his sister. "You're like an extension of our family. Like a little brother!"
Toph appeared beside Sokka and spoke. "You don't have to stop loving her, Twinkle Toes, but there will be other girls. You just have to let her go, to save her. To save all of us. To save the world."
Unexpectedly, Zuko appeared beside Katara. "Let her go, Aang. You'll still be in her life, no matter what. And trust me when I say there are plenty of other girls out there. Give them a chance before you settle on one. You're still young, so live."
Finally, and more unexpected than Zuko, Monk Gyatso appeared behind them all. "She loves you, Aang, but if she is to survive this war, you must learn to let go. If you are to survive, let her go."
A tear rolled down Aang's cheek, blending with the sweat covering his face. He knew they were right. Just then, a soft blue light filled his small ball. He looked down at his hands and noticed his tattoos were starting to glow. As the light grew stronger, Aang felt the power build up inside of him. He didn't feel scared anymore. The light filled the ball to its brink, then started bursting through small holes in the ball. Ozai stopped firing and stepped back, not knowing what was going to happen. Finally, the ball burst open and Aang rose in the air, eyes and tattoos glowing.
Ozai had never seen the Avatar State before, only heard stories from his children after Ba Sing Se fell. Azula, though she hated the Avatar as much as he did, had called it amazing. Though he made no move to attack before she struck him, she could feel the power emanating from him through the ethereal light of his tattoos. Now, he felt the power too as the glowing boy continued to climb higher. Aang gathered a swirling ball of air around him and hovered high above Ozai. The Phoenix Lord yelled as he was blown back by the sudden force of the wind. He hit an earth pillar and slid down to the ground. All he could do was sit and watch.
Aang spread his limbs and lifted his head, shooting fire from all directions. The fire moved like octopus limbs around him, then the top of the nearest pillar broke off and headed toward Aang, breaking into smaller rocks. The ocean behind him also started moving up toward him. He controlled the fire to make it circle around him outside the air ball, then moved the rocks inside circling him diagonally. A stream of water moved inside the fire, air, and earth to circle him diagonally opposite the rocks. Ozai watched, wide-eyed and numb, then just as Aang's head moved toward him, everything clicked and he ran.
He kicked off hard from the ground, fire blasting from his feet so he could fly away. Aang manipulated the entire ball and chased after him, crashing through all the pillars to get to him. He flew at Ozai fast, hitting him and making him stick to the element ball. Ozai grunted, then Aang shot him off the air ball with a blast of air. He groaned as he flew through the air, then Aang appeared again and Ozai managed to kick fire from his feet and fly away quickly. Aang flew up and moved his arms in front of him, making one of his rocks shoot dozens of bullet-sized pebbles toward Ozai until the rock was gone. Ozai flew up out of the dust it made and continued evading Aang.
Back at the palace, Azula's maniacal laughter filled the courtyard. Zuko was laying on the ground in pain, his hand still twitching from the electricity that had passed through his body. He knew he'd done something wrong when he caught it. He accidentally let it pass too close to his heart. He could hear footsteps running toward him and thanked Agni she was safe, but a loud blast of blue fire prevented her from coming any closer. Zuko turned over and reached for Katara as she ran from Azula.
"I'd really rather our family physician look after little Zuzu, if you don't mind!" Azula shouted from the roof. She laid down and shot a handful of lightning at Katara. On both sides of the courtyard, there were large pools of water and she just happened to be standing beside one. Katara pulled up a large wave from one of them and blocked Azula's lightning. She kept a handful of it, then ran behind a pillar as Azula shot blue fire at her.
"Silly girl," Azula laughed. "Don't you know water is the best conductor for lightning?"
Katara already knew that, but she thanked Azula silently for bringing that to her attention once again. A plan started forming in her head, but she didn't have long to think about it as Azula shot her pillar with lightning. Katara ran down and hid behind another, then peeked around to see Azula still on the roof.
"Little Zuzu, you don't look so good!" she yelled, amused at her own fake concern.
Katara took the distraction and, grabbing up another wave of water, lashed at Azula, but when the water cleared she wasn't there. Suddenly, Katara panicked as she heard a noise behind her. She turned and watched Azula land, raising a hand full of fire to her. Katara ran out to the courtyard, pulling up another wave and freezing it, then sliding along it to get away from Azula. The princess blasted at her, but only succeeded in melting the ice behind her. Katara pulled up another wave and kept sliding away, but Azula blasted through all her ice, making Katara stumble to the side and fall on her knees onto a sewer grate.
