Summary: When they all come together again. Seven reunions in the immediate aftermath of Sozin’s Comet. Mentions of Kataang, Maiko.
A/N: Spoilers for the end of the series, obviously. This originally started out as a little thing to make juxtaposie feel better after losing a fight to a wet tile floor, and just grew from there.
The look on Katara’s face when she saw him was almost enough to make Sokka regret the whole thing. Even before she saw his leg and noticed the pained look on his face, he could see that she looked exhausted, weaving through the crowd with a blank, shocked expression on her face, like she was waiting for someone to tell her what she needed to do. When Suki finally caught her attention and Katara rushed up to see Sokka, the sick, fearful look on her face forced him to try to sit up a little straighter, as if he was going wave off all of her worries and show her he was just fine.
The leg, definitely broken as Toph had generously pointed out for him, prevented that. He got partway up before the shifting of his pelvis jarred his injury. To his credit, Sokka managed to stop himself from crying out, but he was definitely trembling by the time Katara had settled next to him, her hands already scrambling for her water skin.
He couldn’t believe that one little movement had hurt that much – when the battle had first ended and Suki was helping him around, he’d felt like he could have danced. Then as they’d made their way back to the Fire Nation with the powerless former Fire Lord, the adrenaline that had been fueling him had receded and the ache in his leg had grown. Despite the relatively warm temperature outside, he could feel cold sweat beading his brow.
“How did you do this?” Katara asked incredulously, the blue glow of her healing flaring up in the corner of his eye. Sokka closed them and let his head fall back. “This is – this is – oh Sokka.”
“Well,” Sokka began through gritted teeth, “me and Suki and Toph jumped onto the war balloons and we were fighting off a bunch of Fire Nation soldiers –“
Katara held up a hand. “Never mind,” she mumbled. “I don’t want to hear about it now.”
“I fell off the balloon,” Sokka added helpfully.
“I said I didn-“ Katara started to snarl, before stopping herself. “You fell off the balloon? Really?”
Sokka attempted to shrug off her concern. “Not that far.”
Katara lapsed into silence as she focused on his leg. There were still people bustling around them, Suki and Toph (who’d excused themselves to allow the siblings to reunite) were close by, and yet everything around them seemed far away, and muted. This was the first time Katara had healed such an extensive injury for him – the first time he’d ever incurred such an injury – and he was trying hard not to think about the shifting bones or the crawling tissue he could feel in his leg.
When Katara finally pulled away, she was still frowning. “You should be able to get up and get around now,” she said. “But be careful with it. I wish you could have gotten to me faster. I don’t think it’ll be the same.”
“Not much will.” Sokka sat up, flexing at the knee and feeling both proud and surprised – the latter at how much better he felt, the former at his sister’s abilities.
She stood up from her crouch and held out a hand. He took it, pulling her into a hug once he was on his feet. Katara tensed before returning it, looping her arms around him and leaning against him.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” he murmured. For however powerful Katara grew as a master waterbender, she was still his little sister.
Her arms tightened around him. “I’m glad you’re safe too,” she replied, and then she pulled away from him to raise an eyebrow. “And don’t think I don’t know that the reason you didn’t get here sooner was because you were taunting Ozai.”
“The Loser Lord!” Sokka crowed, and for a split second the grin that crossed Katara’s face was the old one he knew from when they were kids and he used to make her shriek with laughter.
“Come on,” she coaxed, throwing one of his arms around her shoulders. “Let’s go find Dad.”
The only reason he was surprised by Bato was because he’d had his eyes peeled for his kids. Hakoda couldn’t help wondering if there were more people gathered in this one single court square than there were in the entire Southern Water Tribe; it seemed that way as he navigated around one person and then another and another, none of them anyone he really wanted to see.
Until: a flash of blue, and then there were arms hugging him. Too tall to be his son; when Hakoda pulled away he was cheered to see Bato’s face smiling at him. At first, the two warriors could only stand there, grinning like idiots until Bato’s face turned much more sober. “I heard terrible things about the Boiling Rock. Are you okay?”
