Title: married to the flames
Summary: Jin's married life proves to be anything but stable, but she's fine with that in a world where Ba Sing Se can fall and firebenders run teashops. AU, Jin/Zuko.
Word Count: 1190
In the end, Jin doesn't marry that nice boy, Keng Wei, the fisherman's son. She doesn't wed the boy her parents wanted to pick out for her, even though she should have. Keng Wei is round-faced and gentle and has a nice smile, she supposes, but there's nothing about him that interests her and she's never been afraid to speak her mind. That is one future for her, she supposes, happy and balanced and probably full of preparing fish, (which she doesn't mind that much but enters it as a negative in the equation anyway,) with a decent amount of children running around and helping Mama with the chores.
A quiet, simple life. And a safe one, because with the Avatar gone and the Fire Nation victorious, there isn't much someone of Earth Kingdom blood can hope for but a safe life and hopefully, no children who can bend. Not when the most merciful treatment for non-firebenders is an acupuncture session that leaves them with their abilities permanently blocked. Even that method is new, considered revolutionary and 'soft', and is hardly used. She has lost a mother to the older, more surefire methods of keeping earth benders tractable.
Li is no guarantee at anything safe or simple, but she thinks that's maybe why she chose him, in the end. He has golden firebender eyes- but bloodlines are getting mixed now, so that's neither here nor there, and the tea in their shop is always just the perfect temperature, and he can magically light lanterns for her in the darkness. Right now, what she really wants is just a little piece of light in the darkness.
Li doesn't have the careful, steady hands of the fisherman's son, or the gentle smile- when he smiles it's a slow thing, something fragile. Here and then gone again, and something she has to work for as much as conversation. Li speaks with his body, and she's learned to read him well. The fold of his arms against his chest, the stiffening of his shoulders, and the confused, boyish expression he gets when they do something normal. 'Where am I?' he seems to say, 'What is this? I'm not meant to be doing this.' Sometimes his eyes go dark and distant and he's lost for hours on end, and Jin wonders just who he was in that world outside Ba Sing Se. But questioning is as dangerous as bending here, a slippery slope. Easy to get bogged down in lives that no longer matter: this city is as much of an island as it always was, even under Fire Nation rule.
It is late at night and her mother is taken and her father has disappeared like a wisp of smoke into the night, and Li and the old man he calls his uncle take her in and give her tea. Jin is sitting on a bench in their teashop in the middle of the night, her clothes in disarray, her hair in her face, and cramped from hiding in the crawlspace above their home. She is perfectly composed until the tea hits her tongue and it's dark oolong made too sweet with rock sugar crystals, and she hasn't had tea this sweet since she was eight. She doesn't know why that makes her cry, but when she looks up, the boy is sliding through the door like he is made of liquid shadows and the uncle shakes his head. Takes her hand. Takes her to a room and turns out the lights and she sleeps.
Father is safe the next morning, if bruised and frightened and more than a little confused.
Mother, she learns, is out of reach. Li tells her this with eyes that go beyond sympathetic and touch understanding and shared sorrow.
She makes him love her before they are married, pushes him onto the blankets on the floor and makes her demands. He touches her hesitantly, almost cautiously at first. Jin is desperate to feel something out of the numb and horrible stability of a world after a lost war, the tiny terrors in the night and the broken feelings in the day. The red and black overpowering green, and a soldier's hand over her mother's lips.
She presses her lips against his skin, and feels heat, almost too hot for a person to be- a person who isn't feverish and sick to death. "You're a firebender," she mumbles into his neck, and he stiffens, his muscles tightening under her fingers. She doesn't look at his face. Jin laughs, and even her breath doesn't feel as warm as his body, "It's okay," she says, "I think I like that better than traveling circus performer."
Li's head sinks down against her chest as if he's making a plea, his breath heavy, uneven, and they're moving at a faster pace now. She feels like if they keep going, they might just leave the world behind, and she laughs again at the thought. "Tell me your name," she says, her voice breaking, stuttering through gasps. "Your real name," because a long time ago they believed a true name could make a person yours as much as apple peels could predict your future love. And then the pleasure breaks over her like a wave and she swears she sees the tiniest flicker of flame from between his lips, the slightest echo of fire in his eyes as she closes her own.
"Li is my real name, now." he says later. He doesn't seem satisfied with it. It's just one more unpleasant fact.
She bathes in pommelo-tangerine water the night before they wed, the sweet citrus smell clinging to her hair and the soft skin of her hands. There is nothing new for her to wear, so they bleach a robe to pale, clean grey-white and wrap her in it for the pre-wedding ritual. Jin takes it off when Li winces and says something about funeral clothing. She thinks there are enough problems with bad luck without her contributing to them in her wardrobe.
All night she sits and speaks to her ancestors in the light of candles that burn with green flame. They're hard to find now, with the color green fallen out of favor. If they are bothered by her clothing, they don't show it. Jin is sixteen, and tomorrow she will wed a son of the conquerors of her people. There are worse problems than dirty clothing to deal with here, and she knows it. In the end, the dead are as silent as anyone else in Ba Sing Se, and she slips into her wedding dress without so much as a thunderbolt from the sky or a tremor in the ground. Not a catastrophe at all.
She drinks the wine from the cup Li hands her and thinks of nothing. They are married under a clear, cloudless sky and the wind lifts her veil the slightest bit.
"You don't have to close your eyes when I do this," Li tells her. It's evening and the lanterns are unlit by the fountain.
"Yes, I do." she says.