Prompt #21 - Crack: Satisfaction
Iroh bided his time, waiting it all out. He heard footsteps, and inwardly he cursed; he had hoped that he wouldn't have to deal with any of the prison guards. He inwardly hoped that Ming had taken his advice and gone home.
However, when Warden Poon waltzed into the room with a smug look on his face, Iroh decided to reevaluate the situation.
The taunts were very boring, Iroh decided mildly, not even bothering to look at the other man when he began to speak. For someone who enjoyed taunting his prisoners, Poon didn't seem to have a knack for it.
In the middle of an unoriginal insult, Iroh felt the tug on his bending that he had been waiting for. Slowly, he looked up and saw the gradual darkening of the sky. With a fluttering in his gut that he hadn't felt in decades, he smiled slowly.
Poon noticed, and took this chance to direct his childish insults at this gesture. Iroh merely shook his head. Slowly, with deliberate grace, he rose to his feet.
Just like that, the insults stopped. Poon stared at Iroh, his eyes blazing and livid, his face twisted in an ugly scowl. He was so shocked by the mere act of Iroh standing up and meeting his gaze - and even more shocked by the sanity he found there.
With a small smile, Iroh directed his bending solely on the palms of his hands. They heated up slower than usual, but that didn't stop it from gradually blossoming into a hot blaze of fire.
Poon stepped back, not even thinking of his own bending.
Knowing that time was short, Iroh focused his entire will. With a short shout, he grabbed onto the bars before him and felt them resist, then smolder before finally give way.
Iroh felt that tugging feeling again, felt the heat cool slightly. His eyes stayed on Poon's, the grin growing wider and wider, almost hurting his cheeks. A growing sense of anticipation seemed to bloom within his breast, even amidst the choking and foul stench of burning iron.
With another curt shout, Iroh began to peel back the bars as if they were merely the skin upon a fruit. He felt his muscles, newly strong, protest at this sudden brute force, but he forced it, gradually managing to open a space just enough for him to slip sideways through.
Poon was staring, face pale, his eyes huge on his face. He skittered to his feet, seeming to remember his bending, and with something like terrified defiance, slid forward to use it.
But at that moment, the sunlight flickered and went out.
Poon didn't seem to understand until his fist thrust out and came up empty.
Iroh grinned wider, now showing teeth. He slowly walked forward, feeling a glowing sort of calm that comes with knowing victory.
When his fist, still hot from the flames, connected with the warden's jaw with a satisfying and delicious grating noise, Iroh was finally content.
Prompt #22 - Knight: Murder, Of Course (Won Third Place)
Chit Sang hadn’t always followed a path to crime.
He was born to a Fire Nation private and a merchant. His dad had died when he was small. He never knew why until he was sixteen – the same time he found out why he had green eyes: his dad was from the Earth Kingdom and was an earthbender. They dragged him from his stall and he put up a fight, and they killed him to save the trouble.
Luckily for Chit Sang, he was a firebender like his mother. His green eyes always gave him trouble, but a quick jab to the jaw or a blast of flame always silenced the persecutors. It was in school that he got his early reputation for being someone to avoid. It became even worse when he started speaking up.
He wasn’t much of a public speaker – in fact, he tended to stutter and speak slowly, his deep voice loud and a little grating – but when he spoke, his eyes seemed to spark, and people couldn’t turn away. Usually he just talked about his father, about how – he was sure – his dad still would have fought for the Fire Nation if he had just been given the chance.
No one likes a loudmouth with logic, especially one who could get people to listen. He was thrown into jail.
But he wouldn’t keep quiet. It drove the guards crazy. It was almost like being back in school again, being taunted for his obviously dubious parentage. At least this time he was being insulted for something he made for himself.
By the time he was in his thirties, he was in the Boiling Rock. It made him laugh inside, really. They were so afraid of his words that they sent him to the prison of murderers and gang members and war criminals. He wondered if he should have felt flattered.
Whenever asked about why he was there, he always answered with, “Murder, of course. What else?”
Eventually, the fires of righteousness dulled a little. His words only earned him misery. Only his girlfiend Lin and his best friend Pao would listen to him, but given the chance, he knew he would be the only one to stand.
Ironically, he was given his freedom by a bunch of kids, kids who seemed to live the way he wished he could: free, determined, and with passion. He couldn’t help but admire them, want to help them – all while keeping his reputation.
When the time for escape came, and he fled with his fellow prisoner and three of the boys – one of them an earthbender – he wasn’t sure what he would do.
But once, when things were calm, the earthbender – Haru – asked him, “So why were you in prison?”
He started to answer with the usual, but something stopped him. He wondered if, given the chance, he would have be fighting the fight with this group sooner – with his dad, even.
So he told the truth. It felt good.
Prompt #23 - Soothe: The One She Left Behind (Won First Place)
It didn't happen too often - Suki had to admit that. But when it did, it usually made her feel helpless, as helpless as she felt when she was trapped in the Boiling Rock. Often, she wondered how often it happened when she wasn't sharing Sokka's bed, those times when he was alone, and woke up scared and confused, and had no one there to comfort him. She didn't like thinking about that.
Usually, it happened when she was sleeping as well. It would wake her, his soft murmuring, his confused and slurred nonsensical words. Sometimes, all it took was a gentle hand to stroke his hair from his forehead to bring him out of distress and back into softer sleep.
Other times, like this night, it took a little more. It also made that helplessness fade away.
