Author: honestly-sangi / sangi
Prompt: atla_contest dreamwidth; prompt 2 - potential
Characters: Iroh, Ozai, Azulon, Ursa, Lu Ten, Azula, Zuko, Aang
Genre: General, Family, Friendship
Word Count: 2038
Summary: Fire is energy. Fire is life. Fire comes from the breath.
Author's Notes: I wrote this several months ago and am just now posting it. Also posted to AO3.
Fire is energy. Fire is life.
Fire comes from the breath.
Iroh is seven when he first breathes fire.
He is sparring with one of his distant cousins who frequently visits them during the summer. Her dark black hair is bound up in a tight bun. Her name is Amaya and she's two years older than him, even though she shorter and smaller. His mother had told him several months ago that their parents were considering a marriage between the two of them once they were old enough.
Iroh thinks she was a nice girl, and a good firebender, so he wouldn't really mind if she became his wife. At least she wouldn't be boring. Non-benders were always so boring.
Her arms move quickly to block one of his fast kicks. She dodges the blasts of fire that his feet had sent toward her. She sweeps her hand out and their respective fires meet with a loud crackling and hissing sound. The girl quirks an eyebrow and sweeps under him with a foot, almost forcing him to fall. Instead, he catches himself in time, only stumbling, and does the same to her.
But she sees it coming. Amaya jumps up into the air and shoots fire down at him from above. Iroh frowns and moves quickly to the side, sending out his own fire to nullify her attack. He succeeds, but she is still moving. His cousin is quicker than him and within moments she has knocked him to the ground.
Before she can position her hand to point at his throat, he opens his mouth on instinct and out shoots a small stream of fire. He can't control it; it controls him.
The blast of flames almost collides with her face, but she is ridiculously quick and dodges to the left before it can touch her. She's too fast to be graceful, and falls on the ground for a moment before getting up and twirling around to look at him. Her brows furrow.
"You - " she begins, but Iroh cuts her off.
"Are you okay?" he asks worriedly, getting up and brushing the grass off his robes.
She frowns. "Yeah," she grumbles. "I'm fine. I just didn't see that coming."
Iroh smiles sheepishly. "Yeah, neither did I. But it was pretty cool, wasn't it?"
His cousin looks at him for a second, considering, and then smiles. "Yeah," she grudgingly admits. "It was pretty cool."
Prince Iroh laughs loudly. "It's almost like I'm a dragon," he says, before breathing out a blast of fire again. He can't hold it for long, but it does look pretty impressive.
Amaya giggles at his antics.
"Oh, Iroh," she teases. "You're our little dragon."
Ozai steps through the sliding doors, walking into the courtyard of the villa where his family stays during the winter months. Everyone is asleep, even the servants. The house is quiet except for the quiet creaking of boards that have become warped from the humidity of the Fire Nation.
Earlier that night, Prince Azulon had held a feast in honor of Iroh. "My son," he had announced, "will now leave to search out the Avatar." The nobles had uttered their congratulations and wished him luck. Ozai wonders why they did that. Everyone knows that he will never find the Avatar.
The Avatar is an old man by now, hiding from the reality of his failure. Ozai almost smirks at the taste of bitter victory in his mouth.
The young firebender finally reaches his favorite area in the garden – a large, wide space next to a small pond where the turtle-ducks reside. He exhales slowly and brings his arms up into a firebending position. He carefully executes a series of firebending moves, pushing out red-hot fire from his feet and hands.
The flames light the gardens and the pond, turning the water into flashing shades of red, orange, and yellow.
"That's really amazing," a young, soft voice says from behind him.
Startled, Ozai turns around. A little girl stands there, rubbing her feet awkwardly on the ground. She has a piece of torn-up bread in her fingers and is standing in the shadow of the tree by the turtle-duck pond.
His brows furrow. "Who are you?" he asks imperiously.
The girl smiles shyly. "My name is Ursa. I'm Lord Takashi's daughter."
He recognizes the name. Her mother and his mother are close friends, and her family is staying with them in the capital for the winter.
Ozai sniffs haughtily. "Go away. I'm practicing." He begins to turn around, but stops when he sees that she has not left.
Instead, she is biting her bottom lip. He looks at her expectantly. "What?" he asks exasperatedly.
"Well, um," she says in a quiet voice, "can I… watch?"
He examines her for a moment. A flush covers her porcelain cheeks, and her eyes are the same yellow-gold as his. She reminds him a bit of his mother.
The young prince frowns. "Sure, whatever," he says nonchalantly. "Just don't get too close. You might get burned."
She smiles, making small dimples form on her cheeks. Her eyes glow with happiness. "Thanks," she says, her flush spreading across her face.
Ozai just rolls his eyes.
"Ah," Iroh says, looking over the pai-sho board, "good move, Lu Ten." Two empty teacups and an empty teapot sit next to the board.
The boy simply smiles mischievously. "I learned from the best," he says simply.
The Dragon of the West laughs heartily. "Well put, my son," he rejoinders smoothly. He considers the board for a moment before placing a tile across from the one his son had just placed.
Lu Ten frowns and quickly places another tile. The game continues for several minutes, until Iroh smirks and places his last tile. "I win," he says modestly. "Although you put up a good game, Lu Ten."
The boy is frowning. "What did I do wrong?" he mutters underneath his breath.
