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I threw my life in the air

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1.

Asami didn't want to forgive her father, and the thought made her feel oddly guilty. She knew what her friends would say, what Korra would say, if she told them. They'd tell her that she was right, that her father's betrayal was too deep to fight past, that he had caused and widened the chasm between them.

But that was only half-right, because Asami hadn't tried to bridge that chasm at all. She'd been glad when he went to prison, because then she wouldn't have to work through anything with him. It was as if he had died and left her with all his undone things, some to finish and some to unravel. She testified at the trial.

She kept busy. Future Industries was in shambles, Korra was going through a lot emotionally and physically. People needed her, and Asami was there for them, just like they had been there for her.

And then the first letter came, and her father's handwriting on the envelope was like a slap on the face. The letter had waited in her inbox like a venomous snakelizard, underneath bills and business letters and requests, and by the time it emerged at the top of the pile, a week had passed since she received it. Her hand trembled on the cheap paper -- it was all he could afford now, from the prison commissary -- and then she threw it violently into the wastebasket and picked up the next piece of correspondence in the box.

After the fourth letter arrived, ink still wet, smearing her fingers like a brand, she went to see him, to tell him to stop. She hated the way he made her feel. She didn't want to forgive him. She wanted to stop hurting.

The first thing she thought was that he had aged a lot in prison; his hair was all gray now, his beard unruly. But the way he looked at her hadn't changed at all. She'd always known her father loved her the most of anyone in the world. He had done the things he had done because he'd thought it would keep her safe. He'd been wrong to do them, and he'd hurt a lot of people, but he'd thought she was the most important. He apologized again, in person this time.

"I don't know if I can forgive you," she said. Her heart beat. She shut her eyes. "But we can try."

Hiroshi had told his daughter many stories about her mother -- her kindness, her warmth. He'd seen Yasuko in Asami. But Asami had her father's strength of will, as well, and stubbornness, and willingness to take a chance. She made her own choices.

She set up the pai sho board.

*

2.

There were a lot of orphans in Zaofu -- not because it was dangerous to live there, but because it was a good place for homeless children. Suyin knew that there were some villages in the surrounding area that sent children to her city when their parents died, because they thought the kids could have a better life. Su did her best to prove them right, because someone should take care of those children. The orphanages and free schools were well-funded, and she had many employees who saw her as a mother-figure, a rescuer.

But Kuvira had been special. Su wasn't sure when the girl had first caught her eye, but after she noticed her, she couldn't quit noticing. Kuvira worked hard and had a sort of careful grace that persisted both in her dance and bending. She was smart, and trustworthy, and although sometimes it was necessarily to rein in her enthusiasm, Su admired that passion. She often stopped to watch her dance or offer specific encouragement. She pushed Kuvira to work harder, right to her limits and past them, and she thought that Kuvira appreciated the guidance.

When Kuvira began to focus in on combat as opposed to dance, Suyin didn't mind. Kuvira had a talent for both, but being a performer was an exhausting life at times, as Su knew well. Kuvira wouldn't want to spend years cramped in tiny circus wagons, crossing the Earth Kingdom and smiling at strangers. Why would she, when she could stay right here at Su's side, accepted and relied upon?

After Kuvira installed herself as a dictator, Su lay awake at nights, going over their interactions again and again, looking for the flaw that spoiled the gemstone. Had she pushed too hard, caused hairline fractures? Had she even indicated that she wanted to rule the Earth Kingdom? She knew her leadership style wouldn't work for keeping track of an entire kingdom, and she'd never wanted that much responsibility. She knew she could do as well as that spoiled prince -- better -- but she had no desire to oust the current power structure. It worked well enough; the boy couldn't do too much damage, neutered as the royalty already was, and he probably wouldn't have secret police or a heavy dictatorship in him. She knew his type. If his advisors kept him busy, he could be managed. The important thing was that the Earth Kingdom was reunited as a nation.

But she wouldn't manage him, and neither would Kuvira. She took a deep breath and Bataar turned over in his sleep, grunting. Su stared at the ceiling. Quietly, she steeled herself to do whatever had to be done.

