gaisce: (Pleased as punching)
Flourishing Verdantly ([personal profile] gaisce) wrote2012-05-24 12:02 am

[Avatar] Inherit the Wind 1/?

Hiding this here because I haven't finished anything in so long, it's killing me. Progress, whatever. Ugh.

Title: Inherit the Wind
Series: Avatar: the Last Airbender
Rating: PG/Y-7
Genre: Gen/Adventure/Character Study
Warnings and pairings: Post-series with spoilers for everything, especially the finale. Use of supplemental non-official “canon” of the card game and fanon theories. Canon pairings mentioned and some Ty Lee/Azula subtext if you squint, or at least acknowledgment of a (very dysfunctional) friendship.
Wordcount: 4,265
Summary: With the war finally over, Ty Lee tries to find her place in the world. But when she discovers she is a descendant of the Air Nomads, the chance to explore her newfound heritage dredges up secrets hidden for a hundred years and may force her to confront everything she left behind when she joined the Kyoshi Warriors.

Dawn came slowly to Kyoshi Island, and when Ty Lee opened her eyes the world was still a dark and undefined place. It took a moment to understand where she was, her thoughts running through the possibilities before she reminded herself—Oh. Yes, I’m here. Here, the place she had been living in for the past eight months. Here the bedding was familiar, along with the cold that nipped at the edges of her ears and nose. Here the darkness was also familiar in its own indefinite way. But sometimes she misremembered her place—not lost, she’d insist, merely waylaid by a moment of sleepy forgetfulness. An instinct she blamed on her years of traveling all over the world with no expectations of waking up in the same place she fell asleep the night before and no second thoughts to coming back once the day was over.

Now it was different in its sameness. Here there was a routine to follow, its constant thrum pressing into her head even as she slept. She recognized the sounds before the shadows of her room took shape. The din of the village carried through her walls, the clatter of fishermen’s nets, the melody of merchants’ calls, and all those other people going about their business. Here, life moved with or without her awareness of it. The day had not officially begun, but it already seemed as if she might fall behind if she waited any longer for the sun to come streaming through her window.

Ty Lee rubbed at her face, mumbling to the nothingness in her bedroom. It was a half-coherent tirade about how it was too early to be morning, too cold to endure going outside, and other excuses of the unsuitability of being awake at this hour. Then, nearly convinced by her own persuasiveness, she burrowed under the mass of blankets and tried to pretend that Suki would not scold her for being only a few minutes late. She tossed and turned and burrowed in the layers, wanting nothing more than to put the warmth between her and the responsibilities she inevitably had to attend to. Her procrastination wasn’t because she was lazy, just that it was not fair. Growing up in the Fire Nation, she had been dragged from her bed at daybreak every morning. She was pliant, and with enough practice she easily bent to their demands. Yet the day never seemed to arrive at a fixed time here. The locals of the island attributed the delay on the coastal fog and island breezes, but Ty Lee knew it was not the reason. For someone who lived in a world defined by the rising of the sun—and so many, many other things—she could only account for its late arrival as an act of capriciousness.

Of course, the universe’s decision to dawdle did not give her an excuse to show up late for morning drills. So with one last drowsy mutter, she slipped out of her blankets in order to instead wrap herself up in the robes of the Kyoshi Warriors. What annoyance she had for the cumbersome layers when she first wore them was soon replaced by a deep gratitude for their usefulness at staving off the cold, and she hastily threw them on one after the other as she bounced from foot to foot to retain what little awareness she could. It was only a matter of minutes before the ceremonial outfit held the warmth she had left behind in her bed, giving her the chance to turn her attention to other tasks.

The paint was cold to the touch as she applied what would become the foundation of her Kyoshi Warrior mask. In spite of her initial shivering, Ty Lee felt a measure of pride that she was now able to fix all but the finest details with a steady, confident hand. What once took hours was now reduced to twenty minutes with practice. Even then, she intentionally started in a different place each day—a chin, her left brow, the nose—never fully committing to a strict ritual even in the privacy of her own room. It was only when she finished the white base, the red for her brows and lips, and the black shadows around her eyes did she go to the mirror. Each day was a reintroduction to the person on the other side, marveling at how similar and unfamiliar she could be to herself. The mask made everything different. Even her eyes, which were exactly the same eyes as when she first opened them but somehow looked darker and brown against the whiteness than the soft grey that stared back at her when she sat at her mirror in the circus.

