Too many plot bunnies and not enough time with work and all. I do apologize for the wait and make my humble offering.
The temple sanctuary of the Southern Air Temple is quiet. Standing just inside the entrance, Aang eyes the lifeless stone statues of his past.
"Imagine that one day a future Avatar will be standing in that very spot questioning all his or her decisions and wondering what you would have done differently and if he, or she, can live up to your legacy."
There is a teasing lilt in Azula's voice as it drifts down from her perch on the second tier of statues.
Aang gives a hesitant smile. "I doubt my legacy will be that great."
Azula answers with her trademark smirk. "You underestimate yourself, Avatar." She purrs as she steps behind the statues, obscuring her from his view. "No one else has done what you have done." Her voice echoes off the stone walls as she speaks. "You ended the greatest military campaign of the most powerful nation in the world, took the bending of one of the most powerful Fire Lords in Fire Nation history, and managed to make me domestic."
He gives a small laugh at this. "Is that what you call it?"
"Something like that." Azula answers as she weaves her way through the statues in front of him. Her eyes are alight with a familiar fire as she stops to stand in front of him. Long red nails trail down the front of his robes. "At least as domestic as I will allow."
That's what it comes down to: what Azula will give. Compromise is not a word she is familiar with. Coyly, she steps around him, feet light on the cold stone of sacred ground and he turns to watch her.
His voice stops her a few feet from the entrance. "Would you really have left me if I had killed Lao?"
This is what Ozai would have done. I won't be with a man like that. At the time her words had barely registered through the haze of his rage at the man that dared to take what was his. Aang's only focus at the time had been revenge.
Azula turns her head just enough that he can see her profile but her hair falls hiding her eyes from him. "Ozai had his moments." Her father had many qualities and not all of them bad. "But look at what he and my grandfathers before him did with all that power."
They waged a war lasting a century, brought the world to its knees and ended the life of an entire nation.
"It wouldn't have come to that." It couldn't have. Aang's certain of it.
She turns around at this to face him. "Do you really think this will be the last time someone threatens us?"
Aang meets her steady gaze. Avatars rarely meet a peaceful end. There is always conflict, danger, and the threat extends to friends and family. Briefly his thoughts flit to their son, safely ensconced in the Fire Nation under the Fire Lord's watchful eye. A small child is an easy target and some would have no qualms about exploiting this weakness. Closing his eyes, he can already see what lengths he would go to in order to protect his family.
"Power corrupts, Aang." Her voice is soft but manages to carry in the large space. He opens his eyes again to meet his wife's earnest look. "What would happen to the world if the Avatar became corrupt?"
Aang doesn't answer. He already knows where that road would lead.
Zuko's expression when Appa lands says it all. Azula happily bounds off the giant bison onto the palace grounds and eagerly sweeps the tiny bundle out of the Fire Lord's arms.
"How are things?" He asks in a low voice.
Azula shifts the baby in her arms before looking over her shoulder at her husband as he lands on the ground behind her. Aang's pace is slower and for good reason.
"Fine, fine. Go easy on him, Zuzu." She smiles as she slips around him and walks towards the palace leaving him to it.
Aang watches her retreating back before turning his attention to his friend's furious glare.
"Zuko, I shouldn't have left like I did."
Golden eyes narrow at him. "No, you shouldn't have." Zuko growls resisting the urge to really lay into Aang. "Do you even know how much you hurt her?"
Aang grimaces. "Yes. Azula and I spoke about it."
The Fire Lord shakes his head. "I don't think you understand, Aang. Azula does not deal with abandonment well."
Aang does know, perhaps better than Zuko could; Ursa's midnight disappearance, Zuko's banishment, and finally Ozai's defeat all took at toll on Azula. Aang's leaving was only the last in a long line of people walking out of her life one way or another.
The truth of it must show in his eyes because Zuko sighs in resignation. "Just promise me that you won't do that again?"
It's one of the few things Aang can be sure of. "I promise. They mean the world to me Zuko."
The Fire Lord weighs his words before nodding. As he turns towards the palace, Aang falls alongside with him.
"Azula tells me Lao is still alive."
Zuko nods. "He's already been tried and found guilty of treason." The evidence was overwhelming and Aang expected as much so he says nothing. "He is set to be executed." Zuko adds, eyeing Aang carefully as they walk inside.
