Korra’s first memory is a pair of golden eyes, a pale face, and a deep, permeating warmth.
It is the kind of warmth that promises to never leave, and keep her warm forver.
(It keeps true to its promises.)
When she is three, she firebends for the first time—blowing pale orange fire into a tapestry of deep blue.
It is three weeks before she waterbends, and her parents spend the majority of those three weeks wondering how two waterbenders could produce a firebender.
(They get increasingly creative in their suggestions, but never manage to suggest the truth—not even beginning to image that a Water Avatar could possibly feel the pull of fire before she felt the pull of water.)
As time passes, she realizes that her own eyes are blue and not gold, and that her skin is a deep tan, and not a pale white.
She does not realize the significance of these facts.
She simply notices them.
And she does not yet have peers to tell her that it is unusual.
(That it is wrong.)
She does not notice that the woman with the pale face never meets with anyone but her parents until long after she is dead.
She notices only that her mother calls the woman with the pale face “mother” with a twisted, sad face, and that her father does his very best not to call her anything at all.
She is told to call the woman “grandmother,” but the woman never seems to mind being called “gran gran,” because Korra is altogether too small to fit so many complex syllables into her mouth all at once.
The woman calls her “my little dragon,” even before she first sets the tapestry on fire—almost as if she knew it, long before anyone else did.
(Korra thinks of the way her lips always seemed to be twisted up in a casual smirk, and thinks she might have known from the start.)
The woman is the only one who smiles, and whose eyes twinkle when she breathes fire by accident, and sets the tablecloth on fire.
(Who holds her and whispers in her ear—Just like me—with so much pride Korra sets the tablecloth on fire every day for another week.)
The woman is soft and warm and always gentle, and, to Korra, that is what fire always will be.
(Because Korra, at the age of three, understands that the woman is fire incarnate—fire brought to life.)
(She meets a dragon for the first time at the age of eighteen, and is unimpressed, having already seen the best that has ever been.)
She remembers seeing hesitancy and pain in the woman’s eyes when three weeks after she bends fire, she bends water.
She cries because she does not understand, and is immediately gathered in a warm embrace, on the receiving end of a tearful apology that she does not comprehend, but accepts regardless.
Her flames turn blue at four, and the men in white robes who try to teach her and fail stare at her in horror, and tell her never to do so again.
(She does not listen to them because when the woman sees it she smiles like Korra is the greatest gift the spirits have ever given her.)
When the woman comes over less and less often because she only ever comes over after sunset, and then only when no men in white robes have invited themselves to stay the night, Korra becomes petulant, innately understanding the root cause of the problem (the men in white).
It takes three days for her tutors to finally lose their patience and chastise her for her weakness, and, for the the first time, Korra sees the rage of ice and water.
(To Korra, water will always be her mother’s untamed rage as she throws three earthbending masters through a wall of ice, and tells them to never come back.)
The woman comes back that night, and Korra sees the woman and her mother embrace for the first time, their faces mirrored expressions of muted anguish.
(It is the oldest the woman ever looks, her face lined and her hair white.
(After a moment, her father picks her up, and carries her into the next room.)
The men in white robes are replaced by a crotchety old man who wears exclusively green, complains incessantly about the cold, and smiles when Korra heats the room with blue flames.
(To Korra, earth will always be crotchety, irritable, and partial to warmth over cold—needing neverending patience, and responding poorly to ultimatums.)
The woman does not forego her visits because of his presence, and Korra likes him for this alone.
(Every time the woman and the man pass in the hall, the man smiles at her like they share a secret, and tips his broad, green-brimmed hat.)
Her mother takes the place of the woman who used big words Korra did not understand, and talked about how water was “gentle” and “pure.”
Her movements are the same, but there is a undercurrent of iron and frustration beneath her movements, and when the water moves under her mother’s touch, it fights against itself, swirling and twisting and moving in perfect harmony.
(To Korra, water will always be a study of opposites, made great by its internal conflict, made strong by a lifetime of fighting itself.)
(Gentleness in violence.)
Korra continues to firebend like she breathes, and does not bother to learn any forms.
She imitates the way the woman moves, because her movements teach her more about fire than any form ever could.
(The woman does not ever call her a prodigy as those clad in white were wont to do, and it allows Korra to love fire the way she never was able to before.)
Korra is happy.
She is five years old, and does not yet understand that this is something that is special (that it is something to be treasured)—so she does not pay it any mind.
She is surrounded by people who love her, and she does not pause to appreciate it because she is five, and that is as it always has been.
Just under three months after her fifth birthday, the crotchety old man in green goes to answer the door, and does not come back.
In his place come four people she does not recognize, who tell her that the old man was needed elsewhere, and they will look after her while he is gone.
She trusts them because she does not know how not to.
There is an explosion from outside of her home, and they take her away, saying that it is to keep her safe.
She follows them because she has not yet realized what has become of the old, crotchety man in green, and does not realize anything is wrong until they are halfway across the tundra, and the air around them explodes into blue flames.
(For the first time, Korra learns that fire is not just the element of gentleness, but also of murder and violence.)
The woman is directly before her in a moment, and, for the first time, Korra sees her firebend.
It is exactly as perfect as Korra always should have known it would be—and Korra can feel the blue flames singing with joy at being wielded with such perfection.
(Korra shares their joy, and forgets why the woman is there.)
One minute after Korra stumbles away into the snow, the woman appears before her, her mouth open, and her face twisted with pain.
(She chokes blood out on Korra’s face, and Korra finally realizes that this is not a game.)
The woman rises her shaking hands, and runs her thumb along Korra’s cheek as she begins to cry.
It’s okay, she whispers. Shhh.
And Korra gulps back her tears as the woman stands again, and turns back to the four men and women who are gaping at them (because the woman should be dead ten times over.)
(When the woman turns her back, Korra can see that her heavy parka is torn open, and her pale skin is charred completely black.)
(Korra is still too young to understand what this means, but she begins to cry all the same.)
Blue fire is exchanged for bright white flashes of what Korra does not yet understand to be lightning, and explosions rock the tundra and deafen her.
(Korra never learns to like lightning, and will always associate it with black, misshapen skin that spells death.)
She turns her head to see blue robes which have always signified friend—and she is happy.
She believes that this means that this will all be over, the woman will return to being soft and gentle, and they can all go home.
(She is wrong, and she screams a boomerang flashes in the moonlight, and smashes into the back of the woman’s head.)
The woman falls to her knees, her hands stilling only for a moment, while Korra screams, and the man in the blue robes that she finally recognizes as her chief looks at the scene in horror.
An explosion crashes into him, and he is thrown deep into a snowbank.
(He does not come back out, and her father becomes chief the next day.)
The woman falls to her knees, and her hands begin to move again.
Korra huddles behind her, closes her eyes, and weeps.
(She does not see that the woman’s lightning now flies wide, and the four men and women’s attacks finally start hitting their mark.)
It ends suddenly.
The part of Korra that has been and always will be a waterbender feels the ice melt and solidify, and then she hears her mother’s anguished cry.
She turns to see that the woman has fallen into the snow, with her black and misshapen back now beneath her, hidden from view.
This time, when Korra looks upon her, she notices how the woman’s breath catches in her throat, and her entire body shakes with every breath.
(Her features are tight with pain, and her white teeth are gritted harshly together.)
Around them are a lot of people Korra cannot bring herself to care about, and she can only see the woman lying before her, her teeth ground together, and her golden eyes half-closed.
Korra’s mother falls to her knees beside her, and whispers the word Mother over and over like a prayer.
The woman’s body shakes as she draws breath, and her eyes flutter open once more.
Korra hears herself saying something, but cannot comprehend her own words.
The men and women around them are loud, and Korra can only see the woman’s lips moving, but cannot hear what she is saying.
Her mother, however, can, and she lets out another anguished cry as the woman smiles in that twisted, pained way she smiles when she smiles at Korra’s mother, and lifts her hand to lie on Korra’s mother’s cheek.
Her gaze turns to Korra, and Korra can see her mouth move to spell out the words My little dragon, but cannot hear them over the din of the crowd around them.
(She will always hate everyone who surrounds her at that moment, just a little, because of what they have stolen from her.)
The woman’s left hand lifts itself into the air and does not quite manage to reach Korra’s cheek.
Korra catches it as it falls and sets it there herself, saying more things she cannot quite comprehend.
Then the woman’s face is awash with pure white light that is not the silvery light of the moon (that Korra is too young to understand is coming from her eyes because it’s never happened before), and Korra can suddenly see the silvery figure standing in the moonlight over all three of them.
Her skin is pale like the woman lying before her, but her hair is brown, and braided down her back.
(She is not wearing the white clothes of the people Korra doesn’t like, but less clothes than Korra has ever seen anyone where in her life.)
One of the figure’s silver hands rests on Korra’s mother’s shoulder (but Korra’s mother does not notice it), and, after a moment, the second reaches out to Korra, and Korra can feel the barest hints of a carress on her cheek.
I’m going to borrow her, okay? she says softly in a voice Korra understands is not a voice at all. Just for a little while.
Korra moves her gaze back to her grandmother before her, only to see that her gaze is focused on the figure standing above them.
She drops her hand from Korra’s mother’s cheek, and lifts it the silvery woman who stands above them.
The silvery woman smiles the brightest smile Korra has ever seen, takes Korra’s grandmother’s hand, and pulls.
Suddenly, a woman Korra recognizes but doesn’t quite know is standing before her, with one silvery arm wrapped around the woman Korra still doesn’t have the knowledge to recognize because her mother never put up pictures of her mothers, and the hand Korra is holding against her cheek goes suddenly slack.
(She is five, and she will not understand what has just occurred for another seven years.)
When she is six, she is hidden away in a White Lotus compound that they do not call a prison, but is one all the same.
She does not bend fire or earth for three years, and when she does, it becuase a member of the White Lotus says something about crazy princesses and ruined avatars, it takes half of the entire compound to pull her off of him.
(Katara heals away most of his scars, but not all of them.)
(Korra never sees him again.)
They tell her that she is bending wrong, and she ignores them, and escapes out of the compound at night.
