It doesn't hurt as much as she thought it would, this whole dying thing. Azula was always meant to die in battle, she realizes as her muscles twitch. She just thought the battle would be part of some grand war.
"Azula, can you hear us?"
She opens her eyes, but they don't obey.
"Azula! Azula! Someone find a healer!" Zuzu sounds so very far away...
"How bad is it?"
"Should I lie to you?"
"No. Yes. I don't know! Zuko survived, right?"
"Zuko had more experience redirecting lightning. The assassin probably knew that, and aimed her lightning at you as a result."
Salt drips on Azula's lips, tongue.
"You have to wake up, Azula. Please, please wake up."
Her eyes finally open, and Ty Lee and Uncle are there, much too close to her face.
Uncle's forehead is more crinkled than usual. "You were supposed to redirect it through your stomach!"
"I... I was never very good at following orders, Uncle." She closes her eyes.
Ty Lee is crying too much for a warrior; she should stop that. "Stay with us, Azula."
"What did I just say about following orders?" Her ear is bleeding, or her nose is bleeding into her ear. She can't tell which. "Mai?"
Ty Lee rubs both hands over her face, but new tears keep coming. "She's fine, she's fine. You saved her, and me. And the baby! Oh, Azula, you're going to be an aunt in a few minutes!" She shouldn't be so cheerful when she's crying so hard. "You're going to be the best aunt ever! We'll get the healers in here to fix you up, and you'll be good as new just in time to hold your baby niece or nephew."
Mai screams from the next room, a long, hard-working scream. It won't be long now.
Azula is so tired, too tired to deal with screaming sisters-in-law and screaming babies. "I'm no good with babies, Ty Lee."
Ty Lee's eyes are like heavy grey storm clouds, raining all over Azula's face as she cradles her against her breast. "Azula... you can't, Azula, please... Azula-"
Her name on Ty Lee's tongue is her favorite sound in the whole world, and it's her lullabye as she falls asleep.
Ty Lee had run out of tears some time after Iroh had wrapped her shaking hands around a hot cup of tea. The cup was cold now, the tea untouched, but she was too drained to move her hands.
"Come on, Ty Lee." Mai put an arm around her, draping her long sleeve over Ty Lee's back like a blanket. "The least you can do is hold the baby for her. She died protecting her."
Ty Lee inhaled, and the smells of birth and the nonstop screams of Azula's niece filtered back into her awareness. "Okay," she said. "Let me hold her."
She opened her arms for the tiny swaddled screaming bundle. Its eyes were all scrunched up from shrieking.
Ty Lee forced a smile. "It's a good day for crying, huh?"
The wailing stopped. The red face unwrinkled, revealing sharp yellow eyes.
"You're pretty cute for a baby. You look-" Ty Lee swallowed. "You look a lot like your aunt. I bet you'll be just as pretty as she is. Was."
The newborn yawned and curled against Ty Lee's breast. Ty Lee stroked the silky black hair covering the lumpy little head.
Mai grinned. "Well, I guess I know who to call when she won't stop crying. She really loves you, Ty Lee."
"Between the four of us, this baby is going to grow up knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that she is loved." Iroh tucked the red blanket under the infant's chin.
"Yeah." Ty Lee laughed and cried at the same time. "She's so cute. She's going to be so spoiled before she can even walk."
Zuko touched the tiny pink lips. "We're going to name her after my sister. Azula."
"That's... great." Ty Lee shoved the baby into Zuko's arms. "I think she would have really liked that. I have to go."
She only barely made it to her bedroom before her tear supply replenished. She curled up in her bed and cried into everything that smelled like her Azula until she couldn't breathe.