"There you are, filthy peasant," Azula growled as she walked around a pillar to find Katara.
Azula started making the motions for lightning, hoping that at this close range, it would kill the waterbender. Katara's thoughts kicked in again and as soon as Azula released the lightning, Katara pulled her arms up and caught the lightning in a water bubble she called up from under her. She continued moving it around her until it came back around and she released it at Azula. The lightning continued buzzing inside its liquidy conductor and Azula's eyes widened in surprise as the water splashed on her, releasing the lightning on her as well. She screamed in pain as the lightning filled her body, then it died and she went limp, though her chest was still rising and falling. Katara took a few steps back and grabbed a chain off the wall, then flipped Azula over and tied her to the grate.
She then grabbed a handful of water and ran to where Zuko lay. He was breathing hard, but he was still conscious. Katara opened up his shirt and laid her hands on his chest where the lightning had left its mark, then they began glowing blue. Zuko gasped, then released his breath as the pain ceased a little. Katara looked into his face and he smiled at her, then tears rolled down her cheeks. He tried to sit up himself, but his chest still hurt so Katara helped him.
"Why are you crying?" he asked. "We won."
Katara sniffled. "I know we did. I'm just happy I was able to save you, where I couldn't save Jet."
She reached up to wipe her eyes, but Zuko grabbed her wrists. "Thank you," he whispered. He reached up and wiped a tear away with his thumb and she smiled.
"I think I'm the one who should be thanking you," she replied weakly. "I've been looking for an excuse to show her who's boss."
Suddenly, Zuko leaned forward and touched his lips to hers. Her eyes widened momentarily, and he started to move away. "I'm sorry, I just-"
He was cut off when Katara moved forward and kissed him. This time his eyes widened briefly, then he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer. A pain in his chest made him grunt and Katara pulled back, her cheeks as red as Zuko's shirt. They smiled at each other, then Katara helped him stand. She put his arm around her neck and helped him walk to where Azula was lying on the ground. She had finally come to and when she saw them, she started screaming, blue fire shooting from her mouth. She knew she couldn't get free of the chains and when she was done screaming, she started crying, falling back against the grate. Katara looked away, almost feeling sorry for her, but Zuko watched as his once proud and powerful sister was reduced to a squabbling child.
Ozai continued to run from Aang. He flew and weaved in between all the earth pillars, and Aang earthbended two of them together in front of him. Ozai held up his arms trying to stop, then he quickly changed course. Aang knocked Ozai to the ground with a wave of water from his element ball, but Ozai stood back up just as Aang blasted through the pillar he was standing beside. Aang started descending toward him and Ozai leapt to the side, kicking fire from his feet and punching a fire blast at Aang, but Aang's element ball crashed into the ground beside him, narrowly avoiding him, then they took off again. Ozai flew off through the pillars again then landed on top of one, kicking a wave of fire at Aang, but Aang blocked it by earthbending the tops of two pillars in front of him. He then broke through them and continued toward Ozai, who took off again.
Aang sent five simultaneous fireballs at Ozai, who dodged four of them right off, but the fifth chased him further before hitting a pillar. Ozai landed on the side of another pillar and sent three big fireballs at Aang, who bent three strands of water directly into them and then used airbending to dissipate them. At the same time, he sent another blast of air at Ozai, hitting him and blowing him away, along with the center of the pillar he was on. Ozai continued to run from Aang, but when he realized Aang was catching up, he gasped and started climbing higher. Aang moved his arm around, using airbending to suffocate the fire coming from Ozai's feet, then waterbending to catch Ozai's leg, then his body. He crashed Ozai on top of a pillar, then hovered above him, trapping his feet and hands in the rock.
"Fire Lord Ozai," Aang started in multiple voices. "You and your forefathers have devastated the balance of this world, and now you shall pay the ultimate price."
A spiraling whirlwind of all four elements escaped from Aang's ball, then as it was crashing down toward Ozai, Aang's arm stopped glowing and he let it fall on Ozai harmlessly. He descended to the top of the pillar, facing away from Ozai and unbinding his legs and hands. Ozai rolled to the side and grabbed his face, groaning. Aang released his air ball and landed as the glowing ceased, Ozai now on his hands and knees.
