Author's Note: Back at last! I've been renewed and rejuvenated, and I'm hoping the rest of this story will go by quickly. We've got a lot to cover—the plot from here on out is not long, but it is very thick. In this chapter; Sebastian stages a coup and gets far more than he bargained for. Will the mystery of the meerkat finally be solved? Read on and find out!

CHAPTER 74 The Aftermath

Blaine Anderson is playing pretend.

There's no other way to put it, really. He's lying with his eyes closed, but he's not sleeping. There's no one in the room with him, so he isn't acting. 'Pretending' is the only word that fits, and it's every bit as childish as it sounds.

He's hiding, you see.

From what?

From everything. Everything he did, everything he caused. The friend he crippled, the friend he blinded, the friends he abandoned. The boyfriend he betrayed. The soldiers he hurt. The man he killed. It's too much, far too much for him to bear. It's a burden that will crush him if he tries to lift it.

He can't lift it. He can't accept it. He can't even fathom it.

How did all of this happen? He is just a boy. Just a stupid, selfish little boy—he should not be capable of causing this much damage. There is so much that hangs on him, yet he cannot think of a less stable lynchpin. Now, more than ever, he feels the weight of his own responsibility. He cannot handle this.

His father would be disappointed. Blaine knows this. Part of him hopes for some magical, revelatory dream like he had when he was fireless, where his father visits him along with his mother and somehow endows him with the strength to be everything he needs to be for everyone.

But it's not going to happen, he knows that. First of all, he's not even asleep, which is more or less required for dreaming. Second, even when he searches his waking mind for his father, the only image he finds is one of stern eyes and disapproval.

He has failed his father, and everyone else.

So he hides. From the world. From his dead father. From his friends. From himself.

But he cannot hide forever.

Hushed voices whisper outside of his door. He can't make out the words, but the tone is tense, and the volume is growing. The smell of conflict hangs in the air like smoke, choking him even as he tries to ignore it. Wishing it away only strengthens the hostile odor. He doesn't know who the fight will be between, or why it will start, but he knows it's coming.

He also knows that everyone here is someone he calls a friend, and the thought of them fighting each other makes him sick.

He wants to stop them. He wants a lot of things, really. But to stop them, he would have to stop pretending, to acknowledge the world he created and the world he destroyed in order to make it.

And he can't do that…

Can he?

The thought terrifies him. Everyone will be mad at him—and rightly so. What he did was stupid and dangerous. His heart burned with urgent emotion, and he allowed that fire to drive him instead of the other way around. "The bender must control the flame," his father used to say, "or the flame will control the bender."

He thought he had mastered his fire. He thought he was in control. But he was wrong. He has much to learn before he can truly say he 'controls' anything, even himself.

He was selfish. Like an untamed flame, he thought of only himself, his needs, his desires. Only his feelings were taken into account. Even as he wrote his goodbye letter to Kurt, it was more for himself than for his beloved. He wanted to vent his feelings. Kurt's feelings did not factor into the equation, a fact that makes his skin flush red with shame. He's hurt the person he loves most. Someone so selfish cannot be trusted with the heart of someone so selfless.

And yet… Kurt trusted him anyway.

And that is the crux of the matter, isn't it?

No matter what he wants, what he deserves, what he feels or what he thinks, the world will not change for him. His actions are not erased. Injuries are not healed. The dead are not revived, and time is not reversed. The voices grow from whispers to shout. None of this is going away, no matter how hard he pretends.

His selfishness opened this wound, and now his selfishness is allowing it to fester.

He needs to get up.

He wants to get up.

But he is afraid.

The fear grips him tight, and for a moment, it feels like guilt might actually kill him. Like he will open his eyes and be physically crushed by the burden of what his selfishness has wrought—one friend blind, one crippled, possibly for life, one man dead at his hands and who knows how many others dead because of his actions? Damage and destruction impossible to imagine, all because of one selfish little boy.

The grip tightens, icy fingers crushing turning his heart to pulp. The world could revile him, and Blaine would not blame it. His friends might hate him. Kurt might hate him, and that, more than anything, is what scares him. Not defeat, injury, or even death. Loss is what he fears most. That by his own hand, he will harm the ones he loves, push them away, and be left alone. He doesn't know how to face that fear, how to even face the possibility.

It comes to him then, a memory left in his mind like a gift. An early firebending lesson, just after the first time he really burned himself.

"Come on, Blaine," his father says. "You will certainly fail if you don't even try."

"But," Blaine sniffs, clutching his bandaged hand. "I'm scared."

"There, there," his father smiles. "Courage, my boy."

"I'm too scared for courage!" Blaine says petulantly.

"Oh, that's silly," his father says. "You're never too scared for courage. Being scared is what makes courage possible!"

Blaine blinks at him, silent in befuddlement.

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to move in spite of it," his father explains.

"I don't think I have that," Blaine says. "How can I get it?"

"Hmmm…" his father says. "Trying saying it out loud."

"It," Blaine says.

"No, no," his father says. "Courage. Say the word. When you say 'courage,' what you are truly saying is 'I am afraid, but I will not let that stop me.' Just say it, and then do it."

"That's it?" Blaine asks.

"That's it," his father says. "Go on, give it a try."

Blaine nods, stubby legs moving into stance. He takes a deep breath.

"Courage," he says aloud. 'I am afraid, but I will not let that stop me,' he echoes in his mind.

And he doesn't. He punches forth a bright orange burst, and his father is delighted.

Blaine breathes out, heart still pounding with fear. But he understands now, even with all his fear and denial, the burden of his actions will not vanish. Even if he refuses to lift it, it remains attached to him by unbreakable chains of fate. To even try to drag it along with him seems a fool's errand. A snailsloth would make better time.

But then, the philosopher Infernicus once said: "It does not matter how slow you go, so long as you do not stop."

He has done many things wrong in his life. He has caused damage that he may not ever be able to fix. But he will never know unless he tries, and he cannot try unless he opens his eyes. He cannot undo what he has done. The only thing left to do is move forward, dragging himself with his fingernails if he must.

He has been selfish long enough.

So Blaine Anderson sucks in a breath, and whispers to himself. "Courage."

The fear does not leave him, but his heart breaks free of its grip, and he opens his eyes.

The light is bright, blinding him at first. But eventually, his eyes adjust, and he sees the world as it truly is.

It seems as fitting a metaphor as any.

Blaine exits his room to a sight he never imagined he'd see.

His friends are forming battle lines. The Dragon Hawks on one side, Team Avatar on the other. It's a stand-off, fraught with tension that crackles in the air like the prelude to a thunderbolt.

They're too busy staring down each other to notice him, so Blaine makes himself known. "Guys? What's going on here?"

Pause for about a dozen people turning towards him and shouting "Blaine!" near-simultaneously. And then the battle for the Prince begins.

The Hawks throw first volley.

"They won't let us see Wes and David," Jeff says.

"Because you're trying to steal them!" Finn counters.

"We're trying to help them!" Trent says. "They need a doctor, not some Water Tribe Shaman chanting gibberish and putting leechslugs on their wounds!"

"What?" Finn barks. "That's… that's not how it works!"

"How do we know that?" Trent asks.

"He healed you!" Mercedes says. "You were right there!"

"Silence, vile enchantress!" Flint counters. "She's just angry because we're onto her evil Earth Kingdom mind control scheme." He looks at Blaine. "She intended to shove ground-up rocks up Wes's nose so she could bend his mind!"

