A/N will be located at the bottom of the fic this time, since it's the final part!
Aang wished Zuko could have stayed forever, but they had already taken a huge risk by making love under the other guards' noses. Aang could tell Zuko was trying not to hurry to leave, mostly for Aang's sake. The firebender did an admirable job of dressing Aang slowly, carefully re-robing the Avatar so no one would be the wiser of what had just transpired in the jail cell. But Aang could see the impatience in Zuko's movements - the firebender's shaking fingers, the angry struggle to get back into his armor. By the time it came to tighten Aang's chains, Zuko was both running out of patience and giving into panic.
"It's going to be okay," Aang said reassuringly, but either Zuko didn't hear him or he pretended not to, because the firebender didn't stop his frantic battle to get dressed.
Zuko had his helmet on and was almost to the door when Aang resigned himself to not getting a good-bye kiss. There just wasn't enough time. Besides, it was more important that Zuko escape, undetected, than Aang get something as silly as a good-bye kiss, right?
But just as the airbender let his head drop in resignation, a flurry of footsteps sounded. In a rush, Zuko was back and kissing the airbender's mouth, heavy and out of breath and somehow, still so sweet.
The kiss was rushed, too, but Aang didn't mind. He knew it was because Zuko was afraid of the soldiers, not because Zuko was afraid of what he had done with Aang. What they had done what they had created Aang sighed, this time from pleasure. It felt so right. Even in a jail cell in a Fire Nation fortress on the shore of the Earth Kingdom, it felt right.
It seemed like Zuko had only just left before the cell door gave the telltale hissing sound of someone's arrival. Aang frowned. Maybe more time had passed than he'd realized. Maybe he'd just been so high on the feeling of Zuko's body against his own, he hadn't realized how much time had passed. Aang's frown deepened. No, something was wrong.
A figure in heavy armor entered the room. He didn't even need to light the pillar fires for Aang to know who he was.
"And how is my favorite prisoner doing today?" General Zhao purred.
It took every inch of Aang's self-control not to say anything in reply. Just let it pass, Aang thought. Just be patient and wait for this to be over.
Unaffected by the Avatar's silent treatment, Zhao entered the room, his heavy footsteps echoing against the metal confines of the cell. "You look well," Zhao continued, his voice an irritatingly low purr. Zhao was so pleased with himself; Aang had never used the word 'hate,' before, but he couldn't think of any other when he thought about Zhao.
"Ah, where are my manners," the General laughed. "I shouldn't just assume your state of being. Tell me yourself, Avatar, how are you doing?"
Aang didn't move. Didn't blink. He just stared straight ahead and feigned deafness.
"A little hard of hearing these days, are we, Avatar?" Zhao asked, slinking closer to the chained bender. "Here, maybe this will help with that."
Before Aang could even prepare, a sharp jab connected his stomach. The airbender winced but let no sound escape his lips, even as his breath left his lungs.
Zhao laughed. "Look at you. The most powerful bender in the world, and yet, here you are. Powerless against me."
Aang closed his eyes slowly. He wouldn't give Zhao the satisfaction of warranting a reaction out of him. Zhao could say whatever he wanted, do whatever he wanted, but Aang would not give in.
Besides, Aang knew something Zhao didn't. With every meal Zuko brought him, Aang grew stronger. He had had over a month's worth of decent meals, and enough time during Zuko's visits to stretch his handcuffed limbs. Aang could airbend again. He hadn't tried, but he could feel it, he could feel the air energy pooling in his stomach. Aang smiled internally - when the time was right, he would crush Zhao.
The General began to circle the room with slow, careful steps. Those footsteps echoed against the walls as he made his way around the airbender. "Well, I just came to update you on the progress of the war effort, Avatar. Although I suppose it's not much of a war effort anymore, since the war is won."
Breathe in. Breathe out. Aang tried to block everything out but the feeling of air entering and escaping his lungs.
"There are a few rebellions, made up of fools who think they can resist the forces of Phoenix King Ozai." Zhao's words were as slow as his footsteps, like black molasses dripping off of the broken hull of a navy ship. "We demolish them, of course."
Zhao came around full circle and stood in front of Aang, his hands crossed over the metal chest plates of his General's uniform. "However, there was one band of rebels that proved to be more difficult than the others," he mused, stroking his beard absent-mindedly with one hand. "Some Water Tribe peasants. Foolish savages on wooden boats who thought they could take on a Fire Navy fleet."
