Aang won his battle … but Zuko and Katara lost theirs.
With Azula controlling the Fire Nation, it seems like the war will never end. Aang and his friends return to Ba Sing Se to recover and mourn, while Mai escapes Azula and carries Zuko's dying message to Iroh.
For almost a year, the world holds its breath. The Fire Nation's resources are spent, and Azula, struggling with her own demons, realises that her father will never truly relinquish his power. In Ba Sing Se, Mai tries to come to terms with being alive when everyone she has ever cared about has died or abandoned her. Aang, without hope, travels the world, laying the dead to rest. Until the answer to his questions becomes clear: Azula has to die.
This was not an easy fic to write, not least because it turned out that the 5000 words of set-up I'd envisioned turned out to be the entire (nearly) 30,000 words of story. My eternal thanks go to my betas: Branwyn, for her work on the early drafts and plotting; CiderCupcakes, for her plot and character work; Weaver for the commentary and commas.
R, mostly for implicit violence and general darkness. A full list of warnings is below.
Major character death; violence; underage arranged marriage; casual sex under the influence of alcohol; psychological abuse; mental illness.
Your Treasure Spent
Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.
The Art of War, Sun Tzu
The Spirit World
When the Moon Spirit heard what happened, she unleashed a tide of pain that shook the world.
"Dead!" she howled, and her rage and grief echoed through the realm of the spirits. "How? Why?"
"Mortals are always killing each other," said Wan Shi Tong. "In a thousand years, no one will remember her name, or why she died."
"I will remember," said the Moon Spirit.
In the Oasis of the North Pole, a freak tide caused the pool to overflow.
"Humans are prey," said Koh the Face Stealer. "Look at the way they treat their own kind."
"I was human," said the Moon Spirit, "before."
Koh the Face Stealer said nothing. His monkey's face smiled.
The Sun Spirit appeared before the Moon in his incarnation as fire. He was beautiful and alien, a brother to the Moon, but distant.
My prince will die, he said.
The spirits were countless in number, and only a tiny fraction knew of or cared about the doings of mortals. It was a long time since the Sun Spirit had spoken of the human realm at all. His name was long-forgotten, even by the people he claimed as his own.
"I'm sorry," said the Moon.
Behind the Sun came the Avatar, wearing the face of his previous incarnation. He bowed to the spirits.
"My great-granddaughter still lives," he said.
For a moment, the Sun Spirit burned blue.
"She should have been yours," Roku told him.
"Too late now," said Koh the Face Stealer.
"But she's alive," said Roku, "and living people can still change."
She's lost to me, said the Sun. The damage is too great.
The Avatar's dragon wrapped itself around the Sun Spirit, who welcomed it as a child.
"It will take time," said the Avatar, "that's all."