Sorry you guys!! This would have been up on time if 1) I hadn't been dragged to the theater as soon as I woke up and stayed there for the rest of the day (got to see Twilight though, so I can't complain! XD It was an awesome movie, and I have to say I think it was better than the book, IMO. Left out all the unnecessary gushing and ogling... XD) And 2) If my internat signal hadn't died on me completely!!! D: So yeah, enough excuses. Please forgive me? Here's the epilogue! ENJOY AND REVIEW, PLEASE!!!! :)
Sozin's Comet My Way
We've gone through so much: seen so many new places and things, met so many people, learned things we never could have imagined, and hurt like we never thought we could hurt. And we've all changed so much, too, so much in fact, that we can barely recognize ourselves. It's been hard and long, and at times, more than exhausting, but I know I speak for all of us when I say that I wouldn't change a single thing. Out of our every victory, and our every failure, we've grown stronger, and we've become better, wiser people.
Even so, even after the fall of the Firelord, we had not yet achieved our final victory. The world was still divided, the nations, anxious. Our hardest, longest fight was still to come. This time, though, we had no idea what to expect: no maps to help us find our way, no masters to teach us the skills we would need, and no certain enemy.
After Iroh and Ursa's return to the Fire Nation, things got a little smoother. The people were overjoyed to hear that Fire Lady Ursa still lived. It's clear how much they loved her. Many still loved and were loyal to Iroh, as well, and some even believed he'd come to take the throne. But instead, the general introduced the people to their new Firelord: Zuko. With a few weeks of searching, we were able to locate Shyu, and he crowned Zuko Firelord in a simple ceremony. It wasn't time to celebrate yet. Mai, Ty Lee, and all remaining prisoners of war were released and sent to the Earth Kingdom to help rebuild. Mai, however, decided to stay in the Fire Nation, her experience in prison and her first real taste of friendship with Ty Lee helping her to see what sacrifice really means. She's still as bland as ever, but she's made some significant improvements, and we are all grateful for her continuing role as governor of the Fire Nation Colonies.
After a few days of recovery, the White Lotus Society split up, each returning to his own land to clear out the Fire Nation soldiers and promote the "new" Fire Nation with its new leader. Jeong Jeong became an admiral once again, and returned to the Fire Nation with General Iroh to help maintain peace. Pakku, with his waterbenders, went back to the Northern Water Tribe, hoping to calm the hatred against the Fire Nation that had grown there, and to assure the people that the new Firelord would redeem his nation and become their ally. Bumi, Pian Dao, Haru, Tyro, the Mechanist, and Teo, after driving the last of the Fire Nation troops from their cities and villages, began leading their combined soldiers on a march towards Ba Sing Se, ready to take the city by force should the Fire Nation, or even Long Feng and the Dai Li, decided to hold on to it. Ty Lee met up with the Kyoshi warriors, and they, led by Suki and joining Jun, started a search for King Kuei and Bosco, planning to follow the troops to Ba Sing Se when the Earth King was found…
"I guess this is goodbye, then…" Suki's eyes examined the dirt at her feet, squinting to keep from crying. She had to be brave for her warriors. Who knew how long it would be until they found King Kuei, or even if he was still alive, and if she broke down now they would never last. She had to keep it together, no matter how long…
"I wish I could come with you," Sokka admitted for the hundredth time in an hour. "You might need me. I mean, I'm a great detective, and it'll be dangerous, and you might get hurt…"
"I'll be fine!" Suki insisted, forcing a smile. "I'm more worried about you! It's dangerous where you're going. Who knows, rabid penguins could stampede!"
Instead of laughing, Sokka grimaced, his stormy blue eyes mirroring the dark clouds above their heads. "I don't see why they need me at the South Pole of all places. They never needed me before. As far as I'm concerned, you need me a lot more right now then anyone else and-"
Suki wrapped her arms around her boyfriend's waist, leaning her head against his chest, cutting him off. "Your village needs you. You've learned so much that can help them, and even though you might not think the same, they've always really needed you. I'll be okay. Besides, Zuko needs your help too. The Water tribes would never trust the new Firelord without you vouching for him."