Breathe in, and out. In, and out.
"But you know what was interesting about them, Avatar? They had a bison with them. A flying bison."
The expression on Zhao's face was wicked, but the expression on Aang's was far, far worse.
"Where is Appa?"
Aang bellowed it in a voice so powerful, it vibrated the metal walls around them. For a fleeting moment, fear flashed in Zhao's eyes - but it was only for a moment.
"Oh, you're familiar with that beast?" Zhao asked, feigning surprise. "I had no idea."
Aang's nostrils flared and his breath came out of him so violently, breathing alone shook the shackles restraining him.
"That's a pity," Zhao cooed, "if I had known the two of you were acquainted, I would have brought the beast here to keep you company."
Aang's voice came out raw and seething between clenched teeth, "Where. Is. My. Bison."
Zhao made a clucking noise and placed a hand on Aang's shoulder. Aang jerked away from the touch, but Zhao only smiled. "I'm so sorry, Avatar," the General said with a false heaviness in his voice, "We put the beast down. We had to, you see. It was destroying the hulls of our ships."
Aang's roar followed Zhao out of the cell, down the hallway, and out of the massive tower to echo in every corner of the stronghold.
Zuko had heard a noise like that, once before. The howl that rocked Pohuai Stronghold might have sounded inhuman to some, but to Zuko, it was the exact opposite: it was the very human sound of complete and utter anguish, the sound a human heart made when it was ripped into pieces. Zuko had heard that sound once, years ago during an Agni Kai. It was the sound his mouth had made as his father's fire burned his skin.
"Aang," he gasped.
Before he let himself have a chance to think, Zuko was up and running from the barracks he was in. He donned his helmet as he ran, securing the faceplate over his eyes just as a group of soldiers rounded the corner.
"Soldier," one of them - probably a low ranking officer yelled, "where are you going?"
Zuko didn't answer him. He had no time to deal with stupid, inept soldiers - he had to get Aang. Without slowing down, Zuko skidded around a corner and into another hallway.
A metallic screech sounded as Zuko's boots lost traction, but it took the firebender only a moment to recover before he was back to speed, leaving the screaming officer far behind.
Zuko calculated it in his head: eight stories to climb with eight pairs of guards on duty in the tower. Zuko guessed it was around 11 at night, which meant Pair One of sentries would be making their rounds somewhere near the armory on the first floor - if Zuko took the long way around to the stairs, he should miss them.
He weaved his way in and out of rooms and corridors; it didn't take him long before he reached the first flight of stairs and breached them. 11:07, he ventured, which meant Pair Two of sentries would be rounding the corner right about… now. Zuko caught a glimpse of a Fire Nation boot before he ducked into an empty storage closet.
Willing himself to calm down, Zuko waited in the dark closet until the two guards passed him and rounded the corner to the north wing of the second floor. That gave Zuko exactly two and a half minutes to make it to the third floor before Pair Three showed up.
With ease, Zuko made it to the third floor, then the fourth floor, then the fifth floor, avoiding all the sentries posted there. He almost gloated over his victory, but on the sixth floor, his luck ran out. Just as Zuko began the mad dash to the sixth staircase, a group of low-ranking commanders rounded the corner into the hallway Zuko was in. The former prince barely scrambled up the walls in time. With his back pressed against the ceiling, the officers passed below him, unsuspecting.
Now Zuko knew something was wrong. There was no reason for those glorified grunts to be here, unless…
With a barely audible plink!, Zuko dropped back down to the floor. He had to be more careful. No more brash charging through the tower. If Zuko was caught, that would be the end of him - and Zuko couldn't do that to Aang. Zuko refused to abandon the airbender by getting caught, especially not when something had made the Avatar yell out in such pain.
Zuko took the next floor more cautiously. At even the slightest sound, he darted into shadows, around corners, hiding behind anything available to him. When footsteps approached, Zuko ducked into an empty room and held his breath.
"…Phoenix King Ozai seems to be forgetting what a threat the Avatar poses. I fear our King has let his power make him careless. Ozai forgets how dangerous the Avatar is. He forgets what a tremendous feat it was that I captured him."
