attackfish: Jet and Zuko fighting in the teashop, text "Obviously this is the place to come if you want to get murdered by lunatics" (Jet Juko TDL quote)
[personal profile] attackfish
I wrote these drabbles for rounds 76-100 of [livejournal.com profile] avatar_500 which has now come to the end of it's natural life.



Cavernous

The door made a soft shushing sound on the carpet as Asami pushed it open. Her dad didn't look up. He was bent over his desk like a hulking shadow. The word stuck in her throat, and she stood there in the gloom for a moment that seemed to drag on and on, before she could speak. "Daddy?" When he still didn't notice her, she summoned up her courage and said it again, louder. "Daddy?"

He started. "Asami," he mumbled. "What are you doing in here?"

"Daddy, it's three in the morning." She stayed in the doorway, fighting off the urge to run over to him, and throw herself into his arms. "You have to go to bed. You're making the staff nervous."

He blinked. For a second, she wished he would tell her to go to bed, that she was up way past her bedtime.

But he didn't say that kind of thing to her anymore.

"I'm going to be up for a little while longer, Asami." He smiled at her vaguely, his eyes rimmed with red. "Don't worry about me."

"Yes Daddy," she whispered, but when she closed his office door behind her, she couldn't make herself breathe.



Flowers in the Snow

"So, what's a lotus anyway?" The girl's face, with her high, squeaky voice popped down into the doorway. Fang Hua jumped back with a little scream.

She shook herself a little and collected herself. "I'm sorry, young Avatar, what did you say?"

"You heard me." The girl folded her arms across her chest as she hung there. "What's a Lotus?"

Fang Hua ducked under the girl and crossed the threshold. From inside, she could see the way the girl had used waterbending to fasten her feet to the ice above the door, and she wondered how long she had been hanging there, waiting for someone to pass under her. It can't have been too long. This young Avatar never would have had the patience for it.

She held her arm up to her. The girl grabbed onto her hand and launched herself down from the wall, swinging to the floor on Fang Hua's arm. When she landed, she smiled up at her like wasn't-that-cool? and Fang Hua hid her own answering smile. "So what is it?" the girl asked again.

Fang Hua looked down at her. "It's a kind of flower."

The young Avatar wrinkled her nose dubiously. "Isn't that a little girly?"

"Careful, kiddo, you're a girl," Fang Hua reminded her. "Nothing wrong with girly."

the young Avatar gave her a funny look. "What does being a girl have to do with it?"

You're the one who called it girly, Fang Hua almost said. "Have you ever even seen a flower?" When the girl, and she really was just a little girl, shook her head, Fang Hua continued. "Yeah, well, I'm from the Earth Kingdom, and in my village, there are flowers everywhere, and they're awesome."

The yong Avatar thought about that for a moment. "I'm going to see the world some day. I'm the Avatar."

"Well yeah." Fang Hua rolled her eyes. "You are. And you know what, I bet when you see flowers for the first time, you're gonna think they're the best thing ever."

Korra stuck her tongue out at the White Lotus guard and ran.



The Sun Sets Burning

She bowed to him. "Firelord Iroh."

"You killed my brother," he said without preamble.

She didn't answer, didn't try to make excuses, or explanations, even though he knew she had them, just stood there, lips curved down in a tight, defiant frown.

So he continued for her. "You killed your husband."

And she had. Whatever story she spun about Azulon pardoning her with his final breath, it didn't change the fact that she had killed one prince of the blood to save another, killed her husband to save her son. Even if she had come so close to failing at the latter. "Why did you call me here?"

The fires around his throne dimmed. "Zuko will live, Ursa. You did well."

Her face crumpled, her composure gone as if it had never been. The harsh, strange sounds of her sobs wracked through her.

The fires died away completely as Iroh reached down to her and cupped her face with one hand. "Have you seen him since I brought him home?"

Ursa nodded quickly, but the tears didn't stop.

"Then you know Agni has spoken," he told her soothingly, easing himself down off the dais. "You know your sun will live. You did what you had to do, Ursa. You are safe now."