Sokka returned her embrace, stroking her hair. "Fine, you win… But I promise, as soon as I can leave, I'm going to Ba Sing Se." He rested his lips at the base of her ear and whispered intensely, "And you'd better be there waiting for me. Not a scratch."
Smiling, Suki pulled away to look her boyfriend in the eye, but a dark object dangled in front of her face, blocking her view. Focusing, Suki saw the distinct shape of a carved wooden eel curled into a heart shape around an abalone shell blossom, hanging from a silken silver ribbon. She gasped as Sokka laid the pendant in her hand, feeling the cool, strangely weighted object in her palm. The tears that had threatened to come earlier were now slipping unhindered down her cheeks, her lips quivering in a smile. Suki looked up, finding Sokka's eyes drilling into hers.
"This is my promise. I promise I'll come for you," he said quietly, a shy smile on his face. "Promise you'll wait for me?"
Suki took one glance down at the betrothal pendant, running her fingers over the detailed craftsmanship. Her tears ran warm and soothing down her cheeks, tears of joy. But her smile faltered for a second as a thought hit her.
"But… Sokka," she began, finishing in a rush when she saw the immediate wounded look in her boyfriend's eyes, "we're so young. Maybe… maybe this is a little early…"
Sokka took her hands, his apprehension melting into understanding. "Suki, we won't see each other for several months, that's certain. But depending on how things go at the South Pole and with finding the Earth King – and I hope this won't happen, but – it could be a few years before we see each other again. And I'll be 16, marrying age, in a few months as it is. I think that by the time I get to Ba Sing Se, we'll be old enough, mature enough, for this. At least I know I'll be. I'll make sure-"
Before he could say another word, he was tackled by a sobbing Kyoshi Warrior, wrapped in a bone-crushing hug. They both crashed to the ground, but neither seemed to notice in their ecstasy.
"Yes!!" Suki squealed from her position atop Sokka, her arms tight around his neck. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!!! I will! I do! Yes!" She planted a kiss on her surprised boyfriend's lips as the autumn rain began to pour down, soaking them both in crisp, cool, heavenly waters. Sokka, just as excited as she, rolled over, putting himself on top of her and leaning in close.
"Really? You do?" he asked, beaming. Suki kissed him again, this time on the cheek, having calmed down a little.
"Of course I do, Sokka!" she reassured him, her glorious smile rivaling his. "I love you! I couldn't love anyone else like I love you. And when we're both ready for what marriage means, I want to spend my life with you. So I say yes!"
Sokka leaned in closer. "Then I'll work fast at the South Pole, and I'll come for you as soon as I can. And then we can begin our life together. I promise," he finished, sealing the distance between them with a kiss. Suki returned her fiancé's embrace, her joyous tears mixing with the gentle autumn shower.
We never did receive word from Toph's parents concerning the letter she sent, so Toph decided to pay them a surprise visit. She had to apologize in person, and hope that somehow, after all that she'd done, her parents would have changed their minds and seen the person she really was. She also needed their permission, as Aang was planning to travel the world and help rebuild, and she wanted more than anything to help him…
"You don't have to be nervous," Aang reassured her, squeezing the hand wrapped securely in his a little tighter. "I'm sure they'll be proud of you. You're a hero of war!"
"Would have been if I'd been ON TIME for the war!" Toph argued, punching the airbender playfully on the arm – though it still made him cry out in pain. Her smile faded just as soon as it had appeared, though, as she stood before the gates of the Bei Fong family's vast estate. The earthbender sucked in a long breath, then let it out in a loud sigh. Her feet refused to move her forward.
What would her parents think? Would they be disgusted? Relieved? Toph snorted. Oh yeah, so relieved they would never let her leave the house again! And that, in the end, was what really scared her. Was she sacrificing her freedom forever to do this?
"Come on," Aang urged gently, pulling her slowly forward. Toph hesitated a little, but the Avatar took her other hand as well and led her forward, into the shadow of the gate that she could only sense through the slightly cooling temperature.
"Are you sure about this?" Toph asked even as the airbender knocked loudly on the gate. "They might never let me leave!"
Aang flashed her a smile, but it was lost on the girl. It was so much easier to smile now that his friend was safe again. "No worries! If that happens, Appa and I will just sneak you out again."
Toph snorted again. "Yeah, if you can get past the tanks they'll have posted outside my window-!"