"That is outrageous!" Rachel says. "And physically impossible, or at least extremely deleterious for his mental health. Even if it wasn't, Mercedes would never do such a thing!"

"Oh, you would say that," Luke says. "You just want distract us so no one sees you take David to your nest and lay your evil airbender eggs in his nice, warm intestines. Our friends are not your incubators!"

"Airbenders do not lay eggs!" Rachel says, pausing for a second. "At least… I am 95 percent sure that they don't. And even if they did, I would never… egg someone without their informed consent! I am not an egg-rapist!"

Artie rolls his eyes and rolls his chair towards the Prince. "B-money, please, put your birds in their damn cages before—"

"Watch out, Blaine!" Cole warns. "That's the crazy murderer! He can kill you from fifty paces with nothing but a pebble!"

Artie glares at Cole and pointedly continues. "—before I have to pimp-hand somebody so hard, by Earth Kingdom law, he becomes my ho."

All this conflict has Blaine's head spinning. "Okay, everyone just calm down."

"Calm down?" Jeff barks. "How can we calm down? Our country is under attack! These people are trying to abduct you."

"Abduct?" Blaine asks. There's something familiar about that word in this situation…

"Yes, the core of their insidious plot," Flint says. "They want to take you out of the Fire Nation so the Avatar can brainwash you and install you as a puppet king!"

"Piece by piece, they're destroying everything that keeps you here!" Jeff says. "They're just waiting for us to turn our backs so they can finish off Wes and David."

"That's not true," Blaine says, shaking his head. "That's ridiculous!"

"Is it?" Trent asks. "Don't you think it's just a little too convenient that everything went wrong when they showed up? You just happened to meet the Avatar, the Fire Lord just happened to get killed, Sue just happened to take over, you just happened to get hurt, and the Avatar just happened to be there to nurse you back to health. And now the fleet just happens to be destroyed and your friends—the last thing keeping you here—just happened to nearly die. The thread that binds you to your nation is nearly severed, and these people are running at it with scissors!"

"And that's very unsafe," Ethan says.

"It was quite the plan," Flint says. "But we have been awakened to their treachery, and I say it's time we put these foreign devils in their place."

"Boy, call me a devil again and see if I don't prove you right," Mercedes growls.

Trent approaches Artie. "I think it's time for you to roll out."

"How 'bout I roll you out, dough-boy?" Artie challenges.

"Everyone, please!" Rachel cries. "These hurtful words have to stop!"

"Shut up, you traitorous sky-slut!" Jeff says.

"Hey, don't talk to her like that!" Finn shouts, walking towards him.

"What are you gonna do about it, pissbender?" Jeff challenges, getting right into Finn's face. "Gonna get Sparkles, Destroyer of Worlds to smite us like he did everyone else?"

"Back off!" Finn warns.

"Make me!" Jeff challenges.

Finn shoves him. Jeff shoves back. Finn shoves harder. Jeff cocks his fist back and Blaine sees a spark ignite at the end, and that's the last straw.

A second later, Jeff is on the ground and Blaine is between him and Finn.

"That's enough!" he shouts. "This has gone too far!"

"You're siding with them?" Jeff says, incredulous.

"They are my friends!" Blaine says. "And so are you. I'm sick of my friends fighting each other!"

"But they're trying to abdu—"

"No, they aren't!" Blaine says. "No one is abducting anyone! Waterbenders do not use leechslugs for healing, earthbenders do bend people's minds, and airbenders do not lay eggs. Those things aren't just untrue; they're insane."

"Thank you!" says Nick.

Jeff looks at him, shocked and betrayed. "Dude!"

"What?" Nick says. "Someone had to say it!"

"Where did you even hear that stuff?" Blaine asks.

"Somebody told them," Mercedes says. "Three guesses as to who."

Right on cue, a familiar figure parts the Dragon Hawks and steps through, newly dressed in a few bits of light armor over old clothes. "Gentlemen, thanks for the duds," he says. "My old ones were a little crispy around the edges." He notices the Prince. "Blaine! You're awake! Good, that's one less person we have to carry."

"Sebastian?" Blaine says. "What are you doing here?"

"I tried to kill Sue, same as you," Sebastian says. "Ran into a little bad luck on the way back, but I'm feeling better now."

"Yeah, thanks to me!" Finn says. "If it wasn't for me, none of you would even be standi—"

"Don't interrupt," Sebastian interrupts. "It's rude. Anyway, the guys told me all about your little adventure, and I've got to say, boy was I wrong about you. Walking right up to the Fire Lord and trying to shiv her? That takes some stones, my friend, even if you got your ass kicked. You made a plan, carried it out, got within inches of success and managed to escape with your life. You even iced a dude on your way out! Your first kill…" He smiles. "I'd say congratulations, but you're probably not in the mood. Still, big milestone."

The last thing Blaine wants is congratulations. "Sebastian, you still haven't answered my question."

"Oh, you mean the reason I'm here?" Sebastian asks. "I took a few stray fire shots on my way out. Stumbled here, passed out, and when I woke up, your multiethnic band of 'buddies' had locked me up and were trying to frame me for the murders the cripple committed."

"I didn't murder anyone!" Artie shouts. "That was you! I saw you!"

"Says the guy on the wanted posters," Sebastian shrugs. "And I'm sure you've seen all sorts of interesting things, being that you're crazier than a tigerdillo on catnip."

Artie's eyes widen. "What the…motherfucking… I'm… I am not… how in the Hills…?"

"I was in the next room when you gave your little confession to the Avatar. Heard the whole thing," Sebastian says casually. "FYI, if you want to keep secrets, you should try a room with thicker walls."

Artie is left sputtering and speechless. Blaine is pretty sure he's never seen that before.

"As I was saying," Sebastian continues. "At that moment, I finally saw the true colors of our so-called friends here. See, I've been around. I know how foreigners operate, so once I realized they were working against us, it didn't take me long to suss out their evil plan. Unfortunately, there wasn't much I could do about it…" He nods at Jeff. "…that is, until Jeff here stumbled into my room by mistake. We had a nice long chat, and it turns out, he was just as angry about all of this as I was. So he set me free, and I decided to do my patriotic duty and inform my fellow citizens of the foreign plot to destroy our country and our freedom. We Fire Nationals look out for each other, am I right?"

"So you're the one who told them all of that stuff?" Blaine asks.

"I told them the truth," Sebastian says. "I can see how that might upset some people."

"But it's not true!" Blaine says. "None of it is true! Sebastian, you can't just go around saying stuff like that about my friends."

"Your friends just attacked your country!" Jeff interjects. "The Avatar smashed through our entire fleet. Who knows how many people he's killed?"

"We tried to stop him!" Finn says.

"And a damn fine job you did," Sebastian says. "After he'd already destroyed everything."

Blaine shakes his head. "Guys, I'm sure… I'm sure there's an explanation for that, he didn't mean—"

"Didn't mean to?" Sebastian scoffs. "You don't get out of bed and trip and destroy a fleet of warships by mistake. Kurt just annihilated half your army!"

"Kurt saved Blaine's life!" Rachel says.

"Of course he did!" Jeff jumps in. "Because Blaine is the only thing he cares about!"

"Stop!" Blaine orders. "Everyone just stop! No one is trying to abduct me! We've already been, through this, we've…"

And then it hits him.

"…we've already been through this," he repeats.

"What do you mean?" Sebastian says.

