Alrighty, I've decided to try my hand at an A-tLA fic. Please review after you have read, all constructive criticism and such is welcomed. Please note that Azula, Ty Lee and Mai are -and will most likely always be in my fics- a bit older than they are in the show. Let's say that Azula and Ty Lee(a few months younger than Azula) are sixteen and Mai is seventeen. This is a sort of Alternative path after part two of The Boiling Rock. On with the show!

Disclaimer- I do not own Avatar- the Last Airbender, just this fic made for the entertainment of my readers and myself. Please do not post it anywhere without my consent.

Thoughts

'Azula's inner voice'

--A Traitor's Reward--

In all the time Ty Lee had known Azula, she had never seen the older girl so angry.

And that was something saying something; Firebenders were mean tempered and violent by nature

She had been furious every time the Avatar and his friends escaped her clutches and even more so when Zuko had made the decision to join him, -though she never said it aloud- but furious didn't even begin to cover her current state.

That was why the former circus performer knew something else was eating at the Fire Nation princess.

/ "The thing I don't understand is: why? Why would you do it?"

Ty Lee glanced from one young woman to the other; one with black hair and an apathetic expression, the other with chocolate tresses arranged in a tip knot and an annoyed expression. She gulped.

Mai looked us unaffected as ever,"I guess you don't know people as well as you think you do. You miscalculated. I love Zuko more than I fear you"

Ty Lee saw Azula's entire frame stiffen and knew the Firebender was going to attack. Tensing her own muscles, the girl prepared to strike while the young woman was occupied, fully intending to get the Hell out of here, Mai in tow.

"No, It was you who miscalculated! You should have feared me more!"

If she hadn't been standing right next to Azula, Ty Lee would never have believed what she saw in the Fire Nation princess' golden eyes:

Hurt.

That was why her original plan crumbled and, instead of aiding Mai, she found herself slipping between the twin threats of daggers and fire, striking the stoic teen in a dozen pressure points in her torso that made her crumple to the ground like a rag-doll; the actions too fast for even the hidden weapons expert to see, much less counter.

Azula promptly called for the two guards that had held Mai before and commanded them to lock her in a cell on board one of the airships that she had ordered to tail her here, currently hidden in the thick steam that originated from the crater of water--warmed by lava under the earth's surface-- around the Boiling Rock prison.

A fleet of half a dozen of the crafts waited above, prepared to follow her orders to the letter; Azula always planned five steps ahead./

To the shock of both Ty Lee and the soldiers manning five of the mentioned aircrafts, Azula did not order Zuko and his fellow escapees to be executed, their heads skewered on spits and kept in the prison yard as an example of what happened to those who tried to escape.

No, she ordered them home --back to the Fire Nation-- while Azula herself remained high above the Boiling Rock.

Currently, Azula stood on a sort of circular viewing deck located on the very top of the airship, the wind tossing her bangs. Her knuckles were clenched so tightly around the metal bars surrounding the platform's circumference to prevent their fall, that they turned white. Her normally haughty, in-control persona was all but shattered by her outrage.

"Why?"

The single word was forced between teeth clenched so tightly that Ty Lee found herself wondering how the sound had escaped at all.

"That isn't Zuko's or Mai's throat, if that's why you're strangling the railing," she remarked, earning a dirty look that would have killed a normal person. Fortunately, Ty Lee didn't fall into the "normal person" category, "and your face will freeze like that if you continue to scowl."

In situations such as this one, Ty Lee always kept a light heart, more for Azula's benefit than her own. The teen heiress' mind was fragile; the constant stress of being one so young with such great power would be a huge strain on anyone's mentality. Besides, she wasn't afraid of Azula... much.

Damn it!

This earned a deeper scowl and a defensive "I don't scowl." With a frustrated sigh, she punched the air, rending it with a bolt of blue.

The Fire Nation princess had her moments when she seemed truly inhuman, but Ty Lee knew the real Azula; the one that cared for her friends, golden eyes filled with something remarkably close to warmth and affection. The one that wasn't war obsessed- stopping her tirade only when exhaustion forced her eyes shut.

And so did Mai.

"Why the Hell would Mai betray m-us like that?! Her country, her family... everyone!"

Damn it all!

Another bolt fizzed across the sky.

Ty Lee caught the slip-up and charcoal eyes, set in a round, trusting face softened, "I don't think this is about her betraying her people. I think-"

And damn you for seeing through me so easily!

"I did not ask you what you thought!" Azula retorted, instantly retreating behind what Ty Lee referred to as her 'I'm-a-princess-and-thus-mightier-than-thou' look. It was impossible for even the young acrobat to tell what she was thinking in such instances, despite how good she was at reading people.