Today she did not have enough time to spare more than a glance at her reflection before racing out the front door. Sometimes, if she was feeling unconventional, she would exit through the windows or the back opening. Ty Lee preferred the unconventional, just as she favored the alleyways as her personal obstacle course. All she had to do was swing up on the poles on either side of the awning then propel herself against the neighbor’s fence, using the cluttered yards and closely set buildings to repel from one surface to the other until she reached the edge of the village. The high thatched roofs were designed to keep off snow but were also great for scaling and sliding to the next house. It was a game she made up to challenge herself, and she took great delight in each new acrobatic feat. But after the time where a blind leap accidentally overturned the baker’s cart and a long discussion with the other villagers about responsible training methods, Ty Lee decided not to take her chances when she had appointments to keep and there was a chance of ice on the roofs.

Because Kyoshi Village was built in a narrow valley, nestled within the surrounding hills, the main road was the dividing marker, a well-worn path that descended steeply halfway through the avenue of houses. Picking up speed, Ty Lee practically skimmed across the dirt, gravity pulling at her to go faster. Each step felt like she was leaping into the open air as the ground dropped away. Adjusting her gloves, a sudden urge to cartwheel down the slope flitted through her mind, but she pushed thought that aside. She could save that kind of behavior for the days she woke up early—whenever those were. She was going so fast the rest of the world became a blur. The patches of snow washed out the green of the trees and the world was muted from the lingering fog. It was only when the statue of Kyoshi came into view that Ty Lee noticed something sharpen into definition. Directly in front of her, the pillar’s base seemed to shift, its shadow revealing a girl in the exact same uniform as Ty Lee’s coming around the other side. It took her a moment to recognize her, and Ty Lee squinted against the cold wind to try and confirm her guess before stopping up short.

“Ty Lee!” the girl gasped, so surprised by the sudden appearance that she fumbled with her headband. “You startled me.”

At the sound of her voice, Ty Lee knew for certain it was Tomo. The time she spent with the other warriors taught her to pick out the unique traits of each girl even though they all wore the mask of Kyoshi. In Tomo’s case, she was best identified by the thin lipped frown she usually wore, which initially reminded Ty Lee of Mai. It was the reason she had impulsively started up a conversation with the dour looking girl in the prison yard, only to discover that she was part of the group that had been captured because of her. She recalled how that frown turned into an indignant shout, Tomo calling for her fellow warriors as Mai wordlessly rose up behind Ty Lee. Like many tense moments, they were easily dispelled with Ty Lee’s practiced flattery and cheerfulness, and she forgot most of the details of that awkward reunion. But she found it difficult to forget how Tomo’s voice cracked when she grew nervous, just like the first time she saw the formidable acrobat back within arm’s reach.

Ty Lee grinned at her, exceedingly glad and apologetic at the same time. “Sorry, sorry! I didn’t see you there at first. I thought you’d already be at practice with the others.”

“I would have but I had to take care of my little brother first and...” the other girl trailed off, preoccupied by trying to tie the headband under her hair while she walked. “Don’t wait for me, Ty Lee. You can still get there on time if you hurry.”

“Here, let me get that,” she offered, reaching up to take the leather straps in her hands and making Tomo stand still for her. When dealing with arguments, Ty Lee often acted as if she had not heard anything that would offend. Instead, she worked on fixing the headdress so it settled evenly beneath the other girl’s hair buns kept her fingers busy and her attention diverted. She felt the path of least resistance was the easiest way to resolve things, even as she felt Tomo’s flinch when she went to reach behind her shoulders. But the other girl covered it well by ducking her head down to let her finish.