Air rushed into and out of Ursa in stuttering, choked off gasps. Awkwardly, he put his arms around her, and her arms locked around him like steel. "Oh, Iroh," she whispered into his shoulder. "I... I..."

His father was dead, his brother was dead, his son... Lu Ten was dead. Iroh held his sister-in-law and thought about breaking down with her. But Ursa, Zuko and Azula were alive, and safe, and as whole as he could keep them, and he just held his sister-in-law and let her cry.



Morning

"My lord, it's dishonorable!"

Laughter bubbled up in Zuko's throat, bleak, choked, horrible laughter.

"He was the Firelord, my lord, it's traditional."

Zuko's unscarred eye narrowed down to match the scarred one, leaving a pair of thin yellow slits staring out of his face. He didn't turn around. "He wasn't Firelord when he died."

This Fire Sage never would have survived Ozai, Zuko decided, for all the man was so intent on arguing for him. "It doesn't matter. He was a Firelord. The ashes of all the Firelords lie entombed in-"

"There isn't a tradition for a man who died in prison who happened to have been the Firelord a long time ago," Zuko hissed. "My father was the first one."

"My lord, he..." Zuko whirled around, and at last, the Fire Sage shut up.

Zuko pinched the bridge of his nose, then gave in and put his face in his hands. There was a shameful wetness in his eyes, for that man, who didn't deserve it at all. After a long moment, he let his hands fall. "Do I have to hold a funeral?"

"No my lord," the Fire Sage said softly. "As you say, there is no tradition."



A Maiden's Dishonor

There was no betrothal she had to preserve herself for. There would be no wars started, no oaths broken, no alliances severed by a bed she didn't keep empty. She could, if she so chose, take any man in the world to bed with her, and no one would say a word. She could do anything she wanted.

The bartender looked at her strangely as she sat there with her untouched cup of rice wine, and she smiled back at him brightly. Somewhere, just out of sight of the bar's grimy window was a ship, and on that ship was a small wooden chest, and inside that chest, down at the bottom, underneath Yue's clothes, was the document Master Pakku had given her, announcing her exile.

She had heard that freedom was just another word for nothing left to lose, but maybe, tonight, nothing left to lose could be another way of saying freedom.

But she sat there on the bar stool, and didn't drink her rice wine, and didn't look at any of the men, and didn't even open her mouth at all as Master Pakku played pai sho in the corner and let her pretend she didn't exist.



What Comes Unforeseen

The water moved with her slightest breath. No, it didn't just move, it danced. It was hers to do with as she pleased. Pakku had to force himself to watch her, and not look away.

It had been, when he had started this, a necessary kindness, he knew that still, when she had been a girl cast adrift, with no tribe to protect her as a girl must be. It was the only thing he could give her, an old man who did not want a child bride. And she had been wild and reckless, no longer a princess and terrified of what that meant. He had only meant to take her fear away.

And now here he was, and instead of a girl and his student, he had a woman and a waterbending master, with the ocean at her bidding under the full moon light.

When she finished, she bowed to him, and Pakku swallowed grief. As she waited for his reply, he made his mouth move. "Good."

Yue's expression grew puzzled, and where Pakku had to make himself look before, now he couldn't tear his eyes away from what he'd unwittingly, inevitably created.

"Enough," he managed. "Good enough."



Deserving

The fires licked around Zuko's face, searing his flesh. They dissipated so quickly, there and gone; they only brushed the surface of his skin, and yet they lingered and ripped into him, and the pain didn't stop. He knew his mouth was open in a scream. He knew the tears poured down from his good eye, and yet. And yet he couldn't feel them.

~*~

Zuko woke on the ship, face wet with sweat, and tears, and fluid from the burn. His uncle was there to help him sit up and give him his father's letter, and to read it to him when his eyes blurred with pain and shameful weakness. His uncle's voice and hiss father's words washed over him, and he sank into them, despair and shame at his own monumental failure flooding him.

And the last words his uncle spoke were like a bright white light. His father had given him a task, an end to his banishment if he could just fulfil it. It was hope, poisonous, painful hope. His father had given him a task, a task a real prince would triumph over. A task he should be up to. His father wanted him home.