Their eyes met and Ty Lee knew it was time to take her leave. With a quick bow to the tyrant she dared call friend, she pried open the hatch leading into the ship and climbed down a few rungs, pulling it shut behind her. Then, ignoring the ladder, she leaped down, landing with a gentle 'thump' . If she knew Azula as well as she thought she did, the Fire Nation princess would be out there for quite a bit longer.

One hour later...

Ty Lee pushed open the metal hatch she had entered before and stuck her head out.

When she found Azula missing, the young woman sighed and closed it down. She moved down a narrow corridor that veered sharply to the left, leading into the control room for the aircraft. Normally packed with six or seven soldiers navigating, steering and keeping an eye on the status of the ship both inside and out, it was now empty; Azula had ordered everyone home.

Everyone except Ty Lee. That meant something, right?

The pink-clad girl climbed up another ladder located nearest to the helm, this one labeled 'emergency exit' starting from the control room floor and leading up, up, up about forty feet. The hatch was harder to open, but she prevailed, only to duck back inside as lightning arced quite close to her face.

Cautiously, she peered out again: Azula was going through martial arts forms, each kick and punch discharging electricity. Her profile, dark against the setting sun, was breathtaking and Ty Lee let out an appreciative sigh.

Azula didn't seem to fear the danger of falling to her death as she suddenly raced across the aircraft's metal hull towards the girl, her foot lashing out in a powerful roundhouse.

Ty Lee jumped, preforming a back flip to dodge both the kick and the punch that followed. She straightened, opening her mouth to say something. Once again, she ducked, rolling away neatly to avoid lightning.

"Fight back!" Azula snapped, wanting to work out her frustrations with a quick tussle. But it was obvious she had been at it for a while now, her chest heaving even as she moved with the grace a of a tiger. A dangerous, lightning wielding tiger.

Letting off energy like this couldn't be beneficial to her health. Besides, Ty Lee didn't really feel like acting as a punching bag at the moment.

The former circus girl shook her head, catching a fist as it flew towards her face, "Azula-"

'CRACK'

She probably should have expected that left fist following the right...

Knowing she wasn't going to get results otherwise, Ty Lee kicked Azula's legs from underneath her and was immediately perched on her back, tapping two points that halted the flow of qi that supplied Azula's Bending. She sat on the back older girl's knees to prevent any kicking, one hand tightly gripping the fire Bender's wrists while the other rubbed her sore jaw. Face down under the girl's weight, slight though it was, Azula found she was trapped.

"You have five seconds to return me to normal before I see that you never enjoy the sight of daylight ever again," the Fire Nation princess threatened.

To her shock, Ty Lee didn't seem to register her words, "Remember our vacation at Ember Island? How you said you were jealous of all the attention I was getting?"

Azula bristled, attempting to throw the acrobat off, but failing miserably, "Let. Me. GO!"

"Well, I'm jealous of you too," Ty Lee continued, her grip on Azula's wrists tightening.

Azula stopped struggling for a moment, turning her head so that she could see the younger girl over her shoulder.

"What?"

"You're beautiful, smart, talented-You've got power, Azula! You just don't know how to use it to get what you really want."

"I want the Avatar-"

The acrobat made a dismissive sound in the back of her throat, "Here goes your 'capture the Avatar!' speech. Really, Azula, how dumb do you think I am? Had you really wanted to kill him, you could have done it one hundred times over."

Azula was silent and she took this as an invitation to continue.

"Every plan you ever hatched had a single flaw, so small that only someone desperate could find it. In other words, the Avatar. Notice how everything that doesn't have to do with the Avatar works out without a hitch? No matter how many times Mai and I fail, you don't execute us or anything, you just let off a whole lot of hot air and empty threats-"

"-I'll show you-"

"-AND," the young woman continued, raising her voice so that it drowned out Azula's, "Even when you get a chance to replace us with someone more suited for the job --the Dai Li for example-- you stick with us."

"So what's your point?" Now she sounded weary.

"We mean more to you than you choose to let on. More than even you seem to realize," Ty Lee said simply, "and once you come to terms with just how much we mean to you and in what way, you'll feel loads better."

If you've fallen for me as hard as I have for you... Ty Lee shook her head, dislodging the thought before it could take root. No. Best to wait and see. Is this friendship or something more?

Rising to her feet in a single, fluid motion, Ty Lee padded towards the hatch leading inside, leaving the shocked Fire Nation princess in her wake.

"You think about that. I'm going to visit Mai," she tossed over her shoulder.