"This is the second time my friends have been convinced that someone is trying to abduct me. And it's the second time they've almost fought over it, while you stood in the middle," Blaine says. "It's almost like you're doing it on purpose…"

Blaine intends it as an observation, but Sebastian hears an accusation, and at that moment, something changes. A crack appears in Sebastian's mask—a small one, quickly mended, but enough for Blaine to see through it. Enough for him to see the cold, calculating truth beneath the charming exterior.

It's a split second that lasts a lifetime. Blaine's world shifts on its axis, and Sebastian sees it happen. He can see Blaine mentally recounting every interaction they've ever had, the meaning of every word they've spoken to each other shifting in his mind.

The game has changed. Time for a shift in strategy…

"Blaine, why are you doing this?" Sebastian asks. "I figured the choice between your people and a bunch of foreigners would be a no-brainer for the Fire Prince."

Blaine narrows his eyes at him. "I'm not 'choosing' between my friends," he says. "To me, there is no difference between them. Everyone in this room is a friend… except for maybe you. What are you, Sebastian?"

Sebastian glares at him. "I'm the guy who saved your life," he says. "And I'm trying to save you right now, don't you get it? The Avatar is trying to control you!"

"No, I don't think so," Blaine says. "The only one trying to control me is you."

"Preach!" Artie says. "Tell it like it is!"

"Did anyone ask for the imput of a legless lemurdillo? Because I sure didn't!" Sebastian barks.

"What do you want from me, Sebastian?" Blaine asks. "What's your angle?"

"Angle?" Sebastian scoffs. "I risked my life to save you, and you think I'm working an angle?"

"Kurt risked his life to save me more than you, and that's what you're accusing him of," Blaine says. "Sounds to me like you might be projecting."

"Ohhhh, frostbite!" Finn says.

"Shut up, you blubbering whalesquid," Sebastian spits. "Don't you have a fishing boat to choke on?"

"Why did you save me, Sebastian?" Blaine asks. "I'm curious."

"Because I felt like it," Sebastian says. "It was a spur-of-the-moment decision."

Blaine nods. "I see. You make an awful lot of those?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Sebastian asks.

"I'm just saying…" Blaine shrugs. "You turn on a copper coin. You betrayed your friends in the Navy to save me just like that." Snap. "Just the other day, you told me you didn't believe in teamwork and patriotism, but now you're all gung-ho Fire Nation. That's quite a turnaround."

"A guy can't have a change of heart?" Sebastian asks.

"You tell me," Blaine says. "It seems like every time I get a bead on you, you switch directions. You're a rich world traveler who has it all, yet you give it up. You join the Navy, even though you're not patriotic. And then you gave up the Navy to help me, because you felt like it. And now you're trying to save me from the evil Avatar, because you're suddenly patriotic again? Something about that just doesn't add up."

Blaine can see the situation slipping through Sebastian's fingers like a slime snake. But Sebastian is wilier than Blaine realizes. "Oh, no…" he says, shaking his head. "We're too late."

"What?" Jeff asks.

"They've already done it," Sebastian says, voice and expression matching in mourning. "He's brainwashed. He's one of them now."

"I'm not brainwashed, Sebastian," Blaine says.

"No?" Sebastian presses. "Riddle me this; what kind of Prince attacks the person who saved his life? What kind of Prince sides with foreigners over his own people? What kind of Prince defends a monster that just killed thousands of his own soldiers?"

The questions throw him just a bit, but fortunately, Blaine is not alone in this fight.

"The kind of Prince that had some sense in his head, that's what kind!" Mercedes calls out.

Sebastian blinks and turns up his ear. "I'm sorry, did you say something? I saw your mouth moving, but all I heard was the mating call of a female fishopotamus in heat."

You can practically hear Mercedes's patience snap. "Oh, HILLS no you did not—"

Blaine holds his hand up. "Don't," he says. "Don't let him get to you."

Sebastian shakes his head sadly. "If only you were as concerned for your own people as you were for these foreigners."

The anger comes hot and quick, but Blaine takes his own advice and pushes it away. "These 'foreigners' helped me out when no one else would. The 'monster' that just destroyed the fleet is going to save the world. And they've saved my life way more than you." He glares at Sebastian. "Now, it's my turn to ask questions: why did you save me?"

"Because I felt like it, I already told you!" Sebastian says. "Would you have preferred me to pump you full of arrows?"

"Arrows…" Nick chimes in. "Wait a second—you're the one who shot all the dogs!"

"What do you mean?" Blaine asks.

"When we were at the Navy camp, I heard a couple guys talking. All the hunting dogs had been shot. There were like a dozen of them. That was Sebastian!" Nick says.

Blaine turns to Sebastian, an unmistakable 'got you' smirk on his face. "You only shot two or three dogs when I was with you, which means you had to have taken out the rest before we even met. That doesn't sound very spur-of-the-moment."

Sebastian clinches his fist, his voice rising. "I am not the one on trial here!" he growls.

"Oh, I think the Dragon Hawks would beg to differ," Blaine says.

Sebastian turns and sees the Hawks eying him with universal skepticism. Even Jeff, his biggest ally, no longer seems certain of anything.

"You are quite the conundrum, Sebastian," Blaine says. "So many questions, so few answers. Since you don't like answering repeat questions, let's try a new one… what's a fishopotamus?"

Sebastian blinks at him, taken aback. "It's an animal."

"Really?" Blaine says. "I've never seen one. What about you guys? You know of any fishopotamuses?"

The Hawks shake their heads 'no.'

"What about you, Rachel?" Blaine asks.

"I've never even heard of such a thing," she says.

"I see," Blaine says. "What about… my foreign friends? Finn? Artie? Mercedes?"

"We got plenty of fishopotamus in the Earth Kingdom," Mercedes says with a smirk.

"Legless lemurdillos, too," Artie says. "Funny little things. They can't walk, but man can they roll."

Even Finn gets in on the action. "And just FYI," he says, mocking Sebastian. "Blubbering whalesquids only live in cold water. Like, say, around the poles. Definitely not in the Fire Nation oceans."

"That's interesting," Blaine says. "You use animals from the Earth Kingdom and the oceans to insult people without even thinking about it."

"I've traveled extensively," Sebastian says through gritted teeth. "I've been very open about that."

"It's not what you're saying that confuses me," Blaine says. "It's what you aren't. You didn't use any Fire Nation animals. And I can't remember you using a single Fire Nation expression in the entire time that I've known you."

"Ooh, ooh!" Rachel says. "I noticed that! I noticed that too!"

Sebastian throws his arms up. "Agni's butt plug, so what?"

"The more we dig, the less sense you make," Blaine says. "Who are you really, Sebastian? What are you trying to pull?"

Sebastian is quickly losing ground, and he knows it. But a cornered animal is at its most dangerous, and he still has one trick up his sleeve…

He turns to the Dragon Hawks, and goes full-tilt. "This is stupid. Why are we even listening to these filthbenders? Do you not remember what they did?" he shouts. "They destroyed a military base! They annihilated a fleet! They killed an entire army! How many people do you think were on those ships? How many bodies are floating face-down in the harbor, bloated and swollen from drowning? How many dead soldiers, burnt to a crisp, smashed into pulp, torn to shreds, the water turning red with their blood?"

The Hawks quickly tense up, none more than Jeff. His face turns red, his eyes clench shut, his lip quivers and his fist clenches so hard it shakes.

