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by the grace of the fire and the flames

Chapter Text


 “The Fire Nation experienced two centuries of peace since 270 BG.” - The Rise of the Fire Nation, history book

But what scares us most is not the raging fire. What scares us is the dark and unfamiliar. And only a flame can light the way.” - The Dancing Sun, fire festival play

 


 

 

 

prologue.

The fire sages were in the palace the day Yuto was born.

The moon was full and the night was quiet. The torches blazed at every gold pillar.

“Finally,” they whispered among themselves. “The crown prince is born in the year of the dragon. He is blessed.”

They proclaimed it throughout the nation at sunrise. “Yuto, prince of the dragon fire.”

The sky was orange, gold, and pink. The sky was purple and deep blue.

In the distance, there was rumble of thunder.

 

 

twelfth solar day, 190 BG.

Yamada is fifteen when he first visits the capital of the fire nation to attend the festival in the main city with its palace sitting on top of a volcano.

He's never seen so much red in his life. They live on the farther side of the archipelago, all trees and cool water on hot sand.

This city is pulsing a heat he's never felt before. It's gold statues and massive schools and everything is alive.

A man on the street is juggling fire and shaping the flames to entertain the small crowd of children in front of him.

Yamada has the gift to firebend as well but he mostly uses it to keep warm in the colder seasons. He has never seen firebending as an art. Fire used to tell a story of fear and excitement and wonder.

He is speechless. His eyes dart around the streets, taking in the glow the city seemed to have.

That's when he sees him.

If the capital was a bonfire, Fire Prince Yuto is a storm.

Yamada watches the crown prince visit the stalls lined up for the fire festival. He laughs with the owners who had crafted beautiful lamps for the occasion. He stops by the bakery to buy baked cheese bread to share with a group of children.

He has a sweeping presence and people leaned towards him like flowers waiting for the first rain of spring.

Of course, Yamada had heard the stories, the whispers. The fire prince that could not firebend.

Yamada expected a cold prince, isolated and mysterious. Instead, he finds Nakajima Yuto with the gravity of a moon pulling tides.

Nakajima Yuto with stormy eyes flecked with electric.

 

 

two-hundredth solar day, 187 BG.

Yuto is eighteen when he stops trying.

He is training with fire sage Kamenashi although it’s fruitless as usual.

“Yuto, focus. We need to do this again,” the fire sage says.

“What's the use?” Yuto complains. “We've trained for a decade and not a single flame has come out of it.”

“It’s a rare case but there are firebenders that o-”

“Only realize their gift at a later age. The latest known is twenty-one,” Yuto says flatly. “You’ve mentioned.”

Kamenashi drops the mentor act. “Yuto, please. Do the drills again so we can get over with it and get some firefly buns from the kitchen.”

Yuto sighs. “I don't know why father hides this from everyone except the sages. I'm not completely useless. What's so great about fire?”

Kamenashi, used to Yuto’s whining, rolls his eyes. “You know the fire lord is prideful. He wants his son to be a perfect fire prince.”

He watches the bored prince, already approaching adulthood. The once stumbling limbs steadily holding their ground. The arms that used to swing from the trees in the palace garden now gracefully circling the air to strike.

Kamenashi watches the static in the air and braces himself.

Yuto, despite doing this a hundred times, glows. He releases lightning, sapphire blue that outshines the sunlight.

Kamenashi exhales.

“See?” Yuto says, blue sparks still jumping from his fingers. “The same as usual. Now let's go get those firefly buns.”

 

 

ninety-eighth solar day, 185 GB.

Even after years of practicing, Yamada still feels his heart racing when he steps on stage.

He remembers coming back from the fire festival five years ago, inspired from the grandeur of it all.

He recalls how driven he was. The mornings spent studying every fire play manuscript he could find. The nights he spent changing his firebending style to portray a story.

He feels dizzy when he realizes how he went from forcing family to watch him perform, to the village, to this.

Yamada bristles at the pressure in his chest.

To calm down, he thinks of island storms and rain washing him anew. He imagines lightning and fire and rising from the ashes.

He exhales and steps on stage.

 

Yuto is watching from the wings of the theatre.

He sees the ember glow of the Phoenix’s hands before he sees his face.

The Phoenix, that’s what they called him.  Every role he played was the theatre actor in a new light. Reincarnation and redemption. His passion was unmatched they said.

