A/N: I would like to point out that while I tried to stay true to the events of the Avatar canon, I did emphasize certain points and draw some of my own conclusions from information revealed on the show. I wouldn't call it AU, but it's very slightly warped here and there. And it might be a oneshot. Most likely, because I have a terrible time with committing to more than that, but who knows! It's left at a point where I could do either since my original plan with this was to portray a snippet of their lives.
Disclaimer: I own nothing!
Azula tightened her topknot with a tug of each hand and blew the hair from her face, glaring down at her watery reflection in the small pond. A freshly picked bouquet of flowers lay neatly across the upturned toes of her boots as she studied her face, drawing a finger along the crisp contour of her jaw. The frown lines carved from her narrowed eyes gave off the impression of her father, while the sharp, beautiful angles of her face were born of her mother. It's not as if she hadn't known it prior, but the observation haunted her regardless.
"Leave me alone," she said stubbornly to the face glaring back at her.
For the last hour, she'd been pacing in one of the pristine courtyards of the Fire Lord's palace, flowers clenched in her bolted fists. Statues and stone benches were arranged like scattered chess pieces, a water fountain at the heart of the tranquil garden. Azula stood out sorely in her surroundings, her dark armor stark against the soft green of the grass, the feathered pink of cherry blossoms. Her attitude clashed as well. Ty Lee would tell her she had a black aura today and she didn't want the other girl to sense any hostility or nervousness from her before she even laid out her words if this was to work. She'd had to set down the bouquet and relax her eyes in the gentle water - and she'd also felt a bit disgusted by the girlish gesture of flowers itself. Even if she was more easily calmed by the tendrils of flames, she wasn't in the mood to produce any herself and the water was an all right substitute.
Until she saw her parents staring back at her. She spat a sphere of flames into the center of her reflection and it sizzled against it's opposing element.
Azula wiped a hand down the length of her face and squinted up at the watercolor sky, attempting to find guidance through something.
She had never been educated on girlfriends and boyfriends or how to socialize, how to be normal. She'd learned the laws of manipulation, sharp wit, and how to keep people away from her. She'd never learned how to make them stay.
Azula had never held in her hands a certain fundamental building block to being human, she'd never learned to love. She was a prodigy and immediately became one of her father's prized pawns once she'd shown signs of such promise. His approval was the nearest thing to love for her to cling onto and she drained it for all it was worth, expanding her miraculous firebending skills to a blistering degree. Her firebending was an artform, a deadly dance that attracted the attention she craved, but it cast a dark shadow of fear over her as well. She was untouchable royalty, raw power. From then on Ozai saw not his daughter's face, but the deep crimsons and blacks of a Fire Nation soldier settled on her shoulders. Her mother had preferred Zuko's mellow nature as a child to Azula's violent one and had never guided her elsewhere.
No one bothered to love the key weapon of the Fire Nation; her body was a machine and the soul of the little girl imprisoned within it was reduced to an on and off switch. The harsh marks of her father's hand were the most familiar touch she knew, while Zuko had the gentle hold of their mother.
And then she had met Ty Lee. It wasn't immediate, she didn't notice her capabilities straight away - and once she had, she was enamored. To Azula, she was an anomaly, a labyrinth to be solved, a puzzle in which she had yet to collect all the pieces of. A circus girl; bouncy, bubbly, and cheerful, Ty Lee had the looks and personality that snagged the attention of boys like a hook through their mouths without effort and made friends with the wide spread of her smile. Azula didn't have the good fortune of making friends easily, though it had been drilled into her skull again and again that such relationships were stupid and unnecessary, so she'd gone without them. Ty Lee and Mai hadn't quite been her friends, but they'd been something she considered important with the side of her brain that wasn't military oriented.
Ty Lee specifically. Mai was quiet and she kept to herself most of the time, though she was reliable and Azula valued her in her own way. Ty Lee was a splayed open book of emotions and she wasn't as sharp as Azula, but she certainly was not stupid. In nearly every way, she was Azula's opposite. She was bright, and the shadow began to ebb away.
They grew close from a young age and after entering her teenage years, Azula began to notice a pull. She wanted Ty Lee's input on things. She wanted to dissect the way the little gymnast's thoughts worked and she wanted to reconstruct her own, she wanted to understand her. More than anything else, Azula herself felt understood. It was new to her. Ty Lee would unload the haul of her day, chatting away, cycling through a wider array of emotions than Azula thought a human could display or possess in a lifetime, let alone minutes. She would listen to the soothing, animated voice of her friend for hours and she would study her. She was learning.
