Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar.
Before donning her Kyoshi uniform and putting on the face paint, Ty Lee slips away to the prison to visit her old friend for perhaps the last time (pleaseAgnidon'tletitbethelasttimeletmegetthroughtoherpleasepleaseplease).
Azula is locked away in a dark cell near the back, but thankfully she isn't chained up or gagged or anything bad like Ty Lee has been imagining for her since Sozin's Comet passed and she learned of Azula's defeat. She's simply huddled in the back, her face buried against her knees, her shoulders hunched and her hair falling across her back and face like a dark curtain.
Something inside her aches fiercely. This isn't Azula, Princess of the Fire Nation. This is just Azula.
"Hey, Azula." She sits, ignoring the grimy wetness of the floor and the darkness of the shadows, resting a hand against the bars. There's no flicker of movement from the girl in the shadows, but Ty Lee knows she's listening. Azula always listens.
So she talks, though at first she kind of rambles on and on. She tells Azula about how life was in prison, how she and Mai were put in cells near the Kyoshi warriors and they managed to keep each other company. She talks about seeing the red glow of Sozin's Comet from the prison courtyard, the way the whole sky seemed bathed in blood and fire.
She even talks about the action that put her in prison in the first place, striking out against the princess to protect Mai. She didn't think it would have led to this (whathaveIdone?) and the guilt eats her up, threatening to destroy her from the inside. So she talks to keep it at bay, her voice low and soft, her hand still against the bars.
Azula has moved by now, lifting her face to look quietly at Ty Lee, her golden eyes broken and haunted and her face pale, and Ty Lee has to bite back a sob. She keeps talking and prays Azula is still listening, because the Azula she remembers always used to listen even when she didn't want to. She prays that this Azula will see, that she will understand, and perhaps deep within herself she will be able to forgive.
Azula recognizes Ty Lee and knows her—knows her voice, her touch, everything. While she is no longer at her peak she is still regained a small amount of her sanity, scant as it is; but despite this, she cannot feel the burn of hatred that she felt before whenever she thought of Ty Lee. All she can think is that she finally, finally has company in the darkness, and someone is actually talking to her like she is a human being and not an animal,and at that moment Ty Lee's voice sounds like music. It's a soothing feeling, one she used to feel in the presence of her mother.
Without really thinking about it, she begins to rise; but her legs shake and tremble beneath her and aren't yet strong enough to support her, and somehow she knows if she tries to stand she will weave like she did before, and she doesn't want to scare Ty Lee because Ty Lee talks to her, treats her like a human. She has no pride left really, so she crawls, not ashamed at all, just wanting to reach the girl across from her.
Ty Lee sees her coming and her eyes widen, and something inside her bunches up and hammers against her ribs wildly; but she stays where she is, though she has fallen silent now, simply meeting Azula's gaze steadily and praying her tremors are only inside of her. She licks her lips and swallows. "Azula…"
And in that moment, Azula knows.
Ty Lee has never seen the princess. Ty Lee has always seen the girl. Not the princess. Just the girl.
That realization in sync with losing much of her sanity is, somehow, shockingly clear.
"… I'm sorry."
Azula lifts a hand and for a moment she hesitates as it trembles, looking incredibly pale in comparison to Ty Lee's; but the acrobat doesn't flinch away, she doesn't even blink, she just waits. Azula narrows her eyes, bites her bottom lip. Knowing what she seeks, no longer afraid, Ty Lee gently slides her hand through the bars.
And in a moment of faith, a moment of trust, Azula touches her palm to Ty Lee's.
"Ty Lee? What are you doing?"
"I'm sorry, Suki! I'm so sorry…"
Ty Lee is on her hands and knees bowing before the leader of the Kyoshi warriors, her new leader and the person who could give her a chance at her new life, a chance she is hinging on next to nothing. Her eyes are closed, her forehead practically touching the ground.
"Let her come with me." Ty Lee's voice trembles, but her resolve is sure. "Please, let Azula come with me." She draws in a deep, ragged breath. "The way she is now, she isn't a threat to anyone or anything. I can help her. I want to help her. I just need time."
Suki gazes at her for a long time, this slim young acrobat with kind gray eyes and a heart that seems too big for her body. She thinks of the princess, locked away.
She sighs and closes her eyes, running a hand through her hair.
And she makes her decision.
Suki manages to loop Aang into flying the warriors back to Kyoshi Island, and when he's flying across with Ty Lee and Azula the tension is so heavy it almost suffocates. Azula is blissfully unaware of the whole thing, gazing down from Appa's saddle to the landscape below with a sort of awe; in her state she is almost like a child again.
Ty Lee sits in the back, reclining comfortably as if nothing is wrong and pretending not to feel the tension, the way Katara's eyes burn into her body. She instead keeps her gaze on Azula, mindful of her charge. Katara crosses her arms from nearby and watches the pair with narrow eyes, not completely trusting yet.
Azula loses interest in the changing landscape below and crawls away (also, looking down from such a height is dizzying and makes her a little queasy), but she doesn't curl up somewhere to doze. Instead she crawls over to Ty Lee and, with a tired sigh, curls up next to the acrobat, her head resting in Ty Lee's lap and one hand gripping her knee as she closes her eyes and falls easily into sleep. Ty Lee blinks; her eyes soften slightly and she rests a hand on Azula's shoulder.
Slowly, Katara feels some of her distrust draining away.
Having seen Azula's breakdown firsthand, she knows the princess has a long way to go. But watching her with Ty Lee, somehow, she knows everything will work out all right.
Because as long as Azula remains with Ty Lee, she will emerge from her change as a girl.
Not a princess.
Just a girl.
Because Azula needed closure, dammit. And Ty Lee wouldn't just abandon her. It's not in her character. I rather like the idea of Azula going to Kyoshi Island with Ty Lee and finding herself again.
Read and review, please!