Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or The Last Airbender.
Bodyguard of Azula
Epilogue: Fear and Future
He sat in a small room, trying to be careful not to wrinkle what he wore. If he did, somehow his ass would be lit in fire. "Nervous much, gaki?" asked his own personal pain in the ass (AKA, the Kyūbi).
"Of course I'm nervous." He replied mentally (as he could not risk talking aloud. Despite the others about his tenant, they hadn't told anyone else).
"Yeah, well, I've never understood these kinds of things." The fox admitted with blasé. "It seems kind of redundant, not to mention pointless."
"Well, you're not human. You're an only-Kami-knows-how-old demon fox with too many tails and a sarcastic attitude that I really don't need right now!" The blonde snapped at him.
"So glad you noticed." The Bijū told him, using that sarcastic attitude he was just told he had. "Now you would just relax already?"
"I cannot relax! I'm freaking out here! How the hell did Zuko managed to stay calm when this happened to him?" He demanded as he stood from the chair he had been sitting in and began to pace around the room.
The Kyūbi rolled his eyes. "I'm sure he had the same panic attack you're having right now, he was just able to fake his calmness very well." He answered casually, like he didn't care what was going on (which was probably true). "Now will you relax? Or am I going to have hit you with a bombardment of images that will make you relax?"
"You don't need to do that." He hastily assured the fox. He knew those images the Bijū was talking about (having been subject to them when he had been in boot and got frustrated by either the training officers or when the fox was teaching him). Quite frankly, he did not need them right now. It might just make things worse.
He finally stopped pacing and stood in front of the mirror that hung on the wall. It had been more than two years since Team Paragon had gone to the Elemental Countries to destroy the Akatsuki. In those two years, he had changed in subtle ways. He had grown a few inches in height. His visage had hardened, making him look more man then boy or teenager now. His hair had grown longer and shaggier, falling back and down to the back of his neck. He would've cut it and make it shorter, but Azula had said she liked it like that, so he didn't do anything. He had been recently toying with the idea of growing a beard. Not a full-on beard, but something like a goatee. The clothes he wore were formal robes in the colors of black and deep scarlet. His Medallion hung outside the robes for all to see.
The door to the room opened, the sound of it making him turn his head to see who it was. "Oh, it's just you guys." He said with some small relief as Sokka and Zuko walked in.
"And what exactly does that mean?" Sokka asked him with a raised eyebrow. The Tribesman had also changed in those two years. He was also taller and what muscles he decided to show had taken on a bit of a muscular tone. He had kept his hair in the style of his tribe, but had shaved the sides of his head. His Medallion was out for everyone to see as well, over robes of light and dark blue "Are you nervous?"
"Of course not, I'm terrified." He replied, swinging his body around to face them.
"For the love of the Spirits, you knew this was going to happen." The Water Paragon told him with a roll of his eyes. "You made the decision."
"I can still freak out, Sokka. I'm getting married!" He gestured wildly to emphasize his point.
"I still don't see why that's cause for you to start panicking."
"You will, Sokka, you will." Zuko promised him with a small smile. The Fire Lord had grown as well, putting some muscle (and a little bit of weight) on his body. Even though he wore the headpiece in his hair, said hair still fell around his face, framing his eyes. He wore the robes of the Fire Lord, looking comfortable and confident in them. "And if it helps, Naruto, I can assure you that Azula is just as nervous as you are." He told the blonde reassuringly.
He snorted. "The difference there, Zuko, is that she's able to calm herself down by setting things on fire. I don't have that option." He pointed out.
"Going by that definition, you are going to have a very interesting nine months when you finally get my sister pregnant." The Scarred Dragon drily remarked.
When he heard that, Naruto's face blanched. However, Sokka came to his rescue. "This is coming from the guy who married Miss. Hidden-Knives-and-Projectiles? If anyone is going to have an interesting nine months when their wife is pregnant, it's going to be you when Mai is carrying that child."
They all had the same image of a pregnant Mai fiddling with a throwing knife, an annoyed expression on her face that was on the verge of becoming pissed off. That image chilled them to the bone. Zuko went a step further and shuddered. "Thanks for that, Sokka." He said. "I really appreciate it."
"Not a problem, Zuko." The Tribesman replied with a grin.
Thanks to all that, Naruto was able to relax a little. "Has June showed up?" He asked them. When they had returned from the Elemental Countries, June had immediately left, telling them that she'll see them around before riding off on Nyla. While that was true, some of them did want to see her a bit more often.