The gate swung wide open, and Toph barely had time to recognize the vibration of running footsteps before her mother had her in her arms, squeezing the breath out of her. Warm tears wet Toph's shirt, and her own tears flowed as well. Another pair of arms, her father's, strong and safe, wrapped around her. They were both crying her name, even though she was right there. Somewhere along the line Toph noticed that Aang's hand no longer held hers.
"Oh Toph!" Poppy Bei Fong gasped again, her shoulders quaking uncontrollably as she sobbed with relief. "My darling! My darling Toph!"
"I'm okay, mom," Toph managed through her own tears. Oh how she'd missed them! "I really am."
Her mother pulled away, and Toph didn't have to see to sense Lady Bei Fong's eyes boring into her. "How could you do that, Toph!" she cried, still too happy to see her daughter safe to be angry. "We were so worried! You could have been killed!"
Toph forced a smile. "Mom, I'm okay," she laughed, but it was a strained sound. "Really! I just wanted to…" Her smile faded. "I wanted to apologize. I'm sorry I had to run away, but… I had to! You would never let me do anything on my own, and with the Avatar, I got to do so much! I learned how to metalbend and sandbend, and I met so many new people and made so many friends and- and- and I kicked some serious Fire Nation butt! Without me teaching the Avatar earthbending, the Firelord would still be alive, and we'd be living in the biggest freakin' Fire Nation colony in history! Or we'd all be burned to a crisp! You can't possibly call me helpless now. There's no way!"
Mr. and Mrs. Bei Fong stared at their daughter, their mouths hanging open in shock. Finally Lao Bei Fong looked over at Aang, still clearly shaken.
"Is all of that true?" he asked quietly, and Toph listened intently to his pounding heart, trying to discern his reaction.
Aang nodded, though Toph couldn't see. "Yes, it is, Sir. All of it, and more."
Toph hid a smile as her father's heart skipped a beat. "How is that possible…"
"Your daughter may be blind, Sir, but she's far from helpless. She's saved my life and the lives of my friends more times than I can count. I'd trust her with anything, and…" Toph's brow furrowed as the Avatar's heartbeat quickened unexpectedly. "She's also my best friend in the whole world."
The blind earthbender ducked her head to hide the blush and smile, giving Aang an affectionate punch in the arm, to her parent's shock.
"Anyway," Toph finally spoke up, "me and Aang came here for another reason, too. His job isn't done yet, as the Avatar and all, and that means that neither is mine. As long as he's working, he'll need me, and I intend to be there for him. So I just wanted to say that I still can't come home, at least not yet. I didn't want you guys to worry too much…"
"But we'll always worry, Toph!" her mother insisted. "We can't not worry! Who knows what could happen to you out there, without us to protect you…" Toph shivered, but hid the dark expression that reminders of her Spirit World encounter always brought on. She couldn't show fear now. This was her big chance.
"Mom… if you could just see him fight…" Toph's voice quivered a little in her desperation, "…you would never doubt my safety again. He's amazing. I mean, I've never seen him fight, but I can feel him. I trained him! He's got the guts, the heart, the brains, everything! He's the freaking Avatar, and an awesome one! If I ever needed protection – and that's a big if – I could count on him." The earthbender could feel her comrade's heart speed up the slightest bit, and a smug grin stole her expression.
Lao looked from Toph to Aang and then back again. "I don't… I'm not… I…"
Poppy looked up at her husband, waiting silently, wondering.
Mr. Bei Fong's searching gaze finally rested on his daughter, her blind eyes intelligent and wise, staring through him. She looked so fragile, and yet acted so strong, so brave. But maybe it wasn't an act after all? Maybe it wasn't just stubborn rebellion against authority, but a genuine, unconquerable fighting spirit that was dying to be recognized? It felt utterly alien to look at his daughter this way, but now that he tried, Mr. Bei Fong was shocked at the powerful young woman he saw. Could he really trust her to be safe? Lao set his gaze on Aang, so young himself, and yet just as impressive in this new light. Could he be trusted to keep Toph safe? He was the Avatar…
Hesitating, Mr. Bei Fong gently laid a hand on his daughter's shoulder. Toph looked up at him, not really seeing, and still so insightful – and hopeful.
