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Learn to Crawl
The first time they meet they are only five years old, and the Fire Nation Princess is not the cold, heartless person she will be in ten years, but a painfully shy and timid girl who speaks softly and flinches at a raised voice.
She meets Ty Lee and Mai beneath the old oak tree one day, by accident, for royals are over and she has been cast outside, because Mom and Dad have to socialize and Zuko is with Uncle Iroh. Mai is sitting at the tree's base, picking uninterestedly at grass, while Ty Lee is busy perfecting her front flip. They seem like well enough company, so Azula sits next to Mai.
It is Ty Lee that starts the conversation, asking who she is and what is her name, and soon the three are talking in quiet tones, discussing things from parents to the perfect way to execute a front flip.
Throughout the conversation Mai and Ty Lee notice the small, dark scorch marks upon Azula's hands, slightly faded, but even at their young age they sense it is not a subject worth bringing up, so they choose to ignore it.
From that moment on, their destinies are one.
Azula never comes away from a training session with her father unscathed; whenever she meets Mai and Ty Lee there are burns upon her legs and arms and hands, usually hidden by her clothing but noticeable, for her friends know to look for them.
But they never say anything.
She must have done something wrong, because now she is twelve years old and instead of the burns that Mai and Ty Lee have grown accustomed to, there is a long, bloody gash slicing its way down from her elbow to her wrist, and with her eyes she begs them not to ask questions.
They do not, and the sight of blood makes Ty Lee queasy, but they still tend to her wound, cupping water in their hands and gently dumping it onto the wound to stem the bleeding, and Azula grits her teeth and flinches, but she never cries.
They are friends. Friends do not ask questions.
They are sent away to the Academy when they are thirteen, and for the first time something seems to come to life in Azula's eyes. For the first time she has the freedom to do what she pleases, say what she thinks, and not suffer punishment at Ozai's hands.
The burns fade with time, as they always do, but she still bears the scar that she received when she was twelve and she did something wrong.
No one knows about the scar except for Ty Lee and Mai, and they do not call attention to it.
Friends do not call attention to past events.
They are only in the Academy for a few months before Ozai pulls Azula out of the program. He gives no explanation, and Mai and Ty Lee don't know their friend is gone until they come back to their room and find her stuff gone.
Only weeks later, Ty Lee runs away to join the circus, for she claims it is her calling. And for the first time in eight years, Mai is alone.
And for the first time in eight years, Azula has no one to turn to when she does something wrong.
They are fifteen years old when they meet again. Ty Lee hasn't changed much, and Mai is still somewhat the same.
Azula is unrecognizable.
She is cold and heartless and speaks with authority. Mai and Ty Lee do not know what happened to make her that way, and they wonder what went on during those two years that she lived beneath Ozai's hand.
But when they are alone they see the faded scorch marks, and it is by accident that Ty Lee glimpses the scar, now three years old; when Azula turns to respond to Mai's question, the acrobat glimpses it.
And they know that some things have not changed.
Azula trains hard and fast, going on long after Mai and Ty Lee have stopped. The two watch silently from the sidelines as their old friend brutally pushes her body to its limits, but they say nothing.
Friends do not judge.
There are some times when she trains deep into the night, and others when she collapses and must be helped back into the tank, for she is too weak to make it on her own.
It is only when she sleeps that innocence seems to return to her, for her dark hair falls across her face and a look of brief, peaceful contentment graces her face.
Only when she sleeps do the burns become more visible, the scar on her arm more pronounced, but Mai and Ty Lee never say anything.
They are her friends. Friends do not judge. Friends do not ask questions.
Even in sleep, peace does not always come to Azula.
Some nights Mai and Ty Lee wake to the sound of panicked whimpers or soft sobs. Some nights no sounds of distress come from her, but she tosses and turns.
They lay in their respective beds and listen, but they never go to her, and she never asks for them to come.
Friends respect each other's boundaries.
And then one day something seems to collapse inside her.
It is as if the dam she has built to keep her emotions at bay has cracked and crumbled to pieces, for one morning she leaves the tank instead of ordering them to continue and disappears into the woods. Mai and Ty Lee watch her go, but do not follow.
Friends know when it is time to let go.
Azula is gone all day, returning at sunset, and when she returns her face is pale and streaked with dirt and tears. Mai and Ty Lee are waiting outside the tank; Mai is practicing her aim on a tree, and Ty Lee is doing random front flips, back flips, whatever she can think of.
The three friends all pause in what they are doing, and for a long moment they gaze at each other.
It is Ty Lee that breaks the spell, uncurling from her current position and walking over to Azula, wrapping her arms around her old friend in a hug. The Fire Nation Princess doesn't even attempt to resist, simply relaxes in the acrobat's embrace and leans into it. Mai comes over as well; she has never been good at expressing her emotions, even as a child, but Ty Lee opens her arms and for long moments the three friends simply cling to each other, needing the strength, the unity, if only for a short time.
Friends know when they need each other.
It goes without saying that Azula still has a long way to go.
She was not banished like Zuko, did not suffer the ways he did, but her father has still burned his mark upon her soul. She will never be truly free of him.
She wakes early and watches the sun rise above the horizon; it is comfort, somehow, when she sees the darkness of night chased away by the golden light of dawn.
It gives her hope.
Mai and Ty Lee emerge from the tank and sit on either side of her; nothing is said, but words are not needed.
Friends stay together. Friendship, no matter what hardships it faces, lasts forever.
I know, random and a little confusing, but this was an inspiration I got while working on Web of Lies. The title doesn't really match with what's going on with the story, but again, this was an inspirtation.
I really think there's more to Azula then meets the eye. I think she suffered under Ozai just as much as Zuko did. Not the way he did, granted, but no kid can have a father like that and come out without issues. I really hope we get to see more of Azula's personality as the show continues.
Modified it a little because spelling errors annoy me...
Read and review, please!