Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar the Last Airbender.
Rotting in this prison for a whole year was not what I had envisioned for myself a year ago, when I was on top of the world. Now I am useless, worse than useless, nothing without firebending. No power, no respect, no self-worth. What little power I had left, in my knowledge I kept from the usurper and taunted him with it but it did not satisfy anything.
My body had slackened from the year in jail, my muscles had lost their tone, their strength, after all they were useless, without firebending, I was nothing, so I had let myself go.
The usurper still visited once every so often, the same questions, where is my mother, and have you repented of your ways. I would stare at him with cold eyes, and keep my mouth shut. He would wait a while, and then leave again.
To be totally honest, I didn't know exactly where his mother was, after all, she was an exile. But I was never going to let him know that. My black hair fell in tangles over my shoulders, as I lay down to sleep. Time was meaningless, really, light was all the same in the windowless cell.
Then, three nights ago, something happened. As I fell asleep, I saw a man appear, right in my cell. The guard outside still stood facing the wall, his face away from me.
"How did you get here," I asked, surprised that this man had managed to get past the guards without alerting them. These guards were the best the Fire Nation had to offer. Either things must have really run down in one year or…
"I didn't get past the guards, I'm merely here in spirit," the man replied. He was dressed in nothing but a robe, in fact he looked like one of those extinct airbender monks, except he had hair. "Do you want to escape?"
"Escape," I replied, "and then what, I am nothing, no bending, no power." My eyes looked bitterly jealous at the man who stood in front of me. I could tell he had power. "What's the use?"
The man smiled, or more rather smirked, "what if I could show you how to get your power back?" His right hand ruffled a part of his robe, which was orange and blue. He let the question sit tantalising in the air.
Of course, I jumped straight at it, "I will listen then, but be quick; I have no patience for prattle."
"But of course, you do," the monk answered, "time is abundant here for you. Lie down and lie still." I complied, as he walked towards me and closed his eyes. His hand touched my naked stomach. Despite being a spirit I felt his touch. Five seconds later, he got up, "just as I thought. Your power is blocked by a wall, preventing you from accessing your chi." I sat up again, and looked into his eyes. "The Avatar was very smart with what he did to you."
"So break the wall," I demanded. "I want my power back."
"I cannot," the monk said. What I thought, what useless. "Only you can break it down. And even then it will be hard for one such as you."
"What do you mean?" I asked again. I yearned for my power to return, I would do anything to get it back, to become the Phoenix King once again, and rule as I was meant to.
The monk's blue eyes looked deeply into mine, "the wall has three layers, modelled after three virtues. The first, is frugality, that I believe you can learn easily. The second, is humility, that is harder for one so prideful as you, but I think you may overcome it with hard work," he paused. "And the third, is compassion, to show love for others. Your hardest task, for you love nothing else but power and yourself. Only when you have succeeded in true frugality, true humility and true compassion will your powers return to you. So you see; the Avatar set the perfect trap."
I was shocked, that the Avatar could be so cunning, for a boy of twelve, he had me ensnared. I would never be able to unlock my powers again; frugality, humility and compassion were just not part of my character. It had never been. "Thank you, monk, but as you have said this would be an impossible task. Why would I make myself weak?"
The monk's eyes subtly changed, to an expression of sadness, and then mocking, "Are you such a coward?" Coward, no one called me a coward. "Are you so afraid of change; that you would give up your freedom for it?" A look of anger crossed my eyes, the first time I felt any emotion for a sustained period in the last year.
"I'm not afraid," I snarled, but I think he knew what was inside. My façade was slowly crumbling around me. Power got you what you wanted, fear kept them in line. That was what I believed.
A small smirk played at the corner of his face, "then prove it, three nights from now, you will escape. And then I will help you unlock your power again, but…" here comes the catch.
"Yes," I said, interrupting, "I will."
"Done," he said, and then he disappeared.
As I lay down again, on the cold hard stone, I thought, was this a trick, a way of getting rid of an inconvenience, getting killed in an escape attempt would be easily justified, even if it were kinslaying. Not that I could say much since I was probably at least partially guilty of the same thing. No, the Avatar would never do anything like that, send a spirit, it was too underhanded for him. Was this a hallucination of my deranged mind then? Perhaps. I guess there was nothing else to do but wait.
So now, I sat waiting. The prison door swung open, and there he was, the monk again, in the flesh this time, the guard at his feet, unconscious. "I'm Tai Feng," the monk said, "nice to meet you, Ozai. Come let us go." We proceeded down the passageway, and I noticed that the guards were all unconscious. Coming out into the courtyard, a flick of Tai Feng's wrist and mist enveloped the whole area. Was that airbending he just did, or waterbending?