*

3.

Izumi loved to read from the time she was a little girl. Fiction, non-fiction, whatever she could find, she devoured. The royal library was enormous, but not in the best condition; her father's predecessors hadn't cared much for books. She loved the smell of the old parchment and spent many a happy hour dreaming of far off places and times. For her twelfth birthday her father gave over care of the library to her, including an allowance to buy new books and repair old ones. It was her favorite gift.

She might have become a different person if her parents hadn't been who they were, but she grew up with Aang's and Toph's children, traveling to Republic City almost every summer, and her parents worked hard to maintain good relations with their neighbors. The jingoism in the old Fire Nation texts seemed dated and senseless to her, and the assertions of many authors were blatantly incorrect -- the Water Tribes had never sacrificed children during the solstices, and the residents of the Earth Kingdom didn't worship the dirt. If she had a question that her current books didn't answer, she could always write to Aunt Katara or consult with the growing pile of imported scrolls to find the real history. At first there was only a handful of foreign books, many of them having been burned in one of the Fire Nation's wars, but her collection increased regularly. By the time she was a young adult, becoming a diplomat in her own right, she had the largest collection of Northern Water Tribe literature outside of the Poles. She especially loved the romances and the survival stories.

In one of Grand-Uncle Iroh's journals, she found the statement, "Those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it." She copied it out carefully on a spare piece of parchment and fastened it to the mirror in her bedroom.

During the Earth Kingdom crisis, when the other world leaders came to her and someone suggested violence, all Izumi could think of was years and years of pointless conflict, of Roku's death and the deaths of all the people who weren't recorded. All they had were estimates, sterile numbers. Izumi knew that each of those people had had their own story.

"We will not fight," she said firmly, and nothing the others said would change her mind.

*

4.

Kya grew up on her parents' stories of the trip they'd taken around the world to end the Hundred Years War. She'd always dreamed about traveling the world and meeting some of the people they had met, seeing the sights they had seen. The idea finally came to a head when her father began taking Tenzin on trips to the Air Temples. She'd begged to go, to see someplace entirely and wonderfully new, but Aang had told her that this was an airbender bonding trip, and that he'd take her another time. When he and Tenzin climbed onto Appa and waved goodbye, Kya was there waving back. But after that, she left for her own adventure.

Kya had always found travel fascinating, with the unknown around every bend. Her mother had trained her well and she never worried about traveling by herself. She liked the challenges that she faced, the need to be resourceful and earn her own way. Out in the country, she was just another waterbender, without family ties to worry about. In Republic City, she'd always had to be conscious of her family and her responsibilities to them. She and Bumi had both chafed under the frustration of being non-airbenders, especially when the press was being particularly vicious in speculating about their 'real' heritage. Their parents did their best to shield them from the worst of those accusations, but they were there. Kya knew her father loved her, and she knew that Tenzin was just a kid, and didn't realize that there was this gulf widening between them because he'd inherited his father's abilities and his siblings had not. But Kya saw it, and although she had healing powers, she had no way to fix that gap. Bumi had escaped into the military, but that wasn't Kya's place. She just wanted to find a place of her own.

Aang encouraged her wandering -- he was unusual in Air Nomad culture in that he settled in one place for long periods out of the year, but he understand the longing. Even if he hadn't, Kya would have gone. She learned so much in her first month of travel that when she came back to visit, she found herself chafing to fit into the role that was expected of her. When Kya was on her own, skipping dinner to go to a pro-bending match was fine, and no one said anything, but Katara fretted over Kya's free spirits. When she wanted to speak up about the Republic City Council or shared news from the places that she'd been, people had a dialogue with her, instead of lecturing. Kya liked having a place to come home to, time to clear out her pack and air out her bedding. But she couldn't stay long.

She kissed her parents and set out again, sighing in relief when she made it out of Republic City and back into her world. She came home less and less often, preferring to send letters and trinkets. She found Water Tribe blue in Fire Nation open air markets and Earth Kingdom green on the icy steppes just south of the Northern lands. She climbed the steps to the Southern Air Temple and took a tour, pretending to be a tourist. She thought about what it would be like, if she had an airbender child someday. She wondered if it were possible.