~*~

Zuko woke to the sunlight streaming through the palace window, face wet with sweat and his daughter's tears. She lay tucked into his arms, her sleeping form calm and untroubled, belying the dreams that had sent her crawling into bed with him. And in the stillness, he remembered that there had once been a man who had made him feel greedy, and shameful, unworthy, weak, and wrong, for ever daring to wish for a father's love.



If We Never Meet Again

Ty Lee glanced around at the guards staring at them. "They aren't going to let us stay together."

"Of course not," Mai said without inflection. "Two dangerous traitors like us? We might just overthrow the Fire Nation from our prison cell."

"Silence." One of the guards threw a pair of prison uniforms at them.

"Go ahead and laugh all you want." Ty Lee replied to Mai. The uniforms landed on the floor at their feet, and she ignored them. "I bet we could."

The slap rang out through the room. The blood poured into her face. There was a livid red handprint on Ty Lee's face now, and her face around it was flushed with vindictive pleasure and righteous rage. She gave the guard a sweet smile and wondered if he was going to slap her again.

Mai slid out of her overcoat and unbuttoned the collar of her robe. It fell down to the floor, and she stepped out of it, expressionless. She didn't cover herself up, or put herself on display, or even look at the guards. She just was naked. Ty Lee wanted to hug her.

She settled for pulling her top off and throwing it at the guard who had slapped her with a cheery wink.

The slap hadn't surprised her, but his hand in her hair, yanking her off her feet, the pain blooming in her head, that took the breath out of her. He was yelling at her about thinking she was so clever and shaking her, and she couldn't figure out how to stop smiling.

And then suddenly, he was on the floor gasping, and Ty Lee was on top of him, and Mai was in the arms of the guards, her arms twisted behind her. Ty Lee stood up and shook herself off. "Excuse me, but my friend and I were having a conversation, do you mind?"

One of the guards holding Mai cranked her arm higher, making her bend. "We told you to shut up."

Her best friend in the hole world was naked and bent over and hurting.

She changed into the prison uniform in silence, and when she was done and the guards had finally let Mai go, she helped Mai dress. "So what do you say you and me overthrow the Fire Nation," she joked weakly, mouth next to Mai's ear.

"I didn't do it for the Fire Nation," Mai said, lips barely moving. "Just Zuko."

"What's it like knowing you didn't even get to betray your country for some great ideal?" she breathed

"You tell me."

"I'd do it again."

Mai closed her eyes. "I'd do it for you too."

"I know." Ty Lee squeezed her hand.



Corridor of Ghosts

Mai stands still, back flat against the wall as Azula counts. The shadows hang around her, and the portraits glare down at her. And she just stands still and listens to the numbers slip away on the princess's tongue.

The numbers stop. Azula launches herself forward and takes off down the hallway Mai stands in. Her eyes slide over Mai as if she doesn't exist. She does not heave a thankful sigh. She just stands still and invisible. She had seen Azula's eyes behind her hands sliding to follow Mai as she had counted.

And Mai had slipped just out of sight and stayed completely still.

Azula finds Ty Lee hiding in a chest in Prince Lu Ten's room, and Zuko hiding under their mother's bed. She finds them, and drags them out, and hunts for Mai as the shadows shift along the walls with the passage of the sun. And Azula grows bored. Fine, Mai thinks, I'm bored too. Azula calls for her to come out. The game's over. Mai doesn't move.

And Azula is forced to keep hunting her. She passes Mai by over and over again, back and fourth through the corridor. I'm not even hiding, Mai longs to tell her. I'm just standing here. I guess you can't find somebody who isn't hiding. Azula hisses and snarls, and Zuko and Ty Lee shift anxiously as Azula fumes. Ty Lee catches her eye and smiles, but looks away before Azula can see.

She stands there until the shadows have turned around, and her legs ache as she stands in the setting sun. Princess Ursa comes to collect them and send them home, and Mai steps away from the wall.

"I knew you couldn't hide from me forever," Azula says. "I won."

"Yes Azula, you won," Mai lies.



Sacred Duty

The dreams crept up upon him, when he was unaware, when he was undefended. It was their faces that filled his mind, the faces of people who had screamed in fear as he had borne down on them, who had, in the icy North Pole waters, sunk like stones, their armor dragging them down to the very bottom of the sea.