"Come," he said, as we mounted an air bison, Airbender I thought, as we flew away. The mist followed us covering our escape. "So Ozai, how does it feel to be free?"
"I'm not free yet," I shot back, "not until I get my power back, not until I know this isn't a trap."
"Believe me," he replied, his blue eyes staring at me, boring into my own soul, "this is no trap. I haven't told you the reason why I chose to rescue you. Have I?"
My black hair whipped around in the air, "no you have not," I said. "so enlighten me."
"Because, the world needs you," he replied.
"I knew that already," I answered, "it needs me as ruler. Tell me something new."
"No," he said, "the world needs you to help save it."
"I know," I said, rolling my eyes, "I need to save it from itself. I need to impose order and justice so this world can prosper."
"You misunderstand," I could see that he was starting to get annoyed. "The world needs you, the world needs your power, yes, but the world needs you to spirit bend."
"What's spiritbend?" I asked.
"Spiritbending," he answered, "was buried deep inside you, because you used firebending so much. Spiritbending, allows you to bend chi, to bend all four elements as one. Not as together as four separate things like the Avatar," he said, as if he had anticipated my question, "but as one energy, one form, one spirit."
"Then teach me that instead," I replied, this was what I needed, power to beat the Avatar and retake my rightful place on the throne, as the King of the world.
Then I saw his eyes, looking at me sadly, "no chi flow, no spiritbending," he said, matter of fact. Bitter disappointment welled up within me. Then I would have to do this the hard way.
"Then let us unlock my chi flow."
"I was waiting for you to ask," he said, suddenly cheerful again. The air bison suddenly dipped downwards towards the high peaks. Earth Kingdom? There was a small temple complex and the courtyard was where we landed.
"I must leave now," Feng said, "but feel free to wander around. There's food in the buildings and a good bed." He jumped back on his air bison and flew up into the air. Left to my own devices, I wandered; perhaps this was the first test. Survival.
Fire was passionate, full of emotion and easily lead. Yet that would not do. Not for the first task, it asked me to do the opposite of my nature. It consumed quickly and rapidly. What I needed to do was be frugal, to live simply. I wandered into the first open door, and found a simple bed, and a small kitchen. It was stocked with vegetables and water, and a small amount of meat. I supposed the monk must have kept meat for guests.
Then I saw myself in the mirror. I saw the sorry state in which I was in, after one year in prison, after letting myself go. Even Iroh had kept his strength in prison, why couldn't I? I pushed the thoughts about Iroh away from my mind. He was not my problem right now. I had to train. Even without actually bending fire itself, the katas were useful for rebuilding strength, and so I began the basic kata. The mountain air became frigid and I felt the cold pour onto my half naked body. I had nothing but the clothes that I had for the last year, dirty and probably flea infested, but I saw it as a challenge, to train despite the conditions.
Sweat began to bead over my body, as I went from one kata to the next. From easy to hard, to advanced to expert techniques. No flame came out, but I was satisfied with the night's work. My stomach rumbled and I knew it was time for food. A small amount of meat, and the vegetables would have to do. Then I remembered, I had no idea how to cook. I had been a prince, and then a king, I had servants to do everything, including cooking. I swore, silently.
I looked inside the small kitchen. Okay, what to do. I had to strain hard to remember back to my childhood days, when I snuck around the palace when I was ten and more carefree. Yes, the vegetables went with boiling water into the pot, and then the meat was usually roasted over a fire but it could also be put into a soup. Simpler I thought, so let's just do one thing. I took some of the vegetables and cut them, and a small hunk of the meat. Now, let's see, to light the fire. For a fire bender it would have been easy. But I was no firebender, not now. Flint, was what I needed, and coal.
They sat on the shelf, neatly labelled. I allowed myself a small smile, this was going well. Now, strike the flint, start the fire and put the pot on top of it. Meat in the pot, and then the vegetables and bring it to boil. Five minutes I hoped was enough, and then waited for it to cool as I put out the cooking fire.
Ten minutes later, I took an experimental sip, it was okay. Slightly satisfied, I finished up part of what was left, at least enough to leave me slightly filled, which was not much, because I had survived on a bare diet during my time in jail. The leftover I put away for the next meal.
