A prison by any other name still fulfills its purpose, Azula thinks to herself, heaving the stationary door handles for what must be the fifth time today.
She remembers them well from her childhood, back when they weren’t welded shut. Brassy and intricate and perfectly fit for the royal guest room. She remembers being smaller, younger, running her hands along the cold indentations in the metal while she waited, hushed, for Zuko to find her in a game of hide-and-explode.
Of course, the room had gone through some upgrades since then.
For starters, it’d once been lit in the mornings by eastern sun through the wide window, now boarded up on the outside with a thick sheet of metal. The lack of sun makes her body feel heavy with fatigue. She can barely muster the energy to light her bedside candles, let alone illuminate the room with a sharp, blue jolt of lightning.
(She knows; she’s tried. Flailing her arms across the room for a day and a half did a lot to confirm her powerlessness.)
Strategic decision on Zuko’s part, of course. Cowardice, more like. She’s stronger than him otherwise. He wouldn’t stand a chance if she had the sun on her side.
Case in point: the room has been stripped of anything weapon-adjacent, even the sharp knobs of the curtain rods. Azula can’t find anything she can file her fingernails with, so she bites them to nubs ‘til they bleed.
Zuko must think he’s doing her some kind of favor, keeping her here instead of sending her away somewhere or, better yet, doing away with her entirely. (She can’t be sure that’s not the end goal.)
He doesn’t even have the decency to visit her. Even her food is delivered by some guard, some stranger, through a slot in the bottom of the door. It’s humiliating.
She does get to keep her wardrobe, or most of it. The stuff without sharp edges, the armor. Reds and golds are all washed for her, folded neatly while she sleeps and waiting in piles when she wakes up.
And there’s nothing to do. Sometimes she lights a flame in the palm of her hand and focuses on keeping it there, counting the seconds until it chokes out.
Sixty, it had been on the first day.
Zuko doesn’t visit her. Not that she expected him to. He must be awfully busy doing all his... Fire Lord things.
Fire Lord Zuko. The words would taste bitter in her mouth if she could taste them at all, if they ever made it past her lips, if they didn’t feel blurry at the edges like everything else did these days. She presses her fingernails into her palm. Sharp, grounding pain. Real. Fire lord Zuko. Real.
“I bet you’re proud,” she tells her mother in the mirror one day. “Your little Zuzu, Fire Lord at last.”
Her mother’s image is clear, and she’s looking at Azula with something like pity. It makes her want to shatter the damn thing, but she knows she’d be awfully lonely without it. So she just stares.
Her mother. Beautiful, traitorous. Of course she‘d favored Zuko. He’s giving you another chance, Azula, she says, and the fullness of her voice echoes through the room, chilling Azula’s bones. He wants you to be well.
“I am well!” She leaps up to assume an offensive position, arms up, elbows bent. “He just wants to trap me here! It was supposed to be me!”
Her mother doesn’t flinch. No, Azula. He loves you, just as I do.
Azula looks down. Shakes the voice from her head. Turns her face up to address her mother, maybe to yell Liar! or Leave me alone! but she’s already gone. Azula’s met with her own reflection instead, and she brings her hand to her face. Her hair, still uneven, feels heavy and overbearing. She has a sudden urge to find a knife, to hack at it again with a swift hand until the length of it feels lighter, shorter, easier.
She doesn’t see her father, but his voice comes clear as water crashing on the sand of Ember Island.
Not yet, Azula, my heir. When the time comes, you’ll need it to hold your headpiece.
She can picture it, shining, atop Zuko’s head. Even the image feels treasonous; it makes her want to vomit. She’ll get it back one day.
Ty Lee doesn’t show up in the mirror. She can’t come through the window, or the door, or anywhere else, but she does anyway, because there she is standing in the center of the room when Azula awakens.
Good morning, princess Azula, Ty Lee says, folding into a tight bow, and Azula’s chest flutters a bit.
But it’s not quite right.
Good morning, Fire Lord Azula, Ty Lee says this time, bowing once again, not missing a beat. She’s in her usual pink getup, hair swinging behind her in that obnoxiously long ponytail.
