Author: cupid-painted-blind PM
Yue imagines a world where summer never ends, where everything is green and yellow and alive.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama - Yue & Sokka - Words: 3,597 - Reviews: 16 - Favs: 31 - Follows: 2 - Published: 06-11-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6044349
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"all good things are wild, and free." - henry david thoreau
The summer is short, and a lot must be done in a very short time. She picks up furs from the hunters and joins the rest of the non-bending women in tanning the hides and sewing blankets and rugs and coats out of the thick pelts. It's tedious, hopelessly boring work, but it's fairly simple, so she's able to daydream while she sews endless pelts together in endless patterns.
Around her, the women are chatting happily about normal, mundane things - how the gathering is going, whether this winter will be a harsh one, what the Fire Nation can stick into various orifices - and she simply tunes them out and imagines a world where summer never ends, with tall trees and animals of all kinds singing and making noise. She imagines a place with water that flows in rivers and waterfalls, where everything is green and yellow and alive.
If this war will ever end, or maybe even if it doesn't, she can possibly convince her father that she (and her husband) should be ambassadors to foreign lands. For a moment, she imagines seeing the world, tasting sweet, fresh fruit, and falling down against lush grass, living in perpetual summer.
"And Yue, you'll be sixteen this winter, won't you? How exciting! Do you know who you'll marry yet?"
Her illusion crashes around her shoulders, and she smiles as brightly as she is able and shakes her head, "No, but I'm sure I will soon. There are... more options than I expected!" She says it with a laugh, and everyone assures her that obviously there are many suitors for her hand and she must be so flattered, but all she wants is to run in a tropical forest and dance in a meadow full of flowers and never, ever have to think about marriage or men.
Across the room, proudly boasting about the kill he's made (whose fur he's bringing them), Hahn catches her eye and smirks.
She's trying desperately to balance the very heavy pot of stew in her arms, the pot that Aunt Kayna spent all day cooking for the hunters, who should be coming in any minute now from one of the last hunts of the season and will surely be hungry - the one that Aunt Kayna had smirked and told her to take to them because after so long away, they'll want to be served by a pretty face.
She turns around and runs straight into a large, firm chest, and cries out as the pot flies out of her hands and crashes against the floor. The man - no, boy, she thinks, recognizing him - steps back in alarm.
"Oh, man, Yue! Watch out!"
She wants to cry. Instead, she shoots Hahn a glare and kneels to pick up the pot, salvaging what she can. Luckily, it fell bottom-down so, even though her skirts are splattered with stew and the floor is a mess, most of the food is still edible. She casts around for something to clean up with and spots a heavy towel on the other side of the kitchen.
"Can you - " she sighs, indicating to the towel. Hahn raises an eyebrow and looks at her like she's asking just so much of him, but he grabs the towel and hands it to her anyway. He doesn't help her, but she still counts it as a win. "Was there something you needed here?" she asks as politely as possible, wanting desperately to hit him over the head with the stew pot, especially if he had just come in here to watch her do womanly things.
"I was bringing you a present," he says arrogantly and smiles like this is supposed to make everything magically better. She looks up at him expectantly and he whips his arm around from behind his back, holding out a handful of small white flowers.
She is so very sick of the color white.
"Oh!" she cries, masking her disappointment and trying to focus on the green rather than the white, "Hahn, thank you!"
He beams, and she notices that he's pulled the flowers out by the shallow roots. Something inside of her wants to die when she sees that; now these flowers won't grow back next summer. But the gesture was meant in kindness, or, well, the closest thing to kindness Hahn knows how to express, so she accepts them with a falsely bright smile and clutches them in her fist while she picks the pot back up (he does not help her) and shuffles into the next room, where the hunters are all gathered. They cheer and cat-call at Hahn when they see the flowers in Yue's hand, and he preens at the attention.
Once she's set the pot down on the table, he wraps an arm around her shoulder and tries to swoop in for a kiss, but she smacks him in the face with the flowers instead and stalks away, unamused. Everyone else thinks it's very coy and adorable, though, and even Hahn laughs, although she's sure she's stung him.
