“Mo-om, I don’t wanna,” nine-year-old Yuumi said with a petulant pout, crossing her arms over her chest. Though she looked much like her Aunt Azula had at that age, there was a stubborn thrust to her jaw that was familiar to anyone who knew her mother. That, and the blue eyes she had inherited, which, at the moment, blazed with a rebellious light. Her dark braids straggled down her back, red ribbons undone and dangling.
Her mother put her hands on her hips, meeting her eldest child’s gaze with a no-nonsense expression of her own. Yuumi could steam-roll her father with nothing but a pout, but not her mother. Not that she didn’t try.
Despite the serious expression on her face, Yuumi thought her mother looked beautiful, with her hair swept back with a jade comb, and a red and green robe belted over a long yellow skirt. She’s heard her father say that their mother was “effortlessly beautiful”, and Yuumi had agreed.
Yuumi didn’t feel like that. She was all knock-knees and skinned elbows, with her ribbons perpetually undone and dirt on her cheeks. She liked to run and jump and play and fight. Her mother did too; but somehow at the end of their training exercises, Yuumi was covered in dirt and sweat and her mother always looked flawless.
Not that Yuumi cared about her looks, but sometimes she wished she wasn’t so awkward.
“And why not?”
“Because I don’t like General Toriko’s daughters! They’re stuck up and they think they’re so much better than me because they’re already studying at the Royal Fire Academy! All they do is talk about boys and clothes and how much they wanna get boobs!”
“Well, they do!” she snorted, and scowled. “They’re stupid and I hate them.”
“Hate is a very strong word. You don’t hate them,” Suki corrected her gently.
“Well, I don’t like ‘em either!” Yuumi shot at her. “I don’t wanna play with them.”
“Your brother’s excited to have them here,” Suki cajoled and gestured to Yuumi’s seven-year-old brother, bent over a book in the corner.
Hiro was the spitting image of his father, though there was a distinctly muddy red tinge in his hair when it hit the sunlight. He was a quiet and unsure little boy, timid, studious and sensitive. He loved books and mechanical things. At the mention of his name, he glanced up at his mother and smiled through a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles.
“I don’t mind them so much,” Hiro said with a shrug.
“You just like that the General brings you sweets!” Yuumi said and made a face. “You don’t have to play with a bunch of stupid girls! The last time they were here all they did was make fun of me! And I’m ten times the Firebender Aimi is and she knows it!”
Her mother sighed and got down on one knee before her. “Next year you’ll be attending the Royal Fire Academy with them, so you might want to make friends. I know it seems like you have nothing in common with them, but you will soon, I promise. I was just like you at your age.“
"Really?” Yuumi said, incredulous. She couldn’t ever imagine her mother with her ribbons undone and scabs on her knees.
“Really. And you know, one day, all their talk of boys and clothes will interest you and you’ll be happy to have friends who know about that sort of stuff.”
"I don’t wanna like that stuff! That stuff is for girly-girls! That’s not me!”
“Yuumi, you can be whatever kind of girl you want to be. You can be a girl who likes to fight with swords and a girl who likes pretty dresses. I do. Your Aunt Katara does.”
“Aunt Toph doesn’t!”
“No, she doesn’t. And that’s okay! You can be whatever kind of woman you want to be, okay? Trust me, you’ll figure it out when you become a woman…”
Yuumi’s nose wrinkled. “Awww, jeez, Mom…are you trying to talk about puberty?”
Her mother’s expression was nonplussed for a moment and then she blinked and licked her lips. “Uh…”
“Aunt Azula already told me all about that. I don’t wanna do that either! It sounds GROSS!”
Her mother got to her feet and ran a hand down her face. Yuumi couldn’t tell if she was angry or trying not to laugh. She thought it might be both. Suki took a moment and then let out a steadying breath.
“Well, much like this visit from the General and his daughters, I’m afraid you’ve got no choice in the matter. I know you don’t like them, but try to play nice, okay? And if they get too mean, just remember, you’re a princess and you should act like one. The same to you, Hiro. I want you both on your best behavior. Understand?”
Yuumi scuffed her toes into the thick carpet. “Okay.”
“Of course, Mother,” Hiro chimed in. When her mother wasn’t looking, Yuumi stuck her tongue out at the little suck-up. She and Hiro got along most of the time, but agreeing with mother on this was base treachery.
“That goes double for you, young lady,” Suki said sternly as Yuumi tugged on her dangling ribbons, feeling chastened and wrong-footed. As her mother sailed out the door of the playroom, Yuumi smirked to herself.
She’d play nice because that was what a princess did, but the minute they started making fun of her, she was going to show them once and for all who the better Firebender was.
Just like her Aunt Azula had taught her.
“I’m going to kill your sister,” Suki said as she passed Zuko’s desk.
He didn’t even look up from the pile of paperwork in front of him as he mumbled in a distracted voice, “That’s nice, dear…”