In Malice

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

Warnings: Possible OOC, Speculation, Spoilers through Season Three

AN: For Avatar_500 over on LJ. The prompt was #24: Contest.

There's no winner. In this battle between them, both lose in the end.

They fight for years with no clear victor. Back and forth and steps to the side. Behind closed doors and out in the open when no one can see. With sharpened words and knives hidden in smiles. A deadly dance of fake civility and politeness covering disdain.

At first, he is the lone competitor. At first, there's no competition at all.

But she sneaks in like a thief in the night. Steals what was his by birth and right. Takes and twists until he's all but forgotten. An aside that's remembered when only convenient.

She claims the prize for years. Shoves it into his face whenever she can. Grins and giggles and taunts him every chance she gets. Looks at him with eyes full of poison and hatred and satisfaction.

She thinks that's it then. She thinks she's finally won.

But eventually, he proves her wrong. Eventually, the last laugh is his, and it's as bitter as it is triumphant. He usurps what was his in the first place, and he burns everything if only to keep her from having it again. Even the stars are covered over by the ash and soot, and the only witness to his treachery is the moon hanging bravely at his back. But she says and does nothing, and he flies away to the knowledge that if he can't have this victory no one can.

He'd rather scorch his world and everything in it than let her win. And he laughs that night. Laugh long and hard and until he cries.

The funeral is both the hardest and best part.

Ta Min is dressed in widow's clothes, and her face is a calm mask. She is every bit the Avatar's wife then, standing next to the Avatar's dearest friend. But her eyes spit secret fire as she glances at him, and static bites at her fingers as they curl into fists.

"I hate you," her gaze seems to say.

Sozin tips his head and gives a venomous twitch of his mouth.

"I hate you more."

Ever Hopeful,