Disclaimer: Hints of femmeslash.
Author Note: AU. Earth Kingdom is the one subjugating the Fire Nation.
The bamboo that bends is stronger than the oak that resists.
The rising and falling mountains and the lush, verdant hillsides were mirrored in the still, glassy waters of the lake. Each beaten dirt road and each flooded rice paddy was doubled, and each person that walked by the lake's edge traveled their same path upside down in the water. The lake turned the rolling clouds of the powderblue sky upside down and sent the undulating branches of the trees diving to reach the water's depths.
Pushing aside the wall of elephant grass, the small girl wriggled past the foliage and stepped into the icy water. Mud squished and rose between her toes as the girl dug her feet into the sediment, burying her quickly numbed toes deep in the rich silt. Brown eyes closing lazily, she placed her hands on her waist and breathed out deeply, the cold breeze fluttering the ends of her long hair.
Two more small children slid through the elephant grass and to the water's edge, pushing each other out of the way and sliding precariously in the slick mud. The first child turned, eyes opening wide as her companions clambered into the water, their feet upsetting the still, glassy surface of the lake and sending the silt lake bottom into a swirling storm of mud and dirty water. The two latecomers grappled for dominance in the water before the second brunette gave up and ceded to the taller, paler child.
Sliding out of Mai's grip, Azula wriggled away and began to splash toward the center of the lake. Walking until the water reached the middle of her thighs, she turned back, her arched eyebrows and jaunty posture daring her friends to follow her out further. With a leap, Mai jumped and kicked her way through the deepening water until she stood next to Azula, reaching down into the water with cupped hands and sifting through the mud for stones and glass.
"Ty Lee, come on!" Azula shouted, small voice snapping the silence of the lake. She raised a hand and waved, smirking. With a shrug, Ty Lee calmly followed her two friends out into deeper water, though upon reaching the two of them she clung tightly to Mai's arm, the water already to her waist. Ty Lee smiled shyly as she looked up to Mai, sidling closer. Mai smiled back. Azula's eyes, however, were slowly following the phalanx of soldiers that marched down the beaten dirt road. She was as oblivious to her friends' rapport as the three of them had been of the soldiers during their play only moments before.
"Mai. Ty Lee," she said, a flicker of concern shading her voice. She tilted her head to the side, watching as the soldiers continued on, their uniforms and carriage the epitome of elegance and a show of nationalism that had been brutally crushed for generations. "Look."
Both girls looked up, eyes wide as the soldiers marched onward, headed in the direction of the occupied and far-off capitol.
"I want to do that when I grow up," Mai breathed quietly, eyes still trained on the soldiers. Azula nodded her agreement, but Ty Lee looked up at her, her features furrowing.
"Of course I do," Mai said matter-of-factly, shrugging Ty Lee off. She turned to Azula, and the other girl nodded.
"We both do," Azula said. "And you do too, Ty Lee."
"I do?" Ty Lee questioned, unsure. "Me--a soldier?"
"Of course!" Mai said, linking an arm through Ty Lee's. She did the same with Azula, who was decidedly less happy about it but allowed it nonetheless. She grinned. "We're all going to be soldiers, and one day, the Fire Nation will be free!"
"Oh," Ty Lee nodded, understanding only slightly better. "If you guys are going too, then I guess I will, too."
Azula broke away, splashing through the water and heading for the dirt road the last remaining soldiers were heading down. Mai nudged Ty Lee in the direction Azula was running in and gave her a small smile, pulling gently at her arm. "Come on! Let's follow her. Maybe we can meet some of the soldiers!"
Azula clambered up the embankment and onto the road, her feet leaving dripping prints as she ran to catch up with the last remaining soldiers. Reaching them, she fell back, walking stoically behind them and panting lightly. Mai and Ty Lee caught up with her and walked alongside Azula, smiles growing on their faces as they emulated the march of the trained soldiers. One woman broke away from the group and turned around, golden eyes smiling as she kneeled to the height of the three small children who crowded around her.
"You know who I am, right?" she asked. Azula, the boldest of the three, nodded.
"Of course. You're a Firebender, and you're defending the Fire Nation."
The woman nodded, and Azula smiled haughtily. "That's right. And you are too, aren't you?"
"Of course," Azula said. She motioned toward Mai and Ty Lee, who were still watching silently. "They aren't, though, but we're all going to become soldiers and defend the Fire Nation when we grow up!"
