At night, the spirits speak to Aang. This in itself is nothing unusual; the Avatar is the bridge to the Spirit World after all, but these spirits have names of those he knew in life.
In the Southern Air Temple, they are more plentiful than anywhere else. Aang is haunted by the specters of old friends and one very special mentor. He knows in other parts of the world that other spirits wait to speak to him. He can only deal with one failure at a time though.
Forgiveness has not come easily. Those that suffered the worse at his hands and lived to tell about it have already forgiven him, on at least some levels.
"I may never forgive you for this." She warns in the tone of voice he has come to dread.
Aang watches as she twists and turns, frowning at her reflection in the mirror.
"You look beautiful, Azula."
She narrows her eyes at his attempt to placate her. "Did Zuko tell you to say that?"
"Not at all." Zuko did of course. Aang has been drawing on the Fire Lord's wisdom and experience in this area of life.
She laughs. "You are a terrible liar."
He gives a sheepish smile; he's been caught. "It's true though."
With a wave over her shoulder, she turns away from the offensive reflection. "You have to say that."
She disappears into the other room and he turns his attention back out the window. The courtyard below is bathed in soft moonlight. There is laughter on the wind currents tonight and if he shuts his eyes he can picture the faces of friends from his childhood. When he opens them, he can see how the moon beams twist and turn into moving images of children at play.
Azula reenters the room and moves to stand behind him.
"They are always playing." His voice is far away and absent.
She knows from experience that he is not here with her now but rather over a century in the past. Wrapping her arms around him from behind, she rests her head on his shoulder but she says nothing.
Words would be useless anyway.
Everywhere he looks he sees these ghosts and at first it was a disconcerting experience to be faced with people he had not laid eyes on for over a hundred years. Eventually he became used to it but having a conversation with empty air does draw some odd looks from the others when they visit.
Iroh sees them though he is not keen to speak about it. Aang thinks Azula does too. The Princess always denies it but the way she glares at the corner of the Great Room says otherwise. Whatever ghost it is, Aang can't see, though he has overheard Azula having a rather harsh one-sided conversation on more than one occasion.
"Come to bed." She whispers against his neck, tightening her arms around him.
Gently he runs his hand over the arms around his stomach. "I'm not tired, Azula." The moon is nearly full making sleep more elusive than normal.
Azula presses a kiss to the side of his neck. "Neither am I."
Smiling at the meaning in her words, he follows where she leads.
Thankfully, their bedroom is a haven from these phantoms and he watches with a fair amount of interest as she sheds her robe and slips under the covers. Rushing to join her, he lets his own clothes mix with hers on the floor.
It's awkward but not because they feel uncomfortable with each other. They overcame that obstacle long ago.
"This is your fault." She accuses as he tries to work around her stomach. It' large, round, and about to burst with baby Air Bender.
Moving beside her, he kisses her. "I seem to recall this was your idea."
Hissing, she rolls to her side away from him. "I said you should start working on rebuilding the Air Nation. I didn't mean like this."
He laughs. "How did you mean it then?"
Azula lets out a sigh as his arms come around her and his lips find that one spot on the back of her neck. "Whatever happened to those people at the Northern Temple?"
He hums against her neck. "Still there but there's only one way to get more Air Benders."
Her retort is lost as he moves to claim her.
Afterward, when Azula is sleeping heavily next to him, Aang stares up at the ceiling, unable to sleep. It's been years since Sozin's comet. So much was destroyed, most of it by him. Rebuilding has taken time. Redemption has taken longer.
The arctic fortress of the Northern Water Tribe stands again as glorious as the day he sunk it beneath the waves. Omashu is raised from the ashes. The eccentric king is gone but Toph seems to be filling the role easily enough. Bumi is understanding and forgiving though it still bites at Aang's conscience.
He let this happen. It could have been prevented.
Roku assures him that it wasn't his fault but Aang can't believe that he is free from blame in this. After all it was his hand that committed these atrocities. It was his power that made it possible. He saw this as a possibility in his visions yet he ignored it. Optimism can be such a downfall at times.
There are times he wishes he could have stopped himself from taking Azula's bending. If he had only subdued her but not taken the fire in her veins, then she could have made short work of him later. Aang knows he would have given her the chance. The blood from Ozai's broken jaw wasn't even dry on his clothes before he dragged her to bed, not so much a bed as the floor of her cell.
Aang pushes these thoughts away. Azula has forgiven him for the liberties and abuses she suffered at his hands but Aang has yet to forgive himself.
Azula could have killed him even without her bending though but her feelings for him, her love for him, gave her pause. Hesitation nearly destroyed them both. He almost killed her the night she stabbed him in the chest. In a way though, it was the beginning of the end.
He's not sure how she got her bending back. At that point, he was so certain that there was no way to undo what he had done, but Azula is not one to give up. She says it was a surprise to her as well but Aang knows her better. Azula is rarely surprised.