“Thank you. I was in a rush and—”

“I’m not the one you need to convince! Save it for Suki,” Ty Lee giggled as she adjusted the tassels so that the uneven lengths were hidden under Tomo’s hair buns. “There. Perfect!”

She made sure her tone was light to keep up the appearance of being a morning person.

As soon as she finished cinching the knot, Tomo stepped back and gave another awkward bow. Ty Lee nodded and both of them took off at a brisk jog, a mutual understanding that they should make up time by not prolonging any small talk until they reached the practice grounds. It was not as fast as Ty Lee’s usual pace, but it was companionable, and she felt secure that Suki would be more forgiving in her punishment if she was not alone when she showed up late. Sometimes there were benefits to not standing out. The thought reassured Ty Lee, keeping her optimistic as she bounded forward, although not as sprightly as she could have.

“You’re late.”

The leader of the Kyoshi Warriors greeted them with the weight of her full attention as she broke ranks to meet them at the edge of the training field. The snap of her fan felt like a judgment to Ty Lee, who inwardly cringed at the sound even as Suki stared expectantly at her, brown eyes meeting grey, waiting for a response. “Well?”

“It was my fault, Suki!” Tomo intervened, her words coming out in a rush. “I was the one who wasn’t prepared. Ty Lee would have gotten here on time, but she stopped to help me fix my uniform.”

“This isn’t about blame. This is about understanding each other. As your leader, I want to know what’s going on, if this is just a fluke or something we need to talk about. You both know how important it is that we try to show up for practice on time so we don’t hold the other members of the squad back.”

Tomo ducked her head, the uneven tassels slipping from beneath the hair buns. “I won’t be late again. But Bunna’s fever broke last night, and I wanted to be sure he had everything before I left...”

Already feeling guilty for keeping silent through Tomo’s defense, Ty Lee could not help casting a curious glance at her fellow warrior, as if to confirm that was what she meant earlier when she mentioned her little brother. She wondered why she did not suspect something was wrong, or why she had not bothered to ask when Tomo, usually the somber and most detail oriented of their group, was so clearly distracted. Worse yet, that she had mentioned it and been cut off made it clear that it was Ty Lee’s unobservant mistake. Tomo might have explained if she had not interrupted her, if she was more concerned if seeing that she was truly all right beyond a tilted headband and a few loose strands of hair.

“I know, and that’s a perfectly good reason to skip practice. If you needed to take time off and take care of him, we would understand. You don’t have to pretend that everything is fine if you feel overwhelmed,” Suki said, and somehow the gentleness in her rebuke made it worse to bear. Tomo bit her lip, nodding fervently along as Suki continued to explain in quiet, measured tones how the Kyoshi Warriors were a family, and that one girl’s struggle could be shared by the group if she needed their support.

Ty Lee looked on, wishing she had the words to defend Tomo, but it wasn’t her place and she wasn’t even sure what she could defend her against. Each word that passed Suki’s lips, the leader had designed to comfort the girl, to put her at ease. Nevertheless, there was an obligation residing in the space between her ribs and pressing against her lungs that made her want to speak out on her behalf. Acting as a bystander made her feel helpless, twisting fistfuls of her robes in her hands as Suki droned on. “—it’s understandable, but that doesn’t excuse Ty Lee’s previous track record.”

“I’ve been getting better,” Ty Lee offered lamely, snapping back to attention at the sound of her name.

Behind Suki, the other Kyoshi Warriors continued their warm up stretches without interruption. Their fans glinted in the meager light, flying through the air like windswept petals that closed and then disappeared within their hands. Even with every move perfectly aligned, Ty Lee could tell which of the girls were staring at her from the corner of their eyes and the ones still focused on the precision of having their hands follow their squads’ coordinated dance. They had been paying attention to her even when she was too preoccupied to focus on them, her fan still folded and tucked in the holster of her belt. She mentally chastised herself to focus and stop letting herself get distracted.

“All right, as long as you don’t let it happen again. Tomo, get in formation. Ty Lee,” Suki pointed back up the slope, “as fast as you can to the northeast bridge.”

