Yue leaves. Mai raises an eyebrow. Ty Lee beams. Azula . . .
Azula is just going to ignore them.
“Let’s get going,” she says briskly, ignoring the irrational flash of heat in her face. She's probably overcompensating for the cold with her bending. “We’ve got a treaty to wrap up.”
“Azula, she kissed you!” Ty Lee says delightedly.
“Yes, Ty Lee, we all noticed,” Azula says with a sigh. She should’ve known just ignoring her wouldn’t work.
“That’s so great!” Ty Lee says, jumping in place excitedly. “She likes you!”
“She does not,” Azula says in exasperation, folding her arms. No one likes her. Her mother doesn’t even like her, and her mother likes Zuko.
“But she did kiss you,” Mai observes neutrally.
“Yes, well, I’m not that idiot Hahn so I imagine she’s feeling grateful,” Azula says.
“Did she tell you that?” Ty Lee asks curiously, tilting her head.
“. . . well, she didn’t call him an idiot,” Azula says grudgingly. “But obviously he is.”
“Azula!” Ty Lee looks even more delighted. “She likes you!”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Azula says, striding past her towards the ship’s ramp. Obviously she needs to outrun this conversation. “Hurry up, we have work to do.”
“Azula!” Ty Lee protests as she hurries after her, and Mai brings up the rear. Azula makes sure to stay ahead of them. Mai she’s less concerned about, obviously, but Ty Lee is clearly making some serious misassumptions and Azula doesn’t want to hear them. Yue likes not marrying an idiot, because she’s not as stupid as everyone else around here seems to be. She doesn’t like her.
Azula’s very good at not being liked. She’s certainly not breaking the habit now.
They make their way to the palace, and the chief and his advisors look just as unhappy to see them as usual, which Azula takes a moment to bask in. Her father can’t possibly be dissatisfied with this treaty; it gives the Water Tribe a few little concessions, of course, but all the important details are in favor of the Fire Nation’s interests. Especially their interests in regards to the Avatar.
Azula was very careful about those particular interests. They're the real goal here, after all. If the Avatar wants to learn waterbending, he's not doing it here. And the South Pole, of course, isn't going to be any more helpful.
Really, for those results, getting married isn't much of an imposition.
Now all she has to do is stick the landing, and the Fire Nation will get everything they want.
Yue spends the day walking around the palace, memorizing all the little details she might never see again. She'd go into the city too, but she doesn't want to bother anyone to chaperone her and anyway, she wants to be in the palace if anything happens with the treaty. Today's the day, after all. If everything goes to plan . . .
Today's the day, if everything goes to plan.
She exhales, and resists the urge to go wait outside the meeting room for the dozenth time. She'll find out what's happening soon enough.
It won't be long now.
Yue turns a corner and nearly runs into Hahn, who's standing there with a few of the other boys.
"Oh!" she says, startled. She didn't expect to run into anyone but the servants, much less Hahn. He looks at her. He looks irritated. She starts to look for a platitude or something to say to soothe his mood, but . . . well, that's not really her responsibility anymore, is it.
Hahn's looking at her neck.
Well, no. He's looking at Azula’s necklace, obviously.
"That girl made you an engagement necklace?" he asks with a scowl.
"It was her grandmother's, actually," Yue says. "I don't know if they teach princesses how to make jewelry in the Fire Nation."
She certainly doesn't know how, herself.
"What a joke," Hahn says. Yue . . . blinks.
"Sorry?" she says uncertainly.
"She can't even make a necklace?" Hahn says with a snort, folding his arms. "And everybody knows they don't hunt in the Fire Nation. What's she going to do tomorrow? She won't bring back anything bigger than a harefox."
"I don't know," Yue says, feeling a little defensive in a way she knows better than to let show. "I suppose we'll see."
She wouldn't complain about a harefox. If Azula isn't a good hunter, well—so what? Things are different in the Fire Nation.
"That girl's gonna make a fool of herself," Hahn says. "You'll see."
"I don't care," Yue says. Hahn stares at her incredulously.
"What?" he says. Heat rises to her face, but . . .
"I don't care," Yue repeats, straightening her spine and trying to look . . . well, she's not sure how she's trying to look. Some way that'll shut Hahn's mouth, she thinks. "Princess Azula can bring me anything she wants. It doesn't matter."
"Yes it does!" Hahn says, looking insulted. "She'd never be able to take care of the tribe!"
"She's not going to be the chief," Yue says. "All she has to take care of is me."
Hahn scowls. Yue sets her jaw.
"Shouldn't you be getting ready for the hunt?" she says.
"It's not going to be a real hunt," Hahn says, still scowling. The other boys exchange awkward glances behind him.
"You don't know that," Yue says.
"I know she can't hunt," Hahn says. "She's going to embarrass herself in front of the entire tribe."
"Like when you didn't go easy on her in the fights?" Yue checks, and Hahn's face reddens and his scowl darkens.
"She cheated!" he snaps. Yue grips her hands together tight. She didn't mean to make a fuss, but . . . well. Azula's going to be her wife. Or her husband. Or . . . both, probably. She can't just let Hahn say whatever he wants about her, especially in front of other people.
"No. You lost," she says stiffly.
She wonders if he's even returned his necklace to the ice yet. That seems like the kind of thing Hahn wouldn't do.
"You're talking like you wanted her to win!" Hahn says angrily.
Are they having a fight? Yue's not sure. She hasn't really done that before. Not since she was old enough to know better, at least.
"I did," she says, because she’s not going to lie. Hahn makes an outraged sound. The other boys all stare at her. "Excuse me. Please."
She turns to leave. Hahn grabs her arm roughly and yanks her back, and she gives him a shocked look. No one touches her like that.
"Don't you walk away from me!" he says angrily.
"Let go of me," she says, pulling at her arm. He doesn't. "Hahn!"
"Listen to me!" he barks, and then his eyes bug out and his grip goes weak and he falls forward towards her. Yue barely gets out of the way in time, and he hits the floor in an awkward slump.
"Whoops," Ty Lee says, looking down at him. She's standing right where he was, holding her fists in that funny way again. Mai's behind her, looking annoyed.
"What the hell!" Hahn yells, but he doesn't move to get up. He doesn't move at all, actually. The other boys all look alarmed, but aren't saying anything.
"What did you do?" Yue asks, a little shaky.
"Ummm," Ty Lee says, wincing a bit. "Well, Azula isn't here, so . . . uh, defended your honor?"
"Since clearly no one else was," Mai says, drumming her fingers on her arm and eyeing the other boys out of the corner of her eye. They flinch. Yue isn't sure what to say.
"I thought you were at the treaty meeting," she says inanely.
"Lunch break," Ty Lee says sheepishly. "Azula's talking to the scribes. Um . . . should I not have done that?"