"They are the enemy!" Sebastian shouts. "They've already brainwashed Blaine, and unless we shut them up, we'll be next! It's time to avenge everyone that died today. It's time to stand up to the enemies of our country. It's time to get our Prince back and undo what they did to him, to show the world what the Fire Nation is made of. It's time to fight! Are you with me?"

Jeff throws a flaming fist towards the sky. "Burn hard!"

The rest of the Hawks (sans Nick) follow suit. "Burn bright!"

"Burn them!" Sebastian says.

The Hawks start to charge, but Blaine goes into full royalty mode and sends them screeching to a halt with a single regal hand. "Wait!" he commands. "I have one final question…"

"Don't listen to him!" Sebastian says.

"Who won the War of the Silver Flame?" Blaine asks.

"Go! Attack!" Sebastian says. "Why are you all staring at me?"

The Hawks seem somewhat torn.

"Why not just answer his question?" Nick says.

"Yeah, it's easy," Jeff says.

"We don't have time for this!" Sebastian says.

"Your excuses are longer than the answer," Blaine says. "Come on, Sebastian. A Fire Nation first grader could answer this question. Can't you?"

Sebastian stands and sweats. "Um…"

"You can't, can you?" Blaine grins. "Because you are not—nor were you ever—a Fire Nation first grader. You're not from the Fire Nation at all!"

And just like that, the game is over. Sebastian has lost.

The Hawks immediately turn on him, treating him with the same suspicion and hostility he tried to direct towards the others. Eight firebenders and a Fire Prince all have their bending trained on him. Sebastian raises his hands in surrender. "So, you finally figured it out," he says with a strange smirk. "Took you long enough."

"Sometimes I can be a bit too trusting for my own good," Blaine says. "The answer was 'The Andersons,' by the way."

"Shit!" Sebastian says. "I almost said that."

"You were using me," Jeff says. "You were using all of us!"

"And man, was it easy," Sebastian says. "You birdbrains pecked the lies from my hands like breadcrumbs. You'd believe literally anything I said, as long as it was about a foreigner. Hills, towards the end I was saying the craziest shit I could think of, just to see if there was a limit on your stupidity. And there wasn't. There is no bottom to how dumb, how xenophobic, how hateful you flaming assholes can be." He chuckles. "You have no idea how hard it was not to laugh."

Jeff's face is growing redder by the second.

"Enough, Sebastian," Blaine says.

But Sebastian doesn't listen. "Tell me, Jeffles," he says with a smirk. "Was dear old dad as much of a half-brained racist as his useless son? I'd ask him myself, but I'm guessing he's closer to a bowl of chunky tomato soup than a person."

"Shut up," Jeff growls.

"Don't listen to him," Nick says."

"Can't say I'm too torn up about it, though," Sebastian grins. "Get it? Torn up? Like papa was torn into string cheese?"

"I said shut up!" Jeff shouts.

"Sebastian, stop it, or I'll stop you myself!" Blaine says.

Sebastian's grin drops, and he looks at Jeff with the coldest eyes Blaine has ever seen. "I hope it hurt," he says quietly. "I hope it still hurts. I hope he's alive right now, bleeding in agony and crying because he'll never see precious baby Jeff again. Because he'll never get to tell you how much he wishes you'd never been born."


The world seems to slow down, a thousand things happening in the span of a single second. Jeff lunges at Sebastian, whose hands are still raised. Nick reaches for him, but his hand barely whiffs his armor. Jeff cocks a flaming fist, and Sebastian produces a knife from his sleeve. Blaine sprints forward as Mercedes, Artie, and Finn reach for their elements. Jeff hurls a wild punch at Sebastian's head. Sebastian sidesteps it easily and knees Jeff in the stomach, doubling him over. The knife flips in his hand and descends, aiming at the back of Jeff's neck.

And Blaine is suddenly hit with the terrible realization that he is about to watch someone else die.

But then, something unexpected happens. Blaine, at full sprint, is overtaken by an unlikely hero. Rachel dashes past him, throwing her hands and the wind towards Jeff. The firebender is blown out of harm's way, Sebastian's knife catching only empty air as it descends.

The world is still for just a moment, all present attempting to process what just happened.

The Hawks recover quickly and send several fireballs at the would-be murderer. Sebastian dodges by lunging at the person closest to him—which just so happens to be Rachel, thanks to her little stunt. The amateur airbender is much better at instinctive life-saving than she is at fighting, and it takes him less than a second to turn her into a human shield, his arm around her neck and his knife at her throat.

"Nobody move," Sebastian says.

Blaine is taken aback. "Sebastia—"

"Do not test me," Sebastian says, tightening his hold. "I am through playing around."

"Help!" Rachel cries. "He's… choking… me!"

"It's gonna be okay, Rach!" Finn says.

"Easy… for you… to say!" Rachel chokes out.

Sebastian squeezes a little tighter, just to shut her up. "Hands by your sides, people. I see bending, I start cutting."

Blaine maintains his stance. "Sebastian, let her go! You're surrounded; there's no way for you to win this."

"If I don't win," Sebastian says, now starting to choke Rachel in earnest. "Nobody wins. Got it?"

A single tense moment of hesitation, and Blaine slowly drops out of his stance. The others follow suit.

Sebastian's chokehold eases, and Rachel gasps for precious air. "Good," he says. "Hands by your sides, feet on the ground. Don't try anything. I see so much as a spark, one stray drop, or a pebble that I don't like…" He presses the knife to Rachel's neck. "…miss airbender is going to get a new airhole. Are we clear?"

Finn pales, but remains still despite himself.

Blaine tries to stay calm. "Alright, Sebastian. What do you want?"

"You," Sebastian answers. "I walk out of here and you walk with me. No one follows us. Simple as that."

"So you were after me," Blaine says. "Why?"

"Leverage," Sebastian says. "Somebody wants you. I have you. I turn you in and get something in return."

"So that's it? You just saved me for the reward money?" Blaine asks. "Why didn't you just turn me in at the beginning?"

"The money wasn't enough," Sebastian says. "I wanted something a little different. So I helped you escape and used you as a bargaining chip to negotiate new terms."

"You were using me all along," Blaine says. "I can't believe I ever trusted you."

"And I almost had it, too," Sebastian says. "I was this close. Our little mask-hunting trip? A total set-up. Kind of sad I skipped out on it; I hear you and the blonde girl know each other. Would've been an interesting reunion."

"You were taking me to Quinn?" Blaine says. "What did she have that you wanted?"

"I didn't want anything from her," Sebastian says. "She was just my liaison to the Fire Lord."

Artie glares at him. "So that's what was in your little death-note? That's what you killed people to send a message about?"

"It was the easiest way to be heard," Sebastian shrugs. "I'd have killed a hundred if that's what it took."

His cavalier attitude almost pushes Blaine over the edge. "You're sick," he growls.

Sebastian responds with shocking ferocity, his eyes almost feral. "I am what you people made me. We all are."

"What are you talking about?" Blaine shouts. "Who are you?"

Sebastian pulls Rachel's head back. "Enough! We're wasting time. I want you, and I'm not leaving here without you. Now, do we have a deal…" His knife scrapes against Rachel's throat. "…or do we have a mess?"

"Sebastian, stop," Blaine says.

The blade presses down harder. "I need an answer!" Sebastian says. "Five…"

"Don't do this!" Blaine pleads.

"Four… three…"

"Please, no!" Finn shouts.

"Two… one—"

"Okay!" Blaine shouts. "Okay, fine, take me!"

The room is silent and still. The Hawks stare at their leader in awe.