Oh, how it hurt. Being struck with lightning is not something he ever wants to repeat again. There was no feeling while he was still under the influence of whatever evil it was inside of him. Essentially dying purged him of it though and when he awoke it was to a world of pain and confusion that he wouldn't wish on anyone.
Katara worked tirelessly to heal him and Azula never left his side. Had it not been for her devotion, he may very well have been finished by any one of the enemies aiming to take him out when he was down. His friends foiled more than one attempt on his life until they finally whisked him away on Appa in the dead of night to the Southern Air Temple.
When he was well enough, he began to make overtures to the other nations, with Zuko's help of course. The Fire Lord was eager to make peace in the world and heal the scars of the war. There was wariness and suspicion but perseverance won out in the long run and now there is a begrudging trust.
Azula shifts in her sleep next to him and he pulls her closer, one hand dropping to her stomach. He smiles at the midnight acrobatics of his son. Azula complains about the baby's energy levels but she really is excited at the prospect. Aang is just glad that their child wasn't conceived until after Azula struck him down under Ba Sing Se. He's not sure how he would have felt knowing she had been forced into it.
She stayed with him through all of that. It's something he still has not quite figured out, not that Azula is keen to speak about it. Aang knows she loved him, even then. It was his own love for her that caused things to become so twisted. The love and desire he felt for her turned into obsession, obsession led to possessiveness and possessiveness turned into other things.
Sleep won't come to him tonight so he quietly slips out of her arms.
Gyatso is waiting for him in the courtyard. The apparition looks so real and alive that Aang feels transported back to his childhood.
"The choices we make shape our future, sometimes closing one door but opening another."
Aang sits cross-legged beside his mentor and just listen's to the old man's words as they watch the ghosts of Air Bending children play.
"Each choice you make, Aang, will close the door to one path but open the way to another. You must always remember that you are choosing your destiny."
Aang looks up at the full moon overhead. Yue's sad face shining down upon them. He knows what Gyatso is saying. It was the same point Roku had made.
Aang chose this, not in the same way he would choose what to eat for dinner but he still made a decision.
This could have all gone another way and it wouldn't have always been based on his decisions.
In another life and another time, things would have been so different.
In this other life, it would not be Azula waiting in bed for him. She would have been locked away in a prison cell, still his enemy until her dying day, ranting and raving at specters and hallucinations.
Ozai wouldn't have been executed. He would have still lost his bending but not his life. Aang isn't sure if this would have been better but at least there wouldn't have literally been blood on his hands.
Katara would not be Fire Lady. That honor would have been reserved for Azula's friend, Mai.
Mai and Ty Lee would have lived but have earned the eternal scorn of the Princess.
The peace would have been marked with the creation of a new city that brought all four nations together and the Air Nation would have thrived on an island in the harbor of that city.
These are the things that could have been but aren't.
When he mentions to Azula this alternate reality, she regards him with a distant sort of curiosity. Her eye flicker to the corner of the room but only for a moment.
"He wouldn't have hated me." Her voice is soft but her eyes are far away as they look out the window to the limitless sky beyond.
Aang doesn't need to ask who her thoughts are centered on.
Ozai wouldn't have hated her but he also wouldn't have exactly loved her either.
"He demanded to speak with you the day of Sozin's comet." Aang confesses. He's not sure if it is something she would have wanted or not.
"Did he?" Her voice sounds so far away.
Aang nods but doesn't say anything. He had refused Ozai's request of course. The fallen king had screamed in defiance and Aang had just as quickly silenced him.
"I wouldn't have wanted to hear what he had to say anyway." Azula shrugs as she pulls herself back to the present and offers him a small smile. "My father died the night I left the Fire Nation to find Zuko."
She returns her attention to the book in her hand. Her other hand comes to rest on her stomach and she taps lightly with her fingers. He sees an answering kick and reaches out to rest his hand over the taut skin feeling their son in motion.
"I wouldn't have changed it you know." She says quietly without taking her eyes off the book. "I still would have left and helped you to end the war, even if it took longer than we thought it would."
The war didn't end until a year after Sozin's comet, a year of absolute hell for everyone. The weight of guilt washes over him and it must show in his eyes because her hand comes to rest over his own on her stomach.
"Not even that." Her voice is soft and her eyes bore into his. "That is what led us here and I would not give this up for anything."
It could have gone another way: if Azula had followed her father's path, if she had persevered in trying to capture him, if she had not loved him.
It would have been a different path, a different life, and they would have been different people to each other.
Azula made her choices as well.
Aang's glad she did.
Author's Note: With this I end "Glimmers and Glances." I do hope that it has been a worthy ending as I agonized about it. Thank you to Selarom1219 for your opinion. Sometimes when you immerse yourself too deeply into something you can't see the surface anymore. I shall turn my attention back to "A Road Not Taken" as perhaps I have cleansed my palate enough to finish it up and move on to the next story. Thank you all for reading and reviewing!
P.S. I have considered taking this story apart and putting it into order. That would require me dissecting chapters and it may not flow as smooth but if anyone would like for me to do so then please let me know otherwise I will not add an additional chapter with it all in order.