Outwardly, she continued to punish who she could under her hand; the power was intoxicating and she fed off of the fear. Her father would be proud. The cold embrace of that thought was what she had to leech from and she held onto it with a teetering desperation. Perfection was beyond her reach and as was he, unattainable to her bloodied hands.
They'd begun a dangerous dance not too long ago, sneaking around beneath Ozai's very nose. Azula wasn't one to ever think she was below getting what she wanted, but she knew fooling around with a girl - even one of noble status like Ty Lee - in her father's palace would earn her a scar to rival Zuko's. He'd likely blast her skin from her bones and would do the same to Ty Lee. Knowing her merciless father, he wouldn't hesitate to make her watch before she suffered the same fate. So she kept her lips sewn shut.
As it did when she first began to take true notice of Ty Lee, something awoke in Azula in the newer stages of their bond. It coiled around her veins and it choked her from the inside out. Once she stopped working against the currents, her lungs flared open and she felt incredible. The knuts and bolts clattered from her mechanical joints and she felt human.
Then a few months ago, Ty Lee had murmured sleepily into Azula's shoulder three words that she did not understand. They were interchangeable in a different structure with other letters and words to work with, but they didn't make sense put together the way Ty Lee had skillfully woven them. Azula didn't understand, and her confusion transformed into fear.
She kept her little acrobat at arm's length, then, and honed her body, her intelligence, and her firebending, braided them into one with exhausted, cracking hands as her father set fire to the world.
In Ty Lee's absence - Azula's own doing, she knew - she began to decode those three words. They echoed in her fitful sleep, sometimes from the mouth of her banished mother, her father, sometimes Ty Lee herself. There was a fog at first, but it began to clear as the nights passed and the ache in her chest did not cease. Her heart was an empty, abandoned room and Ty Lee had cracked open the door, flicked on the lights. Only for Azula to shake her out and bolt it shut again.
Now she stood, spitting fire at the watery mirror reflecting her own face, conjuring up a plan. The thought of rejection throbbed sharply under her ribs. She heaved a heavy sigh and pinched the bridge of her nose, once again turning words over in her mind, calculating the correct formula of how to ask Ty Lee for something a bit more…solid.
Teenage drama was beneath her. It was all rather stupid. However, she wanted that possession, that reassurance that Ty Lee was hers. She could demand it and the acrobat would more than likely bow down to her princess' wishes, but it wouldn't bring the satisfaction that asking would. She wanted Ty Lee to want her. It was a foreign feeling, though she welcomed it and more of the metal melted away from her body – even if she wouldn't admit it to anyone else.
She began in her exaggerated general's voice, "I wish to offer you …" Azula frowned, touching her hand to her chin. "No, that won't do. Ty Lee, as daughter of the Fire Lord, I ask …for your hand…" she fought not to gag on the words. She couldn't push past how it felt to ask for something. She felt like a fool. "Just," she sputtered, almost ready to stamp an impatient foot. "You're mine," she murmured through gritted teeth, fists rolled up at her sides.
Failure boiled the blood in her veins as her pulse throbbed, her heart an angry mallet pounding against her ribcage.
"How does one do this? Emotions are infantile, they transform me into a babbling fool," she fumed, her aristocratic face twisting into an expression of rage.
Heat began to emanate from her palms in waves of volcanic frustration and the flowers wilted, roots singed. Azula let loose a feral growl. A sharp pull of fear tugged at her stomach as the light tap of a finger had her whirling around, left hand shielding the flowers behind her armored back. The guards couldn't catch her coddling a handful of flowers, reciting ways to woo a girl.
The face she found was one she had dearly missed and her heart catapulted up into her throat.
"Whatcha doin', Azula?" Ty Lee wondered, a playful look on her face as Azula glowered.
They hadn't spoken much since Azula's episode of panic and their confrontations afterward had been short lived and uncomfortable, the painful tension between them a rope they both balanced on. Ty Lee looked inviting enough now, a good natured smile lilting her lips while she awaited the princess' answer.
She straightened her back and heat flared across her pale cheeks. Clearing her throat awkwardly, she searched the lively grey eyes opposite of hers. There was no reason in wasting this moment with smoothing over the jagged mountains Azula had raised from the ground in defense of herself.