Aang lay there with his friends all around him, breathing easy with sleep as he stared up at the cracked, breaking roof of the Western Air Temple, the ruined, dying home of his own dead people, who had fallen at the hands of people who would have looked and dressed and sounded just like the people who had died, whom he had killed, at the North Pole. He felt like a blood stain on sacred ground.

He could do it again. That's what his friends, the whole world, kept telling him he was supposed to do.

All life was sacred. Life should not end life. All life was sacred, even his own.

I'm not going to do it again, he promised the empty temple, and the memory of people who had once lived there. I will find another way.



Daring One

Her mother stood in the palace courtyard, distinctly out of place. Mai eyed her warily. "Aren't you going to greet me?" the woman said.

Mai shrugged and looked back at the princess and Ty Lee. "I'm not in the mood."

Mai's mother's face flushed with fury, and Mai flinched, fear welling up inside her.

And then, Azula laughed. It was as if her laughter had broken through the world and shattered it around them. The color in Mai's mother's face vanished. Mai felt almost giddy with the rush, and the power that came from the knowledge that her mother wasn't the most powerful person in the courtyard.

~*~

There was, if she was honest, the same kind of rush in powerlessness as in power, in dancing on the edge of what Azula would allow her, and when she spoke, there was the crackle in the air of danger and helplessness. "I'm not in the mood."

Azula stopped and went perfectly, terrifyingly still. "That was funny when we were six, Mai."

Mai forced herself to speak, face blank, as if nothing she said could matter. "And when I wasn't saying it to you?"

Azula's smile spread across her face like poison through a vein. "That's right."

"Besides, Mai, you don't have moods." Of course, Mai thought. Everyone knew that Mai didn't have emotions. But then Azula continued. "You work for me."

It was at least some kind of acknowledgement that they weren't really friends at least. Mai did after all, prefer honesty.



At Home

Sometimes, when Asami lay in bed at night, and she was staring at the insides of her eyelids, she would tell herself that she was safe, at home, in her own room, where nothing could get to her. Her mother used to say that to her, when she couldn't sleep, and the shadows had loomed, threatening and dark all around. Her mother may even have believed it.

Those were the nights that Asami's mind's eye poured over and over the soot on her mother's walls, and the ash on the floor, and the wreckage everyone had done their best to sweep away, as if making it look like nothing happened would make it so, and the body no one had let her see, her mother's body, not safe in her own room, in her own home.

Sometimes, when Asami lay in bed at night, she could still smell the smoke.



A Sweet Sound

"Uncle Zuko?"

The firelord spun around, face frozen, eyes wide, leaving a circle of white visible all around his irises. He didn't say anything, he just stood there, stunned.

Lin drew back, suddenly nervous. "I-is it okay for me to call you that?" She shuffled her feet and wiped her clammy hands on the front of her shirt. "It's just I call Aunt Katara, and Uncle Aang, and Uncle Sokka..."

Before she had even realized he was moving, he had his arms around her and pressed her to his chest. When she looked up, the corners of his eyes were moist and glistening, and she wondered what she had done. "I would be honored if you would call me uncle."



Open to the Possibilities

Bumi lay half asleep, propped up against the wall when his dad walked in the door.

He bent down and pushed Bumi's bangs out of his face to kiss his forehead. "Hey kiddo, what are you doing up so late?"

Bumi gave him a tired grin. "Waiting for you. Mom said you'd be home tonight."

"Mom said, huh?" He shook his head and pulled his son into a tight hug. "And what's your mom going to say when she finds out you've been up all night?"

Bumi grimaced. "You going to tell her?"

His dad laughed softly. "Yeah, kiddo, I am."

"You ruin all my fun."

"That's my job." His dad ruffled his hair.

In the moonlight, the lines on his dad's face stood out and drew the shadows to them. There was a tiredness there that couldn't be cured by sleep, and Bumi, who was never tired, yearned to drive it away. "Why do you keep doing it?"

"Doing what?" his dad asked in the way he did when he already knew the answer.

"Going out and looking for Air Nomads." Bumi sat up. "You never find any."

