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10 March 2009 @ 11:53 pm
The Thing with Feathers Perished [Ursa & Azula]  
Title: The Thing with Feathers Perished
Pairing: Ursa & Azula
Fandom: Avatar the Last Airbender
Genre: Introspection, General, Family
Rating: PG
Word Count: 670


The Thing with Feathers Perished

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all

—Emily Dickinson


She didn’t mean to.

She really didn’t (convinced herself as much). The thing just died. Laid flat and silent (chest concave and misshapen like all the bones of dead things do). The beak parted slightly, like it was on the verge of one—farewell—song. Singed and frayed along the edges, its feathers lost luster, and it failed to muster courage and fly.

“It was an accident.” I didn’t know I was that good, that ama-zing.

“It’s okay, Azula. I’m sure it didn’t feel any pain. A very…quick ordeal.”

“Mommy, mommy, did you see it though? Did you see the way I lit it on fire?” (See the way her fingers glowed, hot and white, and burned up flesh until it melted off—clean and crimeless.)

“Yes, I did, Azula. And it was awful, but it’s not your fault.”

“I know.”

Azula smiled complacently.

No wonder Daddy loves me best.


Word traveled fast in the place, spread like an eagle (the rumors) and reached ears far and wide. To this lady it whispered: the princess was so terrified, so petrified, so glorified. And to the lords and princes and knights (those with sneers and throaty commands): it was no accident.

And as for Ursa, she simply lost her wits and mind and wrung her hands, but still produced no answer. And she was there. That was the worst part.

And people talked, gossiping like mad—hands flying and waving past half-concealed, riddled sentences and phrases.

Because word traveled fast in the palace.

(Soon, Azula was challenging everyone upon sight, assured—inflated—that she could never, ever lose.)


At night, Ursa consulted her husband (addressed him as Lord and bowed reverently). She inquired him on his health, on his thoughts, on his opinions and demands. And finally, she thought it okay and wise to ask:

“Don’t you think there’s just a little something wrong with Azula?”

Ozai frowned, picked at the grapes (crushing the bruised—useless—ones until sticky juice burst between his fingers).

“Why? Has something happened?”

“Well…she lit her bird on fire.”


“Don’t you think that’s a little dangerous?” (And Ursa glared dangerously. They were used to playing a dangerous game. Here, in the sanctuary of a demonic, gilded paradise.)

“Not particularly. She has talent.”

“She’s seven.”

“Enormous talent.”

“It’s not normal.”

“Kings are never normal.”

“She’s not a king.”

She will be.

Ozai did not respond but returned his attention to sorting out authentic grapes from the odd-scraped, lumpy shapes. Especially the ones marred with scars and dents.


When she was pregnant with her daughter (not even knowing it), Ursa thought of the magical moments they would share. Like a walk through the inner garden or teatime among peonies or fairytale endings or calligraphy (Ursa was a master).

But Azula came along fiery and implacable, liked war more than lore and fighting more than writing. And soon, Ursa turned insane, made herself nervous, reckless (a wreck), and saw it as entirely—all too—hopeless.

She had a daughter-not-a-daughter. A little warrior tethered below four feet in stature, bound by graceful arms and lanky legs.

And fast. Azula was fast as lightning.


“Mommy, look at me. Look at what I can do.”

“That’s beautiful, Azula.”

“It’s not beautiful, mommy, it’s powerful. Get it, do you get it yet?”


Eventually, even Lo and Li confronted her about a “slight, minor predicament”. That Azula was advancing too fast, too swift for her age. Rapidly gaining speed and charging precariously head on. And showing-off. Azula liked that—did that—far too much.

“There’s not much I can do.” Ursa shrugged, too jaded to care.

Her concern had died a long time ago, and all she had were brittle, messy feathers scrunched tightly in balled up fists. Matted and greasy, they perished from too much hope.


(Deleted comment)
Y U no auto-translate?lye_tea on March 12th, 2009 05:39 am (UTC)
So glad you liked it! :) I was a bit worried that my characterization was a bit cliched and overdone.
loveoverpower: sneak attackloveoverpower on March 12th, 2009 05:37 am (UTC)
This is so lovely! I love the little details you put in that connect the family from the past to the present. Great job.
Y U no auto-translate?lye_tea on March 12th, 2009 05:39 am (UTC)
Thank you. ^^
Mary Catherine: [av] azula conqueredtehlobster on March 12th, 2009 09:58 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed the style of your prose. So lovely. And a great job on the fic! :D
tvreflectiontvreflection on March 12th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)

oh, darling. your words are always so fucking majestic.
i love that you delve into azula's childhood & relationship with ursa; i think it's something everyone is curious about. i love that "look, mommy, look!" that most children do, looking for approval & praise, but it's obvious that azula just wants to be seen, just wants to show off.

Y U no auto-translate?lye_tea on March 13th, 2009 04:26 am (UTC)

THANK YOU, BB! xD I love twisted!Azula and insane!Ursa too much to let them pass.
tvreflection: bfffs (soul love).tvreflection on March 13th, 2009 03:39 pm (UTC)
you're welcome! :D
treeflamingo: naruto: lost causestreeflamingo on March 12th, 2009 10:53 pm (UTC)
I'm intrigued by this take on Ursa - in most of what I read (or think, I suppose), she's presented as more of a martyr: a woman devoted to her family but rendered incapable of protecting her beloved son and denied the opportunity to save her sparking daughter. A woman of iron and love and absolutely no power. This idea, that she had a chance to make some kind of difference, that she was a woman who could be defeated by a mere child, by a mere uninterested husband, this is intriguing to me.

Also, I applaud your application of the Dickinson poem. It's always been one of my favorites, and I do think it was a small stroke of genius to pervert it in this way.
Y U no auto-translate?lye_tea on March 13th, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
Hee hee. Thank you.

I don't like the orthodox belief of Ursa being so good and kind. I mean, come on, she had choices didn't she? And it's been implied enough that she had a hand in killing Aulon. So, she can't be all that innocent.
Fire Lord Azula: I'm your lord and leader.fire_lord_azula on March 13th, 2009 04:40 am (UTC)
This is nothing short of fantastic and an intriguingly unique take on Ursa's character.  Because her personality was never concretely defined in canon, we have a chance to fill in the blanks, either to justify her actions or shed light upon her faults.  You chose to take a different angle on her characterization, and it turned out wonderfully.

Your story was filled with poignant metaphors and delicious irony.  It's going in my memories, no question.
Y U no auto-translate?lye_tea on March 13th, 2009 04:48 am (UTC)
Hee hee. Thank you very much for the review. :)
Fire Lord Azula: I'm untouchable.fire_lord_azula on March 13th, 2009 03:30 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome.
Anne-Elisa: fucked up familyetrangere on March 18th, 2009 01:39 pm (UTC)
Beautifully written.
drilled a wire through my cheek: prettyblushingsigh on June 2nd, 2009 05:59 pm (UTC)
I love it when writers take their own spin on a subject and make the readers change their perspectives on that topic and you did that. I really like the part where Azula burned the duck because she wanted to assert her power because she is one twisted little fuck creep. And man, am I happy to see a writer portray Ursa as something less than the perfect, loving and long-suffering mother. Well done :).
Y U no auto-translate?lye_tea on June 3rd, 2009 01:01 am (UTC)
Hee, thanks! :3

I love how messed up she is, And Ursa isn't the perfect mama herself.
emletishemletta on November 4th, 2010 12:22 pm (UTC)
fantastic! I love this! I love how you've fleshed out Ursa here and her relationship with azula feels tragically real!