Mai nodded vigorously to back up her friend, but Ty Lee only stared warily at the soldier, eyeing her heavy armor and dirt-smudged face. The woman laughed aloud and tousled Azula's hair, her eyes narrowing as she stood. Reaching behind her head, she untied the narrow bloodred cloth band that ran across her forehead.
"That's a good and righteous goal," she said, handing the band to Azula. "You should continue it and serve our country, little ones." Turning, the woman began to walk back to her platoon. "The Fire Nation needs every liberator she can get."
Azula's eyes widened as Mai and Ty Lee crowded around her, touching the band reverently.
"Lucky," Ty Lee said as she reached out to stroke it, much more interested in the cloth itself than for what it stood for. Azula sniffed, eyes narrowing as she took it and placed it around her own head. Striking a firebending stance, she turned to her friends, fire in her eyes. "Let's promise that we're all going to be soldiers when we grow up!"
"Take down the Earth Kingdom imperialists!" Mai crowed, shoving Azula to one side. The two began to grapple on the ground, and Ty Lee stepped back, not eager to dirty her clothing or bruise her knees.
"If you guys do it, then I will, too," Ty Lee said.
"It's a deal, then?" Mai said from atop Azula's chest. She stuck out her hand to Azula, and after a moment's hesitation, the firebender took it and shook.
"Until the Fire Nation is free, then," Azula said, offering her own hand to Ty Lee. Ty Lee took it and grinned as the three of them solidified their pact.
Columns of smoke rose from the burning capitol and obscured the midday sky, searing the air and turning the sun a bloody red. Faint booms and thuds of toppling buildings and heaving earth rumbled throughout the city. Soldiers battled in the streets as civilians tried their best to escape the tumultuous city without getting caught in the crossfire and Earth Kingdom collaborators hanged themselves in their homes and bribed their way to the safer Fire Nation coasts. The rebels had taken the capitol, and the Fire Nation was no longer under the control of the Earth King. The people were taking back their country.
Two women in uniform made their way swiftly down the halls of the royal palace, ignoring the courtesans and servants that ran past them out the palace. One was tall and lean with pale, creamy skin and dark black hair pulled back in a low chignon, and the other woman was slightly smaller, with dark gold eyes and brown hair in an identical chignon. Both wore a simple red headband across their foreheads and crimson uniforms.
"Mai, have the soldiers search all the rooms," Azula ordered sternly. "The servants and whores can go, but I need you to keep anyone of any interest, anyone that could possibly had helped the imperialists subjugate our people for so long."
Mai nodded silently and did an about-face, heading back down the hallway to her waiting platoon. Azula continued on, eyes narrowed as she walked swiftly down the hall toward the throne room. Pushing open the great wooden doors, she strode into the huge room, face blank as she approached the small group of soldiers huddled near the throne. The soldiers parted and made room for the leader of the resistance as she approached the prisoners her soldiers held.
Sniffing contemptuously, Azula kicked out at the nearest prisoner, knocking her out of the hands of her soldiers and onto the hard marble floor. The woman whimpered as she hit the floor, curling quickly into a fetal position. Azula raised an eyebrow expectantly, and a willing soldier reached forward, taking the woman's hands and pinning them behind her back, forcing her up into a kneeling position. Head still down, the woman grew quiet and Azula turned away, her attention now focused on the second woman the soldiers held.
"So you're the pig that kept my people down for all these years," Azula said dangerously, a thin smile slipping across her face. The woman, richly dressed in fine armor and with the look of a seasoned warrior around her, kept her head down in the same fashion as her companion, defeated and dishonored. Azula sighed heavily, kneeled down, and withdrew a blade from her belt. Placing it under the woman's chin, she lifted the Earth Kingdom general's face, spitting into it contemptuously.
"Your actions are deplorable," Azula said loudly. She slid the blade tip down the general's throat until it pointing straight at her chest. She looked around at her soldiers lazily, taking note that Mai had joined them and was watching with a blank, unreadable face. "But worse yet, you lead one of my countrywomen astray. In the Fire Nation, every person works together to help each other. And you've led one of my people down a dark, traitorous path."
The blade slid back up to the middle of the general's throat, and Azula pressed the blade dangerously close to the skin. "And for that," she said slowly, her smile growing wider as the pressure on the general's throat increased, "You must be punished."
"Stop!" the restrained woman cried out, jerking against the soldiers that held her. "Don't hurt her! Please, I'll do anything!"
