It's an Avatar: The Last Airbender fic. I recently marathoned the entire series again, and wow, that show is very good. Not FMA:B good, but if I go around holding my fiction to FMA standards... well, my life would be sad and empty and bereft of positive, realistic portrayals of women.
But! A:TLA is very good, in very many ways, and I love it!
And if you have ever met me, hello,
then you know to whom my heart belongs. Oh, I adore Iroh beyond measure, because the person who does not adore Iroh beyond all reason is not a true person, say I. And Toph stomped into my heart and set up camp- ah, Toph, I love her and her many flaws
and her greater awesome.
But that is the best part! Everyone has flaws. Everyone has their limits, and their blind spots, and their sore spots, and the times when they're just plain stupid. The times when they're just kids, or when they're too old to think innovatively, or when they have things seriously shaken loose in the brainpan. They regret, they learn, they backslide, they grow. They make bad decisions and good ones and lucky ones and ones that should have worked. OMG, show, I do love you.
And Sokka! Did not expect to adore Sokka like I do. But oh, I do. Sokka! So brilliant and funny and levelheaded and loves shopping. And yes, I do love Aang, and I do love Katara, and Appa and Momo managed to be fully realized characters where on any other show they would not be. Azula is fascinating
to watch, and Mai, and Ty Lee, and Haru and his ADORKABLE MUSTACHE OF ADORKABLENESS AND ADORKABILITY, Smellerbee, and Longshot, and I really wish we'd gotten more than we did of Teo, and Master Piandao, and Lt. Jee, and the Fire Nation in general, and the Soongi horn.
But now we come to the heart of the matter.Zuko.
OMG Zuko Zuko Zuko Zuko. I just- Zuko. *flail* Zuko. Zuko.
omg omg ZUKO.
Look, the creators did it absolutely on purpose, and oh, they did it so. Very. Well.
I cringed, watching the first couple of episodes, on his behalf, because of the way the show treated him. And I'm kind of really suspicious that they did it on purpose. Because in his introductory, character-establishing scenes, the writers humiliate him. Treat him as someone we should laugh vindictively to see knocked on his ass. And this is immediately after they have already started laying the barest hints of groundwork that Zuko is not a Card-Carrying Villian
, Zuko may not yet be a sympathetic character, but even at that point he is at least a human.
They never do it again. After the first few episodes, Zuko is often the butt of the show's jokes, yes, and they're *hilarious,* but they never again deal him the sort of crushing humiliation they did at first. And- if they did it on purpose, and I kind of suspect they did, then that was done masterly. Because those first few episodes? When a determined, proud, flawed, brave young man had his dignity stripped away in front of his enemies and his subordinates? Oooooooo, my protective instincts went glomp.
After that, I was ready to love Zuko wholly, unconditionally, if only they'd give me a hint
of his having inner depth to work with.
And then they did.
Oh, Eru Illuvatar above, did they effing ever.
Ha! Then they started encouraging
me to love this torn confused angry scarred scared loving loyal desperate leader abandoned lonely stupid strong brave compassionate courageous dutiful clever unhappy smug proud smirky genuine sincere heir outcast teenage prince, and oh, it was awesome,
because they loved him too. And they put him through the wringer, but hey, who doesn't love a woobie?
Hint, not me. I love Zuko like I would love pie if I loved pie a whole lot. I am not actually all that fond of pie, but I am very very fond of Zuko.
So then there was this fic.
Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa this fic. This fic is everything I have ever wanted from a fic ever ever ever.
First of all, it's largely what I think of as vindication!fic. I don't know if others sort it that way, but I tend to think of it as a very specific branch of h/c. It goes like this: Character A (whom I will refer to as male) is not liked by Characters B, C, and D. It doesn't have to be dislike on their side. Maybe they don't even dislike Character A; maybe they're perfectly willing to be friends with him. The key is that they don't know him, or, if they do, they don't know what goes on in his head. And the story is about them finding out about Character A, bit by bit, and evaluating and re-evaluating their impressions and opinions of him. It's about how they see him, and about how he reveals himself to them in fragments and pieces and little things he lets slip. The fic revolves around Character A: Characters B, C, and D will interact with A, think about A, continue to think about A when he is not present, discuss A with each other, draw conclusions, test their conclusions, and see them proven or broken.