"No," Aang said. "I'm not gonna end it like this."
Ozai laughed low in his throat. "Even with all the power in the world, you are still weak."
"I'll give the choice to you then." Aang turned to face him. "Would you prefer to die by my hands, or do you want to live to see your so-called worthless son become Fire Lord and bring the war to an end?"
"I would rather die than see the Fire Nation live in shame under the rule of that weakling," Ozai spat.
Aang knew what would be more torture to him, then he recalled what the lion-turtle had said to him.
"In the era before the Avatar, we bent not the elements, but the energy within ourselves."
"I think I know just what to do with you, Ozai," Aang said.
Ozai moved forward, attempting to fight for his life and his war, but Aang moved his arms up and caught his hand in the earth. He moved around Ozai just as he tried to use the other fist and did the same with that one. Then he pushed the earth back into the pillar, leaving Ozai's hands just above the ground so he couldn't move. Aang airbended at him, forcing Ozai's head back, then moved forward to place a hand on his head and one on his chest. In the back of his mind, he could hear the deep chanting he'd heard with the lion-turtle, as he concentrated on what he needed to do.
Suddenly, his face turned up toward the sky, white-blue light piercing the sky from his eyes and mouth. Ozai watched wide-eyed, then his eyes started turning orange-red and his face turned up just as the light burst through them as well. Then Aang's whole body started turning blue and Ozai's red, and Aang heard the lion-turtle again.
"To bend one's energy, your own spirit must be unbendable, or you will be corrupted and destroyed."
Aang's fingers started turning red, and the red energy started overtaking the blue. It covered Aang's entire body, and when the last of the blue around his eye was being covered, it broke through again and the blue overcame the red. The blue energy covered Aang's body again, then overran Ozai's as well. The blue light shot into the sky, then surrounded the two, then disappeared, leaving both of them weakened.
The rocks holding Ozai to the ground crumbled and he fell backward. Aang nearly fell over as well, but he caught his balance and stood straight. Ozai sat up a little and tried to punch at Aang, then he fell back again. He lifted his head to look at Aang.
"What- what did you do to me?" he gasped.
"I took away your firebending," Aang told him, looking out over the ocean. "You can't use it to hurt or threaten anyone else ever again. I figured it would be a worse punishment than death for you."
Aang walked to the edge of the pillar and looked at all the fire below him. Ozai tilted his head back to see what he's doing. Aang took a deep breath, then let it out and glowed for a moment. He lifted his hands and pulled them to one side, lifting the water from the ocean. The water put out the fires along the coast, including the ones from the crashed air ships. On top of one, all the soldiers ran to the middle as the water rose up, then it all fell back into the ocean where it belonged. Momo came flying up from behind Aang and landed on his shoulder, chirping.
The comet continued past and finally disappeared, leaving the sky a dark blue-black and full of stars. Aang breathed a sigh of relief as he saw a few of his friends cheering on an air ship nearby. It was finally over.
The next morning, the Fire Nation capitol was in bad shape. Rooftops were burnt, some houses had holes in the walls, all from Zuko and Azula's fight the night before. In the palace, Zuko was getting ready for his coronation. His chest was wrapped and he had difficulty moving his right arm, but Katara helped him get his robes on after watching him attempt to do it himself. She wrapped her arms around him to grab the sash and tie it when she stopped and blushed. He smiled and lifted her chin, placing a quick kiss on her lips.
"I don't know what I'm doing," she said quietly.
"Aang will understand," he comforted her. "He'll get over it and move on, like everyone else."
Katara looked nervous at the mention of Aang, but giggled. "No, I mean your clothes. I'm not sure what goes where. I'm still pretty new to Fire Nation stuff."
"I can help, if you don't mind," said a voice from the hall.
Both Zuko and Katara looked up to see a dark-haired girl leaning against the doorway. Katara flushed and looked up at Zuko. "I'll let you two catch up," she whispered nervously. "See you outside."
She walked past Mai, who looked at her sadly before making her way over to Zuko. "Glad to see you're okay," Zuko started. "How'd you get out of prison?"
"My uncle pulled some strings," she replied. "And it helps to be friends with the new Fire Lord."
