A/N: This is slight AU, a "what if" situation.

I had been careless. I lived on my own in a small Fire Nation town for three years, blending in with the natives. No one ever suspected that I was an escaped prisoner of war until I began to exact my revenge.

Rumors flew fast about the mysterious disappearances on the full moon, but I was confident that no one would be able to pin them on me, a harmless single woman.

A couple of Fire Nation soldiers came to my inn exactly three and a half months after I began my collection.

"Hama of the Southern Water Tribe, you're under arrest."

Oh shit. I should've used a Fire Nation alias. I'd been overconfident. Still, I tried to talk my way out of it.

"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean. I'm not Water Tribe."

"You look just like the wanted poster," said one of the soldiers, holding up a flier with a portrait that showed a remarkable likeness.

"Where did you get that?" I asked, trying desperately to contain my alarm.

"North Chung-Ling," said the other soldier, grabbing my arm. "You're coming with us."

I did the only thing I could do. I pulled water from the bushes in front of my inn and formed it into a blade, aiming for the soldier's unarmored face. He ducked and released my arm. I fled and lost the pursuing soldiers in the woods, but I despaired over my blown cover.

All of the possessions I had worked so hard to obtain, counting my Water Tribe comb, were inside my inn. I had escaped with only the clothes on my back and a small coin purse.

After dithering in the forest until dusk, I crept back to my inn under the cover of darkness. Without moonlight, it took me almost the entire night to grope my way back. It was twilight again when I saw my inn through the trees, and the guards standing outside the front and back doors. I suppressed a frustrated groan. This was a waste of time. I wanted my comb, but it wasn't worth the risk of getting caught.

My best option was to sail to the Earth Kingdom, claim asylum, and, if possible, convince the Earth King to declare war on the Fire Nation.

I walked to the nearest port town and bought a wide brimmed hat that shaded my face. It was a poor disguise, but I didn't know what else to do. With my remaining money, I bought a place aboard a merchant ship headed for Chameleon Bay.

The captain stared at me long enough to make me uncomfortable. I should have followed my gut and boarded a different ship. Even surfing across the sea on driftwood would've been a safer option.

An hour out to sea, one of the sailors offered me a mug of tea. As I drank it, I began to feel drowsy in the tropical ocean breeze, but I was loath to go find my cabin to lie down. There were too many bad memories of traveling chained in the brig of an ironside warship.

I remained seated on the metal deck and nodded to sleep.

I woke inside a stone cell.

Dragging my groggy mind to full alert, I pieced together what had happened. The Fire Nation sailors had drugged my tea and turned me over to the soldiers, who threw me back in prison. I had let my guard down again and trusted the Fire Nation sailors against my gut, and now I was paying the price. I wished that I had just thrown myself into the ocean and let La claim my life, rather than waste away in this rat-infested hellhole.

No! I could not let that happen! I would escape again. Somehow, I would get my revenge.

I sat in the cell for what seemed like hours. It was bare and enclosed except for a small barred window in the solid iron door.

The door opened, and I leapt to my feet in a defensive stance, arms in front of my chest.

Four guards stood in the doorway, and two of them entered the tiny cell. I threw my fist forward, aiming at the nearest guard's stomach, but he spun out of the way. The other guard caught my arm and twisted. I gritted my teeth to keep from crying out in pain. The other guard quickly recovered to grab my other arm and cuff my hands behind my back.

"You'd better not cause any more trouble, water trash. You're coming with us to Fire Lord Azulon's throne room, and you'd best listen to what he says."

My eyes widened before I schooled them to a neutral expression. Why would they take me to the evil tyrant himself? What could he possibly want with me? Maybe he had to order my execution in person.

The guards forced me to march out of the cell, one holding each arm, one ahead and one behind. They took me down a hallway and up two flights of stairs, where we immerged in the most ornate hallway I had ever seen. I had not been in a prison, but a dungeon below the Fire Lord's palace.

Servants scurried out of our way as we stepped through the hallway. Eventually we came to a huge double door with the Fire Nation emblem carved into it, and four more guards standing in front of it. Each wore peculiar candy-red armor with the helmet and shoulder guards fused into one piece. Wordlessly, they stepped aside to allow the prison guards inside.

The room looked like the inside of a dragon's mouth. It was painted black with a high vaulted ceiling supported by thick columns. The only light came from a wall of fire that spanned the width of the room, blocking a dais with a throne that had a little roof over it. And, of course, the shadowy form of the man seated on it.