“I wasn’t there for long,” Hakoda told him, his smile growing larger as he thought of his son’s heroic mission. “Sokka helped bust me out.”
“I’m glad.” Bato shook his head, as if to loosen the awful things that his mind had been holding. “I heard they do not treat foreigners well.”
“They don’t treat their own citizens well,” Hakoda answered simply, before turning his concern back to his companion: “How about you? I wish we could have gotten to all of you as well before the end.”
“Ha!” The chuckle that came out of Bato’s mouth didn’t sound particularly traumatized. “We’d been sharing cramped quarters on that boat for weeks before the invasion. I was well prepared for prison.”
It was a wicked insult – but also one that Hakoda had somehow set himself up for. For a moment he was a teenager again: he had no children, had not gained (and lost) a wife, hadn’t even experienced his first kiss yet. He was tall and awkward and gangly, and his simplest joy in life was ignoring everyone around him in favor of blowing off steam with his best friend.
He exhaled sharply before the hilarity bubbled up inside of him, and as a result Hakoda found himself gasping as he and Bato, regardless of the crowd around them, descended into gales of laughter.
She was shining her knives when there was a familiar sound at the door: the clinging of keys, followed by the clanking of the lock in the door, topped off by a long creak as the door swung open slowly.
Mai didn’t even look up.
“Your boyfriend won.” It was the first time she heard the news, but it wouldn’t be the last. It would remain notable, however, for being the only time she heard the words spoken not with surprised optimism but with shocked disgust.
Mai held up a knife against the sunbeam filtering between the bars of the window. She wondered, not for the first time, where Ty Lee had been sent. She wondered if Ty Lee had heard the news yet.
Finally convinced that the surface of the blade was as clean as it was going to get – she could practically see the pores of her skin – she lowered it, looked up at her uncle, and smiled. Not her usual smirk, the one where she made it clear that she was laughing at you, not with you, but a real, genuine, showing her teeth and reaching her eyes sort of smile. It was almost, if she dared to use the word that Ty Lee would favor, sunny.
“I knew he would,” she said simply. She could easily launch into an explanation, about Zuko and his abilities; not just firebending but his sword skills, and even beyond that into his drive and his determination and his passion, but it just wasn’t her style. Her uncle looked unnerved enough at seeing her smile for what was probably the first time in her natural life.
“Right.” He cleared his throat, shifting his weight, and said haltingly, “You’re no longer an enemy of the throne. I can let you go.”
Mai kept smiling, and stood up. There were no personal affects to gather; her knives were on her person and her thoughts were already miles away with the new Fire Lord. She honestly thought the muscles in her face might cramp, she was so happy. A part of her couldn’t help wondering if it was because this was the first thing she’d ever been promised in her entire life that she might have actually wanted.
“Are you going to him then?” her uncle asked, and Mai couldn’t help raising her eyebrows at him. “Your father will want to know,” he quickly explained, and Mai just nodded.
Before she could cross the threshold between her cell and certain freedom, however, he stopped her one more time: “How are you sure he still wants you? He’s the Fire Lord now. He could have anyone he wanted.”
Mai almost felt guilty for wasting her earlier opportunity to smile disarmingly at him. Instead she raised an arm and patted him on the shoulder. It looked like she was going to have to explain a little of Zuko’s nature after all. “He’s not the type to forget someone who supported him – ” loved him “ – before he found his good fortune.”
Her uncle’s mouth twisted. “Don’t worry,” Mai said reassuringly before sweeping from the room entirely. “I’ll put in a good word for you with him.”
Avatar Aang had always considered himself a good natured soul; he always spoke kindly of people, and gave as much as he could while asking little in return. He tried to see the best in people and – after much soul searching – had come to embrace his position as Avatar by seeing the hope and joy that it gave to many people.
At the moment, however, his general opinion of people was at an all time low, tempered by his exhaustion from battle and his general irritation at being faced with so many people when he really only wanted to see one.
People were clapping him on the back, shouting things at him, and though he tried to at least smile in acknowledgment, there were simply too many, and none that he especially cared about.
He almost didn’t hear her shout over the crowd, though she certainly made her presence known; people were shoved aside, exclaiming before their protests died in their throats once they’d seen who was barreling past them.