Yue looks down at Hahn slumped on the ice and touches her arm where he'd grabbed her. It doesn't hurt or anything like that, but she still feels . . . upset.
"No," she says after a moment. "You should've. Thank you."
"Okay!" Ty Lee says, immediately brightening.
"Take your stupid friend and get out of here," Mai says to the boys. They edge past her warily, and edge past Ty Lee very warily.
"Don't listen to them!" Hahn says.
Mai tilts her head, looking bored. The boys look at her one last time, then grab Hahn off the floor and start dragging him away. He curses at them.
Well. Azula did say Mai wasn't nice, Yue thinks.
That's . . . not something she minds right now.
The boys take Hahn away. Yue looks at Ty Lee and Mai, still not sure what to say.
"Thank you," she tries again. It makes the most sense, anyway.
"Whatever," Mai says, still looking bored.
"No problem!" Ty Lee says cheerfully, lowering her fists. "That guy was rude."
"Yes," Yue says with a helpless little laugh. "He's . . . definitely that."
"He sure seemed fine putting his hands on a princess," Mai says.
"He's going to be the chief," Yue says, though she knows it's a stupid thing to say. Mai and Ty Lee both make faces.
"I hate it here," Mai says.
"He still shouldn't have done that," Ty Lee says.
"I think I made him mad," Yue says. She's . . . never done that before.
"So?" Ty Lee says. “He’s not the chief yet. You’re still higher-ranked than him, right?”
“Well . . .” Yue trails off, then shrugs helplessly. “Yes, technically. But everyone knows he’s going to be the chief.”
“I really hate it here,” Mai says. Yue wonders if Zuko would do something like that to Mai. It doesn’t sound like it.
She wonders what Azula would do if someone made her mad.
Or if someone grabbed her like that.
“Does he do that kind of thing a lot?” Ty Lee asks, holding up one of those oddly-held fists again. Yue doesn’t really watch much fighting, but she’s still pretty sure that’s not how you make a fist. She remembers hearing Master Pakku yelling at one of the boys about how to do it, once. People don’t usually yell around her, so it’d been memorable.
“No,” she says. “He’s never done that before. I think he’s . . . upset. About, um. Azula.”
“Him and half your government,” Mai says dryly.
“Well, if he does it again . . .” Ty Lee says, and mimes an odd little one-two punch that doesn’t quite touch Mai. “You should definitely hit him.”
“Oh, I couldn’t,” Yue says reflexively.
“Why not?” Ty Lee tilts her head.
“It’s . . .” Yue hesitates. She doesn’t have to get along with Hahn anymore, but . . . “I couldn’t.”
“Sure you could!” Ty Lee holds her fists up again. “Like this!”
She does that little one-two punch towards Mai again. Mai stands there for it, looking supremely bored.
“See?” Ty Lee says.
“Um,” Yue says, and hesitantly lifts her hands in mirror of Ty Lee’s. It feels . . . strange. “Like this?”
“Yeah!” Ty Lee grins at her. “Here, look—lemme show you.”
Ty Lee and Mai don’t come back after the lunch break, but Azula isn’t particularly concerned about that. They’re not stupid. If they’re not here, they’re doing something else she’d want done.
The advisors are visibly stressed. Chief Arnook is less obvious about it, but clearly isn't thrilled about things either.
Azula is delighted, personally. And as long as the Water Tribe understands the situation here, she's staying that way. The treaty is nearly finished, and the last little touches on it are all coming together nicely.
The Avatar is going to regret ever hearing of the North Pole.
“Are we all satisfied with the terms of this treaty, Chief Arnook?” Azula asks silkily, smiling pleasantly at the man. He looks back at her evenly.
"The Northern Water Tribe is satisfied," he says, and Azula smiles wider as the advisors grimace.
“Wonderful,” she says. “My father will be very pleased to hear that.”
“The scribes can review the treaty once more tonight,” the chief says, which is of course only reasonable. Azula’s not worried about any last-minute complications, at this point. “The wedding hunt will begin at dawn.”
“Perfect,” Azula says, still smiling. “I do so love to rise with the sun.”
Ty Lee is nice, Yue thinks afterwards, back in her rooms for the night and looking out the window at the water. Mai isn’t, but she already knew that, so . . .
Well. Yue’s had “nice” for her whole life. It might be about time for a change.
She’s not sure if they’ve made friends yet or not, but it’s a start, she hopes. She really wants to have friends in the Fire Nation. She’s not very good at it, but she could learn. She’s going to have a lot of things to learn in the Fire Nation, after all; what’s one more?
Someone knocks on the wall. She turns towards it.
“Come in,” she says, and Father steps through the doorway.
“Yue,” he says.
“Father,” she says, standing up. “Is everything alright?”
“Everything’s fine,” Father says. “The scribes are reviewing the treaty. The wedding will be tomorrow.”
“Oh,” Yue says, her heart jumping into her throat. She knew it was probably going to be tomorrow, but hearing it confirmed is . . .
“Everything’s planned for,” Father says as he looks around the room. “The tailors will bring your wedding robes in the morning, and the hunters will leave at dawn.”
“Yes, Father,” Yue says. He looks at her again, and the expression on his face is difficult to read.
“This is your last night in these rooms,” he says.
“I understand,” Yue says. They’ll be up all night for the wedding feast, and no one wants the Fire Nation to linger too long—including the Fire Nation, most likely. They’ll be leaving the next day, she’s sure. The servants have already packed up most of her things, ready to be transported to Azula’s ship.
Father looks at her with that difficult expression a little bit longer. Yue looks back at him uncertainly, trying not to let that uncertainty show. He . . . exhales.
“You’ve done your duty admirably, Yue,” he says quietly.
“. . . thank you, Father,” Yue says, blinking at him in confusion. She’s not sure what brought that on, and still Father is wearing that difficult expression. But she’s glad he thinks she’s done well, at least. She’s . . . tried very hard to.
“Our people could not have asked for a better princess,” Father says, and she flushes.
“Father,” she says, embarrassed. He keeps talking.
“And I could not have asked for a better daughter,” he says. Yue stares at him in surprise. She didn’t expect . . .
“Thank you, Father,” she says. “You’ve been a wonderful father.”
“A better chief than a father, I think,” Father says, his mouth twisting as his eyes flick to her necklace. Yue represses the urge to frown.
“You’ve done the right thing,” she says, and he looks back to her face. “The Tribe is safe and strong because of you.”
“I’m going to miss you like my own heart,” he says tightly.
“. . . I’ll miss you too, Father,” Yue says softly. She’d known he’d miss her, but she hadn’t expected him to say it, and hearing it’s both a little painful and a little gratifying. Azula is better than Hahn, she thinks, but marrying Hahn wouldn’t have required leaving the North Pole. But she asked the spirits for what she asked for, and she isn’t going to complain about getting it. “Very much.”
“I don’t know when we’ll see each other again,” Father says.