Her primary waterbending master moves from her mother to Katara because they say that her mother is not a proper master.
(They are wrong, of course, and Korra only learns healing from Katara.)
(Because fire cannot heal, and Korra’s mother did not want to be a waterbender.)
When she is twelve, she escapes the compound and returns to the tundra where she lost everything because she finally realizes what happened when the silvery figure pulled on her grandmother’s hand.
She bends blue fire there for the first time in seven years and waits for seven days, but no one comes to see her.
(Her eyes do not burn white, and she does not yet understand why.)
When she first lay eyes on Asami, she sees, for a single instant, a woman with golden eyes, pale skin, and black hair tied tightly back into a topknot.
But then she blinks, and she sees a soft face, green eyes, and long, flowing black hair.
(She does not like Asami from the start—)
(Not because of who she is—but because of who she is not.)
After Aang has returned her bending, and she has gone about giving it back to everyone Amon has stolen it from, Korra finds a secluded corner of the Air Temple, and lights a blue flame in her palm.
(Just so that she knows she still can.)
For the first time in weeks, she finally feels warm once again, and she almost collapses into the wall in relief.
Asami appears in the corner of her vision, and stares, dumbstruck, at the blue flame dancing on her palm.
But then Korra extinguishes it, Asami pretends she didn’t see anything, and they never talk about it again.
When the Red Lotus escape, Korra pretends that she doesn’t hate them with every fiber of her being because the Avatar is supposed to be a force for good.
(It doesn’t work, of course, and she is nearly killed for her troubles.)
She does not tell anyone about the ecstasy she feels shoot through her veins when she hears of the bloodstains that are now blown into Mount Laghima.
(Korra has not forgotten about her grandmother’s black, misshapen back, and she now knows that there is only one element capable of dealing such an injury.)
When a reporter asks her, in the aftermath of the great battle for Republic City and her subsequent disappearance into the spirit world, something vague about mentors and inspirations, they are clearly expecting her to say Tonraq, Tenzin, or (possibly) Katara.
When she instead says Azula they stare at her with open mouths, and she turns away before she gives in to the urge to light them on fire.
(There is an expose three days later on her reportedly torrid family history, and Korra bends blue fire for the first time in three years when she sets a magazine stand holding it on fire.)
Korra’s firstborn daughter has green eyes, brown hair, and tanned skin, but there is a penetrating warmth in everything about her, and Asami rubs Korra’s back as she weeps into her baby’s wrappings, and calls her Azula.
(Korra’s maternal grandmothers have long since become old news, and this surprises nobody.)
When she is four, Azula bends fire for reasons that Korra does not understand but does not care about, and she holds her daughter and shows her how breathe fire into all of Asami’s fancy carpets.
(They elect to not have a second child because Korra knows she would always favor this one.)
Three months later, Azula’s fire turns blue, and Korra’s fire turns blue with it.
It is warmth and gentleness and none of the things Korra’s flames have been forced to become, and Korra does her best to teach Azula everything her grandmother taught her simply by existing.
(She returns to treating earth as if it is crotchety old man, and treating water as if it is cold and wrathful.)
(She keeps bending air like it is a mildly condescending man tired with the world, and becomes more powerful than she has ever been.)
Korra dreams that night of the two pale women that she has seen only once before.
They say something to her that she does not remember when she wakes, and then in their place is a small little tanned face, with bright green eyes and soft brown hair.
She never dreams of golden eyes again.
Chapter 2: Lies Unwritten
Senna’s first memory is an uncomfortable, choking warmth, and arms wrapped around her like a vice.
She remembers opening her mouth and crying, and being transferred to cool, dry hands and a soft, cooing voice.
Over a blurry shoulder, she remembers not quite seeing a pale face, with grey hair, and piercing, terrifying golden eyes.
(She does not stop crying until the eyes vanish from her vision.)
(She is three, and does not quite understand the significance of the words that are spoken over her head.)
Senna first waterbends when she is five, and one of her mothers smiles at her as the other does not quite manage to hide her scowl.
Senna is old enough that she understands words like “peasant,” and “inferior,” and it is the first time she sees her parents fight.
(It is the first time she sees her mother angry.)
(It is the first time she sees her mother contrite.)
They don’t stop until she starts to cry, and tries to run away.
Her mother wraps her in a tight embrace, and whispers in her ear that Mommy just doesn’t know how to love very well, but we still love her anyways, right?
Senna nods because she doesn’t know how not to.
(How not to love her mother, even when she is cold and cruel.)
The woman in question stares at them from across the room with cold, hard eyes, and the fire burns blue in the hearth.
(Her lips twist in a way Senna does not yet recognize as sadness.)
(In a way Senna will not realize is sadness until she is twenty-three, and is looking at them across her mother’s deathbed.)
Her mother never scowls at her waterbending again.
She teaches her instead how to move, and how to breathe, and how to draw water from even the driest of air.
(She tells her, with eyes that are hard and cold, that water is fickle, and will not always be present when she needs it.)
Her parents fight again that night, but Senna never forgets how to wick water from air that is bone dry, and is never helpless again.
(Even when she lives in the cold southern tundra, she never stops bending the water from the air, and never quite learns how to bend ice.)
When she is seven, her mother opens her own arm with a pen-knife, and commands Senna to bend the blood that is flowing down her arm, and dripping onto the ground.
To a waterbender, enemies are your ammunition, she says when Senna finally stops crying, and is holding a red orb between her shaking hands.
(Senna learns to call water down from the clouds and never bends blood again—but she never forgets the feeling of her mother’s blood between her hands.)
When her mother discovers the four inch long barely-healed wound, she is first worried, then shocked, and then outraged.
(This time, however, her mother does not bow her head, and does not look contrite.)
(The world is dangerous, and I will not leave my daughter helpless to its whims!)
It is the first time she calls Senna her daughter, and Senna weeps with joy.
When Senna is eight, she learns how to heat her own water.
She demonstrates it to her mother, who loves fire more than anything (who loves fire more than her), in a desperate attempt for her affection.
It is the first and only time she ever sees her mother scream in agony, and Senna learns that fabric that is fireproof sucks up water like a sponge, does not come away under her mother’s flaming hands.
(Her mother stares up at her with a wild betrayal in her eyes, and Senna cries because she does not understand.)
Senna’s mother’s left arm is bound in white gauze for three weeks, and she does not wear fireproof clothing again.
(She does not wear sleeved clothing for years, and every day Senna is forced to look at the white, mottled scar that exists because of her.)
Two weeks later, when her arm is still bound tightly in off-white gauze, her mother sits down beside her, and, ghosting her fingers over the bandages binding her left arm, tells Senna how proud she is of her.
(Senna does not understand, but nods regardless.)
She twists her lips in the way Senna still does not recognize is sadness, and runs her bandaged hand through Senna’s hair until she falls asleep.
(It is only when Senna is in the Southern Water Tribe that she learns that waterbenders can heal burns, and curses herself for her own stupidity.)
The day before Senna turns thirteen, her mother takes her aside, and teaches her how to properly tie her hair, how to properly bind her breasts, and how to properly pray to a spirit that does not give her power.
She is given a pair of unadorned black pants that she grows out of in three months, two black armbands she loses over the course of ten years of disuse, and an elegantly sown black and red shoulder covering that she keeps carefully folded at the bottom of a chest for the rest of her life.
(With the exception of the one time she uses it to cover her shoulders before she faces the greatest firebender on the planet.)
Her mother runs her fingers over the mottled scar Senna has only now gotten used to seeing (that Senna has only recently realized her mother does not expose only to bring her pain), and she explains the only way to win, if she ever needs to do so.
(Senna does not believe she ever will.)
She explains that she is the daughter of a Fire Princess—the granddaughter of a Fire Lord, and that no one will ever be able to refuse her call.
She raises her hand, and traces her hand over Senna’s cheek (the first she has touched Senna in what is somewhere between months and years), and tells her that there is no glory in defeat.
(That if she has to, she should cheat to win.)
Senna does not yet know her mother’s history, but, at that moment, she understands all the same.
Her mother smiles kindly at her when she returns, and gives her a slip of parchment in a language they have insisted she learn, but she had not understood the purpose of until this moment.
It proclaims her their legal daughter (the daughter of Lady Ty Lee, and Princess Azula—Princess Senna), and her mother tells her that it has the legal weight of the word of the Fire Lord (and is therefore absolute, and beyond reproach).
It becomes her most beloved possession, and she does not realize for seventeen years that it gives her claim to the Fire Nation throne.
When she is seventeen, she finds herself in a screaming match with her mothers for reasons she does not remember two weeks later, and storms out of the house.
(She takes a bag that contains three days’ worth of clothes, a red and black shoulder covering, and a document she treasures more than life her itself.)
One mother stares after her with cold, hard eyes and a sardonic twitch of her lips while the other begs her not to leave.
She does not have money, but she is a waterbender, and when she camps by the river, all of her needs can be met.
(She does not have money, but she is her mothers’ daughter, and even if she had camped in the center of the Si Wong desert, all of her needs could still have been met.)
In her second month by the river, a mammoth of a man in ragged finery of blue and white stumbles into her camp, battered, bruised, and malnourished.
He is different from the three other men that have found her while she was alone (the villagers believe the river to be haunted for decade), and she cares for him until he is at full strength once more.
(He smiles at her dark skin and blue eyes, and it is the first time she has ever met someone who looks like her, and who loves the way she looks.)
They kiss for the first time beside a brook in the middle of the Earth Kingdom, and he asks her to come with him to the Southern Water Tribe.
(The Earth Kingdom is no place for a waterbender.)
She agrees even though she has only known him for three weeks, and never looks back.
(She does not tell him she can bend water from dry air, and blood from her enemies—that she was made to live only in the Earth Kingdom, with no water for miles—because he does not ask.)
(Because he does not need to know.)
She does not say good bye to her mothers, and does not tell Tonraq of her lineage.
He does not ask after the first time, his blue eyes lidded and filled with shame.
That night, he wraps his massive arms around her, and she allows herself to be comforted.