"What?" Jeff says. "Blaine, no… dude, you can't…"

"I have to," Blaine says. "I'm sorry."

Sebastian smiles. "I knew you wouldn't let me down."

Blaine's eyes are pure fire, but his face is surrender as he starts to walk.

"Ah-ah-ah!" Sebastian says, pressing the knife in again. "You didn't say 'mother may I.' Do exactly as I say, and no one gets hurt." Blaine stops and stands utterly still. "Put your hands on your head, turn around and walk backwards, slowly. You're gonna take the airhead's place as my knifing buddy."

Blaine's jaw is clenched so tight his teeth might be cracking, but he follows the orders dutifully. Sebastian's eyes never leave him as he slowly walks towards Blaine, keeping the rest of the rabble in his peripheral in case they try anything.

He's so focused, he doesn't even notice the puff of dust erupt from the ground in front of him. Nor does he notice the gentle breeze that guides it into Rachel's nostrils. The airbender sniffs at the dust, and her reaction is only natural.

"Ah… ah…"

"Be quiet," Sebastian says.

"Ah… ahhh…"

"I said quiet!" Sebastian growls.


"Are you deaf—" He looks down at her, and his eyes widen.


And everyone goes flying. Rachel's sneeze packs a gale-force wallop that scatters the group in every direction. The Hawks sail into the warehouse proper, while Blaine and Team Avatar are blasted to the end of the hall. Rachel rockets towards the ceiling, and Sebastian slams into a wall.

The blow knocks the wind out of his lungs and the knife from his hands. He falls to his knees and scrambles the weapon in a blind panic. The second his hand grips the handle, it is engulfed in flames.

"AH!" he hisses, withdrawing the burned limb and looking up expecting Blaine.

It's not Blaine. He wishes it was Blaine. "Uh-oh."

The earth stands him up and then every element assaults him in turn. Half-frozen slush slams him in the face like a iceberg bitchslap. Stone flippers bat him back and forth like a kuei ball. Jets of flame whip across his torso like fiery lizard tongues, every hit punctuated by a command.


The relentless assault stops just long enough for him to see the Avatar's rage face as whips up some air for the finale.


And then Sebastian is wind-blasted clear across the warehouse, smashing a stack of crates a vanishing beneath the rubble.

"Sweet La that was gratifying," Kurt says.

"Kurt!" Blaine shouts, rushing towards him. "Kurt, are you alright?"

Kurt exhales to calm himself. "I'm fine, Blaine, I—"

A clamor erupts from the warehouse as Sebastian suddenly bursts out of the rubble, lurching forward and swinging a broken plank like a drunken dance partner. The Hawks quickly surround him, but are hesitant to move in. "Come on!" he slurs. "I'm not done yet! I'll take… I'll take all of you! Bring it on, bring it—"

And then he is knocked thoroughly unconscious by a falling Rachel.

"You meanie!" Rachel says, stomping on his back like she's giving him the world's angriest massage. "How dare you? We had polite conversation together!"

She continues to put footprints on him until Finn rushes in and wraps her in a full body hug so she can have a nice cathartic cry.

If he gets a little teary too, it's just because he's so glad she's okay.

The Hawks drag Sebastian off to be re-restrained, with Jeff personally volunteering to tie the ropes extra-tight. After Rachel calms down, Team Avatar gathers for a little pow-wow, with plentiful 'are-you-okays' and 'yes-I'm-fines' exchanged every which way.

"I was listening to his little confession at my door," Kurt explains. "What was Sebastian even doing here?"

"He was here when we got back," Artie says. "We healed him up and tied him down, but he snake-tongued his way out of the bonds and played the Dragon Hawks like a tsungi horn."

"It wasn't that bad," Trent says petulantly.

"Like a tsungi horn," Artie repeats, miming the instrument and blowing a sour note. "WOOOOOONNNNNK!"

"What should we do with him?" Rachel asks.

"Tie him up and leave him for the guards," Finn says, still practically hanging off Rachel like a large, fleshy cape. "He deserves whatever he gets."

"No," Blaine says.

Kurt blinks at him. "Please tell me you're not defending him."

"I'm not, but I still want some answers," Blaine says.

"About what?" Mercedes asks. "He confessed damn near everything."

Blaine shakes his head. "Something still doesn't add up. If he really almost had me, why did he balk? Trying to kill Sue wrecked his entire plan. Why did he do it?"

"That is a mystery," Artie says. "One I strongly recommend we solve later. We need to bail. Thad and Sam are in enemy hands, and they know where we are. To be safe, we have to assume they'll squeal."

Kurt nods. "Good thinking," he says. "Just… one more thing." His eyes fall to the floor. "I just woke up and I don't remember the last several hours. I take it that means…" he trails off, but Finn, Artie, and Mercedes get the message instantly.

Mercedes nods. "I'm sorry, baby."

Kurt takes an unsteady breath. "How bad was it this time?"

Finn winces. "Bad," he says.

"How bad?" Kurt asks.

Artie looks down. "I don't even know where to—"

"Don't tell me," Kurt says. "Just… show me. Please."

Though hesitant, the group ultimately guides Kurt to a side room with a small window facing the sea. Kurt has to stand on a crate to look through, and when he sees the damage, he very nearly falls backwards. "Oh, no," he says, his voice almost keening.

The others move in to comfort him, but Kurt shakes his head, speaking in a broken voice. "I need to be alone for a moment."

Finn nods. "Come on. Let's help pack up."

The others solemnly exit, but Blaine remains, drawn to Kurt, yet unable to approach him. It's like a wall of polished glass stands between them. Blaine cannot look at Kurt for fear of his own reflection.

"Courage," he quietly whispers.

Not quiet enough, it seems. "I said alone, Blaine," Kurt sniffs.

"I'm sorry," Blaine sighs. "I'll go." He walks away, and Kurt doesn't even look at him, his eyes never leaving the world outside the window. In the doorway, he pauses and looks back at Kurt, willing to leave, but not without leaving something for Kurt. "It'll be okay."

Kurt turns to face him, red-eyed and wet faced, unable to even try and hide his anguish. "How can you say that?" he asks, almost angrily.

Blaine looks at him with complete honesty. "Because I believe it," he says. "Because it has to be."

The sadness remains firmly in place, but the anger, at least, seems to drain from Kurt very quickly. He sniffs. "I wish I could believe you," he says.

He turns back to the window, and Blaine quietly closes the door as he leaves, trying his hardest to keep believing it himself.

The world doesn't make it easy for him. No sooner than the door is closed, Blaine is confronted by a commanding Mercedes.

"Blaine, come with me. I need your help with Wes," she says.

Blaine feels like his soul was just yanked out through his nose. In the middle of all the drama and noise, he had almost completely forgotten about Wes and David. That they even came close to leaving his mind immediately makes him feel like The Worst Person.

His feelings must be pretty obvious, because Mercedes makes at least a half-hearted effort to comfort him. "Don't worry, he's fine. Doped out of his mind on the drugs Artie stole, but fine."

"Fine?" Blaine asks, daring to hope. "You mean… he isn't…?"

Mercedes sighs, gives him a hard look, and all pretense of comfort vanishes. "Okay, I was gonna sugarcoat this for you, but I guess I'm out of sugar. Here's the straight dope: your boy is blind. He's lucky he even still has eyes. You can thank Finn for that."

Hope has hooks. When it leaves, it always pulls a piece of you with it. "Oh…" Blaine says, trying to hide his internal bleeding.