Sokka shook his head. "Not since the last time I checked. But who knows? Maybe she'll show up just as the feast starts. She was never one to miss out on free food." Whenever the bounty hunter had eaten with them, never once had she paid. She was usually the first one out the door.
"Well, let's hope that she doesn't cause a scene if she does show up." The blonde replied.
"I'd be more worried that Nyla will actually try to actually kill you. You know, with everyone being distracted, it would be the perfect opportunity."
Zuko rolled his eyes. "I'm fairly certain that if she shows up, June isn't going to bring her shirshu into the wedding hall."
"Why not?" asked the Tribesman. "We're letting Akela in."
"That's because despite how big that wolf of yours has gotten, it's the only one of two who would be able to fit inside the hall and is the only one who knows how to behave." Akela had finally stopped growing, reaching Sokka's shoulder. "And if June did let him in, she wouldn't let Nyla kill Naruto, not on what's supposed to be one of the happiest days of his life." He objected.
"More like nerve-racking then happy," The Fire Paragon said.
"Trust me, Naruto. It will be happy in the end." The Fire Lord promised him.
"I hope so."
"…Naruto, I know that you've been firm about this ever since we got back." Sokka began, hesitating a little. "But we can still try to get some of the people from Konoha to the wedding or at least, the wedding feast."
"No." He said his voice becoming firm. "My decision stays. No shinobi will ever come to the Bending Countries again." It was one of the first things he laid down when they had returned to helping with the creation of the fifth country, rejoining its building committee. He had a law passed for all of the countries that stated anything that dealt with the Elemental Countries as a whole (aside from what few trading routes there already were between the two continents) were forbidden. "We've got enough problems on our hands." He told them, using that for a reason. "We do not need any more that would come with shinobi." Despite what the rest of Team Paragon and Team Avatar thought about the law, the Earth King and the rest of the committee agreed with what he said and voted the law in. The shinobi also couldn't sneak in for a visit because Naruto had done something to the transportation seal that rendered incredibly long-ranged movements (such as from one continent to another) impossible.
The Tribesman sighed in defeat. "Alright, I had to ask."
"No, you didn't." He curtly replied.
"Naruto, I thought you had made your peace with Konoha." Zuko said to him.
"I did, somewhat." His eyes wandered over to the nearby table where a pack of cigarettes and his lighter lay. He briefly considered reaching out and lighting one, but decided against it. Despite the fact it had been two years since they had come back, he still hadn't told anyone about the voice in his head that had been planted by the Kotoamatsukami. "Look, I don't hate them if that's what you mean. But it's in everyone's best interests to keep the two continents separate from one another. Besides, you guys can still send letters; I know you've been doing that." He had been doing that himself with the other Jinchūriki who had come back with him. He had been quite surprised to learn that the Mizukage had married Utakata (which, apparently, had stemmed from a wild night that started with barhopping and ended up in his bed). He had even stayed in contact with Gaara.
"It is better than nothing." Sokka admitted. He was corresponding regularly with Shikamaru (each letter back-and-forth contained a Shogi move within the correspondence, as both of them missed their games).
"That it is." The Fire Lord agreed before looking at the groom. "By the way, Naruto, when is the next book coming out?"
The blonde smirked at that. "Hoping to get a sneak peak, are you?" Soon after they had returned from the Elemental Countries, Naruto had published his book. It was a modest success in both continents, which was enough for him to write a sequel. And with each book he published (the total number was currently at three), the more successful they were becoming.
He smiled in return. "Can you blame me? They're quite addicting to read."
Sokka nodded in agreement with that. "He's right, Naruto. I'd say that if they keep going on like that, in some years, the copies that are autographed are going to be worth a fortune."
Naruto raised an eyebrow. "Funny, I thought that was already happening."
The Water Paragon rolled his eyes. "Fangirls don't count and you know it."
"That's a point to him." Zuko idly commented.
"That's because you still don't have any, last time I checked." The Fire Paragon retorted
"And that's a point to you." The Scarred Dragon continued, keeping his facial expression and voice neutral. When both Paragons gave him the same look of annoyance and exasperation, he couldn't help but crack a smile. Both Naruto and Sokka soon wore the same kind of smile and they laughed.
"Ah, Kami, I needed that." The blonde said as he gradually stopped laughing. Most of the tension he had been feeling was gone and he felt more relaxed now.
"That reminds me, we came in here to fetch you." Sokka said. "We're now waiting on you."
