Author: eastsidegallery PM
In the years after the war, Ty Lee chases ghosts. Azula confronts her own hubris and remembers her mortality. Azula/Ty Lee.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - Azula & Ty Lee - Chapters: 17 - Words: 89,568 - Reviews: 220 - Favs: 189 - Follows: 221 - Updated: 06-16-12 - Published: 10-10-09 - id: 5432322
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The wedding was held on a Tuesday. She only knew because Mondays brought spice bread with her dinners and today a presumptuous jug of rice wine, and the windows were much too small to betray anything beyond the speck of sky and the growing acridity of the prison air that denoted the coming autumn.
She hated the autumn, she hated the cold and wet. She longed for the long summer days that stretched the sun forever across the skies. The heavy incense they burned in the sconces of the walls kept her docile and slow, but she remained alert enough to remember the things close to her. In the beginning, she was surprised that the first things that came to her were not the days of glory or the fervent worship of her military subordinates, or even the honor bestowed to her by her father and won by the fire of her blood. Instead, there were gentler things, forgotten in places so old it was sure to instead have been figments contrived desperately from the fragments of her sanity.
She was sure (maybe) of summer days spent on a beach, with people she had not yet begun to truly hate. More often than not, it was purely about these people. Other times it was of her younger days spent at the palace, amongst the grass, stone gardens and turtle-ducks. Sometimes, she remembered her mother.
Still, her rage remained poisonous. It flowed from her organs and gathered beneath her skin, roaring its discontent while her limbs had grown too heavy and languid to obey her. She glared impotently at the tendrils of smoke drifting from the walls of her imprisonment, unable to tell how much of this was attributed to her own failing mind and how much to her inability to rise above her circumstances.
Her self-awareness did not do much to save her. The incoherence of her own anger was degrading, its presence as elusive as fire bending.
If she listened carefully now, she could hear sound of celebration that floated in from outside the walls. If she closed her eyes she could see the throngs of people dancing along the neat lines of Zuko and Mai's procession. She could see their smiles, their raucous laughter filling her ears so much where she had to hold her hands pressed against the sides of her head. Their faces taunted her, her father's crown shining defiantly in Zuko's topknot, her birthright--hers! They had cheated. What right did they have to happiness while she festered within these stone walls? She had played by the rules, she hadn't complained like Zuko, she had borne her tasks with staunch servitude to her country. Her achievements were conceived by her excellence in battle, the power of her charisma, and her talent for besting and outsmarting the wisest of war councils. Whereas Zuko had floundered, Azula was a beacon, the product of the knowledge and guidance of her dynasty.
But Zuko had owned the wildcard, the Avatar, and in the end this was all that mattered.
Azula lifted her hands against the sky of her cell. The shackles of her wrists clinked mournfully against her chains when she remembered how the Avatar and the usurpers had quarreled viciously over her fire bending, vultures tearing at a fresh corpse. Their bloodlust had been palpable, and she had waited patiently in silence for the day when they would come to tear the fire from her body.
In the end the Avatar had not appeared but only lowly bodyguards and soldiers that clambered fearfully into her chamber, simultaneously in awe and terror of the monster that smiled hungrily with crazed golden eyes. Her brother had been there as well, his face dark with thought, lips set in a thinly veiled grimace as she howled with laughter.
It was so funny.
"How silly you look with father's crown! Don't you know Zuko, only children play pretend!" She smiled charmingly, knowing from the twin visages of horror and disgust that eroded his false conviction that it had made the desired effect. She talked straight at his scar, reminding him with pointed self-consciousness that they were born of the same blood and ire.
"How good of you to visit me, dear brother." She bared her teeth with her smile.
"Azula." His voice had been small and mournful and betrayed all his weaknesses, but he was wise enough to say no more. She couldn't bear his lies and he was tired of giving them.
They were siblings once, a brother and a sister. Now they stood on opposite sides of a yawning chasm, waiting for the other to fall. Only a mutual truth reached them.
There must have been a signal, because at once, the room had come to life. They rushed from all sides, their fear at their throats and their hands reaching, grasping for her, to quench the gift of her blood, her lineage. It was her life they were hunting now; the fire was her existence, and without the light Azula knew that she would not survive. It was a battle, and with this knowledge, Azula felt that this was surely what it must feel like to come home.
Her rage had been so easy to articulate in streams of white and blue. The air roiled with fire and screams, crackling as she summoned her passion in brilliant constellations. The roar of battle was strong, and so was the call of the flame. She had painted her walls with the heavy armored bodies of her captors, wading amidst the ocean of those that fell beneath her joyous rapture.
Yes, this was home. There was no end to this army of guards, the defenders of this throne-pretender. But she had closed her eyes and remembered her graduation of the Fire Academy's combat programs at the tender age of 12, heralded by the simultaneous defeat of 10 of her upperclassmen. There were more men now but it remained the same. This was no execution, this was her legacy.
Zuko had leapt in as a vain attempt to save his men and she howled triumphantly, exultant in the lightning that danced from her fingertips and the fire that licked ravenously to devour them whole.
Their bodies crashed together and she wondered if this would be the end to their duality, their eternal rivalry, and it occurred to her that Zuko still thought that they could both survive. His pretentiousness was galling and she had yearned to remind him that it was she who had been groomed for greatness, not for the walls of metal and stone, and that his years spent journeying had not taught him anything except how to grow selfish and weak. But she had not forgotten the lessons of her father, the ones branded directly by his hands and coursing over her skin. She would never forget.
