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Avatar the Last Airbender: Pyrrhic Aftermath

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Chapter 1:


This story was commissioned by a customer who would like to remain...


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Jun 15, 2022
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Chapter 1:


This story was commissioned by a customer who would like to remain anonymous.

Zuko disembarked the small boat and was immediately enveloped in the crowd of injured and destitute. They gave him a wide berth, either because they recognized him or because they recognized what he was carrying in his arms.

He made his way to the largest of the white lotus tents, his eyes to the horizon where the fiery red ash cloud filled the sky from the impact. A sky he had been watching for the entire two day boat ride yet had barely changed. If anything it was slightly less red and yellow.

Reaching the white tent he ducked under, take extra care to mind Katara's head, as if the tent flap could hurt her... as if anything could hurt her any longer.

He froze as soon as he entered the tent and saw who was there.

Sokka was sat at a large table with suki rubbing his back as he mindlessly waxed and sharpened his boomerang. All of his other weapons, from his spear to his black sword, lay out on the table as well. Being serviced in the hopes of keeping their master's mind busy and away from the world as it was now. And Zuko had come here today to ruin in. Jung, the ancient Pai Sho master, stood at the back of the tent and stood up a bit straighter at Zuko's entrance, and if it were possible, his expression turned all the sadder.

Sokka still hadn't noticed his entrance. Zuko had never seen the usual upbeat man so devoid of life, so... angry. Even when they had first met and he had shown his bravery in spades by trying to fight off him and his entire crew.

When they both looked up at him he knew that jovial man was gone. The battle must have been hard on them too, because instead of the horror or denial or any other emotional reaction Zuko had expected, Sokka's face was despondent acceptance. As if he fully expected to hear the news Zuko had come carrying bridal style in his arms.

He brought the white-sheeted corpse over to the table and placed it down as gently as he could manage on a section of the table without weapons covering it.

"Did you get her too?" Sokka asked.

It was such an unexpected, but somehow understandable question, that Zuko merely nodded. He had to clear his throat to say his next words.

"Yes. I'm all that remains of the royal family." He said. "Unless..."

He trailed off, unable to even think of the possibility of Aang failing too.

"Your father is dead." Sokka confirmed, assuaging his concerns. "As is Aang."

"How did it happen?" Zuko asked.

Jung came over with a chair in one hand and a tray with fresh pot of tea in the other. Zuko accepted the former as the kindly man poured them each a cup.

"Well, skipping the airships and devastation they caused, Aang defeated your father." Sokka explained. "And then stopped just shy of killing him. He tried to do something to your father, I don't know what. It looked almost like waterbender healing but... more. There were brilliant lights, like the energy of their souls exploding, blue versus red. Then the red won, and all was fire."

Zuko swallowed hard. They'd all seen the kinds of power at play when it came to the avatar, seen but not understood. The battle at the north pole, the ocean and moon spirits. He still lacked the words to describe what happened that day, and understood Sokka's inability to describe what happened with Aan and his father.

"What of Ba Sing Se?" Zuko asked, hoping the news he had received from every other person to date had been wrong.
They all shook their heads pitifully.

"Sozin's comet made impact very near to Ba Sing Se." Jung said. "Somewhere between the city's outer walls and the great eastern bay. There is nothing left. The entire city and a quarter of the continent is gone. Vaporized. Reports of the rain and mud storms falling to the ground from the vaporized earth and sea are continuous. Still hot and near boiling by the time it reaches the ground."

He didn't need Jung to spell the rest out to him. There would be no survivors from the impact area. The entire city, and everything in it, was no more than ash and dust now. The white lotus, the bulk of the fire nation army, most of the earth kingdom.


Katara's funeral was a quiet affair the next day.

The damage from Azula's burns and killing lightning Stright was all below the neck, so she was given an open casket. So they could all see her peaceful face as she was set out to sea on her little canoe. They watched for hours as the ocean retook her, slowly drawing her further and further out to see until the speck on the horizon was no more.
No sooner did she fade from sight than did Sokka get up.

"I'll see you both around." He said by way of goodbye.

"Excuse you?!" Suki demanded.

"You better sit back down and explain yourself ten seconds ago or Suki will be treating you for burns and broken bones until next autumn." Zuko threatened without hesitation.

Sokka snickered, smiling for the first time since the end of the war, but did as instructed.

"We all have a job to do." Sokka explained. "For me, that job is to find the new avatar.

Okay, that made slightly more sense. Didn't explain where he got off ditching them though.

"Okay, what makes you think you can and why would you need to do that without us?" Suki pressed, rubbing her man's shoulder.