Now, I really have a thing for vindication!fic. Third-person perspectives are kind of my favorite things ever, and while this isn't the only variety of those that I love, it's definitely one. It's a very sort of self-indulgent thing- most of us don't really spend large swatches of time thinking about other people's feelings, or problems, or even about other people- we've got ourselves, and our own problems and feelings to think about. On some level, we believe (or would think it nice, anyway) that everything revolves around us. And why not? For us, it does. Vindication!fic is exactly that. Someone else looking at Character A, really looking, and thinking about them, trying to understand them, devoting time to it; it's very flattering for Character A.
Because I like to read shameless self-indulgent fics, I will get specific: I like it best when Character A doesn't know he's being studied. And is kind of messed up. And doesn't think himself abnormal. And when Characters B, C, and D are wrong about him, to start out, when they slowly come to the realizations that his decisions have been based on sound reasonings given the information he had available, and that his pain is legitimate, and that he's a good person, and that he doesn't know that his situation is not as it should be. And are outraged on his behalf.
(We've all got our kinks, don't judge.)
When it's not done well, it's really annoying. These tend to skate the line of Mary-Sues very very closely. If you can't love the character they give you, if you don't give them enough flaws, then they end up Sues. Honor Harrington gets boring with it after a while. Tiffany Aching, even. (Pterry, I'm sorry, them's the breaks. You did it perfectly, beautifully well with Vimes, or with Vetinari, but Tiffany... no.) HH has got her good points- it's fun to see *how* she'll defeat the enemy, that got me through a few books- but it had lost the tension that she might lose. Perhaps I didn't read far enough- she is, after all, supposed to mirror Nelson's injuries somehow- but I kind of got sick of seeing everyone stand around admiring her all the time. When it's not done well- and it's so hard to do well- it can backfire really really badly.
When it is
done well, it's one of my favorite things ever.
See, this fic does it hella well. It gives me all of the traits of this that I love best, in spades,
for a character that I love (and I wish we'd gotten to see more of that re-evaluation stage in the actual show)...
...on top of some seriously Inda-level worldbuilding.
Because the other thing I love like pie? Is different cultures being different and having misunderstandings and differences and learning about each other and trying to find a balance between respect for foreign customs and the morality they were raised to believe in. I want to see more Fire Nation dances, dammit, and Water Tribe canoes, and Earth Kingdom knives that say never give up without a fight
and the sorts of games the Airbender youngsters got up to. I want to see the four peoples trying to understand one another, and failing, and trying a different approach. I want to see people out of their elements and keeping their pride while being humbled.
Oh, and if you want
to give me an epic and gripping adventure story, full of OCs who capture my heart as surely as any character in professional fiction ever did and possibly more, with well-thought out character psychology and the history of countries and consistent magic...
Well, heck. Sure. Come on in.
Read Theft Absolute
, by Vathara. It's okay. It's not amazing, and it fixes what she saw as an injustice in the canon that I didn't have a particularly big problem with. But you ought to read it first.
Because then it spawned Embers
, a 462,977 word monstrosity of a WIP that is everything I have ever wanted in a fic, ever, in my entire life.
(which is maybe more than I wanted you to know about me, but hey, I OVERSHARE.)
I may very well print this one out and paint it a cover, that is how much I want to be able to clasp this story to my bosom. Not like that, okay, this story is just... I love it! I love it so much! I would be reading the most innocuous passages and I'd stop and flail and make choking noises and go HOLY COW I LOVE THIS FIC, I LOVE THIS FIC LIKE I AM NOT SURE I LOVE ANY FIC EVER, and that is just wrong, people, because I have read some really good fic in my time.
It's not just that it's good, though fuck is it ever. It's also everything I want. Plain and simple.
With the glaring omission of the fact that there is not yet more.
Which is okay for now. I'd be really sad if it were over so soon.