"Silence!" the dishonored general shouted abruptly, her head jerking in the direction of the woman. Her eye narrowed angrily. "Don't waste your breath on me, Ty Lee!"
Mai's eyes widened in disbelief, and Azula very nearly dropped her knife. Getting up and sheathing her blade, she walked over to the woman on the ground and crossed her arms over her chest.
"Ty Lee?" Azula breathed incredulously. She laughed--a cold, mirthless sound. "Ty Lee. Is that really you?"
Ty Lee stayed still and silent until one of the soldiers kicked her roughly in her thigh.
"Yes," she whimpered, her head still bowed. Azula looked down her nose at her former comrade's limp form, disgust rising in her.
"You, promised soldier of the Fire Nation, whore to the Earth Kingdom general?" Azula asked haughtily, and Mai averted her eyes out of a sense of guilt and lingering loyalty to her former friend, knowing that she fully couldn't turn away. "Dressed in Earth Kingdom silk and pearls as your countrymen fight to rid our nation of such Earth Kingdom injustices? I would have never in my wildest dreams thought you'd turn traitor, although I did begin to suspect something when you lost contact with Mai and me two years ago."
Azula kneeled down and placed her fingertips under Ty Lee's chin, raising it up until she looked directly into Ty Lee's eyes. Ty Lee cringed and closed her eyes, and Azula leaned in close, her lips brushing against Ty Lee's ear.
"What were you feeding her?" Azula demanded quietly, her free hand sliding to Ty Lee's neck. "What did you talk about in bed after she fucked you, hm?" Her hand slid slowly down Ty Lee's front, fingernails trailing lightly against her delicate lilywhite skin and down the front of her expensive Earth Kingdom robes. "Lies? Rumors? Or…" She cupped a breast, squeezing it lightly and smiling as twin tears slid down her prisoner's cheeks. "Fire Nation secrets, perhaps?"
"Azula!" Mai said abruptly, stepping forward and executing a smart salute. Azula slowly turned toward her, a dangerous look in her eyes. Mai was highly away that she was interrupting Azula in front of her soldiers and quickly spoke up.
"My soldiers found the room they were keeping their war plans in. I have it being guarded at the moment," Mai offered, keeping her eyes forward and her posture immaculate.
Azula stood and considered the weight of Mai's words. Shrugging her shoulders, she turned her back to Mai, approached the general, reached down and slid her knife out and across the general's throat. She stepped back swiftly to avoid any blood and turned back to Mai, handing her her blade.
"I am leaving to inspect the plans. The sooner we can wipe out the rest of the Earth Kingdom soldiers, the better," Azula said, motioning for the soldiers to leave. All the soldiers including the one restraining Ty Lee promptly left the room, and she gave Mai one last instruction, her eyes narrowed to mere slits.
"You may get rid of Ty Lee in any way you please," she said flatly. "Dead or alive, I don't care. Just get her out of here and never let me see or hear of her again."
Turning to Ty Lee, she looked down her nose at her, disgusted. "In light of our past friendship and the work we completed together, at least up until the point where you decided to become a traitor to our cause," she said, her voice dropping to a mere whisper, "I leave it to Mai to decide what to do with you. Do not consider us friends any longer, and I never want to see you in the back in the Fire Nation again. Good-bye, Ty Lee."
Ty Lee stayed perfectly still until several minutes after Azula had left the room. With a cataclysmic sob, she began to cry, kneeling forward until her forehead touched the ground. Sinking down to the ground, Mai sat beside Ty Lee and took her into her arms, her chin resting lightly on top of Ty Lee's head as she cradled her old friend.
"Let's go," Mai said, stroking Ty Lee's hair slowly. "We need to get you out of here. Do you know anywhere you can go?"
"I can't come back," Ty Lee breathed softly. Mai paused and contemplated it, and then nodded slightly. Ty Lee pressed her face to Mai's neck, her lips brushing against Mai's skin. Mai's hand slid to the side of Ty Lee's thigh as Ty Lee placed another soft kiss just under her jaw and moved quickly to Mai's mouth. Mai ran her fingers through Ty Lee's hair, drawing Ty Lee closer as her hand slid between Ty Lee's legs, but Ty Lee pulled away, breaking Mai's hold with difficulty.
"The Earth Kingdom," Ty Lee finally whispered. Mai's eyes narrowed, and after a moment she nodded solemnly. They helped each other up and left.