"Let me list the reasons." Sokka said, his sarcasm finally seeping back in. "The next avatar is going to be of the water tribe, and with the southern water tribe having no men nor new pregnancies in the last couple years, that means he will be born in the northern tribe. You can't come with me because you both have other responsibilities. Suki to helping with the Earth Kingdom refugees and Zuko has to return to the fire kingdom."

Suki commiserated at that explanation, as they all knew being a Kyoshi Warrior required her to go out and help wherever she could until this crisis was over. Honestly, Zuko was surprised her superiors hadn't delivered her new orders already. But...

"Why would I have to go back to the fire nation?" Zuko asked, confused.

Sokka looked at him with similar confusion.

"Shouldn't you be heading back to the fire nation? Take up your throne?" Soka asked.

Oh. That.

"My becoming the new fire lord was predicated on the Avatar and the White Lotus being there, alive, to support me and help. I am not suited to rule as I am now, I would do more harm than good." Zuko explained. "Besides, it's probably best to let the fire nation flounder for now. All of their armies are destroyed. All of the volcanoes making up our peninsula practically exploded when Sozin's comet struck, the entire nation is just as wrecked as the earth kingdom. It will take decades for them to rebuild and by then I will be ready, as will the new Avatar."

"I am so pleased to see you all have grown into such fine men and women."

They all stood up at the ancient woman's approach. she had grown tired of watching her grand-daughter float away. Or so she had said, clearly she'd been fibbing because the woman carried with her three travel sacks.

Sokka looked at him and mouthed "she always knows" as a genuine, full-bodied smile finally reappeared on his face.
"Now, if I heard correctly, it sounds like each of you have your own journeys to go on." Gran Gran said as she put down the bags she had clearly spent the last hour preparing for them. "Journeys of healing, each in your own way. I too, like Sokka, wish to spend some time alone to mourn. And that was his real reasoning dears."

Sokka actually blushed at his grandmother exposing his internal struggle to them.

"And I think that may be best for you too Zuko, Suki. And unlike me, you are allowed that privilege." She went on. "I am needed, and I am old, so I can sacrifice my personal happiness to help others. But you three should not. Go, and remember, I am here."

Sokka hugged his grandmother. Sokka's grandmother hugged Zuko. Suki hugged Sokka. It was great.

"When I find the Avatar, I'll come back for you both. Maybe even before then." Sokka promised.

And with that, Sokka began his long walk north. Suki decided to walk with him to the edge of the now tent city, leaving Zuko alone with GranGran.

"And where will you go, young man?" She asked.

"I have no idea." He said honestly. "I think... I'll just start walking. See where my feet take me."

The following day, he did exactly that.

This story was a commission by an anonymous customer.
And if YOU want your story written, fanfiction or otherwise, my prices are as follows.

$25 per 1000 words of fanfiction, with some wiggle room. I don't pad my work. You also get to video chat with me as I type the first chapter.

$25 per 500 words for original fiction or smut/fetish material fanfiction.

Prices subject to change in the future. Check with me.

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Last edited:
Chapter 2: A Simple Life, Interrupted
Chapter 2:

A Simple Life, Interrupted

This story was commissioned by a customer who would like to remain anonymous.

Zuko was walking. He had done nothing but walk for at least five days of night now.

Trying to sleep through a storm of hail, mud and wet ash was a fool's errand, but it didn't stop him from trying. The hours spent laying on rock outcropping within caves only served to let his body rest, not his mind. The smell of burning earth and sound of hail with lightning made rest for the mind impossible.

The now abandoned villages and towns of people who fled from Sozin's storm, as said fleers called it when they passed him going in the opposite direction, were much more restful places to lay his head. Not least of which because he occasionally found potable water and even minor food stuffs within the comparatively dry abodes. Each was a godsend, but he tried not to take too much in case more refugees fleeing from places closer to Ba Sing Se needed them more.

He was certain to leave brightly colored signs near places with still usable water or food that he found, and always triple checked each building for people in need of help. So far, all he had found was more groups resting before the next leg of their journey. He left them be in favor of solitude.

The entire while he did not think, nor did he plan. His foot took them where they pleased. During the first few days he assumed they were taking him to the only place that had ever felt like home; the tea shop he and his uncle had worked so hard to build in Ba Sing Se. It may have also been possible that he was being drawn to where his beloved father had died, in the vain hope that he had survived the cosmic impact. And yet, his feet had taken him northwest instead of the northeast path he would have needed to take to reach Sozin's crater. And by the time this happened he no longer had the mental strength to even ponder his body's will.

It was only on the fifth day that the hail and lightning subsided. The rain and overcast both became lighter and the occasional ray of sunlight illuminated the desolate landscape. On a particularly bright day, where nearly half of the sky was rays of sunlight carving the earth like knives, Zuko collapsed in physical and mental pleasure at the return of the sun and warmth and splotches of green in the landscape.