Yuto gasps with the rest of the crowd as the glowing hands release towers of fire. Yuto is mesmerized not only by the amount of heat and fire coming from the performer but the skill.

He looks around Yuto’s age yet his bending is incredibly controlled. The Phoenix is rage and dancing fireballs. The Phoenix is tender and slow like lava. The Phoenix is loss and a single flame in honor of a memory.

His firebending is both strength and weakness and if Yuto wasn’t captivated, he’d be jealous that he didn’t have the skill to do the same.

 

 

two-hundredth twenty-third solar day, 185 BG.

Yamada loves being back home just as much as he loves the fervor in people’s faces when they watch him perform.

He’s back to his roots, his island where his feverish dreams had yet to come true. There’s comfort in a place that never changes.

He breathes in the smell of the sea from his room and even embraces the humid air that surrounds him.

He thinks he’ll stay home for a while before performing in a new fire play. He’s already thinking of the beach even if the waves are already high by this season.

He kicks his shoes off and heads downstairs when he sees them.

His mother, head fire sage of their island, conversing with a council member he’s never seen before. Probably from the capital city.

His mother’s face is somber and he senses something looming. The calm before the storm.

He shakes off the feeling and heads out the back door and towards the ocean.

 

 

two-hundredth thirty-first solar day. 185 BG.

Yuto doesn’t mean to be a royal brat to fire sage Yamada and her son who turns out to be the bloody Phoenix.

He’s just overwhelmed by the irony of it all. He’s twenty and still has no firebending ability. He can’t blame the fire lord, his father, for exiling him to the farthest edge of the fire nation to reflect on his life.

He’s not sure how sending him to the most serene fire sage territory will help but they’ve tried everything.

He sees them waiting for his arrival. Fire sage Yamada, graceful and composed like most of the fire sages he’s met.

Beside her, he sees a boy, beautiful and just like his mother. He should’ve known.

“You’re the Phoenix,” he says the moment he steps out of his carriage, cutting off a welcome from fire sage Yamada.

“Around here they just call me Ryosuke, your Highness,” the boy replies.

Yuto feels a handful of emotions at once but remembers who he is.

“Thank you for welcoming me into your home,” he says turning to fire sage Yamada. “I’m not sure what my father has told you but let me be clear. I have no plans to train. It’s hopeless.”

Yuto sees the boy blink at him. “Train? Mother what does he mean?”

Before fire sage Yamada can reply, Yuto lets a small current of lightning dance on his fingertips. He sees Ryosuke’s eyes widen in surprise.

“I mean, I can only bend lightning but never fire,” Yuto says flatly. “I mean I will never be as good as you even if you are exactly what my father wants the fire prince to be.”

“But who am I to say no to a little vacation?” Yuto says to diffuse the growing tension he created.

The fire sage merely nods and Yuto feels disappointment. Even if she acquiesced to his demands he can’t help feeling he’s surrendered himself.

Ryosuke’s eyes still watch him carefully.

Yuto ignores the prickle on his skin and follows the fire sage to his room.

 

 

two-hundredth thirty-second solar day.185 BG.

Yamada knocks on Yuto’s door the next morning.

He doesn’t know what to expect. He feels uneasy at the thought of the fire prince being compared to him. He is fascinated about the fire prince bending only lightning. He recalls all those years ago when he called the fire prince a storm. Today he isn’t sure if he’ll be a typhoon or the first rain of spring.

Yuto opens the door, hair tousled and those eyes- today, they’re cloudy.

“Good morning, Phoenix,” The prince greets, voice still rough from sleep.

“If you keep calling me that, I’ll have to start calling you The Dragon like the rest of them,” Yamada quips.

He pauses, unsure whether Yuto’s mood will sway. Instead he sees Yuto’s stormy eyes glimmer.

“Common misconception,” Yuto says. “See, when they say the dragon, they don’t mean me, they mean my d-”

“Right, I see you still need some more morning alone time,” Yamada interrupts.

“Wouldn’t be alone if you joined in,” Yuto says with a wink.

“Wow, who are you today?” Yamada asks, thoroughly amused.

“Oh come on, Fifi,” Yuto grins. “I’m trying to be extra nice.”

“Fifi?” Yamada mumbles. “Short for Phoenix? Ridiculous.”

