Ty Lee shivered as she stood at the edge of the water. It lapped at her feet and splashed against her shins, sending chills down her back. Ember Island was renowned for its warm, inviting weather, but that didn’t mean the nights weren’t chilly. The brunette hugged her arms closer. The gentle breeze caught stray wisps of her hair, and she frowned in annoyance as they tickled her face. A quiet sigh escaped her lips as she recalled the events earlier this evening; Chan’s party, their little group’s “discussion” at the campfire, the subsequent crashing and utter destruction of Chan’s party. Not only had Ty Lee had fun, she had made real progress with her friends.
The thought of deepening her relationships with her friends brought a smile to Ty Lee’s face. All three of them were usually so closed off when it came to sharing their feelings, so tonight’s little campfire chat came as a bit of a shock. Lo and Li were right; rough edges had been smoothed. But were they soft? Ty Lee almost chuckled. Definitely not. Zuko still isolated himself from the others, refusing to let anyone in. Mai continued to be as reserved as she always was, save for the occasional scathing remark. As for Azula…
Azula. Just the thought of the haughty princess sent little tingles down Ty Lee’s spine, though she wasn’t quite sure why. Maybe it was something about how she practically radiated confidence at all times. Perhaps it was the way Ty Lee was one of the lucky few who ever received a genuine smile from her. It might have even been that she alone had the satisfaction of knowing that Azula was jealous of the attention she garnered from all those boys on the beach, or even at Chan’s party.
The acrobat brushed a stray piece of hair from her face. When her calloused fingertips met with the softness of her cheek, she couldn’t help but imagine someone else’s fingers shooing away those stubborn hairs. Someone else with hands hardened from training, but still graceful and tender. Someone with long, slender hands and a perfectly kept manicure despite weeks of traveling through rural countryside.
Azula. The name floated through her thoughts again, this time sending a rush of warmth through her ribcage. Azula, daughter of Firelord Ozai. Azula, who sought out Ty Lee personally to recruit her help for an important mission instead of sending some royal messenger with an impersonal note. Azula, who looked absolutely ravishing in her red swimsuit.
Shaking herself from her daydreaming, Ty Lee made small circles in the wet sand with her big toe. She watched the waves recede and then rush forward to erase all the marks her foot made in the sand. After a few moments, she decided it was time to leave; she wasn’t sure exactly what time it was, but she knew it had to be very late. She let out another small sigh as she turned toward the house they were staying in. What a quaint little house it was, she thought. Cozy, almost.
As she walked up the wooden steps to the front door, her mind wandered back to the party. Azula had been jealous of her. Ty Lee would never have imagined such a thing. Azula was a princess, and a pretty perfect one at that. Ty Lee knew her friend prided herself on being flawless, or at least being able to convince everyone else that she was. She knew Azula wasn’t really perfect - nobody was - but she knew that Azula made sure she was pretty damn close.
That was the thing that surprised Ty Lee the most about their earlier conversation at the campfire: Azula had opened up about how she felt , albeit only for a few seconds. It happened so rarely that Ty Lee was never quite prepared when it did. She had let down her walls just for a moment, just long enough for Ty Lee to get a deeper look into her motivations, her desires, and her fears. It was somehow very satisfying, paired with the memory of Azula’s prior admission to jealousy. Azula wasn’t as perfect as she tried to act; she was just an insecure teenager like everyone else.
Ty Lee slowly opened the door, careful not to let the hinges squeak and alert everyone of her little late-evening stroll. She tiptoed past the bedroom that Lo and Li shared, although she wasn’t sure her footsteps could be heard over the loud snoring coming from the room anyway. She poked her head around the corner. All seemed peaceful in the small house.
She almost screamed when she felt a hand touch her shoulder from behind. Whipping around, she found herself face to face with Azula, who quickly slapped a hand across her mouth to prevent her from making any noise. The princess put a finger over her lips and made a shushing noise, nodding towards the faint light in the bathroom. Ty Lee’s eyes followed her gesture and immediately noticed the shadow underneath the bathroom door. How had she not noticed that when she walked in?
“Mai?” She mouthed at Azula. She received a nod in reply.
The figure approached the door right as Azula pulled Ty Lee back around the corner to hide. They could hear Mai’s soft, shuffling steps fade off into the other room. The door clicked shut, and Azula rolled her eyes as she heard her brother’s sleepy voice welcome her friend back into the bed they were not supposed to be sharing. When she was certain things were peaceful once again, Azula removed her hand from Ty Lee’s mouth. “Ridiculous, that’s what it is. They were explicitly told to stay out of each other’s rooms at night.” She whispered.