“You could . . . stay and talk for a while, tonight,” Yue says hesitantly. “If you’re not busy.”
“I’m not,” he says, his mouth twisting again. He looks pained. Yue feels the same way.
“Then stay,” she says. “Please.”
He sits down. She sits down with him. There are a lot of things they could talk about, Yue thinks, but she’s not sure what’s . . . appropriate. Or fitting.
“You’ll be taken care of,” Father says abruptly. “The Fire Nation wants this treaty to succeed.”
“I know, Father,” Yue says. She thinks about telling him about Ty Lee and Mai helping her this afternoon, but she’s not sure if she should. She thinks about telling him about Azula’s lightning or her questions or letters, but that she’s definitely sure she shouldn’t do that. It’s . . . delicate, she thinks. It’s delicate, and she doesn’t want to break it.
“I’ll write,” Father says. “Whenever I can.”
“I will too,” Yue says, biting the inside of her cheek. “I promise.”
“I’m so sorry,” Father says, his expression crumpling, and Yue doesn’t know what to say.
“It’s alright,” she tries after a moment, hands clasping each other. “Really.”
“You’re going to be so far away,” he says.
“I know,” Yue says. “But it’s alright. It’s what’s best for everyone.”
“You’ll be alone,” he says roughly. “I should’ve prepared for this better. Found handmaidens or guards to send with you.”
“I don’t need that,” Yue says. She doesn’t like the idea of making anyone else leave their home just so she won’t be alone. She has a duty; they don’t. “I’ll make—friends.”
“If you need someone . . .” Father trails off.
“I don’t,” she says, squeezing her hands together. “Really.”
“If you change your mind, you can write any time,” he says. “I’ll find someone to send.”
“Thank you, Father,” Yue says, though she already knows she’ll never ask for that. She’s the one who needs to do this. Not anyone else.
“Don’t thank me,” he says tiredly. “Not for sending you away. Not for making you think it’s for the best.”
“It is,” Yue says, squeezing her hands again. “It’s alright. I’m not . . . afraid, or anything like that. And Princess Azula’s attendants are very kind, and she’s very strong. I’m sure I’ll be fine with her.”
“I want you to be happy,” Father says. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t do better by you.”
“You did, Father,” Yue says. “I only lived because you prayed so hard for me. And this really is for the best.”
This is what she prayed for, after all.
“I’ll be happy,” she tells him with the kindest smile she can manage, reaching over to squeeze his hand. “Honestly.”
“I want you to be,” he says.
“I will,” she promises, and thinks of Azula’s lightning, and her smirk, and the softness of her lips.
She thinks . . . it might be a promise she can keep, she thinks.
Azula meets the hunters at dawn, wearing her usual armor and with Mai’s long knife strapped to her thigh. The chief isn’t among them; neither are any of his advisors. That idiot Hahn and the other boys she fought are, though. Well, they’re sure to be useless, she thinks dubiously.
There are absolutely no other women, she can’t help but notice. There are sleds and weapons and dogs, but no women.
She should’ve brought Mai and Ty Lee, she thinks in vague annoyance.
“We’ll take you to the hunting grounds,” one of the older hunters says. Azula smiles pleasantly at him, hooking her hands together behind her back.
“Of course,” she says. “Lead the way.”
The older hunters lead the way. Azula follows and the boys trail after, muttering among themselves. Azula ignores them. They're irrelevant. She has a beast to track and kill, and very little idea of how to do either of those things. She doesn't need any distractions.
It's a long walk outside the city, and the snow is deep. It takes the better part of an hour to get anywhere, but eventually the older hunters stop. Azula raises an eyebrow at them.
"The young men will attend you," the first hunter says, gesturing ahead towards the vast snowy plains stretched out before them. Azula sees literally nothing to hunt, and the snow is immaculate and barren of tracks.
"Of course," she says pleasantly.
Well, so much for using the actually experienced hunters to help with any of this, she thinks in exasperation. She knows better than to expect anything useful from the boys. Even if they knew anything, they'd never tell her after how badly she beat them all.
Well, Azula's wrung information out of less cooperative people. So maybe.
She strides out into the snow without looking back. The hunters murmur to each other, and the boys hurry after her. Between trudging through the snow and regulating her body temperature, she's already used more energy than she should've, but she'll live.
"So which one of you is in charge?" she asks idly after they've left the older hunters behind. The boys don't say anything, but Hahn tromps up beside her. She allows it.
"Do you even know where you're going?" he says, glowering at her.
"Yes, I'm very familiar with places I've never been before," Azula replies dryly. Hahn scowls.
"You're never gonna manage this, girl," he says.
"Aren't I, boy?" Azula says mildly. His scowl darkens. The other boys murmur to each other.
She keeps walking. She has literally no idea what she should be doing, so for the moment that's the best she's got. The snow is aggravatingly deep, and really not helping the situation.
She told Yue she didn't need luck, but a touch of it wouldn't go amiss right now.
“Hahn . . .” one of the boys says. Hahn waves him off.
“You only brought a knife?” he says, eyeing Mai’s knife where it’s strapped to her thigh. Azula eyes him, unimpressed, then gives him a pleasantly murderous smile.
“I brought myself,” she says. “Why? Do you need more than that?”
Hahn scowls at her again. She keeps up the smile.
“It’s understandable if you do,” she says, then glances meaningfully at his weapon. “Is that spear big enough, do you think?”
Hahn scowls. The other boys mutter.
“Oh, look, there’s some disturbed snow over there,” Azula says pleasantly, very pleased with the timing of that showing up. “Let’s go see what did it.”
They go over to the disturbed snow. It looks like it might be a trail of hoofprints, which is literally the only thing Azula can discern about the whole mess.
“Hm,” she says, looking down at the closest print. It’s enormous. But hoofprints are good, right? Hoofprints implies a herbivore, and she’d much rather track down one of those than, spirits forbid, something with actual teeth in its mouth.
“It’s an elk-caribou,” Hahn says. The other boys suddenly go from quiet to downright silent.
Well, that’s telling, Azula thinks. She doesn’t see any other tracks out here, though—at least, certainly not big ones.
. . . don’t elk-caribou come in herds, come to think? She supposes one could’ve gotten separated from the rest, but somehow she feels that’s not the case here.
Well, whatever it is, she doesn’t have a better option right now.
“How interesting,” she says easily. “Sounds like the perfect target.”
“Um . . .” one of the boys starts uncomfortably. Hahn cuts him off.
“Yeah, sure,” he says with a nasty smirk. “An elk-caribou’s perfect.”
Azula smiles at him. What a terrible excuse for a liar, she thinks. He’s going to be the worst chief.
Again, though, whatever actually left these footprints, she doesn’t have a better option.
“Excellent!” she says lightly. “Let’s get going, then. I’d hate to keep Princess Yue waiting, after all.”