She cannot bring herself to care.
On her own, two nights later, she sneaks out of the city and out into the fields. It's starting to get cold again (well, colder than it has been; it's never exactly warm in the Northern Water Tribe), but she ignores the chill and runs through the low grasses and flowers as fast as she can, letting the wind whip at her unbound hair and muss up her normally immaculate clothes. She feels free, for the first time she can remember, and, laughing, she twirls around and flops onto the grass, breathing hard and watching the sky.
"Oh, hush," she says, laughing, to the admonishing glare of the moon. "You'd do the same thing if you were me. I'm going to go back in a little while anyway." She glances at her clothing and brushes ineffectively at the grass and dirt stains. "And I'll even clean my own clothes, all right? No harm done."
She runs a hand through her hair, and holds it up to the weak light and watching it glow in the darkness, sobering up.
"I don't want to marry Hahn," she tells the moon. "He doesn't think about me. He thinks about himself and how good he looks to everyone else, and I'm just a - an accessory." She sighs and looks up, arms and legs splayed out like a star, and the moon blurs in her vision from the tears in her eyes. "But I will," she says quietly, "because it's best for the whole tribe. They need me to be strong right now. Father - He needs me to be strong right now." She blinks, and then takes a deep breath. "But what about what I need?" she whispers.
The moon does not answer.
"Yue," her father says, in that authoritative tone she used to hear often when she was a little girl and had gotten into something she wasn't supposed to, "Yue, come here."
She stands from the table where she's sitting with all the other women, handing her sewing over to a younger girl who has been watching her with awe, and, folding her hands into her sleeves, she joins her father and they walk through the streets in silence for a long time. Finally, he speaks again.
"Hahn has requested my permission to marry you. As have, well, most of the young men of the tribe, but I think Hahn is the best choice. What about you?"
He's asking because he cares and because he genuinely wants her to be happy, but not because she actually has any say in the matter. Hahn wants to marry her; she will marry Hahn. "I... Whatever you think is best, Father," she replies demurely, because it's the only answer she can give without bursting into tears. Father nods and smiles warmly.
"He's a good man," Father lies, "and he'll make you happy. I feel it."
I don't, she thinks, but smiles anyway. "Can I make one request?" she asks, before she can stop herself.
"Anything," Father replies.
"Can the wedding be in summer? And..." she hesitates, because this will sound pathetic, "can I have yellow flowers?"
"Yellow?" Father asks, looking at her oddly. "Why yellow? Why not blue, or white?"
"Because everything is blue and white," she replies, feeling like a little child again. "I want my wedding to be colorful and happy and... hopeful," she says quietly, glancing sideways at her father while he mulls it over. Decision made, he grins and claps her on the shoulder.
"For your wedding, Yue, you can have anything you want. If you want yellow flowers, then you'll have yellow flowers."
She smiles, finally finding something to be excited about. At least she won't be married with the same colors as everything else. And she thinks that she'll decorate her home with all the colors of the rainbow and all the warmth that the North Pole doesn't have, whether Hahn likes it or not. At least she'll have color in her life. At least.
But, oh, she doesn't want to marry Hahn.
He presents her with a pale blue stone, carved in a simple pattern and attached to a dark blue choker. She doesn't like it, but she smiles anyway and thanks him. The whole room cheers when she accepts it and the little girl who watches her so avidly is clapping, and she focuses hard on that little girl because she's reminding her of why she's here and why she's standing with Hahn and what she's doing this for.
It's for that little girl, so she can have a future. Right.
Hahn sweeps her in for a kiss like he did the day he gave her flowers, and she can't push him away this time, so she accepts the kiss to applause and cat-calls and cheering. He tries to slip his tongue into her mouth, but she refuses to let him, pulling away with a bright laugh and a smile and turning to her people instead of her fiancee.
"I was thinking," he says brusquely, walking her to her house possessively, "that the wedding should be next spring, before the first hunt. And blue. I like blue."