Yuto coughs and continues. “I am serious though. I’m sorry for my attitude yesterday. It was immature.”

“I accept your apology,” Yamada replies. Yuto’s eyes become soft and clear like the beginning of daybreak.

“Now enough drama. I get enough of that in theatre. What would you like for breakfast?”

 

 

two-hundredth and fortieth solar day.185 BG.

It's been a week since the prince moved to their island.

Yuto asks Yamada for a map of the island and goes exploring. He knows Yuto swims in the mornings and walks along the shore all afternoon, taking a different path every time.

He tries to focus on his fire play readings but sometimes he tags along with the prince. He notices Yuto always watches the sky.

 

Today, Yamada thinks he’ll stay in.

The rain is ferocious- the type of rain that makes Yamada want to hide under blankets and sleep off the booming sounds.

He stands to close his window when he sees him- Yuto- walking straight into the storm.

He watches the prince welcome the storm with arms wide open.

The raindrops drench his hair and Yamada thinks he's never known a fire prince like Yuto, thriving in the rain. He also thinks he’s never seen someone so captivating in the chaos of a storm.

He expects Yuto to run around in the rain but instead Yuto is still. Yamada watches Yuto’s wet clothes stick to his lean frame.

Yuto's arms move and release a zap of lightning.

Suddenly Yuto is striking the air and creating blue streaks of lightning in time with the storm. He is concentrated and precise and strong.

From his window, he can see the smile on Yuto’s face as he attacks an invisible enemy. Suddenly, Yuto is the storm.

Yuto is the wind ringing in his ears and the drumming rain on the roof. Yuto is the rushing water of the island and the booming thunder drowning everything out. Yuto is the lightning, blinding white.

Yamada is breathless.

 

(Later, Yamada meets him at the steps leading into their mansion with a towel and fresh clothes.

He has to resist the urge to push Yuto back and join him in the pouring rain.)

 

 

three-hundredth and twenty-sixth solar day,185 BG.

Months go by without Yuto even noticing.

He’s spends them getting to know the island, getting to know Yamada Ryosuke.

He wanders around for the first few weeks. He’s never had so much free time to just be.

He finds seashells and caves and flowers in a myriad of colors. He brings them back to Yamada just to see the Phoenix blush a light shade of pink.

Yuto likes watching Yamada. He’s jealous of how easy he makes everything seem.

He knows Yamada goes to talk to the townspeople for new play ideas. He knows Yamada thinks of everything when he’s finally had an idea. He sketches sets and plans fire sequences.

Yuto knows how hard Yamada works and yet when Yamada practices a new routine a few months into his visit, he makes it seem like he was born to play with fire.

Yamada with fervor in his eyes and hand-held flames used to amplify the whispers of old legends.

Despite this, Yuto’s favorite version of Yamada is this one. Yamada wrapped in a blanket with the muted radiance of a candle, focused on reading old scrolls and fire play manuscripts.

Yuto tries to distract himself with something else but Yamada is soft and he’s a moth to the flame.

He taps Yamada on the shoulder and Yamada looks up at him.

Yuto kisses him gently. Once, twice. He can feel Yamada smile.

When Yuto pulls away, Yamada chases after his lips for one more.

He is quiet as Yamada settles back into his reading. Yuto settles onto the bedded floor and falls asleep.

He dreams of green, yellow, blue lights in the sky. The memory of a birdsong lingers when he wakes up.

 

 

three hundredth and thirty-third day, 185 BG.

Yamada barely recalls a time when Yuto wasn’t by his side.

Yuto who drags him out to find fresh fruit for breakfast and joins him to talk to the older families in town.

Yuto who describes the palace where he grew up and helps Yamada revise the new story he’s worked on.

Yuto whom he’s kissed too many times on the beach, under the stars, under the shade, out in the light.

 

 

three hundredth and thirty-ninth day, 185 BG.

Yamada brings it up once when they’re sitting in Yamada’s room sorting out the souvenirs Yuto’s brought back from the beach.

“How much longer do you think you’ll stay?” Yamada questions.

“I don’t know,” Yuto replies honestly. “It’s been months. They know I’m not training. They don’t seem to be that concerned.”

Yamada sees Yuto wringing his hands and reaches out for him to stop. He intertwines his fingers with Yuto’s and kisses the back of his hand.