"So what are you proposing, Zhao?"
"Why, nothing. But the Avatar can airbend again, I'm sure of it."
"What? How do you know? How can you tell from just talking to him?"
"You think a weakened bender could have trembled the very air like that? You're a fool, Han."
"If… if the Avatar can bend again, then we need to take more precautions. We need to double the guards here - no, triple them! If he escapes with his strength returned, the Phoenix King will end us."
Zuko's eyes narrowed as the voices drew closer. He didn't dare peek around the corner, though - instead, he watched the shadows of the two generals pass by.
"If the Avatar escapes," Zhao's voice drawled, "then it'll be a humble reminder for our Phoenix King that the Avatar is still very dangerous, and that my men and I are risking our lives everyday to make sure he remains locked up."
The other general in Zhao's company muttered something incomprehensible to the Fire Prince. Still holding his breath, Zuko listened as the footsteps and voices grow fainter and fainter, until nothing but silence could be heard down the corridor.
Zhao. Of course it had been Zhao. Zuko exhaled a plume of smoke, furious. He couldn't imagine what Zhao had said or done to make Aang lose control of his bending - and a part of him didn't want to know. He had to get to Aang's side, no matter what.
Fragmented memories played in Aang's mind, disjointed and confusing, as if they were memories of another lifetime. Aang remembered the Air Sisters, quiet women with shaved foreheads and long, brown hair, welcoming Aang and the other Air Acolytes when they'd arrived at the Eastern Air Temple. He remembered the baby sky bisons following their mother and only approaching the young acolytes with gentle encouragement from the sister-monks. He remembered sleeping curled up against Appa's warm, furry body.
A hiss of air. A groan of metal.
Aang didn't look up. Whoever entered didn't bother to light the pillar fires - instead they quickly shut the heavy metal door behind them, plunging the both of them into darkness.
"Aang," a voice said, breathless and scared and so, so relieved.
The airbender's ears pricked and his eyes opened. Aang had barely started on the 'z' sound of 'Zuko' before he felt lips kissing his mouth clumsily in the dark. Aang closed his eyes.
A small flame burst into being, held gingerly above one palm of the firebender's hand. "What happened?" Zuko asked, doing his best to mask the fear that threatened to shake his voice.
It felt like something was squeezing the air out of Aang's chest - his whole ribcage felt tight. The airbender shut his eyes again, but somehow, it was like the flame Zuko lit burned through the darkness to reach him. Unable to escape the light, Aang steeled himself against the truth. "Zhao killed Appa."
At first, Zuko didn't react. It seemed to take a while for the words to swim through the firebender's mind. Suddenly, Aang was hit by a wave of anger - he realized he didn't want Zuko to say anything. Nothing the firebender could say would help. Nothing Zuko could do would bring Appa back.
But Zuko offerend no words of consolation. Instead, Zuko's voice was a low growl, angry and determined. "I'm going to get you out of here."
"Zuko - what-?"
Instead of answering, Zuko made a 'ha' sound as he inhaled through his nose. He held the breath for a moment, then, with a 'ho' of escaping air, the firebender exhaled and clamped his right hand down on the chain that shackled Aang's right arm. The small fire Zuko had made to light the room extinguished as the firebender placed his free hand onto his right wrist, plunging the two benders into darkness.
"What are you doing?" Aang asked urgently, directing his question to the dark space where he knew the firebender was standing.
Zuko didn't reply. The darkness seemed to press in on them as the silence between them grew. Then, slowly, a faint red glow seemed to shine from the metal, outlining the shape of Zuko's right hand. Aang squinted, trying to focus on the dull glow. It was so tenuous, so faint, it was hard to tell the light from the darkness, as if maybe Aang was imagining the light - but then the glow got brighter. Now Aang was sure that there was definitely an orange glow illuminating the firebender's hand, a glow that grew brighter and brighter and brighter with each passing second. Aang's eyes fixated on it it, unable to look away even as the light burned sharply into his retinas.
It took a moment for Aang to realize that it wasn't Zuko's hand that was glowing, but the metal chains below it. The chains glowed from orange to red to white hot - and then, amazingly, impossibly, they began to melt.
"Wow," Aang breathed.
The chain melted in two, leaving only a few links attached to the shackle around Aang's wrist.