The guards marched me to the center and pushed me down until I was on my knees. I struggled and kicked their ankles, knocking one of them off balance. Another guard cuffed the back of my head with his gauntleted fist. They forced me down until my face almost touched the floor. I pressed up against the hands that held me, but they were too strong, and I could only fume over being forced to kowtow to the man who ordered the raids that decimated my tribe.

No one spoke for a moment or two. It was a standard intimidation tactic. I clenched my jaw and prayed silently for La to avenge me if the Fire Lord ordered the guards to cut off my head.

Finally, Azulon spoke. "Guards, leave us. Wait outside."

"My lord?" asked one of the guards, reluctant to release my arm.

"The waterbender's hands are bound, the air is too dry to pull water from it, and the moon is new. She is no threat to me."

I could hear his smug snake expression even though the fire obscured his face, and I itched to wipe it off. Preferably with a water blade.

As soon as the guards let go, I jumped to my feet and glared at the Fire Lord with the heat of a thousand suns, not sparing the guards a backward glance. I couldn't imagine why he ordered the guards away. Or more accurately, I didn't want to imagine.

"I know how you escaped," he said. "The prison guards reported that they lost control of their own bodies, and one of them unlocked your door against his will. They figured out that you bent the fluid in their bodies." He paused. "I believe you have this power over others only during the full moon."

I continued to glower.

"You could do so much more with your power than what you have been doing. You have been kidnapping civilians who have little to do with the war effort."

Evidently, Azulon wanted me to tell where I was keeping my prisoners. It still didn't quite fit, though. Why would the Fire Lord be interested in a few peasants? Didn't he have bigger things to worry about?

"You could inflict punishment on those who had a more direct impact on your suffering." There was another dramatic pause. He seemed fond of those.

"You're wrong," I finally spoke, unable to resist the chance to make him squirm for a change. "Fire Nation soldiers will return from the war to find their loved ones missing. My revenge is far sweeter knowing that those soldiers are separated from their families, unable to protect them."

The fire wall crackled as I waited for Azulon's response.

"You and I are not so different, Hama of the Water Tribe. We are the most powerful benders of our generation, and we both have ruthless minds."

I bristled. "I am not like you!"

"You could have used your power to help your Tribe, but you decided that revenge was more important. You betrayed your people by staying in enemy territory to exact a punishment that had a negligible impact on the war's outcome."

If I was angry before, it paled in comparison to the fury that now burned within my soul. "How dare you call me a traitor! You have no idea what I've been through!"

"I can only imagine," Azulon said calmly. "But can you honestly say that you tried your hardest to return home?"

I hadn't tried to return home at all. I didn't know if my mother and brother and Kanna would like the person that the prison had turned me into. I didn't know if I could return to my old life, knowing that the Fire Navy would follow me there in summer. But the Fire Lord's question made these excuses seem weak.

"You could have used your unique bending ability to seize control of a ship and sail home," said Azulon.

"Why are you telling me this?" I ground out.

"I am offering you a chance to regain your honor." The fire wall lowered until it was a foot high, allowing me to clearly see the man. He was handsome in the pale, pampered Fire Nation fashion, with a sharp goatee and mustache. His golden eyes were serious, and I detected no deception.

"What do you know about honor?" I asked.

"Honor is a way of life in the Fire Nation. We value loyalty to our country and families."

"And how do you think I should restore my honor?"

"Help me conquer Hu Xin," he said, "and I will call off the raids against the Southern Water Tribe."

I frowned deeply. "If I agreed to help you, how could I be sure that you keep your word?"

Azulon's lips quirked up in a tiny smile as he spread his hands. "You will be free to visit your city whenever you wish, as long as you are not on a campaign, so you can see for yourself that it is unharmed. If you refuse my offer, though, I will see to it that the Southern Water Tribe goes the way of the Air Nomads."

"There is nothing honorable about your offer," I spat.

Azulon shrugged. "I would have continued to raid your tribe anyway if my soldiers hadn't captured you. But leaving it alone is a small price to pay for the conquest of Hu Xin."

I lowered my head. How could I refuse an offer like that?


A/N: Yes, it's really the end.

I felt sorry that Hama had to go back to prison at the end of "The Puppetmaster" (and yet I tormented her in this fanfic). She couldn't be allowed to continue imprisoning innocents, but I can't say I wouldn't have done same thing or had the same outlook if I had spent years in that hellish prison.

Hama thinks of La because he's the darker of the two Water Tribe spirits.

The Hu Xin provinces become the Fire Nation colonies the characters keep talking about in season three.