I slept the night away, and the next morning came as the sun streamed into the room. The light was almost blinding, I had become so accustomed to the artificial light of my prison. I got up, and went searching. I needed clothes. Walking around half-naked in the frigid cold was not going to do any good for my body, except when I was training. I walked into a third room, and found what I needed. Clothing in the style of the Fire Nation. I put it on, the plain white shirt over my torso, then the robe, tied together by a sash, in the traditional dark red.
Morning melted into afternoon, as I trained, ate and slept. Trained again, ate again and slept again. My body began to respond, as my muscles began to fill out again, giving me the sculpted body that I had had, the previous year. What I didn't realise was that it was more than my own self, it was also the food and the water here, they were blessed. That I found out later.
Sometimes my thoughts crossed to the new Fire Lord, the usurper, undoubtedly he was panicking that the most wanted prisoner had escaped. Was that still me, or was that Azula, now mad, from what the guard had taunted me with during my year imprisoned. But even he wasn't my concern, for now.
It was a week later; the meat was out within three days. So I survived on vegetables and water. And then in my nightly session I felt something in my body, something unlocking it felt like. Had I passed the first test? Or was it just wishful thinking. It was immaterial, even if I had passed the first, there was the second and third.
The next morning when I got out of bed I saw that Feng had returned, but he had some others with him. Eight children, of ages six to twelve, and her. I gasped when I saw her face. Her face turned angry. Her speed picked up. I felt the sting of a hand across my cheek. I could not look at her, not at the face of the woman who had been my wife, Ursa. Technically we were still married, but we had been separated since she had killed my father, or more I had forced her to kill my father to save her precious Zuko. My lank hair blew over my face in the breeze as I looked down towards the ground.
How could I be such a coward, the thought passed through my head, I dragged my head up to meet her stony gaze. "Ursa," I said, curtly faking courtesy.
"Ozai," she said, equally fake. It was Feng who broke the silence, as he came back out inviting us both inside. He had bought some food, but I shrugged it off, saying I needed to train. She was fine with it, and stalked off inside the main building with Feng.
I tried to calm myself but thoughts filled my head, they were lovers, no they were not. They planned to kill me. Ursa certainly looked like she hated me enough to do it. I was not going to make it easy if they were planning to do that. I finished my training, and then walked back inside the building, carefully avoiding the other people. As I walked through the door, one of the children, young, kicked me hard, in the shin. "Rotten man, you hurt my mother," I heard him say. Was I really that? Was I? No way.
The boy ran away, and then I caught a glimpse of his face. It was mine. Younger but my childhood face stared back at me. Unbidden feelings swelled up inside, another child I thought, to use, or to love. Azula and Zuko were well, useless. One crazy, the other weak. But then, I thought, what was I supposed to be learning? Using the child would not bring me my power back. I followed the child, I heard Ursa call, "come, Bei Fu," so she had named the child, bitter sadness. I supposed that was my fault as well. To saddle my child with such a name. I entered through the threshold into the larger room where the children and my wife were along with the monk.
He smiled at me, "I suppose you have passed the first test," he said, "I can feel it. The first block had gone." So I was closer to success, to regaining my power, and my throne. Ursa still looked at me stonily, and played with the eight children there. I needed to do something to fix this. We couldn't continue like this.
The kids stopped playing and looked at me. Hard looks crossed all their faces. So they knew. Tai Feng stood up and left once more, the air bison he rode flying away into the air. The second task I supposed; was to gain my wife's forgiveness. To do so, I would have to humble myself. But how to do it? That was the question. I was not ready, yet I thought.
As the days passed, it wasn't Ursa's stare that troubled me, it was the children, especially little Fu. Though Ursa had said nothing I was sure he was mine. He looked exactly as I had when I was young. I had another son. But like the usurper, he looked at me with unadulterated hate. It was then I realised, my own family hated me, I was alone and powerless in this world, but for this vague promise that wouldn't happen unless I changed. I needed to do something but what could I do. All my life I had only known luxury and power, most of the menial tasks were done for me. I was never cut out for independent living.
I did my own thing, kept my own schedule. The kids didn't take to me, as I expected and I left them alone while I pondered what I could do. I could barely look after myself; after all, the only thing I could make was still a simple stew. I saw how dependant I had actually been on servants. But that would have to do.
A week later, Tai Feng returned and took the eight children, including Bei Fu, camping in the mountains for a while he said, survival skills training; leaving me and Ursa alone in the temple. It was then I decided I needed to make the first step, so that night, instead of making enough for myself, I made extra, and set aside the choicest parts for Ursa. I took my own food, letting it cool in the brisk breeze, while hers was kept warm under the lid, at just the right temperature.