He can feel Yuto’s hand trembling.

“I’m not sure they want me back,” Yuto admits. “They could always pass the throne to my younger brother if they wanted. I could grow old on this island instead. It’d be peaceful.”

Yamada shakes his head at that. “You’re the crown prince. The fire prince. The Dragon. You’re meant to be in the center of it all.”

“And you? When are you going to leave here again? You’re the brilliant Phoenix and phoenixes are meant to fly far and wide aren’t they?” Yuto counters.

“You’re enough adventure for me right now,” Yamada whispers.

They let the subject drop.

 

 

three hundredth and fortieth day, 185 BG.

Yuto is kissing his neck and Yamada’s entire body feels like fire.

“You are the hottest fireless fire prince,” Yamada says thoughtlessly.

Yuto pulls back and laughs as Yamada whines from the loss of contact.

"That's the best you can come up with?” Yuto teases. “And they say you're the greatest fire play actor since Hanyu?”

Yamada ignores Yuto and pulls him back in for another kiss.

Yuto's tongue is in his mouth and his touch feels like embers licking at his skin.

He actually feels like a phoenix completely on fire, ready to be born again.

 

 

twenty-fifth, 184 BG.

“I've figured it out,” Yamada says one day as they sit on shore.

The sun is setting but Yuto is ignoring the view to play with Yamada’s hair.

“What?” Yuto asks, distracted by the feeling of Yamada’s sandy hair between his fingertips.

“I know why you can't firebend,” Yamada replies.

Yuto pauses at that. He lowers his hands, forcing his gaze towards the sunset. “And why is that?”

“It's not because you don't have the drive,” Yamada starts.

“You feel like fire, you know? You are the warmth of a fireplace when you're around people. You're a torch when you fight- illuminating, purposeful.”

“You're a forest fire when you're kissing me,” He adds with a chuckle.

Yuto shifts and the sand reforms. The sun dips below the horizon and the sky is purple and blue like the water.

“But you're guarded,” Yamada says. “You're scared to be vulnerable. Fire doesn't come from rage or passion even if it fuels it. I think it comes from the vulnerability. Being afraid to burn but letting yourself burn anyway because how else will you ignite?”

Yuto is quiet. It's dark now and Yamada’s face is more shadow than light.

The only sound is of the waves crashing and pulling back. Yamada sighs. “Let's head back. Forget what I said.”

He turns and Yuto is still, hands shaking. A single flame dances in his palm. He has tears in his eyes.

“At least we'll have a little light on the way home?” Yuto says jokingly, voice hoarse.

Yamada’s heart soars.

 

 

forty-third solar day,184 BG.

Yuto’s been training with fire sage Yamada lately and Yamada misses him.

He’s happy Yuto’s finally found his fire, found the strength to be vulnerable. Yuto is the most beautiful contradiction he’s ever had the chance to meet. Cold cool lightning and bright fiery laughter. Hot nights under the sheets and breezy afternoon naps over them.

The island won’t be the same without him.

 

Yamada thinks home has become less of a place and more of a person in it, that the sunsets he loved weren't the ones on the beach anymore but the ones he saw reflected in Yuto’s eyes.

 

 

sixty-first solar day,184 BG.

Yuto sneaks out of training early during the last days to watch the sunset with Yamada.

His words come stumbling out of him as the days before he returns to the capital lessen.

“Yamada,” Yuto starts, watching the light dance on Yamada’s cheek. Yuto’s always loved Yamada in gentler light. “Come back with me. Be my fire prince.”

Yamada closes his eyes for a moment. The watercolor sky is orange and Yuto’s heart is racing.

“I would follow you to the horizon and beyond, my phoenix,” Yamada says simply.

Their chuckles muffle as they turn into kisses.

 

 

epilogue.

The fire nation was thriving the day Yuto was crowned.

The streets were alight with lanterns and the night was lively. Fireworks lit the sky every hour.

“Finally,” they whispered among themselves.

They proclaimed it throughout the nation at sunset. “Yuto, lord of dragon fire and lightning.”

The sky was orange, gold, and pink. The sky was purple and deep blue.

Nearby, there was ruffle of curtains as Yamada peeked through to see Yuto, ruby robes and polished crown.

Even the sun could not outshine him.