She wants to fall straight through the ice and disappear into the swirling ocean. Spring, she can concede to, but the colors she will not acquiesce. "I like yellow," she says lightly, as though considering this for the first time. Hahn laughs.
"Yellow? At a royal Water Tribe wedding? That doesn't make any sense. Nah, it should be blue."
"But yellow is so cheerful and happy," she counters, far more desperate than she's willing to let on, "perfect for these troubled times."
"Blue is the traditional color of the Water Tribe," he replies condescendingly, as though this is final. "It's what the people will want to see."
He's hit her where she's weakest, and her resolve crumbles softly and soundlessly, like the last snowflake of a blizzard. She nods and takes a very deep breath to still her voice and keep the tears back, and says, "Of course. You're right, it is what the people will want."
"Hahn is so pretty," the little girl - whose name is Anya - says, sighing wistfully. "You're so lucky, Yue."
She smiles and stares hard at her sewing, trying to think about anything but Hahn. "I am, Anya," she replies evenly, and holds the fur out to the girl, "Here, see how the stitches are? You can't make them too big, then the joint is weak and it'll fall apart."
Anya nods and turns to her own sewing, brow furrowing in concentration as she tries to mimic Yue's even, small stitches. She keeps getting distracted, however, looking constantly between her sewing and Yue.
"What is it?" she asks finally, getting irritated with the girl after the third time she has to untangle her thread. Anya yelps and pretends that she hasn't been staring.
"Nothing, nothing," she says, laughing, but Yue raises an eyebrow.
"You're not paying attention to your sewing. What's so interesting about me?"
She hesitates, but finally answers in a small voice, "Why is your hair white?"
"The moon spirit saved my life when I was a baby," she replies in the same even tone, as though that's the end of it. Anya, however, doesn't seem to think so.
"It's so pretty," she says, reaching out and touching it. Yue stiffens, unsure how to react to this. No one ever touches her hair. It's almost like they all view it as something sacred, and that touching it will make the moon spirit suddenly swoop down and kill them. All of a sudden, it occurs to her that Hahn will touch her hair, and Hahn will touch her in other places, and Hahn will not consider anything about her sacred or beyond his reach. The thought disgusts her, down to her very bones.
"Yes," she chokes, and forces herself to smile. "I quite like it."
Anya tilts her head, picking up on the sudden change in emotion, but confused by it. "What's wrong?" She retracts her hand, eyes wide and fearful, "Did I do something... I'm sorry!"
"No," she urges, "No, Anya, it's nothing. You're more than allowed to touch my hair," she smiles with more feeling than before. "It's all right, it's just... I was surprised. Most people don't."
Anya accepts the lie and returns to her sewing. Yue can't stop thinking about Hahn now, and she wishes desperately that she could.
The meadow she ran in before is frosted over now, and the moon is hidden by clouds.
Yue has never felt so alone.
His name is Sokka, and he's clumsy and adorable and terribly funny, and she falls hard for him the moment he opens his mouth the first time. It hurts so, so much, but she keeps her betrothal necklace covered so he won't know the truth because she wants so badly to believe - as he does - that they could ever be together. He talks about adventure and the Avatar and his sister and a future without war, and she listens intently and, for a very short time, she hopes.
She thinks that he would take her to a tropical forest and run with her through the meadows and the grass and the rivers, that he would let her get married with yellow flowers and decorate their home with all the colors of the world. She thinks that he could be everything she's ever dreamed of and wanted and hoped for.
But it's too late. If he had just come three months sooner -
But he didn't. She is engaged to Hahn, which is what her people want and need, which is what she has promised, which is what she is bound to. And she cannot be with him, and he will never take her running through grass and water and trees, and she will not have yellow flowers at her wedding.
Yue cries when she shows him her betrothal necklace, and runs away because she can't face the disappointment in his eyes and in her heart.
The koi fish is dead in the old man's hands, and the answers to all of her questions are writ large in front of her, like she's known this all along, always known that it would end like this. And somehow, she isn't sad. This way she won't have to marry Hahn. This way she can see the whole world. This way she won't ever have to leave Sokka.
