Chapter 1: Successors
When the former Earth King Kuei showed up on their doorstep with not just his bear Bosco but a small herd of creatures he called ‘deer’ -- not lynx-deer, not duck-deer, not kanga-deer, just ‘deer’ that he had found in a strange land far, far away –- Aang just shrugged, and said they could share Appa’s grazing terraces.
Appa welcomed the company. And more than welcomed them…
No one was quite sure how Appa did it, but two years later, the spring fawns started flying.
Sokka looked at them dancing overhead in a spring shower, and said, “Let’s call them rain-deer!”.
A/N: This first drabble was written for my young daughter, who thought it was a good origin for Santa’s sleigh-pullers!
Chapter 2: The Closed Door
Toph is the Blind Bandit; the best at Earth-Bending! Even King Bumi had been impressed with her.
But reminding herself of that didn’t help stop her shaking. Just beyond that door….
Aang touched her shoulder and said gently, “I could go in with you…”
She half-laughed, half-sobbed. “Th-thanks, Twinkletoes, but no thanks. And the same goes for all of you,” she said without turning to the friends gathered behind her. “I have to do this alone.”
She didn’t have to break down the door; a servant opened it for her.
“H-hello, Father. Hello, Mother. I’m ho--”
Chapter 3: Legends
“…And the Fire Nation fleet and the insane Phoenix King were defeated!” the storyteller told his rapt audience. “And when it was no longer needed, the sword vanished from the sight of men!”
“Forever?” a little boy asked in disappointment, as an elderly couple walked past the gathering.
“Perhaps… perhaps not! For legend says that if ever our world falls out of balance, the mighty sword Celestial Justice shall return from the heavens, and pick a worthy warrior to fight alongside the Avatar and restore balance again!”
“ ‘Celestial Justice’?” Sokka muttered to Suki, “I called it my Space Sword!”
Chapter 4: The Dai Li
Twenty earthbenders, gathered underground, review their options. Azula had banished the Dai Li, before Zuko defeated her.
Offer their services to Zuko?
The new Fire Lord would not accept. Even if he didn’t assume them to be some contingency plan of Azula’s… he knew they’d broken oaths once already.
Return to Ba Sing Se?
The city they’d betrayed? A death sentence.
Hide in the Fire Nation colonies?
…A possibility. The war was over, but the fate of the colonies was still in dispute. A situation filled with strife, and leaders often emerged from strife.
Earthbenders listen, and wait for opportunity.
Chapter 5: More To Learn
Katara took a deep breath, and went through the door. Seated with her class of children, Yugoda turned in surprise as she bowed low and said quietly, “Master, please teach me to heal.”
Yugoda raised an eyebrow. “I thought you were determined to be a warrior, young lady. You certainly convinced Pakku of that!”
Katara winced, remembering. “During wartime, yes, I was. But now we are at peace… And it took me five weeks to wake Aang from a coma, after he was hit by lightning. And I couldn’t heal my brother’s broken leg properly! Please, Master, teach me healing…”
Chapter 6: Heads of State
Monarchs should not whine. But he did anyway. “…Do you have to go?”
“Yes,” Iroh said firmly. “My tea shop will not run itself. And you’ll do fine now.”
“We’ve looked over your entire court; decided who can be trusted enough to advise you and who is apt to cause trouble. You also know now who your best generals are.”
“Your people will never believe that you are a strong ruler in your own right, if I am always at your side.”
“Besides… my nephew needs me, too.”
Earth King Kuei sighed. “I know…”
Chapter 7: Problems
“I knew before the coronation that there’d be assassination attempts,” Zuko said, shaking his head. “But this is the third in a month!”
“Third in three weeks,” Mai said, retrieving her dagger before the corpse was dragged away. This one had come too close…
When Aang heard about it, he insisted, “Something has to be done! How can you negotiate with the Earth Kingdom over the Fire Nation colonies when you’re too busy just staying alive?”
“Well, short of ‘disappearing’ the nobles who disagree with me, like my father did…” Zuko sighed. “If you think of anything, let me know.”
Chapter 8: Solution
Three days after Zuko survived his fifth assassination attempt, two giant, sinuous shapes came flowing across the sky. For the first time in 80 years, dragons were seen over the Fire Nation capital!