“Ty Lee,” Azula starts, slow and deliberate. She can feel her heartbeat quickening with anticipation, with excitement, but such an uncontrolled reaction isn’t appropriate from a princess—no—a Fire Lord. She takes a moment to steady herself. “Why has it taken you so long to visit me?“
Ty Lee’s eyebrows draw close. I’m sorry, princess—
Those words stir up something deep in Azula. In one swift motion, she swings her legs over the side of the bed and stands. She’s closer to her friend, now, and can see the lines of worry in her face. Not fear, necessarily, but a desperation to please. Ty Lee doesn’t break eye contact as Azula approaches, her feet bare but falling heavy and solid on the floor.
She’s looking down at Azula—just the slightest bit taller than her, that’s right—and that just won’t do, but it’s fine, because Azula blinks and Ty Lee is on her knees instead, and addressing her from above is much more comfortable.
“Tell me, Ty Lee, how long has it been since we’ve seen each other?”
Um... a few weeks, maybe? She’s beautiful like this, wide eyes drinking Azula up, hands behind her back in submission.
A few weeks. They hadn’t spent that much time apart since Ty Lee had joined the circus.
One betrayal had followed another. Leaving her was one thing, leaving her to pick up the pieces at Boiling Rock was another. Did Ty Lee really think Azula would forgive so easily?
Azula keeps moving, walking circles around Ty Lee in a way she thinks must come off as threatening or dominant or something in between. “And why is it that you’ve returned?”
She watches Ty Lee shift a little. Well... to see you, of course.
Azula’s behind her now, and she falls to her knees too. Her hands fall onto Ty Lee’s slender shoulders—the girl flinches—and Azula laughs. Lets her hands travel down Ty Lee’s back, then forward across the steep high point of her hips. She’s tense.
“Is this suitable, Ty Lee?”
Yes, she says quickly, then, Of course, my Lord.
So Azula’s hands travel to her front.
She knows Ty Lee’s breasts will feel heavy and dense in her hands. She knows exactly what sound she’ll make when Azula brushes her thumbs over the clothed nipples, then under her top to do the same thing again once they’re hard.
(It’s a cross between a gasp and a whimper. Her voice jumps even higher than normal and it’s such a delicious sound that Azula wants to play it over and over again in her head, so she does until she gets bored and wants another.)
She squeezes the thick flesh against her palms and there it is; Azula, Ty Lee gasps, head leaning upward, unable to contain herself anymore.
Azula draws in a sharp breath through her teeth. How many sleepless nights had she endured, thinking about touching Ty Lee like this? Imagining having her in bed, no different than all the slobbish men that wanted the same. She was different, though, and better. The Fire Lord, in fact—ha! How could Ty Lee even think of resisting her?
When Azula’s hands move down, though, she feels nothing. The place where Ty Lee once was is now empty, given away to dark parquetry, open floor.
“Spirits,” Azula says, defeated, and slumps back to sit on her heels. Ty Lee gone, just as things were getting exciting. She really should have expected it. Nothing’s on her side these days.
But it happens again, a few weeks from then in the morning—or night. Azula can’t tell what time it is when she wakes and there Ty Lee is, sitting at the edge of her bed this time, legs stretched out across the deep red sheets. She’s been watching her for spirits know how long, deep eyes shining even in the dark. Her silhouette is striking, all gentle curves and firm muscle.
“What are you gawking at?” Azula asks, suddenly impatient. “Come please your Fire Lord.”
Ty Lee’s beside her in an instant, soft hands pushing off Azula’s satin robe, roaming at the skin underneath. It’s all too bold, touching her like she’s an animal, looking for her own pleasure instead of Azula’s, but she can’t find it in herself to mind when Ty Lee’s fingers drop low and it feels so good she nearly forgets her own name. Her eyes close.
It’s good, but it’s not Ty Lee. Ty Lee is submissive. Ty Lee listens to Azula. Obeys her.
Azula opens her eyes again, and Ty Lee is no longer beside her. Instead, she’s posed on her elbows and knees, between Azula’s open legs, looking up at her just like that. And her usual pink attire is gone—replaced with that white bikini she used to wear to the beach.
