Awaken, Empress

Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sadly enough.

Warnings: Speculation, Spoilers up to Season Three

AN: For AtLA Land's bingo card writing challenge. Prompt was "Gender is an Option."

The other girls laugh at her. She's too tall. Too big. Her nose is too long and her face too broad. Her eyes aren't the proper shade of green, and her feet are those of a man. She'll never be beautiful.

She doesn't have a mother. She supposes that she did once, but she can't remember what happened to her, and her father only grew silent the one time she dared ask. It's just the two of them now, and he's never made her feel like anything less for not being a son or even a proper daughter.

Even worse than all the rest though, what makes the other girls really point and snicker, is her earthbending. No real woman is a bender after all. No woman, no lady, would lower herself to rolling around in the mud.

Kyoshi doesn't care. She's heard it all her life, and their words roll from her back like water off a turtle-duck. She practices and trains in her free time. Spars against the boys and wins more bouts than all of them combined.

She likes to fight. She likes the feel of her father's favorite sword in her hand. Even if it's too unwieldy. Too long and thin. The edge doesn't feel right.

Her father just smiles as he watches her practice before turning back to his forge; he's the best blacksmith this side of Ba Sing Se. People travel weeks for his work, and he intends for this to all be hers one day. He doesn't care that she's a girl. All he does is press a kiss to her forehead. It isn't hard; they're the same height. Just that kiss and a nudge to go outside and practice more.

And the next day, she wakes to find metal fan on the edge of her bed. The ends are sharp enough to cut through bamboo with one strike, and it fits her hand perfectly. Elegant and beautiful and deceptively delicate.

All the things she isn't.

The other girls hide their giggles behind their hands, while the boys roll their eyes. The townsfolk snort and snigger.

But years later, that same fan and its sister are both in her hands as she faces Chin the would-be Conqueror.

They aren't laughing then.

Ever Hopeful,