a / n — So, uh, this is what I do when I'm supposed to be studying for finals and working on requests. Really, I have no excuses, except the idea for this (as well as about a billion others that you may or may not be seeing in the near future) has been gnawing at me for weeks and weeks. I've been battling bits of this piece for awhile now, and I'm not sure I'm entirely satisfied with it, but, you know, c'est la vie. Anyway, if this is for anyone it's for once upon a keyboard who's requestfic is still MIA. Forgive me? ;_;
patterns of ash and metal
You've all experienced death, but this is different.
There is a girl once upon a time (or that's the way you'd tell it if you subscribed to things like fairytales, but you don't, and this isn't) all pale and small with soft, brown hair and skirts that trail along the floor like swirling clouds of cottonsilk.
She's young, very young, six or seven or eight or nine or sometimes the four of them simultaneously—it all blends together in your head like blood in water or a dream you haven't quite forgotten. She is young and pretty in a girlish sort of way, with clever fingers that sometimes play the erhu (in an action equal parts practice and inherited grace) and sometimes bury themselves in the fabric of her mother's robes.
"You have such pretty hair," the woman sometimes croons in moments like that, threading her fingers through strands of airy earth, "like a proper Earth Kingdom lady," and other times she says, "I love you" or "sweetheart" or nothing at all, and time stands still a second, but it's always the first one you remember and it's always the first one that hangs like woodsmoke in the air.
There's a girl once upon a time, a proper Earth Kingdom lady-to-be (and she regards herself with childish pride over that fact), who lingers in the gardens on sunny days and smiles furtively at the village boys who wander outside the gates, playing games of tag and hide-and-seek and Sozin's War, and sometimes she wishes wistfully she could play things other than the erhu—"Pay attention!" her instructor reprimands, and she sighs and nods and picks up her bow, drowning shouts and battle-cries in warbling music until her mother beckons her inside with a smile and sweep of skirts.
And most days pass like that except the one that matters most.
Once upon a time, there's a girl with long, brown hair and nimble fingers and blue, blueblood, with no knowledge of politics or war or Fire Nation soldiers aside from whispered rumors and childish games watched enviously from afar.
But her mother's shriek cuts across erhu strings and vibrates in your ears sometimes in the recesses of your dreams like phantom echoes against canyon walls, and it doesn't matter in the slightest that the girl knows nothing of fire or strife or soot as it clings to armor and skin and wooden beams, because it happens anyway.
There's a girl once upon a time, a girl with soot-smudged skin and hollow eyes and hair that's singed unevenly against her scalp and shoulders, and she sobs when he tells her it's got to come off.
"Look," he says, taking her chin in his hands and fixing her with a stare that's half stone and half sympathy, "You're a warrior now, a freedom fighter, and freedom fighters don't cry. Got that?"
She sniffs and nods, and he gives her a grim sort of smile as he gathers her hair and raises the knife.
There's a girl, once upon a time—another girl, another name—all short hair and stiff shoulders with a knife held tightly between nimble fingers.
There are no mothers or music or mentions of other girls, and there never will be.