Hahn’s smirk turns into a glower. Azula just keeps smiling.
They follow the tracks. They’re not very subtle, assuming Azula’s actually going the correct way, which she’s almost certain she’s managed. The boys were looking in this direction, at least.
She can’t help but notice that most of them are hanging back farther now, including Hahn.
The tracks really are enormous.
Well, the bigger the track, the bigger the pelt, she assumes. So that should work out nicely for her.
They climb a low hill. The boys fall back even farther. Azula rolls her eyes to herself. Useless, she thinks. It’s a good thing she’s not intending to rely on them for any of this. Honestly, you’d think—
They crest the hill. Azula . . . pauses.
Is that some kind of outcropping under the snow, or . . .
The massive white lump on the ground stands up. And up. It towers over the landscape, enormous limbs and wide horns casting a long shadow in the early morning light.
It stomps a heavy hoof into the snow, and gnashes its very, very large teeth.
“That’s not an elk-caribou,” Azula says.
“It’s a saber-toothed snow moose,” one of the other boys says in a small voice. “It’s their mating season.”
“Hm,” Azula says, and then it charges them.
Well. That’s going to be a problem.
The boys yell. Azula throws herself to the side and rolls down the hill, narrowly missing being trampled. The saber-toothed snow moose makes a genuinely unbelievable sound. Azula would not have expected something with “moose” in its name to roar like that, but she supposes the “saber-toothed” part is making up for the “moose”.
Then again, what does she know about moose.
It roars again, stamping and pawing at the ground. The boys have scattered in terror. Azula is covered in snow, so that’s irritating. The saber-toothed snow moose swings its massive head around and focuses on her, baring its massive teeth. They’re far bigger than Mai’s knife.
Of course, she thinks in exasperation, and pulls the knife out of its holster. She holds it the way Mai showed her, but it doesn’t feel comfortable in her grip. The moose tosses its head, then charges again.
The things she does for this family.
Azula rolls to the side again. The moose misses trampling her so narrowly that she feels its hoof scrape against her armored forearm. She spits snow out of her steaming mouth and pushes up into a crouch. The boys are still scattered uselessly, and unsurprisingly none of them seem to have any interest in helping her. Well, that’s fine—she doesn’t need the help.
At least she found a damn animal at all.
Azula inhales, and tightens her grip on the cold metal knife. She can’t firebend at it without ruining the pelt, but . . .
Actually . . .
The saber-toothed snow moose turns and charges again, and Azula exhales, and stays right where she is. She brings up Mai’s knife. A couple of the boys scream. The moose bears down on her, jaws open wide to bite.
She lets it run its mouth right into the knife, and lightning crackles down her arm and bursts through its body.
The moose collapses, thrashing, and agony splits through Azula’s shoulder as its momentum hits her and she loses her grip on the knife and the lightning both. She goes flying and hits the snow painfully, shoulder screaming in agony again and head swimming.
She lets out a breathless little huff.
“Princess Azula!” one of the boys yells. Azula considers getting up, but no, the snow sounds much nicer right now. The snow is definitely nicer. She hears a couple of the boys running over, and a moment later they’re looming over her, looking terrified.
“How’s the pelt?” she asks mildly.
“Uh . . .” the nearest boy says. Azula pushes herself up with the arm that still works, then calmly rakes the snow out of her hair. It’s fallen loose, but the ornament is still there, so she pulls it out and sticks it into Mai’s holster. She looks a mess, no doubt, which is annoying.
“Well?” she asks.
“It’s fine,” Hahn says, sounding disgusted. “Not even scorched.”
“Oh good,” Azula says, smiling pleasantly at him. “How lovely to hear.”
Yue is alone in her rooms, looking at her wedding robes. The servants will be here soon to dress her, but for the moment it's just her and the robes. They're long and heavy and pure white, embroidered in purple, and truly gorgeous.
She thinks the only reason they can look gorgeous to her is because Hahn's not going to be the one marrying her in them.
She's certain, actually.
The servants show up. She smiles politely at them. They help her dress piece by piece. It's time-consuming, and she spends the process wondering how the hunt is going. Azula seemed very sure of herself, but she's getting the impression that Azula doesn't do uncertainty.
She's half-dressed when they hear the commotion outside. She looks towards the window in confusion, wondering what it's all about. One of the servants leans out of it, craning her neck curiously, then recoils with a gasp.
"It's a saber-toothed snow moose!" she exclaims.
"In the palace?!" another servant demands disbelievingly.
"No—well, yes, but—"
"Is everything alright?" Yue asks carefully.
"It's the men and Princess Azula," the servant by the window says. "They brought back a saber-toothed snow moose!"
"What?!" the others demand, and Yue . . . blinks, slowly, and thinks . . . yes, of course.
She walks over to the window and peers out of it, still half-dressed and without her hair even combed yet. In the courtyard below, the men are dragging the body of an enormous saber-toothed snow moose on a large sled. It's so big it hangs over the sides of the sled.
Azula is following after them, her hair loose and tangled and her armor scuffed and one bloody arm held awkwardly at her side, dripping onto the snow. Somehow, she still looks perfectly controlled. The boys and Hahn are following her, looking upset.
"Oh," Yue says, staring down at Azula wonderingly. Azula smiles pleasantly at the steward as he comes up to her. They talk briefly, though Yue can't hear what about from here. She sees Madam Yugoda come hurrying over from the other side of the courtyard and assumes someone must've sent for her. Azula's arm definitely needs healing.
Yue wants very badly to run down there and check on her, but Azula's not supposed to see her yet.
"Please go find out what happened," she says, turning to the closest servant. Usually she wouldn't ask, but . . .
"Of course, Your Highness," the servant says, and hurries away. Yue inhales slowly, then returns to the other servants. They resume dressing her. She manages to stay calm for it. She has no idea how the hunting party killed a saber-toothed snow moose. She's never even seen one so close. It's . . . amazing, actually.
Somehow, she thinks, it must've been Azula.
The servant comes back when she's mostly dressed, though her hair is still down and her outer robes are still hanging by the closet.
"Princess Azula killed it," the servant says, looking incredulous. "With lightning."
"Ah," Yue says, and yes, that sounds right.
"Her shoulder is dislocated. Madam Yugoda took her to the Healing Hut," the servant says. "And her arm got scraped up too, it looks like."
"She's alright, though?" Yue says.
"Yes, Your Highness," the other says. "Um . . . the boys are upset, I think. They . . . tracked it? And it attacked them?"
"On purpose?" another servant says in disbelief. "During its mating season?! Did they want to die?!"
"They said, uh . . . Hahn said they thought it was an elk-caribou," the first servant says uncertainly. Yue . . . blinks. She can't be serious. Elk-caribou tracks don't look anything like saber-toothed snow moose tracks. Even she knows that.
"They did?" she says with a frown. "But that's . . ."
