A/N: The following takes place during the final episode of Sozin's Comet
Chapter 1: The Beginning of the End
"Ah--" Sokka grunted, pain lancing through his leg as he and Toph landed hard and tumbled on to the hull of the metal airship.
"What happened?!" Toph shouted over the roar of the wind, wide-eyed and clearly alarmed. "Did Boomerang come back?!"
Sokka propped himself up on his arms, just in time to see his girlfriend swinging in above them on a thick steering rudder-rope. "No," the injured warrior replied as the earthbender stumbled forward and latched on to him reflexively as the ship bobbed roughly, "Suki did!"
The Kyoshi warrior, still dressed in Boiling Rock prison rags, landed lightly on the deck beside them, and skittered into a crouch, wrapping Sokka's arm in a vice-like grip.
"Are you guys okay?" she yelled as the wind hissed past, the pitch of her voice heightened with fear and adrenaline.
"Not too shabby!" Toph responded brightly, in light of what might've happened had Suki not been there in time. The earthbender, despite having her 'sight' restored through the ship's metal frame, still clung to Sokka's tunic like a burr.
The airship shuddered as the wind shifted, and the water tribesman moaned, glancing down at his leg with a twisted expression of agony.
"That doesn't look too good," Suki made a pained face as she moved to support his shoulder.
Suddenly, Sokka felt Toph stiffen against his arm, and he lifted his head and regarded her with faint surprise.
"What is it?" Suki asked the earthbender, following her boyfriend's gaze.
Toph blinked, and a slight breeze lifted the bangs from her face, briefly exposing her glassy eyes, pale face, and thin lips pressed tightly together.
"Hear that?" the earthbender murmured, her voice deathly soft.
"Hear what?" Both Suki and Sokka chirped simultaneously, looking out upon the coastline, which was aflame in ruddy light.
"The wind," Toph released her hold on Sokka and pushed herself shakily to her feet, staring blindly into the distance. "It stopped."
Suki stood, bracing herself as the airship creaked and shifted beneath her feet. "You're right," the Kyoshi warrior confirmed.
She and Sokka exchanged a worried glance as Toph turned to face them, her sightless jade eyes creased with worry.
The earthbender's soft-spoken statement, so layered with concern, sparked a feeling of panic that quickly spread to her friends.
Before any of them could blink, all at once, the wind returned. A sharp blast tossed the normally unmovable Toph into Sokka's lap and shoved Suki, despite her strength, down hard on to the airship's metal surface.
A fraction of a second later, a brilliant flash of light blinded Sokka and Suki, and caused Toph's dead eyes to sting.
Panicked, Toph rubbed at her face as her two friends groaned and squinted. "What was that?"
"I don't know," Sokka passed a hand over his brow, trying to understand what was happening as he was deafened by the wind. An overpowering flood of crimson light flooded the landscape and turned the ocean into blood. The fires below intensified in an instant as the trees and plants and small creatures were vaporized. The hulls of the remaining airships still aloft glowed red-hot, and the ashes venting from them spurted fire. The metal plate beneath the trio scalded them, and Toph wriggled her bare feet with discomfort.
This environment that prevailed for what seemed to be hours, though it could only have been seconds before there was another flash, not quite as blinding as the first, that seem to cool everything in an instant. Blue light spilled from an unseen source, stifling the fires below and dropping the temperature so quickly that the airships swelled and rose higher.
As quickly as it had come, the light was gone, and with it went Toph's, Suki's, and Sokka's petrified inaction.
"Look!" Suki motioned to the ground below as seawater flooded in, snuffling out the remaining smoldering fires that burned.
"It's Aang!" Sokka announced, pointing toward a flash of yellow on a distant plateau. "Let's go!"
"I'm on it," Suki shouted, springing into action, "Brace yourselves!" She took hold of the rudder-rope and gave it a hard yank. The airship groaned in protest, but slowly nosed its way around until it was headed in the right direction.
The airship shuddered as it made contact with the earth, and on the ground Aang staggered around and lifted his weary gaze to see his three friends making their way toward him. He smiled, despite the fatigue flooding through his body and mind.
They had won. Everything that had happened…all the pain and blood and tears…all of it came down to this. And they had done it. Seeing their glowing faces, eyes bright and foreheads gleaming under a thick layer of sweat, weariness fading behind the light of their joy, warmth spread through the airbender's limbs, and he squared his shoulders.
Curled up on his shoulder, Momo purred contentedly. The tip of the lemur's ringed tail twitched, brushing lightly over Aang's ear. The airbender smiled as he watched Sokka, Suki, and Toph make their way toward him.
From the ground, Ozai wrinkled his nose and grunted. Aang turned and leveled him with a cold stare before Sokka's excited voice brought the Avatar back to attention.
"You did it!"
Aang didn't listen to the rest of Sokka's spiel. His thoughts lingered on those three words, holding them close and cherishing the sound of them. He did it. He succeeded. He'd beaten Ozai and the first step to restoring balance had been taken. It was thrilling. It was exciting. Most of all, it was terrifying.
But even as he listened to his friend chatter excitedly about the battle, one haunting question still rang unanswered in his mind.
A/N: So what did you think? I've finally muscled up and decided to do a post-finale fic, which will hopefully be centered around the gradual healing of Katara and Aang's relationship, although I haven't worked out the exact details yet. This is the prologue leading into it, and the timeline will end around Zuko's coronation. I've got a lot of work to do, and I'd love to hear from any readers wanting to note their expectations of this piece. (That way, I can work to go beyond all of your expectations, right?) Questions or concerns? Hit the review button or pm me.