(But this time, there are no strangers to ogle her. Azula has her all to herself.)
“Better,” she says, and Ty Lee flushes at the praise. Azula pushes herself up to lean against the headboard. With her torso folded like this, she can reach for Ty Lee’s face, so she does. She pushes the shortest bits of her hair back to get a good look at her. Presses her thumb to Ty Lee’s plush lips and then past them, where her tongue slicks it with wetness.
It’s just like Ty Lee to take it so willingly.
But Azula’s not done, so she takes her thumb out and replaces it with two fingers, reaching deeper, sliding further into Ty Lee’s mouth until she gags a little. Her eyes are glossy now, still staring up at Azula like she’s waiting for something.
Azula gives it to her, grabbing that ponytail and pulling it roughly down so Ty Lee’s face is between Azula’s legs at last, and thank the spirits she doesn’t have to say anything because Ty Lee gets to work right away.
Ty Lee licks into her with experience, like she knows just where Azula touches herself to the thought of this. Azula supposed it makes sense that she—so knowledgeable about the body and its chi—has knowledge of this, a different sort of energy, a pleasure that rides her skin in waves of goosebumps.
Ty Lee wraps her arms up around Azula’s thighs to hold herself steady. It’s a striking image, really, watching her go down with such ardor, but it’s not enough. Never is. Azula’s hand moves to the top of her head to push her down, again, and Ty Lee’s tongue falls flat and warm against her. The suddenness of the new sensation sends a jolt of something through Azula—akin to lightning, she thinks, then curses herself for thinking it—and her fingers tighten in Ty Lee’s soft hair.
“You’re awfully good at this,” she muses. “If I hadn’t known better I’d think you’ve done it before.”
Ty Lee doesn’t respond. Azula pulls her hair again (she quite likes doing that, she thinks) and is finally met with a soft gasp. They’re looking at each other, now, Ty Lee’s taupe up through thick eyelashes to meet Azula’s gold.
“Well, have you?” Azula tightens her grip, and Ty Lee’s eyes flutter shut for just a moment, beautiful and responsive. Obedient for her Fire Lord.
No, she says quietly, and her face shifts into the slightest of smiles. Just thought about it a lot.
That’s all it takes. Azula finds Ty Lee’s wrists and pulls her upward, then flips them over so she’s on top. Even she’s surprised by the swiftness of it all, the pliancy of Ty Lee’s body, but maybe she shouldn’t be, considering her flexibility and all. Ty Lee looks much better like this, wrists pinned beside her head, face to face with Azula now. A mental image she’ll cherish, no doubt. For now she catches the reflection of her feral grin in Ty Lee’s wide pupils. “I’ll give you something to think about.”
When her lips are supposed to crash against Ty Lee’s neck, they meet the empty air. Azula’s hands are suddenly empty, too, and they scrub the sheets beneath her for something to hold.
She cries out, loud and frustrated, voice breaking. Not quite a sob, not quite a shout.
“Bitch!” she yells to the empty air. Not to Ty Lee—she doesn’t mean that. To whomever keeps taking her away.
To the spirits, for making this so difficult for her.
Azula’s stopped counting the days. She knows it’s been longer, this time, since she’s seen her last. It’s almost jarring when she does.
Ty Lee’s already waiting in bed for her. She’s shimmering, like a mirage. Too good to be true and Azula knows it now. Won’t let her get far enough to trick her a third time.
“Get out,” she says, and watches Ty Lee’s face twist into confusion.
“Because you taunt me. Tease me, like you did with all those boys on Ember Island.” She breaks eye contact to turn her face. “It’s disgusting, really.”
Oh. She sounds like she’s about to cry. Typical.
“You should leave.”
Ty Lee doesn’t say anything, so Azula has to turn, to show her out or yell or do something that won’t even matter because
she’s already left.
And for the better, Azula thinks. No more distractions. No more disloyalty.
When she tries to make her fire that night, a single spark leaps from her palm, frail and sporadic.
She tries again, and there’s nothing.
Would you look at that, Ozai says, his voice deep with shame. You’ve lost your fire.