An astonished crowd gathered as the dragons danced above the palace, spouting multicolored rivers of flame. Then the red dragon landed on the palace front steps, where the new Fire Lord was waiting. He climbed aboard and rode dragonback across the entire Fire Nation; the first monarch to do so since Sozin.
There were no more assassination attempts that year. Aang grinned, “Told you it would work!”
Chapter 9: Water Tribe Ways
The South Pole was cold. Suki felt the chill through all her layers of clothing. Colder than the worst winter she’d ever experienced on Kyoshi Island— and this was mid-autumn! Why would Sokka want to come back here to live? Why would anyone?!
But he’d asked her to give it a try, and a Kyoshi Warrior feared nothing.
She went hunting with the men (after Hakoda talked to them). She also went gathering with the women, and even mended nets with the children.
In the roundhouse, gathered around the fire with everyone, singing and telling stories... Suki finally understood.
This was Home.
Chapter 10: Vicious Cycle
The first two Avatar assassination attempts were by Fire Nation, and Zuko dealt harshly with the assassins and with the nobles who’d hired them. But the third one: “Southern Water Tribe,” Sokka announced grimly. “Dad kicked this guy off his crew years ago.”
“Water Tribe?! B-but ending the war saved them!” Aang protested. “Why…?”
Zuko suggested, “Maybe because you refused to allow anyone to take revenge on the Fire Nation, beyond war crimes trials for the very worst offenders.”
“I admit, most Water Tribesmen believe in revenge,” Sokka sighed. “And the next Avatar in the Cycle would be Water Tribe…”
Chapter 11: Score
Mai found the first fruit tart covered with rose petals on the bed. More rose petals made a trail away from the bed, out the bedroom door.
Another dish with a fruit tart lay by the door to the garden. She picked it up and kept following the trail of petals outside.
The trail led into a secluded bower. There she found Zuko lying on a quilt, wearing only some scattered rose petals, a final and strategically placed fruit tart, and a smile. And she couldn’t help it; she giggled.
Zuko sat up grinning in triumph. “Yes! I made you laugh!”
Chapter 12: Found
It had taken seven months of searching. Ozai had refused to talk, so he'd consulted records and tracked down every servant and soldier who'd been in the palace six years ago, questioning them for leads.
There had been assassination attempts, struggles to convert a war-based economy to peacetime industries, and negotiations with the Earth Kingdom over the Fire Nation colonies. All that had slowed him down, but he refused to stop until…
She'd aged, so much… and the sight of his scarred face started her sobbing wildly.
None of that mattered. "Mother," Zuko choked through his own tears. "Come home…"
Chapter 13: Searching
Wan Min answered the knock on his door, and got the shock of his life. Standing outside were five Earth Kingdom officials—-and the Avatar himself! What could they all want with a cabbage farmer?
The Avatar—-the posters hadn't shown his size; Min had sons bigger than him—-looked at him hopefully. "Wan Min? Son of Wan Mon, grandson of Wan Mushi?"
He nodded, speechless.
"Records show that Wan Mushi was adopted out from Air Nomads 105 years ago, because he had no airbending talent. But I'm hoping… Can I ask some questions, and run some tests on your family?"
Chapter 14: Unacceptable
Lon Gao was a pirate. He was wanted in six different ports, and had killed eight people; two while being arrested.
He was also an airbender. Questioning confirmed that his great-grandmother had been an Air Nomad.
"It kinda makes sense, turning pirate," Sokka mused. "The Fire Nation had made airbending basically illegal already… and at sea, who'd notice odd breezes now and then?"
Katara said hesitantly, "As Avatar, you could request a pardo-"
"NO!" Aang was furious. "No pardon! You saw the charges; what he did to that merchant's family… I'd rather take his airbending forever than see him free!"
Chapter 15: Their Version
(of Zuko Alone, that is)
There's a small town in the Earth Kingdom that tells a story about the Fire Lord and the Avatar, if anyone asks.
They say the Avatar must have changed Zuko inside, 'spirit-bending' to make him a decent would-be ruler, before defeating Ozai.
They say that before the Avatar changed him, Zuko had been so harsh and cruel that, passing through their town one day while hunting the Avatar, he'd beaten up a squad of good and loyal Earth Kingdom soldiers, just for the fun of it.
The townsfolk prefer that story to the truth. It makes them look better.