"I… I love you, Toph," he began, wondering all the while if he was doing the right thing, "and you are a far better and stronger person than I ever gave you credit for. I can see that now. I'm sorry I doubted you so, but I just worry. Please don't begrudge me for being a father."
Toph smiled a little. "Of course I don't, Dad."
"Then all that remains to be seen is whether or not your mother will begrudge me for letting you go," Lao concluded, his words coming slowly, glancing every now and then at his wife, who still sat on her knees in front of her daughter.
Poppy and Toph's mouths dropped simultaneously, but only Toph broke out in a smile and leaped into her father's unsuspecting arms, clutching him in a grateful embrace.
"Thank you, Dad! Thank you so much!!"
"Darling, are you sure?" Poppy gasped, stunned. "But what if-"
"We can't keep her from the world forever," Lao said quietly. "We've done so long enough, and look how much better she was when free? I can't take that away from her, now that I see it. Would you?"
Poppy looked down, beaten. "No…" She took her daughter's hand. "Just please, please promise me that you'll be careful, Toph. Please."
Toph left her father's embrace and entered her mother's. "I promise, Mom. Thank you…"
Me and Zuko, you ask? We still had a lot of work to do ourselves in the Fire Nation, starting with the restoration of villages like the one I helped as the Painted Lady, towns that had been oppressed by the very soldiers that were supposed to protect them, and who now cried out for change. This gave the people of the Fire Nation a chance to fully understand their new leader, who, they realized, wasn't so different from them, and who cared about them like friends and family. I think it was an especially helpful experience for Zuko, not only based on what it would help in his career, but also personally. I can see that he thrives off of helping others, even if it means putting himself in danger or through hardship. It's one of the things we have in common, I would like to believe, among so many other things I've discovered during my time with him. He's like a whole different person now, but I can see that he's still the same boy who tied me to a tree, so long ago it seems now, and so unreal. He trust me, protects me, provides for me, loves me, and yet he doesn't smother me like you would expect. He gives me space when I need it, yet when I come to him, he's there. I really don't know how to explain it perfectly, though sometimes I wish I could fully understand just where the love between us came from. It was so gradual, how could I possibly know?! And it keeps on growing everyday. We're closer everyday, I can feel it. I honestly don't think it could get any better…
The halls of the Fire Nation royal palace seemed friendlier than they were a year ago, when last Katara had seen them. Iroh's been busy, I guess… Katara smiled to herself, the oceanic glimmer in her eyes brighter from the light of the afternoon sun. Walls of the palace had been knocked out where possible to create large open windows, lighting the corridor with warm golden rays. The blue sky could finally be seen, even in the depths of the palace, through the newly installed skylights above their heads, chasing away the smoky shadows that had once smothered every room in inky blackness. It created a peaceful harmony of blue and red that tugged at the corners of Katara's mind, like it was trying to tell her something…
The master waterbender laughed aloud suddenly, vaguely noticing the sound didn't echo eerily off the walls like it had a year ago. Blue and red! Their colors! Blue, signifying the ocean and the moon, and the waterbender's own element; their pure gift of healing, and yet, if provoked, their icy fury. Red, symbol of the sun and the firebenders; their ancestors, the dragons; their burning fury and wild energy in battle, but also their warm, passionate love. Opposites in elements and colors and attitudes, and yet the same capacity for good and evil. Katara looked up, admiring the large square skylight above her head as she crossed a chamber leading to the Firelord's room, framed in gold dragons and wreaths of bright red agate firelilies, complimenting the sapphire sky. They went hand in hand, like perfect pieces in a puzzle.
A strangely sad shiver ran down Katara's spine, and she hurried out of the room, down the adjacent hall. She needed to see Zuko before his official coronation, to give him a private goodbye. After today, he would officially be the new Firelord, and her duties would be done. He would be busy with his new duties. She would be in his way. No point in being a burden…
And so Katara would leave, return home after nearly two full years away from the South Pole. She would see her Gran-Gran again, she would go back to her chores, she would live like none of this had ever happened.
Just outside Zuko's room, Katara paused, her heart wrenching. She pressed herself against the wall beside the doorway, staring at the ceiling, crystal tears threatening to flow. How could she do that? Who was she fooling?! It was impossible to forget all of this, all her friends, and him… But would she ever see them again? Would she ever see him again?