“Oh come on Azula, I think it’s kinda cute,” Ty Lee responded with a dreamy sigh. “Romantic, even.”
Azula groaned quietly and stepped back to stretch, obviously unwilling to think about all the “romance” that happened in that room. Ty Lee couldn’t help but admire her friend as she arched her back, making that satisfied face everyone makes when they have a good stretch. What a lovely physique she had; years of training will do that.
One tiny sliver of moonbeam shone through the window, illuminating Azula’s features. Somehow her face looked softer at night. Maybe it was because her friend had none of her usual makeup on, or maybe it was that she wasn’t wearing her normal frown. Regardless, she really was beautiful. Sometimes Ty Lee wondered why Azula didn’t have a boyfriend - then she remembered how every boy she met was terrified of her, and how Azula was (surprisingly) so inept at flirting.
“Why are you up so late anyway?” Azula’s voice brought Ty Lee back to the present.
The brunette shrugged casually. “I don’t know, I couldn’t sleep I guess.”
Azula bent forward, stretching her hamstrings. Ty Lee couldn’t avoid a quick glance at Azula’s backside in that thin silk robe. Gorgeous. “Neither could I. Strange, because I never have a problem sleeping. Perhaps it was that punch Chan gave me.”
Ty Lee cocked her head. “You had some of the punch? Azula, everyone knew that punch was spiked with something.”
Azula straightened, turning to face Ty Lee. The frown was back. “Well clearly I didn’t, Ty Lee. Are you implying that I’m a fool for drinking it?”
The acrobat held her hands up in defense. “Of course not, Azula!”
“Then what are you implying?”
“I’m not implying anything!” She stiffened a little as Azula took a step towards her. “Pretty much everyone drank the punch, I just thought they drank it because they knew what was in it.”
Ty Lee relaxed a bit as Azula seemed to calm down. Azula could be so intense without meaning to be, and it was probably a huge factor in why boys didn’t approach her often. As she thought about boys, she remembered that Azula had walked off for a house tour with a certain host. “Hey Azula, what happened with Chan? He took you on a tour of the house, right?”
Ty Lee noticed that her expression changed, but she couldn’t place what emotion the princess was feeling. Her thoughts were interrupted by a loud snore from Lo (or maybe Li?), and she realized that this probably wasn’t the place to talk. She motioned to the door questioningly, and Azula seemed to get the hint. They both quietly crept across the room toward the door, and Ty Lee held it open so Azula could lead the way. She shut the door behind her and joined Azula, who was already sitting on the top step. Ty Lee watched her friend’s face closely as she gazed out at the water. There was something in her eyes that she couldn’t identify. Regret? Embarrassment, maybe?
“We walked out to the balcony and talked. He joked about Ember Island being so sandy.”
“Did you laugh like I taught you?”
“Well yes, I did.”
Ty Lee raised an eyebrow. “So what’s the problem?”
A sigh, then a few moments of silence. “He told me I’m pretty, and he kissed me.”
The acrobat’s eyes widened in surprise. She had never even considered Azula being that successful so quickly. “How is that a problem? He’s so cute!”
“I went a little...overboard." She hesitated for a moment before continuing. "I told him we would be the strongest couple in the entire world, and that we would rule the earth together. It intimidated him, to say the least.”
Ty Lee almost giggled at the thought of her friend being so intense after one little kiss, but the look on Azula’s face told her that laughing right now would be a bad idea. The princess groaned in frustration and embarrassment. “He walked away and left me on the balcony! What was I supposed to do after that?”
“Maybe you should’ve had some more of that punch to forget about it,” Ty Lee joked. She gulped when Azula didn’t laugh. Uh oh. She braced for the worst.
“I just wanted someone to like me.”
Oh. Ty Lee had never heard this tone before. It sounded so small, so vulnerable. Not befitting of the haughty princess Azula made herself out to be. She sounded genuinely hurt, and that made Ty Lee’s heart ache for her friend. “Azula, people do like you.”
“Who?” The response was so quiet it was barely audible over the sound of the waves on the nearby shore.
Azula turned to face her friend. Ty Lee had never looked more sincere than in that moment. Her big, brown eyes had never looked so kind, so gentle. She shook her head. “No, Ty Lee. I mean I wanted someone to like me like me.”
“Oh.” Came the quiet reply.
It seemed that there was nothing else to say, so the pair sat in silence for a while as they stared out at the endless ocean stretching in front of them. The dark water moved and rolled in infinite ways, it soon became almost hypnotizing to watch. Ty Lee’s thoughts swirled much like the water in front of her as she tried to find words of comfort for her friend. There were many things she considered saying before she realized they were too harsh for someone like Azula to handle. Azula didn’t like criticism.