For a long time Aang had debated what he would do once he saw Katara again. Most nights he’d optimistically decided he’d have nothing to lose at that point and would just go for the kiss. On the worst nights he’d been afraid of what state in which he would return to her.
In the end, however, nothing his imagination came up with even came close: Katara broke through the crowd, and they stared at each other for a single heartbeat before Katara opened her arms and he fell into her.
The next few moments were spent lost: both were trying to talk over the other, each muffled by the death grip they had on each other. Finally Katara pulled away, her eyes bright. “Sokka told me what you did.” She took both of his hands in hers. “I’m so, so, proud of you.”
“Yeah, well.” Finally having her nearby helped drain all of the tension from him. Suddenly, he was so tired. He stared down at their entwined hands, afraid of how he would look if he met her eyes. “I couldn’t hold your hands knowing I had taken a life with mine.”
Her grip on his hands tightened, and when he tried to take them back she refused to let him go. No more words were necessary.
He could hear her screaming even before they swung open the heavy metal door that led to the row of dungeons disappearing down the hall. For the first time in his entire life, he could honestly say that he was grateful towards Zuko; his son had warned him of Azula’s mental state before sending him away.
Ozai felt revulsion curl in his stomach. He had been sure that Azula could handle the job that he’d given her. It had been a simple one; keep the capital running, and take down Zuko. It should have been easy.
Zuko was two steps behind the guards escorting him. Ozai could hear him breathing behind Azula’s hoarse shrieks. Idly, he wondered if the Avatar had taken more than his firebending, if he’d taken his very life force, if this was some kind of drawn out nightmare before the kid finally finished him. His feet are dragging on the floor, even though the guards were trying to keep pace with him.
This dungeon was cold. Ozai had lived in the Fire Nation for his entire life, had escorted his father, who had overseen the very construction of these dungeons, and he couldn’t ever remember this kind of chill being present before. Dead bodies, he knew very well, were cold.
Even though he was fighting to keep his eyes open, he found the strength to lift his head and gaze at her as they passed. Azula’s hands were bound, but her feet were free as they paced the six steps of her cell over and over and over. There were two guards posted in front, looking entirely nonplussed at the steam and blue flames billowing out at them from between the bars. Her eyes skated over Ozai’s, meeting for the briefest of glances. There was no inkling of recognition there.
He dropped his eyes again. One of the guards pulled out a ring of keys, fumbling with the lock as he tried not to look at Ozai. This couldn’t be a nightmare, this had to be real. The guards were tiptoeing around him like he still had some remnant of power, and while the thought gave him a vague sense of satisfaction, some part of him knew it would only be temporary. He could already see the way the guards looked at Zuko, the way they talked to him and walked near him. He would lose what little power he still had to his son.
The Avatar had drained his firebending from him. His son had stolen Azula’s soul. Azula wept and raged in the cell just a few feet from his own, but even with her cries ringing in his ears Ozai couldn’t help thinking that, if given the choice, he would have preferred to keep the firebending.
Ty Lee’s greeting was exactly as enthusiastic as Mai had expected it would be.
“I’m happy to see you too,” Mai mumbled into the girl’s shoulder, wondering if she was turning blue yet. Then, pulling away, she raised an eyebrow. “Why are you still dressed like that?”
Ty Lee grinned at her through the now familiar white paint. “I met up with the real Kyoshi warriors in prison. They’re going to teach me how to fight with the fans if I teach them how to block chi.”
“Oh.” Mai blinked at her, the news – and its implications – coalescing quickly in her mind. “You mean you’re leaving?”
Ty Lee shrugged, giving her a lopsided grin. “Yeah. For a little while, anyway.”
Mai groped for words, entirely unsure of how she felt about this. It was still a new concept to her, figuring out what she really wanted sometimes. The only thing she knew for sure was that she wanted Ty Lee to be happy.
She didn’t need to say anything; Ty Lee mercifully changed the subject. Her smile turned uneasy, and she sounded nervous as she finally acknowledged what – who – still stood between them. “Have you seen Azula yet?”