Zuko squatted down and moved on to the short chain binding Aang's right foot to the ground, repeating the breathing and motions required to melt through the steel.
Wow, Aang thought again. At first, all the airbender could think about was how amazing it was that Zuko could produce a heat hot enough to melt through inches of reinforced steel chains. But as he watched the firebender work, the implications of Zuko's firebending began to sink in. The word danced in Aang's mind like a shadow: Escape.
As Zuko focused on melting Aang's ankle chain, the airbender flexed his fingers and moved his free arm in an attempt to get the blood flowing through the limb again.
"How are we going to get past the guards?" Aang asked.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Zuko snapped as he concentrated. The short chain binding Aang's foot glowed white hot and then melted into a pool of liquid metal.
"Zhao's here," Aang said as Zuko moved to the airbender's other foot.
"I know." Zuko frowned. The white glow of burning metal cast harsh shadows that only deepened the firebender's scowl.
It seemed to take Zuko less and less time to burn through the chains. Within seconds, Aang's left leg was free, and the firebender moved on to the final chain that bound Aang's left arm.
Aang still had a thousand questions buzzing in his head, but he knew he had to trust Zuko. If Zuko thought that escape was possible now, then Aang had to go along with it. Aang couldn't afford to lose this opportunity. It was his only chance.
With one last sizzle of melting steel, the Avatar was liberated. Zuko hadn't removed the actual shackles themselves - it was probably to risky to use such intense heat near Aang's skin - but at least the chains were gone and Aang was free. Well, almost free.
"So, what's the plan?" the airbender whispered.
"The eastern exit is our best shot," Zuko replied. "It's the least guarded, so opposition should be lightest there. Are you sure you can airbend?"
Aang grinned. In one smooth movement, he leapt into the air, spun, and pumped his hands forward as a gust of wind followed. "Pretty sure."
Zuko nodded, and maybe Aang imagined it, but he could have sworn he saw the tiniest smile tug at the firebender's lips.
"Follow me," Zuko commanded, jerking his head towards the door.
The firebender led the way out of the cell and down the hallway. Under less pressing circumstances, Aang would have taken the moment to appreciate the change of scenery - after all, he had been looking at the same four walls for almost four years.
But there was no time to celebrate - they had more severe issues at hand. Silently, the two benders slinked their way down the empty corridor that led away from the Avatar's cell. Without warning, Zuko jerked to a stop and held a hand up to halt Aang's movements as well. Aang didn't see the reason for their pause until he saw a pair of sentries pass by the doorway they were hiding in. Aang held his breath until the soldiers were gone. When it was clear, Zuko motioned for Aang to follow him again.
"Your glider hangs in Zhao's trophy room on the floor below us," Zuko whispered as they paused at the entrance to the staircase.
Aang nodded, but didn't say anything - he didn't want to risk too many words, lest someone hear them.
Together, air and fire stole their way down the tower. Aang followed Zuko closely, never letting the firebender get more than three steps ahead of him. If Aang had been alone, he would have gotten lost in the maze of hallways and corridors that comprised the tower floors. Apparently, they had reached the trophy room, because Zuko stopped moving and pointed at an open door across of the one they were in. Aang nodded. I understand.
Zuko rolled and Aang glided silently through the distance between the doorways - but they found the trophy room wasn't empty.
"Hey!" a Fire Nation soldier yelled, startled. The armored grunt stood up from behind the desk he'd been writing at, taking an offensive position and -
The soldier didn't get a chance to say anything else, because Zuko leapt up to smother his hands over the grunt's mouth as Aang kicked the soldier's feet out from under him. The soldier fell to the ground and Zuko was on top of him, cradling the soldier's chin and neck in his hands. There was a sharp sound of snapping bone as Zuko jerked the soldier's head - Aang shut his eyes and looked away.
Quickly, Zuko dragged the dead body behind the desk, so anyone looking into the trophy room wouldn't see it. Aang couldn't bear to watch. Killing was so against his nature, so against all the teachings of his people… but now was not the time or place to be picky about the firebender's methods of escape. So, after saying a quick prayer in his mind for the soldier's soul, Aang focused on trying to find his glider.
There! Hanging on the far wall above an elaborate painting of General Zhao: an ancient artifact that looked like nothing more than an old wooden staff. With a gust of wind to propel him upwards, Aang leapt for the staff and snatched it from the hooks holding it.