She also considered trying to explain other things to Azula. More advice? Or maybe she should tell her that all boys are stupid? She really didn’t think either of those categories fit the situation very well, so she kept quiet.
She stole a glance at her friend, who seemed lost in a world of thoughts all her own. Ty Lee knew she needed something to cheer her friend up, or at least restore her confidence. Wait, maybe that was it. It was a crazy idea, but it was late at night and Azula had had some of that punch so maybe she’d concede.
“Try it on me.”
Azula raised an eyebrow as she turned to face Ty Lee. “What are you talking about? Try what on you exactly?”
“Try it again, your whole interaction with Chan on the balcony. You be yourself, I’ll be Chan. Practice makes perfect, right?”
Azula thought back to their lesson at the party. Those few pieces of advice had gotten her pretty far and Ty Lee was right, she needed more practice with flirting. She looked at the genuine concern on her friend’s face as she considered her offer, carefully weighing its merits. Perhaps it was the punch, or the late hour, but she figured that a little practice wouldn’t hurt. Finally, she nodded. “Fine. Let’s do it.”
Ty Lee clasped her hands in her lap calmly. “Alright, first tell me what Chan said. Then I’ll say it and you can practice your responses!”
The princess still seemed wary (and probably still a bit embarrassed of the whole ordeal), but she put a finger to her chin in thought as she recalled the moment on the balcony. “Well like I said, Chan started talking about all the sand on Ember Island. He called it Sandyville or something. No, Sandyland.”
There were a few moments of silence as Ty Lee contemplated her next move. Eventually the brunette puffed out her chest and started her best impersonation of the douchebag known as Chan. “So, Ember Island huh? Pretty sandy. They should really call it Sandyland!”
Azula looked amused at her friend’s impression, then she laughed. Not the fake cackle Ty Lee had heard at the party, but a much more genuine laugh. A soft, quiet laugh that didn’t seem at all like it could come from such a powerful member of the Fire Nation. Ty Lee felt the warmth rise on her cheeks, but she managed to stay in character and laugh with her. When their laughter died down, there were a few awkward moments of silence before Ty Lee spoke up again. “So, what happened next? Is that when he told you he thinks you’re pretty?”
Azula shook her head. “No, not yet. I complimented his muscles, then he kissed me, then he said that I’m pretty.”
Silence. Ty Lee gave her friend a gentle nudge on the arm so they could resume the conversation.
“Ah yes, sorry. Your arms look so strong, Chan.”
Ty Lee lowered her voice in her Chan impression again, and she flexed her arm muscles directly in front of Azula’s face in an attempt to make her laugh again. Gods, to hear her laugh was like listening to the most beautiful music in the world. “Oh I know, baby.”
Her ears were blessed with Azula’s gentle laugh again, but only for a few fleeting moments. The two girls sat awkwardly on the step for several minutes, avoiding eye contact. They both knew what came next.
Azula sighed as she slowly stood up, her back making a satisfied pop as she stretched once again. “Thank you, Ty Lee. I’m not sure how much that helped but it was very entertaining. I’d say you make a better Chan than Chan himself.”
Ty Lee looked up at her friend, her chest pounding but her heart sinking. She didn’t want this to be over. It washed over her how much she enjoyed playing Chan. It occurred to her why she had been so shocked that Azula was jealous of the attention she got, and why it had satisfied her so greatly. It occurred to her why she was enamored by Azula stretching in the moonlight, and why she was so willing to support her friend in such an intimate way as to help her become more confident in her flirting.
She didn’t want this to be over. Not yet.
Ty Lee shot up. “But we haven’t finished the scene yet!”
Azula put her hands on her hips and frowned. “Ty Lee, we did finish the scene! I mean what did you expect, did you really think we were going to-”
Azula never finished her sentence. Ty Lee leaned forward and gently connected her lips to Azula’s. The brunette could tell how stiff Azula was, she could practically feel the shock coming off her body in waves.
But then she realized that Azula wasn’t pulling away. Quite the opposite; Azula was kissing her back. Ty Lee reached out and smoothly transitioned Azula’s hands from her own hips to around Ty Lee’s waist. She felt her heart melt a little as Azula’s hands gripped her hips a little tighter and pulled her close. She wrapped her arms around Azula’s neck, an uncontrollable sigh of pleasure escaping her lips.