The servants share nervous looks, and Yue realizes—
They did it on purpose, she realizes, and then she's already gathered up her robes and run through the door, rushing towards the courtyard, face hot and feeling . . . feeling very . . .
"Your Highness!" one of the servants says anxiously, a few of them hurrying behind her. They probably want to stop her, but she can't even stop herself right now.
Yue bursts into the courtyard, still half-dressed, still with all her hair down. Azula's gone. The first person she actively recognizes among the hunters is Hahn.
"What did you do?" she demands, storming up to him. He looks at her in confusion. He's never seen her like this, probably. She doesn't think anyone has, and now everyone out here is all at once.
She doesn't care.
"Nothing," he lies.
"You told her it was an elk-caribou!" Yue shouts at him without meaning to shout, and he looks startled.
"She was the one who couldn't read the tracks," he says derisively, and Yue feels a rush of fury and—
"You're horrible!" she shouts again, and then she punches him in the face just like Ty Lee showed her. He yelps, probably more from shock than pain, and she kicks his shin. He yelps again. She hopes it hurt. "She beat you! What kind of chief are you going to be, that you can't even accept that?!"
"Yue, what the hell!" he sputters indignantly. She almost punches him again, but the servants catch up and swarm her.
"Your Highness!" they exclaim in worried unison.
"He tried to sabotage my wedding!" Yue fumes accusingly. If she were a waterbender, Hahn would be frozen to the ground right now. If she had something to throw, she'd have thrown it at his head. "How dare you?!"
"I didn't do anything!" Hahn snaps defensively. "She got herself in over her head!"
"She killed it just fine!" Yue shoots back, pointing at the dead saber-toothed snow moose. "You're the one who's in over his head! You could've gotten her killed, you selfish brat!"
"What did you just call me?!" Hahn says.
"You heard me!" she says, and then the crowd parts and Father's standing there, just looking at them. Yue's too angry to even be embarrassed.
"Father," she says at the same time Hahn says, "Chief Arnook." Neither of them sounds calm at all, but Yue still doesn't care.
"What happened?" Father says.
"We sent the young men with Princess Azula," one of the older hunters says sourly, jerking his head towards the sled. "They told her it was an elk-caribou's tracks."
Father's expression darkens. The boys all cringe, except for Hahn, who straightens up.
"It's her own fault! She didn't even know what it was!" he says, defensive and petulant.
"Hahn," Father says tersely. "I've never heard a warrior say something more disgraceful."
Hahn blanches, then flushes in humiliation. Yue still wants to hit him again. She puts a hand on her engagement necklace and the pressure of the cold metal almost helps her calm herself. Almost.
"He got Princess Azula injured," she says. "They had to take her to the Healing Hut."
"She's fine!" Hahn says.
"She was bleeding!"
Father looks at them. Hahn bites back whatever he was about to say. Yue draws herself up, just waiting for him to make another excuse.
"Hahn, I'll see you in the war room. We need to talk," Father says. "Yue . . . please let the servants finish dressing you. I think you've upset them."
"Yes, sir," Hahn mutters.
"Yes, Father," Yue says, face just barely flushing. She's not sorry, but . . .
Well, no. She's not sorry. She'd do exactly the same thing again.
That's a strange thought to have, but she's not sorry about that, either.
The old woman takes off Azula's armor and puts her hands on her throbbing shoulder.
"This will hurt," she says, then wrenches it back into place without further warning. Azula snarls in pain. She might set her on fire, usually, but she appreciates the pragmatism. She's got things to do today, after all.
"You've got quite the pain tolerance," the old woman says, drawing water out of the snow and pressing it to her bloody shoulder.
"Oh?" Azula says. "How kind of you to notice."
"Is anything else injured?" the old woman asks as the blood washes away. Azula's about to answer her when the water starts to spiritsdamn glow.
"It's healing you," the old woman says, and Azula very vaguely remembers hearing that waterbenders could do that, but also what the hell does that actually have to do with water?
"I see," she says instead of staring at her. Apparently she knows what female waterbenders do now. "Well, that's handy."
"A bit," the old woman says, drawing the water back. "You should have most of the range of motion back. It'll be back to normal in a day or two."
"Very handy," Azula says approvingly. She doesn't get injured often, but she definitely appreciates not having to deal with the consequences. Even the scrapes are all gone.
"Azula!" Ty Lee exclaims, bursting into the hut with Mai following at a more reasonable pace. "Are you okay?!"
"Hardly a scratch," Azula replies dismissively, ignoring all the blood on her armor and tracked in through the door. She's going to have to change for the ceremony, she supposes.
"You’re bleeding!" Ty Lee says, visibly distressed.
“I was bleeding,” Azula corrects, pulling her armor back on. “Do me a favor and fix my hair, will you, it’s a mess.”
“There’s blood in it!” Ty Lee says in horror, and Azula sighs.
“Alright,” she says. “Bath first, I suppose.”
They head back to the ship and Azula washes the blood out of her hair and off her armor and gets changed. Ty Lee ties her hair up for her, and Azula inspects herself in the mirror critically.
“There we are,” she says in satisfaction. “Much better.”
“They said you killed a saber-toothed snow moose,” Mai says.
“I did,” Azula replies, returning her knife. The wrap around the handle is scorched.
“Left us out of the fun again,” Mai says, tilting her head as she inspects the wrap. Azula smirks at her.
“It was rather fun seeing their faces after,” she says smugly.
“Aren’t saber-toothed snow moose huge?” Ty Lee says.
“Yes,” Azula says. She’s still amazed she didn’t get crushed by the body, frankly. She did her best to avoid that, obviously, she just had no idea if it’d actually work. “So they ought to be quite pleased with the wedding feast and resulting pelt.”
“They’d better be,” Mai snorts.
“If they complain at this point, I’m just conquering the North Pole and calling it done,” Azula says. “Come on. Let’s get back to the palace and figure out what the hell they’re going to try and dress me in. I want time to burn it if it’s terrible.”
“Makes sense,” Mai says, and they head back to the palace. Someone’s taken the saber-toothed snow moose away, presumably to cook or something. Azula assumes that’ll be time-consuming, given its size.
She heads to the tailors’ room and finds them all in a flurry. She supposes a wedding would require a lot from the tailors, all things considered.
“Am I interrupting?” she says, raising an eyebrow. A few of the tailors squeak in surprise.
“Princess Azula!” one exclaims.
“Yes, that would be me,” Azula says, smiling pleasantly at her. “I assumed I should come to you for the wedding clothes.”
“Ah—yes, of course!” The tailor looks flustered. A few of the others flurry behind her, then come forward with a heavy white and blue cloak. Azula tilts her head, mildly curious, and they unveil it.
The blue is embroidered flames.
Isn’t that cute, she thinks.
“Oh, it’s so pretty!” Ty Lee says delightedly, clapping her hands to her cheeks. “It looks just like your fire, Azula!”