(She has never ridden on a ship before, and its rocking makes her sick to her stomach, and keeps her from sleep.)
She has been living in the Southern Water Tribe for a year (with a carved blue stone around her neck) when her mother finds her.
Senna does not know how she does it, but she finds that she is remarkably unsurprised when she opens her door to her mother’s cold, hard eyes.
(Your mother is sick.)
(She wants to see you.)
It is the first time she has seen her mother in white and blue, it is remarkably becoming of her.
(She will wear it for the rest of her days, and not complain about it once.)
Tonraq takes it well.
His eyes widen at the sight of pale skin, golden eyes, and gray hair that was clearly once black, and not brown.
But only for a moment.
(Senna has not hid her lineage well, and he did not fail to notice that her clothing was all of black and red and green, and not of white and blue.)
(He did not fail to notice that she does not like sea prunes, or whale blubber, and prefers heavy, Fire Nation spice to the natural flavors of the Water Tribes.)
Your mother is sick.
Senna is led to a hut on the edge of the city, and she is not surprised to find that it has clearly been lived in for a year.
(She does not know whether she wishes they had told her they had come or is happy they had not.)
The inside is exactly as their house has always been, and, with the roaring fire in the hearth that burns on nothing, she can almost believe they are still in the Southern Earth Kingdom, and not in the Southern Water Tribe.
(Senna never learns to like the cold.)
(It is something she and her mother will always have in common.)
Tonraq enters behind her, but remains respectfully silent, his hands carefully folded behind his back.
(If he recognizes her mother, he does not say.)
She now knows his history, and knows that he has learned the value of waiting, watching, and not acting in moments of emotion.
When Senna bows her head into her mother’s bedspread and tries not to cry when her mother’s fingers settle themselves into her hair, Tonraq finally speaks from behind her.
We have the greatest healer in the world here in the Southern Water Tribe.
Senna raises her gaze to where her mother sits across the bed, and finally recognizes the twist of her lips for what it is.
Senna’s other mother opens her mouth to protest, but is interrupted.
Golden eyes turn down, and Senna’s mother’s entire being softens as she runs her fingers through tangled gray hair.
(Senna now knows her mother’s history, and is not surprised when her mother vanishes into the darkness the moment Katara walks in the door.)
Senna almost believes that Katara will not recognize her mother.
But then she stops midsentence, and turns her gaze back down to the woman in the bed before her, before raising her gaze to the Fire Nation tapestries that decorate the walls all around her.
She presses her hand to Senna’s mother’s cheek.
We thought you were—
She stops again, and turns to Senna.
We thought Azula—
A heavy, oppressive silence wraps all around them, and Senna holds her breath, and begins to gather water from the air behind her back.
(Tonraq watches her do so in horror, but makes no motion to stop her.)
The fire burns blue, and her mother emerges from the shadows.
She kneels beside the bed, takes a bony hand in both of hers, and only acknowledges Katara with a If you can’t help her—leave.
Her eyes are harsh, and cutting, and Senna realizes that what she had always assumed was a glare was simply a look (and that this is the way her her mother looks at people she actively dislikes).
I can try.
Senna’s mother gives Katara one last long, cold look, before turning away and pressing her lips to the fingers captured between her own.
Katara sends Senna one last questioning glance before drawing water from a pouch she holds by her side, and holding it over her mother’s form.
Her mother survives only long enough to hold Korra in her arms.
When she goes still, Senna takes Korra from her arms, and turns away from her mother’s tears.
(It is the first time she has seen her mother cry, and it is physically painful to watch.)
(Almost as painful as her mother’s still, cold form before her.)
The first time her mother holds Korra, Senna can see the heat shimmer off of her skin, thinks of stifling, choking heat and arms made of iron, and moves to take her daughter back before she cries.
But Korra simply curls up and makes pleased gurgling sounds against her mother’s chest.
Korra’s arms lift up, and Senna sees her mother smile a smile she has only ever seen before directed at Ty Lee, and hears her whisper—
My little dragon.
When Korra sets her first tapestry on fire, she is wrapped in her grandmother’s arms, who cooes softly in her ear, and whispers things she never whispered to Senna.
(Senna turns away and does not let her mother see her cry.)
When she holds Korra afterwards, she smiles tremulously and does her best not to let her jealousy show on her face.
After they have put Korra to bed for the night, her mother sits beside her, takes one of her hands in both of hers, and presses her forehead against Senna’s fingertips.
(It is the first and last time she ever hears her mother apologize for anything.)
Korra’s fire turns blue when she is four, and Senna watches as her firebending tutor (that she does not need—has never needed, and will never need) tries to explain to her why blue fire is wrong.
(Senna makes sure he never comes back.)
When a member of White Lotus chastises her daughter for crying as if her daughter has a duty to them, Senna only barely manages to keep her water only warm when she throws them from her house, and out of her daughter’s life.
Her mother comes that night, and tells her (for the second time in her life) that she is proud of her.
Two weeks later, an old man in green appears at her door, complaining about the cold, and invites himself in.
You were always my greatest accomplishment.
Senna feels a scream crawl out of her lips, and bows her head as she weeps.
She hears Korra fall silent before her, and when she raises her gaze from her mother’s body, Korra’s gaze is focused just over Senna’s shoulder.
Senna feels a weight on her shoulder, but when she turns her gaze up, there is nothing but empty air.
When she returns her gaze to her mother, her body is still, and Senna screams and beats the ice beneath her with her hands until the permafrost breaks beneath her fists, and the ice floe they are on breaks itself into the sea.
When the Fire Lord looks down upon her mother’s body, his lips twist in disdain, and Senna sees red.
It takes half of his guard to keep her from driving a spike of ice through his throat, and as they drag her away, she forgets all about her daughter (who has lost her grandmother), her tribe (who have lost their chief), and her husband (who is actively losing his wife).
She sees nothing but the twist of disdain on her uncle’s lips, and the gold trim to his robes.
The men that bow deferentially at his side, and serve to his ever need.
(Her mother died in a shack, and was cremated alone.)
(Her mother died in the tundra, killed by two blows to the back.)
Her screams echo off the jagged ice Senna has beaten up all around them.
I challenge you to an Agni Kai.
You have dishonored my mother, and I demand recompense.
Her hands do not shake as she pulls the watertribe braids from her hair, and ties it back like she has only once before.
(Her hands move automatically, and she can almost feel her mother’s warm fingers guiding her own.)
She sheds her Water Tribe robes, and meets her own blue eyes in the mirror.
There is rage and hate and murder in her blood, and she has never looked more like her mother’s daughter.
I was wrong.
I don’t want to fight.
His face is earnest, and his eyes pleading.
And family doesn’t—
She calls the water from the clouds above her, and it rains boiling rain.
She moves forward only once he has stopped screaming (collapsed, unconscious, to the metal deck of his ship), and pulls his crown from his topknot.
She turns to meet Katara’s horrified eyes, and brushes past her without a second thought.
(Katara’s pleadings and curses fall upon deaf ears.)
In the crowd, there is a woman, just older than she, who bears the three pronged crown of the Fire Nation Crown Princess.
Senna comes to a stop before her, and holds out her hand.
The woman’s hands shake as she draws the crown from her hair, and sets it in Senna’s waiting hand.
Senna stares down at it for a long moment before placing the Fire Lord’s crest into the woman’s hand in return, picking up her shoulder-covering, and leaving the ship.
She lies the three pronged crest in the bottom of a chest with a shoulder-covering and a document she has yet to have to use before closing it, and never takes any of them out again.
(Tonraq does not look relieved when she returns without a scratch, and flinches at the crown in her hand.)
(He is water tribe—and he doesn’t know the difference between the crown of the Fire Princess and the Fire Lord.)
The next day, Tonraq is chief, and he gives her a scroll that declares her mothers legal Water Tribesman.
Senna does not know how he did it, or how he knew she wanted it, but she is thankful all the same.
(They cremate her mother in black and red, but Senna takes her mothers’ robes of blue and white, and sinks them to the bottom of the ocean where they belong.)
She does not remember how Tonraq convinces her to allow the White Lotus to hide their daughter away, but she knows it had everything to do with the hard coldness of her own blue eyes, and nothing to do with their daughter’s safety at all.
(He is very careful with the White Lotus members he allows into the compound, but he is not careful enough.)
It takes her two years before she can be Korra’s mother again, and she just barely manages to smile when Korra starts to firebend once again.
(It is red, and not blue, and Senna doesn’t know if she prefers it that way or not.)
Senna hears about how Amon stole her daughter’s bending only when it is too late for her to help.
It is the only the news of Amon’s death that keeps her in the Southern Water Tribe, and not Tonraq desperate pleadings.
When she is jailed for plotting to assassinate Chief Unalaq (how accidentally right they never realized they were), Senna sits in her cell and waits, knowing that her enemies will be weakest in the moment of their greatest triumph.
(When she kills him, no one will ever know it was her.)
She finds him wandering through the Southern tundra, bereft of the majority of his spirit, and most of his waterbending.
She kills him with a spike of ice to his neck, chops him into small pieces, and feeds him to the wild polar bear dogs.
(Unalaq died with Vaatu.)
When her daughter realizes that she should not have been able to purify a man out of his existence, she meets her mother’s eyes—
(Unalaq died with Vaatu.)
And says nothing
When airbenders start appearing, and the woman who killed her mother escapes, Tonraq begs her to stay in the Southern Water Tribe.
(I can’t lose you, please.)
She listens to him because she loves him and trusts him, and regrets it for the rest of her life.
When Korra is cold because her firebending does not answer her call, Senna pushes heat into her water, and wraps it around them both.
(Korra smiles faintly, and Senna tells her stories of growing up in the Southern Earth Kingdom, with a blue fire in the hearth that burned on nothing.)
At the marriage between a man who almost tore her family in two, and a woman he claims is love of his life, Senna encounters the woman she made Fire Lord for the first time in sixteen years.
Her hair is now entirely gray, and she holds herself with all the presence she did not have when Senna handed her her crown.
Her father is thankfully not present, and Senna allows the Fire Lord to take a seat beside her.