"It's not really about finding them anymore." His dad's smile was tired. Everything about him was tired. "It's about reminding myself that they aren't there."

"Oh," Bumi said, uncertain.

"Besides, someday, a lead might just pan out." With that, he lifted Bumi up and slung him over his shoulder.

Bumi wriggled. "What are you doing?"

"Putting you to bed," his dad said,holding him tight. "If you're really good, and go to sleep right away, I won't tell your mom you waited up for me, okay?"



Examples

"I don't think I've ever met anyone who messed up as badly as you did."

Ozai glanced around his cell.

"That's not what I meant," Mai murmured.

Ozai's lip curled, and his words dropped out of his mouth like acid. "Then tell me, oh great and renowned Firelady, what did you mean?"

"You threw away your child," she said cooly. "And you couldn't even do that right."

This was the man Zuko had scoured the world to please. There were days when she was sure Aang hadn't been alive in the ice, had been dead, lost to the world until Zuko, by sheer force of wanting, brought him back.

"You had children who would have done anything for you, who made the impossible possible for you, and you threw them away for power, and now you don't even have that."

Ozai's face, so very like her husband's, contorted into sneer, chasing away all resemblance. "Did you come here just to gloat Firelady?"

"I'm here to listen. You, and my parents, are going to tell me everything you did." She touched the swell of her belly where her child lay growing within her. "And then I'm going to do something different."



Live With It

Before, Aang had told himself he expected Ozai's spirit to feel like any other human being's spirit. Not that he knew what a spirit was supposed to feel like, but Firelord Ozai was after all just a human being, not a monster.

But really, he was expecting something cold, inhuman, and wrong to meet his touch, something that would feel like the kind of man who would burn down the world because it wouldn't bend to his will.

The fear that beat at him, the rage and panicked scrabbling that washed over him, pushing Aang's own spirit down were... They were. They were too large, shoving and shoving and shoving at him, and they were so, so small, and Aang thought they were going to dissolve him and wash him away.

When it was all over, and Ozai was there on the ground, Aang looked him in the eyes. he had held this man's emotions inside himself, this man's bitter, hateful self, and now this man had to take that self back. But that man was bitter, and hateful, and just a man, a living man.

And Aang knew he was going to walk away and leave this man alive.



Flower Chains and Teapots

Soft sunlight and warmth cloaked Ba Sing Se in it's finest season, and the sweet perfume of spring flowers wafted through Zuko's window. And he... pasted on a smile, and fiddled with it, and fought with it, until it could almost pass for real.

The futon underneath him was damp with fever sweat and his body still ached with the heat that had poured out of it. He heard his sister's voice telling him to sleep (forever) and his mother crying his name, and his uncle, puttering around the kitchen, to make everything ready for his nephew when he woke. Zuko had never felt more tired in his life, even as he forced his limbs to move.

So what if he couldn't make his father happy, or his nation happy, or even himself happy. He could still make Uncle happy, and that was going to have to be good enough.



Fire Snipe Hunt

The boy might have been a prince, and an unmatched little horror, but he was a boy on a ship, and boys on a ship, especially unmatched little horrors that they couldn't drop drop off at the nearest port (or over the side) for one reason or another, were by tradition sent scurrying over all and sundry to retrieve various objects that their requesters insisted were of urgent necessity, but which did not in fact actually exist.

If any of the crew members felt guilty for sending Prince Zuko on fire snipe quests when his glorious father had already sent him on one that he was never supposed to come home from, it had evaporated once they had gotten to know him, and remembered that they were stuck on the same fire snipe hunt with him, forever.

The day he handed over a pot of striped paint had been one thing. The crew had marveled at it, until Jee had told them all to shut up, and some of them even had the courage to ask the princeling about it, only for him to snap at them indignantly that he had found it, what were they talking about?

And then there was the time he had brought Renshu a left handed screwdriver, and all of a sudden, none of them could even grip it with their right hands. Or grip the others with their left. Jee dabbed a bit of striped paint onto its handle to set it apart.

None of them after that quite dared ask him to fetch a length of shoreline, even though Jee privately wondered if they wouldn't perhaps get a nice beach house out of it.