"Look, Mai, I didn't plan on this," he tried to explain as she helped him into his heavy robes. "I do care for you, but me and Katara-"
Mai held up her hand to silence him. "It's okay, Zuko. Really. You two seem to balance each other, like Yin and Yang. It's funny, really. After what I heard about the fish in the North Pole, it's almost like fate. And I don't think it would hurt to have her if the other nations decide a treaty isn't enough."
Zuko smiled and hugged her. "Thank you for being so understanding, Mai. You're a great friend, and after I'm Fire Lord, I want you to be on my council. I think you'd make a good addition as someone I can trust."
A tear rolled down her cheek, but she quickly wiped it away before Zuko saw it. "I think I'd like that. Now get out there, Mr. Fire Lord. They're waiting."
Outside, everyone was standing around talking. The Duke hugged Toph excitedly. Sokka pushed his way through the swamp benders, limping on his crutch with Katara right behind him. Ahead of them, they noticed their father talking to some people. They ran up to him and he turned just in time to catch them in a hug.
"I heard what you two did. I am the proudest father in the world," he told them as Sokka grinned. "And your mother would be proud too."
Katara's eyes watered and she touched her necklace. She could almost feel her mother there, and she knew she would be proud. Behind Sokka, the Kyoshi Warriors walked up. He turned to see them and grinned.
"There's my favorite warriors!" he said, hugging Suki. "I have to admit, I kind of missed the face paint. So, how's it feel to be back in uniform again?"
"It feels great!" Ty Lee yelled as she jumped in front of the rest of them.
Sokka placed himself in front of Suki and pointed his menacing crutch at her. "Careful, Suki! Ty Lee's pretending to be a Kyoshi warrior again!"
Suki grinned and placed a hand on Sokka, moving him out of the way. "It's okay, she's one of us now."
His jaw dropped open and he pointed his finger between the two of them, obviously confused. Behind him, Katara and Hakoda snickered. Ty Lee put her arms around two of the girls and hugged them.
"Yeah, the girls and I really bonded in prison, and after a few chi blocking lessons, they said I could join their group!" she explained. "We're gonna be best friends forever!" She suddenly dropped her arms from the girls' necks and took off running.
Katara looked behind her just in time to see Ty Lee run into Mai's arms. Mai patted her friend on the back, then continued toward Katara. The waterbender looked a little nervous, knowing well what she and Zuko were. Mai motioned for her to follow, so Katara followed. A little ways away from Ty Lee and Sokka, they stopped.
"Look, Mai," Katara started, but was stopped by Mai.
"I just want him to be happy," Mai said sadly, "and if you can do that for him, then you have my blessing."
"No one knows what's going to happen now," Katara told her. "Zuko and I, it was just so sudden. I had only recently forgiven him for betraying me in Ba Sing Se, and now this. It just feels right somehow, but it's also new. I can't tell you what will happen between us, but I can promise that I'll make him happy for as long as we're together. I can also be your friend, if you ever need one."
Mai gave her a half-hearted smile. "Thanks."
Just then, Haru came up from behind Katara and hugged her. "I heard what you did! Way to go!"
Katara grinned, feeling proud of herself as well. Then a sneaky idea came into her head. "Thanks! Oh, by the way, Haru, this is Mai. Mai, this is my friend Haru."
Haru took Mai's hand and kissed it. "It's very nice to meet you."
Mai's eyes widened and her cheeks turned a light shade of pink. "Likewise."
Back inside, Aang was sitting against a wall wearing traditional monk's robes and a necklace like Gyatso's. He seemed to be pondering over something, but was distracted when he noticed Zuko was approaching. He looked up, and Zuko stopped beside him and looked down at him.
"I can't believe a year ago, my sole purpose was hunting you down. And now.."
"And now we're friends," Aang finished for him.
"Yeah," Zuko agreed. "We are friends."
Aang stood up and smiled. "I can't believe a year ago, I was still frozen in a block of ice. The world's so different now."
"And it's gonna be even more different," Zuko told him, placing his hand on Aang's shoulder. "We'll rebuild it together."
Zuko hugged him, then they walked through the curtained door together. The crowd silenced for a moment when Zuko emerged, then when the sage rang the gong as he passed, the crowd broke into a roar. Toph was screaming from The Hippo's shoulder, Haru, Mai, and Teo were all clapping and shouting, and Katara was cheering from the front of the crowd as Sokka yelled in her ear. Zuko took it all in for a moment and smiled, then raised his hand to silence them again.