The relaxed feeling he had vanished and he felt nervous again. "…Alright. We might as well start." He said, taking a deep breath to steady himself. The three of them walked over to the door. The blonde reached for the door and pulled it open, coming face to face with the leader of the Yuyan archers.
"My lord," Bao-yu saluted him as they stepped out of the room, Zuko closing the door behind them.
"Lieutenant Bao-yu," He said in reply, returning the salute. "Are you ready?"
The archer struggled to keep a very dry smirk off of his face. "With all due respect, my lord, but shouldn't I be asking you that question?"
"Good point." He conceded, not hesitating to wear a grin on his face.
"Well, are you ready?"
"As I'll ever be," He answered.
"So basically, not at all," Sokka commented with a sarcastic grin on his face.
The blonde threw a glare at the Tribesman. "Keep it up, Sokka. I'll return the favor when you finally decide to marry Suki." He promised before he turned back to look at Bao-yu. "Let's get the ball rolling."
The leader of the Yuyan archers nodded his acknowledgement and turned around. "Honor guard, attention!" He barked out. The archers, who had standing at ease alongside the walls, came to attention at the sound of his voice and formed a column on both sides of Naruto. They all marched down the hallway, Naruto in the middle with Zuko and Sokka trailing slightly behind. No one said a word as they marched to the wedding.
(Location: Royal Prison)
Ozai sat against the wall of his cell, staring at nothing in particular. "How long has it been since I've had a visit?" He wondered briefly to himself. The only one he had was when the new Fire Lord had decided to grace him with said visit and inform him that his firstborn daughter, the one who he thought would succeed where his other children had failed him, was dead. That was maybe ten, twelve, maybe even fourteen years ago (time had become a bit of a blur of him).
But in the years he spent wallowing in this jail, he had time to think. He now realized that Yāo Jing hadn't been the best of decisions. She was too wild, too hot-tempered, and too cruel to be a proper instrument of his will. And yet, she was the only one he had been left with after his other children betrayed him. "I should've had that foreigner killed when I first heard of him." He thought to himself, his thoughts turning towards Naruto. It was because of him that Azula had weakened and betrayed her own father, cutting her hair off to symbolize it.
However, while he could blame Azula on Naruto, and as much as he would've loved to pin it on his wife, the blame of Zuko solely belonged with him. Sometimes, he wondered what would've happened if he hadn't scarred and banished his son. Would he have become the instrument of his will that he had hoped to create? "There's no use wondering of different paths." He told himself again and again, whenever his mind wandered down that path. "What has happened has happened."
In a way, he supposed he could be glad for what happened to his son. From what little he had learned over the years, the new Fire Lord was not weak or cowardly. Despite that fool idea of a new, fifth country ("What idiocy," He had thought to himself when he heard of it. While he had never denied that the colonies had been a place of progress, they were still ruled by the Fire Nation and, by definition, him), Zuko led and protected the Fire Nation. And as much as he didn't want to believe it, he knew that his son had good council in the form of Iroh. His older brother had been better at everything they did. That was partly the reason why he had wanted the throne so much.
The door to the cell opened, getting his attention. A guard walked in and stood before the bars. "Get up." He ordered.
He simply looked up at the guard. "Has the time come for my execution come at last?" He wondered aloud.
"Just get up." The guard repeated. "You've got visitors coming in to see you." He pulled the ring of keys off of his belt, found the right one, and opened the cell.
Surprised by the news, Ozai didn't resist as the guard grabbed him by the arm, pulled him up to his feet, and marched him out of the cell. In silence they went down the hallways of the prison, their footsteps echoing all around them. "A visitor?" thought Ozai. "Who would want to visit me after all these years?" He didn't dare to voice that question aloud.
They stopped before a door, which the guard opened and walked the prisoner into. It was a small room, only roomy enough for a table and two chairs on either side. The chair on his side of the room had manacles attached to the arms, which were placed around his wrists once he sat down in the chair. The guard walked back out the door they had come in and closed it behind him, leaving Ozai alone in the room.
"Who will be the one who will walk through that other door?" He thought to himself as he stared at said door. When it opened and his answer walked through it, he frowned. "I thought I told to never show yourself to me again." He said as his wife walked into the room and sat down in the chair opposite of him.
"I would say how nice it is to see you as well, Ozai. But I would be lying." Ursa replied calmly. "Besides, you said that I had to leave the palace, not show myself to you again. But it doesn't matter now. You're in no position to tell me what to do."