Katara bowed her head, letting a solitary tear fall before wiping it away, preparing herself to face the Firelord. How she would miss him…
The nerves of becoming the new Firelord wasn't the reason Zuko rocked on his feet in his room, standing by the wardrobe, trying to get dressed and prepare himself for the biggest event of his life thus far at the same time. And by "biggest event of his life thus far," he didn't mean his coronation, in less than a half hour. No, that seemed easy compared to what he was going to do.
He'd never had a way with words. What if he stuttered? Zuko groaned. Oh, he would definitely stutter. And then his eyes would probably go all shifty and he'd rub the back of his neck like an idiot, and then he'd stutter some more, all the while turning darker and darker shades of red. But what could he do? It would happen, it was inevitable. Even after a whole year as her ally, as her lover, he still couldn't talk to her on occasion. Like when the moon had been full, and they'd been sitting on the dock of an island village, alone, watching the moonlight dance on the waves; her eyes had twinkled like diamonds then, and her skin was so smooth and glowing, and her smile so perfect. Yes, he'd stuttered then, attempting to describe just how beautiful she was to him, and ending up making her believe she was a multicolored penguin seal. The soon-to-be Firelord went bright red just remembering it.
Shaking his head, Zuko drove the unpleasant memories from his mind. He had to be casual. At ease. Natural.
Just tell her how you really feel, Zuko.
He was dead meat.
With a groan, the firebender reached for his robe, the first layer in his cumbersome coronation attire, and groaned again as pain lighted up his right arm and through his chest, following the path the lightning had taken through his body a year ago in reverse. The heavy robe dropped to the floor as he steadied himself, clutching his side. The bandage wrapping had been gone for several months, but the pain had never ceased, or even eased. He'd probably have to endure it for the rest of his life.
"Oh, Zuko! Are you okay?"
The gentle hands of a healer slid over his shoulder and arm, clutching his shirt to help keep him upright through the pain. The spasm eased after a few moments, and Zuko slowly stood up straight, looking bravely into the deep cerulean eyes of his waterbender.
"Yes… I'm fine now."
Katara looked more sad then usual whenever he had a painful attack of spasms. She blamed herself of course, for what he had to go through, and every time Zuko felt the echoes of his heroic deed, she would ask him the same question. He saw it coming now.
"You were worth it," he answered firmly before the question could escape Katara's parted lips. "I don't care if I have to feel this pain for the rest of my life. I won't ever regret saving yours."
Looking down, Katara nodded slowly. Suddenly, she grabbed his hand and looked him in the eye.
"You can't become Firelord yet," she blurted, catching him off guard. "Come on. We'll take Appa. I've already asked Aang, and he doesn't mind. I still have to heal you, remember? A little side trip to the North Pole won't take too long, after all, and it'll be worth it! You can become Firelord when you get back-"
"I don't want you to heal me," Zuko interrupted. Katara's mouth paused in an open position, and she stared at him blankly, abashed. The Firelord quickly rephrased that. "I mean, I'm better off if you don't heal me." The Water Tribe princess seemed no less confused, so he continued. "This scar-" he brushed his hand over the scar on his face, and his fingers shook slightly when they ran over the disfigured flesh "- will serve as a reminder, a reminder of what power and pride can do to a person, and to the people around him. If I remember what my father became capable of, and what he did to me, I'll never be able to lose myself in the trap that he did. I won't become like him." Katara tried to speak, but Zuko's first finger against her lips silenced her. "And these scars," he continued, motioning to the one over his heart, painfully visible on his bare chest, and the smaller scar on the palm of his right hand, "I gladly bear. I'll never forsake you, not with these scars to remind me of what you are to me."
And then his tongue tripped.
"I mean, not that I need to be reminded, of course! I could never forget what you mean to me, I mean, because I love you more than anything and I would never let you down in a million years! I'm just saying, um… what I meant was that I want others to see how much I love you. I-" And then he noticed the waterbender's tears, and all thought of embarrassment vanished. "K-Katara, what's wrong?"
Katara didn't look at him, sniffling through her tears. "I… I just wanted to spend more t-time with you… before I… b-before I leave!"