“It’ll do,” Azula says, and the tailors visibly relax. White’s a bit odd for a wedding, in her opinion, but apparently it doesn’t mean the same thing in the Water Tribe as it does the Fire Nation. At least, she’s assuming not.
“Are you ready to be dressed, Princess Azula?” the closest tailor says.
“Haven’t the faintest idea,” Azula replies with a shrug. “I already went on the hunt, I don’t know what they expect me to be doing now.”
“Princess Yue should be ready by now,” the tailor says, looking out the window. “They can’t expect to take much longer, at least.”
“They’re behind, though,” one of the tailors says with a nervous giggle.
“Behind?” The first one frowns at her. The girl gives Azula a nervous look, then giggles again.
“Princess Yue went down and shouted at Hahn after the hunt,” she says. “She punched him.”
“Oh, did she?” Ty Lee brightens as Azula stares at the girl in bemusement. “How was her form?”
“Um . . . she punched him?” the girl says.
“Shouted at him about what?” Azula asks.
“For lying to you, of course. And getting you hurt,” the girl says. Azula laughs.
“Very funny,” she says in amusement. “No, really.”
“That . . . was it?” the girl says, looking confused.
“Did she break his nose?” Mai says. “We tried to show her how to do that.”
“I don’t think so,” the girl says. Mai makes a disappointed noise; Ty Lee sighs.
“Well, she’s learning,” she says diplomatically.
“You showed her how to break someone’s nose?” Azula asks, bemused. “When?”
“While you were finishing up with the treaty!” Ty Lee says. “The boys were bothering her. We figured it’d help.”
“Technically we mostly showed her pressure points, but the nose-breaking’s usually easier,” Mai says.
“Yeah, it’s hard to hit a pressure point through a parka,” Ty Lee says with a frown. “It’s not as accurate, you know? And they’re thick, too!”
“So she punched Hahn,” Azula says speculatively. “Well, it’s a shame we missed that.”
“And she kicked him in the shin!” the girl says with a sheepish giggle. The other tailors look a bit bemused.
“That’s great!” Ty Lee says.
“It’s a start,” Mai says allowingly.
“I have no idea how to feel about this,” Azula says.
“It’s good!” Ty Lee says. “We’ll show her some more on the boat. We’re not gonna have much else to do on the trip home, right?”
“Point,” Azula allows. She supposes it can’t hurt. Yue could certainly use a little more experience hitting people.
She really does wish she’d caught her punching Hahn, though. She’d wanted to do it herself just about the whole way back, but that would’ve let him know he’d irritated her, and she’d rather he know how insignificantly unimportant he is to her than anything else.
Even if it had been very, very tempting.
“For the moment, though . . .” She gives the cloak a significant look, and the tailors immediately start fussing over it and her. It’s mildly annoying, but no more annoying than the average Fire Nation tailor. And anyway, she doesn’t want to deal with any complaints from any idiot Water Tribe men. She’s handled quite enough of those this week, thank you very much.
Anyway, it’s really not a bad cloak, when all is said and done.
Yue waits in her rooms as the servants flit around her doing last-minute preparations, and she rubs at her slightly sore knuckles as she sits in her seat and looks out the window at the water for the last time. She’ll never do this again. Even if she comes back to visit, she’ll be in different rooms—wherever they put up visiting Fire Nation dignitaries. So this is the last time.
She might never even set foot in the palace again, after tonight.
A servant finishes pinning back her hair. Another one smooths the line of her cloak. Another packs away the last contents of her closet. Yue feels . . . so many things.
It’s just . . . so many things.
It won’t be long now, she thinks. It won’t be long at all.
She’s ready, she thinks, or as ready as she can possibly be. The next time she sees Azula, they’ll be getting married. The next time she sees Father, he’ll be signing the treaty.
She’s ready, she tells herself again, stomach all fluttery and nauseous at the same time.
She asked for this, and this is what the spirits gave her.
Yes. She’s ready.
Yue exhales, and rubs at her sore knuckles again.
It won’t be long now.
“Princess Yue,” the steward says from the doorway. She turns to look at him. “It’s time.”
“Of course,” Yue says, and gets to her feet for the last time in these rooms. She feels the weight of Azula’s necklace around her throat, and the weight of her wedding robes on her shoulders. She hopes she’ll look pretty, to Azula. She wants to think Azula will think she’s pretty.
It’d be nice, at least.
The steward leads the way, and Yue follows him. He walks down the hall, and she wonders if this is the last time she’ll ever walk down it. She wonders if a lot of things are going to be lasts. Will she ever eat Water Tribe food again? Will she ever see snow again, or the northern lights? Will she ever see Father again?
She has so many questions, and no idea what any of the answers are going to be.
It’s not exactly the time to ask, for one thing.
The sun’s going down. The moon is rising, fat and full. Yue . . .
Yue isn’t sure how she feels right now or what she should be thinking, but she hopes that Tui will approve anyway. She prayed to the spirits for this, so . . . she thinks they should, shouldn’t they?
Or she hopes, maybe. Maybe someone else answered that particular prayer. She doesn’t have any way to know.
Azula isn’t Hahn. That’s all she asked for.
That’s all she asked for, but Azula is also a pleasant smile and a smug smirk and the crackle of lightning, shining blue fire and ruthless precision, and not a nice person, but a girl who can beat up boys and kill a saber-toothed snow moose, and . . . and . . .
And who has soft lips, and a sharp wit, and who is very, very beautiful.
So really, Yue thinks, the spirits have treated her rather well, given how few specifics she gave them to go off.
In the prettily decorated courtyard, there’s a gathered crowd of Water Tribe citizens and Fire Nation soldiers sitting at long tables loaded with festival food, and Yue pauses just outside, waiting. Father is standing at the front of things with his advisors and the scribes, Fire Nation included, and the treaty is being laid out with careful reverence for its importance. She doesn’t see Azula, but Mai and Ty Lee are sitting at one of the closer tables. Ty Lee glimpses her, and waves excitedly. Yue manages a timid smile, and waves her fingers back at her.
She wonders if they’ll get married in the Fire Nation, too. She wonders what that would be like.
She supposes it doesn’t matter, really, but she wonders all the same.
The steward goes to Father. He glances her way, and a brief flash of pain and pride crosses his face. Yue tries to look good and dutiful and happy, which is much harder than looking good and dutiful. But Father wants her to be happy, and she’s not marrying Hahn, and it’s not too much for him to ask for. She can give him that.
She’s almost sure she can, she thinks.
She doesn’t look to see if Hahn is here.
On the other side of the courtyard, Azula steps out from a doorway wearing a long white cloak emblazoned with blue flames over her armor, and Yue stares at her in wonder. The cloak is gorgeous, especially for how quickly it had to have been made, and Azula looks exactly like she’s looked every other time that Yue’s seen her, and yet . . .