"Please!" he shouted so everyone could hear. "The real hero is the Avatar!"
He stepped aside as Aang walked out and stood beside him. The crowd roared again, and Aang looked out over all of them. He smiled and his eyes very nearly watered. All of his friends were there, scattered throughout the crowd, and they were all cheering for him. He saved the world, and he did it without taking a life. Now it was time to fix the world, and he had the help of everyone here.
Zuko held his hands up. "Today, this war is finally over!"
If the crowd could get any louder, they did right then. Relief washed over Aang, as though he didn't fully believe it until it was said out loud, and he grinned up at Zuko, who smiled back. Zuko held his hands up again and everyone silenced quickly.
"I promised my uncle I would restore the honor of the Fire Nation, and I will," he started. "The road ahead of us is challenging. A hundred years of fighting has left the world scarred and divided, but with the Avatar's help, we can get it back on the right path and begin a new era of love and peace."
One of the Fire Sages walked forward with the crown of the Fire Lord in his hands, and Zuko knelt. "All hail Fire Lord Zuko!" he yelled as he placed the crown in Zuko's hair. The crowd yelled again as Zuko rose for the first time as the new Fire Lord. Zuko's stomach suddenly filled with butterflies, whether from excitement or nervousness, he wasn't sure. He and Aang walked down the steps and into the crowd together to greet everyone who attended. After a hundred years, the war was over.
Appa had been more than happy to fly them all to Ba Sing Se again. They had decided they wanted to visit Iroh and his tea shop and just relax. No more fighting, no need to be on edge, just sitting around with friends and drinking tea. Everyone was even wearing green! Zuko walked around with a tray, handing everyone a cup of tea he'd made himself. Iroh was proud of how good it was, considering how it tasted the first time he'd tried. He handed Toph a cup, then walked over to Mai and Katara and sat the tray down.
"Zuko, sit still!" Sokka yelled from across the room. "I'm trying to capture the moment. I wanted to do a painting, so we always remember the good times together."
Katara smiled and walked over to where he sat. "That's very thoughtful of you, Sokka." She paused as she looked at the painting. "Wait, why did you give me Momo's ears?"
"Those are your hair loopies!" Sokka defended as everyone else walked over to see.
Zuko's eyes widened when he saw his picture. "At least you don't looks like a boarcupine! My hair's not that spiky!"
"I look like a man," Mai pointed out.
"I don't have a beard!" Haru said, pointing to his face. "This is a goatee! It's small!"
Suki pointed at her picture. "And why did you paint me firebending?"
"I thought it looked more exciting that way," Sokka said, shrugging. Momo jumped up beside Sokka and chittered at him. "Oh, you think you can do a better job, Momo?"
Aang smiled at them and got up off the floor. He walked outside, petting Appa as he passed and still listening to everyone inside.
"Hey, my belly's not that big anymore!" he heard Iroh yell. "I really trimmed down!"
Then Toph's voice floated out to him. "I think you all look perfect!"
He heard everyone laugh except for Sokka, who was growling at them. He couldn't help but smile, thinking of how great this day had been. The sky was pink and purple and orange in front of him, and he just stood watching the clouds lazily float by. A small breeze wafted by, bringing a familiar scent to him. He turned to see Katara coming out of the tea shop. She smiled and stood beside him, watching the sunset.
"Even the sky seems more peaceful now," he mused out loud.
"It does," Katara agreed. "You know I'll always be here for you, right?"
"Yeah, I know," he said, looking down at his hands. "Best friends, right?"
She turned him toward her and hugged him. He held on to her tightly and it seemed less painful when he let go of her this time. He smiled up at her, then they turned back to the setting sun. Behind them, everyone else started coming out to watch it with them. Zuko stood behind Katara and Mai stood beside her. Haru walked up beside Mai and glanced at her, their cheeks turning pink as their eyes shot back to the sunset. Toph stood beside Aang, placing a small hand on his shoulder. He turned and smiled, then felt Iroh's bigger hand on his other shoulder. Sokka and Suki stood behind Zuko, then Momo flew out and landed on Aang's head since his shoulders were occupied. Aang felt another smile creeping up.
Maybe everything didn't turn out the way he wanted it to in the end, but he was happy because he had the best friends an Avatar could ask for.