He fails, and Mercedes is not having it. She grabs him and pulls him up straight, her grip just this side of crushing. "Stop it! Suck it up! Your friend is hurt and the last thing he needs is to hear you wibbling and weeping about it. This is not about you. Do what you want when you're alone. Scream, cry, punch the wall, I don't care. When you're around Wes, you suck it up and you be strong for him, you hear? He needs us to be strong for him right now."

It's harsh, but it's the truth. Her words feel like they should hurt, but something about Mercedes's steady grip makes him feel a little stronger. Just strong enough. "Yeah," he nods with a sniff.

"Say it like you mean it," Mercedes says. "Can you be strong for your friend?"

Blaine takes a deep breath, and speaks with utter conviction. "Yes."

Mercedes smiles and releases him. "Good. Come on."

He follows her to Wes's room, and the sight nearly levels him again. He's lying half-naked, torso covered in bandages, his eyes hidden behind a thick cloth bandage. They may be hidden now, but Blaine remembers what they looked like before. He suspects he always will. He can't even imagine what they must have looked like before Finn healed him. David not letting Blaine look at him probably saved all of their lives.

Mercedes gently prods him. "Wes? Wes, honey, wake up. It's time to go."

Wes groans. "Mercedes?"

"Yeah, it's me," Mercedes affirms.

Wes scrunches his face up. "Mercedes, am I… am I gravity? I feel… I feel as though perhaps I am not. Very… very floaty. I feel very floaty," he says, his head lulling from side to side. "Am I in space?"

"Yes, honey, you're in space." Mercedes motions Blaine over, and they help him sit up. Blaine remains silent for the time being, not trusting his voice.

"I thought so," Wes says, nodding sagely. "Are you in space?"

"Well, I must be if I'm talking to you," Mercedes says. Blaine keeps Wes upright as Mercedes retrieves a tattered old robe.

"That is very sound logic," Wes says with a groggy smile. "You're smart."

Mercedes can't help but mirror his smile. "Yes, I am," she says. "Thank you for noticing."

Together, she and Blaine guide Wes's pliant arms into the sleeves.

Suddenly, Wes looks distressed. "Wait… why are you in space? There's no earth in space. What will you bend?"

"Sometimes rocks fall to earth from space," Mercedes says. "So there are probably more rocks up here somewhere."

"That's true!" Wes says, suddenly enlightened. "Well, I'm very glad of that. Space is very dangerous. You should never be in space without bendables."

As he ties the robes shut, Blaine can't help but chuckle at his friend's inebriated ramblings.

But his chuckle gives him away. Wes turns his head towards Blaine, and suddenly notices something very odd. "Mercedes? Did you always have four hands?"

Blaine snorts. "Wes, it's me. It's Blaine."

Wes brightens immensely. "Blaine! You're in space too!" And then it darkens again. "Wait… you shouldn't be in space!"

"I came here for you," Blaine says as he and Mercedes prepare to stand Wes up. "I'm here to help you."

They lift him up, but Wes is limp as a freshly-steamed noodle, far too wobbly to walk on his own. They are quickly forced to sit him back down again.

"No, no, no," Wes says. "Blaine, you mustn't be in space. It's dangerous. What if you fall?"

"I fall all the time," Blaine says casually.

"Yes, but space is very high," Wes says sternly. "Your father would be very upset if I let you fall from space. You must promise me you will be very careful."

Blaine's mood dims just a bit, but he keeps his voice steady. "I promise."

"Good," Wes says with a smile.

Mercedes eyes Wes carefully. "I guess I'll just have to carry him," she says. "Wes, I'm gonna put you on my back, okay?"

"Okay," Wes says. "You won't let me float away, will you?"

"No," Mercedes says. "I'll keep you safe."

"Alright then," Wes says. He holds out his arms, and Mercedes wraps them around her neck and hoists him onto her back. Blaine helps adjust his weight and steady him.

"There we go. Hold on tight," Mercedes says. They start towards the door with Blaine tailing them, unable to hide his growing grin at their exchange.

"Where are we going?" Wes asks.

"It's a surprise," Mercedes says.

"Oooh, I love those!" Wes says. "Will Blaine be there?"


"And David?"

"Yes, David will be there," Mercedes says.

"Wonderful…" Wes sighs, nuzzling into her neck. "Is… is Blaine still here?"

Blaine's grin slips just slightly. "I'm still here, Wes."

"Good," Wes says, with a yawn. "I'm… very sleepy," he sighs.

"You can go back to sleep," Blaine says. "We'll take care of you."

"Okay," Wes nods. "Remember… remember what I said," he drones, his head drooping. "Be very careful. Space is very high." He settles down against Mercedes, and Blaine is almost positive he's asleep when he quietly sighs one final warning for his young friends. "And… watch your step," he says. "Space is also… dark. Very… very dark…"

Blaine stops in his tracks and quietly watches them head out the door. When they are gone, he gently closes the door behind them, leaving himself alone in the small storage room.

Alone, meaning that he now has Mercedes's permission to do whatever he wants.

He makes ample use of the opportunity, doing all she suggested and more, trying in vain to drown out the small, traitorous voice in the back of his head reminding him, over and over again…

"This is your fault. You did this to him."

He emerges from Wes's room, red-eyed and drained, but feeling a little better. The first thing he sees is the Dragon Hawks in new outfits. Disguising themselves as soldiers is no longer an option, so now, they have opted to dress in rags and disguise themselves as hobos. Artie is helping by plastering them with dirt.

There is unmistakable tension in the air. The Hawks all look nervous and twitchy, save for Nick, who is nowhere to be seen, and Jeff, who sits off to the side and looking utterly wretched

It is only just now that he realizes they aren't even supposed to be here.

"Guys," he says, walking over. "Why are you still here? I thought I told you to go home."

Trent shrugs. "We don't want to go home," he says. "We were never here for Thad. We're here for you. All of us."

"Really?" Blaine says.

"Of course," Trent says. "We're not going to risk our lives for someone we hate."

The Hawks take turns giving their collective assurances to him, and Blaine is left with a bright grin at the end. "Thanks, guys," he says quietly. "I'm… blown away by your loyalty, and thankful for your friendship."

He pauses for a second, taking a deep breath.

"And… as a friend," Blaine says, his smile dropping. "I have to say, I'm very disappointed in you all."

The Hawks headtilt in collective befuddlement

"How could you buy into all of that crap?" Blaine says. "How could you turn against the people who have done nothing but help us this whole time? I thought you were better than this."

They at least have the good sense to look ashamed. Blaine doesn't miss Artie's small satisfied smirk as he smears some mud over Trent's flushed cheeks.

"It's my fault," Jeff says, standing up and walking over. "I'm the one who let Sebastian out, and I'm the one who told everyone to trust him. I'm sorry. I really, am, but…" He sighs. "I was just so angry… and… and worried…"

Blaine remembers Sebastian's remark. "Your dad…"

Jeff nods. "I don't know what happened to him. He's almost always stationed on a ship, and the ships…" He takes a breath, and looks down at Artie. "Why did he do it? If the Avatar isn't evil, if he doesn't hate us, then why did he do all that? Why would he destroy so much?"

Artie pauses his make-up artistry and takes a moment to think. He looks up at Jeff. "Is a hurricane evil?"

Jeff blinks. "No, but—"

"Can a hurricane hate?" Artie continues.

Jeff shakes his head. "No…"

"So it is with the Avatar," Artie says. "What you saw wasn't Kurt. It was a force of nature acting through him. He can't control it."

