Let the Flames Begin

Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sadly enough.

Warnings: Au-ish, Spoilers up to the Finale

AN: For AtLA Land's writing challenge. Prompt was "Mystery Fic."

He wonders if it was the Water Tribe boy who chose this. Yes, the Avatar and his king decided his fate, but he thinks that the older boy was the one who ultimately determined where he would spend the rest of his days. That this was his idea of true punishment. Languishing in what could possibly be the very same cell that once held him. Forced to endure the knowledge that he'd never again be free of this place.

Long Feng tries to tell himself that this is just temporary. It will only be a matter of time.

But as the hours stretch on, he wonders if even his great and far-reaching plans have finally met their end. If this truly is his home for the remainder of his life. A quivering part of his spirit whispers that it will be, and he can't help but believe.

Days pass. Perhaps even weeks. He remains exactly where he is. No better off than before. Not much worse. And maybe the monotony is the worst part. Perhaps being so isolated, being so left alone to his own thoughts and memories without any knowledge of the outside is really his penance.

He isn't even certain how much time has actually gone by when the door opens at the end of the hallway. It isn't mealtime, and Long Feng can admit to more than a smidgen of curiosity. He slips over to the barred window on his door and peeks out into the barren corridor. He can just barely make out the two guards approaching with the form of a prisoner between them. The man's hair is long and obscures his face, but Long Feng can make out his pale skin and glimpses what he believes are a pair of golden eyes. Intrigued despite himself, he watches as they bring the man to the cell diagonal from his own. The younger guard of the pair fiddles with the keys for a moment before managing to unlock the door, and it's then, just as they all but shove his new neighbor into his humble abode, that Long Feng finally catches a glance of his face.

He can scarcely believe his own eyes as they widen.

Long Feng has never met him in person, but he'd know this man anywhere. Would know that face no matter where he went or who else was there. This is his enemy. This is his greatest adversary and deadliest foe.

The great Fire Lord Ozai. Reduced to a prisoner just like Long Feng himself. Little more than a worthless wretch. Just a shadow of his former self. A mere ghost who has yet to realize he's already dead.

He nearly laughs from the irony of it all. The only thing that stops him is the stern look cast his way by the older guard, but Long Feng simply tips his head in greeting and watches as Ozai's face again returns to his view. This time, it's behind an additional set of bars. Just hovering there. Waiting. Watching the guards watch him before they finally decide to leave.

Both of them stand there and remain silent long after the two men have left. Ozai is lost to his own world. And Long Feng's mind is too full of implications and swirling with possibilities.

He finds that he likes every single one of them. Even if his new companion is only here on a temporary basis, this smug satisfaction will last the rest of Long Feng's otherwise miserable life. And he already knows how to make it even better.

"Why, hello," Long Feng calls out then.

He sees those golden eyes flicker to him, and it takes a second for them to darken with mutual recognition. He knows the instant that it sparks, as evidenced by the firm scowl tugging at Ozai's mouth and by the sudden turn of his back to the door. As if he can block out the truth standing before him so plainly.

"They got to you too, I see," Long Feng continues idly, almost wickedly.

He hears Ozai give a haughty sniff and stride away to the back of his cell. Out of sight. But not out of mind.

Long Feng merely whistles ever so innocently to himself as he returns to his bed and slowly sits down. His smile is genuine and all too merciless. And best of all, no one can see it. No one even knows it's there but himself.

After all, there is something to be said of punishment. Of recompense for nameless sins. But the future torment of the man in the cell across from him will be its own reward.

AN: It's been awhile since I've seen the episode where Long Feng was imprisoned, so I can't quite recall how everything was laid out. And yes, I know that they probably weren't ever in the same prison.

Ever Hopeful,