"…Indeed, I am not." He conceded. "Why are you here, Ursa?"
"Our son has been insisting that I visit you at least once before one of us dies." She answered with a slight distaste in her voice.
"You disapprove of such weakness." He noted, having caught the distaste.
"I only disapprove of the fact I have to speak to you again." She corrected him. "Our son cares about the both of us, even if we dislike each other."
He snorted. "Such weakness," He stated with contempt.
"That weakness is the only thing that has let you lived all these years." Ursa reminded him. "Despite what the Avatar might say, it would've been better if you had been killed."
"And yet, I am still here."
"Unfortunately," She replied. They stayed silent for a few minutes, trying to stare the other down.
It was Ozai who finally looked away. Try as he might, there was something about her gaze that made him want to look away. "…What is happening out in the world?" He finally asked her, avoiding eye contact.
"Why would you want to know?" She asked back.
"I hunger for news. I receive so little of it here." He shrugged his shoulders to emphasize his point about his surroundings.
"The fifth country has been established, its first city being constructed already." There was a twinge of excitement in her voice as she talked about it.
He frowned at that. "Foolishness," He declared. "Why would they create a fifth country when the Fire Nation should rule all? It is our right." That had always been something he believed in.
But apparently, his supposed wife did not share the sentiment. "It is not our right. It has never been our right. It is no one's right. You shame your grandfather's memory by even thinking with that state of mind."
"Do not speak of Fire Lord Sozin like you knew him!" He snapped at her, rage and fury filling his voice and the room. "He would've been ashamed of what the Fire Nation has become."
"No, I think he would be ashamed of his son and his grandson." She replied in an equal tone of voice. It wasn't as loud or as angry as his, but her voice also had fury and rage in it. "Sozin did not want to dominate the other countries; he wanted to unify them, in order to prevent what you and your father have done. He would be proud of Zuko and Aang for doing what he and Roku couldn't."
"How did Naruto managed to find you, anyway?" He asked, changing the subject. That had always been something he had wondered at times. After he had exiled Zuko, he became worried that Ursa would hear of it and try to return to poison him in revenge. So he decided to act preemptively and send people to look for her and kill her. But they never found her, so he wondered how his daughter's bodyguard was able to.
"I don't honestly know." She told him. "He just showed up one day and reminded me of whom I was."
"And I'm sure your lover was real happy about that." He remarked acidly. It had always angered him that she loved that man over him.
As she heard those words, she scowled. "He has a name." She said to Ozai, her voice becoming laced with anger again. "And we both know you know what it is."
A small smirk appeared on his face, pleased at her anger. "Ikem, wasn't it? I supposed that you, he, and whatever spawn the two of you have created are living happily."
The anger on her face was replaced by sadness. "He and my daughter, Kiyi, died two months before Naruto found me, from a sickness that swept through the village." She answered simply.
Again there was silence in the room. "…If you are waiting for me to say I am sorry about what I said, you will be sorely disappointed." He told her, breaking the silence. "You are my wife. The wife of the Fire Lord should not go about having lovers and bastard children."
"You have no place to talk about that, Ozai, not with Yāo Jing. And we were all but divorced in name when I left the capital." She said in reply, the sadness leaving and the anger returning. "So do not speak of lovers and bastards to me. I don't leave the other parent of my child burned and scarred just because they wanted to see her for a single day."
He grimaced at those words. What he did that day had earned him the disapproval of everyone in his family. When Azulon had found out about the child growing in Chun's womb, he told Ozai that one of two things were going to happen: he would either take the child from its mother and raise it in the palace, or he would be cast out of the Royal Family and take care of the child on the streets. Naturally, he didn't wanted to be cast out of the family, so he took the child, gave her a name, and raised her in the palace. When Chun had asked to see her, he had thought that one day would lead to another, and another, and another, until finally; she would've tried to keep Yāo Jing for herself. So, he took steps.
But, as with Yāo Jing, he had come to the conclusion that those wasn't the steps he should've taken. "If I had let her see her daughter, would Yāo Jing have turned out differently?" He had often wondered. But again, what was done was done. There was nothing he could do to change it. "Let us agree on this then: I will not speak ill of your dead and you will not speak ill of mine." He offered, willing to give a small truce.
"Very well," She said, agreeing to the offered truce.
"I will admit that what happened with Yāo Jing was not one of my better decisions. I should've reined her in when she was younger."