"Oh…" Jeff says. "Wait, is that supposed to make us feel better?"

"Errr, what I mean is, he can't control it yet," Artie says. "It's kind of complicated, and—"

"And it's no excuse," Kurt says.

The whole room turns to see him march out of his room, sorrowful but resolute. Blaine feels something hitch in his chest as he watches Kurt steel himself and speak frankly. "The Avatar State is a defense mechanism. It happens when I get too scared, angry, or sad to think straight. The whole of the Avatar Spirit, all of my past lives, channel their energy through me and take control. The power is incredible, but it's…" He takes a moment to collect his thoughts. "…it's too big. It only cares about balance. It only sees the big picture. It doesn't see all the little people it hurts, any more than an earthbender sees all the ants he crushes."

Artie scrunches his nose. "Huh. I never thought of that. Man, it must suck to be a bug in the EK."

"I'm supposed to learn to control it, but right now I can't, and I…" A shuddery breath. "I thought Blaine was dead and I just… I lost it. I know I can never make up for the damage done here, but I want you to know I am so, so sorry."

Jeff looks conflicted. "I don't…" His jaw clenches. "I want to forgive you, and I know… it wasn't your fault, but I just… that doesn't… that doesn't change what happened. There's so much damage, and…"

"It's okay," Kurt says. "It's okay if you can't forgive me. I understand. The damage I did… it was terrible, and awful, and—"

"Maybe not as bad as you think," Finn says, coming from behind to wrap an arm around his brother.

"What do you mean?" Blaine asks.

"I was right in the middle of the aftermath," Finn says. "I saw a lot of stuff, a lot of wreckage, and a lot of broken ships, but I just realized something I didn't see: people."

Kurt blinks. "Really?"

Finn nods. "Not even one. Alive or dead."

"But… how?" Jeff asks. "That's—"

Trent smacks himself in the forehead. "Oh, for fuck's sake—the evacuation! Sam told everyone to beat it!"

"That's right," Flint says. "I forgot all about that."

"Oh, yeah!" Artie says with a grin. "And even before that, the commander guy ordered everyone off the ships to help fight Kurt."

"That's true…" Jeff says. "But then Quinn told them to come back. What if…?"


That's all the warning they get before another window falls victim to the avian wrecking ball that is Pavarotti. A breathless Nick dashes in, hot on its tail as the bird casually dives down and drops a canister in Jeff's hands.

"Open it," Nick says.

Jeff opens it and pulls out the message. His jaw drops. "It's… it's from my dad," he says, sprouting a grin that grows brighter by the second. "He's fine. He says… 'the death toll was minimal, thanks to the Fire Lord's brilliant strategic evacuation.' You guys were right!"

Kurt nearly melts with relief. "Oh, thank La. Thank the heavens. Thank… thank… Finn, get me a list of spirits, I'm too happy to remember their names and I need to thank them all."

Jeff continues to scan the letter, looking a bit confused. "He assures me he isn't hurt, though the clean-up will take a while. And he's… shocked that the news of the attack reached Dalton so quickly. Wait, did somebody send him a letter or something?"

"Yeah, that would be me," Nick says with a satisfied smile. "I saw how messed up you were, so I sent a letter to your dad that said it was from you. I didn't tell you, because… well, I didn't want to get your hopes up if it came back undelivered. Sorry if that seems a little weird, but—"

Jeff cuts him off with a hug tight enough to audibly pop his back. "You are the best friend in the world."

"Not the best," Nick says with a shrug. "Top five, maybe."

Rachel and Mercedes come in from outside. "Wes and David are strapped onto Speedy and ready to be shipped," Rachel reports.

"Y'all ready to head out?" Mercedes asks.

"Just a second," Blaine says. "Now that everyone is here…" He looks at the Hawks. "I think my friends have something to say. I trust them to do the right thing."

The Hawks adopt a collective stance of penitence. Trent speaks first. "We're sorry for… umm… you know… the whole attempted coup thing."

"And the name-calling," Cole adds.

"And the insinuations about your relatives, and the sexual proclivities thereof," Flint says.

Jeff steps out from the group to give an apology of his own. "And I'm especially sorry. I was a complete and utter toolbag to you guys, and none of you deserved it. I was being a selfish, angry dick. You guys… you saved our lives. You saved me twice!" he says, smiling at Rachel. "So thanks for that. And, again, I am really, really, super, incredibly sorry. I have never been more ashamed of myself…"

Kurt gives him a small smile. "It sounds to me like you were emotional and you just lost control. I can hardly hold that against you; I know how it feels."

Jeff grins back. "Yeah, I guess you do, don't you?"

Blaine's heart warms at the reconciliation, but he knows the apologies aren't done yet. Now, it's his turn. "I owe the biggest apology of all." He bows his head. "I thought I was protecting you all by going off by myself, but it turns out I'm the only reason you were hurt at all. I'm the only reason any of this even happened, and I don't… I don't even know how to account for all the damage I caused." He swallows. "All I can do is apologize and promise that I will never do anything like that again. I hope you can forgive me."

Kurt gives him a significant look. "I think…" he says with a small smile. "…it'll be okay. I think we'll all be okay."

Blaine grins back.

"Okay, this is touching and all, but we really should find a safer place to puke our feelings," Artie says. "Can we go now?"

Blaine turns to the Hawks. "How about it, guys? You ready?"

"Ready!" the Hawks chorus.

"Then let's move out!"

Turn out, Artie already scouted them a new hideout—an abandoned factory that was condemned for some kind of dangerous chemical spill. According to him, there are plenty of animals living there, so it can't be too dangerous. The group moves quickly, dividing into small, ever-shifting groups so as not to draw too much attention to themselves. Artie guides them with cleverly placed markers, making sure no one gets lost.

Blaine sticks close to Kurt the whole time, watching him. Kurt, meanwhile, stares towards the ocean and the wreckage therein, still not quite able to fathom it.

Blaine moves in close. "Are you alright?" he whispers.

Kurt shakes his head. "I'm glad that few people were killed, but…" A sigh. "A few is still more than I would've wanted. The fact that no one was onboard those ships is a miracle. Sam might just be the biggest hero of us all. It was luck, Blaine. That's the only reason I'm not responsible for a massacre."

Blaine shakes his head. "Kurt, this wasn't your fault. You couldn't control yourself."

"But it's my responsibility," Kurt says. "I'm supposed to control it, but I don't know how. I don't even know where to begin!" He clenches his jaw. "I hate this! I hate waking up and wondering what kind of destruction I've caused today, I hate not being in control, I hate losing myself inside of this… thing." He swallows. "I hate the Avatar State. I'd be happy if I never saw it again."

Blaine is struck suddenly with the terrible image of a Kurt possessed, the fury of four elements using him as a human conduit. He shudders. "It is pretty scary," he admits.

Kurt looks like Blaine just impaled a puppy on his brooch. Great job, Prince Comforting! Very reassuring.

"But I guess it's supposed to be?" Blaine says. "I mean… you know, to bad people."

Kurt shakes his head and turns back towards the ocean.

"I'm sorry," Blaine says. "I'm sorry I put you through this."

"I know," Kurt says.

Blaine takes a breath. "But… you shouldn't dwell on it. Beating yourself up over it won't help."

"So what am I supposed to do? This isn't the first time I've done this," Kurt says. "But it's by far the most damage I've ever done. I can't stop thinking about it."