She opened her eyes slowly, her heart telling her that this was again one of those times - something her ears confirmed a moment later when she registered the familiar sounds. Half-awake, she leaned over and, with her eyes still closed, she slid her fingers through his loosed hair.
It was then that she heard the sound of the name: "Yue."
Her eyes opened to darkness, taking a moment to adjust to the gloom of her dark room. In the soft light from pre-dawn, she saw his face scrunched up in dreaming, his body twitching. Carefully, with a heart that simply felt much too big to keep in her chest, she pushed up to his side and slid her arms around him, gently kissing his damp cheek.
He inhaled sharply, then exhaled, a slow and shaky noise. His hands reached out and sought her body, pulling her closer. She felt his body relax, his heartbeat still feverish but slowing down against her. She often wondered, in her darkest moments, if he imagined holding her against him, or if he was still trapped in his sad dreams, and he thought he was holding Yue as she faded from his grasp. This night, it was one of those moments.
But then there was another sigh, and his hands held tighter. With a sleepy kiss to her head, he murmured, "thanks."
She raised her head in surprise, but he was back to sleep in moments, faster than she could even think of formulating a reply. Without really any warning, her eyes burned with unshed tears – though why she wept, she wasn’t sure – and silently, she burrowed closer to him, shutting her eyes tight.
She decided that night that she would always be there to protect him from that sadness, however best she could. She couldn’t change the past for him, but she could ease the pain of it. At least she had that.
Prompt #24 - Contest: Grit and Gravel (Won Third Place)
If there was anything Toph liked in the world more than travelling, it was a competition. Even better - an earthbending competition. It was one of the main reasons why she joined Earth Rumble - fun, challenging, and great for the ego.
But on the road - especially as fugitives - meant that there wasn't much time to enter into any fun tournaments. Toph's moods were plummeting because of the lack of exercising - and it didn't help that her feet were still tender from Zuko's idiotic bending.
So, Toph's solution was pretty simple: challenge the only other earthbender around.
"Let's fight," she said gruffly, already in stance. Haru blinked slowly, something she didn't see, but she could sense his confusion. Haru was definitely confused, and he had to mentally backtrack to make sure that he hadn't done anything to annoy Toph recently (he came up with nothing).
“But… why?” Haru stammered, slowly getting to his feet.
“Simple. I’m bored. I’m edgy. I have all of this energy and no one to spend it on. Don’t be baby, I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Toph, give me some credit. I’ve seen you fight. You’re going to hurt me.” Haru said it flatly, his arms crossed over his chest, an eyebrow raised and a smirk on his lips.
Slowly, the milky eyes blinked in surprise. Then, a wide and twisted grin spread, and she leaned into her stance lower. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Are you game?”
Haru smoothed his hair slowly, then dipped into his own stance, his smirk still firmly in place. “Absolutely.”
Haru’s style was something that Toph had never, in all of her years of fighting, encountered before. He was amateur, full of emotion, but at the same time, his moves were smooth and fluid. He was clearly taught by a master, albeit also an amateur, but his style was something he clearly invented as his own.
Toph felt admiration suddenly rise up in her chest. So many earthbenders were arrogant, drunk on their own power and eager to exploit it at any chance they got. While Toph had to admit that sometimes she did that, one of the first things she learned was the beauty of restraint.
Haru earthbent like he was born knowing that. And not only that, but he made it seem easy, effortless, like he was barely trying. He clearly had just as much love for bending as she did, so much that he seemed to live and breathe it just like she did.
And as they sparred, she found her admiration and affection for him growing. Her smile grew wider and wider as she deftly threw rock after rock, avoiding as much as she threw.
“Why are you grinning?”
“I think I like you, Superfine.”
A pause. “That’s good, right?”
She laughed. “It means I won’t go easy on you.”
“Ah. Very good then.”
And so it went. It was the afternoon that Haru cemented his friendship with Toph – one that lasted years.
Prompt #25 - Jail: Too Little, Too Late
Just when he had thought he would never see its walls again, Long Feng found himself shackled and back within the prison of Ba Sing Se. They were just as rotted and pitted with age and decay as they had been the last time, only now they were worse - he was no longer treated as guest, but as an actual prisoner.
His insides writhed like eels, and he tasted the bitter flavour of humiliating defeat. It was one thing to be defeated by your betters - he knew the honour in that - but to be defeated by a foreign, frail-looking teenager? To have his men freeze behind him, lying in wait like viper-rats to see who would win the battle?
He had no choice but to surrender. He already knew that the battle was long past won.
Long Feng had already given so much to Ba Sing Se. He had worked his hands chapped for it, blinked away black spots of exhaustion for it, risked limb and sanity and life for it... and for what? To be betrayed by his own men? To be stabbed in the back by them, and stood on by a usurper?
He was jolted from his thoughts when the dinner tray slid underneath the door. He looked at it from the corner of his eye, almost afraid to register what he would see there.
Upon the tray was a heavy portion of white rice, shrimp, and miso soup - the same fare he had been gifted before.
He looked up, his mouth dry, and a hushed voice whispered, "Not everyone within the Dai Li is a fool, Sir. Bide your time. We'll find a way to get rid of the Fire Nation."
Long Feng was suspicious - he had to be, it was how he survived - but as the owner of the voice left down the hall, he picked up the miso soup gingerly, before gulping a generous gulp.
And then choking on it.
The dish clattered from his hands, spilling scalding soup upon him. But he felt nothing. Everything was already wrapped in unfeeling, merciless black.