Chapter 16: Proposal
Zuko finally managed to shock Mai speechless… by proposing.
“…Bad idea,” she finally said. “I like being your girlfriend, but… we can’t get married.”
“Because I’m not a firebender, idiot. Our children might not be firebenders!”
“The last ten Earth Kings haven’t been earthbenders. What else?”
“…You’re always complaining how I never show emotion. Getting married won’t change that!”
“Not showing emotion is a good thing, for court intrigues. As Fire Lady, you could deal with some people that are currently driving me crazy. …If you’re willing?”
Finally, she smiled. “I like a challenge.”
He hugged her. “So do I.”
Chapter 17: Initiation
In order to prove he was worthy to join the White Lotus organization, Sokka:
Roped and rode a wild komodo-rhino.
Spent three days tracking a single copper coin through the markets of a small town.
And scaled the highest mountain in the Earth Kingdom, placing a lotus tile at the summit.
“...I have to do all that, while fulfilling my duties as Fire Lord?” Zuko asked, fingering the tile his uncle had given him.
“Not at all,” Iroh assured him. “Sokka didn’t seem to believe he could become a member so easily, so Piandao made up some tasks for him…”
Chapter 18: Volt versus Jolt
When Iroh came to visit in the second year of Zuko’s reign, his nephew proudly informed him that he had finally found the inner peace and balance necessary to generate lightning! While Iroh watched, Zuko separated his chi just enough to create a bolt that leaped out to shatter a boulder on the target range.
“Well done!” Iroh applauded.
Watching, Mai nodded before commenting, “Someday, our kid will be doing that.”
“ ‘Our kid’..?” Zuko whirled and gawped at her. “You’re p-pregnant?!… We’re going to be…”
Smiling, Iroh figured it would be a long time before Zuko threw lightning again.
Chapter 19: Expectations
Aang and Katara finally settled in the Southern Water Tribe; Katara wanted her family nearby, particularly when Aang was called away for Avatar duties. They named their first child Kya, after Katara’s mother.
Aang hung wind chimes out of Kya’s reach, hoping she’d someday stir a breeze to make music.
Katara always kept a water basin on the floor, and surrounded their home with ice sculptures.
But Kya spent most of her time by the fire, seemingly fascinated by the flames.
Aang finally coughed and said, “Katara, did you want to tell me something…?”
And got a snowball in the face.
Chapter 20: Parental Worries
Toph’s blind eyes were wide with worry as she listened and felt through the earth for her son. She’d lost track of the two-year-old while dealing with a visitor, and now “He’s gone…. I can’t hear or feel him anywhere!”
An increasingly frantic search ensued, lasting over fifteen minutes before her husband found him; he had somehow climbed up into the stable’s hayloft, and fallen asleep.
Toph swore as she hugged the boy close, “This kid’s going to be locked in his room until he’s ten!”
Then she gave a bitter laugh. “I think I owe my parents an apology…”
Chapter 21: Kuzon
Kuzon, Zuko’s firstborn, filled the palace with happy laughter. Everyone loved the toddler, the Fire Lord’s heir.
But when he passed four years old, then five, then six and still no sign of firebending, the whispers began.
Zuko firmly maintained that he didn’t care if his son never bent fire.
Mai glowered at the whisperers, while fingering her daggers.
At seven years old, Kuzon awoke from a nightmare… with his mattress smoldering.
After they put the fire out, one overenthusiastic servant suggested parading the ruined mattress through the streets!
Zuko almost did it, too, but Mai talked him out of it.
Chapter 22: No Koi Necessary
Sokka was the Plan Guy, but Aang had to do all the work. Fortunately, the Avatar agreed it was for a good cause.
Earthbending and tremor-sense to find a magma vein running deep underground, and coax it closer to the surface.
More earthbending to pull stone up through the ice and make thick circular walls.
Earthbending and waterbending to route a previously unknown aquifer past the magma vein, before making the heated water surface inside the stone walls.
Soon, the Southern Water Tribe had their own warm Oasis.
Inside it, Toph took her thick boots off and beamed. “Thanks, guys!”
Chapter 23: The Experiment: Part 1
Aang stared at the pregnant girl kneeling before the Fire Throne. “You want me to try energy-bending her unborn child, into an airbender? No way; it’s too risky! Remember what happened when I tried it with Teo?”