When the Avatar himself showed up three years later, the crew just wondered what had taken him so long.



Pure Ideals

Hisa listened to the mutterings in the city streets like the rumblings in the earth when she walked by. Behind closed doors, the mutterings swelled into a deafening cacophony. She knew. She lived with them at home. Her father hadn't stopped ranting about benders getting all the good jobs since she had first opened her ears to his voice. Her mother would tell anyone who would listen that bending wasn't really good for anything but violence. And her brothers and sister joined right in, even when they had nothing to add.

Hisa listened. She always listened. Sometimes, her tongue leapt in her mouth. She wanted to yell, "What about me? Am I the reason life is so hard?"

But she didn't. She didn't, and she didn't even know if they knew what she was, would they stop?

And on the bad nights, the boulders flew highest and strongest of all.



Like Tears in the Sun

Toph's pounding could still shake the great palace doors. The guards fluttered all around her, murmuring soothing words about, "Please, you can stop now, come right this way, Chief Bei Fong, we will take you both to him immediately," and Toph wanted to laugh and swagger, and tell the guards that Zuko could answer his own door like a big boy, but behind her, Katara had slid out of the bison's saddle, and Toph could feel her standing there, a little too stiff, and a little too not-crying, so she grabbed Katara's hand and let the guards show them inside.

As the guards led them down one corridor, a servant sprinted to them and whispered something in the head guard's ear. The woman stopped, and led them down another corridor, and out into Zuko's private garden with the turtle-duck pond, where only family and people-who-had-saved-the-world were allowed to be.

Zuko stood to greet them, and it took Katara's hand, grasping tight around her own to keep her from running to him and flinging her arms around him. "Hi Toph, hi Katara," he said warily. "It's not that I'm not glad to see you, but, uh, is something wrong?"

This is what it has come to, she thought, we only see each other when something is wrong.

We're who each other goes to when something is wrong.

"They found her," Katara announced, trying for a smile and winding up with a grimace. "The new Avatar. She's Southern Water Tribe. They've asked me to teach her."

"Oh," Zuko whispered. She was there at the South Pole, the living, breathing, tangible proof that Aang was dead, and the only place they were ever going to see him again was in glimpses, in that little girl's face. He pulled Katara into a quick hug, and grabbed Toph to pull her in too. "Oh."

Katara held onto the both of them as if her body wouldn't hold together if she let them go. "I just need to be with friends right now."

He kissed Toph's cheek, letting them go. "I'll go make us some tea."



Like the Wind

"Oh hi, Tenzin." She picked idly at a pimple as he examined her. "You want me to get your mom?"

"Actually, it's you I wanted to see." he watched her notice what she was doing and snatch her hand away. "I wanted to show you something that might help you with your airbending."

"I," her face fell. "Uh, haven't been airbending. I haven't managed to... yet..."

"I know." He opened the door and held a hand out to her to follow. "I want you to remember that most Avatars don't even bend their second element until they're sixteen, and my mother tells me you have already begun to master firebending."

When his father was her age, he had been saving the world. He could see it written all over her face. "Come with me."

Korra shuffled out the door after him, into the polar summer sun, and out over the tundra. The compound retreated out of sight over the horizon as they walked.

When they stopped, she stared out over the tufts of grass breaking through the barren rock. "There's nothing here."

"No, there isn't." "My father used to bring me here when I was a little boy. It's dry enough here that the snow evaporates quickly, and so you can run without falling."

Her eyes narrowed while her eyebrows did their best to rise. "Um..."

"When you walk..." He took a step. "You always have one foot on the ground. When you run, both feet leave the ground. You throw yourself into the air. The air moves around you, and you touch nothing, in that moment except air."

"That's it?" she gasped irately. "You want me to run?"

"I'm giving you an excuse to come out here to run, whenever you want to. No one will tell you not to train. When you need to leave the compound, when you need to just get out and move, when you can't take it anymore, you can come here and run. If you don't want to, you don't have to."

She stared.

Tenzin sighed and patted her shoulder. "You'll understand eventually."