After a long moment, the Fire Lord draws a long, thin scroll from her robes, and places it in Senna’s hands.
It bears the official seal of the Fire Nation (the official seal of the Fire Lord), and Senna knows what it contains before she opens it.
(The line of the Earth Kings is dead, Ba Sing Se has fallen, and she is the wife of the chief of the Southern Water Tribe and the mother of the avatar.)
(It’s just good business.)
When she returns to the Southern Water Tribe, she places the still-sealed scroll beside the crown that is now lawfully hers, the document that is now Fire Nation law, and a shoulder-covering that is the least of her inheritance, and never opens the chest again.
Chapter 3: Damage Undone
Warnings: References to childhood sexual abuse
Ty Lee first meets Azula when she is seven, and Azula is eight.
Lu Ten is still alive, and Azula’s line to throne is ephemeral at best.
Although Azula is still socially desirable, the other girls at their academy won’t yet bleed for the privilege of being in her favor.
(And that is more than enough to leave Azula completely and utterly alone—because even at eight and only marginally important, Azula still requires the blood of those who would love her.)
When they meet, Azula is small, with a pretty, delicate face that has yet to lose its childish earnestness, and she is the most singularly beautiful thing Ty Lee has ever seen.
Ty Lee falls in love with her at first sight, and spends the majority of the next seven years believing that her love for Azula will be enough—that it will pull them through the trials before them.
(When, sixty years later, she is lying on a thin pad in the Southern Water Tribe with her granddaughter in her arms, and her daughter and wife on either side of her—she thinks it just might have been.)
The first time Azula and Ty Lee play together, Azula shoves her into a turtleduck pool, then stares at her with big, earnest, golden eyes, and Ty Lee falls in love with her a little more.
Ty Lee gives Azula her best smile and wraps her arms around the closest turtleduck, squeezing it tightly to her chest.
(Because she cannot yet do the same to Azula.)
A hint of color rises in Azula’s cheeks, she steps delicately into pond with her, and hesitantly runs her fingers over the fur of the turtleduck Ty Lee holds tightly in her arms with a tiny smile that is the first smile Ty Lee ever sees her make.
(Her hand brushes against Ty Lee’s, and Ty Lee’s heart soars.)
Ty Lee knows Azula is a firebender since the first moment they meet, but she only sees evidence of it when Azula is eight, and Azula twitches, sneezes, and sets Ty Lee’s fire-resistant robes aflame.
(Like no flame should be able to do, but Azula’s blue flames do anyway.)
Ty Lee screams in shock and in pain, and the only thing that saves her from first degree burns is the rapidity with which Azula seizes her robes and tears them from her body.
(Ty Lee never wears robes again.)
After they have been torn off, Azula’s hands shakily rest on the angry red burn covering Ty Lee’s upper thigh, and she stares up at Ty Lee’s face with watery golden eyes.
(Ty Lee does not know if Azula’s obsession with perfection in her firebending existed before that moment—but she knows for a fact that it existed after it.)
When Azula runs her hand down the angry red skin of Ty Lee’s leg, and her hand is freezing cold.
It is wonderfully cool against her burned skin, a momentary relief from the burning agony that her leg has become.
Ty Lee finds herself in Azula’s chambers for the first time minutes later when Azula pushes her under a freezingly cold shower, and forces her to stay there until Ty Lee is shivering and her teeth are clattering.
She then rubs something that burns like acid over the skin of her thigh, until Ty Lee cries and begs for her to stop.
Ty Lee doesn’t scar, and it does not occur to her until later that Azula’s flames should not yet have been blue, and that a firebender’s hands should never have been as cold as Azula’s were.
Mai appears later.
Ty Lee does not like her, but she is cold, cool, and takes Azula’s punishment without complaint (like only Ty Lee had been able to do before).
(She is a threat, and Ty Lee hates it.)
(She wonders, sometimes, how things would have been different had Mai never existed in the first place.)
Mai is wonderfully skilled with knives, and Ty Lee learns to block chi so that Azula will smile at her the way she smiles at Mai when Mai does something beautifully dangerous.
It takes her the better part of a year (even though it should take her the better part of ten), and the first time she chi-blocks Azula, Azula gives her a wonderfully beautiful smile that is all sharp edges, murder, and death.
(The second time she chi-blocks Azula, Azula does not smile at her, and stares at her instead with a gaze that is sadness, hopelessness and betrayal.)
Ty Lee laughs when Zuko pushes Mai into the fountain because she hopes that this means Azula has tired of her.
She is wrong, and she starts to hate Azula, just a little bit.
In the aftermath of Lu Ten’s death and an increasingly cold and cruel Azula, Ty Lee decides she wants to travel the world, and joins the circus.
(It is the first time she sees betrayal in Azula’s eyes, but it is not the last.)
Ty Lee sends Azula a letter congratulating her on becoming crown princess when she is eleven, and receives nothing in return.
(She wonders what would have happened if she had stayed.)
(She never stops, and it haunts her for the rest of her life.)
When Azula appears at her circus when they are fourteen, and threatens her with all the grace and subtlety of a rampaging moose lion, Ty Lee feels herself to start to slip up once again.
She promised herself she would be better than this.
(Ty Lee may not have a scar on her thigh from where Azula accidentally burnt her when they were eight, but she has others where Azula had not been so kind, and does not want any more.)
But Azula is smirking up at her from a box seat like it doesn’t matter.
(And, just like that, it almost doesn’t.)
Ty Lee is now old enough to feel the burn of desire deep in her core, and Azula watching her like that is the sexiest thing she has ever seen.
(She has confidence in herself and in Ty Lee like no one she has ever seen before, and Ty Lee falls for her all over again.)
They fetch Mai, and set off in pursuit of the most powerful being in the world.
(Ty Lee does not once doubt that anything awaits them but success.)
They kill him, and return home.
(Azula does not tell her that it is a ruse to trap her brother, and, two weeks later when they find out, the cold pit of hatred in Ty Lee’s stomach begins to fester once more.)
Ty Lee does not know why she does it.
It is over and done with by the time she realizes what’s happening.
(Mai stares at her open-mouthed because Ty Lee’s distaste for her has never been particularly subtle, and if she had allowed Azula to kill her, they would have finally been able to be as alone as both of them know Ty Lee has always wanted them to be.)
They are sent to the prison that Mai’s uncle is demoted to, and live for three months in the lap of luxury until Zuko comes to rescue them after the end of the war.
For the next thirteen years, Ty Lee does her best to never think about whether it was a mistake or intentional that they were sent there, and is largely unsuccessful.
(Ty Lee never asks Azula if she meant to do it, because she is not certain what she would have wanted her to say in return.)
It is easy, after the war, to see the broken shell Azula has become, and allow all of the love she once felt for her to dissolve into hatred and disdain.
She tells people she only liked Mai, and tolerated Azula.
(And Azula was always just so lonely, and wasn’t that sad?)
Mai’s usually perfect forehead creases, but her painted red lips do not correct her.
She becomes a Kyoshi warrior—a part of a matched set once more.
It is nice, after spending so long being unique, to be invisible.
She teaches them how to block chi, and becomes ordinary like she never knew she wanted to be.
Two years later, she hears that Azula has escaped, and worries, for the better part of a year.
(She isn’t sure what she worries will happen.)
(But she worries all the same.)
She does not know the circumstances of Azula’s escape, or Ursa’s life in exile, so when a woman who has lost all of her memories walks into the village of Kyoshi warriors, she is not suspicious.
(The woman is soft, gentle, and plain—and not even Suki, who knows the whole story—thinks twice.)
She is everything Ty Lee never knew she loved about Azula—and Ty Lee falls in love with her immediately.
The woman does not, but she does eventually, and that’s all that matters.
(She does not let Ty Lee touch her for a very long time, and Ty Lee does her best not to think about why that could be.)
The woman takes the name Xian after three months of her memory not returning, and starts work in the metal shop.
She works metal like she was born into it, and the village wonders if maybe she is from the colonies, because the only thing they know about the colonies is they have the greatest metalworkers in the world.
(The woman smiles and says nothing, because she does not know.)
When Xian allows Ty Lee to hug her, Ty Lee does so at every available opportunity, and, eventually, Xian starts hugging her back.
(All is good in the world.)
They marry in the Spring, and old man Kyoshi officiates.
Ty Lee is deliriously happy, and thinks she might finally be able to forget about the broken Fire Nation princess that still haunts her dreams.
(She does, after a while.)
(It takes three years, and Xian’s arms around her every night to do it.)
Xian’s hands are unnaturally warm (as warm as Ty Lee always imagined Azula’s hands would be, if they had ever gotten around to touching her the way Xian touches her), but her eyes are green and her skin is a deep, Earth Kingdom brown with hair the same color as her own, so Ty Lee does not give it a great deal of thought, and does her best not to think of any woman but her wife when her wife is touching her.
(She is sometimes successful, sometimes not.)
(Xian understands because she’s perfect.)
They live in wedded bliss for ten years.
They live in a small hut in the forest outside of town because Xian cannot sleep when its noisy, and are very, very happy.
Eleven days before the tenth year anniversary of Xian setting foot on Kyoshi island, when Ty Lee wakes to the same pair of arms she has woken to for the past nine years, the body beneath her is shaking, and she has turned and is wiping away tears before she’s even properly awake.
It’s okay, baby.
I love you.
It takes her longer than it should to realize that the face beneath her has pale skin, golden eyes, and raven black hair.
(That the woman beneath her is Azula, even while everything about everything else about her screams Xian.)
Azula blinks slowly up at her, and her face is tender in a way it never has been before.
(Or perhaps, exactly as it has been for the last ten years of Ty Lee’s life.)
Azula’s hands are resting against her lower back, and her golden eyes are exactly as earnest as they were the first time Azula pushed her into the turtleduck pond, and waited for her reaction.
Ty Lee does not know how or why this has happened, but she can feel the cool metal of Xian’s ring against her back, and she knows that if she rejects Azula now, she’ll lose her forever.
(She’ll lose Xian forever.)
So she does her best to smile like it’s the most natural thing in the world, whispers I love you into Azula’s lips.