"Ty Lee," she began, her fist tightening around the crisped roots of the flowers she'd picked. Uncharacteristically biting her own lip, she brought her left arm around and set her shoulders. She couldn't hold it off now. Azula was many things and a coward was not one of them. "I present to you these flowers uprooted from the royal soil of the Fire Nation as a token of my proposal," she stated – far too officially for it to be romantic – and she hadn't noticed that her word choice could be horribly misconstrued, although Ty Lee observed with watchful, curious eyes. Chin tipped up honorably, Azula concluded, "I wish to court you."
A soft "oh," was exhaled quietly from Ty Lee's mouth. Her face was blank for a moment, eyebrows drawing toward the middle of her face. Then, she clamped the top row of her teeth down on her bottom lip in an effort to seal her laughter behind her lips, though a giggle or two let loose when she took the sad looking flowers from Azula's grasp.
"Token of your proposal, huh?" she giggled again.
Azula was affronted by the nature of Ty Lee's amused reply and she narrowed her eyes.
"Laughter?" she questioned. "I am the Crown Princess of the almighty Fire Nation and you should be honored to take my hand in courtship –"
Ty Lee dismissively waved her free hand to extinguish the long tirade she would have to suffer through, then bent at the waist to catch Azula's wounded amber eyes through the fringe of her dark hair. "I'm honored, Princess," she whispered, kissing her lightly on the corner of her mouth. "But I sure hope these flowers aren't some kind of metaphor for how our relationship is going to turn out. Unless it's a sign of your fiery, destructive passion," Ty Lee mused, hiding her smile behind her hand.
Azula glared stiffly, then her sharp eyes widened, "So you accept?" The mountains fell away at Ty Lee's timid nod.
"Yes, I'll be your girlfriend, Azula," she answered softly, the jester's grin gone from her face. "I'm kind of surprised though, to be honest. I wasn't sure if our … personal time meant to you what it meant to me," she admitted shyly, her feminine eyelashes drawn down over her eyes.
Azula caught Ty Lee's chin, tipping it back, her face a contradictory mixture between hard resolve and concerned affection. "I'm not very good at this, Ty Lee," she confessed. "I'm not… a very nice person. I'm not close with anyone, aside from you and perhaps Mai. Father would be closest after that and I think that alone says quite enough. But I have never known the happiness of being cared for prior to you. These worlds you've opened up to me, I had never known they existed let alone that I could travel them, discover things that challenge me and puzzle me and bring joy. I've got shelves of vocabulary stocked up in my head and I can throw a punch, but I'm nothing like you, Ty Lee. You continue to baffle me and…well, you inspire me to see past the scars of war."
Ty Lee cupped the firebender's jaw with her hand, her thumb brushing over her sharp cheekbone. She knew better than anyone else that Azula considered her own face to be a wound of war; she was a spitting image of Ursa. It made her chest heavy to think about.
"I'm not much," Ty Lee laughed dismissively. "Just a circus freak. You're the amazing one."
Azula shook her head in disagreement, running her pale hands along the sculpted muscles of Ty Lee's shoulders and biceps from years of martial arts and gymnast routines. She was reflecting on the benefits to such a flexible and capable partner when it struck her that they were out in the open. She'd only been preparing herself here, she'd meant to meet with Ty Lee in private quarters.
"You're wrong," she pointed out, first. Then, lowering her voice, "but we can't be here, we've already risked causing enough suspicion. I'll meet you near the palace gates at sundown, we'll go for a walk. I'm scheduled to see Father soon."
She could sense Ty Lee's disappointment. There was nothing she could do, but she knew she understood. They could not be caught.
Suddenly her grey eyes flashed dangerously and Ty Lee grabbed Azula's hand, dragging the stumbling princess across the courtyard to pin her against the sturdy palace wall around the corner. Azula's chest inflated. Ty Lee watched her possessively, dropping the wilted flowers to the ground. "Not yet. I want something first," she whispered against the base of Azula's throat and the firebender felt her kneecaps dissolve.
"Ty Lee, we shouldn't," she hissed harshly, only to go ignored while Ty Lee bit lightly at the skin beneath Azula's ear.
"Oh, come on, isn't this sort of thing usually celebrated? Or, um, consummated?" she added, smirking against Azula's neck.
Her face flushed deeply at that and her hand came up to rest on Ty Lee's waist, left bare by her airy choice of clothing. "I think we've well covered that part of it by now," she mumbled and turned her head against the stone wall.
