Thunder and Lightning
© to Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Koneitzko, and Nickelodeon
Brutal thunder pounded against a lightning-torn, charcoal sky, raindrops pelting down into the ocean. Mighty black waves crashed against the beach, roaring like an angry beast against the tiny island, the palm trees bending in the gales. The cottage upon the hill groaned, the stilts creaking beneath the force, but stood up strong.
Ty Lee yanked the sheets over her head. She couldn't sleep, the wind seeping through the cracks, as if they were going to take her away into the storm. She curled into a tight ball, the pillow stuffed over her ears, suppressing a whimper and failing. She flipped over, the covers twisting, and something on the other side of the room fell to the floor.
"Eep!" she squeaked, and clapped a hand over her mouth, not wanting to wake anyone else. If she had, though, they didn't notice. She rolled back over, fighting back her tears for the second time that night. "Don't be a baby, Ty Lee… It's just a thunderstorm."
Inhaling deeply and gathering up what pathetic courage she had, she bundled the sheets over her shoulders like a cape. Her foot slipped off the bed, her big toe touching the wooden floor, when an explosion of thunder erupted. She shrieked again and retreated to the safety of her bed. She peeked out from behind her sheets, scanning the seashell-cluttered room.
She could climb in bed with Mai. As far as Ty Lee knew, Mai didn't mind, as long as she didn't steal all the covers. They had shared a sleeping bag on their cold nights in the Earth Kingdom. On the wall opposite of Mai, she saw Zuko, but got the feeling that Mai would not be happy if she climbed in bed with him. They were dating now. Ty Lee shuddered at the glimpse of Azula sleeping in the queen-sized bed tucked into the corner of the cottage, protected by only two panels of glass, the storm right outside her window.
Gulping her fear, Ty Lee slid off the mattress and skittered over the plush carpet to where Mai slept. She reached out her hand and shook her friend's shoulder.
"Ty Lee, there isn't any room," Mai groaned, knowing it was Ty Lee without looking. "Go back to sleep."
"Then… Find somewhere else. The storm's probably almost over, anyways."
"But… even if it is, there will be mudslides from the mountain, and this house is on stilts, and if the mudslide—"
"Ty Lee, please… It's the middle of the night… Everyone stayed up late, and the best thing you can do is go back to bed and get your rest…"
Mai grunted and rolled over. Ty Lee frowned and looked over her shoulder at Zuko. Again, Mai would not be happy for her, and there was no room. Her gaze landed on Azula's bed once more. Ty Lee weighed her fears in her mind. What was she more afraid of: the thunderstorm, or Azula's wrath?
She chose Azula's wrath.
Ty Lee stood at the foot of her bed. How was she going to wake her up? She reached out her hand to shake her shoulder as she had done to Mai, but it didn't… feel right. Azula's slender arms were folded beneath her pillow, a peaceful expression on her normally hard face, and it occurred to Ty Lee that Azula was perfect, even in her sleep.
"A…Azula?" Ty Lee whispered. She trembled as thunder rumbled the floorboards beneath her feet. She clenched the sheets around her shoulders even tighter, though she knew no amount of cloth could protect her. "Azula? Azula?"
One golden eye opened. Seeing it was Ty Lee, Azula sat up, a hand running through her hair. She glared at her.
"What do you want?" she asked, searching Ty Lee's upset face for an explanation. For once, the tears in Ty Lee's eyes weren't her doing. "I'm trying to sleep."
"Um… I was wondering if I could sleep with you… Mai's bed is too small for both of us to fit, so…" Ty Lee sputtered for words. Lightning flashed behind Azula, seeming to highlight her burning yellow eyes, hypnotizing the girl before her. This time, she didn't jump at the thunder that followed. She was too busy waiting for Azula's reaction.
After what felt like an eternity, Azula scooted over.
"Oh, Princess, you're the best," Ty Lee said, pouncing into bed and yanking the covers up to her chin. She buried herself into the mattress and snuggled up to the small of Azula's back, warm and cozy.
Azula stiffened, pulled away, and sat up again.
"Ty Lee…" she began in one of her strict, no-nonsense tones. Ty Lee looked up with wide, glassy eyes, hugging the sheets. "Why are you afraid of the storm?"
"I… I don't know," Ty Lee replied. "Please don't kick me out, Azula. I'm really scared."
"What makes you think sleeping in my bed will make your fear go away?"
"I don't know… I thought… You could protect me?"
Azula raised a brow. Ty Lee thought she could protect her from nature's fury? It made no sense, but there was a tugging in her chest as she looked down at her friend's quivering body. She was used to Ty Lee's endless compliments, but there was something significantly different about this one that made her hesitate before replying. What was it? It almost felt like… desire? A desire to actually protect Ty Lee, however illogical and improbable it was? Strange, but it flattered the Princess.
"I may be able to bend lightning, but not a storm," Azula finally replied. "Now shut up and go to sleep."
Ty Lee bit her lip to stifle a giggle. She had caught Azula's smirk between flashes of lightning. She half-closed her eyes as Azula laid back down, now facing her, and reached around her hips to pull her closer. Ty Lee shivered, but this time, it was not from the storm. She had never been this close to Azula, her head resting against her chest, listening to her heartbeat, drowning out the thunder. Azula was about to close her eyes again when she felt an arm drape around her own waist.
A bold move. Azula retracted her hand and grabbed Ty Lee's wrist.
"What are you—"
"Ssh," Ty Lee said, guiding Azula's hand back to its position on her hips. "Go back to sleep, Princess."
Azula didn't reply, now more awake than ever. The storm outside subsided, raindrops pattering against the glass with a gentle tempo, and Azula felt Ty Lee drift off to sleep in her arms.
She smirked, and relaxed in the girl's tender embrace. She made a mental note to kick her out of bed at first light, but for a moment, when no one else would see, with waves of pride washing over her, Azula enjoyed it. It felt… nice.