Poppy turned towards the doorway to her room and smiled at her baby sister's silhouette. "Hey, Iris. What's wrong? Can't sleep?" The silhouette shook its head.
"About what?" She shifted across the bed, making room for Iris. She didn't hesitate to accept the unspoken invitation, tossing her diminutive form into the bed and snuggling into Poppy's side.
A rustling in the gardens outside her room at the Fire Nation palace brought Ursa to the window.
Torches and moonlight cast most of the area into shadow, but there was enough light to make out the shadowed form of someone just outside.
"Ursa? That you?" The whisper drifted to her in a familiar voice.
"Ryuu! What are you doing out there, you little fool!"
"I came to save you- what else?"
"Tomorrow?" Poppy tried to stay calm, to bury the urge to scream as she regarded her too-perceptive sister. "The wedding?"
"Of course the wedding!" Iris glared up at her. "I may be only thirteen, but I'm not stupid. Two months ago when I left to visit Uncle, you couldn't stand Lao. Now I come back to hear you're marrying the guy?"
Oh, Spirits. Poppy looked down at her baby sister, wondering why she had not foreseen this. Iris was fearless- and impulsive- enough to do something rash if she knew the truth
Halfway around the world, Ursa faced much the same quandary. Except her sibling did know the truth.
"Save me?" She extended a hand to help him into the room. With a glance around to check for guards, he quickly took it and scaled the short wall.
"Don't even try, Urs," he replied when safely inside. "You've never been able to lie to me. And I can't watch you sacrifice yourself for us!" She laughed; the sound grated on her ears.
"Sacrifice myself? Hey, if not family, who am I supposed to do something like that for?"
"This isn't a joke!" The torches on her walls flared, casting light on her brother's face, allowing her to see the fear- and fury- in his eyes. "We can survive just fine without having to give in to that
"I don't care if someone hears me! Only a tyrant would force a woman to marry his son like this."
"He isn't forcing me, Ryuu."
"Come on, Urs. Give me some credit, will you? I've spent more time with the guy than you. You don't know anything about him, but you're marrying him? What am I supposed to think?"
"He hates tea. And he's powerful enough to control lightning."
"So? That's just facts."
"Ryuu." She sighed. "What if I told you that
"I'm not being forced."
Iris rolled her eyes. "Come on, sis. Why else would you do something this stupid?"
"Getting married isn't stupid."
"Marrying him is! What do you really know about him anyway?" Poppy refused to meet her sister's gaze.
"More than enough. Listen, Iris. I didn't want to tell you this." Oh Spirits- what was she saying? She couldn't tell Iris the truth. If the girl knew that their family was hovering on the brink of poverty and ostracism from society
who knew what havoc the young earthbender would wreak? No. She had to distract her.
I've been seeing Lao for a long time. Longer than you know. And-"
"And what? Are you about to tell me you're in love with him?"
"I've been sneaking out to meet Ozai for months."
"Shh!" She listened to the sounds of the night- no one seemed to have heard Ryuu's outburst. "Do you want to bring the guards?"
"Are you serious? I know you've been sneaking out, but I thought you were meeting the older brother- Iroh."
Spirits help me, she pleaded. "Iroh? Of course not!" A silent plea: forgive me, love. "Ozai and I, we've been talking for a long time, and
"Oh no." The shadows disguised most of his expression, but Ursa could hear the frank horror in his voice. "Please, Agni, no. You're not about to tell me you're in love with the guy."