0.o.0.o.0

The brig was sandwiched between the control room and the bunks for soldiers; the former was above it and the latter below it. This layout ensured that any attempt at escaping would more than likely be thwarted. Then again, if you consider it, there wasn't anywhere to go should a prisoner escape, it was an aircraft, after all. Nope, there wasn't any way to escape unless one had a flying bison or something...

There were ten cells in total, two for a single prisoner and eight others that could hold about five adults without being too crowded. Torches were mounted periodically along the passages that lead between each cell, casting long shadows that danced across the cold, metal floor.

Ty Lee's bare feet made no sound on as she padded towards the single-person cells, the chill not affecting her. She stopped in front of Mai's cell.

The young woman was leaning on the wall opposite to the barred cell door, her head tilted forward, eyes closed. She looked up at Ty Lee through said bars, gold-toned eyes seeming to glow in the low torchlight.

Gold. It was the colour of Azula's eyes, only Mai's were a bit richer- more of a wolfish shade. Azula's were more like a cat's.

"What are you doing here?"

Mai didn't seem surprised to see Ty Lee. Then again, she never seemed surprised about anything.

"I was worried."

"Humph. You didn't hit me very hard and the effects wore off within a few moments, as you knew it would," Mai sighed, "The only reason I haven't broken out of here is because I'm waiting to see what our princess will do."

Ty Lee flushed slightly at being seen through so easily, "I'm not worried about you. It's Azula."

At the name, Mai almost looked angry. Just as quickly, she was calm, shrugging her red-clad shoulders, "Where is her 'royal highness' at the moment? I can't believe she'd let you down here to see me without a platoon of soldiers."

"Actually, all of the soldiers in this ship are gone. The other five ships went home under orders from Azula."

If she hadn't been accustomed to Mai's lack of expression, Ty Lee would have passed off the infinitesimal widening of her eyes as a blink, or something close to it, "... So what's going to happen now?"

"I don't know. I stopped her qi flow and left her on the-"

"You what!?" Mai's voice only raised a single decibel over her normal deadpan, but it was enough to make Ty Lee flinch, "what were you thinking?"

"I was thinking that maybe you hurt Azula's feelings."

"Humph. She has no feelings."

"Not true," Ty Lee sounded hurt, "She does! She just... has a hard time expressing them!"

"That's what they say to excuse spoiled children." Mai sighed again, this one tired.

Ty Lee couldn't find anything to say against this. She closed her eyes and, at last whispered, "Azula isn't as bad as you think she is, Mai. You'll see."

0.o.0.o.0

I'm going to kill her. No, wait, I'll torture her first!

Azula was still in the exact spot where Ty Lee had left her, legs crossed indian-style as she closed her eyes and grit her teeth. Threats weren't something new to the Fire Nation princess. What was new was the lack of any conviction behind them. Sure, she was angry, but she didn't really want to harm Ty Lee in any way.

'You're going soft, Azula.' A little voice in her head muttered, 'Embarrassing.'

I am not!

'Ha! A month ago, you would have slaughtered that circus freak in an instant, Bending or no. Now look at you: actually mulling over her words.'

The sky was darkening now as evening set in, the sun slowly sinking out of sight. The wind was getting cooler and the atmosphere got steadily thicker as stars blinked to life. Azula hardly noticed, her mind elsewhere: What is it about those two that make them so hard to hate?

Maybe it was Ty Lee's unbelievable innocence? The way her wide smile reached her charcoal eyes and lit up her entire face? Or maybe it was the effortless way she just made you want to like her. She was talented as well. And, when they were younger, Azula had been jealous of the younger girl's flexibility. Now, she felt only a strange sort of pride.

As for Mai, those dark, golden eyes that were so much like Azula's and yet, so different. It was amazing how depth-less they seemed, showing the emotion that her stoic countenance refused to. How impossibly smooth her porcelain skin was or how dark her silky raven tresses were. Not to mention how skilled she was with knives...

What was there not to like?

It was confusing to say the least: what were her feelings? She enjoyed their presence, yet loathed it because it had become something she craved. She had long since stopped requesting that they refer to her by her title, because she had begun to think of them of her equals and a strange sort of respect for the two had developed; could this be called love? Or was it lust?

Azula knew she was blessed to be able to call the two beautiful teens her friends, but something kept her from treating them as such or even acknowledging the fact.

It was her biggest fear:

Betrayal.

It was bound to happen someday- I mean, look at the Dai Li! They had eagerly fled to their new master upon seeing how much power she had... what would prevent Mai and Ty Lee or anyone at all from doing the same? Loyalty could be so easily bought and lost twice as quickly, Azula knew from experience.

No matter how much you thought you could trust the person, it meant nothing, nada, zilch, zero. No matter how much you loved someone, they would betray you one way or another.

--End Chapter--