Who knew Azula’s lips were this soft? Ty Lee knew now that no boy could ever compare to the sweetness of Azula’s touch. Or maybe it was something she always subconsciously knew. Her mind drifted to earlier on the beach, when she imagined Azula’s fingers brushing away the stray hairs on her face. Now, in the very moment where Azula was touching her, kissing her , she was hyper aware of how her imagination had vastly underestimated how lovely it was to be touched by the princess.
After a few blissful moments, they broke apart. Azula stared at Ty Lee with surprise, her cheeks ever-so-slightly pinker than normal. “Ty Lee, wh-”
“I’m sorry!” Ty Lee pulled away, covering her mouth with her hands. Her eyes were filled with fear and regret. “I know you kissed me back, but I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry.”
Azula crossed her arms, but not so much in an aggressive way as a flustered one. “I certainly wasn’t expecting you to take it that far.”
Ty Lee stared, clearly confused.
Azula turned away and walked up the steps, trying her best to act nonchalant. “When you said you would play Chan, I didn’t expect you to kiss me as Chan too! You’re bolder than I give you credit for.”
“I didn’t kiss you as Chan.” Came the quiet response.
Azula whipped around. Her expression dared Ty Lee to continue. Her heart pounded as she explained herself to the princess.
“I kissed you as me, Azula. I wanted to kiss you.”
The moonlight illuminated the now-obvious blush on Azula’s face as she tried to come up with words. None came. She stood in silence, looking at Ty Lee, then glancing at the ground, then at Ty Lee again.
Ty Lee was certain this was the end of their friendship. Sure, Azula kissed her back, but that’s a natural response to being kissed. It didn’t mean anything. She was clearly shocked that Ty Lee had initiated the kiss as herself and not as part of their little roleplaying game. She seemed so embarrassed. Ty Lee started pacing around the porch, upset and embarrassed that she’d let her newly realized feelings get in the way of their friendship.
“I understand if you don’t want me around anymore.”
“I’ll go back to the circus and continue my life there. We don’t have to ever talk about this again.” She paced in circles, gesturing with her hands as she continued to ramble on about her position in the circus if she returned.
“I said you were bold, but I didn’t say it was a bad thing.”
Ty Lee turned to face Azula, who had walked up behind her while she wasn’t paying attention. She felt her face get hot. “What are you saying?”
Azula rolled her eyes, but her blush rivaled Ty Lee’s. “You’re one of my closest companions. I would be lying if I said it never crossed my mind before.”
This time it was Ty Lee who wasn’t sure what to say. She opened and closed her mouth several times, unsuccessfully trying to find a proper response. “I-”
“You’re a much better kisser than Chan.”
The look of utter bewilderment on Ty Lee’s face was almost enough to ease the tension between the two teenagers. Almost, but not quite. Her arms clung stiffly to her sides as she tried to formulate any kind of reply, but she was completely lost for words. She no longer felt the cool breeze around her; all she was aware of was hot, suffocating embarrassment. She didn’t know why she was so embarrassed by the comment, but her mind was such a mess of thoughts that she knew now wasn’t the time to try to sort through all of that.
The princess let out a small huff, bringing Ty Lee back into the moment. They were still standing on the porch several feet apart, both obviously trying to decide whether to make eye contact. It seemed that Azula had realized exactly how flirtatious her previous comment was, and was awkwardly playing with one of the tassels on her robe. Ty Lee shuffled towards the door, but Azula didn’t seem to notice. “Since it’s so late, we should probably go in and, um…”
Azula slowly looked up at her. “I suppose you’re right.”
Ty Lee carefully opened the door and snuck inside, much like she had earlier. Had it already been that long since her walk along the shore? Probably not, but it certainly felt like it. She held the door open for Azula, who followed her wordlessly into the living room. Ty Lee felt incredibly uncomfortable. What did the future hold for them? Neither one of them could think of a thing to say, and both were too scared to act on feelings. The small sigh she heard from behind her confirmed that Azula was thinking the same thing. It was so rare to see Azula visibly upset over anything and even rarer when she expressed embarrassment, but here they were. The brunette walked silently down the hallway toward the bathroom, Azula not far behind.
As she pulled the handle on the bathroom door, she turned to face her friend. Azula had paused in her bedroom doorway across the hall, clearly trying to figure out what to say. The hallway was cool - some might even say drafty - but both girls were sweating profusely as if they were on fire. Ty Lee struggled to form words. “Um,” she started. “Goodnight I guess?”
Azula nodded. “Goodnight.”
Ty Lee watched the princess walk into her private bedroom and shut the door behind her before walking into the bathroom. She stood in front of the mirror, staring at the stupid look she had on her face. She wasn’t sure what to do now. How could she sleep? Her heart pounded as she finally let it all sink in: Azula kissed her back. Azula liked her back . Azula, who was so amazing, so gorgeous, so untouchable , had feelings for Ty Lee.