Spirits, it felt good to have his staff in hand again. The weight of it was so familiar, so comforting - the airbender stood up with renewed strength. With his staff firmly in hand, Aang mouthed, Let's go.
Zuko nodded and began running, the firebender's body so low to the ground that it was practically bent in two. Aang followed closely behind, and the prince led them to a hallway that ended in a wide window.
"Grab on," Aang shouted, flipping the wings of his glider open with a steady shake of his hand. Aang began sprinting towards the window, completely unafraid of the sixty-foot drop below. Zuko crouched and waited for a chance to grab Aang's waist - and then there it was, Zuko leapt up and held on, and with a swoosh of air, they were out. They were flying.
Aang would have laughed if he hadn't been afraid someone might hear him. He was flying. He had given up hope long ago that he'd ever fly again, but here he was, the wind blowing his face, currents of air swirling around him.
"There's the eastern gate," Zuko called from below Aang, loud enough to be heard over the whirling currents of air that flowed around them.
"Hang on," Aang answered, lifting his chin up and raising them higher into the night sky. There was only a few hundred feet between them and the imposingly tall wall of the eastern gate and the forest beyond - if they could just make it over, undetected…
A shrill alarm pierced through the night air.
"Shit!" Zuko hissed, his voice immediately followed by the high-pitched shriek of a fireball launched their way.
The flaming boulder missed Aang's glider by inches, filling the air with the smell of burning oil. That was too close for comfort, Aang thought to himself. They had to avoid those flaming fireballs unless they wanted to end up on the ground surrounded by a firebending army, so Aang traded speed for altitude; instead of trying to get higher, he tried to fly faster.
Another blazing fireball whizzed their way. Zuko raised his leg in a wide arc and kicked a jet of flames out from his foot, sending the burning boulder back the way it came.
"We won't last much longer," Zuko yelled.
As if to emphasize his point, jets of fire approached the pair from the wall of the eastern gate. Firebending soldiers had gathered on top of it to send blasts of orange fire hurdling their way.
"We're almost there," Aang yelled back. They were just feet away from the wall now - just feet away from the soldiers shooting fire at them. Aang grimaced. "We can make it!"
And they did - the glider sped by the soldiers as the firebenders launched attacks blazing after them. But they didn't make it for long - one of the firebender's attacks caught the tail end of the glider, and now the latter half of the ancient wooden artifact was engulfed in flames.
Zuko let go first. No room for nostalgia, Aang decided as he let go of his burning glider. The Avatar conjured up a bed of air to soften his twenty-foot fall while Zuko hit the ground at a roll.
Once the initial shock of the fall wore off, Aang joined Zuko in surveillance of their situation. There was a respectable amount of distance between the two benders and the eastern gate; they'd managed to put at least a good thirty feet between them and the soldiers. A warm feeling surged in the airbender's chest - they really were going to make it.
Aang ran first towards the forest ahead of them with Zuko lagging a few steps behind to deflect any bursts of fire aimed their way. The forest edge was so close now - Aang could smell it. He could smell the fallen pine needles and the grass and the drops of dew that formed during the night. They just needed to make it to the forest, and then they could lose the soldiers. Just a little further…
A wild rustling began in the brush ahead. The leaves of the foliage trembled violently, as if they had a mind of their own. Aang's feet screeched to a halt, followed by an angry grunt of Zuko's as the firebender slammed into him.
"Why are we stopping?" Zuko shouted as he created a swirling circle of flames to block the firebending attacks that flew upon them.
Aang quickly recovered his footing and motioned towards the forest edge, just in time to see the foilage turn into a field of Yu Yan archers, their arrows all ready and poised at Aang.
Zuko let out a snarl like a wild polar bear-dog as he pushed Aang behind him, plumes of smoke flaring out of the firebender's nostrils with each heaving breath he took.
"Well played, Avatar," a voice purred from the shadows of the forest.
Identical expressions of loathing crossed the benders' faces.
General Zhao manifested from the shadows of the Yu Yan Archer, a smirk splayed across his face. "And if it isn't the Traitor Prince," Zhao said, eyebrows raised. "Now that, I am surprised about."