Cold Dark Clouds Wrapped Around

At first, a long time ago, Ty Lee had listened to Azula tell her that they were friends, and Ty Lee was lucky to have a friend like her, and everything would be fine if Ty Lee would just listen to her, and she never wanted to hurt Ty Lee, and really Ty Lee, it's your own fault, why can't you just listen? And a cold thread of panic ran right through her, because this girl was insane, she was absolutely out of her mind if she thought Ty Lee was ever going to believe any of this.

Worse, there was no getting away, because this was the Firelord's granddaughter inviting her to play.

Sometimes, she remembered when she thought like that and laughed at how naïve she had been back then. Azula wasn't mad, she was just so much smarter than Ty Lee. As long as Ty Lee listened to her, she was safe.

It wasn't Azula's fault, it was Ty Lee's.

When Azula told her about Zuko's banishment, the words went through her like an arrow, and for a moment, she couldn't breathe as her mind rang with the realization that Azula couldn't blame Zuko for everything anymore. The blame would have to fall on someone new, like Ty Lee.

Ty Lee let herself breathe. Underneath the raw, sickening rush of fear was a sharp sliver of relief. There was a piece of her left that knew the truth, when she was safe enough to listen to it.



Circus

When Ty Lee made it to the door and walked through with everything she thought she wanted from her home in a bag on her back, she passed through, elated, with her heart beating so hard in her chest she thought it would burst.

And then she was through the door. And it was still open behind her. She could slip back inside, slip back into her old life as if she hadn't walked out that door, and nobody would ever know.

Somewhere inside, there was a flutter of panic, that whispered frantically in her ear that Azula was her friend, what was she doing? This would make her so mad. And nobody had ever told Ty Lee it would be like this.

She took the first step, out of her family courtyard, and out onto the road, and after every step came the voice, and the paralysis, and the desperate need to take the step back. Then came the next step, and the next until she shuddered with the effort of keeping herself from moving backwards, from running back home, where the danger and terror had become more comfortable than escape and freedom.

Then she took the next step.



Poking at Her

His was the very first face she remembered seeing, when she was a little girl and he was always following her around and poking her to get her attention. He never stopped poking, really, he just stopped doing it with his finger.

The summer sun glinted off the ice, and off the water below her boat. Underneath the waves, she could seel fish swimming just out of reach of a spear thrust. If Sokka could have seen them, he would have said they were taunting him. She watched them swim and remembered.

She was a wise old woman. Everyone told her so. And when she had been little, her gran gran had told her that when she got to be as old as her, Katara would realize there was never any reason to make herself hurt. And she wasn't making herself hurt. She didn't poke at the wound left gaping by her brother's absence. But a wise old woman like her knew when she had to let herself hurt. Her tears fell into the water.



Friend

The princess grabbed her arm, smirking. "Come on, Ty Lee, you're on my team."

Ty Lee stumbled along after her. "I thought this game didn't have teams."

"Oh please." Azula almost laughed. "That's just what I told Zuzu."

"And Mai."

Azula cocked her head and shrugged theatrically. "Well they'll just have to figure it out, won't they?"

~*~

"We should team up."

Zuko stopped and staired at Mai, who had appeared out of nowhere beside him. "What?"

"It would be fun to win for once," she said, looking like she had never had fun in her life.

"That doesn't seem very fair."

She raised her eyebrows. "Does that matter?"

"It's supposed to!"

"It's Azula," she retorted. "And I want to win."

And Zuko wondered if that wasn't an excellent reason to not side with Mai, because winning against Azula might just be the worst idea he had ever heard.

~*~

"You cheated," Azula spat. And somehow, she still managed to sound wounded. Zuko flinched.

"But Azula," Ty Lee's eyes were huge. "We were a team."

Azula went still. "Are you questioning me, Ty Lee?"

"You said Mai and Zuko just had to figure out that they were supposed to be a team," she blurted, and then gulped, terrified.

"I think you're being disloyal to your princess," Azula admonished, eyes hard.

"But I'm the prince," Zuko bit out.

"But she's my friend, Zuko, not yours." Azula sent him a pitying look. "Isn't that right, Ty Lee?"

Ty Lee smiled, frozen. "Of course, Azula."
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