The soft soil, slightly but not fully dried by the recently returned sun, was as inviting as the freshly aired sheets by the royal palace servants.

He groaned in delight as he buried his face into the earth and slowly fell into the sweet embrace of sleep.

"Whoa! Looks like somebody went the wrong direction." He heard an approaching voice say.

Zuko didn't even have the strength to look up, and so he merely lay there as they got closer until he could feel them standing right over him.
"Up you get! You better be alive, stranger." The voice said.

And Zuko felt himself being flipped over onto his back to be met with a face full of blinding sunlight instead of the visage of his savior. He tried to make it out anyways, and the blurry bald head with a splotch of blue on top was all too familiar in his sleep deprived mind.

"Aang?" He groaned out. "But... how?"

"Aang? That sure aint my name." The man said as his outline became less blurry and the small patch of blue on his bald head was revealed to be a hat. "You can call me Sensu. You don't know me, but I know you, Prince Zuko. Lee described you to a T. That sure is one distinctive scar."

As his vision cleared up somewhat Zuko could make out more of the man. He was only a few years older than himself, with scars of battle marring his otherwise young face. Not least of these scars was the arm completely missing from his left side. Something about what he said sounded familiar, but he couldn't place it.

"Up you get, Prince. You are most welcome here." Sensu told him as he lifted Zuko up to prop him against his shoulder. "From what I hear from mum, you don't object to a good meal and long nap in the hay. So let's get you both of those and a bath, shall we?"

Zuko relented as he was dragged along towards a smattering of familiar buildings in the distance. somehwere along the way his mind managed to connect a few of the dots Sensu had shared with him.

"Sensu?" He asked the man, who looked down at him questioningly. "Lee... Gantsu... Sela... "

Sensu laughed at Zuko, but not in a friendly way.

"That's right. They're all eager to feed you again. So let's not get them waiting, eh?" Sensu said.

"But... they hate me..." Zuko choked out as he was dragged along.

This time Sensu's laughter did sound mocking, as if what he had just said was the dumbest thing anybody had ever said. As Zuko would soon found out, it was certainly the most incorrect.

"Home..." Zuko managed to meek out with a smile as he realized his feet had carried him exactly to the place where he belonged.

Two Years Later:
Zuko drove the last nail of the day into the last shingle of the week and breathed a sigh of relief.

He leaned back and stretched his shoulders, rotating him in joy at the early end to his day. It was still a sweltering hot afternoon instead of the cool early evening he was used to finishing under. He much preferred ending early to enjoy a bit of relaxing sun bathing instead of suffering labor under that same sun.

"Oi! Prince" He heard the telltale voice of former Lieutenant Gao from the road nearby. "Don't you figure Mrs Elk has enough problems to deal with without you ruining her roof?"
Zuko looked over to the former bully, now standing in the road with a fresh shipment of cabbages in the card he dragged behind himself like a mule.

"I mean, if you really want to help her out maybe you could get your old gang back together?" Zuko yelled back to the duel-hammer wielding maniac. "You could shake her down for money and, if she refuses, wreck her house. Then I can charge her for repairs. What do ya say?"

Zuko had really overused that joke at Gao's expense in the past. In the early days it had led to outright fights in the tow square. Even before the first one Zuko had understood it was completely unfair, as the man had changed drastically since their sad duel over Lee. Hell, the entire village wouldn't have survived had he not wielded earth bending so masterfully as to provide shelter for everybody in the aftermath of Sozin's impact. And yet, Zuko still sued the insult at every opportunity. Not to hurt the man, but because he knew it would wash right over him during any of their smack-talking and he didn't want to experiment with new insults.

Was he just too lazy and uncreative to come up with new ones? Maybe. Sokka and Katara has always been skilled at hurting people with words. Zuko? He was pants at it. And didn't want to get good at it in the first place.

"Well, if those three ever find themselves back in town I'll make sure to let them know about your offer." Gao said as he continued carting off the wagonful of cabbage in his usual merry way.

A lot of villagers criticized both of them for working so hard with their bodies instead of just using their bending. They just didn't get it, and neither man had the patience or eloquence to explain it.

Every raise of the hammer Zuko performed. Every nail driven into wood. These are things he earned with his body. These were things everybody else could understand. But bending? that was not something he earned. That was a gift, a blessing, that most people don't have. They couldn't understand how much work went into being able to use it to even a basic degree. Even with the hard work it required, that hard work never undid the constant feeling of undeserved benefit. it was a well known psychological effect, the double edged pride of bending. Even if a bender put all of the work in necessary to become a great bender, as much work as was required to become a master swordsman are tradesman, the genuine pride in oneself never materialized. It was liked to being an able-bodied man in a world of amputees, and the shame in one's abilities that would result.