"Save it, Zhao," Zuko barked, sparks of fire erupting from the former prince's fingertips.
A cruel smile spread across the General's face. "Face it, Prince Zuko." Zhao sneered the word. "You've lost. I have a hundred Yu Yan Archers in these woods - you really think you two can make it out of here alive?"
Aang's eyes scanned the tree line, and a stone sank in his stomach. Zhao wasn't bluffing. A hundred arrowheads glinted in the darkness, and all of them pointed at Aang.
"He's right, Zuko," Aang murmured, closing his eyes as the knowledge sunk in. "We've lost."
Zuko roared the word and kicked his leg up in a long arch, conjuring a massive arc of fire that spread out from the firebender like a tidal wave. As the arc of fire spread out, the air filled with the whistles of arrows flying through the night sky. Many of them broke against the wall of fire, while others were deflected by Aang's quick airbending.
"Now, now, Prince Zuko," Zhao clucked, taking a step forward as flames ignited in both of the general's hands. "Training a Yu Yan archer doesn't come cheaply, you know. I can't have you burning up all of my investments."
Without warning, Zhao sent one of the flames hurtling towards them. Zuko growled and with a flying kick, he sent it back. The air filled with whistling again, but with a swirling orb of air, Aang blocked most of the arrows. Most of them.
Zuko landed and prepared to block an attack that didn't come.
"Hold your fire!" Zhao bellowed. "Someone kill the traitor, and for Agni's sake, get a healer here immediately!"
The words made no sense to Zuko. Why was Zhao calling for a ceasefire and a healer? Well, it didn't matter - with Zhao distracted, Zuko took the opportunity to fire a quick shot. The prince sent a blaze of fire charging towards the General; a Yu Yan archer barely pushed the commanding officer out of the way in time.
Rage and confusion flooded Zuko's body. What the hell could be more important than avoiding death? The former prince's eyes followed Zhao's gaze, across the line of Yu Yan Archers, across the grassy distance that divided the two firebenders, across even the prince's own chest, to the boy at his side -
Zuko's eyes widened until his pupils were nothing more than pinpoints in a stormy sea of gold.
The fletchings of an arrow sticking out from the Avatar's chest. A crimson stain spreading across tattered yellow robes. A wry smile on a young man's face. So this is death, it said.
"No," Zuko whispered.
Somewhere in the distance, someone screamed for a healer.
Zuko leapt forward to catch the airbender's fall. Aang's weight landed softly in his arms, warm and solid and light. Zuko curled his body around the airbender's, shielding him from the arrowheads that shrieked their way.
No. Unable to feel anything but the weight of the other boy in his arms, Zuko didn't notice the tears streaming from his terrified eyes, or the arrowheads that bit at his skin as they flew past. "No!"
"Get away from the Avatar!" Zhao snarled, approaching Zuko with a man dressed in healer's clothes. Zuko flashed them a furious glare, the burning look of a wounded beast. And in that instant, Zuko realized the only reason he was still alive was that Zhao couldn't afford attacking Zuko without risking more injury to Aang, but the thought seemed far away. Unimportant.
Aang smiled up at Zuko, brushing the firebender's tears away. "Zuko…"
Zuko's eyes snapped back to the airbender, and all the rage and pain flooded out of them, replaced by terror. "I have to let them heal you," Zuko choked, his fingernails pressing into the blue arrows of Aang's skin. "They'll take you captive again, but you'll live, and then I'll find you again."
"They'll kill you," Aang murmured. The bright red stain on the airbender's chest kept growing, spreading its tendrils like a flower blossoming.
"But they won't kill you," Zuko countered. With shaky fingers, he grabbed Aang's hand and held the blue arrow against his tear-streaked cheek. "You have to live."
"I need to die."
"I won't let you!" Zuko screamed. Another arrow grazed his shoulder, jerking the firebender backwads. But even the sting of drawn blood couldn't keep Zuko away, and he was clutching Aang again, holding on to the airbender with all that he could.
Aang smiled again, but this time, his smile seemed tired. Like all the airbender wanted to do was close his eyes and go to sleep.
"You have to," Aang sighed at length. "You have to make sure they can't heal me. You have to make sure I can't be saved." With the last of his draining strength, Aang locked on Zuko's gaze, unwavering as he whispered, "Please, Zuko. Please."