"There were a lot of things that you should've done when the children were younger." She replied with some small bite in her voice.
He narrowed his eyes at her. "We both know that I am not entirely blameless there, Ursa. You made your fair share of mistakes with them as well." He reminded her.
She held his gaze for a minute, before sighing and looking down at the table. "I know." She admitted. "I know that we've made mistakes with our children. Sometimes…sometimes I wonder what would happen if things had gone differently."
"What has happened has happened." He told her firmly. "There is nothing we can do to change that."
'That may be true. But…don't you ever wonder what would've happened if we had made different choices?" She asked him, her voice questioning and her face curious.
"No, I do not." He was lying. Wondering what would've happened was something that filled his time in this prison. But he wasn't going to let her know that. She would never have the pleasure of knowing that he had done the same as she. "I may have realized that I have made mistakes and I do regret some of them, I have never wondered what would've happened if things went differently. There's nothing we can do about it, so why would we even bother?"
She shook her head in slight exasperation. "There's the man I married and grew to despise." She remarked with a small, dignified roll of her eyes. "I always did prefer you to go back to the way things had been in the beginning."
"And what does that mean?" He asked with an arched eyebrow. "How were things different in the beginning?"
"You actually tried to be a father to our children." She said. Somehow, her voice almost had an accusing tone to it.
Now he knew what she meant. "Yes, I supposed I did try in the beginning. But things changed and as I said before, I am not entirely blameless for that." He reminded her.
"I know." She stood up from the chair. "We weren't really good parents, Ozai." She said as she walked back to the door she came in from. "But perhaps…perhaps we can be decent grandparents."
"What?" He asked, having not expected that kind of a response. But he got his answer when Ursa opened the door and allowed someone else to walk in. "…Azula?" He asked.
It was his former daughter who had come into the room. But she was different now. She was no longer a girl; she was a woman in her own right. In fact, despite the fact that her hair still remained short, she looked like a younger version of Ursa. But her golden eyes held no warmth for him. Rather, they told him that she didn't really want to be here.
"Ozai," She said her voice curt and short. "I want you to meet someone." Her eyes traveled downward and lit up with warmth and happiness. He followed her gaze and finally realized that she had been carrying a toddler at her side, with red hair, golden eyes much like her, and wore a happy and innocent smile. "This is Sozin Uzumaki, your grandson."
Author's Note: Thank you for all the reviews you've sent me.
And thus, this story is done. I had a lot of fun and enjoyment writing it. Sure, there were some difficulties along the way, but they helped in the end. I never would've expected to see the reviews reach so high a number (although I was hoping a little that I would be able to hit 4,000 reviews by the end) and I thank each and every one of you for making it happen. Sure, I could've continued writing this story for who knows how long. But if there's one thing I've learned from writing this story, as well as my other stories, it's this: it's hard to start writing a story, but it's harder to stop.
However (and I know there are some of you who already know this), I am not going to leave this story just like this. I plan to go back to the beginning and reedit it, giving more texture, content, and details to it. Be aware, I'm going to be losing some things and I'm going to be adding some things (and before any of you ask, the Zanpakutōs are staying), so it's not going to stay completely the same.
Perhaps some of you will think that having Naruto put a law making it all but forbidden to make more contact with the Elemental Countries a bit cruel, but try seeing it from his perspective. He hadn't exactly made his peace with Konoha, so if they were able to visit, it would've been awkward for everyone. That, and the fact that shinobi from other villages could come over as well and potentially cause problems, was the reason he was able to convince enough people to pass the law.
And just so I'm clear on this and you won't keep asking me about it: both Bunpuku and Yagura are dead. They decided to stay dead.
Was it a little cruel of me to have Ikem and Kiyi killed off? Probably, but when I had Naruto bring Zuko and Azula to their mother earlier in the story, I had no idea what was going to happen in canon. Now that I do, it's still a little late to go back and change all that. However, I might change it now (and I stress the word might). If I don't, I'll just add some extra details.
And now, the news you've all been waiting for ever since I started writing this thing: yes, there is going to be a Legend of Korra sequel. But (and I mean but), it will not be for some time. I will only start writing it when the fourth season is winding down. Currently, my idea of what happens next is going to change with each new thing that we learn. So when I do start writing it, I don't have to make any guesses about what might happen. Also, it gives me the chance to work on my other stories.
A Happy Anniversary to me and this story. Seventy-three chapters in two years (I can only say one thing: damn…just damn).
I'll see you all in the next story!