"Leave… Where are you going??" Zuko's hand automatically went to the silver box in his pants pocket, grasping it in a white-knuckled fist, anxiety squeezing his throat shut. Why would she leave? Was someone sick? Dying? Was she… Could she not be interested in him anymore? The thought made his heart twist into knots.
"I'm going home!" Katara sputtered, crying harder, "Because you'll be Firelord and I won't be any help to you anymore! I'd just be in the way, and the last thing I want is to burden you more…" Her right hand rested on his heart, on the scarred flesh that burned a whole in her own heart every time she saw it. "You wouldn't be a good leader if you were distracted by me…"
Zuko snatched her hand with his free one and pressed it to his lips. "If that's the only reason you're leaving, then I won't let you go," he said boldly, holding her wrist as gently as he could, caressing the smooth skin with his thumb. With his other hand he pulled the silver box out of his pants pocket, pressing it into the waterbender's free hand. "I want you to stay," he added, "not as an outsider or a burden – you could never be a burden – but as part of the family… of my family." The words came so much easier now, with his heart pounding hard where her cool hand had been, with the fear and anger at the thought of losing her because of her own trifle worries swirling thick in his head. Madness it was, for her to leave because she was afraid she'd be in the way. He needed her far more than she obviously realized. Oh how he needed her…
Katara gaze was transfixed on the box in her left hand, and she'd made no move to open it, so Zuko did it for her. The waterbender gasped as the lid lifted away, and a pendant of blue abalone shell on a gold ribbon met her eyes. The pendant was carved into the yin/yang symbol, with a koi fish melting into waves as the yin, and a fiery koi fish as the yang.
"We had our first real battle in the Spirit Oasis whith the koi fish," Zuko explained, as Katara stared slack-jawed at the betrothal necklace she now held in her hands. "And we've always thought of ourselves as opposites, since our elements are opposite, but we balance each other out, like the koi fish, the yin and yang, and our elements, do. And I asked your father for his blessing beforehand, and he's agreed and, um… So… that's why… um, Katara? Are you oka-"
The waterbender, forgetting for a moment her mature, level-headed nature, leapt into the firebender's arms and kissed him on the lips, gently, but with all the joy that was surging blindly through her whole body. After a second of stunned limpness, the Firelord returned her embrace, enveloping her in his arms, pressing her against him as tight as he could without hurting her. Whatever was to come when he took the crown of the Fire Nation didn't matter at the moment. All his worries – all their worries – melted away, forgotten, if only for a moment.
"By the law of the Fire Nation!" Head Fire Priest Shyu's voice rang out over the courtyard as he set the flame shaped gold crown on Zuko's head. The new Firelord rose amidst the thundering applause of soldiers from every nation, of people wearing every color, with every color skin; his friends, his kin. "All hail Firelord Zuko!!!"
The applause became deafening as the crowd cheered at the top of their lungs, stomping their feet, clapping their hands until they could no longer feel them. Definitely the loudest coronation ceremony in Fire Nation history. But it didn't bother Zuko in the least. It was good to hear the ring of voices, most of which were familiar to him now. There were Tyro's troops, with Bumi, Haru, the Mechanist, and Teo. There were Hakoda, Kanna, Pakku, and all the Water Tribe warriors. The Kyoshi warriors, with Mai, Ty Lee, King Kuei, and Bosco, newly found, were standing near them. And then, of course, there was his mother, Ursa, sobbing with joy, and joyous Uncle Iroh, who was already planning the after party at his new teashop just a few blocks away. Jun – looking bored as ever and only there because Iroh was paying her a hefty sum - and her shirshu stood next to him, with a large space left clear around them for fear of the tracking creature's immobilizing tongue. And then there were a few wrestlers he knew to be Toph's friends, Fire Nation soldiers loyal to him, countless common citizens that he and Katara had befriended on their journeys… So many who were cheering for him, ready and willing to serve, follow, trust, and obey. He wouldn't let them down.
"Thank you," he began simply when the crowd finally fell silent, not just to Shyu, but to all the people assembled before him. "At one point in my life, I never thought I would see this moment, and at another, I didn't even care. But now that I'm here, I am here for you, for all of you." His eyes scanned the people, especially focusing on the red-colored robes and armor. The Firelord smiled. "I am your ally. I am your friend. And I will do everything it takes to bring the Fire Nation out of its bloody past. But I couldn't have done it without the heroes you all, by now, already know."