But what were they supposed to do now? Neither one was making a move. Ty Lee tried to imagine the future; would they continue being friends who were too scared to act on feelings, or would they drift apart? Homosexuality was considered taboo, and even a member of royalty couldn’t change the way people felt about it. Her heart sank. She mentally prepared herself for major tension between herself and Azula for the next few months, or even years. It didn’t seem fair at all.
The brunette leaned down to splash some cool water on her face. It was late, and she needed to at least attempt to get some sleep before another day out on the beach. Gods, how would that go? Would she dare look at Azula in that red swimsuit? Would Azula even speak to her? The sudden dread of what tomorrow would bring felt like weights dragging her down to the floor.
She grabbed a towel to pat her face dry. The cool water had had no effect; her skin still felt like it was on fire. Were they certain that this house got enough proper ventilation? She knew it wasn’t the house, but at that moment she wasn’t willing to think about what (rather, who) really made her feel so hot. She delicately placed her towel back in its designated spot on the rack before heading for the door. Ty Lee knew she wouldn’t sleep a wink tonight, but lying in bed was better than pacing around aimlessly.
The acrobat opened the door into the hallway. Still, no relief from the heat. She turned toward the bathroom door to shut it again. As she turned toward the hallway again, she barely repressed a shriek. Azula was standing directly in front of her, not allowing her to move. Ty Lee was caught between the closed door and Azula. They were so close, the bottoms of their robes brushed against each other.
Before she could react further, Azula cupped Ty Lee’s face in her hands and kissed her. This kiss was far more passionate than the first. Their lips crashed together and Ty Lee was just barely aware enough to remind herself not to make any noise for fear of waking the others. Her thoughts went fuzzy and all she could feel was Azula’s lips on her own. And those hands, gods, those hands that she had imagined earlier on the shore. She was acutely aware of how nicely her face fit in between those hands. They were exactly, no, better than she could’ve ever imagined.
As she thought of Azula’s hands, she remembered her own hanging limply at her sides and how they could be doing so much more. She reached out, finding Azula’s hips and pulling them closer to her. Her face flushed hot with satisfaction as Azula gasped at the contact. The heat in the hallway was worse than before, but this time Ty Lee felt like she could handle it. She could feel the same heat radiating from Azula; her face felt sticky with sweat against Ty Lee’s.
When they finally pulled away, Ty Lee rested her forehead against Azula’s. She gazed at her lips, those soft, wonderful lips. She really was lucky to be able to kiss them. In such close proximity, she could smell whatever perfume Azula was wearing and it was heavenly. “Azula,” she sighed, “That was amazing, but what does this mean for-”
“We’re going to make this work, Ty Lee.” Azula had never sounded so determined as she did in that moment.
Ty Lee lifted her head to look Azula in the eyes. Her amber eyes glowed with such ferocity it took Ty Lee’s breath away. “But what about everyone else? Even Firelord Ozai wouldn’t accept this.”
The princess frowned at the mention of her father. “I don’t know, but I don’t care. He’s too busy to notice anything anyway.” She brushed her thumb across Ty Lee’s cheek, watching it turn pink. “What I do know is that I really enjoy kissing you. Much more than Chan.”
Ty Lee giggled. Compliments from Azula were few and far between. “I like kissing you too. It’s a shame about Chan, though.”
Now it was Azula’s turn to laugh. “Not really. If I hadn’t messed up with him then I wouldn’t have gotten this whole thing,” she gestured between the two of them. “So really I have Chan to thank.”
Ty Lee pulled Azula’s hips closer and smiled. “I don’t think that’s true. I think we have your poor flirting skills to thank.”
For a moment Ty Lee was sure she’d gone too far. Azula’s expression was unreadable, and she barely refrained from flinching as Azula leaned so close their noses touched. “Ty Lee, how bold of you to insult my flirting.” She sneered.
Much to Ty Lee’s surprise, Azula, still cupping her face, pulled it so close that their lips were mere centimeters apart. Ty Lee could feel Azula’s breath on her face. It was so lovely, but also kind of terrifying. She braced herself for Azula’s following remark.
“Good thing I have you to practice on.”
Ty Lee couldn’t control the surprised squeak that escaped right before Azula closed the gap between the two of them. Her body felt on fire, but this time it was a good fire. She didn’t mind this fire. She tried to mentally picture that heat as her lips crashed passionately against Azula’s. All that came to mind was blue flames.