Ty lee, ever amused by Azula's conservative nature, mercifully relented.
"Alright, how about this," Ty Lee ran a hand down Azula's front, resting it against the smooth breastplate of her armor. It briefly crossed her mind as to why she was wearing it in the first place, then she recalled Azula's meeting with the Fire Lord. She hoped it didn't mean he had trials for her to undergo or any specialized training. Ty Lee knew exactly the kind of man Ozai was. "Give me a kiss. Just one. We'll consider it a promise."
A promise. Azula hadn't made many of those with the intention of keeping them.
"What kind of promise?" she asked warily, dropping her hand from Ty Lee's hip.
"The kind where we promise each other...to each other," she finished, a tiny frown tugging on her eyebrows while she pouted inwardly at her inability to eloquently phrase words the way Azula could. "I don't want anybody else, and, ya know," she began drawing her finger along Azula's armor. "I'm guessing you don't either, so I figure we should seal the deal. With a promise."
Suddenly, she understood. Ty Lee needed assurance in the same way she herself needed it, not to mention she'd kept her away after Ty Lee had admitted how she'd felt.
"I..." Azula murmured, struggling against the block in her throat. An apology was not easily drawn out from her and she was coaxing it best she could. "I didn't mean to push you away like that, Ty. I'm not accustomed to being treated that way," she said lowly, embarrassed.
Ty Lee accepted the skeleton of an apology without pause.
"I know you're not," she slipped her arms around Azula's slender neck. "Which is why you should hear it. You are loved, Azula. I love you."
Azula's body froze, her shaking hands settling back on the gymnast's waist. It was said so easily, so fluidly, and it passed through her desperate fingers like water. Fear shackled her down and she tripped clumsily over her thoughts, fumbling through them in search of the correct one. She touched her forehead to Ty Lee's, a pained and confused frown igniting a terror in her golden eyes.
"It's okay," Ty Lee could feel how Azula's body had locked up in her arms and she stroked the nape of her neck with her fingers. "You don't have to say anything, I just want you to know."
Azula was silent for awhile longer, her eyes now closed.
"I've never heard that before," she whispered, her jaw set to steady the uneasy breath she inhaled through her nose. Correcting herself, "You said it once, it frightened me. I didn't, I don't understand."
"There's nothing to understand," Ty Lee informed her quietly, a soft smile on her lips. "That's it. I don't care if you're a great firebender or if you're a princess, I don't value you on a scale like that. This, right here, the feeling of your arms around me," she pressed her nose into Azula's shoulder. "This is what matters."
"Ty Lee..." it was overwhelming, like presenting a feast to a starved refugee. She didn't know what to do and the pain of hunger clawed at her insides. Ty Lee held a finger to her lips and Azula widened her eyes, surprised.
"Shh," she instructed her, pulling down on her neck to catch Azula's mouth in a kiss that curved the rumbling inside of her. She lost herself in it, her hands sliding up the elegant slope of Ty Lee's back. The acrobat appraised Azula with a small groan and she asserted the kiss with a nip of her teeth, the starving animal within her winning over. When they broke apart, Ty Lee playfully touched her finger to the tip of Azula's nose, "There, now you promised me."
Azula was still recovering from the fog at the forefront of her mind when she produced a small smile. "I suppose I did."
"I'll see you tonight, then," Ty Lee domestically adjusted the shoulders of Azula's armor, casting her a furtive glance that held a few other promises.
"Yes," Azula concurred, kneeling down to grab the stem of one of the healthier looking flowers and she threaded her hand through the fall of Ty Lee's hair that wasn't woven into her braid. Plucking the open bud of a pink lily, she nestled it behind the gymnast's ear. "Sundown," she reminded her, eyes lost in her task. Her hand drew around the rim of Ty Lee's ear, then along the curve of her jaw and she pulled away.
Ty Lee sprung backward onto her nimble hands with a cat's grin, wiggling the toes of one foot at Azula. It was a goofy enough gesture that it coaxed a small smile and wave from the firebender, before a few more flips carried her out of sight.
Happiness rippled through her in vibrating waves as she slumped down along the wall, a hand over her face. The feeling of Ty Lee's lips lingered on her skin, on her mouth, and she itched impatiently at the sensation. It was out of her control, which both irritated her and fascinated her.
"Agni," she whispered, crumbling the remains of the flowers in her hands. They went up in flames under palm.