There was also a lot of psychoanalysis on the need of some benders to handicap themselves by restricting their bending so that they might fit into larger society, but that was a discussion for another day.

"Mrs Elk!" Zuko yelled down to the small home beneath his feet, knocking on the last installed shingle.

"Yes, prince?" The ancient lady called back up, coming out through the back door.

"I'm all finished for today, so I'm going to head on home. Need anything else before I go?" Zuko offered.

"No dearie, I'm just preparing dinner for my husband. Everything else here is perfect. Head on back to get dinner of your own." Mrs Elk told him.

He climbed down, threw all of his tools unceremoniously into his bag and began his march back to the Lee farm.

The village had grown rapidly in the last two years and was now on the cusp of being a full-blown city. From what he heard, this happened to a lot of the smaller towns and villages throughout the earth kingdom as they swelled with refugees who had survived Sozin's impact in the tunnels beneath Ba Sing Se. Only to then nearly drown when the waters came in to fill the crater left behind.

Teh swell of people in new homes mere weeks after Zuko's arrival had flung him head first into the trades. He'd done it all. Digging foundations, splitting and placing rock for foundation, scaffolding, drywalling and roofing. The only things he never got into were those that required a delicate touch, like tiling or wallpapering. He just did not have the patience to get all of the air bubbles out, and people demanded perfection in those sorts of things.

These days most of the people who ever planned to move to the burgeoning city already had, so the need to build new homes was gone, but the need for repairs never went away. Being the man who build many of these homes, he had no shortage of customers who knew him by name and who would call on him first for any job in need of doing.

When he set out to help rebuild the world in the aftermath of the phoenix war and comet impact, he hadn't expected to wind up doing it so literally, but every time he walked through the town square he took pride and joy in his accomplishments.

"Oi, prince!" Old man Baahu called over to him from his little tea stall. "I finally tracked down some of that white dragon bush you keep badgermoling me about. Should be here in a week!"

Zuko waved over to him with a mischievous grin.

"Make certain you watch the seller try some himself so you know he isn't trying to pawn off some white jade bush leaves." Zuko told him.

"What kind of idiot do you think I am that I can't tell the difference?" Baahu asked, askance.

"A tea obsessed one. And tea obsessed idiots will put the dumbest things into their drinks." Zuko countered. "But if it's the real deal have my usual ginseng prepared along with it and I'll buy the whole stock!"

The town had grown so much since he first arrived that it had long since become impossible to remember everybody's name and face, but Zuko still tried his best. He was at a natural disadvantage with his name and face being so recognizable that people he had never met knew him. he tried not to let his celebrity status go to his head.

People greeted him on the street, all happy to see him. It was the kind of community that made him feel at home in a way he never could have understood just a few short years ago.
"Oh hey Zuko. You're early." Pe Pun, Sensu's fiancé, greeted him at the door of his restaurant. "I'm sure we can find a table for you though. Come in."

Zuko accepted the invitation, ducking under the front flaps to Sensu Beans, the best chili in town. Nothing quite restored a man's stamina nor improved recovery time from a long day of work quite like Sensu Beans. And Zuko didn't just say that because it was his brother who owned the shop.

The circus was in town.

This fact had somehow completely skipped Zuko's notice until after he had exited the chili shop to find night fast approaching and an unusual number of flashing lights in the distance. He had all of two seconds to wonder what it was before a gaggle of children in silly masks stomped by him with shouts of what circus game they were going to dominate in.

With his belly full, his work done for the week and no social responsibilities he could think of he followed the pack of hyperactive preteens down the road until a large, three-story tent filled the horizon. Hundreds of smaller tents with filled with games involving small rings, balls and darts littered the countryside around it with an equal number of food stalls with delicacies the world over.

The path leading up to the front flap of the giant tent was kept clear of such clutter and served as a kind of main road lined with nothing but food stalls. Deciding the best snacks must be along said main road, and further deciding that he wanted a sweet desert and cold drink to wash down the delicious dinner he'd just had, Zuko meandered along the main road in question. He had just purchased a small bowl of something called fennel cake an iced drink made from watermelon by a preteen water bender when he came across the strangest creature.

"What in the world is that thing?" Zuko gasped at the strange creature before him.

Some hairy animal was walking on a bouncy ball like a log-rolling champion. It was a species Zuko had never seen before, which he would have thought impossibly with an upbringing in the Royal palace of the fire nation. Strange and exotic animals were regularly paraded before the royal family, and promptly eaten. Yet here, dancing before him, was an animal he had yet to eat.