Ty Lee’s eyes went wide. Surely she was not that inattentive. “What?”

“That’s not fair!” Tomo protested.

“If you got here on time you’d know it’s not a punishment, because Ty Lee has a visitor. I was going to excuse her as soon as she got here,” Suki said with crossed arms, giving Ty Lee a level stare. “Look, I just wanted to give you a wakeup call. You’ve been coming to practice half-asleep and, from what I hear, you’re going to want to be alert for this.”

“Wait, who’s there?”

“As fast as you can doesn’t mean standing here to ask me questions, young lady.” Suki moved to Ty Lee and gave her a gentle push. In their close proximity, she whispered quietly enough so only she could hear. “It’s Avatar Aang. He wants to talk to you. Nothing bad, he said, it’s probably just some gossip from the Fire Nation capital. But you better get going or I’ll never get these girls to focus.”

Ty Lee nodded dumbly and was off before the words had time to sink in, her feet carrying her back toward the slope to where the Avatar waited. Behind her she could feel the silent expectant gazy of a dozen pairs of eyes watching her depart, and then feel their attention slide away, their movements all in perfect time even as she drew further away. She knew Tomo had joined the ranks by now, blending in seamlessly with the rest of the girls as she focused on the gestures and the kata, even if her mind was back at home worrying about her little brother.

It was slow going, with snow covering the off-beaten trail, and the only markers were the footprints she left behind. Not that she paid attention to the tracks. Her mind was already racing with the possibilities of what someone like the Avatar could possibly have to say to someone like her.

Before she knew his name—and she reminded herself as she ran, Aang, his name was Aang—Ty Lee thought he was interesting, but someone she had seen only at a distance. All of his friends had been clearly defined in their skirmishes, throwing themselves between him and harm’s way. Katara was memorable for the anger she displayed, the indignant shouts at having her bending taken away. Ty Lee knew Sokka because he was cute and made those adorable faces when frustrated, which seemed to be frequent enough. Even the blind earthbender was someone she had dealt with personally, with the dirt on her hands and buried under her cuticles to prove it. Suki, she learned to identify the quickest, although she only fought her once. Her face, desperate and determined to escape, was the last lingering memory Ty Lee held after there was nothing else to fight.

The only time she ever faced Aang was that moment inside the drill, where she had leapt down to surprise them only to be buffeted back by one of his gales. That was not much for her to form an opinion of her own. However, it was enough for one fleeting thought, a notion that took as long as the arc for Ty Lee to land on one of the beams. As she used the wind to help her flip herself upright, she imagined how fun it would have been to do that again, maybe somewhere outside, in a field and far away from any battles. But by then he had already escaped while she was commanded to go another way, so she obeyed and forgot about the boy whom she was supposed to capture.

This was the first time someone instructed her to actually meet him, or he asked to meet her. One on one, face to face, and Ty Lee unconsciously tried to straighten out parts of her robe where the climb had hitched the folds awkwardly in her belt. She wondered if it was customary to bow when formally introducing yourself to the Avatar. Of course, she had seen Zuko embrace Aang when they greeted each other, but that only meant he could have bowed beforehand, or they did not need to because Zuko was just crowned Fire Lord. Maybe it was acceptable since they held similar positions, or maybe it was just because they were friends and that was enough. After all, it was Fire Nation custom to kneel before the royal family, but friendship allowed the rigidity of decorum to bend for small things like hugs...

Ty Lee shook her head. Maybe she had been going too fast, because it felt like the cold was pricking her eyes.

“Ty Lee?”

She whirled around, instinctively ready to strike. But when she saw the Avatar’s pale grey eyes staring just beyond the ridges of her knuckles, she immediately dropped her hands behind her back. “Oh! I didn’t hear you!”

“Sorry, I was waiting by the bridge and thought I’d meet you halfway. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Between the bridge and the place where he stood, the ground was pristine except for a strange patch of snow around his feet that spiraled outward like a flower uncurled. When she looked down at her disheveled path, she saw that the trick that cleared his footprints from the ground had also wiped away her nearest tracks, leaving her standing in a small clearing of windswept snow. Tentatively, she took one step forward, almost ashamed to have ruined his work with her heavy footprints.

