Ty Lee was smarter than anyone had ever given her credit for. She was smart enough to know that Azula was immune to shouts but not tears, that playing stupid was the best way to learn secrets, and that Iroh was actually a better manipulator than his niece. She was also smart enough to see through every lie Azula told her.
"We'll be okay, Ty Lee," Azula whispered, petting Ty Lee's hair with trembling fingers. "We're worth a hundredfold more to them alive than dead. Zuko will pay any ransom to get me back safely, and Mai will flay him alive if he doesn't pay for your return as well. Once we're safe, I'll send the army to slaughter them for what they've done to us."
Someone less perceptive than Ty Lee might have believed the pretty lies. But Ty Lee knew that no messenger hawk had been released, and therefore no one would realize they were missing for another two weeks. Even then, people might (snickeringly) assume that General Azula had simply prolonged her romantic camping trip.
Besides, these men weren't interested in money; they wanted revenge. Ty Lee had figured that out when they'd sawed off the first finger and promised another for every time Azula looked away. The men had been much too pleased by Azula's white face and watering eyes to be after money.
The door squealed open. Both women jumped, rattling their chains, and Azula's ragged nails digging painfully into Ty Lee's arm. It was just the sheep-cat. They tried to relax, once again matching their breathing with the snores of their guard in the corner.
"They're only hurting us because we're beautiful and they're desperate." Azula put her arms around Ty Lee the best she could. "They're sick bastards who get off on seeing girls screaming and crying. Zuko and Mai and the army will be here any moment now. You'll see."
Ty Lee hid her bloody right hand at her side so Azula would stop giving it guilty glances. "I believe you," she said, nuzzling Azula's shoulder. "Let's just get some sleep while they're gone. Maybe we'll come up with an escape plan in our sleep."
"You sleep," Azula said. "I'll watch you."
"Then I'll stay up and keep you company," Ty Lee yawned. "I don't want you to be alone. I'll just… I'll…"
The next thing Ty Lee knew, she was waking up to vibrations from stomping boots on wooden planks.
"What do you say?" one of the men muttered. "One last fuck for all of us before we toss them in the lake?"
Azula clutched Ty Lee's hand more tightly. Ty Lee was too numb to process her own emotions, so she pondered Azula's. Maybe Azula was trying to come up with an escape plan. Maybe she was envisioning massacring everyone in the room with a white-hot fire. Maybe she was thinking about how twenty-one was much too young to die.
The men were on top of them before Ty Lee's vision had even unblurred. She was as silent as Azula this time, so tired that she'd finally run out of tears and screams and pleas. Her left hand found Azula's again, and they laced their fingers as if they were on a walk through the palace gardens.
As the pain became harder and harder to handle, she turned her head to stare at Azula's face. It was so beautiful to Ty Lee that she could barely see the fresh, red bruises or the tightly clenched jaw. She smiled in spite of the circumstances, because it was so hard for her not to smile whenever she was looking at her beautiful, perfect lover. Her fingertip drew clumsy symbols on the inside of Azula's palm: I love you, I love you, I love you forever. She didn't think Azula could translate what Ty Lee had written, but at least it was a distraction.
When the kidnappers were finally satisfied, Ty Lee didn't know whether to feel relieved or devastated. She was too tired to move, so she supposed she wasn't required to feel anything specific. The men dragged her and Azula outside the cabin and laid them, still shackled, on the little dock.
Azula's breathing was too fast, too whistle-y. Drowning was her greatest fear, just above her fear of deep water. It was Ty Lee's turn to be strong. She rolled onto her side and leaned over Azula's face.
"It's okay, it's okay!" she whispered, kissing every inch of Azula's face. "It will be over really fast. It isn't supposed to hurt. We'll be scared for a few minutes, and then we'll fall asleep, and then we'll wake up together in a new, safe place where they can't follow. Everything will be okay as long as we stick together."
Azula nodded and grabbed Ty Lee's arm, looping shackled wrists around it. Her breathing was still a little too fast. "I love you."
"I love you too."
They kissed so frantically that Azula's teeth cut Ty Lee's lip, but they didn't stop on account of a little blood. They kissed goodbye until a boot on Ty Lee's ribs shoved them into the water. When Azula began to thrash around, Ty Lee tried to kiss her and got a forehead to the nose instead. She kicked Azula gently in the ankle and tried again. This time, Azula struggled less and kissed more. Ty Lee inhaled through her nose as her lips sealed onto Azula's. The water burned everything inside her, making her cough and breathe in more. She clung to Azula, afraid to let go.
Ty Lee opened her eyes again and saw huge, pink flowers on dark green stems. She was in a courtyard, lying on soft grass. She sat up and found herself very much alone.
"Azula?" she called. "Azula, where are you?"
A breeze that sounded like wind chimes was the only response she got.