Gesturing to the side of the platform, where the shadows of the columns hid five teenagers from view, Zuko called them out each in turn. "Avatar Aang, who taught me patience, persistence, and optimism despite any challenge, and who believed in my ability to do good despite everything I'd done to him. Because of the Avatar, you are free of Ozai's tyranny!" Applause broke out once more as the Avatar, quite a bit taller after his growth-spurt began, and dressed in simple terra-cotta monk's robes, joined the Firelord before them.
"Toph Bei Fong, a fearless warrior with a heart big enough to believe in me, first of anyone, and who is almost as wise as my all-knowing Uncle!" Toph, short as ever, strode with confidence onto the stage, raising a clenched fist to the crowd, who cheered all the louder.
"Master waterbender and healer, and Princess of the Southern Water Tribe, Katara, who, I am unutterably thrilled to announce, is my fiancé!" Katara immediately made her way around the three in the middle of the platform to stand on Zuko's right, garbed in blue and white silk, her hair braided with glittering pearls, and her betrothal necklace resting on her collarbone. The crowd practically exploded with passionate cheers, the waterbender having earned the love of most of the nation through her gentle love and endless, selfless caring.
"Sokka, brave warrior of the Southern Water Tribe, who was the first to really trust me, and who taught me how to joke!" The Fire Nation citizens present, who didn't catch the sarcasm in Zuko's last statement, applauded. Everybody else promptly groaned aloud. It didn't deter Sokka though, who strutted out onto the stage in the finest blue velvet robes, Suki's arm wrapped in his.
"Suki, whom I apologize deeply to for… um… that thing that I did." Suki gave him a friendly kiss on the cheek, which succeeded in ruffling Sokka's peacock feathers, and smiled.
"No worries!" she assured him brightly. "You're completely forgiven."
The six young heroes stood side by side on the platform above the courtyard, the greatest challenge of their lives behind them finally. Peace was on the near east horizon, where smiling friends and family waiting, and where some of them were ready to start families of their own; where they would grow now as people, and not as soldiers; where they could play and laugh and learn, where some could find new love, and where others could grow deeper in theirs; where they could stand hand in hand and never forget, but never go back; where shadows and blood melted away into the glowing eastern sunrise of a golden new century.
Darkness swallowed the cloaked shape of the former Fire Lady, leaving the lantern's light behind her in the cold stone corridor. There was a draft in the cell, but she didn't notice, so she didn't shiver. There was, however, a shivering, shaking, form in the corner, hidden almost completely in the black web of shadow that nearly engulfed the entire cell. But it wasn't shaking for the cold, no. Ursa could hear through the bars the wretched sobs of her broken daughter, the once-proud Princess Azula, now reduced to a miserable ball of tears and bitterness.
Ursa quietly opened the door of her daughter's cell and stepped inside, cropping to her knees beside the princess. Without hesitation, she took Azula up in her arms and hugged her to her chest, whispering gently.
"Why are you here?" Azula choked between sobs. "The only p-person you *sniff* care about is *sob* Zuko! I'm just a monster…"
"No, no, my darling," Ursa whispered. "You're no monster. I love you, Azula. And I will make you better. I promise."
Exhausted and miserable, Azula let her head drop onto Ursa's shoulder and sobbed in her mother's arms, her tortured cries echoing though the cell until she finally dropped into a dreamless, perfect sleep. Ursa let a sad smile pull the corner's of her lips up as she stroked her daughter's tangled curls, wiping the tear stains away.
A HUGE thanks to all my loyal reviewers! I'm sorry this was short, but I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope it served as a worthy replacement for that not-so-great finale. :) My thanks to you all!!
I have to make a shout-out to AvatarCujo on deviantArt!! With their help, I was able to overcome my writer's block from Part 4, and this epilogue as well. I credit the entire Spirit World section at the end of Part 4 to them, and also this epilogue! Thanks so much, AvatarCujo! I owe you big time! :)
Oh, and one more thing. I know that some of you wanted a longer story, and I have to say I have absolutely no problem with it. I already have some ideas, so if I get enough reviews, I'll see what I can do about a sequal to this. SO REVIEW! Thank you! :)