Mai shook her head. Zuko had recounted to her the entire story – their Agni Kai, Azula’s lightning, and how his sister had been taken down by the waterbender. She wasn’t ready to see Azula yet.
“I’ve only heard a little bit about… you know.” Ty Lee was wringing her hands anxiously. “I want to see her before we leave but…”
“But you don’t know if you’d just make her worse?” Mai asked, somehow feeling relieved. There was no doubt in her mind now about what had happened, how necessary it had been. She was sure in her heart that Zuko was the right Fire Lord, but a part of her was sad that Azula had been sacrificed for his sake – and that she couldn’t disclaim part of the responsibility for Azula ending up where she was.
“Yeah.” Ty Lee gave her a sad smile. “Maybe it would be better to wait.” There was no need to specify who would benefit from doing so.
“When will you leave?” Mai asked, hoping to make Ty Lee smile again. Anything was better than dwelling on Azula. They had carved out their own little corner away from the various reunions and celebrations around them, but Mai couldn’t help feeling like eyes were on them, like everyone knew who they were and what they had done. Her fingers itched to reach her knives out of old habit.
“Soon.” Ty Lee’s smile was still sad. “I’m not sure if we’re heading straight to Kyoshi or not, but we’re definitely going.”
Mai’s stomach hurt. Ty Lee could never stand still, whether she was shifting her weight impatiently or twirling her hair between her fingers or biting her nails – Ty Lee made sure the whole world knew how she was feeling. Mai stood perfectly still, entirely unsure of how to express the thoughts on her mind. “I’ll miss you,” she finally said, when the silence between them threatened to turn awkward.
“Oh Mai.” Ty Lee threw her arms around her, locking her arms around her neck. “You’re going to be so happy here. I can tell. You’re aura has never been brighter.”
Mai snorted even though Ty Lee was being serious. It was the only way she could think, however, to cover the sound of sniffling.
It was hard, finding a place where he could rest without anybody bothering him, but it was worth the extra effort on Aang’s part. There was one last thing he had to do before he could rest – which he was desperate to do. He was tired, down to his very bones.
It was better not to think about that for the moment. He closed his eyes and took deep breaths, feeling his body slow down and relax in response. Meditation was second nature to him.
There was no need to slip into the Avatar State. Aang had learned already that he could call them anytime he needed. He opened his eyes, and they were there, all of them, sitting in front of him, all watching him through familiar eyes.
“Avatar Aang.” He knew every single one of them; glancing over their faces told him their names, like he’d always known. Smiling brightly, he waved to them, chuckling hesitantly and scratching his head when all he received in turn were solemn gazes.
He cleared his throat and sat up tall. “I’ve finished it. I’ve defeated the Fire Lord, and I didn’t have to kill him to do it.”
“We saw, Aang,” Avatar Yangchen responded, smiling gently at him. “We all lent our power to you.”
Aang frowned. He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting from this meeting, but it hadn’t been this sort of quiet, impassive silence. “Everyone said I had to kill him,” he began haltingly, trying hard to squash the impulse to fidget in place.
“Avatar Aang, we understand why you have called us here.” He lifted his eyes to meet Avatar Kyoshi, speaking for all. “You will hear much praise from many people very soon, but not here. You have accomplished something you were born to do; you have done your duty, and you have done it well, but you must not dwell on your achievement. Your work as the Avatar begins anew tomorrow.”
Aang’s shoulders slumped. This was definitely not what he was expecting, or hoping, to hear from them. They had a point though – Zuko needed to take the throne properly, the war needed ending, and damages needed repairing. The dead needed mourning and the living needed help. He was responsible for those needs.
He sighed. “You’re right,” he mumbled, bowing his head respectfully as, one by one, they vanished from before him.
Roku was the last, sitting across from him. The normally stoic firebender was smiling at him. He and Aang gazed at each other for a long moment before Aang finally returned a hesitant smile.
“You’ve done well, Aang,” Roku said softly as he faded from view. “Gyatso would be very proud of you.”
His smile broadening, Avatar Aang picked himself up off the ground and decided that he needed a nap before returning to his duties.