The plea pierced through Zuko more painfully than any of the arrows that continued to shriek past his skin. The firebender could barely see past the tears that flooded his vision, but no amount of tears would have made him miss the desperation in the airbender's grey eyes. Those eyes were asking him, those eyes were begging him, and finally, Zuko understood.
Oh, Aang was a horrible person. The airbender had been conniving from the very start. Plotting and planning and scheming, and Zuko was such a fool, such an idiot. This had been Aang's plan all along.
After all, the Air Monks had said to abandon all hope. And ever the obedient student, Aang had obeyed.
"I love you," Zuko sobbed as the realization of what came next flooded through his veins like ice water.
Aang let out the quietest of breaths. "I know. I'm sorry. I love you, too."
Zuko pressed his forehead to the airbender's, pressing his skin against the blue arrow that marked Aang. "I love you. I love you. I love you." The sobs wrecked the prince's whole body, every inch of him trembling from the weight of those three simple words. "I love you. I love you."
Zuko's right hand curled into a fist, defiant, angry, furious with the spirits for all the wrongs they'd inflicted upon the prince: his father, his sister, his own foolishness, and now this. "I love you, I love you."
A swirl of red flames sprung from Zuko's knuckles, and slowly, Zuko brought his fist down. The flames danced between his body and the Avatar's, quickly igniting the airbender's ruined robes. Those robes, a reminder of a culture made extinct by fire. It was only fitting, then, that the last airbender die by fire as well.
"I love you," Zuko wailed, his voice rising above the sound of the fire roaring between their bodies. Zuko's fire consumed the Avatar, and there was nothing Zuko could do but chant those words so Aang would hear them until the end. "I love you. I love you."
And as quickly as he had lit them, Zuko killed the flames, cradling Aang's body to his chest.
Zhao roared like a child throwing a tantrum.
Zuko closed his eyes and pressed his lips to the Avatar's forehead, his tears running down his face onto Aang's too-hot skin. Zuko was such a fool. Aang was such a fool. They were both pathetic, foolish human beings.
Zhao reached Zuko at last and ripped the firebender from Aang's body. "Do you know what you've just done?" Zhao shrieked, shaking the former prince by the shoulders. "Do you know what you've just done?"
Zuko shut his eyes and breathed. What had he done? He had finally made up for his mistakes. He had done the only thing that could be done for the Avatar, and maybe it had been enough to atone for his past sins.
Zuko hated Aang for doing this to him. Zuko loved Aang more than anything.
"Archers!" Zhao screamed, pushing Zuko away from him.
Zuko didn't flinch or open his eyes.
"Pin this traitor to the ground! I want him locked away for the rest of his life!"
Shrill whistles filled the air. Arrows buried their way into the edges of Zuko's armor. The arrowheads held the prince down against the wet grass as soldiers arrived to detain him.
Zuko didn't resist.
Somewhere, Zuko knew, in one of the hidden villages that their tribes had been reduced to, a waterbender was being born with a legacy that spanned thousands of years. Zuko knew this. Aang had known this.
The only thing Zuko could do now was wait and pray. For the rest of his life, Zuko would pray that his sacrifice - their sacrifice - had been enough.
A/N: Thank you for reading!
I was literally obsessed with finishing this story this past week I neglected almost everything to do so, and I'm really, really proud of it. So I would absolutely love any feedback from you, dear readers. This story just sort of wrote itself, which if any of you write, then you know what an absolute high that is.
In one of the nerdy sci-fi shows I watch, it mentions that when you go back in time and make changes to the established timeline, it has ripple effects: the closer you are to the source of the change, the more ripples there are, yet many things still happen the same way (Zuko coming to the good side, Aang's reaction to losing Appa, etc). Anyway, you may have realized there is one gigantic gaping plot hole in my story: why doesn't Aang just Avatar state it up and get out of dodge? Uh... well.. your face, that's why! No, seriously though, I have no excuse.
Ahh I could babble on forever about little things I put in the story that I really loved, but I'd better stop before this A/N turns longer than the story. Thank you again for reading. Please R&R!
To read the original, non-edited sexually explicit version of Imprisoned, please visit my LiveJournal: hikuni.
Thank you to everyone who has left me a review or added this story to your favorites! :) I'm so blown away by your wonderful responses.