Aang just smiles. "I'm going to see my son. I'll talk to you later, Zuko."
The Fire Lord watches the Avatar's retreating back. He's confident his friend won't let him down again. Aang keeps his promises.
Travelling tends to take its toll on Azula, especially when it is a trip as emotionally loaded as this one. The bed is large and comfortable and she sinks into the soft comforter. On her chest the tiny head of her son is pillowed and he stares at her with large gray eyes.
The bed dips with the weight of her husband as he lies down next to them.
"Everything go well with Zuko?" She murmurs sleepily.
"Yes." He answers softly as he gently picks the baby up off her chest.
She opens her eyes just enough to watch.
"He's grown." Aang observes in the same quiet voice.
The baby gurgles as tiny fingers clutch the larger ones of his father.
"They tend to do that." Her eyes drift close again.
When she wakes later, the sun is already setting. Beyond the bedroom door to the balcony she can hear Aang's voice and the answering giggles of Athyer. Rousing herself, she runs her fingers through tousled hair as she steps outside. Tiny whirlwinds fly across the tabletop and Athyer laughs as they twist and collide with one another. Aang's face is bright with laughter as well and she watches as the two Air Benders play.
When she finally takes the empty seat beside them, Aang says quietly, "I want to have more." Shyly, he looks over at her.
"I suspected as much." Azula says neutrally. "Repopulating the world with Air Bender's will take time."
A glint of mischief is in his eye as he holds his hand out to her. "Would you help me with that?"
Azula tilts her head at him, golden eyes shining in the setting sun. "You realize we may have nothing but Fire Benders after this?"
Aang smiles. "As long as it's with you."
It's a smile Azula returns.
The hour is late when she rises from the bed they share. Quietly, she dresses and before slipping out the door she takes one last look at the sleeping Air Benders.
Zuko is waiting for her and the Fire Lord looks as tired as she feels. "Are you sure about this?"
"It was my idea, Zuzu." She snaps at him in a whispered tone as they make their way through the darkened halls of the palace.
"Don't call me that." He corrects with the same quiet bite. "Does he know you left?"
Azula scowls at him. "You really have to ask?"
Zuko growls as he pushes the door open for her. "Do what you have to do and get out. I really do not want to have to explain this to Aang or anyone else for that matter." The metallic flash of a key shines in his hand.
Azula covers it with her own hand. "You forget whose daughter I am, Brother." With that she is gone.
Lao stares through the slotted windows of his prison cell. The night sky is filled with an array of twinkling stars. He has never felt so small before.
Failure wasn't an option but it was the outcome. The trial was swift, smooth and totally unnecessary. Fire Lord Zuko put him on for show as a warning to others that would challenge his rule. That treacherous viper of a sister, Azula, sat at the Fire Lord's side with a regal air about her. If the nobility really knew the truth of the woman's deviousness then it would not have been Lao on trial.
The quiet jangling of keys at his cell door grabs his attention. The door opens as a dark figure steps inside and the torches flare to life in a brilliant blue.
Lao stands and eyes the Princess curiously. "To what do I owe this honor, Your Highness?"
Azula's face is unreadable. "I have come to check on my favorite prisoner."
He isn't sure how to take this and just gapes at her.
Looking over her shoulder, she orders. "Leave us." The door closes behind her and the retreating footsteps of guards can be heard down the stone corridor. "You've caused me quite a bit of trouble, Lao." She says calmly as she steps forward to the bars of the small cage inside his cell.
"It was my duty to try to restore the Fire Nation to glory. Fire Lord Zuko is mistaken about the way things should go." Lao says as he watches her reach inside her cloak.
"Zuzu will do fine. The Fire Nation is still the most powerful nation in the world and continues to grow in influence every day. No one opposes us." Her smile is mysterious. "How could they?" In her gloved hand she holds a small key.
Lao swallows nervously as she unlocks the door to the cage. "May I ask what you are doing, Azula?"
She smiles that smile at him again. "I don't like it when people cause trouble, especially when it nearly costs me my marriage." She pulls the door open.
Lao considers her words. "I highly doubt the Avatar would have ended things with you. After all you do have a child together." He takes a step back as she enters his cage.