Taking a tray from the small kitchen, I placed the bowl meant for her on it, with the lid and began the walk across the courtyard to where she was staying. I knocked on the door, nervous, and waited.
There, Ursa opened the door. I offered her the tray, "for you," I managed to say. She picked up the bowl, opened the lid, and then threw the stew straight into my face. Reflexively, I dropped the tray and raised my right arm to strike. Anger poured through my self, as I was about to bring my arm down I felt something thicken inside me. The wall. I was doing the wrong thing. I dropped my arm and the thickening feeling inside stopped. I picked up the fallen tray and dropped bowl and left. Obviously, she wasn't ready.
The next night, instead of waiting for her I knocked and left the tray by her door. The next morning when I collected it, the food was untouched. And it was the next night, and the night after that and the night after that. I was disappointed, but I knew that I must not fail. It was something that I had to do. I had to win her trust. I had to learn humility. I had to remember to serve her, my separated wife. I would have to continue doing it, until she knew that I was trying to change, that I had changed.
The next day, a spoonful was gone, and by the end of the week, the bowl was empty. The next night, I ventured and waited at the door. She took the tray in, and motioned for me to follow. I sat in her sitting room, on the cushion opposite her and watched her sit, demurely and take the soup, sipping one spoonful at a time.
"Ursa," my voice, crackles, "I, I'm sorry, for everything I didn't do, for everything I've done, to you." She stops, and looks into my eyes, I can't keep her gaze, my head bows to look at the table.
"I know," she replied. "And yet you have a way to go before you learn true wisdom. Brother Feng told me." Unbidden jealousy flowed through my body, was there something between Feng and her?
"Brother Feng and I are only friends," she said, as if reading my mind. A red flush crossed my face, was I now so easy to read? "I have only ever loved one man, though I don't know what I feel for him now." She finished her soup, and rose, motioning for me to do so. "It is late, you must go." I complied.
The next morning, I made another lot of simple stew and gave it to her. She laughed, and showed me her table, which was filled with food. She motioned to me to sit opposite her. I took some food and tasted. It was delicious.
"So you see," she said, "Ozai, I've learned how to cook, thank you very much." She giggled, "When I went into exile, I learnt how to fend for myself. But I appreciated your efforts, for I went through it myself. At first I could only cook stews and soups like you."
I looked ashamed again, for her food was beautiful, whilst mine was not. Humbled once again I thought. "Thank you, for the food," I said. "It was very nice." She proffered her hand; I took it in my hand and lowered my lips onto the back of her hand, a simple kiss. I lifted my head, and got up, turned around and left, to prepare for night training. "Good night," Ursa's voice bid me.
That night, with renewed vigour I trained, harder than I had ever before. My body felt like what it was when I was younger, vigorous and strong as if nothing could stop me. The next morning, the kids and Tai Feng returned from their journey.
As the day passed, I found myself wondering again, about the world outside the temple. I was sure Zuko, yes I could think of him as Zuko instead of the usurper, was surely panicking, half the time I expected a Fire Nation airship, or some Earth Nation searchers to come to the temple. But they never showed up.
The kids warmed up to me, as Ursa became friendlier towards me. Sometimes at moments when she wasn't looking, I would look at her longingly, like when we were young. Things settled again into routine, Tai Feng would train the children in the morning, whilst I attended to my own training. Besides Bei Fu, there were three other boys and four girls all orphans, Yan Hei, a female water bender, Zhen Ji a female fire bender, from one of the colonies, Guang Rong, a male earth bender, Yong Gan, a water bender, male, a child of a Fire Nation soldier and a captive water bender from the Southern Water tribe, and Chun Jie, a female earth bender. Then there were the two airbenders, Xin and Zheng Yi, both bastard children of Tai Feng. He said he was doing his bit to restore the balance. Can't let the Avatar Aang have to bear every single new airbender out there. I laughed.
Tai Feng trained them in a style that incorporated all four types of bending, he called it the unified style, most useful for spiritbending he said. He said I would learn it when I had unlocked my chi flow again. They would only go for an hour, driven as I was, I went at my own training for two hours.
Sometimes at night, Ursa and I would sit together and reminisce about the old times but we were always careful not to let anything get between us, and never to mention what we had done when my father had died. We never talked about Azula or Zuko, though Bei Fu we did talk a lot about.
One night, after a cup of tea, I broached the subject, "Bei Fu," I hesitated, "he is our child isn't he?"
"Yes," she answered, confirming my suspicions.
I took a deep breath, "were you pregnant when?"