Maybe it’s the low lantern light and the light of the rising full moon, she thinks to herself, but if it is, Tui is being very kind.
She really does hope Azula will think she’s pretty too.
Father beckons her, and Yue steps out into the courtyard. Too many people are looking at her, but she’s used to being looked at, so that’s . . . fine, really.
Azula’s looking at her too, wearing that pleasant smile she always wears. Yue wishes she were affecting her a little more, maybe, but then again, she doesn’t think Azula would let it show if she were. They both approach Father and the others, and they stand side by side in front of them. Yue resists the urge to watch Azula out of the corner of her eye, though she really, really wants to.
Azula really does look so pretty.
Father looks at them. Yue clasps her hands together and, again, tries to look good and dutiful and happy. She’s not sure what Azula’s doing. Probably smiling, though.
If she is, Yue wants it to be because of her.
The wedding is very simple in the end, though it’s a lot more complicated a ceremony than most people have in the Water Tribe. Yue’s only been to a few weddings, mostly between nobles, and none of them were this lavishly decorated or had so much fancy food or so many people all dressed in their best clothes. She feels a little overwhelmed, even having known what to expect. It’s . . . a lot.
Azula signs the treaty in sharp, jagged High Fire. Father signs in looping Noble Water.
Yue looks at Azula, and Azula looks back at her, and Father says, “May your union be blessed by the spirits, as our peoples’ union may be, and may it be long and happy.”
Azula smiles, wide and wicked, and Yue’s heart leaps into her throat.
“Take care of each other,” Father says.
Yue doesn’t even wait for Azula to lean in. She kisses her immediately, and Azula for a moment makes a soft, startled little noise, and then—then Yue pulls back, before anything else can happen. Her face feels hot, and her necklace feels heavy, and her robes are stifling.
She should’ve kissed her for longer, she thinks.
The watching crowd cheers, and Yue’s face burns hotter, and Azula watches her with a strange expression that she can’t quite figure out. It’s . . . confusing.
So is all of this, really.
The feast starts. They sit at the head table side by side beside Father, but it’s so loud in the courtyard that Yue’s not even sure Azula would hear her if she spoke.
She wants to touch her hand underneath the table, but isn’t quite brave enough to.
She rubs at her sore knuckles, and waits.
The wedding and treaty signing are both surprisingly simple. Yue’d described the likely ceremony to her in the ice gardens, but Azula’d assumed she’d been simplifying things for the cultural outsider. It’d seemed much too straightforward for either politics or royalty.
Apparently she wasn’t, though, given how quickly they get through the process and end up sitting at the head table. The chief barely even gives a speech, and neither of them have to speak at all. The Water Tribe citizens seem cheerful and talkative, and her soldiers seem to be responding in kind. They’re looking a bit too familiar, actually, but now’s not really the time to be threatening the troops into better behavior. She’s going to remember it when it’s time for morning calisthenics, though.
Ty Lee is definitely looking too familiar with the Water Tribe citizens, happily chatting up a whole tableful of girls, but that’s Ty Lee. She knows what to keep her mouth shut about.
At least Mai’s being Mai, if nothing else.
Azula feels watched, and glances over to Yue to find the other already looking at her. Yue’s face reddens and she ducks her head. Her hands are folded together under the table and she’s barely touched her food. Neither has Azula, but that’s because she has no idea what a “sea prune” is and no desire to learn. She’s mostly concentrated on the meat.
She flashes back to the ceremony for a second, and remembers the quick press of Yue’s lips against her own. That makes four times Yue’s kissed her, assuming one counts the kiss on the hand. Azula’s only kissed her once, and that only if a kiss on the hand counts.
She probably needs to adjust that ratio, she thinks, but the idea is oddly . . . not flustering, because Azula doesn’t fluster, just . . .
She wouldn’t have expected it, honestly. Yue’s been so reserved otherwise, but apparently despite that she’s the sort of girl to kiss someone when her chaperone’s not around and punch a boy who’s offended her in the middle of the courtyard. That much will serve her well in the Fire Nation, at least. Azula doesn’t have the time to be worrying over her honor all the time; she has a war to win. It’ll be better if Yue can do at least some of it for herself.
She thinks about the kiss again, for some reason.
She’s still not flustered, but . . .
“We need to go soon,” Yue says.
“Go?” Azula raises an eyebrow at her.
“To the Spirit Oasis,” Yue says. “We have to pray to the moon spirit.”
“Ah, yes,” Azula says. She still has no idea what she’s supposed to sacrifice to the damn thing. What would a spirit even want, anyway, much less a moon? She’s nowhere near Water Tribe enough to know.
Not that Yue did either, when she asked. And if anyone should know, it’d apparently be her.
“Are you ready?” Yue says.
“Not remotely,” Azula answers, a bit more honest than she’d usually be with someone other than Mai or Ty Lee. It’s reflexive, though, and she supposes it’s something a wife would do. Who’s Yue going to tell, anyway? “I’ll work it out one way or another, though.”
“Alright,” Yue says, and seems to believe her.
Good. Yue’s long since proved herself smarter than just about everyone else on this damn iceberg.
Yue eats her meal. Azula eats . . . well, something. She doesn’t actually know what a significant share of it is, but it all appears to be digestible.
The meat is definitely preferable, either way.
The chief looks over at them and their mostly empty plates as Yue’s nibbling at a sea prune and Azula’s eyeing one with all due suspicion.
“It’s time,” he says. “The moon is nearly at its highest.”
“Yes, Father,” Yue says, dipping her head in a nod.
“Of course, Chief Arnook,” Azula says with a pleasant smile. She stands up and holds out a hand to help Yue up from her own seat. Yue looks startled, but takes it. Her face is red again, for some reason. Azula suspects the sea prunes.
“We won’t be long, Father,” Yue says. She doesn’t let go of Azula’s hand, oddly.
Well, it’s probably the sort of thing they’re expected to do, Azula supposes, and follows her out of the courtyard. Ty Lee and Mai give her questioning looks; she waves them off. They won’t be long, as Yue said. Can’t take that long to make a sacrifice, whatever that sacrifice might end up being.
“I still don’t know what the moon spirit is going to ask for.” Yue says as they walk, glancing over at her. Azula shrugs dismissively. Really, she should’ve brought her jewelry box after all. Expensive things usually suffice for offerings, in her experience.
“They’ll ask for what they ask for, I suppose,” she says.
“You’re not scared of anything, are you,” Yue says.
“Oh, no,” Azula replies easily. “Things are scared of me.”
Yue lets out a soft laugh, looking away for a moment. She tightens her grip on Azula’s hand just a bit, even though there’s no one around to be expecting them to be holding hands. Azula’s not sure what to expect from her, which is a very strange feeling. She’s normally very good at knowing what to expect from people.