"That, dear Zuko, is a bear." Toph told him flippantly as she walked up to stand beside him.

"You mean, like, a platypus bear?" Zuko asked.

"Nope. Plain old bear." Toph said.

"So... like, an armadillo bear?" Zuko offered.

"Nope. Just... bear." Toph countered with a shrug.

"That's so weird." Zuko complained.

"Super weird." Toph agreed.

They stood there in silence watching the creature walk on its hands like an acrobat. It was a strangely comfortable silence for Zuko, considering the closeness of the stranger. It wasn't until his mind once again caught up to his situation that he reacted appropriately.

"Toph?!" Zuko yelled in genuine surprise.

"Zuko!" Toph replied in mock surprise.

Zuko's hands went right to her waist to pickup the tiny woman and swing her around like the long-lost friend she was. The loss of his desert and drink on the ground could be made up for later. She squealed in surprise at the sudden loss of contact with the ground, and probably from the unexpected affection from the usually dour prince. When he put her back down, he twisted his torso to present his shoulder to her for some reciprocal affection.

"Ow. Ow! Why did I get two?" Zuko asked as he rubbed his shoulder from the two punches.

"One for each year I've missed you." Toph said cheekily.

And suddenly the boyish girl he remembered vanished, and a bashful young lady stood in her place. With both hands clasped behind her back and one knee bent to paw at the ground shyly her posture suddenly screamed "Look at me!". And boy, did Zuko look at her.

She was still miniscule, though now thinner than she was short. The most shocking change in her appearance wasn't the in puberty, but her choice in clothes. She now dressed entirely in jade and gold, in clothes exactly like those of his sister's old chi blocking friend. What had her name been?

"Hey Toph! We start in five! Get your butt into gear!" He heard Ty Lee's voice call from behind him.

Sure enough, he turned around and there she was in her usual garish pink. She had already turned around and begun her sprint into the tent for the oncoming acrobats show. Toph came up from behind him and slipped piece of paper into his hand before pecking him on the cheek.

"Come watch me, okay?" She pleaded.

He blinked at the strange eye contact they shared, and, for at least a moment, he forgot that the girl was blind. He recalled people tended to forget that unusually often.
He nodded and she smiled at the promise, before walking away.

Zuko watched her walk away. He wasn't watching any particular part of her of course, that would be rude, but he did watch her. When she disappeared into the castle-sized tent he looked down into his hand to find a single ticket with the number thirteen on it. Deciding thirteen was now his lucky number, he marched in after her.

He was grinning for some reason. It was a stupid grin, but it felt right.

I rewatched "Zuko Alone" for this chapter and when I found out Lee's brother was named Sensu I HAD to make a Senzu bean joke somewhere. I hope you appreciate this chapter and look forward to the next one, where we get reunited with a lot of our favorite side characters.

This story was a commission by an anonymous customer.
And if YOU want your story written, fanfiction or otherwise, my prices are as follows.

$25 per 1000 words of fanfiction, with some wiggle room. I don't pad my work. You also get to video chat with me as I type the first chapter.

$25 per 500 words for original fiction or smut/fetish material fanfiction.

Prices subject to change in the future. Check with me.

Become a Patron:

You can also still become a patron for ONE DOLLAR to get access to future chapters 2 weeks early and vote on which stories I update Next.​
Chapter 3
Chapter 3:

Zuko sat down in the stone, earthbended stands beside a family with far too many children. He was relieved to find them so well behaved, their boundless energy and excitement kept down to the point that they merely vibrated in place instead of screaming their lungs off.

Hopefully that remained the case.

The stands filled quickly. Under the dim lights Zuko could make out most of the two beams at opposite ends of the semi arena. But the very tops were obscured by the shadows of the giant tent.

"Fried cabbage flakes! Get your fried cabbage flakes here!" An oddly familiar confectionery man said.

"Fire flakes! Get your fire flakes here!" Said another.

Zuko flagged the latter down and got himself a bag of the stuff.

Eventually the circus stands were full, the confectioneries were distributed, and the lights began to dim. They dimmed so deeply that the place was pitch black and as silent as a desert night. Zuko was tempted to make a candle-sized flame, the entire shift was so discomforting.

But then the lights reappeared, and at the center of the arena was Ty Lee in her usual pink getup.

… and a second Ty Lee in a green getup. And a third Ty Lee in orange. There were eight in all, with blue, yellow, purple, and turquoise all making an appearance.
Hadn't Ty Lee said she became an acrobat to set herself apart from her seven identical sisters? If they were all circus freaks now that kind of invalidated the special girl he had come to know and respect.

"The Boulder welcomes one and all to our fine establishment!" A man who sounded like he had an outdoor voice at a whisper yelled.