"True," Azula says with a lazy smile. "We plan on having more but that is beside the point. I have a promise to keep to you, Lao."
Casting about the cage he looks around as he retreats back from her advance. "What promise was that?"
"Above all things, Lao, I am my father's daughter and a princess always keeps her promises."Azula holds a hand between them, a dazzling blue flame dancing in her palm. "Give Long Feng my regards in the Spirit World."
If Zuko is surprised, his face doesn't show it. "Done already?"
Azula smirks. "Father taught me well, Zuzu."
The Fire Lord rolls his eyes at the nickname as he falls into step beside her. "Should I be proud that you can kill two men in cold blood in less than ten minutes?"
"You make it sound like I did a sloppy job." She admonishes as she strips off the bloodied gloves and cloak. "Trust me, Zuzu, it was done with finesse. They died honorless deaths at their own hands. Cowards until the end."
Zuko scowls. "As far as the prison doctor is concerned."
"Of course. It's always necessary to have a good man on your side." She stops outside the door to her rooms and turns to him with an earnest look in her eye. "Thank you, Zuko."
He blinks at her uncertain of what she intends. "For what?"
"For being there. You're a good brother." Soft lips brush his cheek before she disappears into the darkened rooms.
Zuko considers the now closed door and wonders just how much his sister has really changed.
The bedroom is dark and quiet as she slips lithely between the sheets. Husband and son are sleeping as quietly as she left them. Settling against the pillow, Azula lets her own eyes close and she breathes a sigh of relief.
With the untimely deaths of Lao and Long Feng, the loose ends are tied up. Azula and Zuko thought it best to finish them quietly and the Fire Lord gave into her demand that she dispense with the punishment.
"It's what Ozai would have done." Aang's sleepy voice says from beside her.
Azula sighs. Keeping secrets will be difficult. "Ozai would have made a spectacle of it. I just tied up loose ends."
The bed shifts as he rolls to his side to look at her. Azula returns his steady gaze.
"You fought so hard to keep me from doing it yet you sneak out in the middle of the night and do it yourself." His voice is free of accusation but there is a quiet insistence.
Rolling to her side she mimics his posture. "The Avatar must do what is right and good. There was nothing good and right about it. Left alive they would have caused more trouble in the long run."
Silence falls as they stare at one another with the sleeping bundle of Athyer between them.
"People said the same about you."
Red lips smirk. "I never said they were wrong."
He returns the smile before sighing and letting the somber mood overtake him again. To take a life would have been to compromise his ideals. It's such a fine line to walk and dire consequences if he fails. In visions, Aang had seen what could have come from it if he had his way and actually murdered either Lao or Long Feng. A part of him thinks it's unfair that spiritually his hands are tied while Azula is free to act on these things. It is the difference between Air and Fire.
She speaks as if reading his thoughts. "There are some things you should let me handle, Aang."
Aang hesitates at this suggestion. "So you're saying I should let you do my dirty work?"
Azula smiles as she looks down at the baby between them. "Yes."
No matter how much she has changed in the years since the war there are certain innate qualities Azula possess.
"I'm not sure that would be a good thing." He answers with uncertainty. In some ways it is better that his hands are tied. Temptation is a powerful thing. Knowing what his wife is capable of concerns him. Reaching out he strokes her cheek. It's all right there at his fingertips.
Between them, Athyer begins to fuss and squirm. Azula scoops him up and silently moves through the room to the other door that leads to the Royal Nursery. The soft click of the door signals her return.
"Mai is getting less grouchy." Azula murmurs as she slips back under the covers after having delivered her hungry son.
The Fire Lady never complains but her glares say she does not appreciate the lack of sleep caring for two infants gives her.
As Azula settles her weight over him, Aang says, "Maybe next time you will have to return the favor." He smiles at his wife's scowl and shakes off the weight of their previous conversation. There will be time later to consider the road they are on.
"Next time I don't intend to be here." Her lips claim his before he can ask.
When her eager lips work their way down his jaw line to his neck, Aang tightens his arms around her and manages to say, "Where will you be?"
She smiles against his shoulder. "Wherever you are."
Aang considers this as Azula's lips and fingers burn across his skin.
So Lao and Long Feng got his. Azula is still her delightfully evil self and we are all one big happy family. Thank you reading and being patient.