He begs her not to, but it's too late. Like everything else in her life, it is beyond her control. The only thing she has ever done that deviated from the laws and from what everyone wanted of her was kissing Sokka, so she does that now, her last chance to taste freedom on his lips. She holds destiny at bay for one moment and imagines a world where the summer never ends and the flowers are all bright and yellow and cheerful and where there is no war or Fire Nation or Hahn. For one - last - second she holds him close and breathes in the scent of possibility and hope, and then it's too late, the second passes and she feels herself slipping away, feels Sokka's hands slipping away, and then everything is white.
He was always too late.
Years and years later, Sokka and a very pretty girl with red hair come to the spirit oasis with a babe in arms. He is older, wiser, stronger, but her heart still clenches in her chest when she sees him. He holds the baby reverently and speaks to her like she's a venerated old spirit, rather than a sixteen-year-old girl whose destiny took her away from him.
He's come here during the full moon, dedicating his small daughter to the memory of the human Yue, and the baby cries when he holds her away from his chest, setting her feet in the water. He cannot see her, but she steps forward and peers at the girl.
She's small, maybe two weeks old at most, with fuzzy dark hair and green eyes that are currently screwed up in annoyance. Her chunky arms and legs are waving around unhappily as she struggles to get back to her father's arms. Yue smiles; she's such a pretty little thing.
And then she notices the mark around the girl's neck. It's faded now, but Yue has seen that before - it's the mark of the umbilical cord, that wrapped around her neck during birth. She touches the mark and feels the damage done by the lack of oxygen, the little girl's throat closing in, the history of the suffering and the knowledge of what was to come.
People who are damaged like that seldom live very long in this world. She's sickly and deeply wounded, and Sokka's eyes are pleading; this is his last, most desperate hope - please save my little girl.
Yue wraps her hands around his and around the baby, and wishes that she could become corporeal, just for one moment, just to hold this darling little child who came into the world with everything stacked against her, just so she could hold her and whisper to her that she understands, that she has been there, and that it always gets better in the end. Instead, she simply leans forward and kisses the girl on the forehead. The mark disappears, and, as an afterthought, she touches the girl's hair, turning it a very familiar white.
It wasn't necessary, but Yue remembers a different little girl with big eyes who touched her hair reverently and never quite learned to sew. Sokka and his wife both cry with happiness and both of them hold the baby and repeat their thanks over and over and over, but Yue isn't listening. Sokka should have known that she would be here for him when he needed her. He never should have thought that she wouldn't.
He gave her a taste of what she wanted most, after all. She has one caveat, though, and she whispers this into the ear of the girl's mother.
Let her be free, she says, and the woman turns suddenly, trying to catch sight of who is speaking to her. Let her run free.
"What is it?" Sokka asks. The woman nods slowly and turns back to him.
"I... I heard something. She spoke to me. Yue, I mean."
Sokka looks around as though she's going to materialize out of the sky, which she thinks would be an awfully useful trick to have, but she stays stubbornly invisible to him. "What did she say?" he asks finally, after accepting that she isn't about to appear to him.
"Let her be free," the woman murmurs, and then ruffles her daughter's now-white hair. "As though we wouldn't," she smiles through her tears and kisses her daughter on the forehead. They stand to leave, but Sokka hesitates and turns around, clutching his baby to his chest tightly. Now that she's warm and healthy, the girl isn't fussing anymore, snuggling closer to her father and dozing lightly.
"Thanks, Yue," he whispers, and a single tear falls out of his eye.
She doesn't respond, because she doesn't know how. Instead, she watches him go and wishes that she could touch him one last time, taste that freedom that he promised one more time, fall into his arms just once more.
Night is passing, though, and she has other places to be.
She leaves the north pole behind.
A/N: I don't know. It just wanted to be written. The last scene just kind of jumped up and threw itself into the story entirely of its own volition, so um, yeah. There's that. Review!