A new light shone on the speaker. A shirtless earth-bender stood next to a much bigger, overweight shirtless earth-bender.

"Today, you get to the boulder…" Said the smaller, muscle-bound man.

"And the hippo!" Said the sumo wrestler.

"Throw everything we have at the untouchable eight!" They said in stereo.

Ty Lee and her sisters all posed, feet together and hands over their heads, palms up in the air. Each was all smiles, and were it not for the color-coding Zuko would have no idea which was Ty Lee.

Then the two over-actors began their earth bending, and the ladies danced.

A spiked of earth rose to the sky, boulders – literal and the man himself – fell upon them intend on turning them into jelly. Sideways avalanches tore through the arena, and storms of rock arrows flew at the petite girls.

They dodged everything as effortlessly as if they were tiptoeing through a china shop. They leapt, vaulted, ducked, dodged and did it all while moving as elegantly as ballerinas. He was too far away to know for sure, but they looked like they didn't even break a sweat doing this all.

By the end of the display the untouchable eight were untouched, and the circus arena was a jagged expanse of earth that looked more like a scale model of the southern air temple mountain range than anything close to a circus.

The ten performers bowed and the crowd cheered. Zuko clapped with them, but was a little subdued as he flinched away from the children near him who finally revealed how loud their voices could be. They were a five-child standing ovation, that family.

The lights dimmed, though not to the extent they had before. Instead of pitch blackness he could still see bodies moving through the gray. The untouchable eight and their earth-bender friends left, and he saw a single figure take the stage.

"And now, the dance of the sand skater!" Came a new announcement voice.

The lights returned, and standing at the center of the field of jagged stone was Toph, in her jade green outfit which matched those of the Tys.

She then ice skated on her bare feet across the mountain-range of stone. Everywhere her toes touched, it was vaporized. Not violently, but like a sand castle collapsing. Her arms moved as if she was also controlling ribbons in the air, but he imagined such an art would be beyond her.

The boulders collapsed into waves of sand that she surfed upon like a water bender, arms out for balance. She ended her performance at the center of the arena, and only then did Zuko realize that she had turned the entire stage into a zen garden. The sand had the exact indentation of having been raked in circular patterns around the few remaining stones.

She bowed, and the crowd cheered again. This time Zuko did so almost as loudly as the children next to him. Almost, he didn't have the vocal range to reach that high of pitch.

Once more the lights dimmed and he made out Toph leaving the stage, only for two shapes to replace her. One was large, almost as large as The Hippo from earlier.
The lights came on and the bizarre Just-A-Bear from earlier, standing on his hands like Ty Lee. His handler guided him across the zen garden, ruining the perfect indentations with paw prints.

Somehow, that seemed like sacrilege to Zuko.

His enjoyment of the show was interrupted when he felt a tap on his shoulder. When he looked up it was to be met with a pair of pale, white eyes.

Toph brought a finger up to her mouth and shushed him.

"Come on. It's time for us to go." She told him.

She pulled him up by the elbow just as the performance ended and the crowd cheered.

"Why not finish the show?" Zuko asked as the lights dimmed again.

"Trust me Zuko, you don't want to stick around for this next one." Toph said.

The lights came back on and Zuko saw exactly what she meant.

The untouchable quartet were back. Each was tied down to a spinning wheel and blindfolded, at separate corners of the stage. Standing at the center of the stage was a knife thrower.

One look at Mei and he went from being tugged along by Toph to being the one yanking her along.

Zuko and Toph escaped the circus unnoticed, or as unnoticed as they could be with Toph dressed as a belly dancer with the bells and jingling coins to match. It was beautiful on her, and barely jingled from her flawless movements, even while walking. But it was definitely eye-catching.

"I completely forgot about her." Zuko groaned.

He had assumed she died, executed by Azula for aiding him. Now he felt like the most disgusting wretch. Three years and he never even went looking for her.

"And she knows it. I suggest keeping your distance. Lots of distance." Toph warned. "And right now that means getting far away from the tent."

Zuko nodded and, taking her hand, led her away from the tent.

"Are you hungry?" He asked.

"Are you kidding? I've been fasting since yesterday morning in preparation for my performance." She said, "Doing all of that on a full stomach is a good way to throw up or cramp up. I am starving!"

There was only one place to take her. Sensu's beans.

The receptionist motioned him inside to his table. It was reserved for him, or any other family members of the Gansu family, which he was.

He pulled Toph's seat out for her and she bowed graciously at the gesture before taking it. He pushed her in and took his own seat.

"This is my brother's restaurant." He told her. "I won a family here back before we met. After the comet hit I rejoined them. Life has been good to me."

