Azula hadn't said anything about her talk with her uncle, but Ty Lee knew it had gone well. She knew it because Azula was currently dangling one of Ty Lee's pink hair ribbons in front of the little white kitten's face and laughing so hard she had to hold the side of her corset.
"Kittens are so stupid," Azula giggled, tugging the ribbon out of the cat's grasp. "Look, Ty Lee, look. It thinks it's attacking live prey. Silly, foolish little creature."
"Maybe she knows it's just a ribbon." Ty Lee propped herself up on one elbow. "People play all kinds of games that imitate real life, but we know they're just games. Who says cats don't do the same thing?"
"I say." Azula laid the ribbon on the floor and slithered it across the planks for the kitten. "Anyways, I'm only playing with it because its stupidity amuses me."
"Okay, Azula." Ty Lee rolled onto her stomach, resting her arms on a cushion. "I think she really likes you, though, even if you think she's stupid."
"Of course she likes me." Azula jerked the ribbon away before the cat could pounce on it. "Anyone with an ounce of good taste likes me."
Ty Lee grinned as Azula made the kitty dance on its back legs for the ribbon. "I must have lots of good taste, then!"
A shadow fell over her, and she looked up.
"Time for dinner," Lo and Li said in unison.
"What should we do with this thing while we eat?" Azula nudged the kitten with her foot.
It attacked her slipper, curling around it and digging its claws in.
"I'll take it outside." Ty Lee picked up the kitty and carried it out the front door. "See you later, Kitty!" She set it in the flowerbed and waved at it.
The little cat spotted an interesting bug and went bounding off under the porch after it. Ty Lee climbed back up the stairs and joined Azula in washing her hands.
Dinner was a lot less awful than Ty Lee had been expecting. No one argued or tried to kill anyone else like at breakfast, at least. And Iroh and Azula had apparently forgotten that they knew each other.
"What did you do before you retired, Uncle?" Azula asked politely over her rice soup.
"I was a general in the Fire Nation military. After that, I traveled to around the world learning new firebending skills. I have even been to the spirit world a few times." Iroh wiped his mouth with a napkin. "What did you do before you retired?"
"I was my father's most trusted soldier," Azula said. "I traveled the world for him, hunting down the most dangerous and important enemies of the Fire Nation. I singlehandedly conquered Ba Sing Se in a matter of days, convinced my wayward brother to come home with me, and defended the Fire Nation against a number fierce adversaries. I was supposed to become Fire Lord, but my brother's peasant girl stole the throne away from me and gave it to him. I spent a year starving in a windowless cell in an asylum, and now I live here, on Ember Island."
Ty Lee watched, fascinated, with her head tilted to one side. "You guys really don't remember each other at all? That's so weird!"
"We are making a second attempt at getting to know each other," Iroh said. The twitch in his cheek muscle pleased Ty Lee as much as it scared her.
"Well, Azula's really strong and smart and good at lots of things." Ty Lee slurped the soup from her spoon. "You'll probably like her a lot."
"I hope so." Iroh dipped his spoon into his bowl. "I look forward to beginning lessons with her tomorrow morning."
"Ooh, ooh!" Ty Lee had trouble staying in her seat. "Can I have lessons too? I miss when me and Azula used to pass notes at the Royal Fire Academy for Girls!"
"Don't be so childish, Ty Lee." Azula poked at her noodles. "There won't be any note-passing. These are advanced lessons. Only members of the royal family and the upper circle of nobility receive them."
"And I'm a member of the upper circle of nobility!" Ty Lee reminded her. "It'll be great!"
Azula sighed. "I thought you disowned your family when you ran away the first time. If not, they've probably written you off as dead now that you're a Kyoshi warrior. I'm not sure you count as nobility anymore. Besides, you never did very well in your non-advanced lessons."
Even though Azula was using her matter-of-fact voice instead of her mean one, Ty Lee's eyes and nose burned with tears. "In other words, 'No Circus Freaks Allowed'? Sorry, I didn't realize you thought I was a peasant, let alone a stupid one." She turned away from Azula and folded her arms, allowing her tears to drip down her cheeks.
"Okay, okay, you can have lessons too." Azula laid her chopsticks on the rim of her bowl and put her arms around Ty Lee's shoulders. "Just stop crying, please. I don't think you're stupid, and I would set fire to anyone who called you a peasant. You're still a noblewoman if you want to be. I didn't mean it."
Ty Lee stopped crying. "You're really sorry?"
There was a hiss of breath behind Ty Lee's head. "Yes," Azula said at last, sounding like it physically pained her to say. "I'm… really... sorry… for hurting your feelings."
Ty Lee turned around in Azula's embrace and hugged her. "I forgive you."
They resumed their meal, and no one commented on the short-lived argument.
"So what are you studying first?" Ty Lee asked. "For the advanced lessons, I mean."
"Military strategy." Azula took a drink from her water cup.
That sounded positively awful. "That... sounds like… fun." Ty Lee tried to force a smile.
Iroh chuckled. "You don't have to sit through it if it bores you."
"Yeah, I know." Ty Lee chewed on her lip. "Maybe I'll just stay for part of it."
"Ow, dammit!" Azula lunged under the table.
Something zinged past Ty Lee's ear and embedded itself in a nearby beam, piercing through the exact air that had been occupied by Azula's neck only half a second before. Ty Lee jumped onto her feet, and Iroh, Lo, and Li followed a moment later. Iroh ran to the half-open window, but Ty Lee could already see no one was there.
They turned back to Azula and found her holding up the white kitten, her fingers pressed into the fur under its armpits. She blinked at them. "Why is everyone standing?"
Iroh pointed to the shuriken in the beam. "How did you know to duck just then?"
"I didn't. This damn cat snuck back inside and attacked my leg." She waved the white kitten back and forth. "I leaned down to grab it."
"The kitty saved your life!" Ty Lee grabbed Azula for a big you-almost-died-just-now hug, making sure to include the kitten. "We have to keep her and feed her and take care of her forever!"
"If you absolutely insist," Azula huffed, but she stroked the kitten's silky head when she thought Ty Lee wasn't looking.
Iroh frowned. "These attacks are happening too often. I will send a hawk to Zuko, asking for a patrol around the outside of the house."
"I doubt it will help, but I would appreciate it," Azula said. "Ty Lee, get off of me already!"
Ty Lee held onto her (despite the protests) until she was sure Azula was done trembling.