Normally those people don’t hold her hand, admittedly. She can’t even remember the last time someone did. Maybe Ty Lee, at some point? Maybe Zuko, a very long time ago.
She supposes it doesn’t really matter. They haven’t known each other that long; she’ll figure Yue out soon enough.
Yue keeps leading the way. Azula keeps pace with her. She’s not really sure where they’re going, because “the Spirit Oasis” wasn’t particularly illuminating as a description. Apparently it’s somewhere she hasn’t been before, and presumably an oasis is involved. Though she’d think that’d be more a desert thing than a tundra one, so that’s an unusual choice of name, come to think.
Well, they’ll get there soon enough. It’s not really a concern.
And they do, of course, get there soon enough.
It is an oasis, at least in the sense that any place made of snow and ice can be. Yue walks to the water, and Azula continues to follow. There are two koi fish in it, one white and one black, and both are swimming in the same circle.
Yue looks at her. Azula looks back, not entirely sure what she’s expected to do.
“. . . they’re fish,” she says finally, raising an eyebrow.
“They’re Tui and La,” Yue says, squeezing her hand. “The Moon and the Ocean.”
“Ah,” Azula says. “Of course.”
She looks down at the fish. They keep swimming obliviously around each other, seeming entirely uninterested in anything else that might be going on, much less the two of them. She . . . continues to have no idea what to do.
“Yue,” she says finally, looking back to the other. “I have absolutely no clue what your fish want.”
Yue lets out another soft laugh, then smiles sheepishly at her.
“That’s the first time you’ve just called me ‘Yue’,” she says.
“Well, we are married,” Azula says, not embarrassed but . . . something. Something she’s not used to feeling.
The water starts to glow. Azula looks down at it; so does Yue. The fish keep swimming their same circle.
“Tui,” Yue says, squeezing Azula’s hand again. “I’m going to leave the North Pole. We came to ask for your permission.”
“‘Permission’?” Azula mutters. From a fish?
“Your blessing,” Yue says, touching the sun engraved in her necklace with her free hand. “If you’ll give it.”
The water glows a little brighter. Azula feels the irrational urge to tug Yue behind herself before something happens, though she has no idea what’s actually happening. Yue’s not exactly equipped for anything dangerous, though, even discounting her heavy wedding robes. The water laps at the shore.
Yue’s eyes are almost as bright as the water, she can’t help but notice.
She never did get around to complimenting them.
“Azula,” Yue says, squeezing her hand again, and it feels . . . strange, a little, hearing her say it. “You know what to give them, right?”
“I have no idea,” Azula says, looking at her eyes for a moment longer before looking back to the water. It’s still glowing. The fish are still swimming. Yue’s still holding her hand and touching her necklace.
She really doesn’t know what to do here.
Azula’s still looking at the water. Yue can’t take her eyes off her, though. She really is beautiful, and even more-so in the moonlight. She wants to say that, but she’s not sure if she should right now. It’d be . . . distracting, probably.
“You can figure it out,” she says, even though she has no idea either. Azula’s so clever, though. So sharp and so smart. “I know you can.”
“Mm,” Azula says. She leans down, frowning, and dips her free hand into the water. Tui and La swim a little slower, but don’t stop. Maybe she’s imagining it, Yue thinks. They might not be.
The glow of the water reflects off Azula's face. It makes her eyes look lightning-blue.
Yue bites her lip. She wants to help her with this, but she doesn't know how to. She wants to be a good wife, and do what a good wife would do.
"You can," she repeats. Azula's frown deepens.
Tui and La shift in the water, and swim around Azula's extended hand.
"Tui?" Yue says hesitantly.
The water glows even brighter; enough so Yue winces. Azula's staring straight into it.
She exhales fire, blue and bright, and Yue has to close her eyes. The light is blinding.
And then it's gone.
Yue cracks open an eye, uncertain. Azula's still staring into the water, but it's not glowing anymore. Tui and La are back to their original positions, like they’d never left them at all.
"Azula?" Yue tries. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," Azula says. She straightens back up. She looks over to Yue, still faintly frowning. "I don't know what happened."
"You don't?" Yue says.
"It just glowed," Azula says. "That's all."
"Oh." Yue looks down at Tui and La again. They keep swimming. She's . . . not sure what to think. "They didn't . . . ask for anything?"
"No," Azula says.
"Oh," Yue repeats. She has an awful thought, suddenly, and—"Can you still firebend?"
Azula opens the palm of her free hand and blue flame bursts into existence, then snuffs out and crackles into lightning. Yue feels relief, quick and sharp.
"Okay," she says. "That's good."
"I don't know what they took," Azula says warily.
"Maybe they didn't take anything?" Yue says uncertainly.
"That seems extremely unlikely," Azula says.
"You don't seem any different . . ." Yue trails off, flicking her eyes over Azula's face and body. Everything looks the same, at least under the moonlight. "Does anything hurt?"
"My shoulder, but that's been hurting since that saber-toothed snow moose nearly ripped my arm off," Azula says. "I doubt it's related."
"I suppose not," Yue says. She frowns too for a moment, but she still doesn't even know what Tui might've wanted. She can't imagine what they would've taken.
She looks down at Tui and La again, and . . . frowns. It's dim and moonlit here, so maybe she's seeing it wrong, but . . .
La didn't have golden eyes before, did they?
She flicks her own eyes back to Azula, who still doesn't look any different, moonlit or not.
"I think they gave us their blessing," she says finally, because she's not sure what else this would be.
"It seems that way," Azula says. Yue . . . pauses, then steps in closer towards her. She still hasn't been able to bring herself to let go of her hand.
"I'm glad," she says quietly.
"Certainly wouldn't want Hahn here," Azula says agreeably, which is true, but . . .
"No," Yue agrees. She doesn't really know if Tui approves, but she hopes so. This is what the spirits gave her, after all. "I'd much rather have you."
"I'd hope I was an improvement, yes," Azula says wryly.
"You are," Yue says earnestly, gripping her hand tight. Azula gives her a pleasant smile. Yue wants . . .
She wants something a little realer than that smile, she thinks.
"I wouldn't have asked for the spirits to give Hahn their blessing," she says, and then she leans in, and . . . hesitates, just a little. She keeps kissing Azula first, and she's not sure if it's welcome. She really wants to do it, but . . .
"Well, he hardly deserves it," Azula snorts. Yue really wants to kiss her. She's not sure if Azula doesn’t want to or just doesn't realize she wants to, though.
"Azula," she says.
"Hm?" Azula tilts her head. Yue can't help herself, and kisses her after all. Azula makes that quiet little surprised noise again, stilling in place. Yue wonders if she'll ever not be surprised to be kissed.
It doesn't seem like it should be a surprise, to her.
"Thank you. For coming here, I mean," she says, and then she kisses her again.
And then, after a moment, Azula kisses her back.
It happens to both of them at exactly the same moment, and it feels just the same.