Aang bowed his head, clasping his hands together in greeting. “Thank you for coming.”

“That’s okay,” Ty Lee said, completely forgetting to bow back. Now that he was up close, all she could think of was that he was so much younger than she imagined, and smaller. “I didn’t know how urgent it was or something. Is Mai okay? Is it—” she cut herself off. “Everything’s okay?”

“She’s fine! Zuko’s fine too. So is the whole Fire Nation, if you were curious or worried. No, it’s really...I wanted to ask you, um, it’s more of a personal visit.”


“I know it seems out of the blue,” he grinned sheepishly. She thought it made him look even younger, like, little brother young, the kind where she would ruffle his hair if he had any. “And I know we haven’t really talked before, especially before with everything else going on. But things are better now and I thought any friend of Zuko’s is someone I would like to get to know better.”

“Did Zuko say we were friends?”

“Well, he didn’t use that word exactly but I’m sure he does! And then there’s Iroh, he’s friends with practically everybody. And I think I’m starting to get along with Mai too, although sometimes it’s hard to tell if she’s warming up to me or not.”

A small smile touched the corners of Ty Lee’s mouth. “It takes her awhile. But...why do you want to know about me exactly?”

“That’s personal too.” Aang shifted and sighed, creating a small cloud with his exhaled breath. “How much do you know about your family?”

Ty Lee felt herself react, but she could not say in what manner. The question was so unexpected that she had no time to think about what it meant or how she should respond. Before, anyone who asked would hear a tearful spiel of how miserable she was growing up with six sisters that looked exactly like her, and a family that treated them the way they did their expensive porcelain plates—just as fragile and just as interchangeable. Living with them was so unbearable that she ran away to the circus, but she no longer had the circus to help explain her differences. She was a performer, not an orator; she lacked the eloquence to prove herself in words when her acts had lost their obvious meaning. And she did not bother to explain herself now, not when it felt harder to justify it to those who had grown up in vastly different circumstances. How could she explain to the people of the Earth Kingdom that her life of nobility was so oppressively stifling when compared to the century they spent under the dominion of the Fire Nation? How could she justify the burdens of her family’s expectations to the Avatar, a boy who everyone expected to save the world? She knew, in truth, she could not but it did not stop her from tensing at the mention.

She must have shown everything she was thinking on her face, because Aang immediately apologized. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up anything you don’t want to talk about. I was just asking because of my family...”

“No, don’t worry about it,” Ty Lee said, her cheerfulness once again rising, as if it had never left. “What about your family?”

“We—I mean the Air Nomads, we didn’t have families like other people. We were raised in monasteries from birth, so everyone who lived at the temple was our family. We didn’t know our parents, or if we even had brothers and sisters...” His voice seemed to grow thin and unsteady but he pressed on, as if he was waiting to say this to her for a long time. “You know I’m the last of my kind. All the Air Nomads perished over a hundred years ago. I spent a lot of time trying to come to terms with it. I still am, it—it wasn’t the same when the war was going on, I had a lot of other things to worry about but now...The world is finally at peace, and...”

Ty Lee’s smile strained, subtly bracing herself as if she was going to strike her. This is where he accuses me of being an accomplice to all those deaths, she thought, This is where he tells me how it feels to lose a family. To lose everything. And even though I left them behind, that doesn’t mean I don’t care. I do. I do! That’s why I had to escape—

Aang reached for her and Ty Lee drew herself at attention. She would not run this time, she would not flinch. His lips were moving but she could not make out what he was saying, although it must have been something very important for such a grave expression on such a young face. But there was something else as well, and when he touched her shoulder, his grip was light, almost like an embrace. It bewildered her. She didn’t know why he would want to meet with her so much. They hardly knew each other; they were not even friends...

“I don’t understand,” she murmured.

“You’re why I came to Kyoshi Island, Ty Lee,” he said solemnly. “I needed to see you, because you’re one of the last descendants of the Air Nomads...”