Azula shakes with relief, tightens her arms around Ty Lee, and cries against her lips.
She doesn’t stop for a very long while, and it occurs to Ty Lee that this is the first time she has seen Azula cry.
(It is not the first time she has seen Xian cry.)
I love you too.
(It sounds different in Azula’s voice, low and sultry and rough —but everything else about the way she says it is exactly like Xian.)
(Ty Lee wonders how she never realized it before.)
They run away because they don’t have any choice.
It was not the Fire Princess who was burned in that fateful Agni Kai all those years ago, and the fact that Azula cheated is irrelevant, and no one will care.
(Zuko will never allow his sister to go free.)
So they pack their bags and run.
(Ty Lee doesn’t know if she wants to keep thinking about Azula as Xian or start thinking about Xian as Azula, but every time Azula touches her she flinches, and worries she’s about to be burned.)
They stop running somewhere in the Northern Earth Kingdom—far away from anything even resembling civilization.
It would be a problem except for that fact they are two of the strongest people alive, and there isn’t a great deal in the world that could be dangerous to them.
(With the exception of maybe the avatar and the fire lord.)
(With an army at their backs.)
Azula is as remarkably like Xian as she remarkably is not.
Her hands and actions are as kind and gentle as Xian’s always were, but her words have vanished (almost) completely.
She says I love you like it’s a prayer, and nothing else.
(As if she’s afraid all of the poison she has kept stopped up inside will coming pouring out.)
Three weeks after Azula returned, when they are about a week into staying in their little hovel in the middle of nowhere, Azula tells Ty Lee what happened.
A search for her mother Ty Lee was already tangentially was aware of.
Forgetful Valley (which no one bothered to tell her about), and all the monsters it housed.
A mother who decided it was just too painful to know her children were away from her (Ty Lee thinks of how Xian didn’t like to be touched, and all of the scars Ty Lee found on Xian’s body that could not have resulted from training—).
And finally the time when it all falls apart, and a desperate plea to a spirit.
Please, fix me.
Azula is studiously not meeting her eyes as she tells Ty Lee this, and Ty Lee notices that Azula does not once mention her time in captivity.
(She remembers how Xian used to sleep with her hands tucked into her armpits, and feels mildly sick.)
Her hands shake as she makes a brief dismissive gesture, but the madness in her eyes (the cold, hard cruelty in her eyes) is gone, and Ty Lee knows it to be true.
When she finally meets Ty Lee’s eyes, Ty Lee wants to tell her she wasn’t broken in the first place.
(But they both know it isn’t true.)
So she tells her that she loved her regardless.
(And it’s true, even though Azula doesn’t believe her.)
Azula talks more, after that.
And the poison that has always existed in her words comes out.
Every once and a while.
They deal with it.
(It is almost never directed at her.)
They’re not quite happy, living in the middle of the woods, with only each other, but they’re content.
Ty Lee stops flinching at Azula’s touch.
Azula stops panicking when she wakes up alone.
It’s a process.
And they work on it.
(Azula never takes of Xian’s ring, and Ty Lee never takes off her own.)
Do you trust me?
Not looking down upon Azula’s mother’s house, with Azula shivering in anticipation beside her, looking more alive than she has in half a decade.
But she says yes regardless.
(She’s not sure what Azula would do if she said no.)
Ty Lee does not know what Azula says to her mother, but when Azula returns to her side, she is smiling like she hasn't smiled since she took Ba Sing Se in an afternoon—vicious and predatory and victorious.
(A week later Ozai is dead and Ursa and Zuko have had a very public falling out.)
(Azula was gone for just under ten minutes.)
Ty Lee hears of Ozai’s death just under two months later.
She is gathering supplies because even after fifteen years, Azula’s golden eyes are still altogether too recognizable, and they have tired of living in tents.
When she tells Azula the news, she expects a return of the triumphant smile like Azula had worn when she slipped out of Ursa’s house two months ago—but instead receives a face she hasn’t seen since she awoke to it five years ago, when Azula returned and Xian vanished forever.
(The face Azula made the instant before I love Zuko more than I fear you, when she could see it coming but was powerless to stop it.)
The plate she had been holding slips from her fingers, and shatters into the ground, and Azula’s hands start to shake.
(It occurs to Ty Lee that this hadn’t been Azula’s plan at all—that she never even imagined it would happen.)
That night, Azula curls up into a ball, and does not let Ty Lee touch her.
Ty Lee doesn’t sleep, because she cannot remember how to.
She watches Azula shake until she can’t anymore, and then leaves and bloodies her knuckles punching tree trunks until they break.
(She has grown soft—five years ago she could have walked away without a scratch.)
Azula bandages her hands in the morning, and, for the second time Ty Lee can remember, Azula’s hands are ice cold against her knuckles.
(Azula carefully washes the cuts in cold water, rinses them with something that burns like acid, and, once again, Ty Lee does not scar.)
That night, Azula clutches at Ty Lee desperately, and whispers—
I didn’t mean it—I’m sorry.
When Ty Lee reaches out to touch her, she flinches away, and for a moment, her gaze is hazed with madness, and Ty Lee knows Azula does not see her (and she wishes that she did not know just who, exactly, Azula is seeing).
(It stops bothering Ty Lee that Azula has never apologized for anything she has ever done.)
Ty Lee can’t sleep for weeks, haunted with what-if’s—wondering what would have happened if she had loved Azula enough to stay.
(Through the burns and the scratches and the cold, hard disdain.)
She thinks about it for so long, she almost believes that if she had stayed, she could have stopped it.
(But not quite.)
The second time Azula asks Ty Lee if she trusts her, Ty Lee doesn’t have to lie.
But when she sees Azula take a deep breath in through her chest, she still feels a solid pit of fear in her stomach.
Azula holds it deep in her stomach for a long moment, looking Ty Lee dead in the eye (giving her time to run—to stop her), but Ty Lee just twists her fingers in the grass beneath her and holds still
Ty Lee can almost see the barest hints of a smile around Azula’s lips before blue flames burst forth from them, and consume her.
Afterwards, Azula wipes Ty Lee’s tears from her eyes and gathers her in her arms.
She is naked because Azula’s flames have burned away her cheap Earth Kingdom robes, and her hair is loose around her shoulders because the Fire Nation leather that she used to tie her hair back could not stand the heat—but her skin is still pale and not so much as a single hair on her head is singed.
Ty Lee does not know why Azula did it, but as she rocks Ty Lee against her chest, she promises to never hurt her again.
(She does not quite keep her promise—but her flames and her hands never again leave marks on Ty Lee’s skin.)
(Just as they have not since they were both eleven, and finally forced Ty Lee to leave.)
It is the last time Ty Lee sees Azula firebend.
(It is the last time she fears Azula’s flames.)
(It is almost the last time she fears Azula.)
Over the years, Azula’s skin tans, and her hair grays.
(Her eyes stay the same bright, piercing gold until the day of her death.)
She begins to look more and more like what everyone had always assumed Xian to be.
Sometime around the twelfth year after she regained her memories, Azula starts going into town.
(Ty Lee does not know why she does it, but she does it all the same.)
They occasionally even go together.
(They hold hands and pretend they’re an ordinary married couple.)
(Sometimes, it’s even enough to make Ty Lee believe they actually are.)
Azula sneers at the shopkeepers but smiles at Ty Lee, and all is well.
(The shopkeepers sneer back, but their pelts are good, and no one complains.)
They discover together that life is remarkably long.
Especially when they’ve worked through flinching at each other’s touches, and having nightmares in the dark.
(Azula builds a forge, and entertains herself by making steel that’s just a little bit too good for any nonbending hands to make, and only occasionally selling it to the villagers.)
(Ty Lee entertains herself by doing very little at all, and being very content in doing so.)
When Azula is forty-eight, and Ty Lee is forty-seven, Azula returns from the village with a screaming bundle in her arms, and never tells Ty Lee where she found it.
(There is no blood in its wrappings, however, and Ty Lee can almost trust that Azula did not do something unspeakable to get it.)
The bundle scream and cries and pushes pudgy little hands out of its wrappings, fisting its hands around the front of Azula’s robes.
It pulls and pushes and pulls and pushes and pulls and screams some more.
Azula pays it no mind, and briefly kisses Ty Lee on the cheek before pushing past her, and walking into the house.
(Ty Lee doesn’t move because the baby’s hands were a deep, rich brown—a deep rich brown that only ever presents in one people in the four nations—the one people that even after thirty-four years, Azula has never once pretended to feel anything but hatred and disdain for.)
When she finally makes her way into the house, Azula is not strangling the baby but dutifully changing its wrappings before wrapping it up tightly once more, and returning it to her arms.
(The baby continues to cry and cry and cry, but Azula doesn’t respond, simply staring unblinkingly at Ty Lee as she enters.)
Ty Lee does not know what Azula expects her to do, but the baby’s crying begins to grate on her nerves, so she scoops the baby into her arms, and rocks her until her stops crying.
(Azula never does learn that she burns too hot, and holds too tightly for a baby with Water Tribe blood.)
They spend the rest of the day not talking about the baby Azula brought home from the village, and when they lay down that night, they lie the baby in between them, and continue to not speak about her until they grow tired of staring at each other, and fall asleep.
They manage to go two weeks not talking about the baby (and without any mobs with pitchforks coming to their door to kill them for stealing someone’s baby), with Azula holding the baby in her too-hot arms and too-hard embrace until it cries and Ty Lee has to hug it and kiss it until it stops, before Ty Lee finally gives up and says—
I’m going to call her Senna.
It’s not what she meant to say, but she doesn’t take it back.
Azula looks at her for a long moment before smiling, all teeth and fire and barely restrained violence.
(Senna is the name of the fire female Fire Lord.)
(It just happens to also sound a great deal like a Water Tribe name.)
Azula is before her in an instant, heat billowing off of her like a furnace.
She turns her gaze down to the baby in her arms, and a runs a finger down the side of the baby’s face.
(It is almost an affectionate gesture.)
(The baby doesn’t cry, this time.)
(It just mewls, turns its head, and does its best to bite Azula’s finger off.)