"I was." That was enough to be spoken between us about this subject, it was too close to other things that we weren't talking about, things we didn't want to remember.
As time passed again, I felt the wall in my body, loosen, but it was still stood. I learnt to be calm like the water, gentle and flowing, solid like the earth, unmoving, but whimsical like the wind, creative.
Tai Feng left again, leaving the children with us, that is Ursa and I. The eight children created trouble, but I found it hard to discipline them at all. Found it really hard. Ursa loved them, clearly, all of them, as much as she loved Zuko. I found that when Little Fu fell over and scraped his knee, I was the first one to him, carrying him across the courtyard to Ursa.
I looked after the children, along with Ursa. They liked climbing on me, and began to take calling to me 'Papa Bear'. They called Ursa 'Mama Bear'. I wanted to spend some time with Bei Fu, so I decided one morning to take him with me, for some father and son time, just to get to know him better, my son. I wasn't favouring him over the other children, or perhaps I was, but Bei Fu, he was my flesh and blood, and the other children weren't.
We walked up the trails in the mountains of the Earth Kingdom. I carried a large pack, and Bei Fu a small one. We winded our way up the mountain and down the mountain paths, until we got to a spot to rest. The path became narrower, Bei Fu ran in front of me. I came to a small wooden bridge. Bei Fu was already on it.
I couldn't fail. Ursa would kill me if I let our son die. "Help," little Fu's voice became more panicked, as the ropes holding the bridge began to break.
I couldn't do anything, without bending I couldn't fly across to rescue him.
I knew Bei Fu was going to die, if I did nothing.
I had no choice.
I jumped onto the bridge, and threw him across the other side; the bridge gave way. I saw him land safely on the other side, where the path was wider. I waited for death to come. I began to fall as everything in my small world started to slow down or so my senses said. They said that before someone's death, everything would slow and they would see their lives flash in front of their eyes. Well, at least they were right about the things slowing part. My brain registered that I was falling and would hit the ground far below and then die, but I hadn't counted on one thing, I felt inside me a something open, and then again. I felt energy course through my body, out of my control. I closed my eyes. I vaguely heard a scream, Papa Bear, a child's voice. Was that my name?
And then nothing but light. I opened my eyes, and found myself still falling, but somehow I righted my body, and I suddenly felt in control. I felt the air around me teem with energy. I kicked down in the air and shot straight up, fast. What was this? I landed next to Bei Fu and hurried home with him taking the other path, telling him not to say anything to his mother as we walked back down to the temple.
When I got to the temple, I collapsed, tired from whatever had happened. I supposed someone moved me into bed, as the next morning I found that I was sleeping there, when I knew I had collapsed on the ground. I knew that only Ursa and the kids could have carried my body in to bed.
I found that power had returned I could feel chi energy flow through my body, as if my senses were themselves heightened. I wanted to test out my new power, but strangely I felt that right now, it wasn't important. I could learn later. I needed to see Ursa. There was something that I really wanted to do. I approached the doorway to her quarters nervous. I knocked and the door opened. Now or never I suppose.
I got down on bended knee, held Ursa's hand and said those words, "Princess Ursa, will you, marry me again?" I looked longingly into her eyes, waiting for her answer.
She looked down, into my eyes, and said, "Yes, Ozai, I will marry you again. You are the only one for me. My one and only." She lifted her eyes, as I got up, and took her hand in mine. I pulled her in, to a long kiss, one that I had been waiting for, for a long time.
After that moment of euphoria, we entered into her room once more; there was one more thing on my mind. "We do need to rename, Bei Fu," I said, "bitter sadness is not a good name for the child."
"I know," Ursa replied, from across the table. "But I don't want to confuse the boy."
"I was thinking of changing the characters, to Northern Tiger, sounds almost the same," I suggested. Ursa agreed with me. "He'll have to learn to rewrite his name though." I laughed and she joined me.
That night I went out to train in the snow, with Tai Feng, who had conveniently returned that afternoon, that man had uncanny timing with two others, two women, fellow spiritbenders Yue Ying and Mizuki to learn more on spiritbending. As we returned, Tai Feng returned to his quarters. I lingered outside, thinking about the events of the past month or so. Ursa and the children beckoned to me to come in with them. "Papa bear," Bei Fu shouted, "it's late, come back in." And so I walked towards the door of the main building, through the courtyard. As I got to the threshold of the door, I turned back and looked.
I, Ozai looked up to the sky and saw the stars in heaven, and I realised, for the first time in my life I was content.
Unfortunately, it would not stay that way.
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Author's Notes: This is not the end. This is only the beginning.