Kya had been traveling for several years when she found herself dwarfed by the shadow of an enormous beast. Oogi landed in the nearest clearing to the road, thumping to the ground abruptly. The last time Kya had seen him, she was sure the bison had been smaller, but when her brother waved and slid down the bison's side, she was sure that Tenzin had been. He'd grown into his gawky body, but his little worried expression wasn't blunted by the beard.

"Tenzin!" Kya said, reaching out, but he didn't lean into her hug.

"Dad's sick," he said with a gulp, and they were in the air within the hour.

*

After the funeral, after all of the visitors had gone, the temple felt strangely empty. It was the first time in years that she had been there at the same time as her brothers and mother. It was just the same as it had been growing up, but it didn't feel the same.

No one was talking to each other. Tenzin was meditating furiously, and Lin had given up trying to convince him to eat and sleep on a normal schedule and gone back to work, which was her way of coping. Bumi had walked into the role of media liaison for the family, which was his way of compartmentalizing.

Katara looked tired. Kya was picking through some of the food people had left, more out of boredom than hunger, when her mother came into the room.

"I think it's time for me to go home," Katara said. Kya stared.

"To the Water Tribe," Katara clarified. "I'm tired of this huge city and everyone treating me like I'm next to die. I want to go back home. I've wanted to for a long time."

"Do you?" Kya said, because she couldn't figure out what else she should. It had been a statement, not an invitation, but after Bumi got home that night, she corralled her brothers into a whispered meeting. The only thing they could agree on was that their mother couldn't live alone, wherever she chose to stay.

"I have my career!" Bumi said.

"I have my duties," Tenzin said.

Her brothers looked at her.

Kya didn't have a husband or children. She didn't have a big career or a big destiny. She had herself. She was a waterbender, and a healer, through and through.

"I haven't been to the Southern Water Tribe in ages," she said, trying to seem casual about it. "It'd be nice to spend time with the cousins. You're going to help us move, right?"

They agreed very quickly, and left Kya alone. She stared out the window at the full moon, hovering on the horizon. She hadn't lied to her brothers -- it had been at least five years since she'd spent any appreciable time with her Southern cousins. She didn't mind visiting. But she didn't think this would be a short visit. She loved her mother, and she knew someone should take care of her. She could do that. She wanted to do that.

She wished she wasn't expected to, but she went back to her room and began sorting through her things.

*

5.

She kept going. Lin Bei Fong was bedrock. She grew up on stone and she cut her teeth on steel and she never cried. Mom had told her she was too cool to cry, and she'd believed her, unquestioningly, for a very long time.

So the day after Su damaged her face, Lin went into work. And the day after Tenzin broke up with her, Lin worked two shifts. And the day after she had her last fight with her mother and ended up sleeping on Min's couch, she turned up at the gym and nearly broke a guy's arm when she couldn't make herself stop.

It was part of what made her the person that she was. Lin would throw herself against the wall again and again if she thought she could eventually make it over. She would never give in.

It took her a long time to realize there were other kinds of strength. Or rather, that she could have other kinds of strength. That forgiveness was a gift she could give. That she could uncoil the hard parts of herself and sometimes it didn't end in hurting.

Lin had friends now. She defended the law not only because it was the Right Thing, not only because it made her mother happy, but because she could help the people she cared about. She would climb the mountain to take Korra's hand, or Su's, or even Tenzin's.

Her mother told her a story. She was a terrible storyteller -- Aang had been much better at it -- but Lin got the point. She wondered what that would feel like, clinging desperately to a friend's hand, hanging over a pit and knowing that was the end. To be twelve again, and dying. Even if she didn't die.

"Let me tell you about this collar I had last year," Lin said, stretching out her feet under her mother's wobbly table. "We've upgraded the cabling a bit since you left, good thing too. We were downtown--"

Her mother dug her feet into the ground and said nothing, but she probably listened.

Lin wasn't giving up yet, anyway.