Ty Lee doesn’t know what it is about that moment, but she can’t help but bury her head into Azula’s hair and cry her eyes out.
(Azula does not mock her because Azula has not once mocked her for their entire marriage.)
Azula turns her head into Ty Lee’s graying hair, presses a soft kiss to it, and whispers I love you like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
(It is then that Ty Lee decides that she is happy that she met and loved Azula when she was seven, happy she met her again as Xian when she was sixteen, and so, so happy that Azula regained her memories returned to her one last time when she was twenty-six.)
Chapter 4: Words Unsaid
Mai first falls in love at eight.
She falls in love with sharp golden eyes and a smile that is as sharp and deadly as the knives she has taken to playing with in her free time.
(The golden eyes only ever soften when they look at exactly one person—and Mai knows that it’s hopeless from the start.)
She falls in love again at nine.
It’s not so hard.
The royal siblings have always been more alike than either of them would ever like to admit.
(Azula discovers this, and becomes jealous in a way Mai never tells her she doesn’t need to be.)
Mai stays longer than Ty Lee.
(Unlike Ty Lee—she can’t so simply leave.)
But Azula does not care for her much, one way or the other.
(So Mai never receives the treatment that sent Ty Lee running so quickly.)
She stays long enough that she sees a man burn half of his son’s face off, and she has to turn away.
(She does not look to see Azula’s face brighten in manic glee.)
Her father is shipped off to the colonies just under three weeks after Zuko is banished, and Azula looks at her with cold, uncaring eyes, as she smiles falsely and wishes her good bye.
(First loves aren’t meant to last, Mai understands.)
(She never had a chance to begin with.)
Just under a year after she has left the Fire Nation, she stares into tiny little grey eyes, and almost feels as if it will all be alright.
(She wraps her little brother up in her arms, and finally finds something worth protecting.)
When Mai hears that the Avatar is not dead after all, she almost lets herself feel hope.
But then she squashes it, because she is trapped in the Earth Kingdom—and even if Zuko succeeds (and she so very much hopes that he will), she will likely never see him again.
(She entertains herself by pitching knives at servants until they piss themselves in fear.)
(She never misses once.)
When bandits steal her brother away for reasons she cannot bring herself to care about, for the first time, Mai wishes she was a firebender.
(So she could raze the city to the ground in her cold, hard hatred.)
(In her mind, when the city burns, it burns blue.)
When Azula appears at exactly the wrong time (or perhaps exactly the right time), and attempts to sacrifice her brother, Mai is tempted for the first time to put a knife in the back of Azula’s skull.
(They retrieve him, and she does not.)
When she learns later just what Azula has recruited her for, she has swallows the urge to put her knife in the back of Azula’s head once again.
They kill the avatar, Azula hands the credit to her brother, and Mai returns to the Fire Nation.
(It is even better than she imagined it would be.)
She likes to imagine that Azula did it for her.
(It might even be true.)
But then the avatar rises from the dead, Zuko grows himself a conscience, and Mai is left alone once more.
He doesn’t deserve you, Azula tells her.
(Mai misses little grey eyes that would never trick her or use her or abandon her for her own good.)
Mai feels remarkably little fear when Azula’s face twists in betrayal, and lightning begins to arch at her fingertips.
(Mai has seen Azula wreathe a tree in flames without burning it, and she is fairly certain that Azula will not kill her.)
(Azula has never killed anyone.)
She never tells Ty Lee this, because they both know Ty Lee did not stop Azula for her.
Mai visits Azula after the war exactly once.
She is bound in chains that barely allow her to move, and although Zuko does not know it—it is this that plants the first seed of doubt in her mind.
(The first time she thinks that Zuko is a little too like Ozai for her liking.)
I order you to come back!
Although Zuko does not know it, it is those words that cause her to never return.
(Even when she feels as if her heart is being torn in two, and even when she loves him more than she hates him.)
(She has no interest in becoming another Ursa.)
When she meets a young man who smiles at her and gives her flowers, she almost hopes that she will be able to get over royal siblings of hate, murder and fire.
But then he leads her down a set of steps, and the anticipation in her stomach turns to ash.
Her father never learns how close she came to murdering him when she saw Tom-Tom.
(She knew she should have found him, and taken him for her own.)
(She will not make that mistake again.)
Because she is no longer relevant, she does not hear of the circumstances surrounding Azula’s escape.
But when a woman with no memories of anything stumbles into her aunt’s flower shop, wide-eyed and fearful—Mai recognizes her in an instant.
She does not know how she possibly could not.
They have dinner together, and after they have finished, the woman looks up at her with big, beautiful green eyes, and asks, Do you know me?
She sounds so hopeful that it’s like she has reached directly into Mai’s chest, wrapped her hand around her heart, and squeezed.
Mai swallow heavily, before responding—
Do you really want to know?
Before she leaves, Mai lays her hand on the woman’s cheek, and presses their lips together.
She’s cheating, she knows.
Taking that which does not belong to her.
But the woman smiles faintly, and rests her hand on Mai’s wrist until Mai pulls away.
(It is likely what remains of Azula in the woman that caused her to place her hand directly upon the knife Mai had strapped to her forearm.)
Mai tells her to go to Kyoshi Island, and the woman kisses her on the cheek before vanishing into the night.
Three weeks later, she receives the most beautiful knife she has ever seen, and doesn’t stop receiving them until she is seventy-three, and Zuko suddenly steps down, and becomes an ambassador for world peace.
(She understands what has happened, even though she nobody bothers to explain it to her.)
She lives just long enough to hear the story of Korra and Senna’s ancestry, and, after sixteen years, her suspicions are finally confirmed.
(Mai never thought that she would be the last of them left standing, and it burns, deep in her chest.)
Azula is pardoned—all charges against her rescinded (It is my nation’s greatest shame that we have—Fire Lord Izumi is occasionally so much like her father that it gives her chills), and Mai finds herself a minor celebrity.
Her history with the previous Fire Lord is unearthed, and reporters come knocking on her door.
(She is just barely well enough to receive them.)
When they ask her what she remembers best of Azula, she points them at a wall of knives she has hung over the hearth, and tells them the story of the young woman who stumbled into her aunt’s flower shop (her flower shop, now).
(She does not tell them of the stolen kiss and the two knifes she still keeps strapped to her forearms—the first and last knives Azula ever sent her—because they all belong to her, and not to them.)
When Mai’s strength finally fails, she is three-days away from being ninety-one.
Ten days before, the avatar named her first born (with tan skin, green eyes, and brown hair) Azula, and nobody blinked an eye.
Mai sucks in the breath she knows will be her last, and, when she opens her eyes, she sees a young woman she can almost no longer recognize (but not quite), sitting beside her on the bed, and smiling down at her.
We’ve missed you, Mai.
Her hand ghosts up Mai’s forearm, and Mai exhales her last breath.
Chapter 5: Memories Unseen
Asami first sees blue fire when she is too young to know her own age.
She does not remember how she comes to see it, but she remembers being captivated by it, and unable to look away.
(She wonders, sometimes, if it was all just a dream.)
She sees it again when she is five.
She stumbles into her father’s workroom, and he is holding an object she does not yet realize is a blowtorch, that is blowing white and blue flames over metal.
It is not quite as beautiful as the blue flames that have captivated her for so long—but it is close.
(She does not recognize the expression her father gives her for fear until after she has already discovered what it was he was afraid of her discovering.)
When Asami is six, her mother is killed by firebenders.
They find her crying under her mother’s body, five hours after the firebenders have left.
(Three hours after her mother has stopped breathing.)
The firebenders’ flames were red, and not blue, and Asami believes for the next three years that had they been blue, her mother would have been unharmed.
(Then she reads about blue flames, and discovers just how wrong she is.)
When Asami is nine, she accidentally stumbles upon a history of the one hundred years war—that describes a girl with blue flames who almost killed the avatar.
(There are no pictures of the girl, but Asami imagines that she was beautiful, and that the avatar deserved it.)
She finds a painting, two years later, of the girl with the blue flames, and discovers she was half right.
(She is eleven, and she now understands that she was also half wrong.)
When she is thirteen, she takes to tinkering in her father’s workshop, and wielding blue flames herself.
(They are still not as beautiful as the blue flames that still haunt her dreams.)
(But they are close, and they are hers.)
When Asami is eighteen, she finds Korra in the corner of an Air Temple, with a blue flame dancing in her palm, and staring at it as if it holds all of life’s secrets.
(Staring at it as if it is tearing her heart in two.)
Although Asami never tells Korra, this is the first moment she find Korra attractive.
(But she falls in love with Korra when she cannot bend at all, and that’s all that matters.)
When Korra notices her, the flame vanishes in an instant, and Asami cannot help but feel a deep pang of sorrow at its demise.
(It was so, so beautiful.)
(As beautiful as she always knew it would be.)
But Asami smiles, does her best to pretend she has seen nothing, and the manic fear in Korra’s eyes fades.
It is only once Korra turns away, and vanishes into the bowels of the temple that Asami lets her surprise show on her face.
Of the nine people in living memory who have bent blue flames, all of them have taken the Fire Nation throne, and none of them have been avatars.
(Although Asami is not told of Azula and Korra’s relationship until she is twenty-two, she knows it implicitly then.)
(There isn’t any other explanation.)
Asami first kisses Korra when she is nineteen, Korra is eighteen, and Korra cannot stand unaided.
Korra is asleep, and Asami can’t quite help herself.
(Korra, hollow cheeked, fatigued, and downtrodden, is by far the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.)
(Asami has finally found something more beautiful to her than blue fire.)
When Asami offers to go the Southern Water Tribe with Korra, and Korra refuses and then does not send her a letter for years, Asami cannot help but worry it is because Korra was awake, and hates her for it.
But then Korra sends her a letter, and does not send a letter to Mako or Bolin, and all is good in the world.
(Except for the fact Asami has read of mercury poisoning and all of the terrible things it does to people it does not quite manage to kill.)
But then Korra defeats Kuvira, invites Asami to come with her on a vacation, and Asami has never been happier to be wrong.
(They finally have a proper kiss, and Asami does not tell Korra she has stolen one already.)