His father picks up the last tile he had placed. "The White Lotus tile," he explains. "Many think it useless, but I believe it is the most powerful tile in the game."
The young firebender rolls his eyes. "Not this again," he says with kind exasperation. "Dad, we both know that the White Lotus gambit is outdated." His brows still furrow as he looks over the board.
The older man shrugs. "If you say so, my son." Iroh carefully begins to pick up his tiles. "Do you wish to play another game?"
Lu Ten looks up, as if considering it, but then shakes his head. "No, thank you. I'm not very good anyway.
"Practice makes perfect," Iroh advises sagely. He considers his son for a moment. "But," he finally says, "you do have a good eye for strategy."
Lu Ten raises an eyebrow. "It's just a game, father," he says, collecting his tiles. He fingers trace over the wooden White Lotus tile for a moment before putting it away with the rest.
When he looks back at his father, there is a small frown on Iroh's face. "Do not underestimate the value and power of games," he warns.
His son merely smiles. "Sure, dad," he says patronizingly.
But he still returns the next day for another cup of tea and another game of pai-sho.
Iroh tries to conceal a grin when he sees him. "Back to play again, Lu Ten?" he asks with a somewhat-straight face.
The boy grins crookedly. "I like your ginseng tea," he says, instead of answering.
The first time Princess Azula bends, the fire shoots out blue.
Her mother looks equal parts terrified and awed.
"Azula!" Ursa exclaims, watching as the flames spread from the sheets on her bed to the bedposts and canopy. The little girl does not seem worried. Instead, she seems fascinated by the red-hot flames. Her pudgy little face looks entranced with the motion of the fire.
Zuko, hidden behind his mother's legs, stares with his mouth open. Wow, he thinks.
Several of the nursery maids flee the room, presumably to find help.
The little girl is smiling, watching the flames burn around her. Ursa looks conflicted. The fire is so close to her daughter, but it isn't touching her. Instead, it almost curls around her body, cradling it. "Azula," she says in a quiet tone. "Look at me."
Her daughter looks over at her with a quizzical look on her face. "Mama," she says in a childish voice. "Look!" She points to the fire and smiles.
One of the servants returns, with a look of relief on her face. "Help is coming," she says, before dashing back out of the room.
Less than three seconds later, Azulon enters the nursery.
Ursa immediately bows, and Zuko mimics her. "Fire Lord Azulon," she says, with both worry and surprise in her voice.
He doesn't acknowledge her. The older man makes a sharp motion with his hand and the fire suddenly dies out. Azula, who had been smiling happily a moment before, reaching for the flames, frowns. She turns to face her grandfather unhappily.
Azulon stares at her. A smirk slowly crosses his face. "Good job, Princess Azula," he says in a raspy voice. After considering his granddaughter for a moment longer, he abruptly leaves, ignoring the others in the room.
Ursa bows after him before rushing over to her daughter, who looks upset but hasn't begun to cry. The servants re-enter the room with wet cloths and baskets, whispering in hushed tones about the prodigy. She's not even three, they say. Such power!
Zuko watches with jealousy on his small face.
He hasn't yet managed to firebend.
He wakes Aang before dawn. "It's time to wake up," he says gruffly, pushing on the Avatar's shoulder. The boy groans in his sleep before turning over on the ground. The others are still asleep, and the sky is still clear and dark, dappled with a million stars.
"Aang," Zuko says more sternly, "get up." He shakes him one more time, heating up his hand so as to shock him into awareness without hurting him.
The airbender sits up immediately, rubbing his eyes. "Yes, Sifu Hotman," he says. "I'm awake, I'm awake." The boy yawns, not covering his mouth. Zuko bites back the urge to smirk at the sleepy Avatar.
The firebender jerks his head to the side, motioning toward the spot where they usually meditate. "Let's go."
The boy stretches as he rises. Momo shifts on the ground next to him, opening his eyes blearily before going back to sleep.
They walk through the ruins of a civilization that had once lived and breathed. The sky begins to lighten in the distance; shadows highlight the vines growing on the old stones of the temple. The two benders finally reach their usual spot, and Aang quickly folds his legs underneath him. The older boy waits a moment before doing the same.
Zuko pensively watches the Avatar as he breathes in and out, meditating with his legs crossed. His gray eyes are closed. The firebender sits across from him, observing him with slanted golden eyes. The bright yellow sun is rising in the distance, painting the ground an eerie orange.
The Avatar learns firebending quickly, he admits. Whenever they spar, his movements are subtle but powerful. He harnesses the energy of fire, instead of the rage Zuko had once used as fuel for his bending.
Two dragons twirl around each other. They breathe fire and it is a million shades of beautiful.
The day of Sozin's Comet is quickly approaching. But the world has not yet ended. The sun still rises with every dawn, breathing energy into the world.
There is still time, Zuko thinks, looking at the young Avatar. There is still hope.
Fire is life, fire is energy, fire comes from deep inside.
"Can you feel it?" Zuko asks quietly, his hot breath coming out as steam.
Aang exhales softly, then cracks one eye open. "What?" he asks in the same hushed tone.
Zuko blinks his eyes slowly, feeling the fire deep within him begin to stir as the golden orb fully crests the horizon. After a moment, he smiles. "The sun inside of you."