"I see." Said Toph, motioning with her head and eyes as if she were looking around and taking it in. "Is this where you work?"

"I sometimes help out but I'm ostensibly a roofer." He told her.

"A roofer? As in you put in shingles?" She asked.

"Yes ma'am. And during planting or harvesting seasons I plant and harvest, occasionally tend to the farm animals, but I don't get paid for those. That's just part of life living with a farming family. Chores, really." He told her.

She hummed. Not rudely, but definitely noncommittally.

He half expected her to point out how he was a powerful bender and warrior and would be out there doing so much right now, but she neither complained nor criticized. He suspected that she got why he would opt for such a simple life below his station. The gilded cage of her childhood would likely haunt her forever.

"So. You're in the circus now?" He asked.

"Well, I'm ostensibly the king's personal bodyguard. You and your big words. But I pitch in with the circus." Toph told him. "With nothing better to do I learned all of the carnies tricks and skills. It's difficult not to pick it all up."

Zuko had to chew on what she just said. He skipped over the last part, it being so obvious she need not have said it.

"The king? Of the earth kingdom?" He asked.

"Of Ba Sing Se, yes. Which is gone, so he is the king of nothing now and he is happy with this. He believes the world could do without kings and queens for a little while." She said.

"I can relate to that." Zuko mumbled.

He looked down at the table forlornly.

Just then his mother arrived.

"Zuko!" Sela said in surprise as she appeared with a menu. "With a lady friend?! Why, I haven't seen that since that tryst with that Song girl."

"Song girl? You dated a singer?" Toph asked, eyebrows raised. "I didn't think you took after your uncle's love of music."

"Her name was Song. I stole an ostrich horse from her once after she had shown Iroh and I incredible kindness. She was oddly forgiving of me. Allowed me to buy her family a replacement." Zuko said, allowing fondness for the woman to seep into his voice.

"What ever happened to her?" Toph asked.

"Too stubborn, too desperate." Said Sela. "Wanted him to move out to her village and marry her, but that's not how we do things. It is the woman who moves to the husband's village. And it was way too soon to be discussing matrimony. So, I put a stop to that little courtship dance."

"And you were right to do so, mother." Said Zuko.

Sela smiled at him and Toph ogled him at the choice of honorific.

She then turned to Toph.

"Any friend of Zuko's is welcome in my son's shop. Shall I bring you the usual Zuko?"

"Yes please. Enough for two, if you can." Zuko asked.

Sela smiled and disappeared.

"Is she your… first mom or the new mom?" Toph asked.

He laughed.

"A new one I found. With my father and Azula gone, I think the mystery of my mother's fate will remain just that. A mystery." Zuko said.

Toph hummed again.

"Maybe not. If you were to take your throne you could command the power to solve it. Order those with the means to do so." Toph suggested.

He actually smiled at her lack of tact, and the questions hidden in her comment.

"One day I will, but in the meantime, I actually agree with the earth king. The world could do without a fire lord for a while. The people of the fire nation are recovering, seeing the world as it is and meeting people from afar for the first time. They are relearning how to be human. Everyone everywhere just seems to be resting. Breathing peacefully after a century of horrors." He explained.

"I haven't even heard of bandit activity in years. The world doesn't need me now. It's at peace and I'm at peace, and I'm procrastinating until it's not at peace anymore." Zuko finished.

Toph smiled and nodded to his words.

"That makes me happy. To know you're happy. But I have to wonder, is everyone recovering from the war or the violent end to it? An end that nearly took us all with it?" She asked.

She wasn't being confrontational or trying to start an argument. It was just an offhand question.

"This peace will end." Zuko agreed. "People will need to take power and responsibility. The earth king will take up a new throne somewhere, at a new Ba Sing Se. When that time comes, I suspect I will have reached my deadline and have no choice but to become fire lord. But until then, I am free. And should banditry or similar evils rise again, I will put then down without the need for armies."

"Oh really? Going to get the old gang back together and do some small-scale hero work again?" Toph asked. Whichever of us remains?

"That actually is the idea, yeah. Speaking of, have you seen Sokka and Suki? It's been two years since I've heard from them." Zuko asked.

"I've seen them both. When the circus took us up to the north pole, which turned out to serve more as a meeting between the earth king and Chief Arnook than an actual show. The two are running a daycare for babies and toddlers and a primary school. Reading, writing, history, math, art and combat. If any of those kids are the avatar, they'll figure it out eventually."

Suko nodded. He ought to head up there and visit. But they had Oppa, so he'd have to go the slow way.

"Do they still have Oppa?" He asked.

"Oppa goes where he pleases. Being the last of his kind he wanders mostly. People see him from time to time, usually near air temples, but he visits the north pole regularly enough. I'm sure he misses you." Toph told him.