Korra only tells Asami about Azula after she has lost her temper and told the press.
She looks terribly guilty about it, and Asami would be angry, but—
Asami already knew, so she supposes it’s okay.
(She does look terribly guilty, after all, and Asami can understand the desire to hide it.)
(She certainly never goes to any great lengths to explain her own obsession with blue fire to her wife.)
Three years later, Asami bears their first child—a pudgy, red mess that is far, far more beautiful than it should be—and she doesn’t even flinch when Korra cooes at it and decides to call it Azula.
(She hasn’t been cold in nine months, and even though she never tells anyone, she is not surprised when Azula first firebends, four years later.)
When Azula’s fire turns blue three months later, Asami is surprised to discover she does not find it as beautiful as she once did when it is threatening to set her baby on fire.
(That night, she dreams of something that could almost be a memory.)
(An old, lined face, lit with dancing blue flames.)
(It isn’t happy, Asami realizes for the first time—only weary—and Asami never dreams of blue fire again.)
Chapter 6: Truths Unknown
Warnings: Implied sexual abuse.
In her life, Azula loves seven people.
When she dies, she loves only four.
(One of whom is already dead—but who she loves all the same.)
Three of them she imagines she meets on the day of her birth.
(She has no proof, of course, and it is fully possible neither her brother nor her father could have been bothered to meet her on the day she was born.)
(She doubts it, however. Ozai wasn't yet important enough to have other things to do, and Zuko should still have been attached to her mother at the hip.)
One she meets when she is seven.
(She is the one that matters most, and precipitates everything—good and bad—that ever happens to her.)
One she meets when she is eight.
(She is the most comfortable, the most familiar.)
(The only with whom she never really has to try.)
And the last two she meets when she is forty-eight and eighty-three respectively.
(One is hard and the other is incredibly easy, but she loves them both more than life itself.)
(She gives her life for them, and does so without even the barest hint of hesitation or regret.)
She keeps track of this because she believes it is important, although she's never sure why.
(Azula likes that the ones that really matter she met in an uninterrupted streak, and came after the ones that didn't.)
(It has a certain symmetry to it that she appreciates for reasons she never bothers to comprehend.)
She is lonely, as a child.
Her brother is hopelessly dull, her mother generally hopeless, and her father—
Well, she does her best not to think about her father, anymore.
(Any happy memory she remembers of him feels like a great betrayal of herself, and so she shuts them all away.)
So, when she meets a little girl with gray eyes and brown hair who loves her openly, without apparent reason or rationale, Azula takes a leap of faith.
(Insofar as Azula is capable of taking a leap of faith.)
She pushes her into a turtle duck pond, and hopes that she doesn't run.
(Azula already knows that she won't because something about her is open, and different, and unlike all of the others that have come before her, but she does it all the same.)
That day, Azula touches a turtle duck for the first time, and finds that they are remarkably soft.
(She does not stop throwing rocks at them, however, because they do not stop surviving her rocks.)
Azula is a powerful firebender, as a child—but she is not particularly good.
Her flames are big, and impressive for a seven year old, but she is hardly a prodigy.
(Then she sneezes, and almost loses the one thing she treasures most in the world, and changes her mind.)
(She wonders, sometimes, what would have happened if she hadn't, and had decided to remain ordinary.)
And then comes the second of the people that matter.
She is cold and hard, and looks at Azula like she knows that Azula is going to hurt her, but is going to endure it all the same.
(There is soulless duty in her eyes, and Azula never once lays on a finger on her, because she knows that she will always take it without complaint.)
(It is no predictor of the measure of her feeling for Azula—and as a result, for the next six years, Azula never knows where she stands.)
Then her cousin dies, and everything falls apart.
(Although she will not be able to admit it for another twenty-two years, Azula often wishes that she had never become crown princess.)
A great many things happen after that.
Very few of them are good.
(Not all of them are committed by Azula—but some of them are, and she’s never able to forget them.)
There is a moment, when she is traveling across the Earth Kingdom in search of a humorously incompetent avatar, and an only mildly less incompetent brother, that she wishes she could freeze time, and remain there forever.
The two people she loves most in the world are on either side of her, and she can almost trust them to stay.
(She does, in fact.)
(Until they decide they don't want to, anymore.)
She takes Ba Sing Se in an afternoon, kills the avatar, and she gives her companions her best murderous smile.
(Like achieving what she has always wanted is everything she expected it to be, and not a horrible and great disappointment.)
Then everything goes to hell again, and Azula finally breaks under the pressure.
She sees the phantom of a woman who shouldn’t matter (just like her brother—just like the two people who betrayed her when she trusted—loved—them most) but does all the same, and it haunts her (taunts her) into madness and defeat.
Her brother becomes Fire Lord, disgraces the Fire Nation, and pretends that he wishes her healed.
(But never puts forth any actual effort into making it so.)
One of the two people who should not matter but still does visits her (the only person who is not her brother to do so)—and Azula knows that she is not a hallucination because she does not say things with express purpose of hurting her.
I never meant for this to happen.
Azula means to scoff (she is lucid, in an unfortunate coincidence of fate), but then she sees a glint of metal in her visitor’s palm, and speaks before she can think better of it.
They can’t keep me here forever.
(She’s right, of course.)
(She just doesn’t know it at the time.)
She hears the walls whisper, two weeks later, that her visitor has left the Fire Lord (and why would anyone ever do that—he’s so kind and gentle), and Azula forgives her.
(Just like that.)
Then a great many more things happen.
Doctors see her scars, but tell no one (assuming everyone relevant already knows).
(Somewhere in Azula's mind she notices this and carefully catalogues it.)
(It comes in handy seventeen years later, and she uses it to break the two people she hates most.)
(She accidentally breaks the one person she should hate most, but does not.)
And then there is a great deal of waiting, a rushed escape, and—
A sweet, beautiful emptiness.
All of her scars and sins, washed away.
She is happy.
Or at least content.
For the first time, in a long, long time.
(Possibly for the first time in her entire life.)
Mai kisses her (and she elects to declare that her first kiss, and not all of the ones that came before), before sending her off to Kyoshi island, where she lives in wedded bliss for ten years with the girl she has loved since she was seven.
(Although she does not remember her life, she has seen the scars on her own body, and understands why she likes that fact that both Mai and Ty Lee’s skin is so wonderfully cool against her own.)
For a time, the number of people she loves is blissfully two.
(Exactly as it should be, because the last two she has not met yet.)
Then she wakes up.
Healed, but not quite.
(And that number becomes something between three and five, once again.)
She shakes and cries and—
Isn’t forgiven, not really.
(At the very least.)
Not abandoned, or imprisoned, like she expected upon waking.
They run off together, and that’s, well.
That’s good enough.
(She makes do because she doesn’t have another choice.)
It takes ten years for that number to drop to where it should be once more.
(Another ten years for her to feel the same soft hum of contentment she so wasted when she used the name Xian.)
Ten years—and more sleepless nights and uncomfortable realizations than she would like to think about.
(But she does make it back to two, and spends her days making beautiful knives she hopes Mai will never have to use.)
When she is forty-eight, she finds a bizarrely shaped bundle on the side of the street, and carries it home.
(There is a letter tucked it into its wrappings that she does not bother to read before setting it aflame.)
Azula does not take to motherhood easily, or well, and she discovers that three and a half decades of hatred are not so easily forgotten.
(She suspects the baby feels it within her, because she never fails to weep when she is in Azula’s arms.)
But then she learns that water burns worse than fire, and (after the haze of madness and betrayal) decides they really aren’t so different.
(She’s indescribably proud of the burn that crawls its way up her forearm, and does not cover it for the next eleven years.)
(Not until she has to cover it because bare arms are not in fashion on the South Pole, and she does not wish to war with her daughter’s people.)
When Azula looks upon her daughter, dressed in black and red, with her soft brown hair tied tightly back in a topknot on the day she becomes a woman, she finds that there are greater things than bloodless coups of undefeatable cities.
(Azula wishes she had a proper crown, so that the world could never mistake how essential her daughter is to everything that has ever been.)
Although neither her wife nor her daughter seem to remember it when they meet again two years later, Azula never forgets that it is her words that caused Senna to scream and weep and storm out of their house (never to return).
(It is only once she holds the perfection that is the seventh and final person she will ever love in her arms that she decides that it was all worth it.)
(Every word, every burn, every nightmare.)
(Even as she burns her wife’s body, alone in the Southern tundra.)
As she carries what remains of the woman she loved most in the world back to the shack they have called home for the last two years in a land that hates her, she encounters a little girl, shivering and crying and half-buried in a snow bank bigger than she is.
(Her skin is pale, and her coat altogether too thin—)
(But to Azula’s eyes she is Senna—drowning in the river because Azula managed to look away at exactly the wrong instant.)
Her breath catches in her throat, and her hand shakes as she reaches out, and picks the girl up out of the snow.
(The eyes that stare tremulously up at her are green, and not blue, but when the child shivers and whines piteously, Azula allows herself to fall to her knees, and allows the girl to huddle into her overwhelming warmth.)
After she is warm, the girl does not cry, or back away (not like Senna always did), but instead presses closer, and fists her tiny hands into Azula’s thick coat, murmuring something that Azula does not bother to try to comprehend directly into Azula's chest.
Azula stays there, knelt before a girl whose eyes are too green to be Fire Nation, and whose skin is too pale to be Earth Kingdom, until she no longer wishes to burn the world ashes for the sin of outliving her wife, and then stays a little longer.
(When the girl pulls away, she firebends for the first time in decades, conjuring a pitiful blue flame in the palm of her hand, making it dance until the girl giggles and plays with it, as if it has never occurred to her that fire could possibly burn.)
When her granddaughter bends fire for the first time, she is not surprised.
(She felt it within her the moment she took her in her arms.)
She is surprised when she bends water for the first time, although she knows that she shouldn’t be.
(Azula does not cry, like she knows her wife would have—she just silently wishes that she will be able to shield her granddaughter from the weight the world will seek to set on her shoulders.)
(Just as she knows that she will never be able to do it.)