She had allowed a glancing fire punch to her temple and she snarled bestially as he staggered, shocked that he had landed with such an elementary technique.
"DO IT! Kill me or you'll never see the light of day again!" Her throat was hoarse and refused to swallow her tears (of anger) anymore. Men fell away from them fearfully, as her posture stooped, her arms arcing in the air to divide the poles of her chi and connecting it once again at the solidly grounded figure of her older sibling. Her brother, so sheltered and protected, so lovingly guarded, so much older than she but at the same time more young and eternally foolish.
The ground had risen up to strike her in the jaw, and the world spun nauseatingly as she felt the growing weight of angry and desperate men pinning her arms to her sides, forcing her head to the cold floor of her cell. She screamed as the lightning--her lightning--was shot into the empty air.
"Kill me!" The cold fingers of fear curled themselves around her stomach. Her face was wet, the lengths of her fingernails breaking across the ground as she clawed furiously for deliverance. Zuko's face was cold but she could see the cracks of ramparts waiting to fall. "KILL ME!"
Iron cuffs clapped themselves on her wrists, her ankles, and she had choked as her head was jerked back by her hair and the final iron collar put in place. The newness of studs of metal digging into her flesh felt distantly officious next to the familiarity of the evaporating heat in her bones. She had felt the same bindings before, she had been chained like this in another memory, by the greatest deceiver of all. A girl who had fooled even her with gentle smiles that hid insidious intentions and taught her that even in moments of assured triumph, she was alone.
She had known instantly who had made these new chains. Who had betrayed her again.
It was the last time Azula remembered how to manifest her rage. The next day, they began burning the incense in the walls, and she forgot her anger, and spent her days staring at the emptiness of her hands, her nights dreaded and sleepless.
She was unsure how long ago they had come in to bind her bending. It seemed like a lifetime ago, years dissolved in the purple haze, and now she was staring out of her windowsill, listening the ghosts borne from her memories. She closed her eyes, relishing the breeze of the ocean that swept over her face.
She sat amidst a vast ocean, frozen in time and far from the mainland, and the sea air carries more than the smell of salt and grime, but the sounds of an ancient city. Zuko was getting married, said the whispers of her timeless guards, and she knew that as her brother would welcome the bride in his marriage-bed, so would the nation welcome their Fire Lord and Lady.
With a noiseless sigh, Azula fell from the window, her fall cushioned by the superfluous and ostentatious pillows (the false semblance of a home) that dotted her extravagant prison. She returned to staring aimlessly at her hands, pondering the anger and fire she could no longer arouse.
She didn't look up. She wouldn't dare, because she had grown to forget what was ephemeral and what was real. At first, it had been her mother (sad and forgiving), then it had been her father (frenzied and violent), and finally it had been Ty Lee. She had learned to ignore them all, learned to preserve what was left of her dignity without incurring the shame that echoed in the laughter from her guards.
This girl wasn't real, she was sure, but a pathetic creation. The real girl had long left her for the lofty promises of a different glory. She had smiled ruefully as she had said her apologies and goodbyes (Azula had snarled and spat them back) and left with assured confidence and candor. A part of Azula had wanted to scream don't leave me, but the girl had already run so far away, enrobed in green and white and the sweet fervor of freedom.
"I'm sorry I'm late, Azula. I brought you something." The delusion said, a chimera of all of Azula's fears and impotent desires.
There was a small patter, as if something had been reverently lain on the ground. Her mind was cunning and deceitful, as it imagined small hands reaching through the iron wall hesitantly, before resting at the bars, resigned and quiet.
"It sure was hard to get! You would think with so many of these things around that they wouldn't mind giving a girl just one… Oh, but everything was so wonderful, Azula! There were all these people--the entire city came out!--and oh, the music! Mai was so beautiful in her dress and their vows were so romantic…" The voice rang false with conjured elation and Azula couldn't help but think how Ty Lee looked suspiciously like she last remembered her, frozen and immortal.
"I wish you could have been there." She imagined the voice to be soothing and gentle, smoothing the edges of her frayed mind, easing the cold from her bones with its warmth. At another time, she would have welcomed it, bathed herself in the memories of another life and allowed herself the pleasure of self-indulgence, but today was not the day.
"Don't cry, Azula…"
"Leave me alone." She whispered bitterly, hating the ghost who wore the face of her final betrayer. The one who placed her here, who had irrevocably ruined her, would be reaching out with pleading and remorseful eyes. Azula couldn't bring herself to face the personification of her downfall.
"It's ok, Azula. We won't talk if you don't want to."
She imagined fingers settled gently over her scalp, winding themselves loosely in the snarled strands of her hair, stroking softly with maternal kindness. The silence was peaceable, broken intermittently with disembodied hushed murmurs.
Through the purple smoke and barred windowsill, she could see the golden rays of the sun turning deeper, and the sky darker. Her eyelids were growing heavy and it wasn't long before she closed them.
When she opened them a little while later, her cell had grown dark, the only light shining from the embers inside incense sconces of the walls. The hallucination had disappeared, like she had hoped, and she smiled despondently at the space around her.
She rose from her lounged position on the floor, fumbling in the dark for the cushions that pillowed her body from the coldness of the stone floor. Even in the low light, something bright and red erupted against the nebulous shadows, and she stooped down to retrieve a fire blossom, left lone and vibrant at the feet of the iron bars.
She turned it over in her hands, the lushness of the petals still wet with freshness, and marveled with naked awe at its tangible beauty and the blood that flowed from the bite of its thorns.