But the girl herself begged him to try. Zuko muttered, “Aang, she’s not married. Her family has disowned her. Her future, and the baby’s, are… ugly. But with this, she could go from disgraced for her ‘loose morals,’ to honored for her sacrifice. And the younger children are, the more adaptable; energy-bending to give abilities might work, on infants! Will you at least try?”
Chapter 24: The Experiment: Part 2
Akiko had been the seventh unmarried mother to volunteer for the experiment of energy-bending her unborn child, to recreate the Air Nomad race. There were twelve of them now, all living under the Fire Lord’s protection. Once their children were born, they were guaranteed large dowries and matchmaking services.
If her baby became an airbender, after weaning it would be taken away; turned over to Aang and a guru in the Eastern Air Temple, and raised in the Air Nomad traditions.
It would be a better future than staying with her, as a known bastard. Akiko kept telling herself that...
Chapter 25: Con Artistry
The bidding was fast and furious among the Earth Kingdom nobles, for the Bei Fong auction of Fire Nation artworks—metal sculptures, glass figurines—that had been confiscated from Fire Nation generals’ tents and governors’ homes, when the troops had been so hastily withdrawn.
Afterwards, Zuko accepted the auction proceeds in disbelief. “They wouldn’t buy our peacetime industries’ artworks straight from us, at a third of the prices they paid for those ‘confiscated’ works!”
“Those nobles are buying revenge right now,” Toph told him. “Give them another year or two before they start buying your stuff for its beauty instead.”
Chapter 26: Teaching
Katara rubbed Aang’s back, murmuring, “Hey, it’s not that bad…”
“Yes, it is!” Aang ground his teeth. “They have airbending talent, I know they do… so why can’t I teach them airbending?!”
“Because you’re too talented,” Zuko said bluntly. “Airbending comes almost as naturally to you as it does to Appa! That’s why you made full master before you turned 12. But because you never had to learn the basics, you don’t know how to teach them.”
“So what do we do?!”
Iroh brandished the White Lotus organization’s ancient airbending scrolls, and chuckled ruefully. “It seems I may never completely retire…”
Chapter 27: The Quest Begins
Two full years after the war’s end, the last of the rioting stopped and the Avatar could finally take a break from his duties.
Aang took the saddle from his bison’s back, hugged him and said, “I know you’ll find them, somewhere humans never go. I’ll be here waiting, buddy…”
Appa rumbled, licked him from head to toe, then rose up into the air. Aang waved goodbye as he left, to seek out the wild sky bison that the Eastern Air Temple herd had been descended from.
Tears running down his face, Aang waved until Appa was out of sight…
Chapter 28: Brave Soldier
Thoroughly bemused, Suki just sat back and watched while Sokka formulated a plan, with all the deadly seriousness of a battle with Fire Nation troops.
…Well, nothing was burning, but someone was screaming by now, so such seriousness was warranted.
The screaming was wreaking havoc on his concentration, but Sokka still made a checklist, then gathered all the supplies needed—and a few that weren’t actually needed, but were still good to have on hand, or so he insisted.
Finally, he spent a good ten minutes psyching himself up for the grisly task…
Then he changed their daughter’s diaper.
Chapter 29: So Bad at Being Good
On what they call her ‘bad days’, Azula is the Fire Lord.
She sits regally on her throne, accepting the respectful murmurs of advisors, the servants’ offerings. The generals’ reports of city after city ground under her heel, submitting to her rule.
On her ‘good days’, she is aware of the bars on her window; the drugs in her food. Aware that her throne is a bench bolted to the ground.
Aware that her only visitor is her brother, regal in his robes and crown, looking at her with pitying eyes…
And she wishes the bad days would come back.
Chapter 30: Uphill Battles
The Earth King called for assistance from the Northern Water Tribe, in rebuilding Ba Sing Se:
Healer Nuka removed water-gloved hands from the temples of a woman who’d called herself Joo Dee, and gently asked, “Do you remember now?”
“I… my name is Dao Ming!” as the woman burst into tears.
Two days later, Dao Ming said she was ready to leave the hospital and look for her family. Nuka nodded, then said, “The Earth King has invited you to Lake Laogai.”
When the pupils dilated and the horrifying grin returned, Nuka softly cursed; another one who needed more treatment…