music to live by

By: Serendipity

Author's Note: Done for the music meme, where you put your music player on random and write a drabble for each of the songs, ending when the song is complete. Warnings for war themes, mention of insanity. Contains Zuko/Katara and Sokka/Suki as basic pairings.


Azula is locked into a cage of ice when he comes to visit her in the healing huts in the North Pole. She is lying so bonelessly, so pale and listless on the stack of furs that he at first believes that his sister has passed away during the night, on the eve before his first visit. Then she moves in the same slack, graceless way she did during the Agni Kai in which she gifted him with his second scar. Her head lolls limply to the side without her making a move to stop it, and she props herself up one pale, fragile arm as she surveys him. It's the eyes that give away the lie. They're blazing, firebending gold.

"Come to finish me?" she asks in a low, rolling purr that doesn't hide the hoarseness of her voice. "Make it quick, Zu Zu. They touch me with sharp fingers," she adds, and she sounds like she isn't even talking to anyone in the room, "Sharp fingers and water inside my mind. And mother always watches. Just beyond the door. Bad girl. I'm a bad girl, Zu Zu." And she laughs, low and too deliberate for it to sound like anything natural.

Ursa takes him by the arm and leads him away.


The water is low again, and she goes to dip the jug in the river, watching it swirl and eddy and carry leaves. Katara fills her jug and fills the sack hidden in her bag, and goes back to the house where Longshot and Smellerbee wait for her. They're still painting Ba Sing Se shades of red: crimson, scarlet, pale magenta. They are painting the city in the blood of the boys that were murdered below Ba Sing Se: Jet's spilled in vain by fellow Earth Kingdom men, Aang's boiling in his veins, and an air bison shot out of the sky by flame before a rescue could be completed. In the end, she is alone to fill her water jug and help where she can.


Jin is brewing tea leaves in a glass jug outside, sitting it on the windsill to take in the sunlight, when she sees them. Round and red and full in the sky, and the black insignia of the Fire Nation painted on the side, and thinks for a moment what an atrocity it really is. Because, you know, the fire people slaughtered the air people and now this is like the hunter wearing the coat of the lion-wolf he killed. The tea leaves bleed brown into the water, mint and chamomile from Li and his uncle, and her fingers clench white against the window frame as the first flames pour down from the sky.


Katara lifts water from the fountain in a long, glittering stream, a ribbon of liquid edged in ice, and Zuko stands prepared, the air around his fingers shimmering as heat distorts the air. When Aang and Zuko perform the ancient dragon dance, they dance/fight in perfectly synchronized movements. When Katara slips deadly ropes of water like silk around Zuko's body, when he breaks through with the grace of constant study of waterbending forms, they don't look like they're dancing: it's too wild, too automatic and unpracticed. It's an ancient form of the dance, the courtship, the chase. Their bodies more than mirror each other, they slip into each other.

When sparring practice is finished, Aang frowns and steals Katara for more bending practice, and Zuko sits quietly under the fountain, as if dazed, and watches the water in its stillness.


He went with her when she went to avenge herself on her mother's murderer, and so she went with him when it was time for him to seek out his mother, wherever she was. In the end, they find Ursa already perished, dead in the prison of the sweeping estate in the far corners of colonial Earth Kingdom she had been banished to. His mother sat at her bed and smiled vacantly as he arrived, and he realized her mind was already gone from him.

"It's a standard procedure," the herbalist in charge babbled, "The herb soothes nerves and deadens pain. After childbirth-"

Katara is there for him when he uses blades to kill the men who took his mother's mind, stole her spirit as surely as Koh stole faces. She's there when he wipes blood from the blade and cries with his head in the lap of the empty-smiling woman, her hand reflexively tangling in his hair.

"Oh, little one," Ursa croons, "My little one." She says the same thing to the little girl there, thin and wide-eyed and distrustful, her young eyes full of secrets and darkness beyond her age.