And he just now realized that he missed Oppa too.

"I need to send a letter to the north pole, ask them to lead Oppa here so I can see him again, and maybe ride him up to see Sokka and Suki again. See all of their hard work." Zuko said.

"That is a wonderful idea, Zuko. I'm sure they would love that." Toph said, all smiles.

He'd never seen her smile like that, it was different. Ladylike, and just nice. Nicer than being punched in the shoulder.

He didn't realize he was staring at her until Sela returned with their meals. She placed two bowls of Sensu's noodle soup, a concoction of his whose noodles were made from cooked and recooked beans before making noodles out of them. Two small bowls of jook, just like Iroh used to make, soon joined the soup.

"Enjoy." Said Sela.

They dug right in. It was a few minutes of eating before they got back to talking, and after that the food lay mostly forgotten. All the while they talked Zuko couldn't get his mind off of something new he noticed about Toph. Through the entire conversation she did strangest thing. She kept perfect eye contact with him. She was never able to do that before.

He eventually just asked about it.

"Has your seismic sense gotten so good that you can now tell where my eyes are looking or have you learned to guess where people's eyes are from sound and look there?" He asked.

She smiled that glorious smile again.

"It's gotten so good that I can tell where MY eyes are looking through it." She explained.

"Whoa. Where did you learn to do that?" He asked.

"Mostly from the sand benders, but also from the Tys." She said.

"Sand benders?" He asked.

"Earth bending tribes in the Si Wong desert. They bend sand like wind. I went out there to learn from them, their skills being the only area of earth bending I hadn't mastered. I taught them Aang's airbending kata, which translated beautifully to sand bending, and they taught me sand bending. My seismic sense was horrible in that desert, but after a year living there? It upgraded." She explained.

Zuko nodded. He could understand seismic sense not working well in loose, disjointed sand.

"How do the Tys tie in?"He asked.

"Well, they taught me acrobatics. And as I did that I learned to feel the vibrations within my own body, it also made me feel beautiful for the first time." She said.

"Well, it shouldn't have taken acrobatics to make you realize what you are. But I'm glad it did." Zuko said.

They finished their dinner after that and Zuko escorted her back to her tent.

"Do come visit me after my shows for the rest of my time here, yeah?" She said.

"Of course." Said Zuko.

She reluctantly turned away from him and walked into the tent, where the show was still playing by the sounds of things.

He watched her disappear into the structure and stared after him even after she vanished. Once she did, he also reluctantly turned away and began his long walk home.

He hummed all the way there.

Lee returned from his patrol of the outskirts to find his brother, Sensu, watching the most bizarre scene take place in their stables.

"Four seasons, fo-ur loves." They heard Zuko singing as he fed the pig chickens. "Four seasons, fo-or love."

Their brother was singing. While doing chores.

"Winter, spring, summer and fall! Four seasons, fo-ur loves." He continued.

Lee stood next to Sensu and pulled on his sleeve.

"He's got it bad, doesn't he?" Lee asked.

"Four seasons, fo-or love." Zuko finished.

"He's been singing all morning. So I'd say yes, yes he does. We should probably go get dad." Sensu said.

Thanks again to, sigh, Anonymous who commissioned this story and this chapter.

I don't know why he doesn't want his name attached to it. I think it's because I'm black.


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The first chapter needs a threadmark.
The first chapter needs a threadmark.

I will continue to not threadmark first chapters. Partly because they're at the very top and you can just scroll down one degree on your mouse wheel to find it... mostly because it should be threadmarked automatically and you guys complaining about threadmarks is more annoying than a missing threadmark..

Also because rethreadmarking means deleting all threadmarks and threadmarking from the beginning all over again because the feature that's supposed to let you edit them doesn't work.
I will continue to not threadmark first chapters. Partly because they're at the very top and you can just scroll down one degree on your mouse wheel to find it... mostly because it should be threadmarked automatically and you guys complaining about threadmarks is more annoying than a missing threadmark..

Also because rethreadmarking means deleting all threadmarks and threadmarking from the beginning all over again because the feature that's supposed to let you edit them doesn't work.
Oh, ok. Sorry for annoying you with my post.
I think the issue is more that without the threadmark it doesn't show up in Reader Mode?
What is reader mode? Is it something for the mobile site?
I am not sure? I haven't checked this on desktop recently but I thought it was there on both...

Click the Threadmarks dropdown, it should be an option... also there is a button for Reader Mode at the first and last posts
Reader mode is basically having all the threadmarks in order, without comments in between or the need to hit the next chapter button.
Ah. Well several of my stories are completely screwed because the reorganize threadmarks feature doesn't work. Will contact an admin about it on my next day off of work.

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