No Easy Way

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

Warnings: Speculation, General Spoilers

AN: For spyridona as part of AtLA Land's Valentine's Day Exchange over on LJ. The prompt was "Water."

He finds her working as a washerwoman. Her hair is tied up and back, but tendrils hang down to cling to her face and neck. Her hands are wrinkled and cracked from constantly working in the water, and her clothes mark her as a peasant. As a lower ring nobody without a cent to her name. She's almost unrecognizable.


Long Feng would know that face anywhere. He knows the entire royal family of the Fire Nation, though they've never met. And this face in particular is even more memorable.

The Fire Lord's former wife. A princess. A would-be queen. A murderess, if his spies are to be believed. An assassin who killed her own lord and father-in-law. A criminal who has thus far escaped undetected save for an unfortunate series of events and an overly curious rookie Dai Li.

Long Feng watches her for hours from the rundown teashop across the street, but she doesn't look up from her work until he rises to leave. He doesn't quite catch her gaze, but her eyes flicker his direction, and he knows just as she does that it wasn't coincidental.

He returns a week later. And then, a week after that. Four days. Then three. Two. Until he sits for at least an hour at the teashop daily. Not quite looking at her as she doesn't quite look at him.

And then, one day, he doesn't leave before she does. Long Feng merely sips his tea, grimacing at the aftertaste, and waits as the sun sets over his city. He stays until all her washing is done and hung out to dry and all the other women have gone home. He doesn't look at her as she walks by, pace slowing as she passes, and he still isn't watching as he finally rises to follow. They don't walk together as she heads to a pathetic tenement, and they don't speak until he enters her tiny room that's set aside in an unwanted corner and the door is closed behind them.

"Tell me your name."

It isn't quite a request, but it's not a command either. A part of him is curious to hear what she'll say. What lie she'll give. But more than that, he wants to know the sound of a voice he's never heard.

Her eyes are distant but golden as the sunrise. Smoldering like the evening fires and sharper than the knife he knows she has tucked away in her skirts. Her face is lovely, stunning beneath the dried suds, but it's still a beautiful mask for the thoughts underneath.

And when she finally looks at him, Long Feng knows without knowing that he's been recognized. That she knew him for exactly who he was from the very first moment. That she always knew but didn't run away.

"Tell me," he repeats, and his tone says everything but nothing and all in between.

Ursa though just smiles.

"You first."

Ever Hopeful,