Yue dies and they celebrate.

Sokka knows why- she died nobly, sacrificing herself for her tribe, dying the martyr she had intended to live to be. She had died and continued living, passing into greatness as the moon spirit. When the water tribe looks up at the heavens now, their princess Yue smiles benevolently down upon them: a goddess, a creature far beyond them, resting amongst the stars.

But he remembers Yue, the girl. He remembers pale hair and smiling lips and nervous eyes, and a warm laugh that came easy when she was happy. He remembers her hesitation to touch, and the way the skin beneath her eyes crinkled upward just so as she spoke about her tribe, her city, her mother and father- and the uncertainty and miserable twitch of her lips when she talked about marriage. He remembers a girl with gentle movements and bold smiles and regal lift of the chin, and how she would gather her skirt up to laugh with the children as they played by the canals.


She watches from the sidelines as the dark-skinned waterbending bitch clings to Zuko, smiling at him, and feels her insides twist into a painful knot as he brushes her hair from her cheek with the same reflexive sweetness that he'd shown to her. She knows the touch of those hands- firm, warm, and clumsy. Mai keeps her bland expression, feeling like she was contorting her face into an unrecognizable mask. She knows if she were to check a mirror it would be a perfect, smooth, cold facade of boredom: heavy-lidded eyes and perfectly relaxed mouth.

The questions were unavoidable. Unavoidable because she'd spent those weeks before the Avatar took Zuko's father off the throne in a prison cell, curled up and alone and a traitor to the crown. She had given her life, given her status for him. She wants to yell that. Wants to walk up and grab him by the robes and ask, what was it? Was she a better fuck? Was she sweeter, kinder than her? Did he have the passion in her that he lacked in Mai? Was it why he saved that girl and left her to rot in a cell?

She does none of these things. She simply praises the tea his uncle made, and takes a sip from the proferred cup. He flinches all the same.


The woven necklace was only temporary, and in the end he put it away because it looked too fragile, too much like it could be lost or broken or destroyed. Sokka set aside a good piece of leather cord and went looking for a smooth piece of good carving stone. He ended up with a blank disc of copper he'd purchased off a vendor after a week-long fruitless search for decent blue stone, and went to work.

Suki looked up, white paint stroked over half the smooth incline of her cheek, across her forehead, her fingertips powder-pale. "A necklace? Thank you, Sokka. It's very nice. The camel-horse is very well done."

"It's a bird," he said, awkward and quiet.

"Ah," and she stroked it lovingly.

"Let me tell you about betrothal necklaces", he told her, and her eyes gleamed with contained joy.


Wu was young yet when she could see things, vague and misty and just there across her mind's eyes. She saw it when Tai the shepherd lost his chicken-pig to a thief, days before it happened. She saw children born, she saw travelers coming. And just beyond her mind's eye, unraveling like a thunder cloud, she could see in dark red clouds the traces of dancing flame. Black metal, and ships like edged shadows moving through water wider and deeper than any stream or river they have near her. And she knows the name, as vague and slippery as the daydream images. War. War is coming to them. It eats the country in her mind.

She tells her mommy, and is told to stop borrowing trouble.

Wu sits in the garden and thinks of a boy, very far from here, who can dance on air. He isn't coming yet.


"Come on, Azula. That make-up is too harsh for you, I keep saying it." Ty Lee tugged at her friend's sleeve anxiously, hovering with applicating brush. Since Azula showed no sign of pulling away, she managed to sit her down and brush rice powder softly on her face.

Azula had a pretty face. Soft, round, her eyes delicately slanted, her lips softer than they were allowed to look. Ty Lee painted them coral, soft pink to match her mood, traced the lines of her eyes with amber and deep, gentling brown. She felt her aura swirling pink and fushia, deepening to luscious magenta and purple, as she saw Azula's eyes soften to honey-gold in the mirror, saw the lilting tilt of a truly pleased smile.

"Very good, Ty Lee."