"I don't know," Blaine says. "I think maybe we just have to… accept it and move on."

"You make it sound so easy," Kurt says. "After this, I feel like I'm going to spend the rest of my life living in fear. Wondering when I'm going to lose control again. When I'm going to hurt someone I love. How can I just move past that?"

Blaine gives him a little grin. "Courage," he says simply.

Kurt blinks at him. "You mean like liquid courage? Because me and alcohol do not get along—"

"No," Blaine grins. "Courage. 'I am afraid, but I won't let that stop me.'"

"Thank you, Mister Dictionary," Kurt says flatly.

Blaine tries to explain. "It's just… something my father told me once. If you can't get rid of fear, all you can do is move on in spite of it. That's what courage means. So when I you feel like you can't go on because you're too afraid… you just say 'courage' and do it anyway." He nudges him with his shoulder. "Try it."

Kurt takes a deep breath and stares thoughtfully into the horizon, saying dramatically "Courage."

Blaine smiles. "Feel better?"

"No," Kurt says flatly.

"…oh," Blaine says, his smile faltering.

Kurt looks pensive for a moment. "Well… maybe a little."

Blaine's grin returns in full force, and Kurt mirrors it.

"I'm still mad at you," Kurt says.

Blaine nods. "Me too."

"But… I think we can move past it," Kurt says. "For now… I think I just need to find something else to focus on."

"Like what?" Blaine asks.

Kurt squints at something just beyond him. "Like that…"

And then, for some odd reason, Kurt spends the rest of the trip staring at Sebastian. The unconscious boy is being transported in a wheelbarrow, disguised (somewhat appropriately) as a pile of garbage. Kurt stares at him like he's a puzzle box that holds contain the key to all of life's mysteries. He seems determined to solve Sebastian.

By the time they get to the factory, he has apparently succeeded. "I think I know who Sebastian is," Kurt whispers to him as they enter the building.

Blaine raises a brow. "Do tell."

"Not quite yet," Kurt says with a smile. "We only get to do this once, and I want to do it right. First, I need to set the stage."

Blaine blinks, thoroughly confused. "Set the stage…?"

"Come along, darling," Kurt says, grabbing his hand and merrily dragging him off. "We have a show to prepare for…"

Sebastian awakens to an ice-cold splash of water. He full-body flinches and nearly flips out of the chair he's tied to.

He coughs and sputters as his eyes adjust to reveal a room, small and dark, dimly lit by a single oil lamp on a table in front of him. Two figures are highlighted by the light: Blaine and Kurt, their faces matching expressions cut in merciless stone. The room's other occupants are dim shadows—the Hawks on one side, Team Avatar on the other, standing around like spectators.

"Sebastian!" Kurt says, in mock joy. "So nice of you to join us."

Sebastian hides his ire behind a smile. "Cute," he says. "Is this your idea of an interrogation? 'Cause I gotta tell you, I've got nothing to say."

"But you've already told us so much," Blaine says. "Why stop now?"

Sebastian says nothing.

"What more could you possibly be hiding?" Kurt says, circling around the table.

"What further secrets do you keep?" Blaine says, circling the other side.

The two come to a stop right in front of him. Blaine lights a flame in his palm and holds it so that it casts their face in deep, imposing shadows.

Sebastian glares at them and says nothing.

"Let's look at the evidence," Kurt says. "We already know you're a liar."

"And a foreigner," Blaine adds.

"And a murderer," Kurt continues. "So whatever you're hiding must be even worse than those."

"You said you almost had me," Blaine says. "And you did. But the only reason your plan failed was because you bailed. Why would you turn on your benefactor? Why try to kill the person who has everything you need?" He strokes his chin thoughtfully. "It is a mystery. One that requires a careful mind, a keen eye, and vast, unfathomable intelligence to—"

"Oh, stop beating around the bush already!" Sebastian groans. "It's obvious you think you know the answer."

Blaine and Kurt stare at him in silence. Kurt's face is as stony as ever, but Blaine looks mildly confused. Kurt nudges him, and Blaine winces. "I'm sorry, he threw me off. I can't remember my next line."

Kurt sighs and shakes his head. "I knew we should have rehearsed this more."

Sebastian gapes. "Wow," he says. "I cannot believe I lost to this. I might actually die of shame."

"Should we just start over?" Blaine asks.

"No, the effect just wouldn't be the same," Kurt says. "I'll take it from here. I know the rest of the lines by heart."

"The spotlight is yours," Blaine says, graciously bowing and backing into the shadows.

"Could you hurry it up a little?" Sebastian asks. "If this disgusting love-fest keeps going, I might choke on my own vomit."

Kurt puts his hands on his hips. "Oh, you're not dying on us yet. Not while I still have a monologue to give." He clears his throat. "When Sue's master plan was decoded, you had quite the little episode. Your freak-out was very revealing. It was the first time I'd seen any emotion from you other than smug self-satisfaction. You cared. 'Why?' I wondered. Does he have family on the island? Friends? A lover?"

Sebastian stares at him, flatly unamused.

"'Perhaps,' I thought," Kurt continues. "'But perhaps there's more.' You see, when you snapped that day, I saw something in you… a kind of animal ferocity, a feral quality that was naggingly familiar to me. It took quite a bit of thinking, but I finally realized where I had seen it before."

Sebastian rolls his eyes, thoroughly done with this whole mess.

"That look in your eyes," Kurt continues. "It was the look of an animal. Or rather, a person who became an animal."

The shift is small, but noticeable. Sebastian suddenly becomes just a bit stiffer, his feigned nonchalance just a little less convincing.

"It was the look of someone who knows what it's like to fight for survival," Kurt continues. "Who knows what it's like to be abandoned and discarded. Someone who became an animal… because that's how they were treated."

A thin sheen of sweat has formed on Sebastian's brow. His eyes are rooted straight ahead, not looking at Kurt or much of anything at all.

"You said it yourself when you were talking to Blaine," Kurt continues. "'I am what you people made me.'"

Sebastian swallows, his breath suddenly seeming impossibly loud as the rest of the room grows silent in anticipation.

"I knew what you were then," Kurt says. "In the Fire Nation, there is one thing worse than being a lying traitor. One thing worse than being a foreigner, worse even than being a murderer. One secret… that if it were to get out… would seal your fate more surely than all of the above combined."

Sebastian closes his eyes, his posture remaining stiff.

"Do you want to say it, or should I?" Kurt asks, sounding almost sympathetic.

"Just get it over with," Sebastian says, eyes still shut.

Kurt nods, and turns calmly to his audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…"

He gestures to his captive.

"Sebastian Smythe, Plague Survivor."

A low gasp ripples throughout the room, and it seems to push Sebastian past the breaking point. Without warning, he hacks up and spits the most disgusting wad he can manage, aiming squarely at the Dragon Hawks.

They practically fling themselves aside to escape it, falling over, around, and on top of each other as Sebastian engages in a mirthless, malicious laugh.

"What's the matter?" he asks, staring them all down with ice in his eyes. "Scared?"


Up Next: The truth comes out at last. With nothing left to lose, Sebastian spills the beans, and not everyone is going to like what he has to say.

It's not a happy story, or a pretty one, but it's one that needs to be told.

It's the story of the survivors.

~Chapter 75Exile Vilify

A/N 2: I am now on tumblr! You can follow me for more Solar Winds related tidbits, like unused character concepts and more fun info about the AU. Url is morkhan dot tumblr dot com.

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