When her granddaughter’s fire turns blue, Azula is indescribably happy.
(With every breath she takes, her granddaughter reminds her that she is not alone.)
When Azula sees the tall firebender send an explosion directly at her granddaughter, she cannot help but admire her sheer ruthlessness.
If it were anyone else—she would let them take her.
They’ve certainly seemed to have earned it.
They certainly seem to want it bad enough.
It isn’t anyone else.
(Her daughter’s daughter.)
And Azula would rather die than see anyone lay so much as a finger on either of them.
(Azula would rather set the entire world aflame than ever let either one of them ever come to harm.)
Azula intercedes herself between her granddaughter and the explosion that was most surely not meant to reach her, and does not quite manage to firebend the explosion into nothingness.
(She firebends enough of it, however, and shows them what Azula, the greatest firebender alive, can do even when she cannot quite fill her lungs with breath.)
I’m just going to borrow her, okay?
Just for a little while.
Azula silently wishes that Mai was here to see this, but at the same time, is happy she is not.
(She is simultaneously both incredibly happy and deeply sad that both Korra and Senna are here on either side of her, whispering how much they love her as her body shakes and refuses to function.)
Her wife turns to her and extends her hand (smiling so happily—so beautifully), so Azula raises her own to meet it, and finally allows herself to let go.
Chapter 7: Sins Unforgiven
Warnings: Implied sexual abuse.
The first time Zuko sees his mother firebend, she has her hands clenched around the collar of his royal robes, flames licking at her lips, and she’s spitting—
Just like your father.
There’s hate in her eyes, like Zuko has never seen before, and Zuko knows that it’s Azula’s fault without even thinking.
(He just doesn’t know how, yet.)
He had been hoping she had died.
(He wishes he’d had the guts to kill her in her sleep.)
(Like she would have done to him, had their situations been reversed.)
Her flames do not touch him.
They flicker just this side of blue, and rage all around her—but they very carefully avoid him.
(Part of him hopes that it is because she still loves him—)
(But rest of him knows that it is substantially more complicated than that.)
Iroh is not so lucky.
(Iroh has not trained in over a decade—)
(He doesn’t stand a chance.)
Viewing his mother throw his uncle up against the wall, Zuko wonders if, perhaps, the reason Ursa never liked Azula was not because Azula was too much like Ozai—but if it was because Azula was too much like herself.
(It doesn’t matter—Azula has apparently already been forgiven for her every transgression.)
Iroh’s robes are Fire Nation (a present from Zuko), but it doesn’t matter.
Beneath Ursa’s fingers, they catch flame all the same.
(Zuko does not move.)
(He isn’t convinced he could stop her without killing her.)
Her flames stop being just this side of blue, and he is no longer convinced he could stop her at all.
Ursa’s screams are only barely intelligible.
You were supposed to protect her—
How could you—
Her features are twisted with rage and hatred like Zuko has never seen before (like Zuko has never imagined they could ever be), and Zuko cannot help but wonder, once more, at his sister’s ability to poison everything she touches.
(Ty Lee, Zuko, Ursa—)
Ursa leaves Iroh alive—if only barely.
(He doesn’t burn because he is the dragon of the west, and even with ten years of doing nothing under his sizeable belt, he is still among the five greatest firebenders in the world.)
(Among the ten greatest firebenders to ever live.)
The servants and the guards make no move to intervene.
(Only Zuko holds greater authority than Ursa—and he has not given the order to stop her.)
The young ones watch with confusion, and horror.
The old ones (the ones old enough for Zuko to remember them from his childhood) watch with small expressions of understanding.
(Zuko begins to realize that something is terribly wrong.)
As Ursa sweeps through the hallways as if she has not been absent from these halls for over three decades, he follows closely at her heels—
(Oh Zuzu, you always were such a mommy’s boy.)
And does not stop her.
(Sparks are jumping off of Ursa’s fingers, and setting the tapestries she passes on fire.)
(Zuko suppresses them as he passes—because Ursa clearly has no interest in keeping the entire palace from going aflame.)
He realizes where they are going when they are halfway there.
(Although he does not quite know why—he is certain what his mother is planning to do there.)
He considers stopping her, but does not.
(Can’t disobey Mommy, can you, Zuzu?)
(And you like pretend that you’re Fire Lord.)
(Don’t make me laugh.)
He tells himself that it is because he trusts her judgement.
(And he almost believes it himself—)
(But not quite.)
Ursa does not bother waiting for the guard to open Ozai’s cell.
She tears it open with her bare hands, and when Ozai sneers and takes to his feet to greet her—
She spits a fireball into his face, and he collapses in agony.
(It is just weak enough, Zuko notices, to leave him aflame but not kill him.)
You bastard, he can hear her whisper.
She rolls him onto his back, slips her hand down the front of his robes, and—
He turns away an instant before his father releases a gut-churning wail of agony.
Beneath it, he can just barely hear—
You laid your hands on my daughter, you fucking bastard.
(He doesn’t stop for a very, very long time, but Zuko doesn’t notice because his mother’s words are running through his head over—and over—and over again.)
(You laid your hands on my daughter—)
(You laid your hands on my daughter—)
(You laid your hands on my daughter.)
I know what you’re going to say—she’s my sister and I should try to get along with her.
No, she’s crazy, she needs to go down.
When he opens his eyes, Iroh is grey and green in front of him, and the air all around them is thick with the heavy scent of burned flesh.
(Zuko feels a twinge of phantom pain in the half of his face that will never feel anything, ever again.)
Then Zuko blinks, and Iroh is gone.
Zuko never sees him again.
(Apparently, Azula doesn’t even need to be present to almost destroy everything he has ever loved.)
When the guards ask him what to do with the body, he tells them to bury it.
(There isn’t a funeral.)
(He doesn’t even bother with an announcement.)
(He burns his father’s name from every history book, his face from every tapestry, and spits on his unmarked grave.)
(It doesn’t stop the nightmares that wake his wife every night.)
He doesn’t realize why his mother stays in the palace, at first.
Then he sees her crouched in front of Izumi, Izumi’s face twisted in confusion and fear, and—
Get the fuck out of my palace, mother.
(He comes by his temper honestly—directly inherited from Roku and Sozin—and his mother does not push him.)
(It is not the last time he sees her—but she never tries to talk to Izumi like that again.)
(She goes to the servants, instead.)
(Just like your father.)
Izumi stumbles over to him and he picks her up, and lets her cry into his shoulder.
(She does not flinch at his touch, and he is unimaginably grateful.)
Zuko doubles the guard around his wife and his daughter, and waits for Azula to come.
(Because Zuko knows Azula better than anyone—and he knows that she did not mean for Ursa to kill their father.)
She doesn’t come, and he wonders when she managed to change so much.
(He prefers the devil he does know, to the devil he doesn’t, and he never reduces the guard around his wife and daughter.)
(Never trusts Azula not to come back, and try to destroy the other half of everything he loves.)
She never does come back.
(He is a good Fire Lord, and he hopes that even though she won their Agni Kai, the Fire Nation would still choose him over her.)
(He’s never sure, though, and never stops looking.)
An inordinate amount of time later, Aang dies, and the world gets just a little bit darker.
(A heart attack, of all things.)
(No signs of foul play.)
(He suspects Azula, but knows that it is nothing more than mere paranoia.)
And then the avatar is found in the Southern Water Tribe born to a woman named Senna (nobody from the Water Tribe mentions that the name is unusual, and nobody in the Fire Nation mentions that it is the name of the first female Fire Lord), and a man named Tonraq.
(Zuko does not go to visit her, because he knows he would not see her and only see Aang, and that is a trial he does not yet wish to endure.)
(He is an old man, now, and he can be forgiven for such selfishness.)
He is not expecting to see Azula’s body when he arrives at the site of the new avatar’s attempted kidnapping.
But, looking at her, wrapped in colors he is sure she still despised, he feels a flash of pleasure flow through him.
(He has won.)
(Finally, after sixty years—)
(He has won.)
It does not occur to him to wonder why she is here of all places, and he almost takes a spike of ice to the throat for his absent-mindedness.
(With her lips drawn back over teeth and her eyes mad with rage, hate, and murder, Senna is the very vision of Azula, and the mystery of Senna’s name finally comes together.)
I challenge you to an Agni Kai.
You have dishonored my mother, and I demand recompense.
I was wrong.
I don’t want to fight.
He is. It’s not even a lie.
(He does not want to have to kill her.)
And family doesn’t—
(He is a fool for believing Azula’s daughter would ever enter into an Agni Kai she did not know she could win.)
His daughter becomes Fire Lord.
Katara heals away his burns.
(She has grown even more powerful with age, and it does not even leave a mark.)
He becomes an “ambassador of peace,” and does his best to do what he believes Iroh would have done.
(He drinks an awful lot of tea.)
The first time he (properly) meets the new avatar, he is surprised to find that in her eyes he does not see Aang, but Azula.
(Whether she recognizes him or not, he cannot say—but if she does, then she clearly does not hold her mother’s—her grandmother’s—grudge.)
Then his advice gets her tortured and almost killed, and he spends the next six months with his daughter (who tolerates him spoiling her incredibly young second child into complete obnoxiousness), reminding himself that she, at the very least, is still alive and whole.
When his daughter pardons Azula, and in the same breath shames him, he visits the Southern Water Tribe for the first time since he left it, sixteen years before.
He spends the weekend with Katara, and they sit and reminisce about people who are not named Azula.
(He goes out, the last night, to the ice shelf where Azula died, and asks the air—)
(Are you happy, now?)
(The next day, he sees Senna kissing her husband in the market, and suspects that she is.)
He survives just long enough to outlive almost everyone.
(Mai, Ty Lee, Azula, Katara, Sokka, Suki, Aang, Toph—)
(His wife, his mother, his father.)
(Not his daughter, or his grandchildren.)
He hears of Toph’s passing three days before he feels death’s hand upon him, and he cannot help but feel a burning pride—
(He will need to rub it in her face, if he ever sees her again.)
(He’s certain it bothers her.)
He closes his eyes, hears—
Took you long enough.
And passes away.